36th Parliament, 1st Session

L180 - Thu 24 Apr 1997 / Jeu 24 Avr 1997

























































The House met at 1002.




Mr Frank Miclash (Kenora): I move private member's notice of motion number 44:

That in the opinion of this House, the government of Ontario should keep its election promises to the people of northern Ontario found in its election document entitled, A Voice for the North; by giving northerners a greater say on policies which affect them, found on page 3 of its election document; by preserving and enhancing health care services for the people of northern Ontario, and guaranteeing 1995 levels of health care spending, found on page 6 of its election document; by guaranteeing funding for classroom education at 1995 levels, found on page 7 of its election document and by working closely with northern municipalities to forge a new and better working relationship. As part of that new relationship, the government committed to end the downloading of services to the municipal level and that no new mandates will be enacted unless appropriate funding is allocated, found on page 13 of its election document.

The Acting Speaker (Mr Bert Johnson): The member has 10 minutes.

Mr Miclash: Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. I am pleased to rise in the Legislature this morning to raise a good number of issues of concern, issues of concern that I faced throughout northern Ontario as I travelled the region. As I indicated in the resolution, what we in northern Ontario are looking for is for Mr Harris to follow through on a good number of his commitments on the plan he had for northern Ontario, which he entitled A Voice for the North. Actually, what we found is that, as in the Premier's Common Sense Revolution, this Voice for the North was nothing but a good number of empty promises. People in northern Ontario are not being fooled by the Tories' slick made-in-America election-type propaganda.

I often think back to when members from the Conservative caucus, along with Mr Gilchrist, travelled to northern Ontario, the member for Grey-Owen Sound, the member for Simcoe East. They came up on what they called a focus tour. It was really kind of an interesting tour. When they landed in Red Lake they had a couple of very brief meetings. They got the media upset with them. The headline reads here in the Red Lake District News that "Mike Harris Focus Tour Shuns Press and Public in Red Lake."

The article goes on to say: "Fact-finding trips generally involve meetings with the public and press representatives, however, Pat Sayeau, president of the Kenora riding PC Party excluded the fourth estate from meeting with the touring MPPs for reasons known only to himself."

Then it went on to say, "Is the PC Party so bereft of members in Red Lake that they could not hold a public meeting or does PC stand for private consultations?"

As I indicated, these members arrived in Red Lake, had a couple of meetings, then hopped on an airplane and went to a camp up north of Red Lake to go fishing. I tell you that the folks in Red Lake were quite upset by that.

What we're seeing here today is they came back with a number of recommendations, they called it A Voice for the North, and they're not following through on any of these particular recommendations and suggestions that they have made. In essence, they're ignoring the concerns of northerners, and they seem to have just started doing that the day they got elected.

We know that northern Ontario's a region that is created and sustained by the strength and will of the people who live there. Generations of northerners have actually dreamed of building our distinct region into one that's economically strong, socially just, proud of its diversity and characterized by integrity and compassion. Unfortunately, in the past two years this government has not allowed northerners to move ahead in that direction.

As we know, our health care system in the north is presently in upheaval because of the Harris government's cuts to our hospital system. These cuts are hurting real people throughout northern Ontario. We must remember that during the election A Voice for the North said very clearly that a Harris government would preserve and enhance health care services for northern Ontario residents. We're certainly not finding that. We're finding an erosion in services. We're finding fewer services, fewer staff to meet the basic needs of patients in the health care system.

All you have to do is take a look at many of the headlines in the papers from across northern Ontario. This one: "Cuts Will Have Serious Impact on Patient Care"; Ontario Hospital Association president David MacKinnon goes on to say, "The situation now is one where many hospitals will be forced to cut back on services in an ad hoc manner while other health providers are not yet in place to handle the increased patient demand." Another one: "Extra Funding Not a Gift."

We had the Minister of Northern Development come into the region to announce extra funding after the hospital had been cut. The minister goes throughout northern Ontario saying that he's reinvesting. We had the assistant executive director of the Red Lake district hospital saying, "This is not a gift; it will be a rebate in the reduction." The Minister of Health first of all cuts the budget, then the Minister of Northern Development comes along and pretends he's giving a gift, when it was really a reduction in the what they were getting cut by the Minister of Health.

Bob Muir, who is the executive director of the Lake of the Woods District Hospital, goes on to say that the cut would be anywhere from $100,000 to $1 million locally, a great amount of uncertainty. "If our cut is huge, it isn't possible to provide all the services," he says. He goes on to outline a number of services that would be taken out.

We heard this government talk about classroom funding to be kept at 1995 levels. All you have to do is go into any school in northern Ontario, ask any teacher, ask anybody on the front line as to the effect this government, over the past two years, has had on classroom education and you'll find that there are changes that they cannot handle. We're finding that through teacher burnout; we're finding that the services just aren't there.


Yes, the committee did travel to Thunder Bay and they heard the presentations on Bill 104. The former parliamentary assistant, who apparently is now a fired parliamentary assistant, did say, and he said it a number of times, that the boundaries in terms of school boards were not carved in stone. What happens to him? He comes back to Toronto and now we find out that he's fired. This is a man who came back and told the Minister of Education that the boundary from Thunder Bay to the Manitoba border was just not totally possible and it just didn't make sense.

We often hear that a lot of policies that affect the north are created in the Premier's office here in southern Ontario, and as we've moved these two years we've found that out more and more. Again, I go back to the recent firing of the parliamentary assistant for Northern Development. Here was a person who travelled the north, who heard the concerns of the north. He brings them back to the Premier, tries to tell the Premier about these concerns and what does the Premier do? Fires him. It just shows us that this government is mainly operated out of the Premier's office.

In terms of not dumping on municipalities --


The Acting Speaker: Order. There are members talking too loudly, not in their seats, and it's disturbing. I'd appreciate your attention, your order, please.

Mr Miclash: Mr Speaker, they obviously don't care about the north. We can see that. They fired the parliamentary assistant, who was the person we really relied on to get the message through to Mr Harris. They fired him, and obviously my Conservative friends don't care about the issues I'm raising here today.

Again, we take a look at what Mr Harris said: "A Mike Harris government will work closely with northern municipalities to forge a new and better working relationship." Mr Speaker, I challenge you to go into northern Ontario and find one mayor or reeve, find one councillor who will actually tell you that Mike Harris has worked closely for a working relationship here.

All we have to do is take a look at the dumping of the roads on to the municipalities. I raised it with the Minister of Transportation the other day. I said: "Minister, they're not accepting them. What are you going to do?" His answer to me was: "They've got 'em. I don't care whether they're going to accept it or not, they've got 'em. They're responsible for these roads now." That's just another area where this government has decided what's best for northern Ontario and that's going to be it.

That brings me to the infrastructure inaction by this government. I consider that to be very shameful. Every province in Canada has signed on with the federal government for the infrastructure program. What has Ontario said? "No." They don't want it. What do the people in northern Ontario say? "It was one of the best programs we've ever had." If you speak to any municipal leader, they're saying: "What's going on? This is a program that we were able to do a good number of things with." Kenora, Keewatin, Jaffray Melick were all looking forward to moving ahead with sewer and water projects, with road projects, projects that are very much needed in northern Ontario. What has this government said? No, they're not willing to move ahead with that with the provincial government.

In terms of the new relationship, all we've found is this government downloading on municipal governments. I keep telling the taxpayers that eventually they will pay. Mike Harris so often said, "There's only one taxpayer." We're going to find out that taxpayer is certainly going to be paying for what this government is doing in terms of downloading.

In wrapping up, I would just like to say that we don't disagree that change needs to be made, but I think what we really want is a government that will govern by consensus, a government that will allow the parliamentary assistant to go and gather information, bring it back to the government, which will listen to it, act on it and not fire the parliamentary assistant. We're not looking for a government that's run by gimmick. We're looking for a government in northern Ontario that's representing the province that is going to listen to the people of northern Ontario and develop a consensus for action and that will act on that consensus.

I was privileged to present these points of view and I look forward to the others as well.

The Acting Speaker: The member's time has expired.

Mr Bud Wildman (Algoma): I rise to participate in this debate because I'm very concerned about what the Conservative government has done in northern Ontario in the months since it came to government in June 1995. Prior to that election, the Conservative Party, being led by a member from northern Ontario, indicated that they were going to provide a new voice for northern Ontario in the provincial government if they were elected. We found that indeed the member for Nipissing has provided a new voice for North Bay in the government and that indeed he has seen the movement of education officials to North Bay from Sudbury; he has seen the concentration of the OPP communications network in North Bay from all over northeastern Ontario; he has seen the increase in certain correctional positions in North Bay. So I guess the member for Nipissing would argue that he has done a good job for North Bay. I'm not sure.

It's interesting, though, that while the Premier is actively shutting down offices across northern Ontario -- MNR offices, MTO offices -- actively shutting them down, he complains when it appears that the federal government might be considering shutting down the Norad operation in North Bay and saying that this is unfair. I just don't understand. What is the difference between shutting down MNR across northern Ontario and shutting down the Norad operations in North Bay? It sounds like the same thing to me.

Mr David Ramsay (Timiskaming): It's in North Bay. That's why.

Mr Wildman: We've seen a number of offices, and MNR is a good example -- I hear the member for Timiskaming commenting. What has happened with the offices in Temagami? How many MNR offices have been shut down there completely? And everybody has been moved to North Bay. I guess it's just a coincidence that the Premier comes from North Bay. I'm sure that's the case.

But I want to deal specifically with the resolution that was presented by my friend from Kenora: "...by preserving and enhancing health care services for the people of northern Ontario." In my riding, in central Algoma, we have two rural hospitals: the Matthews Memorial Hospital in Richards Landing and the Thessalon Hospital. They are part of the Sault area hospitals' operating plan, which was approved by the Minister of Health for 1996-97.

What they have done in these two hospitals is close all of the inpatient beds. They closed them and they said they will maintain 24-hour emergency service, but they only have one nurse per shift on duty. So if there's a real emergency -- an automobile accident with a number of people experiencing trauma -- it will be impossible for that one nurse to service all of the patients. Some of them will have to be transported to Sault Ste Marie.

Thessalon is an hour's drive from Sault Ste Marie. In the wintertime it's very difficult. In Thessalon we have a number of sawmills. There could be accidents there, industrial accidents. In both cases a number of senior citizens have retired to those areas mainly because they knew there was a hospital immediately available to them if they had a heart attack or whatever and there was an emergency and they could get to them in time.

This government, with its approval of the operating plan for the Sault area hospitals, has effectively closed down the hospitals in this area. Now the minister got up and said, because of his concerns about what's happening in the Bruce Peninsula, I think, there was going to be a review of access to hospital services for rural and northern single-hospital communities. I welcome that.

But in response to that, I wrote the minister and said: "Is this going to affect what's happening in Thessalon and Richards Landing? Will you put on hold the closure of the inpatient beds in Thessalon and Richards Landing and will you ensure real emergency service on a 24-hour basis?" He wrote back and said, "Well, that plan has already been approved," as if to say because it has been approved his review doesn't take into account these two hospitals.

This is an indication of the lack of commitment of this government to northern Ontario communities and to health care in northern Ontario. We've seen the debate that is ongoing about classroom education, how this government has redefined classroom education not to include all kinds of things that are important in terms of students' achievement.


Again, in central Algoma, I would point out, the board has had to cut the junior kindergarten program from every day half-day during the week to every other day full-day to try and save on transportation costs. Next year, if they face further cuts with this amalgamation under Bill 104 that was passed yesterday, the amalgamation with a board in Sault Ste Marie that doesn't now have junior kindergarten, they probably will eliminate the program. It'll be gone. It has been existence in central Algoma for over 20 years. Central Algoma was one of the first boards in Ontario, certainly one of the first rural boards, to establish such a program.

That's again an indication of the lack of commitment on the part of this government to keeping its promises to guarantee funding for classroom education. Junior kindergarten is threatened and it's just one of many programs, music, phys ed, arts programs, that are threatened in small northern Ontario school systems.

Downloading: I'll just close by saying this. I was recently at a municipal leaders' meeting with officials from the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing. There was a planner there from the ministry in Toronto. He was pointing out to the municipal leaders that from now on they will make decisions on approvals for severances and new subdivisions and so on, and they all welcomed that, until he pointed out to them that up to now all of these proposals have been circulated among the ministries for written comment and then the ministries have advised whether this should be approved on the basis of things like land use planning issues -- floodplains, agricultural land preservation, these kinds of things.

This official pointed out that from now on there will be a lot less of this kind of scrutiny because he said, and I'm quoting him, "The Ministry of Natural Resources doesn't have enough staff left to be able to do the job." He didn't single out any other ministry. He said, "The Ministry of Natural Resources doesn't have enough staff to do the job." So I said, "What happens now if because of that an approval is made and then someone finds out they are on a floodplain?" in Goulais River, for instance, in that area, which is prone to flooding much like the Red River Valley is, unfortunately, right now. I said: "What happens if someone builds a house and then a couple of years later they get flooded? Who's liable?" He said, "The municipality is liable, because they're the ones making the decision."

Again, there is downloading of liability and costs to the municipalities, a cutting of the Ministry of Natural Resources. We could talk about the Ministry of Transportation too and the downloading of roads to the municipal sector. This government has cut more jobs in northern Ontario than I have ever experienced in the whole time I have served in this assembly. Not only is it not meeting its commitments to ensure services in the north, health, education and municipal services, it is cutting those services, cutting funding to the extent that we have had increased unemployment and tremendous lack of morale in northern Ontario.

The people of northern Ontario have given up on this government. I recently read an editorial from the Kapuskasing Northern Times which said, "If this is what it's like to have a northerner as Premier, give us a southern Ontario person as Premier again."

Mr Joseph Spina (Brampton North): As the newly appointed parliamentary assistant to the Minister of Northern Development and Mines and as someone who was born and raised in Sault Ste Marie, it gives me pleasure to speak on this particular resolution and to support, certainly in spirit, this resolution that the member for Kenora has presented, because it's an opportunity to list the accomplishments that our government has achieved since taking office. I want to thank the member for allowing us to remind the people of northern Ontario that we remain committed to the policies that they helped develop in A Voice for the North.

In Mr Miclash's resolution, he speaks about several items which our party addressed in our election document A Voice for the North. This was the document that he referred to, and since I'm new to the portfolio, I researched this issue to see what the opposition had promised the north during the last election. Astonishingly, there was nothing. I didn't see anything in the NDP or the Liberal platforms that specifically went to issues in the north. We did. The fact that our caucus travelled to northern Ontario -- we promised that we could implement the elements of the Common Sense policies outlined in A Voice for the North and we are now delivering on those promises.

The first part of the resolution deals with giving northerners a greater say in policy-making, as stated on page 3 of A Voice for the North. Again, the creation of the document itself proves that we're listening to the concerns of northerners and the fact that the opposition parties had no such commitment.

My colleagues from Simcoe East and Grey-Owen Sound, when they were in opposition, launched the northern focus tour to begin these consultations directly with the people of the north. My colleague from Simcoe East will elaborate on some of those shortly.

I point out that on my first day on the job as a PA to the minister I travelled to Timmins. In fact, on Tuesday of this week, at the mines and minerals symposium, I met with Mayor Power of Timmins on some of the transportation issues and made an announcement on the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corp. The opposition neatly forgets the fact that we were the ones who restored the heritage funds that the opposition cut.

Mr Tony Martin (Sault Ste Marie): How much have you spent so far?

Mr Spina: As a matter of fact, those funds are now in the process of being disposed. I authorized a $160,000 cheque on Tuesday for a project that's being planned for Timmins, as a matter of fact. As the beginning, I'm already scheduled to travel --

Mr Martin: Show us the money.

Mr Spina: Check the press and look at the photograph of the cheque that we presented.

The Acting Speaker: Order. I would remind the member speaking to address his comments through the Speaker. I would appreciate it. I would remind those others that speaking goes in rotation. Right now it's not your rotation.

Mr Spina: By the way, Timmins was also the site chosen for the northern Ontario caucus meeting of all MPs and MPPs from northern Ontario. It was a productive session and one that, I add, was boycotted by the opposition members of this Legislature. Furthermore, for all the support that we understand they have for the north, I see five members in the House here right now for this particular debate.

One of the things that we want to talk about to ensure the unique needs of the north are addressed: A reformed Ministry of Northern Development and Mines now serves an important role in reviewing and recommending the changes to policies of the other provincial ministries before policies are approved. Further, the northern development office network of 29 field offices, created by the PC government back in 1970, has been kept intact in order to ensure that northerners have access to the provincial government.

In closing, I would like to go over the promises that we kept in A Voice for the North which the member for Kenora seems to forget. Page 22: Promote tourism through improved infrastructure. Done through the highways budget and the heritage fund. Page 22: Help northern communities develop regional tourism attractions. Done: cut a $160,000 cheque two days ago. Page 26 says to improve the northern highway system through more capital funding. Done.

In the mining sector we promised to do the following: Page 19: Regulations on mine reclamation will be changed in order to encourage new investment. Done. Page 20: Government-mandated costs and regulations affecting mining will be reduced. Done. Page 20: Ontario Hydro rates frozen. Done. Page 20: Mining taxes and fees will be frozen. Once again, done.

As you can see, our government, led by Minister Hodgson, is committed to fulfilling the promises made in A Voice for the North. Moreover, we remain committed to implementing the Common Sense policies as suggested by the people of northern Ontario, not by our government, so that their voices are brought to Queen's Park. I look forward with great enthusiasm to be repatriated and serve the members of the north as a member of the PC caucus and as a member of this government. I look forward to the opportunity to support this resolution.

The Acting Speaker: Further debate?


Mr Ramsay: I'm very pleased to be able to rise in my place today to speak in support of this motion that has been brought forward by my colleague the member for Kenora. I am very pleased that he has used his private member's time to again speak up for northern Ontario and give others of his colleagues around the House here the opportunity to remind people about how important northern Ontario is to the life and economy of this province.

Coming on the remarks of what I've just heard from the government member, I can't think of any other government in the history of this province that has done more to ruin the life of northern Ontarians than this Harris government here today. When we look back in a few years at the Harris government's record in regard to northern Ontario, I am sure it will stand out on its own against all other governments, even other Conservative governments, as mistreating northern Ontario as no other in this province. I think it's very easy to show that and I'm going to start talking about that in a few minutes, the way this government is basically saying, "We're just going to pull out all support of the north."

It must be important to remember and remind people that when I talk about support for the north, it's northern Ontario that basically started the economy of this province, through its lumbering and mining industry, and still contributes a fair share towards the economy of this province. I think that's very important to keep in mind when we talk about some of the needs and concerns we have for northern Ontario.

First of all, the biggest change that's going to happen here -- and I think it's interesting when the parliamentary assistant mentions the number of northern members -- the Harris government is going to reduce the number of northern members in this House, after the next election, by one third. We're going to be down from 15 seats, north of the French River, to 10. Again it's the Harris government that has given a disproportionate cut to the representation of northern Ontario in the next Legislature compared to other parts of the province. That's going to weaken our voice, and I think that's a sad day for northern Ontario. I know the vast majority of northerners share that.

Talk about lack of support for the north. Because of the cyclical nature of our economy, that we are dependent by and large upon resource extraction in the mines and in the forests and in the fields of northern Ontario, there has been a very significant government presence in northern Ontario. Not only has that made us feel very much a part of this province, with the vast distance away from the capital that we are, but also those government jobs have given a basic underpinning to our economy. Right now, what we've seen in the last two years is a decimation of those government jobs across the north.

The Ministry of Natural Resources was sort of the government presence for years and years in northern Ontario, long before we ever had a Ministry of Northern Development and Mines. It was a presence almost in every town and hamlet of our northern region. Today we've seen, up to this year, that ministry decimated by one half, and again a disproportionate share of job loss in northern Ontario from that ministry.

We've also seen job losses in the Ministry of Transportation. While we may only have about 10% of the population of Ontario, we have a vast highway network in 90% of the geographical area of our province, vast distances that workers have to travel to their jobs, that families have to travel on visits to family across the north. We depend upon a very strong transportation presence to keep those highways in good repair. We certainly haven't seen that in the last couple of years. We've just seen last week the latest round of job cuts from MTO across the north, and I believe, and I know my colleagues believe, that we'll see again another succession of deterioration of northern roads across the north. This is not only a cost to people's automobiles and an inconvenience, it also becomes a safety hazard and it jeopardizes people's lives.

Talking about highways, it's really interesting to note, with this downloading exercise that wasn't even included in the mega-week announcements from the Minister of Municipal Affairs, starting last fall and continuing this spring, that the Ministry of Transportation has downloaded the responsibility of many of the provincial highways across the north. What's so interesting about this is that we're talking about massive stretches of highways, such as 72 kilometres in the city of Timmins, which is the largest geographic city in this country. It was the Conservative government of before that created this large city of Timmins, that forced that, and now you've given a wonderful present to the people of the city of Timmins of an additional 72 kilometres of road to maintain.

Yes, they're going to get a one-time cash gift to try to maintain this, but that money is going to run out in a couple of years of maintenance. In the next five, 10 and 15 years, when it's going to be necessary for that highway to be rebuilt, where is the city of Timmins going to get that money to maintain that road? It wasn't their fault that they became the largest city in Canada, but now the province is saying, "We're abandoning all that road network," that connects people right across the north, to the northwest through Highway 101, through Timmins, to Lake Superior, but that portion is going to be given to Timmins and it's going to be their responsibility.

Another example of that is in my riding, in the town of Haileybury, where in the late 1960s another Conservative government decided to build a bypass to Highway 11 through the Tri-town area of Cobalt, Haileybury and New Liskeard along Lake Timiskaming. They decided to build that road about six kilometres outside of town, and now because of that government decision, this Harris government has decided to make a gift of that connecting highway to the town. So now that town has an additional, with all the different connecting links, about 16 kilometres of highway.

They're going to get a cash infusion to start that process off, but in a couple of years again, with our thaw-and-frost cycle in northern Ontario, which is very detrimental to our highway system, it is going to have to be rebuilt. Where is the town of Haileybury going to get the funds to build that highway? It's just not going to be there. I certainly hope the people in my area remember that it was the Harris government that delivered those presents to them, because they are certainly going to feel the cost of that on their local tax bill as the years go buy.

The latest round of announcements has been the resident geologists' offices across northern Ontario. In my riding the resident geologist, Mr Jim Ireland, will be taken out of the town of Cobalt. Cobalt has just had a resurgence of its mining because of the removal of the land caution that had been placed on the Temagami-South Timiskaming area over the last 25 years. This area now, because of this new opening, is starting to take off, and what does this government do? They close down the expertise and the body of knowledge that has been housed in the resident geologist's office in Cobalt. They're going to put it 70 or 80 miles up the road in Kirkland Lake, which is going to make it very inconvenient for the people in the area who are now trying to find some new wealth. It's interesting, because there hasn't been a mining job for years in Cobalt. There is a new interest there. It was Cobalt that opened up the north in 1903, in the very beginning, when silver was discovered. It was the start of mining in northern Ontario.

I don't know what's wrong with this government, but it seems to have forgotten that there is a land mass north of North Bay. Maybe it's because the Premier's riding is in Nipissing and North Bay that that's it, and the world sort of ends there. Certainly for northern Ontario that's the perception, that the Harris government has forgotten all of us who live north of North Bay.

I hope this resolution that my colleague from Kenora has brought forward might be the start to remind this government that we in the north are big contributors to this economy, we love this province, we certainly want to stay as part of this province, and we'd like this government to stop ignoring us.

Mr Len Wood (Cochrane North): I am pleased to stand in my place and support the resolution from the member, Mr Miclash, on the election promises that Mike Harris made throughout the north and has broken, every single one of them. He's destroying the north, whether it's education, whether it's health care, whether it's transportation.

They started off by one of the major decisions they made which is affecting northern Ontario, which was to shut down norOntair. Seventeen communities are still scrambling around after norOntair was shut down about a year ago, trying to get the private sector to come in and give proper air service, and it's not happening in a lot of areas. This was a commitment that Mike Harris made to Bearskin Airlines, that if he became Premier, he would shut down norOntair and Bearskin would be expected to pick up the service that norOntair was doing. It's not happening.

They've cut $6.5 million from the Ministry of Transportation winter road maintenance budget, and now over the last couple of months we find out that they're transferring large amounts of Highway 11, the Trans-Canada Highway -- they call them connecting links -- that are going through the communities of Kapuskasing, Hearst and Cochrane. The property owners, the taxpayers in those communities, are going to be expected to pick up the tab for all the transports and the amount of traffic that is going from one end of Canada to the other and going through these northern communities. It's very unfair to the people of the north. This is not what people in the north were expecting when Mike Harris was travelling through the election campaign in 1995.


He was in the hospital in Kapuskasing in the boardroom and he promised that there would only be a few dollars cut in administration costs. There could be savings there. Now we find out that a whole wing of the Sensenbrenner Hospital in Kapuskasing is closed down, they're closing down a wing in the Cochrane hospital, they're closing down a wing in the Hearst hospital, and 18% to 20% of the operating costs are being reduced by the Minister of Health. This was not what was promised during the election campaign.

We know that 2,100 MNR people have been laid off or fired, and if they weren't, some of them were moved to North Bay, which is Mike Harris's riding. That was not promised during the election campaign.

They've closed all 11 fire attack bases in northern Ontario. Northern Ontario needs these fire stations to be able to fight the fires. Now we see flooding in Manitoba; we know some of that is going to happen in northern Ontario. You're reducing the MNR and northern development and mines budgets: 126 positions chopped from northern development and mines, $27 million gone out of the budget.

Everywhere we look they're cutting jobs and eliminating people. They took five seats out of northern Ontario so that they could move them down to southern Ontario and overall reduce the legislative members, but one third coming out of northern Ontario is just too much for having proper representation in the north.

I'd just like to say -- I want to leave some time for my colleague -- that we're supporting this resolution and we think there's been too many broken promises on behalf of Mike Harris and his Conservative government. They will never elect any members from the north at the rate they're going.

Mrs Barbara Fisher (Bruce): I would like to begin by stating that I believe that the promises made to the people of northern Ontario in A Voice for the North not only must be kept, but are being kept and will continue to be kept by this government.

Although as the member for Bruce I do not represent a northern riding, I do represent a rural riding and one that abuts the northern territory, and I share similar issues, concerns and challenges.

I am proud that my constituents have recognized that the status quo is no longer acceptable, that in order to have a prosperous future, we must not only accept change but take a leadership role in implementing it and that locally created solutions are the best option for our communities.

In my many conversations with the minister and as a member of the caucus committee that deals with northern development, I know at first hand of the minister's commitment to ensuring that the voices of northerners are heard. As a government, we are well on our way to fulfilling each of the commitments made with respect to education in A Voice for the North. We are implementing changes to ensure that tax dollars are focused directly on the classroom, where students will benefit most.

Our objective continues to be to establish a high-quality, equitable, accountable and cost-effective education system. The changes which have been announced will help to create a more effective system and focus resources on students and the classroom while reducing the financial burden to the local taxpayer.

Forging a new and better working relationship with northern, rural and urban municipalities is a key component of the government's plan to shift taxation and program responsibilities. These changes will enable better services to be provided at lower cost to all taxpayers: northern, urban and rural.

Of tremendous importance to all of us of course is health care. In A Voice for the North, we promised: "In order to preserve and enhance health care services for the people of northern Ontario, a Mike Harris government will guarantee current levels of health care spending. Not one penny will be cut."

We have not only lived up to that promise this year, but we have exceeded it. Despite drastic cuts in federal transfer payments for health care, this government increased the health care budget from $17.4 billion to $17.7 billion. At the same time, we promised that we would aggressively root out health-care-related waste, abuse, fraud and duplication, and that we would reinvest the savings in the health care system to improve access and quality to the people of Ontario.

I can assure you that the list of health care reinvestments in northern Ontario alone is impressive. To name just a few: Physicians in northern and rural communities now receive $70 an hour for working nights, weekends and holidays in hospital emergency departments. The Sudbury General Hospital and the Timmins and District Hospital received the first two MRIs in northern Ontario. A reinvestment of almost $1 million was made for kidney patients in Thunder Bay and Kenora. First nations communities received funding for friendship centres, palliative care and supportive housing.

As a tremendous boost to Thunder Bay hospital and health services renewal the Minister of Health and the Minister of Northern Development and Mines announced a reinvestment of $59.4 million for improved health care. This is in the form of world-class facilities at the Thunder Bay Regional Hospital's Port Arthur site and a new forensic psychiatry unit and new spaces for the revitalized St Joseph's General Hospital.

Even as we speak, Northern Development and Mines Minister Chris Hodgson is making a major health care announcement in Sudbury that involves a substantial reinvestment in cancer care in the north.

As these reinvestments are made, however, it is important to recognize that additional new resources do not exist to allow us to stop finding savings in our hospitals before integrating and implementing reinvestment strategies. These changes must be undertaken concurrently, and that is what this government is doing.

We recognize that rural and northern health care must be considered differently than urban centres. We know that quality care, access and economic considerations are of primary importance in making restructuring decisions. As an example of how a community can proactively work together to prepare a model for the health care restructuring commission's consideration, I am pleased to share my riding's experience to date.

In my riding, the Grey-Bruce District Health Council and the restructuring steering subcommittee, the South Bruce-Grey Health Restructuring Alliance, the doctors, nurses and other health care providers, and most importantly, the consumers of health care services in the Bruce and Grey area, are building our solution. To date, we have been able to agree on single governance and administration for 10 hospitals, on fiscal savings and bed reductions. We are addressing, however, the need for integrated service delivery and are working to provide this as part of our plan for restructured health care in our community. I am confident this plan would allow all hospitals in Bruce and Grey to remain open with beds and emergency care, while still achieving the necessary savings.

As I've said in the past, I believe it is important that we all work together to ensure that the final blueprint for health care in communities and across Ontario is one that provides the highest quality care in the right place at the right time.

I am pleased and proud that the people of Bruce and Grey are working towards this goal as a team and I would encourage communities in the north and across Ontario to do the same. Thank you very much.

Mr Michael Gravelle (Port Arthur): I'm very pleased today to have the opportunity to stand up and support the resolution of my colleague the member for Kenora calling on the government to maintain its commitment to its promises made in A Voice for the North. It's certainly interesting to hear the new parliamentary assistant to the Minister of Northern Development, the member for Brampton North, say that he will be supporting this. I hope he understands that indeed what he will be supporting is, in essence, a call to recognize that commitments have not been followed through, promises have been broken.

The fact is I recognize that it's a new job for the parliamentary assistant. I look forward to welcoming him up to the north next week for the meeting of the Northwestern Ontario Municipal Association annual gathering in Fort Frances where I think he'll understand and hear a lot of the messages that his former colleague from Grey-Owen Sound heard and listened to. As a result of his forthrightness, he was removed from his position. I trust that the member for Brampton North will show the same fortitude that his predecessor in this position did show, because the important thing that needs to be made very clear in terms of A Voice for the North is that there is a whole list of issues that obviously -- we are very clear on the fact that promises have been broken.

The major issue from my point of view, the one I'll address today, is the fact that there has been a promise of consultation by the Premier, by this government and by the northern development minister on the issues that affect northerners, a promise that indeed there would be no decisions made without consultation of northerners. The fact is that's the one element that's consistently not been there.

This government, of course, has its own concept of consultation, which is they make the decision and then they go through what is often just a farce of consultation, as we saw with Bill 81, the Fewer Politicians Act, where they did not listen to the presentations made by everybody in the province, and especially those in the north, saying we should at least maintain the number of seats.

To specifically focus on some of the major things that are happening in the north where no consultation has taken place, when they did not ask northerners how they felt about these issues, one has to simply look at the issue of the downloading that's taking place right now as a perfectly good example.

The fact is that across northern Ontario the downloading, the dumping of responsibilities, is going to cost northerners and northern municipalities an extraordinary amount of money. It's clearly recognized by everyone, including the Association of Municipalities of Ontario, that there's at least a $1-billion shortfall.

In Thunder Bay, for example, my home town, it's very clear that $15.2 million of extra services will be thrown on the budget for Thunder Bay, which will increase property taxes by 20%. There was no consultation about this. There was no opportunity for northerners to basically talk to the government about this transfer of responsibilities. Certainly in Marathon and Schreiber, there's an extraordinary letter that the reeve of Schreiber, Bob Krause, wrote to the Minister of Northern Development explaining in great detail just what the downloading was going to mean to the town of Schreiber.


One is left with the thought: Is this government's attitude, "May the fittest survive. The communities that just simply have the greatest resources can survive, and if a community can't survive, too bad"? That's the attitude that seems to be coming forward as a result of this government. In this document, A Voice for the North, it said there would be consultation; it hasn't happened.

We look at the whole Health Services Restructuring Commission. The fact is that this is something that was thrown at the province and certainly thrown at northerners. Thunder Bay was the first stop they came to. Did they consult northerners about this? They made the decision and then they went through a process of consultation. The fact is three hospitals are closing in Thunder Bay because of the decisions of this commission. The fact is that jobs are being lost in hospitals. The fact is that the government is taking money out of the hospital system while it's restructuring, literally putting the cart before the horse.

It's not a question of restructuring being something that shouldn't be happening; it's a question of restructuring being done in a way that it can actually work. There was no consultation. A Voice for the North promised that. The fact is that there is less money going into the system in northern Ontario. They're taking it out of the hospitals. All the reinvestment announcements do not match what is being taken out of the hospitals, and this is a disgrace.

You look at the whole question of unemployment in northern Ontario. Youth unemployment is at 22% in northern Ontario, so the Minister of Northern Development announces the job programs for the north. There have been some very good job programs brought forward by previous governments, one of them being the Nortop program, where the government subsidizes a certain amount of the salary for employers to hire people across the north. Since this government has come into place it's reduced the incentive down to such a point now that one has to be very concerned that indeed employers will be able to take advantage of this program and hire people, let alone the fact that they've simply got less money in the system for it.

Youth unemployment is an extraordinary example of how this government is not taking action to basically do what it said it would do, which is create jobs. Certainly again no consultation in terms of how the job programs are going to work in northern Ontario. They keep saying, "We know what's best," yet they won't listen to us.

One has to ask, did this government consult with northerners, let alone anybody in the province, about the closing of the family support plan regional offices all across the province, eight locations? We know what's happened since then. It's been a disaster. It's been a disgrace. The Attorney General does not want to admit it, but he truly has to. The fact is the system is not working. People, mothers, women and children, custodial parents and children are being deprived of what they have a right to because the system failed. No consultation on the family support plan.

No consultation on the closing of the environmental testing lab in Thunder Bay. This is about the air and water quality in our systems in northern Ontario. Now it's been privatized. Now we know in fact it's going to cost more to provide the service.

The list goes on and on. The fact is that the people of northern Ontario are very angry and very disappointed, to put it politely -- "angry" is more the word -- about a government that puts across the impression as best it can that indeed it is consulting on all these issues.

Bill 104, the huge school boards that will be left, extraordinary, impossible school boards: They've got to be changed. The fact is, the people in the north are very angry and very upset.

On Monday, April 28, Thunder Bay will be holding a day of action, as others have been held across the province. People from all across the city will be coming out and expressing their disdain and their anger at this government for doing what it's doing. They will be expressing a very strong point of view. Even the Northwestern Ontario Associated Chambers of Commerce, as much as I will admit they in essence support some of the things the government is doing, are upset because the government won't consult with them. They've had a regular meeting with the government. The government will not meet with the associated chambers of commerce. Something's wrong.

I proudly stand here and support my colleague's resolution and I'm glad to see that the whole House will be supporting it as well.

Mr Martin: It gives me great pleasure this morning to rise and with the couple of minutes that I have put on the record a couple of thoughts re this very important issue, the issue of how this government does or doesn't support the development of the economy and life in general in northern Ontario.

I was happy to see in the last week or two that the government finally discovered it has within its ranks somebody with some roots in northern Ontario. He came here this morning, Mr Spina, who rightfully says he was born and raised in Sault Ste Marie, to put some thoughts on the record and to say that he was going to support this resolution because he believes the north is an important piece of this province and wants to make sure it stays viable and alive and a good place for all of us who have chosen to live and work there to continue to do so. I hope, as he becomes more versed in the issues that are out there, as he takes time to sit down and talk with people like myself and the member for Cochrane North and others of us from the north around what we see as the essential issues of the north, he will bring the messages that we share with him back to his government so that they might change the direction and the tack they've taken so far.

However, I was disappointed this morning to not hear from Mr Spina some explanation of some of the comments he made early on in his political career when he suggested that, for example, Algoma Steel in Sault Ste Marie was part of a buggy-whip industry and how that plays into the economic development and the plan they have for the north.


Mr Martin: Perhaps it wasn't you, Joe, but it was somebody in your ranks who made that comment and I think you were in support of that by some of the comments you made.

I would hope that doesn't reflect an attitude, because those of us who are watching sense that it does. The economy that is coming at us in Ontario is plugged into this new global reality, and the north, with all of its intricacies and challenges, is not going to fit nicely into that. So we hope that with the appointment of the new parliamentary assistant we will have a more responsive ear in the government of this House.

Mr Allan K. McLean (Simcoe East): It's a pleasure to rise this morning and speak on this resolution from the member for Kenora. I was one of those who had the opportunity to travel the north, and we put A Voice for the North together. I listened to the comments from the member for Kenora with regard to our arriving at Red Lake. I'm not so sure -- he had mentioned about some fishing trip, but I certainly didn't see one. Maybe he was on a fishing trip, but I wasn't. I was on an expedition to find out what's going on in the north. We visited the hospital there, we visited the people in tourism, and we visited many people with regard to the municipal planning boards in the north, municipal officials, mining operators, social services workers, natural resources.

We met many interest groups in the north that were concerned with regard to the administration that was taking place there. The business people in the north are concerned about how the NDP administration was operating. They looked at the heritage fund and where the money went out of that heritage fund. It was this government that put the money back into that heritage fund, some $60 million. Not only that, but there's some $17 million already committed to the north through projects in the north. You must know that we've spent about $104 million on the roads in the north, and that will probably be increased.

I'm glad the resolution was brought by the member for Kenora to talk about the north, because it gives us the opportunity to tell the people in the north what we have done. Many projects are under way and will be expanded on.

The known fact is that this government is committed to health care in the north. The envelope is $17.4 billion and that's increased now by some $300 million. So we had the opportunity to talk to the doctors; we had the opportunity to talk to the people in the Plummer hospital. We were in Goulais Lake, talking to the people there. We were in Elliot Lake. We were right across the north, talking to people with regard to the land claims that were being negotiated there. Yes, we knew what we were talking about when we talked about A Voice for the North, because it was the people there that we got the input from, not people in the south. We were listening to the people in the north, and I know the member for Kenora knows that.

To say today, as this resolution is saying, that we are not doing things in the north, that's not true. We like to support a resolution to let you people know that we are doing many things in the north and the parliamentary assistant is certainly here to expand on that. I'm sure the parliamentary assistant will take up and be available to the people of the north, which is what we need.

With regard to the resolution today, I want to support it and make sure that the people of northern Ontario are still getting the services they so deserve.

The Acting Speaker: The member for Kenora has two minutes.


Mr Miclash: Let me start off by saying that I would like to congratulate the new PA to the Minister of Northern development, the member for Brampton North. I certainly look forward to working with him. I'm actually very pleased that he and his colleagues have decided to support this resolution here today. It says to me that they know we are not happy in the north. I must say that I'm hoping they don't get fired for this, but again, I appreciate their support.

I'd also like to thank the other members for expressing their concerns. We had the member for Algoma, who talked about hospital closings in his riding, the shutting down of many ministry offices throughout northern Ontario, the job loss. We had the member for Timiskaming talking about the reduction of the voice in the north in terms of the reducing of members in the north from the present 15 to 10 members. There is a true concern by some of my northern colleagues regarding job loss. The member for Cochrane North talked about the job loss which is having a devastating effect in his riding.

The member for Bruce suggested that local solutions were being sought. I hope she's going to be in Fort Frances from May 1 to 3, during the NOMA convention, because if she speaks to any of the municipal leaders, any of the councillors, she will find that they're feeling very left out of the process. The member for Port Arthur suggested that this government wasn't listening, that we're talking about youth unemployment in northern Ontario of 22%. Finally, the member for Simcoe East talked about his trip to Red Lake. All you have to do is take a look at the press, who suggested that the entire group would not even speak to the press when they visited to Red Lake; they would not speak to the media.

I would like to thank the members for their support. I look forward to their support during the vote as well.


Mr John O'Toole (Durham East): It's a pleasure to rise today to present my private member's resolution:

That in the opinion of this House, the government of Ontario should consider section 335(f) of Bill 104, by ensuring that the proposed Education Improvement Commission review the entitlements and rights of non-instructional school employees if their positions are to be outsourced and that these non-instructional school employees are consulted and entitled to compete or bid on any position being considered for outsourcing as part of section 335(f) of Bill 104.

The Acting Speaker (Mr Bert Johnson): According to standing order 96(c)(ii), the member has 10 minutes.

Mr O'Toole: I'm pleased to rise to present my position on this petition which I have just read into the record. I have participated in the many public hearings recently on Bill 104 around the province. The all-party standing committee on social development heard from over 300 presenters across the province. We listened, and I believe we responded. Yesterday, April 23, Bill 104 received third and final reading. I am pleased that our minister has responded with a fair and reasonable number of amendments.

Bill 104 is all about fewer boards, fewer trustees, fewer administrators and more accountability, more money for the teacher and student in the classroom, and more parent involvement. I might add that we adopted 18 amendments in committee, including one of the third party's. This amendment itself will give students a real voice in their education.

For me, the original provisions of section 335 of Bill 104 have been very seriously modified already. I don't wish to take full credit for the present amendment which directs the Education Improvement Commission to examine, where appropriate, the option of outsourcing. I want to stress the importance of "where appropriate." This is not about me and my resolution; it is about listening to my constituents. My resolution is all about responding to my constituents. This is about allowing non-instructional employees to be heard and to be consulted.

It is clear to me that the EIC, the Education Improvement Commission, will no longer promote outsourcing. This indeed is a victory. It proves our government listens. My constituents told me that they were concerned with the threat of losing their jobs. On several occasions my constituents demonstrated at my office. We met and they asked to be allowed to be given the opportunity to compete on a level playing field.

My resolution is dedicated to Miss Sue Bradley, Miss Elizabeth Jones, Mr Gino Turallo, Miss Brenda Stevens, Mr and Mrs Newell, Mrs Diane Carey, Mr and Mrs Forrest, Miss Margo Gadstone, Mrs Vanleuwen and many other constituents who impressed me with their sincerity and dedication and the contribution they make to our school communities. I know and respect many of these constituents. They are honest, hardworking, taxpaying Ontarians. I don't want these people to lose their jobs. I don't want these people to become victims of school boards and their cost-cutting initiatives.

We are talking about educational assistants, school secretaries, school custodians and others, people to whom we entrust the lives of our children. We must have safe, clean, secure schools for our children. These people argue they are a part of the educational team in our children's schools. I agree. Some of my constituents in fact have said that the secretaries run the schools.

At the same time, everyone recognizes that we must allow administration the tools to examine every opportunity to spend taxpayers' money wisely. It is common knowledge today that some services in some of our schools are already outsourced or contracted. Seasonal work, like snow removal and grass cutting, and major maintenance, like roof repairs and other services, are more efficiently handled by specialists and, in some cases, local small business people. No one can argue with allowing our district school administration, where appropriate, to examine alternative service delivery proposals -- no one, unless they support the existence of waste and duplication.

Remember that we must focus all our scarce resources in the classroom. I'm asking all members to support this resolution, not only to send a strong signal to the EIC and our new district board, but also to show their individual support for the non-instructional people in our schools.

My resolution is not perfect and I recognize that. However, some opposition members have spoken to me and understand that I am really trying to put pressure on the EIC and the new district board to consult with their workforce. These are the people on the front line. These are people who know where the efficiencies are. Ask them; they will help us cut the cost, eliminate waste and duplication.

Just imagine if all three parties and members here today support this resolution. It is a clear message of support for our educational work team. I look forward to comments from other members.

The Acting Speaker: Further debate?

Mr John Gerretsen (Kingston and The Islands): I must admit I sat here in a bit of amazement listening to this member. If it wasn't for Bill 104 being passed in this House less than 24 hours ago, you could have some sympathy for what he's saying. I guess the real question I have is, if he feels so strongly about it, why wasn't it included in the bill to start off with?

Let me just say at the outset that we are against outsourcing. We don't believe in outsourcing. We don't think it should gave been in the bill. Now to come in here, the day after Bill 104 has been passed by this House, when it was objected to by over 600 individuals and organizations that made representations to the committee etc, is a little bit like trying to have it both ways. You simply can't do that.


If the member felt that strongly about it, then he should have been able to at least get the endorsement of his own government members to this notion. When he says that he's listening to the people in his constituency, what about the government listening to the people of Ontario? It's my understanding that just about every group and individual that came to speak to the committee during its five weeks of hearings was dead set against Bill 104. So if we want to talk about listening, then let's truly listen not only to the people in your own constituency but to the people throughout the province on this education bill.

It is never appropriate to outsource. That's certainly what the unions that are involved with school activities are saying. It is just as important that our students not only have the best classroom education that's available for them but also the best resources, and those resources have a lot to do with the caretakers, with the secretaries and with all the other non-instructional people involved in our school system. The moment we start talking about outsourcing, it will lead to only one result, and that will be a lowering of the standards that people have come to expect from our school system.

I simply say to the member opposite that he has got it wrong. He should have done something about this before. He should have had the courage of his convictions yesterday and stood up and voted against Bill 104. He cannot now, the day afterwards, change his mind on the matter.

Mr Peter Kormos (Welland-Thorold): The cat is out of the bag, there's no two ways about it. We know now, and the member for Durham East confirms, that Bill 104 is all about an attack on the quality of education across this province in every community, in every school, in every elementary school and every high school across the board. This government is talking about a direct attack and is implementing a direct attack on quality public education. For this government to dare talk about the cutbacks that it is implementing currently here and now, right now, is absurd.

We know that Ontario ranks 46th in per pupil spending among all the state and provincial jurisdictions throughout North America. Heck, New Jersey, that right-wing island of Republicanism often cited by Mr Harris as a model of right-wing rectitude, spends 82% more per student on education than Ontario.

This government is talking clearly, and more clearly than ever now, about privatization, about selling off public institutions so they can be assumed by for-profit and, as often as not, American-based, big corporations so they can make profits at the expense of our health care and, quite frankly, at the expense of our education.

I tell you, Speaker, and I tell the member for Durham East, if he can call himself that, that we are not going to accept any proposition that would force hardworking people like the non-teaching staff, already working hard and working professionally for modest wages -- I tell you, modest wages. To force them to compete, to bid in a bidding war with low-wage private contractors, is absurd.

Our goal is to protect the rights of people who have worked in the educational system, partners across the board, be they teachers, educational assistants, secretarial and other support staff or, quite frankly, custodians, and that's what the member is talking about here and now. It is unacceptable from many perspectives. But I also say, from the point of view of the welfare of our children, that for fly-by-night contractors bidding yearly, lowest bidder takes all, to be permitted to bring their workers, low-wage earners, into our schools to interact with our children exposes our children to risk and it exposes the quality education that we should be striving for to even greater risk.

This motion is not just dumb, it's getting dumber. This motion is an absurd but concentrated attack on working people, on the people who have contributed to the quality of education in this province. It's part and parcel of this government's whole agenda to beat the hell out of workers in Ontario, to lower wages so that greater and greater wealth can be monopolized in the hands of fewer and fewer people. The rich friends of the Harris Tories are the only people who are going to be winners in this sad charade that we have been experiencing now for two years and hopefully for not too many more months longer.

We're not supporting this resolution. It's an out-and-out, blatant attack on our educational system. It's part and parcel of this government's agenda. It's all about, and confirms, the drive towards privatization of long-established public and quality institutions and it's part and parcel of their attack on quality education, wanting to turn us very much into the Mississippi or the Alabama of the north.

Mr Tom Froese (St Catharines-Brock): I'm pleased to support in principle the resolution put forward by the member for Durham East which supports the entitlements and rights of non-instructional school employees if their positions are to be outsourced under Bill 104.

As this Legislature knows, yesterday marked a historical day in Ontario. The Fewer School Boards Act was passed, allowing us to focus education dollars in the classroom instead of the boardroom. Concentrating our efforts on the classroom is the best way to achieve this.

This resolution supports the amendments to Bill 104 that will give the Education Improvement Commission the ability to look at different ways of delivering services within schools and to treat all employees of school boards with respect and fairness. As a result of the amendments, it is clear that the employees of the existing school boards become employees of the new district school boards. Current collective agreements and employment contracts will be assumed by the new boards.

With respect to the issue of outsourcing non-instructional services, the act does not require or mandate outsourcing of non-instructional services. Through an amendment, we have made it clear that the Education Improvement Commission's mandate would be to study how to facilitate outsourcing, and the most important part is "where appropriate." This amendment was made to underline that we want the commission to take a balanced, fair and comprehensive approach to this issue.

The main points of the resolution before us today are surely points that the commission would want to consider as it carries out that study and develops recommendations. The existing entitlements and rights of non-instructional employees are clearly factors that the commission would need to look at. Consultation with employees and giving the affected employees an opportunity to bid for work if outsourcing should occur are all issues that would be completely appropriate for the commission to view as part of its work.

The Fewer School Boards Act is part of a wider program of education reform aimed at increasing quality and raising standards. Treating all who work in education with fairness is a critical part of achieving a successful transition. I believe the resolution put forward by the member for Durham East supports that goal, so I'm pleased to say that I will support it as well.

Mrs Lyn McLeod (Fort William): I'm afraid we are going to disappoint the member for Durham East by indicating that we will not be supporting his resolution today, but I think it's important for me to say why we will not be supporting it, and there are two reasons. The first reason is that, as a result of yesterday, the resolution is simply no longer relevant. I want to point out that Bill 104 became law -- in fact it was proclaimed to be law this morning -- and therefore amendments to the bill are no longer possible.

The member for Durham East will be very well aware that his own government made the process of amending this law very, very difficult through two closure motions. The first closure motion was the time allocation motion that said that in standing committee we could only have four hours to reflect on all the concerns that had been presented to us in the standing committee's public hearings.

Without any question at all, there were a huge number of concerns expressed about this one clause in Bill 104 in which it says that the new education information commission -- I keep calling it the education information commission, because I think it is to put forward the government's agenda, but it's called the Education Improvement Commission -- was to "consider, conduct research, facilitate discussion and make recommendations to the minister on how to...facilitate the outsourcing of non-instructional services by district school boards."


It was correctly pointed out during the standing committee hearings that that left the education commission no leeway to say, "It's not appropriate to outsource non-instructional services in a school setting." They were directed to tell school boards how to do it.

That concern was repeated over and over again, and I know the member for Durham East is well aware of that and that he presents this resolution in response to those concerns. I want to make it clear that I respect that.

Of course, our ability to discuss that and to make amendments, to look at amendments other than the one that the government proposed, was cut off, because at the end of those few hours we had to consider all amendments to have been read. We could have no discussion. We couldn't discuss why the resolution that might have been proposed by the member for Durham East, that had been proposed at that point in time by the member for Durham East, would have been preferable to the amendment the government presented, because all discussion was closed off. We never got a chance even to discuss this issue of outsourcing and how to make it less of a very real concern for people in the educational community and for parents.

I have to respect the tenacity of the member for Durham East in bringing his resolution forward today, even though Bill 104 became law yesterday. He obviously felt a conviction and a commitment to want to express his concerns, even against his own government's actions. But I think it was equally clear, as the government proposed its own amendment to this clause, that they were not prepared to consider the proposals of the member for Durham East, which were already a matter of record.

The government could well have brought forward the amendments proposed by the member for Durham East in the committee of the whole, had the government not cut off our opportunity to consider further amendments in committee of the whole. You'll recall, Mr Speaker, that there was a second closure motion brought in on Bill 104 so that we never got a chance to go into committee of the whole to even consider, at that point in time, this proposed amendment from the member for Durham East.

It is obvious that his own government, fully aware of the concerns he was bringing to this, fully aware of the proposal he was making, said: "No, we are not prepared to amend this bill to allow consultation with employees. We are not prepared to amend the bill to allow employees to bid on positions which might be outsourced." I respect the member for Durham East for continuing to bring this forward and I regret very much that the government did not provide the member for Durham East, or any other members of this assembly, an opportunity to debate and fully consider the concerns that have been presented on this issue, as on all parts of Bill 104.

The member for Durham East has pointed out that the government did make an amendment to this clause. I want to duly note that. They added the words "where appropriate" to the clause so that the commission is no longer directed, without any leeway at all, to tell boards how to outsource. But I would suggest very strongly that this is not a modification which goes nearly far enough. As the member for Kingston and The Islands has said, when it comes to non-instructional services, services provided to support students in an educational setting, it should never be considered appropriate to outsource those services.

That's the second reason we would not have been supporting this resolution even had Bill 104 not been proclaimed law as of this time. We would not be supporting it because, although it softens -- I acknowledge that it softens -- the impact of outsourcing somewhat, because it provides for consultation and it does allow for the bidding, it still carries an endorsement of outsourcing and we cannot in any way endorse outsourcing.

We heard over and over again the concerns at committee about outsourcing non-instructional services in an educational setting. We particularly heard from parents. Obviously, we heard from members of unions, from school board employees, who understand the value of their work and who wanted us to understand that value, but we also heard from parents.

We heard from parents who came to us and said: "If you start looking at outsourcing any of the non-instructional support services in our schools, whether it is our janitorial service, whether it's our secretarial service, whether it's the libraries or the guidance services, whether it is the psychological assessment services, this presents a danger to our children."

Parents were worried about the safety of students in the school if they have strangers coming into the school. They said: "We need continuity of personnel in the school. We need people who know our children and know our children's needs. We believe that every person in the school is an integral part of the school community. We don't want to be in a situation where we end up with dial-a-cleaner and somebody comes in to do the cleaning that day, or where we need some extra secretarial help so we go to the temporary secretarial pool but the people coming in don't even know the names of our kids, let alone how to reach the family if there's a problem."

We heard from people who are providing psychological assessment support. I happen to have some background in that area and I know for a fact that unless the person doing the assessment of that student knows the educational context for that student's learning, they cannot properly assess that student. This is dangerous for students.

Outsourcing of non-instructional support services should never be seen to be appropriate. An attempt to soften the blow is not sufficient if it carries the endorsement of outsourcing.

I know another of my colleagues is anxious to speak on this and I'm sure he will refer to what he has heard from people in his community. I want to make it very clear that we have heard from virtually all members of the educational community, who have said they cannot and do not want to see this resolution supported. We had responses from teachers' federations, who speak to the value of the non-instructional support services in the school and who do not want to see any resolution passed which implies endorsement of outsourcing. We had all the submissions that were made at committee. We had repeated submissions from members of unions, as I say, who understand the value of the work that they do, not just in their own job description areas but the contribution they make to the school as a whole.

The last point I would like to make is that we also heard at committee from two boards, one of them the Simcoe county board, who have tried outsourcing and who have cancelled it because they found, "When [in this case] the maintenance and custodial services were contracted out and subsequently brought back in-house, a comparative study demonstrated that our members could provide higher-quality service in a more efficient manner." It is good for kids to keep the non-instructional support services in the school with full-time school personnel.

Mr David Christopherson (Hamilton Centre): I appreciate the opportunity to join in the debate. I would open my remarks by suggesting to the House that our caucus, the NDP caucus, does not agree with the Liberal idea that somehow this resolution softens the impact of Bill 104 on workers in the education system, particularly the non-instructional school employees. In fact, if anything, this resolution is adding salt to the wound, because within this resolution is clearly the acceptance that, first, privatization will take place and, second, successor rights are gone.

It's interesting that the Minister of Education has spent the last couple of days trying to distance himself from the idea that this government would consider removing successor rights or overriding job protection clauses in collective agreements that are now in place with CUPE.

But the fact is that this resolution speaks clearly to the fact that those successor rights are gone. If they were still in place, you wouldn't have any question of who gets those jobs or what are they paid or what their benefit levels are or what their job security rights are because that's what's contained in the collective agreement. Successor rights, which of course this government has taken away from Ontario public sector workers -- everyone else gets to keep them, but they've stripped their own employees of those rights.

We know what that game is. It's all about privatizing, hiving off those services where profit can be made and selling them to their friends so they can make money off of public services: direct taxation, if you will, from those who are paying taxes for services into the pockets of those who want to make a profit.

In and of itself, there's nothing wrong with making a profit. What we find obscene is that that profit will be generated from the provision of services to the public that are now provided by the public so that the only priority is that the services the people need, they're getting.

This resolution says that successor rights for CUPE workers in schools, and I would suggest by extension other CUPE public sector workers providing services at the municipal level, are gone -- gone because the contract is gone. As soon as the job is privatized, no more contract, no more job security, no more vacation entitlements, no more decent pay, no more decent benefits. All gone, stripped away, decades of rights that workers fought for and deserve. Gone by the stroke of a pen.


But it goes further than that. It says, and this is what we find so insulting, that these workers, these non-instructional school employees -- and it's nice that the member now wants to talk about the fact that they're team members. He should slide over, he's not that far away, and talk to the Minister of Education about the fact that the custodial people, the janitor services, the maintenance services, the transportation services, the clerical services, all those services are as important to the classroom as the teacher standing at the front of the room.

For him to stand there today and talk about teamwork, while his Minister of Education attacks the ability of school boards to provide those other services, is further insulting not just the people affected here but insulting the intelligence of the public that somehow they aren't going to understand that all these other services are just as important as what's provided in the front of the room by that all-important teacher.

He goes on to say about those very workers, those non-instructional school employees, that they get to be "consulted." We know what consultation means to this government. Usually it happens after the fact. Go talk to the firefighters. Go talk to police. Go talk to nurses. Go talk to all those people who have already felt the heavy end of the boot of this government when it comes to consultation.

In fact, the only time we can ever get them to go out in public and review what they've already decided to do, to allow the public some minor input of their opinion, is after we've forced them, by way of pressure in this House, to get out into the public. Certainly the member for Nepean, who is gesturing wildly over there -- I'm not sure what all that means -- would know because of the experience he had with the Employment Standards Act, when you stripped workers of their rights in that bill, what we had to do to force this government to go out publicly. They talk about consultation. You've been in government long enough that people know what consultation means to you.

Those workers whose jobs are contracted out, here's the scenario: Bill 104 sets the framework for this government to take control in a way that's never been seen in the history of the province of what happens in our schools. They've already stripped the equivalent of $1 billion out of our school system, and by the way, that makes it better: "If $1 billion taken out makes it a better system, imagine what another $1 billion would do to make it a better system." That's the logic. Bill 104 is going to provide this government with the ability to do what the Minister of Education is already on the record as saying he wants to do, and that is: "Take another $1 billion out of our education system."

For all the government's talk about the fact that there's all this excess fat and that all this is not affecting the classroom, I would suggest to anyone listening today to talk to the teachers. Talk to the teachers. Don't buy into the argument that they're just a special interest group and deserve to be ignored. You know that when you go and consult and meet with those teachers, what they have to say about your kids matters to you.

It's a very rare occasion when a parent does not respect what a teacher is saying about their child's development in class. Talk to that very teacher and ask them whether or not the classroom has been affected already. Then ask that teacher what's going to happen if you take another $1 billion out of the education system; or talk to the trustees, because they are honourable elected people and, just like the members of the government, deserve to be recognized, and all the members here in the opposition. Everybody is honourable except when you decide to put that label "special interest" on someone's forehead as you've done with school board trustees. They're just as honourable, members of the government, as you or anyone else in elected office and they deserve to be respected.

I would say to parents, talk to the teachers, talk to the trustees, talk to people who work in the system, talk to the people who clean the classroom, talk to the people who drive the buses, talk to the people who are in the system. Yes, listen to what the minister says. It's not like that's not an important point of view. He is the Minister of Education. But don't end your search for the truth there. Talk to other people, your neighbours, relatives. It's an important part of our society; it's an important part of our economy. Talk to the students. Ask them what's happening in their classrooms; ask them what they think about the idea that there be less and less money available.

That's what Bill 104 is meant to do. They're going to find this $1 billion by privatizing as much of the non-instructional school work as they can. In doing that, they're going to take away a decent-paying job from ordinary citizens of this province who are just trying to provide for their families. That's what you've done in every case where you've privatized, and we know there's a big movement coming. You're going to privatize those jobs. You're going to strip away the rights those workers are entitled to in terms of job protection, health and safety protection, vacation entitlement, decent pay -- all the things that people are entitled to. How about a decent dental plan for their kids? All those things matter. You've got them. Every one of the members across the way has those kinds of benefits. Why isn't that good enough for people working in the school system? Why? Because you've got to find the $5 billion to pay for your tax cut. That's what it's all about.

You seem to think people won't understand that or they don't get it or that's beyond them. Guess again. That's why all those people came out to the hearings on Bill 104. That's why there are no teachers, no school trustees, nobody involved in the education system who buys your phoney argument that cutting $1 billion made the system better and, "When we cut the second billion it's going to be great."

There's the scenario; that sets the stage. What does this resolution do? This resolution says to those workers I've spoken of today, who have had their jobs privatized and their rights stripped away, "You can compete or bid on that job." Given the number of people you've put out of work, given the number of decent-paying jobs you've already eliminated, you've got the perfect scenario with this resolution. What's that scenario? Have as many unemployed people as you can, underemployed, making as little as possible, and then when you throw out the crumbs of privatized jobs, have them all fight each other for those jobs.

How will they do it? Who will work for the lowest? Who will work for the fewest benefits? The workers compete and undercut each other. That's what this says: "Your job's been privatized. You've got no collective agreement. Under this resolution you'd have the right to fight somebody who's been underemployed or unemployed for months or years to see who gets that job." What does that scenario replace? It replaces decent-paying jobs, something that you don't support because it gets in the way of your pals making the maximum amount of profit. It's that scenario that we find so absolutely reprehensible, and that's why we will not support this insulting resolution.

Mr Doug Galt (Northumberland): I am very pleased to rise to support this resolution of the member for Durham East. Certainly both of us work together quite commonly on issues with the Northumberland and Clarington Board of Education. I'd like also to point out the importance of Bill 104 that just passed third reading last night, because now we'll have some regard for local ratepayers and taxpayers that has not been going on in the past. I'd like to compliment a trustee in my riding, Marg Connor, who has stood up to the board and its undemocratic and very authoritarian approach to some of the local board decisions and activities.


What this resolution that is being put forward by the member for Durham East seeks to address is really quite simple: It is not public sector versus private sector, it is competition versus monopoly. In a monopoly there is little incentive to do better, to please the customer. This has led to inefficiencies in many instances, to added costs, to mediocre performance and to waste. By introducing some competition into the mix there is an incentive to do better, and to do better for less. There's plenty of evidence that a system of public-private sector competition works, and it works very well indeed.

Interjection: Where?

Mr Galt: I'll tell you. In their landmark book, Reinventing Government, by Osborne and Gaebler, the authors recount the story of Phoenix, Arizona. Some time ago, in the throes of a tax revolt -- sound familiar? we're having it all across Ontario -- Phoenix decided to contract out their garbage collection services. Predictably, the union protested, and protested vehemently. Despite that, the city council met and eventually decided to go ahead, but they allowed the existing waste collection department to also bid on the job.

Public works divided the city into some seven districts and began bidding them out one at a time. Three times the waste collection department submitted bids and three times they lost, but the losses forced the department to rethink the way they were doing business. They asked their drivers to redesign their routes. They asked them to redesign their work schedules. They created quality circles and a labour-management productivity committee. They also developed a new cost-accounting system to track precisely how much their services cost. Finally, they installed a suggestion program that gave employees 10% of the savings generated. In short, they completely redesigned their management strategy.

Gradually the department's costs came down, and when the next contract came up, they won. Morale soared. It was an amazing transformation in this city and in this department, and when they finally whipped the private sector people, the public employees knew they had done it because they indeed were the best. What's more, within a few years the city department had won back all of the contracts they had lost.

Since then, Phoenix has used competition not only in garbage collection but in landfill operations, custodial services, street repair, printing and security. The city auditor has estimated savings of $20 million over the first 10 years of this project, but since competition has forced all bid levels down, this is but a fraction of their real savings. That's what competition did for Phoenix, and it can work here too.

It's also my understanding, closer to home, that the Ottawa-Carleton French board of education, through reduction of their administration and operating expenses and through contracting out, really using competition in the non-teaching services, cut a deficit in 1992 of some $8.5 million. Now they're breaking even and actually having a surplus and at the same time putting more teachers into the classroom and buying more computers for the students.

I wholeheartedly support this resolution being put forth by the member for Durham East. While it's true that many would prefer to maintain their comfortable monopoly and sit in their comfortable pew, competition does drive to embrace innovation and strive for excellence. It holds the key that will unlock the bureaucratic gridlock that hamstrings so many public agencies, but most of all, it will help us to ensure that taxpayers receive the best value for the money they pay and work so hard to earn. For these reasons, I enthusiastically support the resolution put forth by the member for Durham East.

Mr Joseph N. Tascona (Simcoe Centre): I'm pleased to rise today in support of the member for Durham East's resolution.

I think it's important at this time to focus on what we're dealing with: non-instructional school employees. The resolution speaks: If their positions are to be outsourced, these non-instructional school employees will be consulted and entitled to compete or bid on any position being considered for outsourcing as part of clause 335(3)(f), of Bill 104.

Clause 335(3)(f) of Bill 104 clearly states that the Education Improvement Commission is to "consider, conduct research, facilitate discussion and make recommendations to the minister on how to...facilitate," where appropriate, "the outsourcing of non-instructional services by district school boards." The Education Improvement Commission is to make recommendations to the Minister of Education.

The operative word of Bill 104 is "outsourcing." We truly have to understand what that term means, because obviously the opposition doesn't. What it means is using a third party to provide the service rather than the district school boards. What we're dealing with here is outsourcing where it's appropriate, and "where it's appropriate" should involve considerations such as safety, cost consideration, efficiency, accountability and the quality of the education.

The member from Thunder Bay indicated that, from my riding, the Simcoe Board of Education dealt with janitorial services in terms of outsourcing, but one of the things they didn't do was consider whether it was appropriate before they went out and did it. Certainly in the hearings that I was involved in, they gave us the input of what they did and in fact they changed their decision and went back to using the school board employees, after they made due consideration of the factors they should have looked at before they even did that. I think it's important when you look at Bill 104, that the changes that have been made to outsourcing -- the mandate is to do it where it's appropriate.

I'll return now to the resolution. It's important to note that if outsourcing occurs, non-instructional school employees are to be consulted and entitled to compete. That's going to occur after all the legal rights which they would be entitled to, collective agreements if applicable, would have been considered by the minister and by the Education Improvement Commission. Nothing is out of line with respect to the legal rights we're looking at here.

I support the resolution because it gives capable people an opportunity to continue to serve the public if they so wish. It also promotes business opportunity and accountability to taxpayers, because obviously the opposition isn't involved in accountability to the taxpayer. They would prefer a system where you basically go out blindly and leave the system as is, don't make changes that the public is crying out to be made. This is a government that believes it should be making change where it's necessary, versus the status quo which is supported by the opposition parties.

I think under Bill 104 we're promoting accountability to taxpayers. I believe taxpayers have a right to ensure, through us, that they get the best service possible. When we talk about the resolution of the member for Durham East, I think it's very clear that the resolution is relevant, and it's very relevant to the people who could be affected, the non-instructional school employees. It's also relevant when we talk about outsourcing, because for those people who believe change is necessary to the education system and for those who believe the quality of education in the classroom is where we should be putting our funding, obviously outsourcing is relevant.

I'm in support of this resolution that's been put forth by the member for Durham East because it's relevant. It also provides the protections and the fairness that we're looking for when we're dealing with Bill 104, because the mandate that's been given to the Education Improvement Commission is to report to the minister after consulting the public. The mandate is very clear. The opposition parties know what the mandate is; the language is very clear and the resolution of Mr O'Toole is very clear also. When you look at this from a very commonsense approach, it's a fair resolution and I support it.


Mr John R. Baird (Nepean): I congratulate the member for Durham East for taking this initiative to take an independent position on behalf of his constituents, the workers; not the political agenda of certain union leaders. Rather he has forcefully and very articulately represented the views of his constituents.

These changes in terms of restructuring, to show the non-partisan nature of the member for Durham East, are much of what the federal Liberal government has done in Ottawa. They have opened up an office, the regional economic diversification office for Ottawa-Carleton, to help the public servants that the federal Liberal government, some 45,000 federal public servants that the Chrétien government is letting go. This office will help those folks potentially bid and take over the contracts that they've been letting go. I'm pleased to note the member for Durham East is using that fine example that the federal Chrétien government is doing in Ottawa with the good number of displacements that we've regrettably seen in that.

This alternative service delivery obviously is the key, because the public is very clear. The public told the member for Durham East, as they told me, that they want the spending made in the classroom, the priority and money to go into the classroom, and I commend the member for Durham East.

Mr Frank Miclash (Kenora): I too am pleased to partake in this debate. As we've heard from previous speakers, we know that outsourcing is certainly going to take away from the community atmosphere, the continuity in our schools. As a former educator, I certainly knew how important that was. We've heard from parents, we've heard from administrators, we've heard from educators, and they too have told us about the great danger in terms of outsourcing. Again I would, as a former educator, like to get those views relating to non-instructional support services on the record. I truly am concerned that we will take the community out of the school and forget about the people who should be at the forefront, the kids that we service.

Mr James J. Bradley (St Catharines): In addition to the people from Cornwall who have been speaking to John Cleary, the member for Cornwall, about these matters, I have received representations from people in our community. I'm very familiar with the education system and how important it is that you have an educational team; not that you segregate the people, not that you demean and downgrade some positions at the expense of others. If you talk to the teachers who are in the classroom, if you talk to the administrators, such as principals and vice-principals, they will all tell you that if you don't have that educational team, if you don't have people who are familiar with education, if you don't have people who have some degree of experience, then you simply don't have a coordinated school system.

This government is setting out, once again, to downgrade and degrade the position of people such as caretakers, cleaners, clerks, educational assistants, library technicians, maintenance personnel, secretaries, special education support technicians, youth care workers, child care workers, counsellors, technicians, groundskeepers, a number of people who play a very significant role, who have been loyal to boards of education and loyal to the students that they ultimately serve within a system.

The member for Fort William, the Liberal education critic, has outlined many of the significant roles that they play over and above those which would be found in their job descriptions. For this government now to be striking fright into the hearts of these people, many of whom are long-term employees, threatening that out there they're going to end up with severe reductions in their wages or salaries, the removal of some of their collective agreement winnings in terms of the services that are provided, I believe is reprehensible on the part of this government. I know they continue to play this role.

If you ask the students, if you ask those who are not in the categories found in this particular matter today, they would all say this government should abandon its efforts to outsource and to privatize people who have been dedicated educational employees over the years. This is simply an unnecessary assault on vulnerable people in our society.

The Acting Speaker: The member for Durham East has two minutes.

Mr O'Toole: It's my pleasure to thank those who participated in my resolution today. The member for St Catharines-Brock, who I might add is the new parliamentary assistant to the Minister of Education, I thank you for your comments; also the member for Northumberland, a good friend -- we do work together very hard -- and of course the member for Simcoe Centre, who is a very well respected labour specialist and has been involved in much of the legislation this government has been dealing with.

From the opposition benches, I was flattered that the education critic, the member for Fort William, made comments that my resolution was no longer relevant. Yes, it's clear that the discussion and the input that I had clearly moved the minister and this government to make changes to clause 335(3)(f) to take the hard language out of the original section of the bill.

I go on to acknowledge the comments made by the members for Kenora, St Catharines, Welland-Thorold and Hamilton Centre. To the member for Hamilton Centre, the NDP government soon forgets the hard blow they gave the working people in our schools. The social contract took almost $1 billion out of education right off the backs of the lowest-paid workers in our educational system in Ontario.

My resolution is about giving people a chance to compete, to be consulted. It's about you showing your support for the non-instructional school employees: educational assistants, secretaries, custodians and others who are the lowest-paid employees in our schools. Each member should have the courage to stand up today and support this legislation and not the traditional party lines. This resolution is not about pro- or anti-union sentiments; it's about people being given a chance. My resolution is simple and humble, and I present it by the people and for the people. Have the courage to support it.


The Acting Speaker (Mr Bert Johnson): We will deal first with ballot item number 71, standing in the name of Mr Miclash. Is it the wish of the House that this resolution carry? It is carried.


The Acting Speaker (Mr Bert Johnson): We will now deal with ballot item number 72, standing in the name of Mr O'Toole. Is it the wish of the House that this resolution carry?

All those in favour, say "aye."

All those opposed, say "nay."

In my opinion, the ayes have it.

Call in the members. There will be a five-minute bell.

The division bells rang from 1158 to 1203.

The Acting Speaker: Mr O'Toole has moved private member's notice of motion number 45. Those in favour will please rise and remain standing.


Arnott, Ted

Galt, Doug

Ouellette, Jerry J.

Baird, John R.

Grimmett, Bill

Rollins, E.J. Douglas

Barrett, Toby

Hardeman, Ernie

Smith, Bruce

Beaubien, Marcel

Hastings, John

Spina, Joseph

Carroll, Jack

Jordan, W. Leo

Tascona, Joseph N.

Chudleigh, Ted

Leadston, Gary L.

Tilson, David

Doyle, Ed

Marland, Margaret

Vankoughnet, Bill

Fisher, Barbara

Martiniuk, Gerry

Wettlaufer, Wayne

Ford, Douglas B.

McLean, Allan K.

Wood, Bob

Fox, Gary

Munro, Julia

Young, Terence H.

Froese, Tom

O'Toole, John


The Acting Speaker: Those opposed will please rise and remain standing until recognized by the Clerk.


Bradley, James J.

Gravelle, Michael

Martin, Tony

Christopherson, David

Kormos, Peter

McLeod, Lyn

Colle, Mike

Kwinter, Monte

Miclash, Frank

Cordiano, Joseph

Laughren, Floyd

Sergio, Mario

Duncan, Dwight

Marchese, Rosario

Wildman, Bud

Gerretsen, John

Martel, Shelley


Clerk of the House (Mr Claude L. DesRosiers): The ayes are 32; the nays are 17.

The Acting Speaker: I declare the resolution carried.

Mr Floyd Laughren (Nickel Belt): On a point of order, Mr Speaker: I wonder if you would allow me to make a special commendation to Clerk at the Table Todd Decker for calling his first recorded vote so flawlessly.

The Acting Speaker: I will indeed.

This session being completed, this House stands adjourned until 1:30 of the clock this afternoon.

The House recessed from 1207 to 1330.



Mr Gerry Phillips (Scarborough-Agincourt): I rise today on behalf of the members to recognize that April 24 is remembrance day for the Armenian genocide. It was 82 years ago, I think all members remember, that 1.5 million Armenians were brutally killed -- these were women and children, elderly -- in a deliberate act of genocide.

Today, April 24, is the day the Armenian community and indeed the whole world remember that genocide, and tonight in front of the Legislature at 10 o'clock young people from the Armenian community will be there. With us in the gallery today are Aline Derkevorkian, Arby Ghazarian and Anastasia Chrysoudakis, who will be with the young people tonight.

There is a continuing unfinished piece of this sad saga, and that is that to this day those who were responsible for the genocide have failed to acknowledge their responsibility or to apologize. For the Armenian community, indeed for all of us, that wound cannot begin to heal until the Turkish community accepts responsibility and apologizes.

Finally, the importance for all of us is that we cannot let an act of genocide be forgotten. Hitler once said to many around him in planning his Holocaust, "Who today remembers the Armenian genocide?" In other words, if the world community had stood behind the Armenian community, perhaps Hitler would never have been able to do his dastardly deeds.


Mr Tony Martin (Sault Ste Marie): There was an announcement made in Sudbury today by the Minister of Northern Development and Mines which all of us in this House and in the north appreciate very much. It was an announcement about health care and more money into the cancer strategy that's being put in place up there.

Even though that is good news, and God knows we need more money into health care in the north because of the savaging that's happened to that system over the last couple of years, again this government has left us less than fully and totally excited about this because this announcement is still full of holes and raises more questions than it answers. Two of those questions I will highlight very briefly here today.

One of them is the fact that there was absolutely no mention made in the announcement by anybody at the conference or attached to it about the wonderful work that is going on in Sault Ste Marie under the able guidance of Dr David Walde, who was the forefather of this kind of delivery of oncology care in the north as far back as 1974.

The second is the fact that this money is coming from the northern Ontario heritage fund, a fund that we thought was very limited in its scope and its terms of reference to community economic development. Now we find that it's going to be given to health care. For some of us that will be good news, but we need to know if that is going to be the case and if the guidelines have been changed now so that other health care operations can apply to the heritage fund and know they're going to get some money.


Mr Bert Johnson (Perth): I rise in the House today to announce more good news for the riding of Perth. Thanks to the policies of this government and the initiative of the constituents of my riding, Perth county is prospering once again.

I make this statement based on the figures which were recently released for farm building construction in 1996. Last year, farmers in Perth county applied for building permits on renovations and new building construction worth a total of $24.4 million. This is indeed a sign that the farming and construction industries in Perth, and indeed all of Ontario, are booming.

This boost in the rural economy is due in large part to the retail sales tax rebate which was announced by the Minister of Finance in the 1996 budget. The initiative has assisted farmers by allowing for rebate of provincial sales tax on materials purchased to either help build or modernize a structure used exclusively for farm purposes. The recently announced continuation of this program through the new fiscal year will undoubtedly result in further expansion in farming in Perth. This is good news and deserves to be recognized.

I'd like to take this opportunity to thank the Minister of Finance and the Minister of Agriculture for their support for the farmers of Ontario and for living up to this government's promise to be responsive and accountable to the farmers of Ontario.


Mr Michael Gravelle (Port Arthur): Yesterday in the Legislature the Minister of Culture did something quite shameful, something for which she should apologize. In response to a setup question from one of her colleagues about Bill 109, the Local Control of Public Libraries Act, the minister portrayed one presentation made at public hearings in Thunder Bay as indicative of the support this bill is receiving in northern Ontario.

Such a gross distortion of the facts cannot be tolerated. Of the 17 presenters to the all-party committee, 16 expressed grave concerns about this very flawed piece of legislation. The library communities in Thunder Bay, Ignace, Beardmore, Atikokan, Dryden, Red Rock and Geraldton told the committee that a loss of provincial transfers could spell the end of libraries in their communities, and all of them spoke on the need to maintain majority citizen participation on library boards.

Minister, we all understand that you would prefer to have found more support for this bill, a bill that downloads responsibility totally on to municipalities and removes all provincial responsibility for the operation of our treasured public library system. But please don't insult all the people who drove hundreds and hundreds of miles to express their concerns about this legislation, and do not renege on your commitment, stated at the beginning of the hearings, that you would accept amendments based on presentations to the committee.

If you want to retain any credibility as culture minister, you must not play games with Bill 109. Unless you wish to confirm that public hearings are simply a farce, apologize to our northern library boards, and please listen to their message.


Mr Len Wood (Cochrane North): The Fewer School Boards Act, Bill 104, may have passed, but the people's concerns and questions have not. Because I wanted to make sure the people of Cochrane North had a say on Bill 104 and because this government did not care about sending the committee to our area three weeks ago, I had public hearings in Kapuskasing over this highly controversial bill. This is what the parents, school workers, trustees and ordinary citizens had to say to this government:

First of all, slow down. As with other pieces of legislation, this government has rammed through Bill 104 without giving people the opportunity to fully understand the content and what it actually means for our education system.

Second, the size of the new boards is a great concern for very many. The amalgamation of the school boards will actually create in northern Ontario two boards that are each the size of France. Does this make sense to you? There is no doubt that larger boards with fewer trustees will mean vastly reduced community representation and involvement in local education.

A large number of people are very concerned about the fact that Bill 104 is silent on crucial details such as the new funding formula, collective agreements and a commitment from this government to maintain current education spending. When will you give us the details on these crucial issues?

Let me tell you this: The fight is not over. We will be there when you bring forward legislation to deal with collective agreements and a new funding formula. Bill 103 and Bill 104 may have passed, but people's fight for democracy is well and alive.



Mr Douglas B. Ford (Etobicoke-Humber): All political parties make promises during election campaigns. One party at the federal level in 1993 promised "Jobs, jobs, jobs." However, unlike the present Liberal government in Ottawa, the Mike Harris government is keeping its promises. And unlike the Deputy Prime Minister, we're not Copp-ing out.

The Mike Harris government is doing what needs to be done --


The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Order. This is members' statements. Everyone deserves the same opportunity to put their member's statement, regardless of your position on whatever they're saying.

Mr John Gerretsen (Kingston and The Islands): Yes, but he's provoking us.

The Speaker: Member for Kingston and The Islands, that's not provocation.

I would ask the member for Etobicoke-Humber to continue.

Mr Ford: All political parties make promises during election campaigns. One party at the federal level in 1993 promised "Jobs, jobs, jobs." However, unlike the present Liberal government in Ottawa, the Mike Harris government is keeping its promises and, unlike the Deputy Prime Minister, we are not Copp-ing out.

The Mike Harris government is doing what needs to be done in order to stimulate the economy and bring jobs and growth. Jobs are up because the economy is showing so many positive signs. Exports and housing are both booming and bringing about jobs.

What the opposition doesn't want to hear is that spending on health care in Ontario is up, even when the critics of the government, in their usual doom-and-gloom fashion, claim we are cutting health or somehow endangering patients. The truth is that the Harris government is keeping its promise to maintain health care, even as the federal government cuts $2.1 billion in transfer payments to Ontario. We are putting patients first and finding ways to change spending priorities so that Ontarians continue to enjoy state-of-the-art care.

The real Ontario, where you and I and our constituents live, is beginning to enjoy the economic revival we need and deserve.

Mr Bruce Crozier (Essex South): I want to hear it again.

The Speaker: The member for Essex South seeks unanimous consent to hear it again. I heard a no.


Mr James J. Bradley (St Catharines): I see those pesky, badgering, condescending, élitist members of the news media were trying to trick our Premier yesterday by demanding that he tell them the name of the favourite book he has read. The more cynical and suspicious of the pack were probably trying to relate the painfully long pause between the question and the answer to Bill 109, the bill which many believe will be extremely detrimental to libraries in Ontario and the people who read books in those libraries.

As Conservative government members have suggested so often, however, the media were simply trying to embarrass our Premier, quite unfairly, I might add. The reason it took Premier Harris 31 seconds to answer the question, "What is your favourite book?" was simple: The Premier was trying desperately to remember the title of the newly released book entitled Open for Business, Closed to People: Mike Harris's Ontario.

Edited by Diana Ralph, André Régimbald and Nérée St-Amand and published by Fernwood Publishing, their excellent, objective evaluation of the Mike Harris regime is available in paperback for only $19.95, a sum that could be found in your portion of the income tax cut that will force the government to borrow millions to finance and cut billions more in health, education and other services to achieve.

To quote from the cover of the book, "It explores the global corporate agenda that drives the Harris government -- its links to other Conservative governments, its manipulation of deficit hysteria and its attack on democracy itself."

The title, again, is not Mr Silly but rather Mike Harris's Ontario: Open for Business; Closed to People.


Mr Bud Wildman (Algoma): The Minister of Health approved the 1996-97 operating budget for the Sault area hospitals on the basis that the changes at Matthews Memorial Hospital in Richards Landing and Thessalon Hospital, which are satellite hospitals to the Plummer Memorial Public Hospital, would be monitored by the Plummer Memorial Public Hospital board and by the Algoma District Health Council. These changes included the closure of all in-patient beds at these rural hospitals and the maintenance of 24-hour emergency service at the hospitals, but with only one nurse on duty per shift.

It has come to my knowledge that neither the Plummer Memorial hospital nor the Algoma District Health Council is in fact monitoring the changes to determine whether adequate services are being provided at the Matthews Memorial Hospital in Richards Landing or at the Thessalon Hospital.

Also, interestingly enough, at Thessalon they've applied for a grant to renovate the building they are going to move into, and it has been denied by the northern Ontario heritage fund. I would hope the minister would act on this, carry out the proper monitoring that was promised and ensure that the funding is made available to Thessalon so we can have proper access to hospital services in these two communities.


Mr Ted Chudleigh (Halton North): Yesterday's third reading passage of Bill 104 marked a historic beginning for Ontario's educational system. With the province taking the lead in establishing consistent, high academic standards and a province-wide curriculum, all Ontario students living anywhere in the province will now have the same excellent levels of instruction and standard course contents.

These and other initiatives will better rationalize our educational system and lead to an increase in the overall quality of education that our students are receiving. At long last, as a direct result of Bill 104, educational spending will be accountable to the people of Ontario as resources will be refocused on students and teachers in the classroom.

Yesterday teachers, trustees, parents and students came to Queen's Park to say they are in favour of putting more money towards students, not bureaucrats, and towards classrooms, not school administration.

Bill 104 represents a landmark beginning in the process of education reform, which the people of Ontario have been asking for for the last decade. I am proud that my government, the government of Premier Mike Harris, has demonstrated the courage and the political will to fulfil our commitment to renewed educational excellence for the sake of our children and their future success, for their success is Ontario's success.


The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): I beg to inform the House that in the name of Her Majesty the Queen, His Honour the Administrator of Ontario has been pleased to assent to a certain bill.

Clerk at the Table (Ms Lisa Freedman): The following is the title of the bill to which His Honour did assent:

Bill 104, An Act to improve the accountability, effectiveness and quality of Ontario's school system by permitting a reduction in the number of school boards, establishing an Education Improvement Commission to oversee the transition to the new system, providing for certain matters related to elections in 1997 and making other improvements to the Education Act and the Municipal Elections Act, 1996 / Projet de loi 104, Loi visant à accroître l'obligation de rendre compte, l'efficacité et la qualité du système scolaire ontarien en permettant la réduction du nombre des conseils scolaires, en créant la Commission d'amélioration de l'éducation, chargée d'encadrer la transition vers le nouveau système, en prévoyant certaines questions liées aux élections de 1997 et en apportant d'autres améliorations à la Loi sur l'éducation et à la Loi de 1996 sur les élections municipales.


The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): On Wednesday, April 2, 1997, the member for Algoma (Mr Wildman) asked me to consider whether the contents of a memo allegedly prepared by the Ministry of Education staff constitute a prima facie case of contempt.

I want to begin by apologizing for the delayed ruling. But I also note that it is only the fourth sessional day since the point was raised.

I have reviewed the representation made to me that day and the contents of the memo carefully and I must come to the conclusion that it does not constitute contempt for this House. If it did originate from ministry staff, and there is nothing in the memo to indicate that it did, it is nothing more than a diligent preparation based on a bill that is in the legislative process and may become law. I find this quite different than the wide public distribution of a document which implies by its wording that the bill is already law.

On December 20, 1989, when presented with similar matters, Speaker Edighoffer had this to say:

"It is perfectly valid for the public service to proceed with plans based on a bill that is already in the system in order to be able to act swiftly, once that bill becomes law. It goes without saying that if the bill is amended during the legislative process, then the public service must take note and act accordingly."

I concur with Speaker Edighoffer's view and find no prima facie case of contempt. However, I do thank the member for bringing this to my attention.



Mr Tony Silipo (Dovercourt): On a point of order, Mr Speaker: I just want to rise briefly and correct the record, correct my record, on something that took place yesterday during question period. You may recall that I asked the government House leader a question yesterday, in the absence of the Minister of Municipal Affairs, with respect to the intended appointees of the government to the transition team and the financial advisory board under Bill 103.

Particularly in making the supplementary question, in which I asked the government House leader whether the government was intending to send those intended appointees through the ABC committee, the committee where intended appointees are reviewed, in rereading the question, I think I left the impression that the decision was at the discretion of the government. Upon reviewing the rules and upon reviewing the bill, it's my contention that in fact the government doesn't have any choice but has to refer those names forward. I just wanted to correct the record in terms of any misconception I may have left as a result of the question yesterday.

The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Thank you.


The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): It's time for oral questions. Leader of the official opposition.

Mr Dalton McGuinty (Leader of the Opposition): My first question is for the Minister of Education.

The Speaker: I don't see him. Is he not here?

Hon David Johnson (Chair of the Management Board of Cabinet, Government House Leader): Mr Speaker, he is scheduled to be here. Perhaps this question could be stood down.

The Speaker: Stand it down? Okay.


Mr Gerard Kennedy (York South): My question is for the Minister of Health. Minister, I'd like to ask you, on behalf of the people of Ontario, about the character of the Health Services Restructuring Commission. We understood when you started the commission, just to quote some of your words back to you, you had said that the commission would take all the politics out of restructuring the hospital system and that it would be at arm's length from yourself and from cabinet. I want you to give an assurance to people that this is indeed how you see that system operating.

I particularly want to cite a letter from one of your colleagues, the minister responsible for francophone affairs, saying to people who are very concerned about the Montfort and so on that, given that the commission is independent, he suggests it's inappropriate for him to intervene directly. I wonder if this is also your view of how the commission should be operating at arm's length from cabinet.

Hon Jim Wilson (Minister of Health): Certainly anyone in Ontario was welcome, during the response period, to respond to the commission's interim directives on any of the restructurings that have taken place to date or any of the interim decisions the commission has made. Anyone in this province is free to make a submission to the commission. The final decisions with respect to hospital restructuring in the province will be taken by the commission and will be done without political interference.

Mr Kennedy: We of course regret that the minister is unable to tell the people of this province clearly. I have another letter here. This letter is from the Minister of Municipal Affairs. In it the Minister of Municipal Affairs says very clearly to one of his constituents, "I asked the restructuring commission to extend the deadline for institutions" in his riding "and they have done so." We have a minister of cabinet, who sits around the table when the order-in-council appointments to put members of the commission are made, extending and claiming, bragging to his constituents that he's had influence over its direction.

You can't have it both ways. Which is it? Is the minister of francophone affairs hiding from his responsibilities to act on behalf of francophones in this province or is the Minister of Municipal Affairs interfering with this commission, and is this commission's independence and arm's-length nature damaged? Will you stand up today and ask for the minister's resignation?

Hon Mr Wilson: The question itself should be more appropriately directed to the commission, to Dr Duncan Sinclair, who has --


Hon Mr Wilson: Anything I say you will twist in your usual twisted way. The fact of the matter is that Duncan Sinclair will tell you there's no political interference. His credibility is higher than anybody's on that side of the House with respect to health care. He and his commissioners get paid $1 a year. They have busy lives. They are systems and health experts, people who know a great deal about what the patients of Ontario need, and they're helping to redesign and restructure our health care system. They're doing that to assist the province, to make sure we have a better health care system with modern hospitals, the latest technologies and the newest drug therapies.

You can ask the commission all you want about its communications with this government. Our communications are made public. Yes, our minister responsible for francophone affairs has made comments to the commission; yes, the women's minister has; and the --

The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Thank you, Minister. Final supplementary.


The Speaker: I'll remind the members that when I stand you must take your seats. The time limits are very strict and they're given equally. I would ask members from both sides that when I'm standing you must take your seats.

Mr Kennedy: The people of Ontario are very disappointed, I'm sure, to know that the Minister of Health doesn't recognize the gravity of the situation. The hospital being closed in my riding, Northwestern, does not have a cabinet minister to advocate on its behalf. Minister, this is your commission. You retain its powers; its integrity rests with your actions. You have a minister, one of your colleagues, who has influence over this commission, expressing this clear statement that he has influenced the outcome of this commission as well.

You can't have it both ways. Are we to believe that this commission is independent? Are we to believe the commission for conflict, which says, "Parliamentary convention prohibits all ministers from personally appearing or advocating on behalf of a private party with any agency, board or commission"? We're sorry you haven't read that and you're not aware of it, but we're very interested in your conduct of your affairs and how you advocate in cabinet for the independence of this commission. Which is it going to be? Does the minister resign or is this commission, which is supposed to be at arm's length from cabinet, compromised, and will you admit that here today?

Hon Mr Wilson: Anyone in Ontario -- and I defend this right on behalf of our parliamentary process and our democratic process -- has the right to make a submission to this commission. The real shame here is the speaking out of both sides of their mouths on the opposition side of this House. You didn't do anything responsible in this process. You don't really care about these hospitals. You are sitting on the fence with respect to this issue. You made no recommendations at all to the commission. The real shame here is that Liberals and the NDP --


The Speaker: Opposition members, please come to order. Minister of Health.

Hon Mr Wilson: The question is appropriately addressed to the commission itself. I encourage the honourable member to walk across the street and talk to Dr Duncan Sinclair. He and the chief executive officer, Mark Rochon, and any of the commissioners, have consistently said there is no political interference.

The real shame is the opposition parties didn't participate in the process. They're trying to have it both ways with respect to hospital restructuring. They go into communities and say, "Yes, we're in favour of getting rid of waste, duplication and that, but don't touch this hospital," depending on what town they're in. Then they go on another TV or media program and say, "Yes, we've in favour of" --

The Speaker: Thank you, Minister of Health. New question.



Mr Dalton McGuinty (Leader of the Opposition): My question is for the Minister of Education. Minister, I want to raise with you a very important issue. This morning's paper reported that you said you "could follow Quebec's lead in replacing its religion-based school system if Ottawa allows the required constitutional change," and the direct quote from you is, "It would be something we would consider, obviously, in light of constitutional changes with Quebec."

Minister, you should understand, as Minister of Education in Ontario, that this statement sent shock waves around the province, particularly for the parents of the 600,000 students enrolled in Ontario's separate school system and for the 35,000 teachers employed in that system. I'm going to give you the opportunity now to tell us whether or not you fully support the publicly funded separate school system in Ontario.

Hon John Snobelen (Minister of Education and Training): I want to thank the Leader of the Opposition for the opportunity of clarifying the record. Let me be very clear: This government does not intend to seek a constitutional amendment and we have been consistent on that point from the time of forming this government. I did, yesterday, use the term "consider"; you're quite right. Certainly, given the broad interpretation of that term, I regret using it and I have called members of the Catholic community this morning to apologize for whatever concern I might have caused them, however briefly. I have made those calls and will continue to do so today to make sure there is no one concerned or confused about the commitment of this government to the constitutional rights of the Catholic community.

Mr McGuinty: The problem you face, Minister, and I'm sure you well recognize this today, is the problem with respect to your credibility. I think what we had yesterday was another peek into the workings of the mind of John Snobelen. It was another peek we had, not dissimilar to the one we had when this minister said behind closed doors that it was important we first create a crisis in education in Ontario.

There have been some constitutional discussions, both within Quebec and in Newfoundland. I want you to go on record now and ensure Catholics in Ontario that those discussions are academic in so far as you're concerned, and that no matter what goes on in any other province with respect to some new constitutional arrangements, your support to a publicly funded separate school system in Ontario is unwavering and undying to the end.

Hon Mr Snobelen: With all due respect to the Leader of the Opposition, I believe I've answered that question.

Mr McGuinty: You didn't answer the question, Minister. I'm going to give you another one.

Your government has expressed a fondness from time to time for referenda as an instrument by which you can introduce public opinion into the shaping of public policy, but there again you've got a credibility problem. The change that was instituted in Newfoundland was instigated by way of a referendum. I want to ask you again, on behalf of separate school supporters in Ontario, I want your assurance, that it is not polls and it is not the results of any particular referendum which is going to dictate how you deal with the right enshrined in the Constitution Act, the right recognized by Premier Bill Davis, the right confirmed by courts in Ontario and Canada, that Catholics in Ontario are entitled to a fully publicly funded separate school system, and that no polls and no referenda are going to alter your commitment to that right.

Hon Mr Snobelen: I believe I've answered this question fully and I believe the assurance I've given to the Catholic community this morning to relieve any concerns they might have had was well received. I also believe the track record of both this government and this minister on this file is consistent and is informative to the whole community, so I have answered this question.

The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): New question.

Mr Bud Wildman (Algoma): I have a question for the Minister of Education and Training. It follows on from the question of the Leader of the Opposition. The minister talks about his track record. It's not just the statement in this morning's newspaper. Last Friday the minister told the annual conference of the Ontario Separate School Trustees' Association, "If we have a Catholic education system, let's make sure the system is Catholic."

When you put that statement along with the quote in the newspaper this morning, that "obviously, in light of the constitutional changes with Quebec" this government might consider changes to a linguistic-based system rather than a sectarian-based system, can the minister explain where he is actually at? What do these statements really mean? What is his position and what is the position of the provincial government?

Hon Mr Snobelen: In answer to the question from the member for Algoma, I'll again be as clear as I have been all along on this subject. He can rest assured and other people in Ontario can rest assured that this government is not considering a charter amendment or any other method of eliminating the separate school system in Ontario. We are not.

Mr Wildman: I think I understand what the minister is saying now. He's taking his foot out of his mouth. But could he please explain what he meant on Friday: "If we have a Catholic school system, let's make sure the system is Catholic." Surely that is for the Catholic community to decide in line with the curriculum directives of the Ministry of Education and Training. It's not for the minister to decide whether or not the system is Catholic. What is the minister's view in this regard?

Hon Mr Snobelen: Once again, I believe I've made this position clear today. I've already said, and I'll repeat if it pleases the member for Algoma, that I regret the use of the word "consider" yesterday and that I have in fact apologized for any concern that might have caused the Catholic community today. I think I've made that very clear now twice in this House and I hope the member for Algoma will accept that.

Mr Wildman: I'm still seeking the minister's clarification on Friday's comment: "If we have a Catholic education system, let's make sure the system is Catholic." Who decides whether it's Catholic enough? Is it the Catholic community? Is it for them to decide how the Catholicity of the system is safeguarded or is it the minister who decides and determines how that is to be decided? Who decides? What is your position? Is the Catholic system Catholic enough and are we to have a Catholic system or a linguistically based system?

Hon Mr Snobelen: I compliment the member for Algoma on the clever twisting of that phrase and the clever use or attempted use of some inference that obviously was not in that statement. I can say this to the member for Algoma, and I think he probably realizes this: In my communications with the Catholic community over the course of the last number of months we've been working together to help make sure that the curriculum that's used in all the publicly funded schools in Ontario results in higher student achievement, results in better curriculum and better materials in the classroom. I think that's the common goal of all people who are involved in education in Ontario and that's certainly my goal and our government's goal.



Ms Shelley Martel (Sudbury East): I have a question for the Attorney General. Yesterday my colleague from Welland-Thorold and I were in Windsor and we met with a roomful of families who continue to suffer serious financial hardship because of your closure of the regional offices of the family support plan and because you cut 290 experienced staff.

These were people who used to receive regular support payments before your cuts. Their stories were the same: Their cheques are now late or missing for no reason, because there's been no change in the payor's circumstance, the recipient's circumstance or the employer's circumstance. They cannot get through on the phone lines to the family support plan. If someone is lucky enough to get through, they talk to a different agent every time and have to repeat their story over and over again. The staff do not return phone calls with information they have promised to obtain.

It became clear to us that there has been no positive change whatsoever in the circumstances of these women and children and thousands of others like them. When are you going to admit that your cuts on the backs of these women and children were a terrible mistake?

Hon Charles Harnick (Attorney General, minister responsible for native affairs): Quite frankly, right now the family support plan is able to return 50% of all calls that come into it, compared to 6% that once got through under the former government. We are now disbursing in the family support plan 12% more money to women and children than the plan did a year ago. We are now disbursing $8 million to $12 million on average every week. The Ontario plan processes support payments within 24 to 48 hours, and that's 85% of all payments. I think 95% of payments are processed within 24 hours, so we have make significant progress.

I admit that there are still problems with this plan, as those problems existed going back seven or eight years now, but we are continuing to make improvements and to make the plan work better for women and children.

Mr Peter Kormos (Welland-Thorold): Attorney General, your incompetence and your mismanagement of the FSP has hurt families, it has hurt single parents and it has hurt kids. Kids went without Christmas because of your incompetence. Mortgages have fallen into arrears because of your incompetence. Utility payments have not been made and there have been forced visits to food banks because of your incompetence.

You promised, after you got passage of Bill 82, that it would be proclaimed by January. Bill 103 and Bill 104 were proclaimed on the day they received third reading. You now say, "Some time soon." Your director, though, says, "Not until the fall or winter." Somebody's not telling the truth. Is it you or is it the director?

Hon Mr Harnick: I hope we will be in a position to proclaim this bill very shortly. What we are doing with the family support plan is taking the plan from a plan that had only passive ability to collect money. As a result of that, arrears of $900 million or more have built up over the years. This plan did nothing more under the NDP government than collect money that was already being collected, and it institutionalized those collections.

This plan has not had any active collection ability. We now will have that. We have 30 new means of doing that among which are driver's licence suspensions, reporting to credit bureaus and the use of the private sector collection agencies to help us collect that money. We hope to be in a position to proclaim this bill and effectively deal with collecting debt that the former government totally ignored and allowed to rise to over $900 million that women and children in this province have been doing without.

Mr Kormos: You could have proclaimed the bill in January when you promised you would, and you didn't. By April 24 you still haven't proclaimed it. Your director says it may take until the fall or winter. Kids are hurting, families are hurting, single parents are hurting because you've got money in your bank account that belongs to them that you're not prepared to distribute to them. You go one further and you guess that some $600 million may have to be written off. You're prepared to abandon those families -- that's their money -- to whom $600 million is owed, because you want to clean up a mess that you created on the backs of those very same people to whom that money is owed.

You're a shameful Attorney General. Your handling of the FSP has been a horrible display of your incompetence and your disdain for those families and those kids. How can you dare do this to little kids who depended on that plan for the support moneys that their dads and from time to time moms were paying off their paycheque into the trust of you, a trust you betrayed?

Hon Mr Harnick: The only thing that is shameful is the fact that the family support plan under the NDP government had no active means of collecting money. By the time they finished being the government --

Mr Kormos: But you lied, Charlie. You said January and you lied. You lied to these families.

The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Order. Member for Welland-Thorold, you must --

Mr Gilles Pouliot (Lake Nipigon): I think my colleague is right.

The Speaker: Member for Lake Nipigon, you're going have to withdraw that as well. You must withdraw that statement, member for Welland-Thorold.

Mr Kormos: We spoke to the moms and the kids and he -- I will not retract that. He lied to the families and he lied to the Legislature.

The Speaker: Fine. I name the member for Welland-Thorold, Mr Kormos. Would you please leave the chamber.

Mr Kormos was escorted from the chamber.

The Speaker: The Attorney General.

Hon Mr Harnick: As I was saying, the only thing that's shameful is the fact that under the former government the plan was allowed to accrue debt of about $900 million, and it's a well-known fact that when you do nothing to collect debt and it gets older and older and older, it becomes more and more difficult to collect.

I can tell you that when MAFIA, Mothers Against Fathers in Arrears, asked this government to implement active ways to collect debt, they were sent away and told that the government wouldn't do it. This former government, the NDP, was prepared to allow debt to escalate to $900 million without a scintilla of effort to try and collect that debt, and that's what's shameful.


Mr Dwight Duncan (Windsor-Walkerville): I have a question for the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing. Since the mega-week announcements of January, this government has been negotiating with AMO with respect to the downloading of social housing with respect to the transference of power for social housing. I wonder if you could update the House on those discussions, where those discussions are at, how much the costs are that are going to be associated with it and what actions your government is going to take to ensure that the tenants of public housing in Ontario are protected.

Hon Al Leach (Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing): The discussions and meetings with AMO and others are ongoing as we speak. I had a discussion with the chair of AMO just yesterday to discuss these issues. The social housing issue, as I've stated in this House previously, is an issue that has to be negotiated with the Liberal government in Ottawa, the municipalities and the provincial government. Those discussions are ongoing as well, and hopefully we'll be able to resolve something shortly. I doubt that we'll be able to do it before the federal election that's forthcoming, but I expect to have a response that we'll be able to bring to this House, hopefully before the end of this session.

Mr Duncan: Minister, on February 17, in this House, you stated that the city of Ottawa and the region of Peel supported your efforts. We are in possession of letters from both of them.

The city of Ottawa is saying, and this is a letter addressed to you: "I would like to correct a statement you made in the Legislature on February 17, 1997. As reported in Hansard, you stated that the city of Ottawa had asked the province for transfer of housing responsibilities. This is not the case."

The region of Peel: You were quoted as saying that the Peel regional chair, Emil Kolb, supported this. He did a press release saying that Peel has never asked that funding responsibilities for any aspect of social housing be transferred to the municipal level.

When are you going to quit this shell game and come clean with the costs that you're downloading? We estimate and have produced documents from your ministry that say it's in excess of $800 million and approaching $1.5 billion, not including any funds for future replacement. When are you going to come clean and tell the tenants of public housing what --

The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Minister.

Hon Mr Leach: I can advise the member opposite that the housing authority in Peel asked, and has asked on a number of occasions, to take responsibility for the operation and administration of social housing in Peel, as is the case in Metro and as is the case in Ottawa.

The $800 million is close to the number that's involved with social housing, but it's part of the switch of responsibilities where municipalities will assume services that they are best equipped to administer and operate in exchange for the $5-billion-plus that we're taking off education. As we've said repeatedly, we're working with the municipalities to work out this trade. They know we're going in the right direction. We know we're going in the right direction. All of those issues will be worked out in the next matter of weeks or a couple of months.



Mr Tony Silipo (Dovercourt): My question is to the Minister of Citizenship. Yesterday we raised with you the issue of a leaked cabinet document from your ministry that points out the government's intention and your ministry's intention to "rationalize" programs in your ministry that fall under the violence against women prevention funding envelope.

The programs in question are programs, as you know, for victims of abuse, vulnerable victims who are women with disabilities, immigrants and visible minorities. You will know that in the GTA alone at least two women have been killed by a spouse in the last month. It's important you understand we're talking about victims' programs, programs that would protect women like the two who have been killed.

The question I have for you, Minister, is simply this: We want to know what "rationalize" means. We think it means you're going to cut, and we want to know how much you are going to cut from the victims' programs for women with disabilities and for victims' programs for immigrant women and women from racial minority groups. How much are you going to cut from these programs?

Hon Marilyn Mushinski (Minister of Citizenship, Culture and Recreation): First of all, the document that was referred to yesterday by both the honourable member and the member for Beaches-Woodbine was not a cabinet document. It was an internal document that was intended to be distributed to personnel within my ministry.

Let me assure the member opposite that the rights of vulnerable people are to be protected by this government and we are committed to protecting the rights of all vulnerable people in Ontario.

Mr Silipo: I'm not sure what the minister intends by suggesting the difference between a cabinet submission and an internal ministry document. If it's a document inside the ministry that gives direction to the ministry about how it's going to operate, it's got all the power. In fact, it's even worse because it talks exactly about the same things which we are suggesting, which is that there will be cuts.

Minister, let me just put the issue in a bit of a broader context for you. On January 14, the minister responsible for women's issues said to a coalition of service providers that the funding envelope for violence prevention programs would stay the same. Your own answers and those of your colleagues to order paper questions clearly show us that the funding envelope is being reduced. Your own ministry numbers show that that funding envelope is going to be reduced by some $200,000, and some $4 million or $5 million at least in the overall envelope.

Again, Minister, I would ask you, at least for the part that you are responsible for in your own ministry, come clean with us today and tell us exactly which programs you're going to cut.

Hon Ms Mushinski: I believe I answered the question. This government is committed to protecting the interests of all citizens in Ontario.


Mrs Julia Munro (Durham-York): Mr Speaker, in yesterday's Globe and Mail I read about the federal health minister's trip to Toronto. Apparently he was in town to elaborate on --

The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Who is the question to?

Mrs Munro: The minister responsible for seniors.

Apparently he was in Toronto to elaborate on Paul Martin's promise of money for long-term care. I am wondering, did Mr Dingwall make any contact with you or the Minister of Health or our government to discuss the future needs of seniors in the province?

Hon Cameron Jackson (Minister without Portfolio [Seniors Issues]): I would like to inform the House that we have not received any official correspondence from the federal government with respect to the announcements that appeared in the budget. In fact, it would appear that the citizens of Ontario are going to get more information about the budget if they attend the luncheon of the Metro Toronto board of trade.

What I can share with the members of this House, however, is what we learned from that statement from the minister: that much of this money is going to go into a series of conferences in Nova Scotia, Saskatchewan and Alberta.

It's no wonder that these details at this point in time are sketchy and unclear, given that the government is about to go into a federal election, when the document that generated its reference in the budget, Canada Health Action, makes a very clear reference in it to implementing the recommendations either through tax increases or premium increases for Ontarians. I anxiously await some clarity from the federal Liberal government as to where, if any, money is coming to Ontario.

Mrs Munro: I recall that during the federal budget in February the government in Ottawa announced only $50 million a year for all of Canada for a long-term-care pilot project. At the time you stood in the House and told us that Ontario's share of the funding could pay for only about three days' worth of home care. Have you heard anything more from the federal government about what money will flow to Ontario's seniors?

Hon Mr Jackson: I did make some inquiries, and unfortunately, on behalf of the 1.6 million Ontario seniors, we were not able to get any additional information.

We have established that the federal government has shorted every citizen of Ontario about $2.1 billion. But as it relates to seniors alone, the federal government has walked away and abandoned the New Horizons program, which collectively in Ontario was $4.7 million worth of programs supporting groups like the councils on aging of Ontario, the Elder Abuse Network, the Family Caregivers Support Network and the Older Persons Network. These agencies have lost all contact with their federal funding. The onus now falls on the provincial government to assist these organizations while the federal government undertakes these conferences in Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia and Alberta.

The truth is that the government of Mike Harris is reinvesting and increasing funding for services directly to seniors, and that's why we'll increase the home care budget in this province to over $1.1 billion. That's a $3-million commitment a day. That's a real investment in the future of seniors --

The Speaker: Thank you, Minister. New question.


Mr John Gerretsen (Kingston and The Islands): My question is to the Minister of Finance. I'm asking this on behalf of the thousands of unemployed people we have here in Ontario. I'm asking you to end your squabble with the federal government and sign the infrastructure program. Stop holding up the deal because you object to the federal requirement that municipalities have a say in how the infrastructure funding is going to be expended.

None of the other provinces want the 100% control that you want over these funds. Municipalities know what's best as to the types of infrastructure programs they need for their municipalities.

You know we have a serious unemployment problem in this province. As a matter of fact, currently we are 11,000 jobs down from the way we were last August. In the Common Sense Revolution you promised 145,000 jobs annually. So far you're 197,000 jobs behind.

Why are you stalling a $459-million infrastructure program that will create over 10,000 jobs in Ontario?

Hon Ernie L. Eves (Deputy Premier, Minister of Finance): To the honourable member, obviously he has his facts confused. I signed the agreement on April 16. It's the federal government that has refused to sign the agreement. That's point number one.

Point number two: There are over 600 projects awaiting the federal government's approval in Ontario. Each and every single one of those projects originated from a municipality, an educational institution or a hospital. What do you have against providing those jobs and those projects to the people of Ontario?


Mr Gerretsen: Minister, you know full well that you signed a version before all the details were worked out with the federal government and that you signed a version which was totally unacceptable to the government. Ontario --


The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Member for Dufferin-Peel and the Solicitor General, the Attorney General, member for Durham East, order. Order on this side.

Mr Gilles Pouliot (Lake Nipigon): People are waiting in Parry Sound.

The Speaker: Member for Lake Nipigon.

Mr Pouliot: Well --

The Speaker: "Well" nothing. Order.

Mr Gerretsen: Minister, you know you signed a version that was totally unacceptable to the federal government. Ontario was the only province proposing not to advertise for applications from municipalities and not to draw from a pool of prior applications. It's completely ridiculous not to allow any involvement by municipalities when they put up one third of the money. You wanted your government and your government alone to decide which projects to put forward. No other province wanted that. Why don't we get Ontario working, sign the agreement so 10,000 people in the province can start working on this?

Hon Mr Eves: To the honourable member, every single one of these projects came from a municipality, an educational institution or a hospital, every single one of them.

I might point out to the honourable member that I wrote Minister Massé a letter on January 8. He wrote back on February 4 totally agreeing with everything I said in my letter and said, "All we have to do are sort out some administrative details." The officials did that. I signed the agreement. He now has refused to sign it because he's getting a little heat from his 98 federal MPs, who want to use this as an election slush fund. That's what this is all about.


Mr Tony Martin (Sault Ste Marie): My question is for the Minister of Health. Today you will know there was an announcement made in Sudbury of some $2.4 million out of the northern Ontario heritage fund to the cancer treatment program in the north. God knows we all appreciate it, when you consider the savaging that has gone on over the last couple of years to the health care system in the north.

However, to be fair, it raises some questions that need to be answered. Has the policy, have the terms of reference of the heritage board expanded now to include requests from health care facilities, and if this is the case, are these grants to be annualized? Some of this money announced today was for operating. When can we expect some answers to those questions?

Hon Jim Wilson (Minister of Health): It is good news today, the expansion of services in the north. I think the honourable member is in error when he says it's long overdue. We've put more money in the north in the short period of time we've been in government than a lot of other governments did in their entire terms, including making sure emergency rooms throughout the north -- that was the first thing we did when we came to office, was put in the $70 an hour for physicians so they would be on call to keep some 68 emergency rooms in rural and northern Ontario open. I think the second thing I did in office was to announce the new MRI machines, the new magnetic resonance imaging machines, for the north.

With respect to the details of today's announcement, I will get back to the honourable member as to the breakdown of the money that's coming out of the heritage fund and the money that's being shared with the Ministry of Health. I don't have those details right now, but I'd be happy to provide them.

Mr Martin: You've either missed the question or you obviously don't know the answer. The regionalization of health care in the north, while it in some ways makes sense, in other very meaningful ways, however, will create tremendous problems and challenges for families and patients as they travel great distances for treatment.

In Sault Ste Marie, for example, we have a wonderful oncology program that serves our area, Wawa to Blind River. They're stretched to the limit. They've been told by the northern Ontario heritage board that they do not qualify for funding. Can I go home today and tell them to fill in their application because this government is now funding health care out of the northern Ontario heritage fund pot of money?

Hon Mr Wilson: With respect to cancer services, I'm disturbed to hear that the honourable member feels there's a shortage of dollars for cancer services. We've had a dramatic expansion in cancer services, building on the work of your government, and we have money available. The honourable member is going to have to clarify exactly what he means.

We have operating dollars. We're working with the cancer experts in the province. We'll be making some more announcements in the very near future. Cancer is the top priority of this government. We're funding more money in health care today than in the history of this province. The budget is up significantly; we have money.

Where I've run into problems with cancer with respect to the Hamilton area, where they're only running the machine eight hours a day, we've been able to clear up the entire waiting list by simply suggesting they run the radiation machines one more hour a day, run them between 5 and 6 o'clock, run them past 5 o'clock. We solved a whole pile of problems in the southern part of the province. We'd be happy to look for similar solutions in your part of the province.


Mr Dan Newman (Scarborough Centre): I have a question today for the Attorney General. Last November you announced a blitz initiative to reduce the backlog in the criminal courts in Scarborough. My constituents in Scarborough Centre were pleased with that announcement, and today they continue to have a high level of interest in this very serious issue. People want to know this is being tackled so that there is not a repeat of 1990, when 50,000 cases were dismissed because they were beyond the eight-month deadline to come to trial. People want to know that we are taking action to keep our communities safe. Would you please inform the Legislature of the successes to date in the Scarborough courts?

Hon Charles Harnick (Attorney General, minister responsible for native affairs): I thank the member for Scarborough Centre for an important question. Reducing the backlog is a top priority for me. It has been a long-standing problem and we've finally taken steps to resolve it. We're seeing positive results, particularly in Scarborough, where we have reduced the time it takes for an accused to get to trial from seven months to four months. The number of court appearances that an individual has to make before a case goes to trial has been reduced from seven to eight appearances down to three to four appearances. The number of charges in progress before the courts has now been reduced by 11.2% in Scarborough. These are very concrete results that prove our blitz is working to prevent cases being thrown out because they take too long to come to trial.

Mr Newman: You spoke about the successes, and I'm especially pleased to hear that an accused is now getting a trial within four months, but can you please tell us how these results are being achieved?

Hon Mr Harnick: As I've indicated, we've launched a blitz court in Scarborough as well as the other five most heavily burdened court locations. We have 25 additional crown attorneys, 15 additional clerical people assisting -- law clerks -- and in Scarborough we set up a separate plea court to enable defence counsel and accused to enter guilty pleas more quickly. This has resulted in quicker resolution of cases.

We set up an additional two courts specifically for the blitz, and in May we'll be opening up another blitz court. We've been working closely with the judiciary and the police to find ways to combat the backlog. The blitz is a first step in addressing this problem.

We are also working very hard to identify long-term solutions to the backlog. By clearing the backlog, we will make sure that our communities stay safe and that victims' rights are strengthened. We're committed to this and we're seeing real, positive results.



Mrs Sandra Pupatello (Windsor-Sandwich): My question is for the Minister of Education and Training. We just received the Minister of Finance's latest report on the labour market for youth. It shows 31,000 fewer jobs in the first quarter this year over last year. In fact, Minister, you'll acknowledge we have the highest rate of youth unemployment in Canada found right here in Ontario, the highest it's ever been.

Last week you announced with great fanfare your summer student program. You neglected to mention that last year's was a $59-million program -- these are your figures -- and this year's program is a mere $37.5 million. You've cut over $20 million from the summer student program, this at the time you've raised tuition fees to students upwards of 20% and with the highest levels of youth employment ever. How are students going to pay their tuition come September?

Hon John Snobelen (Minister of Education and Training): To the member opposite, yes, we did announce a matter of a few weeks ago the fact that the Ontario summer jobs strategy would be able this year to help additional students; some 34,000 students will be assisted by the program this year, and we'll be able to do that more efficiently and more economically than we have in the past.

We only have to look back a few years ago to the previous government's last, much-heralded summer program for youth, which spent a great deal more money but provided help for only 23,000 youth. We've added more than 10,000 people to the list of folks helped by this program because youth unemployment is a concern of this government. I'm very happy that the programs we introduced last month build on the success record of the last two years.

Mrs Pupatello: Minister, let's be clear. You're allowing more students to have jobs, each of them working fewer weeks than ever, some as few as six weeks. You're making a significant cut of $20 million and the remaining is spread over far more students, some working as few as six weeks. I don't know how students are going to pay that tuition.

As an example, one of the programs you used to have was the Environmental Youth Corps. This was a very successful program. You claim that your subsidy, which is cut from $2.50 to $2 an hour, is going to be picked up by the private sector. The Environmental Youth Corps used to do jobs like testing water, soil and air pollution levels. This week your environmental commission damned this government because you have failed on these very controls. Who in the private sector is going to step in and hire the 6,200 young people who worked in the Environmental Youth Corps --

The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Thank you. Minister?

Hon Mr Snobelen: The member opposite, somewhat surprisingly, is wrong on two counts.

First, the programs we announced a matter of a few weeks ago include programs that expand the length of time a student can work in the summer, and we hope many students are able to take advantage of that.

Second, the member opposite is wrong on the issue of the support of the private sector. In fact, we did have some pilot programs and test programs that offered a partnership and a cooperation with the private sector, producing very real job experience for young people, something they value and something they need. Those programs were successful, so successful that they were oversubscribed. We're building on those successes this year to help more students in Ontario have relevant and meaningful employment over this next summer. It's just one of the initiatives that this government is taking to address the very serious concern of unemployment with youth. We believe it's a serious problem and we believe we're on the road to helping that problem.


Mr Bud Wildman (Algoma): I have a question to the Minister of Health, following on the question from my colleague from Sault Ste Marie. In light of the announcement today of millions of dollars from the northern Ontario heritage fund for cancer treatment in northeastern Ontario, can the minister clarify the policy for us? Can he explain, even though he approved the 1996-97 operating plan for the Sault area hospitals, which included $1.1 million needed in renovation capital funding for the Thessalon Hospital, why it was that when they applied to the northern Ontario heritage fund for $500,000 to assist with that project they were informed by the fund administrators that it didn't qualify, since it was for health care and not economic development?

Hon Jim Wilson (Minister of Health): As I said to the previous honourable member, I'd be happy to take the question under advisement and I'll report back to the member. I don't have those details right now.

Mr Wildman: I'd appreciate it if the minister would check. I would point out to him that the committee, the Plummer Memorial hospital, which made the application reapplied to the northern Ontario heritage fund a second time, and a second time they were turned down. The criteria for the fund allocation did not allow for funding for hospital renovations and capital expenditures.

You've done it with regard to cancer treatment, which is sorely needed. We also need this in order to implement the plan you approved for the Sault area hospitals. If the money is not going to come from the northern Ontario heritage fund for the Thessalon Hospital, the $1.1-million renovation charges that are required, where is it going to come from? Is your ministry going to put it up?

Hon Mr Wilson: Again, I'd be happy to report back to the honourable member.


Mr Jerry J. Ouellette (Oshawa): My question is for the Minister of Labour. Everyone is aware of the enormous human, social and economic costs related to workplace accidents and injuries. I know the minister announced a new vision for the occupational health and safety system last spring. One year later, I'd like to ask the minister if we're starting to see any results.

Hon Elizabeth Witmer (Minister of Labour): I would simply like to say that we certainly are starting to see some change in the province. Not only are we starting to see a much stronger commitment to health and safety from the individual workplaces, we're also seeing greater self-reliance on behalf of the workplace parties and we're seeing an expansion of concern for health and safety in the communities.

In fact, we have in this province now an organization called the Safe Communities Foundation. Basically it's an organization that is set up by local mayors, councils, service clubs and small businesses. They have initiated in Brockville, they're in Waterloo, they're in Peterborough, and they are working together in order to reduce injury and illness within their businesses. They are striving, I know, in the cities of Brockville and Waterloo to reduce injury and illness by 50% over two years.

Mr Ouellette: The minister points to the growing Safe Communities movement, but community-level action is not enough. I would be interested to know if she sees this same sort of progress in any other area, particularly with our youth, who often go untrained and unprepared into the workforce.

Hon Mrs Witmer: I'm particularly pleased to indicate to you that we have a new young worker awareness program. We have invested $415,000, and as a result, we have the centre and we have the IPA visiting schools, either in classrooms or in gymnasium settings. They're teaching young people about their rights, their responsibilities and also their ability to identify hazards in the workplace. We also have a new training program, we have new training standards, and as a result of the new flexibility and the new sector-specific programs, we are seeing hundreds more people registering for programs than ever before.



Mr Gerry Phillips (Scarborough-Agincourt): My question is to the Minister of Finance. He will recall that on February 5, I sent him a letter outlining the costs that we believe the province is planning to offload on to the municipalities, the extra revenue the province is prepared to give to the municipalities and the costs the province has taken off the municipalities. These numbers were taken heavily from documents from the government but also from talking to municipal leaders. We sent you that information on February 5.

That information, I will say to the people of Ontario, indicates that the province plans to offload roughly $1 billion of costs on to property tax. We said: "Here are the numbers as we see them. Please tell us if they're not right. Send us back information on it." That was on February 5. Can the minister confirm whether the numbers that were provided are correct, and if he disagrees with them, will he table the numbers he has that refute these numbers?

Hon Ernie L. Eves (Deputy Premier, Minister of Finance): As the honourable member is aware, there are several people in Mr Leach's office as well as several other ministers negotiating with AMO and municipalities about the Who Does What exercise right now. I don't participate in negotiating in public. I think the meetings are progressing quite satisfactorily and I'm sure we will come to an amicable solution with municipalities.

Mr Phillips: This isn't some cosy little deal between lawyers about some land or something like that. For the people of Ontario, we're talking about: Are we going to put seniors' homes on property taxes? Are we going to put child care on property taxes? Are we going to put ambulance services on property taxes? Are we going to put all of our young people who require social assistance on the property taxes?

This isn't some private, confidential piece of backroom negotiations going on between lawyers and business people. This is the public's interest. Speaking on behalf of the public, we said, "What are you up to here?" We provided you with our best estimates. We asked the government months ago, "If you don't agree with these numbers, then you provide the other numbers." I would just say that it is unacceptable to the people of Ontario that this is some cosy little deal done in some back room.

Will the minister undertake today to provide an answer to the question that we asked on February 5? Will he undertake to provide that answer, and when will we get that answer?

Hon Mr Eves: This is no cosy little deal. This is a serious subject that's being talked about between elected representatives at the provincial level and elected representatives at the municipal level representing municipalities all across the province. Quite frankly, I don't think you do those municipalities or those municipal representatives any service by referring to them as some cosy little backroom deal. I'm sure that Mr Mundell would not be happy with your description of him or anybody else who's negotiating on behalf of AMO or municipalities in good faith with the provincial government.

Nothing could serve the youth or the seniors of this province worse than the legacy of debt that you two parties left them with: $100 billion, spending more money to service the debt than you spent on all the hospitals in the province put together, spending more money per annum to service the debt than on all colleges and universities in the province put together. Those were your priorities for the youth, but they aren't our priorities.



Mr Michael Gravelle (Port Arthur): The campaign to save TVOntario is growing across the province. We've got petitions from everywhere. I'm speaking on a petition delivered to us from the Thunder Bay Art Gallery. The petition reads:

"Whereas TVOntario has served Ontarians of all ages for more than 25 years with quality non-commercial television that continues to focus 70% of its programming on education and children's programming; and

"Whereas TVO is available to 97.4% of Ontarians and for some uncabled communities is the only station available, making it a truly provincial asset; and

"Whereas TVO continues to work towards increasing self-generated revenues;

"We, the undersigned, petition the Legislative Assembly to ensure that TVOntario continue to be a publicly owned and funded educational broadcaster."

I'm pleased to sign my name to this petition.


Mr Rosario Marchese (Fort York): A petition to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario addressed to Minister Runciman:

"We, the undersigned, believe that helping reduce crime and abuse in our communities is our responsibility as employees of the Ministry of Correctional Services, as professionals in related fields and as concerned citizens;

"Closing institutions which provide specialized services to women and treatment to men does not achieve that goal;

"Physical, emotional and sexual abuse is often transmitted from one generation to the next, with tremendous cost to society;

"Treatment aimed at breaking that cycle must include the abuser so that another generation of children is not raised with the same destructive lessons;

"As Mr Ross Virgo stated, `The Ontario Correctional Institute is a therapeutic community known around the world for their techniques';

"Research statistics support anecdotal evidence that we are effective in changing abusive behaviour;

"A therapeutic community cannot exist in a superprison;

"Save victims and money by keeping what works open."


Mr Bob Wood (London South): On behalf of the member for London North, I would like to present a petition in relation to hospital restructuring.


Mr Mike Colle (Oakwood): I have a petition to the Legislature of Ontario:

"Whereas the Harris government is planning to remove rent controls; and

"Whereas the removal of rent control legislation breaks a campaign promise made by the Conservatives during the election; and

"Whereas a great number of tenants are seniors and people on fixed incomes and may have had their income cut by 22% due to social assistance cuts and cannot afford increases in their rent; and

"Whereas growing unemployment and the scarcity of affordable housing in Metro makes the removal of rent control an even greater disaster for tenants and for people who cannot afford to buy homes;

"We, the undersigned, petition the Legislature of Ontario as follows:

"That the government of Ontario keep their pre-election promise and not remove rent controls, and continue with the Landlord and Tenant Act and the Rental Housing Protection Act."

I affix my name to this excellent petition.


Mrs Barbara Fisher (Bruce): I'd like to present a petition on behalf of some of the constituents of my riding.

"To the Legislative Assembly of Ontario:

"Whereas the government of Ontario is proposing to restructure completely the provincial-municipal relationship without having consulted the people of Ontario; and

"This restructuring proposes to download to municipalities the cost of transportation and such critical social services as welfare and long-term care for the elderly and the chronically ill; and

"Removes school boards' ability to tax, eliminating any effective local control over schools and school programs; and

"The government's actions fail to guarantee existing levels of funding and failure to recognize the unequal ability of local communities to bear the cost of these new burdens, thus producing inequitable access to essential services; and

"Whereas the government's lack of meaningful public consultation and disregard for public response poses a serious threat to democracy;

"We, the undersigned residents of Ontario, because we care about the quality of life in our province and the wellbeing of our children, neighbours and communities, register a vote of non-confidence to the government of the province of Ontario."

I will affix my name to the top.


Mr John Gerretsen (Kingston and The Islands): I have a petition here that is contained on about 500 cards. It's addressed as follows:

"To the Legislative Assembly of the province of Ontario and to the Honourable Michael D. Harris, Premier of Ontario:

"The citizens of Ontario and your Minister of Citizenship, Culture and Recreation agree that this province has one of the great library systems in the world. This system has been built by citizens like me in every Ontario community serving on local library boards, with the decision-making power to promote, protect and create libraries that respond to our own communities;

"I request that you guarantee in your new legislation citizen-majority library boards and free access to all library information resources, the foundation of lifelong education."

It's signed by people such as Mrs Place of Worthington Way, Kingston; Jeanette Knox of Theresa Crescent, Kingston; Doris Kilpatrick of Third Avenue, Kingston; and about 1,000 other residents.


Mrs Brenda Elliott (Guelph) : I have today a petition pertaining to the establishment of casinos in the city of Guelph. It's been signed by about 159 residents of the city. It appears to be in standard form, and I am submitting it on their behalf today.


Mrs Sandra Pupatello (Windsor-Sandwich): This is a petition to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario:

"Whereas summer employment is a necessity to many students to help finance their post-secondary education; and

"Whereas obtaining summer employment may mean the difference between students returning or not returning to school; and

"Whereas summer employment provides work experience necessary for students to compete in the job market after leaving school; and

"Whereas summer employment is a means through which students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds can compete with students from higher socioeconomic backgrounds for education; and

"Whereas summer employment is more productive for students than unemployment; and

"Whereas after threat of elimination, Ontario student jobs programs were drastically scaled down last year;

"We, the people undersigned, demand the Ontario government continue all existing Ontario student jobs programs and invest in expanding and establishing new student and youth employment programs."

After today's response from the minister, I too sign this petition.


Mr Bud Wildman (Algoma): I have two petitions here, signed by thousands of residents of communities all over Ontario in opposition to this government's agenda for education, in particular Bill 104. I support it and I've signed it.



Mr Ernie Hardeman (Oxford): I have a petition I'd like to present on behalf of the member for St George-St David. It relates to public housing. I'll just read the operative clause:

"We, the undersigned, request that the Ontario government sit down with the co-op housing sector to negotiate a deal which will ensure the long-term financial viability of housing co-ops and the continuance of rent-geared-to-income assistance, upon which thousands of co-op members depend, and which will promote greater responsibility for administration by the co-op housing sector and less interference by the government in the day-to-day operation of housing co-ops."


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

"To the government of Ontario:

"Whereas non-instructional staff of boards of education provide an important and essential service to schools in Ontario;

"Whereas the school system functions best, in the interest of its students, when all of its employees work in harmony and coordination and with the kind of expertise that comes with continuity, coordination and experience;

"Whereas Bill 104 encourages the privatization and outsourcing of non-instructional positions and the resulting loss of jobs, cutting of wages and salaries, and removal of employment benefits for people with comparatively moderate incomes;

"Whereas dedicated educational employees are having their lives severely disrupted so that the Harris government can finance an income tax that benefits the wealthiest people the most;

"We, the undersigned, request that Bill 104 be withdrawn and any future legislation not call for the outsourcing and privatization of educational jobs."

I affix my signature, because I'm in full agreement with this petition.


Mr John O'Toole (Durham East): It's a pleasure to present a petition on behalf of Tim Calhoun, one of my constituents:

"To the Legislative Assembly of Ontario:

"Firefighters need speed, experience and teamwork to save lives. I oppose any legislation that undermines the work of my local firefighters and jeopardizes fire safety in my community. Please listen to professional firefighters and amend Bill 84 to eliminate the threat to fire safety."

I'm pleased to present this.


Mr Mike Colle (Oakwood): I've got a petition here from many seniors in my riding on Kirknewton and McRoberts and --

The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): I don't want to know the names. I just want to know what the petition says.

Mr Colle: "Seniors against prescription user fees;

"Whereas the government of Michael Harris has broken another pre-election promise not to impose user fees on health care;

"Whereas the user fee imposed by the Harris government on prescription drugs is causing low-income seniors grave hardship;

"Whereas the vast majority of seniors have worked very hard and payed taxes for decades;

"Whereas seniors are most concerned that this will be the beginning of more and more user fees on health care;

"We, the undersigned, totally oppose the Mike Harris prescription user fees for seniors and petition the Legislature of Ontario as follows:

"That the Mike Harris government place a moratorium on all health care user fees for seniors."

I join the seniors in my riding and I'll affix my name to this fine petition.


Mr Bill Grimmett (Muskoka-Georgian Bay): Rather than read the whole petition, in accordance with the standing orders I'll just summarize it. These petitions outline the matters regarding the spring bear hunt that are offensive to these people and petition the Ontario government to end the spring bear hunt. It's signed by approximately 290 of my constituents and other persons from around Ontario. I understand, Mr Speaker, that you're quite familiar with the petitions to end the spring bear hunt, so I'll submit it today.


Mr Richard Patten (Ottawa Centre): I have a petition regarding protecting educational services in Ontario that reads as follows:

"To the Legislature of Ontario:

"Whereas the Harris government is proposing detrimental changes to educational services in Ontario; and

"Whereas the government's obsession with the fiscal bottom line will result in reductions in the quality of education services for our children; and

"Whereas inclusive and open consultation on education reform has not taken place;

"We, the undersigned, petition the Legislature of Ontario as follows:

"That the government of Ontario reconsider its direction in terms of education policy and that they halt any further changes to the education system until a thorough and inclusive review has taken place."


Mr David Christopherson (Hamilton Centre): I have a petition from the Ottawa area, Nepean, Gloucester, Belleville, all through that area of our province, and it reads as follows:

"To the Legislative Assembly of Ontario:

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

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

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

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

"Therefore 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."

On behalf of my caucus colleagues, I add my name to theirs.


Mrs Julia Munro (Durham-York): I have a petition pertaining to health care funding signed by approximately 30 of my constituents from Stouffville, Keswick and Sutton. It appears to be in the standard form, and I'm submitting it on their behalf today.


Mr John Gerretsen (Kingston and The Islands): I have a petition here that's submitted by Mrs Sharon Strickland of 5 Carruthers Avenue in Kingston, and it states as follows:

"To the Legislative Assembly of Ontario:

"Whereas the government of Ontario is proposing to restructure completely the provincial-municipal relationship without having consulted the people of Ontario; and

"This restructuring proposes to download to municipalities the cost of transportation and such critical social services as welfare and long-term care for the elderly and the chronically ill; and

"Removes school boards' ability to tax, eliminating any effective local control of schools and school programs; and

"The government's actions fail to guarantee existing levels of funding and fail to recognize the unequal ability of local communities to bear the cost of these new burdens, thus producing inequitable access to essential services; and

"Whereas the government's lack of meaningful public consultation and disregard for public response poses a serious threat to democracy,

"We, the undersigned residents of Ontario, because we care about the quality of life in our province and the wellbeing of our children, neighbours and communities, register a vote of non-confidence in the government of the province of Ontario."

I have affixed my signature to it and have filed it.


Mr David Christopherson (Hamilton Centre): A petition to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario:

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

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

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

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

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

I add my name to theirs.



Mr Floyd Laughren (Nickel Belt): I beg leave to present the 36th report of the standing committee on government agencies.

The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Does the Chair wish to make a brief statement? No?

Pursuant to standing order 104(g)(11), the report is deemed to be adopted by the House.




Mrs Witmer moved second reading of the following bill:

Bill 99, An Act to secure the financial stability of the compensation system for injured workers, to promote the prevention of injury and disease in Ontario workplaces and to revise the Workers' Compensation Act and make related amendments to other acts / Projet de loi 99, Loi assurant la stabilité financière du régime d'indemnisation des travailleurs blessés, favorisant la prévention des lésions et des maladies dans les lieux de travail en Ontario et révisant la Loi sur les accidents du travail et apportant des modifications connexes à d'autres lois.

Hon Elizabeth Witmer (Minister of Labour): Today I am very pleased to move second reading of Bill 99, the Workers' Compensation Reform Act, 1996. With this act we are completing the final phase of the complete overhaul the workers' compensation system. This act reflects the needs of the modern workplace as we move towards the 21st century.

The legislation that we are putting before the House today will create a viable workplace safety and insurance organization. It will be legislation that is able to deliver fair and generous benefits at a cost competitive with other jurisdictions in North America. It will lead to a fully funded system that is not only sensitive to the needs of injured workers but sustainable by the employers who fund the system and provide the jobs.

The Workers' Compensation Act was introduced 82 years ago. Since that time the act has been amended on numerous occasions and, as a result, today it is a confusing patchwork that bears little relation to the changing nature of work or the changing nature of workplace injury and illness.

Certainly, as labour critic from 1990 to 1995, I observed the problems at the board. The most significant problem facing the board then and now is the issue of the huge unfunded liability. It was projected to reach over $18 billion by the year 2014 if no action was taken. Today, the unfunded liability stands at $10.4 billion. This figure is three times greater than the unfunded liabilities of all of the other provinces combined. If you take a look at the size of the unfunded liability in another way, you will see that each employer, when he or she hires a new employee, becomes accountable for more than $4,000 of the unfunded liability. Clearly, this $10.4-billion unfunded liability is a hindrance to job creation in Ontario.

High assessment rates are another problem, and unfortunately they negatively affect Ontario's competitiveness. At $3 per $100 of payroll, our rates were the second highest in Canada, next only to Newfoundland's. Unfortunately again, this high payroll tax was not and is not conducive to job creation in this province.

Another problem with the WCB was the fact that the system was not focusing on prevention and injury and, as a result, it was totally focused on providing compensation. Furthermore, when we did have injury and illness occurring in the workplace the system did a very poor job of effecting a safe and timely return to work, and each year we continue to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on vocational rehabilitation and other such programs, with little or nothing to show for it.

Finally, for any of us who have dealt with the WCB, whether we are employers or employees, whether we are injured workers or MPPs who try to access the board on behalf of our constituents, we know that in the past customer service has been poor and it has lacked coordination. Clearly, the board and its agencies are in need of reform in this area as well. We must provide good service for injured workers and for all other stakeholders who go to the board.

These problems were present when this government assumed office in June 1995. Recognizing the need for change, we took immediate action to reform the system. We disbanded the royal commission. We announced that the Workplace Health and Safety Agency would be integrated into the WCB as part of our plan to develop a coordinated vision and strategy for the WCB. This meant that the board assumed responsibility for promotion, training, certification and employer accreditation.

We also quickly passed Bill 15, which replaced the bipartite board of directors with the multi-stakeholder model which introduced annual value-for-money audits and strengthened the board's ability to deal with fraud and revenue loss, losses that amounted to approximately $164 million last year. Of course when we talk about fraud, I think it's important to point out that we're talking about three different types of fraud: We're talking about employer, employee and supplier fraud. That's what was costing us the approximately $164 million last year.

Most important, with Bill 15 we started the move towards making the WCB responsible for health and safety by clearly pointing that out in the purpose clause. For the first time, there was an obligation placed on the board to focus on health and safety.

Since that time we have appointed an experienced and capable board of directors under a new chair and we have brought in a new CEO. They ensured that, as of January 1 of this year, our commitment to reduce the average assessment rates by 5% was fulfilled. That reduces the average assessment rate in this province to $2.85 and that is the lowest assessment rate we have seen in 10 years.

The board has also approved a plan to move all rate groups to their targets and they have announced a new organizational structure that, for the first time, places an emphasis on workplace safety. The board has also begun to improve customer service and it has established an experience rating program for small businesses that are participating in the Safe Communities program. At present we have three communities in Ontario that are participating in the Safe Communities program -- Brockville, Waterloo and Peterborough -- and we know there are 10 other communities that are anxious to get involved and reduce the incidence of injury and illness in their communities and within their businesses.

Finally, after extensive consultations, the member for Burlington South last summer delivered a report on the WCB's future.

This, then, is a very brief summary of the actions that we have already taken to reform our workers' compensation system. I now want to turn to the substance of Bill 99.

The reforms in the bill are based on five principles:

First, restoring the financial viability of the system by retiring the unfunded liability by the year 2014;

Secondly, we want to refocus the system as an insurance plan for workplace injury and illness;

Third, we want to focus on the prevention of injury and illness in the workplace, first and foremost;

Fourth, the safe and timely return to work when injury or illness does occur; and

Fifth, we must encourage the workplace parties to be more self-reliant.


I would now like to explore these five principles more fully, beginning with the restoration of the financial viability of the system. As I have indicated, our reforms will enable us to meet the target of retiring the unfunded liability by the year 2014. This is a goal which other workers' compensation boards throughout Canada have set for themselves. In fact, they are far ahead in that regard and we will simply be one of the last to accomplish that goal.

We are going to accomplish that goal in a number of ways. We are going to keep our commitment to adjust benefit levels, as other provinces have done, from the current 90% of pre-injury net earnings to 85%. Similar adjustments have already been made in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. However, our adjustment is certainly more fair in many respects, since in some other jurisdictions it has been reduced to 75% and 80%. Ours are certainly among the most generous in Canada today.

However, I want to just remind everyone that those individuals who were injured prior to the bill coming into force -- and probably that now will not be until January 1, 1998 -- will continue to receive the benefits at the current 90% level. Workers injured before 1990 who receive lifetime pensions will keep those pensions. They will also keep the $200 top-up introduced by the previous government.

Second, inflation protection for all but the most vulnerable workers will be adjusted. This was begun by the previous government. In fact, the NDP plan was projected to save $18.1 billion by the year 2014. However, again I want to remind everyone that this adjustment will not affect the 100% disabled or the survivors of deceased injured workers.

Third, the proposed reforms will ensure that workers injured on the job receive benefits that are consistent with the loss of income they actually experience because of their injury. As a result of the changes, the board will be required to establish the existence of a permanent impairment before it can award a benefit for future loss of earnings due to the injury. Under the bill, the board would have greater flexibility in reviewing earning loss benefits during the first six years after the injury to make sure that the benefits reflect actual lost income. The changes also give the board the flexibility to take into account the patterns of a worker's earnings in calculating the basis for determining benefits payable.

To restore financial viability, we have balanced the legislation and we have also taken a look at the revenue side and we have made the appropriate changes. Under our legislation, employers will pay their fair share of the costs of the system. For example, to recover unpaid WCB debts from employers who close their operation or who leave the province, the WCB, when the act is introduced, will be able to levy assessments against employers as security. The board will also be able to hold a purchaser liable for the debts of the previous employer. This change is targeted at those employers who reorganize their businesses to avoid outstanding WCB debts.

These are but two of the measures we are proposing to stop revenue leakage. They ensure that the honest employers in this province do not continue to subsidize those who are not paying their fair share.

Second principle: the refocusing of the system. We want to restore the system to its original mandate as a workplace accident insurance plan. Bill 99 addresses the fact that in recent years the system has moved beyond its original mandate. In the past number of years, compensation has been paid for conditions whose connection to the workplace is often difficult to determine. Chronic mental stress is an obvious example. That is why compensation will be provided for stress, in the future, when the bill is passed, when it results from a traumatic workplace incident. Similarly, compensation for chronic pain will be limited to the normal healing time, which will be detailed in a forthcoming regulation.

The problem extends beyond benefits. The system as a whole has become too large, too complicated and too cumbersome. There are five agencies related to workers' compensation, including the Occupational Disease Panel, the offices of the worker and employer advisers, WCAT and the Workplace Health and Safety Agency. As I indicated to you, the agency has already been disbanded and its activities integrated into the WCB. We are going to be restructuring and refocusing these agencies in order that we can provide more efficient and effective service to the stakeholders.

Third, the principle of our reforms is the prevention of workplace injury and illness. Certainly, for me that is the most important principle. Our goal is to make Ontario workplaces among the safest in the world. In order to do that, we need to promote and raise public awareness of the need to prevent injury and illness in the workplace. Bill 99 formalizes and expands the board's injury and illness and health and safety mandate and it gives the board a pivotal role in Ontario's health and safety support system. From now on, the first and foremost function of the board will be not on compensation but on the prevention of illness and injury.

As part of this new focus, the board will act as the focal point for Ontario's network of health and safety partners. These include the safe workplace associations, which are all being restructured, they include the occupational health and safety clinics, they include the labour unions, the employer groups, the professional associations, community organizations, educational institutions and other government departments. The board will work to ensure that all our health and safety partners share a common vision and a coordinated strategy to reduce injury and illness in Ontario's workplaces.

Not only will they coordinate activities, the board will provide incentives to invest in health and safety. We are already seeing this in the Safe Communities program, where the board will be providing rebates to businesses that collectively reduce workplace injury and illness through the safe communities program.

To emphasize the board's new focus on health and safety and its mandate as a workplace accident insurance plan, the name of the board is being changed to the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board.

The fourth principle of our reforms is the record of return to work. We must improve our return-to-work record. Last year we spent over $400 million on various return-to-work programs. Unfortunately, the results have been very poor. Fewer than 60% of the workers on compensation were able to return to work in less than a year, and of those who did return, many were subsequently reinjured. Bill 99, on the other hand, introduces a new return-to-work strategy that will require that the workplace parties work cooperatively in a self-reliant manner. We believe that the workplace parties are in the best position to take these steps and focus not only on return to work but on prevention.


In the new process we're setting up, we would propose the following steps to ensure a safe and timely return to work: The employer and employee must contact each other as soon as possible after an injury and they must maintain contact; an attempt must be made to arrange employment at the pre-injury level of earnings that is consistent with the injured worker's functional abilities; and the workplace parties must cooperate in return-to-work measures that are required and set down by the board.

Collectively, these requirements will serve to maintain the very critical workplace connection in the important early stages of the disability, a workplace connection that we know at the present time is often not maintained.

If, after following the above steps, an injured worker is still unable to return to work with the pre-injury employer, the second phase of the return-to-work strategy occurs. At this point, the board conducts an assessment to determine whether a labour market re-entry plan is advisable. A labour market re-entry plan is a program designed to reintegrate an injured worker into the workforce at a level of earnings that approximates his or her pre-injury situation. The plan will be developed by the board, the injured worker and, where appropriate, the employer and the attending health professional.

But the return-to-work process requires more than cooperation; it will require information on which to base sound decisions. It is important that both the injured worker and the employer have access to relevant, up-to-date information about the worker's functional abilities. That is why an injured worker will be required to consent to the release of functional abilities information to the employer as part of their application for benefits.

I'd like to point out that functional abilities information is not -- and I stress not -- confidential medical information. It will simply describe what is needed to help the injured worker get back into the workplace; that is, it will describe what a worker can or cannot do. A one-page form is presently being developed by the WCB in consultation with health professionals and other stakeholders, and it will soon be released for public comment.

Finally, the fifth principle is increased self-reliance. As I've indicated, this bill recognizes that workplace parties are in the best position to not only prevent workplace illness and injury, they are also in the best position to manage the consequences of injury and illness when they occur. Our changes will encourage employers and employees to assume more responsibility. For example, in the return-to-work process, in the future the board will assume a guiding and facilitating role. It will monitor, it will mediate and it will resolve disputes where necessary. To ensure compliance, the new act specifies that a failure to cooperate in the return-to-work or labour market re-entry process will result in penalties for either of the workplace parties, as the case may be.

These are the key themes underlying Bill 99. This bill represents a balanced approach to reform. As I said at the outset, it is not only sensitive to the needs of injured workers but is sustainable by the employers, who fund the system and create the jobs. We will have in this province an insurance plan for workplace injury and illness that operates on sound business principles and continues to deliver among the most generous benefits in North America at a cost that is among the most competitive.

The new Workplace Safety and Insurance Board will focus on the prevention of injury and illness first and foremost, return to work when that is possible, labour market re-entry services when needed, and compensation as required. With this new focus on health and safety, our workers' compensation system will be able to reduce illness and injury in the workplace. It will make our workplaces safer. It will make them more productive and more competitive. As a result, there will be recognition that our workplaces in this province are safe, and it will lead to more investment and job creation.

I am honoured to have this opportunity to participate in today's debate, and I certainly look forward to receiving further input when we have the public hearings during the summer.

The Acting Speaker (Mr Floyd Laughren): It's time for responses.

Mr James J. Bradley (St Catharines): I know that many of the injured workers and those who might be injured in the future are not going to welcome many of the provisions found in this piece of legislation introduced by the minister this afternoon. In fact, on Monday afternoon the St Catharines and District Labour Council will be holding a ceremony in regard to the national day of mourning in Merritt Park on St Paul Street in St Catharines. The ceremony will rededicate the monument to workers who have been killed or injured on the job.

The ceremony is going to be held at 4:30 pm on Monday, April 28, 1997. Unfortunately, those of us who have to be in the assembly will be unable to be in attendance, but certainly our sympathy and words of condolences will be with those who are gathered together. The keynote speaker on that occasion will be the CAW's national health and safety coordinator, Cathy Walker. There will also be a ceremony at 6 pm in Niagara Falls to unveil a new monument. They will be going to the monument site in Niagara Falls shortly after the ceremony in St Catharines.

I mention this because the individuals who will be attending this ceremony are most familiar with the damage which has been done over the years through workplace accidents that have happened. Everyone strives to make sure these do not happen. In fact, no one wants to have to file a claim with the WCB, neither employers nor employees.

There is a concern among many of the people who will be at this ceremony that some people may be rushed back into the workforce and suffer a recurrence as a result, meaning that person is going to be detrimentally affected and, of course, consequently the employer will be as well.

No one is quarrelling with the fact that there have to be some efficiencies in the operations of the Workers' Compensation Board, but we feel there are many provisions in this bill which will not accomplish that which we are seeking.

Mr David Christopherson (Hamilton Centre): The minister said at the conclusion of her remarks that she was honoured to make this presentation and to present this bill. I would say to the minister that she ought to hang her head in shame for introducing this bill and for what it does to injured workers, just like the rest of your anti-worker agenda that's now there for us to look at, that puts the lie to the argument you make that this is going to be better for workers.

I find it interesting that two of my Tory colleagues are laughing at this point, the member for Hamilton Mountain and the member for Wentworth East. We'll see how much you two are laughing when the thousands of injured workers and other workers across our community of Hamilton-Wentworth come to you and ask you how you defend this attack on injured workers. We'll see how proud and honoured you feel to respond to those workers as they turn out, and I guarantee you they will turn out.

This minister talks about the fact that this is all about dealing with a fiscal crisis and putting the fiscal house in order. Just like your 30% tax cut, where you say the debt and deficit is the priority, how do you justify taking $6 billion out of the pockets of injured workers and giving it back to employers who owe that unfunded liability in the first place? How do you square that with the fact that you're gutting the rights of injured workers in this plan? That's what this is all about: taking $6 billion and putting it back in the pockets of the people who (a) owe that money in the first place and (b) have no further need of breaks because you've already given them all the breaks they should ever hope for from any government.

You talk about fairness, Minister. When we get a chance to go into this bill, you and your colleagues had better be ready to explain why, if you think fairness is so important, you took fairness out of the purpose clause. It no longer says "fair compensation"; it just says "compensation." You don't care about fairness; you care about taking care of your friends. These hearings will prove it.


Mr Ted Arnott (Wellington): I am pleased to reply to the Minister of Labour's presentation this afternoon. I would say to the member for Hamilton Centre that we appreciate your histrionics, but it would be nice if you would extend the same polite courtesy to the Minister of Labour that she always extends to you at all times.

In terms of response to the minister's speech, I would say for my part the primary goals of this legislation appear to be making the workplaces of Ontario safer and putting our injured workers' compensation system on a stronger financial footing so as to ensure that in the future there is money available to fairly compensate injured workers. Third, I would say this bill will encourage job creation, encourage employers to hire, and we certainly need new jobs in Ontario.

I would like to also compliment the Minister of Labour on her detailed and comprehensive explanation of the rationale for the bill. I think all reasonable people who will hear her explanation will be very satisfied with the effect this bill will have. I look forward to the debate that will take place in this House and perhaps to participating in the hearings, who knows?

I would also like to compliment the minister on the fine work she does as Minister of Labour, as well as her involvement in all the government's legislation at the cabinet level, and certainly her work as the member for Waterloo North. Her constituents are indeed very, very fortunate to have her here, as are all the citizens of Ontario.

Mr Mike Colle (Oakwood): I just hope there are extensive public hearings throughout the summer on Bill 99. I think it's critical that there be input right across the province because this is going to affect workers, ordinary people right across the province, in every city.

I know this government has spent a lot of time and a lot of legislation almost scapegoating workers, scapegoating ordinary people, and helping to reward their rich friends with tax cuts etc.

I guess the most difficult thing to accept about this bill is that again the most vulnerable people, injured workers, people who through no fault of their own have been injured in the workplace, will be cut. Their benefits will be cut. Will their rents be cut? Will the cost of food and the cost of clothing be cut? Will these costs be cut? No. But now their benefits will be cut. It's another attempt to download on to those who can't afford it, another hit from this government which just cares about pleasing their rich friends.

The minister is going to have to convince the workers across this province that she isn't just listening to the backroom whiz kids, the backroom tiny Tories who are trying to manipulate this province at the expense of ordinary people. That is what we're looking for. We're looking for the minister to explain why she's cutting these workers who have been injured. That is what the people of Ontario are saying. They're saying to the minister: "How can you justify cutting us who have been injured? The minister and her friends in the cabinet may be well off. They don't care, but we care what's happening to our little, meagre pension."

The Acting Speaker (Mr Bert Johnson): The member for Waterloo North has two minutes to respond.

Hon Mrs Witmer: I'd just like to briefly indicate to you that I was pleased that in the city of Hamilton and in Windsor there were two editorials which indicated and supported the need to overhaul the WCB. In fact, the editorial in the Hamilton Spectator says: "There will be some loss of benefits for injured workers, although the size of the reductions is not as brutal as made out by opposition critics. Benefit levels will be cut from 90% to 85% of a worker's net pay, consistent with trends in other provinces such as Nova Scotia and New Brunswick."

I'd just like to indicate as well that the Windsor Star indicates: "Clearly the time has come for change, and clearly the system is dysfunctional. Both the NDP and Liberals, under different circumstances and regimes, were eager to point out the many failings of the WCB."

It indicates here: "If the WCB were a model of efficiency, the hue and cry against these proposals would make sense. But the millions misspent on rehabilitation programs, buildings and administrators is well documented, and the WCB has been sharply criticized for years."

Then I think this is the most telling: "That suggests people are more interested in protesting than participating in the overhaul of an antiquated system. We believe that's counterproductive to everyone."

As I simply want to indicate one more time, it has long been known by governments of all political stripes that the WCB is in trouble. We know it has not served injured workers well. It's not serving employees and employers well. What we are endeavouring to do here is to ensure that there is a system in place which will provide fair and generous benefits for injured workers not only today but into the future.

The Acting Speaker: Further debate?

Mr Richard Patten (Ottawa Centre): Mr Speaker, I wonder if I could ask for all-party consent to share the time with the member for Oakwood.

The Acting Speaker: Is there unanimous consent to share the time? It is agreed.

Mr Patten: Thank you, Mr Speaker.

I listened very intently to the minister's speech today. I look forward to reviewing it in hard copy and reviewing some of the comments she made.

This is a very important bill. It's a bill that has been in the works for a lot of time, and I know the minister herself would have been anxious to bring it forward even earlier than this particular date.

I want you to know I'm particularly pleased to take part and to participate in this debate today because I believe there are many concerns and many issues that are of particular importance to those who are in great need. I see the dismantling of some of the key supports for some people in Ontario society, and the consequence of offloading on to other systems and ultimately on the people we have pledged to support in illness or in injury or, unfortunately, in death.

I'd like to briefly take a historic perspective of the principles of the WCB, because I think it's always worth looking at where we have come for a system that has been there for many years -- over 80 years in fact.

Workers' compensation was founded on the premise of justice and humanity. The system was based on four principles. One was no-fault, which was compensation payable regardless of who was at fault. Second was the duration of disability: compensation payable for as long as the worker's disability lasted. No injured worker should need to rely on welfare or on charity in order to be able to survive. The third principle was independent administration -- I reiterate that, independent administration -- managed by a board accountable to the government and independent from employers. Of course the fourth principle was that it would be employer-funded. All costs would be paid by employers, because naturally they profit from the work and are protected from lawsuits, and no contributions from workers or taxpayers.

The WCB's motto was "Justice speedily and humanly rendered." We may see things happening more speedily with this legislation, but will it be justly, fairly and humanly rendered?

There's no question that the nature of work today has changed. With automation and globalization, it's a very different workplace in many respects than it was 80 years ago. We are seeing a dramatic shift from an old to a new paradigm, but to our Liberal way of thinking, justice and humanity remain timeless and are universal principles.

I want to tell you what we do not believe. We do not believe that benefits and indexation cuts from injured workers and pensioners are consistent with justice and humanity. We do not support reducing the purchasing power of workers with long-term disabilities. We do not support the mandatory release of confidential medical information to employers without first seeing the form. We do not support removing chronic occupational stress claims from the jurisdiction of the board and restricting eligibility for mental stress. We're anxious to see the regulations dealing with chronic pain and particularly its definition.

We also do not support across-the-board premium reductions to employers, which took effect January 1, 1997. Although not part of Bill 99, parenthetically, a Liberal government would not have done so. We recommended freezing premiums paid by employers. We are not convinced that the financial situation of the WCB is as serious as the minister and the former minister responsible for the WCB claim it to be.


As a responsible opposition, I want to highlight what we do support. We do support the concept of timely return to work for injured workers, since this benefits everyone, the employers, the employees, the community as a whole. We do support reducing the unfunded liability of the board but not on the backs of injured workers without other concomitant initiatives on the revenue side such as seriously addressing the unpaid and uncollected premiums. The minister says that she will introduce some measures that will improve the capacity to go after those unpaid premiums, and of course there are hundreds of them, if not thousands, out there. We'll be looking forward to this and we'll be hearing from groups in that particular regard.

The minister has stated on numerous occasions that the government's goal is to make Ontario's workplaces among the safest in the world, and of course, who would disagree with that? It's a laudable goal and we support this goal. However, we are sceptical that perhaps around the corner is a hidden agenda. It would appear that if certain provisions in Bill 99 are not changed, injured workers and pensioners, one of the most vulnerable groups in our society, as we all know, will be paying the lion's share of the WCB contributions towards a tax cut which, as we all know, benefits the most wealthy and the richest in our society.

We make this assertion because the Common Sense Revolution promised, "WCB premiums will be cut by 5%." The reduction of premiums for employers was indeed announced January 1 of this year, which amounts to, as was said by my colleague from Hamilton Centre, in the neighbourhood of $6 million.

Mr Colle: Billion.

Mr Patten: Billion dollars. I'm sorry.

Dealing with the title change, we understand that replacing the title of the Workers' Compensation Board with the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board is estimated to cost $1 million. Is this really necessary? We think this is another example of an unnecessary initiative where that money could have been resources that could better be spent in support of an effective system.

We understand that it is to reflect a new integrated focus on accident prevention, health and safety promotion, workplace accident insurance and compensation. I quote, "This legislation has as its number one priority the prevention of illness and injury in the workplace." This is, according to the minister, a quote from Hansard.

With regard to the folding in of the Workplace Health and Safety Agency, while we supported this initiative in our particular campaign, we were curious as to why the minister would choose at this time to fold the functions of the Workplace Health and Safety Agency into the WCB, since this agency was established under the Occupational Health and Safety Act and the act itself is currently the subject of a review. It seems to me this is putting the cart before the horse, that it should have been reviewed first.

The minister stated on February 6, 1997, at the release of the discussion paper on the Occupational Health and Safety Act, which includes plans for province-wide consultations, "A modernized Occupational Health and Safety Act will help us achieve our goal of making Ontario workplaces among the safest in the world." The minister also stated, "This legislation has as its number one priority the prevention of illness and injury in the workplace."

Why then is the minister so anxious to get through second reading of this particular bill and to have it come into law? We know of course that the date originally was July 1. Because of other legislation, all the mega-week bills, this one was sidelined. The new date, we understand, is January 1, 1998. But the timetable for the review of the Occupational Health and Safety Act, with the extensive consultations, will be concluding in early May, and it seems to me that we have time to listen to what is happening. But no, the government is moving on this change regardless, so that renders that particular process somewhat moribund.

It would appear then that the termination of the Workplace Health and Safety Agency established under the Occupational Health and Safety Act and the transfer of its functions is a done deal, and therefore it's going ahead anyway. So why go through the charade of having consultations?

Further, we do not believe that part II of the act, "Injury and Disease Prevention," has enough teeth in it to accomplish the primary goal of accident and injury prevention.

Dealing with part I, "Interpretation," the purpose of the act, I note that when the minister introduced the bill at first reading she described the bill as, "An Act to secure the financial stability of the compensation system for injured workers, to promote the prevention of injury and disease on Ontario workplaces and to revise the Workers' Compensation Act and make related amendments to other acts."

But the emphasis at that time seemed to be, and I believe it to be, on the financial side of things. Financial stability is what the minister says, yet the responsibility for dealing with the financial stability does not appear to be a two-way street. In fact it appears to be a one-way street, with injured workers and pensioners paying for it and some employers getting the breaks. This despite the fact that the ministry acknowledges that the number of accidents and the rate of injuries over the past several years in fact has declined.

I note in the interpretation section of the bill, the purpose of the act is "to accomplish the following in a financially responsible and accountable manner." Accountable to whom, we may ask?

"1. To promote health and safety in workplaces and to prevent and reduce the occurrence of workplace injuries and occupational diseases.

"2. To facilitate the return to work and recovery of workers who sustain personal injury arising out of and in the course of employment or who suffer from an occupational disease.

"3. To provide compensation and other benefits to those workers and to the spouses and dependants of deceased workers.

"4. To facilitate the re-entry into the labour market of spouses of deceased workers where appropriate."

We support these stated purposes of the act, but we're concerned that the real priority is to deal with the unfunded liability, and it is our opinion that the need to eliminate the $10.9-billion unfunded liability has been highly exaggerated. We do not believe that the financial viability of the WCB is seriously at stake. Furthermore, the unfunded liability is not a debt. We do not believe that "without intervention in the system," as say the minister and the Jackson report, "the unfunded liability is likely to increase to over $14 billion by the year 2014." We question that.

The 1995 WCB year-end showed an operating surplus of $510 million, but this government dismisses the positive 1995 financial results "as not indicative of emerging new trends that on their own would independently turn around the WCB," as says the Jackson report.

We realize that the government's goal is to have a fully funded system at or before the year 2014 to bring, as they say, fiscal sanity to the board's operations. Obviously we support the reduction of the unfunded liability, but it should not be borne by injured workers and pensioners alone through benefit and entitlement cuts, while giving employers an across-the-board 5% reduction to their premiums. As stated above, a Liberal government would have frozen premiums.

We support measures that make fair adjustments to the revenue side. These include measures to improve unpaid and uncollected premiums. I'll be anxious to see the details of the minister's comments today in that particular area and just how they're going to go about doing that, and to see if there is diligence in going after unpaid premiums, as they are so diligent in examining and looking for welfare fraud. We all agree that to cut down on fraud at all levels is important. One thing we could do to cut down on some costs is forget about the title change. Everybody uses it, everybody knows what it is and everybody understands it.


We also support a rationalization of the target assessment rates for employers so that small businesses in particular are not penalized by rates that are so high they are forced out of business or threatened with closures. We agree with that.

Turning to the workers' entitlements to benefit: We agree that workers should file their claims for benefits under the insurance plan as soon as possible after their injury, but we're concerned about the new requirement for workers to file their claims within six months except, I'm told, in cases of occupational disease, presumably because of the usually long latency period between the time of initial exposure and the onset of disease. We'll be anxious to hear what employers and employees have to say on this issue during the public consultations. I'm sure we'll hear some interesting stories.

We're particularly perturbed by the downloading of costs on to the injured workers currently receiving pensions -- I didn't catch totally what the minister said in her speech but she implied that those prior to 1998 would not be affected by the loss of their pensions to any degree; if that's the case, then I'm at least pleased at that -- and workers who will receive pensions by reducing annual increases to less than half the increase in the consumer price index.

That's one formula. There are a variety of formulas that are being proposed here that we'll have to take a close look at and see how it comes out and who benefits and how it benefits the injured workers who, of course, this agency and this board is designed to help.

Injured workers are now only receiving 90% of their previous net income. The rationale for cutting the compensation to injured workers to 85% of net average earnings from the current 90% is, and I quote this from Cam Jackson, "the principle that no worker should earn more on compensation than from work." I would like to ask: How is 85% of a particular sum, in this case of net salary, more than work which would yield 100% of net salary?

The assumption is that injured workers will always prefer compensation over a return to work, and this is ludicrous. How is this full and fair compensation? More injured workers will now be forced to supplement their compensation payments with welfare, charity or other programs that may be out there. I ask you, is this acceptable? Is this what we want to see happen? We say no, that this is contrary to the basic principles established as far back as 1915 that I referred to when I began my presentation.

Why take a universally punitive approach to all injured workers? What about the impact on families who are dependent upon this income as their only source of family income? This will result in shifting the cost of compensation from employers to our health care system, to our welfare system and ultimately to Ontario taxpayers, although it will be paid out of another ministry.

To quote from the Ontario Network of Injured Workers Groups:

"The poverty imposed on the injured worker and his" -- or her -- "family often results in problems not only in the family, but in the community as well. Marriage breakdown is a common side effect. Social agencies come into play here. Subsidized housing, mother's allowance benefits and OHIP are only a sample of the many programs that are called upon to support this family. There is also a level of crime that goes along with poverty that is another hidden cost.... What about the direct hit on pensioners by reducing their inflation protection? Estimates are that over a 20-year period, they would stand to lose approximately 30% of their income."

We do not support any further reductions to the indexation of the benefits.

Concerning insured employment and injuries and disease: Under section 12 of the bill no benefits for mental stress unless it is an acute reaction to a sudden and unexpected traumatic event arising in the course of employment -- traumatic event to be defined. These definitions become absolutely crucial, because as we all know, they can be defined in such a manner to limit grossly who might benefit and make it difficult for some who justly may be in a position to receive compensation.

On section 13, the restriction on chronic pain: This represents a lesser entitlement for chronic occupational stress and for pain as well. We believe that chronic stress conditions to which work was a significant contributing factor should be compensable on the same basis as any other work-related illness. We grant that it is sometimes difficult; we also grant that it is sometimes not difficult to see the source of someone's illness.

I'd like to quote from a L.A. Liversidge and Associates in their report. They did a report, Bill 99 Review and Analysis of Proposed Changes to the Workers' Compensation Act. It seems to me they make a very important point about the removal of stress claims from the jurisdiction of the board:

"There is an inherent pitfall in the complete removal of chronic occupational stress from legislation, which may open the door for courtroom action against employers. A situation should never arise where the worker can sue the employer for a potential work injury. It is completely counter to the fundamental principles of a no-fault workers' compensation system...yet Bill 99 by removing jurisdiction for stress cases from the board, jurisdiction is provided to the courts.... It would be preferable to set out, in very rigid and strict language, what the entitlement criteria are, but not have legislation that says stress caused by employment is considered non-compensable" -- which in effect, of course, Bill 99 does do.

I share the concern of the panel that such a move would seriously affect their ability to deal with contentious issues in an open and unbiased way.

I'd like to quote from the Occupational Disease Panel. They have some concerns and I'm going to quote from their annual report, which is readily available to everyone. I had a chance to review it and it is a very sound document. The panel says in their annual report:

"The panel has guarded its independence. It has, therefore, been able to make recommendations based on the available data and has not been required to make politically acceptable recommendations. The panel has measured its success by carefully examining the criticisms of its work, and there has been no significant criticism of the scientific foundation of the panel's work. This success is the result of the combination of excellent advice received from international experts and the panel's insistence that all evidence be subject to scientific peer review."


Anyone who has had any contact with the protocols of research knows that is fundamentally a common procedure with any reputable research firm or researcher or scientist. The panel goes on to say:

"There is no evidence to support the claim that an operating department within the WCB would be capable of carrying out independent research or would be able to provide their own governing body, the corporate board, with politically uncomfortable advice. If the government is committed to restructuring the ODP" -- the Occupational Disease Panel -- "the panel is unanimous in the opinion that an independent research function responsible for occupational disease must be maintained. The research department must be able to give advice to WCB based on the best scientific advice available, even when the advice conflicts with corporate objectives. The need for independence from operating departments is critical."

Our Liberal caucus agrees with the panel's assessment of its status.

Further in this particular vein, the Occupational Disease Panel has a particular recommendation for fear of losing its scientific independence, to be able to function as scientists and produce the kind of work it has been able to produce heretofore. They have a recommendation for the government, and I think it is very sound advice. We will consider supporting this when we come to the committee process. The recommendation is that:

"The government establish an occupational disease secretariat which would be administratively linked to the WCB. Within the secretariat there would be an advisory committee which would set the agenda for research and provide advice to the WCB corporate board....

"An occupational disease secretariat would ensure that the advances made with respect to policy development concerning occupational disease recognition would be maintained. It would also continue to provide a solution to the problems concerning occupational disease adjudication and prevention that have plagued the WCB during the first 70 years of existence."

Our caucus recognizes the difficulty in making the causal link sometimes between work and occupational disease and in establishing entitlement for occupational diseases. We are also receptive to the idea of treating occupational disease in a separate manner because it seems to us to warrant that. One such way is through a universal disability insurance proposal which I will refer to later.

Returning to part IV, which deals with health care, in subsection 37(3) and subsection 21(5), workers must consent to releasing medical information to their employer when filing their claim. I always get a little nervous when I see legislation after legislation come back and continually refer to other people having access to their own personal medical files.

The issue of the disclosure of medical records is and has always been a highly sensitive matter. I do not need to remind my colleagues in the House of the recent events in early December last year which forced the Minister of Health to step aside -- actually, it was this year -- pending a review by the Information and Privacy Commissioner: the disclosure of confidential information about a member of the medical profession by a member of his staff. This was a very sensitive issue and the minister chose to step aside until it was reviewed, and it bore out that he indeed was not involved in it -- just to illustrate and underline the great sensitivity related to medical records. You will recall, of course, the heated debate on this issue with Bill 26 and the subsequent amendments that were brought in by the government following the debate that took place and the response of the commissioner of freedom of information and his letter to the government.

While disclosure is "for the sole purpose of facilitating the worker's return to work," who can be certain that privacy concerning the medical record will be protected? As the privacy commissioner said in the postscript to his report on the disclosure of personal information to the Ministry of Health: "A basic truth about privacy is that privacy once lost cannot be regained. Once personal information `is out the door,' there is simply no way of eliminating knowledge of it."

Since the only medical information that a health professional treating the worker is authorized to give the board, the worker and the employer concerns the worker's functional abilities, and the disclosure is for the sole purpose of facilitating the worker's return to work and is on the prescribed form, of course that begs the question, what will the form look like? What will it change? How often can it change? Who can change it? Will it include a rider that states that the information (1) only comments on the worker's functional ability and (2) is for the sole purpose of facilitating the worker's return to work? Will the worker have an opportunity to see the form after completion by the health care professional and prior to its being forwarded to the board or to the employer with his or her approval? What recourse is there for the worker who objects to information on the form, believing that it does not relate to (1) or (2) above or that it may jeopardize his or her chances for ongoing work with that particular employer or perhaps even with other employers?

The careful drafting of the information requested on the form truly cannot be underestimated, as there is great potential for slippage of information which the employer and the board do not need to know. I'm very concerned about these provisions, particularly the potential for abuse, intended or unintended. The fact is that it can do considerable damage to the future of an employee, a worker.

Dealing with universal disability insurance: While it's not the subject of this bill, I'm intrigued by the concept I referred to a minute ago of a national universal disability insurance program to replace the patchwork system we have throughout Canada of federal, provincial and private sector insurance programs. These include the Canada pension plan -- CPP -- disability benefits, employment insurance benefits, the provincial workers' compensation programs, provincial social assistance, long-term disability offered by private insurance plans and in some provinces car insurance plans which cover any individual whose disability is caused by a car accident.

This proposal was the subject of the federal task force headed by federal member of Parliament Andy Scott. The title of their report is Equal Citizenship for Canadians with Disabilities: The Will to Act, which was released in October of last year. Its conclusions were that a comprehensive approach is needed based on some good, sound consultation and collaboration.

"The federal government must take the lead in placing Canada's disability income system on the table for discussion with the provinces and the territories." Of course the province can be a positive party at the table, and must be, if we are to make a contribution along these lines. "The ultimate goals must be to simplify the patchwork and make sure that any new system is comprehensive, financially sustainable, and comparable in different provinces and territories. The government of Canada should approach changes to the disability income system that reflect the following principles:

"Where applicable, disability income programs should provide incentives for people with disabilities to move into the labour market.

"Changes to disability income programs should remove disincentives to employment.

"Income programs should not impede individuals' mobility between Canadian jurisdictions.

"The additional costs that disability imposes on an individual should be treated and compensated separately."

I support some of those recommendations.

"The government of Canada should:

"In the longer term, work with the relevant partners in the public and the private sectors, and with people with disabilities, to reconfigure the existing set of disability income programs, combining earnings replacement and income support functions, and taking into account the tax system and the need to find ways to compensate individuals for the additional cost of disability.

"In its discussions with the provinces regarding the Canada Health Act and social transfers, they should establish the importance of removing the link between income and access to supports and services for persons with disabilities, and introduce the idea of a comprehensive disability supports program with pan-Canadian objectives, principles and values, to provide disability-related supports and services, independent from income programs."


I would hope the Minister of Labour, Minister of Community and Social Services and Minister of Health agree with this direction, this longer-term strategy. As the Ontario Network of Injured Workers Groups said in their submission to the Jackson report: "The real costs of an injured worker who is not working are many. The costs often show up outside of the workers' compensation system. A pension of $200 to $300 per month is obviously not adequate for a single person, let alone a family. Unemployment insurance is usually the first government agency tapped for support, welfare is next, and Canada pension benefits are also used."

I'd like to talk for a moment about vocational rehabilitation. While it's not specifically addressed in this bill, except in section 104, we're concerned about vocational rehabilitation services being privatized. We have received calls and letters from groups that currently provide these services, including the official bargaining agent for vocational rehabilitation case workers at the Workers' Compensation Board, referring to a recent announcement approved by the government-appointed chair of the WCB and the WCB board of directors to reorganize the WCB and to privatize the vocational rehabilitation function currently being carried out within the board.

I'd like to quote a section of a letter that was sent to us by the vocational rehabilitation case workers related to the Workers' Compensation Board. They say:

"As the official bargaining agent for the vocational rehabilitation case workers with the...(WCB), CUPE Local 1750 is incensed at the recent announcement approved by the government-appointed chair..., Glen Wright, and the WCB board of directors, to reorganize the WCB and privatize the vocational rehabilitation function currently being carried out within the board.

"This decision appears to be based, in part, on a report by KPMG. Management consultanting is only one of the services offered by KPMG. They also happen to be in the business of career...counselling, as well as acting as employer representatives on cases pending within the WCB appeals system. KPMG will benefit from their own recommendations.

"This represents a clear and obvious conflict of interest and is tantamount to hiring a private health insurance company to comment on the benefits of maintaining a publicly funded system or, more simply put, asking your mother-in-law to mediate your divorce settlement. Vested interest, or what?

"We all agree that changes must be made to the system, particularly in the area of mandated return-to-work programs with the accident employers. However, there will always be a need to provide vocational rehabilitation to those injured workers who cannot be accommodated with the employer's business. The proposed industry must operate on a profit in order to maintain financial solvency; as such, when faced with a choice between the needs of the injured workers and the pursuit of profit, the question becomes academic."

These case workers are saying that we should review the changes or, at the very least, insist on an unbiased review of vocational rehabilitation within the WCB by a panel representing both labour and industry. I expect that we will hear more from the vocational rehabilitation case workers in our province-wide hearings.

In conclusion, I'd like to say that I'm sure we all agree that the WCB needed to, and has to, get its financial house in order. But of course, as many questions are raised, it comes down to: On what basis and who will pay what? Sounds like Who Does What, a common phrase these days.

Workers' compensation is supposed to be based on balance; it's not supposed to be one-sided. But this is the direction this government is moving towards. We welcome the opportunity to make the board function more efficiently and effectively for injured workers and, by extension, for employers. We all agree that workplace injuries serve no one. Injuries don't serve the employer and they don't serve the workplace, nor do they serve workers who are trying to earn a living for themselves and for their families.

This legislation, however, is not totally to do with that kind of reorganization. We're concerned. We would like to see meaningful reform and we would like to see that this direction of the government deals with a fair and balanced system, but I fear that it has much to do with taking advantage of the most vulnerable people in the province. This bill isn't dealing with fairness or equity, nor is it about balance, the fundamental values upon which the act is based. It's not about total reform. In the final analysis, it comes down to who pays and it's built on an ideological agenda that is designed to blame the weakest in our society for all our problems.

That has been the agenda of this government in many sectors. We have seen it in cuts to our hospitals; we've seen it in cuts to seniors, to our children, to schools; and now you're going to see it affecting injured workers. This will add to the polarization that this government has already sown throughout this province. It has pitted rich against poor, rural against urban, labour against management. There will be real winners and losers in this, but somehow it seems to me that it's the weakest and the most vulnerable who always end up getting the short end of the stick.

I'm looking forward to wide-open public hearings on Bill 99 so that the government will have an opportunity to listen to the people who are most affected by this legislation, the people who this act was meant to serve, both employers and the workers too. This is what the government should have done first, then drafted legislation and then submitted it for further public hearings. I'm happy that we now will finally have the opportunity to travel throughout Ontario and to listen to those people who will be greatly affected by this legislation and those people who we have a responsibility to attempt to truly serve and support.

Thank you, Mr Speaker.

Mr Colle: I want to commend my colleague from Ottawa Centre for his very thoughtful, very constructive comments. He's made a number of suggestions that I hope the minister and her staff will listen to because he has, I think, in all sincerity tried to bring out some of the positive aspects of compensation reform but also some of the failings of this bill. I hope those comments are listened to. I think they were done in the spirit of adding to the attempt to make this a better bill, and I hope the hearings can certainly go forward with that attitude and that it's not just going to be like a lot of the hearings this government engages in that are sort of a perfunctory type of approach. I have faith that this Minister of Labour will take a different tack than other ministries and really listen to the opposition and listen to people affected by this legislation in terms of how this bill could really benefit a greater number of people.

So I want to certainly commend my colleague from Ottawa Centre for bringing forth a number of constructive and very substantive issues that need to be addressed, not only in terms of this bill per se but in terms of our whole attitude towards workplace injuries, subsequent rehabilitation programs, retraining programs, all these areas which are integral parts of the way we look at our society and how it treats workers and how it treats their disabilities which result from workplace accidents. Again, I want to thank the member for Ottawa Centre for bringing those forward in a very constructive way.

The name of this bill, or the change in the name of this bill, perhaps says it all, in that from the Workers' Compensation Board now we're going to a workplace safety/security entity. I think that tells us where this government is coming from. They're trying to get away from their responsibility to the worker, and they're doing it, obviously, not only in this bill but in other bills. They're trying to say, "We're more interested in the workplace." But you've got to put the worker as the central focal point of any legislation and any workplace. In other words, it's the human being who offers his or her work, makes that human contribution, that should be the focal point of legislation.


There are a number of administrative and functional changes this bill undertakes to introduce. But what the bill really does that is contrary to the original intent of this type of legislation, which I guess goes back to the Industrial Revolution in England and in Europe, is that workers were taken for granted. They were looked upon as simple resources that could be replaced, that didn't have to have any type of protection. They were to be used by the owners of the factories and industries for profit.

That's why workers' compensation legislation came up through the years, going back through great philanthropists like Robert Owen in England in the Industrial Revolution who, although he was a well-to-do person, realized there was a great deal of benefit for him and for society if he were to treat workers properly. I think that began a very positive trend over 130 years ago, where even people with money realized that it made good business sense to invest in workers and protect workers.

Out of that context we've come a long way over the last 130 years to improve and protect workers. But I think this legislation almost tries to deny the fact that workers, whether they like it or not, need support, because workers will be injured on the job. No matter what you do in terms of legislation, no matter what penalties you impose, no matter what changes, there will always be human error, technological error, there will always be mechanical failure, there will always be mistakes made in the workplace. That is a guarantee. You can't legislate that potential away. There are all kinds of remedies and perhaps ways of diminishing that kind of impact, but that's always going to be with us. It's an obligation upon government and people who have the good fortune of owning companies, big or small, to ensure that protection stays in place.

Just two days ago a woman came into my office who was very concerned about a number of issues, but she was really concerned about whether or not this province was going backward in time. She said every time she picks up the newspaper there's some other assault on hospitals, on schools, on people. She said she wants to pick up the newspaper and read some good news once in a while. She said, "Is there any way we can make this government stop and listen for a bit?"

She related a story to me about her father, who used to work in heavy construction in Toronto in the 1930s and 1940s. She talked about how she used to dread every time something came on the radio which talked about a cave-in on a construction site. She said the whole family would be sick to their stomach all night long wondering if it was their father, their dad, who was caught in some kind of cave-in on a construction site here in Toronto. When their father came home at 6, 7 or 8 o'clock at night all covered with dirt and mud, they would sigh with relief because they said, "You made it home."

This is the kind of atmosphere that existed and that I think we've improved upon a great deal. We don't want to get back to that, where essentially you're worried about whether or not the workers in your family are going to be safe and, if they do get injured, if they're going to be protected.

This man is typical of a lot of workers, and a lot of families depend on that breadwinner. They cannot be jeopardized, because when you jeopardize them, you jeopardize the whole family. If that father is hurt on the job, or the mother is, that whole family will suffer, especially if there are young children involved. So we're not just looking at workers' compensation protection for the individual, we're looking at the impact it has on that whole family.

Certainly in my riding and many of your ridings, I think, on this opposition side or the government side, there are a lot of people who have given really the best of their youth, the best of their strength, to making this a great province and city. They worked in factories, they worked on construction. I know I've got a lot of them in my own riding with backs that are basically unworkable, in constant pain -- shoulders, knees, you name it. These are people who in good faith gave of what they had, and that is their labour, and they gave it in vulnerable jobs.

I've got a lot of men and women who are in their 50s and 60s in my riding who, through no fault of their own, are unable to work in that field. In fact, they'd love to go back working in heavy construction or in the factory they worked in; they can't. They've gone through attempts to get other jobs and those jobs aren't there. They'd love to get a white collar job or some other easier job; those aren't there. We've got unemployment rates in certain parts of Metro of 20% or 30%, people who are underemployed, unemployed, working part-time. These injured workers would love to get out there and get retrained and find another job, but every time they knock on a door, they're told: "Sorry, we're not hiring. We just downsized. We just laid off people." Especially for people who reach a certain age, there's a great deal of difficulty.

For the minister to say in this legislation, "One of the reasons we're reducing the compensation for people from 90% to 85% is we want to encourage them to go and get a job," I think is really a punitive, regressive thing to do. First of all, the jobs are not there. They want to work, for the most part. They would love to have a reasonable job to replace the job they lost because of injury. For the minister to say, "Those jobs are out there; you just don't want it, so we'll reduce your compensation and therefore you're going to go out there and get that job," is really shortsighted of the minister.

I think it points to the fact that perhaps there is, as some people have said, a hidden agenda, and that is to carve out more money from the vulnerable, from people who are targeted by this government. You don't see this government taking money out of the banks or the big corporations, but it will carve money out of people on social assistance, it will charge user fees to seniors for their prescription drugs, and now it's cutting the measly pension it has for compensation by 5%.

Why is that necessary when this government can afford to give away hundreds of millions of dollars in a tax cut to the wealthiest people in this province? That is what doesn't make sense to ordinary working people. They say, "Why would you cut my compensation, why would you make me pay for user fees for my prescription drugs when I'm sick, yet you can give a tax cut to the rich and the well-do-do?" It just rankles people. I don't know if you ever try to explain that to people, but that is one thing that doesn't fly.

Here we've got people who have been injured on the job, who are perhaps in pain, who can't do what they wanted to do at work and probably are limited in what they can do around the house, and they are rewarded now with less money in their meagre pension. What would they do with that money? They're not going to go off, like the Conrad Blacks of this world, to the Turks and Caicos and Venezuela and Fiji. These are people who with that extra 5% would just buy maybe another pair of shoes, another coat for their kids, or maybe not be in debt as much as they are now; would be able to pay that hydro bill on time. That's what that 5% is.


What does that tax cut really do for the Conrad Blacks of this world? What sense does it make to give that money to Conrad Black and take it away from that injured construction worker? If there's anybody on the other side who could explain that to me, I would like that explained.

Even if you look at the pure economics of it, supposedly you're doing the tax cut because you want to stimulate, to prime the pump; you want to get more money into circulation and create jobs. Well, what do you think that person on compensation does with the money? They go buy the consumer goods. They may go shopping for food. They're also priming the pump. They're also keeping employment in the small stores. They may buy a refrigerator. How many refrigerators can Conrad Black buy? How many trips to Fiji can Conrad Black take? That money Conrad Black and Barbara Amiel spend is not being spent here; it's being spent in London, it's being spent in Fiji. It's not being spent on Main Street, Ontario. At least the injured workers are here in our cities and towns and neighbourhoods. They're the ones who keep the local economy going, because they need to buy food, they need to buy clothing.

Why would you punish them? Why would you take $6 billion out of their pockets and in essence give it to the Conrad Blacks of this world, who don't need government handouts, so you say. That is the crux of this bill that our party is most against: It is taking money away from people who need it most. Their cost of living is not going to be reduced by 5%, the cost of their children's clothing is not going to be reduced by 5%, their heating bills aren't going to go down 5%, yet the minister makes the assumption that they can do without.

I say to the minister, perhaps the bank presidents can do without, maybe the bank presidents should get a 5% reduction. The bank presidents and the corporate élite in this province have profited by the workers, whether it be the bank teller, the factory worker, the construction worker. They're the ones who should be rewarded in this province. This government is spending too much time rewarding the ones who don't need those handouts. This tax cut handout to the Conrad Blacks and the bank presidents is just plain stupid economics and is plain unfair.

Let the workers who are injured get that little bit of spending money so they can keep their dignity. Let the workers keep their pride. Let them be able to go to the grocery store and not worry whether they've got enough money to buy that extra bag of groceries. That is what this 5% reduction in Bill 99 is all about. It's going to take grocery money out of people's pockets -- simple as that.

You've got to equate this bill to fairness. That is what is most unfair about this bill, that it tends to make life much more difficult for people who, through no fault of their own, have been hurt on the job. I know a lot of people like to be judge and jury and say, "That person isn't really hurt," and, "That person is only semi-hurt." But I say to you, if you are unfortunate enough to be injured on the job, who would you want to be your judge? I'm sure it's easy to be a judge, but I say that this across-the-board cut, assuming that everybody can do with less when they are vulnerable and may be unable to find another replacement job, is really unfair.

Now there are going to be added powers whereby the employer can even look at personal medical records. This is an intrusion that is linked to Bill 26, which gives powers -- that's where it brings out the mentality of this government. This government claims to be small government, yet it is one of the most intrusive big governments this country has ever seen.

This government is intervening in classrooms. Now it's going to dictate what education is all about. This government is going to intervene in the whole area of how municipalities are run. This government is going to intervene in hospitals. This government intervenes everywhere you look. This government is in your face. People are starting to say, "I thought you people were talking about less government, less intrusion."

Here, even in this bill, you've got the government giving permission to employers to snoop into medical files. It's no different from the abhorrent powers you gave in Bill 26. That is not something, supposedly, that right-wing, conservative governments are supposed to do, yet you've given this other power of intervention, this other power to employers of snooping into medical records of injured workers. Some employers will not abuse it, but there will be those who will use it to intimidate their workers. You can be guaranteed that certain employers will intimidate their workers by having access to these files. That is most unfortunate for a government that claims to be small government, that doesn't want to get involved in everyday affairs.

We see that this government is on a daily basis becoming more intrusive, more centralized. It's everywhere. You can't get away from Mike Harris. You turn on the television and he's there 24 hours a day. It's just like in 1984, when Big Brother was there with all those television cameras in every room in the world. That is what is happening with this government. Mike Harris and this government feel they can be everywhere and can control everything. People are starting to stand up to that. People are starting to say: "Get out of my bedroom, get out of my classroom, get out of my hospital, Mike Harris. You have destroyed and ruined enough."

Now what is Mike Harris doing? He's giving more power to intrude and make life more difficult for injured workers. How low can Mike Harris stoop that he has to take 5%, $6 billion, out of the pockets of injured workers? Is there a government anywhere in this civilized world that would stoop as low as to take $6 billion out of the pockets of injured workers and on the other hand give that money threefold to the bank presidents and their friends like Conrad Black? That is what this bill is doing and that is what is so outrageous about it.

There is just an impossible attempt by this government to rationalize that they are doing this for efficiency reasons; that they are doing this because the system is broken, is in a disastrous state. It's the classic approach this government uses with compensation that they use with everything else. They have claimed the education system is in a disastrous state. They claim the hospitals and the municipalities are. They claim this province is in a state of collapse.

They're doing this because they mean to demean. They mean to let the public lose confidence in workers, lose confidence in teachers, lose confidence in nurses, so they can go in with their agenda and take money out of hospitals, out of classrooms, and use that money to reward the Conrad Blacks of this world. That is the simple agenda of Mike Harris and bills like Bill 99.

They're out to feed that tax cut monster, which even Ralph Klein, their cousin in Alberta, says is crazy. That's what makes this government crazy. That's what makes this bill crazy. They're crazy to feed that tax cut, which is driving everything this government does. They need to get money from injured workers to pay for a harebrained tax cut that was developed, I think, by Milton Friedman on the back of some envelope or some serviette in some restaurant in New Jersey. That is what is driving this bill, driving this government, driving the ministers. They're told: "Go in there and tear apart the family support program. We need money. We don't care what havoc you leave in its wake. That's fine, just as long as you get the money out. Go into Toronto, rip all the money out of the schools, rip money out of programs in cities. We don't care what the havoc is, as long as we get that money for our tax cut."


Now workers who may have fallen on the job, had something hit them, who may have slipped, who may be suffering from other chronic work-related health problems, are going to be victimized with this unfair reduction in their compensation. This is something that is not fair, is not right, doesn't make economic sense, as I said before, because workers when they spend money create as many jobs as Conrad Black when he spends money, probably twice as many jobs, because the workers at least spend their money on Main Street, Ontario.

Who knows where Conrad Black is today? I'll tell you where the injured workers are today. They're in the cities and towns of Ontario. If they had Conrad Black's money, they would be shopping tonight in the shopping centres in Listowel or in London or in Lincoln. They'd be shopping tonight, spending a little extra money, buying more cheese, buying more shoes, buying another shirt, paying a bill. That's what they would do with this. We know that. But I don't think you've ever seen Conrad Black in Listowel. You'll never see him there. You may read one of his editorials commending the tax cut, but you'll not see Conrad Black buying a pair of shoes in Listowel, Ontario. If you do, I want to be there when he's there. I would like to take a picture of him buying a pair of shoes in downtown Listowel.

In terms of the bill, another part of fairness being removed, the appeals tribunal is now being taken away from the workers. The appeals tribunal was sort of a court of last resort for ordinary workers who could appeal a bureaucratic decision. That is now being taken away from that worker. If that worker feels they've been mistreated, that the information wasn't all-inclusive in their case, they now have to take that to court. They can't go to the appeals tribunal.

That means it's going to be more expensive for a worker to be heard and given that appeal. They can't get it now because the government has closed down another avenue for appeal. You know what lawyers cost, so you're going to ask a person who has been injured on the job, who's probably way behind in his rent payments or way behind in his bills to now have to go hire a lawyer to try and maybe rectify a wrong decision that the compensation board made.

That's what the government is saying: Now you have to go and hire a lawyer to ensure you are heard. These people who will be forced to go to lawyers will be paying more money out of their pockets to pay for lawyers, when they could have had a right to appeal under the old legislation. That is not fair to the workers. It diminishes their attempt at achieving fairness and equity. That's another negative of this bill.

Also there have been cuts to the worker adviser office and the employer adviser office. That office has been cut by 30%. These were worker advisers who could give professional advice to people who were caught, perhaps, in some kind of bureaucratic red tape. This office is being cut by 30%. This adds another burden to the ordinary worker who may have wanted to get some simple advice on how to go through the bureaucratic hoops that this type of legislation will impose on it. That has been taken away by one third with this 30% cut. That doesn't help the worker. I don't know who it helps by doing that.

As you know, the other thing that is also most upsetting is that injured workers' pension benefits will now be reduced. We know that pensioners all over this province are at their limit in terms of their ability to get by. Now you're going to have more pensioners who are going to have their pensions cut who were on some kind of disability because of work-related injuries. Their pensions will now be cut as a result of this bill. How fair is that? What is that going to do to the lifestyle of the ordinary pensioner who is living in modest means? What sense does it make to even cut that pensioner's benefits, as this bill does?

That is not going to make this economy any better, it's not going to give anybody their pound of flesh, but it will hurt that pensioner who's probably going to try and decide whether they've got enough money for food or for prescription drugs. That's the bind you're putting the pensioner in. Pensioners now, especially pensioners now who fall under this category, will have to make those impossible decisions or choices: "Do I buy the prescribed medicines that I have to pay $2 for now on every prescription fee? Do I pay $6.11, the $100 deductible? Or do I go buy the food that I need?" Do you know what they do in most cases? They probably go without the medicine; therefore they get sicker. That's what you're going to do to a lot of these pensioners, because you're going to reduce their pensions when they go into retirement after the age of 65.

There will also no longer be payments made for workers with either long-term chronic mental stress or chronic pain that persists beyond a specified time. As you know and as many authors like Jeremy Rifkin are telling you, the type of work, the nature of work is changing. So it's not going to be just the ordinary, straightforward case of a worker perhaps hurting a knee and having a knee dislocated. There are going to be a lot more stress-type disabilities, chronic stress disabilities that are going to result from mental stress as well as physical causes. In the future we're going to see more of that type of disability in the workplace.

What is the government doing? It's restricting a worker's ability to make that the basis of their claim now. It's narrowing that to make it very difficult for these types of injuries. They're going to be more prevalent in the future, yet the government is now going to make that much more difficult for workers to make that type of an appeal and that type of a request. I think the government is being very shrewd but not very fair, because it knows there are going to be more stress-related job injuries caused by mental stress and chronic pain, yet the government is diminishing the worker's ability to access any kind of compensation for that. That is something that doesn't help in terms of where future trends are going, but it does help the government extract its money from injured workers, on the backs of injured workers.

You know what it is too? I think the most difficult thing to accept in all of this is that this is not the only type of added problem injured workers have. Many injured workers find it most difficult, because they may have worked in a workplace with a great deal of pride for 20 years, for 15 years. Then, when you are injured, you have the potential of losing your self-esteem and pride. This bill does not do anything for their self-esteem and pride, because even if a worker is injured, with their pride intact they probably have a greater chance of recovery physically, they probably have a greater opportunity to find other jobs.


This kind of reduction in their compensation pension will mean they probably will have less money for proper clothing, less money, as I said, for their family, so the stress will be accentuated. Their sense of self, their self-esteem, will be diminished. You might say that's one of the intangible negatives, yet it is a negative that results from this bill. These workers sometimes have very little else to take pride in but their work, but now their injury causes them to lose that pride. Then the government punishes them with a reduction in their compensation. That is adding salt to the wounds. These workers don't need it, nor will it help them to find new jobs and to be retrained, because self-esteem and pride are essential if they're going to be productive members of society. It would be great if part of this bill or a companion bill had a massive investment in retraining and rehabilitation of injured workers, but that's not there. Most of those programs that do that have been cut back severely. This government has even cut back English-as-a-second-language funding. The adult day schools all across this province are cut back. For these injured workers who may want to go into a school and perhaps improve their English as a second language, that's going to be dramatically reduced because of the cutbacks this government has made.

What are the chances of an injured worker getting another job? Does this bill do anything, or are there other things this government has done, to enhance the rehabilitation aspect of the way government treats workers? I have certainly seen nothing comprehensive from this government, no investment of any significance in that area for injured workers and their attempts to get back into the workforce. This is a very competitive workforce that we're in. If you don't have up-to-date skills, you will almost find locked doors and closed doors almost every time you make an application. With no comprehensive rehabilitation and retraining component and no proposed one with meaningful investment by this government, it's not going to make life easier for the injured workers. What are their prospects?

If you're 50, 55, or 60 years of age and injured on the job, where do you go for retraining, and how do you support your family while you're going through retraining? How do you support a young family of a 35-year-old who is now injured on the job, who may never be able to work at their trade again? What kind of comprehensive investment is there in their future? That is why so many people in this province are feeling very hit upon by this government, because all this government tends to do is punish people. All this government tends to do is take people down and demean them.

We haven't seen anything this government has done lately that encourages people, anything this government does that gives them support. All it tends to do over and over again is attack. It's like a pit bull that keeps attacking the meekest and the most vulnerable in our society, whether it be people on social assistance, whether it be attacking seniors by making them pay user fees for prescription drugs. Now we have an attack on injured workers, and we know that these injured workers sometimes may be categorized by this government as a special interest group, therefore we have to treat them with an iron fist.

Injured workers come from all walks of life. There are injured workers from all political parties, from all religious persuasions, from all walks of life. They are not a special interest group. They are, for the most part, honest taxpayers who have had the misfortune of being hurt on the job.

I know that this government has listened attentively to the corporate side of this debate, and they are doing their bidding with this bill. They are paying attention to the corporate side, and the corporate side is very happy with this bill. There are very few complaints from the corporate side because the corporate side knows that this government is taking care of them. But who is taking care of that injured worker and his or her family? Who is giving that injured worker hope? Where is the hope in this bill? There is very little hope in this bill. There is a lot of rhetoric, there are a lot of mechanical devices in it, but there is no spirit of hope.

That is why I think it's critical that this government, as it entertains public hearings on Bill 99, ensure that they go to all parts of this province to listen to these workers, to listen for their cries of hope, to listen to their stories of how they can't get by with this extra cut and the extra downsizing of their rights under this Bill 99. The government has to turn and listen to these workers. It hasn't listened to anybody on everything else, but if there are enough workers who go to these hearings, bring their families and show the government that they are sincere about being treated fairly and equitably, maybe this government will not just pass this bill as other bills without any amendments but will make amendments that will not punish workers, because they don't deserve this arbitrary, unilateral punishment just because of their misfortune.

I think that is what workers are saying right across the province. They're saying that somehow they feel the minister is paying more attention to the corporate interests rather than their interests. They don't mind giving a fair shake to the corporate interests, a fair shake to the factory owners and business owners -- but give a fair shake to the workers. We know how well the corporate interests are doing. Look at what's happening on Bay Street: The stock market is doing so well, they're even closing down the trading floor. That's how well it's doing. The stock market is booming, Bre-X aside, but it's doing quite well. The banks are doing famously. So why this government would spend more time, give away more money to the corporate side, is beyond anybody's understanding. They still continue on this road of rewarding, with hard-earned tax dollars, people who don't need the rewards.

It's injured workers, it's the seniors who are on fixed incomes, it's the orderlies in hospitals, it's the teachers' aides, it's the firefighter, it's the ordinary taxpayer who needs help, not the big people. You've done more than enough for the big people in Ontario within the last two years. You've done more in the last two years than they ever deserve or need.

You can't keep ignoring ordinary people. You can't keep punishing the most vulnerable, whether it be the family support parents, whether it be the caretakers in schools, whether it be the ordinary worker in some factory. They're the ones who need your help now. You've done enough damage to ordinary Ontarians. You've done enough damage to their communities and neighbourhoods. You've struck enough fear and loathing throughout this province.

Now, hopefully, this bill will be the beginning, if we can get the minister to say, "We've listened, we heard you," and this bill can be amended to take away the punishment of workers who are injured. Maybe this Bill 99 can be a turning point. I know that people are pessimistic and they realize perhaps the government is fixed on this, they will not turn back, but that is the one plea I make to the minister -- I know she is a reasonable person -- to perhaps remember in the hearings that these injured workers can be used to make her turn this whole approach of government around and say: "You're right. We've done enough for Conrad Black and Barbara Amiel; let's do something for the ordinary taxpayer who lives on Main Street in Ontario." That is what I hope and what I think my colleague from Ottawa Centre was talking about, that it's got to be something based on justice and equity and fairness. It's not asking this government too much to do that, because that's the big gap here in this bill. This government can meet its fiscal objectives without hammering ordinary citizens, especially hammering injured workers who have had enough misfortune. Reinvest the moneys you're getting. The revenues are supposed to be up; reinvest it in injured workers, reinvest it in young people, reinvest it in communities rather than giving it away in that foolish, ludicrous tax cut to the most well-to-do in society.


I'm emphasizing that for the Minister of Labour because I think she has the potential to see through the whiz kids and the tiny Tories in the back room who have all the answers. I know some other ministers just do exactly what the whiz kids tell them to do, but I think this minister maybe has a bit more backbone than the other ministers. She may stand up to the backroom whiz kids in the Tory party, she may stand up to the young know-it-alls in the back room and say, "I'm not going to listen to you; I'm going to listen to the people at the hearings."

That minister will get the praise of this party and the praise of people right across Ontario if she stands up to the backroom whiz kids. If those backroom whiz kids try to convince her, she should say, "No, I'm listening to the people." Nobody elected those backroom tiny Tories who feel they have a right to govern without being elected. That is what the Minister of Labour should do. She shouldn't be like the Minister of Municipal Affairs or the Minister of Health and these other ministers who have taken their marching orders from the backroom whiz kids.

I think this Minister of Labour has an opportunity to break away, like Bill Murdoch did and Gary Carr did and the member for Wentworth North. They broke away from the whiz kids and have the backbone to say no to the dictates. Nobody elected the backroom whiz kids. They are there getting a fat salary and doing the bidding of whom? I guess Tom Long and Conrad Black -- whoever they're doing the bidding of. But the Minister of Labour I think has enough intestinal fortitude to maybe make the final break, as Carr, Skarica and Murdoch did. Let her listen to ordinary Ontarians and not be bamboozled by those backroom boys who have done the bidding of the bankers and the Conrad Blacks of this world, who are sucking this province dry.

In conclusion, this bill has to be rectified, and the hearings are an opportunity to do that. Our party wants to see changes made in this bill that will take away the punitive aspects of the bill which do harm to injured workers and do harm to their families and to ordinary Ontarians. We are going to urge the minister to listen, to participate and make amendments to this bill which take away those punitive aspects. I thank you for your courtesy and for listening.

The Acting Speaker: Comments and questions?

Mr Christopherson: I appreciate the chance to respond to my colleagues in the Liberal Party, the member for Ottawa Centre and the member for Oakwood. I would, however, preface my remarks by noting the interest we pay to the position they've taken, given that their new leader, in the debates leading up to their selection of a new leader, supported Bill 99 and was quite keen and anxious to leave some of the provisions that are in there in place. However, given the struggle that injured workers face in this province against the tyranny of this majority, we and they will take whatever support we can find and appreciate the fact that perhaps now they have seen the light.

I would like to underscore the point that my counterpart, the Liberal labour critic from Ottawa Centre, made when he spoke to the fact that by pushing so many workers off WCB, denying claims, putting them back to work before they're prepared, which quite frankly is the real purpose of this bill, you are offloading on to the taxpayers, the very people you purport to care about most, the cost of the health care bill for those injured workers. You see, when someone is injured on the job through no fault of their own, all the costs for that injury are borne by the WCB.

When you push people outside that system, you put them on to the publicly funded OHIP system, and in some cases, in far too many cases, you push them on to social assistance because they have nowhere else to go. Both of those are funded 100% by the public, so this is a further boon, a further gift to your corporate friends. It's an important point and I applaud my colleague from Ottawa Centre for having made it. Hopefully, the government might actually listen to it.

Mrs Margaret Marland (Mississauga South): It's always very interesting to enter a debate that involves the farce known today as the Workers' Compensation Board. I don't think there's anyone in this chamber, in any of the three parties, who agrees that what exists today as the Workers' Compensation Board and the compensation for injured workers is working in the format we presently have. What a huge concern it has always been for all of us that we have this enormous unfunded liability.

What we really want to do, primarily, is to ensure that people who are injured on the job are protected from loss of income. In order to do that, we have to have a source of that funding so that when the accident takes place, those injured workers are secure. What is a tremendous concern for us is that the system isn't working, and what Bill 99 is about is taking a system that isn't working and improving it.

It's not, of course, about building a new office building for $250 million on leased land from the CBC, which was a decision of the former government, when the Workers' Compensation Board was quite well housed in its existing plant. It is about making differences, and particularly it's about being proactive in the prevention of accidents in the first place so we reduce the number of workers who are injured on the job and who need the compensation they are rightly entitled to.

Ms Frances Lankin (Beaches-Woodbine): I'm pleased to respond to the members for Ottawa Centre and Oakwood. I would differ in my assessment from the member for Mississauga South when she responds to the previous speakers by saying that this bill is actually about fixing the system and ensuring that workers are going to have that access to a guarantee of no loss of income.

One of the surest ways to deal with an issue of whatever unfunded liability there may be, depending on actuarial assessments at any given time, is to reduce workplace accidents. The very strong supportive programs under the Workplace Health and Safety Agency and the certification and training programs and all of that, which are aimed at getting at the root problem and eliminating workplace accidents, are the surest way to bring some sanity to the system, not to go about giving a cut in rates and premiums to employers and cutting benefits to workers in order to fund that.

I wanted to say particularly that I was impressed by the member for Oakwood's presentation, in its content but also its style. Alliteration is an art. When I heard him talk about urging the minister not to be bamboozled by the backroom boys and the bankers and the Blacks of this world, I thought that was quite good. Also, putting together his comments and a couple of other members', I heard phrases like "the tyranny of the tiny Tories and their totalitarian treachery." You know, it takes real talent to be able to put that together. But what's expressed by that is a really important sentiment, a sentiment that says that in the back rooms of the Premier's office there are people who are unelected, unaccountable and just out of touch with the real lives of working people.

I think this bill is an absolute example of that. I support the comments that have been made by the previous speakers and really urge that people take another look at this bill, because it does not serve the interests of injured workers.


Mr Bart Maves (Niagara Falls): It doesn't surprise me that members from the third party support the member for Oakwood's statements. He sounds more like he should be coming from the third party. He's been following them on the filibuster and many other things, so I'm sure he'll be there soon.

I think it's incumbent upon me to address some of his fearmongering about "snooping" into medical files. The functional ability form will be just that: It will talk about an injured worker's functional abilities and only that. It will be available for committee hearings, so the member's fearmongering rhetoric will be put to rest.

I also picked up on something the member for Oakwood said. He said, "The government is saying that the system is a mess in order to justify changing it." Well, he's right, we are saying that. The member for Mississauga South said it, but guess who also is saying it? He should look back to what he ran on in the red book. I want to read to you the first thing the Liberal Party said about cleaning up workers' compensation in the last election: "Ontario's workers' compensation system is a mess." They said it and we agree. This bill is about changing and improving the workers' compensation system.

What else did they say? They said, "High premiums are chasing away investment and jobs." We agree and we're addressing that.

They also said, "The unfunded liability is out of control," and this bill is about addressing the unfunded liability. We agree with that, the Liberals agree with that, the NDP agreed with that when they brought in the Friedland formula the first time in the early 1990s. Everybody agrees that the unfunded liability is a big problem. Bill 99 will address it.

I look forward to spending some time with the member opposite on hearings, and I'll read more of what he said in his red book, because 100% of what they said in the red book we've done.

The Acting Speaker: The member for Ottawa Centre has two minutes.

Mr Patten: I'd like to acknowledge the comments of the members for Hamilton Centre, Beaches-Woodbine, Mississauga South and Niagara Falls, also on behalf of my colleague from Oakwood. I thought he helped put a human face on what is often simply large bureaucracy. I think he spoke from the heart and, from his personal experience, was able to identify with people who face the unfortunate experience of having to depend on support from general society because, through no fault of their own, they were injured.

I would like to go back to the issue that we said workers' compensation was a mess. Yes, we did say it needed some reorganization, but the difference is how you go about doing it and who ends up benefiting at the end of the day. We also said there would be a freeze, by the way, on premiums. We did not talk about taking money away from those we're attempting to serve. It always comes down to that. All parties agree you've got to address the debt; it's the way in which you go about doing that. We think there's a way you can do that, to not always do it on the backs of the most vulnerable and the weakest in society.

We said we agreed with some components of this, but when you look at it overall, who wins and who loses, the injured workers are not winning on this one. That's why we will raise those issues and we will fight those elements. Hopefully, the hearings we will hold across Ontario will have some impact on the government to be sensitive to the human call of saying you've got to support people when they really need your support to survive with a degree of dignity.

Ms Lankin: Mr Speaker, on a point of order: Would you ascertain whether there's a quorum?

The Acting Speaker: Would you check for a quorum, please?

Clerk Assistant (Ms Deborah Deller): A quorum is not present, Speaker.

The Acting Speaker ordered the bells rung.

Clerk Assistant: A quorum is now present, Speaker.

The Acting Speaker: Further debate?

Mr Christopherson: I appreciate the opportunity to engage in the debate. Given the time, it looks like I'll get through just under half the allotted time I have, but I will make the points I have until 6 of the clock and then continue on the next day the government calls the bill.

Speaking of calling the bill, it's interesting that we were advised at about 10 to 12 that this bill would be coming up. It would be very cynical to suggest that the government deliberately waited until the last minute in the hope of maybe catching the opposition without their critics here in this place this day; or perhaps not enough time to notify the leadership in the community and in the labour movement who have a great interest in this; or perhaps they're hoping that with the federal election being called, more than likely, in a couple of days, those people in the communities who care about this wouldn't have the time or the opportunity. Perhaps that sort of cynicism would be well placed and I probably would not be the only one to share that.

I would also mention in terms of the timing of bringing in Bill 99, in addition to waiting until the last minute to spring it, denying people a chance to be fully prepared, to be here etc, it also puts the lie to the fact that the government claims that they really cared about truck safety. Do you remember that issue? Remember the words about that, Speaker? That's Bill 125 -- a bill that's already received first reading, it's been printed, it's ready to go -- An Act to improve road safety by making wheel detachments an offence by amending the Highway Traffic Act. I would suggest that if this government truly cared about public safety, if they really thought this was an important enough issue, they would have taken us up on our offer that we would have given second reading to this in one day, providing they allowed it to go out to the public, something we know they can't stand.


Mr Christopherson: I can tell by the heckling of the members and the way the Tory backbenchers are reacting that they're feeling a little sensitive. If you really cared about public safety, why didn't you call Bill 125?


The Acting Speaker: Order. I realize it's getting late on a Thursday afternoon, but I do have to have order. The member for Hamilton Centre has the floor. His time is limited. I want you to give him your attention.

Mr Christopherson: Thank you, Speaker. I appreciate that. It's amazing how quickly 90 minutes will go by when one has so much to comment on.

An earlier member talked about the histrionics of my comments. I intend to spend a lot of time talking about the substantive points of this bill and will do it very passionately and with a great deal of conviction, because I happen to believe that this government is targeting and going after injured workers and I intend to make that case here.

I want to finish by saying that if you really cared about public safety, if you really cared about the highways, why didn't you give us proper notice that Bill 125 was going to be debated so the public could be here, so we could be properly prepared and we could get second reading here, get it out to some public hearings and make it the law? No. It was all a charade. It was all just a load of PR meant to show that you give the impression of caring about public safety. When you had a chance to call the bill, that's not the one you called; no, you called Bill 99. So my cynicism, I suggest to you, is very well placed.

Let me also say, by way of leading into Bill 99, that we need now -- I predicted this at the beginning of this government, not that I have any great crystal ball; one doesn't need to be a rocket scientist to realize that this is an anti-worker government. I said at that time, when I was accused of fearmongering and raising a lot of rhetoric, that this government really didn't care about workers and that would be shown. Well, you've now got a track record of almost two years. You now have a record that we can look at and bring forward and use as the context for debate around ongoing labour legislation. What is the track record of this government as it relates to legislation around working people, around people who belong to unions, around people who don't have the benefit of unions and around injured workers and workplace health and safety? What's the track record?

You've got to start, of course, with Bill 7. Bill 7 was a complete rewriting of the Ontario Labour Relations Act, not amendments, not just honouring what you put forward in the Common Sense Revolution; it went way beyond that. In there, you brought forward again the reality and the disgrace of scabs being legalized, forcing thousands of workers to be on strike, on picket lines, where they otherwise would not be, because there are scabs in those locations doing their jobs.

I am very proud of the fact that when we were the government we said: "That's illegal. You're not going to do that to working people." With Bill 7, you brought back the disgrace and the damage and the harm of scabs on the picket line taking away the jobs of people who have chosen --


Mr Frank Klees (York-Mackenzie): On a point of order, Mr Speaker: The honourable member is referring to people as scabs. These are honest, hardworking people who don't deserve to be held in disdain.

The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Order. The member for York-Mackenzie, I appreciate your point of order. It's a rather difficult point of order for me, because now we're extending these parliamentary privileges and verbiage etc to outside this House. I understand. I will caution all members it's best not to use inflammatory language. But with the greatest of respect, I don't think this is a word that we've invented in this place, and it has been used in general outside. Having said that, if he was referring to any member opposite in that vein, I would call him to order very quickly. Again, it's a situation that's difficult to call.

Mr Christopherson: The fact of the matter is that the member would of course prefer the term "replacement workers," because that sounds so much nicer. That's what you want people to believe, that you're creating this nice province, that all these things you're doing are to give people choices, to expand their rights. The reality is, my friend, you go on out to some of those picket lines -- you'd better bring some friends, though -- and you talk to those workers who are on those picket lines for month after month after month because there are scabs crossing the picket line taking away their job and forcing them to stay out on strike longer than they want to, longer than they need to and, quite frankly, longer than they can afford to.

While we're on this subject, let's take a look at exactly who is crossing the picket line. Yes, there are some people who dislike unions, who disagree with the concept there should ever be strikes and therefore they're very proud to cross the picket line. But you know what? An awful lot of those people don't have a choice because of the policies of this government, and quite frankly they had to make a decision between crossing a picket line or putting food on the table. You want to make that choice? I don't.

I'll tell you another thing. An awful lot of those people are visible minorities, new Canadians, who don't even understand the principles involved. What they do understand is that they can't find a decent job anywhere and somebody finally offered them something. Who is that somebody? These despicable firms that do nothing but hire vulnerable people and bring them in in darkened-windowed vans to go in and do those jobs. Those people are scared. You've got to answer for what's happening to people on both sides of that picket line.

But I would say to any of you who want to take on whether or not the term "scab" is appropriate, go and talk to those workers on picket lines, go talk to them after they've been out for six months, and listen to what they have to say, because you know what? They're Ontarians too and they pay taxes too. It's time you started to think about that.

What else did you do in Bill 7? We now of course have seen public sector workers who work for the province of Ontario denied successor rights. You didn't talk about that in the Common Sense Revolution, you didn't talk about that on the campaign trail, but it was in Bill 7. You gutted the employee wage protection plan that finally gave workers a chance to be paid due wages, vacation, severance and termination. You gutted that. They can't claim for termination or severance pay, and you cut back from $5,000 to $2,000 the amount of wages and vacation they can get, and we understand you're now thinking of taking away even that. You didn't run on that platform. That was in Bill 7. What did you do with Bill 7? You brought it into this House and in less than a month rammed it through without one minute of public hearings, not one minute. That's part of the track record.

Mr Steve Gilchrist (Scarborough East): It's called the election.

Mr Christopherson: I hear from the member from Scarborough somewhere who says, "It's called the election." You see, that's the problem. This government believes that once every four years they win an election and therefore they can dictate whatever they want, that they don't have to answer to anybody at all for four years.

Bill 7 is not the only example. You tried to do the same thing on Bill 49, the Employment Standards Act, where you took away rights from the most vulnerable workers, who don't have the benefit and protection of a union. That's their worker bill of rights. You tried to ram that through in a few weeks, but there was enough resistance out there that we forced you out into the public for four weeks. For four weeks we forced you out into the public, and we all know what happened out there. The backbenchers will tell you quietly off the record -- I understand they can't say it on the record, but they'll tell you quietly off the record -- they got beat up something awful, because the government claimed that Bill 49 was just minor housekeeping, a little bit of tinkering, a little bit of cleaning up. When we got out there in the public and you were forced to listen to the submissions of people who knew what was in that bill, you got slaughtered in every community we were in, bar none. That's another part of your history. That was Bill 49.

The Workplace Health and Safety Agency: The Minister of Labour today stands up and talks about caring about injury prevention, about making sure that workers are not injured and don't catch diseases on the job because of exposure to certain elements, and yet an agency with a proven track record, an agency that unfortunately for it, when you came to power, had a 50% say, an equal say -- God forbid workers should have an equal say in what affects their working lives, because you killed it and you put it back into the WCB. The reality is, it was taken out of the WCB and made a standalone agency because for 50 years the prevention of accidents and illness was not getting the attention it deserved. That's why it was taken out. But you can't handle the fact that workers didn't know their place. How dare they think they have half a say?

Their track record goes further when it comes to workers being in their place. Bill 15 was your first hit on WCB. What did you do there? The essence of Bill 15 was to take away the 50% right, to have half a say, to have an equal say in the running of the WCB. That's what Bill 15 did. I hear you laughing, yabba-dabba-dooing there in the back row, but the fact of the matter is that if you take a look, reach under your desk, there's a binder in there where the bills are. Look at them from time to time. Bill 15 takes away the right of workers and their representatives to have a 50% say on the board of workers' compensation.


Mr Klees: Why don't we talk about this bill?

Mr Christopherson: See, the member again, the one who had the problem with "scab," he doesn't want to talk about that. He wants to talk about this bill. I'm saying to him, through the Speaker, that in order to talk properly about Bill 99 and for the public to truly make up their minds -- because they have to listen to you and us and they'll decide who's right or wrong -- it's my submission that the public needs to think about your track record and where you've been and what you've already done to injured workers as part of that debate and part of that weighing out. That's why I'm talking about these things.

That was Bill 15. That's already been done. You've taken that away. That was your tee-up for this one, the one where you're really going after the meat and potatoes, the real heart and soul of WCB.

The minister earlier also talked about the fact that there were problems in the WCB. I heard the new PA from Niagara Falls -- and might I welcome him to the portfolio and say how much we look forward to having him out on the hustings, out on the street, out in the public as we review this: baptism by fire. I'm sure the first person to congratulate him was the previous PA, the member for Nepean, who quite frankly couldn't get out of that portfolio fast enough.

Let me say too that he was a decent parliamentary assistant, and I quite enjoyed him on a personal level. However, he is stuck in the right-wing rhetoric and the right-wing world that you're all in, and for that he has to be condemned and for that he will have to answer in the next election. But I do wish him well as he moves on. He was an honourable member stuck doing an impossible job, which was defending this minister's and this government's anti-worker legislation out in the public. At times he even had to have the benefit of OPP security to make sure that he could get from his car to the podium and back safely, because of the way that the workers of this province are so grateful for your agenda.

But that's his experience, and he now gladly passes that on to the member for Niagara Falls, and I welcome him to the portfolio. He's moving around here. You can't hide, you know; it doesn't work. John tried that. We'll find you. But I welcome you to the portfolio and wish you well on a personal level, and a lot of luck, because you're going to need it, particularly trying to defend this piece of legislation that goes after the most vulnerable of our society, injured workers, people injured through no fault of their own.

Members have talked about problems in the WCB, but it's interesting that when they say there are all these problems, one of the first things this government did when they got elected was to kill the royal commission that we had put in place to look at the entire system, to look at the problems that are there, because there are problems. But you want to blame just the injured workers. That's what we have so much difficulty with.

I'm going to speak later about the changes we made. I want to answer the accusations of the Minister of Labour very directly, but let me say that when you stand up now and say that the system needed an overhaul, and at the same time you're part of a government that killed the royal commission, you deny yourself any credibility on that issue, because all you did when you killed the royal commission was take that work and hand it off to Junior Minister Jackson. He went underground and we didn't hear from him for months. All the issues that were left over, that needed to be worked on, are still there. They are not being resolved.

I would caution members when they want to talk about the fact that the system needs work, that there are problems, and when they want to blame the injured workers themselves, that they should ask themselves, "How do we justify shutting down a royal commission?" that, by the way, was over two thirds through completing their work. How do you justify that? We know what the answer is. The answer is you really don't want to make significant changes that make it better for injured workers and fairer for employers. You don't really want to do both. You only want to concentrate on taking care of your corporate pals and making sure that you can keep your promises to them, one of which of course is to take $6 billion out of the pockets of injured workers and give it directly back to them. That's what's going on here, and that's why we're so upset, because that is a cornerstone of what you're doing and why you're doing it.

The government hasn't learned yet in terms of process, because not only did they ram Bill 7 through with absolutely no public hearings and attempt to ram Bill 49 through with no hearings, and we only managed to force them out in public by putting as much heat as we could, and the labour movement did and a lot of backbench Tories got a lot of heat. The kinds of meetings that Junior Minister Jackson held were very selective meetings, and they were behind closed doors.

Now you're doing the same thing with the Occupational Health and Safety Act, selected meetings with people behind closed doors. No one gets to hear all the submissions. That's the process that you're still following, and with this bill we had to force you to commit to province-wide public hearings. We had to force you, because it's not part of your nature to want to listen to anyone else except your friends. Your friends have lots of access; it's everyone else, particularly those who are hurt by your legislation, who can't get access. You know, part of the reason why you're opposed to that is because that really would be fair.

It's interesting today that the minister chose to use the word "fair" a couple of times. That jumps out because the minister, when we watched her ram through the brand-new Ontario Labour Relations Act, the anti-worker Bill 7, removed from the purpose clause the word "fair." We never did get an adequate answer as to why.

The purpose clause in the Ontario Labour Relations Act used to say that one of the purposes of the act was, "To promote the fair and expeditious resolution of workplace disputes," and yet you took the word "fair" out. I think the reason for that is that they've taken away and narrowed the rights of workers so much that by leaving in the word "fair," if they were challenged and taken to any quasi-judicial or judicial court of law in the province, a judge or a tribunal would have to consider the word "fair" and decide whether or not there was fairness. But if you remove it, then you get to define what is "expeditious resolution" and there is no qualifier called "fair." You obviously had a bite of that and found it quite delightful, because we see it again.

The existing Workers' Compensation Act says, "To provide fair compensation to workers who sustain personal injury arising out of...." and it goes on. It's interesting that you didn't try to take it out when you did Bill 15, so a lot of us thought, "Well, maybe there's hope," but no, we now see that in your Bill 99 --

Ms Lankin: No?

Mr Christopherson: Yes, in the purpose clause under "Interpretation," where it used to say, "To provide fair compensation and other benefits to those workers and to the spouses and dependants of deceased workers," "fair" is gone.

Why would you take out the word "fair" when the minister seems to like to use it so much publicly? But then we know that you're great with the words but the words are hollow. This was taken out for legal purposes because you don't really believe in fairness, otherwise you'd leave the word "fair" in, wouldn't you?

It is particularly irking to find the minister continually using the word "fair," but when we look into the legislation, they take out the word "fair." I think that any reasonable person watching today or reading the Hansard would have to say to themselves, "It is rather curious that they would take the word `fair' out of two key pieces of legislation that affect working people," particularly when this government continues to say that it cares about workers and cares about workplace health and safety.

I see the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing here, the Honourable Al Leach. It's particularly apropos to raise this while he's present in the House, because the WCB, I would say to the minister, is also a big fan of the KPMG consultant firm, as you of course were when you did the megacity and you had that in-depth, complex, three-week review of the benefits of your new megacity. This same firm has now brought forward a report that suggests that as much as 75% of the board's case processing -- guess what? -- can be privatized. Surprise, surprise. All along we've said that one of the goals of this government was to grab as much of the WCB work as it can and hand that off to the private insurance companies so they can make money. And lo and behold, there's a report that says 75% of the processing, you betcha, can be privatized.

One of the things we find particularly upsetting is that within that report they propose to fire 350 vocational rehabilitation staff people. But what's curious, Speaker, given the fact that you had ruled that you found a prima facie case for contempt of this House by the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing because he took action that suggested this House had already passed legislation which it hadn't, we see the WCB doing the same thing. They have advised, verbally, 350 voc rehab staff people, "You're gone."


But the law as it currently stands says that those services have to be provided. So the union that represents those workers, CUPE Local 1750, raised this issue publicly. In fact, I would advise members of the government, the president of CUPE Local 1750, Paul Simourd, is here today. He's one of the few who got the word that this bill was being brought forward today, and because he has to represent those workers and what you're doing to them, he's here. If we'd had enough time, I assure you we'd have had a lot of other labour people here. But this bill is not just about the injured workers who will be impacted, it's the workers who are represented by this union leader, by this elected leader.

What does he say about this in the news release of February 14? He said that this announcement is tantamount to the board pulling an Al Leach, simply assuming that the government legislation will be enacted. He goes on to say that if this scheme goes through, the workers of Ontario are no longer going to be served by an impartial and independent system -- which is what the WCB is enacted by law to be. They will now be at the mercy of a profit-oriented system, the mandate of which will be to get injured workers or diseased workers back to work as quickly as possible. That's what he had to say.

I'm really glad you're here today, because you get to see the kind of reaction the cameras won't show as they sit there and laugh and smirk about this. Look at them. Look. That's what's going on in this province. That's why you don't want people here.


Mr John Hastings (Etobicoke-Rexdale): Nonsense.

The Speaker: Order. Member for Durham East, and Etobicoke-Rexdale.

Ms Lankin: Back to the cave.

The Speaker: Order. That's unparliamentary, with the greatest respect, to the member for Beaches-Woodbine.

I would ask everyone; it's an opportunity for debate on this issue. I appreciate that some members opposite don't agree with the statements being made, but the member has the right to put these statements. I would ask that you just -- nine more minutes.


The Speaker: Well, you may not like it. I understand that. But he has the right to put his points of view.

Mr Gilchrist: It's characterization.

The Speaker: Member for Scarborough East, I hear a lot of people characterizing what a lot of people do in here. It's not up to me to start jumping in and straightening that out. All I'm saying is that he has a right to put his position, and he should be allowed to do that.

Mr Christopherson: Thank you, Speaker. I appreciate your comments.

I would also like to point out, along the same vein, that this same report, which is likely to be adopted -- we don't know if it all has, we're not sure, but certainly we do know that those 350 vocational rehabilitation workers have been told verbally that they're gone and they should already start looking for other work. I would say good luck to them in the world you're creating in Ontario in terms of trying to find equivalent, decent-paying jobs that allow them to help people the way these jobs do.

That's why it cuts both ways. They get a decent-paying job with decent benefits, thanks to their union, in recognition of what they deserve, and their service -- that's what public service is all about -- helps working people, injured workers, among the most vulnerable in our society. That's where both benefit. That's why it's so upsetting and alarming and depressing to watch what you're doing to this province.

What else does that report say? One of the things it says is that an employer claims representative in the restructured WCB -- get this -- would earn their salary plus a "performance bonus" to be decided on factors such as degree of employer satisfaction and the employer's experience-rating statistics.

It's bad enough that there's a financial incentive for employers to have injured workers removed from claims, but it goes way beyond the pale to suggest that someone who's part of the processing team that decides whether claims are going to be allowed would receive more money, a financial incentive, if there are more claims denied or more claims shortened. That's part of what this report suggests, and I would say to honourable members of this House from all parties that the government members would have no problem with that at all. They'd have no problem, because that fits with their philosophy of how we ought to slice and dice work in this province. Everything points to the dollar sign, to the bottom line -- everything.

In the few minutes I have left, I want to talk about dollars, and this is the point I'll pick up on when we again resume debate of Bill 99. Government members, the minister in particular and I'm sure the new PA -- there he is -- will learn the mantra to talk about the unfunded liability as a crisis. Look at this: The stars have lined up to accommodate my point, because who just strolled in the House but the Minister of Education, the prince of crisis. He stands and takes a bow. This is the fellow who's caught on tape saying, and I'm paraphrasing, "We need to create a crisis so we can justify the things we're going to do."

Hon John Snobelen (Minister of Education and Training): Mr Speaker, on a point of privilege: Just to get the reference correct, it was "invent a useful crisis."


The Speaker: Thank you for your helpful clarification.

Mr Christopherson: It would be a lot funnier if it didn't end up hurting so many people, but I stand corrected.

Hon Mr Snobelen: On a point of privilege, Mr Speaker.

Mr Christopherson: Sit down, Minister. Sit down, please, and give us our time.

The Speaker: Member for Hamilton Centre, order. On a point of privilege, the Minister of Education.

Hon Mr Snobelen: An example of an unuseful crisis might be a $100-billion debt.

Mr Christopherson: If the minister is finished playing, the point is that he suggested he needed to create a crisis so he could justify the things he was going to do. The point we make consistently, and so do injured workers and the workers who are there in Local 1750, who know what's going on, is that the phoney crisis around the unfunded liability is constantly being thrown forward as a shield to try to justify what you're doing, but it doesn't wash.

Number one, the unfunded liability is not money owed by taxpayers; it is money that's owed by employers. Employers owe that money because the historic deal in 1914-15 was that workers would give up the right to sue -- if they were injured on the job, they couldn't sue their employer in court -- in exchange for employers paying premiums into a fund that would be used to pay workers who are injured because they couldn't take their employer to court. It removed the right of workers, and that, quite frankly, was seen as a fair tradeoff. So all this money that's owed is money that's owed injured workers by employers.

It's also interesting to point out that under our reform of the WCB and our legislation, over the last two years -- and we know the numbers are going to come forward for the third year in a row -- almost $1.5 billion has come off the unfunded liability. The measures we took eliminated any question of a crisis, but they didn't do it by giving the employers $6 billion back. That's what's so insidious about this, and you've already done it. January 1 of this year, you made a 5% cut in the premiums that employers pay and took that money out of the pockets of injured workers to pay for it.

The other thing is the WCB has never borrowed a dime. They also have close to $9 billion in assets. It's very difficult for people to understand how someone whose debt is being reduced by half a billion dollars every year and has almost $9 billion in the bank is in some kind of crisis. The fact of the matter is that you are using this. The Minister of Labour is using this, the same as the Minister of Education did, to create a phoney crisis to try to justify what is nothing but an attack on injured workers, and worse than that in terms of denying them claims, you're taking money right out of their pockets and giving it to your corporate pals. That's what's going on in Bill 99.

In looking at the clock, Speaker, I would suggest, it being 6 of the clock, that we adjourn the debate.

The Speaker: It now being 6 of the clock, this House stands adjourned until Monday at 1:30 of the clock.

The House adjourned at 1801.