L015a - Tue 26 May 1998 / Mar 26 Mai 1998 1
The House met at 1330.
Mr Michael Gravelle (Port Arthur): I've spoken many times in this Legislature about the health care needs in my community of Thunder Bay in northwestern Ontario. I've called on the minister to recognize that there is a mental health care crisis in our part of the province and asked her to take action. I've expressed grave concerns about the loss of acute care beds in our community and the need for the minister to provide adequate funding so that no more beds are lost.
Today I feel compelled to plead with the minister to deal with the long-term-care needs in our district, needs that are not being remotely met by her recent announcement of long-term-care funding. Specifically, the minister has allocated an additional 195 beds for our entire district over the next eight years. The fact that this number is woefully inadequate cannot be overstated. Right now, in 1998, we have a waiting list almost double that number. The fact that no new beds will be in place until at least the year 2000 is a grave concern.
Another reality increases our concern. Right now in Thunder Bay, Hogarth-Westmount Hospital is home to 130 residents of long-term care. But these 130 beds are only being funded on a temporary basis. These people will not be returning home; these beds are not temporary. The minister must recognize that and fund these beds on a permanent basis. People need to know they will not be removed from their home.
While I think you realize that these beds must be considered permanent, I only hope you do not view them as part of our new eight-year allotment. Minister, do the right thing: Fund these beds on a permanent basis and make it clear that they are not part of our future long-term-care allotment.
Mr Tony Silipo (Dovercourt): This morning, my colleague MPP Rosario Marchese and I joined our federal counterpart, NDP banks critic Lorne Nystrom, in decrying the move that is continuing towards bank mergers here in this country. As Mr Nystrom said this morning: "Merger plans by four of the five big banks are nothing more than high-stakes wagers by the banks to play in the big leagues of global finance. The only certainty is that the losers in this game will be consumers and small businesses in cities like Toronto." That could be said throughout the whole country.
Indeed, we know that the bank mergers that are being discussed will mean less competition. That point was also made by a representative from the Toronto Small Business Support Association, vice-president John Anderson, who was there to indicate his opposition to the bank mergers and to say: "Small business has been at the mercy of the banks for years because of a lack of competition. The proposed mergers would only make a bad situation worse."
We continue to take that position, a position that has also been taken by such individuals as Henry N. R. Jackman, who both orally and in some of the writings that he's recently made has also made it clear that in his view the proposed bank mergers would do nothing to improve competition, but would in fact reduce competition. That is something that can only be bad for consumers.
DIABETES FUND-RAISING EVENT
Mrs Barbara Fisher (Bruce): It gives me great pleasure to rise today to announce that one of my constituents will be embarking on a most challenging and remarkable endeavour on June 1.
Ayden Byle, a 23-year-old resident of Inverhuron, is one of the roughly 1.6 million Canadians who suffer from diabetes. Ayden will be undertaking a run across Canada to raise funds for diabetes research. He will begin his run on June 1 from Vancouver and hopes to complete his run in Halifax on October 16. The Canada Challenge - Ayden Byle Run is endorsed by the Islet Foundation, a charity devoted to diabetic research and raising the awareness of the serious and widespread nature of this disease and how important it is to find a cure.
I would like to challenge all members of this Legislature to personally donate to Ayden's run. Donations can be made at any branch of the Bank of Montreal. Ayden's run is a tremendous challenge which takes a great deal of courage and fortitude. His task could be that much more difficult given that he too suffers from diabetes and must take five insulin shots per day.
Last Wednesday evening an official sendoff was hosted by Ayden's organizers in the town of Kincardine. Funds have been raised locally to offset his run expenses and corporate donors have also come forward with in-kind contributions.
In Ayden's own words: "I might start out alone, but by the time I get to Halifax, there will be 1.6 million people with me. We are the cure. You have to get involved."
I would like, therefore, to ask all members of this Legislature to join with me in wishing Ayden and his team a safe and successful journey.
Mr David Caplan (Oriole): I rise to recognize the achievements of my constituents in the Meadoways community. This community is an inspiring example of a group of citizens who forced this government to hold to its promises. After the tragic death of Kim Wong in her home in August 1996, residents united to demand protection from the traffic on Highway 404.
Mrs Wong's neighbours, such as Mary-Jane Rose, Dave Slotnick and Karen Cassel, have worked tirelessly for this cause. Following the accident, they called on the Minister of Transportation to build a barrier to protect residents from further harm, which he promised to do. With no action after one year, they organized a community memorial at which ribbons were tied to the fence around this accident site as a symbol that the promise remained unfulfilled. Fortunately this finally forced then-Minister Palladini to act.
Last night I was honoured to attend a ribbon rally reunion to celebrate the recent completion of the new earth barrier. I had the pleasure of joining these neighbours when they untied the many yellow ribbons attached to the fence of the accident site. Their dreams were finally realized and they could now sleep at night knowing that their homes were no longer the traffic barriers for the entire community.
I want to personally extend my thanks to the residents of the Meadoways for their dedication. It was inspiring to watch the friends and neighbours of the Wong family in their efforts to make the community safe and an honour for me to be a part of their efforts. I congratulate them and thank them for their perseverance.
NORTHERN HEALTH SERVICES
Mr Len Wood (Cochrane North): My statement today is on health care for northern Ontario. Why is the Mike Harris government dragging its feet on health care in northern Ontario?
In my riding of Cochrane North we have a critical situation with the shortage of doctors. In Kapuskasing, at Sensenbrenner Hospital, the only anaesthesiologist has left. As we all know, a hospital cannot function without a full-time anaesthesiologist. As a result, the hospital is now unable to provide emergency procedures in obstetrics on an around-the-clock basis.
Many people in our community are working together to attract doctors and specialists to our community. But we need the proper tools and incentives and we need the help of the Conservative government. Why then did this government break its $36.4-million promise to help underserviced northern communities to attract doctors and specialists?
In December 1996, as part of an agreement with the OMA, the Harris government announced funding of $36.4 million to help underserviced communities in northern and rural Ontario to attract doctors and specialists. To date, two years after the announcement, not one of those designated communities, including Kapuskasing, Hearst, Cochrane or Moosonee, has received a penny of the funding from this government.
The Minister of Agriculture and francophone affairs was in Kapuskasing recently and met with the members of the health care recruitment and retention committee. The minister indicated that he will speak with the Minister of Health about this issue. What good is talk if we don't get action? We need action now. I urge the Minister of Agriculture to tell the Minister of Health that we need proper resources to attract doctors and specialists to communities like Kapuskasing. We need the action now, not two years from now.
ST BENEDICT ELEMENTARY SCHOOL
Mr John Hastings (Etobicoke-Rexdale): Recently I had the honour and privilege to attend the St Benedict Elementary School's math, science and technology week, May 4 to 8, which focused on the history of transportation. The purpose of the week was to expose students to the history and evolution of transportation and how it will shape their future. St Benedict's students had the opportunity to witness at first hand various modes of transportation from classic cars, like a 1967 MGB, to the latest in today's transportation technology.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank St Benedict Elementary School for inviting me to this wonderful learning experience. I would also like to recognize the extremely hard work put in by principal Philip Riddell, Susan Gonzales, Cathy Waddell, Carrie Hogan, Raffi Suppon and Tony Di Angelo, as well as the many hundreds of students who helped to make this an excellent learning experience not only for the students of St Benedict's but also for the community that supports this excellent school.
ONTARIO'S CREDIT RATING
Mr Rick Bartolucci (Sudbury): Three years ago to the day, Mike Harris preached simple math principles like two plus four equals six, and $6 billion would be all it would take to balance the budget. Like everything else, this too has proven to be a hollow promise. The budget still isn't balanced. Mike Harris is way behind on his job creation promise.
Our debt continues to grow at a rate only matched by the NDP between 1990 and 1995. As a result, the American credit rating agency Standard and Poor's has given Mike Harris's Ontario the same credit rating it gave to the NDP's Ontario: a bad one. Gone are the good credit rating days of the last Liberal provincial government, and gone too is the confidence Ontarians, Canadians and the world had in Ontario. This poor credit rating signals to the international banking community that Ontario's fiscal policy - Mike Harris's financial plan for Ontario - is less than a desirable one, and the Bank of Montreal says that further tax cuts aren't the way to go.
Why doesn't Mike Harris listen to what the experts are saying? Less debt, a balanced budget: That's what Mike Harris promised and that's what Ontarians want now. Why doesn't Mike Harris do what he said he was going to do three years ago when he said, "The basic arithmetic of two plus four equals six means that you can balance the budget and create jobs"? I'm sorry, I say to Mike Harris: a promise made, a promise broken.
ROYAL CANADIAN LEGION LADIES' AUXILIARY
Mr Gilles Bisson (Cochrane South): I want to rise today to signify a very important milestone in the riding of Cochrane South. The ladies' auxiliary of the Royal Canadian Legion, South Porcupine Branch 287, had the opportunity last Saturday evening to celebrate 60 years of activity on the part of the ladies' auxiliary within the community of South Porcupine.
I think we all know, as members, the work that the Legion does within our communities in supporting various sports organizations and other worthy causes. The work of people like Sharon Lajeunesse, Lil McCord and a whole bunch of other people I can name often goes unrewarded in the sense of people acknowledging the work they do and how important they are to our community, and I want to take this opportunity to give them the credit they are due.
Unfortunately, last Saturday night I was unable to be with them at their 60th anniversary as we had our provincial convention in Hamilton and obviously I had to be there. So I want to take this opportunity to congratulate all of the members of the Legion and the ladies' auxiliary for their 60th anniversary and to wish them well. I look forward to being invited in the next 60 years when they have their 120th anniversary.
AVALON RETIREMENT CENTRE
Mr David Tilson (Dufferin-Peel): It's my pleasure to rise in the House today to acknowledge and congratulate the Avalon Retirement Centre in Orangeville on the occasion of its 15th anniversary. The Avalon was one of the first continuum-of-care facilities in Ontario and has cared for over 1,000 residents in its 15-year history.
At the core of Avalon's success are the many dedicated staff members, led by Dave and Donna Holwell, who care for the residents. Volunteers have also enhanced the quality of life at the centre by providing over 37,000 hours of service to the facility in a variety of ways, including visits, pet therapy and the operation of the Tuck Shoppe. Life at the Avalon is a true reflection of its motto, "We Care...And it Shows."
To add to the excitement of this 15th anniversary celebration, Orangeville's newest seniors' residence, the Lord Dufferin Centre, is slated to open its doors this summer. The residence will comprise 78 suites and include a spa, an exercise room, a chapel and many other exciting facilities.
Both the Avalon and the Lord Dufferin Centre allow seniors to live independently and among friends while enjoying the comfort of housekeeping services and prepared meals.
The Avalon Retirement Centre sets an example of standards to be achieved. I wholeheartedly congratulate them for their drive and dedication, which have given them 15 successful years. We look forward to the Lord Dufferin Centre continuing on with this tradition of excellence.
Mr Michael A. Brown (Algoma-Manitoulin): On a point of order, Mr Speaker: We have a distinguished guest from the city of Elliot Lake. Councillor Fred Mann is here with us today in the west members' gallery.
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): That's out of order, but welcome.
Mr Gilles Bisson (Cochrane South): On that note, I have a point of order: I'd like to signify that there are two people from Timmins. Dale Tonelli is here, from Telemedia radio; and Brian Dougherty, a good constituent from the city of Timmins.
The Speaker: Welcome. I just want to say that that's it; we're not going to go down this road any more. Tomorrow and the next day as well, there are no more introductions.
EDWARD BIGELOW JOLLIFFE
Mr Bud Wildman (Algoma): I rise to ask unanimous consent to note the passing of a former Leader of the Opposition.
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Unanimous consent. Agreed? Agreed.
Mr Wildman: Edward (Ted) Bigelow Jolliffe died recently at his home in British Columbia. I want to pay tribute to him today.
Ted Jolliffe was born in Luchow, China, to missionary parents in 1909. He was educated in China, at Victoria College at the University of Toronto and was a Rhodes Scholar at Christchurch, Oxford.
His family roots in old Ontario gave him the connections and the confidence to campaign enthusiastically in villages and towns throughout the province for democratic socialism, in which he believed and which he believed wholeheartedly would bring a better life to all the people of Ontario.
Mr Jolliffe was a quiet intellectual not noted for being a politician who used extreme rhetoric or, for that matter, even the stirring oratory of the style of Tommy Douglas or David Lewis, his contemporaries. His manner was straightforward, leaving listeners to feel that they were being addressed as intelligent adults. He was a politician who embodied faith, intellect and idealism, combining all of these to the best of his ability. Ted Jolliffe once said, "Democracy is not just a babble of voices." I think that's something that many in this House would do well to remember in the future.
Ted Jolliffe might have been Ontario's first socialist Premier. His association with the CCF began in the 1930s, not long after the party was formed. He soon became the provincial leader in 1942, a position he held until 1953. In 1953, Ted Jolliffe led the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation to within five seats of forming a government here at Queen's Park. The CCF became the official opposition, winning 34 seats, just four short of the Progressive Conservatives.
Ted Jolliffe was the provincial leader of the CCF, our party, at a crucial time in the development of social democracy in Canada. He came within just a few thousand votes of forming a government in 1943.
In the 1945 provincial election, Mr Jolliffe told the public in a radio broadcast late in the campaign that he feared that the Conservative Premier, George Drew, was maintaining a secret police force to spy on political opponents and the media. This led to a significant drop in support for Mr Jolliffe in that election campaign, because I think the public in Ontario did not like the tone of his comments and didn't really believe that what he was saying could be true. Almost 30 years later, though, during the work for the autobiography of David Lewis, documents were discovered from the Premier's office which showed that Mr Jolliffe's charges were indeed true.
Mr Jolliffe was again Leader of the Opposition from 1948 to 1951. After he retired from politics, he went on to a distinguished career in labour law and was appointed the first chief adjudicator for the federal public service staff relations board.
Ted Jolliffe pulled Ontario politics to the left. He forced George Drew and the Conservatives to run on a more progressive platform, causing major reforms in health, education and public enterprise.
The law firm Jolliffe, Lewis and Osler became known as a powerhouse for labour causes and labour cases and was credited for helping bring Canadian unions together in the 1950s. Our party certainly, and all the politics of Ontario, owe a great debt to the work of Ted Jolliffe, and we mourn his passing and express our condolences to his family.
Mr Ted Arnott (Wellington): It's indeed a privilege to take part in today's remembrance of Ted Jolliffe, who passed away in March. His talent and dedication to his political beliefs had a significant impact on the birth of the Ontario New Democratic Party.
While no member of this Legislature served with Mr Jolliffe, we should not discount the impact of his years as an MPP, which included an impressive provincial election campaign as leader of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation. Mr Jolliffe was a force to be reckoned with. Under his leadership the CCF came within five seats of forming the provincial government in 1943.
The greatest strength of our parliamentary system is that the viewpoints of various segments of society can find a home within our mainstream political parties, their caucuses and their leaders. Mr Jolliffe's inspired leadership and the ideals he stood for no doubt influenced political thought and government policy, especially during the minority Conservative government of George Drew. His work for the CCF and later his impressive legal career were instrumental in the formation of the Ontario New Democratic Party.
When I was first elected in 1990, Mr Jolliffe lived in Rockwood, in Wellington county. I regret that I never had the opportunity to meet him, although I suspect he wasn't my strongest supporter.
Dale Hamilton, who is a resident of the Rockwood area, has fond memories of Mr Jolliffe. Ms Hamilton got to know Mr Jolliffe and his wife when they lived in Rockwood before their retirement in British Columbia.
It's important to remember Mr Jolliffe not only for his accomplishments and the impact he had on our political landscape, but also on a more personal level, through the impressions of people who were his friends. Ms Hamilton's memories, printed recently in the Guelph Mercury, give us a better understanding of the man behind the public figure. Of the Jolliffes, Ms Hamilton said: "Ted and Ruth cared deeply about people and they acted upon it. Their generosity of spirit guided their choices and priorities in life."
One of Ms Hamilton's more vivid memories was of Mr Jolliffe "surrounded by stacks of important-looking papers, his pipe smoke circling his head, sitting on the rickety sunporch at the white house on the hill in Rockwood. Mrs Jolliffe was in the background, offering up tea and her own welcome insights."
To the people who were the closest to Ted Jolliffe, his children and his family, I offer our sincere condolences on behalf of the provincial government. May his life and record of public service continue to serve as an inspiration to all of us.
Mr James J. Bradley (St Catharines): On behalf of the Liberal caucus, I would like to extend the sympathy of all of us upon the passing of Edward Bigelow Jolliffe. Even though it happened some period of time ago, in March of this year, we haven't had an opportunity in this Legislature to pay tribute to him.
He had a significant impact, of course, on Ontario politics, because previous to his ascension to a position of significance within the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation in Ontario, many people viewed the CCF as essentially a western party, and some as a western protest party, certainly a party that gathered together a group of people who had a very strong social conscience, who believed in what we would call the social democratic agenda for that day. Some of those policies grew out of the difficulties which were encountered in our country in the 1930s and Ted Jolliffe was able to translate that into political action in the 1940s.
As my colleague from Algoma has appropriately pointed out, a lot of people in the province today would probably not recognize that Ted Jolliffe came quite close to being the Premier of the province of Ontario. If you look at straight statistics, during the early and mid-1940s you would see that the CCF came up considerably in the polls and that was reflected in the numbers of seats won in the Legislative Assembly at that time. Much of that credit must go to Ted Jolliffe, who was an articulate and eloquent individual who brought to the debates in the House the kind of respect we like to think of in parliamentarians.
My colleague from Renfrew North, one of the historians of this House, who knows these things well, was just telling me before I rose that there was a speech given on CFRB, about that time, what, 40 years ago?
Mr Sean G. Conway (Renfrew North): In 1945.
Mr Bradley: It was 1945, says my colleague. It was a speech which dealt with an allegation that there was some political surveillance of certain people in the province, directed, it was alleged, by the government of the day. It was quite a stunning speech, one of the better speeches given in this century by a provincial politician. I'm told, again by my irrefutable and impeccable source, that it was actually written by Lister Sinclair and delivered by Ted Jolliffe.
He had a significant impact on this province. In addition to that, he went on, after his life in politics, to continue to make a contribution to public service. He retired to Saltspring Island in British Columbia. There are just a few socialists on that island, I'm told, because a friend of mine, Ken Lee, a former St Catharines Collegiate principal, has retired to Saltspring Island. He is well known for his views, which are of a socialist nature, and he mentioned that one of the famous people on Saltspring Island was Ted Jolliffe.
He was a labour lawyer, so he played a significant role not only in this court, which is a parliamentary court, but also in the courts of justice and the civil courts of Ontario.
Those of us who are in this Legislature - and I can say this on behalf of the Liberal caucus - extend our deepest sympathy to the family of Ted Jolliffe and pay tribute to him for his years of service to the people of Ontario.
PRIVATE MEMBERS' PUBLIC BUSINESS
Hon Norman W. Sterling (Minister of the Environment, Government House Leader): I move that notwithstanding standing order 95(g), the requirement for notice be waived with respect to ballot item 12.
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Is it the pleasure of the House that the motion carry? Carried.
STATEMENTS BY THE MINISTRY AND RESPONSES
PRIMARY HEALTH CARE
Hon Elizabeth Witmer (Minister of Health): I am pleased to inform the House that earlier today the government of Ontario and the Ontario Medical Association unveiled a new model of enhanced primary care in five communities. Those five communities are Hamilton, Chatham, Paris, Wawa, and the villages of Sydenham, Verona and Sharbot Lake in the Kingston area.
"Primary care" is a term that refers to a person's first point of contact with a health provider. The new model announced today is the result of two years of consultation with physicians and other health care providers that will allow for quality care that is more accessible, comprehensive, coordinated and continuous. It is based on the concept of a network of providers, including physicians at one or more locations who will roster or enrol patients for the purposes of providing primary care services.
Discussions about creating this new model of primary care began under my predecessor, the Honourable Jim Wilson, with the creation of a steering committee, chaired by Dr Graham, made up of physicians, academics, a hospital CEO, a nurse and consumers. Our new model of care reflects the advice of this committee and the input of other health care providers, as well as the direct involvement of the Ontario Medical Association. It illustrates our shared commitment to exploring more accessible and innovative ways of delivering health services to Ontarians.
Under this new model of care, there will be expanded access to on-call services, enhanced prevention services for patients, evening and weekend hours, after-hours telephone advice from a registered nurse and improved use of technology, including computerized patient files.
We will be evaluating the five new primary care pilots and making changes as required. These first sites should be seen as an opportunity to learn more about what will work and what will not, and to make changes as needed.
Under our primary care pilots, physicians will have two options as to how they are paid: either capitation or reformed fee for service. Capitation means that funding is attached to each patient and is calculated on factors including their age and gender. This model is already used by 77 health service organizations across Ontario. The second model involves physicians billing a reformed fee for service. Regardless of the payment method, the funding formula will encourage home care supervision and preventive medicine.
It is also important to emphasize that patients will be invited by their physicians to participate in the pilots. Primary care reform will be voluntary for both physicians and patients in the pilot communities.
In conclusion, let me again congratulate my predecessor, the Honourable Mr Wilson, and all those involved in developing this model for enhanced primary care. I am particularly pleased that not only will illness be treated and health problems managed, but these new primary health care pilots will promote health and prevent illness. This is indeed an exciting day for people in the province as we enhance accessibility, coordination, comprehensiveness and the continuity of care in providing primary care services to Ontarians.
Mr Gerard Kennedy (York South): It is indeed an exciting day when this government actually recognizes that "primary" care means "first." Unfortunately for the people of Ontario, it's three years too late that this government finally gets the idea that if you're going to renew the health system, you start with the first part of it, the contact the patient has with doctors and other providers. What we had was the previous Minister of Health announcing that there would be these pilot projects by December 1996. Instead we're here today looking at their very late arrival.
That represents something important. It represents a certain lack of commitment on the part of this government to actually making the health care system work. Why did this government go after hospitals in such a random and reckless way? Why did it take away 12% of their budget, some $1.3 billion? Why did it put patients into the hallways of those hospitals, waiting for three days or as many as eight days for basic services when it could and should have been looking at how to deal with doctors, how to make services more available and not less available.
We have finally from this government the announcement of intention to do something about primary care reform. Not only is it way overdue, but it comes in a different kind of circumstance. It comes after the people of Ontario, the nurses of Ontario and probably many of the doctors of Ontario have been worn down by a system of an uncaring government unable to manage the basic prerequisites of health care. So when we talk about the takeup of change, the ability to get people to deal with a new part of the system, it's probably not a very exciting day for most people out there. It probably is simply one of resignation that this government might finally, in advance of election year, be touching on some of the things they were elected to do in the first place, which was to deal with the needs of the health care system.
We're pleased to see the government at least acknowledge that there are some possibilities in terms of rostering, in terms of bringing patients together. We're also pleased to acknowledge that it's very important to try to look at different ways that doctors can get into preventive care. But this is three years later. This is three years after this government started creating messes in the health care system.
While the minister says and would like us to believe that the government is serious about preventive care, it's the same government that has dumped public health down on to the municipalities, that has made many communities face the prospect of losing their preventive health care. We have sexual health clinics being cut back in their hours, and other clinics that provide basic care, the same kind of care the minister is trying to announce as something new today, are being taken away from them in communities across Ontario.
We have also the same kind of thing, where we don't know how this will be paid for. The government would have us believe this is something exciting and new, and in fact there's no mention of the details of where this money will come from. If these are doctors being taken out of fee for service, will the fee-for-service budgets be affected? How will this be paid for? How will it actually encourage the doctors to take this on?
The kinds of things that the minister is depending on for this to work, for example computerization, information technology, hasn't even been touched by this government. They haven't set up any of the infrastructure to actually make some of these systems work. The government talks about primary care as if they invented it, when all previous governments have worked hard to try and understand it. It's only this government that has done nothing with this file until today.
The 77 health service organizations are already out there, have been providing service, yet this government doesn't bring forward one iota of information about what has been accomplished. They say they're going to use capitation - pay by the number of people served per doctor - yet there's nothing about what we've learned from health service organizations. There are already more people involved in them than the government purports to put into this pilot project. Why don't we have some information? Why is the government going slow on this project in terms of being able to tell us what they're going to do about it?
I think the answer is that this is simply a public relations move on the part of the government. They're bringing it in, very late in their term, because they're afraid to really do what primary health care would require, what Duncan Sinclair said should have been done at the beginning of the whole project, and that is to care for patients. They'll find out that a system that has been bankrupted, with money taken out of the system for patients, can't deliver the care that primary care reform needs.
Mrs Marion Boyd (London Centre): The minister knows very well that the people of Ontario have been waiting for this announcement not just for two years but for many years. When the member for Beaches-Woodbine was Minister of Health, she began the process, with the OMA, of looking at real reform of primary care. It is a very difficult issue that all those we've talked to all across the province have identified as key to reforming the health care system, and that is: "What is the first step? How do I first get access to appropriate medical care?"
Real primary care reform means more access to not only a physician, which is all this is, but to a range of health care professionals. There's nothing in this announcement that does anything to lessen the gate-keeping effect that the medical profession currently has on access to medical care. There is nothing in this announcement that requires those physicians within this network of physicians to share some of those resources with the other health care professionals who are essential to a broad range of care within the province.
The minister claims that there is a list of so-called enhanced services, and I'd like us to take a quick look at those.
Patient education and preventive care: But when you look at her announcement, it talks about printed leaflets. Printed leaflets? Those are available in my doctor's office, I don't know about anybody else. That's her idea of enhanced care?
Primary mental health care, including referral to an appropriate community service: Doesn't that happen already? What's new here?
Referral to other specialists: What's new about that? Doesn't every family physician do referrals to specialists as required?
Access to hospital care: Just imagine. Doesn't your primary care physician have to have hospital privileges to practise? Under Bill 26, he or she does.
So where's something new? There's nothing new in these so-called enhanced services, and there is much that has been identified as necessary if we are going to have primary care reform.
Even the minister says this is not that new, because there are already 77 different organizations around the province, only those community health centres and those group health practices like the one in Sault Ste Marie offer a far broader range of services than the minister is announcing today. She had a model, she had two or three models, that really offered enhanced care, that offered a range of services by professionals.
She talks about evaluation of this system. Why hasn't she initiated a thorough evaluation of the really reformed primary care systems that already exist to show how that kind of continuity of care offered by physicians in conjunction with psychologists, nurse practitioners, chiropractors - the whole range of professionals who can offer to clients the kind of care that people all over this province are demanding. Oh no, that's not what's here.
What this is is another cosy little deal with the OMA, another way of putting off real reform of primary care, another way of preventing the sharing of resources with other health care professionals. This is just part of the cosy deal that this government signed with physicians that they can't get out of and that they have been trying very hard to at least make some cracks in.
We want to know what the evaluation process is going to be. Is it going to involve the patients? Is it going to look at utilization rates? Is it going to look, over the long term, at whether this model actually has a preventive component to it? Is it really going to see whether this makes physicians willing to participate in community-based care in a more thorough way than before? Is it going to talk about patient satisfaction and families of patients and their satisfaction with the kind of service? Is it going to survey the other professionals in the community to see whether there is really a willingness on the part of the physicians participating to refer to other health care professionals who can offer the wide range of services? I would be surprised, because if that were so, I think the minister would be saying so.
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): I would like to inform members of the Legislative Assembly that we have in the Speaker's gallery today some interns from the province of British Columbia. I'd like you to join me in welcoming them here today.
Mr John Gerretsen (Kingston and The Islands): My question is to the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing. I have in my hands a letter from the Association of Municipal Clerks and Treasurers of Ontario, dated yesterday, May 25, in which they are very critical of Bill 16 and have some grave concerns about it. Let me just read you only one little paragraph. It says:
"This bill is complicated, cumbersome, confusing and, too often, badly drafted. It serves to perpetuate the bad system that the government was so bent on eliminating. The end product is a political and administrative nightmare."
I would like to know, Minister, where were you in this process? This act, as you know, makes a number of changes to the Municipal Act. Where were you to fight on behalf of municipalities? Where were you to fight on behalf of the property taxpayers, both residential property taxpayers and the commercial and industrial taxpayers in this province? Where were you? How could you allow this to happen?
Hon Al Leach (Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing): I can tell the member opposite where I was: I was in consultation with my colleague the Minister of Finance, and agree 100% with the bill.
The bill is going to protect the taxpayer. It allows for caps. It gives municipalities all the options and all the ability they need to deal with matters of municipal concern. I am fully supportive of the bill, and I honestly believe the opposition should also be supporting this bill.
Mr Gerretsen: Minister, you know that the municipal clerks and treasurers are the people who deal on a day-to-day basis with the property taxpayers in Ontario. Let me quote another section: "If commercial and industrial classes are limited to 2.5% increases, municipalities will not be able to levy sufficient funds in 1998, 1999 and 2000 to pay for operational costs" etc.
They further go on to say: "Major priority services such as roads, sewers, water and fire departments will be threatened. Quality of life services such as recreation, libraries, community support, public health, tourism, economic development will be cut to the core or eliminated."
They are the concerns of our municipal taxpayers, whether they're residential taxpayers or commercial and industrial taxpayers. Where were you in all this?
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Question.
Mr Gerretsen: There's also a section, as you well know, subsection 8(2), which states that if a change event takes place, the assessor isn't even obligated to allow the change to take place so that taxes will actually be lower, which is exactly what the -
The Speaker: Thank you.
Hon Mr Leach: Again to the member of the official opposition, these are options that are available to the municipality. If the municipality doesn't want to put the cap on, that's a decision the municipality makes.
We've given the municipalities the autonomy to make the decisions that best suit their municipality. The municipalities have the best of both worlds here. If they want to protect small business, as the city of Toronto indicated it did, they have the ability to put on a 2.5% cap for the next three years. If they choose not to do that, they don't have to do that. They can raise taxes; they can hold taxes; they can do whatever they want. These are decisions that those directly elected municipal councillors have the ability to do.
Mr Gerretsen: Minister, it's like a trap for the municipalities in the same way that your downloading of over half a billion dollars on municipalities was.
Let me just read to you the summary paragraph of what they're saying: "This bill, if passed as drafted, will embroil municipal councils in complex, confusing and inefficient systems of taxation. Administrative costs will increase. So complex is the application of Bill 106, Bill 149 and Bill 16, that few municipalities in Ontario will be able to fully bill taxes before the year is ended with any degree of success...."
How could you, as Minister of Municipal Affairs, allow this to happen? Why didn't you protect the municipalities and the taxpayers who pay the taxes into those municipalities?
Hon Mr Leach: I can see that the member opposite has some problem with giving municipalities the autonomy to make decisions that best suit that municipality.
As far as the clerks and treasurers are concerned, we had consultations with them. We will have further consultations with them. As a matter of fact, I'm going to be speaking to them a week Monday and I'll be glad to answer all of their concerns at that point in time.
Our whole purpose behind this bill was to ensure that the municipalities had an opportunity to protect their taxpayers, whether it's residential or commercial and industrial. But if they choose not to put a cap on commercial and industrial, if they choose to go another way, that's their decision. That's what they're elected to do. You should understand that the municipality is the level of government that sets property taxes, and what this government has done is given them the opportunity to make decisions that best suit their individual circumstances.
PRIMARY HEALTH CARE
Mr Gerard Kennedy (York South): My question is for the Minister of Health. I'd like to ask you about your announcement today. In fact, if anyone is trying to understand it better, they might like to look at another announcement that's entitled "Government Announces New Decisions for Primary Care," except that announcement was made on July 18, 1996. This announcement talks about 25 reports having been done on primary care. It talks about 430 physicians already engaged in primary care.
Minister, why did you wait so long to begin anything in terms of a new primary care initiative? Are you serious about doing primary care? How can the public believe you when it has taken your ministry three years to get to the same point we were at in July 1996?
Hon Elizabeth Witmer (Minister of Health): Today we had the opportunity to officially announce the five communities that were going to be the initial participants in the pilot project.
Yes, as I acknowledged in my remarks, our government did make a commitment about two years ago. It was during the time of my predecessor, Minister Wilson, that we indicated we wanted to move forward with primary care. We wanted to ensure that we could increase the accessibility and the coordination and provide the highest quality of primary care possible to people in this province. We indicated that we believed it was necessary to involve health providers in team situations, and this is what we're going to be able to do.
Our announcement today is to acknowledge and recognize those communities that have indicated a willingness to participate.
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Answer, please.
Hon Mrs Witmer: I would just again announce that those five will be in Hamilton, Paris, Wawa, Chatham, and there will be some small communities around Kingston, that have all indicated -
The Speaker: Thank you.
Mr Kennedy: You can barely shake the cobwebs off the minister's announcement for how similar it is to the old announcement that's almost two years old. It was building on what was supposed to be the progress to that point.
Minister, you haven't done anything about real preventive care. You've still downloaded public health. In Hamilton there's a Bagshaw clinic that's been cut down to 15 hours, where it used to have 40 hours of operation. You've taken that preventive care away from the people of Hamilton. There are no evenings and no weekends. It was the longest-running sexual health clinic in North America, but it's not able to operate. An Ottawa clinic is $20,000 short; they're going to have to get sponsorship from pharmaceutical companies to keep going, because you, Minister, aren't doing your job in preventive care. You also aren't doing anything about underserviced areas. You haven't done anything in this model to make sure that communities can attract more physicians. You promised, or your predecessor did and you failed to follow through on it, $36 million worth of funding.
The Speaker: Question, please.
Mr Kennedy: Minister, are you going to do something about underserviced areas as part of primary care, or are the people in those communities not going to get doctors -
The Speaker: Thank you.
Hon Mrs Witmer: I know the member has some problem recognizing when progress is being made, and certainly today in the province of Ontario -
The Speaker: Order. Minister?
Hon Mrs Witmer: Today we have taken a very significant step forward. We have done so in cooperation with the other health care providers. The announcement today was done in cooperation with the Ontario Medical Association. We wanted to ensure that as we move forward we would have a system that was going to be responsive to the needs of people in this province.
This is a new system of service, and there will be an emphasis on prevention. In fact, we have spent more money on prevention than any other government. A few months ago I indicated that we were spending $17 million on prevention of cardiac disease. We have made commitments, all new money, and we have continued to indicate that we are shifting the focus at the Ministry of Health from illness to wellness. We are concentrating now on the promotion of health.
The Speaker: Final supplementary.
Mr David Caplan (Oriole): Minister, you're missing the point. My colleague from York South asked you about underserviced areas. Your colleague the Minister of Education has deregulated tuitions. What that has done, Minister, is that in effect you're forcing graduating students to place a greater emphasis on income potential than on meeting community need. In the United States, when they did this, students went into specialties, not into becoming general practitioners, which are needed in underserviced areas.
You speak about working with medical establishments. I'll quote from John Gray, the president of the OMA. He said: "It is clear that with spiralling tuition and fixed resources, medical school will place a growing proportion of students in a position of extreme financial burden or will be altogether prohibitive in cost. If we are to encourage young minds to enter into the study and practice of medicine, we must not make these barriers so extreme as to deny access to any individual." That's what you're doing, Minister. Will you stand up and make sure that all students have access to medical school?
The Speaker: I just remind members that supplementaries relate to the question to begin with.
The Speaker: I'm not going to debate that. I would just remind members that supplementaries should follow up on original questions.
Minister of Health.
Hon Mrs Witmer: I would like to go back to the original questions, which focused on the enhancement of primary care services, the announcement that we made today, and also there was some indication that certainly there are populations within the province that are underserviced. I would just like to quote Dr Brian Gamble, chief of medical staff of three hospitals in Chatham and Wallaceburg, who indicated on May 26, 1998, in the London Free Press, "This program" - meaning our new primary care program - "will mean more doctors in underserviced areas." I couldn't have said it any better.
The Speaker: New question, leader of the third party.
Mr Howard Hampton (Rainy River): I also have a question about the so-called primary care reform, and I wonder where the reform is. We listened to the minister's announcement today, and she tried to say that under her primary care pilot projects people can expect newborn care. I thought you could already get newborn care. Then she said that people can expect printed educational material on smoking hazards. You can already get that. Then she said people can expect that their doctor will admit them to hospital when they need it. As far as I know, Ontario's health care system used to deliver that.
Primary care is about providing wider ranges of health care and wider ranges of health care practitioners; it's about preventive care; it's about allowing physicians or at least enhancing the ability of physicians to do care in the home. Why aren't any of these things in your so-called primary care paper?
Hon Mrs Witmer: It's obvious that the leader of the third party missed where I indicated in my comments that we would be encouraging, and this funding formula would be supporting, home care supervision and also preventive medicine.
The other features of the program that has been introduced today include expanded access to on-call services, enhanced prevention services for all patients, evening and weekend office hours, after-hours telephone advice from a registered nurse, improved use of technology. All of the physicians' offices that are going to be participating in the program are going to have access to new technology that will allow for the computerization of patient records. At the end of the day the system will invite patients to roster, enrol, and there will be increased accountability between the physician and the patient, so certainly services will be enhanced and there will be greater accessibility to service.
Mr Hampton: Minister, that's what you say, but physicians are already writing to you and they're already saying that it's not going to do the job. For example, this is a letter from a Dr Alan Fegelman, who practises here in Toronto. Many of his patients are elderly, and he writes:
"I am a family doctor in Ontario.... I am deeply concerned about the change in the new schedule of benefits, that drastically reduces the fee for house calls....
"I do not know why the OMA and your government want to discourage house calls, and I am especially surprised that with primary care reform and hospital restructuring" - in other words, pushing people out of the hospital, sending them home - "where there will be much more emphasis on treating people at home...."
One would think that real primary care would provide some incentives for physicians to actually do those house calls, since those very same people have been pushed out of hospital, but the incentives are not here. How do you square that with your so-called primary care reform?
Hon Mrs Witmer: I think it's very important to just quote Dr Orovan, who indicated, as a result of the announcement today, that this is particularly significant, because at a time when the population is growing and aging, this is an important step in looking at new ways of improving access to services. In fact, it is the elderly and it is others who will be involved in home care who will now have the opportunity to have access to those services as they have never, ever had access before.
I also want to emphasize the fact that the reason these five communities are participating is because these communities have indicated an interest in these programs. These are all voluntary and for the physicians who are going to be involved and the patients who are going to be involved, it's a voluntary commitment. I don't know why you would be opposed to the Wawa community wanting to be involved in the primary care pilot project.
Mrs Marion Boyd (London Centre): There are some very real reasons why we are saying this falls far short of your glitzy little statement about what it does. This doesn't reform primary care. All it does is set up a rostering measure with no controls. People in Ontario don't want a rostering system that is going to lead to creaming. In other words, those who are most ill and most difficult for physicians to deal with may voluntarily not be part of this experiment.
You have set this up in such a way that all the worst problems around rostering can occur here with no limits at all. Your reform announcement doesn't reform anything. What you are simply doing is recycling a bunch of primary care measures that are already practised in other places, but without some of the controls that those community-based measures have.
It is not a reform and the biggest question is: Where is the funding mechanism that is really going to lead to primary care reform?
Hon Mrs Witmer: The initiative that was announced today, the five communities that were announced today, there were indications that we are actually leaders when it comes to providing this enhanced model of primary care services to people. We are leaders, not only in this province but we are leaders in Canada.
In fact, it means that when individuals make a commitment, they will have the access to the services of the physician and the other members of the health team. This is a tremendous step forward and it will certainly ensure that we are able to provide people in this province with high-quality, accessible services 24 hours a day.
Mr Howard Hampton (Rainy River): My question today is to the Chair of Management Board. Yesterday, we asked the Premier about how some of the Conservative Party's friends are benefiting from a great deal of public money.
We wanted to know how a third-ranked casino bid by the Falls Management team got bumped up to become the successful bidder. The bid doesn't contain a substantial convention facility, it's not what the people of the Niagara region want and it doesn't recognize the importance of tourism to the Niagara region. However, the part-owners of Falls Management are the Latner family, who gave $48,000 to your party in the last election. This has the appearance of influence-buying.
Minister, can you tell us how an inadequate, third-ranked bid by Conservative Party fund-raisers got bumped up to the top of the list to become the successful bid for the Niagara casino?
Hon Chris Hodgson (Chair of the Management Board of Cabinet, Minister of Northern Development and Mines): To the Leader of the Opposition, I am told his facts are wrong, that this process was similar to a process used by the NDP in how they awarded casinos, and this was the best proponent viewed by the selection committee and by the review panel that looked at it.
Mr Peter Kormos (Welland-Thorold): Who's on the take?
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): That's unparliamentary, the heckle. I would ask you to withdraw.
Mr Kormos: I withdraw, "Who's on the take?"
Mr Hampton: Minister, if you are so sure this is a fair and open process, who don't you open up the books and let the public see all of the process? While you're at it, maybe you could explain how another Latner company, a company called Gamma-Dynacare, got a very sweetheart deal from your government in terms of health labs.
Earlier this year, you changed the regulations as to how privately funded health labs in this province are paid. You put a cap on the individual labs, where there used to be a cap on the industry. When you put the cap on the smaller labs, you took away their business and you gave it to Gamma-Dynacare, which is owned by the same Latner family, the same family that gave you $48,000 in the last election.
Can you tell us, Minister, why it is that you gave such a sweetheart deal there to your Conservative Party fund-raisers?
Hon Mr Hodgson: I'll refer this question to the Minister of Health.
Hon Elizabeth Witmer (Minister of Health): We dealt with this issue yesterday. I want to indicate again that first of all, the industry cap that was brought forward on lab billings was introduced during the time of the NDP. They worked with the Ontario Association of Medical Laboratories, and we have continued to work with them and have brought forward a corporate cap proposal that was the initiative of the association. We are continuing to cooperate with that association, as the two previous governments did.
Mr Hampton: That was an attempt at an explanation, but it was no answer. The fact remains that the Latner family gave $48,000 to the Conservative government. They are now getting a big chunk of the Niagara casino, you changed the health lab regulation to reward them as well, and it doesn't end there. We discovered that in terms of charity gaming casinos, Gaming Venture Group will be one of the permanent charity gaming clubs. Who owns Gaming Venture Group? It's owned by Greenwin/Shiplake, which is controlled by Greenwin Property Management, which is controlled by the Latner family.
The people of Ontario need to know: Give $48,000 to the Conservative Party at election time and you don't get one contract, you don't get two - you get three times at the public trough.
It looks like corporate influence peddling and it smells like corporate influence peddling. When are you going to stop rewarding your Conservative Party friends with public money?
Hon Mrs Witmer: I would refer that to the Minister of Consumer and Commercial Relations.
The Speaker: Order.
Hon David H. Tsubouchi (Minister of Consumer and Commercial Relations): Thank you, Mr Speaker. It's my turn.
As the third-party members know full well, this was an arm's-length process that went through the Ontario gaming commission.
Hon Mr Tsubouchi: This is not the first time this has come up, obviously. We've answered this question several times before. The answer is going to be the same as it was last time. The selection process was carried out by a committee independent of political involvement. It was an arm's-length process. It was through the Alcohol and Gaming Commission. The technical evaluation committee reviewed and scored the bids. The committee consisted of representatives from the Gaming Control Commission, the Attorney General's -
The Speaker: Order.
The Speaker: Member for Brant-Haldimand, if you stand on a point of order, I'll be very interested in hearing from you.
Mr Peter L. Preston (Brant-Haldimand): If I say one word, I get blasted
The Speaker: No, I'm not -
The Speaker: I'll guarantee you that was not me dinging you. I was not dinging you. I just thought you wanted a point of order. I thought you were up on a serious point of order.
Mr Preston: No, I would have stood up for that.
The Speaker: It wasn't a serious one? Okay.
The Speaker: Now it sounds to me like you're having a debate with me. I don't want to have a debate.
Hon Mr Tsubouchi: As I was saying, the technical evaluation committee reviewed and scored the bids. The committee consisted of representatives from the Gaming Control Commission, the Attorney General's office, the OPP and outside experts from auditors. A member of the Alcohol and Gaming Commission board reviewed the committee's process and procedures. The outside experts were satisfied the process was fair and objective.
Mrs Lyn McLeod (Fort William): My question is for the Minister of Education. No one has been able to understand why you put in place such a bizarre and unworkable process for buying our elementary schools their textbooks. The publishers don't understand how they can produce good books with the timelines you've given, the boards don't understand how they can make good choices for their students, and teachers have no idea what they're going to be teaching with come September.
But now we know why you are in such an incredible hurry to spend your $100 million. You want to make sure there is a photo opportunity for your members for back-to-school time in September. This memo from the Upper Grand District School Board to its elementary school principals says it all. "Schools will schedule photo ops with their local MPPs on September 7 to present the new textbooks."
Minister, why are you forcing school boards to purchase less than adequate textbooks so that your Tory MPPs can have a photo opportunity in September?
Hon David Johnson (Minister of Education and Training): We simply want to ensure that our students in Ontario at the elementary level have the best possible books in time for a September startup for classes this fall.
This is a good-news story, in that we are investing $100 million. I don't know why the Liberals are opposed to us investing $100 million in our elementary schools, in textbooks and resources for our elementary students.
Mrs McLeod: So a scandal will once again expose the Harris government. Minister, your real interest is not in education; your government's only interested in public relations. This is all about marketing your government's agenda. You are a whole lot -
Mrs McLeod: I say to the minister that it is clear you are a whole lot more concerned about having the trillium logo stamped on every one of your new shiny textbooks than you are about the content of the textbooks. This also makes clear that all textbooks purchased will have the trillium stamped on them, presumably to try and convince people -
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Minister for Management Board, minister for social services, will you please come to order. Member for Hamilton West, come to order, please, and Scarborough East.
Mrs McLeod: Minister, I want to ask you, in the name of quality education - you know that the timelines you've put in place do not allow boards to choose the best quality books for students. You know that boards aren't even going to have a list of the books in time to make those choices.
I'm going to ask you: What will happen to the $100 million if boards simply cannot meet your deadlines? I want you to give an absolute assurance today that boards can take whatever time they need to choose the best books for the students in the classroom, even if they miss the deadline for your photo op in September.
Hon David Johnson: This government is going to ensure that the best possible investment will be made in our elementary students, that the best possible books, in line with the new curriculum, will be invested in our classrooms at the earliest opportunity. I think that can be arranged for September when our students go back to school.
We can always rely on the Liberals for the facts. A few weeks ago they were saying the Americans were going to write the secondary school curriculum. Wrong. A week ago they said the Americans were going to be the publishers of all the textbooks. Wrong again. No American publishers are involved. Now apparently they're against the trillium and are against buying books for elementary students.
This government is going to ensure a proper and excellent investment in our elementary students in the fall in Ontario.
Mr Tony Silipo (Dovercourt): I have a question to the acting Premier. It's regarding Bill 16, the property tax bill. Minister, we have tried to point out to you a couple of times in the House the problems this bill is going to cause both for homeowners and for small businesses.
We now have the city of Toronto asking for public hearings because this bill is going to mean a big tax hike for homeowners. We have the Association of Municipalities of Ontario also asking for hearings.
As I'm sure you know, we have also the Association of Municipal Clerks and Treasurers - these are not politicians, but the people who actually have to administer this piece of legislation - saying to you that this piece of legislation is unworkable. They have in fact sent your government 12 pages in which they outline legislative mistakes that have been made where references should be to some bills and to others.
We understand that you don't intend to have this bill go to committee. Will you, on the face of the advice that you're getting from the people who are going to have to administer this, reconsider and see the wisdom in sending this bill at least to committee for a short period of time?
Hon Chris Hodgson (Chair of the Management Board of Cabinet, Minister of Northern Development and Mines): Of course we'll listen and take your concerns and the concerns of Metro Toronto to the Minister of Finance. But I can tell you that we both have been listening to small business owners. That's the reason why we've allowed, through the Legislature, that municipalities can choose to cap the increases at 2.5% for whatever reason.
You're saying that will squeeze out an increase on the residential side, but I can tell you that Toronto has already announced no increase in their budget for this year. They've already said they see no reason why they cannot hold the line and not raise taxes in the next two years. So it shouldn't be a problem if they choose to do this.
Mr Silipo: I appreciate that the acting Premier may not have the detailed knowledge that the Minister of Finance would were he here, but I have to say to him and ask him to convey back to the Minister of Finance the fact that this is not about whether municipalities have the choice or not. Yes, we understand that they have the choice. This is about the fact that even if they exercise that choice, the legislation as drafted is unworkable. That's not my opinion, Minister; that's the opinion of the administrators in the local municipalities who have to administer this. They have said that committee hearings are absolutely necessary if this bill is to be fixed. They say that the bill as drafted is in some respects unworkable and will lead to a "political and administrative nightmare." That's what they're saying.
I want to say again to the minister, we understand the time pressures; quite frankly, time pressures that you have caused yourselves. But for a few more weeks you could have this bill in committee where it belongs and we could fix the problems we now are seeing in this bill so that you don't have to bring in a fifth bill some time in the fall to fix the problems in the property tax system. Will you reconsider and do that, Minister?
Hon Mr Hodgson: We had consultations on Bill 106 and Bill 149, which this letter that you refer to addresses. They have had consultations on that. The specific cap to try to keep small business owners' increases, for whatever reason, below 2.5% is the concern we heard from small business owners across Ontario and particularly in Metropolitan Toronto.
I recall looking through the glass like Alice in Wonderland when your leader was out there pretending he represented small business owners. We listened to that. It's our government that doesn't believe in tax hikes; we believe in tax decreases. What Metro is saying is that if they choose to implement the 2.5% and they don't raise their spending, they should be able to live with it. If there are technical problems, I will pass it on to the Minister of Finance and he will consider that.
Mr John Hastings (Etobicoke-Rexdale): My question is directed to the Minister of Education and Training. Over the last few years there have been ongoing negotiations between Ottawa and Ontario regarding a new proposed agreement for settlement costs for newcomers, for training and retraining costs related to those new people coming to the greater Toronto region. It seems to me this has been going on for a long time. When are we going to get to the state of having an actual negotiated outcome on these vital issues?
Hon David Johnson (Minister of Education and Training): I thank the member for Etobicoke-Rexdale because this has been something of considerable concern to this government.
All other provinces across Canada have had the opportunity to negotiate with the federal government a labour market and training agreement, and for some reason the federal government has left Ontario to the very tail end. I don't know why the federal government has taken that attitude but I am pleased to say that now we have been able to get the attention of the federal government and get them back to the table.
I hope that over the next short while we will be able to reach an agreement to address the skills shortages in Ontario, to reduce the overlap that exists between federal and provincial programs and to help more people in Ontario get back to work.
Mr Hastings: My supplementary revolves around the very point the minister is making. Ontario and the greater Toronto region is probably the most dynamic economic area in terms of being a magnet for newcomers to this country, yet we have a federal government which is still not dealing with the upfront vital issues of costs and getting a resolution to this particular dilemma.
When do you expect we'll see a practical, ongoing, specific agreement dealing with these issues that stops the discrimination against newcomers to this area who need this vital help in terms of the cost for newcomer programs, in terms of the cost of English as a second language? When can we get a negotiated outcome that's successful for these people?
Hon David Johnson: It can't happen soon enough as far as I'm concerned. I can only pledge to the member for Etobicoke-Rexdale and members of this House that I will be in there pitching for Ontario because the unemployed in the province deserve the same consideration as citizens across the rest of this country of Canada. In the other provinces, they've been able to negotiate with the federal government. Now we have the attention of the federal government.
We would like, for example, to double the number of entrances into the apprenticeship program. We think if we can coordinate this program, bring it into the province of Ontario, focus on the needs of the people of Ontario, then we can double the number of entrants into the apprenticeship program, we can reduce the overlap, reduce the cost of the coordinated program. We think we can assist 30,000 more people to gain training and skills and assist them to get back to work in Ontario.
Mr Michael Gravelle (Port Arthur): My question is to the minister responsible for privatization. Minister, on the matter of TVOntario privatization, your government continues to show absolute disregard for the voice of the public. Yesterday, during a speech outside the Legislature, you dismissed the report by the TVO community panel which showed overwhelming public support for TVO by musing publicly about your government's move to privatize TVOntario. The headline in today's paper says it all: "TVO Up for Sale."
It has been almost four months since the report by Sheldon Levy showed massive opposition to selling off TVOntario. It has been almost a year since your government began its privatization review, yet we continue to see a government making the rules as they go along in a so-called public process that doesn't reflect public opinion at all.
Minister, my question is this: Who is writing your government's policy on TVO, when will the public be told of your plans and when will you stop playing games with the future of TVOntario?
Hon Rob Sampson (Minister without Portfolio [Privatization]): First of all, the member opposite, and the people watching today, should be aware of the fact that we have not made a decision on TVO yet. In spite of what the headline may say, if you read the content of the speech I delivered, I was quite clear on that.
What the member should also know is that we are giving full consideration to all the views that are provided to us through the consultation process, and it has been an open process, where we've invited the panel and other Ontarians to provide their opinions, either directly to me or through other members of this Legislature to me or to the secretariat directly. We intend to listen to those opinions as we take a look at the options and decide exactly what the nature of TVO should be in the future. Clearly that's what we're trying to do.
Mr Gravelle: The people of Ontario have spoken very clearly. The only thing clear about your response is that your government is now just saying, "Forget public opinion; forget that millions of Ontarians support our public television network." This is all happening simply because your Tory government made an irresponsible election promise to sell off TVO. Minister, I, like supporters of public television all across Ontario, fear that you will impose change to TVO just for the sake of change; that it's not your intention to recognize the importance of a legacy built up by and for the people of Ontario for 27 years.
I'll repeat my questions to you; they're very important. But I want to ask you specifically this in my supplementary: Will you commit today to at least publicly, in this Legislature, not outside the Legislature, make your intentions very clear, not wait till the summertime, when we are out of session, to make any announcements, make your position clear in the Legislature and tell us what is going to happen to TVOntario in this province? Tell us now. Tell us publicly.
Hon Mr Sampson: Again, there have been no decisions made, so I can't clearly tell you what the decision will be. Even a member of your own caucus, and maybe you should caucus again to have a little discussion among yourselves, suggested quite publicly that all we're doing is delivering on our commitment to review the status of that particular asset. That came from one of the members of your very own caucus on a TV program not long ago. So you might want to get together and have a chat about this particular asset.
I should say to the honourable member across the floor, clearly when we make a decision, we'll do what we can to deliver it to the people of Ontario. At this point in time, we have not made a decision. We're taking our time so we get it right. That may not be what you would have done, but that's what we're going to do.
Mr Bud Wildman (Algoma): I have a question to the Minister of Education and Training. At a time when this House is intending this evening to debate the Calgary framework, when the Premier of this province says, at least in some of his statements, that we should be reaching out to the people of Quebec, particularly the francophone community in Quebec; at a time when we are, all of us hopefully, working for the unity of this great country, how does this minister justify his so-called funding formula, which is really a cutting formula, setting up a system which cuts out core French programs in the English elementary schools of this province?
Hon David Johnson (Minister of Education and Training): The funding formula no longer funds core French in grades 1 to 4. However, it maintains the same number of hours, 600 hours at the elementary level. So the net effect is that the boards have more flexibility in terms of how they provide it.
I must say that moneys in the classroom, whether used for French or mathematics or anything else, have actually increased, so boards have greater flexibility to establish the kind of programs that they feel would be necessary and, within that framework, they have an obligation for exactly the same number of hours of French at the elementary level.
Mr Wildman: Surely the minister knows that most studies indicate that the earlier a child has an opportunity to be exposed to a second language the better in terms of the individual's ability to learn. Wouldn't it make sense, particularly when we say that we are interested in preserving the linguistic duality of our country, that we should be doing everything possible to ensure as many Ontarians as possible have an opportunity to learn the second official language? Why is it that this government has determined that, at the very time when kids can learn another language more easily, it is no longer mandatory in grades 1 to 4 to have core French programs and is not prepared to fund them?
Hon David Johnson: To the contrary: The requirement for the number of hours of French at the elementary level is unchanged at 600. Classroom moneys have actually increased. Every board in Ontario will get more moneys to go into the classroom for various components such as teachers and textbooks and everything else that will help not only in a French program but any other program. Perhaps the third party doesn't have confidence in the local schools and the local school boards and the local trustees.
Mr Gilles Pouliot (Lake Nipigon): It is you we don't have confidence in.
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Order. Member for Lake Nipigon, come to order, please.
Mr Pouliot: Minister for Lake Nipigon?
The Speaker: No, the member for Lake Nipigon. Minister.
Hon David Johnson: I have confidence that within the parameters they are given, the 600 hours, which is exactly the same, and with the fact that they have more money than they've had in the past for the classroom, our school boards will make the best decisions for our students in Ontario.
Mr Marcel Beaubien (Lambton): My question is for the Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs. Minister, you announced the 1998 summer jobs plan on April 15, to help more than 3,000 rural young people find jobs this year. I'm interested in having an update as to where the program is, as I'm sure the opposition would be interested.
Ms Frances Lankin (Beaches-Woodbine): You're wrong.
Hon Noble Villeneuve (Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, minister responsible for francophone affairs): I want to thank my colleague from Lambton for that question. Yes, there is good news on the employment front for students in spite of the fact that the member for Riverdale doesn't want to hear it.
Ms Lankin: Beaches-Woodbine.
Hon Mr Villeneuve: Beaches-Woodbine, sorry.
Ms Marilyn Churley (Riverdale): I don't either, though.
Hon Mr Villeneuve: Since April 15 more than 3,600 rural youth have found employment in the student employment program sponsored by the ministry. We have exceeded the target early and we are still under budget. Our rural youth are benefiting from our plan to reduce taxes, to reduce government spending, and indeed it's showing.
Shown here in the London Free Press: "Summer Jobs are Sprouting: Hot Economy Means More Work for More Students." There are more jobs in all areas.
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Answer, please.
Hon Mr Villeneuve: The economic recovery has inspired many younger students to look for work earlier when they might not even have bothered. We are the first government to recognize the importance of expanding -
The Speaker: Supplementary.
Mr Beaubien: The summer jobs plan certainly appears to be working. However, in rural Ontario we do have a unique situation -
Mr Beaubien: The opposition may think it is hilarious. It is difficult to maintain young people in rural Ontario because of a lack of job opportunities. Minister, what is your ministry doing to provide opportunity and job opportunities in the future for young people in rural Ontario?
Hon Mr Villeneuve: I am very pleased to again remind the House that we've had the rural youth advisory program, which has provided not only good advice but indeed $35 million has gone to a rural youth employment program which will help keep our rural youth where they were born and raised, out in rural Ontario, instead of having them drift into the urban centres and maybe never return.
To quote the rural youth report, "Many rural students did not know the kind of skills they had which employers are looking for - initiative, loyalty, honesty, among others." That's the quality of rural youth that we have and certainly we're going to build on that to make sure that our rural roots in Ontario remain strong.
Mr Dominic Agostino (Hamilton East): In the absence of the Minister of Health, I want to go to the Deputy Premier. The destruction commission has rolled through Hamilton and has recommended the closure of the Hamilton Psychiatric Hospital. What you have done through this recommendation is sold out 1,200 full-time and part-time psychiatric patients at this facility, you've abandoned 600 professional health care workers who are at risk of losing their jobs as a result of this. You are recommending a move to St Joseph's Hospital at an additional cost of $40 million.
Patients have told us that they are concerned about the lack of services, the loss of privileges, the loss of green space, the loss of beds and the loss of social programs. This decision is devastating to psychiatric patients in Hamilton. You are simply trying to save a few dollars on the backs of the most vulnerable.
Minister, the court ruling of April 18, 1997, gave the Minister of Health the full power to make reverse recommendations in regard to psychiatric hospitals. Will you live up to the commitment made by the Premier, who said, "Not one hospital closure in Ontario," and reverse the decision of the destruction commission and save Hamilton Psychiatric Hospital?
Hon Chris Hodgson (Chair of the Management Board of Cabinet, Minister of Northern Development and Mines): I just wanted to say that I will pass on the member's specific concerns to the Minister of Health when she returns. I can say, though, that the health care restructuring commission, as you recall, is an arm's-length commission that's looking at modernizing our health system to meet the needs -
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Order, order.
Hon Mr Hodgson: The health care restructuring commission's recommendations for this area have been generally well-received. It's good news. There are a lot of capital dollars to be reinvested in new MRI machines.
As everyone knows, Ontario has a large health system and we want to modernize it and move it from the acute care to the community care side and provide services to people when they need them, where they need them. It takes some time, and we've been very fortunate to have the assistance of the health care restructuring commission to take that on.
Mr Agostino: You don't understand the issue. Clearly, if you recall, the divisional court ruling of April 18, 1997, does not give the restructuring commission final power over psychiatric hospitals. That rests with you, your cabinet and your government. It is your responsibility. You can't pass this off to the restructuring commission. The courts have told you that.
Minister, you said it's good news. I can't understand why you would tell 1,200 patients who receive service at HPH that the fact you're going to close this first-class facility is good news. We're clearly moving to discount health care again here. You're trying to save a buck on the backs of the most vulnerable people in this province, in the city of Hamilton: psychiatric patients.
Clearly by the examples we have seen in northern Ontario and across Ontario, psychiatric patients end up in jail because there are no beds in facilities. You are now going to close even further beds with this move in Hamilton. Again, Minister, let me ask you one more time: Will you use the powers given to you by the courts last year, stand up to the word of the Premier and reverse the decision today to close Hamilton Psychiatric Hospital, or are you going to abandon psychiatric patients -
The Speaker: Minister.
Hon Mr Hodgson: I think everyone realizes the member has some particular concerns about change. The good news here, and I don't know why he's opposed to this, is that the health care restructuring commission is recommending a $1.4-million reinvestment in mental health in the Hamilton-Wentworth region. That's 17 new paediatric and adolescent mental health beds. I don't know why he's against seven more acute mental health beds, going from 82 to 89. I'm not sure why he's against no reduction in the number of -
Mr Agostino: Why are you closing the hospital? You said you weren't going to, Jim.
The Speaker: Order, member for Hamilton East.
Hon Jim Wilson (Minister of Energy, Science and Technology): It is not closing.
Mr Agostino: It is not closing?
Hon Mr Wilson: Amalgamating services.
Mr Agostino: It is not closing?
The Speaker: Member for Hamilton East, come to order, please. I'm not going to warn you again. Come to order.
The Speaker: Will you people come to order as well. I'm sick of hearing that too. Thank you.
Hon Mr Hodgson: I just want to add that I'm not clear why the member of the Liberal Party is against the recommendation to increase the reinvestment in mental health transfers to $3.5 million, the community-based programs. I will pass along to the Minister of Health that he's opposed to all this good news
Mr Rosario Marchese (Fort York): My question is to the minister of privatization. Today you have been quoted in the press as saying that TVOntario will be at least partially privatized. As we hear it, you were quoted by the Toronto Sun as saying this: "You need to find the right role for the private sector in these transactions." Clearly that leaves the door open, we fear, to privatization.
You say you're not saying that. You're saying, of course, that you haven't made a decision, that you're taking your time, yet you make statements of that nature that lead people to believe you are on that road to privatization. This committee that drafted this report on TVOntario, the Community Forum Panel, wrestled this issue to the ground. You're trying to resurrect it over and over again. They clearly said, "With few exceptions, we heard an endorsement of TVOntario as an entity serving the public good and worthy of continued support."
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Question.
Mr Marchese: You have a duty not to go on a personal privatization binge that runs contrary to the wishes of the people who spoke against the privatization of TVO. Give them -
The Speaker: Thank you.
Hon Rob Sampson (Minister without Portfolio [Privatization]): As I said earlier, we have not made a decision on TVO. The member may be musing about where he himself would take TVO and I would welcome his input on that, as I would welcome the input from people all over Ontario.
I say to him quite clearly, though, that if he were to take a look at TVO and understand its business as we have been trying to do over the last few months, he would see that TVO is partnering with the private sector in a number of ways; in fact the board itself struck a task force to review different ways to restructure its organization and suggested that we consider other options to expand the private sector's role in TVO. I don't hear the honourable member suggesting that perhaps the board was misguided, unless he would like to make that statement right now.
Mr Frank Miclash (Kenora): Speaking of TVO, I have a petition here to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario, and it reads:
"Whereas TVOntario is owned by the people of Ontario; and
"Whereas the Mike Harris government has opposed public support for maintaining TVO as a publicly owned and funded educational broadcaster by putting TVO through a privatization review; and
"Whereas the Mike Harris government has not confirmed that full public participation will be part of this privatization review;
"We, the undersigned, petition the Legislative Assembly of Ontario to hold open and honest public consultations with the people of Ontario before making a decision on the future of TVO."
I have attached my name to that petition as well.
Mr Peter Kormos (Welland-Thorold): I've got a petition with thousands and thousands of signatures addressed to the Honourable Lieutenant Governor and Legislative Assembly of Ontario which is titled "Keep Our Young Offenders' Services Professional and Public." It reads:
"We, the undersigned citizens of Ontario, beg leave to petition the Parliament of Ontario as follows:
"Whereas the Minister of Community and Social Services, Janet Ecker, has announced that she will sell the services and programs at Ontario's secure custody facilities for high-risk young offenders to the private sector; and
"Whereas this decision will move these important services away from the government's responsibility to ensure the safety and security of the public, the young people in their charge and the workers who supervise and provide treatment to young offenders; and
"Whereas we believe strongly that elected officials should be directly accountable and responsible for all children and adults who are in custody as ordered by the courts of Ontario and that no private company should profit from crime;
"We urge the minister to keep our secure and treatment facilities for young offenders professional and public."
Signed by thousands of citizens of this province, and I've added my signature in full support of this most worthy petition.
PROTECTION FOR HEALTH CARE WORKERS
Mr Bob Wood (London South): I have a petition signed by 49 people.
"Whereas nurses in Ontario often experience coercion to participate in practices which directly contravene their deeply held ethical standards; and
"Whereas pharmacists in Ontario are often pressured to dispense and/or sell chemicals and/or devices contrary to their moral or religious beliefs; and
"Whereas public health workers in Ontario are expected to assist in providing controversial services and promoting controversial materials against their consciences; and
"Whereas physicians in Ontario often experience pressure to give referrals for medications, treatments and/or procedures which they believe to be gravely immoral; and
"Whereas competent health care workers and students in various health care disciplines in Ontario have been denied training, employment, continued employment and advancement in their intended fields and suffered other forms of unjust discrimination because of the dictates of their consciences; and
"Whereas the health care workers experiencing such unjust discrimination have at present no practical and accessible legal means to protect themselves;
"We, the undersigned, urge the government of Ontario to enact legislation explicitly recognizing the freedom of conscience of health care workers, prohibiting coercion of and unjust discrimination against health care workers because of their refusal to participate in matters contrary to the dictates of their consciences and establishing penalties for such coercion and unjust discrimination."
SERVICES FOR THE DEVELOPMENTALLY DISABLED
Mrs Sandra Pupatello (Windsor-Sandwich): To the Legislature of Ontario:
"Whereas the Ministry of Community and Social Services is currently engaged in a restructuring process across all communities in Ontario which will affect all people and their families supported by developmental services; and
"Whereas the consultation process was selective and limited; and
"Whereas those who require services are being pitted against those who have services; and
"Whereas service to one group should not be at the expense of another, regardless of age or language; and
"Whereas the MCSS `corporate agenda' is one of wholesale destruction of the support system for the vulnerable; and
"Whereas this corporate agenda will threaten the health, safety and likely the lives of many disabled people;
"We, the undersigned, petition the Legislature of Ontario to stop this destructive restructuring project and provide adequate funding for quality services to the developmentally disabled."
This petition was signed by many people in Whitby and Oshawa, so I'm very happy to present that.
OCCUPATIONAL HEALTH AND SAFETY
Mr David Christopherson (Hamilton Centre): I have a petition forwarded to me by Nancy Hutchison, the health and safety coordinator for the United Steelworkers, District 6. It's signed by hundreds of steelworkers such as Darren Green from my home town of Hamilton and virtually across the entire province. The petition reads as follows:
"To the Legislative Assembly of Ontario:
"Whereas each year in Ontario approximately 300 workers are killed on the job, several thousand die of occupational diseases and 400,000 suffer work-related injuries and illnesses; and
"Whereas during the past decade the Workers' Health and Safety Centre proved to be the most cost-effective WCB-funded prevention organization dedicated to worker health and safety concerns; and
"Whereas the WCB provides over 80% of its legislated prevention funding to several employer-controlled safety associations and less than 20% to the Workers' Health and Safety Centre; and
"Whereas the Workers' Health and Safety Centre recently lost several million dollars in funding and course revenue because of government changes to legislated training requirements; and
"Whereas 30% of the Workers' Health and Safety Centre staff were laid off due to these lost training funds; and
"Whereas the Workers' Health and Safety Centre now faces an additional 25% cut to its 1998 budget, which will be used to augment new funding for employer safety associations in the health, education and service sector; and
"Whereas the WCB's 1998 planned baseline budget cuts for safety associations and the Workers' Health and Safety Centre will be disproportionately against the workers' centre and reduce its 1998 budget allocation to less than 15% of the WCB prevention funding,
"Therefore we, the undersigned, petition the Legislative Assembly of Ontario to stop the WCB's proposed cuts and direct the WCB to increase the Workers' Health and Safety Centre's funding to at least 50% of the WCB's legislated prevention funding; and
"Further, we, the undersigned, call upon the Legislative Assembly of Ontario to direct the WCB to significantly increase its legislated prevention funding in order to eliminate workplace illness, injury and death."
I proudly continue to support these petitioners by adding my name.
Mr Wayne Wettlaufer (Kitchener): I have a petition here signed by nearly 100 people.
"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 the exclusive authority to determine what services 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's 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 taxpayers' dollars for the performance of abortions."
I am happy to affix my signature in support of this petition.
PROTECTION FOR HEALTH CARE WORKERS
Mr John C. Cleary (Cornwall): I have a petition to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario.
"Whereas nurses in Ontario often experience coercion to participate in practices which directly contravene their deeply held ethical standards; and
"Whereas pharmacists in Ontario are often pressured to dispense and/or sell chemicals and/or devices contrary to their moral or religious beliefs; and
"Whereas public health workers in Ontario are expected to assist in providing controversial services and promoting controversial materials against their consciences; and
"Whereas physicians in Ontario often experience pressure to give referrals for medications, treatments and/or procedures which they believe to be gravely immoral; and
"Whereas competent health care workers and students in various health care disciplines in Ontario have been denied training, employment, continued employment and advancement in their intended fields and suffered other forms of unjust discrimination because of the dictates of their consciences; and
"Whereas the health care workers experiencing such unjust discrimination have at present no practical and accessible legal means to protect themselves;
"Therefore we, the undersigned, urge the government of Ontario to enact legislation explicitly recognizing the freedom of conscience of health care workers, prohibiting coercion of and unjust discrimination against health care workers because of their refusal to participate in matters contrary to the dictates of their consciences and establishing penalties for such coercion and unjust discrimination."
This is signed by over 100 of my constituents.
Mr John Hastings (Etobicoke-Rexdale): I have a petition to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario which essentially deals with the previous petitioner's about the health care system, urging the government of Ontario to enact legislation explicitly recognizing the freedom of conscience of health care workers.
It has 15 signatures on it, and I affix my signature to it.
Mr Michael Gravelle (Port Arthur): I have a petition related to the need for long-term-care facilities in the province, especially in Thunder Bay and district:
"Whereas Thunder Bay and district are suffering from serious deterioration in our health care system because of the closing of hospital beds before community services and long-term-care facilities are available;
"We, the undersigned, therefore petition the Legislative Assembly of Ontario to make it an urgent priority to provide more long-term-care services in the home and to provide a sufficient number of long-term-care institutional beds and staff in order to restore the standards of health care to an acceptable level."
I'm very pleased to sign my name to the petition, signed by hundreds of people in my riding.
Mr R. Gary Stewart (Peterborough): I have a petition that reads:
"Whereas Ontario taxpayers funded over 45,000 abortions in 1993 at an estimated cost of $25 million; 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 the exclusive authority to determine what services 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;
"Therefore we, the undersigned, petition the Legislative Assembly of Ontario to cease from providing any taxpayers' dollars for the performance of abortions."
Mr James J. Bradley (St Catharines): My petition reads as follows, and it's to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario:
"Whereas the Mike Harris government has brought forth Bill 96, legislation which will effectively kill rent control in the province of Ontario; and
"Whereas the Mike Harris campaign literature during the York South by-election stated that `rent control will continue'; and
"Whereas tenant groups, students and seniors have pointed out that this legislation will hurt those who can least afford it, as it will cause higher rents across most markets in Ontario; and
"Whereas the Mike Harris proposal will make it easier for residents to be evicted from retirement care homes; and
"Whereas the Liberal caucus continues to believe that all tenants, and particularly the vulnerable in our society who live on fixed incomes, deserve the assurance of a maximum rent cap;
"We, the undersigned, demand that the Mike Harris government scrap its proposal to abandon and eliminate rent control and introduce legislation which will protect tenants in the province of Ontario."
I affix my signature, as I'm in full agreement.
Mr Bill Grimmett (Muskoka-Georgian Bay): I have a petition today signed by approximately 57 of my constituents. In my usual fashion, I'll abide by the rules and simply summarize the petition by saying that it petitions for the protection of the right to hunt black bear in Ontario. I'd like to file that petition today.
Mr Michael Gravelle (Port Arthur): The people of Ontario have made it very clear that they are opposed to the privatization of TVOntario. We have many petitions that are coming in, in relation to that. The petition reads:
"We, the undersigned, oppose any plans to privatize TVOntario and strongly support TVO's proposal to convert the agency to a not-for-profit corporation. We, the undersigned, strongly urge the government of Ontario to ensure continued access by Wahsa and Wawatay radio to TVO's distribution system. The privatization of TVOntario would jeopardize the excellent educational and informational programming provided by TVOntario. The sale of TVO to commercial interests would also jeopardize Wawatay radio network's native language programming, and Wahsa's distance education services, because both depend on TVO's distribution system."
I'm pleased to sign this petition as well.
CHIROPRACTIC HEALTH CARE
Mrs Brenda Elliott (Guelph): I'd like to present a petition from almost 200 citizens in the city of Guelph regarding chiropractic service. It reads as follows:
"We, the undersigned, petition the Legislative Assembly to recognize the contribution made by chiropractors to the good health of the people of Ontario, to recognize that dollars saved by the use of low-cost preventive care provided by chiropractors is worthwhile and to recognize that to restrict funding for chiropractic care only serves to limit access to a needed health care service."
I submit this on their behalf.
ORDER OF BUSINESS
Hon Norman W. Sterling (Minister of the Environment, Government House Leader): Madam Speaker, before I call the orders of the day, I'd like to indicate to members who might be interested in the Calgary framework that we will be calling government notice of motion number 10 this evening.
With respect to these proceedings, I believe we have unanimous consent to conduct them in this fashion: that the time will be divided equally among the three parties; that at 9:25 pm or at the conclusion of the debate, whichever is earliest, the Speaker shall interrupt the proceedings and put the question without further debate or amendment; and that, if a recorded vote is requested, the division bells shall be limited to five minutes, and there shall be no deferral of the vote pursuant to standing order 28(h). I seek unanimous consent for that.
The Deputy Speaker (Ms Marilyn Churley): Agreed? Agreed.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
TAX CUTS FOR PEOPLE AND FOR SMALL BUSINESS ACT, 1998 / LOI DE 1998 SUR LA RÉDUCTION DES IMPÔTS DES PARTICULIERS ET DES PETITES ENTREPRISES
Resuming the adjourned debate on the motion for second reading of Bill 15, An Act to cut taxes for people and for small business and to implement other measures contained in the 1998 Budget / Projet de loi 15, Loi visant à réduire les impôts des particuliers et des petites entreprises et à mettre en oeuvre d'autres mesures contenues dans le budget de 1998.
Mr Tony Silipo (Dovercourt): I'm pleased to have a chance to join in this debate. I want to indicate that I will be doing the leadoff on this, which was deferred on the first day, and that, further, I will be sharing my time with my colleague from Hamilton Centre.
I'm glad to have the chance to speak on Bill 15. I guess we will find out in due course what actually is going to happen with this bill. As we understand things now, we probably will get a chance to examine this bill in some greater detail in committee. It's ironic because this week we also will be debating another bill which was the subject of one piece of the government's budgetary framework, and that had to do with Bill 16, the property tax bill.
That bill is the one that I think you could argue that, between the two, is the one that should go to committee because of the problems - let alone the political differences - that there are on that, just the fundamental drafting errors and problems that the administrators in the municipalities who will have to implement that legislation are telling us are there.
The government is saying so far that they not only will not send that bill to committee, but we expect they will file a time allocation motion to close debate on that by the end of this week, whereas on this bill it looks like we may actually get a chance to debate it further, not just here but in committee. If that's the case, then obviously we look forward to that discussion.
Today I want to set out some of our views on this bill. This is the bill that implements the major provisions of the budget: the remainder of the 30% income tax cut and the reductions in the business tax for small businesses. It does a couple of other interesting things that we actually support.
One important thing it does is that it repeals the video lottery terminal legislation, something we had advocated. I have to say that we have had, and still have, some concerns about why that particular piece is in this bill, which is after all a budget bill, unless the government has finally conceded that the only reason for the VLT legislation existing was to bring in the money to the provincial coffers. That's what they've admitted by putting that section in this bill. That piece reflects the things we have been saying: that those provisions regarding the video lottery terminals should not proceed, given that the government has taken the position it has. We're happy to see that piece in the legislation.
There are a couple of other pieces in this bill that I find quite interesting. One is this whole issue of changing the Highway Traffic Act to raise the fine for failing to obey a red or amber light to $150 from the current $60. I suppose that on that particular point we don't have any problems; not only that, we think that may be a good idea. But we continue to say to the government, and we wonder, how it is that's going to become a deterrent - that simple increase in the fine - when the government continues to refuse to seriously look at the changes that need to be made to catch people in the first place who go through red or yellow lights. That's where the attention should be, not just on this question of increasing the amount of fines.
One other thing - which I suppose, on the one hand, is almost a laughing matter but of course it's more than that because it is quite serious - is the implementation through this bill of one of the announcements made, with great fanfare we might say, in the budget, which was that the government is now going to exempt the 25-cent pay phone calls that we all make from time to time from sales tax; in other words, that sales tax will no longer apply as it does now to that 25-cent call.
The interesting question around this is, how is that money going to find its way back into the hands of consumers? I haven't heard anybody, including the government and the Minister of Finance, say that they're going to ask Bell to reduce phone calls down to 23 cents because the difference is about two cents. I don't think, quite frankly, anyone would seriously contemplate that possibility. On the other hand, we don't see any provisions to ensure that this is anything other than a windfall for Bell Canada.
This is something that we will want to pursue and will want to see the government try to do something to ensure that the money that Bell Canada now will no longer have to remit to the provincial government in the way of sales tax will somehow find its way back into the hands of the people who pay the phone bills, the consumers. That's something on which we are quite interested in seeing further action.
There are a number of other pieces that are in this bill, but of course we know, as I said earlier, that the two main pieces in the bill have to do with implementation of a cut in the corporate tax for small businesses, cutting the tax rate in half-point stages from the current 9.5% until it will reach 4.75% in January 2006, and I want to come back to that point in terms of what it means. The other issue is of course the final implementation of a 30% income tax cut.
To speak for a moment about the cut to the small business rate, again I have to say that in doing that, I for one look at that and say that I think that is a useful direction. What of course is troubling, is wrong, is inappropriate about what the government is doing is just the kind of slow way in which they're going about doing this.
If they were serious about reducing the burden on small businesses, the argument could be made that they could have done more on that front, but of course what we see in this announcement is something that we saw very often in many parts of the budget speech which, as I say, this bill now in large part implements, and that is that the government made all sorts of announcements in which they tried to paint a more positive picture of themselves and their actions. They tried essentially to say through those actions, "Look, we've gone through bad times and now here are the good times rolling in and this is the way in which we're able to now give back to people some further support and provide some further assistance."
As a message I suppose that is not a bad one, except that it doesn't quite hold because in many cases such as this, what the government has tried to do is to take in effect a nine- or 10-year announcement and present it as if they were implementing that all in one fell swoop. They're trying to bank on the benefits that will come from what the situation will be like at the end of that eight-, nine- or 10-year period, depending on the initiative, but of course in terms of the impact that it will have on the provincial coffers that will be minimal.
We saw that here. We saw that certainly in the health care spending announcement, the big announcement that was made a couple of days before the budget and then reiterated in the budget speech, which was that they were investing millions of dollars in long-term care. When you looked at what that actually meant over the next year or two, it was a mere fraction of the money that is needed, particularly when you put that against, for example, the hundreds of millions of dollars that the government stopped in long-term care in the three years they have been the government and at the time they first became the government in 1995.
The sheer reality is that at the end of the day, by the time their term of office is over, they will not even have reinvested in long-term care anywhere near the amounts of money that not only should be there but, quite frankly, would have been there had they left the commitments to funding and increased investments in that area in place as per decisions that had been made by the previous NDP government that I was proud to be a member of.
That is typical of the way this government has acted. We know they froze or cut spending in a number of areas when they first came into office. What we are seeing in the latter part of their mandate is an attempt by them to try to sound as if now they're reinvesting.
If you look at the area of health care you just have to look at what is actually happening on a day-to-day basis for people to realize and for this government and its members to realize that they can spin the line all they want, but the reality out there is completely different. The reality out there is that people are hurting, the services aren't there, and what we are seeing is a government that is simply trying to carry its spin line and trying in effect to carry on as if things are now fine when they are not.
Even in an area in which all of us, I hope, want to be supportive, which is to say, "Yes, let's support small businesses," even and including by reducing the tax burden they have, let alone the whole red tape they have to go through - both actions that certainly, Madam Speaker, you will recall we took. In fact, I believe it was part of your direct responsibility as Minister of Consumer and Commercial Relations to begin the process of reducing red tape for small business at the time, and certainly we don't have to take a back seat to anyone with respect to the approach that says small businesses need to be helped.
But we need only look at what this government has done to small businesses with respect to the whole property tax mess and to say to small businesses that certainly this government, while it continues to try to portray itself as a friend to small business, is far from being a friend to small business. Had they in fact been or were they in fact the friend of small business they purport to be, they would never have put small businesses in the kind of turmoil they did by letting things develop to the point where many of them would have actually gone out of business had the provisions continued.
Even now, as I said earlier, with the changes they have made and some of the improvements the government has finally made under Bill 16 on that front, we know there will be major problems in terms in implementing that which we will have to deal with. But, as I say, that is in the other bill and we will deal with that in whatever limited way we are able to.
But to come back to the issues that are directly here in Bill 15, the budget bill, let me come to what I think is the centrefold issue, and I think even the government members would say that this is their raison d'être. This is in fact the mainstay of their not only fiscal but political rationale for existing as a government. That is the 30% income tax cut, which they believe is at the heart of everything they are doing and everything that needs to be done.
Let's take a look at what that means. First of all, for the average family, it means very little in the way of a benefit. What it means is that when you look at the typical family - not even a typical family; it's higher than the average typical family - making, say, $60,000 with two family incomes, that family might at the end of the day see about $1,000 less in provincial taxes at the end of the year. That sounds like a nice round amount, and who would not want to have their tax burden reduced by that amount or even higher amounts?
But when that same family, as a result of the actions of this government, also has to pay out in an assortment of ways far, far more than that $1,000 they gain, then even that family will realize, and many more like them, that far from this being a benefit to them, it will actually end up costing them more. If they have children who are either going or aspiring to go to college or university, they are going to be paying thousands of dollars more just by the actions this government has taken now and will continue to take in tuition fees.
If they are seniors or have family members who are seniors, they are going to be paying more for basic medicines than they were paying before. If they are just a typical family living in a typical municipality, they are likely to be paying either more property taxes as municipalities have to deal with the downloading of many costs on to the property tax base, or they are going to be paying higher user fees in order to maintain those services, which is the other option that municipalities have or, quite frankly, they will find themselves with fewer services than they have now.
Mr Michael A. Brown (Algoma-Manitoulin): On a point of order, Madam Speaker: I think the member deserves to have a quorum.
The Deputy Speaker (Ms Marilyn Churley): Clerk, could you check and see if there is a quorum, please?
Clerk Assistant (Ms Deborah Deller): A quorum is not present, Speaker.
The Deputy Speaker: Call in the members.
The Deputy Speaker ordered the bells rung.
Clerk Assistant: A quorum is now present, Speaker.
Mr John Gerretsen (Kingston and The Islands): On a further point of order, Madam Speaker: I would like to introduce, for those members in the House, somebody in the gallery today. Carol Keyes is here, the daughter of the former member Ken Keyes from Kingston and The Islands, and also the mother of one of our pages here, Lee. I think we should welcome her and her family.
The Deputy Speaker: That's not a point of order, but I'd like to welcome you anyway.
Mr Silipo: I certainly join in welcoming members of the public, because if they have a chance to be here in person or even to listen to us on television, they might actually see what is going on in terms of this government.
As we were debating Bill 15, the budget bill, I was talking about the impact the tax cut, which is the mainstay of what this government is doing, will have on the typical family. I was using the example of a family making $60,000 and pointing out that at the end of the day that family will end up paying more, not less, for services, and probably at the end of the day even fewer services than they enjoy today.
While I talked about a family with an income of $60,000, the sheer reality is that half the taxpayers of the province earn less than $35,000. If we want to talk about the real impact of this, we need to take a look at that half of the taxpayers for whom the positive impact of the tax cut - that is, money in their pockets - is going to be far less than that $1,000 or $1,100 I was talking about with respect to a family earning $60,000. If you think that a family at $60,000 is going to see no benefit from the tax cut, a family in a situation of $35,000, $40,000 or even less, and there we're talking about half the taxpayers of the province, are going to see not only no positive impact - not only are they not going to see any money in their pockets, but they are going to see a situation in which they are paying more.
And what are they paying more for? Well, they are paying more for all the services I outlined before, but they're also going to be paying so that a small fraction of taxpayers at the top end of the income scale will actually see the benefit of the income tax cut that this bill implements.
That's what the Mike Harris agenda is all about. It's not about redistributing wealth. It's not about creating jobs. It's about distributing the tax moneys from the middle class and the working class and the poorest families of our province to the richer citizens of our province. It is about redistributing wealth, but it's not about redistributing wealth in the sense that most people out there would think of when it comes to redistributing wealth. They usually think that if you're redistributing wealth, you're making things better for people of modest and low income; you're trying to bridge the gap between the richest and the poorest.
But no, the Mike Harris government is purposefully, consciously widening the gap between the richest and the poorest citizens of our province. It is so clear when you look at the impact of the tax cut.
Of course, the big line from the government is, "People will reinvest this money." Have we seen any real evidence that that's happening? No. I don't expect members opposite to take my word as a member of the opposition. I ask them to take a look at the many economists, those who appeared before the finance committee and others who have spoken out in a variety of forums, who have said, "The tax cut is not creating jobs." If it's not creating jobs, what's the point of it?
If you recall, in the Common Sense Revolution, somewhere on page 1 or page 2, the essential reason for this tax cut, as the government stated, was that they were going to create some 725,000 jobs. That was the reason they were doing it. That's not the reason they're doing it, in my view. The reason they're doing it is because they are a government that is ideologically bent in the wrong direction, to the right, a government that is -
Mr David Christopherson (Hamilton Centre): Twisted, one might say.
Mr Silipo: Twisted, my colleague from Hamilton Centre says. Twisted in what direction? Certainly not in the interests of the average Ontario family, certainly not in the interests of those 50% of taxpayers who make less than $35,000, and not even in the interests of those Ontarians who might make $60,000 individually or as families, or even $70,000, because those aren't the families that are going to see any benefit from the actions of this government. They're the ones who are going to be paying for the shift in money and wealth from the average family into the hands of relatively few people in this province.
Mr Derwyn Shea (High Park-Swansea): They're the ones the NDP wants to tax more.
Mr Silipo: My colleague says, "They're the ones the NDP wants to tax." No, we don't. They're not. Let me be clear. Let me reassure the member that I'll talk about that. We have said very clearly that not only are we against this tax cut insanity that this government wants to implement, but we actually have gone one step further to the logical conclusion of saying you're against something, which is saying what you would do, therefore, as a result.
I want to say to my colleague from High Park-Swansea that we have said very clearly that we would take back a portion of the tax cut. We have said that. We have said that we would take back the portion of the tax cut that is applied to people making over $80,000. That's what we have said.
Mr Peter L. Preston (Brant-Haldimand): How much do MPPs make?
Mr Silipo: My friend asked, "How much do MPPs make?" That, interestingly enough, happens to be about where we are. Let me assure him that if we get the chance, if the voters are willing to implement that - when we talk about $80,000, it's simply to round up the number, but let me assure him that it will be $79,000-and-whatever that's going to cover each and every one of the MPPs, including the member opposite. We expect that when he sits on this side of the House he won't be making the additional salary of a parliamentary assistant but will still be covered by our position on the income tax cut.
The serious point here is this: that we believe as New Democrats that it is not appropriate for a government's actions to widen the gap between the richest and the poorest in our province. We believe a government should tax wisely, should tax in a way in which, yes, if we have to reduce the tax burden for taxpayers, that's something we need to be conscious of. I said earlier that we support the general direction of reducing the tax load on small businesses.
I'm sure some of the government members genuinely believe that on the tax front alone what they've been doing is a very good thing. But they need to look at the impact of this. They need to look at what is happening just on the tax cut alone. Even if you don't want to go the next step that I've been suggesting you need to and look at what is actually happening for you to find this money - because again, this is all borrowed money. This is not money the government has at its disposal. This is all borrowed money.
If they were seriously interested in making life better - I'm sure many of them share the intent to make life better for the average family in this province, but their actions and their policies will do the complete opposite. They might cater to 35%, 36%, 37% and maybe even up to 40% of the electorate. If that's their objective, then perhaps they're doing what they need to do, but it does not govern for the interests of the province as a whole.
Any time a government in this province takes steps that actually widen the gap between the richest and the poorest, then we are not moving in the correct direction. We are perhaps moving in the right direction from an ideological bent, but we are moving clearly in the wrong direction.
We have said very clearly that not only are we against the income tax cut because of what it has done and what it will continue to do - the decimation of many of our services; the fact that it's not according to many economists having the economic impact the government says it will have - but we would in fact undo a portion of that income tax cut that applies to that top 15% of taxpayers.
Mr Shea: Those families will lose their tax break.
Mr Silipo: The families that are making over $80,000 would in fact be asked to put back the income tax portion and we would use that money to reinvest in education and health care. I say that because I believe it's important we be clear with people.
I continue to be puzzled at the position our Liberal colleagues have taken on this. They stand up day in and day out saying they are opposed to the tax cut and yet when it comes time to say, "What would you do with it or how would you pay for this reinvestment in education and in health care that we all believe needs to be done?" I don't hear from our Liberal colleagues any position that says they would take any portion of that tax cut back. What they are saying -
Mr Gerretsen: You haven't listened closely.
The Deputy Speaker: Order.
Mr Silipo: I think I've listened pretty closely, and I have to listen even more closely to the fiscal notions as the finance critic for our party. I know the position the Liberal Party takes is that they believe that just simply through the growth in the economy there will be enough money to put back into education. There will be some money coming from growth. We're not denying that. There will be some money coming if the economy continues to grow. But what if the economy stops growing? What happens then?
Mr Silipo: I just want to say to my colleague opposite that if he or anybody across there, anybody in this House, quite frankly, thinks they can predict what the economy is going to be like three and four and five years from now, then I think they're either naïve or trying to fool people, because no one can with any great level of certainty predict what's going to happen three and four and five years from now - maybe not even a couple of years from now, realistically. Obviously, we all hope the economy continues to improve, but it may not. This is where I think our Liberal colleagues have a real problem in the position they have taken.
Let me come back to a couple of other points. Even on the fiscal basis you have to kind of wonder - of course this is something the government members conveniently omit from their line of argument when they talk about the fact that they are investing in job creation through the tax cut. They conveniently forget or omit the fact that this is all borrowed money. This is a government that came in and said, "Remember those 10 lost years," as they like to talk about them, "the NDP government raised the debt," conveniently forgetting that we governed during the worst times since the 1930s. Here they come in and just to pay for the tax cut, they will have added, conservatively estimating, at least $20 billion to the debt just to pay for the tax cut.
Mr Steve Gilchrist (Scarborough East): You know that tax revenues have gone up.
The Deputy Speaker: Member for Scarborough East.
Mr Silipo: So here's a government that says they want to reduce the debt, that they want to reduce the deficit, and what are the doing? They're increasing the debt. Here's a government that says they want to reduce the proportion of money we're spending to pay for the interest on the debt, and they're actually increasing that. That has actually increased from the time they took office.
Mr Shea: What happened to the deficit?
Mr Silipo: My friend from High Park-Swansea wants to know what happened to the deficit. Well, there's another interesting story.
Mr Shea: What happened to the deficit?
Mr Silipo: The deficit of course has gone down. Of course. We admit the truth. In fact we also would be prepared to go one step further and say that had the government really wanted to be up front with people, they would have been able to admit in this budget that they could have actually brought the deficit down to zero by next year. More important than that, if they were really serious about reducing the deficit, they would have been able to do that as of this year had they not implemented this crazy tax cut of theirs. They would have been able to come in this year and say, "At the end of this fiscal year the deficit is down to zero."
We know there is in the budget anywhere from $1 billion to $2 billion of money that has been budgeted and not spent, largely under the category of restructuring. In this budget and in this bill that implements the budget the government has left its doors quite open. This is the pre-election budget. This is the pre-election budget bill.
Mr Shea: No, there are two more.
Mr Silipo: No, there won't be two more. If the member for High Park-Swansea thinks there are going to be two more, then I don't know what bill of goods he's been sold. There won't be two more. There may not even be one more, I say to the member.
What has happened with this budget and with this bill is that the government has left its doors neatly and conveniently open to call an election as early as this fall or as late as next spring. That's what's going to happen. That will be determined in part by a number of factors, including some things that might be happening later this fall, including what the reading is this fall and into early next spring about what the economy is actually going to do. Then we will see a situation -
Mr John R. Baird (Nepean): The talk of an early election frightened the Liberals off.
The Deputy Speaker: Member for Nepean, come to order.
Mr Silipo: I think it's interesting. One of the realities, I can say to members, and I say this in all sincerity and without presumption, is that having spent a bit of time in government, not everything is told by the powers that be to all of the members of the government, let alone all of the backbenchers. So let me say to them that if some of them believe they're going to have two more budgets before they go to the electorate, then we will see. Time will tell.
The long and the short of it is that this is a budget bill that is the pre-election budget, as I see it. It's a bill that leaves the door open to Mike Harris to decide when he's going to call the election. They could come back in the fall with an economic statement that says, "By the way, with our fiscal prudence, we've now found another billion and a half that we hadn't estimated in." Of course, that's a billion and a half that we know is coming from the federal government in the way of revenue that they haven't put into the estimates.
Where is the proof of that? Here is the proof: First of all, the proof is that that's what's happened over the last couple of years, so that's been the pattern.
Mr Baird: That's $1.5 billion?
Mr Silipo: Yes, $1.5 billion. This year it was closer to $2 billion in terms of income tax. That's right.
If you need any more proof, here is the thing: The government is proudly proclaiming growth in the economy - I think it's 3.2% or some number to that effect - for next year. We agree that there will be growth; I'm not disputing that. What I want to say to the government members is this: Don't you find it a little odd that in a budget that says the economy is going to grow, you've actually estimated that the revenues going into the government from taxes are going to be lower than this year?
Mr Baird: Prudent.
Mr Silipo: That's not being prudent. That's not telling the whole story.
Mr Shea: We are still working on a 3% figure.
Mr Silipo: Some of the members opposite are saying they are going to be higher. Well, that's my point. They will be higher, but your numbers don't say that they're going to be higher. What will happen is that at some point during the year the Minister of Finance will come forward and say, "By the way, we've found another billion, another billion and a half, two billion dollars." Then they will have the option of saying: "That money's going to go to the deficit. We're ready now to go to the people and we will see."
Whenever that happens, it will not change one bit the reality of the impact of the income tax cut which, as I say, is at the heart of what this bill implements. There are many things in this bill, but that's the essential piece, and the cost of that income tax cut is quite frankly not worth it. It's not worth it in terms of the money that has had to be cut from health care services, from social services, from education, which for the typical family out there is going to mean either or both of higher costs in property taxes or other user fees that Mike Harris used to call taxes and now says are not taxes, or less in the way of services. That's the sheer reality for the typical family out there, that's what's going to happen, and that's why we believe as New Democrats that what the government is doing is fundamentally wrong. It should not happen.
We would have wished that at least they had seen the wisdom of their ways and not proceeded with this final stage of the income tax cut, but quite frankly, I have been saying since the beginning of this government's term that if there was one promise they were going to keep, it's the 30% income tax cut, not because Mike Harris has staked so much of his reputation on that but because that's at the heart of this Reform-minded philosophy that's driving this government, and that is to redistribute wealth and power from the typical and average family into the hands of those few Ontarians who are at the top of the income tax scale. That's the reality, that's what this philosophy is all about, and at the end of the day, whenever the election comes, people will have an opportunity not only to pass judgement on the Mike Harris government and this right-wing, Reform-minded agenda but also to look at some of the alternatives.
This is where I ask people to look at what we are saying, because we believe the only real alternative to what Mike Harris is saying and doing is to put in place a government that would undo the greater part of this income tax cut, at least the part that applies to that top 15%, which gets us anywhere from $1.5 billion to $2 billion and allows us then the freedom to be able to reinvest back in education and social services.
People will be able to judge that against the actions of the Tories and, quite frankly, against the positions of the Liberal Party, who want to be the next government and who will say to people, "Yeah, we want to reinvest in education, health care and social services, but by the way, we're going to simply do it by wherever the money comes from." That is going to be the debate. There will be other issues that we'll certainly have a chance to talk about, but on the fiscal side and in terms of how those issues relate to the real services out there that people deal with on a day-to-day basis, outside the rhetoric of this place, in health care, in social services, in education, that's the juxtaposition that people will have to make. That's the comparison.
We believe those services are important enough that our tax dollars should be there to pay for them. We believe that if taking back some of the tax cut for that 15% of people who make over $80,000, the top 15% of taxpayers, will give us the money to be able to reinvest in those services, then that's what we are prepared to do and that's what we are prepared to go to the electorate with. We will let them judge that against the havoc that this government is causing and will have caused by then. We will let them judge that against the seeming position of the Liberal Party which says, "You can have it both ways," which says, "We want to reinvest, but we're not going to tax in order to get that money." It's kind of a dream world versus the harsh cut versus, we think, a more realistic approach that we present.
With that, I will conclude and allow my colleague to continue from there.
Mr Christopherson: I appreciate the opportunity to follow the chief whip of our party in the opening comments on Bill 15. I think it's interesting to note that the second you ask Liberals, "How are you going to pay for your promises?" they vacate the building like somebody yelled "Fire!" There's not a single Liberal member here, and it was my recollection that all started when my colleague from Dovercourt -
Hon Cameron Jackson (Minister without Portfolio [Seniors Issues]): On a point of order, Madam Speaker: It is quite the custom in this Parliament and others not to make references to absences in the House. The member knows better, and I would ask him to withdraw any comments of that nature.
The Deputy Speaker: I believe that is quite correct. In fact, the member should not refer to people -
Mr Baird: On a point of order, Madam Speaker: I ask for unanimous consent that we could point out all afternoon that the Liberals aren't here. I would like to ask for unanimous consent.
The Deputy Speaker: Member for Hamilton Centre, go ahead.
Mr Christopherson: Thank you, Speaker, and certainly I withdraw any unparliamentary remarks, but I think it is interesting that the focus for us and what makes it very difficult for the Liberals is to say: "Yes, there is an alternative to the way Mike Harris and the Tories run this province. We don't need this kind of pain. We don't need to be facing the kind of attack we are on our health care system, on our education system, on the environment, on labour laws, on social services etc. There is an alternative." But when you focus the question on, "What will you do as an alternative and how will you pay for it?" the Liberals come up shy, empty and hollow each and every time because they want the best of all worlds. They want to be able to say they oppose the mean-spirited budget cutting of the Tory government, but they want to keep in place the very tax cuts that forced those programs to be slashed.
Mr James J. Bradley (St Catharines): On a point of order, Madam Speaker: The member for Hamilton Centre was making reference improperly about attendance in the House and so on. You would want to remind him, I know, that there were no NDP members in here for a vote one day on the tax cut.
The Deputy Speaker: Member for St Catharines, you just did yourself what I had already told the member for Hamilton was out of order, and you also are out of order.
Mr Christopherson: They're awfully thin-skinned. For a guy who has been around here for so long, I would have thought you would be used to the give and take of this place. But if you feel the need to wait until I'm in the middle of making a point to try to throw me off - that old gag, that old game - you go right ahead, Jim. That's your right. I think what really matters is that the question is not going to go away. You can ask for a point of order in the middle of the next election, and guess what, Jim? The election ain't gonna stop and people are still going to say, "How are you going to pay for all these promises?"
They want it both ways. They want to be able to say: "Yes, we're going to put money back in the health care system, just like the NDP, and we're going to spend money where it matters in our community to help rebuild the province, just like the NDP, but we don't really know how we're going to pay for it. Just trust us because our poll numbers are so high and we're going to win by default anyway, so don't worry about how we're going to pay for these things. Just look at the poll numbers and believe, believe, believe."
The fact of the matter is that's not going to cut it in the next election. My friend from Dovercourt is absolutely right. This next election is going to be about the track record of this government and the alternative. The alternative has to be credible. I hear the heckling from the government benches when we talk about these things, and I hear them talk about our fiscal track record. Yes, obviously we made a whole lot of mistakes or we wouldn't have gone from over there to over here. We learned that. We understand very clearly that unlike any other time in the history of our party, we are seriously in a position to be considered as an alternative party for government as much as either of the other two parties. Traditionally we've never been in that position.
I don't raise this next point as a matter of apology or excuses, except as reality. The last time we put together a platform going into the election, in 1990, the first time like that, we were not expecting to form a government. Nobody else was expecting us to form a government. Of course, as my colleague from Dovercourt has pointed out, neither was anyone expecting the severity and length of the recession and all of those things. However, that's in the past. What matters is that we've learned. We have learned from enough years, too many years, in opposition. But we learned a lot from the five years we governed this province. One of the things we learned, as difficult as it is for New Democrats to recognize this because a lot of our people and our supporters are from the community, they're activists, was that at the end of the day you have to know how you're going to pay for things.
That does not mean you buy in, obviously, to the whole right-wing global agenda that the Tories keep trotting out every time they go off and hurt someone, but it does mean, in my opinion, that the vast majority of voters, when they're looking at alternatives, expect them to be credible. As social democrats we will, as we did this last weekend at our convention in Hamilton, take a look at alternatives that are, yes, fiscally responsible, but also look at reinvesting back into the very things that have made this such a great place to live.
It's easy for you to take pot shots at us when you're offering up these kinds of games, like Bill 15, which we're debating right now, to say: "There they go. They're raising taxes. Don't vote for them." Play into that the mindset that anything to do with government and public policy is evil and it's money wasted.
We recognize that and we wrestled with it. We really would love to have gone to the position the Liberals have. We really would like to have said that we'll do this and we'll do this and we'll do all these things and it will be different from what the Tories are doing and it will put us back to the traditional kind of caring community we've always been that makes this such a great place to live. We'll just sort of fudge around with the numbers, or we won't offer any real answer, or we'll just hike the figures when we look at GDP growth in the future and all those other things you can do. We'd love to have done that.
Mr Preston: Like mandatory opportunity.
Mr Christopherson: I don't like it when I get help from the Tories. It makes me so uncomfortable when you guys are so pleased with what I'm saying. But it is true: We both disagree with the Liberals so much, so I'll try to get used to it.
Hon David Turnbull (Minister without Portfolio): Which Liberals?
Mr Christopherson: Why do I always feel that as soon as you start complimenting anything I'm saying, the trapdoor is going to open up underneath me and I'll never be seen again?
There really was an enticement to go to that because that's the perfect political position. The only small problem with it is that it's not legitimate. I'm not sure if I can say the word "honest" or not, Speaker - "No," she says - so I won't try it. But it's not legitimate. You can't say, "We're going to keep the tax cut" - by the way, the tax cut which requires $4.6 billion to be borrowed by this bill just to pay for your tax cut. If we didn't have that tax cut, you wouldn't have to have the part of Bill 15 that says we need authorization to borrow $4.6 billion. If you didn't have those sorts of things - but the Liberals want to keep that in place.
They won't say, "We're going to reverse some of that." We would have liked some of that world too, so what we have offered and will offer in the next election is an alternative, a very legitimate, very thoughtful, very doable, very governable, very manageable agenda that puts us back on the course to improving things in this province.
We probably wouldn't get nearly as outraged if there really were no other alternative. The government likes to portray that: "There was nothing else that could be done and that's why we had to do these awful, mean things. We don't really want to do them but we had to; there's no alternative."
There is an alternative. The government members know that from the alternative budget put forward by the OFL and a lot of social agencies and economists who view things a lot differently than they do - using their numbers, I might add. Everyone recognizes that in politics credibility, at the end of the day, is the only real currency that matters, so everything they used in their alternative budget, all the figures they used, were drawn from your government figures.
Mr Preston: They're accurate.
Mr Christopherson: One of the government backbenchers says, "They're accurate." I'm not disputing that point. If I were, I'd say so. I am saying that what I'm about to repeat from their alternative budget stems from figures that flow from your own government.
What did their alternative budget show? It showed that if the governing Tories had not cut income tax to their wealthy friends by 30%, and not cut one penny from health care, from education, from the environment, from labour protection, from social service programs, from virtually every part of the government, had not one penny been cut and you hadn't implemented the tax cut, the books would have been balanced, the deficit would have been balanced, the budget would have been balanced a year before you're going to do it - a year ahead of time.
Mr Preston: On the backs of the unemployed.
The Deputy Speaker: Order, please.
Mr Christopherson: The government members are heckling about jobs.
In politics you get lucky or don't get lucky with a lot of the economic environment you find yourselves in, particularly provincial governments. Even their own economists and their own right-wing newspapers make fun of them for trying to take credit for everything that's going on. The fact of the matter is we would have had a booming economy if you had done nothing, and if you hadn't implemented the tax cut and you had not cut program spending, we would have still had a balanced budget, and we would have had it a year ahead of time.
How do you think that makes seniors at home watching feel? How do you think that makes the thousands of people who work in the ministries for the people of Ontario who are now out of work because you eliminated their jobs feel? How do you think it makes my community of Hamilton-Wentworth feel when we're losing our psychiatric hospital, when we've lost St Peter's as a full hospital that we had before, when there's $24 million less being spent on health care in Hamilton than before your commission came rolling into town?
How do you think it makes students feel, who are looking at unbelievable debt as they try to plan for their future and go to university, now that you've deregulated it and increased it beyond the ability of the average middle-class working family to send their kid to school? How do you think it makes people on fixed incomes in the inner city of Hamilton and every other community across this province feel, as they look at headlines in their local papers, like I see in the Hamilton Spectator, talking about property tax increases?
How do you think it makes all those people feel to hear that if you had not implemented your 30% tax cut, when the vast majority of people who are watching this and thinking about this were lucky to get a couple bucks and we're now hearing that if you hadn't implemented the tax cut, which Bill 15 is a part of implementing, you wouldn't have had to cut one penny from any program in government spending?
That's not to say that it still shouldn't happen. That's not to say that we can't improve the way we deliver services. That's not to say that you don't want to restructure certain things. But the viciousness, the meanness, the single-mindedness, the lack of compassion that has been involved in the slashing and cutting that they've done wouldn't have been necessary. People are going to be furious, and they'll show that fury in the next election in a way that the Tory backbenchers right now only have nightmares about, because they can't believe that anything could be that awful. But it will be.
I referenced the Hamilton Spectator earlier, and I want to mention now an editorial from just a couple of weeks ago, May 6. I've read this into the record before, but I think it says so much. By and large, the Hamilton Spectator is fairly comfortable with your agenda, so they're not exactly supporting us in any kind of partisan way. But what did they say on May 6?
A quick quote reads as follows: "A $26-million downloading shortfall in Hamilton-Wentworth is helping to drive a 4.9% regional property tax increase this year. What difference will some of the tax reductions from Queen's Park make if they're taken away by higher municipal property taxes?"
The city right now haven't finished their budget process, but at committee of the whole they passed a motion that said they're going to have a zero increase on all those things that were not downloaded, that they have had traditional control over and that, quite frankly, our regional government, our local city council government, has done a pretty good job of managing.
The increase that's left over is almost $52 a year per average household. That's your downloading only. So number one, you said to people: "You won't see any increase in taxes. We're the government that cut taxes." Yes, you cut them on the one hand provincially, but municipally they're going up. You're playing a shell game, hoping people wouldn't notice, hoping they would get angry at the alderman and regional councillors and not at you.
But that fact is, that increase is what you did to them and that's after you also said that any kind of exchange of services would be revenue-neutral. What a joke. At the region, as a result of the numbers I read to you from the Hamilton Spectator editorial, the 4.9%, we're looking at over $100. Combined, we're talking over $150 a year property tax increase because of your government.
If you're somebody who's earning a couple of hundred thousand, or $300,000 or $400,000, this probably doesn't matter much, especially in light of the amount of money you're getting back in the tax cut. But for a lot of fixed-income people in my community, that's a lot of money. When that's added to all the other little things, if I can call them that, that have gone up as a result of your policies, those modest- and low-income people - look at how many real dollars they got in terms of the tax cut - are big-time losers under your policies, huge losers.
There's no win here for people on fixed income with those kind of numbers and those kind of tax increases, and yet you'll stand up, every one of you, anywhere you can, and say: "We're the wonderful government that cut taxes. Aren't we terrific?" And you didn't. You downloaded them down to municipalities and they've had to jack up their costs and it's showing itself in the property tax, which is a far more regressive system - in fact it's arguably the most regressive system. You've cut the money in the income tax system which yes, is progressive, but when you start to wind down the tax system, boy, the benefits to the higher incomes are incredible.
How incredible? An analysis done by Hugh Mackenzie points out - again, using the government's own numbers - and he says that in his article that I am going to quote:
"The government's own numbers show that more than half of the tax cut goes to the top 20% of taxpayers. The budget helpfully provides examples to understand the point. The four `typical' families with incomes over $120,000 a year average tax savings of more than $4,600; the 12 `typical' families with incomes below $60,000 a year...average tax savings of $600."
Who is going to be impacted more by increased property taxes? The person who got $4,600 from you, or the person who got $600?
I have only got a couple of minutes so I'm going to shift gears because there's one other point I want to make that is so important. The government's touting this - and again the great fun they have with naming bills - as An Act to cut taxes for people and for small business. Of course, they're talking about all the tax cuts for small business.
You know, there are an awful lot of small businesses that are being hurt in terms of the revenue they get, because you've got to have revenue before you can tax it. Even you can't change that law of economics. The revenue has to be there. Do you know how many corner stores are barely getting by just because of your cut of 22% to the poorest of the poor when you slashed social assistance rates across the board by 22%?
Do you know how many other small, community family businesses are being hurt by the fact that you're eliminating tens of thousands of decent-paying and in many cases white-collar jobs, or public sector jobs at the very least, jobs that at least pay a half-decent wage and have a set of half-decent benefits? Because you've eliminated them, those people aren't earning the same income. Guess what? They weren't spending the vast amount of their money buying stocks and bonds. Most of them were spending their money surviving. They bought food. They bought clothes. They bought things for their home. They consumed things.
That's how the system works, remember? It's the one you're so proud of. Part of that equation is that the working people who populate the state and populate the society have to have the income to spend. If you hoard all the income at the top end, there's no money to circulate. You know who gets strangled first? Small business, because they can't withstand the kind of economic downturn that means. That's what you're doing, and that's what my colleague talked about earlier.
You are redistributing wealth, but you're taking it from the poorest of the poor. I defy you to go into any chamber of commerce meeting and say you're going to implement legislation that cuts the income of every person at that meeting by 22%. You wouldn't have the guts to do that, but you sure had lots of guts to go out and do it to the poorest of the poor. You had the guts to do that. The fact of the matter is that your policies help those who already have, and those who don't have are left behind. Those chickens will come home to roost in the next election.
The Acting Speaker (Mr Gilles E. Morin): Questions or comments?
Mr Baird: I listened with great interest to the remarks by my colleagues the members for Dovercourt and Hamilton Centre.
In his speech, the member for Dovercourt said something very interesting. He talked about how last year we got an extra $2 billion from the federal government. I checked the figures, and of course that was an extra $2 billion in income tax because we brought in more money. We cut income tax. The member for Dovercourt is telling us how we brought in more money, and he's right. But we on this side of the House don't believe that extra money comes from the federal government; we believe the extra money in income tax collected by Revenue Canada comes from hardworking taxpayers in Ontario, people who work hard and who have remitted their money to income tax. Let's not leave any false sense in the belief that the federal Liberals are sending this government more money. In fact, the federal Liberals and Jean Chrétien, as the member for Dovercourt would agree, are cutting health and education at a rate that's simply unparalleled.
He also mentioned that we could have balanced the budget this year or even last year if we hadn't cut taxes. You know what? The member is potentially right. We could have balanced the budget earlier if we had been willing to say to the unemployed: "Stand in line. We've got a plan to balance the budget. We will balance the budget first and look at trying to create an economy that will create jobs second." Those of us on this side of the House reflected on that, and we disagreed. We thought it would be wrong to ask the unemployed and the underemployed in this province to wait for years while we balanced the budget. That's why job creation, economic growth and restoring hope and opportunity are the cornerstones in this government's agenda.
The member for Hamilton Centre mentioned in his remarks the taxes in Hamilton. He mentioned that in the budget announced just this month, commercial-industrial education taxes in Hamilton are being brought down to the provincial average, which will mean a tax cut of tens of millions of dollars in the property taxes of businesses in Hamilton. That is something that no government was prepared to deal with. I know, like the cities of Toronto, Hamilton and Ottawa, that was a tremendous disincentive to doing business in the urban area, and this is meant to deal with that.
The Minister of Agriculture mentioned the NDP and small business. The NDP had a good small business policy: If you wanted to create a small business in the NDP's Ontario, you bought a big one and just waited.
Mr Michael Brown: I was very interested in the comments of the members for Dovercourt and Hamilton Centre. It seems to me that one of the flip sides we should talk about when we talk about so-called government good news in here is the tuition fees.
I admit quite readily to a lot of self-interest in that particular issue. I happen to have three daughters in universities across the province. My oldest daughter, Jennifer, is at Laurier, and she's experienced about a 60% to 70% increase in her tuition since she began her program four years ago. That's an undergraduate program. That's considerable cash.
I have another daughter who is at Queen's. She's studying chemical engineering, and she has just completed her second year. She is very concerned about the deregulation of tuition fees in that undergraduate program, quite possibly an increase of $2,000 to $2,500 for Amy.
Another daughter is at Laurentian. Her expenses this year will dramatically increase.
What I'm saying is that the tax cut is being paid for by my children. My children are paying for this tax cut. I'm a parent. There are lots of parents out there across the province, lots of grandparents, who believe they had the opportunity to go to university at reasonable tuition fees, they had accessibility, and they would like to see their children and grandchildren do the same. I ask the government to reconsider the way they tax our kids.
Mr Bud Wildman (Algoma): I'd like to comment on the remarks of my friends from Dovercourt and Hamilton Centre. I think it's important to recognize that they, in criticizing the government's approach to tax policy, put forward an alternative. That is significant. Obviously the government doesn't agree with that alternative, but they put forward an alternative.
We don't think it's intellectually honest to say we disagree with the government's approach without putting forward an alternative. So when we say we disagree with the decision to redistribute wealth upwards, from the poorest to the richest, we say we have an alternative. That alternative is to assist those people who make, individually, over $80,000 a year to reinvest in health care and education in this province, rather than doing what the government is doing and borrowing the money, borrowing over $20 billion over four years to increase the deficit in order to help transfer that wealth to people who don't need it. It doesn't make sense.
This is a government that claims it is opposed to debt. What it really means is that they're opposed to public debt. They say they're opposed to public debt and yet they're increasing it. They're borrowing $20 billion.
On top of that, they're also creating an enormous amount of private debt for the very generation they claim they're assisting. They're saying to the younger generation, which they say they don't want to have to pay for the public debt: "No, no, no, we're not going to increase the public debt completely. We're going to transfer it to you by charging higher tuition fees that you can borrow from the bank."
Hon Noble Villeneuve (Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, minister responsible for francophone affairs): I also want to comment on my colleague from Hamilton Centre particularly. He talks about a situation where the government of Ontario is getting further into debt. Indeed it's an investment. It's not only an investment, but it's creating a climate -
Mr Wildman: When you do it, it's investment. When we do it, it's not.
The Acting Speaker: Member for Algoma.
Hon Mr Villeneuve: We saw in the early 1990s - there is a thing in economics called the law of diminishing returns. The government put up taxes continuously from 1990 to 1995, and do you know what the end result was? Less money coming in. We saw an underground economy thriving like we'd never seen before. We saw small and medium-sized companies leaving the province of Ontario, sincerely wanting to stay, but the climate was such that they could not stay. They went to places like New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Manitoba, where some of those businesses are thriving.
Why is Ontario a magnet for newly created businesses? Ontario is a magnet because we now have a climate that is conducive to setting up new businesses, expanding businesses, and that's why we, the government of Ontario, through the ministry that I very proudly represent, rural job strategy, want young people to stay out in rural Ontario, where they were born and raised, because to have the brain drain go from the rural parts of Ontario to urban Ontario, never to return - we have equated school funding. They had good intentions. Both previous governments had good intentions. They were not going to punish the rural young people because our school boards were very poor boards. We now have equal funding, and that is very important.
The Acting Speaker: The member for Hamilton Centre, two minutes.
Mr Christopherson: I thank my colleagues from Nepean, Algoma-Manitoulin, Algoma, S-D-G and East Grenville. Let me start with the member for S-D-G and East Grenville. First of all, in terms of the underground economy, you ought to go talk to your Tory pals about the GST and what that did and take a look at the lines in terms of where they intersect when the underground economy started to boom. It was right about the time that the GST landed on everybody and that's when they started to feel that they were overtaxed and they had an uncaring government.
The other thing with the same member is, the honourable minister talks about creating an environment for business, and then you know what happened? Surprise, surprise, big business stood up and said: "Yes, he's right. This is creating the kind of climate that we feel good about investing in." There's an old saying, "When you rob Peter to pay Paul, you can always count on Paul to support you." That's exactly what's going on here. I'm not surprised at all that there are no business people or investment dealers or councillors or anybody else out there saying, "No, no, don't do this." Why would they? It would be against their own self-interest. But go talk to the Peters of this province. Go talk to the people who are being hit by your cuts. So, excuse me, I have a lot of difficulty with your creating the right environment and listening to those who are applauding you for it.
The other thing is to the member for Nepean. I'm not going to get to everyone in the few seconds I have remaining. I would just remind him that whenever he likes every now and then, as his colleagues do, to talk about the Liberals' cuts to education and health, you've never made it a priority to fight those cuts because you know the hypocrisy that would be rained upon you if you did.
The Acting Speaker: I just want to warn the members to be a little careful in the choice of words. The English dictionary is full of good words. Use them. Further debate?
Mrs Brenda Elliott (Guelph): It's my pleasure to be able to rise in the House today to speak about Bill 15. For those watching who are confused about what we're actually discussing at this point, we are discussing and debating Bill 15, which is a bill following the budget speech made by the Finance Minister Eves on May 5.
Mr Wildman: It's the bill that allows you to borrow.
Mrs Elliott: You've had your chance.
This bill has two titles. The first title is the long title and it's called, "An Act to cut taxes for people and for small business and to implement other measures contained in the 1998 Budget."
Mr Wildman: Another measure to tax.
The Acting Speaker: The member for Algoma, please.
Mrs Elliott: But as is the fashion with all the bills, it also has a short title, and I think this says it all: "Tax Cuts for People and for Small Business Act."
We've been hearing a lot of philosophical discussion over the last hour or two about where our government is going and why it's going. In the budget presentation that Minister Eves gave, which essentially said where we are and where our economy is in this province and what our plans are for the next year - in my riding I can tell you that this budget was received very favourably. I would say that many of my constituents viewed this budget as one of reassurance, and clearly in the last three years we've been going through a period of restraint. There is no doubt that no matter what field you have been involved in, you've been dealing with adjustments. I would say to those who are in education or in health or in municipal government who are probably feeling it the most, they are now going through what most of us in the private sector went through many years ago.
When I was thinking of running for politics, I was a shopkeeper of a small business. I was very much driven to enter politics by what I could see happening around me - in my view, terribly worried about where Ontario was heading and what the future looked like for our province from a small business perspective.
The opposition likes to paint Conservative members as though we are big business people and we eat dinner regularly with, as the member for St Catharines always refers to, Conrad Black. I haven't met the gentleman. My friends are small business people who mostly employ two, three, maybe five to six people, generally. We could see very much what was happening to this province and were desperately worried. That's why I decided to run for politics.
I looked at the spending habits of the Liberals before the NDP, and the NDP government in the past five years, and I saw a province that was once an example to jurisdictions around this world of how to govern well and how to be vibrant.
Mr Ted Chudleigh (Halton North): It was the economic engine.
Mrs Elliott: It was the economic engine, a place for people to come to work hard and succeed. I could see that slipping away. It wasn't the province I felt we should have, we should be and we could be. I can say that in the former government of five years, where they doubled our debt from $42 billion to $90 billion, that has now left this government facing annual interest payments of $9 billion a year and there's nothing else we can do with that money. It's gone to service a debt.
The electors in my riding decided that they wanted a government that would bring real change to this province. I listen to my colleague across the way. If you listen to him and forget what we're talking about, you might begin to think that everything was rosy in Ontario. I can remember a year before the election going to events and people tugging on my shoulder saying, "Brenda, if and when you are elected, we want you to do something" - as the Minister of Agriculture said - "because if you don't, and if your government doesn't act firmly, we'll have to leave the province."
I haven't heard that since we've been elected because a number of things have happened. First of all, this government was elected to create jobs. We said to the voters that we would try to set the stage in this province so that employers would come and hire 725,000 people. That's an enormous number of people. I am very proud to stand here in this Legislature and say we are halfway there, with over 350,000 people being employed in this province. Contrast that to a loss of 10,000 jobs in the five years of the former government and you can see what an enormous turnaround we've had in Ontario.
We were elected to turn this province around, to bring jobs, to bring success, to revitalize this province and we decided that we would present to the voters two strategies. One was to cut taxes, and that's certainly what Bill 15 is about; the other one was to reduce spending. If I listened to my colleague and didn't understand what the state of the province was before, I would say, "Well, why are they cutting?" The fact was, when we entered government in June 1995, the former government was spending $11 billion, not million - billion - a year more than we were taking in as revenue.
If I gave my children a credit card and said, "You can go out and spend however much you want; no one at the end of the day will be accountable but your mom and dad; you will have no personal accountability," they would probably act not a whole lot differently from this former government: unsustainable, unaccountable and absolutely irresponsible spending. Ontario did not deserve that and there is no doubt we were given the task. We chose, we asked for the task of turning this around and restoring the province.
In Minister Eves's budget, he had very good news for the people of Ontario. He said that we are actually ahead in our reduction targets. We planned to be at about $5 billion and we in fact are there. We planned to have the deficit down to $4.2 billion at the end of this year.
One of the members across the way said, "Why didn't you not cut taxes and why didn't you hurry along and balance the budget even sooner?" This government could have chosen to do that, but strategically it was not our choice that that was the wisest move for the province because there were two things wrong: a spending problem and a deficit problem. Methodically, slowly but surely, we are moving that deficit down from $11 billion and our plan is in the year 2000-2001 to have a balanced budget for the province of Ontario for the first time in decades.
I'm extremely confident we'll get there, and the budget certainly proved that. There are all sorts of people who agree with us, and not in our government. "This is a big budget for small business." "The government listened to small business job creation." "The budget is nothing but good news." All kinds of quotes all across that say, "We're on our way, we're doing well.
The second strategy for turning this province around was to cut taxes. A government can choose to cut sales tax, we chose to cut personal income tax, and we are actually going to be ahead. Minister Eves announced that we are going to be ahead and move that along faster than we anticipated.
The interesting thing is, while we're cutting personal income tax rates, revenue is actually up in the province. Why, do you ask, does that happen? Ontarians were paying about 58% of the federal income tax rate. It's now down to 40%. That's a significant difference. One of my colleagues mentioned that for a family earning about $60,000, that means that each year they no longer pay an additional $1,200. They keep that.
What do they do with it? They can buy services for their children. That could be music lessons. It could be appliances. It could go to car payments. The fact of the matter is, we don't really care what the individual consumer does with that money. Our citizens are smart enough to know that they can invest it, they can spend it, they can do whatever they will with it, but what they are doing is sending two signals: that they are confident in the future of the province and that they're confident in their own financial wellbeing. They're also telling us that they are confident we are going to work hard to make sure this economy stays strong.
I come from the riding of Guelph, which is part of the Golden Triangle. One of the biggest problems business is facing in my riding is what is referred to as a brain drain or lack of skilled people. We have a lot of trouble getting people to come to certain kinds of highly skilled jobs, and even when we do get them, we are having problems because they tend to want to go south to the United States. Why do they go? Lots of reasons. One is climate. If you had the choice, I guess, between a southern California climate or a cold Ontario winter, there are those who would choose an Ontario climate. The other reason is of course salaries.
But another key reason that we have been alerted is the fact that our income tax rates are grossly different.
Hon David Johnson (Minister of Education and Training): They are too high.
Mrs Elliott: Yes, they are too high, and this is one way that we can attract people to stay in our communities to invest in Ontario and to help Ontario grow.
Interjection: We are putting the taxes down.
Mrs Elliott: We are putting the taxes down. The taxes are down by 30%. We are ahead of schedule and people will have money in their pockets to spend, to save, to invest in this province. This province is doing very well.
I heard my colleague across the way saying, "This is only a tax cut for the very rich." Their strategy is that they will in fact tax those who are higher-income earners. Well, 90% of people in Ontario will see an income tax rate cut of 30% or more. That is the vast majority of Ontarians. Those who earn between $25,000 and $65,000 are going to be the greatest beneficiaries of this particular program.
Mr Christopherson: Not individually. How the hell does that work?
Mrs Elliott: There's a line in your tax forms, if you take a close look, called the "Fair Share health care levy." That's an uncapped tax which will address those high-income earners, and I think they understand that it's their obligation to contribute to Ontario's tax revenues. They know that services will be delivered and they will be happy to do that.
The Acting Speaker: Order. Wait for your turn.
Mrs Elliott: Again I would remind my colleagues that we're talking about Bill 15. Bill 15 is the bill that came as a result of the Ontario budget. It has eight parts to it. The first part of course is the minister is seeking amendments to the Income Tax Act, so he can hurry along the income tax rate reduction.
The second part asks for amendments to the Corporations Tax Act. As I said earlier, I was a shopkeeper and most small business people that I know are very conscious of the taxes they have to pay. One of the amendments being sought to the Corporations Tax Act -
The Acting Speaker: Order. There is only one debate going on in the House.
Mrs Elliott: One of the taxes that used to particularly bother me and I know bothers a number of people in small business was the employer health tax. This is a nasty, rather unfair tax that I believe was dreamed up by the Liberals years ago, and the NDP supported it. I'm very proud to say our government is not only ending it, but we're ending it ahead of schedule as indicated in this budget.
The employer health tax was a tax charged to employers every time they spent a dollar hiring someone. It was a proven job killer. Our intention is to end this tax. No employer will pay the employer health tax if they have a payroll of under $400,000. This is of tremendous assistance to small business people across this province.
We are also going to cut in half the small business corporation tax which is presently in place. We will phase it down to half over the next eight years, and this will be done by way of legislation.
As I said, this bill has eight parts. There are a number of other sections. One is that amendments are being sought to the Highway Traffic Act. You say, "Why the Highway Traffic Act?" It comes as a result of an initiative that has to do with setting priorities for the government. We said our priority was to create jobs. We're doing that through tax cuts. We're doing that by setting confidence in the province and balancing the budget.
We also set priorities of health care, education and community safety.
In the field of health care, contrary to what you might be thinking, our expenditures in health care are not decreasing; in fact, they are increasing and are going from $17.4 billion to $18.5 billion, the greatest amount ever spent on health care in Ontario.
Education for elementary and secondary remains at over $14 billion. I am very pleased that we've implemented the new pupil funding model. In my jurisdiction in Wellington county, we were one of the jurisdictions where elementary and secondary school children were funded at a much lesser amount than in some jurisdictions. I think it's very important that we're looking to find ways in which each child is fairly and equitably funded across this province. When I'm an employer, I don't ask where children were educated. I make an assumption that they are well educated, that they are Ontario educated and that a fair and equal amount was spent to make them wise citizens of the province.
The Highway Traffic Act is being amended so that fines may be increased from $60 to $150 for failure to obey a red or amber light. There has been a lot of discussion about people acting improperly, endangering lives of citizens, and this is a good opportunity to draw their attention to the fact that this is inappropriate behaviour. Hopefully it will end the running of red lights.
My colleague the Minister of Agriculture referred to amendments that are being requested under the Land Transfer Tax Act. This is a request to allow the refund of land transfer taxes to individuals who purchase new homes. We've done this before. This is being extended. It was very successful. In my riding, particularly in the north part of the city, there are a number of new housing developments. There are a number of very excited couples who are starting their new families and are anxious to have a place, and this certainly encourages them to purchase a new home. There's no doubt about it that the construction industry is very happy with this because it is definitely an incentive for activity to occur in the construction industry, which is a tremendous job creator.
There are also requests from the minister for amendments to the Ontario Loan Act. My colleagues across the way seemed to get all upset about this because it asks for the authorization of borrowing up to $4.6 billion. I would say to my colleagues across the way -
Mr Wildman: To pay for a tax cut.
Mrs Elliott: While the income tax cut was being put in place, we actually saw an increase in revenue in the province.
But my constituents are just beginning to understand the cold, hard reality. Mind you, for the ordinary citizen, numbers are confusing. Millions and billions: Some think, "My gosh, huge numbers." But even as we are struggling to get the annual deficit from $11 billion down to $5 billion now and down eventually to a balanced budget, each year that debt is increasing, there's no doubt about it. It can't be done in a different way and naturally borrowing is required.
I'm pleased to see that there is an amendment being requested to the Ontario Lottery Corporation Act. For me, this is something my constituents are going to be happy about because it actually says that the provisions of the current act relating to video lottery terminals are repealed. There have been a number of people who have expressed concerns about video lottery terminals in particular as we were about to replace the roving casinos across this province with permanent facilities. It's our view that the permanent facilities will in fact be safer and will be a more controllable form of casino gambling. But there was a great deal of resistance in my riding to video lottery terminals. This government has listened carefully and this is being taken completely out of the Ontario Lottery Corporation Act.
One thing that needs to be emphasized that's being requested under the Retail Sales Tax Act is something that my colleague the Minister of Agriculture also referred to and is worth mentioning again. For the farmers in this province who are going to be purchasing farm building materials, the retail sales tax will be lifted on those.
That essentially touches on the key elements of Bill 15, which is the bill following the budget. As I said, the Ontario budget was extremely well received in my riding. It was a very clear signal to the people of Ontario that this government has a plan, that we are following our plan closely, that our plan does mean fiscal responsibility. Our plan is leading to a balanced budget. It is leading to job creation, over 350,000 new private sector jobs having been created in the last three years. We are well on the way to making sure that this is a province where people are happy to live, to invest, to work. It's a province that I'm excited about. We're working so it will be strong and healthy and will not leave an unmanageable fiscal burden on our children.
The Acting Speaker: Questions or comments?
Mr Bradley: What a lot of people don't realize about this bill is that contained within it is the enabling legislation for the government to expand its gambling activities in the province. Yesterday we dealt at some length with the issue of the expansion and escalation of gambling opportunities across Ontario, and many of us were reflecting a concern out there among the general population that governments right across this country, and indeed beyond our borders, are expanding gambling opportunities far too rapidly and far too extensively and that this was tearing at the social fabric of the province.
This bill, and a lot of people don't realize this, contains within it provisions which deal with gambling activities, which enable the government to expand those gambling activities - we are going to see a drastic increase in slot machines in Ontario as a result of this legislation, and they'll be preying largely upon the most vulnerable people in our society, the most desperate people in our society, the people who are addicted to gambling - instead of trying to address this issue by saying: "Look, let's call a moratorium on it. Let's say enough is enough. Let's really conduct some detailed, careful studies of the implications of the expansion of gambling."
I know that many of the Conservative members ran on a family values platform last time. They were people who on a number of moral issues before this House are quick to rise and lecture others on what they should be doing on these moral issues. That's why I am very surprised that we don't have a number of people from the government benches expressing their concern about the impact on families, the impact on households in this province, the impact on the social fabric in Ontario. That's what this bill is about. Disguised in the background of this bill is a provision to expand gambling in Ontario. We should be proceeding with caution.
Mr Wildman: I listened carefully to my friend from Guelph, who talked about the reasons for the various measures in this bill. She pointed out the title of the bill, that it's a bill to cut taxes and to do "other measures." One of the other measures, which I think is in part V, allows the government to borrow. The member indicated that yes, it is important and needed that the government continue to borrow. But it's interesting that when you look at the amount this bill would allow the government to borrow under the Ontario Loan Act, it is almost exactly the same amount as the revenue the government is losing due to the tax cuts. That would mean to me that the government is borrowing the money from private financial institutions in order to cut taxes for people, many of whom run those institutions. It seems to be a bit of a circle when you think about it.
Really, the government, instead of doing what it said it was going to do when it came to government, that is, cut the deficit in a certain number of years, is indeed continuing to borrow, when you look at the cumulative borrowing over four years, a total of $20 billion to give a 30% tax cut. That's interesting. I find it really hard to understand that this government says it's against debt, when one considers that in the time this government has been in power the debt of this particular jurisdiction has increased by $16 billion. This is a government that said it was going to lower the debt.
The Acting Speaker: Pursuant to standing order 37(a) -
The Acting Speaker: Order. Member for Lake Nipigon, are you interested to see what's happening tonight?
Pursuant to standing order 37(a), the member for Windsor-Sandwich has given notice of her dissatisfaction with the answer to her question given by the Minister of Environment concerning air quality in Ontario. This matter will be debated today at 6 pm.
Questions and comments?
Mr Baird: I want to congratulate my colleague the member for Guelph on some excellent remarks with respect to Bill 15, with respect to the budgetary policies of the government of Ontario. She brings a unique perspective, as do a good number of the representatives of the government caucus, of the interests of small business. She spoke with great eloquence of her experiences running a small business and the impediments of excessive government regulation and excessive taxation to the running of that business. That is exceptionally important.
One of the other members did mention parts of this bill that would deal with gaming and gambling in Ontario. I checked, and the very first mention of that in the bill is in section 38, which talks about the distribution of proceeds of lotteries "to or for the benefit of charitable organizations and non-profit corporations, or for the support of other activities...for the benefit the people of Ontario," ensuring that the technical amendments to the Ontario Lottery Corporation Act allow money to flow to charities and non-profit organizations. That's the very first part of this bill that deals with that, so I think it's important to put that on the record.
The member did speak about the economy in Ontario and the importance of reducing income taxes to middle-class and hardworking taxpayers. She is very correct. We saw that when the previous government raised taxes they brought in less revenue, because people simply didn't have the disposable income to spend and therefore they weren't spending in the retail establishments and other small businesses within their communities. That, regrettably, was extremely true.
I know the member for Guelph cares about job creation. I suppose we could have said to the unemployed, "Step aside. You'll wait three or four years while we balance the budget," but she, like most members of the government, said it was important to tackle job creation and deal with the problems of poverty and unemployment in Ontario, and to grow the economy to ensure that more people could work. I know she shares my enthusiasm for the solid progress the government has made and will want to continue working hard in this regard.
Mr Michael Brown: I was interested in the comments of the member for Guelph. One of the things I find interesting - this is a tax bill, a borrowing bill, a revenue bill - and one of the things that has concerned many of us is the government setting the education tax across the province by regulation, behind closed doors, so that on that particular revenue the Legislature does not even have the opportunity to debate it. That property tax is set behind closed doors at the cabinet room down there. That's where it comes from.
I was reading a very good article the other day in Saturday Night, which spoke about fees and taxes that Parliament didn't approve. Some would know that there is a court case going on in this province now with regard to probate fees, fees on wills.
Mr Bradley: A user fee.
Mr Michael Brown: It's supposed to be a user fee, and it's the same process whether the estate is $10 million or $100. It costs the government the same amount to certify it. However, the NDP government of the day increased that fee to a percentage, and the argument before the court is: "You can't do that because that's a tax. It's not a fee, because a fee would be the same for the certification of the will regardless of the amount." So it's not a fee, it's a tax.
I would think that the government here, these people in front of us who want accountability on tax issues, would be getting rid of that or at least coming to the Legislature and asking the Legislature to approve that tax rather than have it done the way -
The Acting Speaker: Thank you. Member for Guelph, you have two minutes.
Mrs Elliott: I would like to thank very much my colleagues from St Catharines, Algoma, Nepean and Algoma-Manitoulin for their comments. This is an interesting debate because we are clearly at serious philosophical variances on how economies work, on how taxes should be raised, what programs should be funded through the generation of those taxes and so forth.
What I say from a Guelph perspective is that health care funding is a very high priority for constituents in my riding. They are very, very happy to see our funding of health care not only maintained but in fact increased, and they are seeing tangible benefits of those investments already in my riding. They are very happy to see movements like 50% of the education costs coming off the property tax and now being paid for through the provincial revenues. That's a very good move as far as constituents in my riding are concerned. They're thrilled to see us halfway in reaching our target of 725,000 jobs. That's a very important thing for people, whether you have young people in your family ready to look for a job or whether you're an older person looking for a change in your workplace. Opportunities are very important and I think the province needs to provide them.
I believe our moves in balancing our budget and reducing personal income tax are the right moves in setting this province as a beacon for people to come to invest, to hire people, which in turn will create jobs. I think we have initiated a number of issues that address concerns about fairness across this province. I think the short title of Bill 15 says it all. This government, through this bill, is looking to encourage tax cuts for people and for small business. It's a good thing.
The Acting Speaker: Further debate?
Mr Gerry Phillips (Scarborough-Agincourt): I'm pleased to join the debate on the budget bill. I'll start by saying that like the member for Guelph, my background is business as well. I was chairman of three companies. We had 300 or so employees, so I too have a bit of firsthand experience with business.
Starting on the tax cut, firstly, there is no doubt that the personal income tax cut has cost the province of Ontario a substantial amount of revenue, a huge amount of revenue, and no one can deny that. As a matter of fact, I will quote Standard and Poor's. Standard and Poor's is a credit rating agency. There are four major credit rating agencies and this is one of them. Two have pronounced already on Ontario's debt performance. What Standard and Poor's said, and this is a release from last week, May 19, about the move to cut taxes before the fiscal house was in order - that's what it was. Mike Harris decided he was going to give a tax break and it is a tax break to the best-off in this province, make no mistake about it.
This is the government's own chart on the tax cut. What it shows, as you can see down here, is that people making more than a quarter of a million dollars a year, $250,000 a year, are going to get a tax break worth $500 million. That is what Mike Harris has decided, that he's going to cut personal income taxes by $500 million for people making more than a quarter of a million dollars, an enormous amount of money. What has that meant, cutting those taxes before we have a balanced budget?
I'll use another figure. The investment dealers of Canada put out quite a good chart on deficits around the country. In this chart, and the viewers will not be able to see these numbers, in 1994-95 the combined deficit of all 10 provinces and the federal government was $53 billion. In other words, governments of all provinces and the federal government were spending, four years ago, $53 billion more than they were bringing in. That's unsustainable. I think everyone in the Legislature knows that.
Now it is four years later and what is the combined deficit of the 10 provinces and the federal government? It's $5.3 billion. What does that mean? What it means is that the total of all of the other nine provinces and the federal government have balanced their budgets in four years. The other nine provinces and the federal government have balanced their budgets. Ontario, solely now, accounts for the total deficit of all governments in Canada.
I say to the member for Guelph and others, if this were a business and you were "losing money," you were running huge deficits, would you declare a fiscal dividend? That's what Mike Harris decided to do. We find that last year we still had a deficit of $5.2 billion. Mike Harris has taken the debt of Ontario from $88 billion so that this year it will be $110 billion; he has added $22 billion to the debt. A huge part of that is a result of lost revenue because of the income tax cut. I repeat myself: $500 million of it, according to the government's own numbers, going to people making more than a quarter of a million dollars a year.
What does all of that mean? Firstly, it means the debt of the province of Ontario, as I said, has gone from $88 billion when Mike Harris took over to $110 billion. Look at the budget this year. The debt of the province is $110 billion. For every single penny of the tax cut, we have had to go out and borrow that money. The taxpayers of Ontario already will have paid $700 million in interest to pay for that tax cut.
Standard and Poor's has said to Ontario: "We are not going to upgrade your credit rating. We are going to give you the same credit rating exactly as we gave Bob Rae." Mike Harris has been in power now for three years, he's had his chance to get the fiscal house in order, and what do the credit ratings agencies say? These people are paid money to be objective about the credit worthiness of governments and companies. They say:
"However, by focusing simultaneously on tax reduction, the pace of deficit reduction in Ontario has lagged other provinces, leading to a rising provincial debt burden since the balanced budget plan was first introduced. Tax-supported debt is projected to rise to approximately 35% at the end of fiscal 1998-99, up from 29% in fiscal 1995."
In other words, when Mike Harris came in the debt to GDP, which is a key measurement, was 29%, and now at the end of this fiscal year it will be 35%. That's why they said that all they did was to reaffirm Ontario's AA- rating. Remember, Ontario at one time had a AAA rating. It was downgraded to AA+ and AA- and none of the credit rating agencies have moved Mike Harris up an inch. Why? It's because Mike Harris decided to cut taxes, add debt and put our credit rating at risk. That's when it's an expensive decision.
Mr Bradley: Before the balanced budget.
Mr Phillips: Before the balanced budget, every penny borrowed. Somebody will say, "Yes, but it stimulated the economy so it was a good investment." I'd say two things to that: One, when we are asking hospitals to cut 15% of their budgets - every single member here has had a tragedy in a local hospital, not because the hospital wasn't doing its best; it was because the resources weren't there.
Our students are faced with incredible tuition fee increases. You talk about hitting them twice. Mike Harris has taken the provincial debt up to $110 billion. They're going to have to pay it off, and who's benefiting from it? I'll guarantee you, there aren't any students making a quarter of a million dollars. They're not the ones who are getting that big tax break. We give the best-off in this province the dividend and then we say to the students, "You pay for it," by taking on personal debt of enormous proportions, and they're paying for it.
Our elementary and secondary schools: I guarantee you, every one of us will have a problem with local accommodation for our schools. Why? Because Mike Harris says we have this terrible deficit problem we have to tackle.
I say, "All right, if it's that crucial," and it was important to tackle it, "tell me again how we can afford to spend $5 billion a year on a tax cut before we've even come close to balancing the budget?" Not only are we having to borrow that money, we are now paying substantial interest on that money, and paying twice for it in many respects.
What was the benefit? A lot of people have suffered. One of the most interesting pages of the budget to me is the explanation on what has been driving the Ontario economy. I think it's important for all of us to understand this, because if we don't understand it and things start to turn a little sour in the future, it will be our own fault for not understanding it. What has been driving the Ontario economy?
Mr Bradley: Low interest rates.
Mr Phillips: My colleague here says, "Low interest rates." As a matter of fact, that's one of the key pages: continued low interest rates, a low dollar and low inflation. What has it meant? The interesting chart to me in the budget was the one that showed the percentage of our gross domestic product represented by exports. What it shows that is our booming economy has to date been heavily driven by our growth in exports. Actually this chart would show that in 1989 - it says 28.5% - a little less than 29% of Ontario's economy was exports. In 1997 it's 46%. The people at home probably can't see that number, but less than 29% up to 46%.
Mr Bradley: You have to thank Bill Clinton.
Mr Phillips: My colleague says to thank Bill Clinton, but let's be honest with ourselves: There is no doubt that what has driven the growth in Ontario's economy has been the exports, 90% of them to the US and half of them auto. So I say to all of us, as I hope we all understand but in case we don't let me just say it again: I am very pleased with our businesses that have been able to exploit the opportunities in the US, but the growth in Ontario's economy has had, frankly, dare I say it, little to do with the tax cut and heavily to do with our growth in exports to the US, heavily auto and, as the budget points out, heavily the high-tech area.
What does that say to us? It says several things. One is, let's be honest with ourselves about the impact the tax cut has had on our booming economy. It has been heavily because of exports. Second, let's recognize that no other economy perhaps in the industrial world relies as much on exports now as the Ontario economy. We always think of Japan as being an export-oriented country.
Hon Mr Villeneuve: I thought you were against free trade, Gerry. "If the Americans get a cold, we're going to get the flu."
Mr Phillips: That's right. The Minister of Agriculture is here now and he starts to bark a little bit. I would just say to him, I say to the farm community of Ontario, you'd never go out when you were losing money and borrow money to spend money you didn't have. You wouldn't go and borrow money to spend money. My bank would never let me.
Hon Mr Villeneuve: You've never been a farmer, Gerry, quite obviously.
Mr Phillips: My background is rural.
All the people I know who have to run businesses would say it is crazy to go and borrow. We've borrowed $10 billion for the tax cut. We've paid $700 million interest on it. It makes no economic sense. You can say, "Well, it drove the economy," but according to the budget itself, what has driven the Ontario economy is exports. Certainly, when I meet with the farm community they tell me they are doing very well on exports. They are able to compete on exports. They do exceptionally well, as do all our business people in Ontario.
Mr Gerretsen: I think Lyle Vanclief had a lot to do with that.
Mr Phillips: I care less about who had something to do with it and more about the results, and the results have been very good. If we think it was the income tax cut that's driving the Ontario economy, we mislead ourselves.
On the first big part of the budget bill, the tax cut, I would say to Ontario, first look at the objective organizations that evaluate the credit-worthiness of Ontario. Look at what the credit rating agencies are telling you. They have not moved the credit rating of Ontario an inch.
I remember Mike Harris going after Bob Rae. Of course he sat there and Bob Rae sat there. He berated Bob Rae for the credit rating of Standard and Poor's, and yet Mike Harris hasn't moved it an inch.
Hon Mr Villeneuve: Give it a little time.
Mr Phillips: "Give it a little time," the member says. The Minister of Agriculture sits in the cabinet and I assume understands what's happening over at Hydro. I raise the Hydro one because Hydro pays the taxpayers of Ontario about $200 million a year to guarantee its debt. That's the fee they pay Ontario. There's a price to be paid for that. It's nice to get the revenue, but when the going gets tough it's the Ontario taxpayers on the hook.
What we see in the annual report of Hydro, which just came out in the last few weeks, is very troubling to me. The way I read the financial statement, the board of directors have used a little-known power to write off a bunch of expenses that should have been written off this year, next year and the following year. They moved it back.
Mr Bradley: Why did they do that?
Mr Phillips: I know why they did it. It was so that they could then legally freeze rates. It says here, "the related amounts which would have been charged to future operations under generally accepted accounting principles for enterprises operating in a non-regulated environment."
The reason I get off on a mild tangent there is just to say that there are two reasons why the credit rating agencies have real concerns about Ontario's credit-worthiness. One is the tax cut. Cutting taxes is like a company declaring huge dividends and still running large losses. No bank would ever give you a penny if you did that, but of course Mike Harris can do what he wants. Second, we're doing it at a time when Hydro has huge problems. Guess who is on the hook for it? Guess who signed the bank note? Guess who has guaranteed -
Mr Bradley: Ernie Eves.
Mr Phillips: Ernie Eves, but on behalf of guess who? The taxpayers who are home watching right now. So there we are: the bill cutting taxes, forcing us to go out and borrow more money to pay for it, and paying substantial interest on it.
I wanted to talk about the second part of the bill, and that's the gambling stuff in here. We had expected, and I hope we haven't been misled, that the minister responsible for gambling was going to bring forward a legislative accountability framework to allow us to have a very substantive debate around slot machines and casinos, broad-scale casinos. The government is charging ahead to introduce, if I'm not mistaken, 44 new casinos around the province and 15,000 slot machines. By their own estimate, the people of Ontario are going to lose $1 billion a year. You pull those slot machines, and Ontario taxpayers are going to leave $1 billion in there. That's the government's own estimate.
Mr Douglas B. Ford (Etobicoke-Humber): Better to spend it here instead of Atlantic City.
Mr Phillips: There's the member for Etobicoke-Humber saying, "We'll have them spend it here instead of Atlantic City." It isn't the people who go to Atlantic City who will be losing it; it will be your friends and neighbours - $1 billion.
What Mike Harris said was: "Listen, we need the tax cut to put $1 billion into people's pockets. That will really stimulate the economy." If he believes that, then he has to believe that taking $1 billion out of people's pockets is going to have a depressing effect on the economy. That's what this is. This bill is a backdoor way of giving the approval for 15,000 slot machines, and people will lose $1 billion in them, according to the government's own estimate. All of us had better have a big debate about the impact of people, friends and neighbours, losing $1 billion a year just on slot machines, let alone the charity gaming casinos.
Furthermore, when we raised this in the Legislature, the answer we got was that every penny will go incrementally to health. Well, that's not what the bill says; that's not what the legislation says. Somebody is incorrect here, because the bill doesn't say the money is going to health. It says, "for any of the following purposes:" - any of them.
Hon Mr Villeneuve: Let's go back to roving casinos, with no controls.
Mr Phillips: The Minister of Agriculture is saying there's nothing wrong with $1 billion being lost in slot machines.
Mr Garry J. Guzzo (Ottawa-Rideau): Coming out of the bookmaker's handling.
Mr Phillips: Now Judge Guzzo is into it.
The Acting Speaker: The member for Ottawa-Rideau, that's the last time I warn you. Take your seat.
Mr Phillips: Thank you, Mr Speaker. Mr Guzzo is out of control again, I'm afraid.
What we were told by the Minister of Finance was that every single penny of this will go incrementally to health. The legislation they've introduced doesn't say anything of the kind. It says it can be used "for any of the following purposes:
"The promotion and development of physical fitness, sports, recreational and cultural activities... The activities of the Ontario Trillium Foundation... The protection of the environment... The activities and objectives of charitable organizations and non-profit corporations... The funding of community activities and programs."
Hon Mr Villeneuve: Gerry, are you against that?
Mr Phillips: The Minister of Agriculture asks if I'm against that. I want to get a straight answer from the government, because Ernie Eves told us here - in fact, he used the word "commitment": "That's a commitment." This bill is nothing of the sort. So I want to know the answer to that. I want to know what is the fact. I think we're going to want to have a very significant debate around the impact of the people of Ontario losing $1 billion a year, by the government's own estimates, in slot machines. For any of you who have dealt with a problem gambler, this is serious stuff we're involved in here. I know that the government is perhaps blind to the problem because it sees revenue pouring in - an election next year, revenue pouring in - and they'll say, "We've got our budget all balanced," but on whose backs will it have been balanced?
Mr Bradley: I agree with Derwyn Shea on this.
Mr Phillips: On the gambling part of this bill, and this is going to committee, I gather, we look forward to a healthy debate on the government's plans for 15,000 slot machines.
Mr Bradley: Paul Christie will be in, and Howard Moscoe.
The Acting Speaker: Member for St Catharines.
Mr Phillips: I'm interested in the fine line the government tries to define between video lottery terminals and slot machines. They're very much one and the same thing.
The third part of the bill I wanted to talk about has to do with the part of the bill that is not here but should be here, and that is the fact that now the fourth-largest source of revenue for the province of Ontario is property taxes. Mike Harris sets property taxes now worth over $6 billion. It is a whole new experience for Ontario, having the provincial government setting property taxes worth over $6 billion.
I say to the business people of Ontario, it's now Mike Harris who sets half your property taxes. I'm sure most business people think: "It's my local council. I'm going to have to go down and see my local council and get at them about property taxes." Well, over half of it, it isn't your council that's dealing with it; it's Mike Harris, right here.
I say to the business people, you will have no opportunity to have any influence in the debate about the rates that are set because they're all set by something, to use our jargon, called regulation. What regulation means for the public is, on a Saturday you find out through something called the Gazette that Mike Harris just set the property taxes, because it's done down the hall, in the cabinet room, in private. Nobody knows about it until it's published in the Gazette. I think that's wrong. I think we should, like every single democratic government that I know, debate those tax rates.
Here we are today dealing with the land transfer tax. We are debating whether to increase the minimum fine from $60 to $150 for failing to obey a red or amber light, and so it should be. We should have that debate, but surely we should be having a debate about over $6 billion of taxes set by the province by regulation. Furthermore, in my opinion, it should be showing up as revenue on the government's books. But, no, we are going to debate the other issues in the bill, but we will not have any opportunity to debate that part of the bill.
I wanted to touch on a couple of other matters that were raised before I share my time with my colleague from Kingston and The Islands. Another matter that was raised by the member for Guelph - actually, two other matters: One is, she talked about the employer health tax. This is a small point, but I found it interesting. She said the employer health tax was a job killer, and actually she said they were eliminating the employer health tax. I think Hansard will show that.
The fact of the matter is I see that Mike Harris has decided he's going to actually take in more money in the employer health tax than the NDP did. I see that Mike Harris actually is taking in more money. The last year the NDP revenue was roughly $2.7 billion, and I see now that Mike Harris is taking in $2.8 billion in employer health tax. I found that mildly interesting. Rather than, as the member for Guelph said, getting rid of it, they actually are taking more revenue in the employer health tax.
Finally, I wanted to talk a little bit about downloading. I asked earlier: Who's paying for this tax cut? Who are the people who have to pay so Mike Harris can give the tax break? You remember I said earlier that people making more than $250,000 get a $500-million tax break. Guess what? You know who paid for that $500 million? The property taxpayers.
Mike Harris cut support to municipalities by about $600 million. They've dumped about $600 million of new costs on to property taxes. Then they said, "Municipalities, you go and cut the services."
Municipalities have been working for years to cut costs. Many of us in this room have been in municipal politics and we know that is the level that is extremely sensitive to expenses. But Mike Harris said: "No, cut $500 million or $600 million out. You can do that." It has not been that easy. We're now seeing two things.
What are we seeing? First, we're seeing substantial new user fees. Many in the communities across Ontario thought that with the tax break they would be better off. They didn't realize that they get perhaps a small break on the income tax, which is being eaten up in things like tuition fees, but also, importantly, in brand-new user fees from municipalities. The second thing we're finding is that some municipalities just can't cut any more, so unfortunately, property taxes are going up in many communities across the province, and we're being warned by our municipal leaders that there's more to come.
By the way, I would just add that they're faced with that and they're faced with a huge problem with the property taxes. I'm looking forward to a lengthy debate on Bill 16. For the people of Ontario, the property tax reform is a mess. A year ago, Mike Harris brought in something called Bill 106, which was to reform property taxes. Then they brought in Bill 149 to try and fix Bill 106. Then they brought in Bill 164 to try and fix Bill 149. Now we've got Bill 16, and we've heard from municipal clerks and treasurers from around the province - and these are the senior civil servants, the key people.
Mr Bradley: Non-partisan.
Mr Phillips: That's right: non-partisan, the key professionals who are trying to run the municipalities efficiently.
Mr Phillips: The Minister of Municipal Affairs is bitter over there about this.
What the clerks and treasurers have said is, "So complex is the application of Bill 106, Bill 149 and Bill 16 that few municipalities in Ontario will be able to fully bill taxes before the year is ended with any degree of success within the parameters of the law."
The reason I raise that is that Mike Harris has decided to download brand-new costs on to municipalities. On top of that, their only real source of significant revenue comes from property taxes, and the government has so screwed that up that our clerks and treasurers are wondering whether there's any hope of saving it. They go on to say, "A win situation is to let Bill 16 die on the order paper," they think it's so screwed up. I'm afraid the government may not even allow us to take it to committee to see if we can't do some patching up on the thing.
Mr Wildman: Surely they won't do that.
Mr Phillips: There's a threat of that.
To conclude my remarks, the debate on taxes is always interesting. Who out there doesn't like a tax cut? I just say, you all run your own homes, your own personal finances. You would never spend money you don't have. You know better than that.
Mr Phillips: Well, there they are barracking over there, but the public should know they've had to borrow $10 billion to pay for the tax cut. I knew that would strike a responsive chord with them.
I would also say that the property tax issue, which is part of the downloading in the budget, is a mess, a total mess.
And the gambling - you think you can slide this gambling stuff through the back door. A billion dollars of lost money every year in slot machines and you're trying to deal with it -
The Acting Speaker: Order. Just wait for your time for questions and comments and I'll be pleased to give it to you.
Mr Phillips: I'm going to conclude my remarks and turn it over to my colleague from Kingston and The Islands.
Mr Gerretsen: I would like to start at the last point my colleague from Scarborough-Agincourt made - he always makes these points in such an excellent fashion - and that is the fact that $500 million is being given back, through your various tax cuts, to people making $250,000 a year or more. That happens to be the same amount that is being downloaded on the property taxpayer.
We've had quite a debate about Bill 16, for one day - I believe it was yesterday. Today at 5 o'clock - Mr Speaker, you'll be interested in knowing this - we were served with a closure notice. That closure notice says that the next time Bill 16 is called during second reading, it will be put to a vote immediately. I'll just read it to you: "When Bill 16 is next called as a government order, the Speaker shall put every question necessary to dispose of the second reading stage of the bill."
But it goes further than that. It goes on to say: "The bill shall be ordered for third reading. The order for third reading of the bill shall then immediately be called and the remainder of the sessional day shall be allocated to the third reading stage of the bill." In other words, the people of Ontario should know that the next time Bill 16 gets called, it is being called for second reading and third reading.
The members of the government are shaking their heads that that's a good thing. Well, what do you do with this letter that we received yesterday from the Association of Municipal Clerks and Treasurers of Ontario? They're the professionals in this province who are -
Mr W. Leo Jordan (Lanark-Renfrew): We have a meeting scheduled.
Mr Gerretsen: He's saying a meeting has been scheduled. When? After third reading? After the bill has been given three readings, the only way you're going to amend it is by bringing in another bill, which would be the fifth bill on the same issue.
I don't want to repeat everything I said about what the municipal clerks and treasurers put in their letter. I already questioned the Minister of Municipal Affairs about that today, and he didn't have any answers to any of the questions raised by the municipal clerks and treasurers. As a matter of fact, he is upset now, because not only did he get a copy of the letter - Mr Eves got the original letter - but he's apparently upset that some members of the opposition got copies of the letter as well. I will tell you, if you don't want to talk to the municipal clerks and treasurers, they want to talk to somebody around here who maybe can influence this legislation to some extent.
I will read to you once again the two or three most relevant sections in this letter. The people of Ontario should understand that these are the people who on a day-to-day basis manage our municipalities, large and small, and deal with the property taxpayers on an ongoing basis.
What do they say about this bill? They say: "This bill is complicated, cumbersome, confusing and...badly drafted. It serves to perpetuate the bad system that the government was so bent on eliminating. The end product is a political and administrative nightmare."
What do they say in the very last section of the letter? They say: "This bill, if passed as drafted, will embroil municipal councils in complex, confusing and inefficient systems of taxation. Administrative costs will increase....
"Municipal revenue streams will be drastically deferred. For many municipalities, tax bills will not likely be mailed until September or even October."
I find it very ironic that the day after the municipal clerks and treasurers put all their concerns in a letter to both the Minister of Finance and the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, and to some members of the opposition, basically saying, "Don't pass this bill, there have to be some amendments made to it," is the day the government comes in with a closure motion to basically say: "We don't care. We're barrelling right ahead. We're calling it for second reading the next time we call it, and third reading is going to take place immediately thereafter."
The professionals in this province who deal with this on a day-to-day basis have told all of us, the government, the opposition members and the bureaucracy here at Queen's Park: "This bill won't work. You're making a mess, even worse than the mess we have right now. Please talk to us. Please take it off the order paper. Let it die. Let's get together and let's draft a bill that everyone can not only live with, but that can make sense to the municipalities." This government is basically saying: "We don't care. We're going to invoke closure and there we go."
I say that's the wrong thing to do. You will find out that it's the wrong thing to do, as the property taxpayers of this province are going to revolt on this issue.
Let's go back again to Bill 15. Thank you very much for your indulgence, Mr Speaker, but I believe the people of Ontario have a right to know what this government is really all about.
As I've said in this House many times before, but I think it bears repeating again, I find it absolutely incomprehensible that a government that likes to fashion itself as a government that's interested in running this province in a businesslike fashion would allow the public debt of this province to increase - this is according to their own figures contained in the budget document and is now reflected in Bill 15 - from $89 billion per year to $115 billion in just slightly over three years.
I would have had some respect for you if you had said, "Yes, we want to do this as quickly as possible" -
Mr Baird: Oh, give it up. You promised to cut taxes.
The Acting Speaker: Member for Nepean, please, and the member for Oxford.
Mr Gerretsen: I guess they don't want to have respect. I said I would have had some respect for you if you'd at least had the intellectual honesty to say: "All right, the public debt of this province is a real problem. We are going to defer any tax cuts until such time as -
Mr Baird: That's it, John. You promised to cut taxes.
The Acting Speaker: The member for Nepean, I've warned you at least five times to keep quiet. Let me make sure that I don't have to say it again.
Hon Mr Jackson: It's his birthday.
The Acting Speaker: It's his birthday. I see. Happy birthday, but keep quiet.
Mr Gerretsen: Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. The other thing of course that just confirms it even more is that if you look at the expenditure side of the budget document, which is on page 54, the interest on the public debt in this province in the last three years has gone up from $7.8 billion to $9.2 billion per year.
Mr Wildman: That's at a time of low interest rates.
Mr Gerretsen: That's at a time of low interest rates. Can you imagine if interest rates were still hovering around 10% or 12%? With all the carping you've done about the social programs in this province, it's very interesting to note that we spend more on serving the public debt in this province than we do on social service programs that the government of Ontario delivers, because the public debt interest is $9.2 billion and the community and social services dollars that are being spent are $7.8 billion. It's kind of interesting that you are allowing that public debt to increase, and therefore you're allowing the interest on the public debt to increase on an ongoing yearly basis as well.
The other tables that are very interesting - this is in the government's own document, your own budget document - deal with who actually gets these tax cuts we've been talking about. Let's just take a few examples. A single senior with a net income of $14,900 gets a $230 tax cut over four years. It's very interesting how in this document they always talk about it in terms of over four years. If you take $230 over four years, that is less than $60 per year. That is the same individual who, if nothing else, spent at least that much money to be involved with the senior citizens' drug plan in the province.
Let's go on to a one-earner couple who makes $29,000 per year. How much of a tax saving do they get? The book says $1,620. However, that's over four years, so that's only $400 per year.
We'll just take it up the ladder a little bit. Let's talk about somebody who makes $186,000 -
Hon Mr Villeneuve: No, no, that's a big jump.
Mr Gerretsen: Okay, they're saying it's a big jump. All right, I'll go to another one. Let's talk about a senior couple that makes $47,000 per year. What do they get? They get a saving of $600 per year.
Mr Jordan: Each.
Mr Gerretsen: No, this is for the couple. Read your own document.
Now let's go to that individual who makes $181,000 per year. That individual makes $18,000 a year. What's very interesting is that for all the other examples they've said the person gets X number of dollars over four years, but in this particular case they're saying it's $18,000 per year for an individual who makes $181,000. If they had put it into four-year terms, it would be $72,000.
It just goes to show you that the member for Scarborough-Agincourt is 100% correct when he says that people who make $250,000 or more in effect are getting back $500 million of the tax cut, which happens to be the same amount that you have downloaded on the local municipalities. It is totally and absolutely inexcusable.
There's another very interesting part in the budget document. That deals with the revenue side of things. We heard comments earlier here today, and in particular the third party seems to be aroused, about, "How is the Liberal Party going to pay for its campaign," when we form the next government. I'll tell you how, which will be a darned good start. Take a look again on the revenue side of things. Look what's happened to the retail sales tax in this province. The amount of money that the government takes in, in additional money, over the last four years in retail sales tax has increased from $9.4 billion to $11.4 billion. There's $2 billion of additional revenue right there.
How about corporations tax? What's happened there? It's gone up from $5.1 billion to $7.6 billion. So there in two programs alone you've got an extra $4.5 billion more of annual revenue that you're getting now than you did when you started. It's kind of interesting, because that also happens to equate to about the amount of your tax cut. What I am simply saying is that there is enough room there to pay for the additional programs that we're talking about.
The other interesting thing, and reference has already been made to it, deals with the income from government enterprises, particularly the Ontario Lottery Corp. I think the people of Ontario ought to know once again that what this government is in effect banking on, with the proliferation of gambling in this province, is the fact that you intend to take out of the taxpayers' pockets the sum of $1 billion.
They seem to be of the opinion that if you put these casinos in, people are going to come from all over the place and it's going to be a real revenue-producing thing. That only works if you have maybe, I don't know, four or five casinos around the province. But once you start putting them in each and every community - which in effect you're doing by introducing about 43 of them - I don't see any reason why people would come in from the outside. They would just be going from one community that has a charitable casino to another community with a charitable casino.
I see that my time is almost up, but I just want to remind the people -
Mr Gerretsen: For today. I will be back.
I'd just like to remind the people of Ontario once again that this government has today introduced closure on a bill that is extremely important to the property taxpayers in Ontario, whether you're a residential property taxpayer or an industrial or commercial property taxpayer. They don't even want to discuss Bill 16 beyond the current discussion.
The Acting Speaker (Mr Gilles E. Morin): Pursuant to standing order 37, the question that this House do now adjourn is deemed to have been made. The member for Windsor-Sandwich has given notice of her dissatisfaction with the answer to her question given by the Minister of the Environment concerning air quality in Ontario.
Mrs Sandra Pupatello (Windsor-Sandwich): I was hoping that the Minister of the Environment would come in quickly, at least within the next five minutes, to give me a good response to questions that were advanced over a week and a half ago.
Let me begin with comments from the Ontario Medical Association through Dr Ted Broadway, who says: "Windsor gets first dibs on the death-causing pollution and, as a well person, I'd be concerned about living there. For people who have medical conditions, it's a lethal combination." He says that an "estimated 1,800 people will die in southwestern Ontario" because of bad air. He says, "Children are most at risk from exposure to ozone because they are active outside during the summertime, when ozone levels are at their highest," and goes on to say, "The elderly and those with cardiac or respiratory diseases such as asthma, emphysema and chronic bronchitis are especially sensitive to these air pollutants."
Most concerning of all was a report released by the Environmental Commissioner, Eva Ligeti. She says:
"The Ministry of the Environment has no stated targets for improving air quality in Windsor. In 1995 Windsor recorded the highest provincial concentration for nitrogen dioxide, the most frequent instances of elevated ozone, the highest annual average for total suspended particulates and the highest annual average concentrations of sulphur dioxide. Again, the ministry has collected the data, but because of MOE budget cuts, the committee set up to make recommendations on Windsor's air quality has been disbanded, and the MOE office has lost half its staff."
Minister, I'd like to tell you that since this information became apparent to us, we have formed a new task force in Windsor called the Air Quality Task Force, which is being chaired by Bill Marr, one of our councillors, and includes participants like Brian Stocks from the Lung Association and Rick Coronado, who you have met, from the Citizens Environmental Alliance.
We have to tell you as well that now you're aware that Detroit Edison in Detroit has decided to start up their coal production again and their Conners Creek coal-producing power plant is scheduled to begin production once again. The worst part about starting up that coal-burning plant is that it will be used especially on days where more power is required, the hottest days of the summer, and in our area that means the most smog-filled as well.
Ontario ministers in our history have taken leadership roles and, Minister, that's what I'm asking you to do today, that you show leadership in acting on our behalf, not just of the residents of Windsor but all those in southwestern Ontario, where you told us on your last visit to Windsor that in fact 1,800 people die prematurely because of air pollution.
I have written letters to you, both to the Minister of the Environment and to the Ministry of Health, specifically the Minister of Health, that because of our air pollution we are seeing more hospitalization and more use of our emergency wards in Windsor because we don't have a plan of action to deal with it. So far I've heard no response.
Windsor specifically has the highest number of days per year in Canada with high ozone levels. Seven air monitors were cut by your ministry in 1997, 50% of the staff in Windsor has been cut, and funding for Windsor's air quality committee as well was cut. The letters, again as stated, were not responded to, and that's just in this last month. Your record as a ministry, sir, is really not one that you should be proud of.
While we all recognize that there is no quick fix for air pollution - we understand that there is a transboundary issue - we think that as the Minister of the Environment you're in the perfect position to take a leadership role. I am asking you specifically for this: a meeting with our Windsor residents, specifically with Bill Marra, the councillor and chair of the task force, who has already agreed to meet with you at your earliest convenience, and with Rick Coronado, the chair of the Citizens Environmental Alliance, who has also already agreed to meet with you, prepared to look for a solution and work in a very non-partisan fashion to develop some kind of plan.
I'm also asking you for leadership in dealing with the states of Michigan and Ohio, remembering that Ontario ministers have a record and a precedent of being leaders on these issues, and for immediate action regarding the decision made by Detroit Edison to start its Conners Creek power plant, to start burning coal after 10 years of inactivity. Remember, you have already missed a deadline to lobby the US Environmental Protection Agency with that very power plant.
Finally, I need to ask you to review and adjust the number of air monitors available in the Windsor area and exactly what you do with the data that might be retrieved from those air monitors. I look forward to your response.
Hon Norman W. Sterling (Minister of the Environment, Government House Leader): I would like to begin by saying that this government is committed to protecting our provincial air quality. Our government has done more in a short three-year period than what other governments have done prior to the present government.
I have been in Windsor on a number of occasions and have met with the air quality committee, met with many of the individuals.
The member continues to trivialize this particular problem. The member who just spoke holds up headlines, shouts in this Legislature, does not consider this a serious issue, but thinks that the higher her hyperbole, the greater her message. Quite frankly, I get discouraged when members of this Legislature don't put forward factual information, don't bring forward cogent arguments, don't bring forward constructive ideas so we can move this agenda forward.
This government last year did some really positive things for air quality, not only in the Windsor area but right across Ontario. In June 1989, the former government announced a new gasoline formulation to reduce gasoline volatility. We went further last year and lowered that gasoline volatility even lower, to save some 18,000 tonnes of gasoline emissions.
The ministry is very committed to improving Windsor's air quality. The Windsor air quality committee, the community-based group, is a committee in which the ministry actively participates. We have been trying to encourage the leadership of that committee to hold a meeting for some period of time, and we're hopeful that this month or in June they will have that committee. We have assigned one of our ministry officials to that, and they are attempting another way to help that particular committee.
Although transborder pollution is a federal responsibility, and I have seen little activity on the part of her federal colleagues with regard to this portfolio or this file, I am committed to working with Environment Canada and our American counterparts to look at ways of reducing emissions originating in the US which result in pollution in southern Ontario. I plan to meet again, the second time, with Russell Harding, the director of environmental quality, in early July to discuss these important issues.
You know vehicles are a major source of smog, and that's why this government has introduced Drive Clean, a program for inspection and maintenance of passenger vehicles. This will affect every vehicle in the Windsor area in the very near future. It will reduce some of the air quality problems we have in Windsor.
We have an aggressive plan to revise our 70 standards of air quality which have been left neglected by previous governments for some 20 years. We are now addressing those for the first time. We have for the first time set a particulates standard for particles in the air, which previous governments never set before.
Hon Mr Sterling: We have upgraded - and I wish the member would listen to this - the provincial air quality monitoring network, making it among the most modern and best equipped in North America. Air quality information can be obtained from our information Web site.
We have not sacrificed Windsor's environmental protection. In fact, the southwestern region increased staff in air program by hiring an air analyst, and the monitoring stations in Windsor are being maintained by qualified air technicians. Therefore, the region has increased its resources in air monitoring. That is the fact. We are very concerned about air quality in Windsor and southern Ontario in general.
I would like to complete my argument by stating - from one of her colleagues, who criticized the former government, Mr Wayne Lessard. Between 1985 and 1990, when the member for St Catharines -
The Acting Speaker (Mr Gilles E. Morin): Sorry, your time is over.
There being no further matter to debate, I deem the motion to adjourn to be carried. The House stands adjourned until 6:30 of the clock this evening.
The House adjourned at 1812.
Evening meeting reported in volume B.