L129 - Wed 27 Nov 1996 / Mer 27 Nov 1996
The House met at 1332.
Mr John C. Cleary (Cornwall): I rise today out of concern for health services in my riding. I met with representatives from our two hospitals in Cornwall as well as the District Health Council of Eastern Ontario last Friday. Despite an extreme financial crunch, bed closures and employee layoffs due to reduced funding levels, these individuals explained they're doing the best they can to meet your financial targets. Specifically the District Health Council of Eastern Ontario will soon submit its recommendations for restructuring our two hospitals. They will do this by March, only four months away. They expect that the restructuring commission will respond in a few months, likely by summer.
In order that this process be completed fairly and orderly they ask the Minister of Health to defer for a short time his intended funding reductions to them. If the minister does not commit to this, local health officials fear they will have to slash patient services haphazardly.
I join these individuals and ask the minister to defer his funding recommendations to the Cornwall General Hospital and the Hotel Dieu Hospital so they can do their job in the best possible way.
Mr David Christopherson (Hamilton Centre): Yesterday the Mike Harris government introduced Bill 99, their legislated attack on injured workers through changes to the WCB. We've advised them there's going to be a major battle across this province on that legislation. I want to bring the House up to date on some of the results of their earlier labour legislation lest people forget, given the fact that this government never allowed any public hearings on their anti-worker Bill 7.
Right now we have in this province the following strikes, and this is not a total list of all the strikes that are caused as a result of your making scabs legal: UFCW Local 175 against IGA in Bancroft; USWA 6917, S.A. Armstrong in Scarborough; CAW Local 252, Bramalea Rebuilders; CUPE Local 2862, Ottawa Valley Autistic Homes; CUPE 3826, Ottawa-Carleton Life Skills Authority; CUPE 2191, Metropolitan Toronto Association for Community Living; USWA 950, Goldcorp, Red Lake; IATSE 173, Cineplex Odeon all across the province; USWA Local 5297, Branson Mercantile in the Ottawa region.
This is just a sampling of the strikes that exist in this province because the government made scabs legal again in the province of Ontario. There has been violence on these picket lines. There were no incidents of violence when Bill 40 was in place. This government takes the responsibility for every injured worker on those picket lines.
Mrs Lillian Ross (Hamilton West): This past weekend Canadians across the country were treated to a great Canadian tradition: the Grey Cup game. All the people in the stands and those at home viewing the game on their television sets saw what I believe was one of the best football games in Grey Cup history.
An event such as this doesn't just happen. It takes a great deal of work and many volunteers. This Grey Cup was no exception. There were many people behind the scenes working hard for their community during the year-long preparation leading up to the Grey Cup game.
Mr Ron Foxcroft and Mrs Marnie Paikin were the two people who co-chaired the Grey Cup committee. Both of these people, well known for their community involvement, eagerly agreed to take on the responsibility as co-chairs for the Grey Cup in Hamilton. But Ron and Marnie were assisted by numerous volunteers, headed up by another great volunteer himself, Mr Bob Hodgson. Bob took on the task of organizing all the 1,400 volunteers with such tremendous enthusiasm and undying effort that we saw volunteers involved in every aspect of the festivities.
In fact, virtually everything that went on during the four-day event, from manning the beer tents to musical entertainment to the wonderful Grey Cup parade and indeed the Grey Cup game, happened because of the many individuals in Hamilton-Wentworth who cared enough to volunteer their time.
Volunteerism is, as I've said before, alive and well in Hamilton-Wentworth.
Mr Michael Gravelle (Port Arthur): I want to bring to the attention of the House the activity of people across the province today who felt it was essential to send a message to both the Minister of Education and the Premier. I refer to the people who know about your education cuts -- present and future -- and who know how education is and will be compromised as a result.
We're talking about people who for the most part have not been politically active before, ordinary folks whose concern for a decent education for their children has caused them to rise up and be vocal about their concerns.
Mothers for Education, People for Education and the Ottawa-Carleton Coalition for Education are just such groups, and today they took to the streets outside their MPPs' offices to ask that members such as myself take their message to Minister Snobelen and Premier Harris. The message is simple. They're saying, "We don't like your education cuts and we want you to stop them."
I'm speaking about people like Bev Rizzi of Mothers for Education from Thunder Bay, who today with other worried parents delivered report cards on the Harris government's record on education: failing grades in all areas.
Connie Hartviksen is the chair of the Port Arthur Collegiate parent council. In a recent letter to the minister she wrote:
"Although it is true that your government was elected on a mandate to eliminate the provincial deficit, you also promised that the cuts would not hurt the classroom.
"Already there are many signs in my students' school that the cuts are affecting the classroom -- more user fees, larger classes, fewer options....
"Our children are our future. Don't sacrifice them for your government's agenda."
Mrs Marion Boyd (London Centre): I want to commend today to members of the Legislature a piece of literature that is on circulation in the legislative library. I know that members of the government have been encouraged not to be confused by the facts around workfare, but this particular volume is of importance to all of us.
It is the result of a round table that was held on May 17, 1996, at the University of Toronto faculty of law Centre for the Study of State and Market. Its author is Robert Howse, who's with the faculty of law at the University of Toronto.
This is a preliminary draft which has been made available to us for our information because of the importance of this topic, and it is not for citation publicly. I would tell people in summary that the conclusions are that mandatory workfare may cost a great deal in administrative and legal costs but have very, very few positive results; that it's unlikely to be successful in high unemployment areas such as Ontario; that child care and skills upgrading are far more important in terms of getting people into the workforce than mandatory workfare; that it should not be supposed that this is a budgetary saving and the proof in this book is what has happened in other jurisdictions.
I urge my colleagues to take this volume out and read it in your discussions around mandatory workfare.
ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT IN NORTHUMBERLAND
Mr Doug Galt (Northumberland): I'm pleased to be able to report today a milestone in the economic life of a major town in my riding of Northumberland. I was recently informed that Cobourg's level of employment has now recovered to pre-recession levels. In fact, in the first six months of this year Cobourg experienced a 5.4% increase in manufacturing employment.
While we have benefitted from strong performance in the automobile manufacturing sector, I suspect we're also benefitting from a resurgence of private sector growth and consumer confidence in this province. Economic indicators point to another year of strong growth in our exports and automobile sectors in 1997.
Since I'm not one to let an opportunity to promote my home riding slip by, I would like to point out today that Northumberland is open for some of that new business. We're on Highway 401 just an hour east of Toronto. We have a diverse economy that includes agriculture, tourism, service industries and automobile manufacturing companies. We have a well-educated, stable workforce.
I would encourage any new or existing business seeking lower costs, serviced industrial parks and a high quality of life for its employees to consider Northumberland. If you'll pardon the expression, Mr Speaker, we're yours to discover.
SCHOOL BUS SAFETY
Mr Pat Hoy (Essex-Kent): On Thursday of this week I have the privilege of presenting my private member's Bill 78 for second reading. Today I am presenting the Minister of Transportation with 30,000 petitions from across the province urging the minister to strength the law and pass Bill 78 to protect our children.
These 30,000 people feel the pain of families and friends of children who have been killed by people illegally passing a school bus. These 30,000 people can understand the terror of a school bus driver watching helplessly as tragedy unfolds. These 30,000 people can feel the apprehension of a parent who wonders if their child will return from school safely. These 30,000 people can feel the anguish of a child whose life was forever changed by someone who felt their time was more valuable than a child's safety.
These 30,000 people feel that the endangerment of children cannot be tolerated and must be met with stiffer penalties, and these people are tired of seeing those who are charged walk away free because of a technicality. They feel that bus drivers must be given the power to protect children. These petitioners are sending a strong message to all members of this House to protect our children and pass Bill 78 into law. Perhaps I could have a page deliver these to the Minister of Transportation.
Mr Gilles Bisson (Cochrane South): We learned yesterday, and actually we heard through leaks previously, that the government announced 700 positions at the Ministry of Transportation were going by the wayside. That's 700 families across the province of Ontario whose major bread earner will not have a job. It quite frankly will probably put those families in a very desperate situation.
In the riding of Cochrane South we learned yesterday by way of the media that 37 people within the riding of Cochrane South have lost their jobs. Basically, they were called to a meeting, they were told their services were no longer required and they were sent out without any opportunity of being able to bid on other jobs within the ministries.
But what's even more shocking is that the government is privatizing the people who are out there who are supervising the work that is done by contractors on the highways across Ontario. In other words, what's happening here is the government is putting the fox in charge of the hen house. The people who are out there doing the work in regard to supervising the work that is being done by contractors are going to be supervised by other private sector contractors.
That is wrong because in the end what the government is doing is giving contractors a blank cheque, because they will be able to arrange relationships within the private sector where the private sector contractor who is supervising the contractor in the private sector will say, "Listen, let's just pretend that certain things haven't happened," and be able to flow money one way or another. I say in the end that is bad for the people of Ontario and it is going to be bad for the drivers of this province.
FAMILY SUPPORT PLAN
Mr David Tilson (Dufferin-Peel): We've had three full days of debate with respect to Bill 82, a bill to improve the family support plan, and we spent some time on it yesterday. This will be the fifth day, with the NDP opposition motion with respect to the debate on Bill 82.
Today two groups held a press conference at Queen's Park. Mothers Against Fathers in Arrears is a group of women who formed an organization to fight against their children's fathers who are not paying arrears for the child support of these children. Today, along with Families Against Deadbeats, they asked, in fact pleaded with, the members of all political parties in the Legislature to put aside partisan politics and to pass the Family Responsibility and Support Arrears Enforcement Act as quickly as possible.
These people know what they have had to go through to receive just a pittance of the money owed to them. Their children have suffered and they have cried for these children. These people want to know why this bill is not being passed unanimously and why the NDP today is placing a motion before this Legislature to ask the government to withdraw Bill 82.
I commend these groups, along with a young lady by the name of Samantha Diorio, who is 13 years of age and who spoke on behalf of the children of this province who are doing without because of a parent who is not adhering to a judicial decision which requires them to help pay for the upkeep and future of these children.
On behalf of the government, I commend these people for standing up for these rights and urge the government --
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Thank you.
CLARKE T. ROLLINS
Mr E.J. Douglas Rollins (Quinte): On a point of order, Mr Speaker: I believe we have unanimous consent to recognize the passing of a previous member of this House, Clarke T. Rollins.
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Order. Do we have unanimous consent for the member for Quinte? Agreed.
Mr Rollins: Few members in this House have known the immense benefit of having a close family relative as a former MPP. I am one of those who had that privilege.
True, my cousin Clarke T. Rollins did not represent the constituents whom I have the honour of serving today, but his reputation has brought honour to the family name beyond the boundaries of the former riding of East Hastings.
From 1959 to 1981, Clarke T. Rollins was a member of this provincial Parliament. He may have been a man of few words, but not of few actions. His unceasing dedication to his people and his constituents in his riding and to his province set an example that we all should strive for.
To his wife, Beverley, and his sons Bob, Thomas and Andrew I convey my deepest condolences.
Mr Harry Danford (Hastings-Peterborough): I too would like to speak of the passing of Mr Clarke T. Rollins, a retired Progressive Conservative member in this Legislature for the riding of Hastings-Peterborough, who died at home in Bancroft on Monday, November 25.
Mr Rollins was born in Coe Hill, Ontario, in 1911. He was a distributor of petroleum products, a business which he continued to operate while serving as a member of this Legislature. He served also as the reeve of the township of Wollaston for eight years and warden of Hastings county in 1950. Mr Rollins was first elected to the Legislature in 1959 and was re-elected five times prior to his retirement in 1980. He was also appointed as chairman of the St Lawrence Parks Commission in 1971.
Clarke was a dedicated member who believed in serving his constituents, a self-described country member who spent a great deal of time on road improvement, securing grants and loans for the riding and in building community centres to improve the lifestyle of his constituents. He kept in touch with his constituents by fostering a close relationship with the township and county councils of Peterborough and Hastings counties.
He once stated: "If people have problems, I am here to help them. I'm most anxious to see that everyone works." Former Premier Bill Davis said in 1971, "Clarke Rollins has done a great job of representing this riding and has been of invaluable assistance to me."
I would like to add that Clarke, as a friend and a mentor, has also been of invaluable assistance to me over the years. Clarke was always close to the people he represented and willing to address their interests at Queen's Park. He was truly a man of the people. I know that every member of this Legislature joins me in expressing our condolences to Clarke's wife, Beverley, and their sons.
Mr James J. Bradley (St Catharines): On behalf of the Liberal Party, I would like to express our condolences to the wife and family of Clarke Rollins, who served his constituents with distinction during his time in the Legislature, and it was a lengthy time in the Legislature.
Clarke was one of those individuals who was known as a true constituency man. He was an individual who probably knew two thirds of the people in his riding very well himself. While some of us may think what we do in this Legislature is of consequence, and indeed it is, and we believe that this portion of our job is exceedingly important, Clarke recognized that in fact the people he represented in his constituency should be foremost in his mind. He was successful as a constituency person because of that contact. Even those who were not of his political persuasion -- Liberals, New Democrats and others -- admired him because he did not discriminate against those who were not of his party. He was there to help all the people of his constituency.
He was up and down the concession roads and the side roads and the main highways of his constituency. He was at the community centres. He was a person who wanted to obtain for the people of his constituency as much as he could from the provincial government; in other words, the fair share for the people in the constituency, which didn't have many of the assets in terms of a tax base that a large urban constituency would have.
I remember he used to sit in the back row for the Conservatives and never felt this was a reason to be looked down upon at all. He saw it as a distinction, because once again he recognized that the people of his constituency came first. If any of us wanted to learn a lesson of how to deal with our individual constituents, of all political affiliations, from all backgrounds, a good cross-section of his constituency, we could learn from the life and the experience of Clarke Rollins.
All of us in the Liberal Party express our condolences to the family. The province of Ontario has lost a man of distinction.
Mr Bud Wildman (Algoma): I want to join in expressing condolences to Clarke Rollins's widow and family on his passing. I remember, when I was first elected to this assembly, as a rookie member I was a couple of times taken down a peg or two by Mr Rollins, who was by that time a long-serving veteran of the Legislature and who told me to slow down a bit, that "You might just learn something if you listened." Some people are still telling me that, I suppose.
Clarke Rollins was a member who served his constituents well, as other members have indicated. He knew his riding. He knew the people of the small communities and the farming community, and he served them in a way that many urban members may not fully appreciate, the way a member in a rural area can get to know people, to know the communities and to serve their interests, not necessarily by being particularly vocal at Queen's Park in debate but by ensuring that the needs of the communities and the families and individuals in the constituency were met on the basis of programs that were available from various ministries and, if the programs were not adequate, by expressing his views certainly in caucus but also behind the scenes to members of the government. Mr Rollins was very successful electorally because he served his constituents in that way.
One wag, I recall, once joked that Clarke Rollins had a philosophy that "If it walks, pension it; if it doesn't, pave it." I don't mean by that he was simply a ward-heeler but rather a person who understood the need to improve the infrastructure in his constituency to make it possible for economic development to take place, because he was always concerned about the need for jobs in Hastings-Peterborough and in eastern Ontario.
Clarke Rollins served many years through many sessions, under three premiers in this Legislature. Previous to that, he served his community as a county politician and a municipal politician. He had a tremendous amount of support. He was held in high respect by his constituents and we, as members of the assembly and representatives of the people of the province, have lost a public servant in Clarke Rollins.
The Speaker: Thank you. I will ensure that the comments made by the members for Quinte, Hastings-Peterborough, St Catharines and Algoma are sent to the family.
GUARDIANSHIP OF INSTITUTIONALIZED CHILDREN
Mrs Lyn McLeod (Leader of the Opposition): My question is for the Minister of Community and Social Services. For several weeks now the Liberal critic for children's services has tried to work with your office to resolve the situation facing the Brown family. Despite our efforts and the even longer efforts of the Browns themselves, their situation remains unresolved.
The Browns are here today to request once again that you reconsider your government's policy to stop funding special needs arrangements for children like their son. Keith is an emotionally disturbed child. He was adopted by the Browns when he was three years of age and prior to joining the Browns, he was in an abusive home. The Browns have worked with local agencies for years trying to help Keith. But in 1994 Keith became violent and they realized that he needed more extensive help.
Keith has been assessed by local agencies, as well as by Dr Paul Steinhauer, a well-know psychiatrist at Sick Children's Hospital. They all agree that Keith needs to be in a residential program, as he is now, and that he needs the continued support of his family. But despite all the documentation, Minister, and all the pleas, you've refused to consider funding Keith's treatment. The children's aid society locally has said it would be detrimental to move Keith. Minister, I ask you why you think Keith's situation doesn't warrant --
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Thank you. Minister.
Hon Janet Ecker (Minister of Community and Social Services): I would like to thank the honourable member for bringing this very important issue to my attention yet again. I will talk to staff again and see why we have not been able to come to a resolution for this family because I think we should try to see what we can do for those who are taking care of people with such difficulties.
Mrs McLeod: Minister, I think you should understand just how desperate the situation is. Like most parents, the Browns want whatever is best for Keith. The children's aid society, the psychiatrist, the case workers have all agreed that what's best for Keith is where he is now: treatment in a residential treatment centre and staying in his family. Your government, your office and your representatives have consistently refused to make this possible.
What's absolutely crazy about this situation is the solution that has been proposed because, according to the local children's aid society, if the Browns will give up the custody of their child and he becomes a crown ward, the funding will be available. This is not about a lack of money, because the money is there for crown wards. It is not there for the children of families who want and must keep the care of their children.
We are told that Keith's is not the only case, that other families with other children's aid societies are in fact giving up their children as crown wards to make sure the funding for their children's treatment continues. Minister, why would you feel that you should force the Browns to give up their child in order that he can get the care he needs?
Hon Mrs Ecker: Thank you again for the question. The difficulty we have is not that the minister or not that the staff who are trying so hard to work this out are forcing that family to do something. It's that the system we have, the services as they are being provided, the funding as it is given to those agencies is not meeting the needs of those families.
I share the frustration of the member opposite. We want to solve these problems. We are working very hard to solve these problems with those community agencies so families like this are not put in the situation where these individuals appear to be, because it is not doing them a good service; it is not helping the loved one they are trying to care for. So we do very much want to solve these problems.
Mrs McLeod: Minister, this is not a case that comes newly to you in the Legislature. This is a case that you and your office have been dealing with for over two months now. Your own MPP, John O'Toole, has written to you repeatedly on their behalf and even he has stated that the minister's response is not more favourable and he regrets that.
In your own correspondence to the family, you suggested that the family meet with the case manager at the Durham children's aid society, that all the parties arrange a meeting, that they assist in developing an appropriate plan of action. They did that on November 7, and at that meeting they were told once again, not just by the children's aid society but by the representative of your ministry, that the best thing to do would be to make Keith a crown ward and that would ensure the funding he needs for care until he is 21 years of age.
Keith does not need protection; he does not need to become a ward of the crown. That is bad advice. I ask you now, will you intervene? Will you make sure that Keith gets the funding support he needs to stay in the treatment home and with his --
The Speaker: Thank you. Minister.
Hon Mrs Ecker: I did not mean to imply that somehow or other this was a new case. It's just that I have great difficulty and concern talking about individual details of families in a public venue such as this. It's unfortunate that's where we are today. I hope we can find a resolution to this, because I know that everyone who was working on this case does not want to put this family in such a difficult position. I am very pleased to go back to my officials and say, "Why have we not been able to come up with a resolution for this?" and just see if we can. I would like to thank the honourable member for bringing this issue to my attention yet again.
Mr Gerry Phillips (Scarborough-Agincourt): My question is to the Premier and it has to do with the announcement today that the fiscal and economic statement will be delivered tomorrow at 3:30. We are interested to see it being done in this fashion, but the government has indicated very clearly over the last month that this will be a very comprehensive document. The Minister of Finance indicated that the economic statement will outline an additional $3 billion in cuts. That was Mr Eves. He also went on to say that the statement will outline the final $3-billion expenditure reductions that we feel we have to make in order for us to balance the budget. So it's a much-anticipated statement tomorrow. We are anxiously awaiting it; certainly Ontario is anxiously awaiting the details of your spending cuts.
Premier, can you assure us that your statement tomorrow will indeed do what the Minister of Finance promised, and that is to outline those cuts?
Hon Michael D. Harris (Premier): I think I'll leave the minister's statement for tomorrow on what all it will include, but he has indicated that some of the reductions we are still waiting for -- the Crombie panel report for Who Does What -- and that tomorrow's statement and meeting with the finance committee will be more of an update on where we are at with the fiscal update. He has clearly indicated that some of the decisions -- there are a lot of very good news decisions to come out yet on some of the transfers and what not -- will not be made tomorrow but will be made in the fullness of time, as soon as we can.
Mr Phillips: The Premier will know that Ontario and the financial community were fully expecting this to be a comprehensive statement. Frankly, the word is that you've got the thing apart and you can't get it back together, that the government is incompetent, that its fiscal plan is in tatters and the reason we're seeing this announcement tomorrow, which for the public you should recognize -- 24 hours' notice, slammed together. It was promised for next week; it was promised to be a detailed outline; it was promised it would outline the transfer payments.
I gather from the Premier's answer it won't be there, so I will say to you that the financial community, the people of Ontario, the people who are going to be directly dramatically impacted by this are concerned about your competence. It looks like this statement will not do what you promised it would do only a few days ago.
Can you explain to the people of Ontario why suddenly you have decided that you are not going to tell the people the financial facts and that the statement tomorrow will be simply a small statement of a fiscal update and not what you had promised the people of Ontario?
Hon Mr Harris: I want to assure the member -- I know that following the committee tomorrow with the Minister of Finance, the member will be the first to applaud and agree -- that the statement tomorrow will outline that not only are we on schedule but ahead of schedule; that all our targets and goals are achievable perhaps even ahead of schedule; that there will be no new reductions other than the levels we have already announced; that jobs are up; that growth is up; that business confidence is up; that investor confidence is up. The investment community is also very supportive and very positive.
I hope the Minister of Finance doesn't mind my sharing those thoughts and perceptions, but that is what the details he will be sharing with you tomorrow will translate into.
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Order. I imagine you're excited about the answer, and I appreciate it, but we're cutting into question period with 15-second applause.
Mr Phillips: I say to the Premier that you can't fool people. They realize that you promised you would outline in detail. Frankly, you don't know what you're doing. You can't get it together. The Minister of Finance promised it, and now you can't deliver. You can't hide that. It was only a week ago that the Minister of Finance refused to come to the finance and economic affairs committee. He said he wouldn't show up. Now, a few days later, he says he wants to come and present it.
Premier, this is an embarrassment to your government. It is a sign of incompetence. It is a sign that you don't know what you're doing. It is a sign that you promised only a few days ago to outline in detail the cuts, and I gather from your answer we won't see it tomorrow.
Premier, it is clear from the financial reports we've seen coming out of the bond rating agencies that your tax cut is going to have to cost $12 billion -- that's what they say -- in lost revenue. Every penny of that, you are going to have to go out and borrow. Will that document tomorrow outline why you want to borrow $12 billion to fund your tax scheme while you are cutting hospitals, cutting school boards, cutting municipalities and making seniors pay for their drugs?
Hon Mr Harris: I appreciate the question and the opportunity. You refer to the bond rating. Dominion Bond Rating Service yesterday said that we're on track, that it's all achievable for this year and for next year. They say that if projections in future years are low, the numbers won't add up, that's right, so at one percentage point below forecast there will be additional reductions required. On the other hand we have a just over $650-million contingency fund in there. We are very prudent. We are very conservative.
What the Dominion Bond Rating Service numbers indicate is that if the other estimates are one point higher, we'll have a $3-billion surplus or we'll balance much sooner. But that is all in the future, that is in the out years and that is all speculation.
What will also happen tomorrow, with reference to the tax cut, is that the numbers will clearly show that the tax cut will not cost one cent, that in fact increased jobs, increased growth in the economy and more taxpayers will repay every cent.
The Speaker: Thank you, Mr Premier. New question, leader of the third party.
Mr Howard Hampton (Rainy River): My question is for the Premier as well, because people in this province are becoming quite concerned by the kinds of signals they're getting from the Premier and his Minister of Finance. The Minister of Finance said earlier in the fall that there's going to be an economic statement where he's going to lay out what has to be cut and where those cuts are going to come from.
Premier, we know that above and beyond the $8 billion in cuts you've already announced you will have to cut another $3 billion. The Dominion Bond Rating Service has confirmed that. They've also confirmed that your fiscal plan is in trouble.
A press aide said today outside the cabinet scrum that hospitals and colleges and school boards and municipalities would have to wait until the new year to find out what the cuts are going to be. Premier, do you confirm this? Is your government going to force all those people to wait until the new year to find out how much they're going to be cut and how many more jobs are going to be lost?
Hon Mr Harris: No, I can't confirm that. That's not been decided, that's not the intention of the government at this point in time, so that's not confirmable. Second, the Dominion Bond Rating Service says not one more penny needs to be cut to balance the books exactly as we said we would do in the Common Sense Revolution. What they say is that if growth in 1998, 1999 and 2000 is in excess of our very prudent projections, the budget will be balanced sooner or we could reduce even less, or if there is a major recession we'll have to revisit it. Quite right, that's exactly what we said, based on our projections. They are now saying unequivocally, unabashedly, based upon our projections, the Common Sense Revolution adds up to the penny. Not another cent needs to be cut.
Mr Hampton: This is precisely why people out there get confused by the Premier. He comes in and says there is good news. People want to know what that good news is. People don't understand why the government keeps delaying its economic statement; people don't understand why they're not going to get an economic statement tomorrow; people don't understand why they're going to have to wait until the new year.
Premier, we know you have to cut another $3 billion. We know that money will have to come from hospitals, schools, municipalities, colleges and universities and that those cuts will mean thousands of jobs lost. Why don't you just stop the doubletalk? Why don't you simply say to people now, before Christmas, so they have time to plan their budgets, so they have time to deal with your cuts: How serious are the cuts going to be, how many people are going to lose their jobs and what are the impacts going to be?
Hon Mr Harris: Certainly the Minister of Finance tomorrow will be laying out for you what has been happening over the past year, a fiscal update which will show you we are either on track or ahead of track in all the projections that are there. Second, before Christmas we will be laying out, as the Crombie reports and a number of decisions are made, all the decisions that are there. I would say within the next few months we will have laid out the projections right through to the year 2000 as we see them.
I can't imagine anybody sensing that there is any concern on this side of the House. If anything, our only concern is that we may balance the books ahead of schedule in the Common Sense Revolution. But that's three or four years out. We're not making --
The Speaker: Member for Ottawa East, come to order -- particularly the singing; come to order on the singing as well.
Mr Hampton: This is the root of the problem: Last spring the Premier said to the public that there will be no more cuts. Then the Minister of Finance earlier this fall started saying there will be more cuts and acknowledging that there will be billions in more cuts; the Minister of Education and Training starts talking about $600 million, $800 million from education.
Premier, people are getting really confused by your government. You are starting to look like the Mad Hatter, continually saying one thing but meaning another. Your Minister of Finance, the March Hare, is frantic because he is late and cannot make his date with the people. Then you've got your Chair of Management Board, the Queen of Hearts, who announces that 750 Ministry of Transportation workers are gone. Off with their heads.
It would be funny except it is sad --
The Speaker: Order. Government members, come to order, please.
The Speaker: The member for Dufferin-Peel come to order, and the member for Grey-Owen Sound, you come to order as well.
The Speaker: The member for Grey-Owen Sound, just come to order.
Okay, thank you very much, go ahead.
Mr Hampton: It might be funny but the fact is it's sad. People are losing their jobs, hospitals are going to close, children are going to be cut in their classrooms. You have a responsibility to let those schools, those colleges, those universities, those hospitals, those municipalities know how much money you are going to take from them, how many people are going to lose their jobs. You have a responsibility to let them know that now, not some time in the new year. Premier, when are you going to do it?
Hon Mr Harris: Let me take exception to a couple of things the member said. Talking about job losses, the net job losses were your legacy: five years, 10,000 net job losses.
You alluded to health care cuts and you alluded to classroom education cuts. I want to assure the people of Ontario that in spite of the fact that Paul Martin has cut $2 billion out of these things, there will not be one cent cut from health care in the province of Ontario. There has not been and there will not be, nor will there be from classroom education.
Let me also assure the people concerned about jobs that contrary to the NDP record of 10,000 lost jobs, there are now 130,000 net new jobs in Ontario; even after some job losses, net new. We expect that kind of net job growth to continue and escalate in the years ahead.
Mr Howard Hampton (Rainy River): My second question is for the Premier as well.
And you should know that there are 57,000 more people unemployed in this province now as opposed to last year. That's how far you're falling behind.
Thanks to the efforts of groups like People for Education, Mothers for Education and the Ottawa-Carleton Coalition to Save Education, parents all across the province gathered at constituency offices this morning to protest your cuts to their children's education. Soon they will have even more to protest. Your caucus had a presentation last week on your government's plans for education, plans that include $800 million in new cuts next year. Are you planning to cut another $800 million from the school board budgets? Are you planning to do that?
Hon Michael D. Harris (Premier): I know the Minister of Education would be delighted to answer that.
Hon John Snobelen (Minister of Education and Training): I apologize for the delay in responding; I was just handed a note.
For the member who said you hear the same answer every day, it's because we get the same question every day. The same answer is the one that I think satisfies the majority of the people in the province, and that's the reason why the majority of the parents and taxpayers are behind this government in its move to have a more affordable school system, a more accountable school system and a higher quality school system. That's what we promised the people of Ontario and that's what this government will deliver.
Mr Hampton: Minister, it was a very simple question. We know that your caucus has had several discussions in the last couple of weeks about education cuts and about where you're going in education. The simple question is: Are you planning to cut $800 million more from education?
While I'm at it, we also understand that part of your agenda includes a 5% rollback of the salaries of classroom teachers who are already doing more with less, and we also understand that you intend to introduce legislation to limit teachers' preparation time.
So I ask you again: Are you going to cut a further $800 million from education and are you introducing legislation to roll back teachers' wages by 5% and to limit preparation time, yes or no?
Hon Mr Snobelen: I was pleased to note a moment or two ago from the leader of the third party's comments that he has read a book recently, Alice in Wonderland, and apparently he's now taking a trip to a Fantasy Island of some sort, because this conjecture on his part is not grounded and is without grounding.
Let me assure the leader of the third party of this: that what I've been discussing with my colleagues over the last few weeks and in fact the last few months is how to ensure that there is a sufficient amount of funding to have a high-quality school system for every student in the province and how to make absolutely certain that there isn't a second-class student in Ontario. I can assure the leader of the third party that there will be sufficient funds and there will not be second-class students.
Mr Hampton: Let me try again, because it's a very simple question. We know that the Conservative caucus has been discussing cuts to education. I want to ask the minister again, are you planning to cut $800 million more from education and are you planning to roll back teachers' salaries by 5% and are you planning on placing limits on teachers' preparation time? They're simple questions. People deserve an answer. Are you planning on these initiatives, yes or no?
Hon Mr Snobelen: Thank you to the leader of the third party for an opportunity to rise in this House again to tell you exactly what my colleagues and I have been talking about. We have been talking about ways to ensure that there is a sufficient amount of funding to ensure a quality education for every student in this province. We have been talking about how to raise student achievement in this province so that we're no longer in the middle of the pack, so that our students in Ontario go to the front of the class, so that we have the best student achievement in the world. That's what my colleagues and I have been talking about.
You are having a flashback, sir. You are having a flashback to the time when your government was in power and you were imposing the social contract and you were raising the number of students in classrooms around the province. The leader of the third party is simply having a flashback.
Mrs Lyn McLeod (Leader of the Opposition): My question is to the Minister of Health. Your restructuring commission has struck again, this time in Lambton county. At first, people in the area were almost relieved because it appeared there wasn't going to be any actual hospital closure in Lambton county, but as it turns out, the commission hadn't stopped bulldozing community hospitals; it was just being a little less open about what it was doing. The fact is that all 52 acute care beds of the county hospital in Petrolia are being wiped out; they're being lost. The hospital is being left with 20 chronic care beds and the future of those beds is "still pending." The 24-hour emergency department is being closed and all that the county's being left with is an 18-hour walk-in clinic.
Minister, the three area hospitals and the district health council had all agreed on a plan that would leave the Petrolia hospital intact and the commission said they thought the local plan made sense. Why did the commission turn that around and decide to plow under the county hospital in Petrolia?
Hon Jim Wilson (Minister of Health): As you know, the ministry, as one of the parties to this process, is undergoing its review now. We're in the 30-day period where the community and the ministry and other people will make their responses to the commission. If it turns out like some of the other decisions the commission has made in other communities, at the end of the day I think we've seen very good acceptance and a willingness to work with the directives the commission has put forward in Sudbury and in Thunder Bay. Perhaps that surprised some of us, in terms of the communities agreeing with many of the decisions the commission has made to date. I think its track record is pretty good. We have to respect the process that's set out in law, and this is the period for all parties to comment and voice their concerns to the commission.
Mrs McLeod: I can tell you what the residents of Petrolia are saying, what they're feeling. I can tell you about the concerns of surrounding communities like Wyoming, Watford, Oakdale and Oil Springs. They were numb at first, but now they're angry and they're frightened. They want to know what's going to happen if a resident has the misfortune of suffering a heart attack in the six hours their walk-in clinic is going to be closed. What happens to that person? A nurse at the Petrolia hospital has said that six-hour shutdown will force desperately sick or injured people to drive at least half an hour to get emergency care. She says that people are going to die, and you don't care.
It happened, coincidentally, that the member Mr Beaubien was away when the commission decided to bring down its report; he happened to be out of the country. Tomorrow the residents of Lambton county are going to be marching on Mr Beaubien's office, and we know that Mr Beaubien and his neighbour, Mr Boushy, have no reservations about telling it is like it is. I think it's important that you tell us today, Minister, what Mr Beaubien should tell his constituents tomorrow. Will you back his constituents' concerns about community health care, care in their own community, or will you simply let your commission go ahead and bulldoze their community hospital?
Hon Mr Wilson: I think all members should remind their constituents of the need to restructure, and all parties are on the record in this House as not debating the fact that the status quo cannot be maintained in our health care system. In light of federal cuts and in light of a growing and aging population, we have to change the system and we have to have a better system.
Today, people do fall between the cracks. We don't have that integration, that seamless continuum of care that health care providers and patients talk about. We don't have a perfect health care system out there now. If we don't address that system and bring restructuring and an integrated vision to it, and if we don't allow the commission to do its work without politicians getting involved, then we're not going to have much of a system at all to leave to our children and grandchildren, let alone present-day patients.
We have to move on what nurses and doctors and health care providers and patients themselves are asking for: a fully integrated system and, at the end of the day, a better system where we've cut the layers of administration, we've cut the waste, we've cut the duplication and we've driven every dollar humanly possible --
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Thank you. New question.
Ms Frances Lankin (Beaches-Woodbine): My question is to the Minister of Community and Social Services. I would like to send over to you this full-page ad from the Toronto Star. You'll see that there are thousands and thousands of names that have been placed in the Toronto Star, and there are ads like this with local names in 41 other communities across the province today. Tens of thousands of parents and others felt that this was the only way they could talk to you and challenge your child care review.
You failed to consult with families across the province. Invitation-only round tables are not community consultation. You have refused to have public hearings. You have not even told people what the time frame is for your consultation. As I travelled the province and met with people, I met with people in communities you went to where you held round tables before your report and where you have not gone back: in Ottawa for example, in Sudbury for example, in Hamilton, in west Toronto and on and on.
Minister, on October 2 you said, and I'm quoting from Hansard, "The list of groups that I've met with before...are the same group of individuals that we will be meeting with again in the future."
Two direct questions: On what date does your consultation process end and, second, will you live up to your commitment in Hansard and meet with the individuals and organizations --
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Thank you. Minister?
Hon Janet Ecker (Minister of Community and Social Services): Thank you very much for the question from the member opposite. I'm looking forward to whatever report she may wish to provide me, information on what she gathered in her hearings across the province. I had the opportunity to attend a portion of her first hearing, and I think those may well be of assistance in terms of the consultation we are doing. I have indeed met with the organizations that I met with before the report, I have met with them again -- my staff. There are continuing to be discussions and consultations with them to get their input and feedback as we decide what to do.
As I'm sure the honourable member knows, we have $200 million more that we've allocated for child care. That's $600 million. That's more than any other government in Ontario has had allocated for child care. I must also remind the member that that's more than twice what Quebec spends on child care, that's more than twice what Alberta spends on child care per capita, more than three times what the NDP is spending in Saskatchewan and about 10 times as much as the Liberal government in New Brunswick. So we do have financial commitments --
The Speaker: Government members. Thank you. Supplementary?
Ms Lankin: Minister, you have not met with the same organizations that you met with before. Karen McMaster and others in Hamilton you met with on April 12 are still waiting to hear back to their request for you to come back to their community and meet with them again. The Sudbury group you met with on March 8 has not been contacted by your office for a follow-up meeting. Charlyn Monahan and the Ottawa group that met with you on February 27 have been waiting to hear from you for when you're coming back.
Minister, don't tell us that you've met with these people. You promised on October 2 that you would meet with the same groups and individuals you met with before. Your commitment's in Hansard. It is clear. Will you go back to those communities?
Second, there are communities that you didn't go to. Let me tell you about a Northumberland child care forum. They sent you date after date after date asking you to come and explain your proposals to them. You denied. You refused to go. Carol Watson, a farm wife in Markdale, made a public plea for you to come to her community and to meet with others so she could talk about rural child care.
Again, two questions: Will you tell us the date for the end of your consultation period so we know what we're dealing with and, second, will you return to these communities that you met with before and meet with --
The Speaker: Thank you. Minister?
Hon Mrs Ecker: I don't have Hansard in front of me, but I believe the honourable member had been asking me about the groups and associations that I had met with. I had a list of them in the report, and I read into Hansard on one of the occasions the list of the associations and the organizations that represent child care in this province. I have indeed remet with those groups and organizations. Have I been able to meet with every one of the hundreds of --
Hon Mrs Ecker: If the honourable member would like me to answer the question, I'd be pleased to do so, Mr Speaker.
The Speaker: New question.
FAMILY SUPPORT PLAN
Mr Tim Hudak (Niagara South): My question today is to the Attorney General. A constituent from the Niagara area, Shirley, is here today in the members' gallery. She has come all the way from Niagara Falls because she wants to see Bill 82 passed into law. She has been working very hard with Bart Maves, the member for Niagara Falls, who was unable to join us today because he's home with his wife and their newborn daughter, Ainslie. Attorney General, she feels that the only way she can receive her $13,000 now owed to her by her ex-husband is to see Bill 82 passed. Shirley herself says he has changed his whole lifestyle to elude paying support to her. She believes the most effective way to get the money to her kids is through the suspension of his driver's licence.
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Member for Oriole, come to order. Thank you. And the member for Welland-Thorold as well, come to order.
Mr Hudak: Shirley would like this question asked and I appreciate the chance to ask it. Thank you for that, Mr Speaker.
Attorney General, how are you going to help Shirley get the money that's owed to her?
Hon Charles Harnick (Attorney General, minister responsible for native affairs): I thank the member for Niagara South for the question. I can't comment specifically on this case. However, Bill 82 would give us the ability to suspend driver's licences. Anyone who relies on their licence will want to pay their arrears or enter into an arrangement with the support plan to pay those arrears. This will help us get money into the hands of women and children who depend on it. Without these enforcement tools, this plan runs a deficit of $100 million a year. We need Bill 82, and I hope we can get that bill passed to help Shirley and other women just like her.
Mr Hudak: As I said, Shirley drove here today all the way from Niagara Falls.
Mr Peter Kormos (Welland-Thorold): Tim, ask him about Downsview.
The Speaker: Member for Welland-Thorold, please come to order.
Mr James J. Bradley (St Catharines): In the supplementary, ask when he introduced the bill and then when he called it. For 39 days that bill sat without being called.
Ms Shelley Martel (Sudbury East): Forty-nine.
Mr Bradley: For 49 days, Mr Premier, you let that sit on the order paper.
The Speaker: Member for St Catharines, come to order.
The Speaker: Order. Thank you. The member for Niagara South.
Mr Hudak: Again to the Attorney General, Shirley came all the way from Niagara Falls hoping to see Bill 82 debated. Basically, she wants to know when she can look forward to the passage of Bill 82 so that action can be taken to help her and others like the women who have been to my office in similar situations. When do you think this bill will become law?
Hon Mr Harnick: Thank you for the question. This legislation is a priority for this government. Every member of this House, I would hope, would want to help Shirley and people in her situation and people who are feeling the effects of $100 million of deficit every year because we don't have tools within the plan to collect this money.
I'm dismayed that this afternoon we're going to be debating an opposition day motion where we're being asked to withdraw this bill, because the effect of that will be to hurt people like Shirley, to hurt children, to hurt people who are not seeing any effective collection being made and who are seeing $100 million added to the debt of this plan every year. I would hope that members would vote against this opposition day motion and would support what people like Shirley and her children need.
Mr Mike Colle (Oakwood): A question to the Minister of Transportation: Yesterday you proudly announced the layoff of 700 inspectors and technicians from your ministry, probably the largest layoff in one day in the history of this province. What do you have to say to the 700 families who lost their jobs just before Christmas? What do you have to say to their children? What do you have to say to these men and women and their families?
Hon Al Palladini (Minister of Transportation): Because of the neglect of previous governments, we've had to put our money to use in protecting our infrastructure. With the duplication that presently exists within MTO, we must streamline MTO and be a much more productive deliverer.
As far as the services that these people delivered are concerned, we have a very good construction industry in the province of Ontario, a very good, mature construction industry, and we also have very capable engineers, renowned throughout the world, who are very capable of making sure that whatever safety the honourable member might be thinking about is not going to be compromised. The job will still get done.
Mr Colle: I think that's going to be very comforting to some of those children who won't have a Christmas present. Minister, you certainly have rewarded the construction companies with an early Christmas present. Now all the Ministry of Transportation will do is write cheques and then, when the highways fall apart, you'll write more cheques. How can you tell us with a straight face that the safety standards won't be compromised when you're allowing companies to inspect themselves? Who is going to ensure that they don't cut corners and don't compromise safety standards when those who enforce those standards and act as the public's watchdog are gone? Who's going to be the enforcement agent now?
Hon Mr Palladini: First of all, this government has been very up front with our plan and also with the people who unfortunately have been laid off. I might add that the settlement was a very lucrative settlement, and certainly we're also confident that even with these layoffs and with the potential work the private sector is going to be taking on a lot of these people are going to end up finding jobs with the private sector. But it's still very important.
I want the honourable member to understand that we are still the owners of the highway. MTO still owns the highway. The private sector is in a very good position to deliver the services we need. The inspectors who are going to be required to make sure that safety is not going to be compromised will be there. I say to the honourable member that this government is committed to making sure that our provincial highway infrastructure is going to once again --
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Minister, thank you.
Mr David Christopherson (Hamilton Centre): My question is to the Minister of Labour. Yesterday when you replaced the current WCB with your new Bill 99 you said this was a move from compensation to prevention. Well, you're certainly moving away from compensation and you've got injured workers angry across the province. I say to you it's a public relations sham to suggest that you're moving seriously to prevention.
I have here a leaked cabinet document entitled Cabinet Submission Proposal and Recommendation relating to the Occupational Health and Safety Act. It calls for enhancing the flexibility and reconsideration of the right to refuse unsafe work. The concept of enhanced flexibility is explained in an attached document.
You're going to create something called "the good employer program" and you're going to give the power to determine who sits on health and safety committees, the frequency of when they meet and inspection schedules to employers. Most unbelievably you're going to ensure that they may even be subjected to fewer, if any, ministry labour inspections. Minister, do you deny you're planning to give this kind of gift to your corporate friends in addition to the $6 billion?
Hon Elizabeth Witmer (Minister of Labour): I think the member opposite needs to realize there are various submissions prepared. At the end of the day there is one submission that goes forward. But I certainly make the commitment to you: I am just as committed to health and safety and the prevention of workplace accidents as you are.
In fact, last year, just for your information, we actually increased the number of inspections in this province by 7%. That was despite the fact that we had a six-week OPSEU strike. So I indicate to you we are strongly committed to health and safety and that our focus will be on prevention.
Mr Christopherson: I suggest to the minister that the document tells a very different story. If you are so proud of what you are doing in terms of prevention, why are you afraid to go out and have full public consultations?
Your document gives you various options in terms of the kind of consultation you could have around changes to the Occupational Health and Safety Act. The pros of the one you rejected were: "Broadly inclusive process. Stakeholders, both organizational and individual...will be presented with an opportunity to input." This would have been a comprehensive tour involving public hearings in major Ontario centres. The con to that recommendation was: "Substantial exposure in local/regional media could result in criticism of the government/ministry agenda."
Minister, why don't you admit you can't defend your record on prevention any more than you can on compensation? Why don't you stand in your place now and say you'll accept the recommendation and that cabinet document that calls for full, public, province-wide consultations, the very thing we've had to force you into, time after time?
Hon Mrs Witmer: I simply suggest to you there are certain decisions that have not been made. You're very premature to be spreading information which is not totally accurate. When you were in office you actually cut the Ministry of Labour by $63 million and eliminated 351 positions. You cut health and safety inspectors by 8%.
We are committed. You see the new vision in the new act we have on compensation. We have the new focus. We have done more than you ever did in five years.
Mrs Lillian Ross (Hamilton West): My question is to the Minister of Education. Today was a day of protest, as the leader of the third party has stated, organized by some parents and supported in part by the teachers' unions and the Ontario Public School Boards' Association. What assurances can you give parents all across this province, not just those who took part in this protest, that their children will receive a high-quality education?
Hon John Snobelen (Minister of Education and Training): I thank the honourable member for the question. As we entered the chamber this afternoon I was discussing with my colleague the member for Halton North about today, about parents arriving in various riding offices to talk about education. In fact, the member had a couple of parents arrive in his office and was able to spend an hour or so with those parents talking about what this government has been doing. I understand from the people in my constituency office that we have had a couple of parents arrive today and I hope to have a chance to talk with them personally later on in the day.
It seems that parents, rightly so, are very concerned about the quality of education their students receive in this province. I've talked to hundreds of parents all over the province, and the message they send is very clear: They expect high standards of student achievement in our school system and they're dissatisfied with the mediocre results we have been producing over time in our school system.
I have assured those parents, and I'm proud to stand in this House today and assure parents across the province, that we as a government, my colleagues and I will not accept mediocre students --
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Thank you, Minister.
Mrs Ross: Minister, what are you doing to make sure the government reaches out to parents? Is it your intention to conduct regular consultations with them?
Hon Mr Snobelen: As I mentioned in my first answer, I personally, and lots of my colleagues, have spent a great deal of time talking with parents right across the province, listening to their concerns and talking about some of the solutions this government is putting in place for the education system. On top of that we are engaged right now in a consultative process without parallel in the province's history.
I believe this is a subject of importance to parents and taxpayers across the province. We have two and a half million copies of our suggestions about education reform, secondary school reform, out with parents and students. We've received over 5,000 responses to date, and I recently announced that we're going to extend that consultation process to hear more from parents.
On top of that, we recently pledged to parents higher standards for student achievement in this province, and we've gone past that --
The Speaker: Thank you.
Mr Richard Patten (Ottawa Centre): My question is to the Minister of Education and Training. It is good to know that the minister is finally taking note, because what's happening is an unprecedented activity. It's unprecedented because it involves parents. I don't know about you, but I've never seen parents organized or begin to organize the way they are now. I think what you're seeing today is only the tip of the iceberg.
In 40 to 50 communities all across this province parents are staying home from work to make their point. It's not just that they're concerned with quality, Minister, they're concerned with what you're doing. You implied earlier that parents support you in your fight for quality, but parents are concerned with what you're doing. What are you going to tell parents who are out there saying, "We want you to slow down; we want you to stop cutting education"? What are you going to say to those parents, and do you believe they're off track?
Hon John Snobelen (Minister of Education and Training): As I said earlier, the member for Halton North had two parents in his riding office today. I had two parents in my riding office today. We're glad to speak with parents and we're happy they came out and really honour their commitment to their children. We have that same commitment.
I can tell you what parents have told me. Parents have told me they want to make absolutely certain that the standards of education in the province of Ontario produce superior results in student achievement. They are not satisfied with a system that is below Bulgaria's in terms of math results. They think we should be at the top of the world, not in the middle of the pack. So our pledge to parents to move the students to the front of the class has been well received by parents across this province, and our commitment not to send their children the bill for education. Your government, sir, and your government passed the bill for education on to the children. This government will not.
Mr Rick Bartolucci (Sudbury): Minister, the parents are telling the rest of us that they're worried about the erosion of public education. They're worried about increased class sizes. They're worried about less resources being available for their children. They're worried about less flexibility in the system. They're worried about the lack of special education resources available to those children with special needs. They're worried about the direction you're going in. They're worried about the speed you're going in. They're worried that they're not going to have a system in place that will ensure the needs of future students.
My question to you is simple: Will you assure those parents who were protesting today that you can guarantee that your next round of cuts will not negatively affect or impact any student in any classroom anywhere in Ontario? Can you give them that reassurance?
Hon Mr Snobelen: I can tell you this. I've talked to parents right across this province repeatedly and they have told me this about the speed of change: They want higher standards for their students and they want them now. The want a system of education that doesn't pass the bill on to their children and they want that now. They want improvements in our system now. We've heard those parents and we will have those improvements now.
I can assure the parents of Ontario, because I already have. Myself, my colleagues, this government have made a pledge to parents -- we've publicized that pledge to parents -- that we will raise the standards of education in this province, and we intend to be held to account for that promise.
FAMILY SUPPORT PLAN
Mrs Marion Boyd (London Centre): My question is to the Attorney General. Yesterday in London, seven family support plan recipients filed an application in the Ontario family court asking that there be an injunction against the director of the family support plan to compel the director to pay all the payments owing to those recipients which had been received by the plan and to find the director in contempt of court for having failed to remit the support payments to those people which had already come in to the coffers of the plan. Their lawyer states in the application that every one of these seven women's problems started when the London regional office closed down. It's been reported that these women are owed $5,175 and that they have confirmed that their ex-partners have paid this money into the family support plan.
Attorney General, you've dismantled the family support plan. You're forcing women to seek legal action against the plan in order for them to get the payments that they are legally owed and that have been collected. Why are you forcing women to the expense of seeking legal action in order to get the money the plan has owed --
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Thank you. Attorney General.
Hon Charles Harnick (Attorney General, minister responsible for native affairs): In the first few weeks of November we've disbursed cheques to 115,000 people. As we reorganize the family support plan, one of the building blocks to doing that is Bill 82. I can tell you that Mothers Against Fathers in Arrears has written to the leader of the third party and has said: "We believe that the Responsibility and Support Arrears Enforcement Act, 1996, is good legislation and will accomplish our goals for tougher enforcement. That is why we need you to stop your political games and expedite the passage of the legislation. Putting your political motives ahead of the needs of Ontario's children is reprehensible. Shame on you." That's what Mothers Against Fathers in Arrears says about your tactics.
Mrs Boyd: The mothers against fathers in default, or whatever your group is called, are quite right that the enforcement issues --
Hon Michael D. Harris (Premier): Show a little respect. That's typical: Run down the people of the province of Ontario, run down the groups. That's your attitude. Take it out on the mothers.
The Speaker: Order. Member for London Centre.
Mrs Boyd: Mr Speaker, I apologize to the group. I only know them by their acronym, which is MAFIA, and I didn't know the details of the name. I know very well that they have lobbied hard to have the enforcement issues in your bill put in place, and we have told you again and again that we support those enforcement measures. What we don't support is that those women could find themselves completely cut off the plan because your plan under this bill is to stop collecting money when it costs you too much.
You have already said that 450 million outstanding dollars are going to be written off, and many of those dollars are owed to that group that has been trying for years and years to collect that money. Why don't you come clean and say that your bill is not just about enforcement, that it's enabling you to stop collecting dollars, $450 million, that are owed women like the women who run MAFIA?
Hon Mr Harnick: It defies logic to be able to stand up and say that they support the bill, yet in their motion this afternoon they're asking for the bill to be withdrawn. Let me tell you that MAFIA met with them, and here's what they say. They say to the leader of the third party: "While your party was in power, you gave us empty promises of passing effective and meaningful legislation to stop the abusive parents who neglected their responsibility to pay support to their children. Now you're in a position to ensure quick passage of this important legislation and you are failing us again."
Ms Shelley Martel (Sudbury East): That's $450 million you're going to write off, Charles. Gone.
The Speaker: Order, member for Sudbury East.
Mr Bruce Crozier (Essex South): On a point of privilege, Mr Speaker: According to section 21(a) of the standing orders, "Privileges are the rights enjoyed by the House collectively and by the members of the House individually conferred by the Legislative Assembly.... "
Speaker, last Friday I received a fax in my office from the Ministry of the Attorney General over the signature of Abby Katz Starr, manager, issues and MPP liaison. This letter in part says, "As promised at the family support constituency briefings held Wednesday, November 20, and Thursday, November 21, here is the follow-up action."
I asked my staff if they had attended a constituency meeting. They said they knew nothing about it. So my staff called Abby Katz Starr and her answer, which I received today, was this: She blamed the mixup on temporary help. The letter we received was supposed to go to their caucus only.
Speaker, I think this smacks of partisanship in the extreme by withholding information with regard to briefings on a very important issue that's been raised for weeks in this House, and that is the family support plan. I feel my privilege has been breached and I would ask your assistance in this matter.
The Speaker: Thank you for your help, the member for Ottawa Centre. Although I listened carefully to your point of privilege, it's a meeting that was organized outside of this place, and the involvement of people with respect to the bureaucracy and so on is not within the purview of the Speaker.
Ms Frances Lankin (Beaches-Woodbine): Review it.
The Speaker: No, no. I appreciate what you're saying but, once again, often the refrain from the Speaker's dais is that I have limited powers in this place and they really revolve around this building and the precinct itself. If a minister --
The Speaker: If a minister calls a meeting, it's a meeting called by the minister or the staff of the minister or whoever works in the ministry office. Again I say to the members opposite, it's not up to the Speaker to determine who can and can't call a meeting and who can and can't go. It's not the job of the Speaker. I appreciate it. Thank you.
Mr Crozier: Mr Speaker, just briefly and further on the same point of order: If I may refer to the standing orders, it says the "rights enjoyed by the House collectively and by the members of the House individually." It doesn't say anything about whether it happens in this House or not. It says "members of the House." You're telling me, then, that a minister can brief caucus members of the government on an issue that involves tens of thousands of people in this province, in my riding and in other ridings, and there's absolutely nothing that can be done about it.
The Speaker: Yes, that's fundamentally what I'm saying.
SCHOOL BUS SAFETY
Mr Pat Hoy (Essex-Kent): To the Legislative Assembly of Ontario:
"Whereas the 800,000 children who ride the school buses of Ontario are at risk and their safety is in jeopardy from unsafe drivers who are not stopping for school buses; and
"Whereas the current school bus law is difficult to enforce since not only is a licence plate number required but positive identification of the driver and vehicle as well, which makes it extremely difficult to obtain a conviction;
"Therefore, be it resolved, that we, the undersigned, petition the Legislative Assembly of Ontario as follows:
"That private member's Bill 78 be passed. The bill doubles the existing range of fines for identified drivers and establishes vehicle owner liability.
"We ask for the support of all members of the Legislature."
There are a number of signatures and I have attached mine as well.
Ms Marilyn Churley (Riverdale): I have a petition of about 300 signatures here from students from the Jones Avenue school, some of whom happen to be here today to hear me read their petition. It reads:
"We, the undersigned students of Jones Avenue school, believe the government's proposal to cut the educational budget will jeopardize our future. If Jones Avenue is closed or totally altered, we will have fewer opportunities to learn. If it results in larger classes, it means less individual attention for all the students. The learning effects will be diminished.
"If, as suggested, we are pushed to go to night school, that means we have fewer opportunities to learn as regular students. Also, night school is not secure for women. At night school the teachers and students may not have enough time to know each other.
"Most of the students are new immigrants. They should have opportunities to learn Canadian speaking and Canadian experiences; otherwise, it is painful for them. Many students have successfully completed their credit courses at Jones and they can find good jobs due to their high level of English. They are now contributing to Canadian society. Before, when they were less fluent, their job prospects were low. They had to collect welfare in order to survive in Toronto, an expensive city to live in."
I agree totally with this petition and will sign it myself.
Mrs Julia Munro (Durham-York): I have a petition pertaining to the level of funding for adult day school credit courses signed by approximately 600 constituents from the Premier's riding of Nipissing. It appears to be in the standard form and I'm submitting it on their behalf today.
Mrs Lyn McLeod (Leader of the Opposition): I have a petition to the Legislature of Ontario.
"We, the undersigned, request that the Legislature of Ontario not approve any tax cuts until the causes of poverty and unemployment in Ontario are dealt with effectively and until the province's debt and deficit are paid down."
It's signed by a number of my constituents and I've added my signature.
Ms Frances Lankin (Beaches-Woodbine): I have a petition that reads:
"This petition protests the nearly $1 billion the government plans to cut from Ontario's school budgets by November 1996. We call upon Premier Mike Harris and Education Minister John Snobelen to guarantee adequate funding for our schools so that our kids get the benefit of a quality education."
It is signed by 560 students from Roden Public School in my riding and I'm pleased to affix my signature to it.
RIDEAU REGIONAL CENTRE
Mr W. Leo Jordan (Lanark-Renfrew): I have a petition forwarded from a representative of the employees of the Rideau Regional Centre in Smiths Falls.
We, the undersigned citizens of Ontario, beg leave to petition the Legislative Assembly as follows:
"Whereas the Minister of Community and Social Services has announced the downsizing initiatives as well as closure of first-rate community-based facilities for developmentally disabled adults; and
"Whereas Rideau Regional Centre is not an `institution' in the traditional sense and is a community in and of itself for those who reside there; and
"Whereas the care provided at Rideau Regional Centre is of a specialized nature requiring highly trained, skilled and dedicated staff; and
"Whereas these clients of Rideau Regional Centre have no desire to leave their home community to be repatriated and isolated in a community they have no relationship with; and
"Whereas the economy of Smiths Falls and area would be devastated by the downsizing and closure of Rideau Regional Centre;
"Therefore be it resolved that we, the undersigned residents of Ontario, demand that the decision to downsize and close these facilities be revoked and that the clients of the Rideau Regional Centre be allowed to continue living with dignity, stability and without threat in the community they call their home."
NORTH YORK BRANSON HOSPITAL
Mr Monte Kwinter (Wilson Heights): I have a petition to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario.
"Whereas the final report of the Metropolitan Toronto District Health Council hospital restructuring committee has recommended that North York Branson Hospital merge with York-Finch hospital; 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've affixed my signature to it as well.
Mr David Christopherson (Hamilton Centre): I have a petition from Local 175 of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union on behalf of the 55 employees at the IGA in Bancroft where scabs are going across the legitimate picket line and splitting that community up in such a serious way. It's been forwarded to me, by the way, by Mike Fraser, the president of the local, and Wayne Hanley, the secretary-treasurer, as well as Bob Linton, their communications liaison. The petition reads as follows:
"To the Legislative Assembly of Ontario:
"Whereas 55 members of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, Local 175, who are employed at the Bancroft IGA have been on strike since October 21, 1996, in an attempt to gain an fair and just collective agreement; and
"Whereas the employer has been found in violation on nine separate provisions of the Ontario Labour Relations Act and has failed to comply with the Ontario Labour Relations Board (OLRB) directives; and
"Whereas UFCW Local 175 has filed a contempt of court motion with the Ontario Court of Justice in order to enforce compliance with the order of the OLRB; and
"Whereas the employer, who is also the immediate past chairman of the Canadian Federation of Independent Grocers, has instituted the use of replacement workers; and
"Whereas the province of Ontario is witnessing growing labour unrest as a result of actions such as has been taken by the owner of the Bancroft IGA, in particular with the use of replacement workers;
"Therefore we, the undersigned, petition the Legislature of Ontario to restore the ban on replacement workers and bring forth labour legislation that restores a fair and equitable balance between labour and management, which was contained in the previous NDP government's Bill 40."
On behalf of my caucus colleagues, I add my name to theirs.
Mrs Lillian Ross (Hamilton West): "To the Legislative Assembly of Ontario:
"Whereas the Ontario Progressive Conservative government has passed a resolution urging the government of Canada to repeal section 745 of the Criminal Code of Canada to ensure that convicted murderers serve their entire sentences; and
"Whereas convicted first-degree murderers are allowed to apply to the court for a reduction of the parole ineligibility period; and
"Whereas victims' families must relive the horrors of the original crime through a jury hearing for this early parole and relive this every time the killer is given rehearings for early parole; and
"Whereas the provincial government must bear a large degree of the costs involved with a jury hearing;
"We, the undersigned, ask the Attorney General of Ontario to request the Minister of Justice and the Attorney General of Canada to reconsider his decision under Bill C-45 and to repeal section 745 of the Criminal Code of Canada."
I attach my signature to this petition.
Mr Alvin Curling (Scarborough North): I have a petition to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario. It reads:
"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, with the thousands of people who have signed this.
ONTARIO CORRECTIONAL INSTITUTE
Mrs Marion Boyd (London Centre): I have a petition to the Legislature of Ontario.
"Whereas we, the undersigned, believe that helping reduce crime and abuse in our communities is our responsibility as employees of the Ministry of Correctional Services, as professionals in related fields and as concerned citizens;
"That closing institutions which provide specialized services to women and treatment to men does not achieve that goal;
"That physical, emotional and sexual abuse is often transmitted from one generation to the next, with tremendous cost to society;
"That treatment aimed at breaking that cycle must include the abuser so that another generation of children is not raised with the same destructive lessons;
"That the Ontario Correctional Institute is a therapeutic community known around the world for their techniques;
"That research statistics support anecdotal evidence that we are effective in changing abusive behaviour;
"That a therapeutic community cannot exist in a superprison;
"Therefore, we urge you to save victims and money by keeping open what works."
This is a petition signed by about 200 --
The Acting Speaker (Ms Marilyn Churley): Thank you for the petition.
Mr Gary Fox (Prince Edward-Lennox-South Hastings): "To the Legislative Assembly of Ontario:
"Whereas the child care community of Prince Edward county, consisting of parents, guardians, child care providers, caregivers and members of organizations associated with children and child care wish to formally and respectfully respond to the 1996 Child Care Review;
"Whereas this same community applauds Janet Ecker, MPP, and her team for preparing, in consultation with a wide range of Ontarians, a thorough Child Care Review committed to developing a child care system which offers families a wide range of quality child care options which are accountable, affordable and accessible;
"We, the undersigned, petition the Legislative Assembly of Ontario as follows:
"To consider the response to the Child Care Review prepared by Prince Edward child care services and submitted to Gary Fox, MPP, which we have read and believe to contain certain proposed directions which may not serve to effectively meet the objectives established by the review."
I affix my signature to these 100-plus signatures.
Mr Tony Ruprecht (Parkdale): I'm still receiving petitions against the $2 user fee for prescription drugs. It reads as follows:
"Whereas the Ministry of Health has started to charge seniors and social assistance recipients a $2 user fee for each prescription filled on July 15, 1996; and
"Whereas seniors on a fixed income do not significantly benefit from the income tax savings created by this user fee copayment or from other non-health user fees; and
"Whereas the perceived savings to health care from the $2 user fee will not compensate for the suffering and misery that's been caused by this user fee, or the painstaking task involved to fill out the application forms; and
"Whereas the current Ontario Minister of Health, Jim Wilson, promised as an opposition MPP in a July 5, 1993, letter to Ontario pharmacists that his party would not endorse legislation that will punish patients to the detriment of health care in Ontario;
"We, the undersigned Ontario residents, strongly urge the" Progressive Conservative "government to repeal this user fee plan because the tax-saving user fee concept is not fair, sensitive or accessible to low-income or fixed-income seniors; and lest we forget, our province's seniors have paid their dues by collectively contributing to the social, economic, moral and political fabric of Canada."
I agree with this petition and I am affixing my signature to it.
OCCUPATIONAL HEALTH AND SAFETY
Mr Tony Martin (Sault Ste Marie): "To the Legislative Assembly of Ontario:
"Whereas the Harris government has begun a process to open the Occupational Health and Safety Act of Ontario; and
"Whereas this act is the single most important piece of legislation for working people since it is designed to protect our lives, safety and health while at work and allow us to return home to our families in the same condition in which we left; and
"Whereas the government has made it clear that they intend to water down the act and weaken the rights of workers under the law, including the right to know, the right to participate and especially the right to refuse; and
"Whereas this government has already watered down proper training of certified committee members;
"We, the undersigned" -- there are literally hundreds of them from Sault Ste Marie, 829, who have signed this -- "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 signed my name to this.
REPORTS BY COMMITTEES
STANDING COMMITTEE ON GOVERNMENT AGENCIES
Mr Laughren from the standing committee on government agencies presented the committee's 26th report.
The Acting Speaker (Ms Marilyn Churley): Pursuant to standing order 106(g)(11), the report is deemed to be adopted by the House.
STANDING COMMITTEE ON REGULATIONS AND PRIVATE BILLS
Mr Barrett from the standing committee on regulations and private bills presented the following report and moved its adoption:
Your committee begs to report the following bill as amended:
Bill Pr71, An Act respecting the City of Kitchener and the City of Waterloo.
The Acting Speaker (Ms Marilyn Churley): Shall the report be received and adopted? Agreed.
FAMILY SUPPORT PLAN
Mr Hampton moved opposition day motion number 5:
Whereas Mike Harris and Charles Harnick promised to improve the family support program; and
Whereas Mike Harris promised in the Common Sense Revolution that "Government should concentrate its efforts on tracking down `deadbeat' parents and enforcing payment orders"; and
Whereas the Ministry of the Attorney General closed all the family support plan regional offices and laid off 290 staff, in order to fund the government's tax giveaway to the wealthiest Ontarians; and
Whereas the closure of the family support plan's regional offices have caused hardship and suffering for women and children who were previously receiving regular payments; and
Whereas the cuts to the family support plan have eliminated community-based services; and
Whereas the loss of experienced staff and closing of the regional offices has thrown the family support plan into chaos; and
Whereas Mike Harris has clearly broken his promise to provide better enforcement of support orders; and
Whereas the government has introduced legislation which will allow the director of family support to refuse to register an order or to close a file and will enable voluntary withdrawal from the family support plan;
Therefore this House calls upon the government to withdraw Bill 82 and guarantee that women and children who are entitled to family support payments promptly receive them and that all court-ordered family support payments be enforced by the province of Ontario. Attorney General.
Mr Howard Hampton (Rainy River): First of all, let me acknowledge a number of women and men who are here today from Kitchener-Waterloo, Hamilton, Burlington, Barrie and Toronto who asked that we bring this motion forward today because they are angry at what this government has done to the family support plan. They are angry that women and children across this province are not receiving family support because the government chose to lay off 290 staff and close the regional offices in order that the government could finance its tax scheme for the wealthy. I want to thank them for taking the time to be here with us today.
Let me come directly to the point. The government says that they want this bill, Bill 82, debated. They say they want it in a hurry. Well, the government should answer this: Bill 82 was introduced on October 2. How is it that it has taken the government this long to now bring Bill 82 forward?
Ms Frances Lankin (Beaches-Woodbine): Forty-nine days.
Mr Hampton: Forty-nine days. Can the government explain why Bill 79 was more important than this bill? Can the government explain why Bill 81 was more important than the family support plan? Those were the bills that were debated on October 3, 7, 8, 9, 10 and 15.
Can the government explain why Bill 75, dealing with video slot machines, dealing with organized crime's infiltration of video slot machines, can the government tell us why on October 17, 21 and 22, Bill 75 dealing with video slot machines was more important than the family support plan? And again on October 28.
Again, Bill 79 on October 29. And again on October 30, Bill 81 was more important than this bill dealing with the family support plan. Finally, Thursday, October 31, Bill 76, environmental approvals, was more important than the family support plan.
Again on November 4 and again on November 5, video slot machines were deemed more important than the family support plan. November 5, 6, 7 and 18, video slot machines were deemed more important by this government than the family support plan.
On Wednesday, November 20, we in the New Democratic caucus requested unanimous consent to debate Bill 82, the family responsibility bill, and the government turned it down. The government denied unanimous consent to deal with the family support plan and Bill 82, the family responsibility act.
The government needs to come clean. The government needs to answer the question: Why have they delayed bringing Bill 82 into the Legislature for 49 days? Why have they put video slot machines ahead of child support for women and children? Why did the government deny unanimous consent over three weeks ago to debate the family support plan, to debate the family responsibility bill, Bill 82? The government should answer for that.
I also want to come directly to another point. The fact is there are some good things in Bill 82, some things that we pressed for when were the government and we actively worked on, and there are some things that will help. But people better look at some of the other items in Bill 82. The fact of the matter is that if Bill 82 as it now stands is implemented by the government, it will weaken the collection of child support in a number of cases around this province. I want to explain why it will weaken it.
We want good enforcement of child and family support orders, but we are not in favour of legislation that would put women in a position where they could be coerced into opting out, that will put women in a situation where the director of the family support plan can simply close down a file or close down a case. We believe these things are wrong. We believe that those kinds of items which are in Bill 82 will weaken the position of women.
I want to deal with some of the other issues. As I pointed out, we don't think that allowing the director to refuse to enforce orders, allowing the director to close files, is in the best interests of women. We believe the government should take that out of Bill 82. We believe that putting women in a position where they can be coerced to opt out of the plan is wrong and that it puts women in a very vulnerable position to have that in legislation. We believe it is wrong for the legislation to contain clauses that provide for the implementation of user fees. We don't think the government should be charging user fees of women and children to collect child support and we don't approve of clauses that provide for the privatization of the plan. We don't think private companies should be making money off the backs of women and children who are merely trying to collect their child support.
I want to be very clear with the government: You take back Bill 82 and take out these objectionable pieces of it, these very objectionable parts, and we'll be more than happy to pass Bill 82. We'll be more than happy to call for unanimous consent so the debate can begin and be wrapped up right away. But as long as these objectionable things are in this bill, as long as you put women in a vulnerable position, as long as you're going to collect user fees on the backs of women and children who are trying to collect child support, we're opposed to these measures and we find them very objectionable.
It is very important that people understand exactly what the government has done with the family support plan. Let's just look at some of the history. Prior to 1987-88, in all of those over 40 years of Conservative government, Conservatives never thought it was important for government to help women and children collect child support. When women and children came to Conservative governments and said, "We need help collecting child support," the Conservatives said: "That's not our business. You go collect it yourself."
It wasn't until there was an accord between the New Democrats and the Liberals that something was finally done to help women collect child support. In 1987-88, for the first time, $19.9 million was collected, and those numbers went up. In 1992-93, as Attorney General I brought in the family support plan program and the family support plan legislative changes. The amount of support collected jumped to $221.6 million. Something the Conservatives never wanted to we managed to use to collect $221.6 million for women and children. In 1993-94 it jumped to $297 million; in 1994-95 it jumped to $367 million collected for women and children.
The family support plan is not broken. The family support plan was collecting more money for women and children every year. In fact, if you look at the government's own business plan that was filed earlier this year, the government's own business plan noted that Ontario's family support plan was the most cost-effective way to collect child support in Canada. On a per-case basis, more money was being collected than anywhere else and, if you took the cost per case and measured it up with the amount of money that was being collected per case, it was the best plan anywhere.
But this government shut down that plan. It laid off 290 staff, it closed 11 regional offices and it put women and children across this province into a crisis. We have brought here since August chapter and verse, day in, day out, the history of the chaos that was caused. Women who had received support payments consistently for four and five years suddenly stopped receiving child support cheques in August of this year, in September, in October, and now continuing into November.
It wasn't that the support payor stopped paying. In fact employers like Ontario Hydro, employers like Algoma Steel, employers like Canadian National Railway, were getting notices sent from the family support plan ordering them to deduct more and more money, when they had already deducted the money. The money had been deducted by the employers and had been sent to the no-longer-functioning family support plan and it was sitting there in a government bank account.
Instead of the government transferring that money to the women and children who need it and deserve it, this government was collecting that money in a bank account, was not distributing it, was incapable of distributing it, because they had shut down the plan. The very workers, the very regional offices that distributed that money were shut down, and they were shut down for one reason: so the government could find the money to finance their phoney tax scheme for their wealthy friends.
That's the history of what has gone on here. That is the history. So we have all kinds of cases across this province of women and children who had their power shut off because they weren't receiving their family support plan cheques in August, in September, in October, in November, who had their natural gas shut off, who had their phone disconnected, who were evicted from their apartments, who had to go to a food bank to get food. Why? Because this government shut down the family support plan; they wanted the money to finance their phoney tax scheme. Their phoney tax scheme is more important to them than getting child support cheques to the women and children who are legally entitled to it and who need it. That's why this chaos was created.
A number of people in our caucus want to speak further to this bill, but I lay it on the line again: This government has to answer, why did it take them over 40 days to bring Bill 82 forward? Why was it more important to them to debate video slot machines than to debate child support payments for women and children? Why was it more important for them to debate Bill 81 than to debate and bring forward Bill 82 dealing with family support?
The government has to answer that and the government has to answer why, through this legislation, you are putting women and children in the most vulnerable positions. Why are you putting them in the position where it will be in a support payor's interest to coerce them out of the plan? Why are you putting them in that position? Why do you put in this legislation the provision to collect user fees on the backs of women and children? Why do you put in this legislation provisions to privatize the plan so that corporations can make money off the backs of women and children who are trying to collect child support? That's what you have to answer for.
You take those objectionable items out of this bill and we will be here whenever you want to pass it. We'll give unanimous consent. But, as it stands, this bill has several objectionable items that will hurt women and children.
The Acting Speaker (Ms Marilyn Churley): Further debate?
Mr Peter Kormos (Welland-Thorold): On a point of order, Madam Speaker: This is an important debate. That's obvious from the tone of our leader's comments with respect to this motion. There are a number of people who have come to this House today to observe this debate. One of those people is a young man, Arron Moore, who is sitting in the members' gallery right now. He came to Toronto with his mother from Barrie. Both he and she have a strong interest in this debate and in the issue.
The Acting Speaker: Could you get to your point of order, please?
Mr Kormos: Yes. This young man is a guest of mine in this Legislature. I've signed his pass. He has been denied access to this chamber because he's wearing a T-shirt that is emblazoned with the logo that as a matter of fact says, "Organize, Educate, Resist." You're well aware it's the logo from Days of Protest when people from all walks of life entered the streets of Toronto several weeks ago. He has been asked by security -- and I make no criticism of them; these are their instructions -- to remove his T-shirt and turn it inside out.
This is a very serious matter. A member of the public is being denied access to this chamber on a very arbitrary and, quite frankly, political basis. I'm calling upon you, Speaker, to direct the security staff to permit this young man into this chamber. He is not here to protest; he is not here to demonstrate; he is not here to engage in any inappropriate behaviour. He's wearing a piece of clothing which is quite normal, quite frankly, on the streets of Toronto or elsewhere in Ontario. I call upon you, Speaker, to direct that my guest to this chamber not be denied access to it as a result of a piece of clothing which in itself is not objectionable in any way, shape or form.
Mr Tony Ruprecht (Parkdale): Another point of order on the same point.
The Acting Speaker: The same point of order. May I remind the members that --
Ms Lankin: That's their time then.
The Acting Speaker: Yes. I'm not going to stop the clock. This is time-allocated, so go ahead.
Mr Ruprecht: But it's important.
Ms Lankin: It's on our time. We've got speakers.
The Acting Speaker: On your point of order, I know it's general policy in this Legislature that demonstrations aren't allowed. However, I am going to rule that that's subjective, who determines whether a logo on a T-shirt is a demonstration or not. That's an open question, so I'm going to rule that this member be allowed in the Legislature to hear the debate.
Mr David Tilson (Dufferin-Peel): I wish to respond to the presentation of the resolution by the leader of the third party. I must say that after the last question today was made by the former Attorney General, the member for London Centre, who commented that she supported the bill -- and yet the resolution now asks that the bill be withdrawn, although now the leader of the third party is saying, "Well, if you get rid of a couple of sections, we'll permit the bill to be voted on immediately."
I find it very strange, because this is a very unusual motion. I must say in my brief time, which has only been since 1990, I've never heard an opposition party make a resolution like this demanding that a bill be withdrawn. Maybe it has happened, but I don't recall it having happened. It's a very unusual step, particularly with the comments from the member who I believe is also the critic for the third party with respect to Bill 82. However, we will be proceeding to debate it. This, I think, is the fifth day that this time has been spent. We've spent three full days on it. We spent some time yesterday and now this is in effect another day on which we're debating this bill.
I believe that all members of this House will acknowledge that we have a very serious problem that really started on day one. I've stated this before and I'm going to state it again because I don't think I'm getting through to the members of the opposition, and the leader of the third party didn't refer to this. He talked about all the wonderful things he did when he was the Attorney General, but what he didn't say was that there still remain 8,000 pieces of correspondence per day coming into the system that have to be responded to, and 50,000 telephone calls are made per day, of which only 6% are answered. This is under the system that the NDP and the Liberal accord developed. Their universal program increases a case load of 148,000 by 1,400 cases per day, notwithstanding the fact that responsible parents who do not need the program are required to be in the program.
The real problem in this province is that there is $1 billion in support payment arrears, of which one half is collectible. Only 23% of the cases are in full compliance. I don't know how the members of the third party, and to a certain extent the members of the Liberal Party, can say this system is working. The system is not working and it's never worked from day one: 77% of the cases are not in compliance and in a full 46% of the cases no payments are being made at all.
To say in the resolution that the Premier and the Attorney General promised to improve the family support plan, if you read the bill, if you read the enforcement provisions of this bill, which are going to be tougher than in any other jurisdiction in North America, I don't know how you can stand day after day and then finally, today, say this bill should be withdrawn. I don't know how in all honest conscience you can do that. To say that our government should concentrate its efforts on tracking down deadbeat parents and enforcing payment orders, that's exactly what this bill is going to do.
I stand in amazement at particularly the members of the third party who come here today and ask that this bill be withdrawn when the whole process cries out for a change. The decentralized system they speak of that they seem to be so proud of didn't work. I've listed off all the examples. Talk to anybody who's in the system, who is forced to be in the system, and you'll know in your own heart of hearts it can't work. It can't possibly work when you get 8,000 pieces of correspondence a day, 50,000 telephone calls a day and a machine, 6% of which are answered.
I honestly don't know how they can come here today and demand that the bill be withdrawn. Notwithstanding that I want to remind them, I want to go through some of the sections as to what this bill is going to do, the tough enforcement philosophy the process should have had from day one.
Part V of the bill talks about drivers' licences and motor vehicle permit suspension for defaulting payors. The reporting of cases to credit bureaus, section 47; read that section. The permitting registration of support orders under the Personal Property Security Act; that's section 43. The giving of support order arrears under the Creditors' Relief Act, the providing of better methods to trace and locate defaulting parents, the garnishment of joint bank accounts, the preventing of sheltering of assets, the seizure of lottery winnings of over $1,000 -- I've never heard one word from the members of the third party as to whether they support or reject those positions. They stand up day after day after day saying how the system isn't working. Of course it's not working. That's why we're going to change it.
I'd like to make a few comments with respect to some of the enforcement measures, specifically the driver's licence and motor vehicle permit suspension. Under these sections the director may direct the registrar of motor vehicles to suspend a payor's driver's licence or permit if he or she owes arrears in a support order. Payors are first given 30 days' notice and an opportunity to pay the arrears or enter into a payment arrangement with the director before the driver's licence or vehicle permit is suspended.
We believe this section will bring some sense to those payors who are simply ignoring the court orders. The payor can apply to the court to make an order, preventing the program from suspending the licence if the individual is bearing the order. To limit delay tactics, any order preventing the program from suspending the driver's licence or vehicle permit will only be in effect for six months, with the possibility of an additional three-month extension. Why won't you agree to such a proposal as that? I don't know why you don't.
One more section, the reporting of cases to credit bureaus, section 47. Defaulting payors continue to borrow money for their own purposes despite the fact that they're neglecting to pay child support. Under this section, section 47, the program may report defaulting payors to consumer reporting agencies to ensure that support default is reflected in their credit rating, thereby impeding the ability of defaulters to add to their debt. Reporting of all cases to credit bureaus is one of the new tough enforcement measures that the Family Responsibility Office will administer. This is the second tough enforcement which I cannot understand why members of the third party won't support.
Section 43 talks of the Personal Property Security Act. Defaulting payors continue to borrow money for their own purposes, again despite the fact that they are neglecting child support. These new creditors, if registered under the Personal Property Security Act, have priority over child support arrears. Therefore, this section, section 43, allows support orders to be registered as security under the Personal Property Security Act. In that way, when an asset is sold, the child support order will be given priority over subsequent registered interests and unregistered interests. This section cries out to be passed today.
Another section is section 66, the amendment to the treatment of the arrears under the Creditors' Relief Act. The existing law as it stands now gives support arrears priority over other judgement creditors for only lump sum support arrears and for one year's worth of periodic support payments. Amendments to the Creditors' Relief Act under this bill will give priority to all support arrears over other judgement debts. This means that when a sheriff takes steps to collect on a support payor's judgement debts, support arrears will be paid first even if there are other judgement debts.
The final item, because there are other members from the government side who wish to make a presentation this afternoon with respect to this resolution, is better tracing and locating of default payors. Currently the family support plan has the authority to gain the address of a payor and the name and address of the employer. There is no ability under the current law to obtain financial information other than what the payor discloses. Without complete financial disclosure related to the payor, enforcement is therefore limited. This bill, section 54 in particular, will provide better methods to trace and locate defaulting parents who cannot be found so that the program can take enforcement action to collect these amounts that are owing to the women and children of this province.
My time has expired, but I urge the members of the opposition, and particularly the members of the third party, to come to their senses and allow this bill to be passed. It cries out for passage.
Mrs Sandra Pupatello (Windsor-Sandwich): I am pleased to rise today to speak once again on the family support bill. It gives us an opportunity to speak about the whole concept of family support in the first place and what a disaster it's been currently, and in particular for the people of Windsor-Sandwich, where I come from.
There are few issues that tug at the heartstrings like those who are negatively impacted by changes that governments make, in particular when the government does it under the guise of doing something that is supposed to be helpful. I can tell you, as many of us who are sitting in this House now know, the changes made by this government in family support have been an absolute disaster for families not just in Windsor-Sandwich but across Ontario, including those represented by Conservative members.
Last week when we spoke to this bill during debate, there were members opposite who said they were not receiving any calls in their offices. We know today that this simply was not the case, that you were simply trying to show that while we may be trying to make political mileage out of this issue, you in fact as Conservative members in this House are not bringing forward information not only to this House but, as well, not bringing it forward to the Attorney General. Because if you honestly feel you have a line to the Attorney General, you should have been on your feet in his office, where you could get in a lot quicker than I could, and telling them the kinds of problems that families were facing in your ridings. I will tell you that we knew that was happening in your ridings as well. For you to be silent on this issue is completely unacceptable if you are being representative here.
There are some members here who have dared to speak out, who have been asked by the press in your ridings and at that point have said, "Indeed we've had some trouble." I'd like to speak to those Conservative members today and say that we really do need your help; the families in Windsor need your help. If you feel you are going to somehow be influential so that you can break the logjam that is happening in the Attorney General's office, we sincerely need your help.
There are families out there who, while Christmas is drawing near, are simply not in a position because they do not have adequate funding -- not funding that is some sort of social assistance, which some members here have some trouble with, but money that is clearly and rightly theirs because of a court order. In many cases it is money that is truly theirs that parents who are not the custodial parent are trying to give to their children, and we are not managing to get this money through to them. I came into the House on several occasions with example after example of families like this in my riding.
We have Robert, who works in the mould industry in Windsor, who was in arrears at one time and so a huge amount was being taken off while he was able to catch up. Today, because of the change, because of the closure of the Windsor regional office, he has nowhere to go, nor has our office or our office staff been in a position to get through to make changes so that significant amount is still not coming off of his garnisheed wages. We have a woman named Ruth who is more than $5,000 in arrears.
I will tell you that in most of the cases with our families who are having trouble with the family support plan, these are not incidences where the families are particularly affluent, where they can afford waiting for thousands of dollars to come through because they've got some kind of nest egg somewhere. Unfortunately, that is not the case with most of the parents who are calling us. I can tell you that the desperation in their voices as we're speaking with them is something that would even galvanize you into action here.
We said last time that we truly believe that if this were being run as a business, the Attorney General for the government of Ontario would have lost his job a long time ago. We would have fired him if we'd had an opportunity to do so. His actions to date have been an absolute disaster.
When the decisions were being made to close the regional offices, I can honestly tell you that the Attorney General was presented with very sufficient documentation to prove that closing the regional offices was simply not going to be helpful, was not going to streamline. If they looked at any areas of the work of the regional offices, they could perhaps have looked at the financial side, where in Windsor, as the example, of 24 staff people, six people work in the area of finance. If they could ever come to an agreement in use and training level of a new computer system to replace that kind of work, that could have been streamlined. But that certainly was no reason or logic to close the office down entirely. The same case can be made for Thunder Bay, for Hamilton, for Toronto. We certainly cannot understand why even today, after weeks and weeks of harping on case after case, the Attorney General today still has the nerve to stand in this House and say, "We're fixing the problem."
We are incensed. At some point we've got to make new vocabulary, because how many times can we say that we cannot believe he has been allowed to get away with this and to do this to the Ontario family for this long and no measure has come down from the Premier's office to fix this? This is totally unacceptable, something that clearly belongs to families.
We're here today to speak to the opposition motion that's been brought forward. We don't believe -- I don't believe -- that we can withdraw this bill today. We know that Bill 82 needs to be passed. This is not brain surgery, the items in Bill 82. These are issues that have been dealt with in other jurisdictions across North America for years. We've not all of a sudden unearthed all of this new information to be able to attract these deadbeat parents who aren't paying. We've known this kind of information for some time, and yes, it's about time the Ontario government put their mettle into it and actually brought it forward.
Since you are so passionate about the area of making sure these parents actually pay support, why did it take the Conservative members 49 days from the introduction of the bill to the debate time? And how dare a Conservative member today hold a press conference with parents out there and suggest to these parents of Ontario that the Liberals and the NDP are trying to slow the process of Bill 82. That's exactly what happened today.
Mr Tilson: No press conference.
The Acting Speaker: Order, please. The member for Dufferin-Peel, come to order.
Mrs Pupatello: Let me tell you that is a joke and it's a joke that member has perpetrated on those families, because it's about time we told the truth in this House. This government took 49 days from the introduction of the bill to the time it has been debated in these last couple of weeks in this House and the government has the mantle here. They are the ones who could have chosen.
I'll tell you what the Ontario government has done: This government has decided to play the typical political game, to wait until you needed to score points with the media and score points with the public to show how compassionate you are for families. Not only that, you also waited until there was such a complete crisis in the family support plan that you absolutely had to float Bill 82, which you'd been sitting on for 49 days. Let me tell you, that meant for us 49 more days of more families with more screwed-up problems concerning their money than we've ever had in the history of Ontario.
No one is going to argue with us. I would even perhaps caution to say that had the NDP still been there, they too might have realized they had significant problems they had to address with this system. Surely they knew it. That's why they were addressing the issue, just as the Liberals had done. Not one member in this House would suggest that the family support plan was perfect and that it couldn't be improved. Not only that, but the number of parents who weren't being affected yet in a positive way, we all needed to address it.
To suggest today, as has happened with our member for Brampton North, who decides to be the champion here -- I might suggest too that if you were going to send forward an MPP to participate in this kind of a function this morning, you really could have suggested another member because that MPP, of all members of this House, who lately has had his 15 minutes of fame for making the most outrageous and outlandish statements in this House that are completely anti-women, completely anti-children, but no, he's going to go out today as though he's been totally supportive of the family support plan and the changes you're bringing in. It is ludicrous to suggest this.
All we want the people out there to know is that this Tory government took 49 days from the introduction of the bill to the debate of the bill.
Mr Tilson: And you're still talking.
Mrs Pupatello: And I am still talking. As long as the people in Windsor-Sandwich have not had this corrected, I am going to keep talking and you won't hear me silenced on this issue. If you think you're going to politicize an opposition day, which is one of the few chances that opposition parties have to lay it on the line with the Tories, that's going to be your problem because we'll continue to do so.
I might also want to say that had this whole issue been such a big one and such a big concern for the Conservatives who are now in government, why did you introduce the bill when you did? Why was that not introduced at the same time as, say, Bill 7? You guys were writing Bill 7 while Harris was on his little campaign bus. Before the vote day on June 8, 1995, you had that bill written.
Was family support such a burning issue for Tories that you had to wait several months -- nay, a year -- to even think about writing Bill 82? And now to suggest that only the Tories are championing the cause of families is absolutely ludicrous. The people will begin to see, because in my view, the bloom is off the rose. What is becoming more than a little apparent is that the single-mindedness of government today in Ontario is looking for money because you need to finance a tax cut.
This becomes more and more clear as we get more data that support what we are saying. The bond rating service issued a press release yesterday and it was quite interesting. In fact, what they said about your tax cut -- let's face it, you ran on a tax cut, so you're going to have to support the tax cut now and you're going to have to be positive about it. Not only now but even when the bond rating service sends out their press release, you're going to have to support this.
I want you to stand up in the House today, Minister, and support why they would have issued a challenge that says the 30% personal income tax cut is the single largest challenge to the balanced budget objective. The bond rating service estimates that 88% of increases in tax revenue resulting from economic growth over the next three years will be required to finance the tax cut reduction.
This just came out yesterday, so now we're going to start doing some research to find out when in the history of Ontario we had this kind of growth rate that's going to allow you the 88% that you're going to need, because the fact of the matter is you're going to borrow to finance the tax cut. You'll borrow it.
I think I should probably send all of you copies of the press release because some of you would be more than a little interested to read that your friends or acquaintances really aren't in sync with you on this tax cut. They really seem to be coming along here.
The deficit at just over 2% of GDP is still high for this stage of the economic cycle. Let me say this again. The deficit at just over 2% of GDP is still high for this stage of the economic cycle. In addition, it estimates the proposed 30% personal income tax cut will absorb approximately 88% of the tax revenue generated by the economy over the next three years. I think we have some cause for worry here.
If we go back to what really drives the government in what they're doing, we need to ask the government to take special consideration, be especially clear that when you're making policy decisions like the ones you made not that long ago to close regional offices in Ontario, it was simply foolhardy when you knew there was a problem with family support. When you knew the finger had a cut, you wanted to fix it by cutting off the arm. That's exactly what you did where family support was concerned.
You had documentation, our Attorney General had documentation that proved the Windsor office was far and away one of the best offices and highly efficiently run offices in the Ontario government. The staff people I've come to know were highly qualified. We paid to train them and they're gone. Not only have we lost jobs in Windsor as a result, but we have another brain drain because we had the cost assumed to train them and give them that experience so that they could help citizens in Ontario, and now they're gone. What you got instead was a bunch of temporary help, clerk positions, in Toronto that cannot answer the telephones, and when you get them on the phone, they don't give you the answers.
Last week when I spoke in this House, an interesting thing happened. I got calls from as far away as Wawa. I always like hearing from the people of Wawa. People were very curious to hear that the debt situation in Ontario is pretty dismal, thanks to the Tories. We now have proof you have the worst GDP-to-debt ratio in the history of the Ontario government. For all of your cuts, for the very little economic development that you've been able to create, you are now at about 34% in your debt-to-GDP ratio. It's absolutely the worst in the history of the Ontario government and people found that interesting. So of course we faxed our research all over Ontario to everyone who called and asked for it. Any of the members of the Conservative Party, I would welcome; please call and we'll send you the data as well.
We also got calls that said: "You know, here's a phone number you might want to use. You actually get a live person." So for all the members who don't want to identify themselves, I did want to give you the number. It's area code 416, and the number is 359-3929. So, Speaker, if you don't mind, this phone number is critical to many people.
The Acting Speaker (Mr Bert Johnson): I do mind.
Mrs Pupatello: You do mind. I'll put that down. It'll be in Hansard.
Mr Kormos: What's that number again?
Mrs Pupatello: That number was 416-359-3929. That at least will give you a real voice to talk to. They will not have all the information you need, but at least you have a voice.
We also have two fax numbers. Mr Speaker, may I hold this fax number up, or the second number on this list?
Mr Kormos: I can't see that.
The Acting Speaker: No, you may not.
Mrs Pupatello: No. I'll put that down. The fax numbers are, to the member from Welland, 416-359-3947 or 416-359-3949. I'd encourage constituency staff, Queen's Park staff who have been having an awful lot of trouble getting through to the Attorney General, to explain to constituents that we have to say we are trying. We have faxed our lists of problem cases and we've been asked to somehow prioritize the worst cases. In my view they're all worst cases. How you'd ever choose which of the worst is better is impossible. We've been asked to fax them again. We simply are not getting through to the Attorney General.
We've decided to try to plead to the Premier that if the Premier has any sympathy for parents and families out there in Ontario, he'll just turn around to that Attorney General and say, "Get your act together." If I were the employer and the Attorney General were my employee, I would have fired him long ago because this is an absolute disaster.
Mr Ted Chudleigh (Halton North): You've said that before.
Mrs Pupatello: I did say that before and I'll keep saying that because this is absolutely critical. I have never seen such a botched-up system in my life, which may not be saying much. Perhaps you've seen worse, but the way this is affecting families is terrible because it was completely avoidable.
Our member for Hamilton, Dominic Agostino, stood in the House and presented a document that the cabinet members got. Those cabinet members knew the result of closing the regional office before your computer system was up and running, before you had your second system in place. You cabinet ministers knew; you were told you were going to have absolute chaos, and the result was that you planned to do nothing. You planned to have a completely chaotic system here. Perhaps you planned at that time too to wait until the crisis reached a sufficient level and at that point you would introduce Bill 82.
If those whiz kids are this bright, you know what? I give them kudos too because it was a brilliant marketing strategy to actually wait to implement this closure, total chaos, introduction of Bill 82 to get the good-news hit. Wait 49 more days to begin debate so that the chaos gets even worse, so that you have the nerve to send your Conservative member out there as though we are somehow trying to obstruct the debate on this or pass some very good things that family support needs. This has all been about a marketing strategy of the government, and it's only because of one thing: You're looking for money and you will cut it anywhere. Regardless of how illogical the cut is, you will cut anywhere.
I hope we have a full debate on this. I say to parents out there who are under some misguided information that we would be obstructionists on this: That is simply not the case. We have the right to debate every bill that comes into this House. In this case, when we debate this issue we get the opportunity to say that this government has been an abysmal failure for families in Ontario and we need to have this corrected.
Ms Shelley Martel (Sudbury East): I am pleased to participate in the debate today because it allows me to put on the record again, to reinforce, how this Attorney General has caused a crisis at the family support plan beginning in August this year. It allows me again to reinforce the very serious concerns we have with provisions of Bill 82 which in the long run will be far more detrimental to women and children who are trying to receive arrears than anything any other government could have done.
Let me begin with the crisis at the family support plan. I have a really hard time hearing and accepting that this Conservative government is somehow genuinely concerned about the plight of women and children across this province when the Attorney General made a conscious decision to finance his portion of the tax cut off the backs of women and children who are involved in the family support plan. I have a hard time accepting that you're very genuine about your concern today when you allowed him to do that kind of thing.
The fact of the matter is that this Attorney General decided he was going to take 35% out of the operating budget of the family support plan over two years -- that was his decision -- to provide his contribution for your phoney tax cut. The result of that: 290 experienced family support plan staff laid off in a single day. The result was that eight regional offices were closed by the Attorney General. There was no transition in place.
The new centralized office that's supposed to be so much more efficient and effective doesn't exist. We exposed that, my colleague from Welland-Thorold and I, some three weeks ago when we went to Downsview. There are computers piled all over, faxes piled all over, phones not plugged in, computers not plugged in. There's no one working at that office.
Your Attorney General had the audacity to close the eight regional offices before that new office was even up and running. He also laid off that staff with no provision in place whatsoever to hire new staff, to get people trained so that people wouldn't lose their service in the supposed transition. He did that, I remind every member in this House, against the very specific advice of all his staff, from the front line right up to his senior management staff, who said to him, "If you move in this way, if you close those offices and lay off 290 staff, you will have thousands of women and children put at risk of financial hardship because there will be no service delivery, no way to get cheques out to those people." He did it anyway, against all that advice.
I ask you, as members of the Conservative Party, to think about a man who would deliberately, consciously put at risk thousands and thousands of families right across this province that were receiving regular support payments just so he could make his contribution to the tax cut. That's how much he cares about women and children who are owed support in the province of Ontario. The government had better recognize that.
I heard the Minister of Economic Development and Trade say in this House yesterday that the government is operating like a business. No business in this province would shut down its regional offices before its new centralized office was up and running. No business would lay off the overwhelming majority of its staff and not have any personnel to replace and deliver services. No business would puts its clients at risk in the way this Attorney General has.
The clients here are human beings. They are predominantly women and children who are now suffering financial hardship directly as a result of a conscious and deliberate decision that he made. Shame on all of you and shame on him for financing the tax cut on the backs of women and children in this province, because that's what he's done, and all of you should recognize that.
Let me tell you about my concerns with this bill: the very ones the member for Dufferin-Peel conveniently neglected to mention in his speech in this House a few moments ago. The very concerns we have in this caucus that we believe will result in long-term harm for women and children trying to get arrears are the very ones that he conveniently forgot to mention. They are very serious concerns. Let me name two of them.
I am very concerned about provision that would allow families to opt out of the plan, because there is no doubt in my mind that any number of payors would use coercive methods to try and force recipients out of the plan, or, if they got them out of the plan, to then use any means to get access issues and other issues resolved by saying, "I'm not going to give you your money." There will be no way to ensure that those families get their money if they have opted out of the plan. There are no provisions whatsoever in this piece of legislation to stop coercion on behalf of payors, none whatsoever.
I am also appalled that the minister would think it's appropriate that when and if people want to come back into the plan, they will be charged a fee for that. No woman, no recipient, no payor should be charged user fees under this plan. This money is legally owed to families. The Attorney General has no business saying there will be any kind of user fee in this plan. He certainly has no business planning to turn this over to the private sector so that his friends in the corporate sector can make money off the backs of women and children who are legally owed support payments in this province. That is unacceptable. It is unacceptable that the minister would allow any kind of user fees, any kind of fee, any kind of payment for people who are trying to get money they are legally entitled to receive.
I want to say to the member here, and it's too bad he's left the chamber, if he wanted to bring in a bill today and proceed on the very provisions he named when he spoke today, we in this party would move unanimous consent and vote on that today, because the provisions he outlined are ones which we support, are ones which are necessary. But it's those very concerns I mentioned in the House just a moment ago, the concerns about opting out and no method to deal with coercion, the concerns about fees and the concern about allowing the director to write off arrears -- which are not acceptable to members of this party.
Let me deal with the arrears, because this government has promised thousands of women and across this province that when this bill is passed they are suddenly going to see some of those arrears collected. Those women and children should be reminded that this bill says very clearly that the director of the plan will have the ability, will have the discretion to write off millions and millions of dollars of arrears by closing any file that he or she wishes to close because he or she deems that those files are not enforceable.
The Attorney General in this House has already said that some $450 million of arrears are unenforceable. There is no doubt in my mind that if this bill passes without a change to that section, without it being taken out completely, two years from now the Attorney General will stand in his place and will try to say that the plan is working because now $450 million of arrears doesn't show. And that $450 million of arrears will be money that was owed to women and children that should have gone out to families across the province that will be wiped off the books because it will be too expensive for the government or some private collection agency to collect it.
That is not acceptable to members in this party. It should not be acceptable to thousands of women and children out there who are getting false promises from this government that somehow they're going to get their arrears. They will not if that portion of this bill passes.
There's one final comment I want to make in the time I have remaining, and that's with respect to this bill. I remind all members in this House again that for 42 years under previous Tory governments, for 42 years, the issue of family support was not a high priority for Conservative governments. Not one Conservative government under 42 years of rule thought enough about it as a public policy issue, thought that government should be involved in ensuring that women and children got support payments.
Don't tell me how concerned you are about this issue now. This bill was introduced on October 2. For 49 days, this government didn't call this bill. Video lottery terminals and other bills were more important. On November 7, when our party asked for unanimous consent in this House to debate Bill 82, the Attorney General sat in his place and members of this Conservative government voted that down. That's how much you cared to deal with this bill.
May I say one thing in closing? You should be telling everyone clearly that even if this bill was to pass tomorrow, because of the incompetence, because of the bungling of this Attorney General, there's not even an office where you could open up business at this point in time.
We heard this week in this House that the request for proposals for new technology for the new office just went out two weeks ago. It's not even in place. Downsview is a catastrophe right now. You have new staff who are not trained, who we've been told won't even be starting to answer the phone until January. That's the mess we've been left with because this Attorney General thought it was far more important to finance his tax cut on the backs of women and children than to ensure that people who used to get regular payments would continue to receive them.
Mr Gary L. Leadston (Kitchener-Wilmot): I'd like to respond to the member for Sudbury East and the member for Windsor-Sandwich. They're obviously living in a dream world if they believe that the regional office structure of the old family support plan that they operated was providing regular payments to women and children. The old plan that the former Liberal government put in place and that the former NDP government perpetuated was ineffective. It caused hardship and suffering for women and children in this province.
If the regionally based family support plan that your government operated was so great, why, when this government assumed office, were only a quarter of family support plan cases in full compliance? Why, when we took over the plan, were only one in four plan recipients receiving regular payments?
If the regionally based family support plan that your government operated was so great, why, when our government assumed office, was there close to $1 billion in support payment arrears? Today, based on the criteria used by those in the debt collection business, only about half of that money is considered to be collectible. Why? Because for some of those cases in arrears, the trail is cold. Why is it cold? Because the old family support plan was ineffective in acting swiftly, decisively, proactively on behalf of the women and children in this province who were at risk due to the huge amount of money owing to them.
If the regionally based support plan that your government operated was so great, why, when our government assumed office, was money not flowing regularly to the recipients in nearly 50% of the plan's cases?
If the regionally based family support plan that your government operated was so great, why, when our government assumed office, were only about 6% of the 50,000 calls a day to the plan getting through? Why? There were only 18 family support plan staff answering telephone calls for the entire province.
If the regionally based support plan that your government operated was so great, why, when our government assumed office, was the plan getting 8,000 pieces of mail each and every day, many of them complaint letters from clients who were not able to get through on the phone lines, many of them complaint letters from plan recipients who were not receiving their money?
If the regionally based family support plan that the NDP government operated was so great, why didn't you do anything to deal with the growing caseload? Three years ago the family support plan caseload was 97,000, but you did nothing. When we assumed office in June 1995, there were 138,000 cases. There are currently 150,000 cases, an increase of 40% over the past three years. The caseload is growing at an average rate of over 1,400 cases per month. You didn't change the plan to keep pace with the caseload. The regionally based support plan that the former Liberal and NDP governments operated was inadequate to keep up with the needs of the children and women in this province who depend on it for their money.
Why, when we formed the government, were 75% of plan recipients not receiving any money? Why was money not flowing on a regular basis in nearly 50% of the plan cases? Why was there nearly $1 billion in support payment arrears? Why, on any given day, was no one answering the phone for 95% of the callers to the plan? Who was home? Where were you when all this was going on?
The Liberal and NDP governments did not put tough enforcement measures in place. The Liberal and NDP governments did not invest in technology. The Liberal and NDP governments did not give their family support plan staff the training and tools to act swiftly and decisively on behalf of the women and children in this province. When you formed the government you had an opportunity to make this plan work and you did not do it. You failed. You did not invest in technology. You did not give the family support plan staff the training and tools they needed to do their job effectively, and you didn't toughen the enforcement measures. You obviously had other priorities.
Getting support payment money to the women and children of this province is a priority for this government. We are making the changes that will make this plan work. Why? Because the plan you put in place is broken and it is a disservice to the children and women of this province who depend on it. It does not provide children and women with the money they deserve and are rightfully entitled to receive.
We are establishing a new Family Responsibility Office that will truly be effective for the women and children of this province. We are investing in technology. We are giving the Family Responsibility Office the skills, the tools and the authority they need to do the job. We are streamlining services so that a case has to only travel through a maximum of three staff instead of the previous 13. We are toughening the enforcement measures under the new Family Responsibility and Support Arrears Enforcement Act of Ontario, and in Ontario we'll have the toughest, most stringent support enforcement measures in North America.
The members opposite had the time; they had the mandate. They did not do it. They obviously had other priorities. This government's priority is ensuring that children and women get the money to which they are entitled, and we are doing it through the Family Responsibility and Support Arrears Enforcement Act.
It is inaccurate and misleading for the opposition parties and members to suggest that moving the support plan operations from eight regional locations to a consolidated location in Downsview has eliminated the community-based services. Let's be very clear here.
First, the walk-in, over-the-counter access to the family support plan that the previous governments operated was only available in eight communities. The old structure discriminated against clients who did not live in one of those eight communities. It was inequitable. Unless a client lived in one of those urban centres where there was a regional office, they did not have access to over-the-counter services unless they travelled to a distant regional office. It is unconscionable to expect family support plan clients, most of whom are single parents, to take the time to travel the distance to a regional office in another community.
Second, on any given day only about 60 people visited a regional office -- fewer than 500 people a day. That's a third of 1% of the plan's clients. Why did they go to the regional office? Most because they either couldn't get through on the telephone or no one responded to any correspondence. In fact, many clients said they preferred to contact the plan by phone, yet under the plan that the opposition parties operated when they formed the government, fewer than 6% of the 50,000 calls a day got through.
Third, the regional office structure used an old-fashioned work process. Central inquiring agents had to refer issues to the regional office, causing numerous delays and obvious frustration for the clients. The regional offices were intended to deal with enforcement issues, but because of the antiquated work process in place by the previous government, most staff in the regional offices spent all their time hand-sorting cheques, which is pretty amazing in this world of electronic banking. A case might have to travel through as many as 13 employees to be resolved. This would further delay prompt payment to the women and children of Ontario.
Under our new program, we will have a multiservice, trained staff who will be able to resolve cases directly and immediately. For example, a case will travel through a maximum of three people: an intake officer, a client services associate and a financial officer, equalling a solution.
The plan that our government is putting in place will make it possible for any family support plan client anywhere in Ontario to have access to that plan. The government is in the process of providing one-stop service with trained, multiskilled staff; doubling the number of front-line staff from 40 to 97; enhancing a 1-800 telephone service to provide greater public access; creating a call response centre with the capacity to handle thousands of calls per day, investing almost $1 million in technology to improve customer service; and having local solicitors providing legal services delivery.
The transition to a new and truly effective support enforcement program is proceeding in an orderly manner. There have been problems with the support plan for many years, going back to 1987, when the former Liberal government set up the support order enforcement program. Since then, the family support plan has steadily degenerated under the weight of a bureaucratic and inefficient service delivery.
In June 1995, our government inherited a family support plan that was most truly in chaos. The plan was broken. The plan was neglected. It never provided the majority of women and children in this province with the money to which they were entitled. Under the old plan, support payors owed nearly $1 billion in arrears to women and children in this province. Three out of four recipients were not receiving the full amount of support to the plan to which they were entitled. In more than half of the cases registered, money does not flow regularly.
There was limited phone access. There were nearly 50,000 calls a day; only 6% were answered. Clients could not reach the staff responsible for their file. Eight thousand pieces of mail arrived every day. There was a huge and growing caseload. That condition may have been acceptable to the previous government, but it is unacceptable to me personally and it's unacceptable to this government.
That's why we are overhauling the program to crack down on defaulting parents and to ensure that families get the support to which they're entitled and which they rightfully deserve. We are putting in place a plan that would eliminate the chaos of the old plan that we inherited.
Although the support enforcement program is in transition to a new and improved service, it is already producing results. Our government is processing cheques faster than a year ago. It now takes 24 to 36 hours to process a cheque and to have the money in the hands of the families. It used to take an entire week. This month, in a single week, this government disbursed $12 million to women and children in this province.
During the transition, more than 95% of the individual concerns that have been brought to the attention of the ministry have been resolved. Where there is a special problem, a unique problem, this government is acting immediately to deal with it.
There have always been delays in the family support plan process. That's because it was not set up properly in the first place by the previous governments. The old plan that the opposition parties operated relied heavily on the postal service. The new Family Responsibility Office will rely less on the postal service and more on the use of electronic deposits. This will eliminate the need for the family support plan program to be in the middle, receiving payments and then making payments to recipients.
During the transition, the family support plan is continuing to operate at four locations: head office, our financial institution, Downsview and the Toronto regional office. The Downsview office is scheduled to open the week of December 9 of this year. The ministry's Toronto regional office will continue to operate until Downsview is fully operational in January. In the interim, the ministry has staff working evenings and weekends to ensure that payments are processed promptly. Already the ministry has doubled the number of employees who have front-line skills and tripled the number of staff responding to telephone calls. We are already seeing results. A cheque can now be processed within 24 to 36 hours.
Obviously this government is taking the necessary steps to ensure that the women and children of this province receive the financial support that's due them from their spouses.
The last and not least of my comments with respect to this matter is that the government is concentrating its efforts on tracking down the deadbeat parents and enforcing support orders. The Family Responsibility and Support Arrears Enforcement Act will do just that. The new act contains some of the toughest support payment enforcement measures in North America.
These tough measures include suspending the drivers' licences of defaulting payors; reporting defaulting payors to credit bureaus; giving the new responsibility office the power to register support orders as security interests under the Personal Property Security Act; amending the Creditors' Relief Act to give priority to all support arrears over other judgement creditors; giving the Family Responsibility Office the authority to ask the court to order the production of financial statements and make orders against third parties who shelter the assets and income of defaulting payors to help them avoid support orders; again, closing the loophole that allowed support payors to shelter funds in joint bank accounts with other parties so that the Family Responsibility Office will have the authority to garnish 50% of that money in a joint bank account.
There is also the seizure of lottery winnings over $1,000; expanding the definition of "income" to enable the Family Responsibility Office to be much more effective in obtaining the money that is owed to children and women in this province by those who are intermittently employed or who have non-standard employment arrangements; giving the Family Responsibility Office greater power to trace and locate defaulting parents and to obtain the information about payors' assets and incomes; and screening all potential provincial government appointments to make sure our government does not appoint people who do not pay their support.
The government of Mike Harris is keeping its promise to crack down on defaulting payors.
Mr Michael Gravelle (Port Arthur): I'm very pleased to join the debate today on the opposition motion related to the family support plan. Certainly, just in quick response to the members for Kitchener-Wilmot and Dufferin-Peel, one wonders just what planet they're on.
There are two things that the people of this province will not forget in relation to the family support plan and the whole process. One is a government that chose to essentially close down the entire process in August when it closed the regional offices and laid off 290 people and left thousands of women and children in the province and certainly hundreds from my constituency absolutely desperate to make contact with a plan and a process that previously had not been a problem for the vast majority of them.
The fact is that before the regional offices were closed down, my constituency office in the first year that I was in office received very, very few phone calls at all in terms of problems with the family support office. Since that time we've had nothing but an incredible number constantly coming through. It's simply astonishing that the members could stand up here and act as if there is no problem at all, never was a problem and everything is working out hunky-dory now when indeed it's simply not the case.
A government that can stand here and accuse the opposition members of being obstructionist is astonishing and makes one quite frankly not find the words to express it, because here's a government that basically introduces a bill, finally after a great long wait, and then waits 49 days to bring it to debate, to second reading. It's impossible to accept that they are truly serious about the situation. The Attorney General himself has simply not accepted the fact that this has remarkably and frighteningly affected thousands and thousands of women and children.
Many constituents in my riding are still dealing with the unbelievable stress, the hardship, the humiliation and the deprivations they've been forced to endure as a result of this government's refusal: the refusal to listen to reasonable arguments as to why regional offices should stay open, the refusal to listen to suggestions for operational improvements put forward by the family support plan personnel themselves, the refusal to listen to the warnings of what disasters could occur if such a move took place, the refusal to listen to positive suggestions for a smooth transition period and the refusal to listen to some solutions to the current problems occurring.
Allow me to say that I take my responsibility as a member of this Legislature very, very seriously. May I also say that I work hard at being constructive in my role as an opposition member. I don't feel it's sufficient to merely oppose. I feel a duty to offer concrete alternatives whenever appropriate, and this I have done in relation to the family support plan.
I'm supportive of cost-efficiency measures which don't extract too high a human price. As well, as an MPP, regardless of my party's stripe, I believe it's an MPP's responsibility to bring the message of the people to the government, as well as vice versa. This I also feel I have done. But in matters of family support, to what avail? I ask the Attorney General, to what avail?
If I may, allow me to take the Attorney General on a trip down memory lane. Some eight months ago -- really, early in January -- I stood up in this House and told the minister that the people of northwestern Ontario were opposed to the closure of the regional offices. I provided solid reasons for keeping them open and I warned him, absolutely warned him well in advance, of the inefficiencies which could occur.
Let me quote from Hansard, April 2, 1996, on a petition that I brought forward at that time: "Whereas the Thunder Bay branch region covers from White River to the Ontario-Manitoba border; regional staff has established excellent experience and contacts for tracing and locating delinquent support payors in the northwest due to their familiarity with the region;
"Whereas seasonal employment and variable support provisions are common to the northwest; consistent monitoring of these cases is essential to the proper enforcement of support orders agreements; delays on acting on these adjustments would result in increased enrolment for social assistance and increased court actions against FSP within an overworked court system;
"Whereas it is proposed that cases will not be assigned to a particular case worker; this will result in non-efficient, repetitive and time-consuming work as each time a file is actioned the file will have to be fully reviewed as the provisions of each court order are unique; difficulties will occur when staff interpret the support provisions differently and it is proposed staff will only act upon issue-driven cases, so not all cases in arrears will be reviewed...;
"Therefore, we hereby respectfully request that you give consideration to our concerns and reject any proposal for the closure of the Thunder Bay branch family support plan."
I concurred at that time and continually tried to make that point.
I made reference that day to compliance problems, but I never imagined that it would be the government that would be the party not complying with timely payments. Never did I imagine that it was the government that would be in arrears to certainly the hundreds of custodial parents in my riding. Never did I expect that the government of this day would become the delinquent, but it has; it absolutely has. Certainly the Attorney General must shoulder the blame.
I made reference also to the non-efficiencies of a client not being assigned to a particular case worker. What about the non-efficiency of not being able to speak to any case worker, any human being, period? Well, that's what's happening, and it's been happening since they closed down the regional offices.
I warned also about children suffering, but never in my worst nightmare could I have imagined that because of the inability of the government to comply in a timely fashion with the processing of many of the payments made in good faith by the payor to the FSP for the needs of the custodial parent and children, children would suffer to the extent that they have. This government needs to acknowledge that and recognize that, and they need give no lessons over here.
The complaints brought to this House of the suffering caused the children and custodial parents, usually moms, have been legion. We have people who have lost their homes, people whose heat or utilities or phones have been cut off, mothers who can't buy school clothes or winter clothing or boots for their children, moms who can no longer drive because they can't pay their insurance. We have dads who are going hungry or doing without because even though a full deduction for family support was deducted from their wages, thanks to the bungling and the inefficiencies of the new family support plan operation, those moneys never got sent by the FSP to the moms and kids, so dad is trying to give extra directly to the family so they will not have an empty food cupboard or have to sit in the cold dark because there was no money for the utility bill. This is just simply absurd and absolutely unacceptable.
I referred at the time also to the increased enrolment in social assistance that could occur and, as you well know, this has happened. But again I point out, never did I think it would happen as a result of horrendous mismanagement by the government of funds that had been submitted to the plan by payor parents for the custodial parents.
I rose in the House the day following those warnings to add more than 1,000 additional names on petitions opposing the Toronto centralization of the family support plan operation.
Eight months ago I also rose in this House to ask the Attorney General two very significant questions and to urge him -- implore him -- to work with the family support staff in Thunder Bay, who had developed a 19-point streamlining plan to create positive solutions to eliminate administration costs but to ensure that essential personal service could be maintained in northwestern Ontario. The minister never showed any interest in this 19-point plan at all.
What I said at the time was: "...this government has taken no pains to disguise its interest in dismantling and/or centralizing this program meant to bring child support dollars to custodial parents. But like the staff of the Thunder Bay family support plan branch, which covers the terrain from White River to the Manitoba border, I question how this government intends to realize greater compliance in terms of arrears of hundreds of millions of dollars owed to the children of this province by choosing, without any consultation, to shut down an existing system without first working with the experienced staff of those offices to devise a better system to ensure significantly improved compliance, compliance that can only happen with regional staff in place.
"How can a centralized Toronto version of the family support plan be successful in northwestern Ontario, for example, when the reduced staff will be located 1,500 kilometres away from their caseload and where voice mail and a 1-800 number will be the order of the day? I certainly don't see how, nor do the 2,500 constituents who've signed petitions in my riding.
"I urge the Attorney General to work with the staff of the family support plan in Thunder Bay, to hear them out on their 19-point streamlining plan that would eliminate administration costs but ensure that vital, front-line service is maintained in northwestern Ontario."
The Attorney General had no interest in listening to the thoughts of his own staff and they were plans that would have saved a remarkable amount of money -- never listened to.
I continued throughout the spring to present the opposition of myself and the people of northwestern Ontario to this dismantling, this centralization and yet, come August, what greeted us but the closure of the regional offices. We all know, and those of us who are in tune with our constituents will admit, the accompanying predictable disastrous results. We knew this would happen. The phone lines in our constituency offices across the province have become jammed.
The questions are: "Where's my FSP money? My child support cheque is late. It's never been late. My ex's company sent in the money. My rent is due. I'm out of groceries. I have to shop for the kids' school clothes. I can't get any answer to my phone calls. I went to the office and it's closed." Whether you were in Port Credit or Port Arthur, North Bay or Thunder Bay, I am sure the queries, the complaints, the cries were all the same.
In August I had the opportunity to speak with the Attorney General and I told him what was happening. He told me he knew and that his staff were working to get things sorted out. Well, as you know, things simply worsened. In September I met personally with the Attorney General in his office to outline for him in detail exactly what the problems were, the real difficulties that families were encountering and the suggestions that we had for solving the problem.
Things continued to worsen. The irritation of custodial parents has elevated to anger, the worry has escalated to fear, the anxiety has given way to downright panic, as the cupboards have become bare, where rent and utilities and other bills have become seriously overdue. These are things that simply are facts. The Attorney General knows it, the member for Kitchener-Wilmot knows it, the member for Dufferin-Peel knows it.
Things continued to worsen. Constituents and staff spent hours on the phone. You know the old sort of infamous "1-800-nobody's-home" line? Well, that's the way it was: just no results, no response. My assistants faxed all kinds of cases and materials to the minister's office and again, no response, tremendous delays.
Never in my darkest moments did I ever expect that, as a direct result of this government's stubborn refusal to take advice and do the right thing and its subsequent horrific bungling of this operation, my staff would have to hand out on almost a daily basis food bank and used clothing depot information. This should not be happening. The money was being sent in; it wasn't being sent back to the custodial parents.
Never did I expect that we would have to write letters of explanation for a constituent's inability to pay landlords or creditors because of the family support plan delayed payment. Never did I expect that we would have to hear tales of hunger and cold and embarrassment and fear as a result of the family support plan mismanagement.
This government has put an incredible number of children and parents of this province at risk. One young mother reported how she had received -- and this is a terrible story -- a severe beating from her abusive ex-husband because being without a family support payment for two consecutive months, she had called his employer to confirm that the company had indeed forwarded the court-ordered paycheque deduction to FSP. For making this call, she incurred the wrath of her ex-husband, who chose to punish her with his fists. That is a horrendous story and should not have happened.
On the other end of the scale, we've had custodial parents who have actually united with their former spouses, the payors, for the purpose of coming to my office together to beg for the wellbeing of their children. I speak of cases where substantial court-ordered deductions have been made at the workplace of the payor, family support has cashed the employer's cheques and no payment has been sent to the custodial parent.
Mr Michael A. Brown (Algoma-Manitoulin): All too common.
Mr Gravelle: That's right: all too common. It's absolutely frightening. The custodial parent, who is usually the mom, has received no family support cheque, even though the payor has made the payment. Dad has no extra money to tide over the family; he has already had the substantial deduction off his paycheque, and still the mother and children have no money, end of story.
We're usually not talking about -- this is an important point too -- discretionary income. Family support payments generally represent an extremely important contribution to the essentials of life for the custodial parent and children. That money goes towards shelter costs, food, essential clothing, prescription drugs.
Most families in Ontario today probably live in a paycheque-to-paycheque fashion without much opportunity to build up any substantial, readily available contingency or emergency fund. When you remove the paycheque unexpectedly or send it one or two or three months late or send only part of it with no explanation regarding the missing portion, what results? Inconvenience and annoyance perhaps for a few, but disaster, chaos, hardship and panic for the majority, and it's absolutely not necessary.
This, Mr Speaker, is the fallout with which we're attempting to deal on a daily basis, and I'm sure you are as well. I have to ask the Attorney General, what happens here? Where does the money go? What systems are in place to ensure this doesn't continue to happen? Why can't the problem be solved? Well, the reasons are pretty clear as well. By closing down the regional offices, by setting up a centralized phantom office in Toronto which is not up and running, it's clear that the minister has more than bungled; he has done an extraordinary disservice to the people of the province of Ontario.
I've got to ask, what about the phantom phone line? People literally exhaust themselves calling those magic numbers to get nothing but a recording. On those rare -- and I certainly emphasize rare -- occasions that a human being is actually reached on the line, the individual on the FSP line, generally speaking, knows nothing about the case and says someone will get back to the caller. And guess what? Surprise, surprise. Weeks later there is still no response.
All the members in the House know this. It's absolutely incredible. Certainly all the members on the government side -- and the member for Kitchener-Wilmot and the member for Dufferin-Peel spoke earlier -- are experiencing the same situation.
As a member of the House, obviously we try to deal with this in the best fashion we can. We assign special members of our staff to deal with and work on this case. The minister himself, the Attorney General, literally assigns his own staff to deal with MPP inquiries. So we figure, okay, we'll phone and we'll fax. We've got a direct link. But the trouble is, we phone and we fax and we fax and we fax and we fax again, and still, even with this so-called special staff being put on by the Attorney General, still no response to the majority of our inquiries.
We check back with our complainants to see if they've heard anything. In most instances, it's been the same thing: no response. Some do report having received some money when we continue to press, and occasionally we're successful, but what happens is that it seems to come in peculiar amounts that have no resemblance to the court ordered payments but are invariably smaller rather than larger.
As soon as we have a case that finally seems to be solved, it's quickly replaced by a new case coming into or calling our office. It's akin to pouring water into a cup with a gaping hole. It just never stops. In other instances, we have cases where court ordered payments reached completion months ago and should have been stopped, yet moneys keep being deducted from the payor. Again there is no one for these people to communicate with.
We have reports of huge sums of money sent in by employers being lost,and subsequently no funds being forwarded to the custodial parent as a result. The predictions we had, that many of us in our caucus and on all sides had, for inefficiency and disaster came true, very sadly true.
I want to take this opportunity I have today to share a few recent letters from constituents just to illustrate some of the problems. The Attorney General may not be familiar with them, as some were addressed to the family support plan and they may be tucked away in one of those cardboard boxes at Downsview, but these are true cases. If the Attorney General wants to ask me about them, I can personally verify the names to the minister. But since we are fairly conscious that this is a mean-spirited government, which is the guilty party in terms of non-compliance with family support payments and the lack of enforcement, I've chosen not to make public use of the constituents' last names in order to protect the truly innocent. Let me just read one:
"Two months ago I received a letter containing `important news concerning the service offered to me.' It stated that the changes would speed up the delivery of my support payments by increasing the number of staff who are available to answer calls and by making electronic transfers of funds from employers directly to my bank account. Before this change, the support would come off my ex-husband's cheque on the day that he was paid and the money would be in my bank account within four working days. Now the money comes off his cheque on payday, the city...sends a cheque out to your office the same day, and it is taking two weeks before it is deposited into my bank account. As a result, my rent cheques have been returned. Where is this money sitting for two weeks and WHY? There is no point in phoning to talk to anyone as the numbers that were given to me to call are constantly busy. Please look into this ASAP. Money is tight enough without having to pay NSF charges for returned cheques when my money should be in my bank account!"
The government should pay the charges for the NSF cheques.
Another letter, if I may:
"Please remove my name from your family support as I will now be receiving my payments directly from my husband.
"Every month since September my deposits are late and my husband is remitting my moneys before the 1st.
"I have to live, eat, pay bills just like you, and cannot cope with the stress of having to phone never to receive an answer, and when I do, the answer is my husband is in arrears and there is a support deduction order on my file, when in fact my husband has sent in the money before his due date. He is always on time.
"I have contacted my member of Parliament and have added my name to the list of many women who are in the same state as I.
"I hereby give you authority to request my name be taken off the family support plan."
It's just a litany of sad stories continually. Here's another sad commentary from another desperate constituent who, with her children, has been remarkably inconvenienced and deprived because of the complete mess of the supposedly reorganized family support plan:
"I am writing this letter concerning my support. It is being paid on a regular basis, but when there is a payment made, I have to wait a month before I receive this payment, all because it gets sent from" -- I won't name the place -- "to an office that is closed down in Thunder Bay, and then forwarded to Toronto. I have already had to move because I couldn't pay my rent. Then I had to borrow $1,600 to move from my boss."
It absolutely goes on and on, and I find it really upsetting that we've had to listen for the last six weeks or so to the Attorney General telling us, "These are the payments we've made; everything's in order," when indeed these tragedies were not taking place before the closure of the regional office in August. I've letters upon letters here. I've been sent pictures of the children.
There is one more I want to read. I stood up in the House on a prior occasion -- and we've all reported on the horror stories of our constituents. I want to read one that one constituent wrote, and I think wrote rather eloquently, to the Attorney General when she stated:
"You are not fulfilling your obligations as a government agency. I fought hard to ensure that my daughter's father would meet his financial obligation to her, and now this is not the case of a deadbeat parent but a `deadbeat' bureaucracy that is failing to meet its mandate to children."
Mr Crozier: Good phrase.
Mr Gravelle: It's a great one, isn't it?
"You're backlogged, I'm sure, but whatever reason, my daughter's child support is lost somewhere and I am holding your agency responsible because in the chain of events, your link is where I see the failure has occurred. I am frustrated and very angry. Winter is on the way and my daughter needs warm clothing and I am relying on the child support" plan "to purchase what she needs for the upcoming cold season."
Mr Michael Brown: Deadbeat government.
Mr Gravelle: Deadbeat government. It's something they just will not accept.
I find it astounding to hear the minister responsible for the family support plan, the Attorney General, say one day in this Legislature that there was an average of just two unresolved family support plan cases per constituency. My office alone currently has a multitude of cases which have not been -- it's absolutely absurd -- satisfactorily resolved. Certainly my colleagues here are equally frustrated. We have been in contact with the Attorney General on a regular basis.
These are not the only ones who have sought assistance. Who knows how many other, unreported cases are out there? The truth is that many cases perhaps haven't come to us. We know there are a lot more out there.
When I heard the Attorney General make those remarks I couldn't help but wonder whether his fellow colleagues are simply not reporting complaints to him or if their cases have been resolved first and those from members across the floor get left at the bottom of the heap, or in the cardboard box at Downsview, if you may. I hope that isn't the case, because we know that the members of the government side are certainly -- if constituents have any trust in them, they are going to them as well, and if they're not, I hope they're not hiding the cases.
I certainly have shared a few letters, but I could carry on forever. The instances I have focused on are mainly on non-payments or late payments or incorrect payments by family support. But the truth is that this is only one aspect. This was listed as priority number one in the propaganda piece on new and improved service that went to constituency offices recently. We know the disaster with priority number one and know what is happening, or should I say not happening, in the area of enforcement, that is, dealing with non-compliant payors.
I'd like to share with you, if I may, one last constituent letter, this time from Stacey. She makes reference to the sales pitch newsletter she received to advise her of your wonderful disorganization -- excuse me for the rudeness, but it just gets so frustrating.
Mr Bruce Crozier (Essex South): You're not rude. You're just honest.
Mr Gravelle: I'm being honest. I can't help it.
I'll read part of it, because I know my time is running short: "I've called every five minutes and cannot get through. When I do actually get through, I'm on hold for up to 20 minutes waiting for a client services associate.
"They proceed to tell me, they've not received anything and someone will have to get back to me.
"There is no 24-hour service, if you call after 4:30 pm, the automated teller info tells you to call back in 30 minutes...and continues to tell you that till 8:30 am.
"How is not receiving support money a more specialized service and providing greater consistency by centralizing better for FSP clients?"
She's highlighting all the things the propaganda piece said.
"How are these changes (a) helping to speed up delivery of support money?"
"They're doing all they can to ensure there are no interruptions in our payments -- yeah right." It's a well-written letter.
"It took them a week to phone me back and all they told me is the same runaround they've been telling me for the past three weeks, they've not received anything, yet the payor has deductions from his paycheque and his employer sent it out October 11...."
The absolute mess and chaos in the family support office and how they have affected the lives of thousands of women and children across the province is a disgrace and a terrible example of a mean-spirited government policy gone wrong. Since the start of this year we were aware of the Harris plan to close the regional offices, lay off 300 dedicated staff and save money by centralizing the operations in a very cold 1-800 world. In their horrid haste to downsize and help fund their tax scheme nobody would listen to the alternatives suggested by those of us in opposition or by their very own staff in the regional offices. When the government stubbornly went ahead with its plans to close the offices, including the one in Thunder Bay, absolute chaos resulted. Almost every day we have to listen to the Attorney General telling us his plan is working when he knows full well that is not the case.
We've walked down memory lane. I've appreciated the opportunity to do this just on behalf of the hundreds of constituents who have come to my office. But let me remind you of one last thing, as I conclude: Those who do not remember the past are condemned to relive it. Minister, people's lives are being destroyed, and your stubbornness in not admitting your mistake and doing what needs to be done to fix the problem is infuriating. Hire the staff you need so that when people call the plan somebody answers. Stand up today and apologize to the women and children of the province who have not been able to pay their rent, buy food for their children or heat their homes because of this incompetence.
Christmas is fast approaching. What are we to tell people who still do not have their family support moneys to pay the rent or eat, let alone buy a turkey, purchase gifts or fill a stocking? Are the custodial parents, who are already taking the rap for the hardships, going to have to break the news to their children that Santa rode right over their rooftops? I tell you, Mr Harnick, Mr Attorney General, that Santa had better do a fly-past when he gets to your house. He's made a list, he's checked it twice and he's definitely found out who's naughty or nice. May I say too, Mr Attorney General, that you've been very naughty, and you know you've been naughty. We told you what was broken and how to repair it and you didn't do it.
Interjection: It's coal for Charlie.
Mr Gravelle: It's coal for Charlie. An old English legend tells us that rather than leaving the stocking of a naughty person empty, as Santa does, St Nicholas chose to leave a lump of coal instead. Should St Nick decide to leave a lump of coal in your Christmas sock, I wish you'd give me a call, Minister. I'm sure I could provide you with the address of some poor parent who would welcome using it for heat because the family support money is long overdue and so is the payment of the gas bill.
For the final time, and I know I speak on behalf of my colleagues, we implore you to recognize what has happened here. Certainly a lot of measures in the opposition day motion today we absolutely agree with, and we recognize that there are some parts of Bill 82, in terms of enforcement, that we support, but there are elements of the bill that concern us a great deal as well. We certainly hope there will be an opportunity to make some amendments to the bill when we get to that stage.
I ask you not to stand there any more and accuse us of being obstructionist or of delaying the process when you were the ones who made the decision to close the regional offices, the ones who put the province and the plan into complete chaos, the ones who introduced the bill and then waited 49 days to bring it to second reading debate. The people of Ontario will not forget that. The Attorney General has to acknowledge that it was those decisions and his refusal to listen to some of the changes we recommended that could have made the situation better. We implore the minister to recognize what he has done and apologize to the people of Ontario.
Mr David Christopherson (Hamilton Centre): I appreciate the opportunity to join in the debate here today. I think I speak for many of the opposition members when I say that one of the most difficult things we find on this side of the House, in terms of our exasperation, is that this government continues to deny that the problems we have raised in the House consistently are problems that were created by the action of the Attorney General this summer.
The government members, the backbenchers, continue blithely to read their prepared texts that talk about the problems that were there in the past and that things are being fixed. They talk about the future and somehow want to bridge over from what was to what they want it to be and completely refuse to take responsibility for the piece in between, which is where we've been putting our focus: that to meet the Attorney General's quota of the cuts that are necessary to pay for the tax cut to your wealthy friends, he had to move quicker than he should have, and as a result thousands and thousands of women and children are being denied money that is rightfully and lawfully theirs. In addition, there are people paying support who are being stiffed as a result of the changes this government made.
What's really difficult to accept is that this government, this minister, knew that this kind of chaos was going to happen. It was in a report read out by my colleague from London Centre and emphasized by many of my colleagues, where it said very clearly that the transitional -- I'm paraphrasing -- time was going to be one of chaos, that it would be difficult to meet the service demands, and if there wasn't the proper money put in right at the time they may never catch up.
Then, God forbid MPPs should do their job, two of my colleagues, the member for Welland-Thorold and the member for Sudbury East, took a video camera and went with the security guard into this brand-new centralized location -- which is supposed to justify and take the place of all the regional offices that were closed, like the one in my riding of Hamilton Centre, shut down, gone, the people laid off, decent paying jobs gone -- had the audacity to go in there with the security guard and videotape virtually hallway after hallway after hallway of moving boxes full of files, desks and furniture equipment stacked up in the office area, nobody set up to work, and this at a time when the minister said: "Don't worry. All is well at the new office. We've got this in hand."
That's what's so exasperating about what we've been dealing with. This government refuses to at least take responsibility and be upfront and honest about the fact that the problems we've raised have nothing to do with what's gone on in the past. They're a direct result and only a result of the actions taken by Mike Harris's Attorney General over the last few months. This government refuses to accept that. They hoped they could just paper it over and pretend it didn't happen.
I only have a few minutes because there are so many of us who have so many examples in our ridings. This is a province-wide problem, and whether the Tories want to admit they're getting the phone calls or not, we're sure getting them. I find it hard to believe that in ridings right next door it's not happening, but that seems to be the way they want to play it. So I don't have a lot of time but I do want to raise some issues that have happened in Hamilton.
First of all, I want to give credit to a few people who deserve it. First and foremost, I think I speak for an awful lot of Hamiltonians when I express a great deal of thanks to Denise Davy, who is a highly respected professional reporter working with the Hamilton Spectator, and extend that also to the Hamilton Spectator editorial board itself, which has also taken a position. As people know, they are not exactly a horde of socialists over there and there are a lot of things the government does that they like. But in this case they're calling the government to task. Just to read the last paragraph of the editorial that they put out just last month, it said:
"When the shaky effectiveness of the family support plan is further weakened by careless cost-cutting and restructuring, this belief becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. And the children and parents who depend on this plan for vital income support are the main losers."
Our community thanks Denise Davy and the editorial board for having the courage to say that the emperor has no clothes on this issue.
Ms Lankin: Here's another editorial.
Mr Christopherson: I'm handed another editorial from the Kitchener-Waterloo Record. Interesting. Oh, very interesting. The headline on this one says, "Deadbeat Harnick Should Now Resign." Whose riding would that be?
Mr Gilles Bisson (Cochrane South): Gary Leadston.
Mr Christopherson: That would be Gary Leadston's riding.
Mrs Marion Boyd (London Centre): Wettlaufer.
Mr Christopherson: Mr Wettlaufer. Oh, St Mary's Hospital area. Yes, right. Okay, it says:
"For the pain he is inflicting on hundreds of families denied their support payments, Ontario Attorney General Charles Harnick should resign. For all the single parents who have had to go on welfare, all the children who have been thrust into poverty because of his ministry's incompetence, he should step down. And for the frustration he has caused countless decent parents who paid support that isn't getting through thanks to bureaucratic bungling, Harnick should accept he is accountable and go."
Mr Christopherson: They want another paragraph. I've only got eight minutes, guys.
"That, in our parliamentary system, is what ministerial responsibility means, and have no doubt that as Attorney General, Harnick is ultimately responsible for the utter mess that has been made of the family support plan. Like any curious kid who ever dismantled a clock but couldn't reassemble it, Harnick got hold of something that worked and left it in pieces." That's what the Kitchener-Waterloo Record had to say.
I want to in the few minutes that I have left -- it's amazing how quickly the time goes by when you care an awful lot about an issue, and particularly when you're dealing with a government that refuses, just absolutely stands there and bald-faced -- I can't use the word, but refuses to accept responsibility. I think the public know what I'm saying. It's very frustrating because they know they're wrong and they're even hearing that on editorial pages, not just from opposition members.
I want to mention two more quick things before I sit down. One is that we have a group of people here from Hamilton today, and I'm really pleased they took the time. It shows how much they care, how real these issues are. They're here because they can't believe this government's refusing to accept responsibility. They want to see for themselves what's going on in this Parliament when the Attorney General of the province refuses to accept responsibility for a situation that he caused solely himself. They're here today and I want to thank them. I won't go into the circumstances -- time doesn't allow it today; maybe another time I can -- but Helen Teepell is here, Sandra Dunsdon is here, and Rick Hunter-Wolff. He's one of the ones who is paying and is being stiffed and shafted by the actions of the Attorney General. Thank you very much for being here. I appreciate it. You've made a real difference.
Lastly, I want to also thank Marie Lafleur and Agnes Scheer, who held a community meeting on November 14 and organized a group of Hamiltonians called Deadbeat Government -- Payors and Payees Unite.
I will end on this: It's interesting once again that on a public meeting of major controversy, local Tories in Hamilton-Wentworth were invited, and just like on the issue of injured workers and just like on the issue of rent control, they didn't have the guts to come out and defend the action of their Attorney General. They ought to hang their heads in shame.
Mr Doug Galt (Northumberland): It's interesting, some of the comments the opposition make and the concerns about this particular bill. They make reference to the director of family support refusing to register an order. They're concerned about closing a file, concerned about voluntary withdrawal from the family support plan.
Under the new legislation, the director of the Family Responsibility Office will have authority to refuse to register an order. The type of orders this might apply to would include nominal support orders, situations where the meaning of the order is vague or ambiguous or the payor is in prison serving a sentence of five years or longer and has no assets or income available to satisfy the support order and any arrears under the order. I can assure you that each order would be carefully reviewed and assessed before any decision to refuse to register an order is made.
Closing a file: Nearly $1 billion in this province is owing to children and women in support payment arrears. Every single month, the family support plan caseload goes up by another 1,400 cases. The new act gives the program the ability to close cases where enforcement is unreasonable or impractical. This will enable the new Family Responsibility Office to focus its resources and expertise on those cases that need government intervention, those cases that are contributing to a huge amount of arrears that payors currently owe the plan.
The Family Responsibility Office will stop enforcing a support order only where it is clear that recovery of money is simply not possible, where all options for obtaining the money have been exhausted. This could, for example, include cases where the support payor is serving a term of incarceration greater than five years and has no other assets available to satisfy the support obligation or where the support recipient bypasses the program by continuing to accept direct payment from the payor.
Our government has no intention of closing a file until it is abundantly clear that we cannot get the money for a plan recipient. Giving the Family Responsibility Office the authority to close files is not about improving statistics. It is unconscionable for anyone not to pay their child support. If there are arrears, we want to know about it and to go after the defaulting parent. We want to focus our resources on the problem cases, the cases that under the old plan were hard to enforce, the cases where government intervention and services can realistically make a difference in getting children and women the money they deserve and are legally entitled to receive.
The fact is that for some cases, regrettably, the trail is cold. Why? Because the previous government did not put in place tough enforcement measures and act decisively and proactively on behalf of our children and women when there was still some chance to get money flowing to them. If new information comes to light that will lead to the recovery of money, a recipient will be able to re-enter the program.
Voluntary withdrawal: When children and women do not receive the money that is legally and rightfully theirs, they suffer. They are forced into poverty and on to social assistance. Our government believes that parents who do not meet their family support payment responsibility deserve society's full condemnation. However, there are many responsible parents in Ontario who abide by the law. Many of us have heard from these parents as this legislation has been discussed. They fully meet their support obligations. They do not need to have government officials involved in their personal business, as has been going on for several years. This government has no intention of telling those responsible parents how to run their lives.
The Family Responsibility and Support Arrears Enforcement Act makes it possible for responsible parents to opt out of the program and not have government continuously in their face. In recognizing that there are parents who are fulfilling their support obligations, the opting-out provision of the new act means that the expertise and resources of our government's new Family Responsibility Office can be focused entirely on the problem cases, those where defaulting parents are not acting responsibly, causing hardship and suffering for children and women.
Automatically filing with voluntary opting out, giving responsible parents the choice of making their own private arrangements without the necessity of government intervention, honours the commitment this government made in its platform, the Common Sense Revolution, that parents who have reached amicable separation settlements and who have no dispute over support payments should be able to opt out of the government-mandated program.
At the same time, we know there are, regrettably, far too many situations where a spouse is vulnerable and could be subjected to coercion or abuse. In some cases a spouse, for a variety of reasons, may be in an unequal bargaining relationship. These spouses may want to remain in the program. They may not want to have contact with the payor or they may fear that without the program they will not receive their payments. To protect women in those situations the new act gives judges the authority to prohibit spouses from opting out of the family responsibility program where they find it is appropriate. Any recipient who has opted out will be able to return to the family responsibility program at any time.
Giving responsible parties the option of opting out of this system is not an issue of who is or who isn't stigmatized. This is an issue of: If, where and how should government get involved? Where and how can government resources be best used? If the parties are acting responsibly, they can opt out of the government system. If a payor is not acting responsibly or if a payor is not meeting his or her support payment obligations, or if the court considers that a recipient is going to be at risk, then the government is going to get involved. Those parties are definitely going to be in the government program, no ifs, ands or buts. If a recipient decides to return to the program -- and again, she can do so immediately, at any time, for any reason -- she will be returning to a support enforcement program that has some of the toughest, most stringent enforcement measures in North America.
The opposition is saying that we should be withdrawing this bill. However, members of both opposition parties have expressed their support for the provisions of Bill 82. It is therefore difficult for me to understand why they would now be asking the Attorney General to withdraw this very important bill. Do they in fact want more women and children to get the money to which they are legally entitled and rightfully deserve? Do they not want us to crack down on parents who don't pay their child support? Bill 82 gives Ontario some of the toughest support enforcement measures in North America. However, we won't be able to increase compliance rates and get more money to children and women until this legislation is passed.
The provisions of Bill 82 and the service improvements the ministry is making to the support enforcement program will result in prompt payments to the women and children who depend on it. We will have some of the toughest support payment enforcement measures in North America. This bill contains 10 tough new tools, and they are:
-- Suspending the driving licences of defaulting payors.
-- Reporting defaulting payors to credit bureaus.
-- Giving the new Family Responsibility Office the power to register support orders as security interests under the Personal Property Security Act.
-- Amending the Creditors' Relief Act to give priority to all support arrears over other judgement creditors.
-- Giving the Family Responsibility Office the authority to ask the court to order the production of financial statements and make orders against third parties who shelter the assets and income of defaulting payors to help them avoid support orders.
-- Closing the loophole that allows support payors to shelter funds in joint bank accounts with other parties so that the Family Responsibility Office will have the authority to garnish 50% of the money in a joint bank account.
-- Seizure of defaulting payors' lottery winnings over $1,000.
-- Expanding the definition of "income" to enable the Family Responsibility Office to be much more effective in obtaining the money that is owed to children and to women by those who are intermittently employed or have non-standard employment arrangements.
-- Giving the Family Responsibility Office greater power to trace and locate defaulting parents and obtain information about the payor's assets and income.
-- Screening all provincial government appointments to make sure that our government does not appoint people who do not pay their child support.
From my riding, we have some examples. Let me tell you about this woman. Arrears owing: some $16,000. No money received since July 1995. The payor owns and operates two businesses, lives in a new home, owns property in the girlfriend's name and regularly takes trips south. Ongoing enforcement of the family support plan is not successful in collecting this money. A default hearing was scheduled for July 25 but did not proceed as the payor was not successfully served even though they were provided with verification of the payor's address and a photograph. The family support plan will attempt another default hearing.
I have several more like this. Once this bill comes in and the acts are changed, we will be getting the money for the women and children, as it should be.
In winding up, nearly $1 billion is owing to the women and children of this province in support payment arrears. Every single month the family support plan's caseload goes up by another 1,400 cases. The new act gives the program the ability to close cases where enforcement is unreasonable or impractical. This will enable the new Family Responsibility Office to focus its resources and expertise on those cases that need government intervention and services and eliminate the wasting of resources on cases where there is virtually no possibility of recovering the arrears.
The Family Responsibility Office will stop enforcing a support order only where it is clear that recovering money is simply not possible. This could, for example, include cases where the support recipient continues to accept direct payment from the payor, thus circumventing the program, or where the support payor is serving a term of incarceration greater than five years and has no other assets available to satisfy the support obligation. If new information comes to light that will lead to the recovery of the money, a recipient will be able to re-enter the program.
The Family Responsibility and Support Arrears Enforcement Act ensures that government resources are focused where they will be most effective: to crack down on defaulting parents and enforce payment orders, because not paying child support, not complying with a court order, is no longer acceptable in the province of Ontario.
Hon Charles Harnick (Attorney General, minister responsible for native affairs): I'm pleased to have an opportunity to respond to some of the issues that have been raised in this debate.
It's worth noting that the statistics that deal with the family support plan tell quite a story. The statistics indicate that the plan gets 50,000 calls a day, 8,000 pieces of mail, and what's really telling is that 46% of people enrolled with the plan get no payment at all.
There is now close to $1 billion in arrears owing on the plan. I will tell you it's inconceivable to me that someone would bring a motion today to ask for Bill 82 to be withdrawn, a bill that will start to permit us to collect arrears owing on this plan, arrears that accumulate at the rate of $100 million a year.
It's inconceivable to me that someone would ask that this bill be withdrawn, and that says to me that what people who are asking for this really want is the status quo. They're happy to see families at risk, 46% of whom don't get the money that they are entitled to, don't get anything and see arrears accumulating at the rate of $1 billion today, $100 million a year.
It's inconceivable to me that in that situation, and when you're trying to create a bill that's going to permit you to collect money, someone would say: "We're opposed to it. We want it withdrawn." I don't understand that. I don't understand how that can be.
I don't want this debate to take place in a vacuum, but Families Against Deadbeats are here today, Mothers Against Fathers in Arrears are here today. Interestingly enough, a letter was sent to Ms Martel, the member for Sudbury East, by Mothers Against Fathers in Arrears. The date of the letter was November 20, 1996, and this is what the letter says --
Mr Gilles Pouliot (Lake Nipigon): You screwed up, Minister. You will lose the limo.
Ms Martel: What will we do with 40% less staff? Explain that to me.
The Deputy Speaker (Mr Gilles E. Morin): Member for Lake Nipigon, member for Sudbury.
Hon Mr Harnick: "May we remind you and your party that we had to literally take picket signs to the homes and offices of the fathers who chose not to pay child support.
"May we also remind you that we picketed the Attorney General's office in June 1993 addressing the issues that are contained in Bill 82. We did meet with the family support director shortly after that and were told that a bill similar to Bill 82 would be passed by the NDP. Well, it never did.
"Children are the individuals who suffered from the failure of your party, the NDP, to pass this legislation. Did you care? Not visibly. After all, children do not vote. In effect, nobody else voted for the NDP either. What else could one expect?
"Today, we heard your complaint in the House" --
Ms Martel: How many staff did you lay off? How many offices were closed? Who did that? Were you responsible for that?
The Deputy Speaker: Member for Sudbury East.
Hon Mr Harnick: -- "with respect to parents who have not received child support cheques. Please remember that your own government, the NDP, chose to ignore this very issue. You failed to pass legislation that was needed then and is now being passed. Your government failed in its" --
Ms Martel: Financing the big guys, financing on the backs of women and children. I hope you are all proud.
Mr Pouliot: It's the rich against us.
The Deputy Speaker: Order, order. The member for Sudbury East, the member for Lake Nipigon, I would ask you to refrain from heckling, please. Minister.
Hon Mr Harnick: Thank you, Mr Speaker. I know they don't want to hear this, but the letter goes on to say:
"Your government failed in its obligation to those least able to fight for themselves -- our children. Your shrill cry today is as hollow as were your promises in the past."
We have a bill that's now before the Legislature, Bill 82. We'll be able to suspend drivers' licences for those who don't pay their child support. We will able to report them to credit bureaus. We will be able to implement real collection procedures, procedures that will get the money from people, and not have a family support plan that has no tools. We are going to be able to let people who don't need the government to regulate their affairs opt out of the plan.
Mr Christopherson: Tell my constituents why they don't have their money, Charlie.
The Deputy Speaker: Member for Hamilton Centre.
Hon Mr Harnick: Mr Speaker, I might tell you that $35 million has been paid out to people --
Mr Christopherson: They're right here, Charlie. Look at them.
The Deputy Speaker: Order. The member for Hamilton Centre, please. You'll have a chance. One of your members will have a chance to rebut.
Mr Christopherson: I want him to speak to my constituents.
The Deputy Speaker: It's his turn. Minister.
Hon Mr Harnick: When you want to talk about real people, I suppose the only real people are the real people they point at. But what about MAFIA? What about Families Against Deadbeats? They are desperately concerned about passing Bill 82.
Mr Christopherson: What about the families who used to get support payments?
Hon Mr Harnick: I listened to, "Why has the bill not been called for 40 days?" Can I ask you, were you in support of it 40 days ago and now you're opposed to it? If you were in support of it 40 days ago --
Mr Christopherson: These are real people. You are hurting them.
The Deputy Speaker: Order. The member for Hamilton Centre, I will ask you to refrain from heckling; the member for Sudbury East also. There are three minutes to go. Your member will have a chance to rebut. Just wait for that time. Minister.
Hon Mr Harnick: If they were in favour of this bill 40 days ago, I suspect they might be in favour of it today, but they want to play those political games. They can hurt the people then from Mothers Against Fathers in Arrears, they can hurt the people from Families Against Deadbeats. Those are real people too. Let me remind you, those are real people too. Real people, 115,000 of them, have received cheques from the family support plan this month. We've sent out cheques of almost $34 million, and cheques are going out.
I might take a couple of minutes to talk about the letter that was sent today, and I'll read excerpts from that letter, to Mr Howard Hampton, the leader of the New Democratic Party. It says:
"We believe that the Family Responsibility and Support Arrears Enforcement Act, 1996, is good legislation and will accomplish our goals for tougher enforcement. That is why we need you to stop your political games and expedite the passage of the legislation. Putting your political motives ahead of the needs of Ontario's children is reprehensible. Shame on you."
That's what the letter says. This is nothing new, however --
Mr Christopherson: Shame on you. You shut the Hamilton office. They don't have any money.
The Deputy Speaker: Member for Hamilton Centre, order, please. The member for Hamilton Centre, I don't need to advise you any more that if you persist I'll have no other choice than to ask you to leave the House.
Hon Mr Harnick: The letter goes on to say:
"While your party was in power, you gave us empty promises of passing effective and meaningful legislation to stop the abuse of parents who neglected their responsibility to pay support to their children. Now you are in a position to ensure quick passage of this important legislation and you are failing us again. We beg you to stop the games and let us get on with our fight against irresponsible parents."
This very important bill will provide for the enforcement ability of the Family Responsibility Office to start to collect the $1 billion that has been allowed to accumulate. That $1 billion is money that isn't going to women and children, and they are real people. Forty-six per cent of the people who are registered with this plan get nothing, 77% maybe get a small amount, but only 23% of people registered with this plan get what is coming to them. This bill will permit us at the earliest possible time to begin to have enforcement techniques that will be effective and that will protect and put money into the hands of women and children.
I'm appalled that they're asking that this bill be withdrawn. Mr Speaker, I will bet you they can't look the people in the gallery in the eye and say that to them.
The Deputy Speaker: Thank you. Your time has expired.
Mrs Boyd: It's a pleasure to have the opportunity to refute some of the misinformation that has been coming across the floor from the government party. There are a number of issues that need to be dealt with right off the top and the first is that from the very first week that Bill 82 was put in this place, I had a conversation with the minister, I had a conversation with the deputy minister, and I indicated very clearly that our party was prepared to support the portions of this bill that involved improved enforcement.
We had qualms about some of those because of the legal challengeability of them, but we said we would support all of the new enforcement provisions in the bill. We explained that our concern was about specific portions of the bill that would allow people to opt out, because there is no protection in this bill against coercion. There is a provision that a judge can require an order to be enforced, but the judge is not going to be there two or three months after the order is not required to be enforced to deal with the kind of coercion that we know historically will happen.
I ask the members of the governing party to wake up and realize that non-payment of support orders is an epidemic. What makes you think that without the coercion of a support deduction order that's going to be enforced, no matter how you try and run and hide, these people who will not pay their support are suddenly going to see the light? They will agree for a couple of months, they will fool a judge, they will look as though it's amicable, and then they will stop paying because that is the circumstance we have seen again and again.
It is no comfort to people to say, "Well, people can come back on the plan," because we know that you are going to charge a fee to come back on the plan and we also know that it will then have to start all over again with all of the information-gathering, all of the process to even get that plan into the enforcement stream.
The permission for the director of the plan to determine that something is uncollectible and therefore close the file is simply unconscionable. We can give you chapter and verse of example after example of orders that were over $20,000, that looked uncollectible, but after a time people came out from behind their blind, moved back to Ontario from another jurisdiction, began to declare income again and they were caught. We can show case after case after case where it might look as if those cases were uncollectible, and it turned out over time that the ability of the person to maintain a low profile and escape the plan could not carry out over time. That will happen again.
The member tried to use the issue of someone who is incarcerated for over five years and has no assets. Well, anybody who has any large experience with our prison system and with the realities of people who are incarcerated for over five years knows that the ability of those people to hide assets before they are incarcerated and to come out of prison and then have access to those assets is legion. That's no comfort to the person whose partner indeed has assets and can come out and the file is closed and they can start to use them.
What we asked the deputy minister and the minister to do was put the enforcement processes into place, suspend the rest of this bill, take it away, put all these enforcement measures into place, get them going and then see what is really uncollectible. Because I can tell you from experience -- and I job-shadowed in a number of family support offices -- the issue of people who are evading payment is an issue of people who are determined not to fulfil their responsibilities for one reason or another.
Some do that immediately upon the breakdown of the relationship. We have hundreds of cases of people who have actually cut off their own noses to spite their faces, quit jobs, gone on to welfare or hidden their assets by taking a low salary and plowing their money back into a business. We see those all the time and you must too, because we're not unusual MPPs. You must get these claims. You know that happens as well.
Then there are the people who in very good faith say, "Yes, I will pay my support," and they do that for a while and then they make another relationship. They may have another family and, all of a sudden, they begin to think to themselves: "I'm not getting very much out of all the money I put into this family. I've got new responsibilities. I'd rather not fulfil that responsibility."
What this bill is doing by allowing the opt-out provision and allowing the closure of files is basically saying to women and children: "Yes, the government doesn't care that over time this may all fall apart, this goodwill may disappear. We're going to make you pursue the payor. We're going to make you be the one who makes this person fulfil his or her responsibility."
I would say to you that because of the power and control issues -- the member for Northumberland suggested that there may be occasions when there's an imbalance of power. Quite frankly, non-payment of support is all about power. It is about financial control over a partner. That is what it is about. When people want to do this, they do not renege on their obligations. But the fact that so many people do not pay is an indication of how hard it is to enforce family responsibility.
We made an offer and we make the offer today: If the government withdraws Bill 82 and comes back with a bill with all those enforcement proposals in it, we will by unanimous consent absolutely give it second and third reading just like that -- done. It could have been done today. It could have been done on October 2. The government knew that the problem is this part and the government knew we will not agree to that without people understanding the implications of it.
Let us read from the compendium about who might have their order not enforced by the plan:
"Where the meaning of the order is ambiguous or unclear." What do you do then? Right now the family support plan does everything it can to ensure that an order, even if it is ambiguous and unclear, is enforced and encourages the recipient and the payor to go back to court and get an order that is clearer.
"Where the quantum is nominal, not fixed, or is expressed as a percentage of income or is dependent on variable facts." What is a nominal fee? I can tell you, for many of the people in the gallery this afternoon nominal could be $25. It may make the difference between a child having the possibility of participating in school activities and not. A nominal fee could be very important to the income of a family.
Or one that's not fixed: Many orders that are outstanding, particularly old orders, give a percentage of the person's income. It may not have been a wise order, but it's the order that the person has in hand. This would allow the director to just decide not to enforce those orders.
"Where it is dependent on variable facts." What about the seasonal employment? Very often, those orders that depend on variable facts were there exactly to deal with seasonal income. Yes, the provision in this bill that would talk about periodic payments would catch that, but it wouldn't be according to the order, it would be according to your legislation, and there's very great ambiguity.
The last one is, "Where the order has long-outstanding arrears, including those that predate SCOE." The group that was here today, MAFIA, many of those members have long-standing arrears, way before SCOE. I know this because we worked with them. One of the members said we had done nothing to improve this plan, and that is simply not the case. The MAFIA group, which was the most vocal group, came forward to us and said the prime thing they were asking us to do was to remove the professional licences of people who were not paying their family support.
We spent a year and a half negotiating with professional societies like the OMA, the law society, the society of engineers and with some of the trades that license people as well, to try and say: "How can we do this? We take this seriously. We cannot remove licences or the ability to practise without your cooperation." In the end they refused. In the end they believed very strongly that that was not part of their function. It wasn't that we weren't trying to accede to the requests of a group like MAFIA; it was that their solution, the removal of professional licences, could not be accomplished.
I said the other day in the discussion on Bill 82 that all of these proposals are proposals that have been taken off the shelf, work that was done in the family support plan by the expert staff that worked there and was there on the shelf for the current Attorney General. If you are in such a rush to enforce support, why did it take you so long? Why did it take you a year and a bit to even bring in the act? Those proposals were there when you came into office. If this was so important -- you took a year before you even put that into the Legislature and then you took 49 days before you called it.
So don't tell us that it's not appropriate for us to discuss the concerns we have about this bill in the Legislature. That's our job, and we are simply doing our job for the women and children of this province who need someone to speak up on their behalf.
The misconception about the plan has been set in people's minds by you as a government. You think it is a drawback that the plan grows by 1,200 to 1,400 people a month. That's the way it is designed. Everybody who gets an order comes into the plan. Of course those marriage breakdowns happen at a very unfortunate rate and those orders come forward at 1,200 to 1,400 a month. We knew that when this plan went in, and you're quite right that we didn't have the technological capacity to deal with that appropriately.
The member for Kitchener-Wilmot, who suggested we did nothing, may not know that that's not so. One of the things we were doing was working with the Royal Bank, as you are, to get the automatic deduction into place. It is hard for a lot of people to accept automatic deduction, particularly when they have not been experiencing particularly good service. We as a government worked all the time with the Royal Bank and other providers around how we could develop a system, given the limited capital dollars we had, that would fulfil the multiple need of the kind of system you envision.
You don't have it in place. You've just put out proposals and it is going to take a long time to get in place. A system that can speak to the federal government's systems, can speak to other provinces' systems, can speak to every system you have in this province is a very sophisticated system, and it has to be a system that's going to be able to do online immediately what you want it to do.
I know how difficult it is going to be for you to develop that, because we started the work in 1993. We know that you are holding out hope to people that the day this act is proclaimed suddenly everything's going to change. You know that's not so. You know there is no rush about this bill because you know you don't have the technological capacity to do it. The minister admitted that in his speech the other day in answer to one of the questions.
Let's just be very clear. All of this accusation today that we're being mischievous and political about this is not true. We have very real concerns about pieces of this bill. If you were prepared to bring forward only the enforcement things, we would pass it in a minute. We are saying to you that if you want it done quickly, withdraw this, show that you can bring those forward, and we'll pass it immediately. But we need to talk about these other provisions in the act, because what you are proposing to do is to say that you give up on $450 million to $500 million of money that is not owed to you but is owed for the most part to women and children, and perhaps some men, in this province. It is not yours to write off, it is not up to you to close files, it is not up to you to decide what is uncollectible.
The Deputy Speaker: Mr Hampton has moved Opposition Day number 5. Is it the pleasure of the House that the motion carry?
All those in favour will please say "aye."
All those opposed will please say "nay."
In my opinion the nays have it.
I declare the motion lost.
Being close to 6 of the clock, this House stands adjourned until 10 o'clock tomorrow morning.
The House adjourned at 1755.