L141 - Wed 18 Dec 1996 / Mer 18 Déc 1996
The House met at 1333.
Mr Richard Patten (Ottawa Centre): Ontario's teachers and students deserve a pat on the back, not a kick in the pants, which is what the Minister of Education continually does when he gets up to speak about education in Ontario. During Monday's question period, in response to a question from myself and one from the member for Durham East, the minister stated: "Surely we are number one in spending. Unfortunately, we're not number one in student achievement." These mistruths continue to be spread to justify this government's massive cuts in educational spending.
The facts speak louder than the myth-making of the Minister of Education. According to Stats Canada, for the year 1995-96 Ontario stood sixth in educational spending per pupil, not first, as the minister attempts to imply. We are behind BC, Quebec, Manitoba and the two territories. In reality, Ontario spends 2.4%, or $160, above the Canadian average. Given Ontario's cost of living, high-density society, highly diverse and great special educational needs, adult re-entry needs and inflow of immigrant families, Ontario's costs are understandable and justified. Even the former deputy minister has admitted that these comparisons are not in order.
What about the educational standards? According to the Premier's own views, Ontario has a top-grade educational system. How about the prestigious Carl Bertelsmann Foundation, which named the Durham board -- yes, the Durham board, for the member for Durham East -- as the best in the world in meeting the needs of its students in innovative ways?
Ontario's educational system is not broken, as the Minister of Education asserts --
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Thank you.
Mr Patten: You're welcome.
Mr Tony Silipo (Dovercourt): In the last couple of days we've seen two separate but, interestingly enough and sadly enough, I think related examples of what this Harris government is all about in terms of governing by consultants and governing with a complete disrespect for the services needed for people.
We saw earlier in the week a report released by one consulting company, KPMG, which tried to draw an accounting textbook approach to governing in the Metropolitan Toronto area in saying, "You could find all these great savings" -- most of which, by the way, have nothing to do with consolidation of municipalities -- "but you can also do it by laying off 4,500 people and cutting services," including services like fire services and various other services.
Then, just yesterday, we saw another example from another consulting company, this time dealing with services provided to women and children who are victims of abuse. Here again, the same approach is being applied, which is to say that you can simply, in a bottom-line approach, cut these services, have women who are victims of abuse go back to their homes or go wherever they may be able to go, without any regard to the fact that we are talking here about people who are victims of abuse, people who require more protection, not less protection.
Mr Gary Fox (Prince Edward-Lennox-South Hastings): As we took our places today we noticed an apple on the tables in front of us. No, the apples did not come from the sky and hit us on the head, leading to great insights, as happened to Sir Isaac Newton. Nor did we have to place them on our heads and risk being hit by an arrow, as happened to William Tell. Nor did we have to be coy about our apples, as pictures of Eve in the Garden of Eden would have us believe. These Empire apples are compliments of the Ontario apple growers through the Ontario Apple Marketing Commission. Each member's office has received a gift box containing Empire, Red Delicious, Crispin, Matsu, and Ontario's very own McIntosh.
We have been generously given the same fresh, top-quality apples enjoyed by people throughout Ontario and indeed around the world. The apple crop in Ontario is almost two thirds of our fresh fruit crop, and this year's harvest, while down 20% from last year, is still approximately 12 million bushels. These apples have been presented to us to bring to the attention of the House the fact that the group of Ontario apple packers is establishing a distribution network that will compete with those who import apples into the province. This will give Ontario the competitive edge it needs to compete in the world market.
VIDEO LOTTERY TERMINALS
Mr Bruce Crozier (Essex South): My statement should be on tomatoes, but today it's on VLTs. On Monday of this week, my colleague from St Catharines advised the House that the National Council on Welfare released a report on gambling that confirms yet again that VLTs are highly addictive, that they are indeed the crack cocaine of gambling, and it is governments who, in their addiction to revenue, are impoverishing the most vulnerable in our society.
Throughout the public hearings on Bill 75, witness after witness, submission after submission denounced the government's plan to forge ahead with implementing VLTs in every bar and restaurant, on every corner, in every community in Ontario. The list of municipalities that have passed resolutions prohibiting these machines in their communities grows weekly.
I and many of my colleagues and even some from the government back benches have spoken against these insidious machines and their highly addictive nature because we understand that VLTs prey upon the most vulnerable in society, because they will increase the propensity for criminal activity and because they can destroy families and disrupt communities.
The recommendations of the National Council on Welfare emphasized the seriousness of addiction to VLTs. I say to this government to follow the recommendations of the National Council on Welfare and completely ban VLTs outside highly regulated areas such as casinos and racetracks.
SPRUCE FALLS INC
Mr Len Wood (Cochrane North): Today I want to share with the members of the Legislature one of the greatest success stories in northern Ontario, in Kapuskasing.
On December 3, Spruce Falls Inc marked an important milestone: its five years of prosperity. In 1991, with the help of the NDP government, company employees, Kapuskasing and area residents, and Tembec Inc assumed ownership of Spruce Falls Power and Paper Company, saving the whole community from a dark future.
This example clearly demonstrates that when a government chooses to invest in people and communities and to build partnerships with all the parties to find practical solutions, great things can be accomplished. Today there are more than 1,000 workers on the payroll and there are plans for another $400 million to be invested in a new paper machine.
It hasn't been easy, but thanks to the commitment and dedication of all the employees, Spruce Falls Inc went from being a high-cost producer of newsprint to one of the most cost-efficient newsprint mills in North America. Spruce Falls Inc reported net earnings of $83.1 million this year.
On behalf of my NDP colleagues, I'd like to congratulate the people of Cochrane North and the employees of Spruce Falls Inc on their accomplishments and wish the company many more successful years.
This is a good opportunity to wish all the members of the Legislature and the people of Kapuskasing and Cochrane North a very merry Christmas and a happy new year.
I want to share an article: "Top Performers: Kap Mill Celebrates Fifth Year," and on the other side, "The Making of a New Company." It's good news for Cochrane North.
VOICE OF PAKISTAN
Mr Jim Brown (Scarborough West): Let me begin my statement today with an Islamic blessing for all members of the House: In the name of Allah, the merciful, the compassionate.
On December 29, we will proudly mark an important milestone celebration in the life of the Pakistani Canadian community: the silver jubilee of the Voice of Pakistan program on CHIN Radio. Ontarians of Pakistani background have enriched Canada with their dynamic traditions. What I personally most admire about them is their great devotion to their Islamic faith, the religion of Allah and his prophet Muhammad -- peace be upon him -- and their efforts among their young people to instil pride in their identity.
The Voice of Pakistan continues to play an important role in the handing down of these traditions. It helps first-generation Canadians of Pakistani origin adapt to their new country while keeping solid ties with the homeland they left behind. It is a medium of culturally relevant information for the community and is also a focus of its unity and identity.
Joining me in the House today are prominent members of the Pakistani Canadian community: Ayub Kureshy, the director of Voice of Pakistan, Gul Nawaz, Zubair Choudry and Ilyas Kureshy. On behalf of the government of Ontario and as the member for Scarborough West, I am proud to extend my warmest congratulations to you and through you to the entire Pakistani community of Ontario.
Mr Michael Gravelle (Port Arthur): Earlier this week the Minister of Health informed the board of directors of the Thunder Bay Regional Hospital that no further consideration will be given to the development of a new hospital in Thunder Bay. What does that mean? It means that despite the board's incredible tenacity and commitment, this government is determined to move forward with its vision for acute care in our city. They will move forward despite lingering, legitimate questions about the actual costs of a redevelopment of the Port Arthur General site, let alone the true costs for a new acute care site in the city.
If this is the final decision by the minister, forcing us to move forward with their imposed plan, it is absolutely vital that the minister make solid commitments in two crucial areas:
(1) If the costs for redevelopment exceed the ministry's present estimate of $64.3 million, the ministry must be obliged to cover any extra costs.
(2) If the minister wants the people of Thunder Bay to support the decision, they should hire an independent consultant to verify those costs so that 10 years down the road we're not looking at final costs that would have matched the costs of a new site.
The people of Thunder Bay have fought long and hard for what they believe is needed for health care in our community. I want to thank everyone who has rallied around this issue to send a message to the minister that we will not accept anything less than the highest health care standards for our community. There are many issues related to the integration of health care that must still be fought for. We can only hope that the minister recognizes the turmoil and anxiety this issue has generated and will come forward with a commitment to do what I've asked for today.
Mr Peter Kormos (Welland-Thorold): I'm going to tell you about Damon Albanese. He's going to turn five years old on Christmas Day, but he's not going to have his birthday in Welland, where he's from and where his family lives, because he is right now at Wyler Children's Hospital, University of Chicago. This young guy, who's as bright, active, cheerful and tenacious a little guy as you're ever going to meet, suffers from osteopetrosis, with a life expectancy, when he was born, of two years. Two bone marrow transplants, you see, because osteopetrosis, a bone disorder, causes loss of vision, hearing loss, the phenomenon of broken bones. In the case of broken bones they don't repair; they've got to be amputated.
This government gave up on Damon Albanese, notwithstanding our pleas from Welland for this government and its Minister of Health to accommodate Damon for bone marrow transplant here in Ontario through the OHIP system. This government betrayed him, but the people of Welland and Niagara region and the province, and indeed across the country, throughout the United States and Europe, didn't. They didn't turn their backs on this little boy the way this government did. They raised $172,000 so that young Damon has a chance to live something akin to a normal life.
It's shameful that Damon and his family have to go to the University of Chicago for that treatment and have to pay for it privately out of private sector funds. It's shameful that this government talks a big game about kids but turns its back on them.
KNIGHTS OF COLUMBUS LADIES' AUXILIARY
Mr Tim Hudak (Niagara South): I rise in the House today to recognize the kind and charitable actions of the Fort Erie Knights of Columbus Ladies' Auxiliary Council 3320. Elaine Greggain, Wilma Morlog, Emily Yando, Laura Hodges and Diane Schandi have dedicated an enormous amount of time to knitting wool blankets and scarves. They brought these gifts to my constituency office last week, requesting that I bring them to Toronto for the homeless. They felt it important to extend their goodwill beyond our community, even though they will never know the beneficiaries of their kind actions. Yesterday I delivered the blankets and scarves to the Scott Mission on Spadina Avenue. With the arrival of winter, I know their gifts will be put to very good use. I applaud the Knights of Columbus Ladies' Auxiliary for their altruistic and benevolent deed. I believe these kind women truly represent community spirit and volunteerism.
I know these women, like many other constituents in my riding, are very concerned about potential impact of the Niagara District Health Council's hospital restructuring committee report on Fort Erie and Port Colborne. Let me assure them that I will be standing with the people of Fort Erie and with the people of Port Colborne for better health care. I believe that through the consultation process of the Niagara DHC, we can together come up with a better health care solution for the people of Niagara South.
RONALD GLEN HODGSON
Hon Chris Hodgson (Minister of Natural Resources, Northern Development and Mines): I believe we have unanimous consent to say a few words about my uncle, who passed away last Thursday.
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Is there unanimous consent? Agreed.
Hon Mr Hodgson: It's with great sadness that I rise today to inform the House of the passing of R. Glen Hodgson. The "R" stood for Ronald, but he always went by the name Glen. He passed away in his 71st year last Thursday evening. He left behind his wife, Shirley, four children, his grandchildren, brothers and sisters and a number of nieces and nephews.
With the pleasure of the House, I'd just like to say a few words about my uncle. He was a member who served Victoria-Haliburton from 1963 to 1975. Prior to entering public life, he was a partner and owner of a logging operation in Haliburton county. He was an honorary member for 28 years in the Ontario Forest Products Accident Prevention Association. He served his community in a number of capacities, including on Dysart council. He was the chairman of the telephone commission. In the Legislature he was the caucus chair for three years. He was chairman of numerous standing committees in the Ontario Legislature, in particular for two years as Chairman of the standing committee on implementation of new rules and structures -- many of those are still in place today -- and the Chairman of the select committee on rules and procedures.
We have a fairly close family and my early recollection of Uncle Glen was that he shared the same family affliction that my father and aunts and uncles all share, and that is this uncontrollable compulsion to always give advice, even when it's not asked for, but it was always advice given not out of his own self-interest but because he cared about what his nieces and nephews were up to.
I got to know Uncle Glen better in the 1980s, when he was on Dysart council but away from the Legislature. It was at hunting camp. His favourite season of the year was hunting season. In the early 1980s I decided to try it, and I've gone back every year since. One of the things that you enjoy is the camaraderie of the hunt, but after the hunt, after the arguments about where the dogs ran and how many deer and who missed and who shot have died down, in the evenings you sit around and occasionally play cards. It's dealer's choice, as long as you play seven card stud for quarters. Throughout the evening my uncle and some older members of the community would sit around and talk about stories, about the history of the community, about people in the community, occasionally about politics and quite often about how the Leafs were going to make a revival that year.
At the end of the evening, when the card game was over and my uncle had driven home, you'd be left with this understanding of how deeply he cared about the people in our community and about the traditions of our community and about the lifestyle of people in rural Ontario. This understanding I have grown to appreciate more and more since those days. We subsequently had numerous afternoons of talking at the cottage around history and politics, and spending the odd day in a car campaigning in the last two elections I've been involved in. I grew to appreciate his service to the community and what it meant to be a member of the provincial Legislature from 1963 to 1975.
Members who were here in those years would appreciate that there was no constituency staff, there was no one to help you out with inquiries from your constituents and yet the province had become a modern province. In 1963-64 the first $1-billion budget was passed and by 1975 it was approaching $10 billion. Tremendous change in those years: Huge bureaucracies grew up, ministries doubled in size and quadrupled in staff, and yet a member from rural Ontario did rather well. We got our fair share. People were given a fair hearing.
He had a deep appreciation for the British tradition and the process of the Legislature. Through that people were treated fairly. That was the role of government: to help people. Whether he was serving as a father or as an uncle or as a member of the Legislature or as a member of the Dysart council or even, in retirement, as the mayor of Haliburton Lake, he served with integrity. He was his own man. He thought about a situation in a thoughtful and unselfish manner. He will be missed.
Mr James J. Bradley (St Catharines): On behalf of the Liberal caucus, I am pleased to pay tribute to Glen Hodgson, who served his constituents so well as a member of this assembly, and of course the people of Victoria-Haliburton in many other ways as he strived to be a person who was interested in, concerned about and involved in public service.
I cannot, just as the representative of the New Democratic Party cannot, speak in the same way about Mr Hodgson as does the Minister of Natural Resources, who in a very personal way knew him as part of the extended family. I'm very pleased to hear the words that he brought forward today because he shared with members of the assembly, many of whom are new, some insights into an individual whom we know only as a person from a biography or as a person we perhaps read about in the days when he was a member.
His involvement with the government caucus was rather interesting in that he held some titles that are difficult to hold. Chairman of the government caucus for three years is indeed a challenge. Anybody who has had that position recognizes that you have to balance a lot of basketballs at the same time or juggle an awful lot of instruments in your hand while trying to please everyone within a caucus. It takes a special kind of person to do that, a person with a special personality, as Glen had. I'm sure that although cursed on a day or two by those who didn't get their way on that day, he was nevertheless loved by all members of the caucus and appreciated for that service. As well, he was deputy whip for three years under Premier John Robarts, again not always an easy position. Wherever you have to make a call, wherever you have to decide one person speaks instead of another person or where you have to round up the government troops, if I can call them that, who want to be back in the constituency for a very important event but must be in this House for a vote, that's a challenging job as well. He took it on willingly and did a good job in that regard, because of course the government did not fall on any of those occasions, so he must have been doing his job.
He was on some rather interesting committees. Members will know that today we don't have as many select committees as we once had. He was a member of the select committee on economic and cultural nationalism in 1971 and 1972, which is an indication of the kind of issues that we had to deal with as a province in those days. He was Chairman of the standing committee on the implementation of new rules and structure in the Ontario Legislature and Chairman of the select committee on rules and procedures. The government House leader must wish that he had consulted with him previous to his passing, because he may have had some insights. He might have been surprised at the rules under which we live today in that probably the rules in those days were much more accommodating of the opposition than they are today.
But it was an important job nevertheless, important because he was in a majority government, because he had to take into account the views of the government but also the views of all members of the Legislature. If anyone had an opportunity to read his résumé and to learn a bit about him, they would see that the name of the game for Glen Hodgson was public service in any capacity.
We've heard, most appropriately, of the personal relationship that the present member for Victoria-Haliburton had with his uncle. I suspect that most people in his community, perhaps even all members in the community, would share that point of view of Glen Hodgson as a true public servant, as a good constituency person, remembering that probably Shirley was the "secretary," as they might have said in those days. Because there were not constituency offices, Shirley and members of the immediate family would be answering the phone and helping out in many ways, probably even to a deeper extent than is the case today.
To Shirley and all members of the family and to the present member for Victoria-Haliburton, those of us in the Liberal caucus convey our sincere sympathy but also our shared feeling of pride in a person who has served our province and his constituency well.
Mr Bud Wildman (Algoma): On behalf of the New Democratic Party caucus and particularly the dean of the House, the member for Nickel Belt, who couldn't be here to speak about Glen Hodgson, I want to express our condolences to his widow and children and grandchildren, and particularly to the Minister of Natural Resources.
We all listened with care to the obviously heartfelt comments of the member for Victoria-Haliburton, and I must say I was touched by them. I also recognize that while this is a loss to the family, it's a loss to the community. This was an individual who served his constituents well in this House and, after leaving this place, continued to serve and be committed to his community. We should be celebrating that fact, and I know the current member is doing that today, as well as feeling a sense of loss.
I would say, after hearing the comments by the Minister of Natural Resources about his uncle, that perhaps all of us in this assembly should really think very carefully about some of the ways we express ourselves and express views about politics and politicians today. At a time when the currency of politics and politicians is devalued, perhaps we should think of the contributions of people like Glen Hodgson before we play to that kind of popular view out there and think of all the people who have served us so well over the years in Ontario and continue to serve us well, as Mr Hodgson did.
With that, I would just simply say on behalf of my colleagues and, as I said, particularly the member for Nickel Belt, who is the only member of the House currently serving to have served with Mr Hodgson, that we express our sincere sympathies to Mrs Hodgson, her children and grandchildren and the whole family, including the current Minister of Natural Resources.
The Speaker: I will endeavour to ensure that the comments get back to the family, although I am certain they will in another fashion.
Mr Mike Colle (Oakwood): I have a question for the Minister of Municipal Affairs. Minister, it seems that every December some strange spirit takes over your government; but it isn't the spirit of Christmas, it's the spirit of dictatorship. Last year it was Bill 26, this year it's megacity madness.
Yesterday you made some astonishing statements in this House. You said that the 2.3 million people who live in Metro can have all the referendums they want, but you and the Premier are not going to listen, no matter what they say. You're going to ram the megacity down their throats anyway. Minister, this megacity you are imposing by decree was not in the Common Sense Revolution. Where did you get the right to suspend democracy in Metro and ram this down the throats of the citizens of Metro?
Hon Al Leach (Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing): In response to the member for Oakwood, it is in the Common Sense Revolution, if the members opposite would like to turn to page 17. I am sure that the position of the government in eliminating duplication and waste, reducing the number of levels of government, levels of municipal government -- it's quite clear to me that it says that each area in the province should be looked upon on its own merits.
With respect to the referendum, as I mentioned yesterday, a referendum is not appropriate when there are a multitude of questions that would have to be asked to satisfy the needs of all the people of the Metro area.
Mr Colle: Minister, you may call this monster you're creating a megacity, but let me tell you what the people of Metro Toronto are calling it. They're calling it a mega-mistake. They're calling it megalomania. They're calling you the tinpot dictator of Metro.
Why are you showing such contempt for the people of Metro? Why, in the 905 area and the rest of the province, are you giving them a say and setting up facilitators, yet here in Metro you're treating us like second-class citizens and dictating and saying we can't have a say? Why the different treatment for Metro?
Hon Mr Leach: That question comes from Mr Amalgamation, by the way, the person who was in favour of amalgamation when he was on Metro council, when he was running for council. It's amazing the way positions change from day to day.
However, this is a question that has been debated within the Metro area since 1966. There was a referendum in 1969, which was successful. It came up again in 1978. It has been debated by, I believe, just about every council since that time. The only thing that was lacking in making this move was the political will to do so. This government is prepared to make those difficult decisions. We have and we will.
Mr Colle: This is the same minister who was a co-chair of the Trimmer commission that said, "Keep local government." This is the same minister who set up the Burnham-Shea report that said, "Keep local government." This is the same minister who said he was against MVA, was going to oppose it. So don't tell me about double standards, Minister.
Let's call this what it is. If this were taking place in a foreign country and the government-appointed trustees were to take over control of the largest city, if it were imposed on the people without their will, we would all denounce it as an imposition of martial law. We would say, "This is a coup d'état." We would say, "This is a tinpot dictatorship."
Minister, you have even gone as far as to put yourself and your trustees above the law. In your own legislation you say, "The decisions of the board of trustees are final and shall not be reviewed or questioned by the courts." You can't even question. Who gave you the authority to be above the law? Where is it in the blue book that you're above the law?
Hon Mr Leach: The member brings up the question of the trustees and what powers they should have and whether we should have them. Why should we have a board of trustees? Let me count the ways: The city of Toronto board of management this morning passed a motion to transfer all of its reserves to a non-profit corporation. I think perhaps that might be a good reason why we need somebody to look after the affairs of the citizens of this area. We're looking after the taxpayers' dollars. We want to make sure the taxpayer is protected even if you don't.
Mr Gerry Phillips (Scarborough-Agincourt): My question is to the Minister of Municipal Affairs. It has to do with the property taxpayer and the impact of the megacity proposal on property taxpayers. There's no question that property taxpayers fear that this is going to result in increased property taxes. We have the embarrassing sight, frankly, of your commissioning a three-week study on something this fundamental. Believe me, if you were in the private sector, you'd be fired for trying to run a business like this.
You're asking us to make an informed decision on Metro without all the facts. We know that in a few weeks you plan to table property tax legislation that will result in, we understand, $500 million of Metro's property tax being taken out of Metro and spent elsewhere in the province. If you want us to make an informed decision and the people of Metro to make an informed decision, will you table this essential property tax legislation today so it can be part of our debate on Metro?
Hon Mr Leach: Again, I can only assume the members opposite do their research through three-month-old copies of the Toronto Star, because the stories on assessment review, what would happen with assessment review, the effects of assessment review, were all discussed openly and publicly months and months ago.
We will be bringing in legislation in the near future on property tax reform, and I'll make sure the members opposite are the first to get a copy.
Mr Phillips: I would just say to the public watching this, you can understand the problems we have with this minister. He didn't even understand the question. The question was, "Will you table that legislation?" I gather you're saying you won't now.
I'll go back to a few things you've said, Minister, because it all relates to residential property tax, and this is the question people want answered. You have said to this Legislature you were reducing property tax on apartments. You've said that. You've said you were going to reduce property tax on business. You have said that you were going to cut grants to municipalities by hundreds of millions of dollars, and your new legislation is going to take millions of dollars, hundreds of millions of dollars, of property tax out of Metro.
The question is this: You have said all of those things. Will you present to the people of Metropolitan Toronto the impact on their property tax of all these various pieces of property tax manoeuvres you are planning so that we can make an informed, sensible decision on this megacity?
Hon Mr Leach: As in my previous answer when I advised the member that this issue has been discussed for many, many months, there is no tax grab; there is a tax shift. There will be a new, fair and equitable system of taxation brought in for all of the residents of the province of Ontario and particularly those in Metropolitan Toronto. There are a number of people in Metropolitan Toronto whose tax bills are too high at the present time, and we want to bring that back to fairness. There are a number of people in Metropolitan Toronto whose taxes are too low. This proposal that we're bringing in will bring fairness and equity, and we will table that in the very near future.
Mr Phillips: Surely if you want the people of Ontario, the people of Metro, to make an informed decision on your legislation, it demands that you provide that information. You have indicated that some people in Metro Toronto are paying too low taxes. We need to know that.
You are asking us to proceed with legislation that fundamentally changes the most successful urban area in North America. That's without question. You are asking us to proceed with legislation to change Metro without telling us how education is going to be handled. Some 55% of property tax in Metropolitan Toronto is education. You are asking us to proceed without tabling the legislation that you've already indicated is fundamental to property tax reform. Surely, Minister, even you would appreciate that you are asking the Legislature to proceed without the essential elements of the decision-making. Will you provide the property taxpayers of Metro with a clear answer on the impact on their property tax of your megacity proposal?
Hon Mr Leach: To repeat, the issue of property tax reform in Metro is another issue that has been debated by all levels of government -- local government, Metro and the Legislature -- over the past five years. Everybody in Metropolitan Toronto is well aware of the shifts in taxes that are going to take place when a fair and equitable property tax reform is introduced. I doubt if there's one member opposite who isn't aware of the shifts in taxes that are going to take place, but those shifts in taxes are going to bring fairness and equity back into the system. A very difficult political decision to make: We had the will to make it.
SERVICES FOR ABUSED WOMEN
Mr Howard Hampton (Rainy River): My question is for the minister responsible for women's issues. I want to tell the minister that people across this province are shocked that your government would seriously consider a report which recommends pushing women out of crisis homes and women's shelters after less than 48 hours.
This is what somebody from the Canadian Association of Sexual Assault Centres said when she was contacted by your ministry: "I told her that transition houses and rape crisis centres were the great achievements of our generation toward ending violence against women. I reminded her that transition houses and rape crisis centres save women's lives and that the public has been supportive of them since their creation and the public would not wish for their destruction."
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Question.
Mr Hampton: Minister, how can you seriously be even considering this report? How can you even give it a minute of second thought? I'm calling for you today to say that you are not going to consider this report, that this recommendation of 48 hours is --
The Speaker: Thank you. Minister?
Hon Dianne Cunningham (Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, minister responsible for women's issues): First of all, I wouldn't agree with the interpretation of the 48-hour recommendation, but even if the member opposite is right, he hasn't got cause for concern. It is not our intent to ask women to leave shelters until they can go to a safe environment and I want to make that very clear.
Mr Hampton: We made some headway in a day. We're going to go a bit further here.
Let me put this in context, what people find so shocking. We've done some of the numbers and we know that your government, through your tax scheme, is going to give bank chairs and bank presidents $200,000 in tax gifts. So put this in context: While you're giving bank presidents $200,000 in tax gifts, and bank CEOs and bank vice-presidents, how can you even give this report a minute of consideration? I want to hear categorically from you that under no circumstances are you going to force women out of shelters and out of crisis centres, categorically that you're rejecting that totally. I want to hear that from you now.
Hon Mrs Cunningham: In response to the member's question, there is no recommendation that women be forced out of shelters in the report I read. I should also say that right now the flexibility within shelters from area to area across the province will remain, because anyone who goes to a shelter and any shelter that is trying to take care of women who have been abused and protect their safety should have that kind of flexibility. I'm not going to interfere in how they apply that standard, but that's their job and they're doing it very well.
I should say at the same time that this report is all about what the former government had as a recommendation and they didn't act on it: the absolute need for a structure and a framework for action on the prevention of violence against women. They had almost 100 reports and they never acted on any of them, even to do with the wonderful agreements we have with our Attorney General for domestic assault courts.
Mr Hampton: Yes, our government was concerned about providing funding for crisis centres and for women's shelters, and our government was concerned about providing money for counselling and actually conducting a public information program that would say to people, "Say no to violence against women" -- all things you've cut. So let's get the record straight.
We phoned some crisis centres and women's shelters, and I say to you very clearly that none of them want this so-called flexibility you're advocating here. They want your government to stand behind shelters and crisis centres and they want you to categorically say you are not going to consider this report, to stand in your place now and say categorically that 48 hours is out and that some of the other damaging things in this report with respect to women and children are out and off. Will you give that commitment?
Hon Mrs Cunningham: There are many recommendations in this report. Some of them one would agree with, others one may not, but there are some very good recommendations in the report. These are very serious and important issues that the leader of the third party is raising. I value the opportunity to speak about them.
I say to the leader of the third party that once he has thoroughly read the report, he will agree with me that the officials in the nine ministries responsible for the delivery of this program -- and he as a former Attorney General for this province should know that improvements must still be made. Some of the recommendations are in this report; other recommendations are coming from the ministry on a day-to-day basis. The focus of this report and the focus of this government is to make a safer Ontario for women, and that's what we intend to do.
Mr Hampton: This report is all about cutting services for women, nothing more than that.
FAMILY SUPPORT PLAN
Mr Howard Hampton (Rainy River): My next question is for the Attorney General, with respect to the family support plan and the chaos you've created. You've closed down the regional offices, you laid off 290 experienced staff, and now families, women and children, are left scrambling to try to make up for the chaos you've created.
Maria Godin of Sudbury received her last support payment in October. She is now owed over $650. She's a single parent with a nine-year-old boy, works part-time as a cashier and needs her family support payments to make ends meet. Her mortgage payment is due on Friday, and she doesn't have the money to pay it. She confirmed that the support payor continues to pay money into the family support plan but there it disappears, none of it gets to her.
It's a week before Christmas. My question is this: Will you commit today to provide emergency funding for all those women and children who have not received their money from --
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Thank you. Minister?
Hon Charles Harnick (Attorney General, minister responsible for native affairs): Certainly we are endeavouring to ensure that payments are made as fast as possible. We've increased the ability to make those payments faster than they have ever been made before.
To respond directly to the member, we are finding, as we track each and every one of these cases, that it's very difficult to say it's always the family support plan's problem. There are many variables. Sometimes there are variables that involve the income source, sometimes there are variables that involve the payor and sometimes we are not in receipt of the correct funds to be able to make that commitment. So what we are continuing to endeavour to do is ensure that we get payments made, that we get them made as fast as possible, and that we continue to improve a plan where three out of four people didn't get paid by the family support plan even though they had an order and were entitled.
Mr Hampton: The Attorney General continues to talk about how he's improving the family support plan. I want to read to the Attorney General his own statistics. These are your figures. Before you closed down the regional offices, the family support plan collected and issued $44.9 million in support payments for the month of May 1996. In September, after you had closed down the regional offices and laid off 290 staff, the family support plan collected only $37.2 million in family support, a drop of $7.7 million after you started to improve the plan. In October, the plan only collected and issued $28.7 million in family support, a decrease of $16.2 million after you started to improve the plan. Your own numbers don't lie, Minister. Since you started cutting the plan, the amount of money that you're collecting and distributing is going down.
I say to you again, will you have the decency now to put in place emergency funding to correct the chaos that's been created by your cuts?
Hon Mr Harnick: I want to tell you that in the first week of December 1996, we processed $15.8 million in payments. A year earlier, in the first week of December 1995, we disbursed $11.8 million. A year earlier, we disbursed in that same week $11.8 million. So the amount of moneys being processed is increasing. We have been paying out more money than has ever been paid out before. As it now stands and as we look at the complaints coming in, most of these complaints are complaints of long standing.
Mr Hampton: The Attorney General continues this phoney story. We expected that would be your answer, so we checked. The fact is, Mr Attorney General, that much of the money that you are getting out now, in December, was owed in August, in September, in October. All you're doing is getting out money now that should have been gotten out three, four and five months ago. This is not catching up, this is not being up to speed; this is a continuation.
Let me just show you the historical record. In 1991-92, family support collected $166 million and distributed it. In 1992-93 it was increased to $221 million. In 1993-94 it went up to $297 million collected and distributed. In 1994-95 it went up to $367 million collected. You see, Minister, if you were improving the plan, you'd have to get above that $367-million figure, you'd have to get above it, not paying out things that you missed in August, September, October and November.
I say to you again that what you have done is you have --
The Speaker: Minister.
Hon Mr Harnick: When the member was the Attorney General, he could have provided a bill that provided real, good enforcement measures. He elected not to do that. As a result of that, this plan has been in arrears by about --
The Speaker: Order. Minister
Hon Mr Harnick: It was the boast of the then Attorney General that he would make sure that 60% of all people were going to be in receipt of full payment of what was due to them. When we took over the government, 23.5% of all recipients were getting what was coming to them. Those five lost years were an abysmal record and we are attempting to re-create a plan that will provide better service and more money to women and children.
Mr James J. Bradley (St Catharines): On a point of order, Mr Speaker: In view of the answer given by the Attorney General, I'm wondering how three cheques addressed to no one, from the family support office, would show up at the member for Prescott and Russell's office.
The Speaker: It may be a good question, but it's not a point of order.
SERVICES FOR ABUSED WOMEN
Ms Annamarie Castrilli (Downsview): My question is also to the Attorney General. The Attorney General has repeatedly voiced in this House his commitment to fight spousal abuse and we on this side of the House want very much to take him at his word. The evidence, however, is quite the contrary. This government has slashed funding for violence against women. It has slashed funding for prevention programs, women's emergency shelters, support programs, legal aid and welfare benefits, to mention a few. Women have little choice but to return home to dangerous situations.
The report released yesterday compounds the problem. It has been panned by everybody who is involved with women who are the subject of violence. The London Sexual Assault Centre and the Genevra House in Sudbury are but two of the centres that have denounced the measures contained in this report. It isn't just a question of the 48-hour limit that is imposed on women in shelters. It has to do with leaving it up to neighbours to report abuse to the authorities and it has to do with not prosecuting offenders because it might lead to reoffence and this will be very expensive for the system.
I therefore would like to ask the Attorney General, as the chief law enforcement officer of this province, will he intervene to protect women from further abuse and assure them that the justice system will continue to prosecute offenders and that women will not --
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Thank you, member for Downsview.
Hon Charles Harnick (Attorney General, minister responsible for native affairs): As this matter deals with the issue of the report, I will refer this to the minister responsible for women's issues.
Ms Castrilli: On a point of order, Mr Speaker: I was asking the Attorney General about prosecutions. I was not asking about the report.
The Speaker: I appreciate the point you're making but the minister has every right to refer questions --
The Speaker: I've got to rule first. The minister has every right to refer a question wherever he or she chooses. It's just that simple.
Hon Dianne Cunningham (Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, minister responsible for women's issues): The violence against women initiatives, as set up by and worked with other, former governments, cross many ministries. I can answer in a very positive way to the concern of the member who asked the question, in that we're very proud of our track record of laying charges here in Ontario. We will continue to do that. That will be our first course. We have set up specialized courts, specialized prosecutors to work with the police. The two courts, one in North York and one in Toronto, will now track the results of these specialized courts, these specialized prosecutors and the charges, which has not been done before, and perhaps we can move forward with even a better system to address the needs of women.
Ms Castrilli: I find this very interesting, and I think if the minister is now trying to disown her own report, that is certainly the image that is coming here.
I wonder if the minister might be so kind as to refer the question back to the Attorney General, because my question really has to do with prosecution and defending the rights of women, who are the vulnerable, who are the victims here. I'm not interested in the report. I'm interested in knowing what the Attorney General is prepared to do on the basis of the information we now have.
Are we going to have a situation where dangerous offenders, where people who abuse women are going to be let off scot-free from prosecution on the basis of this report? This is what I want to know, and I'd like assurance from the government that in fact women will not be penalized. They've already been victimized by the system once. Surely they're not going to be victimized by this government and surely they are not going to be victimized by the silence which I see across the way.
Hon Mrs Cunningham: If I could just make a very important clarification, this is not our report. This is a report that was given to the government by a consultant, and we will take into consideration the recommendations as a very small part of the great challenge we have across this province of finding better solutions to protecting women who have been violated. I want to make it extremely clear --
Mrs Sandra Pupatello (Windsor-Sandwich): Where is your backbone, Dianne?
The Speaker: Members for Windsor-Riverside and Fort York.
Mr David S. Cooke (Windsor-Riverside): Pardon me?
The Speaker: Oh, I'm sorry. Member for --
Mr John R. Baird (Nepean): She's not the member for Windsor-Riverside yet.
The Speaker: Well, you know who I'm talking to.
Hon Mrs Cunningham: The recommendations of this report do require very careful and serious analysis. The analysis by the Attorney General will be extremely important. I should say also that the officials in the line ministries, some nine of them, are spending time doing that right now. They're looking at the implications, and I want to make it clear, of the consultant's recommendations. We know that there are other ongoing evaluations of programs, and the bottom line for this government is to develop a framework for the prevention of violence against women.
The Speaker: New question, leader of the third party.
Mr Howard Hampton (Rainy River): I have a question to the Minister of Municipal Affairs, but I want to say to the minister responsible for women's issues, you commissioned the report, you paid for it and you handpicked the consultants to write it.
Hon Mrs Cunningham: On a point of privilege, Mr Speaker: There is a process where governments put out a call for proposals, and maybe this government didn't follow the --
The Speaker: It's not a point of privilege.
The Speaker: It's not a point of privilege. Minister of the Environment, member for Sudbury East, please come to order, and the member for Brant-Haldimand.
Mr Howard Hampton (Rainy River): To the Minister of Municipal Affairs: Minister, you've said that you'll ignore the results of any referendum the mayors hold on your megacity, yet you're the government of referendums. You put out this discussion paper called Your Ontario, Your Choice, extolling the virtues of referendums. On page 5 you say that as a result of the Charlottetown accord referendum it was shown that people are wiser, that they deserve to be consulted on these kinds of issues. How can you say that something as complex as a constitutional document should be submitted to a referendum when an issue about how Toronto wants to be governed shouldn't be submitted to a referendum? How do you make that distinction?
Hon Al Leach (Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing): I guess I make that distinction in the same way that the leader of the third party makes distinctions when he says referendums aren't required for amalgamations if they happen to be in Hamilton-Wentworth. You got up there and said a referendum isn't appropriate for an amalgamation. The sounds of flip-flops come from both sides now. The member from Hamilton from the Liberal Party, the member from Hamilton from the New Democratic Party and the leader of the third party all say that a referendum is inappropriate for the amalgamation issue, and I agree with them.
Mr Hampton: So that the minister is clear, let me put it to you right now. Yes, I believe a referendum is in order in Hamilton, especially after the so-called consensus that you thought you had isn't there. So I think we should have a referendum in Hamilton too.
Minister, we know that you've consulted all your corporate friends at the board of trade. They've all had their say about how Toronto should be governed. What I'm asking you now is: Will you sit down with the mayors -- they were elected to help govern the city of Toronto -- and develop a referendum question so that all of the people of Metro Toronto can have their say in how they're going to be governed? You've given your corporate friends at the board of trade their say. Will you give the people their say? Will you give them a referendum?
Hon Mr Leach: I'm glad that the leader of the third party let the citizens of Ontario know that he'll flip-flop any time it suits his own political agenda.
With respect to meeting with the mayors, we met with the mayors. The Premier and I met with all of the mayors.
Mr Mike Colle (Oakwood): What about the Trimmer report? Do you remember Joyce Trimmer?
Mr Hampton: I shudder to think that you once ran the TTC.
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Order. Member for Oakwood, you're going to have to come to order. Leader of the third party, you're going to have to come to order as well. It's near impossible to hear the minister respond.
The Speaker: Member for Lake Nipigon, it's even better if you're not out of order when I'm standing. Thank you. Minister?
Hon Mr Leach: We met with the mayors. The Premier and I met with all of the mayors. We discussed the referendum question. We talked about it. We pointed out the problems with a referendum.
Mr Bud Wildman (Algoma): And you didn't agree with them.
Mr Rosario Marchese (Fort York): Answer the question.
Mr Hampton: Will you give the people a say? What's wrong with democracy?
The Speaker: Third party, I'm warning you now. That's officially the warning, I suppose. That's it. I've got to get the minister to respond. It's not productive.
Hon Mr Leach: That's good advice. He might learn something if he listened. As I said, we discussed this with the mayors. We pointed out all of the problems with a referendum. We advised the mayors of the problems in holding a referendum when you have so many questions that could be put on the ballot that there is no way possible to get a logical answer on a referendum ballot on this issue. The mayors know that. The mayors are out posturing. I think they're taking some pretty irresponsible actions by reporting that they're going to spend millions of dollars of taxpayers' money on a referendum that will have no positive or useful results.
FAMILY SUPPORT PLAN
Mrs Helen Johns (Huron): My question is to the Attorney General. I understand that in London a family court judge has ruled that a family support plan recipient and her ex-husband should be allowed to opt out of the family support plan. Would you comment on this with specific reference to whether they should be able to opt out of the plan.
Hon Charles Harnick (Attorney General, minister responsible for native affairs): Thank you, to the member for Huron, for the question. It's inappropriate for me to speak about any individual case, but I'm well aware that there are many responsible parents around Ontario who don't need the government to be looking over their shoulder in order to ensure that support payments are paid and received.
I couldn't agree more with the comment that the member made. That's why Bill 82, which was recently passed, permits people to opt out of the plan to avoid the government and to make their payments on their own. This would simplify things for responsible parents. It gets the government away from those who don't need the enforcement, and it frees up resources so that the Family Responsibility Office can do what it's intended to do, and that's track people down who aren't paying their family support.
Mrs Johns: Why did it take so long to bring this commonsense approach to family support between responsible parents?
Hon Mr Harnick: It's always been my position that responsible parents don't need the government to look over their shoulders to ensure that they're living up to their family support responsibilities.
The member should know that when the previous government brought in its plan, the member for Oakville South and I argued strongly for an opting-out provision. We even provided an amendment to the bill that the former government wouldn't listen to. It was common sense then and it's common sense now that we allow people who are responsible to opt out of the plan.
We're also doing other commonsense things --
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): The member for London Centre, I warn you. You must come to order. Minister?
Hon Mr Harnick: We're also in Bill 82 doing other things that are long overdue: suspending the driver's licence of those who don't pay, reporting people to credit bureaus, and also referring collection matters to private collectors so that we can in fact collect money for women and children.
Mr Joseph Cordiano (Lawrence): I direct my question to the Minister of Municipal Affairs again, give him the opportunity to answer some questions for a change. Yesterday we witnessed your coronation as emperor. You marched your forces of occupation into Metro Toronto and declared: "I'm in charge now, no questions asked. We're moving forward." What you did yesterday denied the people of Metro Toronto a basic democratic right: the right to have a say in how they are governed. You didn't consult. You didn't even give them fair warning.
At what point in the last election campaign did you suggest that you were going to force amalgamation on the people of Metro Toronto? What mandate do you have from the people of Metro to erase their local identities and impose a forced assimilation? What right do you have, Minister?
Hon Al Leach (Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing): I answered that question earlier to the member for Oakwood. If the member wants to read the Common Sense Revolution and see the position that our government took on municipal governments, layers of government, overlap, waste, duplication, that we would do everything in our power to get rid of it --
Hon Mr Leach: Flip to page 17, to the member for Oakwood. I'll come over and read it for him if he would like, point it out to him if he has difficulty understanding the English language.
We pointed out on a number of occasions that we were going to eliminate waste and duplication and overlap of governments. We said there were too many governments, we said there were too many politicians, and there are.
Mr Mike Colle (Oakwood): Mr Speaker, on a point of order: The minister mentioned that the megacity legislation proposal was on page 17 in the blue book, the Common Sense Revolution. It is not there. Will he correct that?
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): No. You can correct your own record and on occasion you can even correct another member of your caucus's record, but you can't be allowed to correct other members' records.
Mr Cordiano: Minister, you can't go ahead with your forced amalgamation. You can't do it without consulting the people first. Act like a democratic leader instead of a dictator.
I ask the minister a very simple question: Will you support my private member's resolution calling for a referendum on this forced amalgamation? I've tabled that with the clerks right here in the Legislature. That's up for debate. I want to know: Will you support my private member's resolution calling for a referendum on this matter? Will you allow the people of Metro Toronto a say in how they're going to be governed?
Hon Mr Leach: Let me think about that for a minute. No.
Ms Frances Lankin (Beaches-Woodbine): My question is to the Chair of Management Board. On numerous occasions, I've raised the issue of four school-based day care centres in Toronto that will be forced to close because your government refuses to provide the $1.5 million in capital funding that's required.
I've got the commitment of the Minister of Community and Social Services twice now to meet with the parents. That meeting was scheduled for yesterday. It got cancelled at the last minute and they were told it was because the executive assistant wanted to go to a briefing on the megacity legislation. They're furious. They had to take time off work. They're angry, and rightly so.
The Toronto Board of Education has been told that Management Board and your government refuses to provide the $1.5 million in capital funding and an alternative should be looked at. One of the parents was told by one of the minister's staff that they have had conversations with a commercial, for-profit operator who wants to move into those centres. In fact, she told them that many commercial, for-profit operators want to move into school-based centres. Is this your goal, your government's goal, Minister, to drive non-profit, parent-board centres out of business and hand them and public school building facilities over to your commercial, for-profit allies?
Hon David Johnson (Chair of the Management Board of Cabinet, Minister of Health, Government House Leader): I know representatives of the day care centres had a meeting arranged yesterday, I believe it was, with staff of the ministry involved, the Ministry of Community and Social Services, and unfortunately that meeting had to be cancelled.
I know that staff have met on at least one other occasion with the staff of one of the day care centres. Meetings are being arranged at this point and there is a willingness obviously to get together and to cooperate and to look at this matter. That's the forum in which it should be discussed and I'm quite confident those meetings will be arranged between the ministry and the representatives of the day care -- the individual entities in the schools, and hopefully it'll be sorted out.
Ms Lankin: Minister, it can only get sorted out if you provide the capital funding, and your minister has already said no. As Chair of Management Board you took $40 million in capital funds and converted them to 40 million so-called new dollars in operating funds and then boasted that your government was spending more than any other government. Then you put a freeze on that money and not a single cent has been spent nor will it be in this budget year. It would take $1.4 million of that $40 million to ensure the continuation of these four centres.
The minister has told us that Management Board and the government's policy is that you won't convert the money back to capital, and yet when it was politically convenient to you in your riding, you did just that. You approved $380,000 for the construction of a new Red Apple Day Care Centre in Marc Garneau High School. We have the Metro school board report to verify this, and that it was not minor health and safety repairs, as the minister led people to believe; it was new construction, exactly like these four other centres.
Minister, you made it happen once. You did the right thing for Red Apple when it was in your riding. Do the right thing for these other four centres. Convert the $1.4 million. Save these centres.
Hon David Johnson: It's been pointed out on many occasions that the greatest burden that's going to be passed along to our children, and which is going to hinder the future of the children of Ontario, is the debt that has been created under the government represented by the member opposite during the five years of their tenure, having increased the debt of the province of Ontario from some $40 billion to $100 billion. That is going to be the burden our children have to bear in the years ahead.
But I will say that this government has taken initiatives in terms of the day care community. This government has committed to spending up to $600 million for child care. This government has budgeted $37 million to provide special services for children with developmental disabilities. This government has looked at the day care services as a priority and is moving ahead. The ministry will be meeting with representatives of the four day care centres that are affected by this.
ONTARIO DRUG BENEFIT PROGRAM
Mr Peter L. Preston (Brant-Haldimand): My question is to the minister responsible for seniors. This province's $1.2-billion drug benefit plan provides medications to more than two million people, more than half of whom are seniors. I'm told by pharmacists in my riding that the government is taking steps to bolster the plan with more medications. What can you tell me about this initiative?
Hon Cameron Jackson (Minister without Portfolio [Seniors Issues]): I'm pleased to inform members of the House and my colleague that effective tomorrow the Ontario government will be adding 97 new medications to the Ontario Drug Benefit Formulary. About half of these are going to be less expensive generic drugs which will reduce the overall cost of the program. This will allow us to reinvest those savings by adding 47 new single-source medications that have never before been on the formulary. We're pleased that this expansion is going to occur.
The previous two governments clawed back and removed drugs from the drug plan, causing out-of-pocket costs for seniors and social assistance recipients in this province. We have added 400 new drugs to the program. That's over 20 new drugs for each and every month we've been elected to office in Ontario. This is smart health care spending, this is reducing waste and duplication, and this reinvesting direct dollars into direct patient care in Ontario.
Mr Preston: The people of my riding are pleased to see the ODB formulary expanded. It will mean fewer out-of-pocket costs for them. But there are some seniors in my community still worried about the copayment costs and how expensive they could be since the federal government has decided that drugs aren't part of the Canada Health Act. How does the cost of our drug plan fare against those in other provinces?
Hon Mr Jackson: It is true that the drug plans in all the provinces are not covered under the Canada Health Act, but it is true also that Ontario was the last province to ask its seniors to participate in this insurance plan, the last province with a free drug plan. The previous two governments removed drugs from the plan. We have added new drugs to the plan. Low-income seniors in Ontario will be spending approximately, on average, $4 a month, about $48 a year, and this will provide them with ODB-listed drugs worth about $753 a year. I want to compare that with other provinces. I want the members of the House to be aware that in British Columbia they are paying out of pocket, per senior, $200, in Quebec $277, in PEI $356, in Saskatchewan $540. In Ontario, $4 a month sounds like a pretty good deal. Under the expanded Trillium program 140,000 working poor are receiving benefits and 400 new drugs have been added by this government, a record we've very proud of.
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Order. Members come to order.
Interjection: It was a good answer.
The Speaker: It may well have been a good answer, but it wasn't that good.
Mrs Elinor Caplan (Oriole): My question is to the Minister of Health. Minister, I'm asking this question today on behalf of a very special little boy. Adam May is 32 months old, not yet three years old, and he is significantly speech-delayed. Sixteen months ago Adam's parents became concerned about his speech development. They contacted their doctor, who counselled them to watch and wait. Ten months ago Adam's doctor referred Adam for speech and language assessment. His parents were told that Adam would have to wait until December, a full 10 months, due to your budget cuts.
Finally, last Friday, Adam was assessed at the Mississauga General Hospital. The assessment confirmed that he is significantly speech-delayed and he's been placed on a priority waiting list for a speech pathologist. It was also recommended that Adam undergo a psychological test. The speech pathologist has told the May family that it may take six months more until treatment can even begin.
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Question.
Mrs Caplan: I hope you'll agree that six months is too long for a fragile child like Adam to wait. He has been listed as a priority, he's at the most critical stage of his development in his young life and I'm asking you to make sure he doesn't have to wait six months more. Will you intervene --
The Speaker: Member for Oriole, thank you.
Hon David Johnson (Chair of the Management Board of Cabinet, Minister of Health, Government House Leader): In terms of the issue that's been put before me today, it's one every member of this House could say we would have the greatest of sympathy for and would do everything we could, and certainly I as Minister of Health will be interested to see the details of that particular case and follow through.
I am informed that the government has plans to introduce a speech and language pathology initiative, some $10 million; the details are being worked out. How that may affect the case in question at this point in time I don't know, but I will say that I'm glad that the member for Oriole has brought this to attention and I look forward to receiving the details and pursuing it.
Mrs Caplan: Minister, Adam can't wait. Adam's father is in the gallery today and will be happy to share with you the specific details. He's left many, many messages with your ministry. Yesterday, he finally had a return phone call and your staff told Mr May to contact his district health council. He can do nothing but wait unless you help him, and such answers from your office, I would suggest to you, are unacceptable.
Despite the fact that the Mays have been told that Adam requires urgent attention, he will not even be seen by a psychologist until January 22, four months after a referral by his paediatrician. As I said before, it is critical for Adam's speech development that he see someone now and that he get attention now. The bottom line is that your government's cuts to hospitals have created this mess.
The Speaker: Question, please.
Mrs Caplan: We need you to intervene. I want you to know that Adam's father is here. He told me that he has never even heard Adam, who is not yet three years old, say "Daddy." On behalf of Adam's parents, I'm asking you to intervene in this extremely urgent case and help Adam --
The Speaker: Member for Oriole, thank you very much.
Hon David Johnson: I've indicated to the member for Oriole that I am certainly most interested to see the details that she has of this particular case and I'm sure that the staff of the Ministry of Health will be anxious to get those details and to pursue it.
This government is not satisfied with the health care program in total. We believe that the health care system needs to be improved. We've indicated that before we became government and since we've become government. We believe that the health care system needs to be improved. We've committed to protecting the health care budget, and indeed this year we have increased it, but certainly there's no question that individual cases come up and individual cases need to be pursued. I thank the member for Oriole for raising the issue today.
Mr Bud Wildman (Algoma): I want to express my thanks to the Minister of Education and Training for returning so that I could put this question with regard to the discussion paper on apprentice reform which his ministry has released today. The consultation paper points out that the federal contribution to in-school training ends in 1999 and it puts forward five options. Four of those five involve offloading of these costs, either fully or partially, on to apprentices and/or their employers. Could the minister indicate if that's his intention and could he indicate what commitment there will be to the community colleges in terms of funding, considering the cost cutting and expenditure cuts that he is proposing and has already implemented in that area of post-secondary education?
Hon John Snobelen (Minister of Education and Training): It's a pleasure to return to a question from the member opposite, the member for Algoma. I always enjoy his questions. We have released a discussion paper on apprenticeship today. As the member opposite might know --
Mr Gilles Pouliot (Lake Nipigon): Turn down the music, Speaker.
Hon Mr Snobelen: Please, Gilles, I want to return to the question; I want to have a chance to answer it.
As he said, we have a recent discussion paper. It's been 30 years since there have been significant changes to the apprenticeship program in Ontario. We think it's time to have a look at it. We have a discussion paper out. We want to talk to people who are involved in the apprenticeship program -- employers, apprentices and other people who are concerned -- about the future of this program.
There are funding changes coming over the next few years. We want to see who should pay -- what is the fair share for an apprentice, what is the fair share for the private sector -- and how can the province best support those trades. It's equally important that we work on the apprenticeship programs to make them more attractive to young people because there are fewer young people entering the trades now. I look forward to the responses to this paper and I'm glad that we're out there now looking for a better apprenticeship program for this province.
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): No, I'm sorry. Question period ended.
PRIVATE MEMBERS' PUBLIC BUSINESS
Hon David Johnson (Chair of the Management Board of Cabinet, Minister of Health, Government House Leader): I move that notwithstanding standing order 96(a), the House will not meet to consider private members' public business on Thursday morning, December 19, 1996, and that notwithstanding standing order 96(h), the requirement for notice be waived with respect to ballot items 55, 56, 57, 58, 59 and 60.
Mr Bud Wildman (Algoma): I would just like to clarify on the record that this means that the House will not sit tomorrow morning.
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Questions or comments? Further debate?
Ms Frances Lankin (Beaches-Woodbine): Can we get an answer to that?
The Speaker: The answer is yes.
Is it the pleasure of the House that the motion carry? Carried.
ROMAN CATHOLIC SCHOOLS
Mr Gilles E. Morin (Carleton East): I have a petition addressed 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 would 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."
I affix my signature.
OCCUPATIONAL HEALTH AND SAFETY
Mr Len Wood (Cochrane North): "To the Legislative Assembly of Ontario:
"Whereas the Harris government has begun a process to open the Occupational Health and Safety Act of Ontario;
"Whereas this act is the single most important piece of legislation for working people since it is designed to protect our lives, safety and health while at work and allow us to return home to our families in the same condition in which we left; and
"Whereas the government has made it clear that they intend to water down the act and weaken the rights of workers under the law, including the right to know, the right to participate and especially the right to refuse; and
"Whereas this government has already watered down proper training of certified committee members;
"We, the undersigned, petition the Legislative Assembly of Ontario not to alter the Occupational Health and Safety Act or erode the rights of workers any further and to ensure strict enforcement of the legislation."
I affix my name to the petition.
CHARLOTTE ELEANOR ENGLEHART HOSPITAL
Mr Marcel Beaubien (Lambton): I have a petition with 12,000 names that reads as follows:
"We, the concerned citizens and taxpayers of rural Lambton county, object to the notice of intention to issue directions to Charlotte Eleanor Englehart Hospital by the Health Services Restructuring Commission and depriving us of a full-service hospital and taking away all our acute care beds. This places our lives at risk and denies us the same opportunity for health care as other citizens within the county.
"Our hospital must continue to provide rural primary care, including acute services and 24-hour emergency care, for our taxpayers and voters. We must maintain essential services in our community."
I'll affix my signature.
Mr John C. Cleary (Cornwall): I have a petition from Lloyd Gorling of Williamstown, who organized it and requested that I present it to the Legislative Assembly. It reads as follows:
"Whereas children need the unfettered presence, care and love of their fathers, and fathers want to have, care for and nurture their children after marriage breakdown as well as before; and
"Whereas marital separation is the end of the conjugal and financial relationship between a father and mother; and
"Whereas fathers experience misandry in the family courts of Ontario and other institutions which is depriving them of their children and subjugating them financially; and
"Whereas statutory recognition of these facts will reduce the burden of legal costs on families and the government, eliminate fatherlessness, cut down on self-destructive behaviour by separated fathers, reduce violence and produce healthier and happier children with a greater sense of belonging and commitment to society;
"We, the undersigned, petition the Parliament of Ontario to pass legislation:
"To ensure that no father is deprived against his will of the opportunity to fully and completely parent his children regardless of the father's marital status (unless the father has put the children's welfare at risk and all available alternatives have been exhausted); and furthermore
"To ensure that no father who is willing to care for his child is required to pay for the cost of child care provided by his child's mother when the child is under her care and not his care (unless the father has put the child's welfare at risk and all available alternatives have been exhausted), in particular for the cost of food, clothing and shelter;
"To provide an apology to fathers and children separated by the misandry of the family law system."
It's signed by 157 constituents of my riding, S-D-G & East Grenville and Prescott and Russell.
OCCUPATIONAL HEALTH AND SAFETY
Mr Peter Kormos (Welland-Thorold): I have a petition addressed to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario.
"Whereas the Harris government has begun a process to open the Occupational Health and Safety Act of Ontario; and
"Whereas this act is the single most important piece of legislation for working people since it is designed to protect our lives, safety and health while at work and allow us to return home to our families in the same condition in which we left; and
"Whereas the government has made it clear that they intend to water down the act and weaken the rights of workers under the law, including the right to know, the right to participate and especially the right to refuse; and
"Whereas this government has already watered down proper training of certified committee members;
"We, the undersigned, petition the Legislative Assembly of Ontario not to alter the Occupational Health and Safety Act or erode the rights of workers any further and ensure strict enforcement of the legislation."
That's signed by Larry Bishop, Gemma Mauro, John Degazio, Jane Palmer, Yvonne Ryan, Nora Gorges, Frances Albano and many others of Welland and area. I add my signature as a gesture of my support for this petition.
Mr Bill Murdoch (Grey-Owen Sound): I have a petition to the Legislature of Ontario from the Grand Orange Lodge of Ontario West.
"Being a firm supporter of the public school system and the Protestant faith, herewith does the undersigned petition the government of Ontario to reinstate the Lord's Prayer in the public school system of Ontario."
There are over 2,000 signatures on this and I've affixed mine.
Mr Michael Gravelle (Port Arthur): I have thousands of petitions and letters sent to me by students, parents, teachers and all concerned citizens, so many that they've been delivered to the Minister of Education in this Christmas bag. If I may --
The Acting Speaker (Ms Marilyn Churley): Would you take your seat for a moment. We're in the middle of petitions and I can't hear a thing. Would the members come to order, please. That includes the member for Beaches-Woodbine. Thank you.
Mr Gravelle: My petition reads:
"To the Legislative Assembly of Ontario," from the thousands of people in Thunder Bay:
"Whereas the Ministry of Education is discussing the education cutbacks in Ontario;
"Whereas the cuts made so far have already seriously affected our education system and further cuts will endanger essential services;
"Whereas cuts mean the threat of school closures, fewer cocurricular activities, more out-of-date textbooks, crowded classrooms, less special education, out-of-date technology, less funding for arts programs, fewer course options, fewer sports and overcrowded school buses;
"Therefore, we, the undersigned, petition the Legislative Assembly of Ontario to disallow any more cutbacks in the eduction system."
I'm proud to sign it as well.
Mr Gilles Bisson (Cochrane South): I have a petition here signed by a number of people from the community of Timmins, and it reads as follows:
"We, the following undersigned citizens, beg leave to petition the Parliament of Ontario as follows:
"Whereas the government of Ontario has plans to make changes to the Workers' Compensation Act which will have negative impact on workers; and
"Whereas the changes include reducing the payouts to 85% of earnings, eliminating various types of injuries and having employees apply for their employee benefits; and
"Whereas the WCB had a surplus of $510 million in 1995; and
"Whereas in 1994 there was uncollected employer debt of $173 million; and
"Whereas these problems within the WCB are not the fault of injured workers; and
"Whereas the recommendation to privatize will result in an increase of 13% in administration costs.
"Therefore, be it resolved that the government of Ontario stop its plan to privatize WCB and that the extensive provincial-wide hearings be held before any changes be made to the Workers' Compensation Board; and
I'm very much in support of this particular petition as it is an attack on injured workers and I think the government should definitely not proceed with this particular mode of attack against the Workers' Compensation Board.
VIDEO LOTTERY TERMINALS
Mr Joseph N. Tascona (Simcoe Centre): I have a petition. It's not in the proper form, but there are more than 100 signatures. It concerns video lottery terminals in bars and hotels.
NORTH YORK BRANSON HOSPITAL
Mr Monte Kwinter (Wilson Heights): I have a petition to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario.
"Whereas the final report of the Metropolitan Toronto District Health Council hospital restructuring committee has recommended that North York Branson Hospital merge with York-Finch hospital; and
"Whereas this recommendation will remove emergency and inpatient services currently provided by North York Branson Hospital, which will seriously jeopardize medical care and the quality of health provided to the growing population which the hospital serves, many being elderly people who in numerous cases require treatment for life-threatening medical conditions;
"We petition the Legislative Assembly of Ontario to reject the recommendation contained within the final report of the Metropolitan Toronto District Health Council hospital restructuring committee as it pertains to North York Branson Hospital, so that it retains, at minimum, emergency and inpatient services."
I've affixed my signature.
Mr Bud Wildman (Algoma): I have a petition signed by about 16 residents of the Toronto area. It's addressed to the government of Ontario, and it reads as follows:
"Whereas the proposed changes to secondary schools as outlined in Ontario Secondary Schools, the detailed discussion document, makes it easier for students to drop out; and
"Whereas the types of courses offered, as outlined in the discussion document, will not meet the needs of minority students; and
"Whereas there is too much emphasis placed on workplace education, as outlined in the discussion document; and
"Whereas, as outlined in the discussion document, students who are at risk of dropping out will continue to be at risk; and
"Whereas there is a lack of minority teachers to act as teacher advisers, as outlined in the discussion document; and
"Whereas there is reduced time for ESL courses, as well as English courses, as outlined in the discussion document; and
"Whereas the proposed anti-discrimination education, as outlined in the discussion document, is virtually meaningless;
"We, the undersigned, wish to express our great dismay and opposition to these proposed changes and urge the Ontario Ministry of Education and Training to reconsider these ill-advised changes to our education system."
I sign my name to the petition, as I support it.
Mrs Helen Johns (Huron): I have a petition from the people of Huron county, and as we all know, the government has not cut funding to health care but has reduced spending in the hospital area:
"To the Parliament of Ontario:
"Whereas the Honourable Jim Wilson, Minister of Health, has announced an 18% reduction to the health system which would result in major cuts to hospital services, reductions in medical-surgical beds, and possible closures of hospitals; and
"Whereas the future of the hospitals within Huron county is currently under review by the Huron-Perth District Health Council;
"We, the undersigned, petition the Parliament of Ontario as follows:
"Whereas the citizens of Huron county realize that there are to be cuts and reductions to health care; and
"Whereas restructuring and financial responsibilities can be accomplished without direct hospital closures;
"Be it hereby resolved that the citizens of Huron county care about their hospitals and hereby implore the Honourable Jim Wilson, Minister of Health, to give every consideration to ensure that the reduction of health care not result in the closure of hospitals in the county."
Mr Rick Bartolucci (Sudbury): This petition is in response to Bill 84.
"To the Legislative Assembly of Ontario:
"Whereas the firefighters of Sudbury and Ontario are very concerned about Bill 84;
"Whereas we feel Bill 84 is unfair;
"Whereas we feel Bill 84 is discriminatory;
"Whereas we feel Bill 84 endangers the wellbeing of the people of Ontario;
"Whereas we feel Bill 84 requires extensive changes;
"Whereas we feel Bill 84 needs broad provincial public hearings before implementation,
"We, the undersigned, therefore petition the Legislative Assembly of Ontario to demand the Solicitor General rewrite Bill 84 before being enacted into law and only after extensive public hearings across Ontario."
I affix my signature, as I agree with the petition.
OCCUPATIONAL HEALTH AND SAFETY
Ms Shelley Martel (Sudbury East): I have a petition addressed to the Legislative to Assembly of Ontario which reads as follows.
"Whereas the Harris government has begun a process to open the Occupational Health and Safety Act of Ontario;
"Whereas the act is the single most important piece of legislation for working people since it is designed to protect our lives, safety and health while at work and allow us to return home to our families in the same condition in which we left;
"Whereas the government has made it clear that they intend to water down the act and weaken the rights of workers under the law, including the right to know, the right to participate, and especially the right to refuse;
"Whereas this government has already watered down proper training of certified committee members,
"We, the undersigned, petition the Legislative Assembly of Ontario not to alter the Occupational Health and Safety Act or erode the rights of workers any further and ensure strict enforcement of the legislation."
This is signed by 18 residents in Welland-Thorold. I believe in it as well and I affix my signature to it.
REPORTS BY COMMITTEES
STANDING COMMITTEE ON GOVERNMENT AGENCIES
Mr Laughren from the standing committee on government agencies presented the committee's 29th report.
The Acting Speaker (Ms Marilyn Churley): Does the Chair wish to make a statement?
Mr Floyd Laughren (Nickel Belt): I've had a request by the member for Renfrew North to explain what this report is. It simply is a report. We met this morning and approved the appointment of a gentleman to the Licence Suspension Appeal Board, and I'm pleased to report that to the House.
The Acting Speaker: Pursuant to standing order 106(g)(11), the report is deemed to be adopted by the House.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
FIRE PROTECTION AND PREVENTION ACT, 1996./ LOI DE 1996 SUR LA PRÉVENTION ET LA PROTECTION CONTRE L'INCENDIE
Resuming the adjourned debate on the motion for second reading of 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.
The Acting Speaker (Ms Marilyn Churley): The member for Oakville South.
Mr Gary Carr (Oakville South): I'd like to add a few comments on Bill 84, and I must say that I'm looking forward to some of the debate on this bill as we move forward into the intersession.
You will know that it has been almost 50 years, and some of the issues surrounding fire services are finally being dealt with. I'm under no illusions that a lot of these questions will be easy. In fact, we've had an opportunity to meet with some of the people involved in this and I'm sure there will be a tremendous amount of discussion.
I've listened with interest to some of the members and their concerns and discussions during some of the debates and I must say that I'm looking forward to some of the public hearings that will be --
The Acting Speaker: Can I ask the members of the House to please come to order. I'm having trouble hearing the member. Thank you, and I won't single out the member for Beaches-Woodbine this time.
Mr Carr: It's been a rough week for the member.
I'm looking forward to a lot of the discussions over the intersession as we deal with this bill. I realize that over the last little while a lot of these issues have been discussed by all three parties, and we believe we brought something forward that will be in the best interests of the people of Ontario.
We know that most fire losses could have been avoided with greater fire prevention and public education over the last little while. Many of the reports that have been out dealing with it and many of the coroners' reports have dealt with these issues. So we're looking forward to a lot of these discussions over the next little while.
I would like to talk a little bit about some of the specifics of the bill. As you know, this act consolidates 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 Firefighters Exemption Act, and the Accidental Fires Act and Fire Accidents Act.
Mr Carr: For the people at home who may not be able to hear, some of the members are saying these aren't like my old speeches, and in fact some of the members will remember the old days with the rubber chickens and some of the other props. But it's a kinder and gentler Gary Carr. Like a lot of things, as I get a little bit older I guess I'm mellowing a little bit. In fact, Madam Speaker, you will know that even yesterday I had a chance for the first time in my six years to sit in the chair as Speaker. I've never had the chance to do that.
It is a pleasure to deal with this bill and to talk about some of the concerns that are out there over the next little while.
I want to right off the bat take a quick moment to thank all of the people involved in the ministry. I've had an opportunity to meet with the fire marshal and the coroner and many of the people in the policy and legal departments. We have spent a great deal of time dealing with this bill and I want to say that I've never had an opportunity to go through a bill in as much detail, having been the parliamentary assistant now in going through, and I realize the hard work and the dedication that went into putting forward this bill. I want to thank all the members of the ministry for their hard work and effort.
For example, some of the bills that are being changed here have not been touched in the last 50 years. There has been an extensive consultation over the last little while with the municipalities and some of the fire chiefs as well as the member for Mississauga South. So we are beginning the process of hearing from the people over the next little while.
We are talking about something that is fundamental to the people of this province in terms of fire safety. Some of the provisions that we will be introducing with this legislation will be mandatory fire prevention and public education. I think that's one area where all members of this House will be able to agree on what we are doing. There are many parts of the bill that members will agree with, there are some parts that they will point out that we should be changing, and I look forward to having some in-depth discussions.
I've had an opportunity to meet with some of the associations on a couple of occasions to go through it. They've been very helpful in presenting some of the concerns they have, and there are some valid concerns they've brought forward, I think, in a very forthright manner.
I'm sure all their members will know about the fact that some of the people involved in the leadership of the associations have been very forceful in putting their ideas forward. As I said to those folks when we met, I'm under no illusions that I have any of the final decisions on this piece of legislation. Cabinet makes the decisions. I can make recommendations, but ultimately the Solicitor General and the cabinet make the final decisions.
But I have enjoyed going through the process with both the staff and some of the associations, as well as some of the chiefs I've met. They brought some ideas forward. There are some things we agree with, some things we disagree with, but I think all members of this House and everyone involved in this bill will realize that what we're talking about is very profound for this province because we are talking about lives being at stake.
We believe Bill 84 makes it easier for municipalities to arrange, for example, things like automatic aid efforts with their neighbours and neighbouring communities, and we are confident they will begin to work together to ensure public safety.
I want to touch on some of the major portions of the bill. The Public Fire Safety Council I think is one of the areas where there will be agreement from the members, and I trust the members will be very specific in the parts they do agree with because I believe there are some things where there will be consensus on some of the pieces of legislation.
One of the many welcome things that the proposed legislation does is give the Public Fire Safety Council legal status, which will enable it to attract some private sector partners for funding. This will expand the council's opportunities to provide public education to all Ontarians. Again, I think that's one area in terms of public education, and there may be other areas where we can't agree, but there is certainly a fundamental agreement in that regard between all members of this House and the people of the province.
The Public Fire Safety Council was established by the fire marshal in 1993 to raise public awareness and promote partnership with community groups as well as the private sector. We believe Bill 84 will enhance that. As you can see, the council's membership represents a wide variety of partners all working together towards the common goal of fire prevention and public safety. To date, the office of the fire marshal has been successful in raising funds for public education through the activities of this council, but what this will do is give legal status to the council.
There are many specific benefits in establishing the council as a distinct entity. For example, the changes will increase the profile of public safety in the community. Our public education fund will also be set up to develop and put in place province-wide public education programs that will be at no cost to the taxpayer. I think many people will see this as a good thing and one of the benefits of this bill.
We also believe there are some things that will be of benefit to isolated communities and to rural communities across this fine province of ours. Many Ontarians, as you know, live in rural areas that are very isolated because of geographic considerations and because of weather considerations, many parts of the north, and a lot of those people are asking how this bill will help people who live in those areas. I firmly believe this legislation will improve public safety for Ontario municipalities, including a lot of the rural communities and northern communities.
It provides for the first time unincorporated communities in the north with the authority they need for effective fire prevention and fire safety, and again that is an area I believe will be seen by the people of Ontario as being a good thing. In those areas the traditional focus on fire suppression has not and will not provide the necessary level of public safety. We believe this will assist that. This bill gives them the means to take advantage of technology and place more emphasis on early warning systems and escape plans through effective prevention and public education.
I want to touch very briefly on automatic aid because I believe this is another important element of the bill. This is a concept allowing the closest fire station to respond to an emergency regardless of the municipal borders. During these challenging times, I think that will be again something that is going to be a benefit to the safety of the people of this province.
Automatic aid is a priority of this government. When lives are at stake, as we all know and everyone agrees on that, it shouldn't matter which fire department responds, and I think that has been a tradition in this province. It is something that has worked well. We believe and the ministry believes that there are a lot of things in this bill that will actually enhance that. We hope that there will be many comments regarding that section of the bill. We firmly believe, as I think all members and most of the public will, that whoever gets there and responds fast should be the one to respond, because in many communities, in many areas, as you know, the fire stations will be closer to one particular part of their municipal borders than others. If we believe that there may be some problems in the future, we also reserve the right and are prepared to act to ensure cooperation with neighbouring fire departments. That is happening now, but we believe it will actually be strengthened.
I also would like to take this opportunity to recognize the contribution of the firefighters right across this fine province of ours in service delivery. I don't think any of us in our capacity as MPPs have not spent a great deal of time -- in my own area of Oakville some of the people helping out on my son's hockey team are firefighters; we often debate some of the issues. I think it would be something that we agree on all across this province, that the firefighters have done a terrific job in this province.
Ontario's professional firefighters are among the finest in the country. I will even go out on a limb and say that they are the finest in the country, having demonstrated their commitment and dedication to fire protection and prevention for over 80 years. Firefighters play a huge role in our communities, not only ensuring safety, but as we all know, doing a tremendous amount of work within the community. I had the opportunity to represent the Solicitor General in the community in some of the programs that the firefighters have, everything from helping out with the hospitals to giving out some of the toys for kids at Christmas. As we all know, the firefighters across the province of Ontario have been an integral part of our community.
I will say this: There are some concerns by some of the associations, and we hope that during the public hearings there will be an opportunity to get some of those out, particularly some of the sections. Without putting words into the mouths of the associations, I think there are a lot of parts they agree with. There are some parts they have some concerns with. We're hoping to hear from them, particularly as it relates to some of the labour provisions.
I think I understand their positions now. I've had a bit of an opportunity to hear from them directly. I've heard both sides of the issue, and in my own mind I'm attempting to formulate some of the things that I believe will be making this bill better, some of the things that can be added and some of the things that can be taken out. Again, at the end of the day it will be the government and the cabinet and the Solicitor General that make the final decisions, but I'm looking forward to that opportunity.
I must say also that I couldn't leave the whole issue of fire services without talking about the volunteers. I believe that over the course of the last years it has been the volunteers who in many areas have been of tremendous benefit to this province. Approximately 18,000 of the 26,000 firefighters in this province are volunteers, and we are hoping that there will be some participation by the people involved in volunteer firefighting to talk about the things they like about the bill, and if there are any concerns, obviously to voice those concerns as well. They represent approximately -- this figure is outstanding when you think about it -- $1 billion in assets in the province, and we intend to ensure that the volunteer system is supported and enhanced with this bill. We believe it does that and we're hoping that the opportunity to hear from the people of the province will also confirm that. Through restructuring, volunteers will have better access to training programs and facilities. Again, I think this is one area that all members can agree on.
I want to touch briefly on some of the labour relations, because these will be some of the most contentious parts for some of the associations. Obviously, we're going to be listening and looking at some of the concerns that have been put forward. Many members have already had the opportunity of meeting with some of the firefighters who have come into their community constituency offices and put some ideas forward. I am confident that once we have had an opportunity to look at it, and when we've got an opportunity to look at the package as a whole, they will appreciate that these changes are fair and reasonable and will ensure public safety. That's our hope and our intention, and it remains to be seen, but I certainly will say I'm looking forward to that process.
The changes will bring fire services more in line with some of the other changes in labour legislation. As you know, this government has made major changes in the area of labour legislation over the 18 months we've been in office. This attempts to bring it more in line. I think everyone agrees that the key is fire safety. There will be those who will argue that some of the labour provisions will not help in that area. I must say that I'm looking forward to hearing from many people across this great province of ours and I suspect we may even have an opportunity at some point to travel on this bill and hear from other communities as well.
With this bill the intention of the government is to ensure people's skills and talents can be arranged and managed in a way to better serve the public. That itself will improve public and fire safety as well as the safety for firefighters. There will, though, be a lot of changes, and obviously even some of the circumstances surrounding municipalities are going to mean major change for fire services. The bill introduced yesterday changing Toronto will have a profound effect because we now will not have all the fire services; we'll have one fire service. I think it would be an understatement to say that there will be many changes in the fire services in this province. It is the government's intention to try and do it with the interests and the safety of the people of the province at the utmost, but that isn't to say that there won't be a tremendous amount of concern out there through the municipal restructuring.
I suspect, and I guess this is another understatement, that a lot of the changes with the municipalities won't be just in Toronto. There will be many changes with municipalities across this province. When you affect municipalities, you affect the firefighting services many of the associations are right to try and work and ensure. What this bill attempts to do is set the framework for fire services in the province. It then will be changed as the municipalities restructure, as they go through that process, and I'm under no illusion that it will be an easy process. It will be difficult. There's a lot of anxiety and concern out there, and it's not just with the firefighters. There is in other areas: education and health care. But the one thing the firefighters out there need to realize is that Bill 84 is attempted to be done in the context of providing fire safety.
We hope to hear some of the good things that are in this bill. We hope to hear some of the things that may need to be changed. At the end of the day, the government will take all that information and make the decisions that it believes are necessary.
I'd like to take just a quick minute, in concluding, to close by reiterating that this government's commitment to public safety is the real key to fire protection and prevention with regard to this bill. This legislation sets the foundation for safer jurisdictions by ensuring that fire prevention and safety education, balanced with an appropriate level of fire suppression, are priorities in every part of this province. I'm confident that all members of the fire services as well as the general public, as well as the municipalities, will work together to create safer communities in all of Ontario. The safety of the people of this province is, again, all of the major concerns that we believe --
The Acting Speaker: Order, please. The member for Grey-Owen Sound, you're on the wrong side of the House.
The Acting Speaker: I'd like to ask the members to come to order, please. Go ahead.
Mr Carr: What actually is twigging my memory is that the members are speaking again a little bit about some of my performances in the House. I wasn't laughing at them; I was actually smiling at some of the performances. I just twigged to one which we won't get into here today. I think it was right around Christmastime that that particular event took place. But we'll get back to Bill 84 and save that one for off the air, particularly since my mother may be watching today and maybe wouldn't want that one to be brought forward.
In conclusion, I will say that I'm looking forward to taking this bill forward. It is going to be a good experience for myself to hear from people, from all members. I'm going to particularly look forward to working back and forth with the members of the ministry and their staffs in making some of the changes that need to be made on this and going through the whole process. It will be tedious, but I must say that I believe that's part of the process that will make the bill a better bill. At the end of the day we all need to believe, and firmly believe, in what we are doing, and what this bill will do is to attempt to enhance fire safety.
In conclusion, I am pleased to talk on this bill a little bit. I'm going to reserve some of my comments to respond to the various questions that will come forward. But I say to the people of the province, we're looking forward to it and hopefully all members are looking forward to hearing from Ontario on Bill 84.
The Acting Speaker: Questions or comments?
Mr Bruce Crozier (Essex South): It's a pleasure for me to reply to the speech of the kinder and gentler member for Oakville South. It was interesting to me that he made an observation, albeit true, but that he would say it. I think I'm paraphrasing, but early on his comments he said, "There will be some changes to this bill," and something to the effect that, "I know I won't have much input into that because the cabinet makes the decisions."
That's part of the problem we have, and I'm sure many of the backbenchers have, with this government, that they don't consult those that they should, particularly the backbenchers. I'm sure, for example, the megabill that's before us and the effect that it will have on firefighters is not something that the members opposite in the government side have been consulted with to any great degree.
Of course, we know why that is, because not only will they not listen to their own members, they won't even listen to the people who are affected. To the 2.5 million people who are going to have an amalgamation, the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing has said: "It doesn't matter what the people say. It doesn't matter if they rise up. It doesn't matter if the municipalities hold a referendum. We're not going to listen. This is going to be done."
They've taken away the powers of municipal councils. When the municipal councils in the next year or so want to deal with their firefighters, they'll be hampered because some unelected, unaccountable trustees will be in their place making decisions that in a normal democracy -- not a dictatorship like we're going to have -- would represent the people and would be accountable to them.
Ms Frances Lankin (Beaches-Woodbine): I'm pleased to respond to the member for Oakville South. I wanted to indicate that there are many parts of this bill in fact that we could be supportive of, if he would move to take out the very contentious issues, issues that the professional firefighters are so concerned about, issues that they have time and time again said that your government has broken its promise to them on with respect to appropriate consultation.
While we will be going out to committee, and I'm sure we'll be hearing from firefighters, we could have a much more constructive debate if those sections were removed. They've made very clear the areas that you promised to consult on that you haven't and that you've included in this bill; for example, the new definition of "employer," which invites the privatization of fire departments, or the new definition of "firefighter," which will inevitably lead to less-qualified part-time firefighters.
Section 52 eliminates firefighters' long-standing right to negotiate their hours of work. It also has the potential to limit or roll back firefighters' pension benefits. We believe, along with them, that this section is regressive and that it sets labour relations back decades in that sector. Also, the bargaining unit exclusions are open-ended, they're ambiguous and far exceed anything that had been discussed previously.
Again, you're very clearly on the record in terms of your commitment to consult with this group, and they've made it very clear that you haven't lived up to that. While some of the measures with respect to fire protection and fire prevention are positive steps that have come through a period of review under two governments now and are finally moving forward to being able to be put into legislation, and virtually everyone would find some agreement around those, you have yet again moved with an anti-worker agenda against professional firefighters, who are amazed that this government would treat them in that way and have created a controversy around a bill which otherwise could be good public policy that we could all support.
I urge you just to withdraw those sections and we could see a much speedier passage of this bill.
Mr Michael A. Brown (Algoma-Manitoulin): I appreciated very much the member from Oakville's comments with regard to volunteers. In my constituency, where the vast majority of firefighting is done by those men and women who are involved in the various volunteer fire departments, it is well known and well appreciated. This summer, for example, I recall being at the Billings fire department's 20th anniversary in Billings township at my own home town of Kagawong and seeing many community members out to help the firefighters celebrate the hard work of the volunteers and to celebrate their 20 years of service.
Having said that, and seeing the Minister of Natural Resources and Minister of Northern Development here, one of the great concerns we're hearing through much of my constituency, and it's coming from the volunteers, as they see the downloading of forest firefighting responsibilities to municipalities and see that volunteers may very well be out there fighting forest fires in their unorganized townships, in particular we are very concerned that the government's actions are not the same as the government's words and that we will be putting people at risk in the volunteer service to do things that they are not perhaps trained to do, nor have the proper equipment to do.
I've heard that expressed even by the Elliott Lake firefighters, who operate with both professional firefighters and volunteers. They have the equivalent of about nine townships in that particular city, and it seems to me that some of the things that are happening with the Ministry of Natural Resources are going to put tremendous pressure on volunteer services. I would just like to bring that to the attention of the parliamentary assistant.
The Acting Speaker: Further questions or comments? The member for Welland-Thorold.
Mr Peter Kormos (Welland-Thorold): Thank you, Speaker. I appreciate being recognized and having the chance to comment. It's interesting because the member from out around Oakville South presents this, oh, so sotto voce, and it was commented on during the course of his presentation. He's trying to make it seem so benign, as if it's but more of the fine-tuning that this government has abused institutions and communities and the people of Ontario with.
Once again, this government is trying to suck and blow at the same time. They're trying to leave the firefighters with the impression that, oh, yes, they're the friend of the firefighter. Are you kidding? Folks in Welland-Thorold, the firefighters from the Niagara region, know when they are getting the shaft, and they are getting the shaft. This is an attack on collective bargaining rights of professional firefighters. It's an expression of disdain for the professionalism and commitment that women and men in firefighting forces across the province have to their profession.
It's an insult and a betrayal of those same firefighters across Ontario who were promised -- and yes, the ubiquitous video camera was present there too. They videotaped Mike Harris, as he was then, before he was the Premier of Ontario, promising that there would be consultation with those very same people with whom he was speaking and their membership before stuff like this was brought forward.
Firefighters were lied to. We know that. There's no question about that. This government holds them in disdain. We know that. There's no question about that. Firefighters have been betrayed by a government that, when they were mere candidates, made promises that they're now not prepared to keep. Firefighters know better and this bill should be withdrawn.
The Acting Speaker: Thank you. The member for Oakville South.
Mr Carr: I'll comment very briefly on the comments made by the members. First of all, to the member for Essex South, that is not what I was saying about not having a voice. Those who know me will know that I'm very strong, probably even to a fault, in voicing my opinion. I shouldn't say this, because the Solicitor General isn't here, but I also obviously have a very good working relationship with the Solicitor General in bringing ideas forward.
What I did say is that at the end of the day the government will make the decisions on what they feel is necessary, but I am going to be prepared to bring it forward.
The member for Beaches-Woodbine is 100% correct that the labour issues are the most difficult, part IX. I've spent some time and I want to tell the member for Welland-Thorold that the associations have been very clear with me. They've been very polite but they have been as forceful as they can be in terms of bringing their ideas forward.
I've attempted with this bill, which I sometimes haven't often done in the past, to hear what they're saying and hear what the ministry is saying. I've gone through all the sections and I think I understand very clearly. That isn't going to make it any easier, because the member for Beaches-Woodbine is 100% correct in that this is the contentious part of the issues. The concerns she's bringing forward are exactly what they've said to me in our discussions. They've been very forceful and polite but they have said, "These are the sections, here's the problems we've got," and they've gone through them. I've attempted to go back to the ministry and speak with those people so we can have some idea.
The member for Welland-Thorold is 100% correct: At the end of this process we're going to be able to say, "Here's what we've come up with." We've gone through the issues, and by the time we're done I firmly believe I'm going to understand and appreciate them and I've taken a great deal of time to try to see it from their standpoint. When I've sat with them I've tried to see it from the other side and it has been a good experience. What we're going to end up with we won't be able to tell at this time, but I've said to them, "Be very proactive, put the amendments forward and hopefully we'll have a better bill at the end of the day."
The Acting Speaker: Further debate?
Mr John Gerretsen (Kingston and The Islands): I challenge the member for Oakville South to delete part IX of the bill and I think you could probably get this bill passed today. If you delete the labour relations portions of this bill, which is what all the concern by the firefighters and the other groups out there is about, I'm quite sure you can get this bill passed, because the rest of the bill, most of it, makes eminent good sense as far as setting up the fire safety council and the automatic aid provisions are concerned. I'm sure you won't be doing that, because if you did, you'd be making everybody quite happy. The firefighters are very concerned about these provisions of the bill.
I suppose the particular one that really concerns them is section 42, a very simple section which simply states, "No firefighter shall strike and no employer of firefighters shall lock them out." Since this bill was first introduced in the House I've had an opportunity to speak to at least a dozen firefighters or so, have met with the association in my own home community, and I can tell you there's no section that aggravates firefighters more than this one. They will point out that in Ontario we have not had a strike by a fire department for at least 50 years. I think the last one goes back to something like 1945 or 1946.
These are professional people we're talking about who are interested in protecting their community to the best of their abilities, and they find it an affront to have a section put into an act that is totally unnecessary, since they have already stated so in the constitution of both fire association organizations in Ontario. Both organizations specifically state therein that they believe they shall never strike and that they shouldn't strike and that the individual fire departments and fire associations in each community shouldn't strike.
Why is it necessary to put it into legislation? I think it's an attack on their professionalism, and they find it's an affront on the professionalism they're all subject to and feel very responsible for.
The interesting thing about this bill, and this deals with general municipal issues as well, is the fact that people who live in our individual communities see certain services for which they pay taxes much more than I suppose some of the unseen services. One of the services they all can relate to is the fire service they get in their municipalities. I dare say that most people, the vast majority, are extremely well pleased with the fire protection service they get throughout this province.
I can tell you from my own experience, when I was involved municipally in my own community, that I can't remember ever having one complaint about our fire department or their lack of response to a particular fire situation, and it really speaks to the professionalism of the people who are involved in fire protection services.
When you take a service like that away from people or when you start to change the basic ingredients of that service or when you start, in effect, taking away some rights those people have who are giving that service to a community, then all of a sudden people feel uneasy about it. Certainly the fire associations in each community feel very uncertain about this. Why there would be, for example, a section in the labour relations part that deals with their hours of work and the way the platoons and various shifts can be set up is absolutely beyond me, especially coming from a government that believes in the bargaining and negotiating process that takes place between employer and employee, perhaps much more so than other groups. Why it would be necessary to specifically set out work hours and the criteria under which the platoon systems can be set up is absolutely beyond me.
Why not leave it up to each community, to each municipal council, to negotiate these matters themselves with the different associations that operate in the communities? That's where these kind of discussions should take place. As we all know, no two communities are quite alike in this province. What may work in one community may not work in another community. To legislate this kind of detail is totally unnecessary. I think the firefighters feel it's a threat to them and I think that eventually it will lead not only to great dissatisfaction among the firefighters in our communities but also among the taxpayers and residents they serve.
The other thing that ties into this -- and I'm glad that the member for Essex South mentioned the megacity concept we've heard a lot about in the last two days -- that we've certainly heard from the fire chiefs about, is the proposal here in Toronto that they feel that a large, giant fire department that would serve the entire 2.3 million people in the larger Toronto area would simply not serve as well as the six fire departments that currently operate in each one of the cities.
What's very interesting about that is that there's a feeling around that the government cannot be trusted on these kinds of issues. We've already seen in the past that the Minister of Municipal Affairs has made promises to certain communities. He came to my own community, for example, on May 10 last year and said to 200 local politicians that he wanted one restructuring plan for the counties of Lennox and Addington, the county of Frontenac and the city of Kingston, and later on he accepted two completely separate restructuring plans after one of the parties had walked away from the table. The people in my community feel betrayed that the Minister of Municipal Affairs did not live up to the word he gave in front of 200 people.
The same thing applies to the megacity bill. Here we have a bill which is going to affect the life of the city of Toronto probably for the next 50 years, and what do we have? The same government that says on one hand, "Yes, we believe in referenda, we believe that people should have a choice to express their views on particular issues of major magnitude," is in effect saying: "It doesn't matter. Even if the mayors of the six cities decide to hold their own particular referendum in their communities, we're not going to listen to them, because we think this issue is too important or too complex for the average person to understand," which is absolute nonsense.
Mr Crozier: What an insult.
Mr Gerretsen: It's a total insult, a complete insult to the intelligence of the people of Metropolitan Toronto, because the question can be very simply put: "Are you in favour of one city or six cities in Metropolitan Toronto?" That's the issue. That's the question. The minister has said in the House on a number of different occasions, "Well, you know, there are an awful lot of different issues that would have to be resolved, an awful lot of different questions that we may have to put that may be too difficult for people to understand." It is not difficult to understand at all. It boils down to: "Do you want one city in Metro Toronto or do you want the six cities to survive?"
There is a complete inconsistency by the government. They are saying on the one hand, "Yes, we like the concept of referenda," and on the other hand they're saying, "Yes, but not in this case." It seems to me that the only kinds of questions they want to ask in a referendum are ones they obviously agree with and that somehow will limit the role of government in the future.
The other thing that is very much tied into this, and let's not make any bones about it, is the tax cut or the tax scheme. We all know that on January 1 of this coming year there will be a different instalment of the tax cut implemented so that we can reach that goal of 30% tax cut, I suppose by the end of next year.
Mr Crozier: So they can borrow that $20 billion.
Mr Gerretsen: That's correct. They have to borrow $20 billion to finance that tax cut, and this comes from a government that claims to be fiscally responsible. After all, they have stated throughout that they are in debt $100 billion, which is costing us anywhere between 15% to 20% of all the revenues brought into the province on an annual basis to service the interest cost on that.
One of the biggest fallacies they have perpetrated on the people of Ontario is that none of that $100-billion debt had anything to do with them. You and I, Madam Speaker, know it's different. You and I know that $40 billion of the debt was incurred by the Conservative governments of Bill Davis back till 1985, about $10 billion of the $100 billion was as a result of the Liberal government that was in office from 1985 to 1990, and another $50 billion was as a result of the New Democratic government that was in office during the 1990 to 1995 era. So this whole notion that the $100 billion is, as they often say, a result of the 10-year mismanagement is a total fallacy because almost half of that was incurred by them.
What's very interesting, while I'm thinking and speaking about the Bill Davis years, is that of course those were the true Conservatives, the Progressive Conservatives, and it was during that period of time that we also took a look at this same act we're dealing with today. I was on a committee, as a matter of fact, that had on it various members from firefighters' associations, some chiefs of police and some people from the Solicitor General's department to look at exactly the same issues. Do you know that the conclusion that enlightened government came up with was not to do anything? They came to the conclusion, we collectively came to the conclusion, municipal leaders, firefighters, chiefs, civil servants, that there was absolutely nothing wrong with the existing act. Just because an act has not been amended for 50 years is no reason to amend the act if it has worked well.
I could go back to the example I gave about the strike situation. Why legislate that the firefighters can't strike when in fact they haven't struck in the last 50 years? It is just like waving a red flag.
I hope that this government, this Reform government we have, will be just as enlightened as the Conservative government of the early 1980s and say to itself: "We have a group of dedicated people out there who look after the fire protection services in this province in each one of our communities. They are highly regarded by the general public. Why do we try to upset these people?"
It almost seems that over the last year and a half there has been a succession of people that this government feels it has to take on, on an ongoing basis. We first of all started with the most vulnerable in our society. We cut back the welfare payments and the social assistance payments for people who needed it by 20%. That was followed by taking on the teachers, and that was followed by taking on our own government workers and the OPSEU strike earlier this year, and that was followed by the doctors.
What's interesting, of course, is that the only people who seemed to completely get their way in the long run were the doctors. The doctors, as a result of the deal that was signed with the government just a day or two ago, in effect are being given an extra $150 million, and there's all sorts of speculation where that money will come from. Will it come from the hospital closings money or will it come from the extra user fees, which is of course the great concern we have on this side of the House, because we don't think there ought to be user fees in our health care system --
Mr Wayne Wettlaufer (Kitchener): You're fearmongering.
Mr Gerretsen: No, I am not fearmongering.
The Acting Speaker: Could I ask the member to come back to debating Bill 84. I've been very lenient, but you are straying very far.
Mr Gerretsen: Madam Speaker, it's all interrelated, it all ties in. I'll tell you how this connects to this bill. It is an attempt by the government to change the working conditions of the firefighters, to allow the fire departments to be privatized, because as the member for Beaches-Woodbine so adequately pointed out earlier, "employer" is defined as not just a municipality but any person or organization that employs firefighters, and that could be a private organization.
I think, as one individual, that it would be a huge mistake if we now started talking about privatizing the essential services in our municipalities, such as fire protection. What's next? Police protection? They already started talking about that the other day. There were some inklings of that.
There are certain services in this province that people should always have the ability to rely on. They are the kinds of services that every one of us expects to get for our property tax dollars. Those basic services certainly include fire protection and police protection. I think that's the number one issue of the property taxpayer who's out there.
What the labour relations provisions of this bill are trying to do is to say in effect to the firefighters of this province: "We think you collectively are making too much money and we are now going to regulate some of the working conditions and some of the ways in which contracts can be reached with your associations through the municipalities" etc. One way to do that is by legislating the working conditions and the kinds of things that cannot be negotiated, as is pointed out in section 52, all in order to reduce the price of fire protection in our communities.
I think that's an unfair way to do it. I am a strong believer in the private negotiating and bargaining process. For a government to use legislative powers to make changes in the normal bargaining process that has taken place traditionally between the municipalities and the fire associations is the wrong way to go. I know you and I have met people who will tell you that firefighters make too much money, or this that or the other thing, that policemen make too much money or teachers make too much money. The problem is that we all have our own individual opinion on it, but all these contracts were by and large negotiated in good faith between the associations and the various levels of government or boards and commissions that have been involved in it.
If there is a feeling within a community that those people are making too much money, then instruct those negotiators, through your municipal councils etc, to try to negotiate better arrangements the next time around when the contract comes up. That is what the whole public bargaining process is all about.
But to use legislative means to deal with issues that have traditionally been the subject of negotiations between two equal partners in the negotiating process I do not agree with, and I've never agreed with that. That's probably the major objection I have to the labour relations sections of the bill, as it is for the associations. They feel that if governments want to bargain away some of these rights or want to bargain away some of the working conditions or hours of employment, the only way to do that in an adequate way is in one-to-one negotiations between the particular municipality and the firefighters involved, not through legislation.
It is all related to the tax cut, because we're talking about dollars and cents here. We all know that within the fire departments probably about 90% of the total costs are employment-related. If the government can step in and through threats and intimidation, through changes in the act, can change those working conditions, can change the level playing field, public dollars can be saved, or so they think. Those public dollars eventually all form part of the tax scheme.
You've got to remember that what this is really all about is that this government is determined to get out of the entire subsidy and grant system to municipalities. That's the underlying theory behind creating all these larger units. That's why all this amalgamation is taking place, not only here in Toronto but also in the Kingston area, in the Hamilton-Wentworth area, in the Lambton-Sarnia area. That's what it's all about. It's all about creating larger units so there will be larger assessment bases and it will be much easier to raise taxes to take the place of the subsidies and grants that will no longer be available to municipalities, and so the government can keep more of its own money and then play the part of the hero and say, "Here is your tax cut."
Let me first of all say that I don't think there's a person in the world who wouldn't like to pay less tax than they are right now, but we have to balance that with the kind of services that are available, particularly for the more vulnerable in our society, as a result of the taxes we pay. I think there are many people who would be more willing to forgo the tax cut if they knew the services would still be available for the more vulnerable in our society.
You add that to the fact that in effect, according to the government's own figures, the public debt of this province will go up from $100 billion in the year 1995 to $120 billion by the year 1999, and if you also realize that during that period of time the total tax cut that will be given back to people by reduced payments is also $20 billion, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that the $20-billion tax cut equates to the $20 billion that the government, according to its own figures, has to borrow between now and 1999.
The other thing that is of some concern -- let me just get this section back -- deals with the question of who can or should be part of the bargaining unit. As we know, the only people who are currently excluded, according to the Fire Departments Act, from the bargaining unit are the fire chief and the deputy chief. It's interesting that in subsection 41(2) of the bill it also excludes from the bargaining unit other persons exercising managerial functions.
What's interesting about this is that this is an attempt, not through negotiations but through legislation, to decrease the bargaining unit. I don't think that's fair. If there is a willingness or if a particular municipality feels there's a need to exclude certain people from the bargaining unit because of their managerial positions -- I suppose we're basically talking about assistant deputy chiefs or people along that line -- then let those municipalities negotiate and bargain with the firefighters in good faith to try to get that provision out of there. They may succeed, they may not succeed, but in an open bargaining process in a free collective bargaining environment is how these kinds of issues ought to be resolved, and not through legislation.
It's very interesting that this whole bill is sugar-coated with sections that deal with, as I stated earlier, the setting up of fire safety councils or giving them some legitimacy and also the automatic aid provisions with other communities, as the member for Oakville South has already stated, that have been taking place anyway. I know of no situation where a fire department doesn't have an aid agreement with the municipality next door so that if a fire happens close to the borderline those firefighters simply go there and fight that particular fire. Now there may be certain financial contributions that may have to be paid by one municipality to another, depending how often it happens during a particular period of time, but as he so correctly stated in his earlier speech, those provisions are already happening because firefighters are extremely dedicated individuals. When they realize somebody's life is at risk or somebody's property is at risk, they just go out and do the job. I think that's why they're held in such high regard in Ontario.
There are all sorts of sections in the act that deal with basically allowing to take place those situations that are already taking place. It's sugar-coating a situation that quite frankly didn't need to be dealt with because it's already happening.
I would urge the government to first of all hold public hearings. I understand now from what the parliamentary assistant has said here today and certainly from what the Solicitor General has stated earlier that there will be public hearings on this. I can assure you that when those hearings take place, you will get the views of the different fire associations throughout the province. They have certainly made their position clear not only in personal visits with myself and other members of our caucus and I'm sure the other caucuses as well, but also in the numerous letters that we've received from individuals.
I don't know what the experience has been of other members, but what I find interesting about those letters is that most of them are not form letters. They are individually handwritten. They all make a different point, but they all point out that the people of Ontario are extremely worried that legislation in this area will cost the good relationship that exists between municipalities and the firefighters and the province of Ontario in a traditional sense, that this good relationship will break down.
We will see during those public hearings how the firefighters feel about these changes, and I can assure you that they would agree with my statement that if you take the labour relations part out of this bill, as I have challenged the parliamentary assistant to do today, in effect they will have no problem with the rest of the bill and would pass it quite handily.
I would once again like to reiterate that what this is really all about is that there's a feeling within the government, and it's never stated in so many words but it comes through in legislative piece after legislative piece that they've introduced here over the last 18 months or so, that basically the public sector in Ontario is simply making too much money and that one way to deal with it is by bringing in individual acts dealing with certain groups of individuals and workers and somehow taking away some of the bargaining rights or the bargaining positions that they have succeeded in during the negotiations, unilaterally taking them away.
I think most people in Ontario find this offensive. I think it goes against the whole method of collective bargaining. It goes against the whole spirit and principle that has served us extremely well in this province over the last number of years. No one likes to be dealt with in an arbitrary fashion.
I can well understand how the people in Metro Toronto, particularly the caucus members, my own caucus members and those of the New Democratic Party who are from Metro Toronto, as well as others, feel extremely upset over the fact that in this whole megacity question, basically what's happening is that the same government that brought forth the discussion papers -- I believe there's a committee meeting right now, as a matter of fact, dealing with the whole question of referendum -- is in effect saying, "When it comes to the megacity situation, we do not want a referendum."
I think the ultimate insult was paid by the Minister of Municipal Affairs today when in effect he said that even if a referendum were held, it wouldn't make any difference to his position at all. That sounds very arrogant to me, as I'm sure it does to the majority of people in Ontario. If you are going to have referenda and if you are a true believer in the referendum concept -- I'm not saying I necessarily believe referendums are the answer, but they are the government that is saying yes, we should have referendums. If you're a true believer in that notion and that concept, then certainly such an important issue as whether there should be one city here in Toronto or whether there should be six different municipalities is something the people of this area should have a direct say in.
I think most of us will agree that what this is really all about is the quality of life and the standard of living that we enjoy here in the province of Ontario. I find it very interesting that here the United Nations for two years in a row has said that Canada is the best country to live in from a standard-of-living and a quality-of-life viewpoint, and I think it's fair to say that good government programs at all levels, municipal, provincial or federal government, which haven't been initiated just in the last five or 10 years but which we've built a tradition on over the last 30 or 40 years at all levels, are an integral part of the quality of life that we enjoy here.
If we get away from that, if we somehow say, "Let's just get rid of government completely" -- and I agree sometimes perhaps this is a feeling shared by all of us, that Big Brother is watching us too much; "Let's just get rid of them." We only feel that way if we don't have any particular need for government at that time. The moment we need some of their services, whether they're educational, health services, fire services or police services, we are the first people to say, "We want those services" to protect our quality of life. That's really what it's about.
For a government to be as arrogant as that, to in effect say, "We don't care what the people of a particular area want or express by way of a referendum, we really don't care about their opinion, we've made up our minds that there's going to be one municipality rather than the six existing municipalities," is the height of arrogance and really speaks to the whole quality of life that we enjoy in this province.
I would urge the member for Oakville South to withdraw part IX of the bill, and I think you can probably get agreement today that we would pass it. Will you do so?
The Acting Speaker (Mr Ed Doyle): Questions or comments?
Mr Len Wood (Cochrane North): In the two minutes, I just wanted to reflect on the speech of the member for Kingston and The Islands. He pointed out quite clearly that the parliamentary assistant, the member for Oakville South, should go back and forcefully recommend to the minister that the labour relations section of this bill be taken out.
You have 2,000 firemen out on the front lawn saying that Mike Harris put himself on video and made a promise during the election campaign that he would consult with the firemen before he brought in legislation, and then we find out this is a broken promise.
The two sections in the bill -- I heard the comment that there hasn't been a strike by the firefighters for more than 50 years. Why would they bring in a section that says the firemen won't have the right to strike? Just to anger the firefighters out there.
Hours of employment: They're saying, "Why don't we have the right to negotiate our hours of employment in the collective agreement?" What has angered a lot of the firemen who were out on the lawn a few weeks ago is that the collective bargaining process is being taken away from them and they're not having the right to be able to sit down and meet with the government as to why these sections are being brought in.
There are a number of other areas that I'm sure we're going to hear more debate on as the member for London Centre gets up and talks a little bit on more of the details from our particular party on the concerns out there. It's going to be interesting.
The member for Kingston and The Islands covered a lot of areas, saying, "Why go out and agitate a group of professional firefighters who say this was not necessary, it was a broken promise?" and all for the sake of giving a tax break. There's the matter of collecting that $3 billion in taxes that they promised as a tax break to the wealthiest people in the province, and this is one of the ways of being able to rake back some of that money from the municipalities, and the firefighters are the ones whose pockets are being picked instead of giving them the right to continue collective bargaining as before.
Mr Carr: I just want to compliment the member for Kingston and The Islands on his comments. I've had the opportunity to spend some time on Bill 20 with the member and go across some of the province. I know he brings a great deal of experience from a municipal background, so I'm looking forward to him getting into some of the details on part IX, because, as you know, there are some people, particularly on the municipal side, who are saying, "This is the power we need to go forward." I hadn't realized that he had also been a part of the committee that studied it, and during that period of time the decision was made to back off and not go forward.
I think the member would realize, and it's a bit of an understatement, that these times are a lot different. There will be many, many changes, and I alluded to them. In Toronto and other municipalities, the changes are going to be probably the most profound. Whether he agrees or disagrees -- he probably disagrees a lot -- the government of the day is going to carry it forward.
But in those circumstances, during this period, are some of the changes in the bill as a result of some of the municipal changes needed, or can his decision be that even during this period of time the municipalities don't need the flexibility? I'm looking forward to spending time, because he is somebody who has a great deal of experience in that area. I look forward to his comments, if not today, then maybe we can get some time if he gets a chance to be on that bill to see specifically, with his municipal experience -- because there are many in municipalities who say it didn't go far enough, and we've got the associations that say it went too far. Our job is to try and find the balance.
Are there any parts of part IX that are acceptable? That will be the process we'll be going through. I will say this to the member for Kingston and The Islands: With his background as a former mayor and somebody well respected in this House, I'm looking forward to some of his comments on this particular piece of legislation.
Mr Rick Bartolucci (Sudbury): I'd just like to commend the member for Kingston and The Islands for his excellent presentation. He says it as it is. There's only the one section here that provides so much distress to our very competent, qualified and dedicated firefighters, and that's part IX.
If you look at section 2, the firefighters are very happy that now the municipalities have not only the opportunity but the mandate to ensure that there is a public education program. Certainly this past October during Fire Prevention Week I worked with the chief and the firefighters and we put together a fire safety brochure entitled A Family Decision. In it, the fire chief put a message; the firefighters put a message. We talked about the arson prevention program for children; we talked about the Learn Not to Burn program that is now going internationally. We talked about fire escape planning etc. We worked cooperatively and together. When I was on city council that's the same type of thing we tried to do with our firefighters and our police services board.
There are so many articles in part IX which are needless. I negotiated for I guess eight years against the firefighters. Never once did they ever threaten to go on strike. That provision is just not necessary. It's demeaning. It certainly shows a disdain or a lack of trust in firefighters. They've always acted only in their self-interest but also always for the good of the larger community. They never threatened job action or a strike.
I'm suggesting to you that you listen carefully to what the member said: Withdraw part IX. You'll understand that firefighters would then agree that Bill 84 is a good piece of legislation.
Mr Kormos: I listened to the comments of the member for Kingston and The Islands. I was surprised to hear the Speaker chastise him at one point during his comments -- and I suspect the Speaker might have been prompted by some of the members of the government backbench -- the Speaker suggesting the member for Kingston and The Islands was off topic. Well, the member for Kingston and The Islands was putting this bill very much into the broader context and I think that was incredibly important.
He was talking about user fees, and yes, this bill very much opens the door. Bill 26 was the seminal piece of legislation and these are all the rest of the pieces of the puzzle that open the door for privatization and/or user fees for any number of services, including firefighting services. That's what I heard the member speaking about, and the Speaker chastised him. The Speaker had the nerve to suggest that somehow he wasn't on topic. I suggest the Speaker -- and it wasn't you, sir -- wasn't listening; either that or the Speaker was being unduly influenced by members of the government back bench.
You want to talk user fees? We've only just begun, because don't forget, municipal councils across this province are in their pre-election year. They're loath to impose user fees, yet the attack by this government on the fiscal base of municipalities is so profound. I tell you, the city council of Welland has imposed a user fee on dying. There is a $10 user fee for dying, a new $10 fee for a burial certificate. The councillors clearly recognized that they were compelled to do that, however distasteful, by the policies of this Harris government, which place working people, the poor, municipalities, home owners, young families, seniors, the sick, under direct attack. This bill is part and parcel of that same process.
I appreciate the comments and I'll appreciate more the comments by the member for London Centre, who is going to elaborate very much on not just part IX but the whole plethora of sections in the bill which indicate why it must be defeated.
The Acting Speaker: The Chair recognizes the member for Kingston and The Islands.
Mr Gerretsen: I would certainly like to thank the members for Cochrane North, Oakville South, Sudbury and Welland-Thorold for their comments. I too was surprised that the Speaker would not understand that, because that particular individual, when she acts as Speaker, usually has a broad understanding and sees the total interrelationship between all the various subjects. So I must admit I was somewhat surprised when she chastised me on not sticking to the subject, which I did and I always do.
I think the member for Oakville South once again used words in his retort, and I have a high respect for him, when he said that as a result of all the restructuring that's going on, municipalities need greater flexibility; those are kind of like buzz words -- "greater flexibility." To me, it only means one thing.
Mr Michael Brown: Code.
Mr Gerretsen: Code words. Thank you very much. Code words; it's a lot better. To me it only means one thing, that he wants to give municipalities the greater right to privatize. I think there are certain basic services that a municipality ought to provide and that should not be privatized. I certainly think that fire services are one of those services. I would like to reiterate that from a property taxpayer's viewpoint, it always seemed to me that once you start messing around with the basic services the average person can see they're getting for their property tax dollars -- I would include in those services fire protection, police protection, garbage pickup, road cleaning, park maintenance etc -- people will very quickly say, "What am I getting for my service?"
I say to the government and the parliamentary assistant once again, do the right thing, withdraw part IX and we'll pass the bill probably tonight, if you so wish.
The Acting Speaker: Further debate?
Mrs Marion Boyd (London Centre): I'm glad I have an opportunity this afternoon to do my leadoff speech, which was of course pre-empted by my having to be in the justice committee looking at the family support plan at the time this bill was called. I hope people are sort of in for the long haul of 90 minutes while I go through some of the concerns we have with Bill 84.
One of the members of the official opposition in commenting on the speech from the member for Kingston and The Islands said that firefighters were really very happy about many aspects of the bill. I think it's important for people to really understand that, that many of the issues in the sections of the bill, not part IX but the other sections of the bill, are things that firefighters and fire chiefs have been asking for for a long time. They are tools they have felt they needed in order to be responsive to the growing changes in their work. They have been changes that they have been asking for, that inquests have asked for, that have been very important in terms of the ability of the people of Ontario to be sure we will have a level of safety with which we're comfortable.
But like many of the bills this government brings forward, this bill is highly tainted by some of the aspects and some of the confusions around it. It is my very strong hope that in the course of extensive public hearings on this bill, public hearings that have been asked for by fire chiefs, by the firefighters and by the general public, there will be an opportunity for the government to correct some of the very serious limitations in this bill. Those limitations do not solely pertain, although many of them are important to the area of labour relations, but there are other areas that need to be looked at very carefully and where clarification is needed.
It is really important that we recognize that the work that has gone on to look at a unified picture around fire safety has been going on for a long time, but I would suggest to you that the Crombie commission was quite wrong in determining that it wasn't necessary for it to consult with professional firefighters, with the fire chiefs, when they made their decisions around what they were going to recommend.
It's important that we understand that the recommendations of the Crombie commission, the who does what to whom commission, are very important in this respect because the government informed us last week that this is one of the bills it defines to be in within the purview of the special session that has been called to start January 13.
The other thing we found out last week, and I think this will be of overwhelming interest to firefighters, and frankly to police officers as well, is that this government, when it goes out to hearings, wants not just this bill to be looked at. They want it to be looked at in conjunction with a bill that we have not yet seen on civilian oversight of the police.
That should give us all great concern because what it means is that this supposedly landmark piece of legislation is so unimportant to this government that it's prepared to look at it in conjunction with another piece of legislation that is equally engrossing to the population. However, this does not appear to be engrossing to the House: I note that there isn't a quorum in the House. Would you call a quorum?
The Acting Speaker: Would you check for a quorum, please.
Senior Clerk Assistant and Clerk of Journals (Mr Alex D. McFedries): A quorum is not present, Speaker.
The Acting Speaker ordered the bells rung.
Senior Clerk Assistant and Clerk of Journals: A quorum is now present, Speaker.
The Acting Speaker: Would you like to continue, please.
Mrs Boyd: Part of my concern is that although the Solicitor General, who brought forward this act, made great fanfare of the fact of its importance, he, the minister also responsible for policing in this province, appears to be willing to dilute the very important business of making sure that this act is right; with some of the admitted problems that the parliamentary assistant noted are there in the act, he seems to be trying to run those together with another piece of legislation which we have not yet seen.
Both those who are concerned about policing in this province and those who are concerned around all issues of public safety that are dealt with by our professional firefighters need to be very aware that this government does not consider these issues as important as they do. It will be important for us to be very vigilant to ensure that these issues get a thorough discussion.
When the minister gave his speech introducing this bill, one of the pieces of very good news that he had to tell us was that this piece of legislation was thoroughly endorsed by the fire chiefs throughout Ontario. It's extremely important for me to make it clear to the people in this House and those who are watching that many of the fire chiefs in the province have discussed many of the same problems that the professional firefighters' associations themselves have done. There is a really serious issue here of misrepresentation, it seems to me, when it is said that the fire chiefs are in favour of something. It leads to an adversarial relationship that need not exist and has not existed in the past, in most instances, between firefighters and fire chiefs.
I mention that because I met this morning with representatives of the fire chiefs of the province, and there are many issues about this bill and the implications of this bill which concern them quite deeply. They are very deeply worried that the minister's vision of them as being totally in favour of this act makes it much more difficult for them to bring forward the concerns they have.
Let me say that one of the concerns they have is the very definition of "minister" in this act. They are extremely worried about the definition in this act of the minister responsible for fire safety in this province: "`Minister' means, in each part of this act, the member of the executive council to whom the administration of this act, or of the part of this act, is assigned from time to time."
Mr Bud Wildman (Algoma): On a point of order, Mr Speaker: The member of the executive council who is responsible for this legislation should be here, and if he were, that might contribute to a quorum. I don't think there's a quorum present.
The Acting Speaker: Would you check to see if there is a quorum, please.
Clerk Assistant and Clerk of Committees (Ms Deborah Deller): A quorum is present, Speaker.
The Acting Speaker: Continue the debate.
Mrs Boyd: The fire chiefs are concerned because there has been some talk about switching fire safety to the responsibility of the Minister of Municipal Affairs. There is a real concern here, particularly when we see this put in conjunction with the whole issue of public safety and when we look at a bill that hands over responsibility for fire safety so completely to municipalities, that we be sure that there is someone who is not the Minister of Municipal Affairs who is responsible for all aspects of public safety, the enforcement of the law within this province. It is very important that we have a minister responsible in cabinet who knows all the aspects of public safety. The fire chiefs say that throughout, it talks about "the minister" in an anonymous way, it does not talk about the Solicitor General, and that is what they have been used to. It is really important for all of us to hear the fire chiefs. They are saying that it is essential in this province for the Solicitor General to continue to be the person who is ultimately responsible for fire safety, to whom the fire marshal reports, and to have that overview, an overview that will not be tainted by the influence of municipal councillors and municipalities, the way the Minister of Municipal Affairs often is.
That's particularly important when we look at what we have seen in this province in terms of the overwhelming influence of mayors and councils and human resource officers and chief executive or administrative officers, whatever they're called in the particular municipality, in the massive changes that have come forward under the who does what to whom panel. What we have seen is a complete shift of elected parliamentary responsibility in this province to an unelected, unaccountable group of people who have their own agenda, and that agenda is to gather into the municipal hands a great deal of power, a great deal of power that they exercise with a major, overwhelming prime directive, which is to provide the least government at the least cost.
The people of Ontario have to be very wary of that whole proposal when they look at their safety, and their safety not only from fire but from all the other forms of disaster, all the other rescue issues that firefighters are responsible for providing in this province. I would say to the parliamentary assistant that I'm not sure he's thought of this aspect of the bill before. That's one of the problems of not consulting well with the professionals who deal in the field. It is extremely important, it seems to me, that we be very wary of any shift of responsibility to any minister who is not particularly responsible for public safety in the broadest sense, because otherwise other agendas take place that tend to overwhelm that as a prime directive, and it is really important that we keep that in mind.
Some of the other aspects that fire chiefs are generally concerned about include the whole issue of labour relations, and I'm going to talk about their concerns when I talk about the labour relations section, which you will understand is one of our major concerns about the bill as a whole. They have other concerns as well. I'll just start reading out some of those they have talked about.
First of all, they are very concerned about the change in atmosphere from what they have regarded as a consultative, cooperative field to a newly developing adversarial field. They are very clear that the existing legislation, the legislation this bill is intended to replace, has concentrated on agreement rather than disputes between the parties. The language of this bill assumes that there are going to be disputes and assumes that there are going to be disputes that cannot be handled in a cooperative way. It may not be surprising since the pressure to do this obviously has a lot to do with the pressure that the Minister of Municipal Affairs is bringing on this Legislature around the amalgamation of cities, because that will indeed have an enormous effect on the professional firefighters within the amalgamated area. The KPMG study is very clear that they expect to get a lot of the savings by firing firefighters. It is not surprising that the bill assumes that there are going to be a lot of disputes that there weren't before. It is designed, I would say, to facilitate the ability of municipalities to wring out of fire safety the dollars they will need because of reduced provincial grants. It seems to me that this is very clear.
Some of the other definitional issues in this bill are equally important. This bill sets up a deputy fire chief without defining what a deputy fire chief is. Is a deputy fire chief a firefighter who has managerial responsibilities? Is a deputy fire chief somehow entitled to take on some of the responsibilities of the chief when the chief is not available? There is no definition of a deputy fire chief and that is quite concerning to the chiefs of Ontario. They also say that the fire chief definition is not clear. It does not say whether or not a fire chief must be a firefighter. It is important for us to recognize that within the firefighting community there is a great concern that fire services be run by people who know what firefighting is all about, who know what is involved in all the multiple tasks that firefighters have to take on, and not some hotshot managers who don't know what firefighting is about and only know what they've learned in an MBA course. It's really important that this definition be rounded out if the government expects to get the support of the fire chiefs.
There's an interesting question raised by the fire chiefs. They wonder why "fire fighter," which always was two words in every other act, has suddenly become one word. I don't know the answer to that; perhaps the parliamentary assistant can tell us. People are asking: "Why this change? Why is it a single word? What's that all about? Does that mean that they've somehow changed because the word has changed?"
The last in the definitional clauses is that issue of the minister. The fire chiefs were certainly surprised to find that there was some equivocation about which minister would be responsible for fire services.
The issue that is really of concern that is outside the Labour Relations Act is the issue of the fire code, and section 12, I believe it is, of the act is identified as being the section that is the fire code. What people expected to see in a bill that was said by the Solicitor General to incorporate all of the various fire acts into one place -- the fire code under part IV of the bill, simply says:
"The minister may make regulations that are considered advisable or necessary for the purpose of establishing a fire code for Ontario governing fire safety standards for equipment, systems, buildings, structures, land and premises including regulations,
"(a) prescribing any method, matter or thing relating to fire protection;
"(b) respecting standards for reducing the risk of, or consequences of, a fire that would seriously endanger the health or safety of any person or the quality of the natural environment for any use that can be made of it;
"(c) requiring and regulating fire protection equipment and systems and respecting the maintenance of such equipment and systems;
"(d) requiring and regulating means of egress, fire separations, finish materials, furnishings and decorations, standards of housekeeping and heating, ventilation, air conditioning and incinerating equipment and systems;
"(e) controlling or prohibiting any material, substance, equipment..." It goes on. He "may" give regulations that establish this.
Now, what firefighters were expecting, because of all the work that's been done over the years on consultations, all the recommendations that have come out of inquests, was that this fire code section would set down what the fire code is and that there would be some improvements in the regulations in terms of the fire code, and that has not happened. That is a real worry to many people, because one of the issues that we have raised by the Solicitor General is that part of these changes were brought about by recommendations from inquests. But the act that we see in front of us ignores many of the recommendations that have come forward through inquests which have involved changes to the fire code itself. There is a great belief and a real concern that the fire code should have been either provided as a companion to this act so that we know what we're talking about in this act, or it should have been incorporated into the act.
Let me talk about some of the real concerns around the fire code.
Will the fire code be amended to require smoke alarms in all buildings that provide sleeping accommodation, like single-family homes and duplexes? The recommendations of inquest after inquest, particularly into basement apartment fires, have said that should be a part of the fire code, but we don't see it here.
Will the fire code provide some direction to determine what is "adequate supervisory personnel" to carry out provisions of the required safety plan that's outlined in section 5.8 of the current fire code? This is a very serious question regarding nursing homes, senior citizens' retirement homes, group homes, senior citizens' satellite homes and possibly hospitals with the cuts to staffing levels that are happening now under the cuts from this government.
Sprinkler systems can be effective in providing more time to evacuate persons under care, but most of the buildings noted above are not equipped with sprinklers.
Adequate staffing levels are necessary to ensure emergency evacuation. How many staff were on duty at Meadowcroft? What part of that terrible tragedy could have been prevented by a fire code that set down adequate staffing levels when you are caring for bedridden people? This is a growing concern among people running establishments for care, and it's a growing concern among many of us who have relatives who reside in those areas. The tragedy that happened at Meadowcroft and the inquest that was held at Meadowcroft help us all to understand the importance of those issues.
How will the fire code, that presumably will be amended, address fire safety in hotels and motels? Remember, this act replaces the Hotel Fire Safety Act. One of the concerns we have is, what are the requirements under the fire code going to be with respect to these multiple temporary dwellings?
Will parts II, III and IX, the retrofit parts of the fire code, be changed to accord with some of the concerns that have been raised in inquests and in other places? I don't think so; we don't have any assurance of that. That's what the fire chiefs and the firefighters are saying: Without an adequate fire code to be a companion piece to this bill, it is an illusion.
Will the fire service have input into the changes to the hotel and motel sections of the fire code? There's been a lot of consultative work done, and there are draft changes apparently available, particularly on the retrofit section, but no one knows whether they're going to be consulted. If the history of this government in terms of actually consulting with people goes on the way it has been, there's not much hope that there will be.
The new act provides for qualifications for persons who work on fire safety systems and devices. That sounds very comforting to all of us, but who's going to qualify and who's going to be responsible to qualify them? We see the Minister of Consumer and Commercial Relations getting out of the business of licensing in these areas. Who's going to qualify people? The fire service has been asking for years to be the vehicle whereby people could be qualified for this, and it is important that it get some answers on that.
There are many, many areas of the fire code listed in here for which the minister may provide regulations, but we don't know what those regulations are going to be, and so when the minister goes out and sells this as an act that ensures the safety of people in this province from fires and other disasters dealt with by firefighters, he has conveniently forgotten that many of those issues are central to the fire code and that we do not know what the intention is with respect to the fire code.
I would say to the parliamentary assistant that one of the best ways to make a consultation process in hearings most effective across the province would be to do some preliminary work around changes necessary to the fire code and some assurances to professional firefighters, and I would think actually to the general population, that those are going to accord with the kinds of changes that have been suggested by inquests, that the issue around first-response teams and the numbers of people on trucks, which is a very important issue in terms of labour relations, be included in the fire code. That terrible fire in Willowdale at Forest Lane, as well as the Meadowcroft fire -- these are the inquests that we've seen most recently and the issues that have arisen in this area most recently -- are places where the personnel available for the very first response, the staffing on that first-response truck, becomes an extremely important issue in terms of saving lives. It would be important for the minister to acknowledge that the act in and of itself, without some strengthening of the fire code, is not going to make at all clear the kinds of safety issues that he is trying to purport to support, because this is an act that only permits a fire code to be done.
The real concern here on the part of firefighters and fire chiefs is that with the kind of strength of municipal control of fire services that is given by this act and with a history where the fire marshal has tended to be reluctant to go against some of the strong representations by municipalities around the interpretation of the fire code, there is real concern about a watering down of public safety with the imperative of saving dollars. That's where some of the concern is coming from, that there will be a real ability on the part of those who are being given a great deal of control over this to really water down some of the things that we assume to be there as a base safety net, because they won't be enforced. That's a very important issue. An improved and toughened fire code needs to be the companion piece to this.
The firefighters are concerned because they believe -- and I think they're right -- that there is not enough acknowledgement in this bill of the broad scope of the work that they do and enough acknowledgement of what their tasks are. Part of their concern is that most of us, when we think of fire safety and what firefighters do, think of an actual fire and what they do. But increasingly their work involves a lot of work around chemical spills, around car accidents, around rescues of various kinds. As we go through this, when we talk about firefighters we need to understand that firefighters do a great deal more than simply fight fires.
That brings me to the other issue. Firefighters are not unhappy to see the emphasis on fire prevention, to see that it is important for us to do public education, to build within our communities some community responsibility around the actions that all of us as individual citizens, all of us as tenants or homeowners, all of us who run businesses, all of us who rent out premises, have around fire safety. They are very pleased to see so much emphasis on fire prevention in this bill, very happy, but they also want it to be known that they're a little insulted because the assumption seems to be that where there are professional firefighters somehow this hasn't already been done.
Most of us know that firefighters spend a good deal of their time doing fire prevention tasks, doing public education, doing work out in the community, alerting people to the dangers of fire. They feel very strongly that the provisions of this act assume that they will not necessarily be the people who will be doing that. That really concerns them a great deal, because they're the ones who have gone into classrooms. They know that when they tell of their firsthand experiences, that is one of the most impressive learning tools people can have. Talking about fire safety when you've never been in a fire or you've never had the training associated with some of the other tasks that firefighters have tends not to give you the kind of in-depth knowledge that impresses people who are sceptical about what you are suggesting in terms of protection.
One of the issues is that this public safety education, while it probably needs to be delivered in conjunction with other educators, like the schools, like our general public education through libraries and service clubs and all of the rest of that, must be done in conjunction with those who are professionals and understand the field. They are the ones who can give, if you like, blood and breath to the bare bones of the discussion around fire safety. They are very clear that they want to be part of that picture, and yet it's also clear from the act that they are not necessarily going to be part of that picture. They are not necessarily going to be seen as the obvious experts in the field. I'm not suggesting to you that every firefighter is a good educator. They would not suggest that to you either, but they would say to you that it is important to involve the fire services in that whole field, and that is not necessarily going to occur under this particular act.
One of the other issues we are concerned about in this bill is the lack of connection between occupational health and safety and this bill. When the minister stands up and says, "This brings together everything around fire safety in this province," he leaves out a very important part, and that is the whole issue of occupational health and safety as it relates to the kind of work that firefighters do. In September 1994, the Occupational Disease Panel of the Workers' Compensation Board released its report to the Workers' Compensation Board on cardiovascular disease and cancer among firefighters. When firefighters presented that report they asked for feedback on it and they expected that the recommendations of that panel and the importance of occupational health and safety would somehow be conjoined with any change in the fire act.
They had asked for that. They had written to the minister, they had presented him with a copy of this report and throughout 1995 and 1996 they have asked that the minister look at this in conjunction with any change to the act. The minister under our government felt that it was a very important part of the changes that needed to be made, that there needed to be some connection, some reference to occupational health and safety concerns of firefighters in conjunction with changes to this act.
The recommendations from that panel were obviously very important. The panel recommended that brain cancer in firefighters be added to schedule 3 of the Workers' Compensation Act, meaning that the WCB must presume that a firefighter who has a brain cancer has been affected by work-related issues unless it is proven to be unrelated. The panel recommended that lymphatic and haematopoietic cancers in firefighters also be added to schedule 3 of the act. The panel found that there was a probable connection between firefighting and colon, bladder and kidney cancers. Guidelines developed and approved by the panel should be used for assessing those claims. The panel recommended that the WCB recognize firefighting as a risk factor for cardiovascular diseases, that the WCB should consider occupation as well as smoking, high blood pressure and family history when deciding cardiovascular disease claims for firefighters.
The firefighters look at what has happened with this government. They look at Bill 26, which brought about the interest arbitration changes which affected them. They look at Bill 26 and the kinds of powers that were placed in the hands of municipalities in that act. They look at this act that is in front of us today and they see that much is missing from this act that they have been asking to be incorporated into it and they know that a major shift is occurring in the Workers' Compensation Board on all of these issues around occupational disease and compensation for work-related injuries and illnesses. They look at Bill 86, which relieves municipalities of liability if something occurs as a result of a policy decision, in light of the kind of risk management mode that is being suggested by Bill 84 and by the kind of cost-cutting exercises indulged in by chief administrative officers within municipalities.
It all adds up to a picture which says to them, "We're being sold a bill of goods when the Solicitor General stands up and tells us that this government really cares about fire safety and this government really cares about the provision of these services within the community and this government is taking action that no other government has taken," and they're saying that's right because many of the issues that are arising are so complex and broad-based that they need to be looked at across the spectrum of bills that have been brought in by this government, and the implications of those bills need to be looked at in conjunction with Bill 84.
They're very, very clear that they know this bill is not isolated for them, that they need to look at those other aspects and they need to bring to the attention of the people of Ontario what the cumulative effect of all these changes could be on their public safety. It could be quite frightening. It could be very frightening indeed.
Mr Speaker, I don't believe we have a quorum.
The Deputy Speaker (Mr Gilles E. Morin): Would you please check if we have a quorum.
Clerk Assistant and Clerk of Committees: A quorum is not present, Speaker.
The Deputy Speaker ordered the bells rung.
Clerk Assistant and Clerk of Committees: A quorum is now present, Speaker.
The Deputy Speaker: The member for London Centre.
Mrs Boyd: When we look at the cumulative effect of all these various bills, we have to understand the firefighters' concern in that context. I would hope the parliamentary assistant would be doing that, because I think it is extremely important for us to know that those concerns are very deeply felt and that the firefighters will be bringing those forward in a very real way.
I want to go through the issue around part IX in more detail because I think it is probably the real focus of a lot of the concern that is there. I know there are those in the government who say: "Well, sure. The firefighters aren't concerned about public safety. They're only concerned about their own jobs." I want you to know that when you make that kind of comment, and we have heard many of you say that, it is taking away from the professionalism of firefighters, which they have demonstrated again and again across this province.
It is very urgent that we recognize that most of us are not knowledgeable and expert in the areas of risk where professional firefighters work all the time and that most of us don't have an appreciation of their concerns around this bill from the perspective of public service. It is incumbent upon us to recognize that this is a group of people who have never been adversarial in their relationship with their employers. They have operated under a regime that has required arbitration. They have been firm and they have been clear about what their expectations are, they have defended their members well, but they have not indulged in the kind of adversarial labour relations anticipated by this bill, and I would say encouraged by this bill.
Let's go through the issues under part IX. The first issue is that of the definition of "employer." All of the acts that are being combined into this act -- certainly the Fire Departments Act has been based on the assumption that the major employer is going to be a municipality. That has been the way it was under the old act. They were the sole employers of fire fighters and they were the only ones authorized to operate fire departments. So the regulation of labour relations of firefighters employed in firefighting was organized under the Municipal Act. But in Bill 84 we suddenly see that the term "employer" includes not only a municipality but a "person or organization that employs firefighters." That's in subsection 41(1).
This clearly is the section that mirrors the provisional sections that were given to municipalities under Bill 26, and to others, that these services could be privatized. It raises the possibility that those who are currently employed as firefighters by private organizations could come under this act. There needs to be some clarification about that, whether those who are currently employed by the private sector in terms of firefighting do come under this act. That is an important issue for us to understand.
But the other issue is equally important, because we have in front of us the example of many jurisdictions in the United States which have privatized police services and fire services. We know this government is very enamoured of our friends to the south, and because of their inherent dislike of anything that is public service and their belief that anything that is private can be offered in a more effective and efficient way, this is the permissive clause under which fire services could be privatized, privatized to whole communities.
Similarly, in Bill 26 that was the concern around policing services, that they could be privatized. We all have visions in our minds of those gated communities in the United States which charge their affluent residents high rates, in addition to whatever they pay in taxes, for private policing and fire protection.
I would have thought that in a province where we have built and developed both in the professional firefighter area and in the volunteer firefighting sector a system that is clearly based in a milieu of public service and one in which we have had wonderful service, never had a labour dispute that has affected the service of firefighting within our province, that we would be very leery of a situation that privatizes that and puts it into the adversarial labour relations area. That is not to say that it is necessarily an issue when something is privatized that it's going to be an adversarial relationship. What I am saying is that this opens up to the firefighters a glimpse of a vision of fire protection that certainly is not one they share.
The definition of "firefighter" under part IX is very interesting. Under the existing Fire Departments Act, the definition of "firefighter" is restricted to full-time firefighters who are assigned exclusively to fire protection or fire prevention duties, and it includes officers and technicians. In Bill 84, subsection 41(1) does not require that persons be assigned exclusively to providing fire protection services, which were defined in part I, but rather requires only that they be assigned to fire protection services. As well, there's no requirement that firefighters be full-time. In fact, the definition of "firefighter" includes both full- and part-time firefighters as long as they're employed regularly and on a salaried basis, as opposed to what we know with volunteer firefighters where they provide fire protection services either voluntarily or for a nominal consideration, honorarium, training and activity allowance.
Under this act, the cabinet has the power to pass regulations which determine what "regularly employed" means. What are the concerns about that? The concerns obviously are that the firefighters will find an increasing pressure to have a cohort of part-time firefighters available to deal with some of the other sections which involve the requirements at particular times of the day and night under a platoon system. What they are concerned about is that they may find themselves on the team with someone who is not regularly engaged in firefighting, who is not on the front lines and working as a team. We have to remember that teamwork is extraordinarily important in this work and that there is no requirement to provide those part-time firefighters with sufficient hours, and that they are not also having to engage in other work which may or may not affect their ability to keep up with all the changes in chemical issues that firefighters need to know, to maintain the kind of physical training and the kind of teamwork that is involved in fighting fires.
That's a major concern and is something we really need to take seriously because they are basically saying they don't want to see the split that may occur between those who are part-time and full-time on a force and the kinds of controversies that can arise within a force that depends upon teamwork, that depends upon a certain solidarity and a certain focus of attention.
The exclusions issue is a very important issue. Under the existing act, the chief and the deputy chief are excluded from collective bargaining and representation by firefighters' associations. Bill 84 provides that persons who perform managerial functions or who are employed in a confidential capacity in matters relating to labour relations are deemed not to be firefighters for the purposes of part IX, subsection 41(2). This opens the door to a much wider exclusion of firefighters from representation and collective bargaining. It also leads, we believe, to disputes over whether a firefighter falls within the statutory exclusion and whether those disputes are to be determined by the Ontario Labour Relations Board, which now will have some powers over firefighters under this act but it doesn't specifically say that those disputes will be decided by the Labour Relations Act.
Bill 84 permits the employer, the municipality in most cases, to designate employees it considers to be managerial or confidential and therefore excluded in two ways, according to section 58. The first method provides that the employer identifies certain people, but this is subject to a challenge by the firefighters' association. It's left in that case to the labour relations board to determine whether the person does have managerial or confidential functions, and the board's decision applies in that case under subsections 58(1) and (2).
But the bill also allows the employer to designate a limited number of persons, depending upon the number of persons employed by the department, and that designation would not be subject to any review by the labour relations board. The bill also states that people who are designated in this way are conclusively deemed to be exercising managerial functions and can be identified by the employer in its sole discretion. That's subsection 58(3).
Some people might say that given the numbers that are there -- if there are fewer than 25 firefighters, two persons may be designated; in a fire department that employs between 150 and 299, four people may be designated -- "Well, is that such a big deal?" But the reality for firefighters is that they don't know and it will depend upon the exclusive decision-making of the employer, and it means you have an added number of managerial people.
It's very interesting that a government that is busy talking about delayering and taking the bureaucracy out of every other part of government services has created a situation where you're creating a managerial bureaucracy that has never been required before. It's very peculiar you would need to do that and very, very strange that there could be a significant effect, depending on the size of the department, on the number of people who are excluded from representation. The impact of that on firefighters is hard to determine, but we do know that it certainly goes completely against what has traditionally been the way in which these departments have functioned.
We've talked a lot, and I'm not going to belabour the issue of no strike, no lockout, but if you think it is a simple thing, this is probably the thing that has raised people's anger the most. They never had any intention and have not struck before. Given the kind of mammoth changes that the Minister of Municipal Affairs is talking about in terms of municipal organization, they may be more worried about lockout than they ever were before, but it has never been necessary for them to have this provision. I think what it has done is to sour what was before a good working relationship between employers and employees by even suggesting that this should be in.
The bill says that everyone must bargain in good faith -- that's good -- and make every reasonable effort to effect a collective agreement, but the bill doesn't give any enforcement mechanisms with respect to this requirement and it doesn't give any enforcement mechanisms, I might say, to most of the other mandatory requirements under the bill, including that prohibition against strikes and lockouts.
Under the Labour Relations Act, the labour board is provided with the authority to hear and determine complaints concerning violations of that act, but the authority to do so is not specifically included in Bill 84. That's a real issue for firefighters, because the issue of bargaining in good faith from a labour relations perspective is probably one of the most important issues that needs to be adjudicated by an independent third party. They are very concerned that there is no cross-reference to the Labour Relations Act around bargaining in good faith in this act, and I think that is something you will hear as we go through hearings that is of great concern.
But probably the heart of a lot of the concerns is the hours-of-work issue, and the issue that hours of work and negotiations around hours of work are suddenly taken out of the hands of firefighters and their employers, taken away from the negotiating table where they have belonged, and the government decrees how work is to be organized and what hours of work are to be done in the province.
That is a very significant change and one that I think probably is most important for the government to look at, because the bill requires that no firefighter who is assigned to firefighting duties can be required to work or to be on duty for more than 48 hours in an average workweek. However, aside from this restriction and the requirement that firefighters be provided with a minimum period of 24 hours per week during which the firefighter is not at work or on duty, the scheduling would seem to be otherwise left up to the fire department itself.
That is a significant issue around the application of the hours-of-work provisions that are in current collective agreements, and that issue around what happens to current collective agreements I'll talk about in a moment. This bill includes no mechanism at all for a firefighter or a firefighters' association to challenge the improper assignment of working hours by the employer. So what we have here is, we take it off the negotiating table -- it no longer becomes a mutual agreement that takes into account the particular needs of the particular area, it suddenly becomes a total prerogative of the government to make these decisions -- and then we see no mechanism for any kind of effort to deal with that if in fact there has been inappropriate assignment. Again there's no recourse when that is not being done properly.
Mr Speaker, I believe we again do not have a quorum.
The Deputy Speaker: Please check.
Clerk Assistant and Clerk of Committees: A quorum is not present, Speaker.
The Deputy Speaker ordered the bells rung.
Clerk Assistant and Clerk of Committees: A quorum is now present, Speaker.
The Deputy Speaker: The member for London Centre.
Mrs Boyd: When you look at this whole issue around hours of work with respect to the call-in provisions that are subsections 43(9) and (10) of the act, you begin to understand where some of the concern comes from because this bill increases the employer's ability to call in firefighters in emergencies. Those powers have been quite substantially expanded.
Under the existing provisions, firefighters who are off duty can be called in where there is a fire, flood or other disaster that requires the services of every full-time firefighter, so when there's a major disaster, all firefighters get recalled. That's under the current provisions. But this bill would allow the employer to call in off-duty firefighters as a result of, and this is not defined, "a major emergency" where the fire department needs the services of more firefighters and even if it does not require the services of all firefighters.
This needs to be really looked at in light of that definition of "firefighter" which includes part-time firefighters, because the bill would appear to allow the possibility of the employer having a staff of both full- and part-time firefighters, and it would allow stations to be staffed at different levels at different times of the day, and for someone to declare there's a major emergency when a regular fire happens at 4 o'clock in the morning, which is only too likely. What it means is that the employer then has the capacity to call firefighters in on a basis to meet emergency situations that quite frankly, if this bill which is purported to protect us were real, we would be protected from in the first place.
You're not going to get the kind of response that's required and that is precisely what the firefighters are saying. The reason this whole issue has been raised by the firefighters is that they see this and they see the pressure of municipalities to lower fire department budgets to a point that will endanger public safety, and this bill allowing them to do that and allowing them to use this mechanism by declaring a regular fire a major emergency and calling in firefighters instead of having them there and ready and able to first respond.
If you look at the inquest results of many of these issues, the first response is most important. People should be there and able to respond immediately. They shouldn't be called in on that kind of temporary basis. It is not a good public safety issue. It meets the needs of municipalities that want to save money, that have to save money because this government has reduced their grants to such a point that they are going to have a hard time providing these services any other way, but the government ought to realize that when it tries to sell this bill as a total way of protecting the public, it falls far short of that billing.
Mrs Boyd: There are some issues around dismissal that are important. They're important to firefighters; they clearly aren't important for the member for Brant-Haldimand. He isn't worried about this, but I can tell you that firefighters are worried about the fact that this bill takes away their entitlement to a hearing before council, before their employer, before they are fired. It would deny a firefighter a hearing wherever that firefighter is covered by a collective agreement and is entitled to proceed to arbitration. It removes the right of probationary firefighters to any hearing before council if their employment is terminated. In place of that, the bill provides that a non-probationary firefighter who isn't covered by an arbitration provision in a collective agreement gets a review by anybody who happens to be appointed by the council, and we know that would likely be a chief administrative officer as opposed to an elected official. That's important to a lot of these folks.
The other issue is the probationary employees. Now we have under this act 12 months of employment: in that whole first 12 months a person can be fired without cause under this issue and a probationary firefighter does not have any right to an independent review under the bill but has to rely on whatever grievance procedure may be available under a collective agreement.
The bargaining rights of firefighters have always been, in the sort of regime of collective bargaining, fairly informal. It requires only that a majority of the full-time firefighters request the municipality to bargain with a committee of full-time firefighters. In other words, it has not been a formal labour relations issue.
The bill establishes a very formal regime, which is very unfamiliar to firefighters, for acquiring and terminating bargaining rights modelled on the Labour Relations Act. They now became a trade union. They've always been a professional association before; they now are forced, ironically by the government that's anti-trade union, to become a trade union and to be certified by the Labour Relations Board based on a vote on whether the majority of firefighters wish to be represented by the bargaining agent, and again the provisions of Bill 7 follow so that the vote can only be held where 40% or more have signed cards or otherwise demonstrated that they want to be represented.
That's not bad. They don't think that's a problem, except of course that it makes it far more formal and far more adversarial than it has ever been before. The proposed legislation does not contain any definition of what constitutes a trade union in this field. It's not clear whether firefighter associations that have represented their members for years and years and years would need to prove that they are trade unions under the Labour Relations Act before they can be certified to represent the members they have always represented, and there are none of the provisions that exist under the usual labour relations regime to protect firefighters against unfair labour practices and successor right protections which are contained in the Labour Relations Act and apply to all other municipal employees.
This is extremely important, particularly at a time where we have the dramatic example of the megacity in front of us where there are going to be all sorts of issues around the transition to that for firefighters who have been organized under the six individual cities. There's no protection for them under this act and there's no surprise that the government wants this act in place when the Minister of Municipal Affairs' draconian act on the megacity takes place, comes in force, because this is of course what this is there to allow.
The certification and termination processes that are there are similar to other trade unions under the Labour Relations Act, and there is some provision under section 41 that the existing bargaining rights of firefighter associations will continue, unless they're explicitly terminated by the bill. However, the status of the existing collective agreements is not nearly as clear, and subsection 41(4) indicates that the bill does not explicitly provide for the current collective agreements to remain in effect when this bill comes into effect.
It does not provide that associations which have referred their collective agreement to arbitration and may be in front of an arbitrator can continue with that arbitration process, and the transition provisions between Bill 84 and the previous provisions are totally inadequate. My prediction is, unfortunately, that we will see a lot of disputes arising between employers who want to interpret this act in one way around the collective agreements that are there and employees who of course believe that would violate their rights. Those disputes, I think, the government wants to resist at all costs, and I think that would be wise.
The other issue is that under the current Fire Departments Act, collective agreements would remain in effect until they are replaced by negotiated agreements or by the decision of interest arbitration boards. Under the current regime there is always a collective bargaining structure in place and an agreement that is in force. It only gets changed when an agreement is reached or an arbitration decision is reached.
The new bill requires that working conditions can't be altered, of course, once the notice to bargain has been given, until the right of the trade union to represent firefighters has been terminated. This would appear to protect and freeze working conditions during the negotiation and arbitration process. I believe that was probably the intention, but the wording of the bill is not very clear and the bill does not specifically freeze working conditions for those collective agreements that are currently being negotiated and that have been referred to arbitration. A freeze may only apply to a notice to bargain which has been given under the provisions of this bill itself.
Our concern is, what is going to apply in that transition period? What is going to happen to working conditions during this period of time? The concern of the firefighters, given the kind of financial pressure faced by the municipalities, is obviously that their working conditions will be changed during that period of time.
The decertification process that's described in the bill ought to give pause. It is a normal process of decertification, nothing new to trade unionists, but it is totally new to the firefighting area. There has never been such a thing as a process of decertification with which firefighters or their employers have had to deal. So it is quite clear that even if the concerns and the issues that firefighters raise about the ability of their associations to keep on representing their members under this bill are resolved, the issue of decertification still arises.
What it means is that a firefighters' association may be decertified at specified times related to the expiry of the collective agreement where a petition is circulated among employees and submitted to the labour relations board and the petition indicates that not less than 40% of employees wish to terminate the bargaining rights. Then a vote will be conducted, and if 50% vote to terminate bargaining rights, the association no longer has the right to represent the employees and the collective agreement would be terminated.
What happens in those circumstances? Normally when you have that kind of situation, you have some kind of regime to say that until a new collective agreement is negotiated, the old collective agreement will pertain. But that's not in this bill, and that's a real concern because it raises the prospect, first of all, to put this group under the labour relations board. What you are asking for, quite frankly, are firefighters who may choose to be represented by the CAW or the Teamsters. You've allowed for that in a way that was never contemplated by the firefighters, but given the kind of attack that mainstream unions see themselves as being under, it may well become an alternative for them because of the balance-of-power issues that are being raised in the current situation.
I can assure the parliamentary assistant that I am sure the intention of this government was not to put into place a situation that could exacerbate the labour relations difficulties that are being experienced between public service unions and their various employers. I'm quite sure this issue of decertification, of raiding of unions at particular specified times in the contract, was not thought out well by the Solicitor General in terms of public safety when this bill was brought forward. It is our view, and it is certainly the view of the fire chiefs and the firefighters, that this entire part of the act was devised by the labour ministry and foisted into this act without a lot of analysis by the public safety people in the Ministry of the Solicitor General. That is part of where the concern is coming from, because this is a very special kind of employment relationship and it doesn't necessarily fit well into those regular labour relations situations that may pertain in other, less safety-oriented jobs.
The scope of collective bargaining in this act is a question. I talked about the minimum hours of work. They cannot bargain around those issues, and that's troublesome. There's also an explicit provision in this bill, in subsections 52(2), (3) and (4), for the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing to determine the maximum amount of pension benefit available to a firefighter under the pension act. We all know control of the OMERS pension is nominally given to the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing. This means that a collective agreement could not provide a pension benefit greater than that determined by the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, and that's a worry because that has not been the case in the past.
Mandatory conciliation: This sounds good on the surface. This sounds as though there is a real effort in this bill to take away from the adversarial aspects of labour relations. But from the firefighters' perspective it's an added step that is being put upon them without their ever having asked for it, and it is an added cost. It is quite clear that this requirement to go through a system of conciliation, with the government appointing a conciliator to mediate collective bargaining disputes before they can be referred to interest arbitration, is very serious. Unlike the provisions for other employers and employees under the Labour Relations Act, firefighters and municipalities are required by this act to share the cost of that, to each pay one half of the cost of the conciliation services. The minister has the authority -- I'm not sure which minister -- to determine the cost of conciliation, and his or her determination is binding. That's a whole step put in there that's never been there before, a whole cost to both firefighters and their employers that has never been there before, and they have no control over the cost of that process. The minister has control over the cost of that process.
The bill provides for interest arbitration that is not, I think, in very real terms very different from interest arbitration as it has applied in the past to firefighters, with one exception. The current legislation enables the Solicitor General to appoint arbitrators where the parties cannot agree, but this bill seems to indicate that a member of the Ontario Labour Relations Board would necessarily be the appointed one to both interest and grievance arbitration boards. It also provides for the authority of the minister to make such appointments.
That may be looked at as being some flexibility there. That may not necessarily be a bad thing. But it's a different thing from the point of view of firefighters, and I think it would be important to understand why this bill allows for regulations to make that determination rather than spelling out whether arbitrators would be appointed by the minister, as is currently the case, or whether a member of the Ontario Labour Relations Board would be appointed. They're concerned about that and they need to know.
The criteria of Bill 26 apply to all these interest arbitrations. That is of real concern to firefighters. Those of us who have been watching what has happened with the strong pressure from municipalities around the cost of firefighting services and the kinds of pressures that municipalities are going to face, given the continual downloading of this government and the lack of municipal grants -- the requirement under Bill 26 that ability to pay be part of the consideration is of real worry to firefighters. They've expressed that concern in the past.
Also in terms of grievance arbitration, the act expands the current powers of grievance arbitrators, which are under the Fire Departments Act, and brings them more in line with the broader powers that arbitrators have under the Labour Relations Act. Arbitrators now would be given the specific power to order the production of documents, to require the parties to provide one another with the particulars of the case, to summon witnesses, to set hearing dates, to apply human rights and other employment-related statutes in giving decisions, to make interim orders excluding orders to reinstate employees pending the conclusion of the hearing, and to modify disciplinary penalties. Arbitrators would also have the authority to remedy any violations of the time limit provisions in the grievance procedure that's in the collective agreement unless the parties agree to remove that authority.
It is important to understand that this may, in the long run, not prove to be an area of real concern. Firefighters are saying: "What's the rationale for this? We might have agreed with it if we'd had some consultation, but we want to know why that broader power is there when it hasn't been there in most grievance procedures under most collective agreements."
The number of times in this act that things are left up to regulation and that the minister brings forward the regulation -- I go back to the concern about which minister this is going to be -- is of real concern. The ability of those working with this new, consolidated act: Knowing that the major piece of this is going to be the subject of regulations, the whole piece about the fire code, the very rules under which they work -- also, so many aspects of the labour relations part are going to be left up to regulation -- causes real anxiety.
I can understand why there is reluctance to talk about what sort of regulations the minister is considering, but I think it would go a long way to allaying some of the fears that people have, certainly with respect to the fire code. If the minister were able to present as part of the information to the hearings what is anticipated in a new fire code, a lot of the concerns about what this bill really means in terms of public safety would certainly be allayed. That would be an important thing.
But with this change in labour relations regime, it would be important in terms of describing to firefighters why the government has decided that this is a more appropriate way to deal with things than the current regime, which has worked very well. They really want to know. What is it that is contemplated here? Why has the government made a determination that these changes are going to happen, and where it's left to regulation or where it's unclear in the bill, what is the intention of the government?
I, myself, think that in the weeks since this act was introduced the minister has probably heard -- I know he has certainly received letters; I have copies of many of the letters he's received -- not just from firefighters and their organizations, but from the fire chiefs, from individual mayors who are concerned, from individual citizens who are concerned. He probably is more aware than he was when he introduced the bill how serious this is.
He read out some letters from fire chiefs who were in favour of the bill, so I'm going to read out some letters from fire chiefs who have qualms about the bill. I'm going to read a letter from Max Hussey, who is the fire chief in Waterloo, interestingly enough the Minister of Labour's community:
"On behalf of the Waterloo Fire Department and the Waterloo Professional Fire Fighters Association, I would respectfully ask that you forward our concerns to the Honourable Elizabeth Witmer, Minister of Labour of the province of Ontario, regarding part IX (labour relations) portion of Bill 84.
"I believe that Bill 84 for the most part is long overdue and will enhance the standard of fire service in the city of Waterloo and province of Ontario. I have some concerns, however, that part IX of the bill will create unfair labour practices by changing freely negotiated collective agreements through legislative reform, ie, changing hours of work for firefighters, privatization of fire departments, and contracting out services traditionally performed by the Ontario Professional Fire Fighters Association.
"While part-time firefighters do serve a very useful service in rural areas of the province, they will not enhance fire protection services to the citizens of Waterloo. I believe that we are very well served by full-time professional firefighters who are trained in all aspects of firefighting today, and this would be very hard to achieve with part-time staff.
"In closing, I would like to reiterate that I am in favour of the legislative reform in Bill 84 with the exception of part IX which has the potential of destroying excellent labour-management relationships in the city of Waterloo and the fire service in general."
That was written on November 21.
I have a similar letter from Arthur Cutten, who is the fire chief in the Guelph department, raising concerns about the minimum number of firefighters who would be called back in case of an emergency and definition of "major emergency." He points out that you could find yourself negotiating with traditional trade unions that have not traditionally represented firefighters and what that might mean to the labour relations regime within fire departments.
He indicated about the restrictions on bargaining working conditions: "It seems to me that the ability to bargain in respect to all of one's working conditions is fundamentally an issue of morality. There should be no restrictions."
Concern about the exclusions: "The question of exclusions from the bargaining unit will, in my opinion, create many problems for existing managers. Are we to create new positions that will be filled with new staff? I would love to have an assistant deputy or two!!
"If we are to rename existing positions managerial, who will they be? Who will do the acting? Will or can persons going in and out of the collective agreement?"
We don't know.
The deputy chief from Windsor raises all sorts of questions in detail about the act. I assume these have been sent to the minister because they are very important. There are many of the issues that I have raised today around definitional issues, around lack of clarity in the act, so it is not just the firefighter associations that are expressing concerns, it's the people who are responsible for managing, it is the people who in many cases understand entirely what this will mean in terms of destroying the relationships they have worked years to build up with firefighters.
I know there are many of my colleagues in our party who have specific examples from their own communities and who will want to speak on this bill. It's important for us to continue with that.
I have a few more minutes, Mr Speaker. I think I will sum up tomorrow, it being nearly 6 of the clock.
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Thank you. It is now 6 of the clock. This House stands adjourned until 1:30 tomorrow.
The House adjourned at 1759.