36th Parliament, 1st Session

L229b - Mon 15 Sep 1997 / Lun 15 Sep 1997



The House met at 1830.



Resuming the adjourned debate on the motion for second reading of Bill 128, An Act to amend the Family Law Act to provide for child support guidelines and to promote uniformity between orders for the support of children under the Divorce Act (Canada) and orders for the support of children under the Family Law Act / Projet de loi 128, Loi modifiant la Loi sur le droit de la famille pour prévoir des lignes directrices sur les aliments pour les enfants et pour promouvoir l'harmonisation entre les ordonnances alimentaires au profit des enfants rendues en vertu de la Loi sur le divorce (Canada) et celles rendues en vertu de la Loi sur le droit de la famille.

The Acting Speaker (Mr Bert Johnson): The Chair recognizes the member for Kingston and The Islands.

Mr John Gerretsen (Kingston and The Islands): Thank you very much, Mr Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to continue the debate that I got involved in the last time when this bill was before the House. Of course, the first thing that ought to be noted -- and the people of Ontario and indeed the people in the galleries here should be aware of the fact -- is that we have now started a new sessional day. The last sessional day ended at 6 o'clock this evening and we have now started a new sessional day for the next three hours, under the new rules this government has brought in.

I'm sure the average person might say, "What's so significant about that?" The significance is the fact that in a sessional day normally there are routine proceedings and there's an item on the agenda called question period which allows the opposition of the day, and indeed government backbench members as well, to question the executive council, to question the cabinet, to question the government of the day on its activities on a day-to-day basis. That we don't have tonight because we immediately go into orders of the day. We don't have question period, so that really one of the hallmarks of democracy, the fact that we can hold the government accountable for its day-to-day actions by asking questions in this House, is not being adhered to.

We're now in the third week of doing this. Last week we did it for two nights, and two nights the week before. Now for the third week we do not have a question period when orders of the day have been called or when a new sessional day has started.

Mr Wayne Wettlaufer (Kitchener): What is the hallmark of democracy, John? Make up your mind.

Mr Gerretsen: I hear my friend from Kitchener making all sorts of catcalls, but the fact still is that as a result of the actions this government has undertaken in bringing in the new rules that are now in place, it has really once again injured democracy. We cannot call the government to account for its day-to-day activities, which is a real shame.

Let's deal with this particular bill. I'm very pleased to see the Attorney General in the House today, because I'm sure he would like to see this bill passed as quickly as possible. I agree with the contents of this bill. This is a bill that needs to be passed, because it will provide some uniformity in support orders and it will give those people who are involved in this a much clearer idea as to what they can expect when they take these matters before a judge in court.

However, as you and I well know, it is not in the letter of the law, it is not in the way particular bills are framed or brought before this House and passed that the matter ends. It is in the administration, how the bills are actually administered on a day-to-day basis and how they affect the people in Ontario, that you can really see whether or not a law or an act actually works. When it comes to that matter, when it comes to those kinds of issues relating to support matters in Ontario, we know quite well that this government, and indeed the Attorney General's office, has been a complete and utter failure.

I'm glad to see that he's here today, because I would just remind him of the day when he said in this House: "We're doing quite well. We're actually returning 50% of the phone calls that we get into the department." I reminded him then, as I'm reminding him now, that if you were really in business -- and you like to pride yourself about doing things in a businesslike fashion because you are the business government -- if you only returned 50% of your phone calls, you wouldn't be in business very long. You certainly would want a much higher satisfaction level than that.

I would say that by its own words this government has failed those people of Ontario who are relying on this kind of legislation. The women and children, the most vulnerable in our society who require the month-to-month support payments, are simply not getting them because all the regional offices were closed. It's all been collected here in Toronto now and it's all being done out of one particular office here in Toronto, and so far it hasn't worked.

I can tell you that I had one of my constituency office workers do a little survey of how many cases in just my office alone, in Kingston and The Islands, we have heard about or are dealing with in one way or another. Currently in our office we've got 250 ongoing cases where people know that money has been paid into the plan and it hasn't been paid out to the women and children who are the recipients of the support orders -- 250 in just one riding in Ontario, and I don't think my riding is that much different from most of the other ridings in this province. When you consider the fact that there are 130 ridings in this province and you multiply that times 250 problem situations, you come up to a number of over 20,000, and those are only the cases we've heard about. What about all of those people who have got these problems on an ongoing basis that we in our constituency offices don't hear about? It simply isn't good enough.

That's the biggest fear we have. The biggest fear we have once we implement and pass this piece of legislation, which we support, is whether it will in effect be administered in a proper and adequate manner so that the people who are relying on the terms of this bill to get their payments on an ongoing basis will in fact get them. For that I hold the Attorney General and senior officials in his department responsible, and I'm sure I'm not the only one. I know I'm not the only one because we have heard in this House on a day-to-day basis horror stories where money has been paid in and it hasn't been paid out on the other side.

When you talk to some of the staff people in this department, I understand that about 190 people are involved to answer the phones and to deal with the collection and distribution of the money that has been collected through the plan in this office, and it takes more than two weeks just for the completion of requests for financial adjustments. I understand that the clients we're dealing with rarely get through on the phone system and never receive a written response from the family support plan people. When financial statements are sent to the payor or recipients, they are computer printouts without any explanations and therefore both parties don't understand what the office is doing. Those are just some of the problems we deal with. It is not the fact that this law should be passed, but we in this chamber ought to be just as concerned to make sure there are adequate measures in place to make sure whatever laws we pass are administered in a fair and adequate manner.

Let me just give you a couple of examples, and I won't use any names because I'm sure these people would want to have their names withheld from this. For example, in one case that we heard about in our office there's $4,000 in arrears and the FRO has lost two court documents regarding that particular case. They just lost them. I don't know whether they got lost between the time when the regional offices were closed down and everything was shipped here to the new central agency that's been set up in Downsview, but the orders were lost and as a result nobody was enforcing them. As a matter of fact, our office had to fax a copy of the court orders to attempt to ensure implementation of increases. It took six months to implement the first order, and the most recent order has yet to be implemented or enforced.


The result of all that, of course, is that the mainly women and children who are relying on these monthly support payments that have been received from the other spouse are not getting the money as quickly as they are entitled to get it and as quickly as they need it.

I'll just read you a copy of a letter that was sent by an individual to the Attorney General. She states:

"I am writing with regards to the delay in processing of support payments through the family support plan.

"Up until the last few months, my monthly payments of $400 were somewhat regular (although always one month in arrears) and I could usually count on receiving the payment within the first week of the month." I assume she meant by that a month late. "Since the closing of the regional family support plan offices, these payments have all but stopped. I received one payment on October 3, 1996, and didn't get another until December 12, 1996, and again on January 9, 1997, each for $400. As of today's date" -- this letter was written about six months ago -- "my account is still in arrears $1,146.31.

"Countless phone calls to `The Plan' have been made with little or no results and most often just a busy signal. I have contacted the local MPP's office as well as Ombudsman Ontario. It has been determined that regular payments from my ex-spouse have been made through Correctional Services Canada. Where the money has gone from there is anybody's guess.

"What has happened to the plan that was supposed to help get us our child support payments? I know I am only one of thousands of people affected by this serious problem. Where is the money that rightfully belongs to us and has been paid to `The Plan' on our behalf? Why is no one doing anything to help resolve this? What do we have to do to make someone sit up and take notice?

"I am looking forward to your help in resolving this very frustrating situation."

Then she gives her phone number etc.

I think that's a deplorable situation. A system that was set up, in effect, to ensure that people were getting the adequate support payments from their spouse or ex-spouse simply isn't working or is made a lot worse. I would plead with the Attorney General that once this becomes law, he get all the staff people together and try to sort out the mess once and for all. Let the only criterion be that as soon as the money comes in, then it goes out. I would even say that a two-week delay is too long. Most businesses wouldn't accept a two-week delay in a payment being forwarded.

Interjection: Some would.

Mr Gerretsen: The member says some would. I suggest to you that in situations like this where people are depending on this money, you want to make sure they get it as quickly as possible. They are totally dependent on these funds and this is much more than just a business transaction. Presumably these bills were passed to ensure that people who found themselves in these kinds of situations would be helped quicker than they were in the past.

There is so much one could say about this situation, and I certainly don't want to prolong the discussion. However, there is just one other issue that I wish to raise very quickly, and it is very closely tied in with the bill we are dealing with here today, and that deals with the amount of money the government of Ontario is actually spending for children's services. The Minister of Community and Social Services is here this evening, and undoubtedly if my figures are incorrect, she will correct me, because I do make mistakes from time to time. I'll be the first to admit that, and I would hope that sometimes the government would admit as well that maybe it has made mistakes from time to time.

I heard her say in the House here today that they are actually spending more money on children's services than before. I am looking at the Ministry of Community and Social Services adult and children's services program -- these are the estimates documents -- and when I look at the figures as to what was spent in 1995-96 and I see, for example, in a category like child and family intervention services the sum of $199 million being spent, and in 1996-97 it is $189 million, that is a reduction of $10 million in a rather substantial department of the government.

Some people might say that's a good thing, and quite frankly, just from this line item, I don't know exactly where the money was taken from, but what it clearly shows to me is that certainly we are not spending more money for children's services in this province, we're spending less money. Let the government at least have the decency and the honesty to stand up and say, "Yes, we are spending less money, and we're doing that for this, that or the other reason," whatever reason they feel is appropriate. But don't come in here and say, "We're spending more money," when the actual numbers in your own government documents completely refute that.

As always, it's been a privilege and a pleasure to add my comments to this proposed bill. We certainly will be supporting it, we think it's a good bill, but I once again ask the Attorney General just to make sure that this bill is administered in a fair, efficient and correct fashion.

The Acting Speaker: Comments and questions?

Mr Rosario Marchese (Fort York): I just want to remind the audience watching that this is not a repeat program; we are on live. My friend Peter Kormos, the member for Welland-Thorold, will be on next to speak to this issue, and I will follow him after that, so there is plenty to say on this particular bill.

Briefly, as a comment to what the member for Kingston and The Islands said, I support much of what he said, particularly around issues of enforcement and worries about whether we have the administrative capacity to deal with incoming problems we are likely to face. The minister admits there are going to be thousands of variations that we are likely to expect. I am worried, given that this government is firing the entire civil service, that there is not going to be anybody left to deal with any of the issues, let alone his 10-point plan around enforcement.

When you have an enforcement scheme, you're going to need people to enforce that. These guys are getting rid of everybody in the civil service because they say, "This is a bad place, nobody works, so we've got to fire them to make the system better." How these people can make the system better by cutting, I can't tell you. These guys talk about enforcement, but there is nobody there to enforce it, so I'm worried about what this government is doing. If there are going to be I'm not sure how many possible variation applications -- I think he talked about 700,000 -- we've got a problem. Does he have the capacity to deal with that? He should speak to that. We are worried, and people who receive support for themselves and their children should be worried. We need to hold these people accountable as they cut with the big, heavy scissors.


Mr Alex Cullen (Ottawa West): In responding to the comments that have been made with respect to this bill, I have to tell this House that while campaigning in the Ottawa West by-election I ran into case after case of single parents who are dependent upon the family support program for their payments. These are women, single parents having to meet the mortgage, having to try and have funds to send their children to school. Unfortunately, the program is failing them.

We may be talking here of trying to improve the situation, but when the government introduces legislation like this but does not provide sufficient resources to ensure that the principle behind this legislation is being met, then you have to ask what kind of gesture is being made today when there are families who are dependent upon these payments, the payments are being made by the spouse involved, the ex-spouse has made the payments to the agency so the money is in the bank, in the government's hands, so to speak, but these payments are not getting to the recipients in time. You have to wonder how is it that the government can introduce legislation like this while at the same time not provide sufficient resources to ensure that the people the system is supposed to benefit will in fact get the money.

Speaking at the door to these women, I found that they found themselves in positions where they would have to tell their children: "No we cannot pay for this. No, you cannot take your lesson this week. No, we can't afford to pay for this because the cheque hasn't come in." We don't have the money." These are real-life, breathing examples.

I would suggest to the government that they should be paying attention to this. It's fine to introduce such legislation, but if they don't prepare the wherewithal to ensure that these objectives are being met, then they are indeed empty words.

Mr Tony Martin (Sault Ste Marie): Like my colleagues who have just spoken, I have to speak along the same vein. We have a piece of legislation here that's obviously good material, a process that will work if it's put in place and administered properly.

But over the years we've seen governments take good legislation, take good ideas -- particularly ideas stolen from New Democrats over the years, like Tommy Douglas and David Lewis, legislation that would actually work for people --


Mr Martin: No, it's true. Both Liberals and Conservatives take good ideas from New Democrats, developed through a grass-roots process, and put them into legislation simply to win elections or to win or curry favour with the public. Then once you put it in place, it disappears into this big black hole. The people who are the target of that legislation, who were supposed to benefit from that legislation, don't in fact benefit from it. We've seen that happen over the years. We know that some of the systems that are in place now, that are supposed to work for people, don't work for people. It is not that they weren't right in the first place, that they weren't the right idea or weren't heading in the right direction; it's just that the administration of the day didn't really believe in it, didn't really believe in the central tenet of that piece of legislation.

The legislation we have in front of us today that we're talking about is about looking after children. It's about making sure that parents who have the responsibility to pay for the needs of children have the resources necessary to do that. That's like motherhood. Who wouldn't agree with that? And who wouldn't agree with a system that would make it easier to do that, make it better to do that?

The only thing is the short history that we have with the present government, some two and a half years that they've been in government --

Mr Gerretsen: It's too long, way too long.

Mr Martin: Way too long, but the damage they've done in those two and a half years is unbelievable and they'll do it again here.

Mr James J. Bradley (St Catharines): I am interested in asking the member for Kingston and The Islands, despite the claims of my friend the Attorney General that the process has indeed been streamlined, whether the family support calls are indeed not necessarily the majority but the plurality of the calls that he gets at his constituency office from various constituents.

It's very difficult, because we all agree that we need a process whereby as quickly as possible the money can get to the spouse who requires it to look after the children, but my experience has been, I should share with him, that despite the efforts of staff of the Ministry of the Attorney General to be helpful to us -- and they do make those efforts -- it is still a real challenge to be able to get the money to the spouse.

Interestingly enough -- this is inadvertent -- it has actually brought some warring spouses together because one spouse will say, "I'm supposed to be getting the money." The other spouse, the person paying the money, will say, "I'm paying and here's the proof." But the money isn't getting to the spouse who requires it to look after the children. So what we get are letters and telephone calls and visits to the constituency office of both spouses, who may not have a lot in common with one another at that point in time except their annoyance with the Ministry of the Attorney General for not being able to have the money delivered appropriately. I say that while I am sure everyone will agree with this bill, we still want the system fixed so that people will get the money in a timely fashion.

The Acting Speaker: The member for Kingston and The Islands has two minutes to respond.

Mr Gerretsen: I'd like to thank the members for Ottawa West, St Catharines, Fort York and Sault Ste Marie for commenting on my speech. I find it rather surprising that none of the government members, including the ministers who are in the House, tried to refute some of the things I was saying. I can only assume that they agree with the content, that what I said about the children's services budget and what's happening in the family support system is actually happening.

I would just like to take a moment as well to welcome to the House once again at least two of the new members who were recently elected in the by-election. Particularly for those people who may have missed it this afternoon while they were at work and are tuning in now, we have with us tonight the new member for Ottawa West, Alex Cullen, and also the new member for Oriole, David Caplan. In all fairness, I am sure that the new member from Windsor, Mr Lessard, isn't far away. He's coming in momentarily now.

I am sure these new members will quickly realize how important debate on topics like this is in this House. We've already talked about the new rules, how we're not having a question period, but they will also realize that it's one thing to pass laws but something quite different to make sure they are administered in a fair, open, complete and efficient manner. That's really what's lacking with respect to the family support system right now.

Once again, I would say to the people of Ontario, yes, we are now in a new sessional day, but unfortunately from now on when we have these sessional days at night there will not be a question period, which is the hallmark of a democracy, which gives the opportunity for the opposition to make the government accountable. That's being denied to us.

The Acting Speaker: Further debate?

Mr Peter Kormos (Welland-Thorold): Firstly, let me join others in the House who have recognized today the three new members who have joined us, marched in to take their seats, elected in by-elections: the member for Ottawa West, the member for Oriole and, of course, the member for Windsor-Riverside. I extend my congratulations to them, along with others. I have some affinity, as you may know, with persons elected in by-elections and I wish them all well.

I also want to thank my colleague from London Centre for doing the leadoff last Wednesday. I appreciate her having accommodated me. I was down in Welland. We were opening up the 145th Welland county fair, the Niagara Region Exhibition, the Niagara Region Agricultural Society.

I met later that day up at the plumbers' hall up at Black Horse Corner with OPSEU workers from across Niagara, from all sectors: health care, education, municipal workers.

Mr Marchese: They're worried, I bet.

Mr Kormos: Not just worried, but becoming more and more educated about Bill 136 and developing strategies that are designed not just to stop Bill 136 but to oust this government and ensure that a government of its ilk will have a hard, hard time ever finding its way, a government that is so anti-worker, that holds workers in such disdain, that wants to promote an economy of lower and lower wages. These people know it. The women and men I met with at the plumbers hall on Wednesday night know it. They're going to be talking to their friends and their neighbours and their relatives about it. They're going to be talking to others in their workplaces about it.

They also know that Bill 136 doesn't stand alone. It's remarkable how many working people and their friends have identified the relationship between Bill 136 and, by God, Bill 26. There's a direct relationship. Bill 26 was very much the cornerstone of the radical attack on workers, working women and men, on their parents, retirees, their kids who want to be students.

I suppose nothing characterizes the depth of cruelty that this government can descend to than its attack on women and kids, an attack led by the Attorney General. When we talk about Bill 128 -- and I join my colleagues in the New Democratic Party and colleagues in the Liberal Party in indicating that of course we're going to be supporting Bill 128. Bill 128 is an application to Ontario of what have now for a few years been the support guidelines adopted by the federal government and utilized in federal proceedings.


The public responds with applause to Bill 128. Mind you, some Family Court judges I understand have informally been using the federal guidelines, but this will codify it and require them to do that.

Indeed, last Thursday, one of Ontario's leading family law lawyers, Pamela Walker in Niagara Falls hosted a seminar along with Earle Blackadder, another prominent family litigator in Niagara, with a strong audience response, explaining the impact of Bill l128 and what it means.

The spectre that shadows all of this is the incompetence of this government and most specifically its Attorney General -- his total inability to exercise even some of the most basic powers that are entrusted to him as Attorney General of this province. Don't take it from me, take it from the thousands and thousands and thousands of women and their kids who have been victims, who have been brutalized by this Attorney General's conscious mismanagement of the family support plan.

Because you see, at the end of the day Bill 128 isn't worth the paper it's written on if this government continues to simply not care whether or not moms and their kids -- in the majority of cases moms, in some cases dads who are the custodial parent -- this bill doesn't mean a tinker's dam unless this government's going to get serious and accept its responsibilities and until this Attorney General is replaced by somebody who has a modest level of competence and skill and capacity to lead his ministry.

Look at what they've done with the Family Responsibility Office, as they've renamed it under Bill 82. All the support orders in the world mean nothing unless there's effective enforcement. We know what happened last fall when the Attorney General shut down eight regional offices, dismissed some 290 qualified, and in the vast majority of cases long-term, experienced, staff, and then on a daily basis, in response to questions, concerns being raised in this Legislature by members of this caucus during question period about the status of the family support plan, that Attorney General persisted in saying: "Oh, everything's in order and fine and it's a go, guys. We've consolidated all these eight regional offices up in Downsview. Jeez, I don't dispute the fact that you've brought up yet another incident, but it must be a computer glitch. Surely it's a rarity."

It was increasingly becoming the norm, because it was only in November after weeks and months of hearing that from the Attorney General that video tape displayed oh so vividly what in fact wasn't going on at his Downsview office: three floors of haphazard storage, that's it; nothing in working order; boxes upon boxes upon boxes of confidential files for FSP recipients -- these are women and their kids -- left in publicly accessible hallways with no security; conditions in total disarray, literally, as we know now in hindsight, months away from even being close to operational.

Oh, and the squealing and stammering and yammering that went on.

Mr Marchese: And blaming everybody else too.

Mr Kormos: As my friend from Fort York says, blaming everybody but themselves, because that's where the responsibility rests.

You should have been with me the other day in estimates for the Attorney General, Speaker. Shelley Martel, the member for Sudbury East, was there too. The Attorney General was trying to answer questions. It was the most pathetic display of his ignorance about his office that any Attorney General surely has ever come close to demonstrating. The most basic questions were not to be answered by this Attorney General, be they questions about the family support plan and its history of this Attorney General's mismanagement or be they questions about his concerns about the Young Offenders Act. I wanted to know. I said: "Attorney General, tell us what sections cause you the concern. The public would like to know."

I haven't seen the Hansard yet because the pressure that the Queen's Park staff are under now means the committee -- well, they are. They have been under attack too, because committee Hansards have been delayed somewhat.

Mr Wettlaufer: Hansard staff are excellent.

Mr Kormos: Again, I have no criticism of the Hansard staff, but if they do a verbatim recording of the response by the Attorney General, I'll advise them that "hunh" is spelled h-u-n-h, because as often as not that was the response by this Attorney General to very specific questions about specific issues that he raised in his introductory comments to the six or seven hours of estimates. There were as many "hunhs" when it came to questions about his mismanagement of the family support plan as there were about virtually every other area of his ministry.

I wanted to ask the Attorney General very specifically about Bill 82, because those were his 10 tough tools to enforce those support orders. You remember that? By God, he was going to put teeth into the Family Responsibility Office. So 10 months later, just a couple of months short of a year, not a single dollar has been collected by this government as a result of his 10 tough tools in Bill 82 -- not a penny -- and the same stammering and yammering and blaming about his own mismanagement of his own ministry and their failure to implement even one of the enforcement tools.

"Of course, Bill 82 should have been passed earlier." Gosh, I can't quarrel with that, but the fact is it was this minister who, with the support of the opposition parties -- they voted for it, they supported it -- at the end of the day spent 10 months not implementing a single section that provides any one of these so-called 10 tough tools. It's not very impressive to the young mother -- she knows who I'm talking about -- with her two teenage sons, one 13 and one 15. She came into my office just a week ago with the Ontario Court (General Division) order -- some people here are more familiar with civil law, but this is a higher court -- $18,000 in arrears and not a penny collected under this Attorney General's dare I call it leadership of his ministry? This is a young woman doing her best.

I tell you, down in Niagara we have one of the highest unemployment levels in all of Ontario. She's struggling along working some 25 hours a week doing telemarketing. You know what that is. "Telemarketing" is a fancy name for doing telephone sales. It's tough work and it's not well paid. She's supplementing that, as she's entitled to, with some Family Benefits Act assistance. But Lord knows, she doesn't want to be on FBA, and if this government had started enforcing, utilizing some of the so-called tools in Bill 82, I'm confident she'd be a lot closer to having the moneys that are due her paid to her -- not her but her children.

The Attorney General talked a big game about suspending drivers' licences, "Oh yes, we're going to suspend drivers' licenses." I acknowledge that's a pretty persuasive tool, but shy of 10 months later still we haven't seen any drivers' licences suspended.


Mr Marchese: What's taking them so long, Peter? What do you think it is? Why aren't they doing anything?

Mr Kormos: The question put to me is, "What's taking them so long?" That was the question I put to the Attorney General, "What's taking you so long?" Attorney General, if it's the problems linking up your computers with the Ministry of Transportation, what about some of the things that don't require computers?

What about the 10th tough enforcement tool, which was the screening of appointments to boards, agencies and commissions to determine whether or not they were debtors, in arrears? I appreciate that in the total scheme of things there weren't a whole lot, but that proves the point. That's a relatively easy proposition. Not one of those persons has been screened in 10 months since the implementation of Bill 82. That doesn't require computer hookups and modems and all that sort of software and programming. It simply requires a political will and a sufficient interest in the welfare of women and kids in this province to make sure it's done, to call the appointments office and say Bill 82 is there and every appointment that's proposed for the approval of cabinet has got to be identified to the Family Responsibility Office. It's not a difficult exercise and yet it seems a little too onerous an exercise for this particular Attorney General. He was so full of himself, talking about that tough tool.

He was going to make sure that OLC lottery winners of over $1,000 were screened so that nobody grabbed the loot when they owed their wife and kids money through the FSP, family support plan -- again, not a difficult exercise. At the end of the day, there just aren't that many big-money lottery winners. You know it as well as I do. We've learned that over our lifetime, a buck at a time we've learned it. There just aren't that many big lottery winners. It doesn't require major computer hookups, just political will. Yet notwithstanding that the Attorney General got Bill 82 passed back in 1996, not a single lottery winner has been checked against the debtors' list at the family support plan. I tell you, not a difficult exercise, but obviously one that's far too onerous, far too challenging for this Attorney General. Not a penny of arrears has been collected pursuant to Bill 82 since its passage, and we're getting close to the point where I can say darned near a year ago now.

My colleague from London Centre made a point, and I want to echo it in the few minutes I've got left, of talking about the fact that the Attorney General had better realize, because if he doesn't realize it she's telling him now, as she told him then, that Bill 128 is going to generate a whole lot of court activity in terms of people seeking variances. In other words, payors of support who are paying in excess of the guidelines are going to be inevitably there -- not all of them -- seeking variances of their support responsibilities to meet the guidelines, and recipients are of course going to be seeking variances so that the support payments being paid to them are increased to meet the guidelines. Talk about generating a plethora of activity in our family and General Division courts. Yet not one signal from this Attorney General that there's been any preparation in anticipation of that increased workload that an already overworked public sector court staff across the province in family courts, provincial courts and General Division courts across the board are already facing.

Bill 128 is all about kids. It's about kids who don't have to be poor, but who are; it's about kids who don't have to do without and shouldn't, but they do; and it's about making sure that there's some uniformity and some guidelines for judges, and some fairness. It's the evolution of a long history. There are others here, because of their backgrounds, who are more familiar with the history of litigation and judicial leadership that developed certain standards or rough standards. But my fear and my concern is that this government continues to drag its feet, not just to evade and avoid its responsibilities. By God, it's abdicated its responsibilities to women and kids in this province.

Witness the family support plan, the undeniable incompetence attached to this Attorney General's complete bungling of the family support plan/Family Responsibility Office. I tell you, I continue to have great fears, I continue to feel great sadness and despair for the future of so many kids and their moms, notwithstanding Bill 128, because this government has turned its back on them for a good chunk of time now and shows no signs of changing its ways -- none whatsoever. Those kids deserve better, those moms deserve better; I tell you, the people of Ontario deserve better. I'm confident that they'll make sure they get better.

The Acting Speaker: Comments and questions?

Mrs Margaret Marland (Mississauga South): It is difficult sometimes in this place to listen to some people speak. It was particularly difficult to listen to the member for Welland-Thorold for the last 20 minutes, because he accused the Attorney General of being -- "so full of himself" were the words that he used. I find that particularly interesting coming from this member who is so self-righteous on so many subjects when he speaks in this place. It's very curious, almost, on this particular subject because, of course, if anyone knows all about the family support plan office, I would suggest that perhaps this member does and knows far more about the family support plan office than I do. I have not visited it.

I would say to him that it's so typical of their party to stand in this chamber and rant and rave and personally attack a minister. As a member of the government, I don't mind when our policies are being attacked.


Mrs Marland: Attorney General, I can't concentrate with you talking.

I don't mind our policies being criticized.


Mrs Marland: No, it's not that I want him to listen; it's just that it's hard for me to speak with the two of them speaking.

Frankly, when it comes to attacking the minister personally in any one of our cabinet portfolios, I take strong exception to it, and that's what this member just did.


Mrs Lyn McLeod (Fort William): I am happy to add a few words to this debate. I think, as the member for Welland-Thorold has said -- at least as I believe the member for Welland-Thorold said -- that like Bill 82 this can be seen as another small step in trying to deal with the very real concerns of getting family support payments into the hands of women and children, and any small step forward is a step that we want to support. I find this a particularly interesting one because it follows the lead of the federal government. It must be particularly galling for a government that likes to blame everything it does on somebody else, including the federal government on an almost daily basis, to actually have to follow the federal lead to do one small, positive thing for women and children in this province.

The member for Welland-Thorold raises the very legitimate concern, the same concern that we raised when Bill 82 was being debated, the same concern that he reiterated again tonight about Bill 82, which still stands and will still stand when we look at how well Bill 128 has been enforced, and that's, does either of these bills really result in more money getting to the families, and particularly to the children, who need that kind of support? I would suggest there's little in this bill that gives us reason to be optimistic that it is actually going to result in dollars getting to women and children who need them.

The reason I am particularly pessimistic is because, as the member has mentioned -- and I think he referred to his colleague; I know others of mine have mentioned it -- this puts a very heavy emphasis on getting into the court system, on being able to get injustices addressed through the court system. We know that access to the court system requires some legal support. We know changes to the legal aid plan have left women without any access to legal aid in cases of domestic concerns. We know for a fact that over 80% of women who need access to the courts to deal with domestic issues can't get legal aid, and for that reason, Mr Attorney General, you won't go far with Bill 128.

Mr Marchese: I realize that whenever we offend some of the government members there is always someone standing up to defend them. I appreciate that and I appreciate the fact that the member for Mississauga South calls the comments of my colleague from Welland-Thorold "ranting and raving." I appreciate the fact that they would do that. I call them passionate concerns that are raised by a member who has taken this issue to the heart, very actively and passionately debating an issue that touches many women and children. They consider that to be ranting and raving.

We have to leave that to the public. We take into account what the member for Mississauga South said as we disagree with her. I have to tell you the only point of disagreement I have with my colleague is that he blames solely the Attorney General for this. I blame the entire government, because they are all responsible, from the Premier to the cabinet ministers to all the colleagues. It's a government initiative we're talking about, of which this minister is an instrument. So when we attack a member, I attack the entire government and all of its policies.

This government is so burdened with its desire to whack all Ontarians, with its desire to smash all the services that support vulnerable people, with its desire to fire thousands and thousands of workers who work in our ministry offices, so concerned with that that it doesn't know how to do the right thing. The pace with which it does things does not allow this government to do the reasonable thing. That's why we worry. My friend from Welland-Thorold talks about their inability to enforce what they have passed and Bill 82 indicates to me that it's smoke and mirrors. They do the right thing but there's nobody there to enforce those enforcement procedures that are set out in 82. We worry about that, as we worry about Bill 128.

Hon Janet Ecker (Minister of Community and Social Services): There's a great deal of mythmaking that has gone on in this chamber tonight in the course of the debate of this piece of legislation. I really would like to remind the honourable members across the way -- and I know we have all experienced some of the frustrations in our constituency offices -- that a little reality and a few facts in this debate about what this government is attempting to do and what this government has done would be very helpful in terms of the people watching tonight understanding.

For example, the NDP has spent a lot of time talking about the lack of enforcement. With all due respect, they had only 90 enforcers, people to go out and help enforce these orders. We're going to have 139 enforcement staff -- that's more -- to go out and enforce them. Under the welfare legislation, we're going to have parental support workers to help those women go after those deadbeat dads in the court, to give them the assistance they need to get it.

The opposition loves to complain. They talk about children's services and what they like to talk about are cuts. We're spending more money on child welfare in this province this year than was ever spent before. We have fewer children on welfare than the NDP had. That is what should be measured, not how much money you're throwing at some of these problems. We're interested in solving. We're interested in taking a look at the outcomes. We're interested in, not just throwing money at something, but saying: "How do we help those people? How do we put in place those programs that will actually help those people?" That's what we're doing: more money in child welfare in a way that will actually help, as opposed to just saying, "Oh gee, this has happened and that has happened in the budget."


The Acting Speaker: The evening is young yet. Talk to your House leader. He may give you two minutes, but other than that you're not entitled to say anything.

The member for Welland-Thorold has two minutes to respond.

Mr Kormos: To follow tradition for the briefest of moments, I'll thank all the people who commented on my comments.

I want to respond especially to the reference that should be addressed during the course of the debate around Bill 128, and that's the accessibility of our courts to women who will seek to utilize the standards, the guidelines in Bill 128. We all read the legal aid review published last week. We're awaiting volumes 2 and 3, which are at the printer now. This government has increasingly shut the doors to those very women who will be needing and seeking legal counsel to access those courts at all levels to give effect to Bill 128. This government has committed yet another betrayal of those women.

You know, myths: Let me tell you, the hundreds and hundreds of women and kids Shelley Martel and I have met personally across this province are not myths. They're real moms and real kids who endured real pain because of what this government did to them when it dismantled the family support plan. Real pain, not mythical pain. Real people, not mythical people. The hundreds that Shelley and I have met personally are representative of the thousands we know by virtue of the correspondence that each and every member's constituency office has been flooded with, and the phone calls. These people aren't myths. What an insult to each and every one of them who has endured so much. Because of this Attorney General's incompetence, it's in this government's bent to refer to them as myths.


The Acting Speaker: Further debate?

Hon Charles Harnick (Attorney General, minister responsible for native affairs): I'm pleased to rise and join in this debate that deals with the Uniform Federal and Provincial Child Support Guidelines Act. This is a very important bill because what this does is harmonize Ontario law with federal law. Quite simply, if someone receives a divorce which is under federal legislation in a federally appointed court, they are able to obtain a support order as a result of that order from the divorce aspect of the judgment. That federal legislation provides a scheme by which the level of support is determined.

It would be very strange if in Ontario we did not amend the Family Law Act to be on all fours with the federal support guidelines. It would be wrong for those who obtain these orders to be able to obtain a certain order under the federal act where a divorce is involved and then have a totally different group of reasons to get an order under the Family Law Act. So what we've done is quite simply gone ahead and taken a look at the federal act and made it part of our own act, so that there's a consistency in obtaining orders.

I've listened to people talking about access to courts and how many of these there are going to be and all of the wild speculation. We've received 9,470 telephone calls on a 1-800 inquiry line so that people can get information about the child support guidelines. We've distributed 58,000 information kits so that people know and can determine whether an application should be made for a variance to bring them under the guidelines, because sometimes it may not be the right thing to do. As well, we know this has a lot to do with the tax implications because of federal government changes to what is deductible and what has to be included in income.

We've had 173 inquiries from MPPs about people who I guess are coming to their offices to determine whether they should apply for a variance and get under the new federal guidelines. We've had 7,826 inquiries at court offices and we've had 1,473 variation applications, none of which have particularly strained the way the court system operates because we were well ready to accommodate all of these variation orders. There have been 574 hearings or trials or consent variations, and to date there have been about 615 copies of support orders received and about 723 variation orders made in all.

We have been able to deal very well so far with those who want the access to these changes. Quite simply, the federal guidelines provide a grid upon which a determination can be made as to the level of support. The province is doing nothing further than coming into consistency with that grid. I hope everyone in this Legislature would be in favour of that.

I can tell you that in Ottawa extensive public hearings took place over this issue. Those public hearings reviewed the guidelines and also talked about those kinds of cases that allowance would be made for that should fall outside of the guidelines because of some extenuating circumstances involving that family or that child or that parent or that other individual who would fall within the guidelines.

This issue has been canvassed in great detail, and the longer we delay, the longer we are permitting two different competing schemes to exist in Ontario. That isn't good for women, children and families. I hear the rhetoric of the opposition members, but I hope when they consider where this bill should go from here, they will think it is a wise idea that we pass this bill and bring Ontario's Family Law Act into compliance with the federal guidelines. That is something that should happen now, and the difficulty as we delay is that there are those people who continue to go to court and obtain orders under the Family Law Act that don't involve the guidelines, that involve a totally different system, that involve a system that is more expensive for them to access, that involve a much more difficult hearing, that involve much more cost in obtaining experts' reports and information. That is not good for the people who are appearing before the courts. Those are people who very much would benefit by the fast implementation of this bill.

We're already implementing the bill. I listened to the member for Kingston and The Islands, who claims that the implementation of this bill won't go right. I can tell him that although this bill is not in and of itself being implemented, these guidelines are already being implemented in Ontario. They're being implemented in the Ontario Court (General Division). We are implementing them through the administration of the Ministry of the Attorney General and courts administration. We are not having any difficulties implementing these guidelines and we won't have any problems implementing the guidelines, if and when they're passed, under the Family Law Act.

I urge the member for Kingston and The Islands not to make this process any more expensive and difficult for his constituents. Having parallel guidelines is the right thing to do, so let's do it quickly and let's get it done, because this is only costing my constituents more time, more effort and more money. Quite frankly, they probably are getting less in their court orders than they would be getting under the amended Family Law Act.

I urge the member for Kingston and The Islands to talk to his caucus members and tell them how important this is. I know he's a lawyer and he understands this and he probably has clients who are in need of these very services. It's very important that they be passed. I know there are many in this chamber who will say, "Oh, we have to have long and extensive public hearings." I don't think we need that, because the Liberal government in Ottawa had those public hearings and we have benefited in the development of our act from the public hearings they had. I urge the member for Kingston and The Islands, who's a very prominent lawyer in his community, who acts for people who obviously need this help, to make sure this bill is passed quickly.

I want to say a few things because I've listened to some of the interesting debate tonight. The member from Thunder Bay makes some very good points about legal aid and the ability to access legal aid. I agree with her, but what she doesn't say is that we are the first government in 30 years to commission a report that has studied legal aid -- the first time in 30 years. What is the reason we've had to do that? The reason is that the previous government, the self-righteous NDP government, made a deal with the law society called the MOU, the memorandum of understanding. Under that MOU, the NDP government entered into an agreement with the Law Society of Upper Canada and they agreed on the rates that legal aid would receive, the amount of money that legal aid would receive from the government.

This government has paid the legal aid plan exactly what they contracted with the former government. Now the former government gets up and says it's not enough money. They were the ones who made the contract. Surely they're not standing up now and saying: "Boy, we did that to fool the law society. We got them." I know that saying that's hypocritical is not parliamentary, so I'm not going to say that, but quite simply, you can't speak out of both sides of your mouth at the same time. That's what the self-righteous former NDP government is doing.

I have recognized that there is a serious access problem, particularly in the area of family law. That is why, as a result of seeing how the MOU that a previous government entered into was working, we then took the unprecedented step of having the first legal aid study in 30 years. We are reviewing that report carefully. We will be reviewing it with experts in family law and criminal law. We will be reviewing it with groups that routinely are involved in protecting those in need and making sure they have access to legal aid. We will be speaking to all of those people so that we can develop a legal aid plan, admittedly somewhat different than the one we now have, but that I hope will provide greater access in the future.

I want to speak for a few minutes about the Family Responsibility Office. It's important for people watching to understand that the Family Responsibility Office, once known as the family support plan, has over the last several years, particularly with the self-righteous NDP government in charge, racked up debts of about a billion dollars, a billion dollars that was not being collected for women and children.


When I hear about people who have payments owing to them of $12,000 and $18,000 and $6,000 and $4,000, that's nothing new. That's a reflection of the fact that the family support plan was a plan that had no enforcement capabilities. All you could do under the family support plan was get your order and get a writ of execution from the sheriff and file it with the sheriff and wait till an asset was sold, and then maybe you could collect some money. That's all the family support plan could do. They couldn't chase any money. They had no enforcement tools.

When Mothers Against Fathers In Arrears and Families Against Deadbeats went to the former Attorney General in the self-righteous NDP government, they went ahead and asked that self-righteous government if they would start to consider implementing real enforcement, nothing particularly outrageous, but they suggested: Why don't we suspend drivers' licences for those who don't pay? Why don't we report people to credit bureaus? Why don't we deal with issues where people shelter money in other people's bank accounts? Why don't we deal with all these things?

You know what the last government did? The last government sent those groups away and said, "We're not interested." And to boot, when we brought Bill 82 forward, the self-righteous NDP brought forward an opposition day motion asking us to withdraw Bill 82 because they were not interested in eating into the $1 billion of debt that they so conveniently ignored.

They talk about the family support plan and their regional offices and how good they were. Well, one of the reasons nobody's been able to answer the phone at the family support plan is because they had 90,000 backlogged items in regional offices that were just sitting there being ignored. And when you ignore 90,000 people, they phone. Today I can tell you that we have reduced that backlog. We've done it on the basis of what are the most important things that have to be done, and we've reduced it from 90,000 pieces to 38,000.

We had files that had not been opened in the family support plan in regional offices for five years. Why? They were long-standing old debts that women and children wanted to be able to access and get money for, and you know what, Mr Speaker? They were put away in file cabinets because they were difficult debts to collect.

I'm sure the member for Kingston and The Islands, who's been a long-practising and very prominent lawyer in his community, will tell you that the longer debts sit, the more difficult they are to collect. We all know, as lawyers, those are the kinds of files that end up sitting there for a long time. They're difficult files and they don't get looked after because they're near impossible to collect money on. So if you neglect them, if they don't get collected, they get stale and they get more and more difficult.

But what are we doing as a government? Part of our enforcement strategy is to take those files and send them out to private collection agencies and let private collection agencies try and access that debt.

Mr Kormos: Ten months later.

Hon Mr Harnick: The member for Welland-Thorold says, "Ten months later." If he was in such a big hurry to really see enforcement tools that work, his government wouldn't have sent away people who suggested these enforcement tools five and six years ago, because if they hadn't done that and if they had looked after what they should have looked after and developed a family support plan with enforcement capability, we wouldn't be in the predicament that we are today with a billion dollars of debt continuing to accumulate month after month after month. If the member for Welland-Thorold was so interested in really collecting debt and helping women and children, he would have been begging his government, his former self-righteous government, to go ahead and to implement real enforcement tools. But they didn't do that.

Mr Speaker, I can tell you that later this month we will be implementing driver's licence suspensions. We will be sending out a request for proposals to get private sector collection agencies involved with collecting debts. We've already, to date, sent 64,000 names of people to credit agencies so that we could advise credit agencies that these people aren't paying their debts and shouldn't be extended lines of credit for their credit cards or their businesses.

This is a government, this former government, this self-righteous former NDP government, that didn't believe it was necessary to have a family support plan that could deal with self-employed people. They had no way whatsoever of dealing with self-employed people.

Well, we have reorganized the family responsibility office. We've brought in the latest technology. We now deal with electronic transfers so that money is transferred within 24 to 48 hours. As we get rid of the 90,000-piece backlog, we now have an increased ability to answer phone calls. About two thirds of them get answered within a very few minutes now. This is unprecedented in the life of the family support plan.

There are those in this chamber who will lead you to believe that the family support plan was a very good plan. Any plan that creates debt of $1 billion over a matter of a few years speaks for itself, and anybody who wants to stand up and say, "That's a plan that works," is a party or a government or a former government that believes in big deficits and waste and a system that just doesn't work.

We are properly implementing enforcement tools that will make this plan, I believe, a very effective plan for the first time. But it takes a long time, after years and years of neglect, after a lot of rhetoric from people who don't want tougher enforcement tools, from people who, if they really were in a hurry, would have done it five or six years ago, from people who had regional offices that had backlogs, that totally ignored people. We, as a government, are changing this. I apologize for the fact that it does take a long time, but I tell you, that's because of the state of the plan we inherited, a plan that didn't work, a plan that was a disaster and a plan that hurt women and children.

So all their rhetoric will not make me change my mind. We will have a plan that will begin to cut into that $1 billion in debt; I'm confident of that. All the rhetoric and politics in the world will not help the women and children. The ignoring of the way that plan worked took a billion dollars out of women's and children's pockets.

Back to the bill before us, I very much hope we can bring Ontario's laws into line with the federal guidelines. I hope we can do that soon. I hope we can do that without long hearings. I hope we can do it without any hearings, because Ottawa and the federal government have had those hearings. We know that this can help women and children. We want to do it, and we want to do it now.

The Acting Speaker: Comments and questions?

Mr Gerretsen: I'm very pleased that the Attorney General has joined this debate, and I agree with him: All the rhetoric and politics in the world aren't going to make up for the fact that the plan over the last two years has been completely mismanaged. I completely concur with the law that's before us, but you've got to make sure, sir, that the law gets administered in a fair and equitable and efficient manner. We'll be looking for that to happen.

With respect to the statistics that you quoted on legal aid, I will just refer to the report that came out last week and to page 169. According to the memorandum of understanding, the plan would have been able to grant 29,000 family law certificates in 1996-97. If you read a little bit further, it states that the plan actually issued 14,063 family law certificates, which is less than half of what the memorandum of understanding would have allowed for. It also goes on to say that this contrast with the previous years is striking. In fiscal year 1993-94, 65,691 family law certificates were issued in the province. The number of family certificates has dropped to levels not seen since 1970.

In order words, between 1993 and 1996 there was a drop from 65,000 certificates issued in family law to 14,000, almost an 80% drop. And then you have the gall to stand up and say that the women and children who need the kind of protection they used to get by getting certificates for family law --


Hon Mrs Ecker: It was their deal.

Mr Gerretsen: I don't care whose deal it was. It was under your watch, Attorney General, that only 14,000 certificates were issued and many women and children in this province who should have had the protection of the Ontario legal aid plan did not have it available to them. That is your responsibility and you failed them in that.

Mr Kormos: It's clear that the pundits have written yet another FSP speech for the Attorney General. We've heard the newest spin on it. At the end of the day, it was this government and this Attorney General who shut down eight regional offices with no plan for an operational central office in Downsview. It was this government and this Attorney General who day after day in the House denied suggestions and strong suspicions that nothing was happening in Downsview. It was only when he was confronted with videotape that he had no choice but to acknowledge that he had no plan for the Downsview centralized office. Who in their right mind would shut down eight regional offices, terminate 290 staff, without a central office being ready to be up and going?

Were there problems with FSP? FSP had traditionally been under-resourced, we know that. But there wasn't a crisis until you gutted it, until you shut down eight regional offices, terminated 290 staff and left thousands of files sitting in publicly accessible hallways. That is your responsibility, Attorney General. There have always been difficulties with FSP, but never the level of crisis until you shut down eight regional offices and terminated 290 staff.

I am pleased to hear your commitment today to "soon" for the enforcement tools in Bill 82. Sadly, you've said that before too many times. This little boy has cried wolf far too often to have any credibility left. I tell you, the opposition has been on his back from day one to get Bill 82 up and operational, and if it is going to happen, it's about time.

Mr David Caplan (Oriole): I want to be fair and say that the Attorney General and the government have shown uncommon good sense by following the direction and the lead of our federal government. I want to acknowledge that. Perhaps that same good sense will apply to the Solicitor General and get them to drop their obstinate and ridiculous opposition to the federal gun legislation.

I would also like to invite the Attorney General to come to Oriole. We are neighbours, after all, and I have spent the better part of the summer meeting the people of Oriole. When the Attorney General stands in his place and tells us of the efficiency within the family support office, he has to meet one of my constituents who told me of waiting two hours on the phone to speak to a case worker. He really has to meet another one of my constituents who has got her second notice of eviction because the dollars that have been paid by the supporting spouse to the family support plan have not been transferred and she and her two children are in danger of losing their home and their shelter. I can tell the Attorney General and the members here that that is a very sorry state of affairs.

The family support plan has been managed incompetently. We need some real enforcement. We need some real compassion in order to get dollars which are committed to the welfare of parents, to the welfare of children, to where they truly belong. The decision to close regional offices has put untold strain on an already strained system. The Attorney General would be very wise to consider reopening those offices and ensuring an effective enforcement mechanism.

The people of Oriole told me time and time again that this was a recurring problem and I invite the Attorney General to come and meet them.

Mr Martin: I find it passing strange to listen to the minister this evening talk about his concern for women and children and the way that he presents this image of really caring when, if you look at the record of this government over the last two years and some months, nothing could be farther from the truth. Everything they've done, from the day that they took office, was an attack on the poor and the most vulnerable in this province.

They first thing they did -- they weren't even in office a month. I'll remember it, I'll never forget it. It was one of the blackest days in my short history as a politician in this place when I woke up -- and Mr Jackson will remember this too because he's a man with some conscience in that pack of rats over there -- that morning in July to hear on the radio that this government had decided it was appropriate and acceptable to take away --

Hon Mrs Ecker: On a point of order, Mr Speaker: I would like a ruling on whether that phrase that the honourable member used was parliamentary, sir. It sounded a little offensive to me.

The Acting Speaker: I would ask the member to withdraw.

Mr Martin: Speaker, anything I say will be offensive to this group over here, so I don't know what you want me to withdraw.

The Acting Speaker: I would ask the member for Sault Ste Marie to withdraw the comment.

Mr Martin: I called them a pack of rats because that's what rats do. They sneak around the house and they take food away from children.

The Acting Speaker: I don't want to debate it. Either withdraw it or I'll ask you to leave.

Mr Martin: I withdraw my calling them a pack of rats.

The head honcho of that group of rodents --

The Acting Speaker: No, I'll not let you put something indirectly that you can't do directly.

Mr Martin: I withdraw, and my time is up.

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

Hon Mr Harnick: It's interesting when the member for Kingston and The Islands talks about how many certificates there are in one year and how many certificates in the next year. One thing he doesn't say is that, as a result of the funding reductions that were agreed to by the former government and the law society, there had to be changes effected to legal aid. Those changes were effected by the entity that runs legal aid and that was the law society. But that's something the member for Kingston and The Islands specifically doesn't talk about.

I'm indebted to those who have responded to my speech and certainly I appreciate hearing their comments. I think when we take a look at the rhetoric that is being used all around the chamber, the one thing that is clear is that, while we will obviously have our differences of opinion with respect to different subject matter that is debated, it seems to be the consensus in this place that Bill 128 is a bill that is worth passing. I urge my colleagues in this place to reflect upon the cost they impose on their constituents by not dealing with this bill now and by perhaps forcing this bill to go to committee.

I believe this bill can become law very shortly. I can tell you that we are implementing the federal guidelines in federal cases. We are now well able to do that in terms of cases under the Ontario Family Law Act. We're ready to do so and I would urge members to pass this bill quickly.


The Acting Speaker (Mrs Margaret Marland): Further debate?

Mr Gerry Phillips (Scarborough-Agincourt): I'm pleased to join the debate on the bill and to say we're anxious to proceed with the bill. There's much in it to commend it.

I would say to the government that frankly we don't have a lot of confidence in your competence to implement. So if we question and we prod and we ask questions, and periodically send bills to committee, it's because you've developed a history of incompetence.

I'll start to run through a few of them that have raised our concerns. The Attorney General just raised one, the family support plan. Can you imagine a bigger mess that all of us face -- the government members, the members in our caucus, the NDP caucus -- than when the government decided to scrap the way they were running the family support plan? Yes, it needed to be improved. But I come from business and I actually thought Mike Harris had some idea how to run an operation. That was the biggest disaster I've seen around here for a year. It caused incredible turmoil to families, often women with young children, whose only means of support was the family support program. It was a total, absolute mess. You should have been ashamed of yourselves. I hope you were ashamed of yourselves.

I take another example: Bill 26. That was the omnibus bill. We called it the bully bill. The government tried to rush that through. We held it up, and then we found the government had 150 amendments to that bill. The public out there is saying, "Why don't you simply pass this bill right away; get it done?" There's an example. A couple of smaller, but significant ones: The boot camp opened up. The day the Solicitor General was going to snip the ribbons, a lot of the boot camp prisoners walked out the front door, or drove out the front door.

I use the example of the toll road. This is the only one in the world that has been an artistic success and a business failure. There's lots of business on the toll road, but no tolls. They've gone for nine months beyond their date: no tolls. If we're going to run government like a business, it's an embarrassment to you. We hear the reason is there are more customers than we thought. It's like opening a store. "We've got to give all the stuff away because there's more people showing up than we thought." I use those examples.

The dumping, the downloading, whatever you want to call it --

Hon Mrs Ecker: What about the uploading, Gerry?

Mr Phillips: I'll come to you, Minister of Community and Social Services, in a few minutes. I know you like to barrack. That gentle voice on behalf of children is yelling across there. But I would just say to the member, here's what the government did. I haven't pointed it out till now because it was so embarrassing for them, but they had to admit in this Who Does What exercise, "We made a $400-million mistake." The table released in January 1997 estimated these taxes at $5.4 billion -- that's education taxes off residential. This number included, however, approximately $400 million paid by owners of vacant commercial-industrial land. It's an important point: a $400-million mistake, just a mistake. Here we were asked to make policy on removing education from the residential, and the government tried to hide it. They put it out in this little release on page 7. "Sorry, we made a $400-million mistake." I go on. They appoint a Who Does What committee, they study this whole thing, and then the panel, the Who Does What Panel, was finally forced to tell the government they strongly oppose what the government is doing with their recommendations.

The reason I go through all of these is that -- I know this will come as a shock to a lot of the country club members who are giving Mike the high-fives at the golf tournaments and saying, "Keep it up Mike; you're doing a great job; sock it to them," but for the business community, I tell you -- and you wonder why we ask questions about bills. I just give you those examples: the family support plan a complete mess; the toll road without tolls, nine months later still without tolls; the boot camp escape; the hospital closings. We have hospitals in this province that are slated to close that are having difficulty in operating right now because there's no plan to help them even to close, assuming that they're going to close them. But they're being closed almost without a plan.

Bill 26 I mentioned. I even mention Ontario Hydro because the Premier appointed one of his senior businesspersons to become chairman. Mike Harris becomes Premier and one of the first things he does is appoint a senior person off Bay Street, a real businessperson who knows how to jump in, take control of these things, get right at the heart of this business matter. Two years and several months later, finally, the chairman fires the president and says, "There's a big problem." It took two years and two months to find the big problem.

I go through all of that because we are being asked to rush a bill through and we are being asked to pass legislation with brand-new rules designed to force things through here. There is now a track record of incompetence in this government that would make any other party blush.

The second thing I wanted to talk a little bit about was the intent of the bill. The intent of the bill is one that we're extremely supportive of, that is, finding ways to help families, often families in desperate need and often involving young children. We are very much supportive of the goals and objectives of the bill. But I would just say to the government, if you are really interested in children -- and I know Mike Harris hates to hear this, but I say that I think the government has embarked on a systematic attack on young people.

I'll start to go through the reasons I believe that. The 21% cut in social assistance: I know that was politically very popular, but recognize that over half of the people who get that social assistance are children. I know the perception out there was that's going to simply cut off those people who are going down and buying a case of beer from the beer store etc, but the real impact was on young people. You reduce a single mother's income by 21%, when she's trying to look after young people, and as my leader said today, "You go and look in the fridge or the cupboards of some of those people; look at the food that's there to feed their families for the rest of the month." There aren't many of us in this room who would be able to survive in that environment.

The tuition fees: I have in my office the Conservative Common Sense education document. It said, "We will take tuition fees up gently till they've reached 25% of the cost of education." That's not happening. Now tuition fees are going up -- the highest in the country I think this year -- an average of 10%; in some faculties dramatically more. There is no question that the young people in this province are seeing a future in education where there will be education for the best-off and the access will be for the best-off; those from modest or poor means will be cut off. Yet this bill is designed, we're told by the minister, to help young people.

Junior kindergarten: If you want to know a way to help young people, it is to provide them with early education. Many, many school boards in this province, because of the way the Harris government has decided to cut funding for junior kindergarten, have cut junior kindergartens out completely.

The unemployment rate among our young people is a tragedy, and we often hear the government saying, "It's not a problem; jobs are being created at an enormous rate," etc. But you know, Madam Speaker, the unemployment rate among our young people has actually gone up dramatically in 1997. In fact, for the first eight months -- we now have the results through August -- the unemployment rate is about 18%; a year ago at the same time it was about 15%, so up three percentage points. The number of jobs for young people in that period of time has dropped by 24,000; the number of unemployed is up 22,000. I don't think we've seen a level of unemployment among our young people of this rate, certainly going back at least 10 years, not even during the very tough 1990 and 1991-92. We pride ourselves in this province on being a leader in employment, but the unemployment rate among young people in Ontario is higher than it is in the rest of the country.


We talked about legal aid. One of the ways that young people will have access to this bill is through some assistance in going to the courts, but the legal aid has been cut and cut dramatically. Young people in an awful lot of communities, and certainly in my community of Scarborough, are facing user fees for recreation facilities they never faced before. The one thing that they don't benefit from, by and large with very few exceptions, is the tax cut.

I find our young people saying to me: "All right. I understand we have a fiscal problem in the province of Ontario, as we've had in the country. I understand the need to get our fiscal house in order, but tell me again. You've cut social assistance for young people. You've increased tuition fees dramatically for young people. You've cut out junior kindergarten for young people. You've cut legal aid for a lot of single parents who would have been trying to get access to some settlements from a spouse. You've put user fees on a lot of services for young people, all of that to get our fiscal house in order. But tell me again," they say. "If I have to, as a young person, go through all of that pain, how can we afford a tax cut that benefits the best-off in this province? How can we afford a tax cut that will represent lost revenue to the province of roughly $5 billion and one where the ones who are best off in this province benefit the most?"

That's a tough one for the government to answer because if the deficit problem was so serious that they have to go through all of that pain, surely we can't afford a tax cut that benefits the best-off in this province.

The last thing I wanted to touch on was, the Minister of Community and Social Services talked about the government's commitment to young people. I have a saying I use a lot, and that is, "Don't listen to what Mike Harris says; watch what he does." I use that a lot because Mike Harris has got some extremely competent communications people.

I watched with interest the whole exercise where the province dumped on to the property taxpayers roughly $660 million. That's about a 5% hit on property taxes. The government said, "Well, we're just doing what AMO wants us to do." They had this little checklist. "AMO proposal, government decision." You can see at social housing, a checkmark, sort of like, "We agreed with AMO." That's the Association of Municipalities of Ontario. But that's not true. The Association of Municipalities of Ontario said: "Don't put social housing on property tax. It's a huge mistake." You're dumping on to the property tax one of the most sensitive areas of social policy in the province, and that is seniors' housing, housing for people who need assisted housing. The municipalities said, "Don't do it," but the government went ahead and did it anyway. By the way, I talked earlier about the Who Does What panel. The Crombie panel said, "Don't do it."

The reason I say this is that the government says, "Well, we're looking after young people." I look at the numbers and I see in the numbers community and social services. The minister earlier today said, "We're increasing our spending on child welfare." I see a substantial cut in child welfare services in actual dollars, 1994-95 to 1996-97, a substantial cut in child and family intervention services, a cut of $50 million in children's services and a cut of, it looks like, $50 million in developmental services for adults and children. The numbers, the finances, the spending priorities the government puts against children and children's services show the reality, a substantial drop in spending against children's services over the last two years.

The reason I go through this is in response really to the Attorney General in his comments on the bill, to say that we in the Liberal caucus are very supportive of the goals of this bill. We're anxious to see the bill move forward. We will not let any bill go through without challenging it, and the reason we do that is because of the history that I went through of what I and my caucus regard as government incompetence. Whether it be with the family support plan in total shambles for a year -- I don't think any of us who've been around here for some time ever saw anything like it, desperate people phoning and saying, "I have no food. I have no way of meeting my rent payments," because the plan was in shambles. The government can say, "We had to fix it," but you don't fix something by completely tearing it apart for a year and putting people into misery for a whole year.

I go through all the other areas where we've seen incompetence, as I say, whether it be the toll road, the boot camp, hospital closings in chaos, the dumping exercise where the government made an announcement and then has been scrambling to try and patch it up and still doesn't have it patched up, to the omnibus bully bill, to the megacity and, second, to the priorities of the government on children.

This is harsh language to say, but I think there is a systematic attack on young people. Our young people are bearing the brunt of the government's fiscal plan to provide a tax cut for the best-off and punish the most vulnerable. The social assistance cuts hit our young people and the government says, "Oh well, the cuts are working really well because all these people have found a job."

You've only got to look at the employment numbers. When Mike Harris became Premier of Ontario in June 1995 there were 499,000 people out of work. Today there are 487,000 people out of work, roughly 12,000 fewer people. You say, "Where all these people who were on social assistance who are no longer on social assistance? They've gone out and found a job." Have they? There are essentially the same number of people out of work today as when Mike Harris became Premier.

They may not like to hear this, but they promised in the Common Sense Revolution -- and I always say my own view is that the government does not create jobs, the economy creates jobs. But Mike Harris didn't believe that. Mike Harris said, "This plan, the Common Sense Revolution plan, will create more than 725,000 new jobs over the next five years." You're running about 100,000 jobs behind that target right now. You say, "We're going to make it up," and I say I sure hope you're right.

But the reason I raise this is that the government proudly trumpets the number of people who have gone off social assistance. I would simply like to know where they are because roughly the same number of people are unemployed today as when Mike Harris became Premier and it isn't that the unemployment ranks have dropped dramatically.

The bill is one that has our support for the goals and objectives clearly. You can appreciate, I hope, our scepticism about the government's ability to manage the implementation of the bill and also our concern that within the overall pattern of young people there is this sad but obvious attack on young people. They're being asked to fund the cost of the tax cut so the people at the country clubs can buy a new set of golf clubs at the expense of all of the difficult times that young people face.


The Acting Speaker: Questions and comments?

Mr Marchese: I want to congratulate the member for Scarborough-Agincourt on his speech. While he was speaking to Bill 128 and in support of that particular bill, he also highlighted areas of incompetence of this government while at the same time talking about areas where this government has shown a lack of interest as it relates to young people, students going to university and many other vulnerable citizens as they face the axe of this government.

What can you say to a government that has introduced over 155 bills? How can any government deal properly with any of the bills they present to this House when they have such an enormity of bills to deal with? How can anybody be competent as they introduce this great number of bills they've got to deal with? How can you supervise it? How can you feel confident about this government as it deals with so much, as it heard us say every day in this House? So many bills have already had third reading and there are so many others yet to come. The list is so long. I will begin that when I introduce my own remarks, but it's a whole lot right here. This government is so loaded with its responsibility to cut programs that it is unable to do good for anyone.

Bill 128, I have to admit, is one of the areas where, having been pressured mostly by the federal government and others, particularly women, who are looking for these supports, they at least have done the right thing, although we worry about whether the support services are there to make this bill an effective one.

I will have an opportunity to speak more on this bill as my turn comes around.

Hon Mrs Ecker: I'd just like to point out for the honourable member that while this government may well have passed 33 bills in 1996, under the Liberals in 1989, 93 bills received royal assent. We obviously would have to move a lot faster to be able to match their record.

There are a few other points that are well worth mentioning tonight. The honourable members like to say that somehow or other this government has not put a priority on children. There are a few things that I think need to be put into the record: the fact that there are 90,000 fewer children trapped on welfare under this government; the fact that 26,000 children are having breakfast programs, who didn't have them before, because of this government; the fact that we are doubling the number of children who are going to get speech and language help; the fact that 9,000 high-risk babies are going to get identified and get the support they need -- that's something else this government has done; about the 5,000 families under Better Beginnings that are going to get support; about the increased spending on support programs for disabled kids; about the 125,000 children who are going to get additional day care support. That's the agenda of a government that knows children's services are a priority.

I would like to ask something of the honourable member from the Liberal Party who talks about our welfare rates, which are actually more than 10% higher than the other provinces, and disability supports in this province are 48% higher than in any other province. Where were the Liberals going to find a billion dollars in savings in the welfare envelope? That's what they promised the voters they would do. We are taking a look at making sure we are getting people off social assistance. We know they went into jobs because we went out and asked. No other government had ever done that. They're out there in paid jobs, the majority of them. That's where they want to be.

Mr Bradley: What I was really pleased about was the way the member put it in context. He didn't just dwell on the individual provisions of the bill but took the time to place it in the context of all the policies of the government. If you look at the total package, you recognize that the disadvantaged people in this province are more disadvantaged as a result of the policies of this government. What you're doing in effect, he pointed out, is polarizing the province.

Everybody in this House agrees that responsible spouses should be paying the shot for expenses for their children. That is certainly superior to having the general taxpayer assume those costs. All of us want to see the system work better. It has not worked better, in our view, because the regional offices were closed and dozens upon dozens of people were fired out the door instead of being retained for the purposes of serving this program. Those people were generating funds, funds that would otherwise have had to come from taxpayers at large. They were generating those funds from those who are responsible for the upbringing of the children.

I want to plead that the government give the necessary resources to the Attorney General so that he is able to carry out his responsibilities. In so many cases we see resolutions passed on the other side or certain bills, but what we don't see are the resources put in place to carry out those responsibilities. They talk about victims' rights, for instance. That's really good, but I want to see the resources given to my friend the Attorney General so he's able to carry out his responsibilities as he would like to. The only way he can do that is to allocate the necessary funds to his ministry.

Mr Kormos: Let's be careful in discussing Bill 128 and understand that the formula, the support guidelines, are based upon the support payor's income. Effectively, what that means, as more and more people lose their jobs here in Ontario -- this government talks about its net job creation. Well, other people have done some analysis of those jobs as well, and they're inevitably part-time, temporary and minimum-wage or subminimum-wage. The support guidelines aren't going to guarantee that young people, our kids, are going to enjoy the things they deserve. They're simply going to ensure that there is some uniformity in assessing the liability for support on the part of a paying parent.

But as we witness this government's attack on wages here in Ontario, its successful drive to create a low-wage economy and to sustain high levels of unemployment, its obsession with its tax break, two thirds of which is going to the top 10% of income earners, let's understand that Bill 128 is not going to address the growing crisis of child poverty right here in Ontario, right here in the city of Toronto, a growing crisis which has many of its origins with the beginnings of this Harris government and some of its very specific policies.

The Conservative member speaks about support for youth. Well, one's hard-pressed to sense that there's an appreciation of that among university students and college students who are being forced to pay higher and higher tuitions and will find themselves increasingly unable to go to school or university. People just don't buy it any more.

The Acting Speaker: The member for Scarborough-Agincourt has two minutes to respond.

Mr Phillips: I appreciate the comments of the members for Fort York, Welland-Thorold and St Catharines and the minister. I think it's an interesting debate tonight, one that over time will shape the government's image and I hope the opposition's image as well.

I believe the government has embarked on -- I don't know how intentional it is -- an attack on young people. It seems that so many of the things they are doing directly impact young people. The minister proudly talks about the number of young people off social assistance. Logic says to me that if all these people have moved and now have a job, why is it that we still have essentially the same number of people out of work now as when the government came into office? If those people who are out of work now have no need for social assistance, that's interesting. But in my opinion, an awful lot of the impact of the social assistance cut has hit directly on young people.

I repeat what we said earlier, that we have two concerns. One is the government's incompetence to manage things like this, and second, this fits into a pattern of attack on young people. The particular bill we think will be helpful, but at the same time, around the edges, they've cut legal aid, so people will have more difficulty in accessing the bill; they've cut social assistance, so young people are getting far less help from the public than they did before. In virtually every other area -- health, education and community services -- we're seeing cuts. We see this as a pattern that is beginning to take shape in the province.


The Acting Speaker: Further debate?

Mr Marchese: I want to begin by focusing on something that I remember the government members focusing on when we were on that side, when we were the government. You've observed, as I have over the last couple of years, how the Attorney General, and not just him but the Premier and the -- I forget the title of our good friend Ernie Eves.

Mr Martin: The Minister of Finance.

Mr Marchese: The Minister of Finance, the Deputy Premier. How could I forget? When we from time to time used to blame the federal Liberal government and the Conservatives before them when they were cutting billions of dollars in their transfer payments, they blamed that on the spending of the NDP, of course. We used to say: "Look, we're in a recession. The federal Liberal government is cutting billions of dollars of support we used to get." I remember that my good friend Charles Harnick, the Attorney General, used to say: "You're in government now. You handle the wheels. Don't blame everybody else."

Mr Bradley: I remember that.

Mr Marchese: Do you remember that? I remember it vividly. But have you noticed how the Attorney General and so many of the ministers, including the other members of the government there, are constantly complaining about the federal Liberal government, complaining about what the NDP government left them, about what these fine Liberals beside me did? They blame the whole world except themselves. That is an observation I have made that I wanted to share with the public.

Second, I also want to talk about context, because the context is important in order to understand this government. Let's look at what this government has done in all its ministries. Remember the Ministry of Natural Resources. It's virtually non-existent. They have gutted that poor ministry by firing 40% of its staff, I believe. This is to improve the ministry, because it was fat, they weren't working, presumably. They want to make it more efficient. So what do they do? They fire 40% of those people in the Ministry of Natural Resources. That's this Tory government. They did the same in the Ministry of Environment. They did the same in the Ministry of Labour. I believe there they also fired close to -- I could be mistaken -- 40% of their staff and the funding of that ministry. This is to make sure we make that ministry more efficient.

The motto of this government is, "To make sure we make it better by cutting." Isn't that right, member for Nepean? Isn't that right? That's the motto of your government. Isn't that correct? "We make it better by cutting more."

The other observation I make is that they claim that spending in health has increased from $17 billion to $18 billion. That I don't understand. It is to me perplexing. I find it paradoxical. While on the one hand they say, "We cut to make it better," with health they say, "We've increased it to make it better." That to me is somewhat contradictory, paradoxical. As usual with this government it is always a mystery, because you can never quite understand them. This whole government is cryptic in nature.

The reality is that there have been cuts in every ministry manageable, including the Ministry of Culture, which I know well. I have been there as a former minister. They have gutted that poor ministry because they don't value culture and the arts. This is a government that puts no value on the arts.

Mr Kormos: Comic book culture.

Mr Marchese: Maybe comic book culture they like and understand, possibly; I don't know.

This is the context, and this is why I don't blame a particular minister but blame the entire government for its actions. To blame one individual or another in that government is to assume they have some control. They don't. Much of the control is exercised by their ideology, represented largely by the Premier, for whom every other minister is an instrument. I blame, first of all, their ideology; second, the Premier and the hired guns around him; and third, the ministers and those who follow them.

Alongside this context of the incredible firings by this government that we have witnessed in the last couple of years of so many people who worked in ministries that deliver services for us all, what we have seen is incredible child poverty in Ontario, indeed all of Canada but particularly Ontario. This is under a Conservative government that claims to bring prosperity by its very nature. By its very ruling of this province it is to bring about prosperity. Yet we witness incredible child poverty in this province. We witness incredible poverty among our seniors. We witness record high unemployment in this province as they boast with galloping arrogance about the incredible number of jobs they have produced. We have seen record unemployment in Ontario under this government which claims by its very virtues to bring about great prosperity for us all.

I know whom they bring prosperity for. There's no doubt about that. As they drop down in the polls, the ordinary folks, the middle-class people who supported you or thought they should have supported you are beginning to understand that the people you folks support are those who have big bucks in their pockets. They're getting to know that. Ordinary people, even union members who, by mistake, thought there might be prosperity by having you guys, even they, poor people who thought they might get jobs through you people, the middle class who thought they might get a break, realize that with your tax break they're getting nothing. Of the tax break, as my friend from Welland-Thorold said, 60% is going to 10% of your wealthiest people who've got money in their pockets already. That's where it's going. They know that.

When you drop in the polls, we see a greater political consciousness happening. They see who's on whose side. When you support landlords over tenants, they know you people are supporting the people with money in their pockets. They're beginning to see the picture. That's the context I give you.

We're seeing a greater number of people who are working as part-time workers because they've lost their full-time job. You have fired most of them, and many out there are losing their jobs as they make their operations more efficient, like you folks. These people are fired and have nowhere to go. They're on minimum wage, many of them, part-time; some of them doing two or three jobs to make a living, to keep a standard of living that's modest. Wages are going down every year that you people are in power.

The context is this: As you blame everybody, you've got to think about what you are doing. The myth making is not what we create. The myth making is something that you folks create, because you've got the wheels, the apparatus of the state to create the myths. As you pretend to do things and as you pretend to pass the load to everybody else by blaming everybody else, as you see yourself going down in the polls, you will understand that they are understanding who is building the myths. It isn't us; it is you fine Tories on the other side.

As it relates to your competence, I wanted to touch, in context again, on the incredible number of bills you people are trying to pass on a daily basis in this House. With galloping speed you achieve galloping incompetence, because you cannot but be incompetent as you try to do so much at such great speed with such autocracy and haste, with your lack of respect for listening to people. As I tell you --

The Acting Speaker: The member for Fort York, I ask you to withdraw your unparliamentary language. I heard you use the word "hypocrisy."

Mr Marchese: No, no. I did not use the word "hypocrisy." I'm not sure what the clerk heard, but I said "autocracy," Speaker.

The Acting Speaker: It didn't sound like that.

Mr Marchese: That's all right. The record I'm sure will show what the clerks weren't able to hear, as they advise you. I appreciate that.


Mr Marchese: Perhaps she heard it; maybe the clerks didn't hear it. I apologize to the clerks.

Mr Bradley: I heard "autocracy."


Mr Marchese: "Autocracy" is what I said.

I talk about galloping incompetence because you can't manage this whole thing. You can't. You witness what you did with the megacity there, and if it wasn't for the good citizens of Toronto in particular but all of Metro, we would not have been able to hold this government back. We were able to hold them at least for a hearing so they could pretend they heard us, but they did so only because of the pressure that we put upon this government. Otherwise, they would not have listened to the people of Toronto and of Metro. That was speed. It is reflected in everything that this government does, and that is why we're worried about the competence of this government.

Witness what they have done to the family support plan, and my friend from Welland-Thorold spoke to this. When we speak of incompetence, we speak of government incompetence. Look what they did. They cut eight regional offices. The Attorney General says they did that to make it better, the motto of this government. Right? "We cut to make it better." Eight regional offices closed, 290 people let go, presumably to make the operations more efficient. Now, ordinary folks, working class, middle class, upper middle class, even they understand there's something afoot here. There's nothing sane about these cuts. There's some insanity or at least incompetence in what this government is doing.

My friend from Welland-Thorold went there with our colleague Shelley Martel, and what did they find when they went into that Downsview office? Utter chaos. What did they find? The plugs of the telephones were pulled off. The offices were virtually closed. The records were in boxes and left unattended. There was hardware all around but it wasn't working, it wasn't operational. Nobody was doing anything because they weren't plugged in, and there was no personnel to manage that.

Speaker, this is why I say to you, let us look at the issues of autocracy, issues of haste, issues of complete disregard for people who are affected by these policies, in this case women and children. It points to and questions the level of competence of this government. It needs to. What else can we say? What sane government, as my friend said, would do things like that, except those who would otherwise justify and create a myth around what they're trying to do? How do you mythologize this great blunder of this ministry, and I say this government, as we've seen, as our colleagues have seen, because there was a video there. So we worry about this government's ability to be able to carry through with Bill 128, which we support.

Happily, the federal government, although it did not do everything that many wanted it to do, which includes having 18-year-olds, those who are about to go university, as part of the family plan, which I believe should have been part of that, but under pressure they caved in, I suspect, so that wasn't touched. But it's a good idea. It has been in the making, in the works, for a couple of years. It was being debated for a couple of years. This government was part of those talks. The staff of this Attorney General was part of these talks. Surely they would have been prepared to put this into the works. As it was, it took them a long time. As it was, the Attorney General and the minister in charge of women's affairs said: "I don't think we're capable of dealing with this. Please, federal government, delay the implementation of this bill because we may not be able to do it well."

It raises two issues. First, I wish they could apply the same thinking that appears to be reasonable, the thinking that says, "Let's not rush because we may not be ready." I wish they'd applied that to the megacity, for example. I wish they'd applied that to Bill 7, the anti-worker legislation. I wish they'd applied this to the massacring of people on social assistance. I wish they would apply the same thinking to everything they're doing in this House, but they're not.

In this particular instance, you had the Attorney General and the minister of women's issues saying: "Let's slow down. We may not be ready." Good thinking, I thought. Would that this government were capable of slowing itself down so that it could apply that level-headedness to everything else they're doing, but they didn't.

Nevertheless, we have Bill 128 in front of us, which we support because it's something that will bring greater fairness to women and children and they need it. Child poverty is a serious problem in this country, in this province, and parents, particularly fathers in this case, although there are cases where women are involved but particularly fathers, have an obligation to make their payments to their children.

It befuddles me, not just befuddles but angers me, to know that there are men who are fathers of children who after leaving a relationship, for whatever reason, do not see fit to support their children. I find that, in my view, a criminal act by men that leave their children or leave their families and leave them unsupported. I cannot for the life of me understand how men can do that.

This Bill 128 moves the benchmarks a little bit ahead, along with the federal bill, so that we have guidelines that correspond to each other. This is an advance. We know that women's incomes drop by 60% -- that's probably an approximate figure -- after a situation of separation or divorce, and that men's income correspondingly increases by 40%. That's a study at least that they did in California. We might assume that you could apply, universally, that principle elsewhere, and it might vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction but, by and large, women and children are impoverished and most men do reasonably well economically. We can't afford to have a system where we are not protecting the people who are part of our society. Women and children are part of our society and we have an obligation, as a state, when men fail to do their duty, to make sure they do their duty.

The member for Welland-Thorold talked about Bill 82 and the enforcement mechanisms that were there that this government has failed to act upon. Why? Because they're so charged with the heavy responsibility of cutting, they don't have the time to think about what good it should do. That's why they haven't applied their heads to Bill 82. They don't have the time. They're too busy cutting everything, too busy firing people, to deal with a good issue as was evidenced in Bill 82.

We don't trust this government to do the right thing. Bill 128 is a good measure that should have been here a long while ago, but it is here before us and we are worried about this government's potential to be able to deliver on its enforcement mechanisms. We are afraid of this government's ability not to have the administrative capacity to deal with the variations that we talked about, where people will apply for variances, no doubt. The minister may be assuring us that the capacity is there. I am worried, and that's why my friend from Welland-Thorold talked about Bill 82 as a way of indicating this government's heart isn't there to do the right thing.

The bill was there, the measures were there, the tools were there, but they're not delivering. If they could only slow down this agenda that's harming everybody, they might be able to do a few good things, including making sure that Bill 128 is properly before us, properly legislated, properly staffed. If they stop the firings of all of our civil servants, we might be able to leave a couple of people to do a good job of what's left of this province.

But we're losing our confidence and people are losing their confidence in this government. That's why I see you guys going down in the polls. It's obvious to me. I know you're desperately thinking about what to do to recover from that drop, but I tell you, you are beyond hope, you are beyond salvation. Nobody can save you guys now. The descent is so steep, you don't have the fingernails to be able to put them into the rock and climb up. You don't have the fingernails to do that because, you see, as you're climbing up the fingernails are just breaking. Bill 128 is a good measure. I hope this government stops its agenda and staffs it properly to do it right.


The Acting Speaker: Questions and comments? The member for Nepean.

Mr John R. Baird (Nepean): I am pleased to have the opportunity to respond to my friend from Fort York. I should say at the outset I have great respect for the member for Fort York, but to listen to this former NDP minister, a key member of Bob Rae's team, this former minister and this member who squeezed the hard-working middle-class families in this province until they squealed -- tax increase after tax increase, killing jobs right across the province, in every region. They bore no problem in any part of the province.

In Marchese's Ontario, the only way to start a small business was to buy a big one and just wait as it became small. Bigger government and bigger taxes led to no hope, led to no opportunity and led to far too few jobs in this province.

We listened with great interest to the Minister of Community and Social Services list the long list of services and augmentations this government has brought in for children in this province. But the absolute best thing we can do for poor children in this province is to ensure that mom and dad can get a job, that they can go out and join the working world. That is the absolute best thing we can do for child poverty. Nothing else will do what that will do.

What have we seen in the last two years? Two hundred and twenty-four thousand net new jobs created in this province. To see the sour look on those opposition members' faces when they announced that -- sour, sour, sour. It's almost as if it's a bad thing that 224,000 net new jobs have been created.

What's happened at the same time? We've seen 219,000 people off welfare, 90,000 of whom, as the member for Durham West said, have been children.

So we've seen more hope, we've seen more opportunity and we've seen more job creation. Ontario has turned a corner. There is more hope for a brighter future. There is no social justice in high taxes and high debt. There is no social justice in $11-billion deficits.

Mrs McLeod: I appreciate the comments from the member for Fort York who, as other speakers on this legislation have done, has expressed concerns about whether or not Bill 128 will serve to get more money to women and children, just as we expressed concerns about whether Bill 82, the family support plan bill, would get more money to women and children.

With that in mind, I want to return to the comments that were made by the Attorney General earlier this evening, because the Attorney General felt compelled to recognize what we all knew, that there were some very serious problems with the operation of the family support plan, very serious backlogs. My concern in wanting to come back to the Attorney General's comments is that he continues to persist in a misunderstanding, perhaps deliberate, of the reasons why there were backlogs in this plan and the way in which his changes to the plan have totally confused the problem and made the problem worse.

The Attorney General seemed to suggest that there was a backlog in regional offices. I suggest to you that simply is not verified by the facts. I have a fact sheet that was put out by the ministry at the time they were making the changes. They recognized the fact there were 50,000 calls a day to the plan, with only about 6% of the callers getting through at any one time. That's province-wide, not in the regional offices. In the regional offices, they note that there were fewer than 60 people a day on average going into each regional office and those 60 people a day in each of the eight regional offices were going because they couldn't get through on the telephone.

What was the minister's answer to the problem? Shut down the regional offices, take away the access for those 60 people a day in eight offices who were at least finding a person who could help deal with the problems, add those to the backlog and create even greater backlogs for people trying to get through on the telephone.

The minister has to accept the fact that you can't actually improve the plan by simply taking a few staff from the regional offices and putting them into a still-overworked telephone system where nobody gets answers, and you can't do it with a 15% reduction in the budget of the family support plan, which is where this all started.

Mr Martin: I want to say that I am in complete sympathy with the argument put so cogently and so intelligently by the member for Fort York tonight. He has some real, genuine and sincere concerns about how this bill will fit into the whole program of this government.

He admits, as we all do, that this is a piece of legislation that has some merit, that will probably go a way to helping women and children. But if it's not dealt with in a sensitive, intelligent, efficient and effective manner, it will do nothing. It will fall into that big, black hole that the folks over here have developed around anything that concerns the wellbeing and the welfare of women and children in this province.

I was saying a little while ago, when I was cut off for perhaps a rather intemperate remark, that the first thing this government did in July 1995, upon getting the levers of power, they were so charged with this new opportunity, new energy they had that they took 22% away from the income of the lowest and most vulnerable people in our communities. All of those folks in our communities, for the most part, had children they were looking after.

Here we have a government that in a bullying way just took money that was going to go to putting bread on the table, to paying the rent, to putting clothes on the backs of children, on one hand, talking about their very sincere attempt, it seems, on the other hand, to put in place here some legislation that will help children, somewhat, I suppose -- and I hate to use this word because I know the Speaker is going to hop up and ask me to retract, but it is hypocritical, and that's unfortunate. But I retract, I withdraw.

The Acting Speaker: I say to the member for Sault Ste Marie, I am not going to hop up. I am going to ask you to withdraw your unparliamentary language.

Mr Martin: I will withdraw that remark. But it is.

Hon Cameron Jackson (Minister without Portfolio [Seniors Issues]): First of all, I'd like to respond to the comments from the member for Fort York who, as has been indicated, served in this House for quite a few years while he was a member of cabinet and in government.

I was deeply distressed to hear him refer to massacring people on social assistance. I think that is language which is most inappropriate in this House. But if the member were fair in examining his record of service for his government in this Legislature, he'd be reminded that it was under his government's jurisdiction that we saw the largest growth in welfare recipients in this province's history.

It was open-ended. There was in fact an organized plan on the part of the government of the day to punch a huge hole and siphon off dollars from the legal aid plan of this province, millions and millions of dollars specifically designed for turning over as much as 60% of all the files for welfare recipients in this province and causing unnecessary expense to taxpayers and inappropriate use of both welfare and legal aid dollars in this province, until we caught wind of it and put a stop to it in 1994.

I recall under his government the ads that were being placed in Alberta: Come to Ontario -- essentially to get a rental unit. But the point was that this was the most expensive welfare in North America. This was a testament to the government, that this is what they were advocating, that we were going to be the richest welfare state in North America. That is the history of the former government and that's why they're the former government and why the decisions they made got them into so much trouble. You were so busy trying to buy the votes of the poor that you cheated them out of their own future.

The Acting Speaker: The member for Fort York.

Mr Marchese: I want to thank the members for Nepean, Fort William Sault Ste Marie and Burlington South for their comments. I appreciate them.

I do want to say, would that the poor would vote for the NDP, because if they did, we'd form a government almost every time. The sad matter is that a lot of them vote for them, for those people there. That's the sad reality of it.

Mr Wettlaufer: What's sad about it?

Mr Marchese: The sad reality, my good friend from Kitchener, is this: You see the soul of this government as you hear the member for Nepean and the member for Burlington South. You see the soul. It's not a big window. You could see it. It's the tiniest of windows.

You see how smug they are. You can feel how these people can do no wrong. You can see, as the member for Burlington South speaks, that he builds this idyllic picture of what this government is doing and that what we did in the past was bleak, was bad, and what you folks are doing is idyllic. You can do no wrong.

Oh, the galloping jobs we're seeing under this government, contrasted to the highest level of unemployment we have ever seen -- under them. But you see how smug they are. They say, "The opposition doesn't like to praise us as we build these thousands of jobs," but they are creating the worst unemployment situation I've ever seen, under them. You see the arrogance, you see the autocracy, you see the haste, you see the dictatorial nature of this government and you see the smugness. Each time you listen to these people, they present --

Mr Kormos: Smarmy.

Mr Marchese: It is smarmy, isn't it? It's smarmy because it isn't real. You're going down in the polls, and it's a reflection of the fact that people see it. It can't last much longer. The only way you might save yourselves is to stop this agenda, but on Bill 128 we're with you and we hope you put in the resources to make it work.


Mr Ed Doyle (Wentworth East): I rise to speak in support of Bill 128. I will be talking about the bill tonight, by the way, which is in effect the Uniform Federal and Provincial Child Support Guidelines Act, so I'll talk about that.

The member for Fort York had mentioned that we're sliding in the polls. I would like to start my address by saying that when the slide stops, we'll still be standing on their heads, because they haven't gone anywhere in the polls, up or down.

When we first came to power in 1995, the people of the province were pretty frustrated. They wanted some change, and they're getting change. We never said in the campaign that it was going to be change that would come easily. We never said that, I never said that and I don't know of any of my colleagues who did. They simply wanted government that was going to be more efficient, and we're going to give them more efficient government. That's what we are attempting to do, and we're succeeding in most cases.

The people also wanted different governments to work together; that is, work with the federal government. This bill is a fine example of how we are working together with the federal government to make the province and the country a better place in which to live so that we can administer our programs more efficiently.

The people of Ontario said they wanted a system that is going to be simple to understand, one that is basically user-friendly, not a cumbersome system and not one convoluted by different laws and regulations. This is just another example of how this administration is working towards making the operation of government much more effective and reducing the maze of confusing and conflicting laws and regulations between different levels of government.

This evening we are debating and asking the Legislature to bring Ontario's Family Law Act into line with the federal child support guidelines. Right now, federal laws apply to divorce, while provincial family law applies in all other cases, such as when parents are separated, were never married, for example, or maybe have an out-of-court agreement. By paralleling the support guidelines, the same approach to calculating child support will apply regardless of whether a child support order is made under federal or provincial law.

The guidelines replace the current practice of determining child support on an ad hoc, case-by-case basis. At the present time, a situation such as that can happen in Ontario. Perhaps an individual seeks support due to a separation. In this case, the Family Law Act applies and the judge makes a support order without any guidelines. After a time, the same individual may apply for and receive a divorce. This would mean, of course, that the federal Divorce Act would then be in effect and a new support order under different guidelines would apply. Even though there may not have been any material change in the recipient's situation, it is possible that a judge can set a new child support order not consistent with the previous. This would cause financial disruption and uncertainty for the recipient. Two sets of laws affecting parents and children in the same province could and would create confusion and inequity.

The changes proposed in this piece of legislation are a progressive step by this government and will undoubtedly provide a better, more effective method of determining child support. These changes in guidelines will lower legal costs for parents, speed up the resolution of family disputes and create predictability and certainty in the system. Above all, they will ensure more consistent treatment to support-paying parents and provide sufficient flexibility to ensure awards are fair and relate to individual circumstances.

For the vast majority of parents, the guidelines will mean they can determine the amount of child support that a judge would likely order before even going to trial. In most cases this should reduce conflict and the need for lengthy and costly negotiations.

The guidelines are also meant to maintain a high level of consistency so that people in the same circumstances will pay the same amount. This is an important point, because discrepancies between similar cases have often been a sticking point with most people. This legislation will address those concerns.

The guidelines offer flexibility so that other factors can be considered in determining a support order. For example, child support amounts can be adjusted to recognize a child's special needs and expenses or to prevent financial hardship for a parent or child in extraordinary circumstances.

During this debate, both opposition parties have supported the goals and benefits of harmonizing the guidelines. They have also agreed with the government that consistency and predictability would be in the best interests of those involved, particularly the children.

Under the guidelines, parents will continue to have the opportunity to negotiate out of the courts the child support payments that they feel best meet the needs of their child or children. When their agreement goes to court, the judges will simply refer to the guidelines to make sure the amount of child support is reasonable.

At the same time as supporting the government's initiative on this legislation, the opposition has sometimes accused the government of delaying the introduction or second reading of Bill 128. Well, that simply isn't correct. It was prudent for the government to wait until the federal government had finalized its guidelines before Ontario brought forward its legislation to comply with the federal format, which we did on May 1. Many other provinces followed the same course. Thus far, five other provinces have followed the same route as here in Ontario, while most of the other provinces have indicated their intention of moving in the same direction.

Leading up to the introduction and implementation of the new federal guidelines, the ministry has been developing a detailed implementation plan for the federal child support guidelines in consultation with an external advisory group made up of senior members of the judiciary and practising lawyers to ensure a smooth transition. The province is already offering a number of services aimed at providing parents with the information and help they need to understand the guidelines and ideally to reach agreements before they go to court. Information officers are based in the busiest courts, and all courts have staff trained to provide information to help people with the filing of various applications. Ontario will also assess the impact of the guidelines on families and can make changes to the guidelines if that proves to be necessary.

The legislation is clearly an example of cooperation between different levels of government. Ultimately, we will have a better system that is easier to understand and will be governed by a single set of rules instead of the two that are currently used. This legislation is another example of the Harris government working to improve the workings and operations of government. Why do we need differing laws and regulations that don't serve any particular need? By streamlining and adopting the federal guidelines for child support, we will ensure that the inequities in treatment of children in child support will end and that support payments will be consistent throughout the province.

Children are the first priority, and this legislation will indeed help those families in these circumstances to navigate through the process without the unneeded difficulties of dealing with the differences in law between two levels of government.

The Acting Speaker: Questions and comments?

Mr Bradley: Thank you very much, Madam Speaker. I have been prevailed upon to respond to the speech.

I want to compliment the member on defending the government position on this. He spoke directly to the bill and the provisions of the bill and didn't take an opportunity to look at it in the context of all the other legislation that's coming in and the difficulties that are being faced by people who are in a disadvantaged position.

For example, I think we can tie it into the bill by saying it's extremely important as a bill because single parents are going to be faced with less public transportation or more expensive public transportation. We're going to have libraries now charging user fees. If the children are to play such games as hockey, which is a more expensive game than others, you'll perhaps be astounded at what is charged now as a registration for youngsters. I look at a number of different areas, including rent control, because when a person is compelled for some reason or other to leave one rental accommodation to go to another rental accommodation, that person will find that she or he is facing a rent increase.

So in the context of everything else that's happening, this bill is positive, but I think we must look at it in that context, as many of the speakers have.

We also have to ensure that with any piece of legislation, the appropriate resources are available to enforce it. If you do not have sufficient resources and staff and allocation of funds, the provisions of the bill are virtually meaningless, and I know the member would not want them to be.


Mr Kormos: Let me return briefly to a matter that the member for Fort William raised in her comments, and the member for St Catharines has made reference to it. We're talking about access. If the government members would prefer not to believe what I have to say -- and that's fine -- go talk to the women for whom legal counsel is impossible because of the drastic cuts in the course of the last two years to legal aid funding. This government hasn't met its responsibility to ensure that women have access to counsel. Talk to these women. They may not be coming to your constituency office, but they're coming to New Democrats' constituency offices expressing with great sadness the fact that needed legal services are being denied them, and being denied them in growing numbers.

Go talk to Brenda Harlen, who practises family law down in Welland. Talk to Dianne Grenier, another family law practitioner. Talk to any number of hardworking, committed counsel who dearly want to advocate on behalf of women's and children's interest in family litigation.

We know that this bill should generate and has attracted a great deal of attention on the part of a whole lot of mothers who understand that they should be seeking variances of the support that's being paid for their children's care and welfare to meet the new guidelines but who aren't going to get that variance, who aren't going to get access to that courtroom, because this government hasn't demonstrated any capacity to develop a plan of preparation.

How refreshing it would be for somebody from this government, be it the government House leader or the Attorney General or the Premier, to stand and say there is going to be a specific response to the dramatic new needs that are being generated by Bill 128. I'm afraid we won't hear that from them.

Hon Mr Harnick: I listened intently to the remarks of my colleague. Certainly he outlined very carefully what the contents of the bill are all about and he also outlined very carefully how important it will be to have Ontario's guidelines compatible with the federal guidelines. That's really what this bill is all about.

We know that in Ottawa this bill was extensively researched. It was the product of about six years of federal-provincial consultation across the country. All of the provinces are considering, if they haven't done it already, their own compatible legislation. The federal government held a very extensive hearing process to ensure that the bill was going to provide benefits.

My colleague from Wentworth certainly outlined in very great detail why it's important for this bill to be passed and to make sure that people going to court under a provincial bill were not having different criteria applied to them as they sought a court order or a support order than people who were going to court under a divorce petition and seeking a support order. It doesn't make sense to deal with it any differently. The member for Wentworth East set this out in very clear detail. I know there are many members here who were talking about a number of other topics tonight, but that is what Bill 128 is about and he very instructively went through the bill.

Mrs McLeod: The member for Wentworth East and the Attorney General both miss the essential point of tonight's debate. The problem is not with the piece of legislation. Bill 128 is fine. It follows the federal model. For the first time we have a piece of legislation before this House which follows something which does make sense and which we can look forward to supporting. That's not the issue.

The issue is whether or not it is actually going to lead to some assurance that women and children will get the dollars they need. In this case, the bill undoubtedly involves more access to the court to ensure that they can get the support they need. That's why we keep coming back to the issue of legal aid. The Attorney General wants to somehow ignore that problem by saying, "Of course there are problems with legal aid, but they all belong to the New Democrats." There is a problem with legal aid now, and the problem specifically affects the ability of this government to do anything at all with Bill 128, which is before us tonight.

The review which the Attorney General has just released publicly makes it very clear that the legal aid support plan had hoped, despite the fact that there were very severe limitations, tariffs, put on access to certificates, that it would be able to grant 29,000 family law certificates in 1996-97. That would cover, hopefully, priority one and priority two matters. Priority two matters are support variations subject to a cost-benefit analysis. That's one of the areas in priority two and it is specifically the area that Bill 128 addresses tonight.

The fact is that in 1996-97, only 14,063 family law certificates were issued. The other fact is that before there was a tariff, a limitation put on the number of family law certificates that could be issued, support variation certificates were already reduced. So they got a double hit. There's going to be no additional support for women to get into court to get the variation they need.

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

Mr Doyle: Thank you very much, Madam Speaker, and my thanks to the minister as well. I feel a little odd in that the members for St Catharines, Fort William and indeed Welland-Thorold have more or less given me a bit of a scolding because I addressed the bill. I find that to be somewhat unusual, but there are other people in the province who really are appreciative of this bill and the fact that it is going to do a lot of good for the province and the women and children of the province. This is a government that is attempting to do what the people of the province would like us to do. They wanted change and we tried to provide that.

I would like to read to you some of the people who support what we're doing in this bill. The legislation introduced will bring Ontario's Family Law Act into line with the federal government's child support guidelines. One of the people who supports it, for example, is lawyer Phil Epstein.

"This is a progressive step," he says, "by the Ontario government and it will undoubtedly provide a better and more effective method of determining child support." He goes on to say, "The adoption of the guidelines will lower legal costs for parents, speed up the resolution of family disputes and create predictability and certainty."

"Above all," he goes on to say, "they will ensure more consistent treatment to support-paying parents and yet provide sufficient flexibility to ensure that awards are fair and relate to individual and family circumstances."

The government is attempting to make government work better for citizens, and this bill will certainly go a long way in accomplishing that.


The Acting Speaker: Further debate?

Mrs Sandra Pupatello (Windsor-Sandwich): I am happy to speak to Bill 128. As we've indicated, we will be supporting the bill.

The most difficult part of being an opposition member is that we don't get an opportunity, as the government does, to get the message out to the people of Ontario about what they really are doing, in particular for children in Ontario. The worst part about the presentation of this bill is that they forward the information as though they were doing something wonderful for children in Ontario. In fact, we even had the minister in the House this evening giving us a whole long list of announcements and investments they've made, all in the name of helping children.

Quite frankly, the public in Ontario is not buying that message. I'll admit that they're certainly doing everything they can -- it's notable, I guess, that that minister in particular worked in communications with the Conservatives for a number of years and now is continuing in that work to constantly communicate a message, whether those things are true or not. We have found many instances -- because we are going around the province and talking to people right out there on the front line who are telling us that the plan in this government, the Conservative government of Ontario, is not in favour of children.

The Attorney General forwarded this bill for us to debate as though magically things are going to become wonderful for children. The reality is, as has been mentioned by my colleagues on this side of the House, that if people cannot access the system, they'll never get the benefits of this. We can see the same thing happening with the disability changes happening in Ontario under the bill we will be debating. In Bill 142 the pattern is the same. While some of the supports that will be introduced will serve a certain population, the hook is that it'll only serve those people who manage to get over the bar and be classified as disabled enough, according to this government's regulation, to ever access the good things that may be available there. The same is true with Bill 128.

The most worrisome part about this Ontario government, these Conservatives, is that the pattern is so similar in such a number of ministries that it makes me realize that each minister doesn't talk to the other, that you don't realize all the impacts on children, for one, on mothers, for another. How can you honestly say that a family support plan is working in Ontario today when each one of us in this House receives countless calls from mothers and fathers who still are not able to access supports they are duly to be receiving? We're still getting those calls.

Last Friday, I was in my constituency office and met one of the fathers, who complained bitterly about paying on a regular basis, whose company where he works legitimately every other week takes payments from him to turn them over, but with the spouse, the mother of the children, who has custody, never receiving the money. Yet day after day we have the Attorney General standing up and claiming that everything is rosy and everything is wonderful. We have example after example where that is simply not the case.

The pattern is absolutely alarming. My community of Windsor is suffering greatly because of the significant cuts to the health care system by this Conservative government. Now, I will admit that the NDP certainly started us down the road of cuts. But we're concerned about this pattern of not preparing communities for the cuts you impose under the guise of making it more efficient. It simply doesn't work.

We had a bit of a break this past week in that we were finally given access to a private report. It's entitled -- with a big stamp "confidential" -- Clinical Review of Emergency Services in Windsor. There are a number of people in here who are aware of the difficulties we're experiencing with our Windsor health care. We recognized a long time ago that this government is obligated to plan in the community before it forces hospitals to stop delivering those services, but they haven't done that, and now they've been caught red-handed with their own report commissioned by their own minister -- absolutely the most damning piece of evidence ever in terms of health care service delivered anywhere in Ontario.

We reckon that many communities should be very fearful, because this is the same pattern occurring in your own community. Your minister stands up and talks about the reinvestment that never actually happens. This very same minister, who talked about reinvesting in Windsor, must stand up and admit that not one red cent has yet to be delivered to the Windsor community. Yet they continue to talk about reinvestments.

The same is true with all the other programs affecting children. Even tonight the minister stood once again with her list of what they've done for children. May I say that on the child care issue not one red cent has flowed from last year's budgeted amount of $40 million to improve child care. Her Minister of Finance had to admit on national CBC television that that amount was never spent. But you lauded that program, "Look what we're doing for child care." Not one red cent of that $40 million was ever spent, and in fact now it's been converted to a tax credit. For many families that means they've got to spend money that they may or may not have in order to access the credit in the first place.

That's the part of the story that the government doesn't tell you. They don't tell you that we haven't had a cent spent yet on speech therapy, which was announced last year, but the minister tonight stands and talks again about their reinvestment for speech therapy. Let me say again, not one red cent has yet been delivered to the people who are to use that money. We are talking to the people on the line.

The Acting Speaker: Excuse me, member for Windsor-Sandwich. There is a lot of noise in this chamber, and I would ask the private conversations to go on outside the chamber. Thank you.

Mrs Pupatello: We heard again tonight about this increase of thousands of children accessing the breakfast program. May I say again, not one red cent is finding its way to actually serving breakfast programs in Ontario. Only last week we heard of the Metro Toronto breakfast program --

Hon Mrs Ecker: On a point of order, Madam Speaker.

The Acting Speaker: Just a moment, Minister. I call the members to order. There is far too much noise. I cannot even hear the minister on a point of order. Go ahead, Minister.

Hon Mrs Ecker: I would just like to encourage the honourable member to please check her facts. I would not want to accuse her of doing anything that is wrong here --

The Acting Speaker: I'm sorry. That's not a point of order.

Hon Mrs Ecker: I wish she would check her facts. She is incorrect.

The Acting Speaker: It's not a point of order. Please continue.

Mrs Pupatello: The Minister of Health -- I'll give you an example from just this month -- at the Ontario Hospital Association stood in front of all kinds of hospital directors and actually said that he has reinvested $45 million into Windsor health care. The reality is that not one red cent has found its way to Windsor in health care. That is a fact. That is a fact that has been acknowledged by the minister himself, who dared to sit on this most damning evidence yet for over 30 days and has yet to act when we are in desperate need of capital moneys to make renovations because you closed our emergency ward. You didn't allow us to expand the others before you closed it.

This is the group that is responsible for the kind of services we have in our communities today, and this bill is yet one more example of terrible planning by this government. You don't plan for the changes you make. Tell me what good it is to bring in more guidelines and more rules when you don't have the people to enforce them.

In my community, you closed the Windsor regional office for family support and threw people who had a significant amount of experience in dealing with this issue out on the streets. Instead, you have a completely boggled system that doesn't work. We in our offices see the full brunt of that, because we have families, children who aren't getting the support they need. This government can take the blame. It lies exactly at this Attorney General's feet, the very minister who tonight has us debating Bill 128. This bill may do more for families, but you cannot look at this by itself, because you have to allow families to actually access the system.

All of us tonight spoke about the report of the Ontario legal aid review. It proved what we have been saying all along, that there are women, mostly, who cannot access the legal system to go through the courts so that Bill 128 will be of any use to them. If you can't access the system because you can't get the legal aid certificate -- lawyers don't want to honour legal aid certificates any more because this government, the Mike Harris government, doesn't have a great track record in terms of honouring those same certificates.

How can you stand today and talk about what you're doing for children? The minister, who has the nerve to put his own face on a food bank bag in his community, wants to be part of this group that purports to be for children. We've seen all of that already. We've seen what is really driving this. All the things you are doing for children you're only doing to them; you're not doing for them. The reality is that there are things happening in Ontario today that, had you considered effects on children first, you just wouldn't have done. At least I'm giving you credit. I'm suggesting that if you knew the negative effects on children, you wouldn't have done it. You certainly wouldn't have cut $17 million from front-line workers of children's aid.

Hon Mrs Ecker: We're spending more on child welfare than you did, Sandra.

Mrs Pupatello: The minister continues to harp about what they're doing. The truth of the matter is that you have 250 fewer social workers. We now have reports of the caseloads around Ontario for child care workers through children's aid. There are social workers out there with over 40 cases of children, and this minister stands up as though she's got an answer for this? It is her government that cut money to children's aid without ever knowing it would mean fewer workers on the streets.

The Acting Speaker: Would the member for Windsor-Sandwich like to adjourn the House?

Mrs Pupatello: It being 9:30, I'm prepared to continue my debate when Bill 128 arises next.

The Acting Speaker: It being 9:30 of the clock, this House stands adjourned until 1:30 tomorrow afternoon.

The House adjourned at 2130.