36th Parliament, 1st Session

l135 - Mon 9 Dec 1996 / Lun 9 Déc 1996










































The House met at 1332.




Mrs Sandra Pupatello (Windsor-Sandwich): It's important today that we speak about what the health minister has done to communities across Ontario, and especially the community that I come from in Essex county.

The minister has continued to bully major organizations that deliver health services across Ontario. He's doing it in Thunder Bay, he's doing it in Sudbury, he's certainly done it in Windsor. He has put the test to the local hospitals, to our boards, to come up with massive ways to save money. In fact, he is forcing local hospitals to make decisions to cut programs, to deny services, to extend waiting periods, all because they must reach cost targets. Why? Because this minister has cut $1.3 billion to health care, to hospitals. This has to stop.

The most recent example was the area of cardiac catheterization. When we learned that our hospitals would have been forced to reduce the number of days of lab time available for our local people to get the kinds of services required to prepare them for bypass surgery, we said no. We said that our hospitals can no longer afford to be bullied by this health minister. Again this weekend we have seen perfect examples of bullying. I look forward to question period today, when this will come to light.


Ms Marilyn Churley (Riverdale): The Minister of Energy and Environment seems to have too full a schedule to meet with environmentalists. On November 28, environmental groups went right to the minister's office to meet with him. He refused to attend. He said his schedule was too full. One has to ask just whom this minister is meeting with.

It's been almost two months since the Minister of Environment and Energy assured the standing committee on social development that he would be meeting with the Canadian Environmental Law Association. CELA is second to none in its objective to use and improve laws that protect the environment and conserve natural resources.

On October 16, 1996, the minister recognized that fact, telling the committee that CELA is "a significant player in this business." The minister assured the committee that day that he would in fact be meeting with CELA. I am sending over copies of two letters from Mr Lindgren and an excerpt from Hansard to refresh the minister's memory.

The minister has now written to Mr Lindgren, saying, "My schedule is heavily booked and my commitments will not permit me the time to meet with CELA." His letter indicated no willingness to meet with CELA at a later time. He simply ruled out any meeting. A first letter of Mr Lindgren's asking for a meeting was never responded to. This reversal is insulting, and I would ask the minister again today to commit at once to meeting with CELA.


Mr R. Gary Stewart (Peterborough): I rise in the House to bring to the attention of all members an important issue facing an organization in my riding. A local group known as Disabled Against Discrimination has expressed concerns that too many people are parking in spaces designated as handicapped.

The Ministry of Transportation implemented the permit program in May 1990. To assist in the development of this program, the ministry established a working group comprised of stakeholders and other ministries. The group called for consistent municipal parking bylaws through the development of a parking guideline package and a push for unified and standard fines. I am calling for stiffer fines for those individuals who park in these restricted areas and are directly taking advantage of the physically challenged.

I would like to encourage the working group, municipalities and all other stakeholders to continue working together in order to resolve this issue. Disability parking must be protected for those who need it. People who do not obey and recognize the significance of providing disabled parking are jeopardizing those who need the parking most. I encourage all players to find a solution to this problem as soon as possible.


Mrs Elinor Caplan (Oriole): I rise today and hold in my hand the infamous Bill 26, which was introduced in this House on November 29, 1995, and passed on December 12, 1995, almost exactly one year ago. We called this the "bully bill," and what we have seen to date is bullying from this government. I say today that the bullying tactics of this government must stop.

The province of Ontario has witnessed a dramatic deterioration in its relationship with doctors because of the bullying of the Minister of Health. This latest disaster is yet another example of how this government will go to any length to ensure that their mean-spirited agenda is enforced and that anyone who disagrees with it may be punished by them.

We've seen the Minister of Health try to bully the Ontario Medical Association, we've seen him try to bully the College of Physicians and Surgeons, but the questions go far beyond the behaviour of the Minister of Health.

Bill 26, the bullying bill, suggests that the tactic of this government is one which says, "If you do not agree with the government, then you had better beware." Your information is subject to the whim of the ministers, and there are many questions that this government, Premier Harris and his ministers must stand accountable for and many questions that must be answered.


Ms Frances Lankin (Beaches-Woodbine): Today I had the opportunity to meet with a class of grade 2 and grade 3 students from Lord Dufferin Public School. As you can see, they are in the public gallery here today.

They came here because they wanted to deliver a message to the Premier. They've written those messages out in letters, and I think the words of children are often the most poignant, so I want to take this opportunity to read some of their letters into the official record.

"Dear Mr Harris:

"Mike Harris I dont like what you are doing to the community takeing people's money. People work hard and what if that happen to you. How would you feel if you were working and you lost your job and you get money from welfare and somebody took some money from you. You would not be able to pay all your bills or pay for clothes or enough food for your family." That's from Yemi.

"Dear Mr Harris:

"I think you're very rude. It is not just your comunity it's our comunity. Please stop trying to shut places up like day cares.... Don't take money from the poor. If you want to have friends you can't treat us like this." That's from Ciara.

"Dear Mr Harris:

"If you want me to get a good educaton, do not take money from my school. And my mom is still in school and she is trying hard to get a job but she can't get a job. If you take more money away from her school, she won't be able to." That's from Brandon.

Letter after letter is a testimony to how children in our communities are feeling the impact of the cuts, how their families are feeling the impact. I thank the students from Lord Dufferin for being here today and I promise them that I will deliver their letters to Premier Harris.



Mrs Julia Munro (Durham-York): Last Wednesday I had the pleasure of attending the launch at Central Technical secondary school of an important new stop on the information highway that is designed specifically for Canadian kids. The new Kids Help Phone and Bell Online is an important new source of information people can turn to when looking for advice on the challenges of growing up.

Produced in a unique charitable partnership which will see Bell Canada and MediaLinx Interactive Inc contribute $500,000 annually for the next three years, Kids Help Phone and Bell On-line was launched into cyberspace to help kids cope with life's complexities in an immediate and timely manner. Kids Help Phone and Bell On-line on the Internet is an innovative add-on to the 24-hour Kids Help Phone service.

This important new stop on the information highway extends the national service's ability to help kids grow up safe and sound. The expert, user-friendly content encourages anyone -- youth, parent or educator -- to go on line with confidence, knowing there's a great destination for youth-focused information. The Kids Help Phone and Bell On-line is a safe and confidential place to access and share information that is important to youth and concerned adults.

MediaLinx is hosting Kids Help Phone and Bell On-line on its Sympatico service.


Mr Gerry Phillips (Scarborough-Agincourt): One of the greatest fears people have is that the government will use its immense power and its access to privileged information to bully them. If they choose to disagree with the government, the government has enormous powers that it can bring to bear on them. The people of Ontario now are beginning to fear that very much from this government.

I experienced it first hand from the government. There was a school principal in my area who chose to send out a memo to her community outlining her concern about cuts and who received a phone call from the Minister's of Education's office saying, "Stop it or I will get someone from the Toronto Sun to write an article about you and I'll report you to your board."

Another community group hired a lawyer to represent them. The government members phoned the principals of that law firm, the senior people in that law firm, to complain. That lawyer no longer works for that law firm and quit as a matter of principle.

On the weekend we had perhaps the most chilling bully tactic imaginable: the government accessing private, confidential medical records to try and bully some group that chooses to disagree with the government.

I would say to you, Mr Speaker, there is nothing as chilling as the government using its force and its power to attempt to bully people into silence.


Mr Gilles Bisson (Cochrane South): Being government is always a question of choosing, and choosing whose side you're on. I have a letter here from a Dr Freundlich, the chief of staff of Bingham Memorial Hospital, cc to Dr Ron Laing, a local physician in Matheson. They write the following:

"In an attempt to help the doctors already established in very isolated and remote places in Ontario, the Minister of Health provided a program through which it assisted these physicians financially with very valuable medical textbooks as well as in attending conferences and upgrading courses." All these programs "are under the umbrella of `continuing medical education'....

"It is with considerable sadness that I have to bring to your attention that this program is about to be discontinued `perhaps because it was a good one,'" the letter goes on to say.

As I said, being government is always about choosing, and it seems to me that this government more and more starts to choose. Rather than working with the people in the medical community and working with northerners to establish a good health system in northern Ontario and across this province, we stand instead to get into a fight with doctors such as we've seen escalated over the weekend. I say to the minister he'd be better off spending his time, rather than trying to figure out how to discredit doctors, to start working with them directly in trying to find ways of finding solutions to the problems we have within our health care system.

The letter goes on to say:

"Since only a relatively small number of physicians could benefit of this program, the savings obtained by discontinuing this program would be...negligible."

I urge the Minister of Health, rather than engage in a fight with doctors, to work with the doctors of this province in trying to find some solutions to the health care problems.


Mr John Hastings (Etobicoke-Rexdale): I rise in the House today to extend my sincerest congratulations to the members of the Toronto Argonauts football team for winning the 84th Grey Cup in Hamilton's Ivor Wynne Stadium on November 24 before 34,000 cold yet enthusiastic fans.

After a dismal 4 and 14 record in 1995, the Argos placed overall first in the 1996 season, with a 15 and 3 record thanks to the off-season acquisitions of all-star quarterback Doug Flutie, runningback Jimmy Cunningham and the reassigning of all-star receiver Paul Masotti and Toronto's favourite runningback Mike "Pinball" Clemons.

It was the first Argos Grey Cup win since 1991, and Toronto fans showed their appreciation for the hard work and determination of these athletes by setting a CFL season-high attendance record at the SkyDome.

Congratulations go out to head coach Don Matthews, his coaching staff and the players for an excellent season. The best of luck in defending the Grey Cup in the 1997 CFL season.


Hon Jim Wilson (Minister of Health): I rise today on a point of personal privilege. Last week I was informed that a member of my staff had inappropriately disclosed information relating to a member of the medical profession to a member of the media. Upon learning of this allegation, I requested the resignation of the staff member and it was provided immediately.

This morning, the secretary of cabinet formally called upon the Information and Privacy Commissioner to investigate this matter and report back as soon as possible. Mr Speaker, I support this move.

It is critical that the confidentiality of information in the Ministry of Health regarding any individual be maintained and protected. This is of the utmost importance to me personally, the ministry and this government. Therefore, to ensure the integrity of the investigation by the privacy commissioner, I believe it is both honourable and appropriate that I step aside as Minister of Health until the investigation into this matter is complete.



Mr Dalton McGuinty (Leader of the Opposition): My question is for the Deputy Premier. This resignation can hardly be the end of the story. What we have here was that late last week we had the disclosure of highly confidential information from a senior staffer who worked with this minister day in and day out, and in a deliberate effort to undermine the credibility of and to intimidate a representative of the physicians who had been negotiating with this government, that information was disclosed. This is hardly the end of the matter.

There are some other questions that need to be answered: How did that confidential information get into the minister's office? Why was it brought into the office? Who else knew about it? What other files were in the hands of the minister, and why did Brett James disclose that information?

My question: Minister, given the seriousness of the situation, will you agree here and now for an all-party legislative committee to get to the bottom of this matter?

Hon Ernie L. Eves (Deputy Premier, Minister of Finance): The leader of the official opposition is quite correct when he says that there are a lot of unanswered questions here. That is exactly why the secretary of cabinet has referred this matter to the Information and Privacy Commissioner. I am certainly confident that the Information and Privacy Commissioner will launch a thorough investigation into the matter and make his report public in due course.


Mr McGuinty: I am convinced, as I'm sure the minister is, that the Information and Privacy Commissioner will not, for instance, consider the issue of ministerial accountability -- that does not come under the jurisdiction of his office -- and that's something we're very interested in.

There are some more questions that need to be answered. On whose direction did Brett James get the confidential OHIP information? How did he get the confidential OHIP information? On whose direction did he release the confidential information? Has anyone in the minister's office requested information on any other doctor's billings? Did anyone else in the office know that Brett James had this information? There are many, many more questions that we feel ought to be answered, and for that reason once again I'm asking that you allow this House, through an all-party legislative committee, to subpoena witnesses and have them answer questions under oath.

Hon Mr Eves: In terms of ministerial responsibility, I don't think you can see any higher standard than the one displayed by the Minister of Health a few moments ago.

Mr Gerry Phillips (Scarborough-Agincourt): Did he authorize it? That's what we want to know.

Hon Mr Eves: I hear the interjection of the member for Scarborough-Agincourt saying that the minister authorized it. That kind of speculative innuendo and conjecture on the part of the member for Scarborough-Agincourt does him a disservice, does his party a disservice and does the entire parliamentary system a disservice. The Minister of Health has acted in a most appropriate fashion here today. Too bad that the members of your government, sir, didn't have the same sort of courage and integrity when they were in government.

Now to answer the question very directly to the leader of the official opposition: I have every confidence that the privacy commissioner will look into exactly the matters you have enunciated in your question as to how Mr James found this information out, how he came about it and for what purpose he was using it etc.

Mr McGuinty: Let's understand that the only reason this resignation took place was because the minister was caught. This confidential information had been circulating for God knows how long inside that office. The only reason he's resigned is that it happened to come to the light of day.

There was a practice going on in the ministry, for some reason, whereby confidential information was brought into that office, that information was circulated -- we don't know how far it went -- and ultimately it was disclosed. There is every indication that the only reason it was disclosed was to undermine the credibility of a perceived enemy of the government, somebody who deigned to disagree with government policy. What kind of accountability is that? What kind of responsibility is that? You take it only when you have to.

The Information and Privacy Commissioner will go only a short distance by way of asking the questions that we feel ought to be answered by a legislative committee. Once again, will you agree to have this House, through an all-party legislative committee, look at those questions?

Hon Mr Eves: I say to the leader of the official opposition that he is prejudging what the Information and Privacy Commissioner will or will not do, what his investigation will or will not show. If he has some reason to believe that the Information and Privacy Commissioner will not behave in an appropriate and responsible fashion, he should say so if that's what he's suggesting, that he won't launch a thorough investigation.

The other matters he talks about are pure conjecture and innuendo on his part. Why don't we find out the facts through an independent party? I think the Information and Privacy Commissioner is more than competent to carry out this investigation to get to the bottom of the matter of who knew, how they knew, why they knew, and then we can look at his report and see what it has to say.

The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): New question. The Leader of the Opposition.

Mr McGuinty: I wish this were a unique incident in the history of this government, but in fact it's merely part of a broader pattern, and it's clearly the pattern that has emerged here over the last 18 months of this government. At one point in time the Franklin school in Riverdale --

The Speaker: I need a question and who you direct your question to.

Mr McGuinty: To the same minister. The Franklin school in Riverdale was called upon by Al Leach's assistant. The law firm that had been handling a case against the Crombie commission was told to back off by that minister. There was a Scarborough principal whose board received a call from an assistant to Minister Snobelen as a result of that principal's complaint about this government, and that principal was told to back off.

Minister, will you now admit that this minister's behaviour is typical behaviour for your government, that there's a clear pattern of intimidation and bullying here? Will you not admit to that?

Hon Mr Eves: No, I will not. That question almost doesn't even deserve an answer.

Mr McGuinty: Just to bring it closer to home, it was just a short while ago that this very Minister of Health went to the College of Physicians and Surgeons demanding that those doctors who stood against this government through job action be disciplined. That was the request, the demand, made by this minister of doctors in this province.

You can't govern with a sledgehammer and an axe, and if you want the ultimate example, it's Bill 26. If that doesn't embody everything this government stands for, I don't know what does.

Minister, this makes it all the more important for us to have an inquiry into the actions leading up to this minister's resignation. I ask you once again, how about that inquiry?

Hon Mr Eves: The Information and Privacy Commissioner is an officer of the Legislative Assembly. He is responsible to the Legislative Assembly. He will report back to the Legislative Assembly, and every member of the Legislative Assembly and the public in the province of Ontario will be able to see the result of his investigation.

Mr McGuinty: This has everything to do with political standards. It has to do with what this government sees as acceptable and unacceptable behaviour.

The minister resigned because he was caught. That information had been circulating for a significant amount of time, and when it was brought to light of day, then the minister decided he had no choice but to resign. This is a sad day for government in Ontario. It's a sad day for democracy. We've got a minister resigning in disgrace because he was caught in an effort to undermine the credibility of an enemy of the government. The minister wanted access to these records through Bill 26. He got the records. Now we know why he wanted them in the first place. This was a power grab, it's clear.

Minister, I think it's important that all the members of this House have an opportunity to go through, in detail, all the events leading up to the disclosure of this information and the resignation of this minister. I ask you once again, will you not consent to an all-party legislative committee reviewing this?

Hon Mr Eves: I would say to the leader of the official opposition that the member should have his facts absolutely straight before he starts accusing people of things that he is conjecturing and surmising, in his own political mind, have occurred.

Mr Wilson resigned today or stepped aside today as the Minister of Health because he has some respect for the integrity and the confidentiality of the Ministry of Health, of the health system in the province of Ontario, and understands some degree of responsibility when a member of his staff did something very inappropriate.


The Speaker: New question. The leader of the third party.

Mr Howard Hampton (Rainy River): I'll ask the Deputy Premier this: Is Mr Wilson stepping aside or is he resigning?

Hon Mr Eves: My information is that the Minister of Health has stepped aside as Minister of Health. He is no longer a member of the executive council in the government of Ontario.

Mr Hampton: If he has stepped aside and he is no longer a member, does that mean someone else is going to be appointed Minister of Health so someone else can be politically accountable for the breach of the law and the breach of someone's privacy? Is someone else going to be appointed, and when?

Hon Mr Eves: It is my understanding that the Premier has asked the Chair of Management Board to assume the responsibilities of the Minister of Health.

Mr Hampton: I ask the Deputy Premier, what is problematic about what you're proposing? You say the privacy commissioner can look into this. But as I read the Premier's statement, he doesn't mention looking into the ministry. He doesn't mention looking into all the ways this information could have been released.

Is the Deputy Premier aware that a chain of events would have to happen before this information is released? It's illegal for the minister to have this information; it's illegal for anybody on his staff to have this information. For this information to be released, the general manager of OHIP would be the only person with authority to release this. Once he receives that request, he has to inform the deputy minister. Once the deputy minister is informed of the request, the deputy minister has to inform the minister.

You're proposing that the privacy commissioner look at Mr James. That's not good enough, Deputy Premier. What we need to know is, when did all these officials of the ministry and when did the deputy minister find out? When did the deputy minister give approval? When did the deputy minister inform the minister? We need an inquiry to get to the bottom of this.

Hon Mr Eves: It is my understanding that the investigation that the Information and Privacy Commissioner will undertake will be of the fullest and widest possible parameters. It will not be limited strictly to Mr James.

Obviously a lot of questions have to be answered here. I think that the Minister of Health and the Premier of the province are aware of that, indeed that the secretary of cabinet is aware of that. That is why (a) the Minister of Health has stepped aside; and (b) the Information and Privacy Commissioner is going to investigate the matter in the fullest possible way.

Mr Hampton: Can the Deputy Premier tell us, does the privacy commissioner have the capacity to order people to appear by way of subpoena? Does he have the capacity to order people to appear and give evidence under oath? Does he have those powers? Can you tell us that?

Hon Mr Eves: I'm not aware of that off the top of my head. However, I have every confidence that the Information and Privacy Commissioner will get to the bottom of this issue, and if he's unable to do so, in his own mind, will say so and report back to the government.

Mr Hampton: It's our information that the privacy commissioner does not have the capacity to order someone to appear by way of subpoena and does not have the capacity to order someone to appear and then take the oath. If the privacy commissioner does not have the power to order appearance by subpoena and does not have the power to order people to take the oath and require them to give information under oath, how are we going to get to the bottom of this?

This is such a serious matter, given the context in which it occurred -- a negotiation under way and then, conveniently, information is dropped to the media by someone on the Minister of Health's staff, information he is legally not supposed to have -- we need to be sure that we get to the bottom of this. We need to be sure that people can be subpoenaed.

The Speaker: The question?

Mr Hampton: We need to be sure that people appear and give evidence under oath. That is how we get to the bottom of this.

Deputy Premier, will you commit to an inquiry so that people will be ordered, by subpoena, to give evidence under oath?

Hon Mr Eves: I have every confidence that the Information and Privacy Commissioner will be able to conduct as full an investigation as he needs to solve this situation and report back to the Legislative Assembly.

As I already indicated in my response to the leader of the official opposition, he is an officer of the Legislative Assembly and he is responsible for the Legislative Assembly. If he feels that he is not appropriately equipped to conduct this investigation, he will so notify the Legislative Assembly.

Mr Hampton: Some of us might take solace from the words of the Deputy Premier if the government hadn't already shown disrespect for the privacy commissioner last year in the context of Bill 26. You wanted, in Bill 26, to have the right to collect everyone's medical information, to have the minister and his staff members have the capacity and the legal right to collect everybody's private health care information.

The privacy commissioner said to you that it is not the government's information, that the government is merely the custodian of the personal information that an individual has entrusted to it, that there needs to be this comfort, this trust in this place.

We had to sit in this House literally overnight to force this government to show some respect for the privacy commissioner. I don't think you have any respect for the privacy commissioner.

I believe we need either a public inquiry or an all-party committee. Will you commit to this now? Will you commit to a process that will allow people to be subpoenaed, that will require people to give information under oath?

Hon Mr Eves: The very comments that the leader of the third party just read out with respect to the Information and Privacy Commissioner surely speak to the integrity of the commissioner, to the seriousness with which he undertakes his responsibilities, and surely, having read the quote he just read with respect to the Information and Privacy Commissioner, he would be more than satisfied with that individual looking into this particular situation.

The Speaker: New question. Member for Renfrew North.

Mr Sean G. Conway (Renfrew North): I want to go back to the acting Premier. We have today the resignation of the Minister of Health about a very sensitive matter, namely, the release of highly confidential and sensitive medical information into the public domain. This comes five years to the day from the beginning of the so-called Martel affair. I have in my hand, Mr Eves, a copy of a minority report that you and I and the now minister of justice signed expressing our concern that this could happen and that it would never happen again.

My question to you, Minister, is: Four and a half years after this report was tabled and the gravity of those issues canvassed by this assembly, how is it possible that at the highest levels of government very sensitive, confidential information, gathered apparently for the express purpose to attack an innocent citizen of Ontario, came into the possession of a senior government official, a political assistant, and was used to attack an innocent Ontario citizen?

Hon Mr Eves: In my opinion there are several differences between the situation he alludes to, five years ago, and the situation the Minister of Health today found himself in. First of all we're talking about the actions of one of his staff members as opposed to his own actions. That's point number one. Point number two, the minister --

Mr Tony Silipo (Dovercourt): We don't know that.

Mr Gilles Pouliot (Lake Nipigon): Remember Mike Farnan.

The Speaker: Order. Members for Dovercourt, Lake Nipigon.

Hon Mr Eves: The second point: The minister in this instance, unlike that instance and unlike several other instances, has voluntarily stepped aside because he understands the integrity of the system, ministerial responsibility and accountability, and he understands the confidentiality of facts and information in the health care system in Ontario.

Mr Conway: I agree with my colleague the member for Parry Sound, the Deputy Premier: There are differences. This extraordinary behaviour comes after the Martel affair, after we all pledged that it would not and could not happen again, and Jim Wilson was around for that. You know and I know that under the new provisions, post-Martel, the kind of information that Brett James threw at this innocent doctor last Friday could only have gotten into the minister's office on the advice and with the agreement of the Minister of Health and the Deputy Minister of Health. I want to know how, in the post-Martel world, it would be possible for that information to get into the minister's office and to be used so viciously against an innocent victim.


I've got to tell you, I don't expect some bureaucrat to give me all of the answers I need to know and the public deserves to know, because in the Martel affair you were right when you said five years ago this week, quoting Ernie Eves, "This entire issue here goes to the root of integrity of government." You were right then. I want to know what you're going to do to restore the integrity of your battered government today.

Hon Mr Eves: With all due respect, the honourable member is assuming a lot of facts here. He's also imputing some motives here on the part of certain individuals. I think the difference, as I tried to point out in my first answer, between five years ago and today is that the minister today has understood the seriousness of these particular actions of a member of his staff. He has voluntarily stepped aside. He has understood and appreciated the confidentiality, the integrity of the health care system and, more important, the integrity of ministerial responsibility by his actions today.

The Speaker: New question. Leader of the third party.

Mr Hampton: There are several parts of this that create a real problem. First of all, it's our understanding that Mr Wilson, who until a few minutes ago was the Minister of Health, will not be required to submit to the privacy commissioner by means of subpoena and will not be required to give information under oath. It's our understanding that the Deputy Minister of Health will not be required via subpoena to give evidence and will not be required to give evidence under oath. It's our understanding that the manager of OHIP will not be required to attend by means of subpoena and will not have to give evidence under oath. It's our understanding that Mr James, and that anybody else on the minister's staff, will not be required to come by means of subpoena and give evidence under oath.

I want to ask the Deputy Premier, if nobody here has to submit to subpoena and if no one has to give evidence under oath, how do you honestly believe that we will get to the bottom of this matter, given the kinds of shenanigans that have gone on already in the Minister of Health's office?

Hon Mr Eves: The member is assuming that the only way that anybody is ever going to cooperate with the Information and Privacy Commissioner is if he or she is subpoenaed to appear before him. I can tell you that, demonstrated by the minister's actions today, some people take their jobs responsibly enough to voluntary do the right thing.

Mr Hampton: I want to talk about the former Minister of Health and his record: December 18, 1995, Jim Wilson opened the committee debate on Bill 26 with an attack on Ontario doctors. In his statement to the committee Wilson accused doctors of defrauding the system and doublebilling. In the context of Bill 26, the privacy commissioner had to go after the said Mr Wilson. When Ontario doctors launched their bargaining campaign with the ministry, the Minister of Health wrote to the college of physicians and tried to order them and tried to bully them into something.

Do you understand that it is exactly the conduct of the Minister of Health, Jim Wilson, that makes us so uneasy about this? He has accused doctors of being frauds, he has accused doctors of doublebilling, he has attempted to intimidate the college of physicians, and then you want this person to appear, without being subpoenaed and without being under oath. Given the record of conduct here, given the fact that this information is totally illegal for the minister or anybody else to have, don't you think it is appropriate that these people appear by means of subpoena and give evidence under oath?

Hon Mr Eves: First of all, let's go over the facts as we know them today. The Minister of Health has asked his staff member to resign, and that took place immediately. The Minister of Health himself has voluntarily stepped aside. The Information and Privacy Commissioner has been asked to launch an investigation into this entire matter with the broadest possible parameters. I am convinced that officer of the Legislative Assembly, if he feels that he has inadequate tools to conduct this investigation, will so notify the Legislative Assembly.


Mr John O'Toole (Durham East): My question is for the Minister of Natural Resources, Northern Development and Mines. I recall the campaign promise to dedicate all hunting and fishing revenue back into the resources and to the creation of the Fish and Wildlife Advisory Board to advise the minister with respect to the use of these funds. Could the minister explain what the board has been doing?

Hon Chris Hodgson (Minister of Natural Resources, Northern Development and Mines): I'm pleased to answer that. This is a campaign commitment that goes back to the spring of 1994 that all the licence revenues and royalties of fishing and hunting go back into a special purpose account to give accountability to how these dollars are being spent for the betterment of fish and wildlife.

The board is made up of 11 people, capably led by a biologist and lodge owner, Mr Phil Morlock, and they've met three times this fall. They're giving advice on how the money should be spent in some programs specifically related to fish and wildlife management in the province.

Mr O'Toole: In my riding of Durham East there are many sports enthusiasts who are anxious to see the progress that's been made. I understand you've received recommendations from the board relating to fishing in Lake Ontario. Could you indicate what these are and how you have responded.

Hon Mr Hodgson: The board recommended a new study and public consultation on the fishery in Lake Ontario, which I have accepted and the MNR is now implementing. The recent open houses that have taken place have been described in a recent article in the Toronto Star by John Power, who noted: "Unlike the façade of 1992, the current sessions could be fruitful. There's a new and improved attitude in the Ministry of Natural Resources, which is marching to a different drummer than it was four years ago." This is just one example of improving the natural resource management in the province.


Mr Dalton McGuinty (Leader of the Opposition): I want to highlight for members of this House the double standard that exists between the approach taken by members of the government during the course of the Piper affair and the approach they wish to take now.

The Piper affair, as you recall, was where the press secretary for Premier Rae -- my question is to the Deputy Premier -- released information to discredit someone then who was causing the government some problems. I want to quote:

"I suggest to the Premier that we're disappointed a committee is not being set up. We're disappointed, quite frankly, that the police are not reporting to a legislative committee of this Legislature. That's where the findings really ought to be reported so that we can give assurance that there's nobody else who is involved."

Those words were uttered in this House on November 24, 1992, by Mike Harris. Deputy Premier, again I ask you, will you consent to a legislative committee looking at this issue?

Hon Ernie L. Eves (Deputy Premier, Minister of Finance): To the leader of the official opposition, I'm sure he'll refresh my memory if I'm incorrect, but it seems to me that in the Piper matter, the Premier of the day took absolutely no action whatsoever. He didn't have the matter referred to any independent individual, let alone an officer of the Legislative Assembly, to report back to the Legislative Assembly. That is the difference.

Mr McGuinty: Perhaps it'll be more helpful for the deputy Premier if I quote his words on November 26, 1992, in this House:

"Mr Deputy Premier, your Premier has insisted in hiding behind an OPP investigation of the Piper matter, but you know very well that an investigation will not probe the political ramifications of what the Premier's office has done, it will not determine how widespread Mr Piper's smear campaign against Judi Harris extended and it will not determine how many other times Mr Piper or others in the Premier's office may have attempted to quash other political opponents."

I continue with the quote: "Deputy Premier, what we need to determine these facts is an all-party committee looking into what was going on in the Premier's office during Mr Piper's tenure. Is your government going to allow that or not?" I ask the very same question of you today, Deputy Premier.

Hon Mr Eves: There are several very important differences between those circumstances and these here today:

(a) The minister has asked for and received the resignation of a staff member who acted inappropriately.

(b) The minister has voluntarily stepped aside as Minister of Health.

(c) There is no police investigation going on. We are not hiding behind anything.

(d) We have actively asked the Information and Privacy Commissioner, an officer of the Legislative Assembly, to look into this very important and confidential matter.

I say to you, as I've said to the leader of the third party, I have every confidence that if the Information and Privacy Commissioner does not feel that he has the tools available to him to enable him to get to the bottom of this and make a worthwhile report and disclosure to the Legislative Assembly and the people of Ontario, he will so inform us.


The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): New question, leader of the third party.

Mr Hampton: In the media reports we've received so far, Mr James said to the reporter in question that he saw the piece of paper months ago, the piece of paper referring to the information which it would be illegal for Mr James to have. I want to ask you, when was this information requested? The manager of OHIP would have known when it was requested, the Deputy Minister of Health would have known when it was requested. When was that information requested?

Hon Mr Eves: I have absolutely no knowledge of how Mr James came to possess any information he possessed. I don't know what information he possessed; I don't know how he came to possess it. That is exactly why the matter's been referred to the Information and Privacy Commissioner.

Mr Hampton: This is quite unbelievable. One of the first things you would expect of a government, the Deputy Premier especially, is that somebody would have called the deputy minister and would have said: "How did this information become available? When was this information requested of you? When did you learn of it?"

Let me ask the Deputy Premier something else. Mr Wilson would have had discussions either with yourself or the Premier over the weekend. What has Mr Wilson told you or the Premier about this incident? As a minister, he must have made some inquiries, he must be trying to hold the ministry accountable. What did the former minister tell you or tell the Premier about when this information became available and how it became available?

Hon Mr Eves: I have had absolutely no discussions with the Minister of Health with respect to this matter. The member is assuming several things. You're assuming information was requested by certain people, you're assuming the information was received. Why won't you let the Information and Privacy Commissioner look into the matter and report back to the Legislative Assembly? Why don't you have any confidence in the Information and Privacy Commissioner who you were just quoting a few moments ago?


Hon Al Palladini (Minister of Transportation): I would like to respond to a question put to me by the member for Cochrane South on December 3.


The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Order. Minister of Transportation.

Hon Mr Palladini: I would like to first correct some inaccuracies through the question.

He said that unionized employees of GO Transit accepted concessions to save money. This is not correct. No significant savings resulted from the ATU contract. Any concessions were balanced by gains on other issues. For example, the union agreed to changes in work rules and step wage rates for new employees. In exchange, they received job security during the three-year contract and a card system for prescription drugs.

The member also suggested that workers are taking pay cuts. In fact, the unionized employees of GO Transit will be receiving a raise of 2.4% over the next three years. The savings the member referred to were in fact achieved on the management side of GO's operation.

The Speaker: Answer, please.

Hon Mr Palladini: Four million dollars are being saved through 80 layoffs that took place in 1995, one third of GO's management and supervisory staff. There have been no increases --

The Speaker: Thank you. Member for Cochrane South.

Mr Gilles Bisson (Cochrane South): I'd like to thank the minister for coming back with the answer, but I think we go back to the point where we were last week. The point is that the employees did take a concession in order to help GO Transit in the situation. The minister is trying to dress this up for what it's not. It is a concession and the savings have allowed the GO Transit managers, quite frankly, to get themselves an increase. I say to the minister he should try to do something about it because it's not right for workers to have to take a cut but managers to take a raise at the same time.

Hon Mr Palladini: Four million dollars annually are being saved through 80 layoffs that took place in 1995. That's one third of GO's management and supervisory staff. There had been no increases for these employees for the last five years. Effective January 1, merit pay averaging 3% will be reinstated to these employees for one year, similar to the merit pay to other OPSEU workers in their agreement earlier this year.

Finally, I have been in this House for about a year and a half and I have learned many things from many members in this House, but I can assure the honourable member for Cochrane South he is not one of them.


Mr Gerry Phillips (Scarborough-Agincourt): My question is to the Deputy Premier. It has to do with the resignation of the Minister of Health. The Deputy Premier today said that the resignation took place because a member of the staff did something wrong. What we're interested in is what the minister did. We believe, Deputy Premier, that you can now answer that question.

The question is this: The Premier, I assume, has talked to the Minister of Health about this episode. Can you inform us about the conversation that the Premier must have had with him? I assume the Premier asked the minister if he did anything wrong. Can you answer this question? When was Mr Wilson aware that the confidential information was available in his office and can you determine -- have you determined -- whether Mr Wilson was at all involved in authorizing that information being made available to his political staff?

The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): I understand the members are referring to him as "Mr Wilson." He's the member for Simcoe West from now on.

Hon Ernie L. Eves (Deputy Premier, Minister of Finance): To the honourable member, I have no knowledge of that. I can say to you that you alluded in your question to the minister stepping aside because someone on his staff did something wrong. I believe the minister is stepping aside because he believes that the integrity of the system must be maintained.

Until we get to the bottom of this matter, with respect to a full investigation by the Information and Privacy Commissioner, and find out exactly what the facts are, we won't be in a position -- nobody will be in a position -- to be able to attribute or assess blame, if there is any that's due, and exactly what the facts were: who knew what; when they knew it; who requested what; when they received it, if in fact any of that is true.

Mr Phillips: I can hardly believe, Deputy Premier, that you would allow yourself to come to the House without asking that question, because surely that's on the minds of all of Ontario. What in the world was the former Minister of Health doing?

The Premier talked to him. You said, by the way, that the reason he resigned was that a member of his staff did something wrong. But the question is this: When did the Minister of Health become aware that confidential information was in his office, and did he authorize that? Will you, if you do not know the answer to that today, undertake to come to the House tomorrow and give us an answer?

This does not need to await an inquiry. The people of Ontario are deserving of an answer to this from a minister of the crown who clearly has been sitting on a very, very serious situation: confidential medical records in his political office being used to abuse people in this province. Will you commit today, Deputy Premier, to come to this House tomorrow and inform the House when Mr Wilson was aware of this and whether he authorized it?

Hon Mr Eves: To the honourable member, he is assuming and imputing a lot of motive and actions. The purpose of an investigation is to get to the bottom of every circumstance surrounding this situation. Surely it is best done by an independent individual, who in this case happens to be an officer of the Legislative Assembly.

I say to the honourable member, if the Information and Privacy Commissioner does not feel that he can get to the bottom of this issue and he doesn't have the ability or the tools at his disposal to get to the bottom of this, I'm sure he will so inform the House and other people.


Mr Phillips: The Premier knows the answer. I wish he would show up here.

Hon Mr Eves: If I may take exception to the comment just made by the member for Scarborough-Agincourt, the Premier today is at a public function that he was committed to some time ago. You know very well that it is improper and inappropriate, and quite frankly unbecoming of you, to refer to another member's absence in these premises.

The Speaker: New question. Third party.

Mr Howard Hampton (Rainy River): I think the government's strategy is becoming obvious here. If we try to get answers in the House, if we try to hold them accountable in a political fashion, they're going to say, "We don't have any of this information." We've asked four or five questions and any Premier or Deputy Premier would have come to the Legislature today with that basic information. All they would have to do is phone up the Deputy Minister of Health and say, "Tell me the story," or phone up the manager of OHIP and say, "I want to know the details," or ask the minister. But the government has done none of that. On the other hand, we're going to have a privacy commissioner who doesn't have the power to subpoena and doesn't have the power to get information under oath.

It's very clear that neither avenue here is going to get to the bottom of it, so I ask the Deputy Premier again: We want either a parliamentary committee, a legislative committee, or an inquiry. Either one must have the power to subpoena and the power to get at information under oath. If you want to get to the bottom of this, that's what we need to have. Do you agree that we have either a public inquiry or a legislative committee to get to the bottom of this?

Hon Mr Eves: I will say to the leader of the third party very directly that I can certainly remember a Premier, in fact at least two of them in the last 10 years, who did absolutely nothing under similar circumstances, whose ministers did not resign voluntarily under similar circumstances, except for one who did have the integrity of the system at heart. She, as the then Minister of Health, the member from Ottawa, did have the integrity and did respect the system enough to resign, and I believe what happened in that case -- you can check the facts -- is that the Information and Privacy Commissioner investigated that case as well.

Mr Hampton: The Deputy Premier tries very hard to miss the point. The point here is this: You refuse to come to this Legislature with the answers and I think it's your duty to come to this Legislature with the answers, and the privacy commissioner is not equipped, either in law or in process, to require people to give evidence under oath or to require them by means of subpoena.

You are setting up a process here where you refuse to answer the questions in the House and you refuse to give us a process that will get to the bottom of this. You know the privacy commissioner does not have the authority, the power, the legal capacity to ask some of these questions and to subpoena people. You know that technically it will be impossible for him to get this information.

The issue is, this is a matter of important public policy, this is a very important matter legally, and we at least have to have the capacity to subpoena and the capacity to question people under oath to get to the bottom of it. It seems to me if you're interested in the truth we have to have that. Will you agree to either an inquiry or a legislative committee to get to the bottom of this?

Hon Mr Eves: I don't know why the leader of the third party would question the integrity or the independence of the Information and Privacy Commissioner. Why do you not feel that he is competent to deal with this issue? And if he's not, I'm sure, you knowing him as I do, he will be the first one to say that he does not have the tools or the methods available to him to get to the bottom of the issue.


Mr Tim Hudak (Niagara South): My question is to the Minister of Environment and Energy. As the minister knows, the Great Lakes and the Niagara River play a very important social and economic, recreational and health role in the Niagara Peninsula and, importantly, in my riding of Niagara South. In fact, bordering to the east is the Niagara River and to the south Lake Erie, and then just 20 minutes to half an hour away from any part of my riding is Lake Ontario.

I understand there have been recently some public meetings to discuss the Niagara River toxics management plan, and at the same time the Lake Ontario lake-wide management plan. I'd like to know from the minister what the government of Ontario has accomplished to date on the Niagara River toxics management plan.

Hon Norman W. Sterling (Minister of Environment and Energy): I really appreciate the question from the member, who is from the Niagara area and pretty much interested in this matter. I want to tell the member that recently there was a committee meeting with regard to administering the plan. There were over 100 people at that meeting. On December 3, we signed a renewal of our declaration of intent signifying our continued commitment to work with our American counterparts and to encourage efforts to remediate hazardous waste sites on the US side of the Niagara River. I am pleased that over the past 10 years the ministry has monitored 21 point sources along the Niagara River. This monitoring has focused on 18 chemicals of concern and indicates reductions of toxics loading of as much as 99%.

Mr Hudak: As the minister and the members of the House know, there are many areas of jurisdiction over the Great Lakes and the Niagara River, especially with the border states. Could the minister explain who is represented on the Niagara River and Lake Ontario coordination committees and what other significant developments have resulted from these committees to date?

Hon Mr Sterling: The committee consists of senior officials from Environment Canada, the United States Environmental Protection Agency, my ministry and the New York State Department of Energy and Conservation. Another significant accomplishment which has arisen from the work of these committees has been the international partnership agreement to develop and apply an innovative computer model for predicting groundwater flow and contamination migration at a former PCB storage site in Smithville. This agreement offers an opportunity to review and exchange information on emerging waste site technologies and is a collaborative effort between Environment Canada, Ontario's Ministry of Environment and Energy and the EPA in the United States. We are working together to improve the environment of this area and we continue to do so.


Mrs Elinor Caplan (Oriole): My question is for the Deputy Premier. I see that he's here and I'll proceed with my question. People in this province are very concerned. They're concerned because government has all kinds of sensitive and confidential information about them. It has all of their medical records. They are concerned, and you have an obligation to address those concerns.

The Minister of Health must request and have good reason for requesting confidential identifying information about people in this province. The people have a right to know why he makes those requests. I would suggest to you, sir, that only a legislative committee with the authority to subpoena people under oath can get to the bottom of that, as my leader has suggested.

Hon Ernie L. Eves (Deputy Premier, Minister of Finance): I think the member for Oriole is quite correct when she says people have every right to be able to have some confidence -- in fact, the utmost confidence -- in their information with respect to their health records, with respect to health expenditures. I think if she follows the actions of the Minister of Health today -- the former Minister of Health, I should say -- he obviously took this matter very seriously himself or he would not have stepped aside.

The important thing here is to get to the bottom of the facts: who knew what, how they knew it, why they knew it. I have every confidence that the Information and Privacy Commissioner will be able to do that under these circumstances.


Mrs Caplan: I hope you'll reconsider that answer, because in fact the Information and Privacy Commissioner is not the appropriate person to be conducting this kind of legislative inquiry. If the people of this province are going to have confidence that the sensitive information that you hold is properly protected, they must have the confidence of a full and open public hearing of this matter. I ask you, sir, to do as our leader has requested and assure the people of this province that their confidential information is and will be protected. You can only do that if you hold a legislative committee of inquiry into this important matter. Will you do that?

Hon Mr Eves: The Information and Privacy Commissioner is an individual of the utmost integrity. We have heard comments supporting that from the leader of the third party today. I think everybody in this House agrees. He is an officer of the Legislative Assembly. He has some very interesting and sweeping powers under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, and I'm sure that if he is not satisfied that he has the tools and the authority at his disposal to do a complete and thorough investigation of this entire matter and report back to the Legislative Assembly and the people of Ontario, he will let us know that.

The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): New question. Leader of the third party.

Mr Howard Hampton (Rainy River): Here is the situation. The person who was the Minister of Health has now stepped aside, and so he cannot be asked questions in this Legislature about the Ministry of Health any longer. The Deputy Premier comes to the Legislature today and says he knows nothing. The Premier, who we assume should know something, doesn't come to the Legislature today.


The Speaker: Order. Folks, government members, I'm on my feet. I heard the comment. Government members, please.

Leader, you can't comment on people's absences. I wish you would --

Mr Hampton: Speaker, this is a very serious matter, and yet no one in the government is equipped to or they have conveniently been put aside so that they can't answer questions on this. Then we're told that the Information and Privacy Commissioner will ask the questions, but the Information and Privacy Commissioner can't subpoena people and he can't take evidence under oath. This doesn't look to me to be an exercise that is aimed at getting to the bottom of a very serious issue. The government refuses to answer any questions in the House, and frankly, the Information and Privacy Commissioner doesn't have the capacity to get answers to these questions.

I say to the Deputy Premier, because I think your integrity is on the line here, if you want to get to the bottom of these questions, you have to have a legal process that allows you to subpoena witnesses and allows you to --

The Speaker: Thank you. Deputy Premier.

Hon Mr Eves: Mr Speaker, I can only reiterate what I've already said. First of all, we have to find out what the facts are: who knew what, how they knew it, why they knew it, if they knew anything at all. I think the last thing is a very important thing for the honourable member to keep in mind. "If they knew anything at all" would be a very appropriate thought for the honourable member to keep in mind.

I think the only way we're going to get to this -- we have had a minister who has asked a staff member to step aside. We have a minister who has, out of respect for the integrity of the system, stepped aside himself. And we now have an Information and Privacy Commissioner who has been asked to conduct an investigation into this matter and get to the bottom of it.

If in fact what the leader of the third party says is so and if the Information and Privacy Commissioner does not have the tools at his disposal to get to the bottom of this matter, I'm sure that he, being a respected officer of the Legislative Assembly, will let us know that so the appropriate action can be taken.

Mr Hampton: What was obvious about the former Minister of Health's statement today is that he provided no information at all. It's incumbent, I believe, in a democratic government that the minister stand in this House and provide some explanation. He studiously avoided giving any explanation whatsoever this morning. He simply said, "I'm stepping aside so that I can no longer be asked questions in this Legislature about this."

I say to the Deputy Premier, you ask us to assume that this information was not requested by Mr Wilson. You ask us to assume that Mr Wilson had no knowledge. If we make those assumptions, then the only possible conclusion is that the Ministry of Health is operating completely outside the law. If the Ministry of Health is operating completely outside the law, we need to have either a legislative committee or an inquiry, because the privacy commissioner will not have the tools, the power or the authority --

The Speaker: Deputy Premier.

Hon Mr Eves: I didn't say that you should assume anything. I said that what we need to do is get to the bottom of the matter to find out what the facts are. I note that the minister appears to be satisfied. He supports the investigation into this matter. I think that the honourable member should wait and see what the Information and Privacy Commissioner has to say.

Mr Hampton: He doesn't have the power. He doesn't have the authority. He doesn't have the capacity. It's a whitewash.

Hon Mr Eves: If he feels that he does not have the authority or the power to get to the bottom of this, as he did in the case of a former Minister of Health who stepped aside under somewhat similar circumstances, then I'm sure that he will say so.


Mr Toby Barrett (Norfolk): My question is to the Minister of Economic Development, Trade and Tourism. A key element in our job creation strategy is to lure offshore investment and boost exports. This is crucial if we are to create jobs.

Minister, you recently announced the Market Ontario initiative, which is designed to achieve these objectives. My question to you is, what strategies and approaches are you using to let the rest of the world know that we truly are now open for business?

Hon William Saunderson (Minister of Economic Development, Trade and Tourism): In response to the question from the honourable member for Norfolk, I would like to draw his attention to our new business ambassadors program, which is part of our Market Ontario initiative.

We've had over 150 volunteers to date to be ambassadors for us. What we want to get is Ontarians who travel not only around the world but to other parts of Canada to speak on behalf of Ontario. There are no better ambassadors than people who are doing business in the province.

I might say we're very pleased with the response that we've had of highly qualified men and women who have volunteered to serve their province. We've over 100 volunteers to date and we would like to know of any people who would like to do this for us, who travel, to speak on behalf of Ontario.

Mr Howard Hampton (Rainy River): On a point of order, Mr Speaker: Just to put the government on notice, we'll be asking for an emergency debate today on the issue surrounding the former Minister of Health and how confidential information could be disclosed and was disclosed.

The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Are you asking for it now? Are you seeking --

Mr Hampton: We're asking for unanimous consent.


The Speaker: I haven't even put the question, but I can guess the answer now, actually. Is there unanimous consent for the third party's request for an emergency debate? I heard some noes; there is not unanimous consent.




Mr David Ramsay (Timiskaming): I have a petition to the Legislature.

"We, the undersigned, insist that you continue to operate the Vanier Centre for Women in Brampton.

"This institution provides a wealth of services" --


The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): The member for York Mills, I would ask that you withdraw that comment. It's out of order.

Mr David Turnbull (York Mills): I withdraw, Mr Speaker.


The Speaker: Thank you. Government members and others, please come to order. It's time for petitions and I'd like to be able to hear them.

Mr Ramsay: "We, the undersigned, insist that you continue to operate the Vanier Centre for Women in Brampton.

"This institution provides a wealth of services to a unique clientele that would otherwise not receive the proper rehabilitative programs and counselling that are exclusive to this facility. Perhaps the per diem cost is greater than an American facility, but in the long run the finished product is much more conducive to the wellbeing of the community at large.

"A properly rehabilitated client is the true measure of a cost-effective system. Once again, one gets what one pays for. A women should have access to her specific needs.

"Women should be not tucked away in the basement of a men's prison."

I will affix my signature to this.


Mr Len Wood (Cochrane North): I would like to present a petition today signed by more than 500 individuals and organizations across northern Ontario. It reads as follows.

"We, the undersigned, strongly protest any plans to privatize TVOntario. The privatization of TVOntario would jeopardize the Wawatay radio network's native language programming and Wahsa distance education services because both depend on TVO's distribution system."

I affix my signature to this list of names which includes over 500 people.


Ms Isabel Bassett (St Andrew-St Patrick): I have a petition to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario.

"His Honour Peter Grossi's judgement in the case of Signe and Robert McMichael against the government of Ontario will completely change the direction of the McMichael Art Gallery. We would like to capture and reflect developing Canadian art from the Group of Seven, Inuit and first nations right up to the present. If this judgement is allowed to stand, the McMichael will become a static museum, frozen in the early part of this century.

"We, the undersigned, urge the Ontario government to appeal this decision so that all aspects of this trial of Canadian art may be exposed before a full three-judge court."

This petition is signed by 361 people, and I affix my signature to this petition.


Mr Gilles E. Morin (Carleton East): To the Legislative Assembly of Ontario:

"Whereas the right of Catholic ratepayers to govern Catholic education in Ontario is constitutionally protected in the British North America Act (1867) and the Constitution Act (1982); and

"Whereas the Minister of Education and Training is reviewing and considering a number of reforms to the education system in Ontario; and

"Whereas a number of these proposed reforms could have a serious negative impact on Catholic education;

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

"We strongly urge that the Minister of Education and Training be requested to reaffirm the government's commitment to the maintenance of Roman Catholic denominational rights ensuring that any reforms will not lessen or abrogate any such rights;

"And further, that the minister enter into realistic and meaningful consultation with all education stakeholders that will lead to positive change for students."


Mr David S. Cooke (Windsor-Riverside): I have petitions that are expressing concerns about the process that's being used for secondary school reform and concerns about the consultation paper. I got approximately 4,000 signatures on Saturday and a couple of thousand signatures in previous petitions, and I submit them now.


Mr Bert Johnson (Perth): I have a petition from St Marys Memorial Hospital in the town of St Marys:

"We, the undersigned, petition the Legislative Assembly of Ontario, the Huron-Perth District Health Council, the Health Services Restructuring Commission and the Minister of Health to support continuation of St Marys Memorial Hospital with acute and chronic beds and 24-hour emergency services to effectively serve the St Marys and area community."

It's signed by about 4,000 people.


Mr Jean-Marc Lalonde (Prescott and Russell): To the Legislative Assembly of Ontario:

"Whereas the students and staff of St Francis Xavier Catholic High School in Hammond, Ontario, are firm in our commitment to maintain our separate school system,

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

"To work towards the preservation of our constitutional right to a Catholic education and to impress upon the current government the impact of additional cuts on every student in every school."


Mr Bud Wildman (Algoma): I have a petition signed by 1,813 citizens of Lambton county. It's addressed to the members of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario and it reads:

"Since publicly funded education is a key investment in the future of all Ontario citizens;

"We, the undersigned residents of Lambton county, wish to state that we believe across-the-board funding reductions are having a negative impact on the quality of education for students in the classrooms of Lambton county, and that we believe full, open and ongoing consultation between the government of Ontario and its citizens on publicly funded education is absolutely necessary."

I'm signing the petition.


Mr John R. Baird (Nepean): I have some more petitions with regard to the Barrhaven high schools in my constituency.

"To the Legislative Assembly of Ontario:

"Whereas the community of Barrhaven lacks any secondary schools to educate the large number of students living in this area;

"Whereas Barrhaven is the most rapidly growing community in Ottawa-Carleton;

"Whereas the National Capital Commission's greenbelt severs the community of Barrhaven from Nepean, forcing many students to take potentially dangerous, unsupervised, hour-long trips on public transportation in order to travel to school;

"Whereas Nepean's high schools are significantly overcrowded;

"Whereas both the Carleton Board of Education and the Carleton Roman Catholic Separate School Board have undertaken significant cost-saving measures to help reduce the construction costs of these high schools;

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

"We strongly urge the Minister of Education to recognize the unique educational needs of Nepean and provide the funding required to build both of the proposed high schools for Barrhaven."

I put my own signature thereto.


Mr Tony Martin (Sault Ste Marie): "The government's proposed closure of the Vanier Centre for Women in Brampton and the placement of all provincial women prisoners into a superjail is both foolish and costly. The Vanier centre is a dedicated facility for women, which has developed programs specific to the needs of women.

"A woman's reality is substantially different from that of a man, due in large part to her perceived secondary status in society. Female offenders are almost invariably victims of male violence. They experience low self-esteem and have not developed the ability to act on their own behalf. Women offenders typically have depended upon men or society to maintain themselves economically. They're often caught up in destructive lifestyles that lack purpose and reason.

"Vanier is a unique facility which provides specialized programs to deal with issues like physical and sexual abuse, lack of trust in relationships and low personal aspirations. Based upon compassion and understanding between staff and offenders, the Vanier program provides support, role modelling, behaviour modification and problem-solving skills. Offenders in the Vanier program are 15% less likely to reoffend than offenders who receive no treatment.

"The Vanier Centre is a facility whose success in preventing recidivism is proven. The cost of effective corrections at the provincial level must be balanced with the cost of recidivism if specialized programs are not provided.

"How shameful for the government to even contemplate destroying this facility and its program with a move to the proposed superjails, where the ratio of prisoners to specialized staff will be lowered --

The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): The member for Sault St Marie, that was a petition, was it? Okay, thank you.


Mr John R. Baird (Nepean): I have a petition from Jodi Page of Nepean which reads as follows:

"To the Legislative Assembly of Ontario:

"We think that OC Transpo should not be allowed to go on strike."


Mr Frank Miclash (Kenora): My petition reads:

"We, the undersigned, strongly protest any plans to privatize TVOntario. The privatization of TVOntario would jeopardize Wawatay radio network's native language programming and Wahsa distance education services because both depend on TVO's distribution system."

That's signed by many of my constituents from Webequie, Sandy Lake, Sioux Lookout and throughout the northwest. I attach my name to that as well.


Mr Frank Miclash (Kenora): I have a petition to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario.

"Whereas the Minister of Education promised that cuts to education would not hurt the classroom;

"Whereas the cuts to education have resulted in many of our very young children being housed in inadequate, poorly ventilated portables;

"Whereas the children who are housed in portable classrooms that occupy crowded school yards are educationally at risk and their safety is in jeopardy;

"Whereas the current moratorium on capital expenditures makes it impossible for some school boards to provide safe, comfortable learning environments for our children, thus adversely affecting the quality of their education;

"Whereas the government of Ontario has proposed that $250 million be spent on building a superjail while withholding funds for necessary school construction;

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

"Remove the freeze on capital expenditures to ensure that our children are educated in buildings appropriate and conducive to learning, comfort and safety."

I attach my name to that petition.


Mr Michael A. Brown (Algoma-Manitoulin): I have a petition that's signed by hundreds of my constituents.

"To the Legislative Assembly of Ontario:

"Whereas the quality of care for residents of nursing homes and homes for the aged is being directly and adversely affected by the funding policies of the Mike Harris Conservative government;

"Whereas the funding deficiencies are forcing these institutions to reduce available staff assistance to residents to unacceptable levels;

"Whereas the user taxes placed on prescription drugs unfairly discriminate against residents of nursing homes;

"Whereas the residents of these institutions are the very people who built this great province and country;

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

"To provide adequate funding for long-term-care institutions and eliminate the user taxes on prescription drugs for seniors."

This is signed by my constituents mostly from the Manitoulin district.


Mr Bud Wildman (Algoma): Mr Speaker, I move adjournment of the House.

The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Mr Wildman has moved adjournment of the House. Shall the motion carry?

All those in favour, please say "aye."

All those opposed, say "nay."

In my opinion, the nays have it.

This will be a 30-minute bell.

The division bells rang from 1502 to 1532.

The Deputy Speaker (Mr Gilles E. Morin): Mr Wildman has moved the adjournment of the House.

All those in favour of the motion will please rise and remain standing.

All those opposed will please rise and remain standing.

Clerk of the House (Mr Claude L. DesRosiers): They ayes are 27, the nays are 63.

The Deputy Speaker: I declare the motion lost.


Mr Tim Hudak (Niagara South): Mr Speaker, I move that we do now proceed to orders of the day.

The Deputy Speaker: 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 ayes have it. Call in the members. This will be a 30-minute bell.

The division bells rang from 1534 to 1604.

The Acting Speaker (Mr Bert Johnson): Would the members take their seats.

Mr Hudak has moved that we proceed to orders of the day. All those in favour please rise and remain standing. Please take your seats.

All those opposed please rise and remain standing. Please take your seats.

Clerk of the House: The ayes are 63; the nays are 24.

The Acting Speaker: I declare the motion carried.



Mr Runciman moved second reading of the following bill:

Bill 84, An Act to promote Fire Prevention and Public Safety in Ontario and to amend and repeal certain other Acts relating to Fire Services / Projet de loi 84, Loi visant à promouvoir la prévention des incendies et la sécurité publique en Ontario et modifiant ou abrogeant certaines autres lois relatives aux services de lutte contre les incendies.

Hon Robert W. Runciman (Solicitor General and Minister of Correctional Services): I'm proud today to speak about this government's Fire Protection and Prevention Act, Bill 84. This bill will enable municipalities to provide all Ontarians with the best possible level of protection from fire.

Bill 84 makes Ontario a fire safety leader in Canada and it is long overdue. For the first time in nearly 50 years, the issue of fire services is finally being brought forward to legislative debate. Previous governments have launched reviews but have consistently declined to take action. Our government, on the other hand, is demonstrating our fundamental commitment to fire safety in Ontario through the tabling of this bill.

You will hear from the opposition that the Ministry of the Solicitor General did not consult with firefighters prior to the introduction of Bill 84, but a brief history of this issue should address those concerns.

The Fire Departments Act was last amended in 1949, just after the end of the Second World War. Since that time, as we all know, the province of Ontario has grown substantially in size and complexity, and yet Ontario's fire legislation has remained unchanged.

The need to update fire legislation first emerged in 1969, and the Attorney General of the day received submissions for amendments.

The Ministry of the Solicitor General began its review in 1973. Specific action wasn't taken at that time, I'm told, because a workable consensus among all the stakeholders could not be reached.

That review was reinitiated in 1983, but once again consensus could not be achieved among the stakeholders in the fire community. They failed to agree.

The most recent round of consultations began in 1989 under the former Liberal government when the Fire Services Review Committee was established. This committee included representatives from the Ontario Professional Fire Fighters Association, the Provincial Federation of Ontario Fire Fighters, the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs, the Fire Fighters Association of Ontario, which represents Ontario's 18,000 volunteer firefighters, and the Association of Municipalities of Ontario. That was in 1989 under the former Liberal government. The committee met on a number of occasions in 1990, and then in 1991 under a new government, the New Democratic government. The staff report on the committee's work was distributed for comment in the spring of 1993. All stakeholders, including the professional fire fighters' associations, provided written responses to this report. I do not know why --

Mr Gilles Bisson (Cochrane South): This whole bill is a result of our consultation.

Hon Mr Runciman: Many, many years of consultation, and I'm addressing that whole question with respect to opposition contentions that consultation did not take place. There's been consultation over a significant period of years with all of the stakeholders involved and all of the various governments involved, both the earlier Progressive Conservative government, the Liberal government and the last government, the NDP government. That report, as I said, was distributed for comment in the spring of 1993.


Mr Bud Wildman (Algoma): So your bill is the same bill that we would have introduced.

Hon Mr Runciman: Well, you had an opportunity. The member interjects that this is legislation they would have introduced. I'm sure he was not sincere in that comment, but the point I wish to make is that following receipt of that report in 1993, the NDP remained in power until June 1995 and had ample opportunity to respond to that report and introduce legislation that perhaps was more in keeping with their philosophical inclinations. They declined to do so, for reasons known best to them -- perhaps that will come out during the course of this debate -- but certainly they had ample opportunity, following those consultations, to introduce legislation, and declined to do so.

Instead of introducing legislation, the former government chose to initiate yet another round of consultations, which began in the summer of 1994 -- every several years a round of consultations -- hoping to achieve consensus. We're dealing with legislation almost 50 years of age, and over the course of numerous governments, numerous consultations --

Mr Sean G. Conway (Renfrew North): The thing I liked about Bill Davis on separate schools was that consultation was short and brief.

Hon Mr Runciman: By the minister who introduced the legislation, as a matter of fact, although we still get the flak for it.

After the 1995 election, when our party formed the government, and prior to the election as well, we indicated quite clearly that we were prepared to take action on this matter, which had just lingered, lingered and lingered for decade after decade, consultation after consultation.

In 1995, I distributed the fire marshal's report on legislative reform to all of the fire stakeholders for comment. That's called consultation. The fire marshal's report on legislative reform was circulated to all of the various stakeholders, and all of those participants, including the professional firefighters' associations, provided written responses. Follow-up meetings were held -- again, ongoing consultation. Meetings were held to clarify the positions of all of the organizations on legislative reform.

Once again, I think we all recognize there may not be a consensus, and we have been unable to achieve consensus. All governments have been unable to achieve consensus, and we have not either with respect to all of the items in Bill 84, but our government feels strongly that it is important to bring this matter forward so that members of the Legislature can fully debate fire services reform.

While there may not be a total consensus, I want to indicate to all members that I have received a large number of supportive letters from fire chiefs, municipal governments and favourable editorial comments that have urged the government to modernize the framework for fire protection and prevention in Ontario.

Mr Conway: What did the Prescott Journal say? They have been hard on you lately.

Hon Mr Runciman: I don't know, responding to the interjection, whether or not the Prescott Journal has commented on that. I doubt that they have, because I am a dedicated reader of that particular newspaper, fine journal that it is.

Mr Conway: They've been complaining about not seeing much of you on the main street lately.

Hon Mr Runciman: That will be corrected shortly, I assure you.

In my own riding of Leeds-Grenville, the Brockville fire chief, Harold Tulk, said to the government, "The government deserves credit for taking the initiative to bring in a balanced approach." That's according to Chief Harold Tulk of the Brockville Fire Department. Duane Foshay, the city of Trenton's fire chief, said: "The old acts served us well but were designed for another time. These revisions have been needed for many years."

A recent editorial in the Sault Star -- I'm not sure what the political editorial leanings of the Sault Star are --

Mr James J. Bradley (St Catharines): Conrad owns it now. Conrad's for this legislation.

Hon Mr Runciman: In any event, the Sault Star editorially said, with respect to Bill 84, "A commendable initiative by the Ontario government."

I have yet to be made aware of any editorial complaint of any of the dailies or weeklies in this province with respect to Bill 84. But if there is one, I'm sure it will arise in the course of this debate.

Mr Bisson: Here it is, from the Enterprise out of Iroquois Falls.

Hon Mr Runciman: I'll look forward to reading that. Our goal in creating this bill is that it be a well-considered piece of legislation which sets the foundation for making Ontario a fire safety leader by ensuring that fire prevention and fire safety education are balanced with fire suppression capabilities that meet the needs of every corner of this province. I want to be perfectly clear. We have listened to the concerns of municipalities, of fire chiefs, of firefighters and their unions about Bill 84, and we are still listening, because we want this bill to be the best fire services legislation possible. I've indicated on a number of occasions this legislation is not etched in stone. I've indicated a clear willingness as much as I can to participate in the hearings process, and if indeed we hear proposals that will improve this legislation, we're very receptive to hearing that and making those changes if indeed they come forward.

With respect to this matter as well, that is why the Ontario fire marshal, ministry officials, my staff and I have met with both the Provincial Federation of Ontario Fire Fighters and the Ontario Professional Fire Fighters Association on a number of occasions. We recognize the enormous contribution that professional firefighters make to our communities in keeping all of us safe.

I just recently indicated to the firefighters' association that I will be meeting with them early in the new year to once again discuss their concerns. I spoke to the professional firefighters on November 21, and at that time I let them know that the government was supportive of public hearings on Bill 84 and that we wanted to provide an opportunity through the legislative process to hear their concerns about this important new legislation. The message of this government to firefighters is clear: We want your input.

This includes the province's volunteer firefighters. Approximately 18,000 of Ontario's 25,000 firefighters are volunteers. They represent a $1-billion asset for this province, and we intend to ensure that the volunteer system is supported and enhanced through this bill. A number of members of our party have served in volunteer fire departments. I believe, Mr Speaker, you may have served in a volunteer service. A number of your colleagues have; I'm well aware of that.

One I can mention is the member for Prince Edward-Lennox-South Hastings, Mr Fox, a fine gentleman and an outstanding member of this Legislature, a founding member and a former chief of the Sophiasburgh township volunteer fire department, a department that the member Mr Fox served on for, I understand, 23 years. I know that other members of our caucus -- I believe Mr Danford, the member for Hastings-Peterborough, has also served on a volunteer service.


I can also indicate that one of my daughters, my youngest daughter, also serves as a volunteer firefighter in the Front of Yonge township and has served as a firefighter in the past for the Ministry of Natural Resources in fighting forest fires, including when the member for Algoma was the minister. In fact he was introduced to her on one occasion. I'm not sure when he was introduced and she mentioned her name, Runciman, he did give her a second look, but beyond that, she kept her job so we're pleased with that.

Mr Conway: In the old days this would raise the hint of patronage, but not in this new world.

Hon Mr Runciman: Absolutely out of the question.

So I have certainly some understanding, a number of volunteer fire departments in my own riding, wonderful people who have a real, true commitment to their community, the finest citizenship with respect to their contribution and their voluntary contribution, in many instances putting their lives on the line for their fellow community residents. We're very, very proud of all firefighters, but I wanted to especially mention the role of the approximately 18,000 firefighters who volunteer their services.

My priority, as the minister in this role, the Solicitor General, is public safety, and that includes safety from death, serious injury and losses caused by fire. It's a role I take very seriously, and data gathered over the years by the office of the fire marshal indicates that 80% of fires are accidental and could have been avoided with improved fire prevention and public education.

In the past 25 years fire fatalities have dropped 60%, largely due to an increase in fire prevention and public education, such as the introduction of the Ontario fire code, the distribution of smoke alarms and other prevention tools. We must not stop there. Last year 142 people died as a result of fire. This tragic statistic reveals that more must be done to protect the public. In fact, over 30 coroner's juries have called for a more coordinated approach to fire safety and fire protection to help save lives.

That's why Ontario's fire services must emphasize fire prevention and public education. They are essential components to ensuring effective fire protective services throughout this province, and I'm proud to say that with this bill we are taking action to create safer Ontario communities.

Under Bill 84 Ontario will be the first province to make fire prevention and public education mandatory. Most deaths occur at home, at night, when the occupants are asleep. Many deaths occur where there is no working smoke alarm, and we must prevent fires from occurring, but when they do occur, they must be detected early and people must know how to react when the smoke alarm sounds.

The legislation will permit municipalities to enter into automatic aid agreements with neighbouring municipalities. There has been some controversy with respect to this particular element of the bill, but this is not requiring municipalities to enter these kinds of agreements; it's permitting them to enter into automatic aid agreements with neighbouring municipalities. This makes a great deal of sense, because what it does effectively is allow the nearest fire department, regardless of the municipal boundaries, to respond to an alarm. Automatic aid will give municipalities the tools they need to increase public safety while maximizing the resources available to them.

I can give you a situation. If a municipality in Metro Toronto -- there's a municipal boundary, and if there's a fire station two blocks into another municipality, they do not have first response. If there's a fire within that municipality, their fire station may be seven, eight, nine minutes away. We know those first few minutes in terms of response are critical in saving lives and catching the fire before it can grow.

Having the ability to have the closest fire station, regardless of municipal boundaries, respond on a first-response basis makes sense to all of us when we're talking about public safety. Again, we have made this permissive in the legislation. We are not overriding agreements. We're encouraging it to take place and encouraging municipalities and fire services across the province to take a careful look at automatic aid, initially as a public safety measure, of course, but also to achieve efficiencies where they can be achieved and at the same time improve public safety.

This bill will also establish the Fire Marshal's Public Fire Safety Council in legislation. This will enhance private sector participation in the delivery of fire safety education. It will clarify the role of the province and the municipalities in delivering fire services. The bill will also bring common sense to the way fire services are organized on the ground in the municipalities so that fire safety is delivered in the most economical and practical way.

I'd now like to take some time to discuss the details of the bill and how they address each of the important areas I've touched on.

This government has created a new framework for fire protection in Ontario to improve public safety, streamline services and reduce costs. The proposed act does that by consolidating nine separate statutes: the Fire Departments Act, the Fire Marshals Act, the Hotel Fire Safety Act, the Firefighters Protection Act, 1993, the Lightning Rods Act, the Egress from Public Buildings Act, the Firefighters Exemption Act, the Accidental Fires Act and the Fire Accidents Act.

Mr Wildman: Lightning rods? What about the nimrods act?

Hon Mr Runciman: That might put some people in this place in jeopardy. I won't say who.

Some of these acts are so old, they're clearly irrelevant. For example, the outdated Egress from Public Buildings Act deals with specific issues already covered in the fire code, so that means the egress act has been irrelevant since 1980 when the fire code was first introduced. There's too much red tape in fire services legislation, and that's best exemplified by the fact that we currently have an Accidental Fires Act and a Fire Accidents Act.


I again have to emphasize the fact that this bill makes us a leader in terms of fire safety, because we will be the first province to impose mandatory fire prevention and public education. This sends a clear message that prevention and public education are the most important factors for fire safety in Ontario today.

The member for Renfrew North was mentioning earlier the Brockville Recorder and Times. I have here --

Mr Conway: A fine paper, George Graham's old paper.

Hon Mr Runciman: Yes, Senator George Graham. What party did Senator Graham represent?

Mr Conway: More important, he was from Eganville. There was a time when the Recorder was a Liberal paper, I want to state for the record.

Hon Mr Runciman: The occasions have been few and far between when the paper editorially supported the Progressive Conservative Party, although I must indicate that in the last election, like most dailies and weeklies in the province, they did indeed support the now governing party. They're very objective, I must say, with respect to their editorial comment and are not always supportive of every initiative undertaken or perhaps contemplated by this government. But in this particular instance, with respect to Bill 84, the Recorder and Times said:

"The legislation contains measures that fire officials across the province have been demanding for years, such as the requirement for municipalities to implement fire prevention and public education programs." It's a very strong endorsement with respect to the remainder of the editorial, and perhaps I will put that on the record later.

I want to say that the beauty of this legislation is that it won't cost taxpayers more money. It's actually designed to save money by providing municipalities with the unique opportunity to use the money saved through restructuring to improve public safety. To enhance these efforts, the province will support the best possible level of safety from fire at the lowest possible cost.

The fire marshal's office will work closely with all municipalities, especially with smaller communities, to provide them with the materials they need to implement solid fire protection and prevention programs.

I want to stress that while this bill allows municipalities to determine what will best suit their own needs, the province will not allow any action which could present a serious threat to public safety. The fire marshal will have the authority to review municipal fire protection and, should there be a serious threat to public safety, make recommendations to council on how these deficiencies could be addressed. That said, we are confident that municipalities will make the right choices and decisions for providing fire services and fire safety in their own communities.

One of the many welcome things the proposed legislation does is give the Public Fire Safety Council legal status. This will enable the council to attract more private sector partners and it will also allow it to expand the council's opportunities to provide public education to all Ontarians. The council -- I believe it was brought in by the previous government -- has been doing an outstanding job in this regard in terms of recognizing individuals, children who have been involved in a variety of programs sponsored by local fire departments.

I'm not sure if members across the way -- I know in opposition I had a number of opportunities to attend the council presentations. This year a number of children were rewarded with recognition, in many instances for saving lives. This also complemented the local fire service in their particular municipality, which was very involved in fire safety education. It's the programs and lessons that these children learned through the programs offered by their own fire service which gave them the information, the tools necessary to make the right decisions in very difficult situations for very young people that ultimately saved lives; in one instance, saved the life of a parent.

There's no question that this council has, in its brief tenure, provided a needed service. With an expanded role, which this legislation will allow and encourage, it will indeed expand opportunities to provide public education to each and every resident of this province.

In fact, the council was brought in in 1993, I see on a note here, and I compliment the previous government for this initiative. Since 1993, the council has played a key role in promoting partnerships with community groups, fire service organizations and the private sector to raise awareness and better educate the public about fire safety. Again, with this enhanced role they will be able to provide materials to all municipalities that require assistance at no cost to those municipalities. As you can see, the council's membership will be representing and has represented a variety of partners, all working towards a common goal: preventing fires.

To date, the office of the fire marshal has been successful in raising funds for public education activities through the council. Although there have been many successes, the council's inability to contract in its own name prevented it from entering into agreements or handling and distributing money. This in turn made it difficult for the council to enter into partnerships with private firms. Bill 84, the bill we're debating today, will give the council the ability to operate separately from government in financial and contractual matters. The council will also be able to receive private donations and engage in partnership activities.

A public education fund will also be set up to develop and put in place province-wide public education programs -- again, I want to reiterate, at no cost to the taxpayers of this province.

Most importantly, the changes will improve public safety by ensuring that the public receives a continual and consistent message making people aware of fire safety hazards, emphasizing individual responsibility and providing appropriate information to protect Ontarians from fire.

This bill is designed to improve the safety of all Ontarians, regardless of where they live and regardless of whether their community has professional firefighters or volunteer firefighters. As I said earlier, volunteer firefighters are a valuable asset to this province. Under the new act, the mandate of the office of the fire marshal will be strengthened to provide better firefighter training, giving volunteers the support they need to function effectively. The fire marshal's Public Fire Safety Council will help support the volunteer system by making sure they have the materials they need for public education. In other words, this bill gives volunteer firefighters the extra support they need to keep up the excellent work they already provide to this province.

The legislation will allow municipalities to improve safety and reduce costs by matching effective prevention and public education with an appropriate and affordable level of fire suppression.

The Fire Protection and Prevention Act complements the government's municipal restructuring program by balancing municipal involvement in fire service delivery with provincial support. Bill 84 gives municipalities the flexibility to arrange fire protection services based on their own needs and circumstances. In the words of Barrie fire chief Jim Lexieux -- I hope I pronounced that correctly, Chief -- "I like the flexibility it allows."

Ontarians living in isolated rural and northern areas may ask, "How does this bill help me?" They will be happy to hear that this legislation will improve public safety for all Ontario municipalities, including isolated rural and northern communities. For the first time it provides unincorporated communities in the north with the authority they need for effective fire prevention and fire safety education. In those areas the traditional focus of fire suppression has not and will not provide the necessary level of public safety. This bill gives them the means to take advantage of technology and place more emphasis on early warning systems and escape plans, and they can do this all through effective prevention and public education.


Another important issue dealt with in the bill, and I spoke to this briefly, is automatic aid, and this is the concept of allowing the closest fire station to respond to an emergency regardless of municipal borders. Currently some cities have their respective fire stations and equipment located immediately adjacent to a municipal border, so if a fire occurred in a specific area of one municipality, a fire department of the neighbouring municipality may be able to respond faster. But because of the way things are structured now, they cannot, and I think, as I said earlier, all of us would agree that that is simply ridiculous, a situation that cannot continue to exist.

When lives are at stake it shouldn't matter which fire department responds, and these changes will make it easier for municipalities to arrange automatic aid arrangements with their neighbours. It's only common sense that whoever can get there faster should respond, and we expect and are confident that municipalities will work together to improve public safety.

I know in my discussions with professional firefighters as well on this issue, I think their primary concern was a misunderstanding that the government was requiring municipalities to enter into automatic aid agreements, that we were somehow overriding contracts that were already in place with respect to questions like this. Again, that is clearly not the case. We're certainly encouraging municipalities to take a look at these kinds of issues because we think they are very helpful in terms of public safety, and second, of achieving efficiencies within their operations.

We are already starting to see positive examples of neighbouring municipalities working together on this particular front. I'm pleased to say that approximately 15 fire departments in Essex county are very close to finalizing an automatic aid agreement that could serve as a model for the province as a whole, and they hope to initiate the agreement early in the new year. We're confident that municipalities, fire departments and professional firefighters will continue to work together to improve the safety of all Ontarians. Of course, public safety has to remain as our top priority, and if we do find problems in the future, we reserve the right and are prepared to act to ensure cooperation with neighbouring fire departments.

As you can see, it is this government's goal to create a whole new framework for fire protection in Ontario, and this clearly and obviously requires updating and modernizing many aspects of Ontario legislation, including labour law for firefighters. As I said, labour relations legislation for firefighters has not been updated since 1948, and obviously many aspects need to be changed and updated to reflect modern labour relations practices.

The changes in this bill will bring the fire services more in line with other labour legislation in the province. Again, I have to stress the key issue here isn't labour relations or job security; it's public safety and security. I know there have been some concerns with this, and I will get into them in a few moments, but I know that firefighters and their unions will be supportive of legislation that enhances the safety of both the public and firefighters.

I have met with professional firefighters in my own riding and I'm quite well aware of some of the concerns that they have with respect to labour aspects of the bill. As I indicated at the beginning of my remarks, they can rest assured that the committee hearings on Bill 84 will be a real and a meaningful forum to hear their concerns. The comments and concerns which firefighters express during public hearings will be taken into consideration during the legislative process.

I am confident that once all the stakeholders look at the package as a whole they will appreciate that, on balance, these changes are fair and reasonable and will improve public safety. This bill ensures people's skills and talents will be arranged and managed in a way that will better serve the public, and that in itself will improve public and firefighter safety.

Again I want to emphasize that any changes made by this legislation will be fair, and I'm confident and expect that all members of the fire service, including firefighters, will continue to work together to create safer communities for all Ontarians.

There are a number of the issues I'd just like to take a few moments to discuss with members, because I know that these are concerns that have been raised by a number of individuals, including members of the opposition, and some of these concerns certainly have been brought to the attention of members of the government as well.

The number one concern is related to collective bargaining rights. Bill 84 does not take away firefighters' collective bargaining rights. In fact, we have actually added a conciliation procedure to increase the chances of negotiated settlements. With respect to collective bargaining rights, the bill also provides arbitrators with comprehensive new powers to subpoena documents and witnesses, and we have provided firefighters with more choice as to who will represent them.

Another issue, and I've talked about this, is lack of consultation. Again, I'll put it on the record: Consultation has been occurring for almost 30 years, the most recent around in 1989, again in 1990 and 1991, again in 1993; and I asked for input in 1995 with respect to the fire marshal's report, so very significant and extensive consultation.

I'm not sure why the Solicitor General of the last regime did not act on the report he had in hand, but he didn't. I gather with an election approaching they felt that perhaps it may have created some dangers with respect to support they were counting on in the labour community. I'm not sure. Perhaps the members opposite can elaborate on that when they have an opportunity to speak to this legislation.

I want to say again that I'm confident that we can all work together, both sides of this House, the fire chiefs, the municipalities, the firefighters, both volunteer and within the professional ranks. We can all work together to create safer communities for all Ontarians. I feel quite strongly that the Fire Protection and Prevention Act will create a safer Ontario for everyone and it will save lives, and safety has to be the bottom line for each and every one of us in this chamber.

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

Mr Bradley: The minister did not mention the thousands of firefighters who were on the front lawn of Queen's Park. I remember being outside the Parliament Building with the president of the St Catharines firefighters association, Mr Colburn, and Mr Carpenter, the Ontario president, was on the stage. These are individuals who ordinarily aren't taken to protesting, but they were very concerned that this government was abrogating contracts, or potentially abrogating contracts, and attempting to change the labour relations part of this legislation, to the detriment of the firefighters.

They were particularly concerned because on no occasion have they ever threatened to engage in a strike action, that is withdrawal of their services, or any other action that would be detrimental to firefighting in this province. They have it in fact in their constitution, and it is their policy not to strike. In consideration of that, I thought it an insult that the province would then turn around and withdraw that particular right that they might have when they had voluntarily forgone that right.


What they were asking for is full public hearings across the province. I, as the House leader of the official opposition, insisted in our meetings with the government House leader that there be full and comprehensive public hearings and not simply here in Toronto but that they be in communities across the province so that firefighters could have a meaningful input into this legislation. Well, there has been some peripheral consultation that has taken place, in their view; there has not been direct consultation in a timely fashion. They hope that they can persuade the government, as I do, that some of the provisions of this legislation are detrimental to fire safety in this province.

While the third party and our party have fought for that and have been able to gain that from the government, we are nevertheless going to want to scrutinize this legislation very carefully and allow for those public hearings so we can have that input.

Mr Bisson: I'm going to have the opportunity in about an hour's time to debate this bill more fully on behalf of my party, but I wanted to direct a couple of questions to the Solicitor General on his opening comments.

The Solicitor General took the time at the very beginning of his speech to try to say and try to put on this façade that he's consulted thoroughly the people of Ontario and all stakeholders in regard to this legislation. We know for a fact that the firefighters of this province have not been consulted such as the minister says they have. In fact, we had over 1,000 firefighters, closer to 2,000, out before this Legislature on the front lawn about a month ago, where they all came from across the province of Ontario, from Timmins, from Kirkland Lake, from places around Toronto, Ottawa and different areas, who said the minister had not been listening and that they'd been urging the minister to at the very least withdraw certain sections of this bill that they find to be quite offensive.

I would say to the minister, in a question put to him directly by Marion Boyd, the critic for our party, he had engaged to go into public committee and into a legislative committee in order to deal with those issues that firefighters say have not been heard by them, they have not been suggested by firefighters. Is the minister still prepared to go to a legislative committee with this bill so that there can be a full hearing and firefighters across this province have an opportunity to have their say? I would particularly like that bill to at least come to northeastern Ontario, to Timmins, because there are many firefighters in Timmins who want to be able to speak on this bill.

But then he has the gall to say, "We have consulted thoroughly as a government," and for that reason he didn't need to move forward. I just want to take a quote here from the last election by Mike Harris, the then leader of the third party, who's quoted as saying this: "We have serious concerns about some of the changes that are being contemplated with respect to the Fire Departments Act. No changes will be made under a Harris government until such time as your members have been thoroughly consulted." That has not happened, Minister.

What do you say to the firefighters watching in the city of Timmins today, Bill Laffin and others who wonder, about that particular point of the bill that you haven't spoken on?

Mr John O'Toole (Durham East): It's a pleasure to rise today and join with Minister Runciman speaking on Bill 84. I know over the last several weeks I have visited and spoken with many of the firefighters in my riding of Durham East, and they really do as a group exemplify a professional group of people who are concerned that the legislation does not address some of their needs.

I find it rather confusing. When I was first introduced to this, the fire chiefs of Ontario issued a videotape. I'm sure all members got a copy of that. That was one side of the argument. But as I speak with the members from the Whitby and Clarington fire departments, I know what they really want is an opportunity to meet and discuss with the minister. It's my understanding that he's trying to do that.

I want to commend the firefighters in every riding in Ontario and indeed, as the minister said today, the volunteers. In my riding of Durham East, for the large part it has been principally a volunteer organization with a main force operating primarily in one area of the municipality. But with growth it's rapidly changing, and in fact I think this bill is looking at the changes in technology and the changes that have been in place in the last while. If you look at prevention and the decreased number of accidents -- and indeed most of the firefighters tell me that they spend much of their time in education and safety training.

I think it's time the legislation was modernized, as the minister said. There are several acts being joined together here. I'm certain at the end of the day we'll have a better, more up-to-date piece of legislation that fills the needs of both the taxpayers and the firefighters of Ontario.

Mr Michael A. Brown (Algoma-Manitoulin): I was also interested in the minister's comments. I was especially interested in the tone. He was much livelier when he was on this side of the House. His Nytol type of speech was quite interesting.

I want to say to him that I too took notice of the 1,000 or 2,000 firefighters that were on the lawn who were less than enthusiastic with the minister's approach to this bill and very concerned that we actually do have full, comprehensive public hearings.

I had Mr Walker of the Elliot Lake firefighters in my office in Elliot Lake just last Friday, as a matter of fact, to discuss these issues. Fully a third of the Elliot Lake firefighters participated on the front lawn here. That is a considerable journey for them to make. They wanted to let the minister know that there were portions of this act that were just not acceptable to them and that they wanted the opportunity to come before public hearings either in the Sault or in Sudbury so that they would have the opportunity to put their points of view across to him.

I want to say, as the MNR critic, one of the parts of this downloading we're now seeing by the provincial government, the provincial government now more and more insisting that municipalities take over some of the functions of the Ministry of Natural Resources vis-à-vis firefighting on crown lands, basically forest firefighting, is of concern to many municipalities and to firefighters. They're wondering if they're equipped to do this type of work, and they're wondering whether they can afford to do this type of work. I wanted to also interject that into the debate today.

The Acting Speaker: The minister has two minutes to respond.

Hon Mr Runciman: I thank the members for their contributions. The member for St Catharines talked and so did the member for Algoma-Manitoulin with respect to the demonstration on the lawn, and certainly I think part of that was generated through misunderstandings with respect to certain elements of this legislation. Clearly, they still do have a number of concerns. I've indicated a clear willingness to listen to those concerns, and if changes are justified, they will occur.

In terms of the question of right to strike, I think most Ontarians would be surprised to know that prior to this legislation the firefighters theoretically had the right to strike, although the old arbitration system effectively eliminated the need for a strike, because one contract runs into another.

In any event, I have clearly committed to public hearings. I feel strongly about this, and hopefully we can have hearings in a variety of venues across this province.

What else do I want to comment on? The member for Algoma-Manitoulin made reference to a Nytol kind of speech. I apologize for that, but it goes with the territory.

The Acting Speaker: Further debate?

Mr Michael Brown: On a point of order, Mr Speaker: I'm just wondering if I could get unanimous consent of the Legislature to stand down the official opposition's lead speech. Our critic is now in committee, as the government members would know. The member for Carleton East would like to start the debate with a 30-minute intervention.

The Acting Speaker: Is it agreed? It is agreed.

Mr Bisson: On a further point of order, Mr Speaker: I was going to raise the matter later, but on the same point of order, our critic is in committee and will not be able to do the lead. We're asking for unanimous consent for our party to defer the lead till later, and we'll start with me and a 30-minute speech later.

The Acting Speaker: We'll have to ask and get that consent.

Mr Bisson: I asked for unanimous consent, Mr Speaker.

The Acting Speaker: It is a point of order, and I will take it now. Is it agreed? It is agreed.


Mr Gilles E. Morin (Carleton East): I must just make not a point of order but a remark towards the minister, the member for Leeds-Grenville, that I've heard him before talking in a more vociferous way, and I hope, Minister, that the fire in you is not out.

I'm pleased to speak to some of the concerns about Bill 84 that have been raised with us by the professional firefighters of Ontario. Bill 84 consolidates nine acts into one comprehensive statute in the name of simplification, but its purpose seems to be to open the door to privatization, downsizing and the erosion of protections for firefighters.

The guiding principle of any legislative reform dealing with fire protection should be to maximize, not compromise, public safety. Organizational restructuring to achieve cost savings is acceptable as long as public safety is assured. That is something the people of Ontario expect the provincial government to do in a responsible and consultative fashion.

In our consultations with them, firefighters have expressed the view that the changes put forward in Bill 84 will compromise public safety in ways that may not be immediately apparent. This government has consulted with the fire chiefs, the municipalities and the fire marshal of Ontario in drafting this particular piece of legislation. But after repeated requests the front-line professionals, the firefighters themselves, have not been able to get a hearing from the Premier or the Solicitor General.

Previous consultations that have included the Provincial Federation of Ontario Fire Fighters and the Ontario Professional Fire Fighters Association stalled because certain issues could not be resolved. They are still not resolved. That is why we have been pushing for public hearings.

One of the concerns that firefighters have is that some of the provisions of this bill open the door to the privatization of fire services, a very real possibility given this government's preference for privatization over the delivery of services by public servants.

Although not automatically a negative, privatization can lead to a scaling back of services to the bare minimum required, and with something that Ontarians consider an essential service that may not be the best option. The point has been made numerous times when an organization has its eye on the bottom line, service can be badly affected by cuts whose impact is unknown or downplayed until disaster strikes.

Experience in those communities in the United States that have contracted out their fire services illustrates the problem with maintaining acceptable response levels when the profit motive comes into play, as it inevitably must. In the aftermath of a fire that consumed 23,000 acres of prime Arizona land, officials were questioning how the disaster was managed and why the response was not better coordinated. Answers were not forthcoming from the private sector corporation that is responsible for fire services in that community. Public scrutiny and accountability are issues to be considered here.

During a speech he was delivering to an audience in British Columbia recently, Ralph Nader said it was puzzling how often Canadians try to fix things that aren't broken, how many things we do well and then we want to change for the sake of changing. Firefighters have been able to provide exemplary service to the people of Ontario under the existing act. Nevertheless, firefighters are in agreement with many of the changes included in this bill. However, they are afraid that the public will not recognize the wolf in sheep's clothing that is contained in the labour provisions of the bill and how it will ultimately affect them.

One of the major irritants to firefighters is the first article under "Working Conditions," prohibiting firefighters from striking. The government well knows that professional firefighters have voluntarily accepted it as their moral responsibility to provide and never withhold what the public considers an essential service. The bill, therefore, starts with a premise of confrontation where none need exist. Firefighters are highly motivated and dedicated to public service, something this bill fails to sufficiently recognize.

Professional firefighters have adapted to the needs of the public by voluntarily taking on a vital role in emergency rescue. It is well known that the response time to a 911 call by firefighters is shorter by half compared to ambulance services, four minutes as opposed to eight. Firefighters are therefore often the first on the scene of a medical emergency. As a result, they are continuously trained in various diagnostic and resuscitation procedures, including cardiac defibrillation. Firefighters are often called to the site of motor vehicle accidents to extricate accident victims from their vehicles. Firefighters were the first on the scene at the great train derailment and chemical spill in Mississauga in the 1970s. Their professional expertise in hazardous materials emergencies allowed them to play a vital part in containing that tragedy.

Because of the nature of their work, illustrated through these examples, it is extremely important that firefighters be ready to respond to an emergency at a moment's notice. However, certain provisions of this bill leave the door open for part-time and on-call staffing, which will have a very detrimental effect on firefighter readiness to respond and public safety.

The minimum allowable deployment of firefighters per fire truck has been an issue of contention for firefighters. They feel that their ability to respond is compromised by understaffing on site at emergencies. Legislative changes to hours of work will further decrease the number of firefighters available and their individual preparedness for their extremely demanding responsibilities.

Professional firefighters take their work in defending the public safety extremely seriously. Unlike fire chiefs, who are essentially administrators, firefighters are on the front line and know the anguish of the mother who can't reach her child. They understand like no one else what resources are needed to do the best job they can do and to prevent tragedies.

The public expect the best in emergency response, and they are getting it now. My question remains, how will the government guarantee the highest level of public safety in our firefighting services? Because we have had the opportunity to just touch upon the issues involved in this bill, I look forward to public hearings in the near future when the views and concerns of the professional firefighters of Ontario can get a full airing.

The minister, in the preamble of the bill or in his presentation, said that he wants the best for this legislation. All he has to do is to go that extra mile, conduct hearings, listen to what the professional firefighters have to say. He may have a surprise. Of course, there are certain irritants that have to be solved, but all you need to do is to go and listen to them, so simple, and then pass the legislation afterwards.

I hope these arguments that we've brought forward will help the minister to understand again how important that issue is to our firefighters. Take the time, listen to them, understand exactly what their problems are. They've asked for repeated meetings and have never had any success. It's so simple. Ask them to come forward, ask them to meet, and then, after that, pass your legislation.


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

Mr Wildman: I appreciate the comments of the member for Carleton East on this piece of legislation. The minister, in his remarks in introducing the bill for second reading, argued that there had been widespread consultation for many years by three governments -- the Bill Davis Conservative government, the Liberal government and the New Democratic government -- and therefore he said it was not necessary to have widespread consultation. His attitude ignores the fact that the legislation, as drafted by this government, might in itself produce a lot of controversy, and we've seen that in terms of the concerns of professional firefighters and their association.

It's not enough just to have consultation. Once the bill is drafted, it's important that those people directly affected by it, the people who are entrusted with the responsibility to save lives and property from fire and to prevent catastrophes that can result from fire, should be consulted directly on the actual wording of the proposed legislation and what it might mean for them.

In this particular case there hasn't been proper consultation. The minister read out the opinions of many fire chiefs. He couldn't point to any opinions of representatives of the firefighters themselves because they felt and still feel that they have been left out of this process, that they haven't been consulted, and many of them probably believe they've actually been insulted because they were promised by the Premier that they would be consulted and they haven't been. So rather than being consulted, they've been insulted.

Mr Tony Clement (Brampton South): I'd like to thank the honourable member for Carleton East for his comments. A lot of the debate so far this afternoon has centred around the issue of consultation, which of course is a very important issue in any important piece of government legislation.

I would like to record at this time in the House that I had the opportunity to meet on two occasions with Mr Don Roy, who is head of the Brampton firefighters association. My colleague Mr Spina from Brampton North has done the same. Through those consultations it's very interesting that once you get beyond the layer of rhetoric and sit down with representatives of the firefighters, how soon there are areas of agreement where all parties can understand that something important has to be done with respect to fire suppression, fire prevention and fire education in our province.

The firefighters I have had the occasion to talk to in Brampton want to work with the province. They understand that fire prevention and fire education to prevent fires in the future has to be a priority and they are pleased that this government has made it a priority in the new legislation. They are concerned about fire safety in their communities and they are also, I might say, quite supportive of some of the provisions of automatic aid. They want to see how that is going to flow through and how it will be operational, which is a legitimate concern.

These are the sorts of things we can do in committee and through public hearings. This is not legislation that precludes that; it is simply the first opportunity to put down on paper a direction that has to be done to make Ontario more safe when it comes to fire prevention and fire suppression. That has been laid out by the Solicitor General here today. Now we have the opportunity, through a public consultation process, to work with firefighters and fire chiefs to ensure that fire prevention, fire safety and fire education are the priorities of the government and the people of Ontario.

Mr Gerard Kennedy (York South): I too wish to remark that there are things in this bill that can find support from people across the province interested in fire protection. But there are also problems which are characterized, I think, by this government's problematic approach to many matters.

We have here an unnecessary division being created, a wedge again being put forward in place of what ought to be a straightforward approach that focuses on how to improve fire prevention. Instead, it becomes a pretext for this government's agenda in terms of labour, in terms of creating unfair balances between different groups in society. We wonder almost if this isn't a recreational sport for this government, as they've tried now to set up firefighters, along with teachers, daycare workers and others in society, as targets rather than people to be worked with, people who are to be valued in society.

We heard the minister talk earlier about the value of volunteer firefighters. There's something the minister can't bring himself to do, which is to give credit to paid public servants, people who act on behalf of the public service in this society who have the public interest at heart. We think that the elaborate construction of this bill provides a difficulty, obviously, to many of the firefighters across the province. They've asked for and, thanks to the work on this side of the House, received hearings, which I think is very important for this government to pay more than its usual cursory attention to.

Firefighters unfortunately can look forward to that kind of treatment on the part of this government. We've seen it before in the hearings on rent review and we've seen it on the video lottery terminals. We know there really are no boundaries in terms of this government's ability to try and divide what should be a unified, cooperative approach to updating legislation after all these numbers of years. We see that the human resource component is where this government, time and time again, falls down, unable to find a way to make partners out of the very people we depend on for fire protection.

Fire protection won't come about because of the laws. It'll come about because of the willingness of the people to participate.

Mr Bisson: I enjoyed listening to the short comments on behalf of the member for Carleton East, who always brings a point of view which basically cries out to the government: "Listen, what you really need to do here is quite simple. Listen to firefighters." After all, they're the people who are going to be directly affected by this bill. Section 9 of the bill runs into their collective agreements and basically takes away many rights that firefighters have now.

The very least the responsible minister, the Solicitor General, could do is to listen to what firefighters have to say. I listened previously, as did the member for Carleton East, to the minister, who said, "I don't have to listen to firefighters, because that's what the NDP government did, and I'm building on the work that they did." The first point is that no, you're not listening to firefighters; we were. But the reason we didn't bring this bill forward is that we don't believe that a government should infringe on the rights of firefighters by taking away the rights they have within their collective agreement, and that is what you are doing.

I say to the minister opposite, as the member for Carleton East did before, that you promised specifically, prior to and during the last election on numerous occasions, to the firefighters across this province that you would not move forward with any kind of legislation affecting firefighters unless you went out and spoke directly to them, consulted with them and worked with them and other interested parties to bring forward a balanced piece of legislation. That's not what you're doing in this case. You sat down with the people at AMO and with fire chiefs, then you concocted this bill to run over the rights of firefighters and you're not taking the time to talk to them. Then you've got the nerve to come into this House and say that somehow or other you've done some form of consultation.

I say to the minister across that it's really simple: Remove section 9 of the bill, at the very least. If you're not going to do that, go to out with a committee so that firefighters across this province can have their say. I'm sure their message is going to be loud and clear to the minister.

The Acting Chair: The member for Carleton East.

Mr Morin: Minister, the recommendation I'd like to make to you is to give them a chance, listen to them, go and consult them. You may again be surprised at the information you'll be able to gather. The issue is not that complicated. Give them a hearing. Give them a chance to express themselves. If I can use a pun, climb that last rung on the ladder to listen to what they have to say. It would be so simple. You have the right to do it. All you have to do is convince your own colleagues around you. Go and listen to them and perhaps you'll be able to achieve that perfection you're looking for. All it takes is a bit of time, a couple of weeks, then the issue would be settled. Listen to them. That's all you have to do.

The Acting Speaker: Further debate?

Mr Bisson: I stand today, at the beginning of this debate for the NDP caucus, just advising people, as previously agreed, that there was unanimous consent to allow our critic to do her lead a little bit later because she's now in committee.

There was an agreement by the government House leader that this bill would not come forward the way it is now, and that distresses me to a certain extent, because I think it shows that the government sometimes doesn't quite mean what they say. That is really a problem with this government. They say one thing --

Interjection: Forked tongue.

Mr Bisson: The government speaks with a forked tongue sometimes. I would say that the government specifically, on this bill, had made some promises to firefighters. They didn't hold to those particular promises, then they came into this House later and made a deal with the opposition critics with regard to this bill so they would have an opportunity to speak on it, and the government in some way tried to sneak this bill into the House, knowing full well that the critics are down in committee. I think that says volumes about this particular government.


I would like the minister responsible to think about this bill a little bit because I think they really haven't gotten the point. We've only started debate on this bill and already members of the opposition have stood and have said firefighters across this province are upset about what this bill does. They want section 9 either removed or greatly ameliorated in regard to taking away a lot of the takebacks that you're taking out of their collective agreement.

For the minister to think about it a little bit harder and for the previous Minister of Health to think about his situation a little bit harder, I would move adjournment of this House, as the minister thinks about what he's doing to firefighters across this --


The Acting Speaker: I'm sorry, did you make a motion?

Mr Bisson: No, I will continue on with debate.

The Acting Speaker: I'm sorry, I missed it.

Mr Bisson: No, that's fine; a little bit later.


Mr Bisson: No, listen. You guys can get upset all you want on the other side. You guys get upset when members of the opposition have the audacity to stand in this House and to speak out on behalf of Ontarians about what they feel is a bad piece of legislation. Then you stand in this House and you try to chastise us for doing what we can to stop your agenda.

Mr John Hastings (Etobicoke-Rexdale): You stop chastising us too then.

Mr Bisson: Listen, we don't have a lot of power in this House. You guys happen to have the majority and you see fit to railroad over workers in this province, you see fit to railroad over firefighters in this province. Don't start chastising members of the opposition for trying to do what they can by way of the rules in this House to protect the rights that they enjoy in this province.

As I said earlier on, let's put this into context. The government is coming forward with a bill. It's called Bill 84. This particular bill does a number of things, some of which I think are quite frankly supported by firefighters. Some of them are supported by many people in this province. But there is at issue within this bill a number of sections that really have a problem.

The first part of the bill, section 2, in regard to how it deals with the rights of managements across Ontario, namely municipalities, to privatize fire services in this province, is greatly opposed by many people. I would say not just firefighters but I think most fair, decent people in this province don't want to see fire services privatized and given over to the private sector such as has been done in the United States.

The other part of the bill that I can tell you many people disagree with is section 9 of the bill, where you're basically taking away the rights of workers in this province, namely firefighters; taking away rights that they've long enjoyed within their collective agreements. To do what? So that you can give your friends at AMO and you can give your friends the fire chiefs in this province the ultimate say about what will happen in their collective agreements.

I think there's a pattern that has emerged here that's very clear. This government, on being elected in June 1995, chose sides. They said, "We are going to be on the side of big business and we will be on the side of power, and to hell with everybody else." But when it comes to firefighters, when it comes to workers, when it comes to day care workers, when it comes to many other people in this province, this government really has no sympathy for their particular situation.

The other thing I want to say just before starting debate is I want to remind the members of this House, and I want to remind especially those members who didn't sit here pre-1995, that the Tory opposition caucus, the third party of the day, was very specific in regard to what promises it made to the firefighters of this province. They travelled the province. I remember when we were doing our consultations on changes to the firefighters act, your caucus, the then leader Mike Harris, who is the Premier today, along with the Solicitor General, Mr Runciman, travelled throughout Ontario and tried to make accusations against the NDP government about what it was going to do with that particular act.

I think the proof is in the pudding. We never contemplated doing takebacks with the firefighters in the province. We've always believed, as an NDP caucus and as a party, that firefighters provide an essential service to the province and those services are being carried out by professionals. These are people who need our support and not people who need to be hit in the head in the way that you're doing with this legislation.

What really is appalling is that the now government, the then third party, went around the province and made promises to firefighters. I remember because firefighters in the community of Timmins came to me and I remember them specifically sitting with me prior to the election of 1995 saying: "We have a document here. We have a document that's signed by Mike Harris, the leader of the third party, that if they're elected government they would never move to do anything to firefighters, they would never move to take away any rights that they have, and if they did anything they would consult with the firefighters of the province of Ontario. Gilles, will the NDP do the same?"

I said, "Listen, I've been coming to this firehall since I was elected. I've been consulting with firefighters, as I do with the other people in the riding of Cochrane South, on a regular basis. You have my support, as you have always had my support."

Luckily for me, and I think luckily for our riding, I was elected. They decided not to believe the promise made by Mike Harris of the day, because I think the firefighters in the city of Timmins started to recognize fairly early on that these were pretty lame words. I just want to read what that promise was.

He said, "We have serious concerns about some of the changes that are being contemplated with respect to the Fire Departments Act." This is what he promised the firefighters and this is what Mike Harris signed by his own hand, with his pen, to a piece of paper, this promise: "No changes will be made under a Harris government until such time as your members have been thoroughly consulted. We will insist that all change be fully costed both from the point of view of the workers as well as management."

Has that happened? Not at all. You have gone out and consulted, all right. You sat down with the fire chiefs on a couple of occasions and you sat down with the people at AMO, the people representing the municipalities, who happen to be the employers. You did not consult with firefighters in this province, and don't try to make us believe that you did, because there were thousands of firefighters on the lawn here in front of Queen's Park not more than a month ago who said: "Listen, you guys made promises to us. You came to our fire halls. We met with you before the last election as firefighters, and the Tories promised they would not do this unless" -- first of all, they wouldn't do anything that was detrimental to the firefighters of the province of Ontario, but second of all, if they did anything, they would consult. You guys broke your promise. You broke your word to the firefighters of this province. Yes, you can sink in your seat. That's what you should do.

I had the opportunity to sit here last week and to listen to the Conservative members on the Fewer Politicians Act go on at length about how important it was for politicians to keep their word. "Those politicians, if they don't keep their word, they're nothing." I agree. You guys didn't keep your word on this. You broke the promise to firefighters, and what you've done is you've gone over and given them a slap in the face. Then you wonder why firefighters in this province are upset at you. They're upset because you've done a number of things in the act. Let's just go over some of the changes you've done in the act that firefighters and others are really concerned about.

One of the things you're doing in this particular act is that in section 41 of the act you're going to make it possible for municipalities across the province to privatize fire departments. Now, why would anybody want to privatize a fire department? Are you trying to say that the firefighters in the city of Toronto, in the city of Vaughan, in the city of Timmins or Sudbury don't know what they're doing, that somehow the services that they -- you nod your head yes. There we go. The government is saying that firefighters don't know how to do their job properly.


Mr Bisson: No, listen, you're the one who's nodding his head to the affirmative. You've answered my question. One of the government members at the very least, and I think his seatmate, is saying yes, that's the case. Are you trying to tell firefighters that they don't know how to do their jobs, that they're not professionals, that somehow they're not looking out for the safety of the people in our communities? If that's what you're asking, that's probably why you're trying to privatize.

I say no. Firefighters in Ontario are professional people. They take their jobs seriously. They are members of our community who are entrusted with the responsibility of our lives. They take the responsibility of their jobs quite seriously. They go out and train on a regular basis. They volunteer their services more times than not before they become firefighters for many years before they get an opportunity to even serve. But once they get there, they serve and they serve with distinction.

I hope I never have this opportunity. I hope I'm never in a fire and having need of a firefighter. That's not a situation I would want to be in. But there are many people in the province of Ontario whose lives have been saved by firefighters. Those firefighters have gone into the fire knowing full well that it's their lives they're putting in jeopardy, and they don't think twice about their lives. What they care about is making sure that if there's anybody in that fire, they're going to try to get them out safely so that those people can have an opportunity to live.

I can tell you volumes of stories of what happened with firefighters in the city of Timmins over the 20 or 30 years that I can remember fire services in the city, where firefighters like Len Pigeon and others have gone into burning buildings in order to pull out children as they sleep because there was a fire in the building and the children were overtaken by smoke -- people going into buildings and taking them out at great risk of injury to themselves. In many cases the firefighters are either injured in the line of duty or they're killed.

This government has the audacity to come into this House and say that we are going to make it possible for municipalities to privatize? The government's argument is, "We're not saying that firefighters are not professional. We're not saying they don't know how to do their job. We're only giving the municipalities the opportunity to privatize if they so choose." Well, where's your responsibility as a provincial government? There are municipalities in this province which might just take you up on this chance within this particular section of the bill, section 41, to be able to privatize fire services. What we have learned from experience is that, wherever privatization initiatives have gone forward, when it comes to privatization it has been a disaster.


They have tried it in many municipalities in the United States. They said, "We can do it because we can save dollars," and what has happened? Safety concerns are at an increase because the safety of people within a community is at risk, and you know what? They're not saving any money. So, why would you do this if it's not to slap firefighters in the face?

I say the very least you can do is remove section 41 of the bill. I agree that there are sections in Bill 84 that are good. There are sections, when it comes to public education, when it comes to fire safety, that are quite good. There are other sections in the bill that deal with how fire departments are structured within municipalities of unorganized townships. Those are good.

But why are you putting in section 41 that a municipality has the right to privatize? I think that's wrong. I think you should remove that particular section of the bill. The other part is that you're changing definitions under section 41. There are definitions that are being changed so that you can allow fire departments, namely cities or towns, to hire less qualified people to be firefighters. Why would you do that? Don't you want the most qualified people available in a community to fight fires? Why are you allowing municipalities to go out and to contract out services, if you don't privatize, to private individuals to do firefighting or to utilize less qualified people than we now have within our fire services protection in our communities? Why would you do that?

Do you believe that you'll never be in a fire, so this legislation will never affect you? I hope it doesn't, but if a fire happens in your house, you'd better hope to God that you've got well-trained firefighters who can come in and do the job of protecting your life. What I want for the people within our community is to make sure that the firefighters who work for the city of Timmins and our fire department are the best-qualified people, and that's what we have now. I don't want you monkeying around with this legislation to allow the municipalities, because they're trying to deal with your offloading of dollars being cut through transfer payments by reducing the standards they have to put in regard to what the qualifications of a firefighter are, to go out and lessen the number of firefighters.

For example, on a shift in the city of Timmins, you have five or six firefighters per shift. You're going to allow them, under this particular legislation, to reduce that number of firefighters, the people who are qualified, from six down to maybe three or two, and the rest of them will be strictly on a volunteer basis. I say that's wrong. You shouldn't be monkeying around with that. You want to make sure that you've got people there who you can call immediately for first response and use your volunteers afterwards, and at the very least, you want to make sure they're properly trained, as they are now. So, don't monkey around with section 41.

There are a whole bunch of other sections. I'll get into section 9 in some detail if you give me a moment. Section 9 is really an atrocity. Section 9 deals, basically, with the labour relations aspect of firefighting. You've got some real winners in here. I, quite frankly, think some of this won't even stand up in court because some of the rules you're putting in this legislation are fairly draconian and are not in keeping with any of the legislation that's out there now.

The one that everybody's talked about, and I'm not going to go into it at length because I think we understand this, is that you are, under section 42, removing the right to strike of firefighters. Why are you taking away the right to strike of firefighters? Have firefighters in this province been frivolously going out on strike and holding up the public for ransom in order to get better collective agreements? No.

Firefighters have not gone on strike because, as I said earlier, they're professionals. The people who work for fire departments across the province take their job seriously, and they have no intention of going out on strike. They believe that you sit down at the negotiating table and you try to get the best possible deal you can for your members. The professional firefighters' associations, the two of them, go out and do exactly that at the bargaining table with their local members, and then, if they're not able to come to an agreement, there's an arbitration process that's in place already.

So, why are you going to firefighters and saying, "You're not going to have the right to strike"? I see that as a slap in the face. That's really coming on to the firefighters of this province with a club. The Mike Harris government is saying, "I'm going to leave a stamp on you." Whap. That's what you guys are doing. Why? It's for nothing. What are you going to gain out of it? What's to be gained by eliminating the right to strike of firefighters? At the very least, remove that section of the act. It hasn't been a problem up to now.

What you're doing is penalizing workers in this province who have taken responsibility for 50 years, because these workers, the firefighters of this province, have decided through their own code of practice, their own code of ethics, to not go out on strike and to try to negotiate contracts at the bargaining table and have done so for the past 50 years. You're saying: "To heck with all of that. Throw it all out the door. It don't mean nothing. We don't encourage workers to be responsible, because the Mike Harris government, it's got a club -- thud -- and it does what it wants." Remove section 42.

The other part is under subsection 43(3). There are a whole bunch of different parts here, but the first part, subsection (3), reads:

"(3) A fire department may arrange firefighters' hours of work according to a shift system such as a platoon system where the firefighters are divided into two, three or any other number of platoons."

Then that section goes through to spell out what the shifts are. It's long been understood that firefighters, when they go to the bargaining table, negotiate their hours of work. They have X amount of hours that they have to work within a cycle, but how they arrange those hours of work is arranged at the bargaining table. It's taken many years for the system to evolve to what we have. One of the appeals of being a firefighter is the way the shifts are structured. What you're now doing with subsections 43(1), (2), (3) and (4) of the act is that Mike Harris is grabbing his hand and he's going right into your collective agreement. He saying to firefighters in Timmins, Sudbury, Sault Ste Marie, all over the province, "I'm going to take that section out of your collective agreement because Mike Harris knows what your hours of work should be."

What they're going to allow under this is that -- here, I'm just going to give you a couple of examples. If you have a fire department that has only one platoon, it's only going to allow 10 consecutive hours of work with a 14-hour cycle off. In other words, they're not going to be able to negotiate an agreement as they have now where they might work two 14s in a row and rotate the shifts around. If you've got a three-platoon system, each platoon may be on duty for a period of not more than eight hours, immediately followed by 16 hours of time off. So if you've got a three-platoon system, you're not going to be able to negotiate the kinds of shifts that you have now.

Why are you going to firefighters in this province and saying: "Mike Harris knows it all. Mike Harris is smart. The Premier and the Solicitor General are going to dictate what the hours of work should be in the collective agreement"? Why are you doing that? Are you trying to tell firefighters they don't know what they're doing? You wonder why firefighters get upset at you.

I listened to one of the Conservative members opposite say, "I've had firefighters come to my office to talk about this bill." I'd like to know what the firefighters said to that particular member. I would bet you that what they had to say was not very positive, but in order to support his government and to make himself look good so that maybe he'll become a cabinet minister now that the Minister of Health has had to resign, he says nice things about the government. He might get into cabinet. You should think about your own constituents. You should start thinking about the constituents in your riding and not have to worry about what the heck you're going to end up in cabinet. The circle that Mike Harris draws in his cabinet, I think the bench level is not a very high one at times, so I don't know why you'd want to aspire to that.

But tell me, why is the government so intent on determining what the hours of work should be? That should be clearly something that's left up to the collective bargaining process; that's something that should be left in the hands of both the employer and the firefighters to negotiate for themselves. I ask the Solicitor General, who's here, to please listen to the firefighters in the province.

Hon Mr Runciman: I'm going to.

Mr Bisson: He says he's going to. I certainly hope you are, because I know many firefighters will come to you and say: "Don't monkey around with our hours of work. It's taken years to negotiate the system that we have, and quite frankly, Solicitor General, the hours of work is one of the appeals of this job." Because they have hours that are negotiated the way they are, they front-load their hours in some cases to be able to be at the firehall, to do the work that they've got to do and to be there responding to fires etc, and then they get some time off and can go out and do what they have to do. There are many people in the industrial sector who would like to be able to have the same type of hours negotiated into their collective agreements. Why go in and take it away? I don't think it's right.

The other thing is under subsection (8) of that same section, and again this is something that's not necessary. It's really heavy-handed, in my view. It says:

"(8) A firefighter who is assigned to duties other than firefighting shall not be required to work or to be on duty for longer than the number of hours in the average workweek of a firefighter in the same fire department."

What that means is that once the municipality of Timmins, as an example, decides that it's going to go to the fire department of Timmins and it's going to regulate what the hours of work are, and they say, "Okay, boys, you're on an eight-hour swing shift," just like they had in the mines in the bad old days, the firefighters can't do anything about it, because it'll be spelled out in this act. It means that the fire prevention officer, like Mr Ciccone, will not be able to work any hours different from what has been dictated by management under subsections 43(2), (3), (4), (5), (6) and (7). Why not allow people at the local level to make that decision for themselves?


The government is proud to stand in this House and say: "We need to put the decisions closer to the people. We need to give the powers to the municipalities to be able to decide what they need to do at the local level." If you're true about that, allow people locally at the bargaining table to decide what their hours of work should be. I don't think the government should be monkeying around with that.

Sure, there might be situations now where managements today are unhappy with what they've negotiated when it comes to hours of work over a period of 50 years with firefighters, but who negotiated the agreement and who agreed? If they don't like it as a municipality, let them put it on the table. Let them try to negotiate it out of the collective agreement. If there's a good argument put forward and it's a negotiation where some form of concession is asked to be given, maybe that'll be one of the concessions that firefighters would do. But it should be the decision of the firefighters, not the decision of the Legislature to determine what their hours of work should be. That is not something that the government needs to be doing.

The kick in the pants on this whole section of hours of work is quite interesting. Under subsection (10) it says, "Despite subsections (1) to (9)" -- (1) through (9) is the part where the government says what your hours of work should be as a firefighter -- "the fire chief may call in off-duty firefighters if, as a result of a major emergency, the fire department needs the services of more firefighters than are on duty."

Listen, guys, what do you think firefighters have been doing for the last 100 years? When there's a fire, do they look at their clock and say: "Whoops, it's 8 o'clock. I've got to go home. End of my shift, guys. See you later." No, firefighters stay. They know when they're needed. They stay long after the hours of their regular shift, the shift they're supposed to be working. If there's a fire, they're not out there trying to punch a clock to get home. Firefighters say: "Hey, there's a fire. There are people in danger. We will be here. We will do what needs to be done in order to make sure that the people in that fire are taken out safely and that the fire is extinguished and the situation is stabilized."

Why does the government have to spell that out in legislation? I guess an argument that the Solicitor General will make is that we need something to clarify that the fire chief has that authority, and I guess I have a bit of sympathy. But the point I'm making is, the whole bill sort of smacks of you not recognizing what firefighters have done up to now.

The other part is, listen, in one part of the bill you're trying to tell firefighters when they can work, what they should be doing and how long they should be working and what shifts they should be doing, but then you say, "When it doesn't suit the needs of management, management will have the right to make them work as long as they wish." I say again, leave that in the hands of individuals at the bargaining table. Firefighters are responsible people. They're not going to go out there trying to do something other than doing their jobs. That's what they're interested in doing, and quite frankly they would like you to leave them alone so they can do it.

Then under subsection 44(8) -- this one really takes the cake -- it reads, "The employment of a firefighter may be terminated without cause at any time during the first 12 months," unless an agreement otherwise specifies. What you're in effect doing here is you're saying, "There's a probation period of 12 months." You're not even saying that. If a person is under probation, working at a company, and the probation period is set at three months, the employer cannot fire the person unless he has cause.

You're writing two things inside this legislation. You're saying, number one, where there is no specified probation period because there's no collective agreement, there will be a probation period of 12 months. Well, that is, first of all, quite onerous. There is no situation that I know of in the industrial world in Ontario where workers have to undergo a probation of 12 months. Normally the probation is anywhere from three to, in some cases, six months, which is not the average. The average is three months and, in some cases, down as low as a month. So that's the first thing.

You're saying, "Firefighters, from here on in, whenever there's no union, we're going to have a 12-month probationary period." But then you're saying, "The management can fire the individual if they don't like them." It says here you can do it without cause. I read again, Solicitor General, it says, "The employment of a firefighter may be terminated without cause at any time during the first 12 months." That is not at all in keeping with what good employment relations are. You should only have the right to fire someone if you have cause, if the person has done something wrong and the employer can substantiate that, and employees have the right to defend themselves with the process of the grievance procedure or the process you've set out under this legislation.

I ask the minister to think on that and, with that in mind, I would ask for a 30-minute adjournment of the House.

The Acting Speaker: Mr Bisson has moved the adjournment of the House. Is it the pleasure of the House that motion carry?

All those in favour of the motion, please say "aye."

Those opposed, please say "nay."

In my opinion, the nays have it.

Call in the members; a 30-minute bell.

The division bells rang from 1746 to 1816.

The Deputy Speaker (Mr Gilles E. Morin): The member for Cochrane South has moved the adjournment of the House.

All those in favour of the motion will please rise and remain standing.

All those opposed will please rise and remain standing.

Clerk of the House (Mr Claude L. DesRosiers): The ayes are 20; the nays are 65.

The Deputy Speaker: I declare the motion lost.


The Deputy Speaker: We will wait for a few minutes. Stop the clock.

The member for Cochrane North.

Mr Bisson: I hope the government has had the opportunity to think about some of the amendments that I hope they are going to bring forward with this particular piece of legislation. I've outlined in the 30 minutes I have that there are a number of changes that need to be done in this legislation for it to be acceptable to the people of Ontario. Specifically, I talked about the move on the part of the government under section 1 towards the privatization of fire departments and fire services. That is definitely a section of the act that we oppose, and we say the government should take that out altogether.

The other problem, under section 41, is the change in definition of "firefighter," which is going to lead to fire chiefs and municipalities having the right to hire less-qualified people to do the job of firefighters. We would ask that the government withdraw that particular section of the act.

We would also ask that the government withdraw section 52, which deals with the question of taking away from firefighters their right to negotiate what their hours of work should be at the bargaining table. I think it is wrong for the government to dictate what the hours should be. That should be left at the bargaining table.

The other part, obviously, is the whole part in section 42 of the act which deals with the question of the government taking away the right of firefighters to strike. Firefighters in Ontario have never gone on strike in the province, because they believe that firefighting is a professional responsibility that they have and have taken that very, very seriously.

I would just again remind the members of the opposite side, I would remind the government that there was a promise that was signed in ink by the pen of Mike Harris, by his own hand, that said, "No changes will be made under a Harris government until such time as your members have been thoroughly consulted, and we will insist that all changes be fully costed both from the point of view of workers as well as management."

As the member for Cochrane North and the member for Sault Ste Marie have said, "That was then, this is now." It's another huge flip-flop on the part of the government of Ontario, which said one thing to the firefighters prior to the election of 1995, said again the same thing during the election of 1995, signed it in the form of a promise to the firefighters of the province and, on the basis of that promise, some firefighters in the province voted for Conservative candidates -- not in Cochrane South, but I can tell you they did it in other municipalities.

I say they are feeling very betrayed. They stood at the front of this Legislature, and I was there about a month ago, when firefighters came to me and said, "I voted for the Conservative candidate in my riding because they signed that promise, they said they wouldn't do what they're doing today."

Mr Gilles Pouliot (Lake Nipigon): Never again.

Mr Bisson: They have said, as the member for Lake Nipigon has said, "Never again will I vote for the Conservative candidate in my riding because they have broken a promise that they made to me as a firefighter when they said they were not going to make these kinds of changes," number one, and, number two, if they did anything, they would consult firefighters in the province, something that this government has not done.

I ask the government, again, to reflect on this and to make sure that it removes those sections of the act that were outlined so that the firefighters in our province can keep on doing the job they were paid to do.

The Deputy Speaker: Questions or comments?

Mr Clement: I thank the honourable member for his comments. It's unfortunate that we're using this time in some way, although it is the time of all members, to concentrate on the issue of the appropriate amount of consultation. All I can tell the honourable members is that, in my riding, I had two very successful meetings with the firefighters' president in my area, Don Roy, where we were able to get beyond some of the rhetoric that frequently transcends these debates and overpowers them and go through the act section by section.

I found it a very illuminating couple of sessions because we were able to find out, perhaps much to the surprise of both of us, that there are a number of items with which we had complete agreement, that there was a need for some changes to ensure that while fire suppression is a very important part of what this bill is all about, there's also fire education and fire prevention, which have been identified by the Solicitor General as being of paramount importance in terms of the regeneration of this particular piece of legislation.

There are other aspects of the bill, as I said earlier, where the firefighters agree that there have to be some changes: that automatic aid has to be a priority, that in order to the ensure that we have a proper amount of fire prevention and fire suppression in our society, there has to be some consolidation that occurs. Firefighters agree with that. They want to have a place at the table to discuss the particular sections of the bill, and the honourable member is quite right about that. There will be a place for that.

The Solicitor General has mentioned that there will be a public opportunity to go through this bill, to improve it, to keep the essence of it, which is to ensure that our communities are safer when it comes to fire prevention, fire detection, fire suppression and fire education. At the same time there's an opportunity for all members of our society to have their opportunity to see that the best bill is brought forward, and I, for one, look forward to the opportunity.

Mr Wildman: In commenting on my friend the member for Cochrane South's remarks, I'd like to also compliment the member for Brampton South on his cravat.

I thought it was interesting what the member for Brampton South had to say in regard to my colleague's remarks. I understand that in a video prepared for the firefighters' conference held in April 1995 -- just before the provincial election as a matter of fact -- the member for Nipissing had this to say about the Fire Departments Act:

"We have serious concerns about some of the changes that are being contemplated with respect to the Fire Departments Act. No changes will be made under a Harris government until such time as your members," meaning the firefighters, "have been thoroughly consulted, and we will insist that all changes be fully costed both from the point of view of workers as well as management."

The firefighters are still waiting to hear from the member for Nipissing and from the member for Leeds-Grenville. That commitment has not been met. Firefighters, as my friend the member for Cochrane South said, have been asking for public hearings and they should be given those public hearings because, as Bruce Carpenter, the president of the Provincial Federation of Ontario Fire Fighters said: "This bill jeopardizes the safety of both the public and our members. It will set the Ontario fire service back 75 years." That doesn't sound to me like the firefighters have had their concerns properly dealt with, when the president of one of their associations can make a statement like that. It's time they heard from the Premier of this province and the Solicitor General.

Mr Jim Flaherty (Durham Centre): I listened with interest to the speech by the member for Cochrane South. I noted of course that it was loud and fairly aggressive in its comments about the legislation; bellicose, I thought.

Mr Pouliot: Bombastic.

Mr Flaherty: Also bombastic, though I thank the member for Lake Nipigon for that. It was also orthodox. There was a time when the NDP was a party that advocated social change, and it's regrettable to see the reactionary nature of the speeches being made by members of that party in this House, the orthodoxy. Of course, it's easier to be orthodox in addressing an issue, to be ideological, because when one is orthodox one does not need to listen to the other side because one has a monopoly on the truth on any particular issue.

With respect to taking away rights, the right to strike, as has been noted in this House, is a right that had not been used by the firefighters because of the mandatory nature of arbitration, so it is a specious argument to hold out the taking away the right to strike as being significant at all in Ontario, because it is a right. As an emergency service, I am sure that the citizens of this province, that the citizens of Algoma-Manitoulin and of Cochrane South would be shocked to think that that sort of emergency service could be taken away from them, even if it is just a law of the province permitting that.

I have consulted with the firefighters of Whitby, and in Whitby also we have many firefighters who work not just for the Whitby fire department but for other fire departments, including the city of Toronto. I have consulted with them not only since the election but before the election, long before the election, and I have the benefit of their views. I'm pleased that the legislation is going to modernize some of the many acts that we have, which are really a hodgepodge of legislation.

Mr Bradley: I'm pleased that the member raised so many interesting issues in his speech, among them being the abrogation of collective agreements potentially happening as a result of this bill. I know most people in this province believe that a collective agreement should be adhered to and that those which are long fought for should be kept in place.

Mr Pouliot: Be careful.

Mr Bradley: The member for Lake Nipigon says, "Be careful," because he may have been thinking of the social contract. That was in a different time and a different era, under different circumstances.

I want to say that I have not seen the firefighters of this province as exercised as I did when they were on the front lawn of the Ontario Legislature protesting this bill, and I, too heard Bruce Carpenter, who by the way is from St Catharines and is the president of the association, making those very points, as was Terry Colburn, who is the president of our local in St Catharines. Both were expressing great concern that there had not been what they called meaningful consultation, that they were listening to the fire chiefs and to other advocates of certain parts of this legislation but not listening to those on the front line, and that is the firefighters themselves, those who go into battle, those who carry out their responsibilities in a very dangerous manner because of the nature of the job. So I can certainly see their concern.

They were adamant there should be hearings across the province. I know the government didn't want to have hearings across the province for a prolonged period of time; they prefer to have a couple of days here in Toronto and then pass the legislation through. We in the two opposition parties have fought for that and I'm very pleased that that has been the case, and I know firefighters who placed a lot of faith in the word of the Premier were chanting something outside that rhymed with "fire".

Mr Bisson: To the members for St Catharines and Algoma, I would like to thank the members for their comments. I want to say to the people who are watching this debate at home, specifically the firefighters that I know are watching in the city of Timmins, as other firefighters across the province are watching, as you listen to the two Conservative members get up and respond to the comments I made to the speech, I think you have lots to be worried about, because what the members from the Conservative side were saying was, "There's nothing wrong with taking away the rights that firefighters have enjoyed for a long time."

That signals to me that we have a problem, that although we will be going into public hearings with this bill, because the Solicitor General has indicated that we are doing so, I'm hearing from the back bench of the Conservative caucus coming to this House and saying: "Well, you know, those rights were never used so why should we even worry about taking away those rights? It's not a big deal."

It tells me, listen, if you're watching out there, if you're a firefighter and you're worried that you're going to be losing rights, you should be even more worried because it means that the backbenchers back there are ready to support the Solicitor General in whatever he does. I think it's going to be important for firefighters, I think it's going to be important for other people who care about this that they make sure they contact the backbench members of the government, that they go and speak to these people and try to point out to them that what they are doing is wrong.

I would say to the member for Brampton South, who was one of the authors of the Common Sense Revolution, you wondered why, over a period of 30 minutes, I decided to speak on a particular section of this bill. It is my right. I spoke specifically to the legislation that your Solicitor General has put before this House. The points that I spoke on were not being fabricated, they are what is printed in the bill, and I took the time to read the exact words that are in the bill, so I'm not making this stuff up, to the member for Brampton South.

It is your own Solicitor General who has made the rules of this legislation, it is his legislative counsel who have written this bill, and I only repeated what is inside this bill. I will be urging all members of the House to withdraw those sections of the bill that are negative to firefighters.


The Deputy Speaker (Mr Gilles E. Morin): Further debate?

Mr Gerard Kennedy (York South): It's with some pleasure I get a chance to address this bill, which has raised concerns in the constituency of York South, the city of York, much of Metro and across Ontario.

We want to first acknowledge, however, because we think it is important for people who are watching this debate, that the government had the beginnings of something useful in terms of what it did, because since 1949 there haven't been changes to some of the major acts that constitute fire protection in this province.

However, at the same time as we look at the rationalization involved in this bill, we also look at it as an expression of an ongoing philosophy of this government to try and create division, to try and create problems in terms of the operation of public services in this province.

There is very little that explains that. There is very little that tells us why this government, in the context of trying to streamline fire services, wants to also create artificial conflict between those who manage the fire protection services we have and those who have to execute it. The only answer that makes sense comes from the other pieces of legislation that we've seen, which is an agenda that this government seems to have, to create strife, to try and get people pitted against each other.

We still haven't found anywhere in the discussion coming from the government side the rationalization for this bill. How much money will this government try and save? How much of the tax cut that it's going to provide to only a small percentage of Ontarians will come out of decreased fire safety?

I think many of the people out there who are used to taking governments even to a certain extent at their word look at the first three lines of this bill and marvel at it in terms of the titling of the legislation. This government has made, I think, probably one of its heightened accomplishments in its time in power, calling this "An Act to promote Fire Prevention and Public Safety in Ontario and to amend and repeal certain other Acts related to Fire Services," when in fact in this act, hidden away and submerged under other elements as has been commonly the practice, are elements to try and create a whole new scenario in terms of the profession of firefighters in this province.

Beyond that, we wonder too about the kind of ethicality, as we found in other bills, of some of the other provisions that we see. We have, for example, a fire marshal's office being confirmed that "may" -- not "will" but "may" -- monitor the standards of municipalities and may act upon them. I think people have every right to wonder, right from the beginning in subsection 2(7), whether this bill will actually provide for the essence of fire protection and fire safety when we have that discretionary word being used.

We also have to put this in the context of other bills that have tried to create centralized standards in this province. We have a government not committed to providing the resources so that the municipalities, the other bodies that have been created by this government at different times, do not have the ability to actually do what's being asked of them.

We look at the proposed things in terms of rent review where municipalities have been given powers but no money to carry it out. Here again, we have municipalities being mandated for the first time to carry out roles in terms of fire safety but no funds and certainly, when we look at the history of this government, very little likelihood of getting funds to be able to carry out that mandate, another onerous role being put on municipalities, and we have no idea whether or not this government intends to even in a small way live up to it.

We know already the sound of this government, that the way that it becomes associated with the public is the sound of phones ringing and ringing and ringing, whether it's the family support plan, whether it's consumer and commercial relations. Anyplace that this government is supposed to provide basic services to people it hasn't been happening.

I think the most disturbing thing about this bill and about what should have been a straightforward, goodwill kind of consolidation is whether this government can be trusted to carry out this kind of thing on something as serious as fire safety. Can this government actually put together the elements to try and make it work?

When we look at part IX of the bill, we certainly find within that the ingredients for not believing this government can carry it off. We see what the minister has provided to us is this message to firefighters, that somehow even though they wanted and were agreeable to building in some form of management structure to updating, to making current some of the ways that fire departments could operate, instead they have something imposed on them.

We contrast what this bill has, which details down to the hours of work, the amount of rest period that is available to people who are firefighters in this province, yet at the same time we've seen other bills go through here of an omnibus nature simply giving the power to the minister. We wonder very precisely why this minister and this government want to put very particular strictures in place. Why are they so afraid to leave the hours of work as something that individual firefighters and unionized groups can bargain with their employers?

I guess what we see here is again the tipping of the scales that this government can't seem to resist, even on matters which we ought to be able to agree on both sides of this House are fundamentally about the public interest, something that should not be trifled with in the interests of an ideology.

We heard one of the members opposite talk about social change. I think the only social change we see here in terms of stripping away the rights of some of the workers is the kind of social change that happened in the 1880s and the 1890s and the development of labour legislation in the first place. This government has no forward thinking about how to actually make our society work better under some of the pressures it's under.

Rather than come forward with some kind of straightforward provisions, if it wishes to save money in terms of fire protection, if it wants to pay for its tax cut this way, we have it being done through the back door. That raises apprehensions which could, I would agree, be even larger than what actually happens, but we don't know because this government won't talk straight; instead it hides behind nice words. It's not able to talk straight to its constituents and, most important, to the firefighters who are out there in the different protection forces we have in this province it's not able to listen.

That's the biggest problem that we suspect is going to be associated with this bill. There is not an ability demonstrated anywhere throughout the course of this government to listen to the concerns of people and to ameliorate bills. There have been hearings on rent control, discussion papers. There have been hearings on video lottery terminals, which have seen no changes, virtually none, made as a result of the deputations that have been made. I sat in those committees and heard government members reference that, saying these hearings were a waste of time. I beg to differ. I think there is a value in putting that out there in front of the public. Certainly I can understand the frustration on the part of that government member because this government gives little or no indication that it's listening.

I think in the instance of fire protection and fire safety, this is not something we should be fooling around with. When we look at, for example, the provocative inclusion of the first strike ban put on firefighters when there have been no strikes since 1949, since the earlier legislation, why this pre-emptive move? Why is it necessary to tell firefighters who have it in their own code of conduct that they don't want to strike that they're no longer going to be able to legislatively? What can they expect coming from this government that's going to require the government to have that protection for fire services that they're not subject to the right to strike? What kind of things in its implementation does it mean for firefighters in this province?

We wonder if it's not waving this red flag as just one of its ways of creating the kind of division that it's done with other bills on the part of people in this province, whether it's been with school teachers talking about their right to strike, about day care workers, taking away the money that they have to live on, taking away some of the other rights of workers in the public service, why this government continually operates from this method of functioning.

Rather than looking at the hours of work with the people who should know, the people who are operating on a day-to-day basis who should have at least a point of view -- yes, certainly their own personal interest but also the interest of the public at large. Let's let the public hear that debate. It's not going to take place in this House because the government has pre-empted most of that with the particular measure that's put in this legislation. We enjoin the government, to the degree that it wishes to be seen in good faith, to make sure those hearings are held around the province, that they are done with adequate time to hear from all the deputants. This is not something that we think, in the first time in the 45 or almost 50 years that we look at revising this legislation, should be shoved through.


We've heard from the other side that somehow this party, which is only negative in terms of its outlook -- is only able to take back, is only able to cut away, is unable to make a bill that's constructive -- still sees itself as an agent for social change. It still sees itself somehow as taking apart government and does not have any idea how it goes back together. This is like a Meccano box without the instructions, when it comes to this government. We're worried about, when they pull the bolts out of fire safety in this province, who indeed is going to be able to put it back together. It doesn't seem to be this minister, who seems to brush off all the concerns that have been brought forward, talks blithely, as other ministers have before him, about consultation when there has been a very clear message from the firefighters in this province that could have been accommodated in this legislation but has been ignored, and that doesn't augur well for where we go from here.

We look at the easy termination provisions, the ability to bargain being constricted, and we wonder why the government felt it necessary to put in these bill specifics. People may recognize that this is the same government that, when it came to having its way, was able to put in measures for video lottery terminals and just said, "All we want to do is declare that video lottery terminals, heretofore known as slot machines, are going to be a legal and valid game," and that's it -- no protections, nothing to protect people from having video gaming machines in every neighbourhood in the province, every bar, every restaurant, none of that provided for, not after hearings on the part of the United Church, on the part of addiction resource foundations and so on.

This example is something that firefighters, and every single person in this province who is dependent on fire protection, need to be aware of, that this is a government that acts according to its method. It has put in these specific measures because it means for this to be an unfair bill. It cannot abide, with part IX, being able to create what would be a level playing field, the ability, as the firefighters propose, to negotiate some form of management structure that would update this. Instead it has taken a hard line, as has been its consistent position, to bring about an unfair balance towards limiting the rights of those firefighters.

It is a year and a half now that this government has been in power, as of yesterday, and I think something people are looking for from this government is: What are the signs of this government being able to grow into its role? People understood that it came in with a document that I think they now refer to more commonly as the Comic Book Revolution. They know it wasn't well planned, they know this government doesn't have the basis to back it up, and certainly the postponement of the financial statement shows the numbers don't add up there, but I think people are willing to concede that to this government.

Can they still assume the responsibility of government in some way that gives people some confidence? As people look at that one-and-a-half-year mark they're starting to recognize that the hallmarks of this government are not being able to listen and not being able to follow through on things in a way that is established as the public interest, that there's a too narrow frame of reference, and that explains a lot. There's a government here that is unable to take into account both sides of an equation. I think people realize that in the times we're under, we don't have the kind of employment growth that we ought to be seeing, that's been seen in other provinces.

We don't have the kinds of results in this province in terms of jobs, which was happening in terms of economic growth, we have to admit for our compatriots here, much stronger economic growth than in the two years preceding this government's year and a half in power. People are starting to ask the question, does this government take the time, does it have the resources, does it indeed have the people and the patience and the ability to govern by listening to people and by coming up with real solutions?

I think when people look at this bill they really bring themselves into that question. We have fire protection services now that are of relatively high quality and available, in the opinion of most municipalities, at a reasonable cost. So what we have here, the unstated objective, the one the minister is not addressing, is that the reason this bill is being put forward is simply to take some money out of fire protection services.

People have to think long and hard, where is that money going to come from? Will it come from putting part-time workers in place, people who are not versed in the conditions and what needs to exist in terms of proper fire suppression and response to those kinds of emergencies? Are they talking about consolidating fire departments? They're talking about privatizing fire departments. The problem with a government that won't table its real agenda is that all these things become possibilities.

We've seen in the past, in other bills that have been brought forward, and particularly -- this is an appropriate time to remark on it -- a year ago in the existence of Bill 26, where this government sought to have all kinds of powers in an arbitrary fashion, a government that didn't know what it wanted, that just knew it wanted to be able to do it in case it came into its head, a government that simply showed in that bill its corporatist outlook that has a certain kind of disdain for real democracy when it wants to accrue powers it cannot explain, arbitrary powers which included, and of course poignant today, the power to find out the billings of individual doctors to individual patients.

We find that Bill 26, the ability to have those provisions, shows some of the tenor of this government. People want to know at this one-and-a-half-year mark, can this government learn? Can this government actually appreciate, as it is in power, the ability to fulfil the needs of its citizens? When we look at the existence of cooperative fire services, we have what isn't a very top-heavy structure, a chief and a deputy chief, and we have the firefighters there, but we have a very collegial and cooperative service. You have a continuity there. You have a rate of excellence that is quantifiable in terms of responses to emergencies.

Participation in the community: I can reflect on my own experience in terms of the utilization of fire departments, firefighters, often on their own time, being able to provide support to food banks across the province in a way that connects with the public. That is about a form of government the other side of the House, the government side, has a very hard time in understanding: that firefighters and fire services could actually be a valued part of the community, not just costs to be dealt with in an arbitrary fashion such as this; that those kinds of firefighters, for example, hold food drives and accept bags of food, and at the same time introduce the children coming with their families into the concept of fire safety, into the whole idea of firefighters and public service. That's something this government doesn't really reflect because it's prepared, obviously, with this bill and the reaction that's coming forward from firefighters, to disrupt the arrangements we've got.

All over this province people are starting to wake up to the idea that this might actually be a centrepiece of this government's agenda: to disrupt existing relationships even when they're working, even when we're getting reasonable-quality services, even when the costs are not out of line, certainly aren't responsible for the deficit. We see instead this government acting because of some level of fiscal desperation, a level of ideological drivenness we haven't seen for some time that they would like to call progress, but the only linear place we're going in terms of direction is backwards.

We're talking about a government that wants to bring us back to a time that really never existed when we have people now who are intelligent and educated and can judge for themselves. They don't need to have an élitist group of people deciding what's good for them, and that's what this bill would have the government do on behalf of firefighters: It would see us making decisions for firefighters about their communities; it would disregard those firefighters' own sense of their abilities; it would invite firefighters to be seen as self-interested people rather than people really charged with fire safety.

The unfortunate part of these features of the bill is that it really goes against the grain of what it could have accomplished. The bill talks intelligently about a fire safety council. It talks well about the ability to put that as part and parcel of what we ought to have happening in every community. It doesn't say how we're going to do it, it doesn't say how we're going to pay for it, but that, at least, could have been what we were talking about.

It also includes other provisions. There are many opinions that say it leaves open the possibility of privatizing our fire services. I think this government is going to learn, as it has learned with Highway 407, the lesson it decided not to have after 18 months of sitting on a report about safety from the OPP: having to put off 407, only after it was raised in this House, for an independent safety audit.

The question is raised time and time again: In the name of this tax cut, what are you willing to compromise? How much of the future are you prepared to give away so you can reward some people financially? That becomes a question for this government at its year-and-a-half juncture. How much of that do you want to take away from fire protection and fire safety in this province? That is a question we have in front of us today.

How much arbitrariness and how much lack of responsibility and accountability are we going to have on the part of this government, unwilling to stand up and tell us how much money they want to have municipalities take out of fire protection services? We haven't been told any other reason why this bill is coming forward at this time. We've seen discussion, but in the course of the agenda this government has before it, we've seen no rationale in terms of why this bill at this time, if not for that reason.

When we look at points of references in terms of AMO and in terms of fire chiefs we understand that they too have a part of the public interest, but we see the imbalance built into this bill that bespeaks a government that's unable to see a society that has diversity in it, unable to see the ability of firefighters to rise above how much they're paid and the hours they work, unable to accept on their behalf the kinds of people, like Thomas Jordan and Morgan Keiner and Ben Wittig and Joe Colligans and Victor Simkus, who are firefighters in the city of York, who have put in a tremendous amount of effort and have done that at some personal risk.


When we talk about firefighters I think it's easy to play to some of the stereotypes we see likely arising from the other side of the House in terms of people who are there waiting for fires to happen, but we look at a very effective fire prevention function, a community function that happens in the actual fighting of fires, which is a job that requires this professionalized force, and not just a force that can see itself as professional but which can be motivated to do its job.

Over and over again we see a missing ingredient from this government's plans: how to deal with its human resources, how to actually get the people who work in this government to work together, to feel some sense of pride in the public service. The reason it's hard for this government to do is that it feels no pride in public service. It doesn't see that as part of its equation. We see that again in this bill that wants to constrict firefighters in their relationship with their fire departments, that wants to treat them, in this case, very paternally and is not able to concede to them that they might actually have a legitimate voice in things like setting the hours, determining who is the management, especially when this is done after such a long period of time.

We have to demand of the other side: "What is broken about the current arrangements? What's not working? Why are you taking on firefighters on your long list of people whom you want to attack?" I think it plays to a certain kind of audience out there of people who are having difficulty. There's a degree of insecurity that lives out there that, I would suggest this government should mark well, has gotten worse since you've come into office. People can't depend on where their future is coming from. I think sooner or later even those people, in their own anxiety about where their job is going to come from, wondering about whether their kids will have jobs, whether they'll make it into university as costs go up, are going to wonder about you and your approach that keeps giving them only people to blame, not any reasonable answers, not any solutions but people to blame, in this case firefighters, people who are made to look as if they're somehow self-interested, that they need to have structures against striking even though they've never struck.

Not since 1949 have we seen firefighters walk off the job in this province, so deep is their commitment to public service. But we have a government willing to slap them in the face with this legislation and say, "Now it's time to ban you, now is the time to make sure you can never exercise that," and create all manner of anxiety, as they have on the part of the teachers and on the part of other public servants in this province about what would happen. There are people out there who, out of their anxiety and insecurity, would see this as a favourable thing, who would look at any part of society that's feeling more secure or that appears that way and would provide some support to the government and its views.

But why can't this government take on the really tough challenge? Why can't this government find a way to resolve these things rather than building them in as conflicts? I think that's the question: People want to know why this government wants to put itself forward not so much as a government that can make this society work but rather as a government that takes sides, that believes in "us and them" in an incessant series.

We have firefighters now on one side and fire chiefs on the other, we have the municipalities somewhere in between and we have a public out there wondering: "What is this government up to? Why does it feel it needs to act pre-emptively?" We look at the kind of cooperative outlook that has existed among firefighters and their communities and we wonder whether this is worth risking.

If this government won't at least put its cost savings on the table, if it won't tell us how much of the tax cut it wants to pay this way, why is it putting part IX into this bill right now? What other things might we then, by logical implication, draw from this? What inferences about the lowering of standards in fire protection might this government have in mind?

We say on this side of the House that that's not our first look at this bill. We look and see some positive things that can be brought out of it, but we wonder. We're made to wonder, we're caused to have basis for that, because of the past history of this government, which has held hearings and not listened, on Highway 407 and the video lottery terminals, in a number of areas, hospital closings, seemingly prepared to compromise the public interest for a larger political goal.

The only goal that makes sense for any of this, and the reason it intrudes here, is a tax cut, which this government should be delaying, which it should be putting off, which it should be declaring that it is in the public interest not to see it happen at this time. There's a deficit and there are changes in public services that need to be given a reasonable amount of time to le them happen.

Instead we have this artificial, very phoney public display on the part of this government to fit everything into two and three years, hoping, and I think that hope becomes slimmer as more of these examples come forward, for re-election, in terms of a positive stance to be able to put on this government following those two or three years.

I think the government needs to be aware that when it comes to something like fire safety, the public doesn't want you fooling around. The public doesn't want you messing with the existing relationships unless you have something better to propose instead of just taking away rights from firefighters, limiting the hours they can work, limiting their ability to organize, making for whatever reason a clause that looks as if they could be terminated on seven days' notice. It is unclear whether or not there's a reference to the collective bargaining agreements that currently exist. Why deal in that kind of negativity with firefighters?

Is this government going to stand up and ascribe to firefighters certain problems in society? Is it going to be able to put them on the hook for other things the way they've done with other groups in society, or is this simply going to remain a private agenda of this government that it's not willing to put forward so that we can have a real, true public discussion?

When we look at the possibilities we wonder why the government brings forward this legislation at this time. We wonder why this government has put it on the agenda ahead of other things, why it's decided to go after firefighters just as they've gone after other public servants, unless this is simply part of a general will on the part of the government to see this disruption taking place in society. This government was elected quite knowingly on creating a sense in society that you're either part of "us" or part of "them," and I think this government is now trying again to give the public, the people of Ontario, fresh targets, people they can feel they're against.

The main thing the government I think hopes to accomplish by this is to distract people from the fact that they're not delivering on their jobs, for example, that through the course of this year they're over 80,000 jobs short of where they said they would be by this time, that they simply are unable to deliver on the key promise that got them elected. Instead they're having to throw everything overboard, all manner of things: safety in terms of 407, very nearly; safety in terms of fire protection -- we hope not, but the prospect looms with this bill. The ability to have any public moral boundaries in terms of gambling in this province went out the window with Bill 75. Those are the kinds of things this government is willing to throw overboard to float its ship, which really has only got a cargo for wealthy people in this province.

It's an unfortunate juxtaposing of people with means against those without. It's the kind of thing we don't need, and the reason we don't need it is that these bills are coming at a time when this province is at a critical juncture. We have changes taking place in the economy, not invented by this government, that are coming from globalization, from changes in technology, and there's no effort being made, none whatsoever on the part of this government, to deal with them. There's no adjustment, there's no sense of common purpose in terms of, how do we really expand people's individual freedom in this society? Do we do it by cutting them loose, do we do it by putting them on one side or another of a dividing line or do we do it by finding the means by which we can actually accomplish things that are in the common interest?

This government can't put one thing against that list of things being accomplished in the public interest as a result of its agenda in the past year and a half, and here we are again with a bill, in this case dealing with fire safety and fire prevention, potentially a bill that the government could claim as subscribing to and carrying out the public interest, in which the government could not resist bringing in measures that undermine the whole thrust of the bill in its apparently insatiable need to create division, to go after people who are the workers in this province, people with less power.

There's no question that those people, those numerous firefighters across the province, depend on this government to look after their interests as they depended on past governments, and for some undeclared reason the government has decided to tip that balance now. There are members opposite who would call that progress. I think there are many people in the public who would call that regression, who would call that going backwards, who would call that a government desperate to distract people from an agenda that simply isn't working.

There's very little in the Comic Book Revolution that is actually bringing security or safety or better wellbeing to the average person out there, and continually going after targets is not going to fool people. When we can't even deal with measures like fire protection and fire safety in a way that avoids this artificial division created in society, I think people have to wonder where this government's priorities are.

I think we have to wonder again when we saw the measures that were taken by somebody, regretfully -- unable to get accountability in this House earlier today -- when it comes to the medical billings that were abused. We find again there's a singling out of people. Speak out against this government and find yourself slapped down. Dare to be a lawyer for a school that has a case against the government and you get a call from somebody in the government and you lose your job eventually. If you're in a position of trust in terms of working in the minister's office, we know from the earlier provisions in terms of a similar incident four and a half years ago that the only basis under which the billing of individual doctors could possibly be available in the minister's office is through the minister. We're left open to that question: Either the minister knew or somehow the ministry is so incompetent that this information got out some other way. This government would like us to believe otherwise, but we have a vindictive government prepared to be arbitrary, to take powers it doesn't need and run the gamut in pursuit of its own interests.


This is a government willing to leave a video gambling bill with no protections for the public whatsoever because it suits its purpose, an omnibus bill that allows any measure of gambling to be set up that lawyers in this province, a law professor, would say is illegal because it doesn't exercise enough control. Yet we have a fire protection act that in the specific instance, the specific concern of this government about how to take away rights from firefighters, how to limit their ability to be effective, how to take away their confidence in terms of their ability, itemizes down to the hours of work, to when their shift changes can happen, to how much rest there is in between, to the kinds of maximum hours they can work, sets those things rather than leave it as it has worked for the past 45 years in negotiations between the departments and unions representing the firefighters.

We see here a very clear agenda on the part of the government that it would not like us to know about: It sets up straw people for people to be able to knock down; it creates conflict where it didn't need to exist. It is a perplexing yet very repetitive and now predictable part of this government's method of operating: to be able to find people it can engender some public sympathy against. We would ask you in this government to find a way, perhaps because it's fire safety, because it's a wider interest, to get around that method of operating, because people are looking to you for that.

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

Ms Frances Lankin (Beaches-Woodbine): I found the remarks of the member for York South interesting, particularly when he was reflecting just at the end of his remarks on the contrast in how the government approaches different pieces of legislation, for example -- he made reference to this -- the video lottery terminals legislation. Although opposition members pushed to try and have some controls put in the legislation so that we wouldn't have widespread proliferation, so we could have some protection in those areas around schools, for example, some pretty basic stuff, no, that was the kind of detail the government didn't want to get into.

Yet in this bill, which purports to be about fire protection and fire prevention, we have minutiae built in, things like the fact that firefighters will no longer be able to collectively bargain their hours of work. I don't understand why the government of Ontario would be interested in writing legislation governing hours of work of firefighters. This is a matter they've always bargained collectively. You take it steps further and take away the right to strike, which they've never exercised. As professionals they believe they are an essential service; they've behaved in that way. You've extended and set in legislation a probationary period for this job. Where did these things come from? For an old union negotiator this is like a list of management demands that management puts on the table, and this government has become the management that's going to bargain, and instead of bargaining, it's just writing it into the legislation.

I don't understand why you would provoke that kind of confrontation, particularly with a group of people you committed to during the election campaign that you would consult extensively before you made any changes to this piece of legislation. That's a commitment you haven't lived up to. The nature of what you have included in this bill -- the member for York South is right -- is at a level of detail that is in great contrast to how you're proceeding with many other areas of large public policy concern. It's not understandable.

Mr E.J. Douglas Rollins (Quinte): I would like to stand up and say a couple things. I was sitting here listening to the member for York South. I believe there are three different groups of people involved in fire protection. There are our volunteers, and our management people, as far as our chiefs are concerned, and our full-time people. Two of those people are very much in favour of the piece of legislation that's come in. The volunteer people are very enthused by the way the changes have been made. The chiefs have already said in letters to the minister that they are accepting the conditions of change. That hasn't been in a long time.

A number of people out there agree with this. If you listened to the member for York South, he would lead you to believe that every fire department and every fire person in the whole province of Ontario was opposed to this. It's not true.

It's also a fact that he stood up and told us that the province of Ontario is way behind the rest of the place. I don't know what kind of newspapers he's been reading or the Fairyland he's been dreaming in, but we've had more jobs in Ontario, we've had a better economic turnaround in Ontario than any other province in Canada.

I don't know whether he got stuck too far at the food bank or just what is going on, but there's something wrong to think that those kinds of figures -- that he should stand up and tell those kinds of things. It's about time that somebody stood up and said, "Look, sometimes along this line you should tell a little bit of the truth. You don't need to whitewash it so far the other side."

These people would stand there and tell you -- they said 2,000 people on the fire. It's a funny thing when one member says there are 1,000 out there and another one 2,000. I think they need some glasses changed or something in accounting.

I think we've got a lot of support. Thank you very much.

Mr James J. Bradley (St Catharines): I have not heard of any firefighters who are in favour of this bill. I have heard of fire chiefs, in other words management, who would be in favour of this. I have not heard of any firefighters who are in favour of this bill. That's the difference between them.

I heard the member make a disparaging remark about the food bank, and I find that most regrettable. I think what's most revealing is what happens at this time of the evening when members become less cautious, when the Premier and others are not here to watch them.

I would think the kind of person involved with assisting people who are less privileged, people who are often down on their luck, people who have had great difficulty, should not be criticized. I know that when the campaign was on that is what you were told to say because at that time you were directing your remarks at this particular candidate. It's rather revealing to hear what members of the Conservative government have to say about somebody who would take it upon himself to work with people who are less privileged, people who don't have good food.

Mr Jim Flaherty (Durham Centre): He was paid a salary. What is this "volunteer" stuff?

Mr Bradley: Those people wouldn't be at the Albany Club. That's what you have to remember. The people at the Albany Club do not go to the food bank, because they're eating their caviar and their steaks and their smoked salmon. They don't know, often, what it's like for people who have to demean themselves to line up at a food bank.

This is why I'm extremely surprised, though perhaps I shouldn't be, that a member of the Conservative government would make disparaging remarks about a member in this House who happened to have devoted his energies and time to assisting others in a food bank.

Mr Flaherty: Devoted for a cheque.

Mr Bud Wildman (Algoma): I wanted to congratulate the member for York South in raising the issues of concern to firefighters in this province. I must say, while we are from different political parties, I'm a little taken aback by the members across the aisle who seem to be critical of the member for York South because he got a paycheque for his previous job; I would think that most of the members opposite received paycheques for their previous jobs.

Mr Flaherty: We don't stand up and brag about it. We don't stand up and feel wonderful about it either.

Mr Wildman: You don't feel wonderful about your previous job?

Mr Flaherty: I don't stand up and gloat about it and say we're holier than thou.

Mr Wildman: Mr Speaker, there must be a reason why we changed the rules not to have sittings beyond 6.


A member of the House, representing his constituents, comes before the House and raises very serious questions about legislation that purports to improve safety and security in the province, and the very people who are responsible for implementing those changes, for providing for the safety and security of people and property in this province, have raised serious, serious questions and are quite concerned. A member who is elected to represent his constituents would be derelict in his duty if he did not bring those concerns to the House. Frankly, from my point of view, it's most inappropriate that the government members barrack him when he does that instead of listening to the concerns he raises and try to adapt and bring forward changes to the bill so we resolve the concerns, rather than simply throwing up a wall of indifference.

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

Mr Kennedy: It is with some surprise that we hear from the opposite side that they believe there is widespread support for this. We hope the members on the opposite side who attend the hearings will show a little bit more openness, because certainly that's not what we've heard across the province.

There is a need to give due regard to professional firefighters. Most of what we've brought up affects them. It's no surprise that there are chiefs and volunteer firefighters who are pleased with some parts of it. We're pleased with some parts of the bill. Unfortunately, there is no magnanimity on the other side in the sense of recognizing legitimate concerns and how that links to an overall distrust in this government that exists. When we look at some of the things, for example, the provisions for private firms to be able to become involved with the safety council, we see no limitations there. It speaks of a real lack of understanding of the community.

We would really recommend that the member for Quinte have a look at his own community, where the Belleville food bank, the Gleaners, have had a more than 200% increase, the largest in the province. They're not happy with the employment creation record in your hometown, member.

When we look at how a community operates, it's important that we respect the fact that there needs to be regard for the public service. The public service of the safety council should also be protected, because it bespeaks a need to make sure that there's not rampant commercialization, that there isn't imbalance built into this bill, and it's again the question of balance. Despite how the members opposite are unable to recognize it, it's balance this bill needs.

It's balance this government lacks. It's balance this government is unable to provide, constitutionally, dispositionally unable to find within it the ability to concede that there may be some points on the other side worth listening to. It is this impaired function of the government, still evident -- this is not June 9, 1995. There have been by-elections and other people out there have expressed their views, ladies and gentlemen opposite, and they need to appreciate that you have developed some capacity to listen. The firefighters of this province are looking for it and every single man, woman and child who needs fire protection wants to see that.

The Acting Speaker: Further debate?

Mr Wildman: I am pleased to participate in this debate. I note that members of my caucus have rushed to listen to what I have to say; they've been waiting all day with bated breath for me to intervene in this debate.

I want to say, in a serious vein, that I am sincerely concerned about the members of the government party's attitude towards the public service generally. They seem to denigrate anything that is in the public sector as sort of the opposite side of the coin to everything being wonderful as long as it's in the private sector. We've seen this in their attitudes towards the civil service and we've seen it in their attitudes towards the broader public sector: the desire to make it possible for the private sector to become more involved, to provide services that up till now in a British parliamentary democracy we have expected would be provided by the community collectively, by the public sector. The suggestion by the Conservatives has been that, obviously, anything done by the private sector is of necessity more efficient than the public sector.

And so we see in this bill the attempt to allow for private firms to become involved in areas that up till now we've assumed should be in the public sector. I don't know what leads this government to come to these kinds of conclusions other than, I suppose, a right-wing ideology that has blinders and makes it impossible for the members of the government party to recognize when there are certain areas of activity that should be taking place in the public sector, that we as members of the public, as citizens of this province, should join collectively together as a community to provide, instead of saying: "We are going to contract this out. We're going to downsize the numbers of people in the public sector and allow private, for-profit firms to become involved." I don't quite understand that.

I also don't understand why it is that the government seems to take the view that if anyone joins together, if any group joins together collectively to work for their rights, particularly if that group is a labour union or a couple of labour unions, somehow those people are a "special interest group" that the government shouldn't be concerned about, that the government shouldn't pay any attention to.

I don't suppose the members of the Conservative Party would suggest that the fire chiefs of the province are some sort of special interest group, that they shouldn't be responded to or listened to, yet they take that attitude towards the Ontario Professional Fire Fighters Association and the Provincial Federation of Ontario Fire Fighters. Surely any responsible government should be listening to both the fire chiefs and the people who are on the front line delivering the service, who risk their lives to protect our lives and property. How is it that this government says, "Bruce Carpenter or Jim Lee are union bosses," as I suppose they'd refer to them, "so therefore they should not be listened to," forgetting or ignoring the fact that these people were elected by their peers democratically to put forward their views and to represent their interests? To have a government say: "We don't agree with you, and anyway you're just interested in protecting your members; you're not interested in the welfare of the community" is an insult to those professional firefighters who put their lives on the line to protect us in serious emergencies.

But it seems that's the way government views this. A responsible government should be responding to the concerns of the fire chiefs, who I understand are having a meeting or a reception downstairs this evening. They should be consulting with the fire chiefs because they are the people who are involved in management of the fire services of the province and they have a great deal to contribute to the reform of the system. But they should also be listening to the people who work for the fire chiefs and to the people who represent those front-line firefighters in the province.

The professional firefighters' associations believe and have stated publicly that they haven't been sincerely consulted and they're concerned about the fact that they've had very little input into Bill 84. The Fire Departments Act review committee never discussed many of the items contained in Bill 84 with those associations. Yet we have the Solicitor General earlier in the debate getting up and saying he had consulted and he wanted to consult and he intended to consult with the firefighters. Well, there's a contradiction here. How is it that the leadership of their associations can say they haven't been consulted and the Solicitor General says: "Yes, of course, we did consult with them. I'm always pleased to talk to them"?

We've also got a number of other processes involved here that affect this legislation, affect firefighting in the province. We've had the Crombie committee, the so-called Who Does What or, as I like to call it, the "who does what to whom for how long for how much" committee. The firefighters weren't consulted by that committee either. If we significantly restructure municipal services in the province, surely that panel should have been talking both to the fire chiefs and to the front-line workers, the people who put their lives on the line to protect us and our properties in this province from the devastation of fire.


I'm not sure why the government is saying that it has made efforts to consult when you have Jim Lee, the president of the Ontario Professional Fire Fighters Association, stating, "The price of the so-called cost-cutting measures contained in this bill may be measured in human lives and higher insurance rates for our citizens." It is very concerning to me to have a professional firefighter make that kind of statement. I would be interested to hear what the fire chiefs' response is to that concern, and I hope to be able to discuss that with them, but it does worry me. It should worry any responsible member of this assembly to have a professional firefighter representing a significant number of the firefighters in this province make such a statement about a piece of legislation that we're debating in the House.

I understand that association, along with the Provincial Federation of Ontario Fire Fighters, represents about 9,000 full-time professional firefighters in the province. This is not just some small malcontent group. This is a significant number of the people who are responsible for protecting us and our properties from fire, who are responsible for preventing fire and suppressing fires when they occur.

One of the things that has led many of the firefighters to be very angry about this bill is that it contains within it changes to collective bargaining processes that affect them and their conditions of work. One of the things the bill does is set out for proper hours of work matters that have been negotiated over the years by firefighters and the organizations representing them. We have now a piece of legislation that comes forward and says, "We're going to arbitrarily change the hours of work and it's not going to be subject to those kinds of negotiations that it has been in the past."

Why is that? Why is it that the Solicitor General believes it's necessary to do that? Is he suggesting, as many firefighters believe, that they are not responsible and that they have negotiated agreements that are improper, inadequate and threaten the safety of the people in this province? If he does believe that, he should come out and say it clearly. He hasn't explained why the provincial government believes that it, through this legislation, should be setting the hours of work for firefighters.

Also what is particularly concerning to me, when one considers the numbers of chemicals that often can be found in fires and the dangers that are involved with the combustible chemicals and hazardous substances that firefighters are finding more and more common in fighting fires, is that this bill will allow for the replacement of full-time firefighters with part-timers. I suppose you could argue that part-timers might be just as well trained. I frankly doubt that, but I suppose it's conceivable that they might be just as well trained.

What is the real reason for this? What is the suggestion here? Why are we suggesting that we would replace full-time professional firefighters with part-time employees? Why would we give municipalities and fire departments that flexibility which has been touted by the fire chiefs and by the Solicitor General? What is the reason? It seems to me that it's simply cost cutting. It must be. The idea is that this is a way to save money for the ratepayers. But I wonder if the property taxpayers understand that in order to save money, to cut costs from fire departments, we are replacing full-time firefighters with part-timers and that the next time there's an emergency in their neighbourhood it might not be the full-time professional firefighters who are there to fight that fire. I wonder if they know that. I wonder if that has been properly explained to them. If it had been, I wonder if they would be in support of this kind of measure. I doubt it.

This bill in that sense reflects the Harris government's real agenda, and that agenda is to force down wages for workers, to limit collective bargaining rights and to harm unions. That's a general approach of the government. In specifics it's aimed directly at firefighters.

I said earlier this evening that the firefighters' associations don't believe that they've been consulted on this legislation that changes their collective bargaining rights; in fact, they believe they've been insulted. The reason for that is that one of the provisions of this bill requires that the right to withdraw services collectively in a dispute -- that is, the right to strike -- will be removed, even though firefighters have never exercised that right because they believe that their services are essential to the safety and security of the people of Ontario and the communities they serve.

The consumer advocate from the United States, Ralph Nader, was recently in Canada, in Vancouver, and he said that he was puzzled because it seems to have become a national pastime from sea to sea for politicians to fix things that aren't broken. I mean, what is broken? If this right has never been exercised, why must it be removed?


Mr Wildman: All it means is, as my friends say, they don't trust firefighters. How is it that we don't have the trust in these professional people who hold in some cases, in emergencies, our very lives in the balance, that we don't trust them to be responsible?

Hon Charles Harnick (Attorney General, minister responsible for native affairs): Look at the job you did on auto insurance.

Mr Wildman: I see the Attorney General doesn't take this very seriously. I wonder why he would not want to ensure that the firefighters of this province knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that they enjoyed the trust of this government and the trust of the people of this province. I trust them. Where I live we have volunteer fire departments right across my constituency, very small communities, a lot of volunteers who join together to get training. They go out and they work hard and they do this because collectively they know that they must work as a community to protect one another. In the neighbouring urban community they have a professional fire brigade, a group of people who make their living as firefighters to protect the properties and lives in that community, and everyone I know holds those people in very high respect, high regard. Yet this message in this bill is that somehow we don't trust them to be responsible. I find this very disturbing.

There are a number of interpretations of what the bill might mean in terms of labour relations, but there's no question that the changes in this bill are going to mean that labour relations, negotiations, collective bargaining between firefighters associations and management will become more and more adversarial as a result of this legislation, because when management asks for flexibility, that usually is a euphemism for downsizing, changes that will make it more difficult for workers to exercise their rights, and workers react against that and their organizations react against that, and that's unfortunate. In firefighting particularly, and I might say also in policing and health care, we obviously want to have understanding, we don't want adversarial situations to occur, because it's not good for the overall service.


The definition of an employer invites the privatization of fire departments. I don't know why we'd be suggesting it here. Everything this government tends to do seems to be following the United States, Reaganomics, the Reagan approach to the way things have been done south of the border, despite the fact that that's been discredited and twice now rejected by the American electorate. But the fact is this government is continuing to follow the Reagan, if not the Thatcher, approach to government. Privatization, in my view, puts at risk firefighting and emergency services right across the board. It threatens the system that has been developed over the years and has made it possible for us to ensure that emergencies are responded to quickly, effectively and efficiently by the public fire services we have. Why change it?

Nobody is arguing that we shouldn't be revamping the bill, that we shouldn't be getting rid of archaic provisions that no longer make sense. What we are saying is that the firefighters themselves, their organizations, as well as the fire chiefs and the municipalities and whoever else is involved should be able to have input and should have had input, proper input, into the drafting of this legislation.

To have the Solicitor General stand before us and say, "Other governments have already consulted -- the New Democrats consulted, the Liberals consulted and the Bill Davis Tories consulted -- so there's no need for this government to consult prior to introducing the legislation," is just ridiculous. It's one thing, and it's important, to consult about the principles and the ideas of change, but it's another thing to actually consult about a specific draft piece of legislation.

It is incumbent upon any government that brings forward new legislation that makes the basic changes we're talking about in this legislation, Bill 84, to go to the people directly involved, particularly those people who are going to be directly responsible for implementing the changes, and ask them, "What do you think? Do you have any concerns?" and then, when they find out they have concerns, to respond to those concerns and to make changes. Yet this government says, "No, no, no need for us to consult; there was all sorts of consultation before." You shouldn't reject what was done before; you should build on it. But in actually drafting legislation, the government should be taking it out to the people involved and saying, "How can we make this better?"

It's obvious that firefighters should be able to negotiate their hours of work. No government should be making a one-size-fits-all situation. And, where possible, we shouldn't be depending on part-timers where we've developed professional firefighting organizations with full-time people who know what they're doing, are well-trained and will be able to respond to emergencies in an expeditious, efficient and thorough manner.

I'm concerned that this government seems to consider any changes they bring forward as sacrosanct, that they can't be changed, and if anybody objects to them, somehow those people are special interests who are only interested in the status quo. That seems to be the position taken by members of the government bench: that if you're not with the program, if you're not revolutionary in your approach -- in their rather odd definition of "revolutionary" -- then you're just for the status quo and you're against any kind of change. Well, that really is not to listen to what people think.

People in Ontario are not opposed to change. People in Ontario are willing to adapt to changing circumstances. The firefighters of Ontario are prepared to work with the government, to work with management, to work with the chiefs, to work with the municipalities to bring forward legislation that gets rid of outmoded, duplicating approaches, but which also responds to their specific concerns and does not diminish their collective bargaining rights.

Firefighters in this province and I think right across Canada and across North America are a responsible group of people. They are a group of people who should be listened to by a responsible government. They're not a group of people who should be ignored. They're not a group of people who should be run roughshod over in making changes. If they have serious concerns, those concerns must be responded to.

We run the risk not only of an adversarial situation developing but, along with that, a serious problem in morale. All of us -- members of the public, members of this assembly, members of the government, municipal leaders, the fire chiefs, the leaders of the professional firefighters themselves -- must be concerned about morale. If we have a serious morale problem among our professional firefighters in this province, what is that going to mean for their effectiveness? What is that going to mean for their ability to respond to the emergencies we need them for? I think the government should think about that seriously. I'm not optimistic, though.

In my experience since June 1995 I've seen a government that doesn't want to listen to people who have different views, that doesn't want to respond. I must say, this is the first time in 21 years of serving in this assembly that I've seen a government like this.

I've served under a number of premiers: I served under Bill Davis, I served under David Peterson, I served under Bob Rae and now under Mike Harris. All of those premiers and their governments, except for the latter, attempted to build consensus, attempted to listen to the concerns of the people of the province, the very diverse views of people from different walks of life, different levels of society, and to work out some sort of agreement where the majority could accept the direction of the government before they acted -- but not this government.

This government says, "This is what we're going to do. This is what we said we're going to do. We don't believe we need to have any further consultation because we know the answer. We're right. Don't confuse us with facts," and then it just proceeds. Frankly, that's not good politics. I suppose there are people on the other side of the House who believe it is, but I don't think it is good politics.

Ms Marilyn Churley (Riverdale): Bill Murdoch agrees.

Mr Wildman: Well, I have the member for Grey-Owen Sound on my side; maybe I'd better rethink my position.

But I really do mean this seriously. I don't understand, politically, why the government wants to act this way. I understand their desire to be decisive and to make important changes and moves, but in being decisive one also has to look at all of the implications and ramifications of measures and actions, because if one doesn't consider all of those, one could be decisive in error and make serious mistakes and in the long run regret the changes made.


There are changes in this bill that are supportable and important to do, but I also think it would be most unfortunate if the government does not hear the concerns of the professional firefighters. We are all dependent on them; our families are all dependent on them; our communities are all dependent on them. They have important things to say about their job, about the prevention and suppression of fires in Ontario. They have important things to say about their working conditions. We ignore them at our own peril and at the peril of our communities.

I hope the Solicitor General listens to this debate seriously. I hope he considers the concerns being raised by the minority in this debate, because they're being raised on the behalf of the majority of the firefighters in Ontario. They aren't raised lightly; they're raised because we believe the firefighters should be listened to, and if they're not, we're concerned about morale and the changes in the collective bargaining relationship between them and management that will affect the overall effectiveness of firefighting organizations in the province.

I would hope and expect that the chiefs would agree with that statement, even though they may not agree with some of the positions taken by the organizations that represent professional firefighters. I hope the government will rethink this and that those provisions in this legislation that have raised the hackles of the professional firefighters will be changed. Mark my words, if they aren't changed, we will all lose, not just the firefighters but all of us: the professional firefighting organizations, the municipalities they serve, the communities across Ontario, the neighbourhoods where we live. Our families, ourselves and our homes will all suffer or potentially could suffer.

We do not want the morale of the firefighters to be harmed. We want them listened to, we want them responded to, and I plead with the government to listen, not to just move ahead and ignore the concerns that are being raised.

The Acting Speaker: Questions and comments?

Mr Gilles Bisson (Cochrane South): I enjoyed listening to the comments of our House leader, Mr Wildman, the member for Algoma. He brings to light a number of issues that were touched on by other members of the House, namely myself, a little while ago. Where we have concern is that the government is going with this legislation, quite frankly, in the wrong direction. There are a number of changes proposed in this legislation that are, in our view, draconian and not necessary, that in the end do not do anything to promote good fire services. In fact, they're going to go in the opposite direction.

Why is the government, through this legislation, taking away the right to strike? We have fire chiefs here in the government gallery today, and I ask them directly. Firefighters in your employ have not struck. It is not an issue. Why is the government raising it, other than to say to firefighters, "We don't trust that you will continue to do what you've done for the last 50 years," which is to seek an agreement at the bargaining table?

To the fire chiefs here now, why is it that you need to have the right, sirs, and why is it that the councils need to have the right to determine the hours of work when it comes to what's been negotiated in collective agreements? If fire chiefs or if municipalities have problems with the hours of work now, there's a process: It's through collective bargaining, at the bargaining table, that the employer is able to bring those particular issues to the table and to try to make amendments to suit their own needs by the process of negotiation.

I guess what the government is doing here is that it is continuing with a tactic it has followed since being elected, which is systematically going in and taking away the rights of workers at every opportunity they get. If they make a change to any act, they look at that act and say: "How can we take out a right of a worker? How can we deny the rights of employees?"

The government is wrong on this one. Fire service people are professionals who don't need to be dictated to by this government as to how they should be negotiating their collective agreements.

Mr Richard Patten (Ottawa Centre): I'm pleased to comment on the presentation by the member for Algoma. I thought he gave a very balanced analysis of the bill. He acknowledged the need for some changes that have not been made in numerous years -- several decades, to be exact -- but he also raised a number of important questions that I haven't heard answered on the government side. I'd like to highlight some of those.

One point he made was in terms of the legislation being so specific that it enters into the domain of what heretofore has traditionally been the basis of negotiations in terms of working conditions and labour arrangements. One must wonder why the province would choose to intervene and begin to micromanage, as some may say, at such a definitive level. Of course, we know that it is intended to provide the flexibility for the fire departments related to their municipalities to save money because those municipalities are going to get less money in the final analysis.

The message from the firefighters, as we have heard them, is that they feel insulted. I think they feel somewhat threatened, I think they feel there are doors open that will undercut the possibility to continue as a full-time profession for many of them and I think they feel that they have not been recognized for the professionals they are. Because of that, that will cause some difficulty in the labour environment among the firefighters and their dealings with municipalities.

Mr David Christopherson (Hamilton Centre): I appreciate the opportunity to comment on the remarks of my colleague the member for Algoma. I will have an opportunity to expand on a number of the concerns that I have about this a little later this evening, but I want to focus just for the two minutes that I have on the issue of consultation.

I've just arrived at the House from a speaking engagement. I understand that the current Solicitor General, in his opening remarks, talked about the fact -- he's in the House now, so if I have it wrong, I'd like him to clarify it for me -- that all the consultation that needed to be done had been done beforehand by other governments. I gather he means specifically ours and during my tenure in that post, and if that's the suggestion --

Hon Robert W. Runciman (Solicitor General and Minister of Correctional Services): I didn't say that.

Mr Christopherson: I hear him saying no. Then I would appreciate him talking to me after I'm finished here so that I can understand exactly what you did say, because I do know the issue of consultation and lack thereof is one of the key things that has firefighters so absolutely outraged at this time. It wasn't that long ago when we had hundreds -- in fact, thousands -- of firefighters on the front lawn protesting the fact that you were introducing Bill 84 in the way you did, with so little consultation. As we know, firefighters, like police officers and other emergency service personnel in this province, don't take those kinds of actions lightly or easily.

The fact of the matter is that they had a very clear commitment from this government, one that said very specifically -- and it's on a videotape to be seen -- that this government would do nothing that affected firefighters without consulting with them very clearly. You didn't do that in this case, and to suggest somehow that this has already been done undermines the very reasons why it's taken so long to bring about new legislation, and I hope to entertain that debate later on.

Hon Marilyn Mushinski (Minister of Citizenship, Culture and Recreation): Did you consult on the social contract?

Mr Christopherson: I hope the minister who's yapping now is here when I make those comments, because I was there, Minister; you weren't.


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

Hon Ms Mushinski: You didn't consult on the social contract, did you?

Mr Wildman: Some might say that perhaps there was too much, but that's another matter.

I want to thank my friends for their comments. I appreciate the remarks of the members for Ottawa Centre, Cochrane South and Hamilton Centre.

I would just return to the remarks I made at the beginning of my intervention: Many of us as children learn to admire the people who provide for public safety in our communities. We look up to policemen, firemen and people like that as people whom we would like to emulate, and many of us as children have thought about becoming policemen or firemen when we grow up.

I don't know what's happened in terms of our recognition of the importance of those kinds of public services and the people who provide them. It has come to be fashionable in neo-conservative Ontario and other parts of North America to consider anyone who is in the public sector to be somehow a drain on the system rather than someone who is providing essential services that all of us depend upon and that all of us should be prepared to assist in making possible.

The profession of a fireman is a noble profession, a dangerous profession, one where people can lose their lives in attempting to save ours or to prevent damage to our properties. Those kinds of people deserve to be listened to and understood. This government should be listening to them.

The Acting Speaker: Further debate?

Mr Joseph N. Tascona (Simcoe Centre): I rise today in support of Bill 84. The bill ensures public safety in a number of ways, including clarifying the role of the province and municipalities in delivering fire services. It also clarifies and shifts the focus of fire protection by making fire prevention and public education by municipalities mandatory. It also establishes a public fire safety council to enhance private sector participation. It creates more management positions, consistent with the Labour Relations Act, tailored to address the immediate management requirements of large fire departments.

I come from a riding where it's set up on a county basis, but it has split cities with respect to Barrie, Innisfil, Bradford and West Gwillimbury, where there's a large city with a large firefighting service and also smaller municipalities that have volunteers and also part-time fire services. The bill addresses the municipal responsibility that we'd like to see focused.

Municipal responsibility is to deliver the fire services. I'd like to quote, from the Barrie Advance, October 23, 1996, what the chief of the Barrie fire department thinks about the new bill. He has been a firefighter in the ranks and now is a chief, and I think his comments bear noting:

"`I like the flexibility it allows.'...

"He also liked the emphasis on education, public safety and prevention and bringing together other interests, including business and the public, which is something fire services have been pushing for years.

"`I can't see too many major changes that will affect us.'"

That's a very experienced firefighter from both the ranks of the union and the ranks of management.

Municipal responsibility to deliver fire services also addresses the labour relations issues. Certainly no one would argue with the fact that police are very important to public safety, and they don't have the right to strike. Certainly with firefighters they're equally as important to public safety, so the issue becomes whether they should have the right to strike also. That strike measure has been used very prudently by the firefighter services, but I would state that they are equally as important as police and that a right to strike is not in the public interest. I have met with firefighters in my riding and I know the government has been listening. We discussed it through other bills when we met with firefighters during Bill 26 and also, in dealing with this provision, in terms of discussion. So the government has been listening, the Solicitor General has been listening, and I believe the government will continue to listen because no one is underestimating the value of firefighters in terms of their role.

The issue here is, who is responsible for providing those fire services? It's the municipality, with the support of the provincial government. I say this bill is balanced, it's long overdue, and I think it will bring what it is intended to bring, promoting fire prevention and public safety by its passage.

The Acting Speaker: Comments or questions?

Mr Bisson: I listened intently to the long, long speech from the Conservative member that went on for probably around five minutes. I was hoping you'd take a little bit more time because there are more issues that you could have touched on in that bill that I would have been interested in hearing.

But on the particular issue, he says the logic is that we should take away the right of firefighters to strike on the basis that police officers don't have the right to strike, and because police officers are an essential service and they are responsible individuals, the same should hold true for firefighters. Well, I don't agree with that. I agree only on the point that firefighters and police officers are an essential service. I agree they're both responsible individuals. But I think you're forgetting the fact, I would say to the member opposite, that firefighters in this province have taken their responsibility very seriously. They have not struck and don't intend to strike, but what they're really opposed to is this whole notion that the government is going to tell them what to do, that the government is going to come in and is going to dictate, by way of this legislation, what their rights are.

The government is moving on more issues than just the right to strike. That is only one of them. There are many other issues that firefighters are upset about. I would have been really interested to hear what the firefighters who met with you in your constituency had to say, because I can tell you what they said in mine. They were worried about the government's intention, through this legislation, to give the power to municipal councils and fire chiefs to determine what the hours of work are, to take that out of the collective agreement. A lot of people may not recognize it, but firefighters over the years have negotiated into their collective agreements what the hours of work should be. The government is going to be changing all of that and giving powers to municipalities and to the fire chiefs in this province to take that out of their collective agreement.

You're going to be allowing firefighters to be fired without cause if they are in the employ of the fire department for less than 12 months. I ask the fire chiefs that are here: Do you think that's right? Do you think you should have the right as a fire chief to fire somebody without cause? I don't believe that's good labour relations. I think that's wrong and I'd be interested to see what the member has to say.

Mr Patten: I likewise listened to the comments from the member for Simcoe Centre. I was hoping he might elaborate somewhat on some of his points. I likewise would have been interested to hear what he received in terms of feedback from the firefighters in Simcoe Centre and the surrounding areas. I'm sure most of the firefighters met with their MPPs. I can almost guarantee they at least requested meetings. Whether they actually sat down, I'm not sure. But I know this: They are highly concerned.

As I mentioned a little earlier, many of them feel threatened, many of them feel insulted, many of them feel that indeed they're not trusted. You know, we tend to be very legalistic, especially in this place dominated by lawyers, where we have to dot the i's and cross the t's, to put our finger in everyone else's business very often. Rather than support them to work out their relationships, particularly when something is working relatively well, why would you mess up something or intervene in something when the historical fact speaks for itself? It's worked relatively well. Unless, of course, you know there's a new day coming, and it is.

What I think is the new day coming -- I'm almost sure of it -- is that municipalities are going to get less money. They're going to be looking for ways to cut. They have to look at the services they run, and one of the services is of course firefighting. The chiefs are going to look for and be supporting ways in which they'll have maximum flexibility in order to respond to the financial pressures that will come from their municipalities. That's understandable, but the front-line people who go into houses and risk their lives are the firefighters, and they're the ones that I believe are feeling at this point insulted and non-trusted and non-respected by this government. I think that's a shame.

The Acting Speaker: Comments or questions? The member for Simcoe Centre has two minutes to respond.


Mr Tascona: The member for Cochrane South and the member for Ottawa Centre certainly would agree with me that the objective of the government, whether it's provincial or municipal, is to provide the best fire protection and prevention possible. I don't think that's an issue.

With respect to how that service is provided, it's obvious that firefighters play a very important role. What I heard from them is that they're certainly interested. They're not insulted; they don't feel that they're not trusted. They have some legitimate issues they want to raise and discuss with respect to labour relations matters. Certainly they are being listened to. The fact of the matter is that you have definitions under the act, for example, for a full-time firefighter, when you have smaller municipalities up north and in my area that don't always employ full-time firefighters. They have volunteer firefighters or they may be looking to have part-time firefighters. That's the flexibility the act looks to provide.

When we talk about the police's essential nature to public safety, you can't distinguish that from the firefighters' essential nature to public safety. When you look at collective bargaining, obviously the police are far more restricted in what they can bargain, if you look at the Police Services Act, compared to the firefighters. The firefighters as a group have voiced some concerns, and when you put it into a balance in terms of what the objective is, I'm certain those concerns will be addressed in due course. But there are some legitimate concerns about: What does this mean? What does that mean? Certainly that's the process we're going through here today. If we focused on that rather than one group being insulted, I think we'll get to the solution that we should be getting at.


The Acting Speaker (Mr Bert Johnson): I beg to inform the House that His Honour the Lieutenant Governor has been pleased to assent to certain bills in his chambers.

Senior Clerk Assistant and Clerk of Journals (Mr Alex D. McFedries): The following are the titles of the bills to which His Honour has assented:

Bill 81, An Act to reduce the number of members of the Legislative Assembly by making the number and boundaries of provincial electoral districts identical to those of their federal counterparts and to make consequential amendments to statutes concerning electoral representation / Projet de loi 81, Loi visant à réduire le nombre des députés à l'Assemblée législative en rendant identiques le nombre et les limites des circonscriptions électorales provinciales et fédérales et à apporter des modifications corrélatives à des lois concernant la représentation électorale

Bill 93, An Act to amend certain statutes administered by the Minister of Finance to promote good management of the Province's finances, to implement certain provisions of the 1996 Budget and to implement other aspects of the Government's agenda and to amend the MPPs Pension Act, 1996 / Projet de loi 93, Loi visant à modifier des lois dont l'application relève du ministre des Finances, à favoriser la bonne gestion des finances de la province, à mettre en oeuvre des dispositions du budget de 1996 et d'autres éléments du programme du gouvernement et à modifier la Loi de 1996 sur le régime de retraite des députés.


The Acting Speaker (Mr Bert Johnson): Further debate?

Mr Bradley: Thank you for the opportunity to participate in the debate this evening. It was not necessarily anticipated that this bill would be before the House, but lots of things are happening these days that are not anticipated, so I will proceed with my remarks on this piece of legislation.

I look at legislation and try to do so in a fair way, and I say that there are parts of this act that are commendable and where you would see a consensus develop in this House. I think in normal circumstances, where there had been a consensus develop, we would see this legislation moving through the Legislature rather quickly and probably unanimously. But the government has decided to insert in its legislation certain clauses and certain provisions which have caused great consternation in the community out there and in particular among firefighters who are on the front line of the delivery of that essential service in our province.

I saw, as did a number of other members of the Liberal caucus, at the front of this Legislature not that long ago a couple of thousand firemen who had gathered on the front steps and out on to the field to express their concerns. Government members like to quarrel about the numbers. I suppose they could have brought 50,000 here on that particular day if you'd counted families and so on, but they were representatives; they had representatives from each of the communities and their fire departments. I know there was a large contingent from the city of St Catharines of those who were taking their own personal time to come over to the Legislature to express their views.

One of their main concerns at that time was that the government would not allow appropriate consultation and would not allow province-wide public hearings on this legislation, and I think they had some reason to be concerned. We all remember Bill 26, that huge omnibus bill that we in the opposition and many in the media referred to as the bully bill because of its strong provisions, because it was so comprehensive, because it concentrated so much of the power of the government in the hands of so few; that is, largely those who advise the Premier from outside this Legislature, non-elected members, and those who are fortunate enough for some reason or other to be appointed to the provincial cabinet. That bill took away powers from members of the Legislature, individually elected members, the only people the population can get at at any particular time; in other words, we are essentially the only people who can be influenced by the arguments put forward by the constituents we represent.

I think there was some basis for that concern. It should be almost automatic, when a bill is somewhat contentious, as this piece of legislation is to a significant portion of our population, that such a bill receives, first of all, appropriate consultation before it is presented to the House, and I don't mean simply the ongoing consultation that goes on but, when it gets down to the specifics, consultation on the specifics of that legislation.

Second, I think the bill should receive public hearings across the province. Yes, we have hearings here in Metropolitan Toronto. It isn't always convenient and easy for those in other parts of the province to come to Metropolitan Toronto to make their representations. But the government made it sound as though it was doing a big favour to firefighters across this province by granting public hearings after the two opposition parties had insisted at House leaders' meetings that indeed there be full public hearings. In fact, I personally directed a letter to Mr Johnson, the Chair of Management Board and government House leader requesting -- that's the word I want to use; I could say "demanding," but I would say "requesting" -- that we have full public hearings, that we have them across the province, that we have them when the Legislature is not sitting.

This is going to be a bit tricky, because the government is trying to pull a fast one on the Legislature and on the people of this province. We fully agree and have suggested that the government come back in January and February, taking whatever time it needs to deal appropriately with legislation that has been before it in the autumn session. The government wants to have a spring session begin on January 13. The last I heard, January 13 was the winter, so it gives me a clear indication that the government either wants to postpone or severely restrict public hearings on various pieces of legislation. I know that's not something that catches a lot of attention in the news media when there are more important items that come before the news media, but that is a significant point: that the government wishes to commence a spring session of the Legislature, presumably sit for a few months and then have some hearings, rather abbreviated I would think, and then come back later on in the spring and complete the final stages of its legislation.

We think it's most appropriate to deal with the legislation that is now before the House and will be presented this week and that it start a new session after an intersession where hearings on such bills as Bill 84 can be held in various communities in our province.

That was one of the concerns firefighters had. Normally, one would ask, "Why would they be concerned?" I look at some of the instances we've seen with this government -- not all, but some -- where those hearings have either not been held at all, as in the case of Bill 7, a very significant piece of labour legislation, or as with Bill 26, where the government had to be dragged kicking and screaming over the hot coals before it would have province-wide hearings, when in fact some extraordinary action had to be taken by the opposition in this House to compel the government to allow what the public was looking for, and that was input.


You notice with that piece of legislation that eventually, despite the fact that the government thought it was a very good piece of legislation, there were dozens upon dozens of amendments presented by the government itself as well as by members of the opposition. That should have been a clear signal to the government of the need for extensive hearings in each of these cases.

What has concerned firefighters? A couple of sections of this legislation are of concern to firefighters, and one of those relates to the collective bargaining agreements they have and to their rights under that collective bargaining provision. Also, there was a concentration on the right to strike.

In many instances one can say that if a new government is elected and it does not believe in the right to strike and it wants to impose that in a piece of legislation, while we may not agree with it, that would be understandable. In this situation it is not, because firefighters across the province have said they do not choose to strike, and this is something that is admired by many people in our communities. They have said of their own volition, without any hand of government on their shoulders, that they will give up the right to strike in this province. In fact, I believe it's in the constitution provincially of at least one of the associations, and locally I've heard our firefighters talk about that. When Terry Colburn and Bob McLaren came to visit me at Queen's Park as representatives of the firefighters in St Catharines, they made that very clear: They had no intention of threatening to strike, they had no intention of striking. They simply felt insulted, I guess the word would be, by the fact that the government would include this provision when they had already given up the right to strike and they had no intention of striking in this province. They pointed out again, as Bruce Carpenter, the provincial president has, that provincially they do not seek that right to strike. So what you're doing is getting out a sledgehammer to kill the fly or to kill the mosquito, whatever it is you're going to kill, by putting this provision in.

Some of the other provisions are of some concern. These are professional firefighters, individuals who have had to go through a lot of training. Many of them nowadays, as they're joining the fire departments across this province, have gone to special schools or at least have taken special courses at certain educational institutions which have specifically equipped them for the purpose of firefighting. They have gone through some rigorous testing in terms of their physical ability to do the job. They have become aware of all the issues. You know, in years gone by we didn't have a knowledge of a lot of the chemicals we're dealing with; indeed, we didn't have a lot of these substances and chemicals before. Now firefighters have to be aware of all of them.

They walk into circumstances that are very difficult. I have seen them in action. Everybody likes to think it's somehow an easy job, that you can sit at the firehall and shine the firetruck or do the lawn or whatever you happen to do at the firehall. Well, it isn't that way, because when they have to go out and do the firefighting it becomes really difficult. I've heard people put forward that criticism, and I've pointed out to those individuals that when they have to go into a fire, when they have to go into an emergency circumstance, that is not an easy job.

Dial 911 and chances are you will get the fire department there first. If it's not specified what the specific problem is, you will find, because of their location, because of their training, because of their equipment, that firefighters are often the first people on the emergency scene. They face some difficult circumstances, I'll tell you. I wouldn't want to have to haul that huge hose up two and three and four floors through a smoke-filled building with the fire blazing all around, because it would --

Mr John Hastings (Etobicoke-Rexdale): It's good exercise.

Mr Bradley: Well, the member for Etobicoke-Rexdale says it's good exercise. It may be, except they're doing it in emergency circumstances, they're doing it when there's a fire blazing, they're doing it when there's heavy smoke and when one doesn't know what the results would be of the blending of certain chemicals when they're on fire; in other words, different substances used within buildings or chemicals stored at a building. Firefighters face the unknown in so many circumstances.

And of course firefighting isn't their only role, though it's their primary role. You get in the middle of winter, about January 25, with a howling wind and a blizzard and very cold conditions where the water coming out of the hose is freezing almost immediately, that is no fun. That's a difficult job. When you're facing a wall that you don't know whether it's going to fall down on top of you or not, that's a difficult job. When you're faced with very difficult decisions of having to go into a burning building in very dire circumstances with a bad fire and smoke just billowing because you know there is someone inside who has to be saved, you know the difficulty they face.

I remember in St Catharines we had another circumstance. There was a boy who had fallen into a drain, in a major storm, next to the Welland Canal. He had fallen into this drain, and the water was just pulsating coming from what you would call a 50-year storm, as they refer to them. This youngster had been swept into a culvert or swept into a pipe that was heading into the Welland Canal but had grabbed on just by his fingers on one part of it. Everybody thought the youngster was doomed, but members of the fire department were not prepared to give up. Instead, they went through these waters, they got down into the pipe and finally one person was able to discover this youngster inside this pipe and save his life. That firefighter, in an emergency circumstance, put himself at great risk. He had to have a lot of training. He wasn't a part-time person; he was a full-time firefighter who had a lot of experience, a lot of training, was in good physical condition. That is so much of the job.

They are concerned, understandably, when you talk about these changes. They're concerned when they learn that they cannot negotiate, as others negotiate, in their collective agreement for how long they will work, for instance. I can fully understand the concern they have.

In our community, too, members of the fire department are involved in various charitable and volunteer activities. Often the firefighters' union and the local of that union will sponsor some sports teams, or you will have them involved in going out to the schools and other organizations talking about fire prevention, which is another important aspect of their job; or, in our community, raising funds for our hospitals. If I got into that subject of hospitals -- I would hope that the funds they have raised for the hospitals over the years will continue to be used in those hospitals. We have a concern in St Catharines that on Thursday morning of this week the local restructuring commission is going to be talking about closing hospitals because the provincial government has said it's giving them $38 million less to operate in the Niagara region. Those firefighters are out raising funds for worthy projects in our community, and the thanks they get is found in part IX and it is found in other provisions of the bill.

I hope when this government goes across the province, when the legislative committee visits various communities, that we won't simply go through the motions of hearing these individuals but we'll listen carefully to their suggestions for changes to the legislation and make the modifications which would be acceptable to those who are objecting, first of all, and ultimately to the members of the opposition, who then might be in a position of offering some support to this piece of legislation.


Part of it is motivated of course by cost saving, and the cost saving is motivated by the tax cut. I know you were wondering how I would fit the tax cut into this bill. I heard other members mention it, and it fits. The member for Etobicoke-Rexdale has been waiting all night for me to get to this and how it might be portrayed in Conrad Black's newspapers.

I was asking, why on earth would this government be annoying so many people over a piece of legislation of this kind? The reason is that of course they're losing all the money for the tax cut that's going to the richest people in this province. The richest people are getting the best benefit. I thought, what would Dominion Bond Rating Service have to say about this? They're a pretty conservative group. I would expect that they might endorse what a Conservative government said, but not so.

Mr Bisson: Tell us what they said, Jim.

Mr Bradley: The member for Cochrane South is eager to hear. Here's what they have to say about the tax cut that is motivating this bill: "The tax rate cut is the single largest challenge to the government's balanced budget objective. The 1996 budget estimates annual forgone revenue from full implementation of the provincial income tax rate cut at $4.8 billion." That's almost $5 billion.

"Dominion Bond Rating Service estimates that the equivalent of 88% of the increase in tax revenue resulting from any economic growth over the next three years will be required to finance the tax reduction, and the remaining program spending cuts, $6.1 billion, implied by comparing the final 1995-96 results to the 2000-01 forecast may be too low to balance the budget and complete the provincial income tax rate reduction."

That's rather damning evidence from the Dominion Bond Rating Service, certainly not a bastion of socialism. To be sure, you won't find any lefties in this group. They're pretty cautious, small-c conservative people and they're saying that you're going to give up almost $5 billion in revenue, and we know who will get the most.


The Acting Speaker (Ms Marilyn Churley): The member for Durham East and the member for Durham Centre, come to order.

Mr Bradley: The bank presidents are applauding. The bank presidents are in full applause over this tax cut because they're going to get hundreds of thousands of dollars back. They're going to be delighted to get that money back. The very richest people think this is a great idea, except that people who are small-c conservative economists wonder what you're doing because they heard that the problem was the deficit and they all nodded. Mike Harris said, "The deficit is a problem." They said, "Yes, it is, Mr Harris, and if you're going to address it, we think that perhaps we could support you." Now they find out that you weren't interested in balancing the budget; instead you want to give a crackpot tax cut to the rich in this province, and you have to borrow to give it.


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

Mr Bradley: Some of them said to me, "You know, if they're going to give a tax cut, why don't they wait till the budget is balanced?" I said, "That makes some sense." If you want to balance the budget first, you then give the tax cut. So you get out the credit card -- apparently they're going to get out a credit card and borrow money to give us a tax cut. I don't know how that makes any sense. It's not small-l liberals, it's not socialists and it's not the people left of the socialists who are saying this. This is conservative economists.

They have something called -- and it's in the economic textbooks for you -- the balanced budget multiplier effect. When you cut taxes and you cut expenditures substantially at the same time, it has a contractionary effect on the economy -- not an expansionary effect but a contractionary effect on the economy.

Mr Hastings: When did you become an economist?

The Acting Speaker: The member for Etobicoke-Rexdale, come to order.

Mr Bradley: I am wondering why this government would embark upon this course of action when every conservative economist I've talked to says it is crazy to invoke this tax scheme until you balance the budget. Some of them will say: "When you balance the budget, that's okay. We believe it's fine then." Not all of them; some of them will say that.

Mr Sean G. Conway (Renfrew North): What does Joe Kushner say?

Mr Bradley: Dr Joseph Kushner of Brock University, a leading conservative economist in our area, even moved a motion at city council. He's a conservative. I'll tell you, he doesn't want to spend money on anything.

Mr Conway: He makes Runciman look like Bob Rae.

Mr Bradley: I agree, he does make Bob Runciman look like Bob Rae; I mean the member from Prescott and Brockville and environs.

The Acting Speaker: Thank you. Do refer to members by their ridings, please.

Mr Bradley: The Solicitor General of the province. I always thought he was a fiscal conservative, but you've got to talk to Joe Kushner to find a fiscal conservative. He put the motion before city council that said, "Please, province, don't proceed with the tax cut if you're going to have to borrow the money." Members of council of all political stripes were there and debated it. The majority of council said, "You're absolutely right."

So we have the tax cut motivating this. I've pointed out what the Dominion Bond Rating Service has to say about it and I wonder why the government is proceeding with this.

There are a couple of things the government does when it invokes this tax cut. It has to find the money somewhere else, so it invokes huge cuts in expenditures in the public sector. Everybody expected that there were going to be some cuts. They did. No matter which of the three parties in this House was elected, they expected that governments were going to have to cut some expenditures. That was fine. They were quite okay about that. But what they're really concerned about is the degree of cuts. I would like to be standing at the door or I'd like to have a microphone in the Conservative caucus to hear --

Hon Ms Mushinski: Could you address the bill?

Mr Bradley: Oh, I'm being scolded by the long-serving member for Scarborough whatever to talk about the bill. I will listen to her and I'll come back to the legislation because I would not want to offend her sense of fairness in this House.

Mr Bisson: They're so knowledgeable on the rules of the House, eh, Jim?

Mr Bradley: I really appreciate that. I really appreciate that. Where was I in this anyway?

Mr Bisson: Tax cut.


Mr Bradley: I just wanted to see if you were listening.

The Acting Speaker: I'm sure the member for St Catharines is going to get back to the bill in question.

Mr Bradley: Absolutely. My friend the member Durham East wants me to talk about the fiscal policy of this government.

I was saying, wouldn't it be nice to listen to the Tory caucus as $3 billion in new cuts are imposed in the province? This is after the provincial Treasurer, the Honourable Ernie Eves of Parry Sound, said after his budget: "No more cuts. It's all over." The message went out right across the province. All the speaking notes for the members of the government caucus -- what do they call those, talking points? -- went out for the government caucus and said, "We're not going to make any more cuts." That was at the same time they said: "We're not interested in putting video lottery terminals" -- that's electronic slot machines -- "in every bar, every restaurant, on every street, in every neighbourhood in Ontario. We're not interested in that. No, we don't want any of that. We don't want that tainted money."


The Acting Speaker: Member for St Catharines, take your seat just for a second. Would the member for St Catharines come back to the bill in question, please, and would the government members please come to order. Thank you. Continue, member for St Catharines.


Mr Bradley: What I'm pointing out to members of this House, and I'm sure many of them know it, is that the motivation for so much of the legislation and the government policy is a bizarre fiscal policy for a Conservative government, because I always thought Conservative meant cautious. I always thought Conservatives were careful people, and I find out they're embarking upon a reckless tax scheme, a risky tax scheme which is going to cause great problems and which forces the government to come forward with legislation of this kind.

There are several provisions of this bill that I could talk about this evening that concern me, and I have mentioned some of them. But I want to say that overall what we are looking for is that you people pay some attention to the concerns that people have expressed. It wasn't only firefighters. I ran into a woman the other night who said to me, "You know, I was watching some of the debate in the House and someone make reference to fire safety in the province," or there was a question in the House, I guess it was. She was concerned that if the government passed this legislation, there would be less security in her neighbourhood in terms of the ability of firefighters to respond in an expeditious fashion and in a professional fashion to a crisis which might arise in this neighbourhood.

I explained to her that I had demanded of the government House leader that there be public hearings across the province and that I hoped she would send in her concerns to her local member of the Legislature as well as to other members, including the Solicitor General, who has carriage of this bill and is in the House this evening to listen to the very compelling arguments being made by members of the opposition for changes to this legislation. With some bills, like the VLT bill, the electronic slot machine bill, I've said you could withdraw the whole thing, because that was a real problem. With this bill, I'm not suggesting you withdraw the whole thing because I think a number of the provisions of this legislation are worthy of support and should be implemented.

What I'm calling for are changes to the bill. I'm calling for the government to withdraw part IX. I'm calling for the government to alter those provisions which are of great contention. If they were to do so, I think they would find the opposition applauding those changes, just as I applauded -- I personally spoke to the Minister of Environment and Energy this afternoon and on the Twenty Valley Estates decision, which has been turned down by the government, I told him, and I'm prepared to say this publicly when it's the case: "You know, Mr Sterling" -- I called him Norm because he's a friend of mine -- "Minister, I am very pleased with the decision you've made. I think you've made the right decision." And you will find those of us in the opposition, who are fairminded people, will pay tribute to you and thank you and commend you and congratulate you when you make the right moves. So if you make the right changes to this legislation, if you withdraw certain sections, I think you will find a warm round of applause from those of us in opposition for that action on your part.

The Acting Speaker: Questions or comments?

Mr Bisson: Always a pleasure to hear from the member for St Catharines, who speaks frequently in this House on many issues on behalf of his constituents. On this one he's hearing the same thing that people are telling me in the constituency of Cochrane South.

Mr Hastings: Must be an echo.

Mr Bisson: Yes, it is an echo, quite frankly, because the people in Cochrane South are saying the same things that the people are telling the member for St Catharines, which is, "Why is the government moving forward with this legislation regarding part IX?" Part IX is part of the legislation that takes away many of the rights that firefighters presently have in their collective agreements. As a matter of fact, I have in my desk here if I took them out somewhere in the neighbourhood of around 100 letters from the different people within the riding of Cochrane South who have written on me.


Mr Bisson: No, seriously, I have them. I was going to use them in my speech and I didn't get a chance to use them. Plus I've been lobbied by almost every firefighter within the community. With credit to the firefighters, it is not often as members of the Legislature that people come to you en masse and tell you they're displeased with something. Normally, if there's a problem you get one or two people from an association or a group that might phone you, might fax you, might drop you a letter or might even visit you, but almost every firefighter in the city of Timmins has contacted me on this personally or has called me by phone or has stopped me on the street. I've been asked to meet with them at the fire hall in different areas at least on two or three different occasions now, and I've received -- I don't know the exact numbers but I would estimate somewhere around 100 letters that I've gotten from people within the riding of Cochrane South. So the people of Cochrane South have an awareness (a) that this is happening, and (b) that they're opposed. I would say the members opposite should have some heed to that.

There are aspects of this bill that make sense on the fire safety side. I know that firefighters support you on that one. But when it comes to part IX and part of section 2 of this bill, you have no support whatsoever within the firefighters' association community. You may have with fire chiefs and you certainly have with municipalities and their councils, but I can tell you that firefighters do not support this because they see this as an attack on their rights to bargain what is rightfully theirs at the bargaining table. Again, this government is showing its bias. You're pro management, anti union; pro big bosses, anti worker. Always the same.

Mr Flaherty: I listened with interest to the remarks of the member for St Catharines, particularly how he purported to relate the tax reductions for the taxpayers of Ontario that have been implemented by this government with this bill before the House, which deals with firefighters. Because he is, of course, a former minister in the Liberal government and a senior member of the front bench of the government, one wonders what his party advocated in this regard when they were seeking the votes of the people of Ontario.

Just as the member for Cochrane South had a red folder, we have a red book that was published by this Liberal government that also dealt with the issue of tax cuts. Now, this is the credibility issue for the member in the front bench who tells us that tax cuts are a bad idea, tax cuts where the majority of the benefit of the tax cuts goes to families in Ontario earning less than $60,000 a year, all of whom, I gather, the member for St Catharines thinks are rich in this province.

When the Liberal Party ran, of course, there was a different leader then. That was then and this is now. But that leader said, and I guess the member for St Catharines, being prominent in that party, would have had an important part in the drafting of this book -- I'm sure he had a lot to do with the drafting. It said: Rising taxes kill jobs. A Liberal government will cut taxes by 5% during its first term.

That's what they said in this red book. The people themselves can judge, of course, the credibility of the comments of the member for St Catharines when he stands here and criticizes this government with respect to the tax reductions for the people of Ontario.

Mr Patten: First of all, I must acknowledge my colleague from St Catharines and what he addressed. He tried to put a human face on firefighters and what they face day in and day out, and where they risk their lives and in some cases give up their lives. But I would now like to address a comment made by the member for Durham Centre when he wanted to say, where were we?

He was right that we did say we would provide a 5% tax break, which is a far cry from the 30% rate of tax cut on the provincial level which added to the deficit about a $5 billion figure. As the member for St Catharines rightly pointed out in his reference to the bond rating company and his quote there, this was the single largest challenge this government will face, which is what it is, and it motivates and drives almost everything and every piece of legislation. When you compare a 5% tax cut, which wasn't necessarily all income tax -- it was taxes in other areas as well -- and providing a balanced budget, it certainly is a far cry.

But I would like to go back to something that my colleague from St Catharines referred to, and that was the efforts of firefighters in the activities of the community. I would venture to say that we would be hard-pressed to find a group of professionals that devoted more time, devoted more commitment in a whole variety of ways, than firefighters. I know in the community where I come from in Ottawa, the Ottawa firefighters and Nepean firefighters are always helping out with the children's hospital. They're always helping out with schools. They're always helping out with amateur sport. They're highly regarded for that, and that's part of the esprit and sense of obligation of firefighters.


Mr Tony Martin (Sault Ste Marie): I want to say how much I appreciate the points the member for St Catharines makes, particularly when he speaks about all this government is doing, the major ways it's cutting the kinds of services and programs we've come to expect in this province, just to provide a tax break for the very rich among us.

Tonight we see in this bill a very clear attack on another group of very hardworking, dedicated, committed professional individuals in all of the communities we represent here: the firefighters. To suggest for a second that it's not an attack on firefighters is not to understand the bill and not to understand this government.

Underlying everything in this bill and behind the pages and verses of each section of this bill is this sense that somehow firefighters, like nurses and doctors and teachers and social workers, are fat cats making too much money and not working long enough hours. I would challenge any of you who support that attitude, who support that view of firefighters in this province, to spend a day or two at a fire station and to respond with those folks to the fires that come at them and the work that they do.

Mr Joseph Spina (Brampton North): Work a whole shift.

Mr Martin: Yes, work a whole shift with a firefighter. More of your colleagues should do that, Joe. Then they'd know they should not be doing this, that this attack on firefighters is uncalled for and absolutely unnecessary.

At the end of the day the people who are going to suffer are not the firefighters themselves -- although they will -- it's the people in our communities. It's the people who count on the service they provide and deliver, the people who know that if their house catches fire, there will be somebody there to respond to the call and put it out.

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

Mr Bradley: Thank you to the members for Cochrane South, Durham Centre, Ottawa Centre and Sault Ste Marie for commenting on the bill. That's four people I've mentioned who have commented on this speech that I made.

I want to say to the member for Cochrane South that I am getting the same kind of letters he is. In fact, they are universally and entirely against this piece of legislation and they have at the minimum asked for meaningful public hearings, as the member for Sault Ste Marie has pointed out.

The member for Ottawa Centre obviously is getting the same message as well. He's finding this is a piece of legislation that has engendered considerable opposition in his own community.

When the member for Durham Centre got up, I thought he was going to get up to defend the Whitby hospital. I am very concerned about the future of the Whitby hospital.

Mr Flaherty: So am I.

Mr Bradley: I remember he made some solemn promises about that Whitby hospital and I wouldn't want to see him resign as a result of that.


Mr Bradley: I know I've hit a raw nerve over there because the member is interjecting several times, but I was really wondering if that was it, because it's hard to finance all of these things and still keep the Whitby hospital open. That's what they're going to tell him. Others are going to have to make the sacrifice if his hospital stays open, I suppose. He dwelled on that. He dwelled on the government's fiscal policy.

All I want to indicate to government members and to the others who have commented is that I have received next to no comment on this bill that is favourable. In other words, I have not had an avalanche of letters coming in or calls at the constituency office and so on, even orchestrated by the government, in favour of this. The rank and file members of the firefighters' associations are the people who have expressed the concern, and I know they know of what they speak.

The Acting Speaker: Further debate?

Mr Martin: Here we are, a little bit of déjà vu all over again. A different night, but it's the same old stuff coming at us. This government is doing all in its power to download on municipalities, to diminish services, to take away from those who need them most, and as the member for St Catharines is so wont to say, to move a tax break over so that the rich and the famous can continue to do those things they love to do, most of them outside the province and outside the country.

Last week, on Wednesday night, I stood in this House and spoke to the gathered assembly about Bill 86 and the impact it would have on this wonderful province we call Ontario.

Mr Hastings: That you ruined; that you thoroughly ruined.

The Acting Speaker: The member for Etobicoke-Rexdale, come to order.

Mr Martin: I suggested at that time that there were good things in that bill, but as with every bill this government brings forward, in the middle of it, once you unwrap it and take away the fluff, there's a bullet. There's a bullet that's going to kill services, that's going to take away services, that's going to diminish the kinds of things we have learned collectively to provide for each other. In that instance, it was a piece around transportation and the amalgamation of transportation that they were trying to ram down our throat. They were trying to sneak in by way of the back door. Well, at the end of the day, in order to get that bill through, you had to remove that piece.

What is this about? What is everything that we've been talking about here for the last week or two about? It's about downsizing. It's about this government trying to manage a financial situation and putting it on the shoulders of somebody else. Why? So they can give their friends and rich supporters a tax break.

In order to reach their targets they have to do a number of things. One of those things -- and that's what this bill tonight is about -- is that they're going to download on municipalities. It's interesting, when you download on municipalities, municipalities have only a limited number of ways to respond and to deal with that. They either have to raise property taxes or they have to cut costs. I suggest to you they're going to do both, because they're going to have to reach their targets too. They've got responsibilities to the people they serve and they have services to deliver.

In this instance, we're talking tonight about a package of legislation that will impact directly on firefighters. We've seen over the last year and a half groups of people in this province systematically targeted by this government, painted as somehow overpaid, somehow not working hard enough and not working long enough hours for the money they make. They're trying to convince folks out there that this is in fact the truth so they can then justify taking money away from them. But they have to bring in legislation to support that. They have to bring in legislation to empower themselves and others to be able to do that, and that's really what this is about tonight.

It's interesting, because in the end you actually lose no matter how you look at this. If the province continues this vendetta of downloading on municipalities and continues to cut costs, that diminishes the amount of money, no matter how you cut it, going into municipalities to pay for services. The people who normally pay the property taxes this government is intent on increasing don't have the money to do that, so we get this spiral or snowball happening which at the end, if you follow this through, will show that we will all be losers and the system will be worse off.

The problem with everything this government does is that it's not well-planned-out. There's no real business plan that goes with it. It's introduced initiatives that will take care of a problem immediately, right now, but it does not talk about how that problem will play out, how that situation will play out, how that reality will play out as time goes on.

We have seen this government attack, in July 1995, the poorest citizens who live in all the communities we represent in this province. They took 22% out of the pockets of those who were of lowest income.


Mr Bisson: No chi-ching.

Mr Martin: That's right, no chi-ching into the cash registers of the small businesses and grocery stores and malls of the communities we live in, which takes away from the ability of those business people to pay the kind of property tax that we know is going to accrue if we continue down this road.

Then we saw this government move to take away money and lay off people in a number of other sectors. The social services sector was next, education was hit, and now we're going through a major downsizing and restructuring in our health care system. All of this is to the same end, all of this is by way of wrestling with a problem this government has and continues to exacerbate and create all on its own, this terrible commitment it has made that it can't live up to, that it can't possibly make sense out of: the tax break it wants to give to its rich friends and benefactors.

Tonight we talk about a bill that's going to attack very directly firefighters in this province. How are they going to do that? They're going to do it in about probably three different ways. One we heard a little about the other morning in private members' hour when one of the members from across the way brought a bill to the House about volunteering, about making it easier for people in the province to volunteer. I have no problem with that; I have no problem with volunteers. As a matter of fact, I do a lot of it myself and a lot of the work I did before I got to this job was supported by a very significant volunteer effort in my community.

I suggest to you that we can't take the services we've built up over the years to assist us in so many significant and important ways -- like health care, like education, like some of the social services we deliver, and in this instance like firefighting -- and turn it over to the volunteer sector. I know we have some wonderful volunteer fire departments in some smaller communities across this province and particularly in northern Ontario. They do a great job. They respond to crises and calls in very timely fashion and they do the job they're called on to do, and they spend a lot of time in training and in learning and they're committed to that effort.

But when you get into the larger centres -- and trust me, this government is going to make sure that at the end of the day, when they're finished with the Crombie report and with the municipal restructuring they're on now, we will be left with fewer and fewer smaller entities, fewer and fewer of the smaller towns and villages and communities we've come to appreciate in this province and we'll have bigger amalgamated regional governments, whether that's in the Metro Toronto area, out in rural Ontario or in northern Ontario.

The volunteer fire department will become less and less viable, yet we have a government that's pushing us in that direction, pushing communities that will not be able to afford the services they need to deliver and that their constituents expect they will deliver because of the downloading that's going on by this government, because of the erosion of the tax base by reducing the number of people who live and work and earn their living in some of the communities that are out there and are going to be feeling the pinch in the not-too-distant future.

To suggest for a second that the answer to the delivery of services by volunteers, and in this particular instance firefighting services, is going to do the job is to not be seeing the real challenge in front of us, to not be responding to what this government is going to do by way of reorganizing and amalgamating, to not be responding to some of the very difficult challenges that face firefighting departments today in places like Metro and Sault Ste Marie and Sudbury and Timmins and North Bay, where we have ever more complicated living arrangements, apartment buildings where you need all kinds of different and expensive equipment.

How can anyone suggest that a volunteer fire department that buys a lot of its equipment by way of fund-raising is going to be able to provide that kind of service and fill the gap that's going to be left when municipalities decide to use this legislation they will be given by this government to turn their fire departments more and more into volunteer operations?

The second thing they're going to do -- and this is where we have to be really honest, where this government needs to be more honest than it's been in terms of the change they're going to bring about re the employment standards and how we determine hours of work and overtime for firefighters. This government is saying that it feels that firefighters across this province, particularly professional firefighters, who go to this business of putting out fires as a job, who have invested time and energy and resource over a number of years to become the best they can be, are somehow not working hard enough, that they're sitting around more than they're out putting out fires, and that it's less and less important to have them readily available when a fire actually happens so they can respond in the way other members in this place have told us this evening that they do. Firefighters are usually the first person to a scene of crisis.

If you're going to start messing around with their hours, if you're going to start rearranging a system that's been developed over a long number of years to make sure there are firefighters on duty when they're needed around the clock, particularly in the larger centres, where we get a fairly significant number of fires -- I speak most particularly about northern Ontario in the winter months, when we have need of all kinds of vehicles to keep our homes and our buildings and places of work warm, and we end up having some pretty major fires happen from time to time. If we're going to start messing, by way of changes to employment standards, with the hours that firefighters are able to work, I think we set ourselves up for some difficult times.

The other thing that will happen by way of the change to employment standards is a reduction, ultimately, in the amount of money we pay firefighters. I'm one who is convinced that if you think something's valuable, if you think something's worthwhile, you pay people what they deserve. In this jurisdiction, we do that, traditionally, by way of collective bargaining; the employer and the employee reach agreement.

If we change the Employment Standards Act in the way we're suggesting in this bill, as this government has done in so many other instances where it concerns organized labour or the labour movement and the labour standards of this province, we tip the scale in favour of the employer more and more and we recognize the very valuable work these folks do less and less. That, in the end, I think will diminish the good service we now get and expect from our firefighting departments.

The other issue that's been raised here and that I'll only speak to very briefly is the issue of the right to strike. Others have said, and they're correct, that firefighters at the end of the day do not intend to strike. They know how valuable their service is, they know that what they offer is a critical service to a community and that it's not appropriate that they should be off the job and leave a community at risk, so they have themselves negotiated into agreements they've made with their employers and across this province that they won't strike. But the right to strike is inherent in any full-fledged, mature labour organization. The government says, "You know, our intention isn't to really impose anything re the question of striking or not striking." Then why don't we just leave well enough alone? This has worked for us up to now. It's something that the firefighters feel very strongly about and see as something that this government is using as a stick to put them into a position where perhaps, in an instance or a situation where the threat of withdrawing services might be necessary, that won't be there.


This is particularly important when we look at the third piece of this attack on firefighters that is inherent in this piece of legislation and is the direction that this government obviously wants to go in, and that's the whole question of moving to privatizing. We know that the government is very active right now. They have a cabinet committee set up. They've appointed a junior minister to oversee the whole question of how we take services that are delivered by government in this province, that we've decided collectively over the years are best delivered by government in this province, and turn them over to the private sector. We shouldn't be surprised.

In relation to some comments I made in opening this speech, as I talked about what this government is about and what it wants to do and what it believes is in the best interests of this province, one of the things that it very definitely wants to do, and has indicated by some of the initiatives that it has taken so far, is that it believes government is bad and the private sector is good -- black and white -- that government is inefficient and too costly and the more you can turn over the delivery of government services to the private sector the better off we'll all be.

It shouldn't surprise you when you read this bill that the issue of privatizing firefighting services jumps out at you. It's one of the options that I believe this government wants to deliver by way of a tool to municipalities, which they're going to be downsizing and turning over more and more responsibility to, to use in order to find ways to create efficiencies and do things on the cheap and I believe in the end diminish the kind of service we've come to expect as citizens of this province.

If for a second perhaps you're doubting that this government is on the way to major downloading, to major offloading of what has traditionally been a provincial responsibility on to the shoulders of municipalities, doubt no longer. I would suggest that you take a peek for just a moment at the report that has just been delivered by the Who Does What committee, the Crombie committee. You can bet your bottom dollar that the government has had a huge hand in how these recommendations have come together and been formed and delivered.

These are some of the things that are said in that report which should suggest to you that what I have said is true and that in order to do what they propose to do by way of downloading on municipalities they're going to have to bring in the kind of legislation we see before us here today, which is one of the toolboxes municipalities need in order to deliver services, as I said, on the cheap and diminish the kind of service that all of us will get, and in this instance hammer big time the position of the firefighter in communities across this province.

Under the heading of "Efficiency," it says, "The structure should allow services to be delivered by the lowest level of government that has the capacity to do so effectively." In other words, the lowest level of government -- municipalities -- no matter how small they are, should be forced more and more to deliver services that this government wants to get out from under having to deliver. "It should also be more cost-effective than the current system." Where the province has not been able, in any significant way, to find ways to deliver programs in a less costly fashion or in a more efficient fashion, this suggests that municipalities, in being handed this tremendous responsibility to deliver these services, will now find a way to do it in a more cost-effective fashion.

That's why I suggest that this government, as it has before, will continue to do this, because we'll see more legislation of this sort in the new year. It'll change the Employment Standards Act. It'll take away some of the traditional rights of organized labour in that effort. It will move more and more to volunteers delivering services, and we know what that means by way of quality of service. We also will see more and more of the services that government has traditionally delivered turned over to the private sector to be delivered by it.

Under the heading of "Northern Imperatives," it says here, "As the province withdraws from direct funding and program delivery and assigns greater autonomy to local governments, the question of future service delivery in the north is more acute than for anywhere else in Ontario."

That's why many of us in this caucus from northern Ontario are particularly incensed and concerned and disturbed by some of what we've seen come before this House over the last week and a half to two weeks as this government moves ever more aggressively to getting out of service delivery altogether and turning over the delivery of services lock, stock and barrel to municipalities and particularly to municipalities in the north where we don't have the same tax base and we have some particularly unique challenges to overcome if we're in fact going to deliver services at all.

It says here, "The question of future service delivery in the north is more acute than for anywhere else in Ontario as northern governance is the most sparse, fragmented and the most dependent on direct provincial support," which won't be there any more. Then it goes down a little further where it talks about a vision for the north and it says, "For the first time there would be a local governance structure of northern residents making their own decisions, capable of providing area-wide services with reduced provincial funding and with a democratic and representative decision-making body accountable to residents, not to the province." In other words, small communities in northern Ontario that are often separated by hundreds of miles and not the best of roads; with no air service any more because this government has taken away that service that was introduced by a previous Progressive Conservative government -- emphasize "Progressive" -- to put in place norOntair; and a diminishing of a number of hospitals that we have to service people in our areas. We're going to be asked now to do even more and to turn to our local tax base, which is small to begin with, to fund these things.

There you have it. That's what this government is doing. It's important that we take each one of the initiatives that comes before us in this House -- tonight Bill 84; last week it was Bill 86. Each one of these bills has in it housekeeping items that make a lot of sense, but in a different context, in a context of a provincial government that really cares about delivering services, in the context of a government that's not hell-bent on taking those hard-earned dollars and resources that we all contribute collectively to the wellbeing and running of this province and turning them over to its wealthy friends and benefactors by way of a tax break. To do that, you're going to do, as I've said before, a number of things.

Mr Marcel Beaubien (Lambton): Tony, tell me what these wealthy friends are all about.

Mr John Gerretsen (Kingston and The Islands): You're having an effect, Tony. They're waking up.

Mr Martin: They're waking up. Yes, they normally do when you touch the bone. When you touch a raw nerve with these guys, they start to chirp and yap across the way because they're feeling guilty, because I'm convinced, member for Kingston -- and the Islands?

Mr Gerretsen: That's right. Don't forget the islands.

Mr Martin: Don't forget the islands. I'm convinced, member for Kingston and the Islands, that there are some members across the way, that there are some members in the Conservative Party, in this government, who really do care, who really have the best interests of their constituents at heart and who are very concerned about the impact that these initiatives are going to have on the taxpayers of their particular area.


You know, if you don't pay for it here, you pay for it there, and if you don't pay for it in that way, you pay for it in another way, because if you privatize these services, ultimately in the end you'll pay more for them and you'll get less. Those are the principles of that kind of an operation. If you turn it over to the volunteer sector, you'll have fewer and fewer people working in your community, making a decent living, bringing in a decent paycheque and, by way of that, you'll have fewer and fewer people who will actually own homes and be out there paying taxes. All the way around, this stuff does not make any sense.

So what are we to say? What are we to do? How can we stop this thing? In this House we have limited options. We have a small battery of vehicles at our disposal to stop this government. Every now and again they trip over themselves. Today in the House we had the Minister of Health exposed for the bully that he is, but he's not different from many of the other ministers in this province who have proven themselves not to be above that kind of tactic in order to impose your agenda on the good people of this province.

We have a minister today who finds himself in hot water because he broke the law and shared with the public in a very untoward way information that he shouldn't have been sharing, and what does he do? Instead of facing the music and saying, "We're going to call a full inquiry and have this thing aired in a very public and honest and open way," we turn it over to the commissioner on freedom of information and privacy, who will do a review and a report, but it won't be the same as a public review.

This government continues down that road of foisting things on people, of intimidating people, of setting people against each other, of picking on those who are most vulnerable out there, who they know are not particularly politically the most favoured at the moment, and they say, "This is good stuff; this is the stuff that government with integrity is made of." This is the government of integrity that in July 1995 took 22% away from the most vulnerable and marginalized and the poorest in our communities. I could hardly understand that when that happened that particular day. That was the first tactic by a group of bullies that just never ends.

This bill here tonight is another attack on a group of people who have served us well, who have invested in their ability to do a job, who go out there, sometimes above and beyond the call of duty, put their lives at risk and keep our communities safe. And what are we going to do? Well, we're going to toss them out there and we're going to turn this over to municipalities, and we're not sure what we're going to get in the end. Are we going to get these professional firefighting associations become volunteer operations? Are we going to turn it all over to the private sector? Whatever it is that we do, if we allow this to continue and we support this, we'll live to rue the day.

The Deputy Speaker: Questions or comments?

Mr Tony Clement (Brampton South): I'd like to thank the honourable member for Sault Ste Marie for his comments, although I hope he will not mind if I actually speak to the bill a little bit. We've had a lot of talk today about the firefighters' reaction to this bill, which is a very legitimate concern and one which we on the government side hope to resolve in the hearings that will take place. But one of the interesting themes of the bill that I think that is most refreshing to see is the emphasis on prevention. This is not a bill that says suppression is the key, that once the fire breaks out, that's when we spend all the resources, that's when we try to deal with a situation which in a lot of fires is quite frankly out of control and exposes men and women to risk, both the victims of the fire and the firefighters themselves.

In this bill, prevention is the key. It speaks to a number of coroners' juries that have occurred in Ontario that have said prevention of fires is where we can best save lives, not only of the victims but of the firefighters themselves, and in that respect I applaud this bill.

When I look at various newspaper clippings that say, "Hey, this is a bill that is not only trying to promote training for our firefighters but it is also trying to train our volunteers who might put themselves at risk in dangerous situations" -- and the honourable member for Sault Ste Marie might want to read the Recorder and Times. I don't know whether he reads it or not but it certainly makes this point as well, that training the volunteers is where the bill can be of benefit in terms of saving lives, getting more, shall I say, trained volunteers who put themselves at risk day in and day out as volunteers in order to help their community. This will allow them to do their jobs better. I think the ultimate goal of us as legislators should be better safety in the community and better suppression of fires and prevention.

Mr Gerretsen: In just responding to something from the member who just spoke, it goes without saying that we're all in favour of prevention but that's not really what this bill is all about. As the member for Sault Ste Marie so adequately pointed out in the early part of his remarks, what this bill is really all about is the right to strike. The government wants to take away a right that these people have currently that they haven't exercised since the 1940s or so. You say to yourself that here we have this large group of dedicated people who work for the benefit of all of us in Ontario to make sure that our communities are safe and free from any of the disasters that may happen to us in one way or another, and we are somehow purposely antagonizing them, by in effect telling them for the first time in legislation that they will not have the right to strike, even though the last strike that took place in I guess was some 50 years ago.

I should also say that this is not the first time this issue has been raised. This issue has been raised by successive governments. I can remember being part of a committee way back in the early 1980s that looked at this as well in my former life as a municipal councillor. At that point in time everybody, at the end of the exercise -- the government, the municipalities, the fire chiefs, the associations and all the other groups that were involved in it -- walked away from the exercise and said: "We do not have to deal with this. We do not have to purposely antagonize a group of people who have been very dedicated service people to the communities in Ontario. Why do we bother with this?" We walked away from it. There hasn't been a strike since, and now it's almost 15 years later when the same issue is being brought forward again basically to antagonize a group of people who are extremely dedicated to making sure that we are safe here in Ontario.

I say to the government, remove that section from this act and I am sure that a lot of the other concerns there may be about this act will disappear.

Mr Len Wood (Cochrane North): I want to congratulate the member for Sault Ste Marie, who in the last 30 minutes has covered a lot of area, but he's touched basically on the area that we had firefighters by the thousands out on the lawn. Their message was very clear: If you're going to bring in legislation, why not do a consultation? There was a consultation promised by Premier Mike Harris when he was in the third party status, out campaigning, and it was put on video that "Before we make any changes to the legislation involving the professional firefighters, we will go out and consult with the people."

They did not consult with the people. As a result, they had thousands of firefighters out on the front lawn saying: "We've never been interested in striking in Ontario. We have professional conduct. We are considered emergency service people. We've never struck and we have no intention of striking." Yet we see the Solicitor General bring in legislation just to antagonize the workers. This seems to be the policy that has developed over the last 18 months, that every particular group out there is a special interest group.

We see now that the Minister of Health today is on the attack on what he considers to be the top-billing doctor in the province. Now he says: "I only want a two-minute penalty. I'm only going to step aside temporarily while the commission on privacy investigates this." It's quite clear that the person attempted to break the law by digging out information on the doctors when they're in the middle of negotiations, to try to blackmail them or for whatever reason. He should be out of the game altogether. He shouldn't be just stepping aside; he should have been fired by Mike Harris last week when this was exposed.

As to Bill 84, I want to congratulate the member for Sault Ste Marie for mentioning that this is basically another way of giving a tax break to the wealthiest people at the expense of the firemen.


Mr Douglas B. Ford (Etobicoke-Humber): This is on Bill 84, pertaining to the Fire Protection and Prevention Act. The elimination of red tape: The legislation will streamline current legislation affecting fire protection in Ontario by consolidating nine separate statutes, thereby eliminating inconsistencies and duplications. This consolidation will provide a straightforward legislative framework for fire protection in Ontario. The new Fire Protection and Prevention Act will replace nine existing acts which deal with fire services in Ontario.

The new legislation will consolidate the body of the Fire Marshals Act, the Fire Departments Act, the Firefighters Protection Act, the Firefighters Exemption Act, the Accidental Fires Act and the Fire Accidents Act. The intent of the Hotel Fire Safety Act and the Lightning Rods Act will be incorporated into the fire code. The Egress from Public Buildings Act is obsolete and will be repealed.

Too much red tape in fire services legislation is best exemplified by the fact that we currently have an Accidental Fires Act and a Fire Accidents Act. Much of the existing legislation was drafted many years ago and contains language which is archaic and unclear. The wording of the new act will be updated and clarified. Many sections of the various existing acts overlap one another. A number of definitions are inconsistent. These inconsistencies and duplications will be remedied in the new act.

Since some of the legislation addresses issues that change over time, it makes more sense to have those provisions in regulation so they can be more easily updated. The new legislation will lead to increased consistency and collective bargaining across the broader public sector.

The Deputy Speaker: The member for Sault Ste Marie has two minutes to respond.

Mr Martin: I want to thank the members for Brampton South, Kingston and The Islands, Cochrane North and Etobicoke-Humber for participating in the debate tonight.

I suggest to the member for Brampton South that if you think for a second that you have discovered prevention, you're sadly mistaken. Firefighters in my community, when they're not out fighting fires, are out working in the community doing all kinds of stuff around the question of prevention and the promotion of safe homes. It's already happening. This bill isn't going to change that. This bill isn't going to do a whit to increase the amount of fire prevention that's going on out there.

What you're going to do is take away from the ability of firefighters to respond to fires, because they won't be there when we want them. It's been said over and over again by coroners after major fires that the number of firefighters on first response is a major element in how effectively a situation is managed. You're going to diminish that. If people get hurt or somebody gets killed, it will be on your shoulders.

To the member for Etobicoke-Humber, to present the bill as if it is some kind of Christmas present to the people of Ontario -- this bill should be called an act to download fire prevention and public safety to the communities and municipalities across this province and to diminish the ability of these communities to actually deliver that service.

What this government is going to do with all of this downloading -- one week after another it's something else -- is that you're going to make them broke. You're going to bankrupt those communities and you're going to force them into the amalgamations you want so that they get with the program.

The people out there are smarter than that and they know. Eventually, the picture will be painted and you'll get your due.

The Deputy Speaker: Further debate?

Mrs Lillian Ross (Hamilton West): I rise today in support of Bill 84, the Fire Protection and Prevention Act. This is the first time I rise without a prepared speech, so I hope the members will bear with me as I go through this. If I appear to be blathering on, as the opposition is prone to do, I hope to get through this very quickly.

This particular bill, the Fire Protection and Prevention Act, was formed by the Solicitor General to replace legislation that has not been updated in almost 50 years. We've heard from the opposition that there are some good points to this bill, but of course they'll oppose it. That doesn't surprise me, because I don't think we've put anything forward yet that they've voted for.

This bill does protect public safety and security. Bill 84 will provide a whole new framework for fire protection in Ontario which will improve public safety, streamline services and reduce costs. Municipalities across the province will ensure the best possible level of safety from fire in their municipalities.

I want to speak particularly to a couple of issues. One of them is education. In 1995, 142 people died in Ontario as a result of fire. Most fire deaths, as we all know, occur at home during the night. Many deaths occur where there's no smoke alarm available. We believe we must do the best we can to prevent fires from occurring in the first place, but when they do occur they must be detected as early as possible and people must know how to react when the smoke alarm sounds. This legislation will ensure that fire prevention and fire safety education are a priority in every corner of the province by making it a mandated fire service.

Recently, the Solicitor General was present when they handed out public fire safety awards to a number of young people. I just want to mention a couple. Two young people from Mallorytown were awarded fire safety awards when they stopped their mother from re-entering her burning home because of fire safety education they received at school. In another instance, an eight-year-old girl from Brampton helped her family to safety because she was taught fire safety skills at school and by her parents. That's what this bill is all about. It's about preventing fires and fire injuries through mandatory public fire safety education. That's one of the key elements of this legislation and I'm pleased it's in that piece of legislation.

The other issue I want to speak on is the right to strike. We've heard that the firefighters have never gone on strike, and why are we telling them that now there's no possibility they can go on strike? I want to quote from the member for Algoma when he was up. He stated that firefighters provide an "essential service that all of us depend upon." He's absolutely right: They do provide a very essential service. No matter how remote the possibility that they might go on strike, I as an individual in this province don't want to see that happen. I want to make sure that firefighters remain an essential service and are there when we need them.

The member for Sault Ste Marie talked about his riding and what was happening in his riding. I want to quote for him from a Sault Star editorial. It says: "Firefighters in this province deserve the public support and applause for the responsibility they have demonstrated in the past in not withdrawing services as a weapon in a labour dispute. But the government is right to feel that it is best that this non-withdrawal of services be codified into law." You see, even in his area, in the Sault, the people there feel it's important that this essential service be protected.

Mr Conway: If Jim Bradley were here, he'd want me to ask, who owns that paper?

Mrs Ross: Well, I wouldn't be able to answer him.

Fire prevention is an essential service which should not be disrupted by the possibility of a strike. The key issue here that we must never forget is public safety. The public must be protected. We cannot take a chance, no matter how remote it is, on people's lives.

Another issue I want to speak on is management positions. Many of us in this House have had firefighters come to us and talk to us about this legislation and about what they are opposed to in the legislation. One of the pieces they're opposed to is the exclusion of some positions. They say it's open-ended, but when I read the bill, I see that it's only a specified number of management that will be excluded, and it depends on the size of the fire service. For example, if it's less than 25 firefighters or employees, then only two positions can be excluded from the bargaining unit. If it's 25 to 150 employees, then three positions can be excluded. It is specific with respect to the number of people who can be excluded from the bargaining unit. I think that's something that should be pointed out.


Another issue they talked about is the hours of work. There's some concern about part IX of the bill. The only thing I can say with respect to that is that this is one reason, if people have concerns about the bill -- the Solicitor General has been clear from the beginning that this bill would go out to public consultation so people can bring forward their concerns. This is one of those concerns that I'm sure the Solicitor General will hear about. He's going to listen to the input and, based on what he hears, of course he'll look at this legislation again. I want to make sure that people are aware that public consultation will be taking place shortly after this second reading. Are we at second reading? Yes, I guess we are.

The next issue I want to talk about is that we hear from the opposition -- it seems they're the only ones who care about public safety with respect to this legislation. That's not true. We care about public safety and we care about the people in Ontario. We want to make sure they're safe in their homes. Fire chiefs also care about public safety. They support this bill; they've said quite explicitly that they're in favour of this bill. They're not an exclusionary group that isn't trying to protect the public with respect to fire service. They're definitely concerned about what happens to the public and they want to make sure the fire services and the fire departments in their area are the best they possibly can be.

I want to read to you a quote from the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs. It says:

"This is the largest demonstration of commitment to public fire safety in this province by a Solicitor General in more than 25 years. We thank him for his genuine interest and leadership in public safety. The Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs supports the shift of focus in the new legislation towards public safety and prevention. The flexibility in regards to organizational structure and service delivery will assist many fire chiefs in managing their responsibilities for public safety into the next century."

You see, it's not just the opposition that cares about public safety; it's this government, it's the fire chiefs, it's the municipalities across this province. We all care and we all want to ensure that the public is protected.

Another issue I want to talk about is consultation. We keep hearing that there's been no consultation, that the minister has conducted consultation with only one group and not listened to the others. Well, I want to give a bit of a history lesson here. Fire services reform has been occurring for almost 30 years. A round began in 1989 when the Liberal government established the Fire Services Review Committee, which included representatives of the Ontario Professional Fire Fighters Association and the Provincial Federation of Ontario Fire Fighters. In 1990 and 1991, under the NDP, the committee met and its report was distributed for comment in 1993. All stakeholders, including fire unions, provided written responses. I don't know why the Solicitor General of the day didn't act on the report. Instead, he chose to institute another round of consultations in 1994.

In 1995, the fire marshal's office submitted a detailed report on which the Solicitor General received feedback in writing from the stakeholders, including the associations themselves. Prior to introducing this piece of legislation, Bill 84, the fire marshal and the Solicitor General met a number of times with both firefighter associations to discuss concerns. Dialogue is still ongoing.

As a matter of fact, the Solicitor General spoke to the association on November 21 and his message was very clear: "The government wants to hear your input at public hearings on Bill 84." In addition, the Solicitor General has committed to further meetings with firefighters in the new year. In fact, the firefighters have even written to the Solicitor General and said: "We were pleased indeed to hear that province-wide public hearings will occur with regard to Bill 84. Like yourself, professional firefighters in Ontario would like to see a bill that enhances both public safety as well as labour relations."

So you see, this bill does protect the public. It educates the public. It updates the fire services. It reduces all the red tape that we've had before. What we must remember throughout this whole thing is that the issue isn't labour relations or job security; the issue with this whole bill, Bill 84, is protecting the public safety and security. I hope that all members of this House will support Bill 84.

The Deputy Speaker: Questions or comments.

Mr Michael Gravelle (Port Arthur): I want to be the first to compliment the member for Hamilton West on her first speech that was not done completely from prepared notes. I think it was just fine. Certainly I've had the opportunity to work with the member in committee on a number of occasions, and I will say that she is one of the people who I believe does care about a number of things, but that is not to say I do not think she is not misguided about a number of things. Certainly on this bill a couple of things come to mind.

When she was discussing the whole question of the right to strike, making note indeed that fire protection is an essential service -- and I think we agree with that -- and yet noting that firefighters have not had strikes for well over 70 years, if they've done that at all, to be perfectly fair, it's at the very least an insult to them to say both those things at once, if not really a betrayal of their trust. They have made it a point of great pride to mention that.

I think what it also comes down to, and it's important to note this, is that this government made a commitment while it was campaigning to consult with the firefighters in a very real way before it did anything. In fact there was a letter sent to Mr Ron Gorrie, who is the vice-president for our Ontario region up in Thunder Bay for the firefighters, in which Mr Harris, the member for Nipissing, the candidate at the time, stated, "No changes will be made under a Harris government until such time as your members have been thoroughly consulted."

This is something that was put in print, and I think unfortunately this is a pattern we've seen with this government, which is that the bill is put forward and consultation takes place afterwards. I must say that based on the experience we've had with the Fewer Politicians Act, which just passed third reading last week, when we saw what happened during clause-by-clause in that bill, when no amendments were accepted, and we've seen it frequently with other bills, although I'm glad to hear there will be public consultation -- it's confirmed -- one has to worry that there will be any actual amendments accepted in that process.

Mr Martin: I also want to commend the member for Hamilton West for the presentation that she made. I thought she did an excellent job of laying her thoughts on the table and presenting them. I agree with her and I don't think there's anybody in this place who doesn't agree that what we want is to improve services, make them better, help communities and organizations out there which deliver services to be the best that they can be, and that's what we should be about here.

The bone of contention that we have with you in this bill and so many of the others that you're bringing forward is that, first off, you're downloading on to communities. This is what this is about. It's about the provincial government getting out of the business of delivering a particular service. The options that they have are limited: (1) They can turn it over to the volunteer sector; (2) they can diminish it in order to fit the reduced amount of money and to fit the tax base that's in any particular municipality so that they can continue to provide the service; or (3) they can turn it over to the private sector. That's where this whole question of the right to strike comes in, because over the years firefighters and their employers have been able to, with all the vehicles at their disposal, including the right to strike sort of in the background, come to agreements that have been equitable and fair.


What the firefighters are afraid of is that you're going to turn this over now to municipalities or the private sector, which won't have the resource base to negotiate in good faith. If they don't have something at the end of the day, and ultimately all you have as a worker is your labour to negotiate, then you have nothing and you're at the mercy of an employer who perhaps doesn't have the best interests of the community at heart, particularly if he doesn't have the best interests of the worker.

Mr John O'Toole (Durham East): I appreciate the opportunity to speak, and I want to commend the member for Hamilton West for her very excellent, well-focused remarks with respect to the legislation before us. I would just ask as much of other speakers tonight. I think she kept on topic. The key is, the topic is really community safety.

I have met with all of the fire associations in Durham East representing Scugog, the Port Perry area. There are mostly volunteers in the Blackstock area, and indeed Whitby has a full-time force, as does Oshawa and Bowmanville. I've met with them and believe that most of all they want to be heard. The minister has made it very clear today that he is listening. There has been ongoing dialogue but a lack of willingness to make decisions.

I've heard them also suggest that the most controversial components of the bill -- they agree with 90% of it, probably 95% of it. On one section, as we all know, part IX, certainly there's some discussion required. I believe the minister wants to work in fairness so that we have a balanced, progressive piece of legislation which deals with the organization of fire service and safety in our communities as we move into the 21st century.

Again getting back to the topic, the member for Hamilton West, unlike many of the previous speakers, kept on topic and tried to explain to the viewers some of the important components of this legislation dealing with firefighters, very important and well-respected members of the public service community, not unlike the police services. I commend the speaker and look forward to further debate as we listen for a long night. We have another two hours.

Mr Conway: I want to join other speakers in commending our colleague the member for Hamilton West for her extemporaneous address tonight. Well, it was extemporaneous. We've got into the habit around this place of getting up and just reading these prepared texts -- God forbid that I should say it -- sometimes written by the minions of the treasury bench. I'm glad to see a first-term member doing as our friend the member for Hamilton West just did. She did it very well, and she set a good example for the rest of us.

Now, just a couple of things. I thought it was perhaps the most fetching part of her address that, I'm sure out of pure happenstance, she publicized an example from west Grenville county, the wonderful community of Mallorytown, which I know would be everyday knowledge in Westdale in Hamilton-Wentworth. I just want to commend the member for knowing of some very positive happenings in the electoral district of our friend the minister responsible for firefighting. That, I thought, was providential and I'm sure entirely accidental.

Sometimes I'm accused of carping around this place, and I want to be positive and I want to be supportive, so let me do so. Mallorytown is a great place. I wasn't aware, as I'm sure the minister wasn't aware, of the particular bravery. Well, actually -- dare I say it in the presence of the minister? -- a cousin of mine is down in that very precinct -- God forbid again that I should say it -- and the local president of the OMA, so perhaps I should phone him tonight and say, "If you hear of a man named James, be careful." But Mallorytown is a great place, and I commend the member for drawing it to our attention.

The Deputy Speaker: The member for Hamilton West has two minutes to respond.

Mrs Ross: I'll just address a couple of the comments. The member for Port Arthur said he felt this was an insult to the firefighters, to take away the right to strike. I just really want to reiterate my own personal feelings. I feel it's such an essential service that no matter how remote the possibility is that that firefighter isn't going to be there to protect me or someone else in this province, I want to make sure it's removed. So unfortunately he and I will differ on that.

The member for Sault Ste Marie said that in some of the committees -- the last committee we were in together, general government, we looked at the Fewer Politicians Act and no amendments were accepted at committee. But my experience has been, with most of the committees I've sat on, almost every single one of them, that amendments came forward from the opposition and we did listen and we did adjust the bill. So my experience has been a little different. This was the only bill I sat on where no amendments were accepted. So again I've had a significantly different experience there.

I thank the member for Durham East very much and I agree with him that we are trying to bring forward a balanced piece of legislation that addresses public safety and security. I think this bill does that.

The member for Renfrew North, as always, was most eloquent and a hard act to follow, but I thank him for his positive and supportive remarks.

I want to just say as I close here that we in Hamilton-Wentworth are very, very proud of our fire service people, every single one of them. They're important, very hardworking and very diligent. I think this piece of legislation will help them to do their job better and I hope everyone will support it.

The Deputy Speaker: Further debate.


The Deputy Speaker: -- to lead off. It was understood that way; it was agreed upon. The member for Timiskaming.

Mr David Ramsay (Timiskaming): I'd like to thank all members of the House who cooperated with my particular schedule this evening when my presence was required in the justice committee in dealing with other matters for the business of the government. I appreciate colleagues from all sides who pitched in and gave their speeches before the lead-off speeches this evening and contributed very, very well from what I saw as I looked up at the screen while we were in committee on Bill 84.

I'd like to start this evening where this bill sort of officially started, and that was with the minister's announcement on October 16 of this year when he introduced the bill. By the way, I'm very happy that the minister is here tonight and thank him for being here to listen to these speeches. But this statement that the minister used to introduce the speech really just sort of sugar-coats what this bill is all about. It just highlights, as I suppose good political spin should, some of the good aspects of this bill, and I certainly will say in the time that I have tonight, as other members have, that there certainly are some very good aspects to this bill.

In fact, I would say to the minister that if he wanted speedy approval of this and wanted the official opposition to vote for it, he could make one little change and we'd be right there voting for it. That would be taking away part IX of the bill, and we could support everything else. I'm sure the vast majority of men and women who work in firefighting in Ontario would also support that, and I would say to the minister that this would give us some time to work together on those labour relations items that are a concern with firefighters and yet we could get on with the many positive aspects of this.

I'm certainly going to address those things in detail later on, but in the minister's statement of October 16 of this year when he introduced this, he talks about some of the very fine fire safety measures that are contained in this bill, streamlining of services and improved public safety. But then we come down the page and there's this what looks to be very innocuous paragraph talking about how "The Fire Protection and Prevention Act is part of the government's municipal restructuring program. It will give municipalities the flexibility to find the best ways of providing local services to meet local circumstances."


Here's the rub. This is really what it's all about. Really what it's all about is, I would say to the public, a continuation of Bill 26. I referred to Bill 26 when I spoke to the firefighters outside at a demonstration last month, and I know the member for Algoma-Manitoulin had referred to that demonstration when the minister was here also in his speech. There were about 2,000 firefighters outside that morning. What I said to them was that Bill 84 was basically the son of Bill 26 and that if Bill 26, as we would say here, is the mother of all bully bills, then certainly Bill 84 is the son of that mother. It's certainly another type of bully bill.

It is a continuation of the anti-labour agenda that this government has. It's attacking labour in each sector of the economy of this province. One of the next groups to be hit, as we've had inkling from the Minister of Education and Training, is the teachers. Once the Minister of Education steps in and abolishes school boards, he can open up teachers' contracts and apply some of the very same onerous labour relations aspects of this bill to teachers. I would think this particular minister, once he gets this under his belt, if he does, will now look at the very fine men and women who put their lives on the line in another way than firefighters do, and that's the police officers of this province. I'm sure he's got them next on the list.

But right now he's concentrating on firefighters, and the very sad thing about attacking firefighters is that he is fixing a problem where there is no problem at all. I've always believed -- and it's, if you'll excuse the expression, commonsense knowledge that people have in rural Ontario -- if it ain't broke, don't fix it. This is a classic example of that very thing. When it comes to the labour relations aspects of firefighters across this province, it ain't broke. There is no problem, and nobody on the government side has made the case, has made the argument in this House or to the firefighters themselves or to the public right across the province, that for some reason we have a labour relations problem with firefighters, that we've had incidents where fires have broken out and firefighters have refused to go to the job. That's just never happened. That's never happened in this province. To slap the firefighters with this anti-strike legislation when they have never struck in the first place is insulting and demeaning.

That's exactly how they feel about it. They are concerned and, more than that, they are angry. They're going to express that anger, as they have out here in a demonstration on the front lawn, and they're going to continue to do that as a legislative committee yet to be named -- it might be the justice committee -- will after the winter session of this House travel across the province. They have a right to be upset, especially in this situation where this is not a problem. There's always going to be public debate between pro-labour activists and governments of the day as to what is deemed an essential service, and from time to time all of us as legislators are tested in our resolve with the conflict between the perceived public good and what is the right course to take in order to protect workers' rights.

Sometimes that test is very severe. The most extreme example that I can remember in my time at this place was when the Wheel-Trans drivers of the TTC, those drivers who transport physically challenged people in that service of the TTC, went on strike. That is probably one of the most extreme examples where a legislator of good faith is tested for his or her values: having to decide between his belief in collective bargaining and the workers' right to strike versus the public good. In that case, one can make a compelling argument on both sides, but I think it would be very difficult not to reflect on the public good in this case where physically challenged people are literally, in a situation like that, held captive in their homes and their apartments, unable to be mobile, unable to get to jobs, doctors' appointments, to do the day-to-day errands that all of us who are totally ambulatory take for granted; to be able to get our groceries, to go to the drugstore, to do all the errands that we all take for granted. That's a test. That's a potential problem. That's a situation you might want to look at -- is that sort of service an essential service to the community? -- and certainly have a very strong debate.

I think when it comes to firefighters, there's really never been that debate, because while firefighters up to now have always had the right to strike, they have never exercised that right. There was at first an unwritten code and then a code adopted in the various firefighter professional associations that they would never jeopardize the lives of citizens because of a labour dispute. With that history, with that code, with that constitutional phrasing, for this government to still say, "It looks like there really is a problem here," what they're really saying is they don't trust the men and women who put their lives on the line every day of their lives in this province to keep us safe and to protect us. They don't trust them.

For the life of me, I just don't understand why they would mount this attack on firefighters. We all know in society -- and every so often newspapers provide surveys -- how high people are kept in esteem by the general public. We all have a sense of where politicians stand on that list, and other people, but I'll tell you, firefighters, along with police officers, will be way, way up on the list of people who have extremely high esteem, not only self-esteem but esteem by the people in the community. To mount an attack such as this that's contained in Bill 84 on a group of men and women who are held in such high esteem, who we see every day on our newscasts going into burning buildings and saving children and adults from the accidents that happen in homes and in the workplace, from the human foibles that occur from time to time that cause fire, quite frankly, I just don't understand it. To be very blatant about it, I think it's just stupid and in fact it's bad politics. I don't know why you'd do it, especially when there isn't a problem.

In this business it's important that you take on the good fight when you know it's in the public interest, when you know it's right and even at a time when maybe it's not popular. It's still the right thing to do to do the right thing. But in this case, it doesn't seem to be the right thing at all. It doesn't seem to be in the public interest. There doesn't seem to be a problem. So firefighters, through some of the education that has now happened by firefighters and their families throughout the community since the introduction of this bill, have sent the alarm through the community about this attack.

Here is a government with the authority of Bill 26, piggybacked by the authority of Bill 84, that is now mounting this attack on what I think would be perceived as an extremely innocent group of people in society, a group of people who have not caused a problem to their communities, to their government, to society as a whole, and in fact -- I would say it this way -- are adored, are looked upon from time to time as heros but certainly as people who serve the public good. So why part IX of this bill is there is really a mystery.

I think the government will have a lot of explaining to do as it takes this bill right across this province, as I believe has been promised by the minister and the House leader. When we complete our winter session, which should be some time at the end of February if things go well, in March and maybe into April we will be visiting, I hope, eight or nine communities across the province, as well as having hearings in Toronto, where not only firefighters from all those communities but citizens from all those communities can come forward and express their views about this legislation and what effect they think this legislation is going to have on the morale of firefighters.


Mr Bradley: This will be an extension of the fall session, not a new session.

Mr Ramsay: My House leader corrects me, and through me the record, that it will be just an extension of the fall session. I appreciate that and certainly look forward, on January 13, I believe, House leader, when we will return here for that extension.

Mr Bradley: Surely that will be the case, not a new spring session.

Mr Ramsay: Well, there you are. We will negotiate this issue as we speak right now.

I would like to review in detail all the different sections and parts of this bill and go through it section by section. As many members have noted, this bill is an omnibus bill, if you like. It basically consolidates nine previous pieces of legislation, and for that I don't fault the government. Over the years we have developed various aspects of firefighting legislation to cover different parts of the job, the different aspects of how firefighting and its different services relate to the community. So over the years we have developed a hodgepodge of legislation through these nine acts. From time to time, it's not a bad idea to clean up the legislative trail we have blazed over the years, to consolidate, to bring it together in an understandable, more comprehensive form. There's nothing wrong with that, and this is the right time to do this.

On some aspects of this bill, there has been over the years a lot of consultation. In fact the minister, in his statement, actually said there was too much consultation and blamed the last two governments for their inaction. He said: "The previous governments used these consultations as an excuse for inaction. They examined the issue to death and then backed away from it. They had the opportunity to reform the fire service and they failed to act."

One of the reasons previous governments failed to act was that the consultation had not been complete. As the minister stated, and others have verified, this is a very complicated bill. As bills go, it's fairly lengthy, as it does consolidate nine previous bills. There is one area that had not been fully consulted and to this day remains not fully consulted, and that is the labour relations section, part IX of this bill.

This act basically sets out a new regime, as we have talked about, for firefighter collective bargaining. With that, the bill repeals the Accidental Fires Act, the Egress from Public Buildings Act, the Fire Accidents Act, the Firefighters Exemption Act, the Firefighters Protection Act, 1993, the Fire Marshals Act, the Hotel Fire Safety Act and the Lightning Rods Act. Most importantly, however, the bill repeals the Fire Departments Act, which has regulated collective bargaining for firefighters for decades.

I think it should be noted -- and I imagine I would note it a few times this evening in my speech -- that Premier Harris, before he was that, during the last election, promised the firefighters he would not bring any changes to their legislation until they had been fully consulted. He wrote a letter to the two provincial firefighting organizations that he would fully consult with them. Unfortunately, that has not been the case since this government was elected. There has not been a consultation on the labour relations aspects of this bill. Yes, there have been a couple of meetings, and representatives of the firefighter associations have met with the deputy minister. There was an introductory meeting with the minister before this bill was introduced, which is customary for new ministers to get to meet the interest groups -- the clients -- that that minister is in charge of, and should be advocating for, by the way. But there have been no substantive meetings yet with firefighters in regard to the labour relations aspects of this bill. In fact, that's something that firefighters want to do and they have been very positive about that.

Their approach has not been maybe like some groups that they're just against, it's just a negative response even to this onerous labour relations section of the bill. What they have said they would do is they would work with the government. They would like to work with the government officials and find some solutions for this aspect of the bill. I certainly applaud them for that. They've said they would basically sit down and roll up their sleeves and work with government officials to improve the labour relations areas.

But to put in the onerous provisions that are there in part IX is unacceptable and they're certainly not going to accept it. They are going to fight it, and from what we've heard tonight from both opposition parties, I think you would see that both opposition parties, unlike the government and the government members, are on the side of the firefighters in this battle.

I would like to start to go through some of the structure of the bill, which is divided into 13 parts.

Part I is the usual introduction of a bill where exclusive definitions that pertain to the specialty that the bill deals with are listed so that there can be consistency through the act so everybody has the same understanding what certain terminology means. There is an all-inclusive definition of "fire protection services" in this section, which applies to part IX and ensures that persons performing services such as fire suppression, fire prevention, fire safety education, training and communication, are within the scope of the firefighter bargaining units.

Part II sets out provisions governing responsibility for fire protection services, and I'll comment on that later on as I go through the bill.

Part III continues the office of the fire marshal and sets out his powers and his duties.

Part IV empowers the minister to make regulations establishing a fire code.

Part V establishes rights of entry in emergencies and fire investigations.

Part V1 contains inspection provisions.

Part VII provides for offences for breaches of the act and other enforcement provisions.

Part VIII provides for recovery of costs resulting from inspection orders.

Part IX, and I've referred to part IX previously, contains very significant changes and they are in firefighter employment and labour relations. I'll certainly get into that in more detail later on this evening.

Part X continues the Fire Code Commission as the Fire Safety Commission.

Part XI formally establishes the Fire Marshal's Public Fire Safety Council, whose objects include entering "into partnerships and agreements with persons or organizations in the private sector or with public bodies or organizations" to promote fire safety or provide training, education and prevention activities.

Part XII contains provisions protecting firefighters and other individuals with responsibilities under the legislation from personal liability where they have acted in good faith. Part XII also provides for indemnification for reasonable legal costs incurred in defending a civil action where a person is found not to be liable or in defending a criminal prosecution if found not guilty. These statutory indemnification provisions are subject to specific indemnification provisions in collective agreements, except that a collective agreement cannot provide for indemnification of a firefighter found guilty of a criminal offence. There's also a provision in part XII that contains cabinet's regulation-making power.

Finally, part XIII repeals various pieces of fire legislation.

That is a summary of what is in the full bill, and before I get into that I would just like to give a little bit of the history of how we got to today and some of the steps that were taken by previous governments to get here.


The main legislation governing the provision of fire services in this province has really remained unchanged since about 1949. It was in 1989 that the Liberal government of the day created the Fire Services Review Committee. I think some of the members of this House tonight, and the minister especially, have referred to the Fire Services Review Committee that our government had set up in 1989. This consisted of representatives from the Solicitor General, the Association of Municipalities of Ontario -- affectionately referred to as AMO around this place -- the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs and the various professional firefighters association. It was the task of this commission to review the delivery of fire services in Ontario, and following the election of the NDP government in 1990, the review was continued, but essentially nothing more happened during the NDP term in office.

The Fire Services Review Committee report was eventually released, reflecting consensus, and where not achievable, the views of the ministry staff. You could just guess in what area consensus was not reached, and of course that was with the labour relations areas.

Now we are at the point where the Mike Harris Tory government has released this legislation purporting to be the end result of this long consultation process, but that is not the case because the process was not completed, it was not finished, and you ask any professional firefighter in this province and they will tell you they were not consulted on the labour relations provisions of this act.

This bill is intended to streamline current legislation. It is there to create better integration of services, to provide more public education to increase fire safety and to give municipalities more flexibility to deal with local fire services.

I went through just a minute ago the bills that this act repeals and I think it's a good idea to clean that up, so that in any area of the government domain people have easier access to the rules and regulations that govern their activity. It is good that we consolidate all that we care about, are concerned about, and regulate in regard to fire services in one act. It's good to have it in one place. It's good to have a single reference point so that anyone in the province, be they general citizen or firefighter and particularly concerned about this particular sector of our society, can go to the one place and research the requirements under law in that particular area.

I certainly don't have any concern about consolidation. This, I would say, is one omnibus bill that would clean the legislative trail from over the years, as I said, that we've blazed and bring it together and make it clearer, I think, for all concerned.

With just a little more detail now I'd like to go through some of the different parts, and then I will certainly spend a little more time on some of the various sections, especially part IX, of the bill.

Part I, as I said, sets out the definitions of various terms utilized in this legislation. If you look at the act, there are definitions such as for "community fire safety officer" and "community fire safety team." Read the definition in this act of what a "fire chief" means, then "fire code," "fire department," "firefighter." While it may seem obvious, it's important in a piece of legislation, especially as technical and as complicated as this, to have very clear definitions so we all understand what the act means and what all definitions mean so we have some understanding. It even goes so far as to give definitions for "municipality" and "minister," so it's all there in that section, as straightforward as it would be in any piece of legislation.

Part II of the bill deals with municipal responsibility for fire protection services. There could be somewhat of a controversy on this with some municipalities too, because subsection 2(1) requires something that I think might surprise people, that isn't there in the law today, that every municipality establish, at minimum, a fire safety public education program. This is a very good aspect of this bill. Sad to say, and usually because of lack of resources, there are some municipalities in Ontario that don't even have this bare minimum, a basic fire safety education program in their township -- primarily they might be townships -- or town, and that's very important that we have that.

We know, for instance, the fire education program that fire safety organizations and governments have introduced over the years in regard to smoke detectors and smoke alarms, which previously were only in industrial and commercial buildings and are now, I would say, fully introduced into residences across this province, has saved hundreds if not thousands of lives in Ontario. Fire safety, fire prevention, is the best way to suppress fire, to suppress it before it gets going. This provision of the bill is sound, and I certainly support that.

In this, the municipalities may also provide other fire protection services such as fire suppression, rescue and emergency services, if deemed necessary. Again, I think somebody living in a large municipality, whether that be in the eastern part or western part or southern or northern sections of this province, might feel that fire safety is already mandated or fire forces are already mandated in this province, and yet that is not the case. Again, many small municipalities, while maybe organized and having a council, just do not have the resources to provide their own fire protection services. Many of those might have contracts with other municipalities so that they can share services, but it is still not mandatory that they have those services.

Subsection 2(2) of the bill requires each municipality to appoint a fire safety officer or team to establish a fire department, depending on their needs. Fire safety officers would provide fire protection and fire safety public education programs. Fire departments would provide fire suppression and other fire protection services. The fire marshal would advise municipalities in determining the level and type of services to be provided.

So, this section here now does deal with fire protection but also fire suppression, and it does make it mandatory for municipalities to supply that service. This, while obviously it would be looked upon as being motherhood, that of course we would want every citizen in this province to be able to live in a municipality where there is firefighting protection for their citizens, in some cases is going to be very difficult, for some of these smaller municipalities in Ontario to provide that service.

I would really doubt, unlike previous governments and especially previous Conservative governments, that the Ontario government is going to provide some assistance for this fire suppression service. It would be badly needed in many communities. In fact, it's maybe a cruel irony that some of the communities that might need it the most are maybe some of those remote communities where people might rely more on wood heat, for example, as a heating source, might, for example, live in more remote northern areas where having a wood-heat appliance in the house would be far more necessary than maybe in other parts of the province and it would be running with fire for many more months than, say, it would in southern Ontario. Those are probably the communities, ironically enough, that in many cases don't have fire suppression service and probably would need it the most, as the incidence of fires, domestic fires especially, would indicate with that type of heating appliance. This, while obviously a sound idea, is still going to be difficult for some municipalities to supply.

In that part, the bill goes on to say that two or more communities may share a community fire safety officer, team or fire department. Such arrangements would permit fire departments to respond to fires and emergencies regardless of the municipal boundaries. Some of that does exist today, where fire departments do have different contractual arrangements with neighbouring municipalities.


Also in this section, the fire marshal may also enter into agreements to provide fire protection services to areas that do not have municipal organization. I'm not sure how that is going to work in detail, but I think that is something I'll look at with great interest, because in the district of Timiskaming, the electoral district I represent, while I have 26 organized municipalities in the electoral district, much of the land base where many people live is in unorganized municipalities. Many of them still do not have fire service. I will certainly look to the ministry to see exactly how that's going to be implemented, that the fire marshal may also enter into agreements. I'm not sure where the resources are going to come from. The bill doesn't really speak to the resources that could provide that service for people in unorganized townships, but I would be very curious and anxious to see what the minister's response is on that and where he thinks that fire service is going to come from.

The section goes on to say that if a fire department is established, a fire chief must be appointed by the municipality or the municipalities involved. Similarly, two or more municipalities with separate fire departments may appoint one chief for all the fire departments. The fire chief is ultimately responsible to the municipal council for the delivery of fire protection services.

I think it should be noted that municipalities were not previously required to provide fire services, and it is quite unlikely that they will receive any additional financial support from the provincial government. These new responsibilities, as I said earlier, could prove to be very expensive for some municipalities. I hope that as we go around the province, it looks like now in March and in April, we get the word out to many of those municipalities, especially those in northern Ontario where there are many unorganized areas that might have a fire services board, might have a roads board, so there's some organization there. Now that they're required to provide a certain level of fire protection, I'd certainly be interested in their comments as to how they're going to generate the revenue to provide that. That's certainly not clear in this legislation, and it'll be interesting to see how those municipalities react to that.

Part III of the bill sets out the powers and the duties of the fire marshal. This permits the delegation of certain functions to other persons from the fire marshal.

Part IV permits the minister to establish a fire code for Ontario. I'm actually going to have to do more research on that section because my understanding certainly is that we have a fire code for Ontario, and maybe here it's going to be more freestanding from the building code of this province, but certainly we have, for the most part, very strict and rigorous fire code standards here in Ontario that are as good as anywhere in North America, except maybe for the odd exception.

I brought one exception to the minister's attention the other day that I think is still lacking, and that's not necessarily in the code but in the fire marshal's interpretation of the code. In that particular case, it has to do with tubular core doors. As you probably know, a renovations act was passed a couple of years ago that gave landlords actually up to October of this year to complete some fire code renovations to buildings that existed before 1976 that were not equipped with a fire-rated door that all buildings built since that time have. The problem is, and we see it from time to time, when one of those buildings catches on fire, those tubular core doors don't have 20-minute fire resistance that a modern fire door requires, and this can cause great problems if there's a breach of that door by fire. Primarily we're talking about apartment buildings here. There's been a dispute between the fire marshal's office in this province and now various fire chiefs, who in the past always relied upon the fire marshal for interpretation of the fire code. Now the fire marshal is saying that the tubular core doors are as safe as the fire-rated 20-minute doors.

I have seen some of the photographs from the last official test that was done by the Canadian Standards Association, and those photographs, before the 20-minute mark, show that the fire breached the door. The frame was in place, but a good portion of the door was not in place. That means that fire was able to breach the door and enter the living space.

That's very important and that's an issue I'm going to continue to pursue with the minister, even though I know that it's potentially a great cost for landlords who own apartment buildings built before 1976 that have not been retrofitted with those fire doors. I believe that in public safety the retrofit act, that portion of the Ontario fire code, should be enforced. All doors for apartments in Ontario should have a 20-minute fire code rating in order to protect our citizens, regardless of the cost. Quite frankly, the cost isn't that much. Proper fire core doors can be purchased, especially for the bulk and the scale that need to be purchased for an apartment building, at around $120 to $150. I think that's cheap by any standard to protect lives in this province. If we have a fire code, I would say to the minister that we ensure that the fire marshal enforce that code.

Part V of the bill permits entry on to lands and premises in emergencies and for fire investigations. Firefighters or other authorized persons may enter without a warrant on to various lands and premises for the purposes of fighting a fire, providing rescue or emergency services or removing a serious threat to life or to the environment. It also states that municipalities will be able to enter into automatic aid agreements, permitting firefighting or rescue services to be provided automatically, without a warrant, on premises beyond the territorial limits of the fire department.

There really should not be much controversy about this area, because what this does is basically free the firefighter from liability when she or he feels that it's proper for the preservation of life basically to do the right thing, to make an entry, to remove some material that they see fit in order to save lives. I believe the firefighters really welcome that. It gives them I think a sense of ease in doing their duty, and it's important when we're talking of the emergency nature of this work, the life-threatening nature of this work, that they have that comfort. That's an important aspect of this bill.

Entry without warrant on to lands or premises is also permitted for the purposes of investigating the cause of a fire. The use of force is not permitted for such purposes, but this section does permit the fire marshal or the fire chief to apply for a search warrant if access is denied.

Moving on to part VI of the act, this deals with inspections and permits and permits the inspection without a warrant of land and premises for the purposes of assessing fire safety. As I said previously, fire safety has to be the most effective fire suppression technique available. If one can prevent the fire from occurring in the first place, I think that is a goal we would all applaud. Whether it's health care or many other aspects, prevention I believe is the way to go about it, and that's what this part of the act speaks to.

Under this section the fire marshal and assistant to the fire marshal or fire chief is an inspector for these purposes. An inspector may order the owner or the occupant of land or premises to take measures to ensure fire safety and may order closure of the lands or premises until the repairs are made. Orders made by persons other than the fire marshal may be appealed to the fire marshal, who may confirm, amend, rescind or change the order or may refer the matter to the Fire Safety Commission for a hearing. The fire marshal is not required to hold a hearing. Any person dissatisfied with an order made by the fire marshal may appeal to the Fire Safety Commission for a hearing, following which the Fire Safety Commission may confirm, amend or rescind the order of the fire marshal or replace it with some other order.


There is an avenue for appeal here and it gives some flexibility to the Fire Safety Commission to change this if they think what the fire marshal did was incorrect.

Part VII of the bill deals with offences and enforcement. It states that it is an offence to hinder or obstruct the fire marshal, their assistant or a fire chief in the performance of their duties; to prevent an inspector from carrying out an inspection; to fail to cooperate with or to mislead an inspector, or to contravene the legislation or regulations thereto, or to disobey the orders of the fire marshal, their assistant or a fire chief. Individuals convicted of such an offence may pay fines of up to $10,000 or go to prison for up to a year, or both. Corporations may pay fines of up to $50,000.

While these penalties may seem steep, it's important that they be this high to act as a deterrent for people who may want to interfere with the proper investigation of fires or damage caused by fires, getting in the way of the fire marshal, their assistant or the fire chief. It's very important work that the fire marshal, the fire chief and their assistants do in investigating and it's very important that this work not be interfered with. Therefore the penalties are steep, and I believe that's correct and support that.

Part VIII permits the province or a municipality to recover costs incurred in carrying out work authorized by the Fire Safety Commission or to prevent an immediate threat to life. An order to pay such costs may be appealed to the Fire Safety Commission and, following a hearing by the Fire Safety Commission, to Divisional Court. Such amounts may be collected by the municipality as if they were municipal taxes or may be enforced by the Ontario Court (General Division). Just a note here: Of course this name is going to change, and I think this will have to change in the act, because once Bill 79 passes this court will be known as the Superior Court of Justice in this province.

Now we come to part IX of the bill, and I certainly want to spend a little time on this part IX. As you know, Mr Speaker, I think from probably your own experience in talking to firefighters and some of the speeches here in the House that were set out tonight, this is the most onerous part of the bill, the most controversial, and I think the part of the bill that is the most unpolitic of this government. As I said previously, I just sort of scratch my head and wonder why the government took this part on when it really wasn't necessary.

As I've said, this is the most problematic part of this legislation from the point of view of the firefighters, and also myself, as it deals with employment, collective bargaining and labour relations issues. This part of the bill sets out a separate definition of "firefighter" for labour relations and collective bargaining purposes. It provides that "`firefighter' means a person regularly employed on a salaried basis in a fire department and assigned to fire protection services and includes technicians but does not include a volunteer firefighter."

Right away this is very controversial for the professional firefighters, who really have great pride in that professionalism and quite rightly distinguish themselves from the volunteer. That's not to say anything negative or derogatory about volunteer firefighting, because the volunteer firefighter in Ontario is the backbone of firefighting that complements the professional firefighters who are able to find employment in those big municipalities that can afford, and because of their population require, a professional, full-time firefighting force. But the concern here is that for collective bargaining purposes the division has been spelled out and I think will have a negative connotation and effect on professional firefighters.

Subsection 41(2) of the bill also clearly excludes persons exercising managerial functions or designated as managers from the category of firefighter and thus from the bargaining unit. This also is a touchy issue for firefighters, as pursuant to the existing Fire Departments Act, only the fire chief and the deputy chief in each department are currently considered to be management and outside of the bargaining unit. This provision will effectively transform positions that are currently part of the bargaining unit into the management structure.

Of course, what the government is trying to do here, like they have in all of the various unions they seem to be wanting to wage war with, is to decrease the size of the bargaining unit. This is of course what's really behind the elimination of grade 13. What the Minister of Education gets from that is he reduces the number of teachers, and again, through that, he diminishes the strength and the power of the teachers' unit because he reduces the number of teachers who are in that. So it's really quite consistent through all the acts, as I mentioned before. This time it's firefighters they are taking on.

The municipalities represented by AMO and the fire chiefs are of course clearly in support of placing positions performing management functions, or which have access to confidential information, outside of the bargaining unit, whereas the professional firefighters are willing to accede to the creation of new management positions but believe they must be deployed in addition to the existing positions. Firefighters see the aim of AMO and the fire chiefs as that of weakening their bargaining units by encroaching on their membership. That's really what's happening here, and it's too bad they're doing that because as I think we know, when you speak to firefighters there's a tremendous professional pride not only in the work they do, but in their associations. They work together as organized workers for the collective good of not only their own organization but also the community as a whole, and they certainly take pride in their organizations and the strength of their organizations.

It's interesting to note that because of the strength of those organizations, we all know in our communities the benefits that firefighters contribute outside of their work to the community and the extracurricular activities they provide in many, many communities outside of their work. My colleague from Ottawa Centre has stated that hospital work is one of those endeavours. He would know that, having worked with the children's hospital foundation in the city of Ottawa, before being elected to this place, in a position that relied upon volunteers to come out from all sectors of the community, in this case to help a children's hospital, just like hospitals right across this province rely on all citizens to roll up their sleeves and to pitch in and help. Firefighters have been a group that have contributed certainly their share to the community.

The government construes this as an issue of effective management; that's what they're saying. They're not saying that downsizing the bargaining unit is really any purposeful attempt to weaken the organization. They state that major urban fire departments require more than two management positions to operate properly and that this structure will also permit the recruitment and promotion of the most qualified candidates rather than forcing departments to stick to the seniority based promotion system that characterizes union positions.


I think this is something that really needs to be discussed. I'm going to look forward to our committee hearings, because in the past this has been the accepted notion in many bargaining units, that positions are strictly filled by seniority. I certainly want to hear what firefighters have to say about that, what suggestions they might have to address that concern of efficiency. I think for now I'll keep an open mind on that, and I want to hear what firefighters have to say in those province-wide hearings that we're going to have in March and April.

Another controversial provision is section 42 of the bill, which states explicitly: "No firefighter shall strike and no employer of firefighters shall lock them out." I think, and I mentioned this previously, this particular sentence in this bill is the most onerous aspect of this bill. I say to the minister, who is here in the House tonight and listening to these speeches, that he could get all-party approval on this bill immediately so that we could implement the very positive provisions of this act --

Mr Patten: And score big points.

Mr Ramsay: -- and, as my colleague from Ottawa Centre states, probably score some very big points with firefighters and the general population across this province, because we could get the positive aspects of this implemented. Firefighters, fire chiefs and the fire marshal of Ontario could work together on this, which is 90% of this bill, implement it, get it in, and then give all of us the time to work out the labour relation aspects of this bill. Firefighters' organizations have said that they're willing to work with the fire chiefs, with the fire marshal's office and with the officials of the Solicitor General to iron out the problems with this, to come up with a solution that all could live with.

Especially when, as I said previously, this is an aspect with firefighting that is not a problem, I just don't understand the minister's insult, I guess I'd have to say, to the profession to have inserted what I referred to in my statement in the House when we had the rally outside as a poison pill that has been placed inside primarily this very nicely decorated cake. It's got some great icing on it and it's got some good substance in it, so by and large it's a great cake. But for some reason, the minister, in order to disguise this section, created this poison pill and inserted it in this cake of a piece of legislation, and it's this poison pill that we're all choking on. It's this poison pill provision that we're rejecting, that firefighters don't want to swallow. I don't want them to have to swallow it either, and they shouldn't have to swallow it.

Again, I say to the minister tonight, you should take this out. Take this out of the bill to ensure speedy passage of the very positive aspects of this bill and let's work on whatever the perceived problem is here. Mr Speaker, as you know, there is not a problem here. I just don't know why the minister is pursuing this line. It is insulting to attack a group of professional men and women who lay down their lives on a daily basis for all of us in this province, who in some cases have sworn in their profession, and before that in unwritten code, who never, never in the history of firefighting in Ontario have used a labour dispute as an excuse not to help one of their citizens. That has never happened. Their history has shown that. They have promised that it would never happen, and not only with that promise, as I think we should accept in its fullness, but with the backing of that history that they've never broken that promise, we should accept their word, continue the trust that all previous governments have had in firefighters, and not put this onerous sentence in here that says, "No firefighter shall strike and no employer of firefighters shall lock them out."

I would think as I read that sentence, people would be surprised that it hasn't been against the law up till now that firefighters could strike. I am sure they are wondering -- of course, I've never been aware of a strike either. I always thought and just took for granted that that's because it was against the law, not really appreciating the dedication that firefighters have to their work.

Until you walk in their shoes -- in this case maybe it's their fire boots -- until you really get to understand various professions and the people who work in them, you don't appreciate all the aspects of their work. I suppose for most of us in society, those maybe not as fortunate as some where a job is just a job and maybe it's not a calling, it's not a vocation, it's not a lifelong dream, but from time to time we certainly have to take any work to provide a living for ourselves, maybe we don't fully appreciate that for some professions, for some workers, there is a calling, there is a dedication that goes above and beyond punching the clock, coming in at 8 or 7 or 9 or whatever the case may be and leaving at night and forgetting the work. It's interesting enough, but it's funny enough that those jobs that are kind of life-threatening tend to have the people who can be some of the most dedicated to their work.

This is certainly the case of police officers that I've spoken to and firefighters that I've spoken to, that there's a camaraderie because of that life-threatening nature, that it has developed into more than just a camaraderie but almost a society that they know government, the people, the community depends upon, and they want to live up to the trust and respect that citizens in the community afford them. That has been shown and the history proves that they would never let the citizens down because they know they're held by the citizenry of this province in such high esteem. They never have let us down, and I believe they never would do that.

I hope that people understand what's really happening here, because to put that sentence in this act that now forbids strikes when there's never, ever, ever been a strike in the history of Ontario in firefighting is such an insult to that mindset that firefighters have that their job is to serve and to protect, just as it is for police officers in this province.

I would ask all members of this House, when they're having their meetings in their constituencies with their local firefighters, to really talk to the firefighters about this and how they feel about their job. You'll scratch the surface and really get down to the bottom of their dedication to their work, and ask them about this particular aspect of the bill and how they feel about it.


I'm telling you, you will see emotion well up, you'll see anger well up and probably, most of all, you'll see disappointment well up, that the people they work for, the government, whether it be the municipality or through the municipality the province that regulates them, has basically given up on their dedication, has basically foreclosed on their trust and their faith and said: "We don't trust you any more. We don't believe you will continue to provide the service to the children and the men and the women of this province that you historically have always, always delivered to this province. We don't trust you."

It's really tough. In some professions -- and I'm in one of them -- we sort of accept that the public notion is that people don't trust us. That's because from time to time, unfortunately, one of our kind will let down the public trust, and because consistently over time that has happened in many jurisdictions across this country and around the world, that's our reputation to bear. But never, never, ever have firefighters in Ontario let that trust down; they've never broken that covenant with the people of Ontario -- never.

So I ask the members, especially of the government party, that when you speak to firefighters, really plumb the depths of that anger, of that disappointment they have in this government, from that particular provision of this bill. It is deep. It's quiet right now, it's Christmas. People are focused on family and holiday activities and festivities over the holiday season. It's a time for all of us of all religions to take a winter pause and just to celebrate what a great place we have in Ontario, so we don't focus on some of these issues.

Believe me, just wait till we're out of this place and whenever it is, a new or extended session, whatever it becomes, this winter session that we have, come January 13, when we have completed that and the justice committee, if that's the committee that takes it, goes on the road and travels from town to town and city to city -- and we need to really have a very extensive tour of the province -- to hear the communities speak about this, you will hear a lot of this despair and anger that I'm referring to tonight expressed by firefighters and their families, and as the rest of us learn of this from the community at large, I think you're going to be surprised by the reaction you're going to get from the general public.

I know you, on the government side, don't want to nor do you think you should pay attention to so-called interest groups, so when professional organizations speak to you, when they write to you, when they fax you and telephone you, you want to ignore that, and in fact you believe you're being virtuous when you do that because you think those are just the talking heads for a special interest, a particular group in society.

I think, quite frankly, that's wrong, that while in the past sometimes we may have listened too much to interest groups and maybe have done that to the detriment of listening to the general public, I think you have swung the pendulum too far away now from listening to the spokespeople of the various organizations. Because if you really want to know how firefighters think, how teachers think, how nurses think, you need to be in touch with those organizations.

But I think you'll find on this issue, as well as some others that you have touched upon, an issue such as this will transcend that interest group, it will transcend the firefighter organizations and their families, transcend right to the community and the population at large and they'll be out in force. They'll be knocking at our door. They'll be wanting to talk to us in all the communities where we travel, and I look forward to that.

Both opposition parties put up a strong effort to ensure that we would get public hearings, and while officially that motion of the House has not passed yet, I take it from the indications of the minister and the House leader that there will be public hearings, that they will happen some time after the winter session concludes. I'm asking for about four weeks, if we could, so that we could at least have three weeks on the road.

I'm sure some of the Hansard staff, who may be here tonight or may not be, will be looking forward to those trips. I'm sure the other legislative staff will be very interested in doing a late-winter tour of Ontario. To get people up north in the winter too I think is very important, to get them to the east, to get them to the southwest and see if we can wear some of these Legislative Assembly staff out on that. That's the price of democracy. We need to take government to the people. Through public hearings that we have fought for and the firefighters have fought for, we're certainly going to hear what the public of Ontario thinks about this particular bill.

I want to go on from that particularly onerous section 42 of the bill about no strikes and just say what the Ministry of the Solicitor General says about this particular area. What the ministry says is that it's only clarifying that the firefighters don't have a right to strike. What I'm saying to the government is, you don't need to clarify anything. The firefighters, through their actions and deeds, have clarified where they stand on the issue. They've clarified over the years, and continue to clarify on all our behalf, that they will never strike. They haven't and I know they won't.

The other important issue about this right to strike is that while the government will say that firefighters have been consulted for years -- in fact the minister in his statement basically said that we have consulted for too long and finally he was bringing this to a head -- this particular aspect of the bill was never consulted on by the government.

In fact this is the other bone of contention with the firefighters, because Mike Harris, Premier Harris, said during the 1995 election that he would not bring forward any so-called reforms to firefighter legislation without fully consulting the firefighters. In fact he put that in writing. He wrote a letter to the two firefighter organizations in Ontario. They even have a video of him attending one of their meetings when he was drumming up support so that he could become Premier of this province. He said on the video, which is readily available, that he would not bring forward legislation such as we see here tonight without fully consulting, and he hasn't done that. He broke his promise. That's sad, but that's the truth, and I'm sure firefighters will bring that up with the legislative committee as we travel across the province.

Another section in part IX of the bill that is very onerous too in the labour relations aspects of firefighters is section 43 of the bill which deals with working hours for firefighters. This creates a platoon system, with a pre-determined working arrangement. Rightfully so, the firefighters see this as preventing them from negotiating their hours of work. It is opening the door to part-time firefighters.

Again, besides the firefighters not ever exercising their right to strike, they also have never engaged in a job action because of their failure to bargain, to negotiate. Years ago they were giving collective bargaining rights, as workers in Ontario have if they decide voluntarily to form a union. Most professional firefighters have decided to do so. They have been able to work with their employer, the municipality, to negotiate directly with the fire chief and other managers in the fire department their hours of work, how the firehall operates. They have done that together. They've done that cooperatively. I don't know of any incident where firefighters have ever been negligent of their duty, for whatever reason, but especially because they weren't able to agree on collective bargaining issues. That hasn't happened.

But again, the Ontario government, which of course knows what's best for firehalls right across the province, is directly introducing in this legislation the platoon system, with these pre-determined working arrangements that are going to carve out working hours for fire departments, setting out minimums and maximums. Again, these are areas that traditionally have been bargained by fire departments, within fire departments, by the firefighters with the fire chiefs, ratified by municipalities, but this is no longer going to be the case.


Currently the vast majority of firefighters are full-time, with some voluntary fire departments, as I mentioned earlier, in areas without a fire department. Their concern is that part-time firefighters will be unable to get to the scene of a fire in a timely fashion or to remain on duty as long as may be required to fight a fire or complete a rescue, and this will jeopardize both lives and property.

In fact this is true. I live in two very different communities. My home is in a rural township of about 450 people. It's a township where I was the clerk-treasurer for 10 years before I was elected. We're the typical northern Ontario township, six miles by six miles. We have 48 miles -- I still think that way -- of road network, and only recently have we had a fire department. It's a volunteer fire department. The volunteer firefighters live and work out on farms, primarily, from the centre of the township where the firehall is located.

Mr Conway: Which township?

Mr Ramsay: Casey township is the name of the township, which borders the Quebec border. It's actually 525 kilometres due north of Toronto, right up Yonge Street.

Mr Conway: And how far west of Ville-Marie?

Mr Ramsay: A little bit west of Ville-Marie, Quebec, by about 35 kilometres, as the member for Renfrew North is very interested to note.

In that regard, we have a sparsely populated area, so obviously it's not very dense. When a call comes in, basically a call has to come out to the volunteers through a paging system. The volunteers have to come in to pick up the equipment and get out to the fire. In rural municipalities this works fairly well. Basically it's the best we can do. It's the best we can provide. It's what we really can afford. As I said, only until maybe 10 years ago, we never even had fire services in our township. I know that's common for many rural townships, especially in some of the remote areas of this province.

The other place I live is downtown Toronto, when I'm down on committee work and legislative sessions such as tonight. There is a fire station two blocks south of where I reside in the city, as there are many, many blocks around the centre core of the city. There is a permanent staffing of firefighters in those stations. When a fire breaks out, it breaks out in this particular centre core area in a highly, densely populated apartment building or office building, in the daytime, some of them as large as some of the towns I represent in the riding of Timiskaming. It is necessary to have a timely service when thousands and thousands of lives are potentially in jeopardy when a fire breaks out in any of these buildings. So the need for professional fire services in our most densely populated areas is paramount. It's absolutely essential that we have those fire services there.

To basically give the flexibility to these municipalities and to allow them to think they could start to staff these firehalls with part-time firefighters, who do an admirable job in rural Ontario, is wrong and it can't work out. Again, it's another example of this government putting cost ahead of public safety. It's another example of the lowering of standards that this government is presuming across this province, a lowering of standards in this case, as in similar areas such as winter road maintenance, that potentially puts people's lives at risk, and that's wrong.

With all the zeal for cost-cutting and government efficiencies, it's extremely important that we don't cut public safety, public security, that we don't cheapen the standards that we have worked very hard to develop over the years and that make Ontario one of the foremost jurisdictions in the world, with very high standards when it comes to public safety in regard to policing and firefighting, road infrastructure, agricultural safety in the handling of pesticides and food safety and regulation. We have very, very high standards here. And yes, they come with a cost, but over the years, up till now, it's a cost that the public has agreed is worthwhile. Here in this bill, in Bill 84, this act to promote fire prevention and public safety, we're potentially seeing a lessening of those standards, and that's wrong.

Section 44 of this bill also continues to provide that firefighters' employment can be terminated upon seven days' written notice together with written reasons. This provision does not stipulate that such a termination may be for cause. I find that very unusual. I'm not a labour lawyer, but today termination usually must be stated for cause. Although there is a mechanism for review of such terminations in accordance with the provisions of the collective agreement, or by an independent reviewer if no collective agreement process exists, it is likely that section 44 flies directly in the face of most, if not all, collective agreements. Again, this is an example of the labour agenda of this government, to break into another sector's collective agreements in this province -- in this case firefighters' -- rip those apart and change them for what Ontario sees as the betterment of the bottom line of municipalities in this province.

Probationary firefighters may be terminated without cause also at any time during the first 12 months of their employment unless their collective agreement provides otherwise. For them, there's no review mechanism for such a termination. So some young man or woman entering firefighting today doesn't have any security at all in those first 12 months. They are certainly going to be on tenterhooks as they try to prove their worth to their comrades in the force, and it is going to be a very, very difficult situation for them.

This part of the bill sets out the process for certification of bargaining agents by the Ontario Labour Relations Board. I'm not going to get into too much of that detail for now, but we're certainly going to hear more about that from firefighters during committee.

Getting back to this issue of not striking, as I said, historically the firefighters of Ontario have not struck. Firefighters of Ontario have successfully resolved their wage issues through the collective bargaining process. In a minority of cases, where the local municipality and the firefighters are unable to reach an agreement on remuneration, pensions or working conditions, the matter has been sent to a three-member arbitration panel for binding arbitration. Municipalities have been dissatisfied with this arrangement, as they feel that arbitrated settlements represent a sawoff -- that's what arbitration means -- between the two positions and that a wage settlement that divides the difference may be seen to be reasonable to the arbitrator but may be beyond the municipality's ability to pay.

Firefighters of course see binding arbitration as a reasonable tradeoff for not having the right to strike. I think we really should respect that for a group of men and women who have said, "We're not going to use the ultimate bargaining chip," especially in a case such as firefighting where people's lives are at stake. So they've never used that threat, but they've said, "For forgoing that threat, we would seek comfort in binding arbitration." I think that's a sawoff the government should accept. I think they should continue to accept that bargain with firefighters, that bargain that's never been breached. There's a trust there that up till now has always been respected by governments in Ontario of all parties, but that's stopped, unfortunately, as of now by the Mike Harris government.

Pursuant to this legislation, once certification is complete and notice of intention to bargain collectively has been given, section 53 of this bill provides that the parties must enter into a conciliation process and try to effect a collective agreement. The cost of conciliation is to be borne by all parties under this, and under section 54, if the conciliation officer is unable to effect --

Mr Bradley: On a point of order, Madam Speaker: Would the Speaker help me out on this. Could you tell me whether the time on the clock is the correct time for this speech, please? Can we confirm that's the correct time?

The Acting Speaker (Ms Marilyn Churley): What clock are you talking about? The member's speaking time?

Mr Bradley: Yes.

The Acting Speaker: Yes, I believe that is the correct time. I have no reason to believe otherwise. Do you?

Mr Bradley: Thank you. I appreciate it.

The Acting Speaker: The member for Timiskaming, continue.

Mr Ramsay: I'm very pleased that the member for St Catharines was able to verify that this is the correct time and that there only remain now six minutes to my 90-minute time allocation. I appreciate that verification by the House leader. It's one of the duties that he is paid to do by the caucus, and we appreciate that.

Mr Conway: I think it was a wakeup call for Bedrock, though.

Mr Ramsay: Maybe it was.


In concluding on this bill, section 54 of the bill is now going to require the arbitrator to take the following factors into account when making a decision: the employer's ability to pay in light of its fiscal situation -- in most cases the municipality; the extent to which services may have to be reduced if current funding and taxation levels are not increased; the economic situation in Ontario and the municipality -- that's quite something to take into account; a comparison of the terms and conditions of employment and the nature of work performed by firefighters and comparable employees in the public and private sectors; and the employer's ability to attract and retain qualified firefighters.

The history of this of course is that these provisions were imported from schedule Q of Bill 26, and there we come right back full circle to where I began, that basically Bill 84 is the son of Bill 26, Bill 26 being the mother of all bully bills. So this is another bully bill. This is one of the little bully bills that respond, if you will, to Bill 26. Here it is a year later, and who are we bullying this time? We're bullying firefighters, that's who we're bullying this time, and you're certainly going to hear from them out there. This schedule Q of Bill 26, where they were demanded by municipalities to control escalating costs caused by arbitration awards -- in the opinion of the firefighters, the imposition of government criteria and arbitrators constitutes a significant interference with the independence and the integrity of the arbitration process.

Madam Speaker, I think you would appreciate, as would most members of this House, that arbitration has been a respected step in the process of collective bargaining, one of the steps that are reached by parties before you would get to the point of striking. Therefore I think it's a step that should be preserved.

It's also been suggested that the ability-to-pay criterion in essence renders the arbitration process irrelevant since municipalities can use that to unilaterally determine wages by fixing a predetermined amount in their budgets and the arbitrators will be used by municipalities as a buffer to escape responsibility for these decisions.

Firefighters are also concerned that the requirement that the arbitrators consider the extent to which the services have to be reduced in effect encourages arbitrators to make awards that require employees to subsidize the maintenance of current levels of service through substandard wages.

I think we're seeing through this bill a total erosion of the wages and benefits that firefighters have fought for over these years, that firefighters have fought for without ever the threat of strike. Again, to put it in that context, it's important to appreciate the respect firefighters have for their employer and the citizens of Ontario, that they have never used the threat of strike, because obviously for a firefighter it would be a threat of tremendous significance, maybe, compared to somebody who produces a product. That is why they have taken that with the utmost care, that they've never used the threat of the loss of life, because that's what they would be threatening, potentially, if they ever threatened to strike, and they never have.

Through that agreement they have been awarded the rights of certain steps of collective agreements, and those steps are important to them. They have respected the right of government and citizens to have fire protection 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and they have never asked for more than to be respected in kind, to be able to sit down with their employer across the table to negotiate their hours of work, negotiate their pay, negotiate their pensions like any other workers in this province can or would want to do if they are organized.

I think the government has got to rethink this aspect of the bill. It's quiet now, but when you see the welling up of emotion and rhetoric not only from firefighters, not only from firefighting families but from the general citizenry of this province, I think you're going to be surprised, and sadly, you shouldn't be, because you as representatives, as I am, of constituencies should, more than anyone else, appreciate that these men and women lay down their lives for us every day and that they're held in such high esteem in our communities.

For you to slap this son of Bill 26 on the table, insult their integrity, breach the faith and trust they have had in the people of Ontario through this no-strike provision is wrong and it's got to be repealed. I ask you to repeal it soon. In fact, if you repealed it we could get all-party agreement on this bill and we could pass the very good aspects of this bill. It would give us some time to work on the labour relations aspects. They said they'd be willing to work this out, and I'd ask you to do that.

The Acting Speaker: Questions or comments?

Mr Bisson: I listened intently to the 90-minute dissertation by the member for Timiskaming, whatever the new riding will be called in the next election. I agree with him that there are many people in the province who are really upset about what this legislation has to say. I have here letters from about 100 residents from within the constituency of Cochrane South who I think echoed much of what the member had to say. I'd like to share with the member some of these and I would like to know if he heard similar things from residents in his riding. I have here a letter from Rhoda Dedock that reads:

"As a constituent in your riding and reviewing Bill 84, with this legislation the bargaining rights for firefighters and my safety and the safety of all of us will demise. Please inform me of" when this is going to go on and try to stop this attack on firefighters. That was just one comment from one person in my riding.

I have another letter here, one of about 100, that says he has gone through this bill, "The passing of this bill will greatly affect the safety of the general public in this province," and he asks me and Mr Hampton to do what we can to stop this bill. It's signed by André Lajeunesse. Here I don't have the time, but I've got some 100 letters.

To the member for Timiskaming, you certainly would have gotten similar letters from people within your riding, and also as critic. Why are the government members not standing up in this House and talking about some of the comments that people from across Ontario have certainly written to their ridings, about letters they would have received as backbench members of the government? I, as the member for Cochrane South, was approached by many firefighters in my constituency, as I imagine you were within your constituency of Timiskaming. They tell me they've urged firefighters in other parts of the province, where there are Conservative members, to speak to them and I'm sure they have been asked not to pass part IX of the bill. I'd be interested to know just how much public outcry the member for Timiskaming has heard against part IX of this bill, and obviously you would support our move as NDPers to stop --

The Acting Speaker: Thank you. Further questions or comments?

Mr Ford: I listened to the talk across the floor and the member for Timiskaming. I listened to the other chap here saying he had some community with 100 people. I'm talking about communities all over Ontario: North York, which has 600,000 people; East York, which has 100,000 people, Scarborough with 400,000 people; Collingwood and various other cities all over northern Ontario, and I've got numerous letters supporting the fire department. These are all fire chiefs and regional chairmen and a regional fire chiefs association:

"The association unanimously voted to support you and your government in moving forward with the changes outlined in the bill presented in the Legislature this past month. We would encourage the government to proceed with the second and third reading as soon as possible. This will enable fire service to move forward with these much-needed tools to better service the public."


You have to commend all these volunteer fire departments across Ontario, the hundreds of them, north, south, east and west. These are the people who want these changes and they want service. I'll give you a little idea here.

The member for Kingston and The Islands spoke about collective bargaining rights. Bill 84 does not take away firefighters' collective bargaining rights; it supports them. The bill updates the 50-year-old arbitration procedures to bring them more in line with other Ontario workers. We have actually added a conciliation procedure to increase the chances of negotiated settlements.

The Acting Speaker: The member's time has expired.

Mr Bisson: On a point of order: The member opposite referred to Collingwood as northern Ontario. I believe it is not in northern Ontario.

The Acting Speaker: That is not a point of order. Thank you very much. I would ask all members, before we continue, to try not to raise points of order during two-minute responses unless you absolutely have to because it interferes with a member's time. When it's only two minutes it's a problem.

M. Jean-Marc Lalonde (Prescott et Russell) : Tout d'abord je dois féliciter mon collègue de Timiskaming, qui vient de nous énumérer les points dans le projet de loi qui pourraient mettre en danger la vie de nos citoyens et citoyennes de l'Ontario. Pourtant, on peut lire le titre du projet de loi 84 comme Loi visant à promouvoir la prévention des incendies et la sécurité publique. Je crois qu'on aurait pu avoir comme titre Loi visant à réduire le coût des services d'incendie et mettre en danger la vie et la sécurité de nos citoyens et citoyennes de l'Ontario.

D'après mon interprétation ainsi que de plusieurs autres membres de cette Assemblée, nous voulons manipuler la sécurité de nos citoyens. Tout le monde est d'accord avec le but de faire des coupures, mais lorsqu'il s'agit de coupures non justifiées, comme celle-ci, je crois que nous sommes vraiment en danger.

D'après le contenu de ce projet de loi, nous allons faire de l'ingérence envers nos municipalités. Nous allons dicter les heures de travail des pompiers. Ainsi, nous allons au point de dire le cadre de travail que nos pompiers devront faire. Ceci est à la page 33 de ce projet de loi.

Toujours selon la capacité financière des municipalités, nous pouvons dire : «Si notre municipalité n'a pas la capacité financière, nous pouvons réduire le service d'incendie qui doit être desservi par nos pompiers dans les municipalités.»

Le gouvernement sait que tous les changements apportés depuis l'adoption de la Loi 26 vont entraîner des dépenses additionnelles aux municipalités. Donc, pour raccorder les deux bouts après toutes ces coupures que nous apportons et après toutes les dépenses que les municipalités devront encourir, nous devons procéder avec des coupures à la sécurité.

Mr Martin: I want to commend the member for Timiskaming for his comments tonight. I notice that he spent a fair bit of time talking about that very delicate relationship between employer and employee and some of the changes to employment standards that are included in this bill and the ramifications they will have re firefighters getting a good deal and continuing to feel appreciated and comfortable in their relations with their employers.

When you put this piece of legislation in the context of all the other anti-labour legislation that this government has brought forward, you may begin to more fully understand the anxiety firefighters have around the question of not having the right to strike. When you're in a relationship with a good employer you don't worry about that. Indeed, in this instance that particular provision was always negotiated away because there was never any fear that they were going to be dealt with in an unfair manner or taken advantage of.

When you look at what this government is about to do -- turn the responsibility for firefighting over to municipalities, with the limited resources they have to pay for that and do the kind of job that I think we all expect, and the possibility of some of that being turned over to the private sector -- you begin to understand even more fully why these folks fight not only for themselves in terms of what they get by way of payment for the very difficult job they do but for the value of that job re the community.

We should all be concerned if there's a relationship between such a valuable group of people and an employer that would put the community in jeopardy. That's why this right to strike is so very important in these very difficult times and down the road, as firefighters realize the new reality coming at them. I want to commend the member again for raising those points.

The Acting Speaker: The member for Timiskaming, you can sum up.

Mr Ramsay: I appreciate the comments of the members for Cochrane South, Etobicoke-Humber, Prescott and Russell and Sault Ste Marie after I spoke. I must say to anybody who is watching right now on television that I'm really delighted by the number of people in the House this evening. It is an excellent attendance and shows that democracy is alive and well. The minister is here too. He's been listening very intently and should be applauded for listening to the opposition speeches especially.

I have a newsletter called the Federation News from the professional firefighters' federation here in Ontario. What's very interesting is the middle page, saying that this government is on target, and they have a familiar picture of the Premier on the target. If you visit your neighbourhood firehall you will probably see this Mike Harris dartboard up in the firehall. They think the government is not on target, and I would say they are right.

Our duty here, as our House leader, the member for St Catharines, has asked the government House leader, is to continue to push until we get that motion through this House that we have public hearings right across this province. We need to get into all the municipalities and areas of this province to hear from firefighters, their families and the people of Ontario how much they are against this bill and how we can make it better.


The Acting Speaker: Further debate?

Mr Christopherson: I appreciate the opportunity to join in the debate. I had a chance to comment very briefly much earlier on in a two-minute response with regard to the consultation or lack thereof, and I had a moment to go over and be clear on exactly what the Solicitor General said when he introduced the bill today for second reading. I don't have benefit of Hansard in front of me so I am paraphrasing, but he said that there had been extensive consultation and what he didn't know, for reasons not known to this government, was why there hadn't been an act tabled before.

Let me just say to him that if there was any chance at all that a reasonable, fair, balanced response to this government's Bill 84 were possible because it had indeed given fair opportunity for consultation, we would not have had thousands of firefighters on the front lawn of the Legislature. That's not rhetoric from the opposition benches; that happened. They were out there. They were out there because you broke your promise.

This government promised directly -- and not even from the now Solicitor General; it's from the now Premier, who said very directly to firefighters, and it's on video to be seen by all, and I'm sure it's being played at every local firefighter meeting across the province, who promised that a Mike Harris government would consult with firefighters before any legislation was tabled that would affect them. Well, it didn't happen.

The firefighters in this province did not know what was in Bill 84 in terms of what was taken away from them in terms of their bargaining rights. As we all know -- anybody who has followed this issue knows -- there has never been proper, full resolution to the issue of labour relations within the existing fire legislation, and that's why the Fire Services Review Committee took as much time as it did, took as much care as it did. Because there wasn't any resolution, those firefighters had every reason to believe that this government would indeed consult with them, at least advise them; even if you wouldn't honour your commitment and consult, at the very least you'd give them fair warning of what you were planning to do, show them a draft bill, something.

But no, you dropped Bill 84 on the floor of this Legislature, and once again, as we've seen before in anything to do with labour relations, you drop the bill and off go the bombs, for the simple reason that you're taking rights away from people, and time and time again it's rights that you didn't talk about in the Common Sense Revolution. There's nothing in print in that document. You didn't talk about it on the campaign trail. You waited till you had power, and then when you had a majority where you could ram through whatever you wanted, then you started dropping the legislation on the floor of this House that took away right after right after right of working people, union and non-union, injured and able-bodied, across the board.

Firefighters responded in the one way that people in a democracy have that so far you haven't been able to take away from them, although you sure have tried, and that is, they demonstrated publicly. That's not the way of firefighters. They don't do that lightly. They very much see themselves as public servants, there to put their skills and their talents at the disposal of the public when we need them, in the kind of life-and-death emergencies when we need to be able to count on them, when they put their very health and lives and future on the line. That always sounds like rhetoric, and I guess to a degree it is, but none the less it's the truth.

When people like that feel they have absolutely no choice but to come out in front of the Legislature and demonstrate, it's a powerful message, just as it ought to be a powerful message to this government when a couple of hundred thousand other people you've shafted in other legislation took to the streets not only here in Toronto but all across Ontario, and continue to do so, because, unlike this government, they do happen to believe in democracy, and they're expressing themselves through their democratic right.

I would support very much the fact that firefighters were more than justified in responding the way they did. Let's take a look. I have but half an hour, but in that half-hour I want to point out a couple of the areas where I think there's more than enough justification.


Mr Christopherson: I realize that the member from Bedrock woke up again and that he may not be happy with this sort of thing. He's on his feet now. Is he going to say something?

The Acting Speaker: Member for Hamilton Centre, take your seat.

Mr Hastings: On a point of order, Madam Speaker: I don't mind taking lots of criticism. In fact, the member for St Catharines the other day and the member for Algoma not too many days ago pointed out that members in this House ought to be addressed by the riding which they're from. I would appreciate it if the member for Hamilton Centre would at least know where we come from: Etobicoke-Rexdale, member for Hamilton Centre. Wake up.

The Acting Speaker: Take your seat for a moment. The member for Etobicoke-Rexdale has a point. I would remind all members to refer to each other not by name or not by some kind of made-up name but by the riding from which they come. Thank you.

Mr Christopherson: Let me just say that since I didn't specifically point to any particular member, it's rather obvious that he does know of whom I'm speaking. If that has upset you --

The Acting Speaker: Member for Hamilton Centre, take your seat, please. I'd remind the member again that even if he didn't refer specifically to a particular member, it is imperative that he refer to members by the riding they come from.

Mr Christopherson: Yabba-dabba-do. Let's get on with it.

Why are the firefighters as upset as they are? Now that I have the member's attention, I'll go on to explain to him why the firefighters are so angry with him and the rest of his caucus. Let's just pick an issue. Let's start with the right to strike, which is one that seems to have some support from people, because it does seem to make sense that one would ban the right to strike in an area of such critical importance to this province. But what's not spoken of by the government is the fact that, to the best of my knowledge, and I stand to be corrected -- I don't have all my former ministerial briefing notes, but if memory serves me right -- it was a Tory government that for four decades felt that the honour and integrity of the constitution the two major firefighter unions had in this province was enough to give the kind of guarantee the people of Ontario need. That's what former Ontario Progressive Conservative governments thought. Clearly the Liberal government supported that; the NDP supported that.

It's only this hard, neo-con, far-right-wing, Reform-a-Tory Mike Harris government that feels it's necessary to insult the thousands of professional firefighters in this province by saying, "We're going to put it in the legislation anyway." You know why? It's because they're unions. It doesn't matter who they are, if they've got that label on their forehead, you're going after them.

I'll say this to the government: If one of those firefighter groups had changed their constitution and changed the fact that their position was, "We will not strike," then I could see the government standing back and thinking about it for a minute and saying, "We've got some concerns about this." I think that would be fair, and I think the firefighters would know that they were pushing a democratically elected government too far to take that stand. But no such thing happened; not one murmur anywhere in the province. You decided arbitrarily when you thought about the fact that they're unions and therefore they're the enemy and you've got to go after them every way you can. This is one more area where you were going to strip away their dignity and strip away their rights.

Did you talk about that in the Common Sense Revolution? Is that on Mike Harris's tape when he spoke to the conventions before the last provincial election? No. No, you waited till you were in here, put it in Bill 84, your sneak attack, and dropped it on the floor of the Legislature. That's the first time we ever heard that was on the line.

Did you tell firefighters or the public that you were planning to change the legislation to allow for the privatization of firefighter services? No. There's not a word of that in the Common Sense Revolution. You didn't talk about that in the overall provincial campaign, and I'll bet not one of you talked about it in your ridings.


It is now possible, under this legislation, that we could see privatized fire services in Ontario, because if you simply apply the measurement that I think you're planning to use -- and we don't know what it is because you haven't made it all public yet -- but clearly there has to be the ability to sell a service to someone who can make a profit. That's part of it. Sure, you've got a great opportunity here. There's a nice service that you can sell to one of your pals. You think that's not going to happen, folks? Then why would this government change the legislation to allow for it to happen?

Of course, they're providing for it. They're providing for it because it fits what they think Ontario ought to look like; not what the majority thinks, because that's not in the Common Sense Revolution. "We will make it possible to privatize fire services" -- not in the Common Sense Revolution.

But I'll bet you that based on a lot of the lobbying that's going on in the Tory back benches, some of you are pretty worried, because firefighters are very respected in all of our communities. As you start to move to privatize, and I believe you will -- just like every other piece of enabling legislation you've given yourself, you've moved into that area -- I think you're going to see a tremendous response from the people of Ontario as they say, "Wait a minute." Any concept of a privatized fire service, no matter how much money can be saved by reducing wages of firefighters or reducing the amount of training they have and the other means that the private sector applies when they get public services in their grip, is not acceptable to the people of Ontario. That's not a tradeoff they want.

What do the firefighters say about that? This is not new. Guess where it's been tried before, a place this government just loves: south of the border. Americans have already tried it. Alfred Whitehead, who was at the demonstration here, where I was, and my party leader, Howard Hampton, was there speaking to those firefighters, sticking up for them --

Mr Spina: Stirring up shit.

Mr Conway: I heard it but I will not repeat it.

Mr Christopherson: And it's the guy who just won't learn, you know? You've got enough trouble. I'm not going to do it to you. You've got more than enough trouble. You don't need this being -- but think about it, man. Think about what you're saying.

Mr Derwyn Shea (High Park-Swansea): Thanks, David.

Mr Christopherson: You're welcome.

Alfred Whitehead, general president of the 225,000-member International Association of Fire Fighters, was here to be with his sisters and brothers in front of this Legislature protesting Bill 84, and what did he say? He said with regard to the provisions of the bill that would allow communities to privatize fire departments: "While it is not prevalent in Canada, privatization of fire departments has been tried in a number of communities in the United States, and it has proved to be an abysmal failure. Privatization ends up costing more than a municipal fire department."

He committed himself to supporting the fight here because he knows what a disaster that is. Yes, it's a disaster for his members, absolutely, and that's why he's speaking out, but firefighters, like most professionals in this province, have not considered only themselves, not when we're talking about the life and death and safety of citizens.

If you do privatize, you can bet that the two things that will be paid for, the things that will pay that price, are reduced wages and benefits to firefighters and reduced service to the communities -- guaranteed to happen if you privatize fire services in Ontario.

What does Bruce Carpenter, president of the Provincial Federation of Ontario Fire Fighters, have to say about your bill? "This bill jeopardizes the safety of both the public and our members. It would set Ontario fire service back 75 years."

What does Jim Lee, president of the Ontario Professional Fire Fighters Association, say? "The price of the so-called cost-cutting measures contained in this bill may be measured in human lives and higher insurance rates for our citizens." For the record, that's the response of the leaders of the two professional firefighting services in Ontario.

One of the reasons that so much time was taken with the Fire Services Review Committee was to try to fashion a single piece of firefighting legislation that all of the stakeholders could buy into, that would avoid the kind of polarization that you have now replicated in the fire services, as you've done in education and health care and everywhere else that you've decided to stick your cost-cutting knife; that same polarization. We tried so hard to avoid that.

But I must say two things with regard to the process and what this government has done with it. One, I'm not surprised in the least that this government has run roughshod over the firefighters in bringing in this legislation. It's typical; it fits your track record; it's consistent with everything you've ever done that has to do with labour relations in Ontario, no matter who they are. I remember the police showing up at the Bill 26 hearings. Their major presentation was done right in my community of Hamilton -- the room was full -- and it was based on the labour relations aspect of Bill 26 and what you were doing to police officers, and firefighters for that matter. But now under this bill you've gone after firefighters.

You've gone after everybody, everybody except your pals, and your pals you're taking real good care of. They've got to be real happy. We sure don't hear a lot of criticism out there from the well-to-do in this province, do we? Don't hear an awful lot out there. I don't know what they're telling you in the back room, but boy, they're not making many waves out in the public. But everybody else is. Everybody who has to earn a wage for a living is out there. Anybody who needs the kind of support services that we've built in this province over decades of caring and sharing and building -- they're all outside complaining.

But not the well-to-do, not your pals, not the ones who are getting the $6 billion you're giving back from injured workers; not the $5 billion every year you're giving back from the tax cut; not the benefits you're going to give the well-to-do in terms of the changes you're making to the health care system, because they've got the bucks to buy what you're going to make sure they can. The same with the education system. You're going after them all. You're going after all the people who don't already have, but your friends are nice and happy.

In this case you've taken care of AMO's concerns, and you've certainly taken care of the fire chiefs' concerns, and these are important stakeholders, but it doesn't surprise me a bit that at the end of the day Mike Harris and his government gave the back of their hand to firefighters and their collective bargaining rights, because that's so consistent with the way you do things, so consistent with what you've done in terms of the ongoing, relentless attack on working people and their representatives.

I'll bet there's an awful lot of -- I know there are -- a lot of firefighters are out there going: "But I didn't think this was going to happen to us. I listened to what they said and who they were going to go after. I liked some of it and I didn't like other parts, but I thought I was okay." That's why, in large part, I think a lot of firefighters voted for your government. I have no doubt about that. But there's an awful lot of them out there who are scratching their heads saying: "How could they do this to me? I had a promise from Mike Harris. I didn't see them going after me."

I say to firefighters and anybody else who's left out there who thinks that your day isn't coming, it is. Go and talk to teachers, nurses, now firefighters, police officers, anybody out there who's already been hit by this government, and there's an awful lot of them who thought, "Oh, it wouldn't happen to me." Well, there's still $3 billion to go, and then some, if you listen to the bond rating agency, the Dominion Bond Rating Service, in terms of more billions. As that becomes necessary, they're going to go after more and more and more. And it's not going to happen to their friends. They're going to take real good care of their friends, just as they've done so far.

What else does Bill 84 do? Why are the firefighters so riled? This one perplexes me a bit, I have to admit. I don't fully understand this, and I've read a legal interpretation of it. It doesn't seem to fit any category, other than you want to make sure that firefighters can't put pension rights on the bargaining table.


You say in subsections 52(2), (3) and (4) that a collective agreement cannot provide a pension benefit greater than that determined by the minister, and that seems pretty ironclad in terms of the bill. So you've taken away the right of firefighters to negotiate any pension benefits beyond what the minister -- and it's not the Solicitor General and Minister of Correctional Services even; it's not even that minister. The bill gives that power to the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, and whatever he or she determines can't be negotiated beyond by the firefighter unions. I would say to an awful lot of other unions out there that they ought to be paying particular attention to this and worrying about what it means for them in the future, because that's the first time I think we've seen anything like that in this area. But there it is, and if the government can explain it away when we get on the road, so be it, but I can assure them they're going to be asked about it.

They've also taken away the right of firefighters to negotiate their hours of work and it seems to be rather all-encompassing. Section 52 takes away the right to negotiate hours of work. As a rule, hours of work are one of the most important quality-of-worklife issues that are negotiated by unions and their management, yet in here it's taken away from the firefighters in terms of what they can do. Again, exactly why that is I don't know. I'm sure we're going to hear perhaps safety reasons, but I don't know.

It'll be interesting to hear what does come out when we get into public hearings, but there will need to be some very clear and credible answers around why this was done. Certainly I would argue at first blush one of the reasons is it starts again to water down the effectiveness of unions, and the more you can eat away at what unions do maybe you're hoping the less and less the average worker will want to belong to a union and thereby achieve your ultimate goal of a union-free Ontario. That must keep you awake at night, thinking about that kind of fantasyland.

Another of the key issues that will be talked about and one of the reasons why you had thousands of firefighters on the front lawn is the whole issue of exclusion from the bargaining unit. Again, having dealt with this issue myself for a number of years, I understand the sensitivities on the part of particularly the fire chiefs, as the CEOs, if you will, of the fire services, and what their concerns were. But this government doesn't seem to have any interest in wanting to negotiate that with the unions or talk with them or meet with them further to nail down these final pieces in a way that everyone can live with. Oh, no, you're not interested in that.

That's again why you just snuck a lot of this stuff in here and dropped it in here, Bill 84, on the floor of the House, and the unions didn't even know it was coming. You've just given an arbitrary ability for the chiefs to designate, based on a formula, certain people who are outside the collective agreement. Well, that is a major issue with a lot of the firefighters, not the least of which is that there are an awful lot of high- seniority firefighters in relatively senior positions who also hold senior positions in the union.

That's one of the reasons why the Fire Services Review Committee -- and I know; I was there -- why that issue was taken so seriously by the previous government. That was seen, and for good reason, as a possible direct attack on the ability of the union to function in terms of their elected leadership. I grant you, this had the firefighters sort of out of step with the rest of the world, but we still have one of, if not the, best firefighting services in the entire world. There was no need, in my opinion, to rush through that issue and to set aside those labour relations issues the way you have.

But you're comfortable with that. Again, I'm not surprised. You're comfortable with just saying: "Oh, well, it's only labour relations issues. What does management want?" -- boom, boom, boom -- "Let's solve that problem, let's introduce the bill." That certainly seems to be what happened, particularly when you talk about the opportunity for the firefighters' unions to sit down and bargain and negotiate these issues as close as one can to a final resolve.

There are some other concerns in the few minutes I have left that again will come up in the public hearings. There is not a lot of clear language in subsection 41(4) about what happens to existing collective agreements based on some of the changes that are in here. A lot of the backup mechanisms, the enforcement mechanisms that one usually has in labour law, are not contained in your Bill 84. It may be that you're planning to amend those but, if that's what you do, it does speak to the fact that you rushed forward. Maybe if you'd shown this bill to others beforehand you wouldn't have had these questions, but they're there.

In a lot of the issues around potential amalgamation, especially as you change regional and local governments, the whole question of firefighting is going to be front and centre. The question of what happens to these collective agreements and who has precedence and top priority and responsibility at the end of the day, particularly if you've got the two different firefighter organizations, is very unclear. It's not resolved at all.

Those are major issues for those firefighters. They're two very proud organizations, and rightfully so, and they're quite dismayed that you haven't made it clear. If you don't make it clear in final amendment, then you must deliberately want it left that way and you maybe want them battling or you want them caught up forever in the courts or in the arbitration system. I don't know. They don't know either, and they're very concerned about these things, so I would hope that the Solicitor General will ensure that, in his opening remarks and as we move across the province, these questions are answered because the firefighters are entitled to answers around those areas.

I've got a couple of minutes left. I want to say that I expect that any of the backbench Tories who haven't yet had the privilege and happy moment of meeting with angry firefighters in their own community can expect that to happen. I see a couple of them telling me, yes, they've had that experience. Those who haven't, it's coming, although I suspect that --

Mr Toby Barrett (Norfolk): They're not angry.

Mr Christopherson: Who said, "They're not angry"? Which community aren't they angry in? Which one is that?

Mr Barrett: In Norfolk. They're all volunteers.

Mr Christopherson: Norfolk, oh, they're all volunteers.

Mr Barrett: What's wrong with that?

Mr Christopherson: Well, we'll see how happy even they are at the end of the day. You don't represent any professional firefighters at all so you get off scot-free on this one, is that the idea? You don't have to worry about a thing.

The only reason I imagine some of you, if you haven't yet had anyone come in, is that they're all backed up waiting in line because of all the other groups that want to get at you for what you're doing to them. From what I hear, everybody wants to get a piece of you backbenchers in particular and demand to know why it is you can stand behind this ridiculous agenda that's hurting so many people and you're not standing up for your own communities.

As I've said from the beginning of your government, as time goes on and you get closer and closer to the election, you will, particularly those of you who haven't yet realized you're never going to see the inside of the cabinet room unless there's a public tour, see that the only thing that matters to you is, "What do my constituents think about what I've been a part of?" You're going to be worrying more and more and more about how you're going to convince people going door to door that what you did was good for them, because you can't block out the angry citizens once the election is called. You can control who you talk with when you're in office, you can control who comes in to see you in your constituency office, but eventually those tens of thousands of people that you've gone after will get their chance to go after you.

I would urge each of you to think about that in terms of the firefighters and the impact they're going to have in your community and how you're going to answer questions to them in public meetings that will be happening as you contemplate going around the province and being on this committee. You've got an opportunity to make good on your promise to the extent that you'll at least treat firefighters with respect and dignity and honesty. You haven't done that yet. You backbenchers have the power to do that when we deal with amendments and when we go into community after community and in your responses to those firefighters.

Instead of just giving them the pat party answer, show them that you're listening, show them that you care, show them that you respect their rights, that you respect the fact that they have a legitimate argument, that they've had rights taken away from them that nobody talked about in the election campaign. If you do that, then you've got a chance to offset some of the damage that Mike Harris and the Solicitor General have done to this government's reputation in the eyes of firefighters all across Ontario.

The Acting Speaker: It being almost 12 of the clock, this House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 1:30. Good night.

The House adjourned at 2400.