L264 - Thu 18 Dec 1997 / Jeu 18 Déc 1997
The House met at 1001.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
FISH AND WILDLIFE CONSERVATION ACT, 1997 / LOI DE 1997 SUR LA PROTECTION DU POISSON ET DE LA FAUNE
Hon Mr Snobelen moved third reading of the following bill:
Bill 139, An Act to promote the conservation of fish and wildlife through the revision of the Game and Fish Act / Projet de loi 139, Loi visant à promouvoir la protection du poisson et de la faune en révisant la Loi sur la chasse et la pêche.
Hon John Snobelen (Minister of Natural Resources): To the joy of thousands and the encouragement of my colleagues, I'll be sharing my time with the member for Halton North this morning.
Today I'm introducing, for third reading, Bill 139, the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act. This government recognizes that effective management of the province's fish and wildlife resources is essential to the environmental, social and economic wellbeing of Ontario. The Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act demonstrates our commitment to effective management of our natural resources. This act will strengthen Ontario's efforts in conserving and managing the province's valuable fish and wildlife resources. The act will do this by toughening enforcement provisions, protecting and managing a broader range of species, and improving our client service.
We have known for a long time that the current Game and Fish Act is inadequate to meet the needs of Ontario's fish and wildlife resources. Over the last two decades, all three parties have attempted to make major legislative changes to the Game and Fish Act. I'm pleased to say that we have been successful, where other governments have failed, because we built on a strong consensus among stakeholders. We've done the work and the consulting needed to win that support. I'm proud to be able to introduce Bill 139 for third reading and finish the work begun by Premier Mike Harris when he was Minister of Natural Resources. In building support for this legislation, we used all previous attempts to make legislative changes to the Game and Fish Act as a starting point in developing the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act.
I'd like to acknowledge the previous efforts and ongoing cooperation of all three parties and, in particular, the previous minister, Chris Hodgson. I'd also like to thank the many people right across Ontario who have helped to bring forward a bill that reflects a great deal of consensus and has earned broad support.
We received valuable input during consultation on this legislation from client groups representing a variety of interests, including recreational hunting and fishing, commercial fishing and wildlife industries, animal welfare, agriculture, naturalists and tourist operators. I'm pleased to say that the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act is strongly supported by an impressive range of organizations concerned with Ontario's natural resources. We built support for this bill because we consulted, we listened and we responded to our clients.
Our clients told us that stricter enforcement provisions were needed. The new act will serve as a warning to poachers that Ontario will not tolerate abuses to our fish and wildlife. Offenders will face the toughest penalties in Ontario's history. Those convicted of commercial offences under the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act will be subject to fines of up to $100,000. We've added jail terms as penalties for offences under the act. With this change, courts will have the power to order offenders to perform community service.
Through our consultation we heard from many client groups and members of the public about the protection and management of black bears. The new act has a number of important changes that provide greater protection for black bears. It would prohibit interfering with a black bear in its den or intentionally destroying its den and prohibits the possession of black bear gall bladders separated from the carcass. By prohibiting the possession of gall bladders in this way, we will have an effective tool against the illegal trade of gall bladders, which has been of significant international concern. The black bear has also been added to the list of species that may not be hunted while the animal is swimming.
Our clients also told us that the new legislation should not just focus on game species such as white-tailed deer, black bear and wild turkey. One of the important changes reflected in the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act is that a broader range of species will be included. The new act provides for the protection and management of specially protected species such as the southern flying squirrel, the blue racer snake, the redback salamander and - one of my personal favourites - the spicebush swallowtail butterfly. I know that has your attention too, Mr Speaker.
A long-standing complaint with the current Game and Fish Act is that it is outdated and confusing, even for those who use it regularly. The Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act is better organized, making it easier to use and to understand. Following first reading of the act, several groups of individuals suggested amendments to this bill. I'm pleased to say that we've responded to that input. We have incorporated a number of changes to the legislation. I'd like to highlight some of those changes.
We defined the use of the term "aquaculture" in the act to recognize this important and growing industry. We amended section 13 of the act to clarify the prohibition on harassment of people who are legally hunting, fishing and trapping. Subsection 24(2) of the act states, "A person shall not use a boat for the purpose of killing, injuring, capturing, harassing, pursuing or chasing wildlife." This provision gives enforcement staff a mechanism to address clearly unethical situations. For example, it would prevent someone from using a watercraft to chase a nesting bird away from a nest. However, some members felt this subsection might infringe on the ability to reach an appropriate site from which to hunt legally. We listened to the concerns and, to clarify the situation, we've included an amendment that, through regulation, will provide for exemptions to the general prohibition.
Currently, a person must obtain a dog licence when using a dog to hunt white-tailed deer, moose and elk. Our clients told us that there should be a similar requirement for persons using a dog to hunt black bear. We've amended the act to ensure this is a consistent approach with respect to big game hunting.
Section 36 of the act prohibits a person from abandoning or allowing the spoilage of fish and wildlife. We've made an amendment to the bill to allow for an exemption on the prohibition because we recognize there are situations where this is necessary to prevent or control the spread of disease. We amended section 88 to clarify that a conservation officer may also inspect associated ammunition when inspecting a firearm for the purposes of the act or the regulations.
I've touched on just a few of the many ways in which the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act will improve our ability to sustain and manage our province's fish and wildlife resources. I believe we've listened to our clients through the long journey of this bill, including the important amendments we have recently made. The passage of this bill will fulfil a promise this government made to the people of Ontario, all of whom value our natural resources to bring forward tough legislation for fish and wildlife protection in this province.
Mr Ted Chudleigh (Halton North): I'm very pleased - a great deal of pleasure - to rise in the House today and speak in support of Bill 139, the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act. This act has been a long time coming. As the minister mentioned, it, or an act very similar to it, was first introduced in 1985 by the then Minister of Natural Resources, the Honourable Michael Harris. It was again introduced by the Peterson government, by Vince Kerrio, in this House, following the Peterson victory. It was again introduced by Mr Bud Wildman, who was then Minister of Natural Resources under the Rae administration. Finally, it was reintroduced again by the Honourable Chris Hodgson as Minister of Natural Resources last year and has reached this point in the Legislature under the guidance of the Honourable John Snobelen, now Minister of Natural Resources.
It has taken a lot of people a lot of time to get this bill to the point it is at today. I would be remiss if I didn't thank the member for Algoma-Manitoulin for his support of this bill through second reading and the committee hearings, along with the member for Sudbury East, who with their parties supported this legislation and, with their amendments and comments, have made this a better piece of legislation throughout that process.
The Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act sets the stage for a very effective management of our fish and wildlife resources into the next century.
As the Honourable Minister of Natural Resources has mentioned, the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act was developed through extensive consultations with a large number of client groups. A number of those client groups, including the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters, the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, the Animal Alliance of Canada, the World Wildlife Fund, the Ontario Hawking Club and the Northern Ontario Tourist Outfitters Association, made presentations on Bill 139 to the standing committee on general government last week. The input from these client groups and from the committee members representing all three parties was invaluable in making the amendments the minister described earlier. I would like to thank them, the client groups and the committee members for their efforts and assistance.
All too often we refer to the bureaucrats in the government in - what should I say? - less than glowing terms, but let me say that the civil servants in the Ministry of Natural Resources helped us put together this act and do much of the informal consultation prior to getting the bill to this point in time. I make note of those individuals and thank them for their commitment to this bill.
There is extremely strong support among our client groups for this bill and I am pleased that we have been able to make such substantial progress on this very important issue.
The Acting Speaker (Mr Gilles E. Morin): Questions or comments?
Mr John Gerretsen (Kingston and The Islands): It is nice to see a piece of legislation go through this House supported by all parties, to be sure, but we cannot forget the fact that it's nice to pass these laws but if you don't have the conservation officers to enforce them, you really haven't done anything at all. When we look at the fact that 20% of all the conservation officers we had within the Ministry of Natural Resources have been let go or fired or eliminated, there are simply too few people left to make the necessary inspections, to make sure that the laws of this province as they relate to natural resources are being adhered to.
The other interesting fact of course, which bears right on that same issue as well, is when you look at the amount of money we're spending in natural resources. Just two years ago we spent over $519 million to make sure that the natural resources of this province were properly managed and looked after by the province. That now is down to $369 million, a drop of $150 million, which in effect means that the ability of this ministry to do its work has been reduced by some 33%.
So I say to the minister, yes, we support this law, but at the same time you want to have enough resources within your government department to make sure the inspections that will be required under the new act and regulations will be properly done. Currently that's simply not the case. There are too few people we've got as conservation officers and it is high time we change that perspective or we change the way we're doing that right now.
Mr Gilles Bisson (Cochrane South): I guess my question to the minister would be this: On the one hand you say you're strengthening the act to make sure that we protect the wildlife and we protect fish habitat. I guess it's two questions. The first one is, I want to know how the ministry is going to do that given that there are half the employees in the Ministry of Natural Resources there were, let's say, two years ago. I think the minister and most members of this House would understand and agree that if you're going to put a law in place, it takes a certain number of people to go out there and look and inspect what's happening out in the bush, check out what's happening and at the same time enforce the actual law itself. So my first question to the minister is, how do you plan to enforce this law if you don't have the staff at the Ministry of Natural Resources to go out and do the type of site inspections that need to be done?
The second question I would have is this: When the minister, in June 1997, got up with great fanfare and introduced his bill he said, "We're going to get tough. We're going to protect fish wildlife. This is what this is all about. We're going to do a really good job," but then there was an internal memo dated August 14, 1997, from the deputy minister which said, "The Ministry of Natural Resources will no longer review proposals to determine if proposed work will destroy fish habitat."
Isn't that interesting? On the one hand, the government says they're going to be strengthening the legislation in order to protect fish habitat and on the other hand their own internal memo is saying, "We're not going to go and inspect anything that happens with lumber companies or prospectors or mining companies that go into the bush, that need to cross creeks in order to do work." Of course we have to allow them to cross a creek to do the work, but there are certain methods of doing that that protect fish wildlife, and the Ministry of Natural Resources is saying, "We're not going to send anybody into the bush in order to inspect what happens and how this is done." So my question is, how are you going to protect fish wildlife without the ministry staff needed to be able to do that and without an inspection of those permits?
Mr Frank Klees (York-Mackenzie): I'm pleased to rise and add my commendation to the minister and the parliamentary assistant for having brought this bill forward, and also to appreciate the support of the members of the opposition for this bill. I had the privilege of sitting on the committee that heard representations and I can say that various groups from across the province came forward to commend this government on bringing this bill, which had been contemplated by many governments to this point, forward to the point we're at now for third reading.
Also, as the member of provincial Parliament for the riding of York-Mackenzie, I received many submissions from constituents. One of those letters came to me from Mr Neil Traverse of Newmarket. I'd like to just read what was contained in his letter and also in many other letters we received from people across the province. He urges us, regarding Bill 139 and the fish and wildlife of Ontario, saying that they need the support of this government through this bill. The indication in this letter is that this bill is particularly important in the sections dealing with increases in fines for poaching, closing the loopholes in the law for animals poached from other jurisdictions, and the special purpose account that uses the money from angling and hunting licences for conservation. He goes on to say that all of these are needed to improve the management of Ontario's wildlife.
Many other organizations, ranging from the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters to the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, the Animal Alliance of Canada, the World Wildlife Fund and many other organizations from across this province and in fact across this country, have come forward to commend this government for bringing forward this very important bill.
The Acting Speaker: Further questions or comments? If not, the minister for two minutes.
Hon Mr Snobelen: I want to thank the member for York-Mackenzie for his comments this morning and make note of the fact that the member was the parliamentary assistant during the time this bill was introduced and certainly did much of the consultation work with groups across the province. He is to be commended for that work.
I also take note of the comments by members of the opposition and the third party. Of course I have listened intently to those comments and will take those views into account when we manage this act after it has been passed and received royal assent.
I also note today that there is a certain kind of warmth and kindness in the remarks that hasn't necessarily been present when I have introduced other bills in this House. I can only assume that's because of the festive season and also because of the commitment to the preservation of fish and wildlife in Ontario.
The Acting Speaker: Further debate?
Mrs Lyn McLeod (Fort William): I'm pleased to rise and participate in third reading debate on the Game and Fish Act. Having spoken to it already on second reading, I want to acknowledge that I am indeed a former Minister of Natural Resources, as I did acknowledge when I spoke on second reading of the bill, I say to the parliamentary assistant. Therefore, yes, I am one of the people who have looked at versions of the Game and Fish Act in the past, part of one of those previous governments that has wanted to see amendments brought forward to the Game and Fish Act but has not seen it carried forward to the stage we're at today, which is third reading on an amended Game and Fish Act. On second reading I expressed a sentiment that I think is shared by members of the House, that we're glad to see that at least this section of the amendments to the Game and Fish Act is going to come forward.
I do, however, think it's equally important to acknowledge that one of the reasons this particular version of the Game and Fish Act and its amendments is coming forward for third reading is that the controversial issues which had delayed this act coming forward for previous governments, which indeed have been engaged in discussions about this for what seems like many years - the act and the amendments had been proposed well before I became minister and that was some eight years ago if my calculations are correct, so this debate has been going on for some time. The reason it is coming forward today for third reading is that the most controversial issues that have stalled the finalization of the amendments to this act for past governments, over a number of years, have simply not been dealt with by the government. There are two in particular and I know they have received some extensive comment at the second reading debate, but I think they deserve to be mentioned again as this goes to third reading, because we don't want these controversial issues to disappear and never be dealt with again.
One of those is the whole issue of the domestic farming of wildlife species. This has caused considerable concern for people in the hunting fraternity, as well as for people in the Ministry of Natural Resources and people who are concerned about what effect wildlife species being imported for domestic farming purposes - because you cannot farm native wildlife species - may have on our ability to provide for conservation of our own native wildlife species.
This is an ongoing question that causes ongoing concerns. It's not dealt with in the amendments to the Game and Fish Act that are before us today, and there is not a chance it is going to get dealt with in the half day of hearings that were to have been devoted to this particular act. So it's an outstanding issue that I believe the government of the day needs to continue to grapple with.
A second controversial issue that is not dealt with, that again is of ongoing concern, is the whole question of fish farming. I know that people who are involved in aquaculture have considerable concerns about certain parts of the Game and Fish Act. I think their concerns need to be heard, they need to be addressed, and if it means the current government or a future government has to come to grips with further amendments to the Game and Fish Act, so be it. I don't think these long-standing concerns can simply be ignored now that there is to be some proceeding with a process of amending the Game and Fish Act.
Those are two of the controversial issues that I think have been left out. If I address what is in the act, obviously we are all going to be supportive of measures which allow greater conservation of game and fish. As a northerner, I am obviously going to rise in support of measures which will enhance conservation. I spoke on second reading about the importance of natural resources to the economy of northern Ontario, and I can't emphasize that enough. This may not seem to be - apart from the parliamentary assistant and the Minister of Natural Resources - one of the issues of greatest political importance, unless you happen to come from northern Ontario where the management of natural resources is indeed a matter of great importance, because it's crucial to our economy.
It's for that reason that we will be supportive of measures which enhance conservation, but we cannot speak to that and lend our support to this without putting it into the context of what this government has done to make it virtually impossible to enforce the very conservation measures it is putting forward, with considerable pride, in this bill.
You cannot enforce effective conservation, of the amended Game and Fish Act or any of the regulations relating to the conservation of our natural resources, if you do not have enough physical and financial resources within the Ministry of Natural Resources to provide for the enforcement. You cannot provide enforcement if your conservation officers are spending a large part of their time behind the desk doing administrative work, as is indeed the case. The threatened cutback to conservation officers has not proceeded, but the lack of time our conservation officers have to actually be out in the bush, doing the monitoring and doing the enforcement of the Game and Fish Act, has been considerably reduced.
Beyond that, there is an inability now on the part of the Ministry of Natural Resources to do the kind of monitoring, the kind of auditing which is necessary if you're going to be involved in real conservation of natural resources. As a former minister, I know the demands of audit. I know that at the point of time at which I was involved as Minister of Natural Resources there was an almost desperate need to have an audit of our timber resources. It is a time-consuming, costly process and a process which has to be carried on on an ongoing basis if you're going to effectively manage our timber resources, clearly one of our key economic natural resources.
There is also an essential need to provide for audit of our wildlife species, so as we talk about Game and Fish Act amendments, we talk about enforcement that will enhance the preservation of wildlife species. You can't do that unless you have some audit of how healthy the wildlife species are. The first call I got from a concerned constituent when I became Minister of Natural Resources - I remember it well, on a Sunday afternoon - was from somebody who believed that the ministry's assessment of its wildlife species was totally inaccurate and that decisions being made to regulate hunting were being made on the basis of inaccurate data.
I don't know whether that particular constituent's claim was right or wrong and whether the ministry's data were accurate or not accurate, but my point is it is again a costly, time-consuming process, a labour-intensive process, in order to be able to carry out an effective audit of the health of our wildlife species.
The same thing is true when it comes to fisheries conservation, whether we're talking about management of the fisheries for recreational purposes or management of the fisheries for commercial purposes. You cannot provide for a regulatory framework that allows effective conservation as a resource, so that it can be managed for both recreational and commercial use, unless you know how healthy the fish stocks are.
I have talked to commercial fishermen on Lake Erie who said they don't think the Ministry of Natural Resources is able to do an effective audit of the health of our fisheries resource, so how can they decide what the fisheries quotas should be, and yet that determination of the fisheries quota is absolutely crucial to the economic health of our commercial fisheries and, in turn, has a direct bearing on what the allocation is for recreational fishing, which has an important economic impact on communities right across the province. The fishermen on Lake Erie said to me, "Unless you have natural resources people who can actually go out on the boat, so that they understand what is actually happening when you're out there fishing, then you cannot have a good sense of the health of our fisheries resource."
What's the point of my raising all of these issues around audit, whether it's of timber or wildlife or fisheries? It's because in each of these areas you've got to have the knowledge to provide the regulations that allow for conservation, and in each of the areas it is both costly and labour-intensive, and so when we talk about the Game and Fish Act and we talk about new conservation measures and the importance of enforcing that, we have to come back to the fact that this government, the Mike Harris government that is bringing this bill forward, has cut back the budget for the Ministry of Natural Resources by some 22%.
When the parliamentary assistant thanks the staff of the Ministry of Natural Resources - and as a former minister I want to second the thanks that are given to the staff of the Ministry of Natural Resources - let's recognize the fact that he is thanking some 2,000 fewer people than were in the Ministry of Natural Resources, on their staff, when the Harris government came into office. I do think it is - I'm not sure if the word "hypocrisy" is parliamentary language, Mr Speaker, and I know that you are very intent on watching parliamentary language. Let me say it is one thing to speak on the one hand about the importance of conservation, new conservation measures and enforcement of these conservation measures, and on the other hand to have cut 22% of the budget of the ministry that is responsible for monitoring and for enforcement, and to have 2,000 fewer people out in the field who can actually carry on that monitoring and that enforcement.
I don't think those two realities fit together. That is why, although I can be supportive of new conservation measures, I am not optimistic that they can actually be made effective in the field.
I hope the minister, as he makes his comments with some pride about bringing this bill forward for third reading, if he is sincere in that pride and in his commitment to conservation and to the management of our natural resources, will persuade his cabinet colleagues and the Premier of Ontario and the Minister of Finance that natural resources are indeed important economically to this province, important to the future of this province, and deserve better than having the budget of the ministry that provides for the management of those natural resources slashed and its personnel cut in half.
Because we're talking about the Game and Fish Act, I won't get into the actual economic impact on northern Ontario communities of losing those 2,000 jobs, because of course the predominant number of staff cuts affected northern Ontario communities and that had a significant economic impact on our communities.
Let me just again stress the fact that in northern Ontario particularly, the management of our natural resources is crucial for our economy and for our future. It cannot be done effectively if the Ministry of Natural Resources is somehow reduced to being a junior ministry, and its minister is brought out only to present amendments to the Game and Fish Act - an important part of the management of our natural resources, and I don't want to underplay it, but only one part of our management of natural resources, and even that part cannot be carried out effectively unless there are adequate personnel and adequate resources given to the Ministry of Natural Resources.
If this sounds like a plea to recognize the importance of what this bill supposedly addresses, it is, because I think it is important and has to be acknowledged as such in every aspect of the ministry's and the government's operations.
With that in my mind, I want to turn to a couple of the issues that are important to the management of our natural resources, that are relevant to this act but are not addressed in the amendments before us, and would not appropriately - let me acknowledge that - be addressed in this specific act. But I think it's important we recognize that conservation of game and fisheries cannot proceed in the absence of effective conservation of other areas of our natural resources. I am concerned, therefore, that the whole issue of timber management is not being dealt with adequately by this government in spite of the fact that there was considerable time, a tremendous effort and a great deal of money devoted to something called the class environmental assessment of timber management.
I'm fairly familiar with the class environmental assessment on timber management because I was the minister at the time that began. There was a lot of controversy about whether that should have taken as long or cost as much as it did. There was a lot of controversy, even then, about whether or not a focus on timber management was adequate to address all of the related issues involved in forestry management, which includes the management of our game and our fisheries.
Nevertheless, it was a costly, time-consuming effort focusing again on one part of resource management, forest management, but broadening in the course of that to touch on other issues related to forest management, to recognize the interrelatedness of the whole management of forestry, timber, game, wildlife resources and fisheries resources, because you can't talk about one separately from another.
That was a basis on which this government could have proceeded to take some very significant actions in the management, not only of our timber resources, of our game and fish resources, but of our whole forest management. What did they do instead? They cut back on the funding that was to have been devoted to implementing the recommendations of the class environmental assessment on timber management. They cut $19 million out of the budget that was devoted to that.
What does that say about this government's actual commitment to the management, not only of timber but of forestry? If you're seriously concerned about the Game and Fish Act and the conservation measures that are about to be adopted, why would you not be equally concerned as a government about implementing the recommendations of the environmental assessment on timber management, those recommendations having a very direct bearing on the management of our wildlife and our fisheries resources?
If you want to talk about wildlife, talk about caribou, talk about moose, talk about the kind of interrelationship between the management of timber and the way in which we harvest our forest for timber purposes and what that does in terms of the habitat for caribou or for moose. They're interrelated issues. Unless as a government you are prepared to devote resources - financial and personnel - to the whole area of forestry management, then you're not going to effectively manage the wildlife resource or the fisheries resource, let alone the timber resource. Cutting $19 million from implementing those recommendations was really not an adequate response from a government that purports to be concerned about these issues.
The government of course is involved in an extensive exercise looking at Lands for Life. This could potentially be a very positive exercise. It's an important one, and I want to recognize the importance of that exercise. It's an exercise that is extremely important to northern Ontario and extremely important to the management of our natural resources.
The outcome of the Lands for Life process could result in essentially a dividing up of a huge land mass in Ontario - almost 90% of the land mass of northern Ontario. If anybody has actually seen a map of Ontario, you'll realize what a huge part of the total land mass of Ontario we're talking about here, when we're talking about 90% of the land mass of northern Ontario being discussed at a table with a group of individuals who will make recommendations to government. Government alone will have the power to decide in what way northern Ontario is to be divided up. The decisions that are made there are going to have an enormous effect, not only on the management of our resources but on the economy of northern Ontario and of the province itself.
Yet the concern all of us have, even as we endorse the importance of the Lands for Life process, is that there will not be enough time devoted to this process, that the report will be called for before there has been a full consideration of the huge sweep of issues that are being debated in the Lands for Life process, and that once again, there will not be due consultation on the recommendations the government is considering.
Let me make another plea, while there is still time, to a government that has curtailed the consultation process on virtually everything they've done for the last two years, a government that would prefer to see recommendations which bring about sweeping changes to health care, to education, to the way in which our municipalities are managed, to see those changes brought forward with no consultation at all.
We have a government that has forced opposition members to do sit-ins in the House and bring in thousands of amendments to bills just to have time for some public consultation on issues that bring about enormous changes in the way in which we are governed. I say to that government that has so little regard for the consultation process, please, when you get the Lands for Life recommendations, and when you're about to take decisions that will have a bearing on northern Ontario's economy with implications for the future that, if you're not a northerner, are almost imaginable, please give us time to look at those recommendations, to have some broad public consultation on the recommendations so that northerners get a chance to say how northern Ontario should be managed and how our resources should be managed.
Mr Speaker, I am conscious that my colleague is anxious to speak before he has to leave for another event, so there are just two other areas I want to touch on that for me are so fundamentally important to resource management that, although I've spoken briefly to them on second reading of the bill, I feel called upon to mention again today.
One is the issue of parks management. Obviously parks management is part of the Lands for Life management, it's part of timber management, it's part of forest management, and it's something where I find the government's policy confusing to say the least. When I spoke on second reading, I thought it was appropriate to mention that the government had received an F about a year and a half ago from the World Wildlife Fund for its failure to acknowledge and protect ecologically significant areas in Ontario.
I acknowledged, and I think the parliamentary assistant said in his comments, that the government had moved up I think to a C in a subsequent rating because they had set aside some additional to preserve ecologically significant areas.
I acknowledge that they have made some steps in the direction of setting aside ecologically significant lands, but I want to make it very clear that neither the World Wildlife Fund nor anybody who is genuinely concerned about the management of our parks is going to be supportive of a government that, on the one hand - I can't use the word "hypocrisy," so I won't - sets aside lands for ecologically significant reasons, as if they were protecting those lands as parks, and, on the other hand, cuts back on parks management and puts in place a policy that says any park in Ontario must be able to pay for itself or it will be closed or sold off.
I can't reconcile those two parts of a policy related to parks: a government that wants to impress the World Wildlife Fund that it warrants a C+ instead of an F because it's setting aside lands for parks management with a government that says that if any park in Ontario can't pay for itself, it is going to be closed down or privatized. We've already seen the shutting down of a number of our parks. I will tell you that you cannot run a natural environment park or a wilderness park like Quetico Provincial Park in my part of the province on a pay-as-you-go basis. You can't run it like a tourist-oriented KOA, and yet that's what the policy of this government is, to run our parks, even our wilderness parks, as if they were commercially operated KOAs.
I want to know, if this government is serious about conservation, if it values getting from an F to a C+ in the World Wildlife Fund rating for what it's prepared to do on conservation of parks, is it prepared to change the policy put in place by the previous Minister of Natural Resources? I would love to hear the minister or the parliamentary assistant stand up today and tell me, "That policy that was articulated by Mr Hodgson" - that is recorded in Hansard, so if you want to check whether he said it or not, it's there - "that says that parks have to pay as they go, that they have to be able to prove that they are revenue-neutral," if we can still use that word in Ontario, "that they're not costing the government anything to run, that that policy that was articulated by Mr Hodgson has been withdrawn, repudiated, repealed by the government today." If I could hear that kind of statement from this government, I could then believe that we had a government that was seriously prepared to revisit its approach to conservation and to management of our natural resources. If they are not prepared to repeal that policy, then I am very afraid that any recognition of ecologically significant areas, setting them aside as parkland, means virtually nothing because there is no commitment to real management of those as natural resources in the public interest.
Lastly, I want to touch on an another issue that is important to me, and that's the issue of fire management, because all of what we're talking about today becomes meaningless if our forests burn down around us. It is meaningless if we talk about habitat for wildlife, and you can't talk about conservation of wildlife, unless you're prepared to talk about habitat and you're not prepared to talk about the role that fire management plays in ensuring that we have a healthy habitat for wildlife. You can't talk about fisheries management or the tourism benefit of management of our fisheries if you're not prepared to look at fire protection, fire management of the very forest resource which is the basis for the majority of our fisheries and our recreational fishery. You certainly can't talk about the management of natural resources if you're not prepared to talk about the issue of fire management in relationship to natural resources.
This is one of the areas where the government's actions - I don't think I can call it policy because I don't think there is any policy for fire management on the part of this government right now - speak so loudly that they either don't understand the issue of fire management or they don't want to understand it, or they want to play games with the budget for fire management so that they can look as though they're making some cutbacks right across the board, because this is one of the areas in which this government saw fit to cut back its budget, to trim the budget for fire management.
I'm a former Minister of Natural Resources and I know how easy it is to take a budget and say, "You're going to make some cutbacks, so let's take some money out of the fire budget," because you know, after all, if the fires starts and the forests start to burn, you're going to be able to come back to your government and you're going to get some more money to ensure that you've got the fire protection. It can be a way of playing some games with the exercise of having to make cutbacks.
I certainly don't want to suggest that there should be any more cutbacks in other areas of the Ministry of Natural Resources so that the fire budget is protected - far from it. There should not be the cutbacks in the Ministry of Natural Resources, but there cannot be cutbacks in the area of fire management because what happened was that this government cut back the budget for fire management, it closed firefighting bases, it created situations not just in northern Ontario but in southern Ontario where if a fire begins in our forest, it is virtually impossible to get to that fire before it becomes a significant fire much more difficult to stop and much more likely to destroy hectares of our forests as well as threaten numbers of our communities.
That's what happened when this government cut back on the budget for forest firefighting. What also happened was that they laid off personnel who were trained to fight fires. Then the fires started and they started becoming huge fires, almost unfightable fires, and there were no trained personnel to fight them. We had people coming into our constituency offices, because I'm in northern Ontario, saying: "I'm a trained firefighter. The Ministry of Natural Resources cannot re-employ me to go and fight the fires that are burning today because it would violate my severance package." So they had to go out and set up a training program to train people to fight fires. It took a while to get the training program set up and in the meantime the fires were burning.
This government must put in place a coherent policy for forest management that includes firefighting and it must provide adequate resources and the trained personnel to fight the fires when they occur.
Again I want to stress the urgency of this today. I know it's December and I know there's no snow on the streets of Toronto and I think you should know there's very little snow on the streets of Thunder Bay and there's a dry spell in the Prairies. If you think this isn't relevant - I see the member for Etobicoke, I'm not sure which Etobicoke, shaking his head - come to northern Ontario and I'll tell you that in December, when you don't get the average snowfall you expect to get, you start worrying about what the fires are going to be like in April. That's a reality for northern Ontario, and because this government doesn't understand that, they don't understand the northern realities, they're not talking about a budget for firefighting in December when they see that there is not enough moisture now to prevent those fires becoming acute this spring.
As a northerner I want to say, reverse the lack of policy you've had in the past, reverse the cutbacks in firefighting and make sure that come April, after what appears to be a dry winter coming, we have the resources that we need to fight fires in northern Ontario. Without that, all this talk about the game and fish protection act become meaningless, because we will not be able to protect the natural resources of habitat for our fisheries or our wildlife or protect the timber resources that are so essential to our economy. Nor will we be able to protect the parks that, on the one hand, the government says it wants to create.
The management of fire within our provincial parks is a whole other issue and I'm not going to get into that today, but it's an important issue. Believe it or not, it's a complex issue because fighting fires in our provincial parks hasn't downsized. It can lead to what we call the Yellowstone park factor where our forests become ancient and the undergrowth in the forest becomes like a tinder box ready to explode and create a fire of such intensity that even the most ancient trees, the trees that are 200 and 300 years old, trees that have survived lesser fires, less intense fires, can be destroyed. Our ancient forests can be wiped out because of the intensity of a fire that can start in our forestry preserves, in our park preserves. That's what happened in Yellowstone National Park, and I believe it's a tragedy. As a northerner, I have to tell you, it's a tragedy if we lose those resources.
So I plead with this government again, plea number three, if I'm counting, to look at the way in which it has handled fire management and to put in place a coherent policy and to have some debate and discussion with people in the field about how to fight fires effectively. We know a lot about it. One of the areas of expertise, or it used to be one of the areas of expertise, of the Ministry of Natural Resources was how to fight fires. We've lost a lot of that expertise with the cutbacks, but there are some areas in which we need to have a lot more discussion to understand how we manage our parks and our old forests, our ancient forests, in times of fire.
I hope this government will look at this whole issue and take it seriously, because the whole question of management of our natural resources is so critical for the future of northern Ontario, and indeed of the province, and this Game and Fish Act is one important part, but one part only, of the management of those resources.
The Acting Speaker (Mr Bert Johnson): Comments and questions?
Mr Bisson: I want to comment on the speech from the former Minister of Natural Resources from the year, I believe, 1987. She raises a point that is really important, and that is the whole issue of the ministry having the capability of being able to go out and do the work that has to be done to check fish habitat.
I can tell you as a northerner, as she well understands, in the north one of the primary activities of industry is the forestry industry. By the very design of the work they do, they have to cross creeks and rivers to get to the other side, to get to patches of timber to cut down for economic activity. We all know that the companies, as best as they can, try to do a good job, but the ministry has always been there, with good regulation and also with ministry staff, to go in and to check what's going on when they do these crossings.
Our fear, because we've seen it in the past, is that if the ministry is not there doing the work that has to be done to make sure it's being done right, sometimes, especially in the case of the smaller contractors, they'll start crossing these creeks in a way that will disturb fish habitat. Somebody here in southern Ontario may say, "That's not a big deal; it's just a couple of fish," but for communities that's sometimes a way of life. If you get into some of these smaller communities, sport fishing is a big part of what they do as economic activity. For the recreation of people who live in northern Ontario, as a fisherman I can tell you there's nothing more pleasurable than getting out on the weekend to do a little bit of fishing, and you want to know there will be fish when you get there.
The government is strengthening the rules by which some of this has to be done, and we think that's a step in the right direction, but our fear is that if the ministry doesn't have the capacity to put people in the field to inspect what is going on, you can have all the regulations you want, at the end of the day if nobody knows you're doing something wrong, how the heck are you going to enforce this thing? I think the member makes a good point and it's something the government should concentrate on.
Mr Jerry J. Ouellette (Oshawa): I rise to speak to the member for Fort William's comments. First of all, I'd like to say that we know very well that fishing and hunting are very active activities in the province and represent a direct expenditure of about $2.92 billion, but that doesn't include the manufacturers or external sales that go outside the province. I think when those are factored in, we're going to see figures up around the $4 billion mark.
In the region of Durham, the rough estimates the region has produced show that fishing alone represents a $75-million industry. On Pelee Island, for example, in a five-day pheasant hunt they generate in excess of $1 million worth of revenue.
More directly to the comments from the member for Fort William, and understanding the northern concerns, when we talk about the enforcement provisions, what took place under the previous governments is that we had enforcement officers but they had gas and mileage limitations. Effectively, they could drive to work in their vehicle and then they had to stay in the office; they weren't allowed out in the streets to do anything.
We talk about game audits and the problems there. It was the previous governments that reduced the numbers of game audits, that didn't do them. That's why when this government came in one of the first things we did was the moose audit. That's why we saw significant changes in the moose-tag allocation, because we went out there and saw what was out there and knew what needed to be done in order to have that sustainable harvest.
Also, when we talk about trained individuals participating in knowing what's going on in MNR-related issues, the previous governments started to hire COs who didn't even have hunting licences or experience in the hunting field. Those are just a couple of things.
As well, the member for Fort William may or may not remember, but I was part of the Ontario Wildlife Working Group she established. She talked about caribou management. At that time, members of the ministry told me that it was that minister, the member for Fort William, who had shelved the caribou management program in Ontario.
Mr Bernard Grandmaître (Ottawa East): The last member of the government spoke on how important the fish habitat and the forestry business are to the government and to the province. When you look at the budget cuts, last year from $426 million to $369 million, I'm just wondering how important this industry is to the government.
As pointed out by the member for Fort William, if we really mean business, if we're serious about our forests and fish habitat, we need to have the people in place to supervise these economic resources of the province. I think it's unfair on the government's part to stand today in the House and say, "We're doing something about our fish habitat or the forestry industry in Ontario." Also, as pointed out by the member for Fort William, if we really mean business, especially in firefighting, regarding our natural resources, we need the expertise and personnel to fight these forest fires. In reducing the budget by close to $150 million, I don't think the government is serious about improving the forestry industry and our fish habitat. For the last six or seven years we've been at this kind of legislation and finally there is something in place.
Mr Wayne Lessard (Windsor-Riverside): The member for Fort William began her remarks by talking about some of the things that weren't in Bill 139 and mentioned specifically the issue of farming of non-indigenous game animals. That's something that I think is a growing industry, especially in southern Ontario. During the past summer, I had the opportunity of touring some farms in the Huron county area, and one of those farms had emu, llamas and wallabies. It really seemed clear that species like emus were well bred and produced in southern Ontario climates. But we need to be concerned, and I'd like to ask the minister what sort of resources are going to be allocated to ensure that domestic farm animals are going to be protected from outbreaks of disease and things like that from non-indigenous game animals being farmed in Ontario.
The member for Fort William also mentioned one of the most important issues with respect to this bill, and that is the mechanisms that are there for enforcement. It's all well and good to increase the fines that may be payable if somebody is convicted, but for you to get that conviction, you need to have people out in the field to enforce the act. We know that in 1996-97 this ministry cut its annual budget by $90 million and reduced its staff by over 2,100 people - that was half of the ministry - so how are they ever going to enforce the provisions of this act?
I'd like to end, with respect to her comments, by talking about protection of natural resource areas and specifically parks, because in my riding we have a park in the Detroit River called Peche Island, and the ministry is trying to sell that back to our community. It's a public resource that we're being expected to pay for twice, and that's not right.
The Acting Speaker: The member for Fort William has two minutes to respond.
Mrs McLeod: I appreciate the comments of my colleagues the members for Ottawa East, Cochrane South, Windsor-Riverside and of course Oshawa. I appreciate the member of the Conservative caucus's recognition of the importance of both fishing and hunting to northern Ontario's economy; of course it is important to southern Ontario's as well. I recognize that the member for Oshawa does have a northern connection fairly recently, so I can appreciate that he would understand the realities of fishing and hunting and, I hope, of forest management in northern Ontario.
His participation on the wildlife management board makes me think back to the caribou management. With only two minutes, I'm not going to dwell on that, but I would quarrel with the fact that it was shelved. I think it became part of all the questions that were being asked eventually at the class environmental assessment on timber management, which should really have been an environmental assessment on forest management and should have included all the related issues such as caribou management. But as you can appreciate, that would be a very complex undertaking and would have taken many more years and many more dollars.
I will just end by reiterating my four pleas, I think it is now, to this government to bring forward a bill and to take some pride in having moved forward on amendments to the Game and Fish Act which are conservation-focused. My plea, then, is to make this government a government of sincerity in its approach to conservation and to the management of natural resources; first of all, that this act be seen as only one part of an overall policy of the management of our natural resources and that as much attention, along with resources, be given to the management of all of our natural resources and to the interrelatedness of the management of our natural resources.
Fisheries, wildlife, forests, the economic benefit, the tourism benefit, the multiple users, the parks management are all part of a comprehensive approach to the management of natural resources. No conservation effort can be successful without adequate personnel and resources.
The Acting Speaker: Further debate?
Mr Tony Martin (Sault Ste Marie): I know I don't have to announce this, but I'm going to be splitting my time this morning with the member for Windsor-Riverside and the member for Cochrane South, because we all have things we want to say on this piece of legislation, which we are going to vote in favour of. But before we do that, it's important that we set the context within which this bill is going to unfold in the province.
I'm going to make reference to some comments that were made by some of the members opposite with regard to what they see as their movement to improve the ability of workers in the MNR field in northern Ontario to do their work. I suggest that rings hollow in northern Ontario. We all know that on the one hand they may be doing some things that are perhaps in the interests of conservation and planning, but when you fire most of the people who actually do that work, it doesn't matter how much mileage they have or how much gas money they have, if you don't have the people to drive the trucks, the trucks ain't going anywhere and there's no management going on and there's no planning going on.
Any member who has spent any time at all in northern Ontario will understand the importance of the Ministry of Natural Resources to that part of this wonderful province. Anybody who has lived in a community like Wawa or Chapleau or Blind River or Hornepayne or Terrace Bay will know of the importance of the Ministry of Natural Resources. In fact, when you speak of the government in that part of this country, 99% of the time you're speaking of the Ministry of Natural Resources, the people who manage the resources, who manage the forests, who manage the water, who manage the wildlife, who manage the lakes, who, as we know because we get to know them as neighbours and friends, have at heart the best interests of all those resources that are so important to those of us who choose to call northern Ontario home. We're comfortable that they were working as hard as they could in the best interests of us all.
We know that if you ravage any part of the natural resource we've inherited from our forefathers in this province, if we take advantage of it, exploit it in a way that is in a hurry, that is shortsighted and doesn't take into account the long-term implications, then we do everybody a disfavour, because for the longest time the economy of this province and this country has been based on the fact that we have an abundance of natural resources. The natural resource sector shows up in almost every financial paper you read or statement that's put out as the core, the base upon which the economy of this wonderful country and this province is built.
If you don't take that seriously and put in place the numbers of people required to make sure it's managed properly, if you put legislation in place, however wonderful, however progressive and however thoughtful it is, without the people in place to oversee that and to make sure that those who participate in the economy that is provided because we have those resources, at the end of the day we all lose. All of us lose, and most particularly those of us who call northern Ontario home lose.
We've made an investment up there. We've chosen to live in that part of Ontario because we feel good there. We feel there's a source of life there for us and that it's a place we want our children to feel at home in. We want the economy to evolve. We want it to be mixed. We want all the partners to play a role. We want the forest resource sector to do well. We want those people who come to our wonderful part of Ontario to find that there are fish still in the lakes, and when they catch those fish that they don't have two heads, that they're edible and don't carry disease.
It's so very important that those of us who call northern Ontario home, who make investments in northern Ontario, believe and understand and feel very concretely that the government we elect to protect those resources, to manage those resources, to put in place the checks and balances regarding those resources, is actually there to do that. I was saying to the member for Cochrane South, in any small community in northern Ontario, when you referred to the government, it was assumed you were talking about the Ministry of Natural Resources. We knew that there were people there who had the best interests of our livelihood, our future, in mind when they went out and did their work.
We don't feel that any more. We don't know where the government is any more. The government has disappeared. The feeling is that all of this has been turned over to the private sector. I have no quarrel with the private sector. I think they have a role to play as well in the economy that's evolving in this province, a role that's very important and that only they can play. But if you don't have a government that understands the interplay between the various private sector groups in a place like northern Ontario, then you have trouble and the resource doesn't get managed in a positive and progressive and creative way and at the end of the day we all suffer.
The resource will be under attack, under tremendous stress. The trees will disappear. There will no longer be the kind of fish available in the lakes and streams. Tourism operators will no longer be able to attract people to come into the area and enjoy the wilderness in the way that they've come to expect and that we've been developing over the last few years, both in the summer and in the winter. That concerns me.
Some of you who were listening last night, who were perhaps here in the House last night, will remember that I called for this place to have a moment of silence for all those who have lost their jobs over the last two and a half years by way of decisions of this government to downsize and restructure. Literally thousands of hardworking, committed, long-serving civil servants in this province over the last two and a half years have been summarily dismissed, told they're not needed any more, that the experience they've engendered, the skill they've developed, the understanding they've come to about the work they do was no longer appreciated by this government, no longer seen as necessary, so they lost their jobs.
As we move into this Christmas season, we're going to be asked this afternoon, as we were asked, I suppose, as I read the news clips this morning, by the Premier to be more positive, to think more optimistically about the future. I have to tell you, there are thousands of people in this province today who are not going to have a very happy and joyful Christmas, because they lost their job. They lost their job because of decisions that were made directly by this government because they worked for this government directly: people in the Ministry of Transportation, people in the Ministry of Education, people in the Ministry of the Environment and, to connect it to this bill we're speaking about here this morning, people in the Ministry of Natural Resources.
There wasn't a ministry more ravaged by this government than the Ministry of Natural Resources. Literally hundreds, thousands of people out of work, full-time and part-time people, who have committed their lives in many interesting ways, not just in the eight, 10 or 12 hours they put in every day re their job and the thing they do and get paid for, but in their love and interest above and beyond that in the natural resource they live in in northern Ontario. They were told they were no longer needed, that they could no longer count on the income they got to keep them going in this work of love they do. That's really unfortunate, and it's unfortunate most particularly at this time of year as we go into Christmas, a time when we're asked to renew and revisit and re-energize and come out recommitted to the work all of us feel so strongly about. That there will be literally thousands of people in northern Ontario who have over a long time worked in the natural resources sector out of work, anxious and concerned, their families not able to have the kind of Christmas they've become accustomed to, speaks volumes about the concern we have surrounding this bill.
As I said when I started, there are things in this bill that we can support. This bill is a move in the right direction, but if you don't have the MNR personnel to oversee, to enforce, to work with the interests out there around how we best manage the resource, then it's all for naught. You can have the best legislation in the world, you can have the best laws in the world, you can have the best plans in the world on paper, but if you don't have the people to carry them out, if you don't have the people to enforce the regulations, if you don't have the people to imagine new ways of bringing people together and making things happen, you're whistling in the wind. It's all a wish and a promise. There's nothing concrete, no foundation to it.
We shouldn't be surprised, because so much of what this government has done over the last two and a half years has been a whole lot of smoke and mirrors. What this government is about, in a very simple way - I think in a very understandable way, because now, two and a half years into their mandate, we're beginning to see in some very concrete ways what I'm about to say - is diminishing the role of government, diminishing the part government plays in the life of people, diminishing the ability of government to be a force for balance and planning in the province. They bring in legislation that usually has some fancy name attached to it that talks about something positive that's going to happen, but when we get into the bill to examine it - and we don't get to do that too often around here any more, because usually bills are brought in and rammed through at lightening speed. The only chance we ever get to actually get into any bill in a thought-out, reasonable way is when we resort to some so-called tactic in this place to make them slow down. For some political reason, because we're putting pressure on them, the public is starting to come alive. In view of what's going on, we force them to take a longer time at second reading, to send the bill out to public consultation so people have a chance to participate.
It's interesting. We're seeing that in spades these last couple of days of this session, because this government is very anxious to bring what they've done for the last two and a half years to an end, to pass legislation that, as in this instance, is good stuff. But however good, it needs to be processed, it needs to be taken out there so that people have a chance to see what's good about it, to analyse it so they begin to know what's bad about it. Very thoughtful people out there will probably bring to the government some ideas on how this might roll out and cause problems a year or two or three or five years out. But because of the new process in this place, the new rules that were brought in, we don't get a chance to do that on hardly anything any more. Democracy is diminished, the ability of this legislative precinct to do its work, as it was imagined by those who developed the British parliamentary system, is diminished, and the role we can play, speaking on behalf of our constituents, representing our constituents, is scoped down in a very serious and significant way.
All of this should raise some level of anxiety, concern and interest in people out there, as this government now begins to - you saw it yesterday, you saw it in the newspapers this morning and you'll see it on the TV tonight and over the weekend. The Premier is talking about a new era, a new day for this government, not wanting to be fighting with people any more, wanting to be conciliatory, wanting to find ways to work together. Well, I warn people and challenge people and ask people not to be fooled, to remember what has been done over the last two and a half years, to take a good look around them, to see the direct or indirect impact of the decisions of this government on the lives of, if not themselves, their neighbours or some family member.
Look at this bill in the context of all that and ask yourself if this is not just another exercise in public relations and communication by a government that's desperate to do anything at all that has a positive spin to it so they might overshadow the very destructive decisions you've made to diminish the role and the size and the impact and effect and the ability of government in this province to do anything on behalf of anybody. Literally thousands of people this Christmas will not have a paycheque due to direct decisions by your government to get rid of them, to lay them off, to tell them they were no longer useful, were no longer necessary, that we didn't need them any more.
Bills like the one we're dealing with here today, this Bill 139, the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act, however positive and progressive it may be, will not mean a whole heck of a lot if we don't have the people out there in the communities and towns and streets of this wonderful province to work with it, to work with the people whom it will affect directly and to enforce whatever regulation becomes the order of the day so that it might be a positive initiative for all of us who call Ontario home, in particular those of us who call northern Ontario home.
I will at this time turn this over to my very able colleague from Cochrane South, who will have a few more thoughts to put on the record about this bill.
Again, I want to challenge people out there: Pay attention. Don't be lulled into thinking that just because, after two and a half years of really difficult times imposed by this government on your life, that now they're going to change their spots, now they're going to change their tune, that now it's all going to be wonderful somehow. It's not. Through this Christmas period, I ask you to talk to your friends and neighbours, your family members, and ask them how concretely and directly the standard of living they've come to expect and appreciate and think was perhaps going to be there for a while has been affected very negatively.
I ask them to recommit themselves to the fight that was so effectively brought to the attention of the people of Ontario by the teachers some weeks ago when they went out on their political protest, giving up two weeks of wages to make a statement to this government that what it was doing was absolutely wrong; that this was not a government that was going too fast and doing too much but a government that was heading in the absolutely wrong direction. No matter what they do to try to smooth those waters by, for example, at this last minute - we only have some probably five or six hours of debate time left in this place - bringing in a bill that has something positive in it, while at the same time firing, laying off, terminating people who will be necessary to make sure the bill becomes effective, to be lulled into thinking that somehow is going to be the answer and that this government has somehow learned a lesson, that it's going to be different and that things will at the end of the day work out - but they won't.
In this province, to have a stable economy, to have an economy that includes everybody, to have an economy that's going to take us in a positive way into the next century, including everybody both at the front end and at the back end, we need strong government. We need a government that cares. We need a government that wants to do the job that it is and was elected to do. We need a government that has some thoughtful ideas about how we might all be included in this process, so this bill, as I said, however positive, however constructive and a move forward, will not contribute in any significant way to that end, to a stable economy, particularly in the small communities of northern Ontario where we are so exposed to the volatility of the marketplace and so under stress whenever there is a downturn.
If we don't have a government that is willing to put the resources in place, that is willing to make sure the personnel are in place to help us, to work with us through those very difficult times, we will not be able to look forward to a future that will include everybody, that will be stable, that will be hopeful and that will be in the best interests of the people who so deservedly need to be recognized and supported and helped as they try to participate in the life of the province of Ontario.
Thank you very much, and I now turn it over to my colleague from Cochrane South.
The Acting Speaker: Rob Brown, who is a page here in the Legislature - this is the pages' last day, as you may know - would have liked to have introduced his father, Rob, in the west gallery, and his friend Heidi, his classmates at St Patrick's School in Kinkora, Doug, Kevin and Ashlay, and he's sorry he's not able to introduce them to you.
As you know, Kinkora is in beautiful Ellice township and Perth county. The township of Ellice anchors the northwest corner of Stratford, and I assured him I was not able to introduce these very important people to you either.
The Chair recognizes the member for Cochrane South.
Mr Bisson: That's a heck of a way to get a speech, Speaker.
Mr Bisson: No, I wouldn't ask him to withdraw. I think they're good people who came down, are proud of what their son is doing here. In fact, if Rob wants to wheel behind me, he might even be able to get on television - the rules will allow that to happen - so everybody will know who we're talking about.
Speaker, I want to ask you a question, and that question is, what do you know of fish habitat? I'm being serious here.
Mr Wayne Wettlaufer (Kitchener): He does know a lot about it.
Mr Bisson: He knows a lot about fish, I think, but I don't know about the habitat side.
The point I make is simply this: that the people who know most about fish habitat used to work for the Ministry of Natural Resources, and we had a number of people who worked across Ontario for the Ministry of Natural Resources who were experts when it came to the management of the fishing industry and the wildlife and game within the province of Ontario. Those people, quite frankly, did a very good job of making sure that the rules by which we operate that fishing industry and operate sports fishery overall were done in such a way that they looked for the preservation and making sure we had fish habitat over the longer term.
Those people not only did that, but they also ensured that any activity that went on in the bush, when it came to forest industries or mining companies or whatever it might be, was being done in a way that would not impact on the ability of the fish to reproduce. We talk about fish habitat. So when I asked you the question at the very beginning, "What do you know of fish habitat?" it's probably as much as I do, which is I know how to catch a fish, but I don't really know a lot about habitat. That's why we have those people within the Ministry of Natural Resources to do that work.
Unfortunately, we're in a very peculiar situation right now. The government has introduced this bill, which is a positive bill - we give them full credit for it - Bill 139, and it's a bill that has been worked on for many years. I know back in the time of the Liberal government, the NDP government and now the Conservative government, various governments have done work to make sure that we learn from our mistakes about how we destroyed fish habitat and that we're able to build regulations and laws that are able to say, yes, we have to allow economic activity to happen in the forest, we have to allow companies to go out and harvest trees, but it has to be done in a way that doesn't affect the wildlife and the fish habitat in which they're operating.
The Ministry of Natural Resources over the years learned a lot by working in the bush, by observing what contractors were doing out there, by observing what was happening and how that impacted on the fish habitat, and they learned a lot about how to do that job properly. The unfortunate part is that the Ministry of Natural Resources, all those people who worked there, are now gone - not all but pretty well all of them.
One of the first decisions this government made under the former minister, Mr Hodgson, was they fired over half the MNR staff across Ontario, so when you go into a community like Hearst, Kapuskasing, White River, Chapleau, Foleyet, Gogama, Timmins or wherever it might be in northern Ontario, you don't have the people in the field that we used to have to make sure that whatever activity is going on in the bush doesn't impact on our ability to make sure that the fish habitat and the wildlife habitat is safe for future generations.
The government says: "Oh, we realize we messed up over here. We realize we're in a position where we have taken away the ability of the ministry to both police what's happening in the bush and at the same time do the kind of scientific work that needs to be done to develop better mechanisms by which we manage our wildlife, so we've got to do something."
They came and introduced this act, and they said, "We've got a very good piece of legislation, An Act to promote the conservation of fish and wildlife through the revision of the Game and Fish Act, called Bill 139," and brought it into this House. For that we give them credit, because there are a few problems with this act, but all and all, it's not a bad bill. But it's empty, c'est vide. Why? Because the ministry is not going to have the ability to go out and enforce what's in this act once it's passed. The government has laid off 50% of the MNR workers, and they're not going to have the ability to keep on top of the ongoing work that goes on within the forest industry to learn how to better manage, not only our forest industry but the fish and wildlife areas themselves, because that's how this whole thing developed.
There are two problems. The first problem is we have an act that has no mechanism by which to enforce it, but the second one is that the government doesn't seem to understand that just because things are done in a particular way doesn't mean they're being done right. If we look at the practices of, let's say, the mining industry 40 years ago, when it came to how they did work on the surface on a very simple issue like getting rid of their tailings - there's nothing simple about it, but disposition of tailings, 40 or 50 years ago they did it in a particular way because they didn't know any better, and it had a great impact on the fish and wildlife in areas where they were operating. Over time there was public outcry. People in the north who lived by mining communities got up and said, "This is wrong."
We see the example of Kamiskotia mine that killed an entire river system. We take a look at issues like Matachewan that killed another river system. They said: "We can't have that happen. There has got to be better way to dispose of tailings." So the Ministry of Natural Resources along with the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines did a lot of work with the industry to learn how to do it right. Yes, it meant there was a price attached to that. The mining industry had to learn to dispose of tailings in a safer way, which meant it cost more money, but there was a net positive impact when it came to our environment in northern Ontario to where now you're seeing companies like Kidd Creek operate huge tailings in a fairly safe manner when it comes to our wildlife.
There are always things that could happen, but by and large, if you look at what's happening with the disposition of tailings, at companies like Kidd Creek or Dome Mines and the brand-new superpit they built two or three years ago, a huge increase in production in their milling capacity which meant there was a lot more tailings going out, they did that in a way that is a heck of a lot better as compared to what it was 40 years before. Why? For two reasons: There were ministry staff in place to learn how to do these things right, so they were able to monitor what was going on with the good and the bad examples within the industry and how it impacted on fish habitat, and they had legislation drafted to set the rules by which the mining operators had to operate.
The mining companies didn't like that initially. I remember having discussions with many of them saying: "This is far too onerous for us. It's going to cost us money." It was doom and gloom. But I think that was a minority within the mining industry. I think most mining executives understood it's not only good public relations to operate a safe mining operation, as in safe tailings, but it's also very good business. They understood there was an equation between the two.
I think the Ministry of Natural Resources, along with the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines, was playing a fairly positive role when it came to working with industry in the last four or five years to find out how we balance off the interests of the mining companies to make a dollar - because we want them to make lots of dollars; that's what pays the good wages in northern Ontario; that's how people get jobs that pay $50,000, $60,000, $70,000, $100,000 a year - and at the same time, when they're conducting that activity we call mining and disposing of tailings, the tailings are disposed of in such a way that they doesn't impact our environment.
Northerners, of all people, understand the importance of the environment. Although we work, by and large, in very intensive industries within the natural resource area, this is also our playground. It's where we go to spend our time. You come to Timmins or Hearst or White River or Sault Ste Marie or Thunder Bay or whatever place in northern Ontario -
Mr Lessard: I'm looking forward to it.
Mr Bisson: My good friend from Windsor-Riverside is going to be coming to Sault Ste Marie in February to meet with people in the college system. He'll get an opportunity, as he has in the past.
We understand that, yes, we go to work in the morning or on day shift or afternoon or graveyard, but when we have time off, where do we spend most of our time? We go camping in the summer with our families and friends; we go on fishing trips with our buddies, with our family and friends; we go hunting in the fall; we go for rides in the bush with our motorcycles, or we do backpacking or we do snowshoeing or we do cross-country skiing. We utilize the forest and the bush and the area around our communities as our method of entertainment. People here in Toronto go to the show or the opera or the bars or whatever. I'm not saying they don't have an appreciation for the environment, but I think northerners relate to the environment far more than most people could imagine, because it's both where we work and where we play.
As a northerner, when I see the government of the day say, "I want to bring forward a bill that's going to protect the northern environment," I applaud that. I think that's good. I give Mike Harris and John Snobelen and the previous minister before that, Mr Hodgson, full credit. This is a positive step in the right direction. I have no problem at all. There are a few parts in here we can all pick at and find ways of making adjustments to make the bill a little bit better, but by and large I give you very good marks on this bill.
But where I'm a little bit cynical is how you're going to carry out the mechanisms of this bill, because you're really not going to be able to. We know, and you know, that you've cut the MNR staff by over 50%. Those weren't people who were just there spending their time pulling on elastics in an office and doing nothing. The people at the MNR offices across northern Ontario, as my friend from Sault Ste Marie said earlier, were an integral part of our community. They are the people who were out in the bush watching what was going on. They are the people who did the scientific studies that needed to be done to make sure we learn from our mistakes and correct the way we do things so that we preserve our northern environment, and they worked with industry to make sure that was done in a positive way.
I say to the government, I'm a little bit cynical about this bill. I will support it because I think it's a step in the right direction, but I really worry about how you're going to be able to enforce some of this bill.
The other thing I want to say before I go over some of the details of the bill - my good friend Mr Martin left with the notes I lent him a second ago, so I'll do this by memory.
I'm also cynical for one other reason. At the same time as the former Minister of Natural Resources, Mr Hodgson, introduced this bill in the House, I was made aware of a memo that I saw - I forget if it was in Chapleau or Foleyet or Timmins I saw it. It was on one of my tours. I saw an internal memo within the Ministry of Natural Resources that said they were not going to send people out to watch what was going on in the issuance of licences when it came to creek crossings.
The former Minister of Natural Resources looks at me a little bit weird, but that's what's happening in your former ministry. It may not have been you. I'm a bit surprised. If you didn't know it, I'm even more worried.
The deputy minister sent a memo out to all field staff saying: "When a logging operator comes into our office and says, `I'm applying for a permit to do a creek crossing,' we do not have the staff to go out and do the field investigation. Issue the permit and basically hope to heck they do it right." It didn't say that exactly, but that was the intent of the memo.
I'll tell you, there are some operators I can think of, like the Nadeaus who are operating up in the Chapleau area, who do an excellent job and try to do a good job and are very conscientious as a medium-sized contractor in the bush to make sure they don't destroy the environment. I look at people like Ben and Georges Nadeau and others who are out there trying to earn a living in the forest by harvesting the trees in the best way they can, to make a livelihood for them and their families and at the same time provide good-paying jobs for the people who work for them, but they are also very environmentally conscious. That's a lot of our contractors in northern Ontario, but not everybody is like the Ben Nadeaus and Georges Nadeaus of this world.
There are others, and the minister would know because he's had to fine some of them before, who say: "I'm pretty tight this month. I'm not making very much. The mill has lowered the price of lumber." I'm not going to name names of mills because, I'll tell you, there are a few of them that have a habit of doing that. When it comes to the amount of money the contractor gets for his wood, sometimes it's not fair compared to what they're getting in the market when they sell that finished product. But that's for another debate.
The point I make is that there are some small contractors out there who, let's say, are in a hurry to make a dollar and are not very good at what they do. They figure the way to make a dollar is to cut corners when it comes to how we cross creeks, how we get gravel out of sandpits to build roads, how we approach the whole area in which we're doing our cuts.
Eventually these people will get caught, I hope, because of the changes we made in the Crown Forest Sustainability Act, which I think was a good way of balancing off the need of industry to do a job right and for them to do some self-policing on their own and the ministry being able to keep an eye on it. The problem is, once the damage has been done, in many cases it's going to take a lot of years to undo it.
When I talk to people like Ben Nadeau, who is a long-time operator in our area, he says: "Listen, Gilles, I've always believed that I've got to do my job right, and if I don't it costs me money. If I don't do my job right, a lot of these forest companies are not going to want me to work for them." You can't go to work for a company like Malette Waferboard or Malette lumber or Abitibi if you've got a very bad reputation, but if you're -
Mr Bisson: For the most part, that's true, but there are some - I didn't hear you.
Mr Ouellette: Are they back in Timmins?
Mr Bisson: Of course they are. The point I make is simply that there are a number of operators, especially the smaller ones, who operate on crown units who turn around and say: "I'm going to try to make a buck real quick. I'm going to cross this creek the best I can. I'm going to put the culvert in but I'm not going to do the kind of preparatory work that needs to be done to save the fish habitat." By the time the ministry finds out, when the audit is done five years later, because they don't have people going in the bush, that's when we're going to find out there's a problem, or when some fisherman comes by who's been catching nice speckled trout in that creek.
I've been one. You go out on the split rock or the redstone to do some good fishing in a good speckled trout area. You're going to go out there one day and you're going to say: "Jeez, when I was here last spring, I had a good catch. I brought home my limit of five trout and the fishing was really, really good." They're going to get there, they're going to put their line in the water and not a nibble, because somebody up the stream messed it up by doing an improper crossing of a creek. I've seen that happen in areas. I look at the fishing on the I've fished for years and years.
I'll tell you, from the work the Kamiskotia mine did and the tailings that went into the Kamiskotia River, the fishing has been affected in a river that's actually up-river from the Kamiskotia. You wouldn't think that's possible, but I guess the fish come through there. The net effect is that we have a lot less trout there than we used to have before.
I say to the government again, you're taking a step in the right direction with the legislation, but you won't have the mechanism to enforce this and that's really the sad part.
Mr Lessard: Too little, too late.
Mr Bisson: Too little, too late.
The other thing I want to say is this: I understand on the one hand the need for the government to say, "We need to try to find ways to involve industry so they themselves become more responsible." I understand the self-regulation, and to a certain extent the self-policing, that needs to be done within the forest industry. I think that's a step in the right direction. I have no quarrel with the government on that, because by and large you have some fairly good operators out there who are trying to do a good job. They understand that it's not only smart public relations to operate smartly when it comes to how you do your business in the bush, but it's also good business.
But I have a problem when the ministry takes away its capacity to go and do spot inspections of what's going on in the bush. I understand that people like Abitibi, Tembec, Malette and others, now under the Sustainable Forestry Development Act, put together their forest plan. They've got to work towards that plan and at the end of five years we go back and we audit it. If they've done a good job, that's fine; if not, we take the money out of the fund and we have them pay for it. I understand. That's a good mechanism and that's a good way of doing self-policing.
My problem is, especially with the smaller contractors on the crown units, I think we're really setting up some dangerous situations when it comes to how people can do damage and we won't have the ability to find out until somebody complains or after we've done the audit. I would much rather see what we had before, where you had MNR people in the bush who would say, "Hey, what are you doing there, putting a culvert in the way that you are?"
I know the small contractors used to get upset. They would come and see me when we were in government and say, "Jeez, I was putting in a culvert the other day and some MNR guy came up and he told me I couldn't do it this way and I want to make a complaint." I said, "Well, what were you doing?" The guy was setting up the culvert in such a way that it would destroy the fish habitat and I said: "I think the MNR's doing their job. That's what they're there for." That's how basically a lot of these people learned how to do it right, by the MNR going into the bush and making sure that they did it right, so at least we caught it early on before it became actual damage. I say to the government again, in some ways I think this bill is a bit of public relations.
I also want to touch on the regulatory powers, some of the specifics of this bill because there are a couple of issues that have cropped up over my years as the member for Cochrane South. People have come and complained to me in my office. I think of Mr Don Collins, who comes to complain about this and others, actually good friends of the Tories who came to complain about this particular issue. I'm surprised that the Tories are going in this direction because it's quite contrary to what I would expect the Tories to do when it came to this issue, especially when people like Mr Collins, who holds you in such esteem, would find out about this.
In the regulatory-making sections of the act, part X, I believe it is, which is regulation, the government is giving itself increased powers to do a number of things around access roads. Access roads, as we know what they are, that's when a forest company goes out and they have a particular harvest they've got to do way back in the back 40 in the bush. They build the road, they go in, they do their forest activity and basically when they're done, they come out, they close the road off and they shut the public from going in in some cases.
That has angered a lot of anglers and hunters in my area because those are traditional fishing spots and hunting grounds for many of the people who live in our community, especially in the area around Foleyet-Chapleau, where there's been a lot of activity in this end where the MNR has gone back and they've basically close the road once the forest company has finished its work. People have been going fishing in those areas for years and years, and all of a sudden they show up one day to go fishing on their annual spring fishing expedition with their friends and they find out that the road is closed. All there is is the sign; they didn't even know there was a sign there.
One of the things that I pushed for in government was to say that we need to find a way to balance off the need of the anglers to get access to their traditional areas of fishing so that they can keep on doing that, but in a way that respects the pressure on the fish habitat.
The other point I was always making in government, and I thought I would have seen it in this bill because I know that our government was prepared to do it - I'd spoken to Howard Hampton, the former Minister of Natural Resources, about this and he told me that he was prepared to do it - and that's the mechanism by which we closed down these roads; that if a road is closed down, there has to be sufficient public notice so that if people who have been interested in that area want to go and have their two cents' worth when it comes to what's going on, they are able to bring forward their points of view to the MNR to make sure that their views are heard about the traditional access that they had and in some way limit the access.
You know, if somebody's been in there for fishing for a long time and they can establish that they've been fishing there for years and that's one of their traditional areas, special consideration would be given to those people to still get access when the forest company has pulled out of there. In some cases the forest company might have made the road better, but there was an initial road or trail that was built by the family 15, 20, 30 years ago that they've been using all of those years and it happens to be that the forest company drove a road through there and now because they've gone out and the ministry shuts it down, they're not able to get back in. I look at this act and I don't see that particular issue fixed. In fact, I would argue that in some ways they've given increasingly powers to the minister to close down even more of these roads.
I think of people like Mr Collins in Timmins and I'm telling you, I don't think he's going to be very happy when he finds out that the minister has given himself more power under section 10 of the act to not only close down access roads, but there is no sufficient provision in here to give a good public process by which Mr Collins and others can get involved when it comes to getting their say about what should and shouldn't be closed down when it comes to access in the bush.
Again, I think this is a good example of how if you hurry through legislation without a good public process of dialogue through public hearings - we only had one day of public hearings on this - those kinds of issues aren't sufficiently dealt with and the public feels somewhat alienated. I would argue in the case of Mr Collins and others that they will be greatly offended by what they see in this bill when it comes to the powers that you've been given under section 10.
I look at sub (7) and sub (12). When I read those particular areas, especially (12), they seem to give the minister much more power to shut roads down, and I'm somewhat concerned about that. Yes, I understand that there are areas that are protected and we have to make sure we do that in such a way that that works out well, but other than that, I think the government is maybe going a little bit too far when it comes to that.
The other point I want to make is on another section of this bill, "Part IV of the bill deals with the sale, purchase and transport of wildlife and fish. The buying or selling of game wildlife and specially protected wildlife is prohibited." I think that is actually a step in the right direction because I think this speaks to a number of issues that I've seen in the past where some people - and again I've got to say, Mr Speaker, I know you know quite a bit about this because I know you're an avid fisherman; at least that's what I've been told. But there are some people unfortunately who would go in and actually operate as commercial fishermen when they were not licensed to do so. I think this act deals with this in a fairly progressive way in ensuring that those people are properly licensed and making sure they're not out there doing commercial fishing where really all they should be doing is recreational fishing.
But again I say to the government, how are you going to enforce this? I really wonder how you're going to enforce it.
Under part VI there's another section here that says: "Part VI of the bill contains provisions dealing with licences and with authorizations given by the Minister of Natural Resources. For example, provision is made for a hearing before a hearings officer with respect to the refusal of certain licences and with respect to conditions imposed on commercial fishing licences."
I think this is really positive. I think this is good. They've given the public, finally, the ability to have a hearing if they've been refused a licence to do commercial fishing. Before, it was very difficult to get such a hearing. Why didn't we do this kind of process when it came to the whole issue about how the Ministry of Natural Resources and the forestry companies deal with the closure of forest access roads? Why didn't we have some kind of public process where the public is able to have its say? I think we could have looked at that and made some amendments in order to allow that to happen.
Under part VIII of the bill, which deals with enforcement: "Conservation officers are appointed under section 87. Part VIII provides for the inspection by conservation officers of firearms, vehicles, boats, aircraft, buildings and other places (sections 88 to 90) and for searches and seizures." Part VIII also deals with the question of arrests and entry on private land.
This speaks to a problem that I know my good friend Mr Cheguis at the Ministry of Natural Resources in Timmins has raised with me a number of times. Walter - he's retired now - was for years one of the key conservation officers in our area and worked for the ministry for a number of years. Quite an interesting, colourful character as well. Knew his job, knew how to do it well and I think by and large did a very good job for the province of Ontario.
One of the problems that Walter had explained to me along with some of his colleagues who were basically the COs in our area was that they did not have the kind of powers they needed to do the kinds of searches that needed to be done to deal with people who are not doing things properly when it comes to hunting and fishing. Often what they had to do, if they had reason to believe that there was something going on that was illegal, at times - not all the time; we have to understand that -they had to get the Ontario Provincial Police involved, which meant to say that you had to call out the OPP to enforce the law that the conservation officer had found somebody was breaking. I think this is not a bad thing because it gives the conservation officers, under section 8 of the bill, additional powers to go in and investigate somebody who they suspect has broken the law when it comes to fishing and when it comes to hunting. I think most people would agree that if somebody is out there poaching or doing something that's outside of the rules, most northerners would agree that shouldn't happen, and if it does happen, I'm sure they want the MNR to step in and stop that from happening. By and large, people in the north understand that if you go fishing and you take 50 pickerel out of the lake every time you go, it's not going to take a long time, if enough people do that, before there won't be any more pickerel to catch the next time you go fishing.
The idea here is that they're going to give the conservation officers who are left, because I've got to mention there are not very many left these days with the cuts we've had in MNR - at least the ones who are left are going to get some additional powers in this bill to go in and search the boat, search the camp, search the vehicle without the assistance of the Ontario Provincial Police. I think that makes some sense, because why pay duplicate manpower to do what the conservation officer is paid to do in the first place.
I've got to say, just in passing, about Mr Chequis, Walter has done a really good job in our area. In talking to Walter just before he retired - I was chatting with him about a month ago - I was asking him: "Walter, how do you feel? You've been working for the MNR all of these years and you're coming to retirement." I figured, Walter, he loves the bush - you've got to know this guy. He does it for a living and then when he's off he goes back into the bush to relax. He really loves what he does. I've got to say my hat is off to Walter. My friend from Windsor-Riverside will find this interesting. I said to him, "Walter, you've been working for the MNR all of these years. How do you feel about leaving?" thinking he'd say, "I'm kind of sad, I really enjoyed the job that I was doing." He said: "Gilles, I'm glad to be going. I'm really glad to be going." That took me aback, because I know how much Walter loves the bush and loves what he does.
You know what it was? The whole mandate and the whole operation of MNR has changed in such a way that it wasn't a pleasure for Walter to go in to work any more as it had been in the past, with the cuts this government had done, the decimation of the Ministry of Natural Resources; 2,100 people were laid off in the Ministry of Natural Resources, 50% of the staff. Walter was saying: "Listen, we don't have the ability any more to do the kind of work that needs to be done to ensure that our forests are maintained and preserved for the future generation. You know, Gilles," he said, "I'm glad to be going. I pity the guys who are coming behind me because they're going to have one heck of a job, considering where this government is going." He told me, "When you go down to Queen's Park, make sure to let that government know how some of us feel."
On behalf of Walter and other COs I'm telling the minister: What you have done is not only bad for the environment but it's really, really bad when it comes to what's going to happen to our future generations and their ability to go out and enjoy the area I grew up in, that I was able to, along with Walter and others, call my playground, where I would go and spend most of my time. I say to this government, you've really gone in the wrong direction.
The other thing I have to say in the few minutes I have left: I again want to say that we will vote in favour of this bill. The government has tried to step in the right direction in putting this legislation together. I think a couple of the sections I quoted are steps in the right direction. They can always be improved; no government gets it perfect, including my former government. But the point is that this is a step in the right direction.
I've got to say that this is really a public relations exercise on the part of the government. This is a government that says on the one hand: "Look at us, we care for the environment. We have a bill, we can show what we've done." When you go out in the election next year or the year after and you're a candidate in northern Ontario or in central or southwest Ontario, you can go and show the people that this government did something for the environment: "We've got this bill called Bill 139. That's our record." Will people remember that the same government that introduced this bill basically took away all the mechanisms to enforce it? I really wonder, will people know?
Mr Bisson: I was going to come to that. Part of what we have to do here in this debate is make sure that people understand what the government has done, but when it comes to the next election, I think people will remember. It's one of those things; it's like a sleeping giant. The public at one point starts to recognize what this government is doing because they start to see examples of how things will be done in Mike Harris's new Ontario, when the Ministry of the Environment or the Ministry of Agriculture or the Ministry of Mines or the Ministry of Natural Resources may have good legislation on the books to be do what they've got to do, but they will not have the people to go out and enforce it and do the kind of work that needs to be done to make sure these acts are enforced in the proper way.
When we see some bad examples of things like we saw in the past, the old Kamiskotia mine, the Matachewan mine, the lake that we have in the middle of the city of Timmins, between Schumacher and Timmins, in front of the old A&W, where the old McIntyre mine tailings were dug up and left in disgrace, and still today lie in disgrace behind a fence because we allowed a mining company to go and basically rip out the tailings to make the money, then leave us with a hell of a mess. We know that's what these laws are all about. They're to prevent that kind of stuff from happening. When people see those kinds of examples, people will remember it was Mike Harris who took away the ability for the government to respond to that.
The only point I would make is this: Yes, the private sector is very important. You're not going to see me or any other member of our caucus argue against the right of Abitibi, Malette lumber or any of the other forest companies or mining companies to go out and do a good job. Nobody is going to argue that. They provide the well-paying jobs in northern Ontario that people work at, that people make a good living at, and we have a good standard of living. Nobody argues that. But there is a role for government, and that's what this government seems to forget, that the government can and should play a positive role in our northern economy. The MNR along with northern development and mines are two of the key ministries that make sure we have a balance between the right of the forest company and the mining company to make a buck in creating the jobs that are so important for our northern economy, but at the same time protecting our environment to make sure it's there for future generations in the years to come.
I think many people will remember, come the next election, that this government may have introduced a positive bill but they has been very short in responding to the bill by enforcement because of the cuts they have made at the ministry.
The Acting Speaker: Questions and comments?
Mr Lessard: I just want to pick up where my friend left off. He talked about the balance between the interests of the private sector and the importance to protect public resources. I think that applies quite specifically with respect to Peche Island, which is an island in the Detroit River, which is part of my riding. That is an island that was purchased by the province in 1972 for $424,000, then it was named a provincial park in 1974. So that's part of our provincial natural resource base. After this government was elected, it got an evaluation of this park because it didn't think it had any provincial significance. Lo and behold, they got the value of this to be $1.9 million and now they want to sell this island to the city of Windsor. The city asked to take over responsibility of that island for a dollar, but that was an offer that was refused by this government.
I think it is a really dangerous approach towards protection of public resources in Ontario if we decide we're going to put a pricetag on all our public resources, all the provincial parks in Ontario, and say that if they don't derive enough income to sustain themselves, then we're going to sell them all off. I think that's something, when we're considering what is proposed in Bill 139 with respect to protection of game and fish and with respect to the protection of our resources, we always have to keep in mind, that there is an important role for government to play in the protection of our public resources, that we can't put a value on these things the way the private sector does and that we shouldn't be just, holus-bolus, privatize our public resources or turn over control of them. We need to protect them and maintain them. We need the resources to do that. That's why I'm concerned about the tremendous cuts that have been made to the natural resources staff.
Mr Gerretsen: I would just like to reiterate some of the comments that have been made here today. When you look at what's happened to the budget at the Ministry of Natural Resources, it has declined by $150 million. Two years ago they spent $519 million and this year they're projected to spend $369 million. That is a decline of almost 33%. When you realize that an awful lot of this money is going towards the enforcement aspect of the various laws that this Legislature has made over the years, you realize that getting rid of the conservation officers is simply not the right thing to do.
We always have to be mindful that it is great to put a law into effect, but if we don't have the enforcement mechanisms, then people will not adhere to it and will do whatever the heck they want. So I just implore the Minister of Natural Resources to fight the good fight that he has to in cabinet and to try to get the funding that he requires to make sure that both this law and the other laws that are under his direction are properly enforced in this province.
In the northern part of my own county of Frontenac there are a number of Ministry of Natural Resources offices, and I know those offices have been decimated in that people who are no longer employed there. Particularly to a lot of the smaller municipalities, the employment base the Ministry of Natural Resources provides is significant, and although we agree with this law, we do not agree with the fact that the enforcement officers are no longer there to make sure the law is being adhered to.
The Acting Speaker: The member for Cochrane South has two minutes to respond.
Mr Lessard: There may be some more responses.
Mr Bisson: I take it there are no more responses. I just want to thank my two colleagues for responding to what I had to say. I hope the government listened to what we had to say, especially about Peche Island, because I know that's a very important issue to the people of Windsor, as raised by the member for Windsor-Riverside.
I also want to urge the members to vote on this particular bill. We think it's an important bill and we're not going to put up anybody else after. We want to see this bill passed. I hope the government doesn't stall the debate any more and that we're able to pass this very important legislation.
The Acting Speaker: Is there any further debate?
Mr Gerretsen: Should the House not adjourn, Mr Speaker? It's past 12 o'clock.
The Acting Speaker: I want to know if there's further debate.
Mr Gerretsen: Yes, we have. We have more speakers on this.
The Acting Speaker: It being 12 noon, the House stands adjourned until 1:30 of the clock this afternoon.
The House recessed from 1204 to 1331.
ARTS AND CULTURAL FUNDING
Mr Michael Gravelle (Port Arthur): As we come to the end of 1997, I'm very pleased to have the opportunity to send a year-end message to the Minister of Culture on behalf of the Ontario Liberal caucus, a message that I hope the minister takes to heart and responds to by changing the direction her party has taken so far in its mandate.
Minister, I don't need to tell you that after two and a half years your government's legacy as far as the arts, cultural and heritage communities in this province are concerned is nothing more than a series of brutal successive cuts that have devastated the cultural sector. An almost 50% cut to the Ontario Arts Council, which is truly the research and development arm for the cultural sector, has left the council and those it funds absolutely reeling.
Your lack of support to public galleries, museums, symphonies, non-profit theatres, arts service organizations and individual artists has left the cultural sector wondering whether they can survive.
As rumours continue to swirl that your government is planning a further cut to the Ontario Arts Council and in fact may be moving to dissolve it entirely, it becomes all the more important that you speak out now in defence of the OAC and the valuable role it plays in our cultural lives and in the economy.
May I say, Minister, your comment yesterday in question period that "We are not in the business of giving out grants" does nothing to reassure those of us who hoped your recent appointment would herald a new approach to this government's support for the arts.
I say to you today, if you truly want to make an impact as the Minister of Culture, you should formally announce that no further cuts will be made to the OAC; but if you truly want to make a difference, you'll return funding levels for the OAC at least back to 1996-97 levels.
Mr Tony Martin (Sault Ste Marie): It being half to three quarters of the way through this government's agenda, at the end of this session we're going to prorogue and we are going to see, as we predicted, Mike Harris and his minions begin to spin a story out there of peace and cooperation. As a matter of fact, he started it yesterday. An article in the Globe and Mail has him extolling the virtues of his government and what he has done and what's going to happen in this province. The reality out there is telling a completely different story.
Another article in today's paper talks about the leaders of our church communities. Almost every major church community in this province is really upset, angry and concerned. "Churches Strive to Cover Slashed Social Services," but they know they don't have the money. "A Crash Campaign to Combat the Cold." "Students Getting the Shaft." This is the story everywhere we look, and people should be aware of that.
In spite of that, I'd like to take a couple of minutes today to say to the people of Ontario and particularly to my own constituents that I wish them a merry Christmas, a happy Hanukkah, a happy Ramadan and particularly a happy new year and to let them know that in spite of what Mike Harris is doing, there really isn't anything that will come at us that we, together, can't handle, because we're a good province, and our caucus will be -
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Thank you.
BRUCE GENERATING STATION
Mrs Barbara Fisher (Bruce): I would like to share with the members present an important discussion I had with the Minister of Energy, Science and Technology, the Honourable Jim Wilson, regarding the Bruce nuclear site. The minister expressed confidence in the future of the BNPD site. He was clearly concerned, as I have been over the past week, about speculation over the state of Bruce A since the leak of a draft report of the Legislature's select committee. These hurtful rumours serve no other purpose than to create confusion and uncertainty in my riding.
Minister Wilson feels that the committee heard enough evidence, that of 100 witnesses and 200 submissions, to indicate that the nuclear recovery plan needs to be reviewed in the context of the white paper. I strongly agree. This is good news for the people of Bruce. A recommendation from the committee requiring Hydro to review the current plan would breathe new life into Ontario Hydro's original decision to lay up all four units at Bruce A in March 1998.
This government's overriding goal, one that I will not allow to be compromised, is to ensure that Hydro's nuclear facilities return to the highest levels of safety and performance. I'm totally convinced this can be done without laying up all four reactors simultaneously at Bruce A. More important, I have heard direct testimony from the chairman of Ontario Hydro, Mr Bill Farlinger, indicating that Hydro is flexible.
As I head home to the riding of Bruce for the holiday season, I look forward to discussing the recommendations of the report with my constituents.
MENTAL HEALTH SERVICES
Mr John Gerretsen (Kingston and The Islands): I have raised in the House several times now the abrupt closure two weeks ago of two organizations that provide mental health services in Kingston, the Clubhouse Activity Centre and the Community Crisis Centre, and the devastating effect that is having in our community. You will remember that two weeks ago, without warning, Ministry of Health officials closed the centres, dismissed the staff on four hours' notice and changed the locks. Since then, no progress has been made in reopening these centres and providing the necessary support to the hundreds who use and need their services.
The closings have caused incredible anxiety among those who depend on their valuable services, and our community has rallied behind them. We are extremely concerned that the closures have jeopardized their safety and wellbeing. On Monday evening, Kingston city council unanimously passed a motion calling for the Minister of Health to immediately re-establish these centres and consult with the clients and their families, caregivers and mental health agencies to develop a plan to best serve the mental health needs of the individuals involved in our community.
The community and I want to work with the minister to resolve the situation as soon as possible. The Hotel Dieu hospital in Kingston is willing to act as an interim sponsor, if need be, and reopen the centre immediately under their supervision. Well-established and respected individuals are ready to help as well. Minister, all we need from you is the green light to proceed on this interim solution so that the clients of the centre can once again have access to their home away from home before Christmas.
Ms Marilyn Churley (Riverdale): I want to take this opportunity today to pay tribute to Atom Egoyan, director of the film The Sweet Hereafter, which I'm sure everybody in this House already is aware won triple awards, including the grand jury prize at the Cannes Film Festival in May and just recently won eight awards at the Genie Awards here in Toronto.
I'm very proud to tell the House today that it's a little-known fact that Atom lives in Riverdale here in Toronto in a humble little house on a humble little street in south Riverdale in my riding. I want, on behalf of all the members of the House, to congratulate him for the great work he's been doing here and internationally across the world. We're very proud of him. We're very proud of the fact that he lives in Toronto and we're extremely proud that he lives in the riding of Riverdale.
Mr Bruce Smith (Middlesex): It's my pleasure today to share additional good news with respect to the town of Strathroy and Strathroy Foods, which is located in the county of Middlesex. Strathroy Foods is one of the region's largest vegetable processing operations and has made another major capital announcement, this time in the form of a significant expansion of its cold storage facilities. The project will reduce Strathroy Food's dependency on outside cold storage by increasing the plant's floor space by some 38,000 square feet, this representing a major capital investment for the company and the municipality.
Additional technology will be utilized, and when fully functional in May 1998, the plant productivity is expected to increase by some 50%. This is yet another example of Ontario's strengthening economy at work, and specifically the growth potential of the agrifood sector in rural Ontario.
It's also very much consistent with the Minister of Agriculture and Food's commitment to supporting rural Ontario and supporting growth opportunities in our rural communities. Strathroy Foods currently employs 85 people on a full-time basis, and with this reinvestment in capital will provide new opportunities for direct employment into our community.
As MPP for Middlesex, it's my great pleasure to congratulate the employees of Strathroy Foods and to wish them great success in the expansion of their facility in the coming months. This is very exciting news for the town, for the company and for the employees themselves.
Mr Rick Bartolucci (Sudbury): Surprise, surprise, downloading in the regional municipality of Sudbury isn't revenue-neutral and never will be. The shortfall in the area towns and city speaks for itself. At the region alone, the shortfall is $5.2 million. Councillor Doug Craig says it best when he says to make this revenue-neutral there are three things you can do: You can cut services, you can raise taxes or you can increase user fees. Councillor Peter Dow says, "So much for revenue-neutral - do you cut services, do you raise taxes or do you do a combination of both?" Valley East Mayor John Robert says the region is simply going to have to cut services. The budget chair of the region, Councillor Eldon Gainer, fears workers are going to have to be laid off, services will be cut and spending on roads, bridges, sewer and water projects will be reduced.
What's the Harris answer? The Minister of Northern Development and Mines thinks an area service board is the answer. You know what? That would replace the region. So at the end of the year and at the end of the first session of the 36th Parliament, what did Mike Harris do for Sudbury? He caused rising taxes and decreased services, increased user fees, made a region redundant, increased tuition at Laurentian University, Cambrian College and Collège Boréal, closed our hospitals and reduced services. Thanks, Mike. Merry Christmas.
TORONTO BOARD OF EDUCATION
Mr Tony Silipo (Dovercourt): Later this afternoon, I will be attending the last meeting of the Toronto Board of Education. I want to say today that I am proud to have had the opportunity and the privilege to serve as a school trustee on the Toronto Board of Education from 1978 to 1990 and as chair of that body from 1988 to 1990. As an institution, the Toronto Board of Education has been at the forefront of progressive educational change in this province in responding to the changing needs of our students.
Long before there were ministry policies, the Toronto board had established both policies and programs in such areas as multiculturalism, women's studies, kindergarten, early childhood education, school-based child care, apprenticeship and technical education, French-language and third-language programs, and on the new basics, which include critical thinking skills, in addition to the traditional basics.
The board has also been at the forefront in encouraging parental involvement in a real way, school by school and community by community. The change that has been brought about by that institution has come about because there have been trustees willing to push the yardstick and to work with parents, to encourage parental involvement and to work with teachers and administrators to bring progressive change along.
Today it is with some pride that I reflect on that, while also acknowledging the incredible challenge that lies ahead for the new body that's going to be taking life here in Metropolitan Toronto and for the challenges that lie ahead, particularly in light of the Tory Harris cuts.
Mr Allan K. McLean (Simcoe East): Ontario is a province of many seasons. Tourism is one of our biggest industries. Small communities thrive on the investment visitors bring to our municipalities and events.
In Simcoe East, the town of Penetanguishene will be celebrating the 50th anniversary of its Winterama. In 1948, the Penetanguishene Chamber of Commerce wanted to make its town a winter playground for tourists. For city visitors, Winterama was their first experience at ice fishing, at riding a scoot over the frozen waters of Georgian Bay or at sawing a log. While these experiences were part of the daily life for residents in this rural community, they were an exciting glimpse of rural life for urban dwellers.
Over the past 50 years, other communities have adopted similar winter carnivals. In fact, the city of Orillia Winter Carnival is being held on the same weekend as the Penetanguishene Winterama, which is February 20 to 22.
The face of Winterama has changed in 50 years. Added to the events are ice sculptures, curling bonspiels, bowling tournaments, broomball and snowmobile races, just to name a few.
Winterama and the Orillia Winter Carnival are like old home week for these communities. Former residents return to celebrate the winter solstice with family and friends. In doing so, Ontario retains its rich heritage and the local communities benefit from thousands of visitors who top up the economy.
I wish everyone a merry Christmas and a happy new year.
REPORTS BY COMMITTEES
STANDING COMMITTEE ON SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT
Ms Annamarie Castrilli (Downsview): I beg leave to present a report on "The Impact of the Conservative Government's Funding Cuts on Children and Children's Services in the Province of Ontario" from the standing committee on social development.
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Does the member wish to make a brief statement?
Ms Castrilli: Yes. The committee on social development held hearings on the impact of the Conservative government's funding cuts on children and children's services in Ontario. The committee invited the widest range of service providers and experts possible to appear before it within the limited time available for hearings.
Much evidence was presented on the changing environment in which children live, and particular attention was focused on the growing problem of child poverty.
All the witnesses agreed that the current system of children's services needs to be changed for the better and presented the committee with recommendations on how to do so. The recommendations are at the end of the report and include early intervention, policy and program coordination, equality between public and private sector providers, quality early childhood education, healthy families and community spirit and cohesion.
STANDING COMMITTEE ON REGULATIONS AND PRIVATE BILLS
Mr Derwyn Shea (High Park-Swansea): I beg leave to present the first report of 1997 from the standing committee on regulations and private bills.
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Does the member wish to make a brief statement?
Mr Shea: None at this time.
SELECT COMMITTEE ON ONTARIO HYDRO NUCLEAR AFFAIRS
Mr Derwyn Shea (High Park-Swansea): I beg leave to present a report from the select committee on Ontario Hydro nuclear affairs and move the adoption of its recommendations.
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Does the member wish to make a brief statement?
Mr Shea: I do. On behalf of the select committee, I am pleased to present to the Legislature the report of the committee regarding Ontario Hydro nuclear affairs.
The operation of nuclear generating stations is an issue of fundamental importance to the people of Ontario. Nineteen operating nuclear reactors supply approximately 60% of the electricity which is utilized by residents, commercial enterprises and industry alike. Everyone in Ontario benefits from nuclear energy.
The select committee, which has met for three months, is satisfied that the nuclear reactors are being safely operated. However, the inability to effectively manage nuclear operations has led to a serious reduction in the performance of the nuclear reactors.
The select committee agrees that the nuclear asset optimization plan should be accepted as is. Ontario Hydro should review the nuclear asset optimization plan through the business plans being prepared in early 1998. The changes should take into consideration environmental, community, financial and labour relations issues.
The committee also concludes that much more can and should be done in order to increase the margin of safety in nuclear operations and to protect Ontario's investment. The select committee's report makes several findings and recommendations on these important issues.
In conclusion, the select committee has been impressed with the expertise, diligence and assistance offered by all parties who have participated in the committee's hearings and deliberations.
I have also been impressed with the committee members representing all three parties in this Legislature who worked closely together under tight deadlines to ensure that this report was as comprehensive as possible. The fact that so much of this report received the unanimous support of all three parties is a testament to the goodwill of all the committee members.
I now move adjournment of the debate.
The Speaker: Is it the pleasure of the House that the motion carry? Carried.
INTRODUCTION OF BILLS
TECHNOLOGY FOR CLASSROOMS TAX CREDIT ACT, 1997 / LOI DE 1997 SUR LE CRÉDIT D'IMPÔT FAVORISANT L'EMP/ LOI DE LA TECHNOLOGIE DANS LES SALLES DE CLASSE
Mr Hastings moved first reading of the following bill:
Bill 178, An Act to amend the Education Act and the Income Tax Act to provide a tax credit for private sector investment in classroom technology / Projet de loi 178, Loi modifiant la Loi sur l'éducation et la Loi de l'impôt sur le revenu pour créer un crédit d'impôt pour les investissements du secteur privé dans la technologie employée dans les salles de classe.
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Is it the pleasure of the House that the motion carry? Carried.
Mr John Hastings (Etobicoke-Rexdale): The bill amends the Income Tax Act to permit taxpayers to obtain an income tax credit against their income from a business or property for the amount of the undepreciated capital costs of computer property that they donate to a school board, if they acquired the property as new no earlier than the third year before the taxation year in which making the donation and the board accepts the donation.
Regulations under the act can limit the classes or types or items of computer property for which the donation gives rise to a tax credit. Under an amendment to the Education Act, a school board that receives a donation of computer property is required, to the extent reasonably possible, to use it in the classroom for the purpose of the instruction of pupils in the schools under its charge and specifically in the schools that the donor specifies in the donation, if applicable.
NORTH YORK BRANSON HOSPITAL
Mr Gerard Kennedy (York South): I have a question for the Minister of Health. Minister, earlier on in your tenure you told the public that you would go slow, that you would see an orderly transition in terms of closing hospitals. That's what you've said in the public relations you've been doing. But then there's the real world. The real world includes Branson Hospital. Branson Hospital is a hospital here in Toronto that you sent investigators into. Two days ago they came back with a report and in that report they talk about finding in Branson Hospital 20 patients at a time spending two to three days in the emergency department, serious morale problems among the medical staff and unacceptable delays in patient care in response to emergency calls. They found that several medical staff indicated they feared losing their licence to practise due to the working conditions. This is the state of a hospital in Ontario. Do you agree with your investigators that there is a crisis at Branson and will you take responsibility for it today?
Hon Elizabeth Witmer (Minister of Health): As you know, that report you are quoting is the confidential information and property of the hospital. I would just like to indicate to you that, as I said before, we have been meeting with all of the hospitals in the province in order to ensure that at Branson and elsewhere we can make sure we have quality care for patients. That will continue to be our focus and that will continue to be our emphasis.
Mr Kennedy: The minister chooses to ignore a report that calls for immediate action. Minister, it says that unless there is immediate action, this hospital will implode, that the staff believe the hospital will collapse. You can't ignore a report that you signed the order for, that you assigned the investigators to and that tells you about conditions the board of the hospital wrote to your ministry about on April 29 and again in September and again in November.
Minister, the public of Ontario wants to know why you're ignoring the conditions you've created. The major problem at Branson is the uncertainty. The doctors and nurses don't know where they're going. You have ordered the closing of 30 hospitals and you have no plan to deal with the nurses and doctors about where they're going to practise in the province. The hospital is falling apart.
Minister, will you stand up and tell us you will take responsibility, that there will be action on Branson and that you will take ownership of the problem you've created for the people who are served by Branson hospital?
Hon Mrs Witmer: I think it's very important to stress one more time that the Ministry of Health staff, particularly the assistant deputy minister, have been meeting with those at Branson, as well as those at North York General. We understand that the two boards are going to be continuing to work together. Certainly we can ensure that top-quality patient care will continue to be provided there.
Mr Kennedy: The minister continues to dwell in a fairyland that has nothing to do with what's in this report. I'm going to send it across to the minister because it's clear she hasn't bothered to read it, even though it was presented to her, not to the hospital board, two days ago. Minister, it follows a report from investigators in Windsor that said many of the same things, that you aren't managing hospitals in this province properly, and a report from the Ivey school of business that said at 12 hospitals all kinds of problems are manifest.
People are not getting quality care. That's what the report said. You can't simply give us public relations answers here today. What will you do for the people at Branson and what, more important, will you do for the province? Will you agree to an investigation, not just of hospitals, but of your management of the hospitals and what the restructuring commission is doing to reduce patient care at Branson and at other hospitals? This report says this is a precursor for hospitals all around the province. If immediate action isn't taken, this is what can be expected at other hospitals that have been ordered to cease operations. Minister, you must respond today.
Hon Mrs Witmer: I would just indicate to you one more time that the report you have is the confidential property of the hospital. I guess I have to wonder where you obtained the copy. I would also indicate to you that we are in daily communication with the hospital. I can also indicate to you that we are taking every action we can to ensure that patient care is protected. There has been progress made. As I say, we are in daily communication and we are protecting patient care.
Mrs Sandra Pupatello (Windsor-Sandwich): My question is for the Minister of Municipal Affairs. I would like to ask you again today about another community where your dumping of costs has not been revenue-neutral, and that is the city of Sarnia.
Mayor Bradley from the city of Sarnia has already told his community that he has lost half of his staff at the municipality. They don't have the places to cut that you believe they do. You have ordered additional savings to the community of Sarnia that they simply cannot achieve without a 5.25% tax increase, or they will just lop off services wholesale.
Yesterday, when we asked you about communities, you blamed the councillors and the mayors for being mismanagers. What will you say today to the city of Sarnia, which has always been competent in its management and where your dumping of costs is not revenue-neutral? Minister, what do you say to Mayor Bradley today?
Hon Al Leach (Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing): We're asking the city of Sarnia to come up with a 1.7% reduction in expenditures, less than two cents on every dollar. I'm quite confident -
Hon Mr Leach: If Sarnia is having difficulty coming to grips with trying to save 1.7% off its operating budget, I know the member for Sarnia will be meeting with the mayor early next week. I'm sure he'll be able to assist them in showing them how to achieve those savings. I don't think that less than two cents on every dollar is too much to ask in order to get the financial situation of the province back in working order, to get rid of the $11-billion deficits that were strangling this province, to get the economy rolling again. Most municipalities are quite prepared to do that and most municipal councillors have the skills and ability to accomplish that.
The Speaker: Supplementary; member for St Catharines.
Mr James J. Bradley (St Catharines): I have a question for the same minister. In Niagara Falls they're saying that "furious councillors across Niagara" - that's all the Niagara region - "are vowing acts of protest and defiance in their vehement opposition to the province's service swap.
"The mayor of Niagara Falls says, `We won't be able to provide the same services. We don't deserve to be treated this way.' Regional chair Debbie Zimmerman says, `This so-called revenue neutrality is not true. It's a huge boulder they've handed us. You can't pass it on to the taxpayer.'"
In Niagara it's $25 million you're going to stick the people of Niagara with in additional costs. Already the municipalities have cut to the bone. They've been cutting for several years. They have to provide services to people in the Niagara region. We have one of the oldest populations per capita in all of Canada. We've experienced very difficult unemployment in our part of the province.
Minister, do you not understand that your downloading is not only not neutral but is causing great damage to Niagara? What are you going to do about that?
Hon Mr Leach: Niagara Falls, with a population of 70,000, is being asked to reduce its operating budget by 1.7%. That's less than two cents on every dollar. I'm quite confident that the elected councillors in Niagara Falls have the skills and ability to do that and I'm sure they will. If they need some assistance, if they want some provincial officials to come down and give them a hand in reviewing their budget line by line to find ways and means of coming up with that expenditure reduction without reducing services, the province would be more than pleased to send some officials in to review their budget line by line and show them where those savings can be found without cutting the levels of service.
The Speaker: Final supplementary; member for Sudbury.
Mr Rick Bartolucci (Sudbury): To the same minister: We know this shuffling around of costs is simply to make your balance sheet look a lot better. That's all it is. At the end of the day Ontario municipalities are still short in excess of $500 million.
Let's talk about the city of Brockville for a second. In the city of Brockville's case, the downloading is going to cost that municipality $703,000. The city will have to cut spending on programs and services by that amount to offset the cost to make it revenue-neutral, or they'll have to increase taxes.
The CAO, Brian Switzer, is not sure he has the right figure. He and his treasurer, Mike Larocque, have phoned your office repeatedly, asking if public health costs and land ambulance costs are included. They do not think they are.
Will you commit to two things today, Minister? Will you commit to phoning Brian Switzer or Mike Larocque from the city of Brockville? Second, will you commit to them and to the House today that you will ensure it is revenue-neutral by putting in any additional money?
Hon Mr Leach: It's interesting that the member for Sudbury brought up a community outside of northern Ontario, probably for very good reason, because I know the minister responsible for northern affairs met with all of the mayors of northern Ontario last night and they are just delighted with the way things are going, including the member's home town of Sudbury, where the budget chief said that the ministers and the Tories did a fine job for the north.
With respect to the community that was brought up by the member, I would be more than pleased to commit to have the appropriate staff call the appropriate officials in that community and ensure that they have all the information they need. I would be pleased to commit to do that.
Mr Howard Hampton (Rainy River): My question is to the Minister of Finance. Yesterday, I went to the United Food and Commercial Workers' picket line at Maple Leaf Foods in Burlington. I was accompanied by the president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation, Mr Earl Manners, and a number of other -
Mr Steve Gilchrist (Scarborough East): Who?
Mr Hampton: I'm aware the Conservative caucus doesn't like the OSSTF, but I'll try to present the question anyway.
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Order, government members. Leader of the third party.
Mr Hampton: As I said, I went with the OSSTF president, Earl Manners, local teachers' representatives and our labour critic. They were there to express their outrage that their pension fund, the teachers' pension fund, is being used to support the management of Maple Leaf Foods. Maple Leaf Foods is demanding a $9-an-hour reduction in wages, along with a long list of other cutbacks.
What the teachers asked for and what they're going to ask your government for is that pension legislation be changed. Will you do that? Will you change the pension legislation to give them a say in how their pension fund is invested?
Hon Ernie L. Eves (Deputy Premier, Minister of Finance): The leader of the third party is probably aware that the Ministry of Finance, especially the financial institutions part of the ministry, is currently undergoing a review of the entire pension law situation in Ontario. We are seeking advice from all groups, including organized labour, and I'd be more than happy to take their points of view into account before we come up with a comprehensive policy.
Mr Hampton: Let me express to you what teachers expressed yesterday. They want to see their pension funds invested in ways which create better-paying jobs, in ways that create true productivity - not a cut in wages, not a cut in benefits, not fewer jobs and not a race to the bottom. That's what they're interested in seeing.
I introduced a private member's bill last year. It's called An Act to make Pension Plans accountable to Workers. It's not a radical bill. What it calls for is groups like teachers and other workers having more representation in the trustees who oversee pension funds and giving them the opportunity to give some investment direction to the administrator of the pension fund. Would you be willing to adopt that kind of legislation? That's the kind of legislation the teachers want to see in Ontario's pension laws.
Hon Mr Eves: I think the Ontario secondary school teachers' fund, and the teachers' pension plan for that matter, have done very well. They've invested in areas that do create jobs, like Maple Leaf Gardens and the Toronto Sun. They own all kinds of things which I'm sure you're aware are worth billions of dollars in Ontario.
As I said to the leader of the third party in response to his initial question, I am willing to take all points of view into account, but we're not going to develop pension law in the province bit by bit or willy-nilly; we are going to take a comprehensive look at the pension law situation in Ontario. I've had meetings with Ross McClellan and Gord Wilson. I'm sure you're quite aware of who they are. We'll continue to consult with everybody in the community, including organized labour. I think their points of view are very helpful.
Mr Hampton: I'm glad the Minister of Finance is conducting a review of pension laws, because there is one very important pension issue that faces your government immediately. You'll remember that in the mid-1980s someone named Conrad Black staged a raid upon the surplus in the pension plan of his workers at Dominion Stores. There were a couple of other employers who followed that very bad example.
Our government brought in a regulation - it's called section 8 of Ontario regulation 909 - that protects workers' pension funds from raids by employers who merely want to reach in and take out the surplus. That regulation, however, will come to an end on December 31, 1997.
You have a choice you can make right now. You can choose to protect workers' pension funds or you can choose to allow Conrad Black to resume his former behaviour. Which is it? Will you renew that regulation?
Hon Mr Eves: I'm somewhat surprised that the leader of the third party would stand in the chamber and admit today, seeing how he criticizes the government every time the government does something by regulation - now he's suggesting we make a very substantial change to public policy by regulation and admitted that his government did this quite often.
The Speaker: Order.
Hon Mr Eves: To the leader of the third party, and the member for Beaches-Woodbine, who seems to be quite entertained by this dialogue, how do you think the regulation got there in the first place? Your government made substantial public policy change by putting it there. They put a sunset date on it. I don't know why your government would choose to do that, but you did it. As I said, we will look at the entire area of pension law and the public policy surrounding pension law as a whole, not willy-nilly, piece by piece or by regulation, like you did.
The Speaker: New question; third party.
Mr Hampton: I find it interesting that the Minister of Finance gets quite upset when we simply ask him to continue a regulation which protects workers' pension funds.
ASSISTANCE TO DISABLED STUDENTS
Mr Howard Hampton (Rainy River): I have a question to the Minister of Education and Training: I'm going to ask you today to protect some of the students in Ontario who are in the most disadvantaged positions. We have found that post-secondary students who are deaf or hard of hearing are no longer going to be covered by the Ministry of Community and Social Services under vocational rehabilitation services. As a result of Bill 142, they're now coming over to the Ministry of Education.
Many of these students have to attend specialized private schools in the United States to get the program they need. The Ministry of Community and Social Services used to provide them with some grant funding to help them out, but now that they're coming under the Ministry of Education they will qualify only for loan funding. It means that these deaf and hearing-disabled students will have to run up bills of $28,000 as a result of this change in policy. Will you help those students out?
Hon David Johnson (Minister of Education and Training): I will endeavour to investigate this matter. I must confess that I'm not totally aware of all the details, but I will investigate the matter and see what can be done in this particular instance.
Mr Hampton: Let me help the minister along. This is a quote from the Common Sense Revolution. It says, "Aid to seniors and the disabled will not be cut."
I have a letter from a student at the Rochester Institute of Technology, who writes: "This major cutback hurts me. It has not given me enough time to plan my future, applying for a student loan or applying to other universities in Canada. This has put my education in danger. My future is on hold because of the government cutback. I was told that the decision may happen some time in the spring, but that does not prepare me to continue my education at the Rochester Institute of Technology."
The question is very simple: Are you going to totally wipe out the grants that these deaf and hearing-disabled students used to receive? Under Bill 142 they don't receive it and under the Ministry of Education they aren't going to receive it. What are you going to do?
Hon David Johnson: I'm going to refer it to the Minister of Community and Social Services.
Hon Janet Ecker (Minister of Community and Social Services): I apologize to the leader of the third party that I didn't hear the first part of his question. As he probably will be aware, we are replacing the current system because of the flaws and difficulties it has in terms of supporting people with disabilities, not only in income or employment support but also in the education supports they might well need. That is being replaced with the new Ontario disability support plan. We are well aware of the fact that timing, for many individuals, is very crucial, and we want to ensure that people have the opportunities they need to get the higher education they would like to receive so they can be financially independent.
Mr Hampton: No matter how the government tries to confuse the issue, the nub of it is this: These students used to receive counselling, education grants and other assistance from the vocational rehabilitation service branch of the Ministry of Community and Social Services. Bill 142 essentially wipes out the vocational rehabilitation service and wipes out the services these students used to receive and also wipes out the grants they used to receive. They are now being told they should apply to the Ministry of Education and Training. But OSAP simply says, "We do not provide grants; we provide loans."
You've essentially taken $28,000 away from these students in terms of completing their education, and you're going to put them $28,000 in debt. This is clearly set out in Bill 142. I'm asking the government, what are you going to do? You said you were not going to cut disabled people, you were not going to cut people who have a tougher time, but clearly you have.
Hon Mrs Ecker: No, we are not asking them to go into debt. I really wish the honourable member had paid attention when we were outlining some of the objectives of our policy. One of the problems with the Vocational Rehabilitation Services Act and the services and programs that existed was that in order to get any services, a person with a disability had to have mandatory counselling, whether they needed it or wanted it. That's not fair to them. That was one of the things they asked us to change. Of course the old program will no longer exist, because it's going to be replaced by a new program that has been designed over the last year in careful consultation with people with disabilities so that they can get the support they need.
IPPERWASH PROVINCIAL PARK
Mr Gerry Phillips (Scarborough-Agincourt): My question is to the Premier, and it's on Ipperwash. We've been trying to get to the bottom of this situation at Ipperwash for some time. On August 22, we requested information under freedom of information. Since then, it appears to us that someone has coordinated a deliberate attempt to keep the information from us. We'd like to know what is happening. It took until October 24 to get a response, and then, coincidentally, all five ministries responded on the same day. They asked for $1,215 to proceed. We got the money. They then responded to us on December 5 that we would get another answer - surprise, surprise - on December 22.
My question to you, Premier, is, can you assure the public and the House that no one on your staff is coordinating the responses to these freedom of information requests?
Hon Michael D. Harris (Premier): I have no idea if these are order paper questions or if these are freedom of information requests. I have no idea who does that.
Mr Phillips: Then I would appreciate your investigating, because you refused even to commit to holding a public inquiry on Ipperwash. We now are trying to get information on what happened there. We have followed the process, we have given written requests for it, we've given the money for the information and we, at every step, are being delayed. I ask this simple request of you, Mr Premier. Because you don't know the answer, will you undertake to get an answer to my question? Will you ask your staff today whether anyone on your personal staff is responsible for coordinating the responses to our freedom of information request?
Hon Mr Harris: Sure.
Ms Frances Lankin (Beaches-Woodbine): My question is to the minister responsible for children's issues. I'd like to take this opportunity to congratulate her on her appointment to cabinet.
Minister, about a month ago you stood in this House and you made your first statement in honour of National Child Day. I'm asking you questions today, when we've received in the Legislature the report on the impact of the conservative government's funding cuts on children and children's services in the province of Ontario. At the time you made your statement, you said your job was in part to coordinate across different ministries and, I guess, bring together a focus on funding of services for children. If you listen to the radio this week, you will hear an ad from front-line child care workers and children's aid workers with an urgent message saying that if you really want to make a priority for children in your government, you must fund abuse prevention programs. We have had reports from inquests, we've had reports from interfaith coalitions -
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Question, please.
Ms Lankin: - we've had others say, "You've got to increase funding across ministries in areas like housing, child care, abuse prevention." Minister, are you taking this message to cabinet? Are you asking -
The Speaker: Thank you. Minister.
Hon Margaret Marland (Minister without Portfolio [children's issues]): Actually, some of the aspects you've mentioned I don't need to take to cabinet because the cabinet has already made decisions on programs that are helping in those areas. One of the programs that is starting in January 1998, the Healthy Babies, Healthy Children program, will deal with some of the concerns you've expressed. Our government actually is ahead on some of the recommendations in those areas of concern.
Ms Lankin: Minister, after a month I hoped you would have a clear picture of what is happening to children in this province.
I want you, for a moment, to imagine counting to 1,000 with me. One, two, three - think how long it would take to get to 1,000. Now picture a different child's face every time you count to 1,000. That's the number of children who are now in Metro shelters and hostels. A year ago, it was just over 700 people, parents, kids - all total. Now there are 1,000 children - just children, not counting their parents. Some of your government's cuts have contributed to putting those kids there. Some of the cuts in social assistance have made people lose their homes and they're out into shelter. Reverend David Pfrimmer of the Lutheran church, who's chair of the Interfaith Social Assistance Reform Coalition said recently, "Governments are walking away from their responsibilities in providing for people in need."
Minister, we need you to live up to your responsibility, your personal responsibility to children.
The Speaker: Question, please.
Ms Lankin: You must go to cabinet and ask for an increase in funding for public housing, social housing and public health visiting. You are responsible for those kids -
The Speaker: Thank you. Minister.
Hon Mrs Marland: I'm going to refer it to the minister for women's issues.
Hon Dianne Cunningham (Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, minister responsible for women's issues): In response to the referral from my colleague, I think the members of this Legislative Assembly are very much aware of the reinvestments of this government in programs to assist children, especially in the area of counselling programs for children in our schools. We know already that the teachers and nurses and physicians are referring to our school boards so that young people can get help, along with their parents, counselling programs for children who have witnessed abuse.
With regard to the Ministry of Community and Social Services, I'll just read about what's happening right now, and right across the ministries. School-based services provide up to $9,000 per school board for young people, and these are new programs, reinvestment programs for kids. The Minister of Community and Social Services has over 1,000 programs for mothers and children across this province. Some of them are new and reinvestment.
The Speaker: Answer, please.
Hon Mrs Cunningham: Right now, as we move on into the next season, our priority is for families, especially for children who are -
The Speaker: New question.
Mr Ted Arnott (Wellington): My question today is for the minister responsible for children's issues. As you know, I had a resolution before the House this morning to highlight the Healthy Babies, Healthy Children initiatives, and because government business superseded it this morning we were unable to debate it. Considering the importance the government has placed on children through the appointment of a minister for children, I would like to ask the minister whether our government will consider enhancing our new program, Healthy Babies, Healthy Children.
Hon Mrs Marland: I'd like to thank my colleague from Wellington for the question. Actually, I think this is a very exciting initiative in Ontario when we talk about the Healthy Babies, Healthy Children program. This program is one of the most comprehensive methods of providing early intervention and prevention to families in this province. In fact, each and every family with a newborn in Ontario will be screened at birth for risk of poor child development and parenting difficulties. With the development and distribution of screening and assessment tools now completed, we estimate that 90% of the programs will be operational in January 1998. As Healthy Babies, Healthy Children is implemented across the province, the local boards of health will monitor the outcomes and evaluate the effectiveness of the program, something that has never been done before in this province.
Mr Arnott: I'm for enhancement of these services in the province because I've recognized the need for this type of program in Wellington, the riding I'm so privileged to represent. It has been proven beyond question that a positive investment now in early intervention and prevention will result in savings in the future for these children. Minister, can you inform the House of other initiatives the government has undertaken in the areas of early intervention and prevention.
Hon Mrs Marland: I am proud to tell you that our government has made some substantial investments in the future of our children. We have demonstrated our commitment to early intervention and prevention.
Hon Mrs Marland: Mr Speaker, it's hard to understand why there is the kind of response from the opposition that we have, because one of the things our government has done, as a matter of fact, is added an ongoing commitment to a program which the previous government established. Surely that is something you would want us to do.
We have added $5 million to reach over 5,000 high-risk families through the Better Beginnings, Better Futures program. We're not so narrow in our scope that we don't recognize an existing program started by another government. We believe in that program and we're continuing to support it.
The Speaker: Answer, please.
Hon Mrs Marland: Obviously, through all the programs we are continuing to fund, plus the programs we've initiated, our government has -
The Speaker: Thank you.
Mr Mike Colle (Oakwood): My question is for the Minister of Transportation. As you know, a lot of motorists are afraid to use Highway 407 and ridership has dropped off dramatically. Perhaps one of the reasons this is taking place is that you have all these hidden service charges. For instance, a person who takes a 15-cent ride between Bayview and Leslie on the 407 ends up with a bill for $3.45. Will you take steps to stop the gouging and make sure that these hidden service charges are removed on the 407 as quickly as possible so you can get people to use it again?
Hon Tony Clement (Minister of Transportation): It's always nice to hear from the honourable member and I thank him for the question.
First of all, let me take issue, however, with his contention that ridership on the 407 is somehow disappointing. I would say to the honourable member that we are averaging over 106,000 trips per day. Maybe the opposition doesn't want to hear that.
The original projections for the 407 were going to start off at 55,000 trips per day and they weren't even going to get to 100,000 trips per day until the end of the first year of tolling. So we are one year ahead of schedule. There are over 100,000 transponders out there. I would call that a big success, and I encourage him to do the same thing.
Mr Colle: Obviously, the minister doesn't want to deal with the issue of these hidden service charges. The minister doesn't want to talk about the gouging. It amounts to highway robbery, loan sharking, whatever you want to call it.
I've got another invoice. The invoice says that this person went from Highway 410, which you know well, to Highway 400. The toll charge was $1.38. The bill was for $4.68, a 300% gouge for that short trip.
The point is, do you believe in this gouging, should it continue, and are you going to take steps to stop the gouging? That's what you've got to talk about, the gouging.
Hon Mr Clement: I would be quite happy to introduce the honourable member at this time to the concept of cost recovery. That concept is a very important concept for the 407. The people who use the highway pay for the highway. They pay the full cost so that other taxpayers who are not using the highway don't pay for the highway. That is how the 407 is going to be a success for commuters in the GTA, and it will not be on the backs of the taxpayers in North Bay or the taxpayers in Timmins or the taxpayers in Windsor. We are proud of that.
Mr Tony Martin (Sault Ste Marie): My question is for the Minister of Consumer and Commercial Relations. I believe he's been holding his breath on this one, because it's about the charity casinos and the backroom deals he's been doing.
We've been talking to people in northern Ontario; obviously, so has the minister. In September, Minister, you announced the eight successful bidders for charity casinos. Isn't it a coincidence that those who give also get? I'd like to know what the minister who hands out the money bags to the charity casino operators was doing playing golf with Fraser Dougall, one of the bidders for the casino contracts, before the bids were decided.
Hon David H. Tsubouchi (Minister of Consumer and Commercial Relations): The short answer is, playing golf.
Hon Noble Villeneuve (Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, minister responsible for francophone affairs): Wasn't Dwight Duncan there, too?
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Order, members, Minister of Agriculture.
Hon Mr Tsubouchi: We actually chatted about this on Studio 2 the other night, earlier this week. The procedure we had in place for the whole RFP process for the charity gaming clubs - we chose a process that was independent, arm's-length and transparent.
The committee that was selecting and evaluating the bids consisted of representatives from the Gaming Control Commission, the Attorney General's counsel, OPP and outside experts, including a couple of independent CA firms.
My office did not have any information; we had no contact with the organization; we had no input into the selection. That was the whole idea behind this. Also, even if a conversation had come up, which it did not, because otherwise he would have been disqualified on the spot, if it did it would make no difference because we had no input in the selection.
Mr Martin: Chatting on Studio 2 just does not cut it. The minister knows that his gambling strategy stinks big-time. Mr Dougall and his companies have made donations to the PC Party over the last few years.
The minister has fluffed answers to questions about conflict of interest, but there's too much going on behind closed doors. The minister sooner or later has to answer for it, and today would be a good day. It's an issue of public confidence, especially in the area of casinos. You have to be above suspicion and you have to be seen to be above suspicion. Whatever your claims, in the eyes of the public this stinks. It reeks of old-style politics.
Will the minister halt the process with this contract and initiate full public review of the tendering process for the charity casinos?
Hon Mr Tsubouchi: I could repeat what I just said about its being a transparent, arm's-length approach. I am being encouraged to repeat that so perhaps the member can understand. But what I might say to the member instead is that I invite you to make those remarks outside this House and see exactly what the reaction will be from some of the proponents. I suggest that you make sure that you are accusing people on facts based on something, rather than just -
Mr Martin: On a point of personal privilege, Mr Speaker: I believe I have been threatened in this House. We will be putting out a statement on this issue that the press will get, and they will be able to ask their own questions.
The Speaker: All right. I don't see that as a point of privilege.
Hon Mr Tsubouchi: In fact, Mr Dougall was interviewed on CBC - this is an old story; probably about a couple of months ago he was interviewed - in which he said, "No, there was no conversation on charity gaming clubs that came up." Had there been, he would have been disqualified on the spot. Once again, even if it happened, which it didn't, my office had absolutely no input in the selection process. It's idiotic to even suggest so.
Mr John Hastings (Etobicoke-Rexdale): My question is directed at the Minister of Natural Resources. Over the past few months there have been many petitions presented by various members of all three political parties dealing with a proposed ban on the spring black bear hunt. I would like to know what the ministry is doing when you look at the other side of the issue in terms of petitions being presented by members from all three parties advocating no ban. What is the Ministry of Natural Resources planning, or what are its intentions, dealing with getting a better understanding of what the actual count of the black bear population is throughout this province?
Hon John Snobelen (Minister of Natural Resources): I want to thank the member for Etobicoke-Rexdale for the question. Of course, the bear population, the number of black bears in Ontario, is both important and, as I'm sure the member will realize, very difficult to measure accurately.
The measurements made by the ministry now are based in part on a study that was done between 1969 and 1983 in the Great Lakes-St Lawrence forest. Using scientific methods, within a margin of error, the ministry can determine how many black bears exist in Ontario. There is a second study that's been under way since 1989 that will be concluded in 1999. Using those studies, and a set of annual calculations, including a number of factors, including the monitoring of the harvest on an annual basis, the Ministry of Natural Resources is able to estimate the population of black bears at a very healthy number - between 75,000 and 100,000.
Mr Hastings: My supplementary question deals with whether those data collection methodologies and the studies suffice to create an effective, strategic policy for the management of this vital resource in Ontario for all its citizens. Can the ministry come up with a good black bear management policy so we really can deal with this issue in an effective way?
Hon Mr Snobelen: I believe this is an issue the ministry has turned a lot of its attention to, as have many members of this House from all three parties. Of course, conservation is at the heart of the matter and it's very important we have the proper management tools in place.
One of the things that has happened in the ministry recently, as I'm sure the member is aware, is that under the stewardship of the former minister, Chris Hodgson, the ministry was able to put a special purpose account together where the revenues from hunting and fishing licences across the province now go directly into a fund to help us monitor fish and wildlife conservation. Those fees come from hunting and fishing licences.
In Bill 139, which has been tabled today and which I hope the members will finish considering today, there are several measures that specifically address issues of black bear, including making it unlawful to interfere with a bear den and a complete prohibition on the sale of bear parts. These are two of the issues that have been brought to the fore by many people in the province and are addressed in Bill 139.
Mrs Lyn McLeod (Fort William): My question is to the Minister of Education. The year 1997 has been a very successful year for a government that wanted to create sheer chaos in education. The Harris government's first act of 1997 was to announce it would take control of education funding, which we all knew was the first step towards taking another billion dollars out of the education system and taking as many as 10,000 teachers out of our classrooms. It's almost a year later. This government has its control but it still hasn't the courage to show us what their funding will be. What they have done is to destroy effective local governance, create mega school boards that will have no role and ensure there will be thousands fewer teachers in our classrooms next year.
We know that 1998 promises more to come from this government: more cuts to the classroom, more gutting of junior kindergarten and special education. We just don't know what. Minister, why are you delaying telling us what you plan to do to educational funding next year?
Hon David Johnson (Minister of Education and Training): First of all, I will say once again that the amount of money spent on all aspects of elementary and secondary school education in Ontario in 1997 - $14.4 billion on all aspects of funding - is the most ever in the history of the province of Ontario. Those are the kinds of cuts that I guess the member opposite is alluding to.
Second, I will say what I've said before, that we are fine-tuning the formula, the stub-year funding formula. That's the formula which will be put out in the very near future. Even yesterday I met with representatives from various school boards to ensure that there is a fairness and an equity for all the children across Ontario, that those moneys will be released in the very near future.
Mrs McLeod: It's absolutely unacceptable that this government would take total control of education and education funding and would be standing here today on December 18 still refusing to tell anyone what their funding is actually going to be. These new boards are going to begin January 1 having to make tough decisions. The Peterborough board, for example, has been told by its local education improvement committee that they are going to have to review junior kindergarten and special education and adult education with a view to having to cut those programs. Yet to make those decisions they don't know what cuts your funding is going to force them to make.
Minister, tomorrow you are expected to announce finally the new role for school trustees, 11 months after you amalgamated the boards, a month after the new trustees were elected. We cannot wait that length of time to know what your funding is going to be. Will you, before the end of this month, at least tell the new school boards what their actual funding will be from January 1 to September 1? They are worried that stable funding means revenue-neutral in your mind and they are afraid that it's not stable at all. Will you tell them what it is?
Hon David Johnson: First of all, to correct a fact, tomorrow the Education Improvement Commission will be announcing certain recommendations with regard to the role of the trustees. This is the report of the EIC, an arm's-length body of the province of Ontario. The government will certainly take the recommendations of the EIC under consideration.
With regard to the stub-year funding, we've said all along - the previous minister said it and I've said it - that there will be stable funding for the school boards. There are various aspects that have to be considered. Yesterday the third party raised the prospect of junior kindergarten enrolment changes. These have to be looked at board by board to ensure there is a fairness with regard to each of the boards. Even as late as yesterday, some of the boards were coming to me with various aspects of the stub-year funding they would like to see incorporated. We're looking into all that. We're going to ensure it's fair and equitable and it will be released in plenty of time for their financing for next year.
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): New question, the member for Algoma.
Mr Bud Wildman (Algoma): The minister said "in plenty of time." It's only two weeks.
Mr David Caplan (Oriole): Less than two weeks.
Mr Wildman: Less than two weeks.
Mr Bud Wildman (Algoma): I have a question to the Minister of Northern Development and Mines in regard to the serious economic disruption facing the community of Wawa as a result of the decision of Algoma Steel Inc to shut down the Algoma Ore division operation there. I understand there's a meeting tomorrow of officials involving his ministry, the township, the company and others to talk about the establishment of an industrial adjustment committee. Could the minister please inform the House what contribution his government is prepared to make to such a committee and what he expects from the federal government and the company?
Hon Chris Hodgson (Chair of the Management Board of Cabinet, Minister of Northern Development and Mines): I appreciate the member of the third party's question. As he's well aware, our government is concerned about this situation, as we are for all communities that are facing economic challenges. It's not unexpected that this mine was going to close. I believe when he was minister it was forecast when they did the restructuring of the parent company in the Sault. But nevertheless it still presents a hardship for the community.
As he's well aware, and we've talked about this in the past, staff was present at a meeting when I met with the local mayor and their economic development officer. We agreed at that time to set up a committee to look for solutions, to try to improve the economic situation in Wawa. To fund this task force, to start up, the government of Ontario committed some dollars that I understand will be matched by the federal government, and the company is coming to the table as well. I look forward to hearing the results of their meeting that we agreed would be held. It will be the first of a series that I hope can look for solutions for the long-term health of Wawa and all the residents.
Mr Wildman: I appreciate the minister's response. This is a serious situation and I know he recognizes that. I would hope, though, that the minister would be able to inform the House of what sorts of preliminary, recognizing they are preliminary, discussions he has had with his federal counterpart and with the seniors officials of the company with regard to their willingness to come to the table as he said he hopes they will do.
Hon Mr Hodgson: As the member knows - we've talked about this in the past - it's your riding and I appreciate your concern. I want to tell you that it's shared by the government, it's shared by the ministry staff of northern development and mines. He knows that I've personally talked to the president of the company. He knows that I've assigned an assistant deputy minister to this file and that I met with the town on pretty short notice - I think it was about 12 hours - when we had a good meeting in Sudbury on this issue. I don't think he can complain -
Mr Wildman: It was in Sault Ste Marie.
Hon Mr Hodgson: Excuse me - I know it's his riding - Sault Ste Marie. It is a serious situation and I think our ministry has shown a great deal of interest around the urgency to get this process under way to try to diversify the economy so it's not as severe an impact as it could be. I think you'd have to agree that you've had excellent service from the Ministry of Northern Development and the Mike Harris government.
Mr Douglas B. Ford (Etobicoke-Humber): My question is for the Minister of Labour. Earlier this month this chamber passed legislation which will allow working parents of Ontario to be compensated for their out-of-pocket expenses during the two-week period in November, when teachers refused to perform their responsibilities. Since then, the Etobicoke board of education has told parents in my riding that it will not accept applications for reimbursements, according to the parents who arrive at the board office and my office. They are told to leave the premises and submit the application to their local school, which in turn will send it to the board office where it was refused in the first place. The same story is told to parents who phone the board. In fact, when a parent asked a board representative if they could be assured reimbursement by dropping the application off at the school, the reply was, "I guess, if we're going to."
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Question, please.
Mr Ford: Regularly now I'm hearing from angry parents who are upset with such contempt from the school board. For too long this attitude -
The Speaker: Minister?
Mr Ford: - has plagued an eroding system -
The Speaker: Member for Etobicoke-Humber, it's over. Minister?
Hon Jim Flaherty (Minister of Labour): I thank the member for Etobicoke-Humber for the question. As promised, we have taken steps to address the inconvenience caused and the burdens shouldered by parents and guardians in Ontario as a result of the strike by teachers' unions. I would remind members and boards of education that the reason this compensation is being paid is that this was a work interruption, a strike outside of the collective bargaining process. In fact, within the legal collective bargaining process, the number of work stoppages in Ontario is far lower on an annual basis than during the lost decade of the two previous governments.
Within the collective bargaining process, 94.9% of the collective agreements in Ontario this year - that's right, 94.9% - have been resolved without work interruption, whether by strike or by lockout.
The Speaker: Order. The member for Riverdale is seeking unanimous consent for a supplementary for the member for Etobicoke-Humber. Agreed? Agreed.
Mr Ford: When I was elected by the people in Etobicoke to bring prosperity back to Ontario and make their community a better place to live, I never thought a school board would stand in the way of hardworking taxpayers with such disrespect. I know your remarks, Minister, will be welcome news to parents in Etobicoke. Those in my riding who have experienced the same treatment by the Metropolitan Separate School Board will also appreciate the information.
Further to your remarks, I was disturbed to read today in the Ottawa Citizen that the Ontario Public School Teachers' Association is advising its members to seek reimbursement. Can you clarify for me and my constituents who is eligible to apply?
Hon Mr Flaherty: I thank again the member for Etobicoke-Humber for the question. I was surprised also to read this report in the Ottawa Citizen, which is attributed to certain leaders of the teachers' union. It reflects a misunderstanding of the reason for the legislation. Again, this was not a strike within the legal collective bargaining process in Ontario. Within that legal collective bargaining process, we have a 94.9% success rate in the province for those who bargain within the legal collective bargaining process.
I would remind school boards of their obligation under the legislation, passed by this House, that any application may be submitted directly to a school board; and further, of their statutory obligation to receive the application, if it's received by the prescribed deadline, and pay the amount claimed after they verify eligibility. I am sure that all members of this House would expect all teachers, who serve as role models for our children, to respect and obey the law.
Mrs Lyn McLeod (Fort William): I have a petition signed by several hundred constituents relating to a matter which becomes urgent as of January 1: the ability of the Red Cross to continue to provide homemaker services. I want to present this petition in the hope that it can still provoke some urgent response on the part of government and all three parties.
CHIROPRACTIC HEALTH CARE
Mr John O'Toole (Durham East): It's my pleasure to present a petition on behalf of the member for Scarborough Centre. The petition is from Dr Gerard Arbour, a chiropractor whose practice is on Kingston Road in Scarborough.
I meet and have talked with many chiropractors in my riding of Durham East, Dr Paul Herron and Dr Dianne Lott. I am pleased to present this petition to the Parliament of Ontario:
"To Premier Mike Harris, Health Minister Elizabeth Witmer and members of the Ontario Legislature:
"Whereas the Ministry of Health has recently strengthened its reputation as the Ministry of Medicine through its $1.7-billion" -
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): You can't do a preamble and then read your petition. You do one or the other. You've done your preamble, so now you can't read your petition.
CERTIFIED GENERAL ACCOUNTANTS
Mr Gilles E. Morin (Carleton East): "To the Legislative Assembly of Ontario:
"Whereas it is in the best interests of the public to have open market competition among professional accountants; and
"Whereas, under the Public Accountancy Act, only chartered accountants have full access to public accounting licences in the province of Ontario" - and the petition goes on and ends -
"We, the undersigned residents of the province of Ontario, petition the Legislative Assembly of Ontario to grant to the Certified General Accountants Association of Ontario their request for overdue amendments to the Public Accountancy Act to allow certified general accountants full access to public practice licences and to eliminate the present monopoly."
Mr Bill Murdoch (Grey-Owen Sound): I have a petition to the Legislature of Ontario.
"We, the undersigned residents of Ontario, draw the attention of the Legislature of Ontario to the following:
"That managing the family home and caring for infants and preschool children is an honourable profession which has not been recognized for its value to our society and deserves respect and support;
"That child care policies and funding should provide equity and fairness to all Ontario families;
"Therefore, your petitioners call upon the Legislature,
"(a) to pursue policy and funding initiatives that will support a full range of child care choices, such as extending the child care tax credit to all families, including those providing full-time parental care; and
"(b) to pursue discussions with the federal government to review the tax system to find ways to assist two-parent families where one parent chooses to remain at home."
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): I forgot during the routine proceedings to announce to the House that today is the last day for our pages, obviously, and I wanted to thank them for their diligence and hard work and wish them the best in their future. Thank you very much.
CERTIFIED GENERAL ACCOUNTANTS
Mr Alvin Curling (Scarborough North): I have a petition that has a very extensive preamble here, but it says:
"We, the undersigned residents of the province of Ontario, petition the Legislative Assembly of Ontario to grant the Certified General Accountants Association of Ontario their request for overdue amendments to the Public Accountancy Act to allow certified general accountants full access to public practice licences and to eliminate the present monopoly."
I have put my signature to that.
Mr Howard Hampton (Rainy River): I have petitions. One is from Cat Lake and one is from Red Lake and Ear Falls. These concern TVOntario.
"To the Legislative Assembly of Ontario:
"Whereas TVOntario provides Ontarians of all ages with programming that broadens understanding and responds to specific learning needs;
"Whereas TVOntario does this through formal and informal educational programming on its two networks, TVO and TFO, which are available to 97% of households; and
"Whereas these unique services include the provision of programming television time for Wawatay television programs offered in the native language;
"Whereas Wawatay radio and Wahsa distance education are delivered to first nation residents in partnership with the satellite signal of TVOntario and TFO into remote, isolated Nishnawbe-Aski Nation communities;
"We, the undersigned, petition the Legislative Assembly of Ontario to stop the privatization of TVOntario."
This is signed by over 200 residents and I affix my signature as well.
Mr Jerry J. Ouellette (Oshawa): There must be strange things done in the midnight sun, as I have a petition that reads:
"To the Legislative Assembly of Ontario:
"Whereas the Court of Appeal has ruled in favour of the lawful right to go topless in public; and
"Whereas the Liberal government of Canada has the legislative authority to restrict going topless in public places; and
"Whereas sections 173 and 174 of the Criminal Code relating to public nudity be clarified to provide better protection of community standards;
"We, the undersigned, respectfully petition the province of Ontario to continue to urge the government of Canada to clarify legislation on going topless in public places."
I affix my signature.
Ms Annamarie Castrilli (Downsview): I have a petition to Premier Mike Harris, Minister Dave Johnson and members of the Ontario Legislature.
"Whereas education is our future; and
"Whereas the cuts in funding expected under Bill 160 will result in fewer qualified teachers, fewer resources and programs, unqualified teachers in the classrooms, larger classes, which will necessarily lower the present excellent quality of Ontario education;
"Therefore, be it resolved that we, the undersigned, petition the Legislative Assembly to withdraw Bill 160 immediately."
I'm in full agreement with this petition and I sign it.
Mrs Brenda Elliott (Guelph): I have a petition that reads identically to the petition just read by my colleague from Oshawa. I will complete it by saying:
"We, the undersigned, respectfully petition the province of Ontario to continue to urge the government of Canada to clarify legislation on going topless in public places."
I present this on behalf of 26 of my constituents and sign it on their behalf.
RÉFORME DU SYSTÈME D'ÉDUCATION
M. Jean-Marc Lalonde (Prescott et Russell) : J'ai ici une pétition qui est signée par des citoyens de Rockland, Casselman et Vanier.
«À l'Assemblée législative de l'Ontario :»
«Attendu que nous, les signataires de cette pétition, voulons signifier au gouvernement notre opposition au projet de loi 160 ;
«Attendu que le projet de loi 160 exclut les parents et les enseignants du processus de décision dans le secteur de l'éducation en Ontario ;
«Attendu que le projet de loi 160 centralise tous les pouvoirs entre les mains du gouvernement ;
«Attendu que le projet de loi 160 accorde au gouvernement Harris le pouvoir de retrancher 660 $ millions de plus du secteur de l'éducation ;
«Nous, les soussignataires, demandons le retraite du projet de loi 160.»
J'y ajoute ma signature.
Mr Bruce Smith (Middlesex): I have a petition to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario.
"Whereas the Ontario health system is overburdened and unnecessary spending must be cut; and
"Whereas pregnancy is not a disease, injury or illness and abortions are not therapeutic procedures; and
"Whereas the vast majority of abortions are done for reasons of convenience or finance; and
"Whereas the province has exclusive authority to determine what service will be insured; and
"Whereas the Canada Health Act does not require funding for elective procedures; and
"Whereas there is mounting evidence that abortion is in fact hazardous to women's health; and
"Whereas Ontario taxpayers funded over 45,000 abortions in 1993 at an estimated cost of $25 million;
"Therefore we, the undersigned, petition the Legislative Assembly of Ontario to cease from providing any taxpayer dollars for the performance of abortions."
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Then Member for St Catharines.
Mr James J. Bradley (St Catharines): Thank you kindly, Mr Speaker, and a good Speaker you are. I've been asked to present a petition to end the spring bear hunt. It reads as follows:
"To the Parliament of Ontario:
"Whereas bears are hunted in the spring after they have come out of hibernation; and
"Whereas about 30% of the bears killed in the spring are females, some with cubs; and
"Whereas 80% of the orphaned cubs do not survive the first year; and
"Whereas 95.3% of bears killed by non-resident hunters and 54% killed by resident hunters are killed over bait; and
"Whereas Ontario still allows the limited use of dogs in bear hunting; and
"Whereas bears are the only large mammals hunted in the spring; and
"Whereas bears are the only mammals that are hunted over bait; and
"Whereas there are only six states in the United States which still allow a spring hunt;
"We, the undersigned, petition the Parliament of Ontario to amend the Game and Fish Act to prohibit the hunting of bears in the spring and to prohibit the use of baiting and dogs in all bear hunting activities."
FIRE IN HAMILTON
Mr David Christopherson (Hamilton Centre): I have a petition regarding Hamilton's ongoing call for a public inquiry into the Plastimet fire.
"Whereas a fire at a PVC plastic vinyl plant located in the middle of one of Hamilton's residential areas burned for three days; and
"Whereas the city of Hamilton declared a state of emergency and called for a limited voluntary evacuation of several blocks around the site; and
"Whereas the burning of PVC results in the formation and release of toxic substances such as dioxins, as well as large quantities of heavy metals and other dangerous chemicals;
"Therefore, we, the undersigned, petition the Legislative Assembly of Ontario to hold a full public inquiry into the Hamilton Plastimet fire."
I continue to support my citizens in this call.
EDUCATION REFORM AND ABORTION
Mr Ted Arnott (Wellington): Because it's the last day, I have a number of petitions I wish to present at this time for and against bill 160. I have a petition which is opposed to the provision of taxpayers' dollars for the performance of abortions. I would like to present these to the table at this time.
Mr Mike Colle (Oakwood): I've got a petition here against the spread of casino gambling.
"To the Legislative Assembly of Ontario:
"Whereas during the last election campaign Mike Harris and the Tories said they would not force casinos into communities across Ontario without the consent of the voters; and
"Whereas over 70% of Metro Toronto voters in the recent municipal election voted a resounding No to the spread of casinos into their neighbourhoods; and
"Whereas the voters of the Toronto megacity have spoken loud and clear against casinos in all of Metro's former six municipalities, with over 460,000 voters saying No to Mike Harris's gambling halls into neighbourhoods; and
"Whereas there is already too much gambling in Ontario that preys upon the most vulnerable and desperate;
"Therefore, be it resolved that we, the undersigned, petition the Legislative Assembly that Mike Harris listen to those who voted overwhelmingly No to the spread of casinos and stop the introduction of Mike Harris's gambling halls in every neighbourhood in Metro."
I'll affix my name to it.
OCCUPATIONAL HEALTH AND SAFETY
Mr David Christopherson (Hamilton Centre): I have further petitions signed by members of the United Food and Commercial Workers. It was forwarded to me by Dave Killam on behalf of the 80,000 UFCW members in this province.
"Whereas approximately 300 workers are killed on the job each year and 400,000 suffer work-related injuries and illnesses; and
"Whereas the government of Ontario continues to allow a massive erosion of WCB prevention funding; and
"Whereas Ontario workers are fearful that the government of Ontario, through its recent initiatives, is threatening to dismantle workers' clinics and the Workers' Health and Safety Centre; and
"Whereas the workers' clinics and the Workers' Health and Safety Centre have consistently provided a meaningful role for labour within the health and safety prevention system; and
"Whereas the workers' clinics and the Workers' Health and Safety Centre have proven to be the most cost-effective prevention organizations funded by the WCB;
"Therefore we, the undersigned, petition the Legislative Assembly of Ontario to immediately cease the assault on the workers' clinics and the Workers' Health and Safety Centre; and
"Further we, the undersigned, call upon the Legislative Assembly of Ontario to ensure that the workers' clinics and the Workers' Health and Safety Centre remain labour-driven organizations with full and equitable WCB funding and that the WCB provide adequate prevention funding to eliminate workplace illness and injury."
On behalf of my NDP colleagues, we continue to support these petitioners.
CHIROPRACTIC HEALTH CARE
Mr John O'Toole (Durham East): I have a petition to Premier Harris, Health Minister Elizabeth Witmer and members of the Ontario Legislature:
"Whereas the Ministry of Health has recently strengthened its reputation as the Ministry of Medicine through its $1.7-billion, three-year agreement with the OMA; and
"Whereas the Harris government is restricting access to alternative cost saving treatments for patients of the province; and
"Whereas two recent reports commissioned by the Ministry of Health called for increased OHIP funding to improve patient access to chiropractic services on the grounds of safety, effectiveness and cost-effectiveness; and
"Whereas over one million Ontario adults now use chiropractic services annually, increasingly those with higher incomes, because of the high cost barrier caused by government underfunding; and
"Whereas the Mike Harris government has shown blatant disregard for the needs of the citizens of Ontario in restricting funding for chiropractic services;
"We, the undersigned, petition the Legislative Assembly of Ontario to recognize the contribution made by chiropractors to the good health of the people of Ontario, to recognize the taxpayer dollars saved by the use of low-cost preventive care such as that provided by chiropractors, and to recognize that to restrict funding for chiropractic health care only serves to limit access to a needed health care service."
I'm pleased to present this on behalf of Dan Newman, Dr Paul Herron, Dr Dianne Lott and Dr Bruce Elliott.
Mr John Gerretsen (Kingston and The Islands): I too have about 10 different petitions here dealing with Bill 160. All of them are against it. I will just read one of them and then file them with the table. It's a petition of non-confidence.
"Whereas the government of Ontario has not listened to the public on Bill 160; and
"Whereas the government of Ontario has chosen to overtly deceive the people of Ontario as to the true objectives of Bill 160; and
"Whereas we, the people, believe that no government has a mandate to act in isolation of the wishes of the electorate of this province and we have lost confidence in this government,
"We, the undersigned electors of Ontario, petition the Lieutenant Governor to dissolve the Legislature and call a general election forthwith."
Since the Lieutenant Governor is going to be here at 5:30, maybe she can act upon this.
RÉFORME DU SYSTÈME D'ÉDUCATION
M. Gilles Bisson (Cochrane-Sud) : I'd like to sign that previous petition, but I have a new petition, une pétition faisant affaire avec le projet de loi 160. C'est la dernière pétition de l'année et elle se lit comme suit :
«Attendu que l'éducation de nos enfants nous est prioritaire ;
«Attendu que nous trouvons que le système d'éducation public tel qu'il existe répond aux besoins du plus grand nombre d'élèves possible, y inclus ceux qui ont des besoins particuliers ;
«Attendu que les changements proposés par le ministre Snobelen dans le projet de loi 160 élimineront la possibilité d'action locale pour répondre aux besoins spécifiques de nos élèves ;
«Attendu que ces changements vont affecter la salle de classe de façon négative en diminuant les ressources disponibles aux enseignantes et aux enseignants ;
«Il est résolu que le ministre Snobelen - à cette heure M. Johnson - retire le projet de loi 160 et entame des discussions sérieuses avec la FEO et ses filiales afin de répondre aux inquiétudes de toutes les parties.»
Je signe cette pétition.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
FISH AND WILDLIFE CONSERVATION ACT, 1997 / LOI DE 1997 SUR LA PROTECTION DU POISSON ET DE LA FAUNE
Resuming the adjourned debate on third reading of Bill 139, An Act to promote the conservation of fish and wildlife through the revision of the Game and Fish Act / Projet de loi 139, Loi visant à promouvoir la protection du poisson et de la faune en révisant la Loi sur la chasse et la pêche.
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Further debate?
Mr Jerry J. Ouellette (Oshawa): There are a number of issues I'd like to bring up. I'd first of all like to thank you for the opportunity to speak on this bill.
Earlier on we heard debate from a number of members where they had mentioned such happenings as what has taken place in Yellowstone National Park, for example, whereby huge tracts of forest have burned down. The difference between Yellowstone park and the province of Ontario is that Yellowstone has a burn policy, which essentially means that if it burns, if a fire starts, they let it go and they let it follow through to its natural completion, whereas here in Ontario we have decided to manage our forests in a considerably different way. We manage them by trying to put out the fires to the best of our abilities.
In other areas, such as practices that have normally taken place in the past since this government has come in, a considerable number of forestry changes have taken place. For example, normally speaking, in a thinning operation the cutters would go in. They're designed to thin a forest. In the past what typically took place was that they cut the trees down and left them there. They didn't find markets for them.
I have now spoken with a large number of cutters, skidder operations in the north, and these forests that are now just being thinned and left there are actually being utilized. The forest is being utilized; the same with burns. For example, in the past, when a burn would go through, normally nothing would take place, although we have now found markets for burned forests where forest cutters would go in, would cut down that burned area and would receive funds for doing that instead of just letting it lie.
Also, there have been a number of conversations regarding bear management. Typically speaking, in the past I know from my personal experience with the Ministry of Natural Resources before becoming elected, bears were always considered a nuisance animal and hence the more they got rid of, the better. As the member for Cochrane South indicates, that was a problem and the way we got rid of it was just to get rid of the population or deal with it in that manner.
However, since the time when you could shoot a bear on a deer licence, for example, it has now expanded to having its own specific licence where there is an unlimited number of licences allowed for individuals. Now this government has actually restricted that to one per year. Also, now we have regulations which are dealing with spring bears and the running of dogs. Not only that, but this legislation, Bill 139, also deals with the licensing of those dogs. We are seeing a considerable number of changes. Personally, as one of the founding members of the South Central Ontario Forest Advisory Council - not only that but I also ran a lumber operation myself - I have a fairly strong contact with a number of MNR issues.
Mr Gilles Bisson (Cochrane South): Oh, that is why you were listening.
Mr Ouellette: Yes, to the member for Cochrane South. Now he understands how I know a little bit or something about the forest industry.
Actually the member for Cochrane South mentioned access roads. Some of the difficulty with access roads, such as the Sultan Road, which may be the road he was speaking about up in Chapleau, is that you open up these new roads and it allows a large number of individuals into these areas that haven't had significant management programs in the past, where there is lots of fish. Numbers of individuals go in, they start to harvest the fish and the population starts to drop, so we see a decline in numbers. There has to be some sort of balance in how you deal with that issue of opening up new areas for fishing and hunting purposes and how you come to agreement.
I've had individuals come up to me and tell me we should have stronger restrictions on accessing those roads where people are no longer allowed into those places. Also I think some of the changing practices - and we spoke about the number of reductions in ministry staff. I happen to know a fair number of the individuals in the ministry and, as a matter of fact, during the previous government I happen to remember one individual in the MNR receiving the employee of the year award, yet the next year, during the previous government, they found him surplus. Now explain these sorts of things.
I know there are a lot of issues, but I would like to point out one other thing, that peak periods within the hunting community would be representative of approximately 15% of the population; now my understanding is that is only representative of approximately 8% of the population, and hopefully those communities can start to grow back in because I know the significant importance in northern Ontario, and I'm hoping that this legislation will add to that.
The Acting Speaker (Mr Gilles E. Morin): Questions or comments?
Mr Bisson: Now I understand why the parliamentary assistant was listening intently as I talked about forestry. I thought there was a connection there. So you understand -
Mr Ouellette: I'm not the PA.
Mr Bisson: No, you're not the PA, but you were listening none the less. I just want to say again, and the point I was trying to make this morning was, that you would understand probably more than most people in this House that a lot of the operators in the bush try to do it properly. But you know what happens. Once you don't have the people in the bush from the MNR watching what's going on when it comes to creek crossings, it makes a lot easier for those shadier operators who are trying to make a quick buck just to throw a culvert in and run over the top and do what they've got to do. Unfortunately, the only way we're going to find out is when somebody happens to go fishing and there's no more fish there, or at the end of the five-year cycle when they come back to do the audit.
The point I was making to you this morning, and I'm glad you acknowledge it, is that you need to have some enforcement mechanism with laws like that. It's not that you want to make the rules and regulations so onerous that the little operator can't operate or the big operator can't operate. That's not the intent, but you have to have some provisions to make sure there are good practices when it comes to how we do that work.
The other issue around the question of closing access roads is that I understand as well as you do that you need to be able to manage the pressure on the fishery when it comes to particular areas. You wouldn't want one lake being hit by everybody in the neighbourhood. It wouldn't take very long for there not to be any fish in it.
The point I was talking about is when you're going in to cut in a particular area and the company expands an existing road that was there that was always used by people in the past. It's an old bush road and people have been using it for 30 or 40 years. The company comes in, they make the road better, they go and do their cut, then all of a sudden when they withdraw, they shut the road down. That's the point that I was making. When Don Collins from Timmins comes to me and he raises those issues, he's got a legitimate beef because those were roads that were used in the past, and only because the company expanded the operation they shouldn't have the right to close that road down after. Yes, good management, but not to just block people out.
The Acting Speaker: Questions or comments? If not, the member for Oshawa, you have two minutes.
Mr Ouellette: I enjoy this debate very much. The member for Cochrane South mentioned about the enforcement issue. Actually when Mr Wildman was the Minister of Natural Resources I approached him at a meeting in Barrie and we discussed this issue and I know our government is currently following up on it.
What I had done with the issue was that in the region of Durham, where we had 1.5 officers during the previous government's era covering the entire region of Durham, I established a training program whereby we trained all the Durham Regional Police Force in their in-service training program so that they could enforce the Game and Fish Act. Police officers actually have the legal right to enforce the fish and game act; they just don't have the training. What we did there was we effectively put officers in the region of Durham dealing with the fish and game issues. I know the government is currently looking at expanding that possibly to the entire province. I think it's a good program.
Also, the member speaks about the 30 years going into these areas with new roads. However, I think if you look at the fact of the changes in technology within the past 30 years as well, 30 years ago we didn't have downriggers that they're using in these inner lakes and we didn't have fish-finders that now can locate and actually harvest the fish. I've had a number of clubs and organizations come to me and ask that we should have restrictions in those areas because of winter fishing pressure and because of the technological pressures.
I thank you for the comments and I thank you for the opportunity to speak to that today.
The Acting Speaker: Further debate.
Mr John Gerretsen (Kingston and The Islands): It's nice to pass an act like this because I understand all three governments in the past had been trying to get an act like this approved and we have all-party agreement that this one should be approved, but I still think it's necessary to make a couple of comments about the enforcement provisions of the act and how the ministry staff can possibly deal with it.
I think the first thing everyone ought to bear in mind is that the budget of the Ministry of Natural Resources in the last two years has declined by $150 million. It's gone from $519 million two years ago to $369 million. That is a decline of some 35% of the actual money that's being spent by the ministry.
How does this translate into the personnel power within the ministry? It is my information that 43% of the workforce has been laid off since the beginning of this government - 2,170 positions have been eliminated. When you consider that a lot of these positions were in the enforcement area, you can well understand that there is a major concern out there that we have very few staff left to inspect, charge and prosecute under the bill.
When you look at some of the provisions that are contained in the bill, it's kind of interesting. The limitation power on prosecutions has been increased from six months to two years. If you wanted to be cynical about it, one of the reasons for that is the mere fact that there are fewer officers to look after the investigations and the prosecutions right now and they need more time to get this done, to get the process started.
To a certain extent it's self-serving to go from a six-month limitation period to a two-year limitation period. It's needed because the people simply aren't there to do the job any more.
It also states that commercial penalties under the act are increased to up to $100,000 and imprisonment for up to two years. That's all wonderful and great to state in practice, but it would be very interesting to see, after this act has been proclaimed for a year, how many prosecutions have actually been started and been obtained under this section of the act. There's a theory that if you make the consequences too severe - I'm not saying that they are but certainly a $100,000 fine and a two-year imprisonment are pretty severe - there will be less likelihood for the officers involved who will be laying these charges to actually lay them, because they want to be doubly sure that they can get a conviction.
Finally, there will be a prohibition of possession of animals that were illegally taken from another jurisdiction.
Our point is quite simply this, and it has been made before: You haven't got enough resources within the Ministry of Natural Resources to enforce the legislation you've got on the books right now. Although this may look very good from a public relations viewpoint, particularly since it has all-party consent, I for one believe we shouldn't be passing laws if we don't have the proper enforcement mechanisms.
In our opinion, the fact that 43% of the ministry staff has been laid off in the last two years, that is simply too drastic a decline in the workforce to do the job effectively, not only under this act but under many of the other acts that are administered by the Ministry of Natural Resources.
All you has to do is go into rural Ontario, where many of the ministry offices are located, and you will find out the drastic effects that the cuts in the workforce have had to the various communities that these offices are located in.
With that, I will simply yield the floor to someone else who wants to speak. I say once again to the government, don't pass laws if you don't intend to enforce them or if you haven't got the workforce to do an adequate job in that regard.
The Acting Speaker: Questions or comments?
Mr Bisson: By way of opportunity, it allows us to make the point again that the member spoke to, which is that whenever the government goes forward and introduces legislation like this - which is good positive legislation to put in place, I think with some sound principles when it comes to the management of the fishery and game in the province of Ontario - the government has to be able to enforce it. We can't repeat that enough times.
It would be almost like the government saying, "We're going to pass a law that says you can't go over a certain limit on the highway when it comes to speed," but then they take all the OPP or all the municipal police off the highway. What would be the point of creating the law? People wouldn't follow the law because they would know there's no police out there to enforce the law that's been passed in this Legislature.
I think the point if well made: You can't on the one hand introduce legislation, which is positive and we give you full credit for it, but on the other hand take away 50% of the ministry staff who are there to enforce the law. I think it's a huge gap and at one point we're going to have to come to terms with that. I think the comments the member makes are on the mark and they're something the government should be listening to.
Mr Ted Chudleigh (Halton North): I would like to point out that the ministry's commitment is to maintaining the 281 badges that are currently in force for the conservation officers, although there has been some redeployment of these officers to reflect modern conservation methods and modern crime fighting methods to ensure the maximum use of these people so they can continue to enforce the statutes of the Game and Fish Act and now the new conservation act, which will maintain and protect Ontario's wildlife.
Mr James J. Bradley (St Catharines): The member gave an excellent speech on this bill. My concern is for the game and fish as it relates to the Niagara Escarpment. I know sometimes members don't get as much time as they would like to discuss this, and I wonder if the member is worried that perhaps the government might appoint to the Niagara Escarpment Commission people who would not necessarily be in favour of protecting the Niagara Escarpment, as my friend from Dufferin-Peel and I would worry, and certainly the Minister of Environment and Energy, who is a long-time supporter of the protection of the Niagara Escarpment lands. I know he would be worried about potential development that would take place there -
Mr Bradley: The member who is intervening obviously wants to see development. But I know the Minister of Environment and Energy was one of the people instrumental in having the first plan brought forward, and until a recent time had responsibility for the Niagara Escarpment as Minister of Environment. I wonder whether the member for Kingston and The Islands believes it would be, first of all, advantageous to have Mr Sterling, who has the position of Minister of the Environment, restored to jurisdiction over the Niagara Escarpment; and second, whether he believes that those who are appointed to the Niagara Escarpment Commission - unlike Mr Seabrook, who had to leave very recently because of another incident that happened - whether he believes that the people who are appointed to the Niagara Escarpment Commission, as I know my friend from Carleton would believe, should be those who are dedicated to protecting escarpment lands and not those dedicated to allowing development to take place in a place of natural beauty such as the Niagara Escarpment.
The Acting Speaker: Questions or comments? Then, the member for Kingston and The Islands, you have two minutes.
Mr Gerretsen: The talents of the member for St Catharines are certainly stunning, because although I did not mention the Niagara Escarpment during my speech, it was on my mind throughout, and the concerns he has raised here are extremely valid. Yes, we are concerned that the Niagara Escarpment should once again be brought under the control of the Ministry of the Environment. It is a real, true jewel on the landscape of Ontario and it ought to be preserved and saved at all costs. Certainly we would not want that natural landscape beauty to be in any way, shape or form affected by any negative action that may now take place because it is no longer under the control of the Ministry of the Environment. I did not speak about it directly but it was on my mind throughout, as it is always on my mind whenever I think of the member for St Catharines, because we know of the love he has for the Niagara Escarpment.
I was somewhat surprised by the comments from the member for Halton North when he talked about the fact that some of these officers have been redeployed within the ministry. I'm not sure what he's saying by that. All I know is that the workforce within the Ministry of Natural Resources has been cut by 2,170 positions; 43% of their entire workforce is no longer employed there. When you consider that one of the prime functions the ministry is involved in is to make sure that the laws we pass in this House that deal with out natural resources are properly enforced and protected etc, then I can only come to the conclusion that we simply do not have the proper number of people on the force to look after enforcement.
The Acting Speaker: Mr Snobelen has moved third reading of Bill 139.
Is it the pleasure of the House that the motion carry? Carried.
Resolved that the bill do now pass and be entitled as in the motion.
MILK AMENDMENT ACT, 1997 / LOI DE 1997 MODIFIANT LA LOI SUR LE LAIT
Mr Villeneuve moved third reading of the following bill:
Bill 170, An Act to amend the Milk Act / Projet de loi 170, Loi modifiant la Loi sur le lait.
Hon Noble Villeneuve (Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, minister responsible for francophone affairs): It's a pleasure to bring this act to fruition to meet the needs of dairy farmers and make sure that the quality of our dairy products continues as we've known it.
In May we signed an agreement in principle with the Dairy Farmers of Ontario setting out the roles and responsibilities of each one of the partners. Since then, we've been working with the Dairy Farmers of Ontario to ensure that the transition is smooth and that the program continues to retain the high quality of raw milk prior to processing that we've known over the last number of years.
This indeed is a true partnership. The government, through the Ontario Farm Products Marketing Commission, will continue to set health and safety standards for raw milk and cream, and ultimately the minister will always be responsible. However, the service will be delivered through the Dairy Farmers of Ontario.
In addition, the ministry will continue to be responsible for monitoring and auditing the inspection and enforcement activities. Several of the ministry's milk quality advisers will be hired by the Dairy Farmers of Ontario for the program. In order to support a smooth transition, the ministry will be contributing some $300,000 annually for the next four years. That, over a four-year term, is over $1 million to ensure the support of the Dairy Farmers of Ontario and to ensure that quality dairy products continue to be provided to our consumers.
For their part, the Dairy Farmers of Ontario will deliver inspection and other services related to primary production and transportation of milk and cream prior to processing. It frees up business from the burdens of unnecessary overhead costs and red tape and allows them to do what they do best: spur economic growth, create jobs and ensure that the product that is theirs is indeed of the highest quality.
In the short time that it's been up and running, Agricorp has signed up 1,800 new clients to its crop insurance plans. This is simply a comparison of what the private sector, administered by the people who are involved in the business, can do for themselves. Agricorp has the distinction of being the lowest-cost provider of crop insurance per client in the country, and we're proud of that. It is constantly improving its customer service.
While the service delivery arrangements for raw milk inspection I am talking about today with the Dairy Farmers of Ontario isn't exactly the same, I am confident that it will be equally successful as Agricorp has been over the past 12 months. My reasoning is that the Dairy Farmers of Ontario have the knowledge, experience, leadership and the resources to do the job and to do it well, and they are a natural.
For more than 30 years the Dairy Farmers of Ontario have proven time and time again their ability to anticipate and deliver on the services needed to build a strong, prosperous dairy industry in Ontario, and that is what we now have and we will continue to have.
Just a few of the statistics: Ontario produces 2.3 billion litres of milk annually, with farm-gate values of some $1.3 billion. The dairy industry accounts for 30% of the country's industrial milk production, second only to our friends in the province of Quebec.
The organization is also extremely adept at marketing. I'm sure we're all familiar with the milk calendar that was distributed in many newspapers here not long ago. It's an effective way to get consumers to buy, drink and use milk products. You've also probably seen the Dairy Farmers of Ontario's attractive "Drink Milk, Love Life" television commercials.
Dairy Farmers of Ontario know the dairy industry inside out. Through comprehensive market research it has demonstrated a keen sense of what consumers need and want. It knows intimately the needs of its members and can ensure that the quality of raw milk remains their responsibility and increase the competitiveness of both their product and the entire industry.
Dairy Farmers of Ontario have also shown that they know what it takes to meet the demands of its consumers, especially the importance of delivering high-quality product on time and in a sufficient quantity. The dairy industry has an excellent reputation for producing safe, high-quality products and remains that way.
With the amendments contained in Bill 170, the third reading of which will occur today, the program will be delivered in a way that simplifies the system, helps the food industry grow and above all protects Ontario consumers. As I've said many times, when the agrifood industry thrives in Ontario all Ontario residents benefit.
The Acting Speaker (Mr Gilles E. Morin): Questions or comments?
Mr John Gerretsen (Kingston and The Islands): I won't be long, since this is question and comment period, but let me just say that the government has been saying over the last number of days that the opposition is to be blamed for delay in action on a lot of these bills. I hope the Minister of Agriculture will take note of the fact that he first introduced this bill on December 4 of this year, 14 days ago, and here we are today, ready to give this bill third reading.
Maybe this ought to be a lesson for the government. If you bring in good legislation that the people of Ontario believe in, the opposition will work with you to make sure that the legislation we require for the good of all the people of Ontario will be passed as soon as possible. On the other hand, if you bring in legislation, like you did with Bill 160, that is detrimental to the people and the students of Ontario, or Bill 149, where you bring in tax cuts for some people and not for other people, when you shouldn't be giving tax cuts at all, the opposition will fight you on a day-to-day, toe-to-toe basis.
But this is a good bill, I understand from my critic. He knows all about milk. We have one of the best ag critics this party has ever had, and I would like to pay tribute to the member for Essex-Kent for the fantastic job he has done to give our caucus leadership with respect to agricultural issues.
Minister, keep bringing in good legislation and we will pass it as soon as possible, but if you or other members of your government bring in legislation that is to the detriment of the people of Ontario, we will fight you tooth and nail.
Mrs Marion Boyd (London Centre): I'm happy to have an opportunity to respond to the minister. He makes these claims and tries to suggest that somebody on this side of the House is trying to hold up this bill, and he may just convince a few people. I'd like to remind the minister that he got caught having signed a memorandum of agreement with the Dairy Farmers of Ontario last May and not having introduced the enabling legislation until December 4. When they became panicky, realizing that a prorogue was going to happen, he had to act quickly, yet he stands and claims that somehow we all are trying to hold it up.
It's important for people to understand that this is an important act. There are many concerns that have been raised about issues like whether the standards will be maintained over time, after the first four years of the agreement; whether, over time, the cost to farmers is going to grow and grow when the government subsidy leaves the field. Those are all concerns, but generally speaking, although we want to raise those concerns and put the government on notice that we'll be monitoring very carefully what happens in terms of the implementation of this plan, there is no desire on the part of this side of the House to hold this bill up.
Mr David Tilson (Dufferin-Peel): I want to congratulate the Minister of Agriculture for giving the fine speech he did and introducing this piece of legislation. I know the dairy industry will appreciate it. It will make the process much simpler. Certainly the consumer as well will appreciate this type of legislation. Congratulations to the Minister of Agriculture for the fine job he's doing.
The Acting Speaker: Further questions or comments?
Mr Mario Sergio (Yorkview): I want to compliment, myself -
Mr Bud Wildman (Algoma): Compliment myself?
Mr Sergio: Yes, compliment, myself, the minister, yes, indeed, on the introduction of this particular piece of legislation.
Mr Sergio: Yes, I can do it both ways.
Hon Mr Villeneuve: Careful, you might cause injury.
Mr Sergio: Not with milk, Mr Minister.
I think you were quite right when you said we have to be very careful when we deal with our dairy farmers in Ontario, not only because they create jobs and improve the economy, but when you deal with the delivery of 2.3 billion litres of milk, I think you said, that's a lot, and it's one of the most important ingredients we use daily in our homes. It is not only the improvement in the economy; it's also to maintain and improve the quality of those millions of litres of milk that are being consumed by people every day in Ontario.
We encourage the government to continue to support our dairy farmers. They occupy one of the most important economic vehicles here in Ontario. Any pressures brought upon our farmers can only deliver less quality in our homes and in our families.
Let me say there is a lot of pressure also brought upon our farmers from the larger ones. There are many smaller farmers who have continuous problems, and if they are to remain viable and be competitive, not only within our own local markets but with other markets as well - and there is a lot of pressure - we have to continue to support them.
I appreciate the minister being responsible for the introduction of this legislation. We support it.
The Acting Speaker: Response, Minister.
Hon Mr Villeneuve: I want to thank my colleagues from all sides of the House: Kingston and The Islands, London Centre, Dufferin-Peel and Yorkview.
We are all consumers, and as we get into some modern farming practices, the number of producers is always reducing.
I found it a little strange. When the member for London Centre's government was in power, they reduced the numbers of dairy inspectors from 36 to 12. That was done in 1993. I had a little bit of difficulty when the leader of that party was up here last night trying to chastise the government. They did it in one fell swoop, reduced by two thirds the dairy inspectors in Ontario. I understand that yes, they had to do a little bit like what this government is doing. They had to be more efficient, and they also realized that they probably had to do as much with a little bit less. They started to recognize that. I am sometimes very disappointed that this very same party is very negative about trying to balance the budget, and that budget is not an easy one to balance; it has been very difficult. However, we have to do what the private sector has done over many years: We have to do more with less as a government, as private individuals, and indeed this is what this government is attempting to do.
The Dairy Farmers of Ontario have been very helpful and have worked together with the ministry to ensure the quality of our dairy products, particularly that of raw milk, from the dairy farmer's production base to where the processing occurs.
Mr Wildman: We are on your side. You can't take support, can you?
Hon Mr Villeneuve: We can very much take support and we appreciate the support, but sometimes, when the comments come from the other side of the House, knowing what they did in their day, it's a little difficult to swallow.
The Acting Speaker: Further debate?
Mr Pat Hoy (Essex-Kent): I'm pleased to rise today on third reading of Bill 170, An Act to amend the Milk Act. I just want to inform the House that the member for Yorkview was raised on a farm and has indeed milked cows. He understands full well the value of that industry.
Today, on third reading of Bill 170, we're talking about a change that the minister announced to the raw milk quality program back in May 1997. He made this announcement fully seven months ago in conjunction with the Dairy Farmers of Ontario, and he announced that this program was going to go through some change. However, as has been alluded to by others, we did not see any legislation until December 4, when the minister brought about first reading.
The people watching today should understand that the introduction of bills within this place can occur every day. As a matter of fact, under routine proceedings, it is the third thing we do in the chamber: We have members' statements, reports by committees and then introduction of bills. That could have been done at any time so that we in the opposition, the third party, farmers and those very interested in this bill could have had a chance to look at it. But no, we didn't get that until December 4, and we are now looking at third reading with no days left in the legislative calendar. There are no days left. The government has seen fit to leave this agricultural bill to this late date, and if the government had not extended the sittings of this House for this week, I dare say we would not have seen this bill at all, and it would not have passed.
The management by the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs with regard to this agricultural bill, and quite frankly with regard to Bill 146, which is now going out for committee hearings, has been a very dismal one. I want to read from the Minister of Agriculture's news release, dated May 2, 1997:
"An agreement in principle that paves the way for industry to deliver Ontario's raw milk quality program was announced today by Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Minister Noble Villeneuve, and the Dairy Farmers of Ontario," more commonly known as the DFO. "DFO is the marketing group for all 7,800 dairy farms in Ontario and is totally financed by them."
Here we clearly see that an agreement was in the works and on its way fully seven months ago. On May 2, cash crop farmers could have planted a crop, had it develop throughout the summer, had it ripen, harvested it, and in some cases had it dried and in storage. A whole crop year could have passed from the time the minister said he had an agreement to the time he brought it to this Legislature. As a matter of fact, in the case of corn and soy beans, they would have been off some months ago.
The release says: "The raw milk quality program ensures the high quality and safety of raw milk prior to processing, through a combination of dairy farm inspection and laboratory testing. Ten milk quality advisors achieve these objectives by monitoring safety and quality test results and working with producers to take appropriate corrective action." The laboratory testing function of the program will not change.
Here we had a change announced in May but not brought before the Legislature until this very late date. The dairy farmers were quite aware of all this. They knew full well that legislation was required in order to make this agreement valid.
On November 11 of this year, in one of the DFO's publications, they said: "The transfer of the raw milk quality program from the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs was announced last May and should take place in early 1998," just a few weeks from now. "The transition date was dependent on timing of necessary legislative change."
I say to the ministry and the minister that leaving agricultural issues and agricultural change to this late date is poor management on the government's part. If the ministry is going to force change, it should stick to a timetable that allows for that change to happen in an easily flowing manner.
As well, the chairman, John Core, on May 30 made this remark: "It had become obvious that if we wanted to maintain our standards in the face of government cutbacks, the Dairy Farmers of Ontario had to assume responsibility for those standards. We were able to negotiate transition funding for four years from the government."
We see from the comments given by Mr Core, chairman of the Dairy Farmers of Ontario, that the government was cutting back. I believe the Dairy Farmers of Ontario had very little choice but to go into this agreement. To maintain the integrity of their operations and the integrity of their industry they had very little choice but to go into this particular arrangement.
This is plain and simple. The government is cutting agriculture once again. The $300,000 annually that the government will transfer to the Dairy Farmers of Ontario to run this program will only last for four years, and then who will fund this program? I fully expect that it will be the milk producers of Ontario.
The $300,000 annually that the ministry is going to transfer to the Dairy Farmers of Ontario is less money than it spends on this program currently. It is a cut from what they are now spending.
The Dairy Farmers of Ontario are going to have to pick up these costs at a later date, and that for them will be a user fee. We all know that Michael Harris said that a user fee is nothing more than a tax.
Once again, the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs is cutting agriculture. The minister knows, as do I, that the agricultural sector currently is doing quite well. Grains and oil seeds in the past few years have seen near record prices. I think most of the agricultural sectors are doing very well, and even those sectors that are influenced by feed costs continue to do very well, but I think the minister would know that the cycle within the agricultural community is such that pricing is not always predictable, that prices rise and prices fall.
To download on to the farmers of Ontario, at a time when I would admit they are doing well, could have great ramifications in the poorer years. I hate to predict that they will come, but history has shown us that prices rise and fall quite dramatically in the agricultural sector.
The minister was asked to address concerns from his colleague from Guelph in regard to this bill. The minister unfortunately didn't really answer the question but I give him the opportunity to do that today. The member for Guelph, a government member, asked the minister on December 9 here in question period:
"The constituents in Guelph and across this province are concerned about the health quality issues of raw milk testing and they're also concerned about the ongoing issues of giving a non-governmental organization a responsibility like this. I would like some further information on this and assurances about how the quality of milk will be protected for our consumers."
The minister did not choose to answer this question. He didn't answer it directly nor did he answer it indirectly. But he did say, in part, "to meet the deal that had been done between the Dairy Farmers of Ontario and the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs," therefore, we need this act.
I would like to have the minister give his opinion on the non-governmental organization, but as I say, I don't believe the Dairy Farmers of Ontario had very much choice other than to take this route with the Ministry of Agriculture and Food.
The minister went on to say in regard to the previous government, now the third party, "They cut by two thirds the inspectors in the raw milk area and now they're trying to preach to us."
I say to the minister that seems to fail the test. If he criticizes one government for doing an action and then turns around and completely removes the program from OMAFRA, I can't find his reasoning in that regard. I assumed he disagreed with that decision to remove two thirds of the inspectors. I also assumed that he disagreed with his own government's decision not to reinstate them. He also must have disagreed with their decision to cut fruit and vegetable inspectors, despite the protests of the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers' Association and farmers across the province.
I say to the minister that he cannot have it both ways. He cannot criticize the government for taking away two thirds of the inspectors and then be disavowing the whole program and passing on to the Dairy Farmers of Ontario what remains of the program.
The program has progressed to such a state, and as I say, we did not have first reading until December 4, but in the Ontario Farmer on December 9, a few short days ago, the Dairy Farmers of Ontario had an article printed through a reporter that shows all of the zones and all of the staff people who have been hired to deliver this particular program. They go through zone A to zone P. They have hired these staff, although there are vacancies in some of the areas, but they have hired staff and moved along under an agreement that was made and hopefully, when this legislation is passed, all this will be validated so that this can occur on January 1, 1998.
Dairy Farmers of Ontario field staff completed the latest in a series of two-day training sessions last week as the organization prepares to take over the raw milk quality program from OMAFRA. As part of the transfer, the DFO will integrate the responsibility for raw milk quality issues and farmers' premises inspection together with a revised version of the current role of field representatives, and I'm only going to read parts of this.
"The target date for the DFO to take over the raw milk quality program is January 1, but meeting that date depends on the timing of approval by the Ontario Legislature to regulatory changes that will give the DFO the authority for raw milk quality."
Clearly, the farm organization in question, the Dairy Farmers, has moved along significantly in anticipation of legislation that would allow them to do this. As I say, they have set up zones and staff people; they give the names for persons from zone A to zone P, although there are perhaps one or two vacancies yet to be filled.
Clearly, the DFO has done its work. They have consulted with their members, they have made job offers, they've had significant job training programs supporting these changes and they've revised the field services area.
I think it's important that within the legislation there is nothing that specifies that the Dairy Farmers of Ontario will be the agent of this change. There's nothing in the legislation that specifies that the Dairy Farmers of Ontario will be those agents, and I quote from the bill itself, Bill 170: "`administrative agreement' in relation to a designated administrative authority means an agreement that the minister has entered into with the authority with respect to the designated legislation for which the administration and enforcement is delegated to the authority." But it does not specify that the Dairy Farmers of Ontario will always have this opportunity to be involved in the inspection of the raw milk product.
I think the Dairy Farmers did a fine job in preparing for this. I think the government did a poor job of preparing for this with an announcement made on May 2 in regard to this plan, no first reading of a bill until December 4 and a seven-month waiting period for the legislation in a bill that only has 13 pages. This is not one of the larger bills that the government has introduced in this House. We know that we've had many, many bills that have been significantly bigger and more complex than Bill 170.
In this time there have been 56 bills discussed in this House. Between the time of the minister's announcement and just a few short days ago, 56 bills have been discussed in the House and it's possible that number could even be greater. In light of the red tape bills that we had a few nights ago and in preparation for this, we calculated that there were 56 bills.
What were some of those bills? What were some of the bills that were so important that the government waited until this last hour, this last day, to present Bill 170 for third reading? There was a red tape bill introduced, Bill 115, Ministry of Finance. Ironically, the Red Tape Reduction Act in regard to the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs was introduced, Bill 116, but it has not been dealt with. The Tartan Act has been introduced in this House; zero tolerance for substance abuse, a good bill, good intentions, but it came before this bill.
There were many. There are pages and pages of bills that came before this House in the interim of the minister making an agreement and actually seeking legislation to allow himself and the dairy farmers of Ontario to validate that very same agreement. Those other items were all priorities over and above what the Minister of Agriculture wanted to present to us in the last few days.
I really am concerned about the priority within the government ranks in regard to agriculture. I think, as was mentioned previously by others, these bills are not terribly contentious. In fact, if this is the only opportunity for the Dairy Farmers of Ontario to maintain the integrity of their industry, I suppose it would be a good bill.
Why are we leaving this to the very last minute? Why did we not show the public what was in this bill until December 4? I wonder if the government really wants to limit the debate on agricultural issues in total. I don't think they see their record as all that shining. Why do I say that? Because when we came to this place, the very first thing the Minister of Agriculture and the government did was they cut agricultural funding. They cut about $81 million from the agricultural budget and then, in a subsequent budget, they added about $5 million back, but still the cuts remain.
What is the government's vision for agriculture here in this great province of Ontario, so rich with agricultural diversity? What is their vision? I say in the last two and a half years their vision has been one of cuts, one of user fees, one of downloading, and not very many things that were positive.
I want to speak just a little bit about AgriCorp because the minister brought it up last night in his opening remarks. The minister would know that our party introduced amendments to the legislation that created AgriCorp that would have made it public for the directives the minister gave to AgriCorp and it would have made it public for the business plan that AgriCorp presented to the ministry. The public would know. They would know the intentions of the ministry; they would know the business plan for AgriCorp. But the government voted those amendments down. So why the big secrecy? Why the secrecy in regard to AgriCorp and what they may do in the future?
I want to spend just a moment to speak about the minister's rural job strategy. It came out in the May budget. I would admit that over the summer OMAFRA did indeed spend approximately $3 million on the summer program for jobs for youth. That was an ongoing program. There was nothing terribly new about it. But none of this money has flowed within the rural job strategy to this date. Again, many months go by and none of these moneys have flowed into the rural communities.
The very interesting thing I find about what little bit the ministry will let me know about the rural job strategy - and I say "very little" - is that there's no jobs target. In every release that the minister or the ministry have put out, there is no jobs target at all. The minister stated here in the House - I paraphrase - how he would like to see young people stay in the rural communities, spend the rest of their lives there, have families and contribute to rural Ontario. I would have thought the government would have had a target as to how many people they actually wanted to see employed through what is called a rural jobs strategy, but I find no numerical reference to how many jobs the government actually wants to create out of this. With the title "jobs strategy," I would have thought there would be some criteria and some target for those job creation numbers.
We see that the ministry is cutting, downloading, putting off to others what had been a traditional responsibility of the Ontario government in the past. I want to cite an example of where haste, poor thought and downloading have actually harmed one area of agriculture in Ontario. I want to talk about the farm museum at Milton.
The government cut $1.8 million in 1996 from the farm museum, which was formerly known as the Ontario Agricultural Museum. It was announced in 1995, but the cuts actually didn't take place until 1996. The farm museum, in my mind, is one of the best places to go in Ontario, perhaps indeed even Canada, to learn about the history of agriculture.
I travelled to the farm museum many years ago, when my children were a bit younger. They were amazed at what they saw. They were amazed at what the people had to endure and how they lived many years ago. They saw farm equipment that they couldn't even describe because it was so far back into history. Of course, technology has changed those types of machinery for the most part. Many of those machines were operated by horsepower - and I mean horses. Then, of course, the steam engine came along and changed things, and the gasoline engine, and there were many changes to agriculture.
The farm museum is having difficulties now. Those families and those children - I understand that about 50% of the people who visit the museum are children - may not be able to attend that museum again unless individuals can rise to the occasion and find funding that was traditionally provided by the Ontario Ministry of Ag and Food. There's where poor planning, haste and a run to make cuts can harm what I think is a model for people to go and visit and look at what our past has been. It's a great place.
Not only that, in the rural communities there are some townships and small villages that have museums, on a much smaller scale, perhaps in an old schoolhouse - one comes to mind in Tilbury West - and they are having trouble. With the downloading that the government is putting on to municipalities, they don't know if they can keep these small rural museums that give a history for all of us to envision, and particularly our youth. Of course, youth are going to be very important within the agricultural community, not just in the processing end, not just in the delivery and service end, but also we have to have people who understand the industry, have a history for it, a love for it and actually want to be farmers at the gate, ready to produce that fine food that everyone eats.
Research and development is an issue that the government is lax on. I think they've shirked their duties in regard to research and development. I was speaking with an ag group just recently that said they had to now pick up the slack because the government is not funding research and development in the way it did. I see that to be nothing other than a user fee put down on to the producers in this province to fund their very own research and development that in the prior days had been done by the government.
We know that some have said that every dollar put into research and development can give a $40 return. I've said to many, "If you could get that kind of return at the bank, we'd all be in that same bank building." That's a great return. We don't have to go out and buy technology from other countries; we can do it here. It will be our very own. It will be what we require for our needs that are peculiar to Ontario, and the added bonus would be that we can sell this technology to other countries. I don't think anyone for a moment would say that this is not a technological age. Biotechnology is going to grow. I think it's going to explode. It's going to grow and grow. In the agricultural area, some of these technologies will also be good in the area of health and give us all a better life. I say to the minister, don't shirk your duties when it comes to research and development. Stay involved in that.
I'm also hearing from people who have a great concern about cuts to our universities, in particular the University of Guelph, and that further cuts to the University of Guelph could have an impact on our colleges at Ridgetown, Alfred and Kemptville.
I called the ministry way back and I asked: "What is this shift of OMAFRA employees to the University of Guelph? How is that saving us money? You just shifted them from OMAFRA over to Guelph and about 100 or so people over to AgriCorp." The ministry staff told me the savings or the benefit to doing this will come in other years as we cut the universities.
We will support Bill 170. I don't think the Dairy Farmers of Ontario have much choice in this regard. We have seen the diminishing of inspectors and we have seen what the minister wants in an agreement with the Dairy Farmers of Ontario. I think one of the reasons is that the dairy farmers need to maintain the integrity of their industry, an industry that has been well maintained over the years.
I also want to point out to those who may be watching that we're talking about raw milk, and there is indeed another inspection process after the farm. People will recall the word "pasteurize," and milk is pasteurized beyond the farm gate, so there are other inspections beyond that which I think are significant to the debate we are having here this afternoon.
The consumers know full well that milk is a product they can have trust in. I have given the results of a survey, and 100% of the people who were asked thought that milk was good for people of all ages. That's quite a product to be proud of, a product that people can say categorically, 100%, is good for people of all ages. We know that the Dairy Farmers of Ontario are good corporate citizens. Within their communities they donate milk to our schools. It's processed, delivered by trucks in either bags or those small jugs, and the Dairy Farmers of Ontario in 1996 donated 370,000 litres of milk.
The member for Windsor-Sandwich asked the government many months ago to think about a breakfast program, and here we learn that the Dairy Farmers of Ontario, the good corporate people they are within their communities, donated 370,000 litres of milk in 1996 to our schools. It included all cost of processing and transportation of that milk. So we can see that the Dairy Farmers of Ontario clearly are responsible within their communities.
The provincial governments are primarily responsible for inspecting fluid milk. The dairy farmer must be licensed by a provincial milk marketing board before he or she can sell milk. Provincial government inspectors visit the farm to make sure it meets their standards. That was in the past; now the Dairy Farmers of Ontario take that on. In Ontario, the Ontario Milk Marketing Board takes samples of every shipment of milk it picks up from Ontario dairy farms. These samples are sent to provincial government milk testing laboratories. The laboratory tests the milk shipments for composition and other things. When milk is delivered to the processing plant, plant employees check the shipment to ensure, again, that it is safe. Federal and provincial inspectors monitor the milk during all stages of processing. By the time milk reaches your table, a glass of milk produced in Canada is one of the most highly inspected food products in the world.
We will support this bill with regard - basically, I don't think the Dairy Farmers of Ontario had very much choice. We learned from the minister himself that inspectors were cut by two thirds by the previous government, and in some sense that I can't really understand he is now saying, "I don't want any part of it." He criticizes the demise of two thirds of the inspectors, but now he says he doesn't want any part of it. He's going to hand that over to the Dairy Farmers of Ontario, he's going to fund it for only four years and then I suspect the Dairy Farmers of Ontario will be left with that cost. So it's a downloading.
Before I turn this debate over to my friend from Prescott-Russell, I want to congratulate everyone in this House for their fine efforts over the year. I want to wish everyone a happy holiday season. That includes members and their staff and the staff throughout this precinct. I wish them well in the new year. As well, I want particularly to wish a happy new year and a joyous Christmas season to all those fine people in Essex-Kent.
The Deputy Speaker (Ms Marilyn Churley): Questions and comments?
Mr Sergio: Thank you very much -
Interjection: You can't comment.
The Deputy Speaker: You're sharing your time, so this is not questions and comments? Sorry.
M. Jean-Marc Lalonde (Prescott et Russell) : C'est un grand plaisir pour moi de vous adresser la parole sur le projet de loi 170, Loi modifiant la Loi sur le lait.
Ce projet de loi est conçu pour permettre au ministre de l'Agriculture de déléguer les responsabilités de l'inspection à une autorité administrative désignée. Le gouvernement a fait part de son intention de faire de la Fédération ontarienne des producteurs de lait, soit l'organisme de réglementation qui régit la commercialisation du lait cru en Ontario, l'autorité désignée pour ces inspections.
Le projet de loi instaure un cadre de travail par lequel l'autorité désignée devra régir une gamme de normes de fonctionnement établies par le gouvernement. Parmi ces normes, on compte - tout d'abord, la fédération devrait s'assurer des cinq points suivants : le maintien d'une assurance-responsabilité adéquate ; la spécification des responsabilités législatives qui seront transférées ; les modalités financières des responsabilités transférées - par exemple, le droit d'appliquer des frais ; les frais d'accès aux actifs et renseignements du gouvernement ; et le cinquième point, les exigences relatives aux rapports réguliers de production. Je ne suis pas certain que tous les agriculteurs sont au courant que l'inspection du lait va être légiféré à ce point.
Lorsque nous regardons ce projet de loi, on pourrait dire qu'on va mettre beaucoup d'effort sur l'inspection du lait. L'inspection est d'une grande, grande importance dans notre province, dans notre pays. On doit s'assurer que nous, Canadiens et Canadiennes, Ontariens et Ontariennes, avons toujours la meilleure qualité de lait, et aussi s'assurer qu'il n'y ait aucune contamination dans le lait.
Mais je regarde : nous allons surtout procéder à l'embauche de 16 inspecteurs de lait pour les 16 régions. J'espère que nous avons reconnu que nous avons des zones, des régions désignées bilingues. Si je regarde, nous avons encore la zone B qui est vacante, où nous n'avons pas trouvé d'inspecteur. Pourquoi n'avons-nous pas trouvé d'inspecteur pour cette zone ? C'est simple. Nous retardons, nous nous traînons les pieds depuis maintenant le 4 décembre, quand nous avons présenté ce projet de loi, et je pourrais dire que c'est depuis le mois de mai que nous en parlons.
Nous avions certainement trouvé des inspecteurs compétents pour la position de la zone B, mais nous avons attendu tellement longtemps, on ne savait pas, « Est-ce que je vais avoir un emploi ou non ? » Une personne de haute compétence finalement s'est trouvé un emploi ailleurs.
Donc, aujourd'hui nous allons définitivement supporter ce projet de loi 170, qui est vraiment un outil de travail pour nos agriculteurs, mais une chose qui est très importante aussi, c'est que j'espère que les agriculteurs ou la Fédération des fermes laitières sont au courant de ce qui les attend.
Lorsque je regarde que dans ce projet de loi nous allons allouer 300 000 $ par année pour une période de quatre ans, est-ce que les gens ont déjà fait le calcul de jusqu'à quel point on va récompenser ou bien qu'on va remettre l'argent à la Fédération des fermes laitières ? Cela représente un salaire de seulement 18 750 $ par inspecteur, incluant toute dépense de déplacement. Qui allons-nous trouver pour 18 750 $ par année ? Je ne crois pas qu'on puisse en trouver.
Mais dans tous les projets de loi que nous avons passés ici en Chambre, il y avait toujours quelque point qui était caché. Le point caché que peux voir dans ce projet de loi, c'est les frais d'utilisateur. J'ai bien analysé le projet de loi et je peux dire qu'il y a un endroit qui m'inquiète beaucoup. C'est la partie 4(1)(b). La partie 4(1) dit,
«Un fonctionnaire ou un inspecteur itinérant de la Commission ou une personne qu'elle nomme pour examiner les livres, les dossiers, les documents, l'équipement et les locaux des personnes qui se livrent à la production, à la transformation ou à la commercialisation du lait ou de produits de lait peuvent, selon le cas...
«(b) obtenir, aux frais du propriétaire - aux frais de l'agriculteur - un échantillon de lait ou de produit du lait en vue d'en faire l'examen.»
Personne n'est égal à me répondre à date, qu'est-ce qu'on veut dire ? Quel est le montant que l'agriculteur va être obligé de débourser ? Parce que c'est clair : «obtenir, aux frais du propriétaire». On ne sait vraiment pas.
Dans ma circonscription actuellement, nous comptons 1239 fermes, mais des fermes laitières, j'en compte 474 dans Prescott et Russell et environ 108 dans le canton de Cumberland. Mais si je regarde pour l'inspecteur de la zone B, il aura une responsabilité de faire les inspections du lait pour environ 700 fermes laitières. Je ne sais pas ou nous allons avoir un inspecteur à un salaire de 18 750 $ par année, incluant toutes les dépenses de déplacement. Qu'est-ce qui va arriver ? Je ne sais pas.
Nous avons dans Prescott et Russell, comme j'ai dit, un montant d'au-delà de 700 fermes laitières qui embauchent 588 personnes par année pour un montant de vente de 150 $ millions annuellement, ce qui veut dire que c'est très, très important que le gouvernement passe le plus tôt possible ce projet de loi parce que c'est un projet de loi dont la profession est une des plus importantes dans cette province. Dans Prescott et Russell seulement, incluant Cumberland, et si j'inclus maintenant Glengarry, qui va faire partie de la circonscription de Prescott et Russell aux prochaines élections, nous allons compter au-delà de 900 fermes laitières. Dans notre circonscription, on a même une ferme qui a 3500 âcres. Donc, ce ne sont pas de petits montants d'argent qu'on joue avec.
Lorsqu'on regarde les autres inspecteurs, ils ont tous été appointés, mais espérons qu'ils vont être là pour le temps que nous allons passer la troisième lecture. Nous ne voulons pas retarder cette lecture. Nous aurions voulu que cette troisième lecture soit passée avant la présentation du projet de loi, qui était le 4 décembre dernier.
C'est ici la première partie, frais d'utilisateur. Lorsque nous regardons les pertes de revenus que les municipalités vont avoir depuis l'annonce du mega-week, l'annonce du 13 janvier 1997, en Ontario, les municipalités vont perdre 91 $ millions de revenus. Il est vrai que nous avons le fonds de transition, que l'on appelle, mais où allons-nous aller chercher ces montants ? Dans Prescott et Russell, nous allons perdre des revenus de 1,4 $ millions. Les agriculteurs, ne soyez pas trop enchantés du 300 000 $ à la date qu'on mentionne que nous allons voir : 300 000 piastres pour toute la province, pour 16 inspecteurs, c'est des «peanuts», parce que les municipalités auront certainement, à partir du 1er janvier, les outils nécessaires pour aller récupérer ces montants d'argent qu'on a déjà perdus. La province a un budget de 54 $ milliards par année. Le budget de l'agriculture est seulement de 420 $ millions. Depuis deux ans, nous avons perdu dans le budget de l'agriculture 12 %, ce qui veut dire dans le total, la partie de l'enveloppe totale du budget de la province, le budget de l'agriculture ne représente que 0,5 %.
Donc, il ne faut pas se leurrer. Il ne faut pas dire que les agriculteurs sont gâtés, qu'ils reçoivent plus qu'ailleurs, parce que, encore une fois, ce sont eux, les agriculteurs, qui nous donnent la nourriture que nous mangeons tous les jours. Sans eux, il serait impossible de vivre.
Mon ami de Yorkview a dit tout à l'heure qu'il avait eu une expérience - il est natif d'une ferme en Italie - mais il a vécu ce que nous avons vécu, que nos parents ont vécu. Il a dû faire la traite manuellement dans ce temps-là, à l'ancienne, la coupure du blé et du foin avec la faux, mais il a vraiment passé par les temps durs. Donc, il sait aujourd'hui, lorsqu'un agriculteur parle des temps durs qu'on doit passer de temps à autre, que c'est très difficile. Les dépenses capitales seulement pour le comté de Prescott et Russell, la circonscription, s'élèvent à tout près de un milliard de dollars. Donc, c'est vraiment tout une industrie lorsqu'on regarde 588 employés, excluant les propriétaires de fermes qui doivent s'occuper de l'agriculture eux-mêmes. Donc, c'est toute une industrie pour Prescott et Russell et, je dirais, pour la province. On ne l'appelle pas peut-être numéro un, mais définitivement l'agriculture devrait être classée l'industrie numéro un en Ontario.
Je crois que j'ai couvert la partie que je voulais couvrir. Espérons que l'inspecteur qui sera choisi pour la zone B sera bilingue, parce que lorsqu'on regarde aujourd'hui, nous allons encore peut-être revenir avec la Loi 108. Nous voulons complètement, graduellement partir des parties de la Loi 8 qui donnent des pouvoirs aux francophones en Ontario.
Encore une fois, cette partie-là, je crois que le ministre de l'Agriculture, de l'Alimentation et des Affaires rurales, qui est aussi responsable des Affaires francophones, va prendre ce point en considération en s'assurant que les inspecteurs appointés dans la région de l'est, aussi bien que dans le nord de l'Ontario, puissent vraiment s'exprimer dans les deux langues officielles ici-même en Ontario aussi bien qu'au Canada.
Je dois terminer sur cette note en disant joyeux Noël à tous et bonne et heureuse année à tous les membres de cette Assemblée législative et à leur famille.
The Deputy Speaker: Further debate? The member for Yorkview. Well, no: questions and comments.
The Deputy Speaker: Stop the clock a minute until I clarify what's happening. I wasn't in the chair. The Liberals had shared the debate time. Are we now into questions and comments? Okay. Questions and comments; the member for Yorkview.
Mr Sergio: I have to compliment the members for Essex-Kent and Prescott and Russell. I am sure the minister was listening very carefully -
Mr Sergio: En français, certainment - to the voice of experience, the voice of knowledge as to the life of farmers and dairy farmers in general.
I would hope that some of the members' comments addressing the issue would find some place on the side of the government. They pointed out to the government and to the minister the effect the cuts are bringing about, especially to the small farmers.
Interjection: Eighty-one million dollars.
Mr Sergio: Not only the $81 million and the $300 million that have been affecting the program, but we have to take into consideration - and I'm sure the minister knows it very well. Knowing how well respected he is in the farming community, he must be taking hard the concerns of the farmers, especially the small farmers.
Now, with all the pressure brought upon them with respect to the quality of inspections, quality of inspectors themselves - many small municipalities don't have qualified inspectors to do exactly that on a regular, consistent basis. The minister must be seriously concerned that the milk and all the other dairy products and everything else that comes from our farmers is of the highest quality, that it is kept in that particular consistency, not only for our own local use but also to maintain the standards throughout Ontario and throughout the farming community.
Again I congratulate the members for Essex-Kent and Prescott and Russell.
The Deputy Speaker: Further questions and comments? The member can sum up.
Mr Hoy: I appreciate the comments from the member for Yorkview. We will of course, as I mentioned, support Bill 170. I gave my reasons and the fact that the dairy farmers are all ready to move on January 1. It's unfortunate that this legislation had to be put in place at this late date during an extended House sitting that the government had to put in place for this week to deal with its government business.
Their handling of the agricultural agenda has been very lax. Bill 146 was just dealt with last night and will go to committee. I know that the Dairy Farmers of Ontario were here last week one evening to hear this bill debated in the House, and the government didn't bring it forth. Seven months have passed from the time an agreement in principle was made to bringing it here to this House.
I want to inform members about the fine dairy farms we have in Essex-Kent. We don't have a great presence of dairy. There's been a change in the way people farm in Essex-Kent. We only have nine producers in Kent county and only 28 in Essex, but I want to tell you, they are among the finest, as are all those other dairy farmers throughout Ontario, those 7,500 or so who work here in Ontario.
The dairy farm that I can see from my home just down the road is an immaculate place. If there was an award - maybe the new municipality of Chatham-Kent would like to give the Jansen family an award for what is the most immaculate-looking livestock dairy farm I've seen.
The Deputy Speaker: Further debate?
Mr Wildman: I rise to intervene briefly in the debate on third reading on Bill 170 to say that our caucus is in support of this legislation. We have some concerns about the process, but we are prepared to facilitate the passage of the bill this afternoon.
I would point out that we are in an extended session of the House. According to the normal calendar of the Legislature, the House should have adjourned last Thursday, but here we are, seven days later, debating a bill that was only recently brought forward for second reading by the minister, despite the fact that this was announced some time ago and there have been discussions with the Dairy Farmers of Ontario for some time about the transfer of the inspection responsibilities.
I don't understand why the government waits so long to introduce pieces of legislation, particularly as they relate to the agricultural community. You would think if the government put this as a high priority it would have introduced this bill a long time ago and would have been able to pass it.
We had the rather interesting situation where the minister, in his lead-off remarks on third reading, acted as if somehow members of the opposition, and in particular members of our caucus, were in opposition to this legislation. He makes it rather difficult to support him at times. The minister got up and criticized our caucus for actions taken by our government when we were in government, by saying that we had cut the number of milk inspectors and therefore we were subject to criticism. As other members have pointed out, it's a bit much for the minister to be criticizing the former New Democratic Party government for cutting the number of inspectors when he's getting out of the business altogether.
Talk about having it both ways. On the one hand he says, "The previous government cut the number of inspectors so that's a bad thing, but I'm getting rid of all of the government inspectors and that's a good thing." It's a little bit much. The fact is that we are negotiating an agreement with the Dairy Farmers of Ontario which will make it possible for them to carry out, on a contract, the inspection of raw milk and to ensure the good quality of the product so that we can ensure that their needs are met while at the same time the marketability of a very important product in our economy is maintained and enhanced.
As I understand it, there are approximately 12 inspectors now. About five or six of those will actually be hired by the Dairy Farmers of Ontario and the others, as I understand it, will be offered other positions within the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs. That means there will be a transfer of expertise in this contract, and that's a good thing.
I also understand that the Dairy Farmers of Ontario, in their contract, will actually increase the number of inspectors in total, up to 15, which is a good thing, and I support that.
I also understand that the ministry is going to provide $300,000 for four years to help the Dairy Farmers of Ontario get the contract up and running and ensure they have the infrastructure required to meet their obligations and to protect the quality of milk in Ontario. That's a good thing.
I am a little worried, though, about what happens after four years. I know that farmers have paid a fee and will be paying fees, but what will happen? Will the fees go up substantially after the provincial government funding is cut or no longer is there? Will it be extended? I somehow doubt it if this government remains in power.
The other thing I'm particularly worried about is that after the term of this contract is completed, will this then be up for tender and for bid to anybody, not just the Dairy Farmers of Ontario but also perhaps private contractors who might like to get involved in the contract? If we do that, how can we ensure that good services are maintained? How can we ensure that the good wages are maintained, the expertise is not lost and that people's jobs are protected, as well as ensuring that good, proper inspections occur?
I hope that the minister and the ministry will be able to answer those questions that were put at second reading, I think, by my leader so that we can rest assured that the quality of raw milk going to the dairies from the Dairy Farmers of Ontario will remain the high quality it is now, for which it is renowned, and to ensure that the market will be protected.
I support the legislation. My caucus supports it. We regret that the government took so long to bring this matter before the House. I'm happy to say that all three parties and all three House leaders have cooperated to ensure that this matter is debated before the session is ended. Those members of the House who understand the process around here will understand that that took some compromise on all parts.
The Deputy Speaker: Questions and comments? Further debate?
Mr Villeneuve has moved third reading of Bill 170. Is it the pleasure of the House that the motion carry? Carried.
Resolved that the bill do now pass and be entitled as in the motion.
House in committee of the whole.
STREAMLINING OF ADMINISTRATION OF PROVINCIAL OFFENCES ACT, 1997 / LOI DE 1997 SIMPLIFIANT L'ADMINISTRATION EN CE QUI A TRAIT AUX INFRACTIONS PROVINCIALES
Consideration of Bill 108, An Act to deal with the prosecution of certain provincial offences, to reduce duplication and to streamline administration / Projet de loi 108, Loi traitant des poursuites concernant certaines infractions provinciales, réduisant le double emploi et simplifiant l'administration.
Hon Norman W. Sterling (Minister of the Environment, Government House Leader): Madam Chair, as you know, this bill had considerable debate in committee of the whole House two evenings ago for approximately two and a quarter hours on one amendment to section 1. The same amendment was put forward in the standing committee before the bill arrived in the House for committee of the whole House. I therefore move that the question now be put on this amendment.
The Chair (Ms Marilyn Churley): I don't find that there has been enough time on this amendment yet, so we shall proceed. Minister, you have the floor.
Hon Mr Sterling: Madam Chair, I did not understand that the option was there with regard to a motion within committee to make that determination. However, I guess that's the way it is. Therefore, Madam Chair, if we're not able to move on with this particular matter and there is an indication by the other parties that they would prefer to continue to drag this on and not be able to get this passed this day - that is my understanding - I move that the committee rise and report progress and beg leave to report again.
The Chair: Shall the motion carry? Carried.
I do now leave the committee chair, and the House will resume.
The Deputy Speaker (Ms Marilyn Churley): The committee of the whole House begs to report progress and asks for leave to sit again. Shall the report be received and adopted? Agreed? Agreed.
SUPPLY ACT, 1997 / LOI DE CRÉDITS DE 1997
Mr Sterling, on behalf of Mr Eves, moved third reading of the following bill:
Bill 175, An Act to authorize the payment of certain amounts for the Public Service for the fiscal year ending on March 31, 1998 / Projet de loi 175, Loi autorisant le paiement de certaines sommes destinées à la fonction publique pour l'exercice se terminant le 31 mars 1998.
Hon Norman W. Sterling (Minister of the Environment, Government House Leader): As you know, this an act to authorize payment of amounts which are required by us as a government for salaries, for things that are purchased by the government. It is a fairly straightforward bill which is introduced each year and is necessary under our parliamentary procedure to gain the approval of the Legislature in the form of legislation.
I hope all members will support this bill so the government can function in an orderly manner and pay the debts it has incurred, both to people who supply goods and services to the government, but also to its employees.
The Deputy Speaker (Ms Marilyn Churley): Further debate?
Mr Gerry Phillips (Scarborough-Agincourt): Madam Speaker, it is our intention to wrap up debate on this bill, and we would split the time between our party and the NDP. We will undertake to finish at 5:15, which I think is 20 minutes; furthermore, we will be splitting the time. With that, I will try to move very quickly into what I wanted to cover so I leave some time for my colleagues.
The Deputy Speaker: Is there consent to split the time? Agreed.
Mr Phillips: Just to put everyone's mind at ease, of course the government will get supply. It's important, obviously, that we give the authority to manage our bills.
While the government may feel that the tough sledding is behind them, I will just say that in my opinion the easy stuff has been done by the government. As difficult as that may be for some of the members opposite to believe, it is always easy to tear things down, and the government has essentially dismantled most of our major institutions of the province, by their own admission. The education system is fundamentally changed. The members shake their heads, but it's fundamentally changed. Mike Harris is now in complete control. There's no question of that. On Monday, the government will set the budgets for all the school boards. There is no question that Mike Harris now is in total control of the education system. He will now be held accountable for his promise for smaller classes and improved quality. He and he alone has done that.
Mr Tom Froese (St Catharines-Brock): Finally.
Mr Phillips: Yes. He wants that; he's got that. Now the tough part begins for him. He wanted to dump costs on to the property taxes. Nobody thinks it's right to put social housing and social assistance on the property tax - nobody. It is fundamentally wrong. Ontario will rue the day that happened.
On December 23, almost exactly a year ago, Dave Crombie wrote a desperate letter to Al Leach. Dave Crombie held an emergency meeting of the Who Does What group, handpicked, by the way, by Mike Harris. Mike Harris personally selected those 14 people. Dave Crombie, when he heard there was a plan afoot to put social housing and social assistance on property tax, called that group together in an emergency meeting, and on December 23 sent a letter to Al Leach saying: "We are strongly opposed to it. We are unanimous in the view that it's wrong." I remember it like it was yesterday, because Al Leach let Dave Crombie have a press conference on December 30, the day before New Year's, at 3:30 in the afternoon, to try and hide from the public that the government's own panel, selected to advise them, was advising them desperately, "Don't do," what the government proceeded to do.
We finally saw, a week ago, on Friday, the results of it all: over $500 million of new cost loaded on to the property taxpayer. I remember that Al Leach just a few months ago said, and I assume he still says it, "I expect property taxes in the province to go down 5% to 10%." He's in a different world if he doesn't understand that the cities and the towns across this province have been going through years and years and years of restraint. I find it almost laughable that Al Leach said: "All they've got to do is simply cut $500 million out. That's all we're asking them to do." Then he goes on with the most insulting thing: "And if they can't do that, they should go and get another job."
Well, get real. Our mayors and our councillors have not been wasting money. Every one of them have pored over their budgets for years, line by line. But Al Leach said, just with the stroke of a pen, "No, they can find $500 million." Then he goes on to insult them by saying if they can't do that, they should go out and get another job. Finally, the government came clean last Friday. They admitted it was at least $500 million - and by the way, two years from now another $75 million gets added on, so it's close to $600 million of new costs.
That's the second thing Mike Harris is going to be held accountable for. He said property taxes would go down and services up. Our mayors and our reeves and our wardens across this province are incredulous. They do not understand where this government's coming from.
The third area I wanted to talk briefly about is the new property tax system. You don't have to rely on my comments. The clerks and treasurers across the province of Ontario, our most senior municipal civil servants, have been sending the government desperate letters saying, "The property tax system is a mess." They use very strong language in their comments. As respected bureaucrats they choose their language carefully, but they couldn't be stronger in sending our warnings. They say: "The new system will be immensely complicated." "Implementation on January 1, 1998, is a high-risk strategy for the financial health of the municipal sector." "This will create serious problems." "This is a recipe for administrative chaos." "This is downloading the government's confusion and indecision to the municipalities."
The government has simply refused to listen, and I say it will only be a matter of days before you begin to see the impact of this.
The elimination of the business occupancy tax is going to benefit large business and it's going to hurt small business. There's no question of that. In the next few days, Mike Harris is going to announce a tax rate. Mike Harris now sets, for our businesses, over half of their property taxes. It's no longer done locally; it is Mike Harris who will set in the next few days over half of all our businesses' property taxes. Where will he do it? He'll do it behind closed doors with no debate. None of our businesses will have any input.
I think something's gone wrong here. I happen to think that the government announced a single, uniform mill rate on residences and now have boxed themselves in. They can't move now. They have only one choice, and that is that across this province there are going to be dramatic differences in the educational tax rate paid by our businesses. You'll have a business on one side of the street paying a dramatically different tax rate than a business on the other side of it. In spite of the fact that Mike Harris sets the rates, Mike Harris now controls it, Mike Harris said that no matter where you live you'll pay the same rate, now it looks like no matter where your business is you'll pay a completely different rate.
Again I'm on the theme that the hard work now begins for Mike Harris. In my opinion and in the opinion, perhaps more importantly, of our senior bureaucrats, the property tax system is a mess.
I wanted to talk briefly about jobs. We get into a constant debate in here around the job front, what numbers are right and what numbers are wrong. Let me take the government's document; this comes straight from the Minister of Finance. Mike Harris was elected in June 1995. There were 499,000 people at that time out of work. Today, there are 502,000 people out of work. Almost halfway through the Mike Harris regime, more people in Ontario are out of work than the day he became Premier. The document goes on to show, and this is one of the real tragedies in these numbers, a 17% unemployment rate among our young people so far in 1997; almost completely through the year, 17%.
As I wrap up my comments on the government's bill to secure the financing to pay its bills, I just want to say that personally I am very worried about the future of our province. I live in the new city of Toronto and I'm particularly worried about the new city of Toronto. I think Mike Harris is killing the new city of Toronto. Unfortunately, when they announce the funding for education, when we see that our business taxes are still on our businesses for education, when we see the $163 million download and we see all the challenges of the new city, I think we have strangled the new city.
"Despair" is perhaps too strong a word, but he's torn apart the education system, our municipal structures, our health care system, our property tax system, and now, in my opinion, the plans to put them back together again are fatally flawed.
Mr Alvin Curling (Scarborough North): I have just been given the privilege of speaking on this, which is important to us, especially my area.
What does the government want? The government wants the tools to do its job, I heard the government needs this money to pay the bills. It's a good idea. It's important. But this government has deprived many other people of the money to pay their bills, and they should remember this.
Let me tell you about the bills to be paid by other people this government has deprived. They deprived 22% of the income of the most vulnerable people in our society when they came into office, so they will be unable to pay their bills. For those receiving support in their welfare cheques it's a reduction of 22%. They can't pay their rent, they can't buy food, they're unable even to afford transportation. They need their money to pay their bills.
Let me tell you about some others. They eliminated rent control, therefore making prisoners of tenants in their own accommodation, because when they move they'll be paying more. They deprived them of their money to pay their bills.
When they're asking for money, let's consider others too: the students, who will see this government increasing tuition fees to 40% by the time they're through with them, and not only that, but also giving permission to the colleges and universities to increase activity fees, depriving them of the ability to pay their bills. The government need their money to pay its bills.
I'm just wondering if they understand the burden and hardship they place on those people. The government needs their money to pay its bills.
Look at the downloading and the cost they are putting on municipalities, not only $163 million but putting again another $150 million they'll have to find, saying to them to pay their bills now. How would they like that, to be told now that you have far less to pay your bills?
We know the burden and all the upset you have put to the other people in our society, the police and the fire, through the disruption they have done, who are finding it more difficult to pay their bills.
They come at the last day, at the last moment, and ask us to give them that support, which we will. We will give them the support in order to pay the civil servants and those who are carrying out their work.
They've upset this whole province. As they go out this Christmas and say Merry Christmas to people, there are people who aren't feeling merry about that. They're not feeling one bit merry about the hardship this government has placed on people in society. It's Merry Christmas, when the minister previously said, when they said they could not afford their rent, to go out and buy tuna. That's Merry Christmas to many of those who have said to us that times are more difficult. The people will not forget what hardship this government has placed on the people of this province.
Mr Jean-Marc Lalonde (Prescott and Russell): Just before we approve this bill, I thought of coming up with some comments. This government is dumping everything on the Ontario taxpayer, especially when we look at the downloading. Even though we had an announcement on a community reinvestment fund last week, Prescott and Russell is going to be hit hard. The shortfall will be over $24 million.
Why am I saying that? I don't think the Minister of Finance is fair with the people. We lost the municipal support grant. Even though it was announced in 1995, it will happen in 1998. We have to add up another 6% of cutting that the municipality will have to do. At the present time, they made up the figure of 1.7% of spending cuts that we have to do, but the figure we are going to be short by is $24,465,000. It's easy to play with those figures at the present time.
I look at the transition fund. In the year 2000, the people are going to be looking at probably a 20%, 25% tax increase, so the government has to take that into the calculation, even though they are saying it's only a 1.7% tax increase. It is not true. I've always said those figures are only figures that were put on paper. We never took time to do the research and see how much extra it is going to cost the taxpayers of this province.
Mr Mike Colle (Oakwood): I know the government likes to pat itself on the back and say what a perfect job it's doing. Certainly in my riding it's not doing a very perfect job. This government has closed our hospital - Northwestern hospital on Keele Street, a new hospital built 25 years ago. It's been shut: no emergency, no beds open, totally shut. On top of that, Branson Hospital now has no emergency service at night.
This is what this government has done with its indiscriminate, reckless cutting. Sure, the tax cut is a great reward to their friends, but ordinary people now are without hospital care. Home care: You can't get home care - backed up, not available. Jobs: There are as many young people out of work today as there were last year and the year before. They're doing nothing about jobs, especially for the young. There are more people searching for opportunities to go to university. Now they're going to raise tuition fees by 20%.
This is the legacy of this government's lack of foresight, lack of vision. They are stuck in the age of the 1920s, the Hoover approach to economics. It's Hooverism at its worst. They are Neanderthal in their attitude towards the new economy. They won't do anything different. All they want to do is cut. All they want to do is get rid of people who want an opportunity. Look what they're doing to education. Anywhere from 4,000 to 7,000 teachers are going to lose their jobs because this government thinks that education is just another line item on a budget. Young people are going to suffer even more as teachers are taken out of the classroom, but they will still be able to reward their friends with that mammoth tax cut.
Then the property taxpayers all across Ontario got dumped on this week by another $500 million-plus, none worse than the taxpayers of Metropolitan Toronto, where this government broke its promise about making it revenue-neutral. We've heard this government say "revenue-neutral" so many times. Now they're saying: "You're going to have to borrow, you're going to have to go into debt. We didn't really mean revenue-neutral. We mean another $200 million, another $100 million, another $5 million." So mayors and councillors and property taxpayers in every city in Ontario are concerned about the downloading, because what this government has done, very shrewdly, is that it's passed its responsibilities down to property taxpayers.
Then on top of that, half of the property tax is going to be set by Premier Harris. The Harris property tax will be done behind closed doors without debate. The taxpayers will never be able to question that tax rate that Mike Harris is going to impose. In fact, the minister is going to set the per pupil grants over the Christmas holidays when he hopes nobody is watching, because in Metro we know that this government is hell-bent on taking up to $1,500 per student away from the schools in Metro.
That's what this government is planning and that's why it doesn't have the fortitude to make the announcements while the House is in session. This government doesn't want the scrutiny, doesn't want to be questioned. This government basically has established an executive regime that feels the backroom whiz kids know it all and they just salute the backroom whiz kids. Therefore, the public or the members of the opposition have no room or no right to question the backroom whiz kids. That's why they're making these reckless mistakes. That's why we get six different sets of figures about downloading, because the whiz kids never had to pay a mortgage or raise a family, because the whiz kids live in ya-ya land and they don't understand the real needs of real Ontarians. So shame on the whiz kids, shame on Mike Harris, for following their orders.
The Deputy Speaker: Further debate?
Mr Howard Hampton (Rainy River): I'm very pleased to have an opportunity to take part in this. I want to begin my comments by referring to something which was in the Toronto Star today. This is the new Ontario. This is the Mike Harris Ontario. The headline is, "Churches Strive to Cover Slashed Social Services." Then the subtitle is, "Handling High Demand is Tough, Leaders Say." "Low Income People...Feel Abandoned by the Rest of Society." These are the headlines in the new Mike Harris Ontario. That's part of what I want to explore here.
I want to explore, for example, what's happening on the environmental front, what's happening on the natural resources front, what's happening with respect to children, what's happening with respect to long-term investments in education, what's happening in terms of other important community services, whether they're ambulance services or public health services, whatever.
This headline says a lot of it. I think you could duplicate this headline in five or six different areas: Churches are being asked to fill the role of looking after people that this government has abandoned. I just want to read the first paragraph of this:
"The slashing of social services by the province is forcing churches to take up the slack, and they're ill-equipped to do so, say church leaders.
"`There is no way we alone can make up for the government cuts,'" said Bishop Henry of Thunder Bay, chair of social affairs with the Ontario Conference of Catholic Bishops." That's his comment on what's happening.
The Harris Conservative government wants to say to everyone that they have dealt with the deficit. That's the line they want to take, that they have dealt with the deficit. Unfortunately, they only talk about one deficit, a financial deficit. Yes, it's true that over the last three and a half years some headway has been made on dealing with the financial deficit. It's true that if the North American economy continues to grow, particularly if the American economy continues to boom, we'll have continuing opportunities to reduce the deficit here. If the federal government is intelligent about it and finds a way to keep interest costs low such that there is investment in housing and investment in the more expensive consumer goods, we'll continue to have extra tax revenue from that.
I want to talk about the deficits this government is creating. What Bishop Henry and the church leaders are referring to is a social deficit that is being created, a deficit whereby this government is literally writing off the lives and the opportunity and the future of not just thousands but literally hundreds of thousands of people in this province. In a city like Toronto you can see those people if you walk on any of the streets, people who have literally been forced out on the street to try to survive there. They are the homeless; they are the people who have to go to food banks to find food; they are the people who have to try to find a bed in a hostel in order to at least once in a while have a bed to sleep in. These are not just adults. In many cases these are children. Children are among the hundreds of thousands who are literally being written off by this government.
I want to talk a bit about the health care deficit that we're starting to see, because there is truly a health care deficit. You can see it in a number of places. You can see it in terms of people who need an acute-care bed but can't get one. You can see that health care deficit in terms of people who are struggling to find a long-term-care bed and can't get one. Or you can see it in terms of people who have been told the service is no longer available in the hospital and you have to get the service through home care; they go to home care, or what the government calls continuing care access centres, and they're told: "We can provide you with four hours of nursing, but beyond that you'll have to hire a private nurse. You'll have to do it privately."
I would say to the government that in a lot of communities that deficit is going to become very evident in the next short while. The extent to which you are privatizing health care by the back door in this province is going to become very evident.
What does it mean in the longer term? Let's look at home care and let's look at long-term care. If people aren't able to get those home care services, if they don't have the wallet to go out and buy them privately, inevitably they end up in an acute care bed, where the cost to the system is $700 a day or more. The system becomes unbalanced and you start to create real deficits there, deficits in terms of people who can't get the care they want or deficits in terms of expenditure made because the alternative services which are more appropriate aren't there.
The real danger, though, in terms of a health care deficit with this government comes principally with public health, because what you're doing by downloading public health on to municipalities is essentially saying that public health isn't important in this province any more; that prevention of illness, that prevention of disease, that wellness promotion and that health education are not a priority.
Any health economist will tell you over and over again that the least expensive, most efficient, optimum approach to health care is at the front end in terms of wellness promotion and disease prevention. But that's exactly what you're writing off and writing down.
What does it mean? What are the ingredients? One of the ingredients is, for example, clean water. It is part of your strategy to inevitably say to municipalities: "If you can't afford to run your water system any more because you don't have the revenue and you can't raise property taxes high enough, then sell it off. Sell it off to a private operator."
What has happened where that's been done before? Great Britain is a perfect example. In Great Britain, under Thatcher, water services were privatized. Today, clean water is the number one public health problem in Great Britain. The British Medical Association regularly writes to the government saying, "We've got to do something about the quality and the safety of drinking water in Great Britain because it's causing all kinds of illnesses, all kinds of disease that cost the health care system all kinds of money," but more than that, costs society in terms of lost production, in terms of not having a healthy workforce, with is the prerequisite of having a productive workforce.
To take it a bit further, if you're not going to invest the money at the front end in terms of health education, in terms of getting young people not to smoke, in terms of the proper approach to alcohol and drug education, those kinds of problems are going to multiply, and they are multiplying out there. They are going to cost, down the road, a lot more money and you're or future governments are going to be faced with the decision to either increase health care expenditures dramatically or privatize more chunks of the health care system, which is not going to solve it. It merely slows down the developing health care deficit.
I want to talk just a bit about the deficit on the environmental front that's starting to develop.
The government and the Minister of the Environment don't much like to talk about the Plastimet fire in Hamilton, and for good reason they don't want to talk much about it. The reality is, given the cuts, given what has happened to the Ministry of the Environment, what happened in Hamilton could essentially happen in any community in this province now. It could happen with a pulp and paper mill. It could happen with a chemical factory. It could happen with a tire factory. It could happen with a steel mill. It could happen with literally any of dozens of kinds of processing plants, because the reality is that there are not the inspectors out there any longer, there are not the monitoring officials out there any longer and there are not the enforcement officials out there any longer. As a government, what you've essentially said to industry is: "You police yourself. You monitor yourself."
Some companies will do that job. They will. They will say that in the interests of being well positioned for future developments in society and future developments in the marketplace, they will pay attention to those details. But other companies will not. Other companies will say: "Hey, there's an opportunity here to make some quick money on the bottom line. We're not going to worry about environmental safety. We're not going to worry about public health. We're not going to pay that much attention to whether the processes we are using meet or exceed standards."
What we saw in Hamilton with Plastimet could happen in literally any other community in this province, and it will happen. It's just a matter of time before we have another Plastimet situation in this province. You cannot cut the heart and soul out of the enforcement branch in the Ministry of the Environment, you cannot lay off the number of scientists and technologists who have been laid off, and continue to have society meet the environmental standards that are necessary in the kind of economy we now function in. You're creating an environmental deficit, a deficit that after you've created it is going to take a lot more money to clean up and to remedy the situation once you've let things dwindle down.
I want to talk just a bit further about another aspect of the environmental deficit. It has to do with how we look after our natural resources. Pick any natural resources office you want in this province. If you were to go to them, you would be very hard-pressed to find people in those offices who know what's happening out there in the forest. You'd be very hard-pressed to find biologists or to find forest technologists or wildlife technologists or fisheries technologists who have any idea what's happening out there. If you talk to them personally and ask them why, they'll tell you why. They'll be very direct about it. They'll simply say: "Look, there are too many jobs here and too few people. We simply can't keep track of this. We don't have enough time to get out in the field and do field inspections. We don't have the time to respond to all the requests that are made, so we spend our time now keeping our heads down and trying to cool out the most critical situations."
That's not the way to work in a modern natural resources environment. That's not the way to look after your forest resources, it's not the way to look after your wildlife resources, it's not the way to look after your fishery resources.
As a government, you say: "All of that's been handed over to the industry. The industry is doing that work now." I invite every member of the government to go out there and look at what's actually happening. You will find some companies that operate in the forest industry that have clearly looked down the road and have said to themselves: "We don't want to have any environmental crises on our hands. We don't want to have any environmental controversies on our hands." So they are companies that choose to invest in foresters, invest in the biologists, invest in the fisheries technologists, and they do a good job. I wish that were the case across the field, but it's not. Instead, what you have are other companies that again make the quick financial calculation and say to themselves, "Gee, if we cut corners on the forestry aspect, if we cut corners on the wildlife aspect, if we cut corners on the fisheries aspect, we can improve our bottom line. We can have a better bottom line. We'll take the risk."
The Deputy Speaker: Could I ask members of the House to come to order. The din is getting too loud in here. I'm having trouble hearing the leader of the third party.
Mr Hampton: What we saw happen at Plastimet in terms of a company that was clearly running outside the rules we're going to see over and over again in the natural resources sector too. We are going to see companies - they're already out there and MNR staff already know who they are - that are ignoring the rules, breaking the rules, and are taking the attitude, "We'll put up with the fine or we'll put up with the potential of an investigation and the potential of a charge because in the short term we can make more money doing it this way."
I simply make the point that after you've let all this run down, it's going to take a considerable effort and it's going to take some money to build up that natural resources deficit that is starting to occur out there.
In the last few minutes, though, I want to talk about children. I want to talk about the deficit that's being created with respect to children.
The irony of this government saying that they want to invest in education, want to invest in the future of children, when by the end of this fiscal year they will have cut $1.7 billion out of our schools, $1.7 billion, and very soon they will begin laying off teachers. It will start with about 4,000 and it will quickly jump to double that. The irony is that you've got a government that believes you can improve education by laying off teachers, a government that believes you can improve education by taking $1.7 billion out of the system. If this sounds a bit like doublespeak, if it sounds a bit, in Orwell's terms, like Newspeak, that's exactly what it is. It is a complete and utter contradiction. But that is in fact what your record is going to be.
What's going to happen out of this? I suspect that our schools are quickly going to look like schools in Edmonton. If you come from a wealthy neighbourhood or if you've got access to corporate cash, you'll be able to fund your schools by doing fund-raising and finding the extras. But if you come from a neighbourhood that's less than affluent with less than affluent families and you don't have access to corporate cash, then I think you're going to see schools that start to crack and schools that start to show the effects.
We are going to have very quickly not just two tiers of education, not just two tiers of investment in children, but I think it will start to be multi-tiered, and kids are going to suffer. Some kids are clearly not going to get the investment, are clearly not going to get the care, the attention that other kids will get. They're going to fall behind and it will be noticeable.
I want to take it a bit further in that discussion about children. It's not lost on people that there are more and more children turning up at food banks. It's not lost on people that there are more and more children on the lists of family and children's services. It is not lost on the public out there that there are more children living in poverty in this province today than ever before. While this government brags about its tax cut for the wealthy, there are more children living in poverty in this province than ever before, than ever in the past.
The government says, "We brought down the financial deficit a bit." I ask the question: Is it worth it in terms of the environmental deficit that's being created? Is it worth it in terms of the social deficit that's being created? Is it worth it in terms of the deficit for children? Is it worth it? I don't think it is.
But I also want people to add in the third element. The third element is the tax cut for the wealthiest people in this province. You're creating a social deficit, you're creating an environmental deficit, you're creating an education deficit, and most of all you're creating a deficit for children and why is it all happening? So you can give your $5-billion tax gift to the wealthiest people in this province.
Some people believe that you're going too far, too fast. I don't believe it's a case of too far, too fast. I believe you've simply made the wrong choices, absolutely the wrong choices. The challenge now is to show that they were the wrong choices.
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Mr Sterling moved third reading of Bill 175. Is it the pleasure of the house that the motion carry?
All those in favour, please say "aye."
All those opposed, please say "nay."
In my opinion, the ayes have it. I declare the motion carried.
Be it resolved that the bill do now pass and be entitled as in the motion.
Hon Margaret Marland (Minister without Portfolio [children's issues]): Mr Speaker, I have had the privilege of doing this every Christmas in this House for the last 12 years. It is something that means a great deal to all of us in terms of this season, the very atmosphere in the House, the fact that we're able to finally succeed in being together.
I would like to use this opportunity to thank those staff whom we don't have an opportunity to thank publicly, who serve us all year round. I particularly want to mention the table staff, our security staff, our translators, our Hansard, the people who look after us in the parking lot and our cleaning staff, the people who make this place run. Not that we take them for granted, but this is an opportunity to wish them season's greetings, and to express our appreciation on a personal basis to you, Mr Speaker, and all my colleagues in this House. I wish you all a healthy and happy new year.
Mr Dwight Duncan (Windsor-Walkerville): On a member's point of privilege, Mr Speaker: We too join in that. I'd like to inform the members of the government, however, that some of the Marriott employees from downstairs have been laid off this afternoon. Merry Christmas.
Mr Bud Wildman (Algoma): Point of privilege, Mr Speaker: We'd like to join with my friend from Mississauga South in her comments and say that the work we do around this place is dependent on people who work as cleaners, security staff, the staff who work with us in our offices, the clerks and all the people who work with the committees and so on. I'd just like to say that we wish them all very happy holidays, a safe and very merry Christmas and new year's and we look forward to seeing them again in 1998.
The Speaker: I'm sure they're very thankful for those comments made by the members.
Mr Tony Ruprecht (Parkdale): Point of privilege, Mr Speaker: I think not only should we join in thanking everyone, but there's one person we omitted: the Speaker himself. Mr Speaker, thank you very much.
The Speaker: You forgot me. I've never known the member for Parkdale to be so in order.
Hon Mr Sterling: Mr Speaker, I believe we have unanimous consent to call orders 73 to 76, inclusive, so they can be moved and debated concurrently.
The Speaker: Agreed? Agreed.
CITY OF BRAMPTON ACT, 1997
Mr Spina moved second reading of Bill Pr89, An Act respecting the City of Brampton.
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Is it the pleasure of the House that the motion carry? Carried.
Mr Spina moved third reading of Bill Pr89, An Act respecting the City of Brampton.
The Speaker: Is it the pleasure of the House that the motion carry? Carried.
Be it resolved that the bill do now pass and be entitled as in the motion.
LONDON COMMUNITY FOUNDATION ACT, 1997
Mr Bob Wood moved second reading of Bill Pr91, An Act respecting The London Community Foundation.
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Is it the pleasure of the House that the motion carry? Carried.
Mr Bob Wood moved third reading of Bill Pr91, An Act respecting The London Community Foundation.
The Speaker: Is it the pleasure of the House that the motion carry? Carried.
Be it resolved that the bill do now pass and be entitled as in the motion.
JAMAICAN CANADIAN ASSOCIATION ACT, 1997
Mr Sergio moved second reading of Bill Pr94, An Act respecting The Jamaican Canadian Association.
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Is it the pleasure of the House that the motion carry? Carried.
Mr Sergio moved third reading of Bill Pr94, An Act respecting the Jamaican Canadian Association.
The Speaker: Is it the pleasure of the House that the motion carry? Carried.
Be it resolved that the bill do now pass and be entitled as in the motion.
INSTITUTE FOR ADVANCED JUDAIC STUDIES ACT, 1997
Mr Caplan, on behalf of Mr Cordiano, moved second reading of Bill Pr95, An Act respecting Institute for Advanced Judaic Studies.
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Is it the pleasure of the House that the motion carry? Carried.
Mr Caplan, on behalf of Mr Cordiano, moved third reading of Bill Pr95, An Act respecting Institute for Advanced Judaic Studies.
The Speaker: Is it the pleasure of the House that the motion carry? Carried.
Be it resolved that the bill do now pass and be entitled as in the motion.
UNITED EMPIRE LOYALISTS' DAY ACT, 1997 / LOI DE 1997 SUR LE JOUR DES LOYALISTES DE L'EMPIRE-UNI
Mr Danford moved third reading of Bill 150, An Act proclaiming United Empire Loyalists' Day / Projet de loi 150, Loi proclamant le jour des Loyalistes de l'Empire-Uni.
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Is it the pleasure of the House that the motion carry? Carried.
Be it resolved that the bill do now pass and be entitled as in the motion.
STATUS OF BUSINESS
Hon Norman W. Sterling (Minister of the Environment, Government House Leader): I move that, notwithstanding the prorogation of the House,
(i) the following government bills: Bill 108, An Act to deal with the prosecution of certain provincial offences, to reduce duplication and to streamline administration; and Bill 146, An Act to Protect Farming and Food Production;
(ii) the following private members' public bills: Bill 166, An Act to protect Persons from Liability in respect of Voluntary Emergency Medical or First Aid Services; and Bill 145, An Act to provide protection against pedophiles by preventing them from working in direct contact with children;
remaining on the orders and notices paper at the prorogation of the first session of this Parliament be continued and placed on the orders and notices paper of the second sessional day of the second session of the 36th Parliament at the same stage of business for the House and its committees as at prorogation.
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Is it the pleasure of the House that the motion carry? Carried.
Hon Norman W. Sterling (Minister of the Environment, Government House Leader): I move that committees be authorized to release their reports during the recess between the first and second sessions of this Parliament by depositing a copy of any report with the Clerk of the assembly, and on the second sessional day of the second session of the 36th Parliament the Chairs of such committees shall bring any such reports before the House in accordance with the standing orders.
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Is it the pleasure of the House that the motion carry? Carried.
Hon Mr Sterling: I seek unanimous consent to move certain other motions with respect to prorogation of the House without notice.
The Speaker: Is it the pleasure of the House the motion carry? Carried.
Hon Norman W. Sterling (Minister of the Environment, Government House Leader): I move that the following committees be continued and authorized to meet during the recess between the first and second sessions of the 36th Parliament, in accordance with the schedule of meeting dates agreed to by the three party whips and tabled with the Clerk of the assembly, to examine and inquire into the following matters:
Standing committee on finance and economic affairs to consider the matters relating to pre-budget consultation;
Standing committee on public accounts to consider the reports of the Provincial Auditor;
Standing committee on resources development to consider Bill 146, An Act to protect Farming and Food Production;
Standing committee on government agencies to consider intended appointments; and
With the agreement of the whips of each recognized party, the time allotted for consideration by the committees may be amended.
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Is it the pleasure of the House the motion carry? Carried.
PRIVATE MEMBERS' PUBLIC BUSINESS
Hon Mr. Sterling (Minister of the Environment, Government House Leader): Under the unanimous consent I'll move this motion as well: that the order of precedence for private members' public business be continued in the second session of the 36th Parliament.
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Agreed? Agreed.
Hon Mr Sterling: I seek unanimous consent to go past 6 of the clock, if necessary, to complete the business of the day.
The Speaker: Agreed? Agreed.
Hon Norman W. Sterling (Minister of the Environment, Government House Leader): I seek unanimous consent for a representative from each of the parties to say a few words at the closing of this session.
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Do we have unanimous consent? Agreed.
Hon Michael D. Harris (Premier): I know a few have expressed best wishes on behalf of the parties, but I thought it was an opportunity for the leaders. I think we had discussed this among the House leaders in the parties.
It's been a long session, Mr Speaker. There is no politics in this speech save to thank you, sir, in your office. You've had a significant number of rulings and I think I have added to that legacy under British parliamentary democracy of rules by which we are all governed.
My congratulations and our thanks to the Clerk and the table officers, who've had a very busy session with a lot of committees and a lot of sitting days throughout this year, of this session as well; to all the pages throughout two and a half years, really, as we prorogue, but particularly 1997, and of course the current group of pages, who have informed me that they're disappointed that they finish up here tomorrow. They can't go to school for even one last day. I've had a chat with a number of them.
To all of those, from Hansard, who make this place function in spite of all of us elected folks, we offer our congratulations, and certainly to all the members and the families and our staffs season's greeting at this time of year. We look forward to seeing you all. We don't plan to follow Ralph Klein's model of how often the House sits. On the other hand, we're hoping we won't sit quite as many days next year as we did this year.
With that, which I think will be well received by all parties, season's greetings and best wishes in the new year.
Mr James J. Bradley (St Catharines): On behalf of the official opposition, the Liberal Party, I would like to convey to all members of the Legislature our very best wishes for the holiday season and for the new year and to express as well our thanks to all those who make this production possible.
I would particularly like to thank my staff in the television studio - sorry, our staff in the television studio - who make the production of this House possible, the table officers, everyone in this building.
Often the public see only those of us who are in the Legislature or read about those of us who are in the Legislature. They're not aware of the number of people who are significant to the operation of government and this Legislature, the many people who are staff, the many people who work in ministers' offices and individual members' offices and offices of special people in this building. We do want to thank them very much, including the pages, who throughout the year make a contribution, learn an awful lot about the Legislative Assembly. It's a wonderful experience for the pages to be with us and we do appreciate them.
There are even members of the news media we would want to wish the very best to as well at this time. I would like to convey on behalf of all members our affection for the members of the news media, who always provide very objective and comprehensive and outstanding journalism, whether they're in the print or electronic media.
So to all it is a message of goodwill. In regard to the Premier's suggestion the House would not sit as long, I'd be delighted, if he wishes, to have the House come back in early January to be present, as I'm sure all of us would.
To the Speaker: I would like particularly to take note of the fact that the Speaker has particularly done, on many occasions, an outstanding job and I have agreed with many of the rulings he has made. I promised earlier today, in return for getting on with a petition, that I would not mention all the rulings. I thank the Speaker very much, and all members of the House.
Mr Bud Wildman (Algoma): In addition to what I said earlier, I want to extend sincere good wishes to all members of the assembly for a happy holiday season, a happy Hanukkah, a merry Christmas and a happy new year.
This is a time for family and a time for reflection over the last year and looking forward to 1998. I hope that everyone gets a good rest and comes back ready for a good fight in the spring, the sooner the better.
I want to express, along with the thanks I expressed earlier to all who work to make this place operate, my appreciation to the media.
I want especially, though, to thank the cleaners who are going to have to pick up some paper in the near future, I think more paper than normal in this place.
I want to say, contrary to what I said earlier, Speaker, I do very much appreciate the work that you and your deputies do to ensure that we have some greater civility in this place than we might otherwise have had without your intervention from time to time. I wish that everyone has time to enjoy the holiday, enjoy family and friends. We look forward to seeing you back here in 1998.
The Speaker: Just quickly, speaking on behalf of the staff and the members of the Legislative Assembly, we want to wish every member in the House a merry Christmas. It's a very difficult period of time and I must say to each and every member I think you've handled yourselves very well. I've seen other Parliaments and the difficulties they've got in, and not one person did I see cross the floor in any physical rage. I think that's saying something, I must admit, considering the difficulties.
The Speaker: Selective amnesia is the term, actually.
I want to wish you all a merry Christmas.
ROYAL ASSENT SANCTION ROYALE
Hon Norman W. Sterling (Minister of the Environment, Government House Leader): Mr Speaker, Her Honour awaits.
Her Honour the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario entered the chamber of the Legislative Assembly and took her seat upon the throne.
Hon Hilary M. Weston (Lieutenant Governor): Pray be seated.
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): May it please Your Honour, the Legislative Assembly of the province has, at its present meetings thereof, passed certain bills to which, in the name of and on behalf of the said Legislative Assembly, I respectfully request Your Honour's assent.
Clerk Assistant (Ms Deborah Deller): The following are the titles of the bills to which Your Honour's assent is prayed:
Bill 63, An Act to simplify government processes and to improve efficiency in the Ministry of Citizenship, Culture and Recreation / Projet de loi 63, Loi visant à simplifier les processus gouvernementaux et à améliorer l'efficience au ministère des Affaires civiques, de la Culture et des Loisirs
Bill 64, An Act to simplify government processes and to improve efficiency in the Ministry of Consumer and Commercial Relations / Projet de loi 64, Loi visant à simplifier les processus gouvernementaux et à améliorer l'efficience au ministère de la Consommation et du Commerce
Bill 65, An Act to simplify government processes and to improve efficiency in the Ministry of Economic Development, Trade and Tourism / Projet de loi 65, Loi visant à simplifier les processus gouvernementaux et à améliorer l'efficience au ministère du Développement économique, du Commerce et du Tourisme
Bill 66, An Act to simplify government processes and to improve efficiency in the Ministry of Environment and Energy / Projet de loi 66, Loi visant à simplifier les processus gouvernementaux et à améliorer l'efficience au ministère de l'Environnement et de l'Énergie
Bill 68, An Act to simplify government processes and to improve efficiency in the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines / Projet de loi 68, Loi visant à simplifier les processus gouvernementaux et à améliorer l'efficience au ministère du Développement du Nord et des Mines
Bill 69, An Act to simplify government processes and to improve efficiency in the Ministry of the Solicitor General and the Ministry of Correctional Services / Projet de loi 69, Loi visant à simplifier les processus gouvernementaux et à améliorer l'efficience au ministère du Solliciteur général et au ministère des Services correctionnels
Bill 120, An Act to reduce red tape by amending the Mining Act / Projet de loi 120, Loi visant à réduire les formalités administratives en modifiant la Loi sur les mines
Bill 139, An Act to promote the conservation of fish and wildlife through the revision of the Game and Fish Act / Projet de loi 139, Loi visant à promouvoir la protection du poisson et de la faune en révisant la Loi sur la chasse et la pêche
Bill 150, An Act proclaiming United Empire Loyalists' Day / Projet de loi 150, Loi proclamant le jour des Loyalistes de l'Empire-Uni
Bill 164, An Act to implement job creation measures and other measures contained in the 1997 Budget and to make other amendments to statutes administered by the Ministry of Finance or relating to taxation matters / Projet de loi 164, Loi visant à mettre en oeuvre des mesures de création d'emplois et d'autres mesures mentionnées dans le budget de 1997 et à apporter d'autres modifications à des lois dont l'application relève du ministère des Finances ou qui traitent de questions fiscales
Bill 170, An Act to amend the Milk Act / Projet de loi 170, Loi modifiant la Loi sur le lait
Bill 172, An Act to amalgamate The Toronto Hospital and The Ontario Cancer Institute and to amend the Cancer Act / Projet de loi 172, Loi visant à fusionner l'Hôpital de Toronto et l'Institut ontarien du cancer et à modifier la Loi sur le cancer
Bill Pr89, An Act respecting the City of Brampton
Bill Pr91, An Act respecting The London Community Foundation
Bill Pr94, An Act respecting The Jamaican Canadian Association
Bill Pr95, An Act respecting Institute for Advanced Judaic Studies.
Clerk of the House (Mr Claude L. DesRosiers): In Her Majesty's name, the Honourable the Lieutenant Governor doth assent to these bills.
Au nom de Sa Majesté, l'honorable lieutenante-gouverneure sanctionne ces projets de loi.
The Speaker: May it please Your Honour, we, Her Majesty's most dutiful and faithful subjects, the Legislative Assembly of Ontario, in session assembled, approach Your Honour with sentiments of unfeigned devotion and loyalty to Her Majesty's person and government and humbly beg to present for Your Honour's acceptance a bill entitled An Act to authorize the payment of certain amounts for the Public Service for the fiscal year ending on March 31, 1998.
Clerk of the House: Her Honour the Lieutenant Governor doth thank Her Majesty's dutiful and loyal subjects, accept their benevolence and assent to this bill in Her Majesty's name.
Son Honneur la lieutenante-gouverneure remercie les beaux et loyaux sujets de Sa Majesté, accepte leur bienveillance et sanctionne ce projet de loi au nom de Sa Majesté.
Her Honour the Lieutenant Governor was pleased to deliver the following speech.
PROROGATION SPEECH DISCOURS DE PROROGATION
Hon Hilary M. Weston (Lieutenant Governor): Mr Speaker, members of the Legislative Assembly, ladies and gentlemen, two and one half years ago, my predecessor sat in this chair and delivered a speech which marked the beginning of a new Parliament and a new government for Ontarians.
At that time, the new government reaffirmed its commitment to the goals of the Common Sense Revolution: cutting taxes to create jobs; eliminating government waste; removing barriers to economic growth; doing better for less; and balancing the budget.
Today, Ontarians can look back with satisfaction on the hard work of everyone towards realizing those goals, as the province follows a plan for opportunity, growth, and job creation.
Ontario is indeed a much better place today. No longer is the status quo of high taxes and high deficits threatening the future prosperity of our province.
The government has delivered on its pledge to cut personal income tax rates.
Three reductions have been made so far, and the next is scheduled for January 1.
The government knew that by giving Ontarians more of their own money to spend, save, or invest, those dollars would create tens of thousands of jobs. And the people of Ontario have done just that.
L'économie de l'Ontario a procédé à la création de plus de 200 000 nouveaux emplois net dans le secteur privé au cours des neuf dernières mois seulement.
Those jobs have been created thanks to Ontarians who are buying things such as homes, cars, furniture and clothing.
The proof is in the numbers: housing starts are up 29% over 1996. Auto sales are up 18%. Department store sales are up nearly 12%, compared to one year ago.
But those extra dollars in Ontarians' pockets are only one component of the economic engine that Ontario has become once again. Another major component is the government's commitment to reduce barriers to economic growth, barriers that once stood in the way of new investment and job creation.
As promised, the employer health tax on payrolls is being reduced, and eliminated completely for small businesses and entrepreneurs, who are Ontario's main job creators. By 1999, the first $400,000 in payroll will be exempt from this job-killing tax.
Balance and stability have been restored to labour relations. An added benefit is that workers now have the right to a secret ballot when deciding whether they wish to be represented by a union in the workplace.
Legislation that imposed unfair and discriminatory job quotas has been repealed.
Hydro rates have been frozen.
One thousand, five hundred unnecessary government regulations are being eliminated, further reducing the burden of red tape on business.
Banks that invest in small businesses now receive a tax credit that offsets, at least in part, the increase in their capital taxes.
As promised, workers' compensation has been reformed. The new Workplace Safety and Insurance Board is focused on injury prevention and getting injured workers back to work safely and quickly.
Workers' compensation premiums will be cut by 5% effective January 1.
These reforms will ensure that help and support are still there for injured workers, while keeping a lid on premiums that would otherwise hurt job creation.
The government has also been getting its own house in order. Two and a half years ago, government was spending about 1.2 million more tax dollars each and every hour than it was taking in. The public debt was approaching $100 billion.
Not only does a burden of debt divert dollars from programs, it is a serious threat to our economy's ability to attract investment and, more importantly, to our children's future.
The immediate priority simply had to be to stop adding $11 billion annually to this mountain of debt. The government moved swiftly to get government spending under control. Internal government administration costs have been reduced by one third. The size of the civil service has been reduced.
Through prudent and cautious management, the government has reduced the provincial deficit, or negative cash flow, from over $11 billion to less than $6 billion. Obviously, much work is still required.
However, the government is on track to move into a positive cash flow position by the fiscal year 2000-2001 - exactly as it promised to do.
And just as the government has moved to guarantee the economic security of Ontario, it has recognized the right of all Ontarians to feel physically safe in their homes and on their streets.
The government has taken action in many ways, by bringing strict discipline for young offenders, tougher parole rules, and a Crime Control Commission that will let Ontarians take back their streets.
The government kept its promise to pass the country's most comprehensive Victims' Bill of Rights, to ensure that victims receive the support and respect they deserve.
At the same time as we are working to restore Ontarians' faith that government can and will live up to its promises, we are finding new ways to make the most of the hard-earned dollars Ontarians hand over to their government.
We began right here in this place. As promised, legislation has been passed that will reduce the number of seats in the Ontario Legislature from 130 to 103, for the next election.
To set the right leadership example, members' pay has been reduced 5%, and tax-free allowances and the gold-plated pension plan have been eliminated from June 8th, 1995, onward.
We have made difficult choices, choices that were necessary to protect Ontario's priorities, priorities like health care.
The government pledged to maintain health care funding at no less than $17.4 billion a year, and it has done so. In fact, this year, health care spending is at the highest level in the province's history.
Restructuring in health care is also well under way, restructuring that has enabled the government to reinvest more than $1.3 billion in services that directly benefit Ontarians closer to where they live.
Ontario is on course to a modern, comprehensive, integrated health care system.
L'Ontario tient également à concrétiser ses objectifs dans le secteur de l'éducation. Nous voulons que notre système scolaire atteigne le nombre de rendements le plus élevé de toutes les provinces canadiennes.
For many years, various commissions, studies, and many Ontarians have demanded education reform that allows our children to be among the highest achievers in Canada. That would put education dollars back into the classroom where they belong, and make the system more accountable to parents and taxpayers.
The government has responded to those concerns, by introducing improvements such as a standard report card, a clearer, tougher math and language curriculum for elementary students, and standardized testing.
A College of Teachers has been established to set and enforce rigorous standards for teachers.
To free up dollars that are needed in the classroom, the government has passed legislation to reduce the number of school boards from 129 to 72, reduce the number of trustees by almost two thirds, and cap trustee salaries.
To put a stop to spiralling class sizes, legislation has been passed that will cap average class sizes at 22 for secondary students and 25 for elementary students.
Secondary teachers will spend an extra 30 minutes each day teaching in the classroom.
Elementary students will get an extra week of instruction every year, secondary students an extra two weeks.
Where deemed appropriate by local school boards, experts will be allowed to complement our excellent teachers in the classroom. And more control will be going to parents, through a school council at each and every school.
Ontarians have long demanded that government take the necessary steps to turn around a system that has not been serving our children as well as it should into one that will better prepare them to seize the opportunities that await them in the future. This government is acting on those demands.
Municipal reform is another call that had gone unanswered for many years. The relationship - or should I say the many relationships - between the provincial government and municipalities had been too complicated, too confusing and too costly for too many years.
Thanks to the Who Does What exercise, overlap and duplication between the two levels of government have been reduced, allowing for more effective and better services by both the municipal and provincial levels of government, and the ability to do so at less cost.
Welfare was another area calling out for change. In June of 1995, one in 10 Ontarians was trapped in a dead end on welfare. Thanks to the government's reforms, more than a quarter of a million people have broken out of the welfare trap in the last two and a half years.
For those who remain in the system, work for welfare is providing new purpose and hope. The program is spreading across the province, with over 126,000 people participating in workfare projects in over 50 communities.
While they look for permanent employment, those 126,000 citizens are building up their personal work experience and helping their communities.
At the same time that the government ensures that a permanent foundation for jobs and prosperity is in place for our children tomorrow, it continues -to work to improve their comfort today.
Innovative ideas like the Ontario Breakfast for Learning program are improving children's chances for success at school.
Healthy Babies, Healthy Children helps identify children at risk and provides them with needed community supports.
The preschool speech and language services for children program has doubled the number of children getting help with speech and language disorders.
And a minister without portfolio for children's issues has been appointed, guaranteeing our young people a strong voice as Ontario prepares for the future.
In September 1995, the government set out an ambitious agenda for reform.
Questions and suggestions have been met with an open door and an invitation to discuss any and all reasonable, workable, alternative means to arrive at the same, shared goals.
The government committed in the Common Sense Revolution to remain open to discussion about how to reach its goals. That openness and willingness to listen will continue as the government continues to implement and manage the changes it pledged to make.
Again I look back to my predecessor's speech of September 1995, at which time he said, "Your government is doing what it said it would do, and it will continue."
Il s'agit là d'un engagement que le gouvernement réitère tous les jours à tous les Ontariens et Ontariennes. Cet engagement s'exprime toujours avec les mêmes mots : «mais l'Ontario d'aujourd'hui a accompli beaucoup de progrès.»
Ontarians are going back to work, they have more to spend, they can rely on schools to educate them, doctors to care for them and police to protect them. And, for the first time in many years, they can look forward to a brighter future. The real heroes over the past two and a half years have been ordinary Ontarians who have worked so hard, day in and day out, to put Ontario back on the road to prosperity.
People like Peggy DeGraw of Blenheim, whose workfare experience has seen her working as a tutor helping adult students learn to read and write. She says, "I don't think there are a lot of programs out there that help people the way this one does."
People like Gerry McElroy of Oakville, who said, "It seems to me that a government `living within its means' and still providing quality service is doing the right thing."
People like Amir Bem of MPX Data Systems, who said: "My company is growing and I am hiring more people. I would not have done so if I lived in a place where the government continued to spend my children's money into oblivion."
Ontario has come a long way over the past two and a half years - from the verge of bankruptcy under the former governments to leading Canada in jobs and opportunity.
As the province sets out on the next part of that journey to a brighter future, it is clear that challenges await.
But the journey begins with much better preparation to meet those challenges than Ontario had just two and half years ago.
Our energy is restored, our burden is lighter, the wind is at our back, and the road rises to meet us.
The government wishes to thank all members of all parties in this, the 36th Parliament, for their cooperation, advice, and commitment to a better Ontario.
The government also wishes to thank all of its partners - municipalities, school boards, agencies and commissions, hospitals and colleges and universities - for their commitment and support for a better Ontario.
Many individuals have also made contributions to assist the government in working more effectively and efficiently. For all of this help and goodwill, the government is truly appreciative.
Je tiens à exprimer mes meilleurs voeux à tous les membres de l'Assemblée législative et à leur famille à l'occasion des fêtes. Puisse la nouvelle année vous apporter la santé et le bonheur.
In our sovereign's name, I thank you.
Je déclare cette session prorogée.
I now declare this session prorogued.
Her Honour was then pleased to retire.
The House prorogued at 1823.