36th Parliament, 1st Session

l243b - Wed 8 Oct 1997 / Mer 8 Oct 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.

Mr Bud Wildman (Algoma): This is a bill that deals with bringing the provincial regulations with regard to family law into line with the federal ones and it is one we all support. We hope it will mean it will serve the needs of families that are undergoing separation or divorce in a way that is better than we've seen before and will avoid the problems that have occurred in the past because the laws were not compatible, provincially and federally.

But all of us in this House have expressed concern during this debate about the fact that we are making this amendment at a time when the government of Ontario has made an utter mess of the family support plan. This has been an ongoing controversy ever since the minister decided in his wisdom that he could centralize the operation and continue to serve the needs of women and their children particularly from one centralized office at Downsview. So the minister laid off about 290 experienced staff and closed eight regional offices.

We all recognize that in the past there have been serious problems with the family support plan in Ontario in previous governments. People were not receiving the support payments to which they were entitled, and in some cases this was going on for a long time and there were long periods of arrears in payments. This caused suffering for families. Children were not getting the kind of support that was required and in many cases single parents were relegated to having to be dependent on social assistance because they were not getting the kind of support they were entitled to.

How the Attorney General believed he was going to be able to improve the plan by laying off experienced staff and closing offices is beyond me. Even when the regional offices were open, they were so busy it was sometimes difficult to get through to them. To close down the offices and to centralize operations at Queen's Park or Downsview would mean it would be even more difficult to get through.

I'd like to relate a case in my own constituency where a constituent of mine had not received support payments since January. She had contacted the 1-800 number repeatedly with no answer. She could never get through. She finally contacted my office after many weeks and months, my staff person, who spends half of her time now on family support problems. I have one staff person who spends half her time doing it. She was able to get through to the new office because, after all the problems they've had, they have now appointed a staff person to deal with each constituency office for MPPs. This person phones our office once a week -- I believe it's Thursday mornings -- and they spend approximately two hours on the phone dealing with cases.

So she was able to get through to the person who deals with our office. That person didn't know anything about the case and was going to have to check. That was last spring. Eventually the support plan staff indicated to my office that it would be at least a month, I understand, before she could get her payments. So okay, she waited a month. Keep in mind she hasn't had any income since January. She waited a month and nothing happened.

She didn't hear anything and then, ironically, she contacted my constituency office, but that was in mid-summer and my constituency office was closed. Both my constituency assistants, the one who deals with the family support plan and other social assistance-type cases and my other staff person who deals with other types of cases, were on holiday. We closed the office for two weeks. We had notified the public that we were going to close the office. We had to close the office so my staff could have some holidays.

She was, I think understandably, upset with our office because she couldn't get through to our office. She needs the money. So she contacted me personally. My assistant here at Queen's Park contacted the office and she got in touch with an individual who was just a new person who was now dealing with us and a new person dealing with the case. This new person really worked hard on this case, got the information, got back to my staff person here at Queen's Park and informed her that this woman would have to wait a number of weeks more before she could get paid.

When my staff person told me that, I was very angry. Because this government believes the fall begins in August, we had actually come back into session, so I said, "Tell that staff person at that office that if she doesn't get her cheque in a week, this matter is going to be raised in the House with the Attorney General."

My assistant phoned the staff person back and that staff person was quite upset at this. He said: "What's the problem? I mean, it's only going to be a few more weeks." My staff person said, "Well, she hasn't had any money since January." He said, "But that's not fair. I've only been working at this office for three weeks." It wasn't fair that I would raise this matter in the House because the individual who has been working for the family support plan office was only in the job for three weeks and therefore he thought I was being unfair by suggesting I would embarrass him and his minister by raising it in the House.

Keep in mind that the spouse of the individual we're talking about is also very angry because he's been paying. It wasn't that he wasn't paying. His cheques had been going in and she hadn't been getting the money.

What did we find? We found that somebody -- we still don't know who -- lost the cheque, and miraculously when the staff person was informed that this was going to be raised in the Legislature, the cheque was found and within less than a week she got a cheque and she was very happy.

But then what did we find? She didn't get all the money that had been owed to her since January; she got a first instalment, and we're told that that's because it's unfair -- I guess it is -- to the spouse, despite the fact that the spouse isn't at fault in this. So I guess it's even more unfair to the spouse that all the money should then be taken immediately and given to his ex-wife.


This individual still hasn't got all the money that's owed to her. It's not because of her spouse. There have been problems with the spouse's employer, I understand, but the main problem is with the family support plan office. The place is in chaos. It's getting better, yes, but it's getting better from a low of service that resulted from the Attorney General's decision to close the regional office, lay off the experienced staff and hand over as much money as possible to the Treasurer to provide a tax cut for wealthy people at the expense of people who are dependent on support cheques.

We're passing this legislation now to bring the laws of Ontario into line with the federal government, and we support that, but we do not support the Attorney General, whose incompetence has been shown over and over here and whose office is in chaos and can't meet the needs of people who deserve their support payments and depend on them. This woman hasn't had her payments since January. She's just got part of it. She deserves to be paid, and the minister's responsible for fixing the problem.

The Deputy Speaker (Mr Gilles E. Morin): Questions or comments?

Mr Pat Hoy (Essex-Kent): I indeed want to comment on the horror stories the member for Algoma has spoken about here tonight in regard to the family support plan. We too have experienced great difficulty achieving the rights that people need through this family support program. We too, at my constituency office, were assigned a person we could talk to on a regular basis about caseloads flowing into my office far, far too frequently. That person does their very best with the resources they have and the many members they may have to deal with in the many ridings and the many persons who are suffering under the current family support plan and its lack of ability to provide funds in a timely manner to those persons who require those moneys.

As well, these people have holidays like many others, and a substitute person will be put in place to take over those case loads. But this substitute person quite often doesn't have the background to the case we are talking about, does not have any previous involvement with it, and we go back to square one and start over again. In some cases, we cannot reach the person substituting for the person who may be on sick leave or on holiday, so the people in the riding who deserve the money wait to pay their utilities, to pay for food and to pay for rent. I suggest to the minister that they are woefully understaffed and the people need more help.

Mr Gilles Bisson (Cochrane South): I just want to make a few comments about the presentation made by the member for Algoma. He's quite right when he talks about the increased caseload we've seen in our constituency offices. In my office in Cochrane South, Iroquois Falls and Matheson, it came to a question of, on one side, people not being able to receive their family support payments and, on the other end, husbands were paying their family support payments by way of payroll deduction from their employers -- garnishee, as it's called -- and the money was not flowing through the system.

I can tell you, from the moment the Attorney General closed the regional offices in Sudbury and other communities across this province, where we never had a problem before with cases where people were getting their support payments deducted from their paycheques and passed on to their spouses -- the only problems we had were fairly minor and you were able to deal with them -- when the government closed the regional offices of the family support plan and moved everything into Downsview and threw it into boxes and into chaos, we started seeing all kinds of problems. It wasn't that you had one, two or three cases at any one time in your constituency office; for a period of about a year, about 40% to 50% of our caseload, depending on the week, was family support plan work, because the government had messed up the whole transition.

Here we are, about a year and a half after the transition, and it has not gone away. The government tries to pretend that they've now fixed the problem and we no longer have a problem with it, but they're wrong. On average, about 20% of our caseload is still dealing with family support plan.

The member is perfectly right when he points out the problems, and I urge the government to move a heck of a lot faster than they have up to now to fix this problem.

Mr James J. Bradley (St Catharines): I commend the member for outlining once again the problems that exist with the family support program. Naturally, this bill is one which we hope will be helpful in terms of synchronizing efforts with the federal government, because there is a component there that does affect the federal government. But I think the member has aptly pointed out what happened when the government rushed to close the regional offices without having in place, at the central office it was moving to, the appropriate number of individuals and the appropriate resources to deal with the many problems that exist in the family support plan.

I think there is wide support for the family support plan as such; all three political parties have indicated that over the years. There were some initial problems when the regional offices were established, but at least people felt they could go to those offices. They were sufficiently close that people could visit those offices and try to rectify any problem they may have been encountering.

But to move to the central office, a move, by the way, which was motivated by the fact that the government had to make up for the lost revenue from the tax cut which benefits the wealthiest people in our society the very most -- this rush to do things proved to be a mistake for the government. It did not have in place the appropriate resources. It did not have sufficient staff to deal with all the problems and challenges that had been dealt with at the regional offices. The government was certainly wrong in moving forward without at the very least having something else in place to rectify the problem.

Mr Len Wood (Cochrane North): The member for Algoma did a good job of explaining the problem that was created when the Attorney General decided to close down all the offices and move all the material that was in these offices into boxes and put them in transports and move them down to Downsview.

The member for Algoma mentioned that one staff person used half their time dealing with family support problems. The same thing was happening in my office; as a matter of fact, it still is.

This is an example of an incompetent Attorney General who decided to shut down all the offices and lay off all the staff, and as a result, women and children suffered across this province for six or seven months; some of them are still suffering. We know that the spouses in most cases are having the money deducted from their paycheques and it's going into the fund, and for some reason the Attorney General and his staff are not able to get this money flowing out to support the women and children who need it to make sure there's a roof over their heads and food on the table and that they can live a fairly healthy life.

The problem was created by the Attorney General and the Conservative government deciding they were going to move too quickly, and in this particular case they moved in the wrong direction. No government should shut down a support system with over 100 employees and put everything into transports, move it into a building and then not hook up the computers, not hook up the telephone lines. Nothing was done until we sent a couple of people from our caucus over to check out the building and make a video and expose the incompetence of the government. That's exactly what happened.


The Deputy Speaker: The member for Algoma, two minutes.

Mr Wildman: I'd like to thank my colleagues the members for Essex South, Cochranes north and south, and St Catharines north, south, east and west for their comments.

We support the passage of this legislation. I must say I'm surprised that one of my friends from the governing party did not choose to comment on my remarks -- I suppose that means they're in complete agreement with them -- particularly since one of the arguments raised by the government as a defence for the rule changes is that they wanted more members on their side to be able to speak. Here they had an opportunity to speak and they chose not to. It must mean they agree with me, and I'm glad that's the case, because it is time for us all to admit that this was a serious mistake by the government to close the regional offices, to lay off the experienced staff and to centralize everything in Downsview.

My friend from Cochrane North mentioned that two members of this Legislature visited that office in Downsview, which the minister had said was up and running, and found that most of the files were still in the moving van boxes, that the computer components were strewn around the floor, the place was in chaos, the phones weren't hooked up. No wonder the place wasn't getting the cheques to the people who needed them.

That was because of a decision made by this government to close down regional offices and lay off staff to save money. The purpose of saving the money was to try to give more money to the Minister of Finance to help finance the tax cut. The tax cut, 66% of it, will benefit the top 10% of wage earners in this province on the backs of the women and children who need these support payments. These kids are paying for your tax cut.

The Deputy Speaker: Further debate? The member for Essex South.

Mr Hoy: Essex-Kent, Mr Speaker. But I must say that Essex South is a great riding, as is Essex-Kent.

I'm pleased to speak on Bill 128, the Uniform Federal and Provincial Child Support Guidelines Act. Any legislation that clarifies spousal and child support and provides greater access to that support for women and children is indeed a positive step. I hope this legislation actually provides that. We need a positive step for spouses, many of whom are women, but not exclusively, and their children in regard to family support.

We know in this House that the government closed the regional offices and centralized their operations in Downsview. They closed an office near my riding, in the city of Windsor. The government went on to create the Family Responsibility Office. But what the government actually created was a problem, a new problem for the spouses and children who are to receive family support.

It's important to note that this support is not government money. I think some people who hear us speaking about this current problem believe these cheques actually flow from the government to spouses and children. But that's not the case. These are court-ordered payments; the courts have deemed the amounts to go to those in these cases. It's very important to note that this money is court-ordered and should flow freely and on time to these people.

Our experience in our constituency offices -- I have two -- is that there has been a total lack of staffing to deal with the change the government has brought about. We are deluged with calls and continue to receive many calls from constituents who are not receiving their money either in a timely manner or, in most cases, at all. They need these moneys to pay for their utilities, to pay for their rent, to pay for clothing for their children. We're into a new school year. We had many people call us and say, "My children need new clothes to go to school, and we're having a difficult time paying for that."

For me, I suppose the saddest part of their not receiving their moneys is when they may lose the roof over their head, whether it's a rented apartment or home or one they are paying a mortgage on. They're many, many months behind in getting their moneys, and they're having difficulty making mortgage payments. One in particular comes to mind, where the mother was fearful that her whole family was going to be out on the street. She's a working mother. She tries to provide as best she can for her family. She happens to drive a school bus. I know a little about the problems with school buses at this time, people passing school buses when they should not be.

The problem is such that our constituency offices in the last year have seen our long-distance calls escalate to almost double. Our constituency offices are calling the family support plan on a regular basis, hoping someone will answer the call. Many times we are put on hold for 20 minutes or more. Then, when we do reach someone to speak to and they have the time -- they're doing the best they can, but when they get off the line from the other person they may be talking to -- we may be up to an hour or more discussing cases. Clearly, in my view, they are understaffed. Individuals trying to call the family support plan have an even more difficult time. I've had people say they have called hourly throughout the day and cannot get through.

We don't mind helping these individuals. That's our role. As MPPs, our role is to help people. That's the way I see my role in total: to be here to form legislation that will help people. We don't mind helping; we don't mind at all. But if the system worked, we wouldn't have nearly the amount of work we have in regard to family support. There would be no need for our help in most cases if the system worked. But the minister has botched the transition from the regional offices to what is now located here in Downsview.

The minister knew of this problem -- we've heard it on a daily and weekly basis in this House -- and he said he would help. He said cheques would be processed within 24 to 36 hours. So here in the House I crossed the floor to the minister and gave him 40 cases to look at. We didn't hear anything for two weeks, after he said cheques would flow in 24 to 36 hours. Then that two weeks extended to a month, and nothing happened. People were waiting for their funds, court-ordered funds, to provide for their children, indeed to provide for themselves.

We couldn't read some of the family support responses we did get. They were in what I call chicken scratch. There were notes in the corners, notes on the bottom, acronyms no one knew. When we called back, no one at the office knew what they were either. So here's another time lag: information sent to us on these cases and no one could read them; they were indecipherable. That's a total waste of time for all and again a delay for the people who required the money.


So what do these people do? They come to the constituency offices and ask for our help. One travelled here to a legislative committee, and in that committee the parliamentary assistant, after hearing of her plight, and staff within the ministry, said, "We will help you; we're going to rectify your problem," where her children potentially would be thrown out of their home because of a lack of court-ordered funds.

She was very pleased. She thought the government had finally heard her plea and it would indeed do something about it. After all, it was the parliamentary assistant who said so. Absolutely nothing happened. So no one is happy. Employers have made the proper deductions and the money does not flow to those who should receive it.

The Attorney General knew in advance that this change from the regional offices to Downsview was going to cause problems, it was going to cause delay. He was advised that the new system was going to create havoc and he went ahead and did it anyway. He went ahead and put the livelihood of many people in jeopardy. Why not wait? What was the rush? Do it right. But, no, they rushed ahead, and many people suffered because of it. They suffered because the minister was in a hurry, even after being advised that he should not move so quickly.

There now are self-help groups springing up in Ontario to counsel and advise people who are not receiving their moneys. One that I'm aware of is called TNT Now: Takes No Time Now. They're helping individuals who think they are the only one with this problem and they're telling them there are many, many suffering.

The Deputy Speaker: Questions or comments?

Mr Peter Kormos (Welland-Thorold): I'm pleased to respond to the member for Essex-Kent. He hits the nail right on the head, because you can't discuss Bill 128 without discussing the incompetence of the Attorney General, the Attorney General's complete inability to deal with the family support plan and get the money that's owed to moms and their kids to them, money that's theirs, money that has disappeared into the Attorney General's black hole, in collaboration of course with his private sector friends, his corporate buddies, the Royal Bank. So it's entirely appropriate, it's impossible not to speak about the Attorney General and the family support plan and the crisis that he created when one is addressing Bill 128.

I quite frankly look forward to Bill 61 later tonight because Bill 61 is also a bill sponsored by the Attorney General and I'm interested in speaking to Bill 61 because I'm interested in exploring even further the incompetence of the Attorney General and his mismanagement of the FSP. I'm interested in talking about the mere 100 -- just 100 -- drivers' licences that he's prepared to suspend pursuant to his tough new enforcement rules. Bill 61 is going to enable me to do that.

I'm interested in talking about the fact that Mike Harris's government raised the minimum wage here at Queen's Park, at least for MPPs, with a salary increase in Bill 42 by approximately 10%. I'm interested, when we get to Bill 61, to speak to the salary increase, and I'll tell you why that's relevant: because the incompetence of the Attorney General is even less acceptable when you know that he enjoyed a salary increase at the same time that the government slashed social assistance benefits for moms and their kids, the unemployed, the poorest in our province, by 22%. At the same time that Harris and this government slashed social assistance benefits by 22%, they raised their own salaries by a minimum of 10%. The recent figures gathered by James Wallace of the Toronto Sun prove that beyond any doubt, beyond any question.

Yes, during the course of Bill 142 I raised that, and the parliamentary assistant tried to say, no, I was wrong. I'll prove it later during the course of Bill 61.

Mr Jim Flaherty (Durham Centre): I listened with interest to the remarks of the member for Essex-Kent, followed by the member for Welland-Thorold commenting on those. In the 12 minutes that we just spent, there was little said about Bill 128, which is the bill before the House. That is the bill to provide for child support guidelines and to provide uniformity between the federal Divorce Act and the provincial family law legislation.

It is important legislation if the concern of the members is for mothers and children in the province of Ontario. The federal Divorce Act guidelines apply to divorce proceedings. Many persons in the province have common-law relationships; many are separated and are not governed by the federal legislation. For those reasons, I encourage all the members opposite -- and many of them have spoken in this debate; this is the fourth day of debate on second reading of a bill that all of the members opposite who have spoken say they support. If they do support it, and I believe they do, I urge them to join us in moving it forward to third reading as quickly as possible because these guidelines are very important for mothers and children in Ontario, with respect to whom you express great concern. I'd like you to match your concern that you express in words with action and move this bill forward as quickly as we can to third reading.

Kids come first for our government, and these guidelines will increase the consistency of awards and will give parents and their children, in cases of marriage dissolution and marriage break-up, greater predictability in what they're likely to obtain in terms of support orders. Predictability is important for all those who are involved in those unfortunate situations. It's a way of getting resolution of these conflicts earlier on, hopefully without the use of the courts as much, and it'll be faster, cheaper and more expeditious for all involved, especially for the kids in Ontario.

Mr Bradley: I want to commend the member for Essex-Kent for his insightful observations about the family support plan and its implications for people in the province who require the assistance that is provided through this plan, namely the children and the spouses in this province.

The bill itself is one which will pass this Legislature. The member for Durham Centre, I think it is -- he'll correct me if it's not -- is worried that we are spending four days on this particular bill. I remind him, before the rule changes it would have been likely that we would have come to an easy accommodation whereby this bill might have passed in half the time that is being devoted to it now. But the government picks and chooses how long it will spend on a bill. For instance, with the education bill, Bill 160, a matter of some considerable controversy in the province, the government brought in a time allocation motion, a motion which chokes off debate on a very important issue.

So the only way the opposition can give you more time to reflect upon your entire legislative agenda is to take extra time with bills that may not have the same import as some of the major bills or may not be as controversial as some of the major bills, but nevertheless, by taking some additional time, it allows the Premier and others in the government to reflect upon the mistake they might have made in other pieces of legislation.

I'm pleased the member has pointed out the problems, has indicated clearly that family support plan problems continue to dominate the calls to his constituency office. We hope through this debate that we can encourage the government to provide a more expeditious and thorough service to the people of this province.

Mr Bisson: Just to put it into a bit of a personal context from the perspective of a constituent of mine, Sylvie Pressé, who lives in the city of Timmins, I can tell you that through the changeover from the closure of the eight regional offices of the family support plan to where we are now, Sylvie has seen month after month after month a stymied effort on her part to be able to get her support payment flowing directly to her.

What's happened is that her husband works for one of the rail companies just west of Timmins. Every two weeks the rail company deducts the money from his paycheque and every month the rail company sends off the cheque, as it is supposed to, directly to the family support plan, actually to the Bank of Montreal, so that money can be distributed. But every time it's the same thing. Every month Sylvie has to come back to our office for us to try yet again to get hold of the family support plan or, as they call it now, the Family Responsibility Office, in order to fix the same problem every month.

You would think that the government and this particular office, the Family Responsibility Office, would get it right once, maybe the second time, maybe the third time, maybe the fourth time, but no, it's the same story month after month. I can tell you, if Sylvie had the means to be here today, she would be here talking to the minister and telling him directly what she and her children have had to go through as a result of his messing up the family support plan system, because prior to this government changing the system she never had the kind of problems she's finding today.


On behalf of Sylvie Pressé, I'm saying to you as the government and I'm saying to the Attorney General, Mr Harnick -- whom Sylvie does not have a lot of respect for, I must add -- that you need to get this straight. If you're going to go through changes -- I have a problem with the direction in which you're going -- you owe it to Ontarians to at least do the transition right and to make the system work for the people in the end, something it's certainly not doing in Sylvie's case.

The Deputy Speaker: The member for Essex-Kent, you have two minutes.

Mr Hoy: I'd like to thank the members for Welland-Thorold, Durham Centre, St Catharines and Cochrane South for their comments. I think the member for Cochrane South really hit it on the head here, that if you are going to make a change, it has to be done correctly, it has to be done with thorough thought and it has to be done with the supreme idea that you have to service the public in this regard of family support.

The people who call or visit our offices are from time to time in tears because these moneys, court-ordered as they are, did flow at one time and now they're not there. By and large, most of the constituents who call my office are women, but not exclusively so, and in more cases than not, they have families and they need to provide for them.

I think the government just simply moved too quickly and did not take into account the lives that were behind the decision they made, even when advice was given that the haste with which the government was moving to centralize this plan here in Downsview would cause havoc, grief and despair and cause people a great deal of worry.

You can't treat government decisions like an ordinary business. I've talked to many people who say they've spoken with government members who say, "We had a meeting at 10 o'clock when I was in business and by noon the problem was solved." This is a big problem. Issues here are complex. There is no need to move in haste and put people's lives and livelihoods, their children and families at risk.

The Deputy Speaker: Further debate?

Mr Tony Martin (Sault Ste Marie): I appreciate the opportunity this evening, in the very few minutes I have, to put some thoughts on the record on this piece of legislation, but most particularly on the overall context within which this piece of legislation is to play out in this province today in October 1997.

I'll start off by reading into the record a quote I've read into the record probably two or three times so far in the short two years and some months that we've been governed in Ontario by this government, because it's still appropriate. I think there are some things that are said in this place that need to be said over and over again because even though the people out there, in my experience of it to date --

Mr Frank Klees (York-Mackenzie): On a point of order, Mr Speaker: I believe that according to the standing orders it's inappropriate to read an item into the record that is already there.

The Deputy Speaker: I haven't detected anything wrong so far. The member for Sault Ste Marie.

Mr Martin: It's interesting, Speaker, that a member of this government, which has already curtailed the ability of the opposition in this place to speak to very important pieces of legislation, very important initiatives by this government that have tremendously devastating and negative impacts on the constituents we represent, would stand tonight when I have now eight and a half minutes left in a speech I want to make on this piece of legislation and make such a point of order that really has no basis in anything that I've ever come across or seen in this place.

But that's the way they operate. If that's the way this group of dictators wants to run this place, there's not a whole lot we can do about it. They have a majority and they just change the rules whenever they feel like it, cut back on our ability to participate and to speak on behalf of our constituents.

I just want to share this quote with the members because I think it's important: "We are aboard a train which is gathering speed, racing down a track...leading to unknown destinations. Nobody is in the engine cab and there may be demons at the switch."

Mr Bradley: Who said that?

Mr Martin: Ralph Lapp did.

Mr David Christopherson (Hamilton Centre): Printed in the Catholic New Times.

Mr Martin: "Most of the society is in the caboose looking backwards."

However, things have changed somewhat since I first shared this with the House. I believe, from talking to people out there in my constituency and across the province, that they are more and more coming to realize that this train is hurtling down the track. They're coming to realize where it's going and that they can collectively do something about the direction, slow it down, bring it to a stop and make some changes.

It's interesting. We're going to support this piece of legislation in this House because it makes sense. For once, we have something in front of us being presented by the government that we can support and so we will support it. But people have to understand that one piece of legislation in isolation does not change the whole fabric that's being woven by this government, does not in any significant way alleviate some of the pressure, some of the difficulty that's been imposed on people across this province.

I think it's important to remind the government what it is they should be about and where it is that we should be going and what it is that makes a piece of legislation like this actually work. We heard colleagues this evening and on other dates talk about the state of the family support plan in the province and how it needs to be looked at and improved in a significant way if this is going to work. But I want to put this in a fuller context and ask the government members to try to do the same and share it with the folks out there so that they can, with me, begin to see how this is not in keeping with some of the best traditions that this province is built on.

Here's a statement I picked up that was put out by the United Church of Canada, a very respected and reputable organization that has spoken out even more recently on some of the changes this government is going to impose on the education system, on teachers and on the support staff to the education system in this province and challenges the government in a very pointed way about the injustices that are inherent in that piece of work. Let me just share this with you because this piece of legislation has to be seen in the context of statements such as this. It says here:

"The very first priority of any government must be to stop the slashing of the safety net that we as a society wove under the feet of our neighbours, the means by which we joined God in making justice and love concrete among us."

My colleague from Welland-Thorold a few minutes ago very passionately spoke about the damage that has been done over the last two and a half years to the very poorest and most vulnerable among us. I've said in this House before and I'll say again tonight, the most shocking day in my experience re this government was that day in July 1995 when I woke up to the news on the radio that this government's very first act, the first thing it did when it became government, was to pick out the most vulnerable and the poorest living in our communities and take 22% away from them by way of their income.

Some, and I know I was one of those, likened it to the school yard bully walking into the yard, looking around, assessing the situation, picking out the smallest and the weakest and walking over without any warning and laying a beating on them, leaving them there bloodied and sobbing and, in doing that, setting the tone for the rest of the school yard and the rest of the school.

The United Church goes on re this business of joining God and making justice and love concrete among us by saying that what we're missing today in government is a sense of the moral and a spirit of community, a lack of leadership.


If we're not working collectively in the interests of all the people who call the jurisdiction which we govern home, what are we working for? The question that many of us are asking these days is, what is it that drives the government we have in Ontario today and who is it they serve? We have been given some very clear indications of who that is. We only have to look at the tax break and who that benefits. We only have to look, as I said a few minutes ago, at the way the poor are being dealt with. We only have to look at Bill 142 to recognize how that group and the handicapped among us are going to be dealt with in the future that will unfold if this government is allowed to continue on its present track and implement some of the legislation and plans that, yes, they laid out in the Common Sense Revolution, but more important, have elaborated more fully in the agenda they have put before us here.

All of us in this place and across the province, anybody who has been given the responsibility of leadership, should be working towards the common good, defining what that is and then doing all in our power to make sure we're building it up. I don't think it would be out of line to say that previous governments of every stripe -- Conservative, Liberal and New Democrat -- were moving in that direction, were adding to and allowing the system to evolve so that all who called Ontario home were able to find the wherewithal to have a good living, educate their kids and, if they were sick, get fixed up.

I reference the issue of the common good, that which we should all be working for. Some of you may ask, what is this common good? Let me just share with you a definition of that to end my comments this evening on this bill, which, as I said before, we will support because it does move a distance to correcting some shortcomings. The common good is defined here as "the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or individuals, to reach their fulfilment more fully and more easily." I call on the government to do that.

The Deputy Speaker: Questions or comments?

Mr Flaherty: I listened with interest to the remarks of the member for Sault Ste Marie about the public good. There were no remarks I heard with respect to Bill l28, the bill before the House, for the fourth day for second reading, a bill the opposition members say they support. Given the concern of the member for Sault Ste Marie about the common good, I'm sure he will realize that it is in the best interests of the children in Ontario who are the victims of marital breakup to have this legislation move forward as quickly as it possibly can through the legislative process so those support payments will be forthcoming on a timely basis.

We have had many calls and many expressions of interest and questions with respect to what the guidelines contain, the consistency between the federal guidelines and the provincial guidelines contained here. If parents have concerns with respect to the content of the guidelines and want further information, there is a toll-free. It's 1-800-980-4962, available to everyone in the province who needs information with respect to this important issue.

Mr Gilles Pouliot (Lake Nipigon): It doesn't work.

Mr Flaherty: That 1-800 number that the member for Lake Nipigon says doesn't work has been called and answered more than 9,000 times.

We also have child support plan information kits available for concerned parents in the province. They have been requested many times; in fact, more than 58,000 copies of the information kits have been sent out, I say to the member from Lake Nipigon. That shows the degree of importance of this legislation, that we move these guidelines through the House as quickly as possible, because kids come first for our government.

Mr Frank Miclash (Kenora): It's a pleasure for me to rise to speak a little on what the member for Sault Ste Marie has indicated. As a fellow northerner, I suggest that I run into a great many problems similar to those he runs into in terms of people having access to offices. Any legislation that will help in terms of giving this government's downsizing plans some semblance of order would certainly be of benefit to many of my constituents. I have indicated in the House many times the number of cases that come through my door at present because we lost our local office in Thunder Bay. People aren't interested in 1-800 numbers; they're looking for service when they run into problems, especially support payments, the failure to transfer support payments and the problems we have brought forth to this Legislature numerous times, not only with the parent who is not providing the support, but sometimes the company becomes involved. I brought a case to the House at one point where there was a problem with the company.

Anything that is going to provide greater access to support for women and particularly children -- the previous member said the government is interested in children. It is often hard to believe when you face case after case where children are being denied because the custodial parent is unable to gain access to what would be paying for the children's needs.

Again, it gives me pleasure to rise and say that I support a lot of the things the member for Sault Ste Marie has said.

Mr Christopherson: I'm very pleased to rise and commend my colleague from Sault Ste Marie for his very passionate and very caring comments on this. He is known in our caucus, I think known by everyone who has any dealings with him at all, as someone who cares deeply. He is a very religious man who lives a life that's an example to his religion, and he is an individual we look up to. When he speaks on these issues, I don't think there is anyone in this House who can bring greater compassion or caring than he does.

I found it quite disturbing, as did Tony Martin, when the member for York-Mackenzie got up and tried to block a quote being read from a magazine or a newspaper called the Catholic New Times. I don't know whether the honourable member across the way from York-Mackenzie is a member of the much-known family values caucus, but I suggest that if there truly was a group of people within the Tory caucus who actually believe in a meaningful way in what they purport to mean, they would want something from the Catholic New Times read into the record. If it's more than once, I'd have thought they'd have been proud of that; that whether it's twice or three times or 10 times, there are values in here they would care about.

Instead, the member got up and used my colleague's time to try to block him from reading a quote that had at its core a religious value. I find that quite hypocritical on the part of any member of this Tory caucus. I think every one of you would be well served in terms of representing your constituents to pay attention to the kind of moral leadership that a Tony Martin can provide.

Mr Jack Carroll (Chatham-Kent): As the member for Hamilton Centre said, the member for Sault Ste Marie may care deeply -- I don't doubt that -- and he may be very religious -- I also don't doubt that -- but he also doesn't know very much about Bill 128, because he didn't make any reference to it.

He did refer to Bill 142, a bill I happen to be fairly familiar with, and I don't think he knows very much about Bill 142 either, because he commented that he was critical of how we will be treating people with disabilities when we pass Bill 142. I want to remind him about a few things in Bill 142 that will be to the benefit of people with disabilities. He may want to check the record and maybe read the bill on these.


First of all, we will be giving to people with disabilities larger asset exemptions so that they can help themselves more. We will also be allowing their families to leave them more money, to help them out more on a monthly basis so that they can live a better life. We will also be giving them the opportunity, if they are on disability, to try working, and if working isn't the proper thing for them, they can have their benefits reinstated rather than get to the end of the queue, as they had to do before. We will also have a new training program that will do more than just assess them and assess them and assess them; it will actually train them and help people with disabilities to get some skills so they can go back to work.

For the edification of the member from Sault Ste Marie, with Bill 128 we are putting children first. With Bill 142 we are putting people with disabilities first. I would recommend to him that maybe he needs to look a little more closely at those bills so he understands what they have to say. But I am pleased to see that he is going to support Bill 128.

The Deputy Speaker: The member for Sault Ste Marie, you have two minutes.

Mr Martin: I want to thank all those who participated tonight in this debate. I think it's important that we do that. That's what this House is about. It's just unfortunate that we don't get enough time to do it.

Very briefly, member for Chatham-Kent, you're obviously talking only to the spin doctors in your party. Anybody who knows of the situation that presents itself to the handicapped and the disabled in the province knows that this bill is so bereft of detail, of any indication of exactly what it is you're going to do, that they're really frightened that they don't know, and if their experience with your government so far is any indication, they are frightened of what it is you might do.

I think you should go back home and talk to some of your constituents about some of this stuff and find out exactly what it is they think and feel and how it is actually going to impact on them.

That's the point I was trying to make about this bill we have in front of us here tonight. It's a good bill. I know what it is; we all know what it is. We caucused it. We talked about it. But it's the context within which it fits. It's like trying to put a patch on an old garment. It's the "new wine into old wineskins" theory all over again. You've got to get rid of the context, the very difficult environment you're creating out there for people, before you put a piece of legislation like this into place and expect that it's going to work.

I spoke a bit about the family support plan, the situation that the very poorest in our communities find themselves in today. To put this in the context of that is to try and put a sole on a shoe that has just outworn its purpose.

Just to give you an indication in the 10 seconds I have left of exactly what's happening out there, here's an article from the Toronto Sun that says, "TB Plagues Homeless." That's what's happening in Toronto today. That's what's happening in Ontario today. That's where you want to put this bill.

The Deputy Speaker: Further debate?

Mr Jean-Marc Lalonde (Prescott and Russell): C'est avec plaisir que je prends la parole pour parler sur le projet de loi 128. I am pleased to rise and speak on Bill 128, the uniform child support guideline act. One of the reasons I am pleased to speak on this bill is that I want to tell this government what they have created when they introduced this bill.

It seems to me that every one of us will definitely support this bill. But with the problems they created when they closed the eight regional offices, we were receiving an average of three to four calls a day in our constituency offices. The member for Durham Centre said, "Why should we debate the bill, since everyone seems to agree on it?" Well, every time this government introduces a bill, it seems they haven't looked at the impact it will have, haven't done a complete study of what is going to happen: "Do we have our people properly trained to handle the new technology?"

I was able to visit the Downsview office once. I got my constituent assistant to come to Toronto to meet the people at the Downsview office. At that time, we noticed they were disorganized. When I say that, I mean there was never any follow-up on the calls they were receiving from our riding office. I asked the question, "Why don't you have the same people to handle the file?" They said, "We have to train all the people." It wasn't the time to train the people after we closed the eight regional offices and centralized it in Toronto.

There are some families who lost their home, had their hydro cut off. Also, many times we had to take in the court order, to tell them there was a court order. We knew the person had paid directly the Royal Bank, I think it was, and I think that's where the money is still going. The government had over $1 billion in the bank not distributed. All that time, though, the spouses, the families -- we've seen children quitting school. The mother had no money. We've seen children leaving the home because there was no money to feed the children, and the mothers kept calling us. We did everything we could. We were getting four to five calls a day in my three constituency offices.

Today there's a big improvement. I fully agree there's a big improvement. But Cumberland, I don't know why -- probably they think Cumberland is not in my riding. It is in my riding. It seems they are still facing the same problem in that area. We received in our county office cheques from the ministry that had no names on them. We finally had to drive in, in front of the House here, and say, "We have received cheques at our social services office with no name on them." It was so disorganized that it's unbelievable.

Today we all agree that we will support this bill, but I still say we are not ready. At one time, I met the Attorney General and said, "Would you reconsider your position on reopening the regional office until the whole setup is completed in the Downsview office?" I noticed that he probably was ready to look at it, but someone told him not to do it. That would have solved a lot of problems. For those people who have lost their home, who had their hydro cut off, that probably wouldn't have happened. It's still the same; in some areas, we are not able to get the cheques sent to the spouses.

Many cases arise because of not having the people trained properly. We in the MPP offices were acting as liaison officers for the Attorney General's office. At one point, even the lawyers' offices were saying: "Call your MPP. There's nothing we can do." They were getting good money to look after the cases, but they noticed they were facing a dead wall. They could not get any answer.

At one time when I was there, she showed me on the computer: "Waiting time on the phone, seven minutes." The following morning, we got back to our riding office and we called: over an hour waiting time. How can you expect a working mother, having to work in a private enterprise, to wait on the line when there's only one line coming in to that business or enterprise or commercial office? It wasn't possible to do, so the people just got fed up and got on the phone to us. We had to hire a second person at our riding office to follow up on those cases. But now, finally, the Attorney General's office has appointed a person to look after our cases in Prescott and Russell. We are getting better service, but not the level of service we were getting when the Ottawa regional office was open.

We will definitely support this bill, but I must tell you that many times this government is moving ahead with new bills -- we could give you examples. When they introduced Bill 104, for example, it didn't allow the cottage owner, any home owner who didn't live in that specific municipality, to vote for school board trustees. They came back yesterday. They realized they made a mistake. They came back with Bill 158.


Once again, on long-term care they said, "We will transfer this 50% to the municipalities," until they realized it was impossible for a municipality to absorb the cost of the operation of the long-term care or of nursing homes.

Another case where the government had to come back was school taxes. At the beginning they said, "We will take over all the school taxes." They came back and said, "Municipalities, you will have to collect 50% of the school tax." But we still don't know what they are going to be, because the government will establish the mill rate for school taxes.

It's the same thing for commercial buildings. It's the same thing for farming communities. It's the same thing for apartment buildings. It's the same thing for senior citizens' homes. What is this government doing? It's moving too fast on everything. They have an agenda. We know you have an agenda. But don't move too fast. Realize what the impact is going to be before you make any move.

The member for Chatham-Kent did recognize, about five minutes ago, that we need proper training. He said, "When we complete our training, everything will be fine." But we've been at it for over a year. It was September 1996 when we decided to close all the regional offices. A year after, a member of the government is saying: "We will have the training. Training is very important." So he did recognize that. I hope every one of you people on the other side recognizes that any new technology requires training. You probably don't have the staff. If we were to look at the reduction of people when you closed all the regional offices, I would say probably now, even with the new technology and not getting the same service we were getting in the past, you have more people in your Downsview office than you had in all of the eight regional offices before.

So once again, don't move too fast, government people, because you don't realize the trouble you have created at the present time -- the damage, the children who have left home because their mothers couldn't feed them, they had to go someplace else. They had to go to the children's aid society because their mothers couldn't afford them. We have a lot of cases we could give you as examples. It's easy. We have all the names at our office. At one time, I sent a list of the people waiting for the last week, only for a week; 45 people appeared on the list I gave to the Attorney General. That's 45 people in one week who called our office. That's quite a few people. All those people were waiting.

Another time, money was deducted from a woman who had left Ontario to go to Vancouver. She came back and she said, "I have taken over the children" --

The Deputy Speaker: Thank you. Your time has expired. The member for Welland-Thorold.

Mr Kormos: I'm pleased to respond to the member for Prescott and Russell. He speaks from the heart. He speaks with experience. He speaks with an understanding of what has been happening to his constituents during the course of the last two or two and a half years while this Harris regime has been in power here in Ontario.

I find it remarkable that these Tory members would stand up and spout the backroom line, the spin, the scripted speeches, when they know better. I question why they would do that. Why would they risk their integrity by reciting the spin, the lines that have been concocted by $1,000-a-day spin doctors? I figure it must be because of what, as a result of Bill 42, ended up being not just the 10% I had spoken of in Bill 42 -- the member, Mr Carroll, might pay some attention -- but what has amounted to a 40% increase in disbursements for salaries of MPPs here at Queen's Park. That's the kind of raise these guys gave themselves at the same time they were in the course of dismantling the family support plan.

Here are the numbers. Before Bill 42, it cost $7.5 million to compensate rank-and-file members of provincial Parliament; after Bill 42 it cost $10.5 million -- $3 million more. That's a 40% increase in wages and salaries, contemporaneous with the 21.6% slashing of the modest allowances provided to single moms and their kids. They robbed, they took money from children to pay themselves what their own government's data show has been a 40% increase. Those are the numbers, my friend: $7.5 million a year before Bill 42; $10.5 million -- $3 million more -- now.

Mr Flaherty: I listened with interest to the remarks of the member for Prescott and Russell and also the further remarks of the member for Welland-Thorold.


The Deputy Speaker: Order. Stop the clock, please. Give him a chance to answer.

Mr Flaherty: Thanks, Speaker. I have no doubt that the member for Prescott and Russell speaks from the heart and that he speaks from experience. I also have no doubt that he doesn't speak about this bill that's before the House, which is Bill 128, dealing with support guidelines for spouses and children in Ontario, who indeed are in need. Once again, I urge the members opposite, who say they care deeply about this issue, to move forward with this legislation.

This bill was introduced in this Legislature on May 1, 1997. Many other provinces in Canada have already dealt with making the provincial guidelines in those provinces match the federal guidelines under the Divorce Act. So I urge members to deal with this as quickly as we can, particularly since this is the fourth time we've dealt with this on second reading.

For those who need information with respect to the implementation plan -- and implementation is very important, of course, when we're dealing with the support of children in the province -- we are prepared, the government is prepared. There's a number, 1-800-980-4962, which is toll-free, which has been used, as I've said, more than 9,000 times. The information kits are available through that line, 1-800-980-4962. In addition, the court officials in Ontario have been fully briefed on this matter and fully informed so that people who have concerns in their local communities can go to their local court offices and get the information they need with respect to child support in the province, which is of course a very serious family matter which requires attention and predictability and consistency for the sake of all of the children in the province.

Mr Hoy: I want to congratulate the member for Prescott and Russell on his remarks to Bill 128. He spoke about consistency, as do many of us here tonight in this debate. I said in my opening remarks that if Bill 128 clarifies spousal and child support, provides greater access to that support for women and children, it is a positive step. We agree to that. But we're looking to the government for consistency.

The member for Prescott and Russell stated that he felt the people at Downsview were doing their very best but they weren't trained for the change. If the government were really interested in providing money to children, to the parents of those children, they would have taken the time to make this transition a proper and organized transition.

The member for Prescott and Russell spoke about his visit and saw the disorganization that was taking place within that office. We know from our telephone calls that this is also true. I can't believe the government members are not being deluged with these calls as well. I'd be interested to know, in regard to what we learned this morning about when the government got their downloading numbers and when opposition members got theirs far, far later, if indeed the government members might have a different phone number for reaching Downsview than we do. I don't know that, but perhaps they don't have the problems that we do over here because they're accessing a different number.

For those people in the communities who are calling a 1-800 number and are waiting hour after hour to get through, the government should put all resources into correcting the problems.


Mr Wayne Lessard (Windsor-Riverside): I'd like to thank the member for Prescott and Russell for his remarks with respect to Bill 128. It's obvious that he spoke from experience and he spoke from the heart as well. He spoke about the calls that he has been getting from lawyers' offices, lawyers who are getting totally frustrated with trying to make contact with the family support plan to resolve the issues affecting their clients, and he talked about his experience of seeing on a computer screen that response time was supposed to be seven minutes when in fact it was an hour.

I am not really surprised that what shows up on the computer screen is quite different from what shows up in reality, especially given some of the things that I have seen from this government in the short time I have been here.

He talked about how disorganized he found the family support office, and that really is just a statement about the gross incompetence of the Attorney General's office and the family support plan office as well. He talked as well about the government and how they have introduced this bill and other bills and said that every time they introduce a bill, they just don't seem to have any consideration of the impact the bill is going to have. This is a government that has itself demonstrated time and time again as one that shoots first and thinks about the impact later. This is one of those cases where they have moved too far too fast, and they obviously weren't considering what the impact was going to be. They weren't prepared for it. They didn't have the people trained and in place to do the job they were supposed to do.

In last week's Law Times, there was an article from a lawyer who says that those problems are just as bad today as they were a year ago. It hasn't gotten any better. The regional offices are closed and the service hasn't improved, notwithstanding this 1-800 number that we have heard about.

Le Vice-Président : Monsieur le député de Prescott et Russell, vous avez deux minutes.

Mr Lalonde: I noticed that the member for Durham Centre said again that he has a 1-800 number. I invite every one of you people here tonight to try this phone number tomorrow, and you can come back and tell me how long it takes to get a line, even though they are probably well organized. I want to specify again that when I was there, the people in that office worked with what they had. It's not their fault if they were not meeting the requirements of the calls they were getting; it's because they didn't have the staff. They were disorganized. They even went as far as saying, "We are waiting for a $60-million computer system"; I think it was $60 million at that time, if I remember right. The computer hadn't arrived and they had moved everything to that central office in Downsview, so once again, this is why they were so disorganized.

At one time, the government had to hire a private firm which was handling all the calls from a local hotel here in Toronto. I would like to know what the bill was for that firm and how much it cost this government just in long-distance calls -- I know which hotel you were operating it from -- because your staff could not handle all the calls. Once again, it means when you start a new project, make sure that you have your people properly trained. This way we will not be in the dark like we were when we took over this central office in Toronto.

I just want to say that they introduced this bill on May 1, 1997. That was a little over five months after had they centralized everything in Toronto. If they had waited until May 1 to open up the central office, it would have been all right.

The Deputy Speaker: Further debate?

Mr Pouliot: We too will be supporting Bill 128, the family law act, at second reading, simply because it comes very close to matching the federal statute. Both the federal government and the province of Ontario, under Bill 128, deal with family child support. The highlights of the bill pretty well remain the same, but it will be easier for both jurisdictions to streamline and to administer.

However, no matter how simple, whatever the attempts are at streamlining, at cutting through red tape, at making things more uniform, it has little merit or value if you don't at the same time streamline and make the process respond to the needs of the applicants. In this case, we're talking about some among the most vulnerable and marginalized people in our society: spouses, mostly women, and the dependent children. The government in this case has screwed up big time, because the government chose in their lack of wisdom in this instance to show to the door 285 people who worked at the regional offices across Ontario. They gave them the pink slip, terminated their employment. They were the go-betweens. They were the providers of the service as the money flowed from one spouse to the other.

The government said: "We are going to move. We will close eight regional offices and we will move to downtown Toronto, for Toronto knows best." They made an attempt to centralize in Downsview. The movers came by the dozen, loaded those trucks with boxes, and the real people found themselves being a piece of paper.

Jack had diligently sent the court-ordered money to Jane, as he was told to do, for four or five years, because they had become less compatible and under the statute they both had responsibility to support the children. With the new arrangement imposed by the government from their central office, the money stopped flowing. Jane, after six years of continuous payment, was no longer getting the payments. Simply put, it's because they acted in haste. They pride themselves on being good business people. If the same mess had occurred in the marketplace, under the auspices of business, you would have had to close the door. You would go bankrupt. Much more important in this case, because of the ultimate in human dimension, you are dealing with people. What a disincentive to keep your support payments flowing. In some cases, people were under the impression: "Why keep paying? The children are not getting the money anyway."

The government was under a state of siege, but this is not a government that admits mistakes when it makes them. That would be too appropriate. It wouldn't be fitting with the kind of agenda diabolique. They would cease to be arrogant. So they continue their state of denial in saying: "There's nothing wrong. The system is working and it's working fine." Real cases from many members of the opposition -- and I'm sure government members got a multitude of phone calls, more than ever before, because the money had stopped flowing.

The government said, "We have established a phone system, " but if you're an MPP, you have a special phone, you can get through. You can piecemeal one by one, but if you're Ms Jones, you don't have access. Again, you're not rich, you're not powerful, and when you pick up the phone and you dial that 1-800 number, you will get, "If you have a touch-tone phone, please dial 4." So you begin to punch the number 4. Then it will be, "Please wait," and then the lament, the litany, the jargon keeps you going for seven or eight minutes. They wanted to know everything through the system, and if you missed one punch, you had to start all over again. In the meantime, the children are waiting for mom to get the cheque.

The bank got to them and said, "This is going to be a saving."


"We promised in the Common Sense Revolution that we would eliminate 15,000 civil service jobs." Well, 289 were let go, were shown the door, but with those 289, tens of thousands of people in need stopped getting the money. That's what you did. You should think of your responsibilities and admit it, because everybody knows the system is flawed. It took the courage, through investigative politics of two my distinguished colleagues --

Mr Bradley: Name names.

Mr Pouliot: Shelley Martel, Sudbury East, and Peter Kormos, Welland-Thorold, took their courage in the early hours of the morning, at great risk, because with the commissars, when you take your responsibilities seriously, you're often viewed as the Bonnie and Clyde of the NDP. Let me assure you, not so.

What were they about to uncover and discover once they reached Downsview? It was a mess of extraordinary proportions: boxes all over the corridors -- those were real people in the boxes, through their files -- no security; computers that were unplugged and useless, while the people at home waited for their cheques, while the people at home still believed that a two-month delay would one day be fixed retroactively. It wasn't to be so, and to this day MPPs know, for they keep getting the calls to represent the citizens in need.

If this had been a computer glitch at the Toronto Stock Exchange it would have been fixed overnight, for trading must not be delayed. That exchange must be open, but the exchange between two people vis-à-vis the responsibility to their children can be put on the back burner: "We will process that order when we have time. The marketplace is not impacted." Those are the poor. It is their lot. Some will say: "They have chosen. They're victims of their own making." What a shame.

In 1997, when all the technology is available, nearby, affordable, why do you do this? Why do you mess up what is the most important responsibility, that of having two willing partners take care of the children?

They have the audacity to have among their unit a little brigade called the family values caucus. Well, family values start with child support. That's exactly what it's about. It's not about a conglomerate of people who meet at the Boulevard Club or the Toronto Club. It's about real people who help real people.

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

Mr Flaherty: I listened with interest to the remarks of the member for Lake Nipigon. In addition to the services available that I mentioned earlier, there is also a series of public information sessions to be held in 43 communities across Ontario, starting October 22 this year. That's only in a couple of weeks. Those are public information sessions to assist spouses and those involved in the resolution of conflicts arising out of matrimonial breakups in understanding and applying the guidelines.

These are guidelines. They're not written in stone. They can be adjusted. There is provision in the guidelines for the judges reviewing these cases to make adjustments in cases where adjustments are necessary, either up or down, depending, of course, on the needs of the children involved.

The child support guidelines also vary slightly by province because of the different tax levels in the various provinces. Of course the tax levels in this province are going down and will continue to go down due to the efforts of our government to reduce the tax burden on spouses in the province of Ontario.

With respect to negotiations, some parents are naturally concerned about how they resolve the dispute, whether they can resolve it themselves without having to go to court. Indeed they can continue to make agreements, and the judge, should the matter go to court, would look at the guidelines for some guidance and to ensure that there is some conformity with the federal guidelines, soon to become the provincial guidelines, pursuant to Bill 128.

We're ready to implement this legislation now. It is in the best interests of children and families that we act quickly to pass this bill. I urge the members opposite who support the bill to make every effort to get this bill passed quickly for the sake of the children of marital breakups in the province of Ontario.

Mr Bradley: I was pleased that the member for Lake Nipigon was able to draw into his very brief remarks, remarks that are brief because of the new rules of the Legislative Assembly, which confine him to only 10 minutes on major legislation of this kind -- but I was pleased he was able to share with members of the Legislative Assembly his view that in moving too quickly and too drastically by closing the eight regional offices, the government had bungled a situation which could have been handled much better.

I think the member would like to see those eight regional offices retained, because he recognizes, being from a riding which extends from Hudson Bay down to Lake Superior -- I believe that's correct -- larger than many European countries, that the world does not stop and start at the borders of Metropolitan Toronto. Those who had access to the various regional offices do not have access to them now; they must come to the big city. The member for Welland-Thorold tells me there's not a welcome sign outside the offices in Downsview even for MPPs, let alone people who are experiencing direct problems with the financial support office.

Here was a classic example where, even when people agree with you, you hear them say, "I kind of agree with the direction in which they're going, but they're moving too quickly and too drastically and not looking at the consequences of their actions." That is why I believe the member was appropriately pointing this important matter out.

Mr Kormos: Responding to the member for Lake Nipigon, as the member for St Catharines noted, he had a brief 10 minutes, because that's all he's allowed due to the Tory rule changes here. They've restricted comments at this stage of the debate to a mere 10 minutes. The reason they gave was so that more Tory backbenchers could participate in the debates. But take note, they're not standing up and participating in the debate. Somehow they're not interested in letting their constituents know where they stand. They neither understand the legislation nor do they want to speak to it.

Take a look at even the two-minute responses. It's only the member for Durham Centre who has been engaging in two-minute responses. I tell you it's the member for Durham Centre, not because I can see him -- all I can see of him is his ankles -- but I can recognize his voice. By his voice, I know it's the member for Durham Centre who has monopolized the two-minute response time.

Where are the Tory backbenchers in this piece of legislation and on any other number of pieces of legislation? They're not participating in the debate. They're not standing up here in this forum and letting their constituents and other Ontarians know where they stand.

Yet they rationalized the brutal attack on the House rules by saying: "But we need it. We, as Tory backbenchers, need it." It was: "Tory backbenchers, unite. You have nothing to lose but your chains. We need it so we can participate in debates." They haven't been participating. They've been standing mute on each and every round during the course of Bill 128. Their constituents deserve to hear from them. I say they owe it to their constituents to be participating in this debate and every other debate. They're paid well enough; they should be engaging in their 10-minute spots.


Mr John R. Baird (Nepean): I want to congratulate my friend from Lac Nipigon for another excellent speech. I'm convinced: I'll vote for the bill, too.

Mr Bernard Grandmaître (Ottawa East): I want to congratulate my friend from Lake Nipigon for highlighting exactly what this bill is all about. I think he's right on. He pointed out that after closing the eight regional offices in the province, this program was doomed to fail. Day after day the minister stands in this House to report the great success of his office and what he has done to improve the system, yet our riding offices are receiving hundreds of phone calls every day complaining about the system and having our own people on hold for 10, 15, 20 minutes, half an hour. The system is not working, and this is what my friend from Lake Nipigon has pointed out. It's not only happening in northern Ontario but right across the province.

We would like the minister to finally stand in this House and say what a failure the system is and how he will improve it. Day after day, he's not giving us any reason to feel happy that these families, these spouses, will receive the moneys that are due. These dollars are due to these spouses, and rightly so.

This government -- I want to repeat it -- is moving too fast and in the wrong direction. I think it's time that the minister comes very clean with this House and tells us what the real story is behind the failure of his program, so that we will stop asking questions about the program.

The Acting Speaker: The member from Lake Nipigon has two minutes to respond.

M. Bisson : Sur un point d'ordre, M. le Président: Avez-vous changé les règlements de la Chambre? On est supposé de faire quatre rotations, puis on en a fait cinq.

The Acting Speaker: The way I counted was that I counted the members for Durham Centre, St Catharines, Welland-Thorold and Ottawa East.

Mr Christopherson: How about the member for Nepean?

The Acting Speaker: I'm sorry. Member for Ottawa East, we'll have to disregard your speech entirely.

Mr Grandmaître: On a point of order, Mr Speaker: Are you saying I just wasted two minutes of your time? I think my response was very important. I want it recorded.

The Acting Speaker: I swallowed the whole two minutes, but I can't allow the rest of them to do it; that's all.

The member for Lake Nipigon has two minutes to respond.

Mr Pouliot: I would like to thank the member for Durham Centre, who is most analytical, one of the architects, one of the engineers of the agenda, I trust. He really sticks to the bill, to the written word, because the human dimension, emotion, the way it impacts people, is not always all that becoming. So you go back to the mantra, back to the manifesto and stick to the line by line of the bill.

The member for St Catharines again shared with the House his knowledge of the province of Ontario, not only geographically but the statutes as well. He speaks on almost every bill, and this one will be no exception.

The member for Welland-Thorold: Well, you've heard him. He's the one who broke the story. Talk about investigative politics and journalism. He's the one who, at 4 or 4:30 in the morning, said: "Something must be done. People must find out. They need to be exposed." So he armed himself with courage, went all the way to Downsview and discovered the mess that has been unveiled ever since.

The member for Nepean, a person with ambition, got up. He wants members of his family to know his whereabouts so he wants Hansard to record his comments. There wasn't much else he added. He wanted to say a lot more, but his colleagues would not let him.

The member for Ottawa East, also a friend I value very much, was accorded --

The Acting Speaker: Your time has expired.

Mr Pouliot: -- an unprecedented fifth round, Mr Speaker. Thank you for your generosity.

The Acting Speaker: Thank you. We're short of time now, due to me.

Further debate?

Mr Bradley: Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. I think we need someone to round out the debate on behalf of the official opposition. I must say, I want to compliment you. I'm not just trying to get in your good books, but you have been an individual sitting in the Chair who has understood, more than anyone I can think of, the need to place something in the context of the entire government program. Every time somebody over there gets up to try to persuade you otherwise, you have been assiduous in carrying out your responsibility to ensure that on any bill spoken upon, a speaker has an opportunity to put things in context.

You're probably wondering how gas prices fit into this piece of legislation. We have to understand that the people who will be affected by this bill are concerned about the rise in gas prices. In fact, what we have seen happening just before the long weekend in St Catharines is an opportunity being taken by many of the large oil companies to hike the gas prices once again. They had come down to about 52.9 cents as a result of the pressure of the opposition in this Legislative Assembly, and now it's up over 57 cents. I'm told that in western Ontario it's again over 60 cents a litre.

What I'm saying is that these people affected by this bill are going to be angry that the government of Ontario has done nothing about the rise in gasoline prices in the province.

The member for Chatham-Kent, when he is travelling in southwestern Ontario, knows that the price of gasoline is very high there. I know that probably, in the confines of the Conservative caucus room, he is imploring the Minister of Consumer and Commercial Relations, begging him indeed, to take some positive action to control the streaks upward in the price of gasoline in this province. He knows what can be done, as you do, Mr Speaker. I have a feeling you support a predatory pricing law in the province, as my friend from Quinte does, a predatory pricing law which does not allow the major oil companies to sell at one price to their own dealers and at a higher price to independent operators, therefore wiping out the independent operators. The people affected by this legislation are hoping that the Minister of Consumer and Commercial Relations will take such action.

Now, I asked a number of questions in this House, particularly of the Minister of Economic Development, Trade and Tourism, who has a special interest in this. When I asked him, he gave an honest answer. I want to give him credit for that. His honest answer was: "We have no intention of interfering with the price of gasoline." He said his government would be the laughingstock if he were to interfere with the gas prices in this province.

I can understand why people concerned about this legislation would be phoning me to say, "Now, would you please ensure that until this bill is actually fully in effect, we must deal with gas prices in this province." I have the opportunity to implore the minister again to have his friend the Premier call the major oil barons, the captains of capitalism, into the Premier's office to express that which he expressed in a scrum one day when he was cornered and he said: "I am angry about this. I'm going to do something about it. I'm going to go to the feds."


He pointed to the feds. That didn't do any good, because he went to a conference of all the premiers and apparently the premiers of British Columbia, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia all said, "No, we're kind of satisfied with a let's-look-into-it attitude," when this Legislature itself can take action on behalf of the consumers in this province. I am concerned that more members of the government caucus have not persuaded the Minister of Consumer and Commercial Relations to bring in the appropriate legislation and to call the oil barons on the carpet for the gouging of consumers of gasoline in this province.

The people who are affected by this bill as well are very concerned about the Red Cross homemakers and have said they are very concerned that with the limited amount of money they have and with the family support office not operating as it might, we're going to need the Red Cross homemakers and Red Cross home caregivers in action, helping out particularly the seniors in our province. I promised a gentleman who phoned my constituency office that I would find a way of raising this issue this evening. I have done it and I hope the government is listening, because I believe this individual was correct in bringing this to my attention. I'm glad I was able to fit it into my remarks concerning this particular bill.

I am concerned as well that some of the people affected by this bill are going to have a spouse going into the bars and restaurants of this province and using VLTs, video lottery terminals. The video lottery terminals, I would estimate -- I know the Speaker well and I can't believe that he would be endorsing the plan of some in the government to place video lottery terminals in every bar and restaurant on every street in every neighbourhood of the towns, villages and cities of Ontario.

I know, for instance, it affects family values so I thought, well, there's a family values caucus in the government caucus and they're going to be speaking. My friend Jim Brown will be leading the charge. He'll be saying, "We can't have these video lottery terminals in Scarborough and other places, because it may drain money away from people who should be paying it into the family support plan, instead of squandering it on electronic slot machines in this province." I am concerned about that.

Also, we must remember the provincial government downloading responsibility and financial obligations to the municipalities. As Mayor Al Unwin said today -- he was very confused by the figures that came out today -- with that happening, property taxes could rise, and they do not take into account a person's ability to pay. So I wanted to place in the context of the entire government program why this legislation is necessary.

I know a few of them are afraid as well of the use of the College of Teachers to intimidate teachers in this province. I heard a question directed in the House today to the Premier by my colleague from northern Ontario, who said that one of the members, the member for Simcoe East, had informed one of his constituents that he was going to have that constituent, a member of the education profession, reported to the College of Teachers for stirring up trouble, for stirring up opposition to the government. I didn't think, from the speeches I heard on the other side, that the purpose of the College of Teachers was to intimidate people into silence.

I am simply glad the member for Oakville South and the member for Wentworth North are not members of the College of Teachers, because they, along with the member for Etobicoke-Lakeshore and a few other dissidents who have dared to speak out, might well be intimidated, using the tool of the College of Teachers to do so.

I want to say it's important that we get this bill through. I want to give an undertaking that this bill will pass this evening, and I think it's going to have support because there's a consensus -- my friend from Durham Centre put it appropriately -- to synchronize and to coordinate the activities between two levels of government. For that reason, we on this side of the House will be in support of this particular piece of legislation.

The Acting Speaker: Comments and questions?

Mr Howard Hampton (Rainy River): I want to comment on the comments made by the member for St Catharines. I have never heard anyone so eloquently connect gas prices to child support in my life. It's a testimony to this member's longevity in this House, I believe now 21 years, that he can span the bridge between child support and gas prices.

But of course, there is a theme to this and he has enlightened us all on that theme. This is the government that didn't want these child support guidelines. It's done everything possible to hold off calling second reading of these child support guidelines, just as it did absolutely nothing about high gas prices and just as it wanted to stay away from any discussion about high gas prices.

I give my colleague credit for being able to span the bridge and I also give him credit for being able to make the connection. This is a government that frankly put a bomb in the family support plan and blew it apart, such that literally thousands of women and children across this province could not collect child support. Then, after blowing up the family support plan, they recognized that if the new federal child support guidelines were brought in, they would be completely over their heads again and the whole system would be totally bogged down again and no one would be able to claim support, so they've put it off.

This bill could have been before the Legislature in May. It could have been before the Legislature in June. It could have been before the Legislature in August, in September, and here it is. In the dying days of October, we finally see this piece of legislation. I think it tells us what the priorities of this government really are.

Mr Carroll: Lest the listening audience at home get confused about his comments tonight, because I know how much they enjoy the comments of the member for St Catharines, I just want to set the record straight for those folks watching at home.

Bill 128 is about the family support plan. It really has nothing to do with the College of Teachers, which was recommended by the last royal commission on education. It has nothing to do with the Red Cross pay equity issue, which is a problem currently that was caused by the former Liberal government, wasn't solved by the former NDP government, and which we are now attempting to solve. It isn't about predatory gasoline prices, which have existed for quite some time and were not resolved by the former Liberal government or the former NDP government. It's not about any of those things.

It is about the family support plan, and I don't want the folks at home, who normally listen with great rapture to the comments of the member for St Catharines, to be confused by his comments tonight.


M. Lalonde: C'est toujours un plaisir d'écouter le membre de St Catharines lorsqu'il apporte ses commentaires sur un projet de loi, aujourd'hui le projet de loi 128. Je l'ai peut-être dit en anglais, mais encore une fois, le membre de St Catharines est définitivement au courant des problèmes que ce gouvernement a créés lorsqu'ils ont attendu d'introduire ce projet de loi-là, lorsqu'ils ont décidé de transférer ou de fermer tous les bureaux régionaux, centralisés ici même à Toronto. Nous n'étions pas prêts pour prendre tous les services des huit bureaux régionaux. Nous n'avions pas formé le personnel en conséquence. Donc, nous avons créé des problèmes un peu partout.

Nous voyons aussi qu'il y a plusieurs familles qui sont encore à la recherche d'aide financière afin de récupérer les argents qu'elles ont perdus au moment où elles ont dû emprunter de l'argent pour nourrir leur famille, pour acheter la gazoline, comme on l'avait mentionné tout à l'heure quand on a fait référence à la gazoline. Les dames étaient obligées de se rendre au travail. Elles n'avaient pas les argents nécessaires parce que les argents étaient retenus au bureau ici à Downsview.

Encore une fois, c'est toujours un plaisir de l'entendre en parler parce que lui, il est toujours au courant de ce que le gouvernement a porté. Il prend le temps d'étudier tous les projets de loi. Je félicite le membre de St Catharines. Merci.

Mr Kormos: I appreciate, and so do his constituents, the member from St Catharines participating in this debate and again bringing to this debate issues that directly impact, as he put it, women and kids who are suffering from this government's inaction. It's total, absolute, undeniable, irrefutable incompetence with respect to the handling of the family support plan. The people of St Catharines are pleased that their member spoke to it. By God, the people of Cochrane North are pleased that their member spoke to it. The people of Sault Ste Marie are pleased that their member spoke to it. The people of Hamilton Centre are pleased that their member is going to be speaking to it. The people of Windsor-Riverside are pleased that their member has spoken to it, the people of Lake Nipigon and the rest of those ridings represented by New Democrats.

But I tell you, the people from Sarnia want to know where their member stands. Their member makes a minimum wage here of $78,000 a year. The people of Sarnia want to know where you stand on Bill 128. The people from the riding of Quinte want to know where their member stands on Bill 128. They want to know why he's not participating in this debate.

I put it to the people of Etobicoke-Humber, I know they want to know where their member stands on Bill 128. He's got a minimum wage here of $78,000 a year. Why isn't he participating in this debate? The folks up in York-Mackenzie would dearly like to know why their member isn't participating in this debate -- at a minimum wage of $78,000 a year. Here we are at 8:30, and why is the member for York-Mackenzie not participating in this debate? The rules were changed to accommodate these people. The rules were changed to allow the Tory backbenchers, but they don't want to. The question is, why?

The Acting Speaker: The member's time has expired. The Chair recognizes the member for St Catharines. Two minutes to respond.

Mr Bradley: I thank all of my colleagues for their interventions and their contribution to the debate and their remarks based upon my remarks.

I know that those individuals who are members of the Ontario Public School Teachers' Federation who attended the hamburger fry tonight at Henley Island in St Catharines will now be home watching and will have drawn the conclusion that their member has indeed appropriately included in his remarks a number of issues related to this piece of legislation, and they would want me to mention as well that the real reason we have had a problem with the family support plan at the provincial level is because this government embarked upon an unwise tax cut when the budget was not even balanced, and what they are saying is, "If the budget were balanced, we could understand giving a tax cut." But what happens is, when the budget isn't balanced, the province has to borrow money to give a tax cut, and when it borrows money, it accumulates unnecessarily even more debt in the province. They're wondering why the fiscal Conservatives would do that.

They also see some severe cuts in various government programs, severe cuts to education funding, closing of hospitals across the province, cuts to virtually all services to people in this province so that the Premier can borrow money to give a tax cut which will benefit the wealthiest people in our society to the greatest extent of anyone in this province.

The Acting Speaker: Further debate?

Mr Len Wood: It's a pleasure for me to make a few comments on Bill 128, which is designed to make federal legislation and provincial legislation consistent. In order to have a good debate on Bill 128, it's important that we reflect a little bit. This government is saying they want to make sure the support money is collected and is given to the proper people to make sure the children have a roof over their heads and good food and clothing. The first act this government did was to cut 22% of the money that's used for food and shelter and clothing. That was a sad day in July 1995 when right after being elected the government decided that to be able to give their tax cut, the women and children who were on welfare, social assistance, were the first ones who were going to have to pay their share towards giving a tax break, 30%, to the wealthiest people in this province, and it hasn't ended there.

We know that during the Common Sense Revolution, a promise was made out there that if the Conservative government was elected they would lay off 15,000 or 20,000 civil servants, and they are proceeding along that line. About a year ago now, they decided to close eight of the family support offices around this province, fire all the employees, put everything into transports and have it all moved to downtown Toronto. That's not what they said during the campaign in 1995 in the Common Sense Revolution. They said they were not going to centralize everything in Toronto, and yet we see them doing that, as I said, putting everything into boxes.

As a result of that happening, they moved everything into a warehouse in Downsview and nothing happened. The computers that were put in there weren't hooked up, the telephones weren't hooked up. The member for Welland-Thorold and the member for Sudbury East had to go over there, do a video, walk in through the front door -- no security around. The boxes were there half opened and all the files were there, and nothing was being done. Week after week and day after day in this Legislature, the Attorney General was saying, "It's only a computer glitch and everything is going to be all right," and yet we still see, a year later, that in my office the staff are still working on files where they haven't been able to resolve the problem that was caused by Mike Harris and the Attorney General.

The Attorney General was incompetent in closing down those offices when he had no staff trained to take their places, and the Premier has refused to replace him as a result. The Attorney General is still there acting in the same incompetent mode that he was a year ago, and women and children are suffering. They're paying the price as a result of Mike Harris not being prepared to make a cabinet shuffle and get people who are competent, if there are any over there, into the positions to do the job and make sure the money flows.

We know that the government whip and the government House leader are all upset that we're debating Bill 128 tonight. They wanted a couple of speakers on it, and it would fly through and be voted on and that would be it. That's their responsibility, to make sure they bring their legislation forward in an orderly fashion. They could have done this over a year ago, and yet last spring, or during the winter sitting, they decided that rule changes were more important. We listened to the member for Nepean saying the government backbenchers don't have enough time to speak. Their priority was to get rule changes in, so we debated them continuously for a couple of weeks and, as a result, they brought in time allocation and rammed the rule changes through.


Just to make sure people realize this is not a rerun from this afternoon, here we are tonight, sitting in the Legislature until midnight to make sure we cooperate in getting through legislation that has to be passed. It's important that we have our turn at debating these things, yet not one single Conservative backbencher has got up and spoken on it. This is why they said they needed the rule changes, so they could have their turn at speaking, yet we've been debating this piece of legislation now for over two and a half hours and not one single Conservative backbencher has got up to take the five or 10 minutes they're allotted to speak on Bill 128.

If the bill was that important, they would have been up on their feet, as they were with Bill 160, the legislation they're bringing in against the kids in this province. They're determined to force a province-wide strike by taking money out of the classrooms and attacking the 2.2 million children in this province through the teachers. As a result, we're headed for a province-wide shutdown. What we should be doing is talking about amendments that could be brought in so we avoid the complete shutdown that could happen within a couple of days.

Our leader Howard Hampton questioned Mike Harris six different questions today in question period: "Mr Premier, when are you going to take a stand and make sure that all the classrooms are not shut down completely?" He refused to answer. He stood in his place and referred the question to another incompetent minister, the Minister of Education, who has already said, "In order to take money out of the education system I have to make sure there is a genuine crisis in education." He's created the crisis and now we're faced with the situation where the Premier is not prepared to get involved. He got involved with Bill 136, the legislation about hospitals and municipalities where amalgamations were taking place, but he's refusing to get involved in this, even though over the last year they've taken over $800 million out of education on an annualized basis. They're saying they want to get another $1 billion out to give to the finance minister so he can give it to the wealthiest people in this province. It's only the 10% upper-income people in this province who are going to benefit from any tax break, and it's all borrowed money.

There is still a deficit in this province built up over 40 years of prior Conservative governments until 1985. They never balanced a budget; they ran deficits every year and added to the debt. Now, 10 years later, they're back in and they're borrowing money to give a tax break. When you borrow money, you add to the debt, and it's continuing to grow.

They want the women and children and the teachers and all the public sector workers to pay for the tax break they're giving. Looking at Bill 128, if this government were concerned about making sure that women and children, especially children, get the money they should be getting during a family breakup, they wouldn't be doing their cuts and closing down all the family support offices right across this province and laying off the employees. It's quite obvious they don't care.

As I said earlier, we're debating Bill 128. There are a number of other members who want to speak on this bill, and I'm sure, from the look on their faces, that some of the Conservative members would like to speak. But even with the new rule changes that have been brought in, they've been muzzled by the government whip and the government House leader and the Premier. They're saying, "No, you people can't get up and speak on this, because we don't want you to speak on it."

If there are other reasons that they're not willing to get on their feet from now until midnight to talk about a good piece of legislation -- we've all talked about how we're planning to support Bill 128. We think it's a good idea for federal and provincial legislation to be consistent and to make sure that for children involved in a family breakup, as the money is taken off the paycheque and sent in to the Attorney General, he would send this money out. But it's quite obvious that he's not doing that, even though we have Bill 128.

As long as we continue to have the incompetence of the Attorney General in that office, we're going to have problems with the family support plan and it's going to continue to cause a mess throughout the province. The only way to do that is for Mike Harris and his whiz kids to design a new cabinet and get some of these incompetent people out of there.

Mr Joseph Spina (Brampton North): It's my pleasure to do a response to the member's speech. My opening comment is: muzzled, my ass. The leader of the third party wanted to know why the backbenchers won't speak up on this issue. Let me tell you why. You know why? I am speaking up on behalf of this bill because we've got two organizations in Brampton called Families Against Deadbeats and Mothers Against Deadbeats. FAD and MAD are 180% behind this bill and every initiative this government has taken in defence of our issues for the family support plan.

Mr Pouliot: Why don't you speak French?

Mr Spina: I don't have to speak French because people understand everything that I have to say.

These blowhards in the opposition parties really turn my stomach, because it's the coal calling the kettle black. The coal has been in office for five years. What did they do? They did zip, absolutely zip for the family support plan. If they're the coal calling the kettle black, they are in the coalpit, and that's where they stand.


The Acting Speaker: Order. I want to caution the members that I'm having difficulty hearing. I would like to be able to make sure that things are parliamentary, so if you would just hold it down. I realize that there's somewhere else you may want to be; if you continue, you will be. Let's give the speaker the attention he deserves.

Mr Bradley: I am surprised that there would be disparaging remarks made about those who work in coal mines. It appears the member has made a reference to coal miners. I'm surprised to hear that.

Second, I can't wait -- because there's going to be an opportunity -- for a member of the family values caucus of the Conservative caucus to rise in the House to express objection to the kind of language which was used by the member for Brampton North. I read the literature when it came out during the election campaign and I've seen some subsequent. I know they have the meetings of the family values coalition within the government. They must be shocked and astonished at many expressions which were used by the member for Brampton North. At the very least, one would hope that on Sunday morning, or whatever day of the week that some worship, there will be a prayer for forgiveness for the member for Brampton North, who has used expressions which I have never heard in my life, expressions which I simply cannot believe would be heard in one of the secret meetings of the family values caucus. I hope that can be done.

I'm glad the member for Cochrane North mentioned the field of education and the fact that this government is trying to provoke a major confrontation with those who deliver educational services on the front line in this province, the dedicated and hardworking and very needed teachers of this province. I commend him on that.


Mr Pouliot: "Appalled" and "shocked" do not suffice. Following the remarks of my friend and colleague from Cochrane North, the opportunity afforded the member for Brampton North -- I toiled for 20 years in a mine, and he, in his unique, vulgar style has chosen to minimize that and those contributions. I am appalled and shocked because, when I was first honoured by being elected here in 1985, 13 years ago, I thought decorum and good manners while responding to colleagues were the order of the day. These profanities do the Legislative Assembly of Ontario the worst disservice.

It is not comical. Humour does not become the member for Brampton North. That we know. That is obvious. Never did I think that one day Parliament, our Parliament, would be turned into a tombola, a cheap carnival, by way of his contributions, Speaker. You, sir, who are the ultimate authority in this House, could have stood up at your post like a sentry and defended our institution by asking him to withdraw his remarks.

The Acting Speaker: I would like to say two things. The first thing is that the comments and questions are supposed to be towards the speech given and the speaker. The second thing I want to say is that the Chair has a little latitude, and I'm familiar that the member for Prince Edward-Lennox-South Hastings is the owner of donkeys, so I try to give the benefit to the person using words.

I recognize the member for London South.

Mr Bob Wood (London South): The member spoke very clearly.

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

Mr Martin: No: one, two, three -- oh, Wood used it up? What a waste, what a complete waste. Honest to God, in this place, when we fight for every second to say what we have to say, he stands up and uses five seconds and then it's all over? The member for St Catharines should be shocked and appalled.

Mr Len Wood: I'm sure there was a misunderstanding there, Speaker. I wonder if we could have the clock reset at the two minutes, because I want to respond to the member for St Catharines and the member for Lake Nipigon. They made very kind remarks.

It's quite obvious that the member for Brampton North's constituents will judge him as copies of Hansard are sent out to all his constituents. They'll be the judge of his comments. He has all kinds of opportunity to stand here and speak for 10 minutes and give some constructive words to the different legislation, but instead, he is more concerned with attacking the remarks made by another member and attacking the miners.

But we're at a situation now where I think it's very serious. We're dealing with Bill 128 at a time when Mike Harris and John Snobelen have created a serious crisis. They've worked at it for two and a half years and they finally have a crisis in this province, where all the children, 2.2 million children in this province, are being attacked by the Conservative government through Bill 160. They're trying to force a confrontation and a province-wide shut-down, all the classrooms right across this province. They should be ashamed of themselves, especially when the Premier is refusing to intervene.

The Acting Speaker: Further debate? The Chair recognizes the member for Hamilton Centre.

Mr Kormos: But where are the Tories?

Mr Christopherson: I want to pick up on the comments of my colleague from Welland-Thorold, both just as I was rising and as he has raised in his two-minute responses.

It wasn't all that long ago when the Tory government changed the rules, shortened the amount of time the opposition had to offer up, under the glare of public scrutiny, opposition to what they're doing, mainly because they said they wanted more members to speak. Specifically, they said they weren't getting their turn, and that somehow justified muzzling the official opposition and the third party from offering up their thoughts on the legislation of the day.

What we have here, and it probably doesn't come across as well to those who are at home -- why would it? They don't know the rules, obviously, as well as we do. In this debate there's rotation, so after the government leads off, then the official opposition puts up a speaker, then the third party, then back to the government and then over to the opposition, and we go around in rotation. My colleague from Welland-Thorold, underscored by my colleague from Cochrane North, have pointed out that when it comes to the government's turn, they all sit. Not one of them stands up. They took away our right to speak so they'd have more, and then they have their turn, they sit there. That's the point my colleague is making.

We heard the member for Brampton North, when he was asked by the member from Welland-Thorold, who sits just two seats over from him, why he isn't speaking, say, "Well, I'm speaking now." Again, if you don't know the rules, that sounds like a plausible response. But the fact is that these are -- very short, actually -- 10-minute speeches, followed by four two-minute responses, again in rotation. That was merely a two-minute response. That was not the member from Brampton North taking his place and speaking on behalf of his constituents. It was not that.

Also, when the member for Nepean and the member for London South stood up and used five seconds, the whole point was to use up one of those four responses. That's why they got up and gave some cavalier little throwaway line about, "Yeah, I agree," or "You've convinced me to vote," and sat down, because it denied the opposition members the opportunity to use that two minutes to engage in constructive debate.

If nothing else, since we all agree by and large on this legislation -- and I'm going to come to why that is in a moment -- perhaps the real lesson here tonight is to point out once and for all, and let there be no doubt, that the government's intent when they shut down the rules and shut down our ability to debate was to muzzle the opposition. It had nothing to do with extending democratic rights to other members of this House.

I also want to mention that while we've been listening to members of the government talk about the wonderful things they are doing, that they brought this legislation forward and they ought to get all kinds of credit for what they have done, two things need to be said.

First, my leader has already mentioned and I'm sure he will advance it again when he speaks next that if it were that important, if they really cared that much about children and kids, it could have been brought up a lot earlier on the calendar. This is the government that brought us back early because they said they had all this work to do. So they had every opportunity to do that, and the fact that it's here on the second-to-last day of this session shows that wasn't the case.


Another other thing needs to be said, and I've gone through the Hansards before I spoke to see, overall, what's been said on Bill 128. The reality is that not one government member has mentioned the fact that what is contained in this bill started with the previous government. I know. I was there. The discussions took place at federal-provincial justice ministers' conferences. That's where the idea is from of a new federal approach that hopefully all the provinces would buy into.

We know how the process works. There are all kinds of staff meetings that take place -- and this is appropriate, by the way, it happens under every government -- staff meetings trying to lay the groundwork, find out where the problems are, bring those problems back to the respective ministers in their provinces, their cabinets would deal with it and you sort of worked it through. At the end of the day the goal, and in this case it has worked, is to provide federal legislation announced by the federal justice minister, led by the federal Parliament. Once that's in place, right behind that -- that hasn't happened here because it's been longer than it should have -- the various parliaments of the provinces follow suit and make sure their legislation is in sync with the federal legislation that they have passed.

Obviously that takes a while, longer than we'd all like to see, but it's understandable. There's an awful lot to coordinate and that's not the only business of governments at any given time, so it has taken a number of years. But the reality is that not one of the government members -- I stand to be corrected and if I am wrong and someone can show me in the Hansard where I am wrong, then I will apologize. I do not see in the Hansards in this debate where anyone, in particular the ministers, has recognized that it was Marion Boyd as the Attorney General in the Rae government who initiated these discussions with the federal government on behalf of Ontario.

I grant you that the Tory government, the current provincial government, brought it across the finish line, and for that we acknowledge that you've done it and we intend to support that legislation here today by way of showing our support. We're prepared to give the credit. But just like last evening, where we had a similar example of the government refusing to acknowledge and give credit where credit was due, again no one from the government -- and it should have been the Attorney General -- stood up and acknowledged that it was our Attorney General, Marion Boyd, who initiated these discussions and took them at least halfway, if not further. I was there as our Solicitor General and I watched and participated in those discussions. She should get that credit. She has just walked in here, and if you won't give it to her, we'll give her that credit. Boy, talk about natural timing. Way to go. And it really wasn't set up.


Mr Christopherson: It's just one of the members who wouldn't know what he's talking about saying, "Oh, tell us another one." That's the truth. Can't you accept the fact that other people do good things and have good intentions besides you? No, you don't. You don't even have the decency or the humility because you're too caught up in your arrogance to give somebody credit who deserves it. Go back to sleep.

The last thing I want to mention on this, and my time is just about up, is that the government should still be hanging their heads in shame for what they did with the family support plan. That Attorney General, stood in his place day after day and said: "Everything is fine. I'm fixing it. It's better than it used to be. Don't worry about it." The reality was not seen until the members for Sudbury East and Welland-Thorold went out, got it on video, brought back the truth, held a news conference and then the minister had to admit: "You're right. It's not up and running the way I said."

After that moment, he talked about the fact that, "Right, it wasn't perfect yesterday but it's perfect today." From that moment forward we've been showing example after example where that's not the case. Women and children were being unnecessarily hurt. You were told that was going to happen. We have the staff reports that show if you close those regional offices, a lot of people are going to get hurt in the transition. You ignored that in your race to find the $5 billion needed to pay for your tax cut, and if you ran over innocent women and children, that's just tough luck for them and that's the way you've always viewed the vulnerable in our society. That's why, although we intend to support this, we're going to hold you accountable for what you've done to the women and children of this province.

The Acting Chair: Comments and questions?

Mr Bob Wood: The member was articulate.

Mr Gerard Kennedy (York South): I certainly want to commend the member for bringing this government appropriately to task for the legislation it had to be forced to bring in. It was initiated elsewhere. We want to give credit, but it is hard, given the fact that this fits into a context for this government. It's a context of a government that has chosen, perhaps not wilfully -- we'd all like to believe it wasn't to their knowledge when it happened, but has the knowledge about it now. They know they've hurt women and children. They know they've done that because they cut welfare 22%. They know there are families who are having a tough time eating and providing clothes for their kids and having any decent quality of life for themselves. They're going through the toughest time in their lives and this government decided to economize on them.

At the same time, this government decided to economize, to take money away in almost the worst example of cynical government, in the case of the family support plan. So at the very time that we're talking about guidelines that would help make uniform, fair and adequate the kind of money that should be done in terms of family breakups, a predictable thing that happens in our society that we should be prepared to deal with in a fulsome kind of way, we're here instead, bringing this in kicking and screaming. We had to go through the excruciating family support plan bumble on the part of this government, which it may not have known about the first couple of days, but it knew about day after day.

It continues. Even to the present day we have families who have cheques tied up in this bureaucracy created by this government which believes in unelected commissions, in centralized things that we haven't seen anywhere outside of the Soviet Politburo, but no commitment to the people. We'll give you credit for the content of this bill, but you certainly contradict in a very, very strong way, as the speaker mentioned, the spirit of it.

Mr Kormos: The member for Hamilton Centre, Mr Christopherson, hit the nail right on the head. The fact is that the government dragged its heels on Bill 128. The government could have brought 128 before this House not just months ago but literally years ago, because, as the member for Hamilton Centre points out, the groundwork had already been laid.

What was the government more interested in doing? Why was it that it couldn't deal with Bill 128 more promptly? What was higher on their list of priorities? Let me remind you. They were far speedier to slash assistance to moms and their kids, to single parents, by almost 22%. They were so eager to do that, they did that literally within weeks of being elected to power.

Maybe Bill 128 could have come next. No, they were too busy at the trough, giving themselves salary increases to the tune of $3 million a year -- big, fat, porcine salary increases for big, fat, porcine Tories, after beating up on social assistance recipients to the tune of 22%, and that's what displaced any focus on Bill 128. As the member for Hamilton Centre pointed out, the groundwork had been laid: salary increases for MPPs, for Tory backbenchers, perks coming out of their ying-yangs and social assistance recipients suffer 22% cuts. Women and kids relying upon the family support plan suffer and suffer, and Bill 128, the groundwork already having been laid, gets deferred until the fall of 1997.


Mr Flaherty: I listened with interest to the remarks of the member for Hamilton Centre. They were characteristically loud. They were not in the nature of debate with respect to this piece of legislation, Bill 128. Debate with respect to this legislation would require some rational presentation of arguments pro and con or some suggestion with respect to amendments. None of that has been heard here in this place this evening.

The reason why our members are not speaking with respect to the bill in debate is that no debate is taking place. There are no opposing points of view. It's been clear that the members of the official opposition and the members of the third party support the bill.

I have longer to speak. I'm not going to use the time because we think this time could be better used debating bills with respect to which there is actually true debate, as opposed to posturing with respect to bills that all parties support. In the interests of the children in Ontario, I urge the members to get on with this bill and deal with it promptly so that these family support guidelines can be put in place.

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

Mr Christopherson: I thank all the members who took the time to respond. To the member for London South, thank you for the compliment, although I think you further proved my point, but I always appreciate the compliment. I thank the member for York South for acknowledging the intent and the spirit of what I was trying to convey in the short time I had.

One can never say enough about the member for Welland-Thorold, particularly when you want to thank him for his contribution to anything, because anything he is involved in is always a contribution. I think his comment about how quickly this government ran with glee to announce the 22% cut to the income of the poorest of the poor is well placed and that history will show that was one of the darkest days in the history of Ontario, when this government did that and did it with such happiness and such delight.

To the member for Durham Centre I say that I think the fact that I attempted to correct the record, given where your government did not give some credit to a fellow parliamentarian who deserves it, is well placed and is indeed part of the debate around Bill 128. I would say to the honourable member that his problem and the reason he wants to move off this is that Bill 128 gives us an opportunity to talk about the family support plan. Of course, that's legitimate, because if you look in the Hansard, your own Attorney General, in kicking off the debate, talked about the family support plan, so it's very relevant.

What you don't want to hear is the opposition. You don't want to hear criticism. You don't want to hear anything that isn't a stroking of your ego, telling you you're doing the right thing. The reality is that you're not doing the right thing. If you were listening to people other than your corporate pals, you'd find out there are a lot of people who are pleased that we are taking you to task on the family support plan.

The Acting Speaker: Further debate?

Mr Hampton: I'm quite pleased to have an opportunity to make a few comments. I think it's important to get comments on the record in this debate. It's important that we note what is being attempted here both on the part of the federal government and what I think is being attempted on the part of the provincial government.

First of all, I simply want to dwell for a minute on the principle that is at stake here. The reality is that not just in Ontario but across Canada, across North America, when families split, when couples split, all the statistical evidence shows that the income of men goes up and the income of women and children goes down. This has been an ongoing problem. The whole idea of having some child support guidelines is to try to even out the balance, in fact to try to create a better balance.

This is something I was pleased to work on when I was Attorney General of the province and that I know my colleague and successor, the member for London Centre, was very pleased to work on and push. We were very pleased to see the federal government, over a year ago now, bring forward this legislation. But I have to say to you that I was quite puzzled to see other provincial governments across this country pass into law their companion legislation. Other provincial governments across this country passed into law their companion child support legislation quite a long time, quite some time ago.

The question arises: Why has it take the Conservative government so long in Ontario? When other governments were passing their legislation into law in March and April of this year, certainly by May of this year, why are we only now on second reading of this legislation in Ontario?

I want to tell people why, because it's very important. This legislation is important. It is important that this get passed into law. What's more, it's important that it be proclaimed and it's important that there be a strategy to implement these child support guidelines. If you don't have a strategy to implement it, it becomes rather empty and we continue to see women and children living in poverty.

Why did this government take so long? A very simple answer: This government so botched the family support plan, it so destroyed the family support plan, it so overwhelmed the resources in the family support plan that if this government had brought this legislation to this House any sooner and had it passed into law any sooner than this, we would have had continuing and worsening chaos in the family support plan throughout the spring, throughout the summer, throughout this fall, throughout the next winter. That is why there has been seven months' delay. That's why we're only now on second reading, because the so-called Family Responsibility Office still can't handle the chaos that your Attorney General, that your government created for women and children across this province.

You know it from the experience in your own constituency offices, where you still receive not tens but tens upon tens upon tens of phone calls every week from women complaining that they can't get a response from the so-called Family Responsibility Office. They're still not getting the cheque they need to feed their children; they're still not getting the cheque they need to pay the rent; they're still not getting the cheque they need to pay for the electricity, to keep a phone in the House. Why? Because this government would rather take the money from the family support plan and use it to finance a tax cut for the very wealthy in this province. They'd rather do that than look after women and children who need the support, pure and simple.

That is why we are here in October, seven months later, and we're only seeing this bill for second reading when other provinces have already passed theirs into law, when other provinces are already implementing theirs. But it doesn't end there. You see, if the government were really serious about this, they would have shown us their implementation strategy. They would have shown us how the variations of child support orders are going to be accommodated in our courtrooms across Ontario, how they're going to be implemented and the variation orders are going to be obtained in a speedy way, in an orderly way, in a way which does not result in undue hardship and undue delay for all those women and children who need variations in the child support orders, who simply need support. But we haven't seen an implementation plan. What it says to me, not having seen the implementation plan, is that we're simply going to see more delay.

We already know there are backlogs out there in the family courts. Talk to any family court judge in this province and they will tell you that chaos reigns every day. They will tell you, in fact, that as family court judges they spend a lot of their time trying to help people who come before the courts because the government has so underfunded the system that people can't get any help. So judges are not only judges, but they have become almost judge-advocates in terms of trying to usher these cases through the courts.

We haven't seen an implementation plan from the Attorney General, which leads me to believe that this legislation is not going to be implemented in an orderly way. It leads me to believe that we're going to see more and more women and children clogging up the courts, trying to get a variation order so they can get enough money to feed themselves, enough money to pay their rent, enough money to pay the electricity, enough money to keep the phone connected. That's where we're at.


That's why I think this is delayed. That's why we haven't seen an implementation strategy. Because this government knows it is completely incapable of implementing this legislation right now, so they're trying to slow it down, trying to take as long as possible in implementing this very necessary piece of legislation. What is that going to mean? As we have seen already, it's going to mean that more and more children, more and more women who need child support, spousal support or a variation order are not going to receive it. We're going to see this government continue to inflict hardship on some of the most vulnerable people in this province.

As I say, this government would rather give a tax gift to their wealthy friends than look after the proper implementation of support guidelines, than look after the proper implementation of the variation of child support orders. That's the real agenda of this government. Women and children to the back of the bus; the wealthy Bay Street crowd to the front, come and get your tax cut. That's where we're at.

I want to say something about the absolute silence on the part of the Conservative members here tonight. We heard, chapter and verse, from the government members last spring when they were trying to ram through their draconian rule changes, when they were trying to do away with democracy in this place. We heard them say that opposition opportunity for debate and opposition opportunity for questioning ought to be limited so that more government members could take part in a debate like this. We heard them say over and over again that if government members had more opportunity to debate, they would stand up and debate and they would take part in these important discussions. Where are they tonight?

This is very important legislation. It involves putting food on the table for children who don't have food. It involves paying the rent for women and children who are having a tough time paying the rent. It involves being able to pay the electricity bill, being able to pay the phone bill. This is very important legislation. I would have thought we would have had government members on their feet talking about how quickly this is going to be passed, talking about the implementation plan, talking about how they're going to ensure that there is no backlog in the courts in terms of obtaining the variation orders. I would have thought we would have heard all that tonight from the government members. But we haven't heard a thing.

It's as if this important legislation, it's as if these important child support guidelines, it's as if these important variation orders don't matter to the Conservative caucus. They don't care about this. This is the Conservative caucus that loves to crow about cutting social assistance for children, who make up more than 50% of the recipients of social assistance, but when it comes to helping those children, doing something forward, the whole Conservative caucus is silent.

The Acting Speaker: Comments and questions?

Mr Flaherty: I listened with interest to the comments of the member for Rainy River. If he is concerned about our members speaking about how quickly the legislation should go and implementation, these matters have already been addressed in this debate in this House at some length. This is the fourth day of debate on second reading.

Mr Hampton: Let's see your implementation plan.

Mr Flaherty: I'm sure that had my honourable friend been here earlier, he would have heard the implementation plan, but I will repeat for him. This is the fourth day of debate on second reading of this bill. You can check Hansard if you need to check it.

There's a toll-free number to inform people. There are consumer information kits, more than 58,000 of which have already been sent out to people in Ontario. There is a series of public information hearings commencing October 22 in 43 communities across the province. The courts are ready to implement the guidelines. The court staff have been briefed on the guidelines and are prepared to deal with them. The court staff have been informing people who have been coming to see them of what the guidelines involve. The courts themselves are prepared to deal with the increased demand.

The implementation plan is in place. We're ready to proceed. The difficulty is getting the bill passed. This is the fourth time on second reading that we're having a so-called debate. We're not having a debate concerning Bill 128. No one disagrees with Bill 128, including the member who just spoke. So what are we debating? Other matters. But if we care about implementing Bill 128, if we care about getting these guidelines applied to children of marital breakdown in the province, then we should move the bill forward so that the plan can be implemented for the benefit of all the kids in the province.

Mr Kennedy: I certainly want to commend the member for Rainy River for having brought out this aspect of the legislation. Everybody in this House knows that if this government wants to pass a bill, they'll pass a bill. Instead, we have the obfuscation we have just heard in the response.

It's very, very important to know what the defining characteristics of this government are, and that comes from the choices they made. They had choices whether to punish people on social assistance first, they had choices whether to put these guidelines in place in an expeditious manner that reflected the dignity of what's required in terms of people being able to live under the difficult circumstance of a family that is broken down, and the choice was made not to.

The choice has been made to do many other things, to close hospitals, to ram through legislation merging cities, to do all manner of things, but when it comes down to the human touch, to making government work for people at the time of their life when they need it to, when they are facing a judge and they are facing a definition for at least several months if not many years of their lives, instead of dealing with a progressive amendment, we have had to deal with this as a back-burner priority of this government.

It is certainly something this government has to stand to account for, because the public recognizes this as part of a pattern, a pattern that would allow a government to take money from families, money that is intended to support children, specifically and explicitly a trust matter on the part of the government, and to botch that in case after case. In that case you have government money tied up, but the money that belongs to those children is ground up in this government's effort to pay for an unreasonable tax cut in an unreasonable length of time. This bill will not clear the bar in terms of exonerating this government from that sad record when it comes to women and children.

Mr Bisson: I couldn't agree more with the comments from my leader, the honourable Howard Hampton, leader of the New Democratic Party. He is perfectly right. This government is good at one thing and one thing only, and that's the politics of blame. They blame everybody in Ontario for everything that is going on in the world, and they have the gall to come into this House and try to make the people of the province believe that they can't pass a bill with the majority they have in this House. Give your head a shake. You're the government that came in here with the rule changes that allow you to pass absolutely any bill you want, given the draconian rule changes you have, so don't come into this House and start telling us all of a sudden that you can't pass a bill.

The reason we in the New Democratic Party are speaking to this bill is that your government, your Attorney General, Charles Harnick, messed up the family support plan system to where hundreds and thousands of women were not able to get access to the support payments. Your minister bungled it. He closed down eight regional offices, lost the files, shipped them to Downsview, and it wasn't until Peter Kormos and Shelley Martel exposed the blunder that you guys were forced to move. So if we're speaking to the bill, it's for a reason. If you're not speaking to the bill, it tells me that you have a problem, and the problem is you hang your head down low when it comes to this issue because you know you've bungled it up.

The other point I want to make on this debate we're having here is, if we were trying to hold it up so much, why are we then agreeing to give you a voice vote at the end of second reading of this bill? Our caucus has said we're prepared to give you a voice vote, which will happen within the next few minutes, an indication that we're not trying to hold up this bill at all. We're trying to raise the legitimate issues that people raise in our constituency office about the bungling of the family support plan. I hope you don't do what you did the last time you tried to move on this issue, and that is to pass a bill and then not proclaim it for some six months after. I hope at least you have the nerve to do it this time.

Mr Wayne Wettlaufer (Kitchener): I'm disappointed in all the rhetoric and hyperbole we're hearing tonight. We believe very earnestly in the necessity to pass this bill quickly, and it is for that reason that we haven't been getting up and speaking to it tonight. We thought the opposition parties also believed in the necessity of passing this quickly, and I urge them to stop the rhetoric tonight and to pass it.


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

Mr Hampton: I'm pleased to respond to the comments of some of the Conservative members because I want to ask them directly: Where was this bill in May? Why didn't you bring it forward for second reading then? Where was it in June? Why didn't you bring it forward for second reading then? Where was it in August? Why didn't you bring it forward for second reading then? Where was it in September? Why didn't you bring it forward for second reading then?

Why have we seen you diddle around back and forth with Bill 136? First you're going to take it ahead, then you're going to take it back. Why have we watched you bring in draconian pieces of legislation which were intended to hammer teachers, which were intended to go after ambulance drivers, nurses, child care workers, firefighters, police officers? We saw all that, but at no time did we see the child support guidelines. So don't come in here and lecture us about how badly you want to pass this legislation. If you wanted to pass it, it could have been passed in May, it could have been passed in June, it could have been passed in July, it could have been passed in August, it could have been passed in September.

You were too busy ramming home your right-wing agenda. You were too busy out there putting in legislation to hammer teachers. You were too busy going after the child care workers, the nurses, the ambulance attendants, the firefighters, the police officers. You were too busy implementing your right-wing agenda to ever worry about child support guidelines for women and children who are in need.

Mr Wettlaufer: What a hypocrite.

Mr Hampton: So don't come here and lecture the opposition about this legislation. You have bungled this file from the beginning and you deserve to be held accountable for bungling this file from the beginning.

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

I would ask the member for Kitchener to withdraw that remark, please.

Mr Kormos: On a point of order, Speaker.

The Acting Speaker: No, please take your seat.

Mr Wettlaufer: I withdraw that.

Mr Kormos: On a point of order, Speaker: I rise to the defence of the member for Kitchener. He's a damn fool. He doesn't know any better.

The Acting Speaker: Mr Harnick has moved second reading of Bill 128. Is it the pleasure of the House the motion carry? It is carried.

Shall the bill be ordered for third reading? Agreed.


Mr Tim Hudak (Niagara South): I move third reading of Bill 67, An Act to simplify government processes and to improve efficiency in the Ministry of Health / Projet de loi 67, Loi visant à simplifier les processus gouvernementaux et à améliorer l'efficience au ministère de la Santé.

It's a pleasure to rise on Bill 67 this evening, which is an important step and another step in the government's plan and overall commitment, as well as the ministry's, to reduce red tape and unnecessary regulation among the health care sectors, the institutions, businesses and the health care providers.

Every hour spent filling out unnecessary forms, going through heavy red tape is an hour not spent on front-line services by our excellent practitioners throughout Ontario, an hour taken away from their time treating patients, an hour taken away from their time managing our health care system to ensure resources go to the right place at the right time.

By reducing the red tape and regulation we can allow the practitioners in Ontario to become more efficient and better meet the needs of Ontarians and their patients. For example, removing the requirement for cabinet to approve routine decisions made in the ministry or by other institutions, taking that stack of papers across the road to the cabinet office merely to be checked off, routine checkmarks, and that entire stack then brought back -- when the decision's already made and covered under different statutes or other pieces of legislation -- is an enormous amount of time wasted in merely pushing paper.

In this legislation, for every converted regulation-making power, the ministry will save over 74 hours of paper pushing functions; for every one of these converted regulations, it would've cost the health care system 74 hours of paper pushing. The ministry processes about 50 regulations per year and there are 180 purely administrative regulations on backlog. That's two years of red tape on backlog, simply checking off boxes and filling out forms that are already done through different statutes and acts.

Another important reason I support Bill 67, and encourage all members of the House to do so, is because this also supports the significant work that's been done to streamline business in the Ministry of Health since we've taken office in July of 1995.

Let me tell you a couple of things this builds upon. We've simplified hospital budget reporting to take out some of the more arcane rules that took up a lot of resources to ensure hospital budget reporting is streamlined so that essential time is devoted instead to patient care rather than filling out forms and going through a lot of hoops.

Important too -- we spoke about this in the House many times -- we simplified the drug submission and review regulations for faster processing. Instead of the things we've seen in the past where drugs were lined up to come on the formulary, for months and years at the door because they had to go through a lot of different red tape provisions that had already been done in different areas, we've allowed, through the streamlining, much quicker movement of drugs on the formulary to treat patients in Ontario.

To stress this, 500 new drugs have been put on the ODB formulary since we've taken office, an expansion of those drugs and a quicker movement of those drugs on the formulary so they can get out to the pharmacies, to the doctors' offices and to the patients across Ontario. What a contrast, I would say, to previous governments that had these drugs lined up for years on end to come on to the formulary, a sharp contrast to the previous government that delisted 260 drugs. We've gone the other way: 500 new drugs on more quickly, compared to 260 drugs taken off by the previous government.

Another important reform we've made to lower red tape and regulation is one-stop health care shopping for home care and placement coordination services. The community care access centres, the CCACs, 43 of them across the province, will allow seniors to have one window for their health care needs for home care and placement services.

Mr Peter Kormos (Welland-Thorold): What does it have to do with the bill?

Mr Hudak: The member for Welland-Thorold asks what it has to do with the bill. I'm saying it supports the movement we've already made in this ministry to streamline our businesses and our --

Mr Kormos: It sounds like you are building bridges here. You are like Jim Bradley. You've got to speak to the bill.

Mr Hudak: I try to learn from the veteran members. I'll direct my comments to the Speaker.

Mr Kormos: You are the parliamentary assistant. You've got to address Bill 67.

The Deputy Speaker (Mr Gilles E. Morin): The member for Welland-Thorold.

Mr Kormos: Sorry, Speaker.

Mr Hudak: As the member for Welland-Thorold knows, this is important, the things we've already done in the ministry to streamline our affairs, to ensure that resources are devoted to the patient as quickly as possible at the right place at the right time. I'll give the House a few more examples of things we're doing in this bill, in Bill 67.

For example, the Ambulance Act: We're going to remove the requirement the minister approve the application to incorporate businesses that supply ambulance services because they're already incorporated in another area. What the ministry should concentrate on, and does, is to make sure that the requirements to operate an ambulance, supply equipment and training are granted through a licensing procedure, but we see no reason to duplicate the application for incorporation.


The Health Protection and Promotion Act we're changing, removing the power of the Lieutenant Governor in Council, the cabinet, to make regulations respecting slaughterhouses because slaughterhouses are already regulated by the Ministry of Agriculture and Food. Why do you need two pieces of legislation to govern the exact same thing?

Another good example, and there are dozens -- I'll give three more and allow for other members to participate in the debate. The Cancer Remedies Act will also be changed because the Regulated Health Professions Act already deals with protecting citizens from harm from improper approaches to cancer care. This act was 1938, and perhaps at that time there were some alleged cancer cures that may not have been good medicine. But we have other legislation that governs the health professions to ensure that proper care is taken of patients.

The War Veterans Burial Act was enacted in 1935. It provided for municipalities to pay for a veteran's burial, but not exceeding the sum of $15. Now, $15 won't get you very far these days, as you know. That was a piece of legislation from 1935. Since that time, the federal government, through the Department of Veterans Affairs, has responsibility for our veterans, including burial costs, so that's an obsolete piece of legislation that we're getting off the books.

Importantly also, the Hypnosis Act, admittedly an act that I haven't had a great deal of constituent contact about. The bill, from 1961, outlines who can perform hypnosis in the province of Ontario.


The Deputy Speaker: Order. Thank you.

Mr Hudak: I didn't know the Hypnosis Act would generate that kind of discussion in the House, Mr Speaker. But as members may or may not know, it covers who can use that kind of treatment: doctors, dentists and psychiatrists. By repealing this act, we will allow other professions such as social workers to practice hypnosis. Importantly as well, once more, the Regulated Health Professions Act covers to make sure this type of care is appropriately given to patients across Ontario.

To summarize, we're building on work we have done to date: more drugs more quickly on the Ontario Drug Benefit Formulary for patients across Ontario, especially for seniors; one-stop shopping for home care and placement for senior citizens; a streamlined hospital budget so people can dedicate their time to front-line patient care instead of all kinds of arcane rules, red tape and regulation.

I would say again, in conclusion, every hour spent filling out unnecessary forms, going through red tape, jumping through a lot of hoops is an hour not spent by our excellent health care practitioners across Ontario on patient care. That's why Bill 67 is very important, to make these changes so we can dedicate our resources to helping out the taxpayers of Ontario, the patients of Ontario, those who are putting money into the system, rather than concentrating our time on all kinds of red tape and regulation.

The Deputy Speaker: Questions or comments?

Mr Gerard Kennedy (York South): I want to commend to some extent the ministry for bringing this forward, but of course recognize that it was June 6, 1996, when this bill first was brought forward. We certainly have to look at this in the context of everything else that has happened since.

The member was kind enough to remind us about the hours waiting and hours spent. We know that has mainly been transferred now to patients. Patients now have to wait for hours: hours waiting for ambulances; hours in emergency room hallways having to wait for health care; hours waiting trying to find out whether or not their family member will get surgery. In fact, that wait doesn't take hours; it takes days and weeks and months. MRIs in this province take a long, long time; that is, unless in Mike Harris's Ontario you own private insurance, in which case you have access to MRIs in the same hospitals, the publicly funded machines. You can use them if you've bought this private insurance.

If this government really had the wellbeing of the health consumer in mind, if it really was prepared to look at what could make a health care system work in this province, those are the kind of waits that it would be attending to.

We appreciate that some of this may be bureaucracy that we don't need any more, and we're happy to support that element of it. But we do recognize in this, and will speak to it at greater length later, some of the inherent danger in where this government says it is going. When the member reminds us of hours wasted, we recognize that this is now generally being visited upon patients, on doctors who can't get operating rooms. We're wasting the talent that we've trained, that we've used on nurses, who are waiting to be able to get some of the skills and some of the equipment they need.

I would cite the case of Northwestern hospital, where people were served in emergency and equipment had to be sent over from another hospital in an ambulance and nurses had to be trained on the spot. That woman waited for almost four hours before she got proper medical care because that's Mike Harris's Ontario and that's health care in this province today. So when we look at this bill, we're sure to examine those elements of it as well.

Mr Kormos: I was critical of the member for Niagara South for just a couple of seconds for not sticking to the contents of Bill 67. I was wrong in having done that, because I understand that his scope is broader than just Bill 67.

I realized my error and I waited with anticipation because I realized he was canvassing a broad area and I was hoping he might have called for the Hotel Dieu Hospital to remain open in St Catharines. The dialysis unit there, which serves so many people in Niagara region, is so understaffed and under-resourced in its own right that people are forced to travel up to private facilities in Hamilton.

You know that, member for Niagara South. If only you had called for Hotel Dieu to remain open and not be shut down by your government's campaign to shut down hospitals across this province. You know how important Hotel Dieu is to the people of Thorold, because the people of Thorold rely upon Hotel Dieu as the hospital servicing their community. You know that. I was so dearly hoping you would stand up and, as a member of the Legislature and as the parliamentary assistant, call out for this government to keep Hotel Dieu open.

I was hoping that you might call out for this government to stop stacking district health councils with their appointees. You've heard the criticism that comes directly from the Niagara District Health Council. They are saying the government is avoiding the process; the government isn't going through the procedure of appointing people who were recommended by the head of the district health council. They are appointing Tory hacks who are prepared to do the hatchet job.

I think there is a quorum absent, Speaker.

The Deputy Speaker: Thank you. Questions or comments?

Mr Bob Wood (London South): The member spoke well.

The Deputy Speaker: The member for London South, do you have any questions or comments?

Mr Bob Wood: Yes, I did, sir, thank you. I just gave them.

The Deputy Speaker: Questions or comments? You have two minutes to reply.

Mr Hudak: I anticipate support from both parties on this bill to clear away a lot of unnecessary red tape and regulation so we can devote resources to front-line care.

I appreciate the approach of the opposition parties that don't really want to talk about this bill in particular. They want to put their finger on any hot button they can find. That's how they define their role as opposition: to try to scare people, to try to frighten people, to grab some headlines. I know there are some contests that some of them will have to fight again, some of the members of their own party, to determine who is going to represent a particular riding in the next election, so it's important to get those headlines and to hit these hot buttons.

The fact of the matter is, I remember the other night being at a gathering for people with acquired brain injury, and the solemn commitment by this party and following through on that commitment to repatriate the individuals who have acquired brain injuries, who have had to go to the States in the past for that treatment, to bring them back home to Ontario to be closer to their families and to their natural support systems.

Up in Owen Sound last week, where we announced an opening for a new kidney dialysis clinic, a satellite, one woman gave a very impassioned speech. She thanked her family because they had had to take a three-and-a-half- hour trip to London three days a weeks for three hours of painful kidney dialysis procedure. Now, because of the reinvestments we're making, the tough decisions we're making, she will be able to have that service right there in Owen Sound near her home, after many years of driving a long distance down some difficult roads to London.

I know as well that by putting more money into cardiac surgery I will not have constituents, like I had just after I took office, who had to go to other countries for these procedures. We are going to put more money into cardiac care and cardiac surgery so they can get those operations quicker, and here in Ontario where we have the finest health care system in the world. That's what the issue is all about.


The Deputy Speaker: Further debate?

Mr Kennedy: I'd like to split my time with the member from St Catharines.

The Deputy Speaker: Agreed? Agreed.

Mr Kennedy: We are here to look at the government's role in terms of health care. It wants to bring forward these various amendments to us under the guise that it has to do with housekeeping. But each of these items touches on some of the things that, since the introduction of this bill, which the member for Niagara South spoke of as having vital importance, on June 6, 1996, show the difference between the rhetoric that comes out in terms of taking care of efficiencies and the actual doing of the business of government.

There are other things that have preoccupied this government. Some of them we're reminded of by the very elements in the bill: when we see, for example, reference made to the Ambulance Act and, for those members in Metro, understanding that their citizens were not well protected this week because ambulances had to be stretched to their absolute maximum to try to provide service. Why did they have to do that in Mike Harris's health system? They had to do that because the resources have been cut from hospitals, cut such that at noontime there were only five hospitals available with normal services, five out of all those available in Metro. Sixteen hospitals were either on a redirect status, meaning they couldn't take anything but the most severe cases, or on critical care bypass. What that means, for the people of Metropolitan Toronto, as people elsewhere in the province have already experienced, is that those hospitals couldn't take them even if they were in critical need.

We've heard reference by the Premier saying that's a system that is working. If that's a system working, then I think there are many, many people living in this Premier's Ontario who want it to change. If they have to change the government to do it, that's what they're prepared to do.

In Scarborough, three hospitals went on critical care bypass. That means there was not a single hospital in Scarborough available. We have members from Scarborough here tonight who have not spoken up in this House, who have not defended the need to be able to have emergency services in Scarborough sustained through whatever kind of irregular and erratic program of change this government may wish to do. It is sad, really, that we could have these alarm bells go off, that all the emergencies in Scarborough shut down, unable to take patients for an unreasonable period of time, critical care bypass at all three hospitals.

Mr Steve Gilchrist (Scarborough East): What are you talking about?

Mr Kennedy: We have a question from one of the members from Scarborough, apparently not even aware that this was happening right in his own backyard, affecting the citizens he is here to represent.

When we look at the other elements of the act, we see similar things. When they talk about immunization and public health, we're reminded that those things are going to become academic from the standpoint of this government, because they have decided, in their abysmal haste to try to get rid of all manner of services, to download public health.

They're going to download it to municipalities unfamiliar with the legislative framework of that. They're going to make municipalities pay for public health in this province. They're going to make the property tax bear the cost of what every party has said at different times, and perhaps even the governing party in its more lucid moments: that preventive medicine is what we need if we're really about doing something for health care, not just shuffling a few papers differently. The number of papers that have been filled out requisitioning supplies, trying to get services and managing waiting lists in this province since the Harris government transformed the health system far outweigh any benefit we see in this bill before us. In fact, we see the public health system being dumped on municipalities. At the same time, municipalities won't be given enough money in the tradeoff that's happening to run public health.

What will happen to public health in this province? This government apparently is prepared to jettison some of the things that have brought us some of the most startling advances in terms of our ability to keep a healthy population.

We look at clean drinking water and at the kinds of things that happen in terms of inspection. We heard reference that it was redundant, but it reminds us that at the local level, that municipal government, deluged with the other competing needs -- the potholes they're going to have to fix, the public housing they're going to have to repair, the kinds of needs that this government uniquely has carved out for them -- will very likely be unable to meet the requirements under the Public Health Act. We will hear, I'm sure, at other times from this government that they will deal with that download in some circumspect way.

Tomorrow morning they'll have to deal with the Ontario Medical Association and hear from doctors in this province, not directly affected in terms of their income but very directly affected when they sense, I believe, a wrong direction on the part of this government, a real spiking of any chance for reform. What the parties have agreed is that not only is disease prevention important on its own, but it is the first step in having a truly effective health system. You deal with people in their early years, for example. You try to provide people with the basis to maintain health on their own. By delinking that, by disconnecting it from the existing health services, we ruin the chances, the possibilities, of being able to have this system in the future. Apparently, then, we see from this government where they're heading, where they would like to take our health system.

One of the most integrated systems we have right now is ambulances. Where is that going? It's being dumped. Again, it's being dumped on the municipalities, left to compete with all manner of other services. The fact is that hundred of millions of dollars of services will be pushed on to municipalities that they're going to have to find the money to pay for.

When this government speaks, as it tries to, about the wellbeing of people -- and we heard from the member for Niagara South. We didn't hear him speaking about the hospitals at risk in his area, but we did hear him talking earnestly, and I think we want to credit him with that, about the need to preserve good-quality health for people. But we understand the contradiction. We understand what the people of Port Colborne and Fort Erie must have been going through over these last few days as they look at the contradiction of the assurances they've received in the past from this government. They've got to wonder, "How do we reconcile what has been said, what has been printed and then what this government is actually doing?"

We've seen over the last few days that this government doesn't mean it when it comes to rural health care. They came up with a policy that purported to take special notice of some of those communities. Instead, when the hospital destruction commission, as it's popularly known, which goes around this province and has shut 24 hospitals so far, came to Lambton county and looked at Petrolia, did it apply what the minister said he would ensure was provided, a different kind of standard, one that really respected the kinds of needs that exist in rural areas? No, it didn't.

I'm sure it was to the shock and amazement of the people in Port Colborne and Fort Erie to learn that that piece of paper had no meaning when it came to what's actually going to happen to the hospitals in their area. Instead, the number of beds were set by the commission, and the commission decided using the same benchmarks they used in Sarnia, Toronto and Ottawa; they used those in Lambton county and Petrolia.

That meant we aren't going to have a real health care framework in this province. We're not going to be able to offer to people the chance to set health care priorities in this province, because that was what it promised to do. In fact, it explicitly said that a rural network of hospitals would decide the fate of these individual, single-hospital towns, that there was a chance of reprieve for some of the hospitals represented by some of the members opposite, that they might actually be able to sustain their care. Instead we find, as disappointing as it must be for the people who live in Fort Erie and Port Colborne and all manner of other places, in Grimsby, in Welland and all kinds of places that are depending on the outcomes of this decision, that they cannot depend on this government. This government has promulgated a policy that it can't enforce.

In fact, the head of the commission said this week that he's going to be visiting every single rural hospital in the province. That directly contradicts the assurances this government gave in its rural health care framework, where it said instead that local hospitals would be linked together and they would be making the decision. That's not what has happened. We haven't heard anything from the government side to explain the contradiction.

Who's in charge of health care? It has been apparent for some time. As we look at these regulations in Bill 67 and we see that many of them would take powers away from the Lieutenant Governor and the cabinet and would move those to the minister, that by itself gives great cause for concern, because the Minister of Health refuses to exercise powers in the public interest. He refused to act on behalf of Montfort, he refused to act on behalf of Women's College Hospital, he has refused to act on behalf of Port Colborne and Fort Erie, of the hospitals in St Mary's and Kitchener. He has refused to act to try to inject policy that really reflects community needs. Instead we have a government that plainly forgot what communities require, that they require an approach that can be tailored to their individual communities and not some cookie-cutter bunch of formulas, which is what this government has set loose. So we see an acute disappointment on the part of many, many people in this province as they start to become alert to the fact that this reprieve in rural health care policy doesn't mean that.

They understand too that there's some selectivity going on here. Burk's Falls, represented very ably by the Minister of Finance, is the only place in the province to have a hospital opened in the last few years. It's not visited by the hospital restructuring or destructuring commission. In fact, it's not subject to any of the normal processes we know. We don't even know if the Minister of Health knew that the Minister of Finance opened a rural hospital in his area.


None of that, unfortunately, bothers the individuals in this House who represent the other hospitals that have been slated for closing, in Grimsby and other places across the province. It is sad indeed to see that the members opposite have abandoned rural hospitals, have said that we can't afford to sustain good quality health care. It is sad to see the number of things, the long lineup of things that each member of the government can conscience being put ahead of the basic needs of this province, and say instead: "We have a tax cut on one hand, a fistful of money for a certain number of people, and on the other hand we're prepared to close hospitals even when it can't be justified from a health or social or economic standpoint. We're prepared to do that."

We learned today just how sadly and how far off the trail this government is when it comes to any reasonable amount of health care.

Mr Tom Froese (St Catharines-Brock): Mr Speaker, on a point of order: The member for Niagara South introduced the bill to cut red tape and duplication. The member should follow suit and cut his speech and talk about the bill instead of everything else.

The Deputy Speaker: He's right on topic.

Mr Kennedy: We understand that the member for St Catharines-Brock would not want us to talk about what's happening in his area. The closure of Hotel Dieu is on the boards there. Probably the same thing that happened in Sarnia is going to happen to your community, thanks to your government. They are going to cut 30% of the funding.

We're sitting here a year and a half later looking at this bill. We have to look at what your government has done. Should we trust you to implement even these apparently innocuous measures? I say to the members of your riding, who are going to be less well served in the future, that 30% of the beds left Sarnia; $18 million a year being taken away, that's what's happening and that's what's coming to a neighbourhood near you. I can understand how the member for St Catharines-Brock was not anxious to have those kinds of views aired.

We've seen time and time again how the members of the government would like to see debate stifled. We've seen this week alone, in terms of Bill 160, how the future of education in this province can be cavalierly subjected to a time limitation, can be put in a place where most of the province won't even have a chance to understand what 272 pages of aggrandizing power means, taking $6 billion worth of property taxes and setting them, around the cabinet table, in whatever manner they see fit. It's unprecedented in this province, and it's happening in health care.

When we see the download of public health particularly, we know there's an abandonment of any kind of plan to try and put together a proper, decent health care system in this province. We see that reinforced, because also mentioned in this bill is the Homemakers and Nurses Services Act. That's where each member of this government has to hang their head in shame, because we see the repeated attacks on nursing in this province as nothing less than absolute callousness in terms of where the government is going. We are losing professionals to other professions because they are out of work, we're losing them to the United States, and we're doing that because this government doesn't believe in high-quality care. They have forced hospitals, by cutting them by a huge amount of money --

The Deputy Speaker: Order, members. If you want to hold conversations, I would ask you to do it outside, not in the House, please.

Mr Kennedy: It is of course difficult to get any of the government members' attention when it comes to the plight of nurses in this province. The homemakers and nurses find themselves not just ignored -- that isn't good enough for this government -- but instead they are under attack.

We looked at each of these members -- we have 45 communities in this House, for example, served by the Red Cross. The Red Cross, the VON, the St Elizabeth nurses are all under attack by this government. They are subjecting those agencies that have provided home care to some phoney-baloney request for proposals that will help to privatize home care in this province. I say phoney-baloney because those regulations have not been put in front of us; the quality of home care has not been put forward. Instead, we know that two years from now all the business will be stripped away from those individual agencies. They will be forced to compete with private companies which are moving into this province, encouraged, we believe, by this government, because it is out to provide health care on the cheap.

We know that kind of health care is the type they believe they can get away with, because who is to tell when you've closed a hospital bed? It's very apropos of these regulations to understand the big picture of this government. They are not closing hospital beds that are empty. That's what other governments did; that was too reasonable. Instead, this government is closing beds which have people in them. We see this government adopting a very suspect approach called "quicker and sicker." People leave their hospital beds quicker and sicker, and then they're served by whatever service happens to be available. That means home care, where it exists, where it hasn't been cut back -- like it's been cut back in Hamilton, in Kitchener-Waterloo where the hours have been trimmed, actually taken away from disabled people -- is going to be subject to lower standards. Under the RFP process, we are not seeing high standards maintained.

The lack of commitment on the part of this government to home care is such that we went through a whole year of this government knowing about the pay equity provisions affecting the Red Cross. The Minister of Health sat in his place time after time and refused to answer a single question about the future of 73,000 people depending on home care services. Some 73,000 frail elderly and/or disabled people couldn't draw this minister to his feet.

That is why we have to pay particular attention to the kind of amendments happening here today, because they are part of the overall picture. They are part of a disdain for public health care which is certainly starting to take active shape in this province.

We look at the Homemakers and Nurses Services Act and we wonder when the dumping of people is taking place. I use that word very carefully. We have a minister who called the people taking up chronic care beds in this province bed-blockers, people who get in the way; not people in need, not people who deserve services, but bed-blockers. Instead, those people deserve to be accorded proper quality care, whether it's home care, if we can make that work according to standard -- and there are many good agencies that can do exactly that with the proper support. Instead of doing that, instead of also making sure we have standards in our nursing homes, in our homes for the aged, both of which are part of this bill, we've decided to cut the standards. We've removed the requirement to have a registered nurse in the nursing homes. We've cut the mandatory number of hours that are required.

That's the real direction of this government in health care. That's how this bill has to be looked at, as a Harris health care system that is trying to pay for the tax cut by taking health care away from people. We see that in the dropping of standards in nursing homes. We've heard about psychogeriatric wards that have had to lock their doors because they don't have enough people to look after the needs of patients. In this House, we have tabled cases of people in hospitals who have been tied to their chairs by nurses run off their feet, unable to provide and keep them safe in any other manner. We've received correspondence from people who are shocked that their parents have lost weight in hospitals, because the nurses are so busy that all they can do is put food in front of people; they can't help them eat to stay healthy, to meet the fundamental requirements of the health system, but instead have the food taken away when it has not even been consumed. Those people, rather than sustaining health, have been unable to maintain health.

We also look at the provisions in this bill that speak to the Ontario Mental Health Foundation Act. We're reminded that this is a government that can't learn. This is a government often reputed to be unable to listen, unable to take account of what the community is experiencing, but certainly now we know this is a government that cannot learn from the experiences of the past. In the 1970s, deinstitutionalization of mental health facilities took place on a very large scale. That should have been enough to give any government of any stripe pause before entering into any further changes without having a rock-steady plan of how people could be integrated into the community.

The evidence of that flawed plan and that flawed integration of people with mental health problems is to be found today under bridges. It's to be found today in shelters. It's to be found today in rooming-houses and basements, where people take welfare cheques and then stack people with mental disabilities like cordwood in those awful, awful facilities. That's the quality of life that emerges when we don't take due care.

That's exactly what we're headed for again unless this government can be brought to terms.


Mr Jim Flaherty (Durham Centre): You don't know what you're talking about.

The Deputy Speaker: Member for Durham Centre.

Mr Kennedy: This government opened a new facility in Whitby, and it took them so long to make that available.

Mr Flaherty: A magnificent facility.

The Deputy Speaker: It's the last time I advise you -- the last time.

Mr Kennedy: We look at the very same thing happening in terms of Durham region. We look at the amount of money that's being taken away, even from our fastest-growing areas.

Mr Flaherty: Why don't you visit it? You might learn something.

The Deputy Speaker: Order. I don't want to warn you again. Please.

Mr Kennedy: It is disturbing, I'm sure, to the members from Durham and Oshawa and others in this House to learn how much money their hospitals have lost, to learn that even if the population is going up, and -- something not unique to their areas but to the whole province -- even if the population is getting older, they're still having money taken away, an average of 12% in the last two years. That's an incredible amount of money: $800 million taken away from hospitals.

That answers most of the questions about the problems being experienced today, about why we had 20 people in the hallway in Peterborough and why the daughter of one of them was the only one who found that her father had died: Ed Whitehead, 82 years old, his first time in the hospital in 40 years. The answer to that, sadly, is that we don't value that system enough to make sure it's funded, to put the burden of proof and the burden of error on the transition by the government rather than on the health care professionals, on the nurses, on the doctors, on the hospitals that are struggling to provide the service, and upon the patients.

When we look at some of the written word this government wants to depend on, we're reminded that earlier this year they had a report. This health minister commissioned a report to look at what the real impact would be of taking money out. We hasten to say that this report was authorized one year after the reductions were already under way, but the government made an attempt to say, "What would happen if we take $1.3 billion out of hospitals?" When they looked at that, when they applied it in their biggest theoretical model they could put together with the most aggressive -- and these are the words being used, unfortunately, in the health ministry and the health care community: "aggressive models of savings." But even with those most aggressive models, we found in this report that the government knew ahead of time it could not take the money out of hospitals without hurting patients.

In fact, in each and every year this Ministry of Health study documented how much pain there would be: $216 million the first year, rising to $450 million the second year, almost $600 million, which could not be saved by economies, could not be saved by administrative efficiencies, could not be saved even by pushing people out of hospital quicker and sicker. That's what we find today, that that overhang is being visited on the families and the individuals needing health care in this province. It's sad, truly sad to see a government unable to get in touch with the realities of health care in this province today.

That's why I believe we have before us this bill, this purportedly housekeeping administrative bill, which says it would address some of the things to make things easier, and we've seen how long it's taken. Yet what did this government do months and weeks after coming into office? It cut hospitals by $1.3 billion immediately. It cut $100 million the first year and we're up to $800 million cumulatively right now. That caused no pause on the part of this government, so quick to hurt and so slow to provide support.

This government and many of its members, I believe, feel a bit beleaguered. They feel they're unfairly called to task for the things that happen in this province, and I can understand that in the sense that they have many things to be called to account for. But hopefully they will look at the period we're in now as a unique opportunity to not blow it altogether, to not ruin the health care system.

That must be somewhere on the agenda, because we have in front of us a financial review of all 192 public hospitals in this province, uniquely done not by some political party, not by some health advocate, but by the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce. In this financial review the bank examined the financial health of our hospitals. Shockingly, this government would have our hospitals rack up deficits in the order of $120 million this year to help pay for its tax cuts, to have hospitals rack up that kind of debt just so they can provide basic health care services. Shame on you. Shame on you to allow that to happen.

We've heard members of this government pretend that -- I have to believe they were sincere at the time. Perhaps it's taken time for them to appreciate that there are two different features of health care policy in this province. One is the cuts. They happen right away, they happen immediately; when this government wants to take away money, that's for certain. We've lost over $800 million without equivocation, without hesitation, even in the face of all manner of stop signs and road bumps and alarm bells. But when it comes to promises to put money back in, that takes much longer.

Last year, in the quicker and sicker Ontario of Mike Harris, what happened in terms of long-term care, in terms of home care? Was more money spent when this government was busy hurting hospitals and taking money away and forcing them to release patients earlier? Did they put money back into those long-term-care facilities, those nursing homes? Did they give money to health care in terms of the home? No. Even though they budgeted, promised $120 million more, they actually managed to spend $4 million less. It's right there in the estimates. It's absolutely clear what this government means. Those are the bottom lines we have to pay attention to.

It's the same thing for community mental health. When we talk about deinstitutionalization, closing psychiatric beds, we've heard promises to put money into the community to fund some of the community agencies that could make a difference and integrate people into the community, that could make people less afraid of people with mental disabilities, that could solve some of the problems we see. Well, $25 million was promised, but none of it was spent; $1 million less was spent on community mental health programs last fiscal year than the year before, $26 million less than what was promised.

We must pay close attention when the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce tells us clearly that the net loss to hospitals of any reinvestment that's happened for any programs, for cardiac programs that should have been funded anyway, for other programs that were promised by other governments, for any of those things, is still $604 million. Those are the facts.

We hope there might be some prospect of this government coming to terms with facts. It's difficult for it to do. But we recognize that when it comes to health care there may be a chance. There may be a prospect, a possibility that this government doesn't want, at least in terms of its entire membership, to be known as the government that brought down public health care in this country.

We'll know if they let this period pass, if they let the alarm bells of the emergency rooms that are closed in Metro pass, if they let pass the CIBC report that says, "You're bankrupting some of the hospitals" -- that's their language, not mine -- if they ignore the report that looked at the core of their business with health care in this province, that said: "How is the change taking place? Can you trust Mike Harris's Tories to make change? Did they know what they were doing when they did that?"

Hon Al Leach (Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing): Yes.

Mr Kennedy: We hear the member representing at least one of the hospitals to be closed saying, "Yes." Sadly, that is the conviction that passes for fact and opinion on the other side of this House.

The Ivey school of business conducted in-depth interviews with 400 people on the front lines, a process we recommend to every member of this House in terms of getting a chance at having a proper perspective on health care in this province. Four hundred people on the front lines of health care told them the same story, told them that the changes being done in the hospitals are being done at the expense of patients. They're being done at a lower quality of food. They're being done at a lower standard of cleanliness. They're being done at fewer nursing hours per patient. That's how the comic book revolution is getting paid for, the comic book revolution that says, "You can have your cake and eat it too." That 21 pages with pictures doesn't really have the answers with health care.

There is no mystery to it. This report makes it absolutely clear. It calls for some real common sense. It says to this government, "You have to stop." The Ivey school of business says its study of the 12 best-performing hospitals in this province in terms of dealing with change forms the basis to say it can't be done.

You must stop. You must stop the closing of hospitals, the cutting of hospitals in East York, the closing of hospitals in the Niagara region. You must stop and take a pause in the restructuring, because the hospitals are being required to fire some of the very people they need to do change successfully. They can't collect the data to know the kind of harm that's happening. They don't have the people in place to make the adjustments. We don't have the nurses to deliver the care to the people who are being readmitted into hospital. They're coming back because they needed the care in the first place. The quicker and sicker wish of this government that somehow they could make sick people go away is badly out of sync not only with reality but with the deep-down desires of the people in this province, who believe in a public health care system, who would see one sustained, not disdained the way it is by this government.


We know as well that this act is to touch on the Private Hospitals Act. It seems innocuous enough. The act says that we'll remove a $10 application fee, that we'll take that out of there. Instead we need to look at that $10 application fee in the context of the overall approach this government has taken. The overall approach this government has taken is to make private companies have access to the health care system. It has encouraged in all manner of ways the takeover of laboratories, of laboratory services. It is now looking, we believe, at the wholesale privatization of whole parts of the health care system in this province.

This is not by accident. Each one of the members on the other side of this House has had the opportunity, if they got within 10 feet of their constituency office, to have heard from somebody who's suffered in terms of health care in this province, who's part of those longer waiting lists, who's tried to get an MRI, who's spent time in emergency, who maybe in the Niagara region had to try four different hospitals before they found someone who would actually accept the ambulance. They've heard this.

How are we to conclude about the intentions of this government? How are we to know what the member from Etobicoke north really has in mind in terms of the cuts his hospital has suffered? How do we know whether this is part of their plan?

It's fairly clear because the Fraser Institute and a number of other places have asked for exactly what this government is delivering. What they've asked for is what the members of this government, unfortunately, don't have the courage to tell the people of Ontario it's what they're really about. What the Fraser Institute has been asking for, for three years -- the multimillion-dollar program -- is a very simple formula. They say: "Strip down the public hospital system. Do it emphatically. Take the services out of those hospitals and give us the basis for a two-tier health care system."

As we witness the loss of some of our most special community-based hospitals, some of our unique teaching hospitals -- we're graced tonight by the presence of the minister responsible for women's issues and I'm sure she will take the time to comment on the prospective loss of Women's College Hospital, of the idea of a women-centred hospital taking place in this province, which with perhaps a breadth of perspective that unfortunately the cabinet as a whole was not able to muster -- we know, we heard earlier, for example, about the minister in charge of municipalities, the member for St George-St David, saying he couldn't intervene at cabinet on behalf of the hospitals in his riding. That couldn't be done. Instead he wrote a letter. He couldn't do that.

We couldn't get a cabinet policy. Tomorrow in his riding, and I assume he'll be there, they'll be discussing an urban health policy at Wellesley. Had the member for St George-St David been fully sincere about heading off the effects of this hospital destruction commission, he would've had an urban health policy passed at cabinet, because that would've made possible the sustenance of what Women's College is doing, of what Wellesley is doing, of what the Doctors Hospital is doing in terms of serving multicultural populations.

There are choices that are being made. These choices are being made by this government. We know -- the minister responsible for women's issues will tell us as well -- why the hospitals in London, some of the best run, by reputation, in this province, are having to rack up deficits for the first time in their existence. They are having to rack up deficits. When the minister visited their town and said, "You can have $133 million," they didn't realize those were Harris dollars. That's in money you can't take to the bank. For this year we're not going to spend even 15%; it's right in the estimates. The restructuring dollars are supposed to be $1.3 billion, but when it comes to cash basis, to the money available to fix hospitals, the money available to do that is only $217 million.

There's no way London will receive $133 million -- the perspective for the people of London, who must wonder: "How does this square with what we're hearing from the hospital administrator about having to run a deficit? How does it square with people who are having trouble finding beds because the beds are all full in London? How does this square with the story that's coming from the government? How could this possibly square?" The reality is that hospital system is losing $55 million a year. In less than three years, that city, that community -- of course because of its very specialized and excellent hospital services, it will be a blow to the whole region -- will lose $55 million a year in health care services.

We know that over a proper transition period, with a government prepared to take time and care and do it with regard and attention for the impact on people, this might be able to be done, but this is not that government because this government has made choices. They present us with some of them here today when they talk to us about what they'd like to do in terms of the health promotion act and the Homemakers and Nurses Services Act, but we know the real agenda has to be creating two-tier health care. The only thing that makes sense of the myriad ways this government has chosen to attack the health care system -- to draw money out for its tax cut, is if this government is truly bent on creating two-tier health care here.

Sadly, as I mentioned very briefly before, some of that is already with us. Some of that we already see. We haven't heard a single member opposite call upon their government to say, "It's not right when a 53-year-old accountant or a 35-year-old firefighter who's had an injury in the line of duty, when both of them have to wait up to six months for an MRI in this province, and yet a member of a professional sports team can get an MRI the next day."

The point is that Buffalo has 24 MRIs. Even the maritime provinces have two MRIs, more per population than we have here. The staffing: Even the maritime provinces pay for those MRIs; they pay the full cost. In this increasingly two-tier province under the Harris government, we pay only $150,000 a year, less than one-quarter of the cost of operating the MRIs.

We have seen the deliberate development -- one has to now conclude that this is deliberate on the part of this government -- to create a difference between what has been a cherished Canadian value, one that, as people face the risk of not having it, they appreciate even more, the idea that no matter what station of life people come from, they're still going to receive good quality health care.


Mr Kennedy: Unfortunately, as the various reports have told us, that's not what's available in the front lines. Some of the members opposite seem to take objection, but they obviously haven't taken the time to read the reports we now have, the reports not on past governments, but on their government, the reports by the Ivey school of business in London which has said what a mess they're making of change in hospitals; the financial review by the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce which says how they're bankrupting some of our hospital corporations in this province; the reports done by the Ministry of Health which say that the emergency service in Windsor has been made unsafe by the cuts this government has done and the amalgamations they've forced ahead of their time.

In conclusion, we wish to encourage this government to get a better grip on reality. We want it to move away from, and perhaps beyond, and put into place whatever efficiencies they think they can do. I hope today we're able to give this government fair warning that even the most innocuous of this government's measures can come out in a way that can harm patients because we have no one minding the store when it comes to health care by the Harris government.

Mr James J. Bradley (St Catharines): I really appreciate the remarks of the member for York South, Mr Kennedy, because he managed to provoke a number of interjections from the opposition, which indicates clearly to me that he was hitting home with the remarks he made. He's done extensive research into this situation in health care in the province, he's highly respected among the health care community, and certainly among those who are the recipients of health care and who are the patients in the province. I know that when he has this kind of speech delivered in this Legislature, he even has the member for Etobicoke-Humber interjecting from somewhere other than his own seat, which means he has them completely exercised.

I know that Kim Rupcic -- who is watching us this evening -- and Lillian Howe are people who are very concerned about the health care system and the substantial changes taking place, which are not to the benefit of patients in this province. This bill, which deals with health care -- it's a so-called red tape bill -- should take into account the fact that the government appears to be moving towards the privatization of health care in Ontario.


One thing about which most Ontarians have been particularly pleased and proud over the years, regardless of their political affiliations, except perhaps the Reform Party that is in power in Ontario now, is the publicly funded and excellently operated health care system in this province, established a number of years ago under a Conservative regime, carried on under Liberal and NDP regimes. It is something of which we are justifiably proud.

I know our American friends -- not necessarily those who make a lot of money from the health care system, but those who are patients in the United States -- look upon us with envy, particularly the middle class and people with lower incomes. The rich people in the US can get whatever kind of health care they want. All you have to do is have the bucks in the US and you go to the front of the line, you get the best of doctors, the best of facilities, whereas in Ontario, by and large, that is not the case. In Ontario we have a circumstance where people of all backgrounds can receive the kind of health care that we think it is important for them to have.

I am concerned about the privatization. I think secretly, many of the Reform-a-Tories who sit on the other side of the House, the really right-wing members of the government caucus, believe in the privatization of health care, believe that the kind of health care a person gets should depend on how much money that person has in the wallet or in the bank account and not on that person's need. I reject that completely.

There are those who want a lot of user fees in the system, despite the fact that Premier Harris, when he was in opposition, said, "Look, a user fee is a tax." He was very much opposed to user fees, although when he was contesting the leadership with Dianne Cunningham, the member for London North, he started to edge into the idea that perhaps user fees might be all right. Well, again, the user fee penalizes people of modest income and modest needs.

It seems to me that now we have a situation where the government wants more and more user fees. They want to force seniors in this province to pay fees for prescriptions. Seniors who have worked so hard on behalf of the people of this province and made their contribution are now being asked to pay fees for their prescriptions when they are very often struggling to make ends meet, particularly when they find out that there is going to be an end to rent control in the province, that the Harris government has ended rent control. All of those seniors who live in rental accommodation will now be trapped in that accommodation, because if they move out, they lose the rent control protection they have at the present time.

I look at the closing of hospitals related to this bill. The Premier, you will recall, Mr Speaker -- I know you would have watched the debate between the three leaders during the last election campaign, May 1995. I remember Robert Fisher of Global TV, who was one of the panellists, directed a question to Mike Harris, the leader of the Conservative Party, because Mike Harris had talked about some changes in the health care system. He asked him, was this going to cause the closing of hospitals? Let me quote you exactly what the Premier said. His exact words -- I've memorized them -- were the following: "I can guarantee you, Robert, it is not my plan to close hospitals." That was a guarantee, an ironclad guarantee he would not close hospitals. Now we have hospitals closing all over the province when he is the Premier of this province. I call that a broken promise. I like to hear the Conservatives get up and say, "Oh we kept all these promises." A very important one, not to close any hospitals, is being broken.

Our local hospital restructuring committee, or, as some people call it, the hospital closing committee, established by the Niagara District Health Council -- you've had the same in Ottawa except you've had the provincial restructuring committee -- in the Niagara Peninsula was faced with circumstances that said the province is going to take $44 million out of the operating budgets of the hospitals in the Niagara region. Faced with that dilemma, faced with that cut in hospital funding for operating purposes, the committee said, "It looks like we're going to have to close or severely alter the hospitals and their role." So in Fort Erie, they had, what, 4,000 people out.


Mr Bradley: The member for Niagara South is saying, "No, it wasn't that many," but I think he knows there were a lot of people there, over 4,000, I'd say. That's that count I had. Then they went to Port Colborne. Over 3,000 people, I'm told, showed up in Port Colborne to protect the local hospital: Douglas Memorial Hospital in Fort Erie and the Port Colborne hospital. People had contributed to that hospital over the years. They felt a need for it, and they were right. They remembered Mike Harris during the campaign saying it was not his plan to close hospitals.

Then they went out to Grimsby. They had probably 12,000 people out one night in Grimsby saying, "Don't close the West Lincoln Memorial Hospital." I know my friend the member for Lincoln would have noted the large number of people who were out there. Certainly they called me. I expressed my strong support and I assured them. I said: "Look, don't worry. Mike Harris said it is not his plan to close hospitals, so you don't have to worry."

In Niagara-on-the-Lake, they wanted to close the hospital there as well.

In St Catherines, the Hotel Dieu Hospital, which this year is celebrating its 50th anniversary, was going to fall under the axe. I remember there was a letter read out last Friday by my friend from St Catharines-Brock, from the Premier, giving greetings on the 50th anniversary. You know how he ended it up? He said, "On this day and for the many years to come." Well, I was encouraged by that, because that means that Mike Harris, I guess, is not going to allow Hotel Dieu Hospital in St Catharines to close. At least that's the way I interpret it.

In our community we need all the hospitals. The St Catharines General Hospital has delivered outstanding service over the years to people of our community. The Shaver Hospital, which is a chronic care hospital at this time and once served people with tuberculosis, has served us extremely well in our community. The Niagara Peninsula Rehabilitation Centre adjacent to the Shaver Hospital provides an outstanding service. Our people don't want any of those gone.

Now, maybe the member for Etobicoke-Humber, a member of the Reform-a-Tory party, thinks that we should be closing hospitals. Well, the people in St Catharines don't agree with that, I can assure you. I stood on the steps of the Hotel Dieu Hospital, shoulder to shoulder with those who want to keep that hospital open and continuing to operate for many years to come, just as I stood shoulder to shoulder with the people at the General and the Shaver Hospital who want to see those hospitals open.

Do you know what's happening now? Exactly what the government wants to happen. They want everybody to fight with one another. So now we have the friction in the community, one hospital saying that if a hospital has to close, it should be the other hospital. That's most unfortunate.

There was a game people played when they were children called pin the tail on the donkey. Well, the donkey in this case is in the Premier's office, and I don't mean to call the Premier a donkey. I'm not making a disparaging remark, but if you look at the object of the children's game, it was called pin the tail on the donkey. I did not use the language the member for Brampton North used earlier this evening, because I was shocked by that and I think he's been chastised now by the family values coalition within the Conservative caucus. They have taken him out and explained to him that that language is simply not acceptable, and I don't blame them.

The closing of hospitals in this health care bill we are very concerned about. I will stand shoulder to shoulder with all of the people in the Niagara Peninsula who face the axe of the provincial government.

Why is that happening? Because of an ill-conceived tax promise, a 30% tax cut that benefits the richest people in our society the most. When you have a balanced budget, that makes sense, but when you don't have a balanced budget, I have small-c conservatives coming to me saying, "Why would you possibly have a tax cut," and that affects all legislation, "when you have to borrow money and increase the provincial debt in order to give the money to the rich?"


The Deputy Speaker: Get back to the topic, please.

Mr Bradley: Back to the topic of hospitals again.


Mr Bradley: Well, it is. See? As soon as I mention something that's embarrassing to the government, there's all kinds of barracking from the other side. I could mention the Minister's Round Table on Technology in Learning, chaired by the minister, the Honourable John C. Snobelen, on which the facilitator was Terry Miller of the Cooke Miller consulting company of Rochester, New York: an American company coming in and doing this. This was a secret document. They had them coming in to advise us on our education system. I won't mention that, Mr Speaker, because you want me to stay with the bill.


The Deputy Speaker: Order. I am very much awake, and I know that you are not on topic. If you don't stop continuing on the same topic, I'll have to stop you.

Mr Bradley: I'll get back to health care and the many promises of the Premier.

I want to know why there was not a provision in this bill cancelling the downloading of ambulance services to municipalities. They had a lot of trouble with it in Ottawa-Carleton in health care. In our area, I'm concerned that we're going to have Rural/Metro running the whole province. As soon as they heard there was downloading to the municipalities of this health care service, they were lining up at the border. The lineup was way back. They want to come in and provide this service. I can tell you that just across the border, in northern New York state, it costs about seven times as much to have an ambulance ride as it does in Ontario.

If this were truly a bill which was going to facilitate the cutting of red tape, it would have cut the red tape that's going to result from the fact that there is ambulance service being dumped on municipalities and in the private sector. I think the people who provide many of the ambulance services today are doing a good job. Municipalities shouldn't be stuck with that responsibility, and you're dumping it on them. That is wrong.

Let me now look at the ramifications. I heard the parliamentary assistant say something this evening about the hospitals making it easier to report now. What they would have to report are huge deficits because you have cut funding so much. People who have been in the hospital or know others who have been in the hospital lately will tell you that the kind of service you used to get in a hospital 10 years ago is simply not available today. It has deteriorated considerably. Is it because of the workers there? No. They're as dedicated as ever. They're hardworking and dedicated. Is it because the hospital wants to provide less service? Absolutely not. It's because this government has withdrawn, has slashed so much of the funding for the operation of hospitals that you don't have the same kind of care today. I defy any government member to tell me something different. It just doesn't happen.

Day after day I get telephone calls and letters at my constituency office -- some in the Toronto office, but most at the constituency office -- talking about the kind of care available today in hospitals. They will invariably say that the people working there do a good job; the nurses, the doctors, the orderlies, the people who help out in every way do a good job. However, they are not getting the money from the provincial government. Because -- and you were wondering, Mr Speaker, how the tax cut entered into this -- the government has implemented a 30% income tax cut, they've had to slash far more and far deeper than they had ever anticipated. That is why our hospital care is not what it was 10 years ago.

They'll try to intimidate them. They say to the hospital administrators and the local district health councils: "Well, you people better be quiet or you could be next. You watch, we control the budget." So people who normally would be speaking out vociferously are intimidated sometimes by the provincial government. That's most unfortunate, because we urge them to speak up.

I remember that even when the previous Liberal government was in power and the hospitals were adequately funded, they wanted to have some additional funding. So the hospital system was built up and the expansion had begun in the home care system.

I'm concerned, for instance, when I hear that the Red Cross workers who provide home care and housekeeping and so on, all kinds of services in the home, have been placed in a vulnerable position. I hope that has been solved, because I want to speak on behalf of those home care people.

I know that in Toronto -- and it's not only in Toronto -- you run into what's called "critical bypass." What does that mean? That means that hospitals are unable to accept ambulances showing up at their door because they're full, because they're too busy, because there aren't any beds in those hospitals. If you're going to cut hospitals, if you keep closing hospitals the way you're doing now, what happens is that you get into critical bypass. So there are a lot of people saying: "We wish the hospital system was the way it was six or seven or eight years ago, because it was in good shape then, it was well funded then. People had jobs in that hospital system. We didn't have 15,000 nurses losing their jobs." That is what we are confronting in our system today.

I want to commend our city council, which on two occasions passed resolutions -- not always unanimously, but passed resolutions -- asking that all of our hospitals be kept open. Now, some people who perhaps like Mike Harris very much and his policy may not have agreed, but the majority of city council agreed with that and passed that motion to keep all of our hospitals open. I want to commend the mover of that motion, councillor Bruce Williamson, who moved that motion that they support all of the hospitals in St Catharines to keep them open.

In the context of all of this, in the context of this bill, what is the government doing now to ensure that its message gets out? Well, you would be aware, Mr Speaker, as well as anybody else that they spent millions of dollars on an advertising campaign. That's taxpayers' dollars. That's not Conservative Party funds; that's something different. This is government tax dollars, tax dollars from everyone in the province spent to purvey political propaganda, just as they're doing in the education matter as well. On the health care issue, you will recall those advertisements that were out there concerning health care in the province, extolling the virtues of the health care system while it was falling apart, while they were dismantling it, while they were making it into a two-tier system.

We also have -- this is news to you, Mr Speaker. Probably because of what's happening in the health care system, probably because of the bad publicity the government is getting, they have now seconded Ab Campion from the Ministry of Consumer and Commercial Relations to the Premier's office -- I hear that; I don't know if it's true yet or not -- to come from CCR, Consumer and Commercial Relations, to put a new spin on the government message of health care and other fields.

You would know as well that the government, as of October 1, established a new news service which allows the government to bypass the press gallery. We all know the press gallery is independent-minded, digging all the time and so on when they cover health care issues. What's going to happen now is that the government will simply issue its press releases on some computer, on some system that bypasses those who know the issues here in the press gallery.

What else are they doing so that health care can't be covered as well as we would like? They're trying to shove the members of the press gallery up to the fifth floor, to the attic of this building, so they won't have easy access to opposition members who may be able to draw important issues to their attention. So we see all of this happening.


Mr Bradley: My friend the member from Humber wants me to mention Conrad Black. I would say that it's hard to get Conrad Black into such a speech other than to say that the newspapers owned by Conrad Black are moving towards supporting a health care system -- notice I said "health care" -- which is in fact a privatization of the system and a two-tier system. They support the cuts, because many of their editorial writers come from the Fraser Institute or from Mike Harris's office or from Preston Manning's office.

I think my colleague from York South and I have outlined very extensively for members of the government our concerns about this particular piece of legislation. I thank members for their kind attention and interjections.


The Deputy Speaker: Questions or comments?

Mr David Christopherson (Hamilton Centre): I want to rise and commend the always interesting speeches of the member for St Catharines, and today was no exception. As my leader, Howard Hampton, said earlier, his ability to segue from one issue to the next and still stay within the radar screen of the issue at hand is truly a talent and one that a lot of us are watching and trying to learn to copy, because it's definitely a finely honed skill.

Anybody who listens to the speeches of the member for St Catharines will realize that he understands politics at the local level if not better, certainly as well as anyone in this Legislature, and not just his own community. Whether he is supporting an issue or shooting a well-placed witticism across the floor, he understands what is happening in each of our communities at the grass roots where it matters. So it's not unusual that he would commend his local council for passing a resolution or a motion supporting the keeping of all their hospitals.

He will know that in Hamilton-Wentworth we went through a very similar exercise. I've heard him comment on this before. Like him, I have offered up the commendation and support and compliments to our local council, in particular the regional chairman, Terry Cooke, who led the fight to turn around an initial task force recommendation that would have attempted to close St Joseph's Hospital in the heart of downtown Hamilton. There was such an explosion that chairman Cooke pulled together a group of academics, scientists, doctors and community people and offered up an alternative program that allowed us to make the savings, albeit they need to be reinvested back into the health care system, and also saved all our hospitals. The government's commission, however, is planning at this stage to shut down that one or maybe another one yet.

Mr Wayne Wettlaufer (Kitchener): It's always a pleasure to listen to the member for St Catharines. I wish I could say the same about the member for York South. The member for York South, the health critic for the Liberal Party, the opposition party, constantly talks about health cuts by the government. I have spoken in the estimates committee many, many times. I have asked him to come forward and explain these health cuts that the government is supposedly making.

The facts are that we have increased health care spending from $17.4 billion when we came to power two years ago to $17.8 billion in program spending alone this year. In fact, the total health care spending is $18.5 billion.

The health critic also never wants to come clean as to how the Liberal government, the Liberal Party, would have restricted the balancing of the budget to four years whereas we increased it to five.

Mr Bradley: No tax cuts.

Mr Wettlaufer: Oh, I love that answer. The member for St Catharines says, "No tax cuts." That's wonderful, because the leader of the Liberal Party said as recently as this summer that he would not eliminate the tax cuts. He now believes the public in Ontario wants it and believes in it.

Today there was an article in the Globe and Mail. Do you know that in the United States they have had lots of examples, in the 1920s, the 1960s and the 1980s, of tax reductions accompanying an increase in tax revenues to the government? That's exactly what has happened here in Ontario.

Mr Frank Miclash (Kenora): It's always a pleasure to comment on the comments made by the member for St Catharines as well as the member for York South. I think both of these members have pointed out very well the erosion of the health care system here in Ontario.

When you hear the member for Kitchener get up and say that it's not happening, he like a lot of his colleagues is not listening to the front-line workers. I come in here day after day, after listening to teachers, after listening to nurses and after listening to people who are delivering the services on the front line -- the member for St Catharines has pointed that out -- and these members will talk about increases in budgets, the money flowing. But then when you go back home, when I go back to my constituency, I talk to these folks on the front line and I ask them, "Is that what you see?" They say: "No. How can we actually see increases in budgets when we're down nurses, when we can't provide the front-line care that is needed?" The member for St Catharines points that out very well.

As well, we are looking at a system, as the member for St Catharines mentioned, that is going to be going two ways: one for the people who can afford to pay for their health care and another system for the rest of the public, the rest of the folks out there. So again, a system that we've always been very proud of is breaking down and going in two different directions: for those who can afford it and for those who can't.

As well, the member for St Catharines brings the Premier back to that famous quote he made when Robert Fisher asked him about closing hospitals. We've all seen it played a number of times. He told Robert Fisher that it was not in his plan to close hospitals.

A great number of points have been brought out by both the member for St Catharines and the member for York South showing us the erosion of our health care system in Mike Harris's Ontario today.

Mr Gilles Pouliot (Lake Nipigon): I too wish to commend the members for York South and St Catharines for reminding us that the red tape bills, all 17 of them, are designed by the Red Tape Review Commission, which is made up, you must acquiesce, of backbenchers from the far-right element of the Reform-Conservative Party that we have here in Ontario. However innocent in appearance, those red tape bills, all 17 of them, are there to camouflage. They will tell you they wish to disentangle, they wish to make the system more expedient, more efficient and simpler, yet when you scrutinize what is proposed, you will see, for instance, that the increase of the workweek to 50 hours per week -- they don't tell you that in their red bill strategy. They press the right button.

All 17 of these bills are part of their agenda. Some of them are good, some of them are not so good and some of them give a lot of power to the ministers. We have to caution people.

Coming back to the very heart of the health system, there is no question that per capita, on an individual basis, the government of Ontario is spending far less money than it used to. There are simply more people. As the demographics will attest, we have an aging population demanding, of course, more care, and this government has preferred the status quo. Yet they borrow money to give a tax break to those who need it the least. It's all part of their agenda.

The Deputy Speaker: Member for St Catharines, you have two minutes.

Mr Bradley: I want to thank the member for Hamilton Centre for again drawing to the attention of the House the circumstances confronting Hamilton and how they had to fight back against this government's agenda of closing hospitals. I well remember the fight over St Joe's Hospital in Hamilton and how it took a community effort to block the Conservative Party from closing that.

I remember my friend from Kitchener's impassioned remarks in the Kitchener-Waterloo Record about a year or a year and a half ago saying what would happen if St Mary's hospital closed, and I agree with him. He wanted Mike Harris to keep his promise not to close hospitals, because St Mary's hospital had meant a lot to my friend from Kitchener on a personal basis.

I also want to mention my friend from Kenora, who again reminds us of the Premier's famous words -- he wants me to quote them again -- "Certainly, Robert, I can guarantee you it is not my plan to close hospitals."

My friend from Lake Nipigon talks about the red tape bills. He says: "Watch out. Look under the rocks. See what's there. Is there a snake under those rocks? I can see that there's a hidden agenda."

In some cases they're pretty innocuous, but you have to study these bills carefully because these people over there are out to dismantle the health care system. If they have their way, we'll have an American system here. I wish I had my American flag with me that Mr Mahoney bought -- he used to wave it in the House -- an American flag, because it reminds me of the direction in which these people are heading, including the secret, confidential report, which we released today, where Mr Snobelen had some Americans, Miller Cook Co of Rochester, New York, running our education system, purportedly.

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


Mr Christopherson: I wish to advise the House that our leadoff time will be divided between myself and the members for Windsor-Riverside, London Centre and Cochrane South.

I want to pick up on a point that my colleague from Lake Nipigon mentioned in his two-minute response to the member for St Catharines. When he talked about the fact that the red tape commission was made up of what we would consider some of the most right-wing members of the government back benches, when he pointed out that this commission, although recognizing that a lot of these bills are relatively innocuous, although they have some problems within them that we'll mention throughout our comments -- the fact is the government had chosen at the time it brought this bundle forward to set aside temporarily, with the emphasis on "temporarily," some of the more controversial -- and that's putting it mildly -- suggestions they had.

As the member for Lake Nipigon pointed out, and I think it's worth saying again, one of the things they recommended, this gang of right-wing backbenchers who had to be given something to do before they made mischief, what they came up with, was that the standard workweek in Ontario ought to be extended to 50 hours a week. First of all, you can be forced by law to work longer than you can now, and second, the point at which your overtime rate kicks in, if you don't have a collective agreement, is also extended.

We have made the point consistently on labour legislation that there's nothing this government has done that helps working people and their families. All it does is take away rights they have fought for, struggled for, earned and deserve. In some cases this government has rolled back rights that workers have had in Ontario for 50 years, rights that were originally given by Tory governments and upheld by subsequent Tory governments.

Yet this red tape commission is not satisfied with the attack on OPSEU workers, not satisfied with the attack on teachers that we now see in Bill 160, not satisfied with the attack on every public sector worker in this province under Bill 136, not satisfied with the attack on injured workers in Bill 99, not satisfied with attacking the rights of minimum-wage workers under Bill 49, not satisfied enough to give us the disgrace again of scabs being legalized in Ontario under Bill 7. No, no, all of that is not enough for this government. What some of them want to do is increase the workweek. It's despicable.

What else do they want to do? One of the things they suggested in terms of the environment -- remember this is the government that brought out legislation, and we know how cute they are with naming things -- and I'm paraphrasing, but I believe it was An Act to improve environmental protection, yadda, yadda, yadda. "Improve environmental protection" -- what nonsense.

Every environmental group in this province was outraged by the attack on environmental standards. Yet this red tape commission was still not satisfied. That's not enough of an attack on the protection of our environment. What did they recommend? They recommended replacing regulations on waste reduction and recycling for industrial, commercial and institutional establishments with -- wait for it -- voluntary guidelines. Give me a break. You've got the requirements in there because they protect the environment. This government replaces clear, enforceable guidelines and regulations -- more important, regulations -- with voluntary guidelines.

They wanted to relax and they still want to relax -- this is still on the books in terms of things they're recommending that their cabinet do -- regulations on the storage and disposal of PCBs. You can imagine how that sounds to a community like mine, where we just went through the horrendous disaster of having PVCs released into our atmosphere, where we've got hundreds of firefighters, dozens of hospital workers, and yes, still some citizens who are feeling the health effects of that. I can recall in my days on city council when we went through the whole issue of the storage of PCBs. What a very controversial issue. The only thing we ultimately had to rely on was that there were regulations that we could move, that we could look to and that we could enforce.

They want to narrow the corporate liability for cleanup of contaminated property. Again it rings true in Hamilton in terms of what we've seen at the Plastimet site -- reducing requirements for posting notices on the Environmental Bill of Rights. All that is contained in this bundle of bills known as the red tape bills numbers 61 through 69. This one happens to be Bill 67, but the point of it is that all of these bills originated from the same place, from that group of backbenchers who are so far off to the right wing, so far off the beam that they recommended relaxing the regulations on the storage of PCBs and they recommended extending and lengthening the workweek to 50 hours a week. They probably still stand proud, and for all I know they're still in their weekly caucus meetings pushing for that hard right-wing agenda.

Then we come to Bill 67. We're talking about changing about 15 bills, at least 15, and repealing three others. A lot of them have to do with, again, removing authority away from cabinet to ministers, which is consistent with their thinking when we look back to Bill 26. If you recall, Bill 26 was in large part about taking away the authority of this Legislature to debate legislation in public. You removed the lawmaking power that we collectively have and shoved it into the cabinet room where there are no cameras, where there is no media, where there is no opportunity for an opposition debate. By the time this province is informed of how you've changed the laws of this land, it's too late. That's what you did in Bill 26 and that's why I think you're quite comfortable in downloading a lot more of the powers here. I suspect some of these might even make some sense. The problem is, you have so little credibility on the issue of transferring power that it's not a wonder everything you do in this regard is suspect.

While we're talking about health care and Bill 26, let's not lose sight of the health restructuring commission, that infamous body that moves across the province closing hospitals, as the member for St Catharines has repeated many times, breaking the pledge the Premier made: "I can guarantee you it's not my plan to close hospitals."

Therein lies, if you will, the evil genius in all of this, because the Minister of Health stands up and says: "I'm not closing a hospital. My Premier is not closing a hospital. Our cabinet is not closing a hospital. They're doing it. It's that commission." When somebody says, "You ought to do something," he says, "The law prohibits me from doing anything about it." Of course, we know that the commission was a creation of this government under Bill 26, that the law they hide behind was created in Bill 26 and that the whole purpose was to provide exactly that, a shield where they could deflect the criticism, or thought they could.


The reality is at that the end of the day, when your health restructuring commission removes through each of our communities -- they're in Hamilton now and we're expecting an announcement, unfortunately, very soon. If they close one hospital in our community, after we've done two thorough studies and showed that if you allow us to reinvest the money saved by restructuring, we can maintain all those hospitals and continue to have one of the best health care systems in this province, make no mistake: We won't be blaming the health restructuring commission; we're going to be blaming you and we're going to be holding this government accountable for every hospital in Hamilton and every other hospital across this province that you shut down, particularly in the absence of an announcement that all the money you're saving will be reinvested. We haven't heard that yet and without that you've broken your promise big-time. People are not going to forget.

Mr Gilles Bisson (Cochrane South): I'm going to limit my comments to a couple of points in regard to Bill 67. As the member for Hamilton, my good friend Mr Christopherson, just mentioned, this particular bill, Bill 67, deals with the amendment of a number of acts, everything from the Ambulance Act all the way up to the Public Hospitals Act. In short, this bill should actually be retitled when you take a look at where the government is at.

One of the reasons it should be retitled is because what this act really does is two things. The government is really good at giving long titles that talk about what they're trying to do in the legislation. I would take a stab at inventing a name. It would go something like this: Bill 67, An Act to impose user fees on the population of Ontario to give the power to the Minister of Health to impose user fees on everything from ambulance services to the kinds of services you receive in nursing homes and homes for the aged around the province of Ontario and to allow the private sector to intrude into what is a public health care system. I think that would be a better title, because really that bill does exactly that.

The bill takes away from the cabinet certain powers it has now to prescribe fees and regulations when it comes to a number of different activities in the health care sector, and puts that power squarely in the hands of the Minister of Health. That's a scary thought when you figure that this Minister of Health has an agenda that I think a lot of Ontarians are starting to increasingly have large problems with, not only the question about the cuts he's doing in health care and the cuts he's doing specifically in the hospital sector, but that this government is going down a path that is going to allow the private sector, over time, to intrude in what is a public health care system. One of the things you're doing in this bill is giving the minister the ability to do that.

If you take a look at the compendium that comes along with the bill -- this is the basis of Bill 67, and I think it's worth noting. The compendium to the bill says, "The Minister of Health has identified necessary legislative regulatory changes that include routine items to remove impediments to business or improve government efficiencies."

Why does the government want to remove impediments to business when it comes to introducing business in what is a public health care system? They're doing it is because they want to allow their friends, the people in the private sector, to move into business opportunities in what is a public health care system.

When the people catch up to what you guys are doing, you'll be lucky to win as dog catchers in your own ridings, because one of the things we understand in province of Ontario and in this country we call Canada is that one of the better things we have going for us is our public system of health care. We in Canada and in Ontario know that if you're sick, they don't look at your wallet before you walk into the hospital. The doctor doesn't ask you, "Let me see the limit on your credit card," before they roll you into the cardiovascular wing of Sudbury Memorial Hospital. They say, "What is your condition?" and based on your condition you will receive services, paid for by the taxpayers of Ontario, so there is no impediment to getting health care based on how much money you make or who you know within the private sector or in government circles.

One of the things you're doing in this bill, as you did in Bill 26 and as you're doing in your policies at the Ministry of Health, is allowing the private sector to intrude into what is a public health care system. I for one, as a New Democrat, am not going to stand idly by and watch you people introduce --


Mr Bisson: The member across the way said, "He's a socialist." If being a socialist means I care about making sure the people of the province can access health care services, not based on what they've got in their pocket but by their need, by damn I'm proud to be a socialist. What the heck are you? It's as simple as that.

I would simply say this in the minute I have left: This bill should be renamed. It should be called an intrusion by the private sector into the health care system, an ability for the Minister of Health to introduce user fees on all kinds of services within the health care field. To name that bill such would be a lot saner than calling it what they're trying to call it, saying it's only removing red tape.

Mr Wayne Lessard (Windsor-Riverside): I want to follow up on the comments made by my colleague from Cochrane South and speak somewhat about the fees that are going to be imposed by Bill 67, and who is going to determine those fees and what those fees are going to be charged for.

My friend is quite right that what this bill does is enable the charging of fees for a lot of services that up until now there hadn't been any fees charged for. A couple of those areas are with respect to the Health Protection and Promotion Act.

This is an act I have some familiarity with because my wife happens to be an environmental health inspector with the Windsor-Essex district health unit. She has some concern about what this government's agenda is, especially with respect to their changes in Bill 136 and the downloading of health care on to local municipalities and the downloading of responsibilities under the Health Protection and Promotion Act. She has some concerns about what municipal councillors are going to be able to decide as services that are going to be offered under the Health Protection and Promotion Act.

That's an act that prescribes some mandatory inspection programs. Some of those programs are things that involve community sanitation, control of communicable diseases, preventive dentistry, family health, home care services, nutrition, public health education, and of course there's this catch-all phrase, "additional health programs, as prescribed under the regulations." None of those things that are mandatory programs are programs my wife is directly involved in. Those are ones that have been referred to in the download numbers we all got a copy of, somewhat later than our Tory colleagues, and have had to try to sift our way through, along with our municipal councillors locally.

Non-mandatory programs are going to be downloaded on to municipalities. They're going to be expected to pick up the bills for these sorts of things. That really brings me to the changes that are proposed in Bill 67. One of the little changes that is prescribed in this bill is a change to section 58.1 of the Health Protection and Promotion Act. It's an addition to section 58; it's a new section. It says, "A board of health may charge fees for such services and in such amounts as the minister may approve."

That little section is going to permit the boards of health for local municipalities to begin to charge user fees for those sorts of inspection duties that were previously provided by inspectors without charge.


One of the things my wife does is to go around to inspect restaurants to ensure there are no public health nuisances there; that there are no possibilities of contagious diseases being spread; to ensure that those people who are handling food aren't contaminating those foods and possibly leading to an outbreak of food poisoning, something I think all of us here, whoever eats in restaurants and anybody who happens to be watching, should be pretty concerned about. Restaurants don't charge for that sort of inspection these days, but this change to the legislation is going to permit the charging of restaurants and other places that are going to be subject to these sorts of inspections to have to pay for them in the future.

This is just another one of those little areas where this government says that on the one hand we are going to offer people like small businesses, restaurant owners, for example, a tax break, but on the other hand we're going to permit boards of health, which are local bodies appointed by the government that happens to be in power, whatever fees that they may be able to charge to provide those services.

Therefore, any advantage that may be achieved by the granting of a tax cut is going to be lost. That's something I think people here should be aware of and I thank you for giving me the opportunity to raise that tonight.

Mrs Marion Boyd (London Centre): Several of the speakers tonight have talked about the fact that there are a series of bills that are designed to do more or less the same thing -- the group of backbenchers that have looked at this issue -- to cut red tape. It's really important that as we are doing this work, and we have a number of these bills to go through so it's going to be important for all of us to keep in mind -- when we cut red tape we sometimes cut some of the measures of accountability, and that's the part of this bill I want to talk about tonight.

We need to make it very clear that when we were the government we found very often, those of us in cabinet, that the volume of regulations that had to come through cabinet, through the Lieutenant Governor in Council, was quite remarkable. Certainly it is a temptation for any group of ministers gathered around a cabinet table, when they have regulation after regulation coming through for their approval, to perhaps ask themselves whether it's really all that important for ministers to know about that. Wouldn't it be enough for the minister who is charged with the responsibility in the ministry to have looked at these and approved them? Why does it need to go through cabinet?

In this bill, Bill 67, most of the changes that occur, except for the three acts that are being completely repealed, are issues around what needs to be passed by the cabinet and what can be relegated to the minister. This is a pretty key question, and it's going to be a question that will arise again and again as we go through these red tape bills.

In a parliamentary democracy that is based on a cabinet system, why would so many regulations have to go through that cabinet system? This didn't happen by happenstance. This happened because of the very theory of a cabinet in a parliamentary government. The cabinet is the government. The cabinet as a group of people, as a collectivity, is responsible for the decisions of the government.

People hear terms like "cabinet solidarity," but what cabinet solidarity really means in this system of government is that when the cabinet passes a regulation or a piece of policy, every single member of that cabinet becomes responsible for that decision. As more and more of the work of the cabinet gets relegated to individual ministers, where is the obligation on the part of the cabinet to maintain government solidarity? Well, it isn't there.

It is very easy to cut loose a minister and say, "The government didn't make this decision, the minister made this decision." That's one of the things we have to look at as we look through these red tape bills. Is it appropriate for a minister to exercise some of the powers that this bill and many of the other red tape bills are relegating simply to ministers? What is the danger to our notion of cabinet accountability, cabinet solidarity?

I am not talking about the areas in this bill or any of the others where it is simply a question of prescribing forms or applications. We all know, who have been in government, that work is done in the legislation and regulations committee anyway when it comes to cabinet. Now it won't even necessarily have to go to any committee. The bureaucrats in a ministry will bring forward that material to a minister, and the minister is under no obligation to make a cabinet submission, to make a regulation submission and to go through a cabinet that vets those regulations.

When you have, for example, the prescription of forms, if there is an error made, it's not as likely to get caught. I know, having sat on the legislation and regulations committee -- and I've got to tell you it's not the most stimulating experience one can have in government.

Mr Lessard: I enjoyed it.

Mrs Boyd: Yes, my friend from Windsor-Riverside really did enjoy it. He read absolutely every regulation and he is a good example of what happens, the mistakes that get caught, the errors that get caught through that process. In fact my friend from Windsor-Riverside I can remember caught several regulations I had signed and wanted to put through and was able to show that they would have exactly the opposite effect to what I had expected they would have and to what I was advised by people in the ministry they would have.

We saw an example of this. Remember way back when, when you first started, all of a sudden a regulation on social assistance crept through. It crept through the Lieutenant Governor in Council process. Everybody was asleep at the switch, with a regulatory change which in one fell swoop would have cut at least 115,000 people off family benefits. "It was a mistake," the minister said. "I didn't know what I was signing," and obviously neither did the secretary of cabinet. Even when the Lieutenant Governor in Council makes those decisions there can be mistakes. So think about the possibility of error with no one vetting it, no one assuming responsibility for it except one minister, when these things are not going through the Lieutenant Governor in Council process.

That's something that people to be very wary of. We experienced a number of occasions when regulations actually escaped the eagle eye of my friend from Windsor-Riverside, went to cabinet, and another cabinet minister recognized the effect that putting that regulation into place would have on the work of another ministry and we had to rethink our position.

Red tape is one thing, but cutting lines of accountability and scrutiny is another. We need to be very careful in this regard.

I'm only going to talk about the ones where I have a concern. I want you to know I have a concern that this bill changes the Public Hospitals Act and now makes it possible for a minister all by himself or herself to decide whether or not a building will be approved for the use of a public hospital.


Now, the creation of a public hospital, it seems to me, is a very big community interest, and if you have a cabinet form of government, it ought to be one of those collective decisions that cabinet makes. What if the minister decides the building is going to be used as a public hospital and the finance minister finds out about it five months down the line and says: "Hey, who made this decision? This changes the flow of money. This should have been my decision."

This is the whole purpose of doing it between them, so you can make sure the decision made in one ministry is not going to affect the operation and the accountability of another ministry. I would really caution this government that what you call red tape very often is that kind of accountability.

Let's look, for example, at the whole issue of the changes in the Mental Health Act in this bill. It takes away from cabinet, from the Lieutenant Governor in cabinet, the power of making regulations prescribing the amounts that are going to be paid to psychiatric institutions in this province and hand over that power solely to the minister. What's the problem with that? It is a lack of accountability. The minister may indeed in effect make all the recommendations that come forward on this, but it is the decision of the whole cabinet to decide whether that is in the best public interest.

When we look at some of the other areas of this, it is very important to understand the difference in accountability. If you look, for example, at the Homes for Special Care Act, the power to establish homes for special care, the power to approve the buildings or other places for special care, no longer is a cabinet decision. It becomes the power of a minister to license a special care home. Cabinet no longer decides what the licensing cost or the application cost is for that.

This could be an extremely important question when it comes to the care particularly of psychiatric patients but also of the developmentally delayed as they are being deinstitutionalized. The whole issue of homes for special care and their appropriateness in the community is a community interest. This is a matter of public interest.

I want you to know that we in no way object to the repeal of the three acts being repealed. They are acts that were put in place for good reason at the time they were put in place, but they are no longer the kind of act necessary for us to have comfort in the public interest.

The War Veterans Burial Act, for example: I confess I had to look this up, because it was not something I was familiar with. It may well be one of these acts that has had very little meaning for some time. Let me read it to you:

"In the event of the death of any person who was an indigent person and who was a member of Her Majesty's naval, military or air forces in active service during any war and the burial was provided by and paid for from the Last Post Fund, the municipality in which the person resided at the time of his or her death shall pay the expenses of such burial, but not exceeding the sum of $15, to the fund upon proof of such burial and demand for payment made by a properly accredited officer of the fund."

I'm not sure whether the Last Post Fund is still operating. That's something I haven't had the research capacity to find out, but we all know that a $15 chargeback to the fund from a municipality would not be worth the effort to collect it.

Similarly, the second part of it is a $100 fee from the workers' compensation payments for burial -- again, probably not a very important issue.

The Hypnosis Act was put in place when hypnosis was a very new process. It was put in place to try and protect the public interest, but there are now many other ways in which that public interest is protected, so of course it should be repealed.

The Cancer Remedies Act, similar to the Hypnosis Act, was put into place at a time when we were only just developing some of the expertise in dealing with cancers and there were real fears about spurious cures and spurious treatments, in fact treatments that might be harmful. One of the issues we see here is the removal of an act that is no longer necessary because of some of the other regulatory measures in place.

Our major objection to these measures around changing the authority for making decisions really centres on how we maintain accountability. If a minister is going to assume all these new responsibilities as a result of these red tape bills, how are we as the general public going to be able to hold that minister accountable? Indeed, how are his or her own colleagues going to hold him or her accountable?

There are, of course, ways in which that happens. Obviously, ministers are always very vulnerable to a change of mind on the part of the Premier of the day and certainly, in order to maintain their own best interests -- not the public best interest but their own best interest -- may make decisions that will maintain their position as opposed to maintaining the public interest.

I think that's a worry. Particularly when we're talking about setting fees, talking about new kinds of regulations in a rapidly changing, rapidly restructured health system, do we really know what we are doing when we put the power in the hands of a single minister with no scrutiny by his or her colleagues and with no committee process to ensure that all the bases have been checked? I think we need to be concerned about that.

There is nothing in this act that makes us particularly concerned about an abuse of power. It's the overall effect of more and more power being concentrated in the hands of the ministers. That is not what this government talked about; this government tried to say there was too much bureaucratic power. But when you transfer all the power into the hands of a minister, you are at the mercy of the bureaucrats, because no one else has any scrutiny of the advice that is given. It is very important to remember that when you concentrate that power and put it entirely on to a minister, that minister will only have the information and the advice that come forward from the ministry. You will find you have a ministry-driven process in which the accountability of elected representatives begins to be lost.

The effect of all these red tape bills will be a cumulative effect of increasing the power of bureaucrats, all to save the cabinet 20 minutes now and then as they go through passing the regulations and scrutinizing the work of their colleagues. I say that as we go through these bills, we should be looking very carefully at which of the particular changes being proposed concern us the most. That will be the job of the critics, to look very carefully at each of these bills to see where that changing of the balance of power from the cabinet, from the government, to a minister will have that effect.

We're not going to talk any longer on this bill, although there's a lot of time left on the clock, because there's another piece of legislation we want to get through tonight. But one of the things I would like the government to think about as we go through the next -- well, it's not quite 100 bills, but quite a lot of this so-called red tape cutting. I would really like some consideration on the part of the government of the overall cumulative effect of what is being proposed, because I think in the long run it's going to have a very deleterious effect on our democratic process. I think we will rue the day when we take such measures to concentrate power in the hands of ministers and therefore hand ourselves over much more to the power of the bureaucrats.

The Acting Speaker: Mr Hudak has moved third reading of Bill 67. Is it the pleasure of the House that the motion carry? It is carried.

Resolved that the bill do now pass and be entitled as in the motion.



Ms Isabel Bassett (St Andrew-St Patrick): I move second reading of Bill 115, An Act to reduce red tape by amending or repealing certain statutes administered by the Ministry of Finance and by making complementary amendments to other statutes / Projet de loi 115, Loi visant à réduire les formalités administratives en modifiant ou en abrogeant certaines lois dont l'application relève du ministère des Finances et en apportant des modifications complémentaires à d'autres lois.

I'll be very brief tonight because I want to give time to members on the other side of the House. I want to say, however, just to lay the groundwork for what this bill does, that Bill 115 would deliver on our commitment made in the Common Sense Revolution to cut red tape, create more efficient government and preserve consumer protection. From that point of view, it's long overdue.

By eliminating unnecessary rules, we are reducing not only the cost of complying with regulations but we are also enhancing the financial services industry's ability to improve customer services and to increase access to capital for Ontario's businesses.

Let's be clear that red tape means unnecessary paperwork and regulatory duplication. Red tape does absolutely nothing to improve consumer protection. In fact, red tape stands in the way of improved customer services. It increases costs for both consumers and businesses and it kills jobs.

I want to say that the people of Ontario told us to cut red tape to help stimulate private sector growth. In the Common Sense Revolution, as I mentioned, we made a commitment to do so. Bill 115 is doing just that, by reducing red tape in the financial services and tax administration sectors while preserving consumer protection.

Thank you. Now to the other side.

The Acting Speaker (Mr Bert Johnson): Comments or questions? No? Further debate?

Mr Frank Miclash (Kenora): I don't think any party can really disagree with the cutting of red tape.


Mr Miclash: Why is everybody so lively at this time of the evening?

When we take a close look at what Bill 115 actually does, we find out that the bill actually gives the Premier and the various ministers the power to impose new fees. We often think back to what the Premier, Mike Harris, had to say about new fees and user fees. Back when he was talking about user fees, he called them a tax. We had the Premier saying, "There will be no new taxes," but what we see through this bill is the power to allow the Premier, the people in his corner office and the ministers to impose these new fees without much notice, without much input from the general public or from the Legislature itself. What we see here in this bill is a way that the government can sneak in these fees and increase user fees on the public. We'll watch these fees go up much quicker, allowing both the ministers and the Premier to do this.

It's an opportunity to impose fees on anything from ambulance services to any number of health care services. As well, it allows the government to dump a good number of the costs on to municipalities. Bill 115 allows them to move in and dump those costs down on to our municipalities.

Very briefly, this is a bill we cannot disagree with in terms of cutting red tape, but it certainly allows both the Premier and the ministers to bring forth and impose fees, giving them new powers as the Premier and cabinet to do this. With that, I'll conclude my remarks.

The Acting Speaker: Questions or comments? The Chair recognizes the member for St Catharines.

Interjection: Sit down.

Mr James J. Bradley (St Catharines): Somebody said, "Sit down." That means I want to stand up for a while.

I just wanted to ask the member the question of whether this bill had anything to do with the outrageous gas prices we're experiencing in St Catharines today.

The Acting Speaker: Questions or comments? The member for Kenora has up to two minutes to respond. No? Further debate?

Mr Gilles Pouliot (Lake Nipigon): Simply put, Bill 115 changes 42 acts. Again simply put, it deals mainly with form, but it does give the Minister of Finance authority, power, to delegate or to approve, rather than going through the process of regulation. High time; long overdue; cooperation of all three parties; better service to the clientele. There are 16 different client service groups represented, from the banks to the trust companies to the other financial institutions.

Of course, it does amend the Mining Act thoroughly. Every time there's a form and a regulation, it won't be as burdensome as it once was.

Suffice it to say that we shall support, in its entirety, the long-awaited Bill 115, for it is a step in the right direction.

The Acting Speaker: Questions or comments?

Mr Bradley: I'm going to ask the member just one question, and he can answer very briefly if he wishes to do so. Is he not surprised that it took this long for the government House leader to call this piece of legislation for consideration in this House?

Mr Bud Wildman (Algoma): In response to my colleague from Lake Nipigon, I would just like to say succinctly "ditto."

The Acting Speaker: Ms Bassett has moved second reading of Bill 115. Is it the pleasure of the House that the motion carry? It is carried.

Shall the bill be ordered for third reading? It is agreed.

Mr David Turnbull (York Mills): Mr Speaker, it being close to 12 of the clock, I propose that we adjourn.

The Acting Speaker: Mr Turnbull has moved adjournment of the House. Is it the pleasure of the House that the motion carry? It is carried.

The House adjourned at 2351.