L071A - Wed 16 Dec 1998 / Mer 16 Déc 1998 1
The House met at 1331.
CITY OF KINGSTON
Mr John Gerretsen (Kingston and The Islands): Mr Speaker, I would like to draw to your attention and to the attention of the members of the House a group of residents in my riding who have come together under the leadership of Mr Ian Milne and Mrs Margaret Angus to form Kingston, First Capital. It is fitting that these people who have worked so hard should be rewarded by having Kingston officially recognized as Canada's first capital.
From 1841 to 1843, Kingston was home to Canada's first Legislature for the United Province of Canada. I know many in this House will be interested in knowing that Kingston was chosen over Montreal, Quebec City, Bytown and Toronto. In fact, the first seat of government still stands today and is known as the Kingston General Hospital.
With the approach of the millennium, it is time for both the provincial and federal governments to officially recognize Kingston as the first capital of Canada. Our city council has passed a motion in support of the designation, requesting endorsation by both the federal and provincial governments. The federal government has already done so.
As our country matures, Kingston's historical significance must not be forgotten. What an opportunity for school children travelling to our nation's capital to be able to make the stop in Kingston and see where our country's government actually began. Imagine young and old alike being able to see the place where our democratic roots began and then to move on to see where our laws are made today in Ottawa, all this in one trip, an opportunity to build pride in our country and an understanding of our roots.
Mr Speaker, I know that you and all the members of this House support First Capital, Kingston. Your support will be part of our evolving history.
ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES LEGISLATION
Mr Alex Cullen (Ottawa West): "Getting to work, borrowing a book from the library, using a pay phone, going to the movies, eating in a restaurant.
"These seem like ordinary activities to most citizens, but this is not the case for many Ontarians. Barriers can prevent Ontarians with disabilities from participating in the community."
These are the opening lines from the introduction of the discussion paper issued last July by the Ministry of Citizenship, Culture and Recreation, entitled Preventing and Removing Barriers for Ontarians with Disabilities, as the basis for a new Ontarians with Disabilities Act.
Members of the disabled community, in Ottawa-Carleton and across Ontario, became energized and involved as the possibility of a real advance in reducing barriers seemed possible. I remember well attending a meeting held in August at the Canadian National Institute for the Blind in Ottawa and hearing from various members of the disabled community about their ideas for a barrier-free Ontario.
Alas, how cruel was the government's deception. We all know today how empty Bill 83 is, how it only has the government reviewing its policies, a far cry from what was promised in the fine words of the discussion paper.
The reaction from the disabled community has been one of betrayal. Last night, at the Bob Rumbal Centre for the Deaf, some 100 people with disabilities - the hard of hearing, the deaf and the mobility impaired - spoke about how Premier Harris had "scrooged" Ontarians with disabilities. They want a real Ontarians with Disabilities Act, not this toothless Bill 83, but a real act with real targets to reduce barriers, with real timelines and real mechanisms for enforcement.
We in the NDP agree with them, and if the Harris government won't do it, we will.
Mr Tim Hudak (Niagara South): I am pleased to rise in the House today to urge the government of Ontario and the Ministry of the Attorney General to select Port Colborne as a community youth justice committee pilot location.
A community youth justice committee would allow direct participation of the community in the youth justice system by allowing tribunals of respected community members to determine appropriate punishment for first-time young offenders who have committed a minor crime like shoplifting or vandalism. A youth justice committee can also determine the method of restitution to the victims of youth crime.
In January, I brought the Crime Control Commission to Port Colborne to hear from the people about how to fight crime. The commission was very impressed by a presentation from the healthy lifestyles coalition and even quoted them in the commission's Report on Youth Crime. After the Report on Youth Crime was released, I set up a meeting right here in Toronto with the Crime Control Commission and members of the Port Colborne committee. In fact today representatives of the Attorney General are meeting in Port Colborne with Pat Johns to discuss furthering this initiative.
Thanks to the hard work of members of the community like Pat Johns, Brian Simpson and all those at the Port Colborne Wainfleet Healthy Lifestyles Coalition, the people of Port Colborne have proposed a solid structure for a Port Colborne youth justice committee. They are prepared to take on that pilot project right away.
I would like to call again on the government and the Ministry of the Attorney General to follow through on this idea and establish a youth justice committee in Port Colborne in 1999.
Mr John C. Cleary (Cornwall): The verdict is in: The public opposes this government's policies that are threatening community nursing services in eastern Ontario.
An opinion poll recently released by the Ontario Nurses' Association reveals that Ontario residents are deeply concerned about the declining level of health care in their communities. About 90% of those surveyed are worried about the fact that patients are being released from hospitals too soon and they have trouble getting the intensive home nursing they need.
They are opposed to the government's for-profit policies that have forced the cancellation of the nursing services of the eastern Ontario branch of the VON. The government's policy of privatization of home care services has made it virtually impossible for non-profit service providers like the VON to compete against for-profit organizations. One has to ask, why should the VON lower its standards to be competitive?
Who is really paying the price? It's the patients, the frail, the elderly and patients discharged early from the hospital. They are really the victims. Minister Witmer doesn't get it.
I have here an article from today's Freeholder where the local minister, Minister Villeneuve, proudly says, "There's nothing like sitting at the cabinet table, which holds the purse strings for the budget, to make things happen." If this is true, why is he and his government putting the VON out of business?
Listen to the public and our front-line nurses -
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Statements.
Mr Tony Silipo (Dovercourt): I want to bring today to the attention of members of the House and particularly the Minister of Community and Social Services a situation that has been going on now for nine weeks at the Earlscourt Child and Family Centre. This is a centre that services vulnerable children. Some 900 children with a range of behavioural problems are serviced at the centre. For the last nine weeks, the 28 staff members who provide these important services, members of OPSEU, local 567, have been on a legal strike and unfortunately it seems the parties are not able to come together.
I wanted to bring to the minister's attention particularly today what is happening to many of these young people, children who have been hit with cutbacks in social assistance, affordable housing and rent control by this government, with cutbacks in our school system, with growing problems that these children and many others are facing. For the nine weeks now that there has been a strike, there has not been an ability for these services to be provided as they should be, the full scale of services to these children.
I want to call upon the minister today to take her responsibility seriously in ensuring that as negotiations resume through a mediator on Friday this impasse is resolved, and if that is not resolved, that she will take steps to bring the parties together until a solution is found to the impasse between management and the workers so that these important services can be restored for these 900 children who are desperately in need of the support their staff can give them.
CARSON ELLIOTT MEMORIAL DINNER
Mr John O'Toole (Durham East): On Friday, December 11, I had the opportunity to attend the Carson Elliott Memorial Dinner in my riding of Durham East. This event was a no-charge, sit-down Christmas dinner for the community's seniors, shut-ins and people in need.
Volunteers fed over 135 needy people at St Joseph's Church in Bowmanville. As well, an additional 100 people benefited from the leftovers, which were taken to local nursing homes and Bethesda House, a shelter for battered women.
The dinner was dedicated to Carson Elliott, a well-known person in the community for his support of charitable causes. He was a character and a popular councillor for the municipality of Clarington, and although he may have passed away this summer, it is clear that his spirit lives on.
In memory of Carson Elliott, a group of friends and associates organized a dinner. It was indeed a special opportunity for those who may not otherwise have been able to get out and enjoy the spirit of the season.
During the festive season, it is important to reflect on the message Carson Elliott had that should go on today. The message is charity.
I would like to recognize and thank the many volunteers who contributed to the success of the Carson Elliott Memorial Dinner. In particular, I would like to thank Viv Woolford, George Khouri, Bruce McPherson, Saverio Montemarano, Henry Downing and Betty Downing and a number of other community people. Their hard work, dedication and generosity have touched many people's lives.
I truly hope that this becomes an annual event. I was pleased to participate in this past dinner, and I welcome all members to congratulate the contribution of these citizens.
LAND USE PLANNING
Mr Michael A. Brown (Algoma-Manitoulin): I've just stepped in from a large rally of concerned leaders from northern Ontario. The rally included people like Lloyd Martin, the mayor of Thessalon; Jean-Claude Caron, the mayor of Kapuskasing; Fred Poulin, the mayor of Smooth Rock Falls; Don Genier, from Cochrane; Vic Power, from Timmins; Ken Graham, from Iroquois Falls; Duncan Wilson, of Red Lake; Roger Valley, from Dryden; Calvin Winkler, from Kenora; Ingrid Parkes, from Keewatin; David Canfield, from Jaffray and Melick; Eric Rutherford, from Beardmore; Jim Desmarais, from Ear Falls; Blair Hutchins, from the Kenora Chamber of Commerce; Randy McLaren, township of Bonfield; Dean Backer, from Mattawa; Carol Jeske, from Mattawa; Charlie Swift, from Sault Ste Marie; Gilles Forget, from Iroquois Falls; people from Marathon, from Terrace Bay; Bob Krause, from Schreiber.
All these good folks from the north who are here, I want to thank them on behalf of people in northern Ontario for taking time from their jobs, from their families and from their communities to travel the great distance here to Toronto to present their views on land use in the province of Ontario.
People have to understand the size of this province, the fact that some of our people have come farther than the distance from Toronto to Florida to get here. We appreciate the time that the people of northwestern and northeastern Ontario have taken to come and present their views.
Mr Bud Wildman (Algoma): On a point of order, Speaker: I'd like all members of the assembly to join me in welcoming to the gallery the former Minister of Northern Development and Mines, the Honourable René Fontaine.
Mr Bud Wildman (Algoma): Speaker, you will know that a decision was made in June of this year that has a devastating impact on the community of Wawa in my constituency. The decision was the permanent shutdown of the Algoma Ore division which has been the mainstay of the economy for that community. It has had a devastating effect.
The employees were offered jobs at Algoma Steel in Sault Ste Marie and many have moved to take advantage of that. The effect on the real estate market has been drastic. Also, local businesses have been hurt in terms of the retail market.
The one bright spot on the horizon for the economy of the area is River Gold mine, which has a camp about 70 miles from Wawa, with the workers living in the camp. If a direct road were built to connect the mine site with Wawa, it would be about 20 kilometres. If that were done, the camp could be closed and the miners relocated to Wawa. This would serve to stabilize the economy of Wawa and stimulate the real estate market. It would mean that the community would have a life for the future.
I call upon the Minister of Northern Development and Mines to co-operate with River Gold to facilitate and finance the construction of this direct road route so we can stabilize the economy of Wawa and assure the community that it indeed has a future.
If this minister would act the way the former minister would have acted, we would be certain to get this road built in time to ensure that this community will have a stable future.
Mr Bob Wood (London South): As many members of the House know, Canada's 500,000 Muslims will be observing a month of fasting during Ramadan, starting around December 19 this year.
I know I speak on behalf of all members of this House in extending greetings to the Muslim community of Ontario and in wishing them Ramadan Kareem and Eid Mubarak. These greetings, which in Arabic mean, "May you have a month of giving and a blessed feast," speak to the central meaning of Ramadan.
Ramadan is the month during which the Koran was revealed to the prophet Mohammed. Adult Muslims abstain from food, drink, marital relations and habits such as smoking during their fast, which starts at dawn and ends at sunset each day.
Our Muslim neighbours will be celebrating the feast of Eid Al-Fitr, the end of Ramadan, in approximately one month. After gathering for prayers, they'll meet with one another, giving presents and sharing alms with the needy so that all members of the community may be able to celebrate together.
Understanding why our Muslim friends will not be sharing coffee breaks or lunch with us during the last of December and the first two weeks of January is a first step towards appreciating their devotion to God and the practice of their faith.
In fulfilling the teachings of their faith, they demonstrate to us a commitment to righteousness and a compassion for the needy, qualities to which we can all aspire.
REPORTS BY COMMITTEES
STANDING COMMITTEE ON SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT
Ms Annamarie Castrilli (Downsview): I beg leave to present a report from the standing committee on social development and move its adoption.
Clerk at the Table (Ms Lisa Freedman): Your committee begs to report the following bill as amended:
Bill 76, An Act to Establish the Ontario College of Social Workers and Social Service Workers / Projet de loi 76, Loi créant l'Ordre des travailleurs sociaux et des techniciens en travail social de l'Ontario.
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Shall the report be received and adopted? Agreed.
The bill is therefore ordered for third reading.
STANDING COMMITTEE ON REGULATIONS AND PRIVATE BILLS
Mr Dave Boushy (Sarnia): I beg leave to present a report from the standing committee on regulations and private bills and move its adoption.
Clerk at the Table (Ms Lisa Freedman): Your committee recommends that Bill Pr22, An Act respecting the City of Kingston, be not reported.
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Shall the report be received and adopted? Agreed.
STANDING COMMITTEE ON GOVERNMENT AGENCIES
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): I beg leave to inform the House that today the Clerk received the 13th report of the standing committee on government agencies. Pursuant to standing order 105(g)(9), the report is deemed to be adopted by the House.
INTRODUCTION OF BILLS
RED LIGHT CAMERAS PILOT PROJECTS ACT, 1998 / LOI DE 1998 SUR LES PROJETS PILOTES AYANT TRAIT AUX DISPOSITIFS PHOTOGRAPHIQUES RELIÉS AUX FEUX ROUGES
Mr Clement moved first reading of the following bill:
Bill 102, An Act to amend the Highway Traffic Act to permit pilot projects relating to red light cameras / Projet de loi 102, Loi modifiant le Code de la route pour permettre les projets pilotes ayant trait aux dispositifs photographiques reliés aux feux rouges.
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Is it the pleasure of the House that the motion carry? Carried.
Hon Tony Clement (Minister of Transportation): I will have a statement later on the program.
MEMBERS' OATH OF ALLEGIANCE ACT, 1998 / LOI DE 1998 SUR LE SERMENT D'ALLÉGEANCE DES DÉPUTÉS
Mr Agostino moved first reading of the following bill:
Bill 103, An Act to provide for an Oath of Allegiance for the Members of the Legislative Assembly / Projet de loi 103, Loi prévoyant un serment d'allégeance pour les députés à l'Assemblée législative.
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Is it the pleasure of the House that the motion carry? Carried.
Mr Dominic Agostino (Hamilton East): Briefly, this bill would bring the oath of allegiance for members of the Legislature in line with the bill I introduced with the federal government in regard to new Canadian citizens. It would keep the oath as is but would add the word "Canada" to the oath of allegiance for members of the Legislative Assembly.
STATEMENTS BY THE MINISTRY AND RESPONSES
Hon Tony Clement (Minister of Transportation): On behalf of the government of Ontario, I'm pleased to introduce for first reading the Red Light Cameras Pilot Projects Act, 1998, a bill to combat red light running and improve road safety in Ontario.
This proposed legislation, if passed, will allow municipalities to test for up to two years the effectiveness of red light cameras in comparison to traditional on-road enforcement.
The Ontario government shares the public's concern about intersection safety. According to our record, collisions at municipal signalized intersections account for 21% of all collisions in Ontario and contribute to the $9 billion in annual estimated costs for all collisions.
Across Ontario in 1996, there were 21,500 convictions for running red lights. That's 21,500 times too often that drivers put other road users and themselves at risk of injury or death. Clearly, driving through red lights is dangerous and unacceptable, as are all forms of aggressive driving.
This government remains firm in its belief that a visible police presence on our roads is the best means of apprehending drivers who run red lights. We continue to support the men and women who work so hard every day to ensure that our roads and communities stay safe.
But we have also listened to municipalities that have called for the use of red light cameras. The proposed legislation that I introduce today will provide municipalities with the opportunity to evaluate the effectiveness of a variety of approaches to combat red light running.
It is part of a flexible package of pilot programs the province is developing to assist municipalities in improving intersection safety. These pilot programs could include the use of red light cameras to photograph either the licence plate or the driver. Participating municipalities and police services must agree as part of this pilot program to include stepped-up enforcement blitzes at high-risk intersections that do not have the red light cameras.
I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge and thank our road safety partners, including the Insurance Bureau of Canada and the Ontario Safety League. The province continues to work with road safety partners such as those two organizations to develop initiatives to combat all forms of aggressive driving, including red light running.
In closing, the proposed legislation being introduced today will build on measures the province has already introduced this year, including increased fines for red and amber light running, the introduction of community safety zones and the community policing partnerships program. All of this together, these previously announced initiatives in conjunction with what we're announcing today, reinforces our commitment to crack down on aggressive driving and improve road safety.
At this time I'm calling on all members of the Legislature to help make Ontario's roads and communities safer by supporting the speedy passage of this proposed legislation.
Mr Mike Colle (Oakwood): I want to thank the minister for his gracious comments and his appreciation for everybody. He just showed a lot of class, as he usually does.
I want to thank the people who, despite this minister, fought this government and brought them to their senses. I want to thank Mr Roger Laporte of Ottawa who lost his son Michel, for bringing the fight for safety to this Legislature. I want to thank him and his family for all the work they did. I want to thank all the municipal leaders in cities like Mississauga, Ottawa, Hamilton and Toronto who fought this government and made them come to their senses.
As you know, this government originally said that red light running wasn't a serious problem. That's how they first came at it. Then they said, "Well, there's no technology that works." We lost a few more months. Then this government said these cameras cost too much money. Then the Premier stood up in this House and said, "We've got evidence in Australia that it doesn't work." Over and over again, for the last two and a half years, this government basically risked the people of Ontario because of some political stupidity they were engaging in.
They should've listened two and a half years ago. They could have saved a lot of lives and a lot of injuries. Instead this government kept stalling and making excuses. They put politics ahead of safety. Now this minister stands up, and the reason he's standing up is not because of me; I think it's because of the people in this province who said: "Red light cameras will save lives. We want our streets and our communities to be safe." Over and over again, they wrote letters, had petitions, came to this Legislature and told the government they were wrong.
The people of Ontario who were most active in fighting for intersection safety are the ones who forced this minister, in embarrassment, to stand up in this House today. He still won't admit he was wrong. He still won't appreciate the people of Ontario who brought him to this point today.
I want to commend those people who persevered, despite the fact they had nothing but opposition from this government, nothing but opposition from the Ministry of Transportation. People like Roger Laporte persevered. The mayors, the police chiefs of this province and even some of the backbenchers of his own government said the minister was wrong. I want to thank them personally for doing their part to fight on behalf of the people of Ontario who knew that this technology is not the be all and end all, but is a technology that has worked for 25 years in countries all over the world, in cities all over the United States. It's even been passed in Alberta, in BC and in Manitoba. It's technology that helps to stop people from running red lights. The technology helps the police, who need this type of technological aid.
I hope this minister doesn't impede the technology by putting more technical obstacles in front of it. Just put in the red light cameras. They will work in Toronto, Mississauga and Ottawa as they've worked in Melbourne, Australia, or New York City. Get them up and running.
On behalf of our party, we will ask for unanimous consent that the red light camera legislation be passed today. We can't wait another two and a half years. We want it passed today. We're basically saying that it's a good piece of legislation, that it's a piece of legislation that I think the people of Ontario for years to come will look back on and say: "Thank God they did that. Thank God my neighbour wasn't hit by a red light runner."
It is long overdue. It is something governments should have done, but they are doing it. I want to again say thanks to everybody across the province who brought the government to their senses. It's about darn time. Let's get them up. As far as I'm concerned, they could start putting them up today and that would probably save some lives and some accidents today.
Mr Tony Silipo (Dovercourt): Unlike the presentation we saw from the minister, I want to begin my comments by acknowledging the work that the member for Oakwood has done on this issue, in bringing forward his private member's bill which quite frankly I would have preferred to see pass as opposed to this legislation. But we will take this legislation because it does move the issue forward.
I'm also tempted to say both to the government members and, in this case, to the Liberal colleagues to my right the words "photo-radar," because I remember the outcry at the time we introduced that legislation and that initiative in the province from both the Tories and the Liberals, about how wrong that initiative was. Here we are a few years later doing what we need to do, to move on an important safety issue to put red light cameras at intersections, which will do the same kind of thing that we intended and wanted to do with the photo-radar scheme on our highways.
Let me say to the government and to the minister particularly that, first of all, this is absolutely the worst way to deal with legislation on an important issue such as this. Here we are, 24 hours away from the House adjourning, in fact proroguing from what we understand, and we have a bill introduced that we have been calling for: those of us in the Liberal opposition and the NDP opposition, more importantly many people who have been victims or have had family members become victims of red light runners, people at all levels of government, particularly mayors of municipalities in the GTA. They have been calling for months for this kind of legislation.
For months we have had the government stand up and say, through the minister and through other representatives; "No, no, we can't do it. We can't do it for this reason. We can't do it for that reason. We can't do it because we don't yet have the perfect set of answers to this." We have said all along: "Don't worry about working out all the bugs. Provide legislation that allows for the models that exist to be put in place." What do we see at the end of the day? The minister, although at this late stage, at least finally comes forward with a permissive piece of legislation that will allow municipalities to go forward and put in place red light cameras that, as the minister has indicated, will ensure the photographing of either the licence plate or the driver, as the municipalities wish to do.
We will support this legislation. We want to see it go through before the session is over. We don't believe we should rush through this today without actually having a chance to read the legislation, given that it has only been presented to us, but we understand that as a result of the discussions we have had today at the House leaders' meeting, we're prepared to accommodate this bill going through second and third reading tomorrow afternoon and tomorrow evening, which I think is a lot more than even the minister has reason to expect at this late stage. But it's something we are doing because we believe that saving lives is more important than any kind of partisanship division we could conjure up in this House.
Having said that, let me also put on the record a couple of concerns we still have. I appreciate the briefing that was provided to us by the ministry and the minister's office yesterday, but I want to make sure that a couple of these concerns we have as they relate to the issue of funding are being addressed. I understand the bill will require some undetermined level of enhanced enforcement by the municipality. The minister talked about this in his statement. If this makes implementation of red light cameras financially difficult for the municipalities, then they may decide not to do it, and that indeed would be bad for road safety, so we will want assurances from the minister, as the debate goes on and before the bill is finally approved, that this concern can be addressed.
Secondly, I want to say to the minister particularly that I am concerned that the province has not yet turned over Provincial Offences Act revenues to the municipalities. Those revenues, we all understand and agree, belong to them under the terms of the Who Does What downloading exercise. We believe the province has been unreasonably slow in resolving the issues around transfer of those revenues. We've had some vague assurances from the bureaucrats that those revenues will be made available to pay for this initiative, but we would like to see that spelled out more precisely, so I look forward to the minister again clarifying that issue.
There are funding concerns we want to see addressed, but all in all, we do want to see this piece of legislation go through the House to provide that enabling mechanism for municipalities to put up those red light cameras where they wish to do so and to ensure that we can stop the killing and injuring of people at intersections.
Mrs Marion Boyd (London Centre): Mr Speaker, on a point of order: I rise today to seek unanimous consent for the following motion to be placed before the House for adoption:
"Whereas all three political parties represented in this House have acknowledged that the settlement in the McLean-Thompson affair has been badly mismanaged; and
"Whereas all legislators are collectively responsible to the people of Ontario for matters relating to the Legislative Assembly; and
"Whereas the final settlement of this private dispute is being paid by the taxpayers of Ontario; and
"Whereas the taxpayers have a right to know how their tax dollars are being spent;
"Therefore, be it resolved that the Legislative Assembly of Ontario requests the lawyers in the McLean-Thompson dispute to provide a full report to this Legislative Assembly with respect to all of the legal fees paid under this settlement, including an itemization of all disbursements."
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Agreed? I heard a no.
Mr Gilles Bisson (Cochrane South): On a point of order, Speaker: I wonder if you can assist me with the standing orders. I'm looking for what part of the standing orders would allow me to say that Freddie Poulin, mayor of Smooth Rock Falls, is here and I'd like to have him recognized by this Legislature. Can you assist me, please.
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Let me help you. You'd be searching for quite a long time for it because it doesn't exist.
PRESENTATION OF PETITIONS
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Yesterday, the member for Grey-Owen Sound rose on a point of order concerning a petition he had presented, which was returned to him by the table on the basis that it was found to be out of order.
The member requested that the Speaker review the petition he had presented since, in his view, it should have been found in order.
I have now reviewed the petition and wish to report to the member and to the House on this matter.
Standing order 38 sets out five criteria that a petition must meet to be found in order. The petition presented by the member for Grey-Owen Sound fails to meet at least two of these criteria.
First, standing order 38(c)(iv) requires each petition to "have its request appear at the top of every sheet, if it consists of more than one sheet of signatures."
The petition in question consists of two sheets, but one sheet contains the text of the petition, without any signatures, and the other contains only signatures, without any request to Parliament, contrary to the standing orders.
Secondly, standing order 38(c)(ii) requires a petition to "contain a clear, proper and respectful request that the House take some action within its authority."
The petition in question does not make any request of the assembly. Rather, on the one sheet that contains the purported text of the petition, only a statement of certain principles is enumerated, to which the purported signatories to the petition, found on the second page, purportedly adhere. However, the assembly is not asked to take any action within its authority.
The key principle that this petition offends is that all petitioners should know precisely what it is they are petitioning Parliament for. With the request to Parliament on a separate page from the signatures, there is no way to know that the signatories saw and understood the nature of the petition. When the text of the petition is at the top of each page of signatures, it is a certainty that each person signing the petition will have seen and agreed with it.
The petition also contains certain alterations. Again, this gives rise to the principle that petitioners must know what they are signing; when a petition contains alterations, it cannot be known if the petitioners signed it before or after the alterations were made, and whether those alterations might have affected their decision to support and sign the petition.
I find, then, that the petition is out of order.
I would point out that it is the responsibility of each member presenting a petition to ensure that it complies with the standing orders. I encourage members who have a question about the orderliness of a petition to solicit the advice of the table so that the situation faced by the member for Grey-Owen Sound could be avoided. And in the future I'll write my own decisions.
Mr Bill Murdoch (Grey-Owen Sound): On a point of order, Speaker: I'll withdraw.
The Speaker: Timing is everything, I'll tell you.
APPRENTICESHIP AND CERTIFICATION ACT, 1998 / LOI DE 1998 SUR L'APPRENTISSAGE ET LA RECONNAISSANCE PROFESSIONNELLE
Deferred vote on the motion for third reading of Bill 55, An Act to revise the Trades Qualification and Apprenticeship Act / Projet de loi 55, Loi révisant la Loi sur la qualification professionnelle et l'apprentissage des gens de métier.
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Call in the members. This will be a five-minute bell.
The division bells rang from 1410 to 1415.
The Speaker: All those in favour please rise one at a time and be recognized by the Clerk.
Baird, John R.
Ford, Douglas B.
Jordan, W. Leo
Leadston, Gary L.
Ouellette, Jerry J.
Parker, John L.
Rollins, E.J. Douglas
Runciman, Robert W.
Sterling, Norman W.
Stewart, R. Gary
Tsubouchi, David H.
Young, Terence H.
The Speaker: All those opposed please rise one at a time and be recognized by the Clerk.
Bradley, James J.
Brown, Michael A.
Cleary, John C.
Conway, Sean G.
Clerk of the House (Mr Claude L. DesRosiers): The ayes are 62; the nays are 38.
The Speaker: I declare the motion carried.
Be it resolved that the bill do now pass and be entitled as in the motion.
HEALTH CARE FUNDING
Mr Gerard Kennedy (York South): I have a question for the Minister of Health. I want to raise with you again the question of the Bouffard family, Lisa and Christian and their triplets, who were born under circumstances that can only be described as every new parent's worst nightmare. In an Ontario that's supposed to provide for them, the care they received was not acceptable. They were put in an ambulance for four hours to have the triplets delivered outside of Toronto. In the centre of health care in this province there wasn't a bed available. I've spoken with Mr Bouffard this morning and he's concerned that you seem to take issue with the facts of this matter. You seem to be saying in your published remarks in the media that somehow there were beds available, that there were options.
Minister, I want to ask you a very simple question: How could this happen in Ontario, that they couldn't give birth in Toronto -
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Question.
Mr Kennedy: - and do you today take responsibility for what happened to the Bouffard family?
Hon Elizabeth Witmer (Minister of Health): As the member knows, each year in the province of Ontario there are about 150,000 births. Without a doubt, the circumstances involved in this particular case are unique. It involved the delivery of premature, high-risk triplets. Certainly there were facilities available in Toronto at that time for delivery. However, if we take a look at the fact that we're dealing with premature, high-risk triplets, unfortunately the closest facility capable of handling that type of birth that involved high-risk, premature triplets was in Kingston. However, as soon as the staff at the Ministry of Health became aware of the situation yesterday, they immediately made contact with Women's College Hospital -
The Speaker: Supplementary.
Mr Kennedy: I want to share with the House and with the minister some of the concerns Mr Bouffard had, because he and his wife spent a week in Women's College waiting to find the beds that could deliver these triplets. He said to me, "The minister should not say that this is a unique or unusual circumstance, because twins are born every 15 minutes in this province and another baby could be born right after, therefore requiring the same number of beds."
This happens all the time. They spent time there. They saw in Toronto the three hospitals - Mount Sinai, Women's College, Sick Kids - go on and off availability. Minister, you cut those three hospitals with the capacity to deliver these kinds of births by $44 million over the last two years. What this father wants to know and what families all across the province want to know is, will you accept responsibility for the fact that they didn't receive the health care they needed and it jeopardized the lives of those triplets?
Hon Mrs Witmer: Again, I think we need to keep in mind that we're dealing with a case of extremely premature, high-risk triplets. Certainly yesterday, when the Ministry of Health became aware of the situation, there was immediate communication with Women's College and with the Hospital for Sick Children and with Mount Sinai to ensure that in future, when this type of situation arises, there will be facilities and services available to deal with these high-risk, premature multiple births. That is exactly what is going to happen in order that they can be provided for.
You also need to keep in mind that we are following through on the recommendations of the Health Services Restructuring Commission. As you know, there are going to be expanded neonatal facilities available -
The Speaker: Answer.
Hon Mrs Witmer: - at Women's College-Sunnybrook and also in Hamilton.
It might interest you to know as well that the Premier today has personally been in contact with the family -
The Speaker: Final supplementary.
Mr Kennedy: I'm aware that the Premier called, but I know what the family expressed to me that they want. They don't want to be told that this is an isolated case by the Premier or anyone else; they don't want public relations. They want you to recognize a simple thing: Your government made things worse for three very important people - Samantha, Nicole and Zachary - the three triplets who almost didn't get born.
Minister, 60% of the time the neonatal beds they needed in Toronto are unavailable. That is more than twice the amount of difficulty in reaching them that there was two years ago. You've cut funding to these special hospitals by more than 12%; at the same time there's been a growth in high-risk births of over 13%. This is a system failure. It's a broken-down system that you're running, and the parents and the other people who are affected here, other people who could be waiting right now for those beds, want to know - you say you're going to fix it. Tell us today exactly what you're going to do so this doesn't happen again.
Hon Mrs Witmer: I think I have made it quite clear that the Ministry of Health staff, upon learning about this situation yesterday, did take immediate action in order that the facilities and the services could be provided within the community of Toronto. They have been in contact with Women's College, Mount Sinai and the Hospital for Sick Children to ensure that in all future situations when it comes to high-risk, premature, multiple births, those services will be provided here.
As well, as part of the restructuring that's taking place, there are going to be expanded facilities at Women's College-Sunnybrook and also in Hamilton because, as you know, there is a need to expand the facilities and that's part of the restructuring process.
BOARD OF INTERNAL ECONOMY DECISION
Mr Sean G. Conway (Renfrew North): In the absence of the Minister of Finance, my question is to the Acting Premier, the Minister of Education. It will be obvious to you and to many that many members of this Legislature and certainly many people across Ontario, many Ontario taxpayers, want an opportunity to have a say on the so-called McLean matter.
As it happens, this Legislature has a very timely opportunity to pass judgment on the McLean matter. Standing in the name of the Minister of Finance we have Bill 96, a spending bill, a bill that contains within it the approved money for, among other things, Al McLean's alleged $130,000 worth of legal bills.
My question on behalf of the Ontario taxpaying public to you is simply this: Are you prepared on behalf of the Harris government to amend the government's spending bill, Bill 96, currently before this assembly by an amount of approximately $130,000, so that at a minimum the Ontario taxpayers will not be paying for any part of Al McLean's legal bills in a private matter between Mr McLean and Ms Thompson?
Hon David Johnson (Minister of Education and Training): I would say that this is a matter that has been dealt with by the Board of Internal Economy. That's where the authority lies for this particular matter.
The Board of Internal Economy, as members of this House know, is composed of a representative from the Liberal Party, a representative from the NDP and representatives from the government itself. This body has the authority in this case to resolve this matter. It's seized of this matter, to resolve this matter. I am not a member of that body. I know the member for Renfrew North is not a member of the Board of Internal Economy.
In its wisdom, the Board of Internal Economy has looked at this matter and has made a decision that it feels is in the best interests of the taxpayers.
Mr Conway: I am not a member of the Board of Internal Economy, but I am a member of this Legislature. Before me this day I have a bill standing in the name of the Minister of Finance. This Bill 96 is the spending bill for the fiscal year 1998-99. It asks me to pass judgment on, among other things, an appropriation of $103 million, a vote in the name of the Office of the Assembly. Contained in that vote is $130,000 worth of money that's been allocated by the Board of Internal Economy but must be approved in the name of this supply bill by the whole House. That's my duty; that's the duty of every member here.
Will you, as the Acting Premier, amend Bill 96, which is before us today, in the amount of $130,000 so that the people of Ontario will not pay any part of Mr McLean's legal bills and so that every member of this assembly will be able to stand in their place and vote yes or no on that amendment?
Hon David Johnson: The way it works is that each party is represented on the Board of Internal Economy. The Board of Internal Economy -
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Acting Premier.
Hon David Johnson: That's the way it has been down through the years, because in the wisdom of parliaments over many years, it has been deemed that this particular legislative entity, including the auditor, the Clerk's department, the Ombudsman, the Environmental Commissioner and many other commissioners, should report to an independent body of this particular Legislature.
The Board of Internal Economy is represented by all three parties. The Board of Internal Economy has jurisdiction over this matter. If the member for Renfrew North has a particular question about procedure, then he should consult with his own member who represents his party on that particular board.
Mr Conway: Earlier this week, Premier Mike Harris made a big announcement about his determination to have more financial discipline and more accountability by elected officials for taxpayers' money - a great speech. Well, let me say to this House and to this government particularly, we have a perfect opportunity to give effect to Mr Harris's much-trumpeted commitment.
Today we have before us a supply bill. It is the spending approval that this Parliament must vote for all of the expenditures in the fiscal year 1998-99. Contained in this bill is, among other things, the $130,000 that has been allocated to pay Al McLean's legal bills.
My question is simply this: Will the Acting Premier amend this bill in such a way as to reduce the appropriation by, as a minimum, $130,000, and let every member of this Parliament, whether it's Frank Sheehan, Sean Conway, Toni Skarica or Mike Harris, stand in their place here, as is our duty, and vote yes or no to that appropriation?
Hon David Johnson: The member for Renfrew North said the Premier made a great speech. I would say that the Premier has a great commitment to balancing the books of the province of Ontario and to bringing expenditures under control.
The Speaker: Acting Premier.
Hon David Johnson: When this government came to office, we were faced with the years of $10-billion spending increases by the Liberals and $11-billion deficits from the NDP government. Yes, we have made a great commitment and the Premier has made a great commitment to bring the spending under control in the province of Ontario.
As all members of this House know, this matter is under the jurisdiction of the Board of Internal Economy. The Board of Internal Economy has looked at this matter over a period of time and apparently - I'm not a member of the Board of Internal Economy - has made a judgment in terms of how to stop the escalating costs and to give the taxpayer the best break in this particular matter. They've made a decision to resolve this matter, to settle it and to stop the escalating costs.
The Speaker: New question; leader of the third party.
Mr Howard Hampton (Rainy River): My question is also for the Acting Premier. Everybody in this province wants to get to the bottom of Mr McLean's scandal. Yesterday the Premier said on radio that he believes the whole thing has been mismanaged, and yesterday your colleague the Deputy Premier said he didn't think it would be appropriate for taxpayers to pay for a private eye and he didn't have all the answers.
There is a way for us to get all the answers. Would you support a motion in this Legislature asking the Legislative Assembly committee to conduct a full public investigation of how this scandal was handled from beginning to end and how taxpayers are being stuck with Mr McLean's so-called legal expenses, which include paying for a private eye to snoop on Sandi Thompson?
Hon David Johnson: My understanding from the House leader is that Mr McLean has indicated or offered to pay for the investigative costs.
I will say that I think the Premier and the Minister of Finance are expressing the natural frustration that one has with these kinds of legal matters.
I'm sure anybody who has been in government for many years has faced legal situations, whether it's a personnel situation, whether it has to do with the completion of a tender or whatever it has to do with. The lawyers on both sides get involved and the costs to the taxpayer go up. At some point in time the authorities, in this case the Board of Internal Economy, have to step in and say: "What's the most prudent way of dealing with this? Is the most prudent way to allow this to go on and the costs to escalate, month after month and year after year, or is the prudent course of action to settle and resolve it?" Apparently the Board of Internal Economy came to the latter conclusion.
Mr Hampton: The question was, would the Acting Premier support having an investigation done by the Legislative Assembly committee so the people of Ontario would know once and for all what you're asking them to pay and what your members of the Board of Internal Economy are asking them to pay for in the way of Mr McLean's sexual harassment scandal? That's not too much to ask, but you won't even respond to the question.
Let me put it to you in another way: Would you and the government members support a motion here in the Legislature asking Mr McLean to reimburse the taxpayers of Ontario for the full $130,000 of his so-called legal expenses that the public has no business paying in the first place? Would you support that motion?
Hon David Johnson: Again, this is a matter that rests with the Board of Internal Economy. The third party is represented on the Board of Internal Economy. If the third party believes it has another course of action in terms of dealing with this particular issue, or any other issue before the Board of Internal Economy, I would suggest the leader of the third party consult with his representative on the Board of Internal Economy.
Mr Bud Wildman (Algoma): We just did.
Hon David Johnson: Good. That's the proper way to go. In the absence of that, the Board of Internal Economy is obviously dealing with a problem that it has had before it for some time, doing the best it can, and has come to a resolution on the matter that apparently is acceptable to the parties.
The Speaker: Final supplementary.
Mrs Marion Boyd (London Centre): As the member on the Board of Internal Economy from this party, I voted against the offer of settlement; I voted against the settlement itself. I asked for the bills to be taxed, for the details to be provided, and that didn't happen. Why didn't it happen? Because the government has four members on that committee, the opposition has one and we have one. The government members outvoted us every time, just as this afternoon you refused my motion to have the legal bills tabled here so people could see what we were paying for. You refused the idea of a motion that the Legislative Assembly would look at it. You refused an idea that there would be a motion that Mr McLean would pay for this.
What are you covering up? What are you trying to hide? Why have the members of your party outvoted the opposition and the third party against any kind of openness of this affair? What is going on and what have you got to hide?
Hon David Johnson: I would say to the member for London Centre that this has been the makeup of the Board of Internal Economy apparently, as I understand it. I've only been on the Board of Internal Economy for a short period, back some time ago, but as I understand it, that's been the makeup of the Board of Internal Economy back through the years, back through the ages. Apparently the board has been able to deal with various matters that are before it.
This is a matter that is legitimately before that board; nowhere else. You are apparently a member of that particular board. If you have other ongoing concerns, then I would suggest you're well positioned to raise those issues at the very next meeting of the Board of Internal Economy. Discuss the matter. Have it on the agenda. That's your prerogative as a member of the Board of Internal Economy.
The board apparently is seized of this issue and has attempted to deal with it in the best possible way, given that the taxpayer apparently is on the hook for ever-escalating costs, and has tried to deal with it most prudently.
Mr Howard Hampton (Rainy River): I have a question for the minister responsible for community and social services. This is about the hardship that a particular family is facing this Christmas thanks to your corporate friend Andersen Consulting.
You will know that Andersen Consulting is putting in place the so-called consolidation verification project with respect to social assistance recipients.
This family faced the following scenario: She was called into the social assistance office. They asked her for her children's school attendance records, even though it was August and the children weren't at school. She was asked for both her birth certificate and her social insurance card even though they're already in the social assistance files. Then she was asked for her bank statements for the last 12 months. She doesn't have those bank statements for the last 12 months and she doesn't have the $30 to get them.
What happened as a result? Because she couldn't provide some of this information, even though you already have it, you cut her and her three children off social assistance.
Andersen Consulting is going to benefit from this. Minister, how do you justify attacking poor families in Ontario in order to benefit Andersen Consulting?
Hon Janet Ecker (Minister of Community and Social Services): No, Andersen Consulting will not benefit if someone has been taken off welfare inappropriately, and I'd be very pleased to look into the circumstances.
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Supplementary, member for Ottawa West.
Mr Alex Cullen (Ottawa West): Minister, the reality is that your policies are breaking up families. In Ottawa West I have a case where a 50-year-old woman with a 10-year-old daughter with special needs, a single parent on assistance, moved in with her 80-year-old mother because her doctor said she needs care. Yet your government wished her a merry Christmas by cutting her benefits in half effective this December, to $446 a month, despite the fact that her rent is $500 a month and her child needs medication. This single mum cannot live on $446 a month, let alone enjoy Christmas with her family.
Minister, you're breaking up this family and costing taxpayers more. Why are you doing this?
Hon Mrs Ecker: We have very clear policies about what are considered eligible expenses and what aren't. We believe very firmly that people who are in need should be on the system, not people who have other resources and alternatives to draw from.
If there has been anything inappropriate that has happened in any particular case - and, as the honourable member knows, I'm not at liberty to discuss the details of a particular individual's case in public, as they seem to feel free to spread people's detailed information around - I'd be very pleased to have officials look into it and make sure that everything was done according to policy and according to regulation.
Mr Cullen: Minister, it's your new rules that are forcing families like these to break up, at greater cost to the taxpayer.
I have another case in Ottawa West where a constituent on assistance has an open custody arrangement with his ex-wife regarding his three children, ages 11, nine and eight. He lives in a two-bedroom basement apartment where he pays $600 a month in rent. Your new rules, effective this month of December, cut his social assistance entitlement to $551 a month, as you will no longer recognize his parental obligations to his three children. He will no longer be able to house his children or pay for their needs when they are in his care or even provide for their Christmas.
Again, Minister, why is your government so intent on breaking up families?
Hon Mrs Ecker: Frankly, paying people double in circumstances where they separate is not an appropriate policy either. As the member well knows, we follow the federal guidelines for determining which parent has primary custody of that child and that is how the decision is made about which parent receives the child portion of the welfare allowance. That has been very clear. If he has concerns with the federal guidelines about how they do that, for example, for the national child benefit, I request him to take it up with the appropriate level of government.
As I said, I'm not going to sit here and debate the intimate details of a person's life on the legislative floor. If there has been anything inappropriate that has happened to an individual, I'd be very pleased to look into it. Our goal here in terms of our welfare reform is making sure that we're getting people off social assistance and into paid jobs. The numbers indicate that is exactly what is happening. That's where the families who are currently trapped on welfare want to be, off welfare, in paid jobs, and that is the goal of our reforms.
BOARD OF INTERNAL ECONOMY DECISION
Mr Sean G. Conway (Renfrew North): I want to come back to the Acting Premier. My concern today is not so much what the Board of Internal Economy did, but what we as a Parliament will do, because it is our duty under our system of government to vote the funds to give effect to what the board did. The government has before the Legislature today a spending bill, Bill 96. In that spending bill is contained the amount of money that has been allocated to pay Al McLean's legal bills. We have to, in the name of the taxpayers of Ontario, vote yes or no to the supply bill, to that spending bill.
I ask the Acting Premier: You have it within your power as a government to amend the spending bill, Bill 96, currently before us for debate and decision, to reduce the appropriation by the amount of approximately $130,000, representing Mr McLean's legal bills. Are you prepared to put that amendment and give all members a chance to vote yes or no on that question?
Hon David Johnson (Minister of Education and Training): The member for Renfrew North has been here for many years, 23 years.
Interjection: Too long.
Hon David Johnson: I don't know if it's too long or not, but he makes a wonderful contribution to the House on many occasions.
He will be aware that there is an estimates process which involves the expenditures of the Legislative Assembly and the various ministries. That time will come; it comes every year. The estimates process has assigned various monies to the Legislative Assembly, and the Legislative Assembly, represented by all three parties, makes various decisions with regard to its spending. In this particular case, in a matter clearly before the Board of Internal Economy, it has apparently made a decision in terms of what it feels are the best interests of the taxpayers in minimizing costs that could be attributed back to the taxpayers. So there is a process in place to deal with that very matter.
Mr Conway: I've been here long enough to know what my responsibility and my accountability is. I know that in Bill 96 I have a responsibility to vote for all of the estimates that have been approved by various committees of the Legislature. Parliament must vote, in total, the supply bill. We have got to pass judgment, and in this bill that the Minister of Finance has before us now for debate and decision is, among other things, an allocation of money to pay for Al McLean's legal bill.
Let me say to you, Minister, and to all of you: If the government isn't prepared to move the amendment, I will. I will be here tonight, because according to the House leaders' agreement we will resume this debate at 7:30 tonight. I want to tell you now that I, the member from Renfrew, will put tonight a motion which reads in part, "That Bill 96 be amended in such a way that the amounts payable under subsection (1) of the bill shall not include any amount in respect of the legal fees of the member for Simcoe East."
The table tells me it's proper and in order. I challenge every one of you - Tory, Liberal and New Democrat - all of you who believe in accountability and responsibility, to be here tonight. Vote yes or no and let the taxpayers decide.
Hon David Johnson: That is the democratic process. If the member for Renfrew North feels he wishes to put that amendment, or any other amendments that are in order, that's his democratic right. I think he has stated the case quite clearly. He intends to come and speak to the issue. Other members of the House will -
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Order. Acting Premier.
Hon David Johnson: Mr Speaker, as you well know, there are procedures that govern this House. If members are in order to make amendments, then they are welcome to make amendments. All members, of course, are welcome to speak to the item, whether it's the Supply Act, whether it's some piece of legislation that's before the House. The House votes according to its conscience. That's the democratic process. If that is what the member is proposing, so be it.
The Speaker: New question, leader of the third party.
Mr Howard Hampton (Rainy River): To the Acting Premier again: Here's the reality today. We asked you for a motion for a full report from the lawyers in the McLean scandal so that members of the Legislature would know what's happening. You refused that.
We asked for a motion for the Legislative Assembly committee to do an investigation and provide a report. You refused that.
We asked for a motion for Mr McLean to reimburse the Legislature so that taxpayers don't have to pay his so-called legal expenses. You refused that.
What is it that you're so worried about? What is it that you want to keep away from the public? What is it that you're so afraid of, that you don't want to have any accountability on? We've given you all kinds of ways for the public not to pick up Mr McLean's so-called legal expenses, which they have no reason to pay, no reason in law, no reason any other way to pay. What are you so afraid of?
Hon David Johnson: A little correction is in order, to the member for Rainy River. I have refused nothing. This government has refused nothing. The matter is before the Board of Internal Economy. If the member for Rainy River wishes to further deal with this particular matter, he should, through his representative, have the matter dealt with where it's properly seized, at the Board of Internal Economy. That's where the decision is being made. That's where the process is properly dealt with.
Mr Hampton: Acting Premier, that's the reality: Whenever anyone tries to shed any light on this in the Board of Internal Economy, your members say no. When people ask for an accounting of Allan McLean's so-called legal expenses, your members say no. We then come to the Legislature, because you can, here in this Legislature, overrule the committee. We ask you for a full report from the lawyers. You say no. We ask you for a motion for an investigation by the Legislative Assembly committee. You say no. We ask that Al McLean pay it. You say no.
I'll ask you for another motion. Would you agree to a motion that the Conservative Party of Ontario pick up Mr McLean's legal expenses? That way, if you're desperate to keep it quiet and hush it up, you and Mr McLean can take care of it and the people of Ontario don't have to pay for this scandal.
Hon David Johnson: I would agree that this is a matter that is dealt with at the Board of Internal Economy and the member should make his views known to the Board of Internal Economy. I would also agree that this is a matter that a number of people have expressed exasperation and frustration with regard to, and this is not untypical. I think the Premier has expressed his deep concern about the matter, and the Minister of Finance has expressed his deep concern.
These matters involving legal issues are always difficult. I know the federal government, for example, has set aside hundreds of thousands of dollars to deal with a wrongful dismissal suit. It is, unfortunately, the kind of situation that governments have to deal with and I'm sure the private sector has to deal with. The Board of Internal Economy, I believe, from all accounts, although I wasn't there, has done the best it can to deal with an issue and to bring finality to a matter that affects the lives of particularly two people.
ASSISTANCE TO FARMERS
Mr Bill Murdoch (Grey-Owen Sound): My question is to the Minister of Agriculture. I'd like to thank the minister first before I ask him the question. The last time I asked him a question in this House, he looked after the problem we had in Grey county in our planning, and I want to thank the minister for that.
Minister, last week you announced a program for our farmers of some $40 million. After that, the federal government came along and offered some more money for our farmers who are having a problem with drought-related issues or commodity issues. In the paper recently, Ken Kelly, one of the vice-presidents of the OFA, said there was concern as to how this is going to work out there. Could you tell us how the two programs could work together?
Hon Noble Villeneuve (Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, minister responsible for francophone affairs): To my colleague from Grey-Owen Sound, yes, the Ontario government listened and heard of the extreme-distress income situation that's being faced by Ontario farmers. We reacted very quickly, and $40 million was announced last week, December 10, through the Ontario whole farm relief program.
Indeed, following the leadership of Ontario, the federal government did follow with some $900 million in support over two years for Canada's farmers. I am pleased to learn of the federal financial commitment. I'm anxious to hear more about the details. It is critical that this proposed national program provide Ontario and Ontario's farm families with their fair share of that federal money.
I have a couple of quotes here that I'm sure the Legislature would be interested in hearing. "We're really pleased with the leadership shown by OMAFRA Minister Villeneuve in setting a national agenda." Ed Segsworth of the OFA said that.
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Answer.
Hon Mr Villeneuve: "We're pleased it happened quickly. It's remarkable that the provincial ministry worked so quickly." Bob -
The Speaker: Supplementary.
Mr Murdoch: Minister, I appreciate that information you've given us. As I said, there's still some uncertainty out among the farming community, especially in my riding of Grey and the riding of Bruce. We've had a serious drought problem in the past and I understand there are going to be some applications made up through your ministry to go out to all our farmers. Could you commit today in this House that you will work with the Christian Farmers and the Ontario federation before you send out these applications, that your ministry will work with them, especially in Grey and Bruce?
I have a letter from my federation here that I'll send to you - if one of the pages would take this to the minister, please - that asks that you will at least confide in them and ask them some questions before you finalize the applications, before they go out to the farmers. We want to get it right the first time; we don't want to have a lot of uncertainty.
Hon Mr Villeneuve: The whole farm relief program is for all farmers who have had a dramatic reduction in their net farm income over the past year, 1998, and it will be based on an average of previous years. This will apply to the cattle farmers in Grey, Bruce and Huron who were hit by drought. It will apply to the apple producers who were hit by hail in Northumberland. For my friend from Renfrew North, it will apply to certain farmers in his area who were hard-hit by drought.
We're getting this program up as rapidly as possible to meet the immediate the needs of farmers. We appreciate the input of farm groups, and yes, as we speak, we are working with the Christian Farmers, the Ontario Federation of Agriculture and other farm organizations to make sure that the application forms are precise and not any longer than they have to be and provide the information that will be needed to meet the criteria as negotiated with the federal government, and we are negotiating at this time.
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Stop the clock. I'd like to take this opportunity to bring to the attention of the members of the government gallery the member of Parliament for Markham, Mr Jim Jones. Welcome.
BOARD OF INTERNAL ECONOMY DECISION
Mr Sean G. Conway (Renfrew North): I have a question to the Acting Premier. I want to say to the Acting Premier that I appreciated his last response, where I believe I heard him say that he was anxious and willing to give members, all members, an opportunity at an early time to debate the supply bill and any amendments attached thereto and certainly to vote on the amendments and on the supply bill.
I just want to be clear, and I want to ask the Acting Premier a question in this regard. The House leaders met an hour or so ago and allocated three hours of debating time tonight, beginning at 7:30. I adjourned the debate last night and I certainly intend to begin the debate this evening. I would just like from the Acting Premier an assurance from the government, since the government controls the House business, that you are going to give the House today and tomorrow, or at some point before we adjourn or prorogue before Christmas, an opportunity to debate the supply bill and any amendments attached thereto and to decide the question of the spending bill and any and all amendments attached thereto.
Hon David Johnson (Minister of Education and Training): That is a matter that is dealt with by the House leaders. The House leaders deal with that particular matter and reach agreement in terms of what will be before the House, and then it's up to the government House leader to call the motion. Then, beyond that, we have well-established rules in terms of the ability to place amendments, which ones are in order and which ones are not in order. We know that within the confines of the time available people are welcome to speak, and obviously the members of the House vote their conscience on whichever amendment or whatever they feel is best.
That matter is controlled by the House leaders, the government House leader, and I'm sure the House leaders are most capable of bringing forward the best resolution on this matter.
Mr Conway: I want to be very clear to all members that this, in my view, is a very important question for all of us, regardless of where you stand on the question. There may be members in this House who feel very strongly that the allocation of public monies in the amount of $130,000 for Al McLean's legal bills is a right and proper thing to do. I want this Parliament, before this Christmas, to have a chance, as it does with the spending bill currently before us, Bill 96, to clearly decide the question. That's why tonight at 7:30 I will debate and put an amendment that will be clear; and it's not going to be a delaying motion, I can assure you. I quite frankly think we've had the debate.
I want, in the interests of the taxpayers and the public and the common good, for all of us on all sides to stand in our place on this very particular and timely appropriation that is contained in a bill currently before the House and simply say, "Yes, I agree," or, "No, I do not agree." I again ask the Acting Premier, will you tell all members that before we adjourn or prorogue for Christmas, this House will have an opportunity to decide that question?
Hon David Johnson: Again I say that those matters, as the member for Renfrew North, having been here 23 years, knows full well, are subject to negotiation among the House leaders and that the government House leader ultimately calls whatever comes before this particular Legislature. In terms of the right and proper thing to do, as the member has indicated, I'm not fully aware of all the circumstances and the member for Renfrew North is not fully aware of all the circumstances involved.
The members of the Board of Internal Economy, where the jurisdiction for this matter properly rests, have done the best they can, I believe, in terms of dealing with a matter that has certainly been frustrating, certainly been exasperating. In the interests of the taxpayers, as the cost escalates month by month, year by year, the Board of Internal Economy, as I understand it, has simply tried to make the best possible decision on behalf of the taxpayers.
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): New question; the member for London Centre.
Mrs Marion Boyd (London Centre): To the Acting Premier: The members of government on the Board of Internal Economy serve at the pleasure of the Lieutenant Governor in Council, the cabinet. The Premier has said this affair was mismanaged. The finance minister, the Deputy Premier, has said they shouldn't have paid the legal fees. Members of your own party have said they shouldn't pay the legal fees. Public opinion out there says they shouldn't have paid the legal fees. They ignored the advice of the lawyer, they ignored the advice of the Speaker, they ignored the votes of the two opposition parties. Do they still enjoy the confidence of the government?
Hon David Johnson: I would reiterate what I indicated previously to the member for Renfrew North. It's my understanding that the members of the Board of Internal Economy, over a long period of time, have had various facts put to them with regard to this situation. They have watched the costs escalating. Whether they did the right thing or not, I don't know - I know various people have expressed exasperation - but I do know they're appointed to do a job, and I believe and they've indicated that they've done the best possible job they can on behalf of the taxpayers. I believe this is what they've attempted to do, in awareness that costs have been escalating over the course of almost the last two years now. This is a matter I think they believed needed some resolution and needed some resolution soon, because the costs are continuing to escalate. I know it's not an easy job, it's not always a popular job, but I can only assume they've done the best possible job under the circumstances.
Mrs Boyd: Acting Premier, you must understand that by continuing to keep those members of the Board of Internal Economy and then saying it's the business of the Board of Internal Economy, not the government, by refusing to remove them and name new members, refusing to look at any of the issues, you're going in a circular manner.
If you think the people of Ontario are going to accept that the government is not responsible when its House leader, its Chair of Management Board, its Minister of Transportation and its parliamentary assistant for finance are the members appointed by the Premier and the cabinet to the Board of Internal Economy, who made that decision against lawyers' advice, against the Speaker's advice, against the advice of the two parties in opposition, if you think the people of Ontario are going to think that the government isn't responsible, you'd better think again.
I ask you again. You've refused every means for the public to understand what is going on in this situation -
The Speaker: Question.
Mrs Boyd: - and why good old Al McLean's affair is getting hushed up and pushed away from the Conservative Party. I ask you again, Acting Premier, what do you have to be afraid of and do you -
The Speaker: Acting Premier.
Hon David Johnson: I don't know what all the legal advice was. I'm not a member of the Board of Internal Economy. The member opposite has indicated that she knows what the advice is, although apparently she says there are some other matters that she doesn't know about in terms of the investigative costs. She knows some things, she doesn't know other things; I don't know, really, what she knows about it.
I'll only say again that when you're in a position of authority, sometimes you have to make very difficult decisions. Sometimes they're not always popular. But when you look at the costs climbing day after day, and sometimes - I don't know if this is a circumstance, but I'm given to believe this is a circumstance where this board, which is seized of this matter, has looked at it from the point of view of the taxpayer and has said, "We can allow this to carry on for another year or years at additional cost to the taxpayer, or we can try to resolve it." I know that the federal government does that under various circumstances and, having been in municipal government, that municipal governments do that under various circumstances, and I presume the Board of Internal Economy came to the same type of conclusion.
Mrs Brenda Elliott (Guelph): My question today is for the Minister of Energy, Science and Technology. Recent statistics have shown that in the last 10 years, two out of three new jobs created in Ontario have been as a result of technology-based and knowledge-based industries. I think we would all agree in this House that finding the place for Ontario as a leader is very important for our future.
We were very pleased in Guelph on November 24 when you announced $6 million for the agri-system biotechnology centre at the university. We've been busy working on making Guelph the agribusiness centre of Ontario. But, Minister, you will know that my constituents in Guelph and in the areas of Cambridge and Kitchener-Waterloo have been concerned about what's often referred to as the brain drain. We have visitors in our gallery today, mainly young people who are concerned about what we are doing here in Ontario to prevent a brain drain. I would ask you what you are doing to address the growing need to educate and to keep our brightest and our best young people.
Hon Jim Wilson (Minister of Energy, Science and Technology): I think it's a very important and an excellent question by the member for Guelph. As Canadians, we don't do enough to celebrate our best and brightest, we don't do enough to celebrate excellence, and as a result we do suffer from the brain drain. It's not that we don't have excellent universities like the University of Guelph or excellent centres like the city of Guelph, which is indeed Ontario's agribusiness centre, where they specialize in high technology and biotechnology, but we don't do enough to recognize those young researchers.
On December 10, this government launched the Premier's Research Excellence Awards, a $75-million program to reward those Nobel Prize winners or Nobel laureates of the future and to make them household names while they're in their younger years, in their post-doctorate years just after they receive their PhDs, and to give them the dollars and the supplies and the encouragement to really put Canadian science on the map -
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Answer.
Hon Mr Wilson: - and to help us create those jobs that are being created in the high-tech sector. We're very pleased that the Honourable Dr Bill Winegard, the former University of Guelph president -
The Speaker: Supplementary.
Mrs Elliott: I can say to you that on behalf of the people of Guelph, we're delighted that you've chosen Dr Winegard. He's a fine gentleman and will bring an enthusiasm and an expertise to this research awards program second to none.
I guess I'm a skeptic, and I would say to you on behalf of all of those young people who are potential award winners and leaders in Ontario, the proof is in the pudding. When can we expect to see money flow for this program to be up and running?
Hon Mr Wilson: As I was saying, I want to thank the Honourable Dr Bill Winegard, the former president of the University of Guelph, indeed a member of the Order of Canada and a former federal Minister for Science, for heading up the board of the Premier's Research Excellence Awards. As I said, it's a $75-million program over the next 10 years. Up to 50 of our young researchers will be recognized each year. They will be nominated by their peers, and the board, chaired by Dr Winegard, will make decisions.
The first applications will be available February 1, and the application form for everyone will be available on my ministry's new Web site, which is www.est.gov.on.ca. Energy, science and technology, government of Ontario, is how you remember it. It's a user-friendly site. The applications are there. We encourage those young researchers, those people that we want to be proud of, those people that we want to make household names. We want to give them the dollars, we want them to continue their science and we want to help them to help us create more jobs in Ontario.
BOARD OF INTERNAL ECONOMY DECISION
Mr Sean G. Conway (Renfrew North): I want to return to the Acting Premier. Under our system of government and parliamentary business, the only time the full House, all of us as a Legislative Assembly, get to pass judgment on a matter like the McLean legal settlement is with this supply bill, this end-of-the-year spending approval bill. I'm interested, as I think all members are, about our accountability. This is the opportunity that we get as a full Parliament to pass judgment on an expenditure like this. It's now before us, because the spending bill, Bill 96, was read a second time yesterday by the parliamentary assistant and in the normal course of events would be decided today or tomorrow.
My question to the Acting Premier: Are you prepared to bring forward an amendment to the spending bill to provide all members of this House with an opportunity to vote yes or no to the McLean settlement?
Hon David Johnson (Minister of Education and Training): I would say, first of all, that obviously members are always encouraged to participate in a supply bill, and to the degree that amendments are valid, then certainly raise the amendments, and I'm sure the members will debate them and vote accordingly.
But there are other processes. There is the estimates committee, obviously, where members have the opportunity. With education I spent about 15 hours at such a committee, with questions being raised by the Liberals, questions being raised by the NDP, questions being raised by members of my own party, and lots of answers, lots of great answers. The member for Scarborough-Agincourt, about a week ago, had a briefing with regard to some of the ministry expenditures. Members have a number of opportunities, one of which is the supply bill, and I'm sure the member for Renfrew North will take full advantage.
Mr Conway: Oh, I intend to, because this deal at the board was rammed through by the cabinet members of that committee just a few days ago. The members of this House had little or no opportunity to debate or decide that question in that committee, but that was that committee. It's now before Parliament, and so if you won't move the amendment, I intend to. I intend to do that tonight. I don't intend to delay. I don't even think we need much of a debate.
My final question today for you is this: Will you stand in your place today and tell this House, all members in it, and anybody watching that you will not frustrate my effort to put that question tonight and to get all members here tonight or tomorrow in the committee of the whole to say yes or no to the Conway amendment, which basically says we want to reduce the supply spending bill in the amount of Al McLean's legal bill?
Hon David Johnson: All I can say is there are procedures that deal with matters of this House. There are negotiations with the House leaders, procedures governing amendments, procedures governing votes. I have no authority to go beyond any of those procedures. I have no authority to order members to be here in the House.
I know members on the government side are always interested in the debate and members on the government side are always interested in financial matters. I'm sure the government will be extremely well represented and extremely well prepared to put forward its point of view on any matter that's debated, either tonight or at any other time.
Mr Michael Gravelle (Port Arthur): "Whereas the Thunder Bay Expressway has been the scene of serious accidents in recent years; and
"Whereas as a result of strong lobbying by the community, including the OPP and Thunder Bay city council, an advanced warning light has been installed at Balsam Street; and
"Whereas since the installation of this warning light there has been a major improvement to the safety of that intersection; and
"Whereas to further increase safety on the expressway, more warning lights are needed further down the system; and
"Whereas the Balsam Street warning light is in its second year of a three-year pilot project to deem the effectiveness of advanced warning lights in the area; and
"Whereas surely two years is enough time to confirm that the advanced warning light system has made a positive difference;
"We, the undersigned, petition the Legislative Assembly of Ontario to end the three-year pilot project early and assess the results that will show that the Thunder Bay Expressway would greatly benefit and become much safer if a full system of advanced warning lights were installed."
I've got signatures from hundreds of people in Thunder Bay and I am very pleased to add my name to that petition.
Mr David Christopherson (Hamilton Centre): I have a petition to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario:
"Whereas the Asian and Russian economic crises have contributed to a flood of steel imports into Canada at record-low prices; and
"Whereas the value of steel imported from Russia increased by 50% in the first half of 1998 over the first half of 1997; imports from Japan increased by 57%; and imports from Korea increased by over 500% in the first eight months of 1998 alone; and
"Whereas prices for almost every primary steel product have dropped by as much as 25% since the beginning of 1998; and
"Whereas the low-price imported steel threatens the viability of every steel producer in Canada," in particular Hamilton and Sault Ste Marie; "and
"Whereas the potential impact on our community and its families of the growing steel imports crisis is devastating, threatening thousands of jobs directly and indirectly;
"Therefore be it resolved that we, the undersigned, call on the Legislative Assembly of Ontario to urge the Canadian government to apply Canadian trade law quickly and effectively against this blatantly unfair competition, and further, to consider and explore any other extraordinary measure possibly available to Canada under its various trade agreements to deal with this unacceptable threat to our community's future."
I support my Hamilton neighbours by signing this petition.
Mr Carl DeFaria (Mississauga East): I have a petition signed by over 80 residents of co-op housing located at 425 Meadows Boulevard in Mississauga, people who I have the greatest honour to represent here at Queen's Park. The petition reads as follows:
"To the Legislative Assembly of Ontario:
"Whereas the residents of 81 units of the townhouse co-op located at 425 Meadows Boulevard in the city of Mississauga wish to have ownership of their units;
"Whereas the residents of the co-op should be entitled to obtain ownership of their units;
"We, the undersigned, petition the government of Ontario to urge the federal government to allow the residents to own their units and not to transfer them over to the Ontario government who in turn would transfer them over to Peel housing authority."
It's signed, and I will affix my signature to this petition.
BOARD OF INTERNAL ECONOMY DECISION
Mr John Gerretsen (Kingston and The Islands): I have a petition addressed to the government of Ontario:
"Whereas the taxpayers of Ontario are being compelled to pay $600,000 to settle a case between two private individuals involving a sexual harassment suit between a member of the Conservative government of Mike Harris and a former employee of his; and
"Whereas the legal costs of the member of the government caucus involved in the private legal action brought against him by a former employee in his office will be paid for by the Ontario taxpayers as a result of Conservative members' votes; and
"Whereas the Conservative government is underfunding health, education and other vital areas under provincial jurisdiction but has money to pay for the legal obligations of one of its own members;
"We, the undersigned, call upon Premier Mike Harris to have his Conservative Party reimburse the taxpayers of Ontario for these legal costs incurred as a result of the McLean case."
I've signed my signature to it and I am handing it over to Jeremey, our page.
Ms Marilyn Churley (Riverdale): I have several petitions and letters from people very concerned about the new schedule of dental services for children and people with disabilities. The petition reads:
"To the Legislative Assembly of Ontario:
"Whereas a new schedule of dental services for children and people with disabilities was introduced by the government under the Ontario Works Act and the Ontario Disability Support Program Act;
"Whereas the new schedule fails to meet the special needs of children and people with disabilities, reduces services, places barriers to accessing care, creates an environment for various different dental programs across Ontario;
"Whereas the move away from an emphasis on prevention under the new dental schedule brings significant health risks for children and people with disabilities who are often least able to practise good oral hygiene;
"Whereas the new dental schedule interferes with the patients' rights to consent to treatment by requiring administrators, and not patients or substitute decision-makers, to authorize and deny dental treatment;
"Whereas there is no method for the patient to appeal a decision by a plan administrator to deny dental treatment;
"Whereas pre-authorizations, called predeterminations in the new plan, will require that a higher level of confidential patient health information be disclosed to dental plan administrators;
"Whereas the Ontario government has caused confusion among patients by introducing the plan without adequate consultation and has not included any affected patient groups in consultations after releasing the new dental plan;
"We, the undersigned, petition the Legislative Assembly as follows:
"Delay full implementation of the new dental plan until the requirement for predeterminations is removed, patient confidentiality is protected, the plan emphasizes prevention in oral health care, and the government consults directly with affected patients to ensure the new plan will meet the special needs of children and people with disabilities."
I affix my name to this petition.
Mr David Tilson (Dufferin-Peel): I wish to file a petition concerning the issuing of licences for the use of firearms, and I've placed my signature on this document.
Mr Dominic Agostino (Hamilton East): I have a petition signed by over 1,000 of my constituents.
"To the Legislative Assembly of Ontario:
"Whereas the result of the property tax assessment has caused a dramatic increase in personal property tax due to provincial downloading and the Harris government's new tax assessment legislation; and
"Whereas the increase in property tax will cause residents in the municipality of Hamilton-Wentworth financial hardship;
"We, the undersigned, petition the Legislature of Ontario to devise a fair and uncomplicated system of tax assessment in order to help those who cannot afford the property tax increase," as a result of the Mike Harris agenda.
I'm happy to attach my signature to the petition.
Mr Gary Fox (Prince Edward-Lennox-South Hastings): I have a petition to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario.
"Whereas the Liberal government of Canada has passed Bill C-68, An Act respecting firearms and other weapons; and
"Whereas we welcome real gun control and support these portions of Bill C-68 which provide tougher penalties for the criminal use of firearms, new offences related to firearms smuggling and trafficking; and
"Whereas existing laws requiring the registration of handguns has done little to reduce the number of crimes committed with handguns or lower the volume of handguns smuggled into Canada; and
"Whereas the national gun registration provisions of Bill C-68 will result in a massive misallocation of the limited resources available to law enforcement agencies, with no practical effect on the traffic of illegal firearms or the use of guns by violent criminals; and
"Whereas the gun registration provision of Bill C-68 will take police officers off the streets and involve them in a bureaucracy other than fighting crime and will make the task of real gun control more difficult and dangerous for police officers;
"Therefore we, the undersigned, respectfully petition the Parliament of Ontario to continue to urge the government of Canada to repeal from Bill C-68 these provisions for a compulsory registration of all firearms."
I support this and sign it. I have over 200 signatures, with more arriving.
VISITING SPECIALIST CLINICS
Mr Michael A. Brown (Algoma-Manitoulin): I have a petition to the Legislature of Ontario:
"Whereas the objective of the visiting specialist clinic program is to provide specialty services in communities where the population base cannot support a full-time specialist and where specialty services are established more than 40 kilometres away from those communities; and
"Whereas communities in Algoma-Manitoulin, including Espanola, Manitoulin Island, Elliot Lake, Blind River, Chapleau, Wawa, Hornepayne and Manitouwadge are situated great distances from the nearest established specialty services and travelling such distances poses undue hardship on people requiring these services; and
"Whereas the Ministry of Health has withdrawn funding for specialist support staff, seriously threatening the clinic program; and
"Whereas funding by the Ministry of Health for travel grants would far outweigh the costs to the ministry of providing support staff funding;
"We, the undersigned, petition the Legislative Assembly of Ontario to restore funding for support staff for the visiting specialist clinic program."
I agree with this, as do hundreds of my constituents.
Ms Marilyn Churley (Riverdale): I have a petition which reads:
"To the Legislative Assembly of Ontario,
"Whereas cancer claims in excess of 20,000 lives annually in Ontario alone; and
"Whereas cancer treatment costs Ontario taxpayers in excess of $1 billion annually; and
"Whereas the best way to fight cancer or any disease is through preventive measures; and
"Whereas the Ontario Task Force on the Primary Prevention of Cancer has advised the government to set realistic and realizable targets for phasing out the release of environmental toxins; and
"Whereas the Legislative Assembly on April 18, 1996, passed a resolution to that effect with support from all three parties;
"We, the undersigned, petition the Legislature of Ontario as follows:
"The Premier and the Minister of Health should immediately implement the April 18 resolution and strike a working committee to begin the task of setting realistic targets for the phase-out of persistent bio-accumulative environmental toxins."
I affix my name to this petition.
LAND USE PLANNING
Mrs Brenda Elliott (Guelph): I have a petition from a number of constituents. It reads as follows:
"We, the undersigned, request that the Minister of Natural Resources establish a system of truly protected wilderness areas, comprising 15% to 20% of Ontario's lands. Protection must exclude all resource extraction and development uses."
I submit this on their behalf.
Mr Michael Gravelle (Port Arthur): "To the Legislative Assembly of Ontario:
"Whereas we, the residents or property owners of the Pearl Harbour Estates in Pass Lake near Thunder Bay, are without telephone service in our community; and
"Whereas the CRTC and Bell Canada seem to have no obligation to provide telephone service to our community; and
"Whereas when this community was proposed, Bell Canada gave the developer a verbal commitment that telephone lines would be installed if the poles were put in place; and
"Whereas the closest telephone line is less than a kilometre away; and
"Whereas the lack of telephone services endangers all of us due to our inability to contact emergency services such as ambulances and fire services; and
"Whereas the makeup of our community consists of senior citizens, home-based businesses, on-call professionals, and young children; and
"Whereas the year is 1998 and one would expect that a community so close to a major urban centre should have basic telephone services;
"We, the undersigned, petition the Legislative Assembly of Ontario to intercede on our behalf in our support to have telephone service provided to our community."
I'm very pleased to sign my name to that petition.
Ms Marilyn Churley (Riverdale): I have a petition here from 350 people who have been concerned about their school closing. It reads:
"We're committed to the survival of St William School. St William School offers Catholic education, a nurturing learning environment, unique ecological garden program, special education program, Blake Street daycare. According to the new government funding formula, St William School could be closed by June 1999. What will be the future for this building and property?"
I support this petition to keep St William School open, and I'll affix my signature to this petition.
Mr Bob Wood (London South): I have a petition signed by 24 people:
"Whereas most Ontario residents do not have adequate access to effective palliative care in time of need;
"Whereas meeting the needs of Ontarians of all ages for relief of preventable pain and suffering, as well as the provision of emotional and spiritual support, should be a priority to our health care system;
"We, the undersigned, petition the Legislative Assembly of Ontario to resolve that a task force be appointed to develop a palliative care bill of rights that would ensure the best possible treatment, care, protection and support for Ontario citizens and their families in time of need.
"The task force should include palliative care experts in pain management, community palliative care and ethics in order to determine effective safeguards for the right to life and care of individuals who cannot or who can no longer decide issues of medical care for themselves.
"The appointed task force would provide interim reports to the government and the public and continue in existence to review the implementation of its recommendations."
BOARD OF INTERNAL ECONOMY DECISION
Mr Michael A. Brown (Algoma-Manitoulin): I have a petition to the government of Ontario:
"Whereas the taxpayers of Ontario are being compelled to pay $600,000 to settle a case between two private individuals involving a sexual harassment suit between a member of the Conservative government of Mike Harris and a former employee of his; and
"Whereas the legal costs of the member of the government caucus involved in a private legal action brought against him by a former employee in his office will be paid for by Ontario taxpayers as a result of Conservative members' votes; and
"Whereas the Conservative government is underfunding health, education and other vital services under provincial jurisdiction but has money to pay for the legal obligations of one of its own members;
"We, the undersigned, call upon Premier Harris to have his Conservative Party reimburse the taxpayers of Ontario for these legal costs incurred as a result of the McLean case."
ORDERS OF THE DAY
ENVIRONMENTAL STATUTE LAW AMENDMENT ACT, 1998 / LOI DE 1998 MODIFIANT DES LOIS EN CE QUI CONCERNE L'ENVIRONNEMENT
Resuming the adjourned debate on the motion for second reading of Bill 82, An Act to strengthen environmental protection and enforcement / Projet de loi 82, Loi visant à affermir la protection de l'environnement et les mesures d'exécution à cet égard.
The Acting Speaker (Mr Richard Patten): Pursuant to the order of the House dated December 15, 1998, I am now required to put the question.
Mr Sterling has moved second reading of Bill 82. Is it the pleasure of the House that the motion carry?
All those in favour?
All those opposed?
Pursuant to the order of the House dated December 15, this bill is ordered referred for third reading.
Mr Doug Galt (Northumberland): I move third reading of Bill 82, An Act to strengthen environmental protection and enforcement. It's my understanding that third reading debate is limited to an hour, and I understand there's an agreement to divide it equally among the three parties, 20 minutes each.
The Acting Speaker: Agreed? Agreed.
Mr Galt: I'll probably use much less than the 20 minutes.
I'm certainly pleased to be able to discuss the third reading of Bill 82, An Act to strengthen environmental protection and enforcement. This is a very special bill in that we're going to see the environment better protected in the future because those who do not pay attention to the laws, who are the polluters, are going to receive a far more stringent fine than they have in the past.
With this third reading, it's good to see that we've moved along so quickly with this bill. We didn't go out to hearings. The third party and the official opposition have agreed to it, and I certainly thank both of the opposition parties for being so supportive of this particular bill. I also recognize the member for Algoma, Mr Wildman, in his efforts to bring it in as a private member's bill, although I do wonder why it wouldn't have been brought in under the previous government when he was Minister of the Environment.
The Honourable Norm Sterling, Minister of the Environment, was commenting that with this bill we'll be taking the handcuffs off the Ministry of the Environment investigators and really putting those handcuffs on the offenders, those who pollute our environment, pollute our air, pollute our water and pollute our land. It's really high time that we had the ability to take those handcuffs and put them on the polluters and ensure that they are charged and that those charges will stick and they will go to court and pay those penalties.
I want to talk about the bigger picture and just how this bill fits in with our total environmental agenda. Since taking office back in 1995, this government has been committed to restoring the proper role of the Ministry of the Environment, the role of setting and enforcing strong standards for the protection of the air, for the protection of the water and for the protection of our land.
It was a pleasure for me to have the honour of steering a very comprehensive review of the regulations of that ministry. We've ended up with regulations that are stronger, safer and better than we've ever had before. I've been challenged and our government has been challenged several times by various members of the opposition in the third party about those regulations, that they have been weakened in some way or other. Repeatedly I've stood in this House and asked them to give me one regulation that has been weakened in this process, and I have yet to have a response from any member of the opposition, from any member of the third party or from the public that has zeroed in on a particular regulation that we have weakened.
In fact, we have strengthened all of the regulations. We've made them more understandable, clearer. There's more clarity in these regulations and for those who want to protect our environment they're better able to be understood by the businesses that are in the business of environment and want to protect the environment. They can understand them far easier than in the past, they're much clearer, and that was certainly the purpose of that exercise.
The present statutes that we have on the books are essentially quite sound. However, they do have a lot of limitations and barriers whereby the enforcement officers with the ministry have great difficulty in enforcing a lot of those statutes that are there. Some of those limitations handcuff our environment officers in dealing with people like repeat offenders, in forcing convicted polluters to pay the fine and also forcing the polluters to clean up.
It's certainly high time that we got on with this bill as it was brought forward as a private member's bill, pointing out that in Ontario we're lagging behind the rest of Canada in getting on with a bill such as this. It's great to see that we're going to have it in place; at least I think we're going to have it in place, provided this vote goes through. I see some nods from the opposition, an indication that it will be passing later this afternoon. With this bill in place we will be able to act very decisively in getting on with charging the polluters.
The purpose of this bill, of course, is to ensure that there is strong environmental protection and to ensure that there's maximum protection for our air, for our water and for our land. This bill is not about seeing how many people we can charge out there. We would be absolutely thrilled, as would the Ministry of the Environment, if there was no requirement to lay any charges, if everybody complied with the rules and regulations and laws that come under the ministry, particularly under the Environmental Protection Act.
There has only a small number of people out there who disobey the laws that have been laid down by the Ministry of the Environment, and those are the people we want to zero in on. We don't want to zero in on all the people who are paying attention and doing a good job. We just want to level the playing field for those people. The changes that we're bringing in will lead to an increased risk of those who pollute getting caught in doing these offences. In the past, these offenders were very good at minimizing their risk, minimizing the risk to themselves; certainly they were not concerned about minimizing the effect on the environment. Most had very little concern about what might happen to the environment.
It's a fact out there that good environmental companies make a profit, and these regulations that we're bringing in are not going to be hard on those companies that do a good job and pay attention to what they're doing with the environment. It is only going to hit those companies that you might refer to as environmental dinosaurs. They're thinking in terms of yesteryear that the solution is the dilution, and that unfortunately has been the answer for many centuries. Many companies have cut corners in the past and ended up polluting our environment. With the penalties that are present in this bill, that should not occur into the future.
One of the biggest effects that this bill is going to have is that of levelling the playing field for all those companies that are in the activity of environmental protection or working with the environment. It's about fairness in ensuring that all those companies are playing and abiding by those same rules.
It's interesting in this bill that we're finally getting at some of the real culprits in the whole area of environmental protection, and those are not the people who are driving the trucks or the people who are pulling the lever on the dumps and letting the material out. These are the people in the past who have borne the brunt of the responsibility. The people we really need to get to are the brokers behind the scenes making the arrangements, giving the orders. It's the poor pawns, you might say, the drivers who have been caught in the past. The real culprit is the one behind the scene who has been pulling the strings for far too long.
The end result is that our environment has suffered because of these people and because of their terrible activities. They're going to be at far greater risk in the future. With this bill we'll be able to zero in on those individuals and ensure that they are at risk, the same as the person who's driving the truck or pulling the trip lever to let the material go out, or the person who's lighting the fire in the incinerator and letting some of those pollutants go out into our air.
With this bill the risk will certainly be higher for all concerned, but I want to stress that it will be much higher for those who polluted the environment in the past. It will zero in on those polluters; it certainly will not zero in on those who comply. Those who comply will have actually less reason to be fearful with this particular legislation. They should be very happy with this legislation, as they are meeting the standards that have been set by this ministry. They are complying and therefore would have very little to be concerned about.
We're really concerned that in the future these good players will be better able to compete. It's certainly only fair that they have that opportunity. This legislation will give those good players a so-called leg up on their activities. They will be able to do even that much better when they're competing.
Mr Dominic Agostino (Hamilton East): On a point of order, Speaker: Is there a quorum?
The Acting Speaker: Check for a quorum.
Clerk Assistant (Ms Deborah Deller): A quorum is present, Speaker.
The Acting Speaker: The member for Northumberland.
Mr Galt: Thank you very much, Mr Speaker, for checking that out. It's a little unfortunate that the member for Hamilton Centre is unable to count all the way up to 20, but I appreciate your recognizing that there are a full 20 members in the House.
Mr Agostino: On a point of order, Speaker: In defence of the member for Hamilton Centre, who is not here, I am sure he can count up to 20 and beyond that.
The Acting Speaker: That's not a point of order.
Mr Galt: I was pointing out that some of these companies have some excellent skills in managing their companies. These are the same companies that use similar skills in protecting our environment, and they certainly will be in the future, and there's no concern for those companies with this particular bill.
Our government is very committed to ensuring that there's a maximum return on all of the issues, all of the things that we turn to, whether it be health care, whether it be education or whether it be our investment in environment. This is about ensuring that we will have the maximum return on our investment.
The law is worthless if we can't enforce it, and with the rules and with the changes in this particular legislation we will be able to better enforce our environmental regulations into the future.
It's good to see and good to have in this legislation the ability to order polluters to clean up - at least the costs of cleanup. Many in this House have heard the stories of things being dumped on side roads, people with a half-ton truck or a dump truck pulling up to a farmer's field and dumping into the field a load of asphalt shingles, a load of tires or whatever. The local owner comes out and sees this in the field and he or she is the one who's stuck with it and has to pay for the cleanup, which is grossly unfair. Even if that particular polluter is identified and found and charged, they still have to go to civil court and sue. It is very unfortunate that innocent property owners would be caught this way.
Similarly, municipalities often get caught this way when the materials are dumped on to a side road that belongs to the municipality. Also on occasion, when it's a very major one, like say Plastimet or the Deloro mine, the Ontario government, through the Ministry of the Environment, ends up having to bear the brunt of those polluters and those people who owned the property previously. It's only fair that the innocent party should be protected. These innocent parties have been complaining to a lot of our offices over many, many years.
Since 1985, there has been some $10 million in charges that have not been collected. This indicates that our present statutes may be good in laying out what should be done but that when it comes to enforcing they're just not working. Bill 82 will enable us to collect more of the fines being put out there.
One of the ways that we'll be able to collect those fines is through increased authority in seizing equipment that's being used in the crime of pollution. If the polluter does not pay the charge or the fine that's been levied, then that equipment will be kept and sold. Similarly, with this bill we will be able to seize the plates and permits of vehicles, and again, if they do not pay the charge that's been levied, they end up not having those plates or permits returned. Through these seizures, whether of plates or permits or equipment, we will be better able to protect the environment. That is certainly the intent of this whole bill, and it will be far more effective in the future.
In concluding my remarks, I'm of course very supportive of this bill. It's good to see that the official opposition and the third party have also been supporting it on first reading and through second reading, to the point where they support it enough that it wasn't required to go out for hearings and we can move on and have this in place, at least have the third reading through, prior to the break at Christmastime. There's no question that it's an excellent piece of legislation that's going to force the polluters to pay. Also there will be some obvious protection for those who are doing a good job looking after the environment.
Our ministry is all about protecting the air, the water and the land. I can assure you that Bill 82 is about ensuring that our air and our water and our land are properly protected into the future.
The Acting Speaker: Further debate?
Mr Agostino: I would like to ask for unanimous consent that the remaining time be split evenly between the two opposition parties.
The Acting Speaker: Agreed? Agreed.
Mr Agostino: Thank you, Mr Speaker. I will split my time with my colleague from St Catharines.
First of all, as we indicated on second reading, we will support this legislation. The bill in front of us frankly is good from the point of view of what it contains in strengthening regulations for collecting and enforcing rules that are in place. A great deal of credit for this bill has to go the member for Algoma, who introduced a similar bill. It's unfortunate the government took three and a half years to see the light and, rather than bring this in as one of the first pieces of legislation that was already there sitting for them when they took office, waited and basically floated this as a final goody in what has been a destructive government in protecting the environment.
Supporting this bill in front of us does not in any way, shape or form indicate support for the environmental agenda of this government. I want to make it very clear to anybody who has any doubts about that, because it has been an environmental agenda that has been destructive to Ontarians. Interestingly enough, the member for Northumberland said, "We are committed to restoring the proper role of the Ministry of the Environment." I want to ask if restoring the proper role of the Ministry of the Environment meant cutting over 31% of its staff, over 700 employees. I want to know if restoring the proper role of the Ministry of the Environment meant cutting 45% of its operating budget. I want to know whether restoring the proper role of the Ministry of the Environment meant getting rid of over 500 water-monitoring stations. I wonder whether restoring the proper role of the Ministry of the Environment meant removing 40% of air-monitoring stations across Ontario.
If this is what the ministry and the minister mean by restoring the proper role of the Ministry of the Environment, clearly today - and I'm pleased that the Minister of Health is here today, because the link that scientists and medical experts have made between health and environment is indisputable today. We know very clearly that 1,800 Ontarians die prematurely every year as a result of poor air quality. We know clearly that the Ontario Medical Association, not a group of radicals or left-wing wackos out there somewhere but one of the most conservative-minded organizations in this province, came forward and slammed this government on its environmental agenda, on its cuts, on its changes.
So yes, bringing this bill in, in a last-minute plea to pretend that somehow you care about the environment, is a noble effort. You have failed miserably in your three and a half years at the helm of this ministry. Yes, this legislation, this bill has some teeth and mechanisms once you catch the polluter, or once you're able to track down the perpetrator of a crime to the environment and the environmental legislation of this province, but there's a real problem here, and the problem is that this ministry no longer has either the ability, as a result of the cuts, or the public confidence to do its job.
It is not the fault of the front-line staff in the ministry offices across Ontario. It is not the fault of the men and women who have dedicated their lives in the ministry to protect the environment and do all things that are right. It is the fault of this minister and of this government that have abandoned them, that have cut off their funding, that have not changed regulations as has been requested for a number of years by the auditor. It has tied one hand behind the back of every single man or woman who works for the Ministry of the Environment and tries to protect the environment in this province and tries to enforce environmental legislation.
I ask the government and the minister how this bill helps avoid another Plastimet in Hamilton. The answer is clear: It does not in any way, shape or form stop another Plastimet from occurring. Let me tell you why. This government, first of all, has failed miserably in implementing the recommendations of the fire marshal's office after the last fire. This government has failed miserably in upgrading any regulations in regard to recycling that would prevent any company from storing plastics and pretend that they're a recycling company, as Plastimet did. What is most simple of all in all of this, and I think most disturbing, has been this government's lack of willingness to call a public inquiry into the Plastimet fire. When you look at these regulations, I again ask the government to tell me how these regulations will prevent another Plastimet. They will not.
I was hoping somehow that through the debate and through second reading and through the possibility of amendments the government would put the other side of the coin on this. The one side of the coin here is basically the regulations they've put in place, and I understand that, but the other side of this would have been a toughening of the standards in Ontario, increasing enforcement, enhancing the enforcement branch and standards in Ontario, but they have failed to do that. They have failed on a great opportunity to take what is a good piece of legislation on one side and on the other side to put the tools in place to make this legislation work for Ontarians.
In my own community, we have seen the reality of the Harris agenda. We have seen the cuts to health care, to hospital funding. We have seen hospitals in Hamilton being cut in excess of $120 million by this minister and this government, when they promised they weren't going to cut hospitals. We have seen the closure that will occur shortly of the Hamilton Psychiatric Hospital as a result of this government's agenda. We have seen the betrayal of St Peter's Hospital when it comes to health and long-term care by this government. We have seen all that.
Mr Mike Colle (Oakwood): Northwestern hospital in Toronto.
Mr Agostino: We have seen Northwestern hospital in Toronto, as my colleague the member for Oakwood just reminded me, another of the victims of the Harris agenda.
If you look at education, we have seen the cuts, we have seen the waiting lists for special ed, we have seen the overcrowded classrooms.
When it comes to the environment, we have seen an agenda that has been destructive to Ontarians but especially to the people I represent in Hamilton East. I represent an industrialized riding. I have many homeowners who have modest, well-kept, affordable homes close to the industrial core of my community. These are people who have worked very hard their whole life. They have kept their homes, they've maintained their homes, they're proud of their homes and their properties. But these are people who, unfortunately, are often a stone's throw away from large industry, from companies that pollute our air and our water. These are the people who look to and need the protection of the Minister of the Environment.
What did you do when you took office? You cut the staff, you labelled complaints such as odour, dust and noise to be nuisance complaints in your priority in responses. So when someone from the beach strip in my community would wake up with three inches of black dust on their car, on their property, on their windows, on their veranda, and they would call the ministry, you would say, "I'm sorry, that is not a priority for us to respond to." That's what you've done.
Odour: You have labelled that a nuisance complaint. So when people on the beach strip or in the northeast end of my riding wake up or in the middle of the afternoon they go outside with their kids and there's an odour that is difficult for them to deal with, it's difficult for them to breathe, they call your ministry, and what do you say? "I'm sorry, that's a nuisance complaint; we don't respond to it."
You've fixed the problem. You don't have complaints about odours, dust and noise, because you no longer respond to those. They no longer matter; they're no longer kept track of. It goes on and on.
This bill, frankly, is window dressing without the other side. I am sure that when the member for Algoma introduced this bill he certainly knew and understood - and in fairness to the previous government, they had made some strides, some efforts and some improvements in the Ministry of the Environment.
Mr Bud Wildman (Algoma): We expected there was going to be a ministry there to enforce it.
Mr Agostino: Exactly, that there was going to be a ministry there. Without the ministry, this bill is useless. Without the ministry there to enforce it, it is useless. You cannot enforce legislation, laws and standards when you have cut 31%, or over 700 staff in your ministry.
Mr Galt: Where are you going to get the money? Cut the pension pay for your federal Liberal cousins?
Mr Agostino: The member for Northumberland again is talking about the money. That's what I love about the Tories: For the Tories, everything is priorities. It's priorities to you.
Frankly, 1,800 Ontarians dying prematurely every year is a priority to most Ontarians, although it is not a priority to the member for Northumberland, the Minister of the Environment or the Minister of Health across the floor. It is not a priority to this government that 1,800 Ontarians die prematurely every year as a result of air quality.
They talk about what they've done. They talk about doing more for less. I guess maybe if 3,000, 4,000 or 5,000 becomes the body count, maybe they'll decide to act. Maybe when a body count of 5,000 Ontarians every year is acknowledged as a result of air quality, maybe they'll act. But it's not important enough for them yet.
This government, as they did with Plastimet, as they did in many other communities across this province, knows very well that the areas that are often more impacted by air quality and poor water quality and air pollution are some of the poorer areas of our communities, not the big, rich, affluent neighbourhoods that you tend to represent, because they're far enough away. They're hidden, up on a little hill somewhere, away from where industry belches its pollution and smoke every day. But the people I represent, the people many members of my party represent, have to live with that every single day.
It is insulting for you to stand here today and boast about this bill and what it's going to do for environmental protection. It is fraudulent for you to do that while at the same time you abandon your ministry, your staff and your regulations because it's not important enough to you, because it is not a priority, because for the rich Ontarians who lobby you and talk to you and come out to the Albany Club to support your fundraisers, it's not a big deal.
They don't have a say. They can't go to the Premier's office the way the elite and the wealthiest in this province do, and so therefore you don't respond.
I can tell you that Ontarians are not going to forget or forgive what this government has done in regard to environmental enforcement across this province. Ontarians understand the link, although you don't, between kids with asthma and the environment and smog and air quality. Ontarians understand the link between seniors who have heart or breathing problems and can't go out on smog days. They understand that link. People who often become prisoners in their own homes as a result of health and environmental concerns understand that link, although you don't. I'm just not sure what is going to make you understand, before the next election, the seriousness of this issue and the seriousness of what you've done.
In the minute or so that I will take before I wrap up and give the opportunity to my colleague from St Catharines to speak, I want to go back again to the devastation that this government and this ministry, this minister, have caused for the community I represent of Hamilton and Hamilton East. I would remind this government that you had an opportunity to act after the disastrous Plastimet fire, and you have failed miserably. You're afraid to call a public inquiry because you know it will show that your cuts and your move contributed to the Plastimet fire in Hamilton. You don't have the guts to strengthen the regulations, which means another Plastimet fire can occur today in any corner of this province, because you've done nothing to change the rules that would prevent that.
We have a situation in my own riding of a company called Clean Soils that simply left 60,000 tonnes of waste, contaminated soil, and walked away from it. The ministry has a letter of credit to clean up the mess. This is the government that talks about getting rid of red tape. They have basically shafted my residents for the last six months in fighting between the Ministry of the Environment, the Hamilton Harbour Commission and the company, when the ministry has the money, through a letter of credit from the company, to walk in and clean up the Clean Soils situation on Eastport, and you have failed to do that.
You have failed to contribute a portion to harbour cleanup for Hamilton Harbour and to live up to your part of the deal. You have failed my community of Hamilton and Hamilton East with your environmental protection.
You have failed the province. I can tell you that with this bill, this window dressing on what was a bill from the member for Algoma that was well-intended and meant to be backed up by a ministry that had the numbers and the ability to do the job, you only took half of the idea. You put the bill in, but you weren't willing to put the investment on the other side to make sure the job gets done. It's not going to fool anybody. Cyanide is still cyanide, even after you try to put your Kool-Aid in it.
Mr James J. Bradley (St Catharines): I would like to say that this bill could make a contribution to environmental improvement in the province, and it would if there were the resources available to carry out the provisions of this bill. I lament the fact that the Ministry of the Environment has had huge cuts to its staff and to its funding to be able to carry out its responsibilities.
The Minister of Agriculture is here today, and perhaps he could make the same argument for the Ministry of Agriculture - most ministers would - that you need the resources to carry out your responsibilities. When the Ministry of the Environment doesn't have them, you can pass all the legislation you want; it can't be nearly so effective as having that. We've had well over a 30% cut in the staffing complement of the Ministry of the Environment, and indeed the Ministry of Natural Resources, which carries out some environmental activities, conservation activities, in this province had even greater cuts; and of course the funding: If you don't have the resources to carry out your responsibilities, then all the legislation in the world doesn't help.
I mentioned when I spoke on second reading on this that this bill is better than a kick in the shins or a poke in the eye, but not a heck of a lot better than that because of the fact that there will not be the people to carry out the provisions of this bill.
When my friend the member for Algoma brought it forward, he anticipated that there would be staffing requirements for it, that they would need the resources. Perhaps with the resources that already existed with the Ministry of the Environment when he was minister they would have been able to carry out these responsibilities, may not have needed more people, but they would have needed at least the people who were there.
It's pretty hollow when you look at the record of legislation and regulations with this government. Virtually every bill outside of this bill has been there to weaken the environmental effort of this province, the environmental stance this province takes. Whether it was the environmental assessment process where they simply said, "Let's make it a lot easier to get through that process" - and I know that makes developers happy, makes proponents happy, but it often results in costly environmental mistakes.
Then there's the environmental approvals bill, which allowed easier approvals of projects. I know the other process was onerous and everybody wanted to find a way to make it effective but faster, but all this government did was weaken the approvals process. It increased the risk of environmental problems arising as a result of new developments by proponents in the province.
I look further at the red tape bills. Everybody looks at these red tape bills and they kind of sound good to a certain segment of the population. There was a red tape bill brought in yesterday or the day before by the Minister of Consumer and Commercial Relations. Do you know what it reminded me of? It reminded me of Bill 26, the huge omnibus bill - we in the opposition call it the bully bill - which gave tremendous powers to a few cabinet ministers and officials within various ministries, and of course the Premier's office and the Premier's advisers, who are all-powerful in this government. As a result, Bill 26 has had ramifications which are being felt today. I mention for instance that they can close hospitals anywhere in this province. The commission that was established by it - the hospital closing commission, I call it - has order the closing of Hotel Dieu Hospital in St Catharines. It's one example.
There were other provisions: the Mining Act, for instance. There was a lessening of the restrictions on mining companies and how they would look after the mine after it was finished, the tailings that are there, and when they're finished mining it out, what kind of environmental shape they would leave it in. That was weakened considerably as a result of the bill. We've had nothing but that.
The poor Minister of Agriculture is affected by the changes to the Planning Act. The minister is compelled to defend the government position and I understand that. I don't expect he's going to be out in public speaking against it. That's cabinet solidarity, that's part of the process and I don't criticize him for that. But I can tell you that the Minister of Agriculture's job has been made much more difficult. One of his responsibilities - and this minister, as with every other Minister of Agriculture I can remember in recent years, would like to preserve agricultural land and would like to have the opportunity to preserve the farmer on that land so he can preserve that land. The very significant changes to the Planning Act by this government, easing the restrictions on development, are going to have ramifications for our farmers and our farmland which are going to be extremely detrimental and hard to reverse.
I look at the Niagara Escarpment Commission. In the new red tape bill I saw a provision regarding the Niagara Escarpment Commission. I hope, when the House is no longer in session, that members of the news media and the public will have a chance to analyze that huge so-called red tape bill which was brought in. I'll tell you, it's got some very frightening provisions in it for people in Ontario. I looked at that Planning Act and I said, "You know, the other Planning Act, with three years of consultation and a lot of input, tightened up many of the provisions of the Planning Act. In some cases the developers were happy with parts of it and they were very unhappy with other parts of it and that's most unfortunate.
There has also been a devolution, or what I call downloading or dumping, of responsibility by the provincial government on to municipalities for environmental things; for instance, water and sewer projects. The minister lists that as one of his achievements. I can tell you it isn't, because many municipalities which now have to meet other financial responsibilities such as public housing and land ambulances and certain public health provisions and other provisions that have been dumped on them by the provincial government, along with the bill to go with it, are going to have a hard time dealing with water and sewer the way they used to in the past.
I say with this bill, because I think it's a tiny baby step forward, I'm certainly not going to vote against it. I hope that we will see much more in the new year in the way of environmental provisions. I suspect, however, that this may be the last significant session of the Legislature and that we will come back to what we call a throne speech and a budget, and this crowd will head to the election campaign without passing any of that other legislation.
We will not be opposing this particular piece of legislation. We simply ask that the government restore to its previous levels the amount of funding and the number of staff available to carry out its provisions.
The Acting Speaker: Further debate? The member for Cochrane South.
Mr Gilles Bisson (Cochrane South): Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. I just want to notify you that we'll be splitting the time between myself and the member for Algoma, if there's agreement.
I get into this debate on a bit of a funny note here. I find myself in an awkward position - I shouldn't say "awkward"; that's probably not the right word. I find myself in a strange situation where I've got a bill before me, as a legislator, that I support. I think there's much in this bill that is positive, much in it that are steps in the right direction when it comes to what they're trying to do vis-à-vis protecting our environment. Yet I find myself in a situation of knowing that even though I'll vote for this bill at third reading and support this bill to allow it to pass, it's not going to mean a heck of a lot because there is not the mechanism within the Ministry of the Environment or other ministries that are affected by this bill to properly police this bill, to make sure you're able to enforce and make sure the provisions of this bill are followed as in the law.
I find myself in a situation of saying that if a government is going to bring a bill forward, I would at least hope that the government would say, "OK, we have a policy that we want to adopt and we would like to put in place for the province of Ontario." But you would think that at least there would be some kind of process or some sort of accountability on the part of the government to make sure they have the mechanism in place so their own law can be enforced, or that they have the dollars to make this bill work. Much of what's in the bill I think is great, but if you cannot enforce it, it won't be very good.
It brings me to this point, and I want to say two things to this bill: First of all, the bill is almost a virtual photocopy of the bill the New Democratic member for Algoma, Mr Wildman, introduced in this House a couple of years ago. We find ourselves basically voting on what was the bill from the member for Algoma. At that time, the government decided they were not going to allow his bill to go forward for whatever reason. I would have thought it was because they wanted to have the chance to cost the bill. The bill had passed unanimously, as the member for Algoma says. I thought maybe they wanted to come back with this bill because they wanted to take their time, get it right and make sure they got the facilities in place to enforce the bill and make sure everything was done properly.
But we find ourselves yet again in a situation where what this government does has very little to do with common sense and everything to do with politics. That's what this is all about. This government wants to go into the next election saying that they are friendly to the environment, that they are vigilant in making sure that our environment is protected not only for our generation but future generations. This bill, without the staff in place at the Ministry of the Environment to follow through by making sure it's properly enforced and monitored, is window dressing. It's not going to mean a heck of a lot if you're not able to go out and catch somebody.
This brings me to the point I want to make in the seven or eight minutes I have: I really believe, as an individual who has served in this place now for some nine or 10 years, by virtue of having dealt with many people both inside the environmental community and the industrial community, that what people really ask for is clarity of rules. The environmental movement wants to know what the rules are so they can assure themselves that when companies are out there doing economic activity in whatever industry it might be, it's being done in an environmentally sensitive way and a sustainable way.
On the other side of the picture you have the companies themselves: forestry companies or mining companies or petrochemical industry, car companies, whatever they might be, who say "Listen, we are investing dollars in our plants," to be able to produce whatever good it might be that they're producing, or extract whatever resource. They need to know what the rules are. They want to know, at the end of the day, that the rules as set out in the government law are X, Y and Z, that the rules are not so onerous that they don't allow them to operate but, in the end, that there is clarity about what the government is asking for and what the government will do should those rules not be followed.
I think this is where this bill is getting into really dangerous water because what you've got is, on the one hand, a company or private operator looking at the bill and saying, "OK, I sort of know what the rules are," but on the other hand saying, "Jeez, if I go out and break this rule, maybe I can get away with it." With the Ministry of Environment being cut to the point that it was by the Mike Harris government, there are going to be unscrupulous operators out there who are going to say: "Yeah, there is a law in Ontario that says I can't do this, but I know that the government's got no teeth. There's hardly anything they can do to make sure that I'm doing what is called for in the bill." I think the government is doing a big disservice to both the environmental community and the private sector, and to the citizens of Ontario generally, by doing what they're doing.
If you come forward with a bill such as this, which does make sense, and then demonstrate to this House that you have the resources in place to make sure that the bill can be properly enforced, most people will have confidence in what you're doing. But if you come forward with what is a good bill and you don't demonstrate that you have the ability to make the bill work, people say, "Listen, this is window dressing."
The government is really trying to make themselves look environmentally friendly after having done a whole bunch of things to weaken environmental legislation in Ontario. They have allowed a whole bunch of things to happen in the quarry industry that never used to be allowed. You can now dump garbage into a quarry, something that was never allowed before. They have weakened a number of rules and regulations through the omnibus bill that was introduced back in 1995-96. There's a whole host of things that they have done to weaken environmental standards in this province. This bill is all about trying to find a way to say Mike Harris is environmentally friendly, and I say, in his actions, we're finding otherwise.
I also want to come back to the second point that I made, which is about making the rules clear. For the members who are here, and maybe this will make a little bit more sense when you put it in the context of what we deal with as MPPs in our daily lives as we work within our ridings, all of us as members of this assembly - I think most of us anyway - have been approached by constituents in our ridings to advance a particular project that they might have.
I've been involved in a number of projects from the private sector dealing with tourism initiatives, private sector development initiatives, natural resource initiatives, where the proponent of the development project comes to me and says: "Gilles, I need to know what rules are in place in Ontario when it comes to putting forward this particular project. Is there any assistance that the government or the private sector can offer me to allow me to bring my project to fruition or to expand on what's already there?" As members, we play a role of facilitating the meeting of all these various people with the proponents of the project.
I want to relate to you one example that I recently had in my riding where we're seeing the effect of what this government is doing and what it means when people are trying to get business off the ground. I had a meeting with a Mr Henry Dumouchelle and his partner, oh, I'd say initially about two months ago. They came to me and said: "We have a project that we'd like to get off the ground in the tourism industry. We're a little bit confused as to what the provincial government wants to do because when we call the Ministry of the Environment or the Ministry of Natural Resources or the Porcupine Health Unit or whatever, those people are trying to be helpful to us, but they never seem to be able to give us the answers we're looking for because it seems as if they don't have enough time to deal with our request in a way that would satisfy our questions."
They came to me as their provincial member to facilitate meetings within the various ministries to allow this project to go forward. As a result, we had a meeting with the Ministry of Natural Resources, and I must say the individual from the Ministry of Natural Resources was very helpful, very friendly, did everything he could to properly understand what the proponents, Mr Dumouchelle and his partner, were trying to put forward when it came to this tourism project and was trying to make sure that he was able to get the answers they wanted.
But when I was at that meeting, it was very apparent to me and very apparent to Mr Dumouchelle and his partner that the Ministry of Natural Resources was unable to deal with those questions and get answers for them in a timely fashion because the ministry had lost 50% of its staff.
Now we have a situation where we have proponents in my riding who are trying to start up a business in the tourism industry - and in the end I hope it's going to work - and they're finding it a little bit difficult to get answers from the government as to what the rules are and how you deal with the building of this particular facility within the context of the rules of the environment and the rules of the Ministry of Natural Resources and others. We're seeing concrete examples where people in the private sector who are trying to get businesses off the ground are having difficulty getting answers. Why? Because this government has gone by and has decimated those ministries that took the lead on many of these projects, in this particular case, the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Ministry of the Environment.
I say to the members across the way, if you want to put yourselves out to be the proponents of the private sector and of creating a good business climate in Ontario for people to invest, I would suggest to you that you have actually failed in that end quite miserably because you have moved yourselves away from any ability to offer any kind of assistance by way of financial programs, such as the heritage fund, the northern development corporation and others.
But then to make matters worse, you have mixed up the rules as to what the requirements are under law when it comes to the Ministry of the Environment and others for the proponents of the project. When proponents go forward to try to get answers, they can't get answers because you have decimated those ministries by better than 50%. I say to the members across the way, I will continue working with Mr Dumouchelle and his partner and I'm sure in the end we will be successful in getting our answers, but I'll tell you, it's frustrating for those proponents when they can't get the answers they need in a timely fashion so they can make an economic decision as to whether their project should go forward or not.
With that, Mr Speaker, I want to thank you for giving me the opportunity to debate this very important bill.
Mr Wildman: I appreciate my colleagues making it possible for me to participate in this debate on Bill 82, the third reading.
I'm really of two minds as I intervene in this discussion in the assembly because, as has been mentioned by many members throughout the debate, Bill 82 is essentially almost a carbon copy of Bill 24, which I introduced two years ago in the Legislative Assembly and which was debated at second reading and passed unanimously by the members of the assembly. The purpose of that bill was to crack down on the quick-buck artists who are prepared to break the rules in order to make money and, in doing so, to pollute the environment.
Prior to 1995, we found that particularly in the greater Toronto area, but in other parts of the province as well, there were a significant number of operators who were trucking garbage to illegal dump sites and just simply dumping it. There were others who were acting as if they were recycling entrepreneurs. They were renting buildings supposedly for their recycling activities and simply filling the buildings with garbage and then leaving.
There were others who were pretending to recycle and perhaps even wanted to recycle but then found the market disappeared and simply left the material in a site and disappeared. Their company may have gone bankrupt and so on. There were some property owners who were being significantly harmed by this, the owners of such buildings whose tenants just absconded and left them with a building full of garbage, or there were rural property owners, farmers who found that somebody had dumped a bunch of tires, for instance, on the back 40 without permission and the property owners then were responsible for cleaning it up. There was no provision in the law for restitution if and when the ministry was able to find the perpetrator.
Prior to 1995, the Ministry of Environment under my direction instituted a blitz in conjunction with the Ontario Provincial Police, the regional police and officials of the Ministry of Transportation in which they did a number of spot checks across the GTA and found a significant number of violations in terms of the transportation of hazardous waste, the illegal dumping of hazardous waste and so on. But what was also discovered was that the ministry did not have all of the legal tools required to really put a stop to this kind of operation and some of these operators were treating the penalties involved, even the fines involved, as simply a cost of doing business. They'd pay and then they'd just continue.
This was most unfair to other legitimate businesses, to legitimate truckers who were transporting waste or to legitimate recyclers who found that they were in an uncompetitive position since they were following the rules and meeting the requirements of the regulations but their competitors were taking all these shortcuts and breaking the rules and carrying out illegal activities. It wasn't fair. It wasn't what the business community calls a level playing field.
That was the purpose for my private member's bill. It was to give the ministry enforcement officials the tools required to get these fast-buck operators, these illegal operators out of business; to make it possible for them to seize equipment and trucks; to make it possible for them to order cleanup and to order restitution to property owners; basically, to make it possible to put them out of business and to take them to court, and if and when they were found guilty, to ensure that there were heavy penalties and fines that would be a deterrent to further operations and not just be treated as the cost of doing business.
As I said earlier in the debate, plagiarism I suppose is one of the highest forms of flattery, so I appreciate the fact that the minister has now taken my bill and is putting it forward as a government piece of legislation. I do appreciate the fact that the government has copied my bill and they're bringing it forward as a government piece of legislation and it will be passed into law. For that reason I'm in support of the government legislation.
However, I'm most concerned about the Ministry of the Environment. We've seen enormous cuts to that ministry, as well as to the Ministry of Natural Resources, under the Conservative government. About 40% of their budget has been cut. The staff has been cut by about the same magnitude. The Ministry of Natural Resources, for instance, can't do the job any more. It's as simple as that: They can't do the job.
Ms Shelley Martel (Sudbury East): They're in the auditor's report.
Mr Wildman: That's right. It's not just members of the opposition who are saying this; the Provincial Auditor has said, "We can't have enforcement." The Minister of the Environment in this debate has said: "No, don't worry. The cuts have only affected the administration. It hasn't affected the enforcement branch. We still can do the same enforcement." The Minister of Natural Resources has repeatedly said in this House, "We have the same number of conservation officers on staff, the same number of badges as we've always had," ignoring the fact that a lot of those badges are sitting behind desks in the Whitney Block rather than out in the field doing the enforcement.
Ms Martel: Sixty-five of them.
Mr Wildman: Sixty-five of those so-called conservation officers are conserving paper in offices; they're not out there conserving our natural resources and enforcing the regulations to protect those natural resources.
Mr Gilles Pouliot (Lake Nipigon): They would want to be.
Mr Wildman: Certainly, they would want to be.
I'm of two minds. I support the legislation because I think we need to give the enforcement officers the tools to ensure that illegal waste operations are put out of business, but I'm concerned that the government is simply bringing this before the House for passage into law just before we go into an election campaign because they want to be able to say to those in Ontario who are concerned about the environment: "Look, we've got this piece of legislation. We've increased the enforcement. We've increased the fines. We've increased the penalties. We can even seize equipment. Therefore, we, the Conservatives, really do care about the environment."
They will be saying that, but in reality the officers won't be available to enforce this legislation. Frankly, that is bad legislative practice. It is worse to pass a law if the enforcement is not going to happen than if you hadn't passed a law in the first place, because it calls the law into disrepute. If the quick-buck operators come to the conclusion, "Yeah, the law has been strengthened, the penalties are there on paper, the fines if we're caught can be very high, but there are so few enforcement officers that it's even less likely we'll be caught than it would have been under the old regulations," then it's worse than if we'd never done this at all; it shouldn't have been done.
I support the legislation and I regret very much that this government does not really believe in government. It doesn't believe that government regulation is a good thing to make sure that the businesses and the industries have a level playing field, that the legitimate operators are not put in an uncompetitive position in having to compete with the ones who are willing to cut corners and break the rules and act illegally and pollute our environment in the process.
Regulation is required to resolve those problems. Enforcement is required to resolve those problems. If this bill is to be effective, if it's to mean anything other than simply to be something that the government members can wave around in an election campaign and say, "Look, we did something," then we must have enforcement and that means the Ministry of the Environment and the Ministry of Natural Resources, the police forces and the Ministry of Transportation all must have the resources, the staff, to make it possible for this to be enforced.
It's ironic that we now have two hours for third reading debate and we're coming close to the end. This is a bill that is supported by all three parties. The opposition has serious reservations about the ability of the ministry, after all the Conservative cuts, to enforce the bill, but it's supported by all three parties, yet this bill has been time-allocated by the government House leader, who just happens also to be the Minister of the Environment.
I don't understand why the government is time-allocating cutting off debate on a bill that all three parties agree with and are prepared to pass. Maybe it's because the government really didn't want to have lengthy debate about the ability of the government to actually enforce and implement this legislation. I think that may be the case. That's probably why it's not going to committee. At any rate, I support the legislation. I hope it can be enforced.
The Acting Speaker (Ms Marilyn Churley): Pursuant to the order of the House dated December 15, 1998, I am now required to put the question.
Mr Galt has moved third reading of Bill 82.
Is it the pleasure of the House that the motion carry? Carried.
Resolved that the bill do now pass and be entitled as in the motion.
FUEL AND GASOLINE TAX AMENDMENT ACT, 1998 / LOI DE 1998 MODIFIANT LA LOI DE LA TAXE SUR LES CARBURANTS ET LA / LOI DE LA TAXE SUR L'ESSENCE
Resuming the adjourned debate on the motion for third reading of Bill 74, An Act to amend the Fuel Tax Act and the Gasoline Tax Act / Projet de loi 74, Loi modifiant la Loi de la taxe sur les carburants et la Loi de la taxe sur l'essence.
The Acting Speaker (Ms Marilyn Churley): Further debate? I believe that last time Ms Lankin was on the floor, so that would mean anybody who wants to debate.
Mr Michael A. Brown (Algoma-Manitoulin): I've been waiting anxiously to debate the merits of the Fuel Tax Act and here we are on third reading. I think people should understand that this act in many ways might be seen by some to be a housekeeping measure. What it does is extend the government's ability to assess taxes on fuel retroactively from three to four years and does some other rather innocuous things, although I'm sure if you're having your particular assessment going back another year, you may not see it as innocuous. It deals with a number of other issues which relate to, as we know, the colouring of fuel, which is done in the agricultural community so that they can use their implements, and in other industries to differentiate the fuel from what's used on the road and exempt it from road tax.
What is disturbing is that we would have thought, or at least I would have thought, that when we were dealing with this particular bill, a bill about tax - and this just affects the efficiency of government in collecting that tax sooner, getting the money to the treasury faster, making sure that wholesalers and retailers have to get that money into the government treasury faster. Of course, that affects their cash flow negatively but the government's cash flow positively.
I would have though when we were talking about this particular issue, talking about fuel, we might have heard something about the retail price of gas. We might have wondered aloud why the government in northern Ontario, for example, reinstated a $37 licence fee for driving your vehicle. That fee had not existed for a long time. The reason was that if you are in Wawa or Manitouwadge or Hornepayne or Hearst or you're on Manitoulin Island, the price of gasoline is far in excess, on average - it's always way in excess, but it can be as much as 15 to 20 cents more a litre in these places than it is in our more urbanized southern communities.
At the same time, you would know that the fuel to operate in the great distances of northern Ontario, for example, is more necessary. We can't get on the TTC. If you want to go to work, you need a vehicle. Often your workplace is quite a distance from where you live. It is a fact of life, living in a part of the province where roughly 9% of the people live on about 90% of the land mass. It is a reality of our life, and it is a reality that retail gas prices are far in excess of what they are in southern Ontario.
So governments a long time ago decided that one way we could go about easing the burden on northern Ontario people, making our economy work better, was to at least deal with the licensing issue, and that was first to reduce and then eliminate the registration costs of vehicles. It had nothing to do with what we spend on roads. It had nothing to do with anything other than to deal with this problem of terribly high market prices for petroleum.
This government came along and one of the first things they did was to say, I guess, there isn't a problem with the extraordinarily high prices of gasoline in northern Ontario. It doesn't exist, it's not a problem, they seem to believe, because they took that $37 and placed it on all northern vehicles. You've got to pay that every year. That was in place to offset for the people of northern Ontario the increased costs of petroleum products.
I don't know who could believe, if you were living in Hornepayne or Hearst or Chapleau, that the price in Toronto could be 15% or 20% less. You just have to look. Many of you over on the other side occasionally come to northern Ontario and drive through, and you realize that the prices for that particular product are far in excess of what people in the markets of southern Ontario pay. Therefore we decided, as the government of Ontario - I'm not sure if it was in the Davis years or the Robarts years - that there would be a reduction, and consequent governments continually reduced it until finally I believe my friends here in the New Democratic Party reduced it to zero.
The point is that all governments, until this government, realized there was a problem with the price of gasoline in northern Ontario, apart from all the crazy fluctuations we see anyway. That's the reason the $37 registration fee was not charged until this government came to power, and they reinstated it. And for what? They said it was to help pay for capital expenditures on roads. They just totally missed the point. The reason that licensing fees had been reduced and reduced and then had finally come to zero was that the price of gasoline for northern people had become -
Hon Al Palladini (Minister of Economic Development, Trade and Tourism): They betrayed the northern people. They got the licence -
The Acting Speaker: Minister, come to order.
Mr Gilles Pouliot (Lake Nipigon): You increased it from zero to $37. Don't deny it.
The Acting Speaker: Member for Lake Nipigon. Order, please.
Mr Michael Brown: The former Minister of Transportation knows -
Mr Pouliot: Just the facts, Minister, just the facts.
The Acting Speaker: Just a moment. Order, member for Lake Nipigon, Minister.
Mr Pouliot: Madam Speaker, the member for Lake Nipigon is putting out 37 bucks per plate. I'm going broke, madam. I'm defending my territory. I'm going broke.
Mr Michael Brown: I see we have a little bit of controversy, but the minister obviously doesn't understand. The relationship between what needs to be done on our roads and the price of licence fees was never an issue. The issue of the cost of registration was an issue of the equalization of gasoline prices.
The fact that when this government came to power and since this government came to power the maintenance of northern roads has become - how can I say this kindly? It isn't kindly, because the maintenance, especially winter maintenance of roads, has dropped off significantly. You can talk to any of my constituents and they would agree with that statement wholeheartedly.
We do have a problem with capital construction on roads. We are making a little bit of progress these days, but we need to make much more. But the issue is the price of gasoline and fuel in northern Ontario. The subsidy that we were getting under former governments is now being eliminated, so that when I go in to see the good people at Island Ford in Gore Bay, who issue my tags every year, I now pay $37. So do all my constituents.
This is a government that had promised not to increase any taxes. I remember that. A fee was referred to by Premier Harris, when he was in opposition, as a tax. Of course, that's what it is. So we have seen the taxes increase across this province. Someone had a number, which I don't believe is quite accurate, of about 400 times on fees across the province, on anything that moves, anything that we can find.
Mr Pouliot: On a point of order, Madam Speaker, with a great deal of reluctance: We know that the people of the north are getting ripped off big time by this government. We now pay for the plate -
The Acting Speaker: What's your point of order?
Mr Pouliot: I want people to hear this. With respect, would you check if we have a quorum, Madam?
The Acting Speaker: Clerk, could you check and see if we have a quorum, please?
Clerk at the Table (Ms Lisa Freedman): A quorum is not present, Speaker.
The Acting Speaker ordered the bells rung.
Clerk at the Table: A quorum is now present, Speaker.
The Acting Speaker: Member for Algoma-Manitoulin.
Mr Michael Brown: I'm just delighted to see more friends in here to listen to this, my observations in regard to what's been happening in northern Ontario with the price of gasoline and the offsetting cost of the registration licensing fee that has been imposed by this government because they seem to believe that the price of gasoline, on average, is the same in southern Ontario as it is in northern Ontario, which I think isn't hard to check. Last time I was in Wawa, the prices at the pump there were at least 12 to 13 cents above what they were in Toronto on the very same day. The $37 purchases a tank full of gas perhaps - I don't know - but it still does help northern people out in their day-to-day lives as they try to cope with challenges in transportation that members from Etobicoke maybe have great difficulty comprehending.
We don't have the bus services in Hornepayne or in Gore Bay or in Manitowaning or in Wikwemikong. They don't exist. In order for you, as a northerner, to get to work, to get to see the doctor, to be able to make the various appointments that one has to make in his or her life, you have to use your vehicle. Generally speaking, and I know the member for Lake Nipigon would agree, you need a vehicle that is a little more substantial than what you might have in southern Ontario, because the conditions of the roads are very difficult, particularly in the wintertime and especially in the spring. When you get into that period in March and April when the frost starts to come out of the ground, you often would believe you are on a roller coaster. You cannot, obviously, operate your vehicle very quickly. Potholes are the least of your worries; it's usually the mountains that masquerade as bumps that are the problem as you come down these highways.
I was in Killarney maybe five or six years ago, before that final little stretch of highway into Killarney that's so important to those folks was finished. To drive that road into the fine hamlet of Killarney, you would be lucky to be driving 40 or 50 kilometres an hour. That very same road was required by that community to take people 60 to 70 miles or 100 to 120 kilometres into school each day. Young people going to Sudbury for their high school studies travelled that road on a daily basis. The ambulance service, if it was required, had to travel that road. Frankly, it is one of the better things that we've improved that road. Nevertheless, in the spring of the year, all northern highways - and when I say all, I mean all - have some difficulty with the frost heaves we get.
For the government to come along and say to northerners, "Well, your challenges in maintaining your vehicles, your challenge that you must usually buy a larger car or truck than you might have to in southern Ontario just to meet the daily needs of getting to work, getting the groceries, seeing the doctor, getting your kids to school" - all those sorts of things increase the cost to northern people tremendously.
I know there are some people over on the government side that would just like us all to move to Toronto and that would kind of solve their problem. But we like where we live and we contribute to this province a great deal. We make sure that the resources that we need are available to us. There are as many people mining down on Bay Street as there are in northern Ontario. The head offices of these companies employ just as many people as they do in northern Ontario. The forest companies that provide the paper, the lumber, the fine products we receive employ thousands upon thousands of people, and I would think the members in the south would have some recognition of the higher costs they face on a daily basis.
I'm just trying to make the point that for this government to decide that northerners should pay more money for their gasoline by way of adding on the $37 vehicle registration fee, a fee imposed by this government to tell northerners they weren't paying enough for gasoline - because that's what it was. The $37 was a subsidy to northerners to help equalize the price of gasoline for people in Ontario.
To be debating a fuel bill that doesn't take any recognition of the fact that there are parts of this province where you cannot use public transportation, where you cannot walk to where you need to get to because of the distances and the climate - there should be, for northern people, some sort of recognition by the provincial government that the costs are not the same. You haven't done it. As a matter of fact, you've gone in the opposite direction. I ask, Madam Speaker, does that make any sense to you? I wouldn't think so.
As we talk about this bill, it would suggest to me that the government in its wisdom should have been placing an amendment to this particular piece of legislation to ensure that there was fair recognition of the people I represent on Manitoulin Island, in Espanola, Whitefish Falls, Killarney, Elliot Lake, Spanish, Serpent River, Wikwemikong and West Bay, that they should be treated in a reasonable fashion that recognizes the increased costs of operating vehicles in northern Ontario and the increased price, on average, of gasoline.
As I conclude my remarks, I would just like to ask the government if they would reconsider and take some measures that would provide some relief to northern Ontario people, who are paying far more than their fair share for fuel and gasoline prices.
With that, and that appeal, I will take my seat.
The Acting Speaker: Questions and comments?
Mr Pouliot: I'm somewhat appalled and, yes, I am shocked. We're talking about a very important opportunity that seems to pass the government by. There is no denying the facts. Just the facts, please. When we were the government, recognizing the higher cost of gasoline in northern Ontario, we sought to compensate by eliminating the fee that motor vehicle owners have to pay for a licence plate. We readily recognized that northerners give at the pump.
Mr Michael Brown: Oh, do they ever.
Mr Pouliot: Do they ever, to the tune of between 10 and 15 cents more per litre. That's a lot. Ironically, if someone goes to the Liquor Control Board of Ontario and buys, let's say, a case of beer - they sell them in 12 bottles, is it, or 24? - they pay the same price in Manitouwadge, in Savant Lake or where the road system ends in Ontario, in Pickle Lake, as they do in downtown Toronto, and gas is much more important than alcohol. Why can't we pay the same price for gasoline? It's an essential service. We need it to go to work, we travel longer distances for medical appointments, to go shopping, to warm up the car, because it's a lot colder up north. This government says, "No, you're not paying enough," and they come and whack us good with an additional $37 per plate. I think they acted deliberately and systematically, acted with vengeance, and we poor northerners are left holding the bag and paying more.
Mr Mario Sergio (Yorkview): I wish to compliment the member for Algoma-Manitoulin on his presentation.
You have to say that this is affecting the north more than any other area. Who else knows this better than the members from the north who represent the various northern communities, especially when they are affected in such a very adverse manner? It's a very important matter to the northern people. They rely very heavily not only on the delivery but on the quality of the gas itself.
Price of course impinges very much on the quality of life of our northern members. It is a fact of life that there are many communities, especially in northern Ontario, that are isolated and the only mode of transportation is by car.
There are many other facilities, for example, recreational facilities, where gasoline is used on a daily basis and it's an integral part of their daily businesses. It's very important to our farming community, because on a daily basis that is the only thing they use to do their daily work on the farms.
As the member for Algoma-Manitoulin was saying, to add $37 in registration fees for the north is quite inappropriate given the necessity, as I said before and the member did very well to expose in the House, of the people in the north.
Mr Alex Cullen (Ottawa West): I am delighted to follow on in the discussion on Bill 74. It's a technical bill and deals with something that's very important to the people in northern Ontario.
Just as a small segue, I can recall some 25 years ago actually running out of gas near Wawa. I think every Canadian should go through that experience. It was lucky that it was in the summertime, but let me tell you, it's hard to find gas late at night in the north when you run out of gas, and the nights are not warm even at that time of the year.
What it brought home to me was the fact that in the north, because of the sparseness of population and the tremendous miles that separate one community from another community, we don't realize in the south just how important it is for that community up there. Quite frankly, it does deserve special attention.
I have to stand here as someone who comes from Ottawa-Carleton and who has to face before every long weekend the tremendous gyration in prices as the gas industry tries to take advantage of the fact that people who may be contemplating long-distance drives to visit members of their families might have to tank up with gas. None of us sees the point of it. Obviously, it's price gouging and it's something that we think is reprehensible.
We've had from time to time in Ottawa, and I'm sure it happens in Toronto and Hamilton and other urban centres, investigations into this whole notion of price gouging. People say it's simply the market responding, but at the back end of the pipe where all this gasoline is being generated, we know there aren't these variations in pricing.
We have to look at this a second time, and I look forward to the opportunity to do so.
Mr E.J. Douglas Rollins (Quinte): This gives me an opportunity to once again agree with some of the people on the other side of the House that the price of gasoline probably should be the same across Ontario. I've been a supporter of that as an independent business person selling gasoline. I think the member for Nipigon pointed out that a case of beer is the same price, and there's not much reason that a litre of petroleum product shouldn't be the same price across the province. I've been a strong supporter of that. However, my wishes and the wishes of everybody in the province don't always happen to be the same.
I also want to mention in Bill 71 the temperature variation, which is something that is a real rip-off both to the motoring public and to the people who buy and sell gasoline. Some arbitrary figure of 15 degrees Celsius was established as the temperature that all product should be traded at. You realize that the temperature of the ground in Ontario, or basically in Canada, hardly ever reaches 15 degrees. It may in California and it may in some other parts of the world, but in Ontario, and definitely in northern Ontario, it never reaches that. I would like to see that temperature brought down closer to 6 degrees Celsius, where it would be more proper and it would be less onerous for all of us.
I find it quite amusing that every once in a while, sitting across from each other, we can agree with one another, and on this, I agree with some of the things.
The Acting Speaker: The member for Algoma-Manitoulin.
Mr Michael Brown: I appreciate the comments from the members for Lake Nipigon, Ottawa-Carleton, Quinte, and my good friend from Yorkview.
Mr Cullen: Ottawa West.
Mr Michael Brown: Sorry, Ottawa West.
I particularly appreciate the comments from the member for Quinte because I think he makes some valid suggestions and has some good background in this area and knows of what he speaks. Perhaps at some point the government might take some of his suggestions and implement them. I think I was on my feet some time ago in the House agreeing with Mr Rollins about some other issues with regard to gas prices. It's unfortunate that the government has not chosen to listen to the wisdom of members who are very familiar with the issue.
I want to say, though, that I've had the great experience of visiting Chapleau and other places in that corridor along Highway 129, visiting Sultan and going across what they call the Sultan road to 144. One of the things that the people in Chapleau and Sultan are particularly interested in is having that road, which is now maintained by the E.B. Eddy forest company, turned into a provincial road, because it would cut at least an hour off their time to a major centre, Sudbury, where they need to go for various business appointments and medical appointments etc.
There are lots of transportation needs in northern Ontario that are not being met today. To suggest for one moment that northerners should be paying more for licence fees to get those is a ridiculous sentiment.
The Acting Speaker: Further debate?
M. Pouliot : Je vous remercie, madame la Présidente. Bonne fin d'après-midi. Je sais que vous serez à votre poste jusqu'à minuit ce soir, donc non seulement bonne fin d'après-midi mais aussi bonne soirée et bonne fin de soirée. Je sais que vous êtes ici dans votre capacité aujourd'hui pour écouter un débat des plus importants surtout concernant les motoristes, ces hommes, ces femmes, ces gens de commerce, ces gens qui donnent les services au quotidien, aux gens d'une partie spéciale de la province, le nord de l'Ontario.
This is a very timely opportunity for the government of Ontario to do something that should have been corrected, I admit, years and years ago, the price of gasoline, but in lieu of seizing this opportunity, the government would wish to talk, and we're still talking about gasoline: coloured fuel in the fuel tank of a motor vehicle; date for interjurisdictional carrier returns, whatever that means - do you know what it means? You are an educated person, Speaker. I've read about your curriculum vitae. I don't understand, but what I do understand is that it's minor. If I may be so bold, it doesn't matter a heck of a lot to the people who drive cars, four by fours, people who are hauling pulp, people who drive half-tons, people who use snow machines as a way to get from point A to point B.
Mr Gilles Bisson (Cochrane South): Half-tons? Mais oui. That's the way I do it.
Mr Pouliot: I know my good colleague who resides in Timmins is busy reading his notes now. You won't hear him talk about the bill for the next 15 or 17 minutes, because he's taking copious notes as to what's being said here.
I have the commodities market, the futures market. It was given to me by a friend outside here. He said: "Mr Poulet, Giles, I know you will be in the House today because you've been waiting all day to convey to the government what should be done. You're not there just to bitch, bitch, bitch, criticize. You have an alternative."
People are concerned in Manitouwadge. I represent a riding that's 1,000 miles long. We know about distances. I leave home one way and motor more than 800 kilometres to Pickle Lake - that's where the road system ends in the province - and then the remaining 400 miles which constitute the geographical Lake Nipigon, all the way to Fort Severn. Fort Severn is on the shore of Hudson Bay - 20 reserves, our first Canadians: 10 south, where they have a road system, and of course therefore 10 north. The price of a litre of gasoline, transportation included, surpasses, exceeds, is more than six bucks a gallon.
Mr John Gerretsen (Kingston and The Islands): No.
Mr Pouliot: It is indeed. I tell you so. The people are being gouged at the pump.
While this is taking place, my friend Harry hands me the paper and says, "I want you to read this." It's the Globe and Mail, a Toronto paper, today's, December 16. It says, on the commodities page, "Mexico, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela plan to meet in Madrid tomorrow to discuss oil prices, which are hovering near 12-year lows despite repeated attempts to boost them by cutting daily output."
Now, if this is not a cartel, if this is not a monopoly, I ask Mr Palladini, my friend and colleague, what is? Those people can fix things, I can assure you, but we little people don't know, we don't have the clout, we don't have the tools, the ammunition to tell them to stop gouging people, especially where we live. "Analysts say 1.5 million barrels of oil daily must be taken off the market to begin having an effect on prices."
You know who could match them? You know who could show them their power, who has the jurisdictional capacity, who has the majority muscle? The government. The government passes legislation in this province. That's the reason we're here. At present, the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario have been asked to form the government by the Lieutenant Governor, and rightly so, because they have achieved more political favour, success; they have more seats than both other parties combined, so they have a majority government. This is a jurisdiction of 11 million people. They have a lot of clout. They could be tough if they wanted.
It would mean turning their backs on pals, on friends. It would mean in this case that friends are not someone you treat a little better. Maybe you will not be seen together at the club any more, but you will do what's right for Miss Jones and Harry Smith who reside in our special part of Ontario, those proud women and proud men who supply southern Ontario with resources so they can enjoy a kind of living which is superior in many ways.
Where I live, where I've resided for 33 years, in the Cave of the Great Spirit, this great community, very proud indeed, of Manitouwadge, nestled in the Canadian Shield - you know the riding of Lake Nipigon, between Lake Superior and Lake Nipigon and Hudson Bay, overshadowed by the bay. It's the land of opportunities, resource-based indeed. We're willing to make sacrifices. We know we're going to take a hit. It's the place we chose to live. We want to make a contribution.
You have 23,000 kilometres of highways in the province of Ontario. Ninety percent of the land mass is up north, with about 8% of the population; we understand. We export our resources. We pay, we pay all the time, and we don't say much. Then we export our sons, our daughters, once they get to post-grade 12 because they wish to go to college or university. As a grand finale, we ask ourselves, should we export ourselves? Because we cannot afford to pay for those prices. The prices are very low worldwide. Once we reach the pump, the gouging continues. This government could reduce the taxes. In lieu of that, what is it they do? They appoint four or five of the backbenchers and tell them to go ahead - they call themselves the gas-busters.
They have as much clout as Mickey Mouse. I know them personally - they're good people - and I object to the ridicule they've subjected themselves to and that the government has subjected them to. Do you honestly think that anyone can take those gas-busters seriously? Do you believe that the merger between Mobil and Exxon had anything to do with the gas-busters? They couldn't even scare a five-year-old child on Halloween night. They parade themselves - I would think the government would buy them a leather jacket, at least a special badge, and say, "My name is Doug," and a big emblem: "The Gas-Busters." They go like poor merchants, sometimes accompanied by the family pet, that poor dog as a companion of misery, and they peddle their wares from gas station to gas station. Dickens would have written about that sorry lot. They come back and they're tired, they're afraid, because they've been told to go fly a kite and they have no power.
But the Premier and his associates, the Minister of Finance and the members in cabinet, should say in conscience, "We, the executive council, through the Board of Infernal" - I mean Internal - "Economy, have decided it's OK." Yesterday and today - you've been reading the news, Madam Speaker; you've been here - they've decided to pay if a citizen gets followed by a private eye, a private investigation. If the state comes down and says, "We'll follow you home, we will know your whereabouts, we will scrutinize your bank accounts, your former employers. We want to know everything about you, where you've been, where you are and where you're going," they will pay; the taxpayers pay. The people in Manitouwadge are saying, "I ain't gonna pay for this, no way." But you pay through your taxes. And then you will pay the lawyers' fees, $130,000.
But when it comes to a medical appointment in Thunder Bay or in Sault Ste Marie: "We're not going to support you. You're going to pay 10 to 15 cents a gallon more. Every time you give at the pump, we'll penalize you. We will be deliberate; we will be systematic. You know your sticker on your licence plate that gives you the right to drive around? You didn't pay before. Well, we're going to whack you good. It's going to cost you $37." So your price of gas is higher, and on top of it they've become insatiable. I believe we're being targeted, because now you pay another $37.
All this while the alleged affair is being subsidized by the taxpayer. Is this becoming the world upside down, or what? What is going on here? On the one hand you can find $600,000, a very large sum indeed, of our tax dollars, and when we taxpayers turn around and say, "We've paid the $600,000. Give us a copy of the invoice, who did what to get the money," the government says: "You pay the $600,000, but we do not issue, in our store, at our shop, in our boutique, any receipts. We can rip you off." The people at the Royal Canadian Legion all across this province, the good citizens, are saying, "Don't pay." Like heck are you going to pay $600,000. But medical appointments for members of the family, people going to post-secondary school, people trying to get home for Christmas in our resource-based community, do they get any breaks at all? No. They pay. It's painful, because we could use that money to do something else.
I commend our good citizens, our friends and colleagues, because it's not easy, when you have no credibility, to be a gas-buster. You must feel that you're a member from a special brigade and you're never to return. Well, they did, but they did not accomplish a hell of a lot. I had believed - I guess I was weak - maybe this time. You know what Mike Harris could have done? In terms of the 13 to 14 cents a litre we pay in taxes, why didn't he use his power with the Treasurer and just cut the taxes? This will reduce the price at the pump. It's easy. You can't on the one hand say, "I'm against them," and yet you profit. You see, in this winner-take-all your hand is already on the table and you're raking in the chips. You can't have it eight different ways. How can you say, "I, the Premier of Ontario, really believe that something should be done about gas prices," when you have your hand on the nozzle? You're collecting 13 cents every time a litre gets pumped into a tank.
If you want to do something, it's very simple: You reduce the provincial take, eliminate it. You hear me, my man? You the man, Al. That's M. Palladini, former Minister of Transportation, a most honourable person. He told them, I'm sure, that something had to be done. He knows the business inside out. He was a car dealer, new and used cars, and then he entered politics. That makes him very credible when it comes time to talk about - no, he's not a lawyer. You don't have to be a lawyer to know about the intricacies of this bill. He knows it's wrong. I see him sitting across and I thank him for his presence. The honourable member is shaking his head. I can see the pain and I share that sorrow. The thing is to convince other members of cabinet and the Premier and the Treasurer that you have the power, you hold the lever: Just cut the taxes.
I am asking for unanimous consent from all the members of the House that effective January 1, if you mean what you say, the fuel tax for motorists in Ontario shall be eliminated so we can save some 13 cents every time we pump a litre.
Will the government listen? Will those foot soldiers, whose destiny is to carry the spears and to vote for the government, not much else, go to cabinet and say, "The people in my constituency have asked me to tell you...." Will they gather the courage? Maybe they can do it together: "If you go, I'll go. We'll go together," because individually it's very difficult and it can be intimidating. I recognize that. I'm cognizant of the way that certain political entities enforce, if you wish, the way they make things happen. You need not have a very vivid imagination. Let the Taxfighter cut the tax by 13 cents a litre. We'll put money into our jeans and we'll use that money for all kinds of things. We might be able to put a little bit into - what is it called?
Hon Noble Villeneuve (Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, minister responsible for francophone affairs): The stock market. That's what it's called.
Mr Pouliot: No, RRSPs, registered pension plans. We might afford a few luxuries. We might bridge the gap between the have-nots up north and those in southern Ontario. We're quite appreciative. For decades we've been sending the best of the north, our resources, to the benefit of, yes, we up north, but the people down south have benefited so much. Don't you think it's time we have a little reciprocity, that we become more compatible? We endure. We can't do without a motor vehicle. We have to warm up the car. It costs more: Now the fuel costs that much more, and now the licence plate on top.
Where will it end? Where will we find the resourcefulness, the fortitude to draw from within and to say, "I guess they don't mean bad"? They had the opportunity. This bill is almost the closest thing to a non-event. The opportunity is right there, the 13 cents. Show me the money. You the man, Mike. Do it, 13 cents a litre. I can do something with this. The people of the north will rejoice and they will congratulate you with all the sincerity at their command. They will say, "Thank you very much, government, for sending me some of the money that I work so hard to get."
Let's not talk about bagatelle and peccadilloes, about the colour of fuel in a distant jurisdiction, about measures that are arbitrary at best. It is not consequential. It matters not. Again, go back and add one more line: Remove the tax. Will you have the courage to do that, Premier? Will you do what's right for the people, especially the people of our special part of Ontario, who have been so kind and generous through the decades and have made Ontario what it is? Before the auto pact, most of the wealth came from up north. Don't you think it's time to pay back? I know you will respond in short order and I'm confident that you will eliminate the provincial tax we pay for every litre of gasoline we purchase. Premier, I plead with you and I anxiously await your response on behalf of our constituents.
The Acting Speaker: Questions and comments?
Mr Rollins: I listened with great attention to the member for Lake Nipigon's request to think about removing the tax, but there was one little problem. We were prepared as elected members to come in here and ask for that tax back and cut it off, but there was one little thing called the $11-billion deficit. By golly, to give that off again, we'd go down the road a little bit deeper, and we promised the people of Ontario to see if we couldn't balance the budget. If we were to give that tax back, we'd have taken the same steps as you when you were in government: down that road of going further and further into debt.
The tax is certainly a good portion of it. We feel, as the province of Ontario, that if we could get some of the federal money back as far as taxes are concerned that the federal government collects, then we put into the road system - we as a government have put a lot of those tax dollars back into the roads. We haven't fixed all the potholes in Ontario because it'll take a little while to fix some of those potholes on some of those roads. On the other hand, we'll eventually get there and we'll have those holes filled, and then they won't have to buy as big a vehicle to worry about that kind of control.
The temperature adjustment: As far as the province of Ontario is concerned, we should continually stay on that road to try to bring that temperature, the mean that they're using of 15 degrees Celsius, which for most people is around 60-odd degrees of the old method, for the guys with the grey hair who understand that temperature better than the other one. If we were to bring it down to the 6 degrees, we're talking in the 42- or 44-degree range of Fahrenheit, it would be a lot fairer for both the buyer and the seller and it would be easier for everybody.
The Acting Speaker: Questions and comments? The member for - sorry -
Mr Bruce Crozier (Essex South): Essex South. I don't know why that's so hard to remember, Speaker. The Speakers have trouble with that. It's the most southerly riding in the province and in the country, for that matter, what with Pelee Island. You talk about supply. Pelee Island is almost like an isolated community, like many in the north. What the Pelee Islanders say is similar to what the member for Lake Nipigon has said: They don't choose to live there, they're chosen. That's maybe something you could use in the north.
When we're speaking of gasoline taxes, and I think it's correct of the member for Lake Nipigon to mention it, because even though this bill that's being discussed tonight was a technical one, I think he went to the heart of the matter, that is, we are the second-highest gasoline-taxed province in this great Dominion of Canada.
A lot has been said since September 1997. Mike Harris said he was tired of us being gouged and he was going to do something about it. He hasn't done a darn thing. If he really wants to do something about it, he can, because we've debated this to no end in this Legislature with regard to gasoline items. If it can be proven that gasoline companies are in collusion, that's one matter, but if you can't prove that they're in collusion, ie, they are not, and Mike Harris thinks we're being gouged, then he has the alternative, because it's within provincial jurisdiction to control gasoline prices. He can do that through a reduction in tax or he can use the clout that my friend from Lake Nipigon alluded to, that is, tell those big bullies, the gasoline companies, to treat us better.
Mr Bisson: The member for Nipigon is always bang on the money and entertaining, to say the least. I refuse to believe that the member for Nipigon was just given the commodities page this morning. I've seen the member for Nipigon with the commodities page before, I must say, and I know the member for Nipigon knows what he is talking about when he talks about what's found in the financial section of the Globe and Mail.
To the point: He talked about a point that I thought was quite interesting, and that is, when the government members went out by way of this special committee set up by Mike Harris, the gas-busters, as the member for Nipigon pointed out, I remember distinctly they were making a big to-do here around Toronto, all worried about the price of gas in Toronto and some of the communities closer to the city of Toronto.
I want to know from the member for Lake Nipigon, did they go up to Fort Severn? Were they up there, where you're paying $2 a litre for gas? Did the gas-busters take the time to travel to some of our First Nations communities, where those communities are off the main highway and actually have to pay exorbitant prices for gas? As a matter of fact I was in Kashechewan, Fort Albany and Attawapiskat not more than about three or four weeks ago, and a litre of gas up in those communities is far in excess of anything that people would see as reasonable when it comes to the price of gas. I wonder, member for Lake Nipigon, if the gas-busters have been up your way.
More to the point, I would agree that this government - I remember Mike Harris in the last election making a big to-do when it came to the price of gas, but we're finding out that when it comes to to-doing something, Mr Harris is not too, too, too good about getting it done.
The Acting Speaker: The member for Lake Nipigon can sum up.
Mr Pouliot: I wish to particularly thank the members for Quinte, Essex South and Cochrane South for their comments. The member for Cochrane South spoke last by rotation and asked a question. He should have directed the question to the people whose itinerary will attest to whether they ever were at one time in northern Ontario. There have been some sightings. Rumour has it that some of them could have made it past Barrie. But for some in downtown Toronto, once they get to Steeles they reach in their pockets and they take another token because that's the accepted barter: "Will pay to bearer." You just hop off the bus, so they're already up north. In fact, once they get past Barrie, if they don't travel by themselves, someone is bound to ask, "Are we there yet?"
Well, we're closer to Miami, Florida, standing here in the Legislative Assembly of Ontario than I am to some parts of the riding. I live 850 miles from here and I'm closer to Toronto than some parts of our riding. When we talk about mileage - you know, you have the opportunity, but the opportunity will pass. Bonaparte, the Corsican, Napoleon, said that if it does pass, you seize it. If you want to please people, if you want to get close, listen to what they're saying. First you remove the $37 per plate - if I were the government, I would have done it. We did it. In terms of gas, I would say that I don't wish to fight with anyone when I can take the revenues elsewhere.
I say to the people up north, greetings, and let's keep fighting, because we can use every penny that we save. Heaven knows we need it. All of Ontario will benefit by enacting -
The Acting Speaker: Thank you. Further debate?
Mr Gerretsen: It's always a very difficult act to follow the member for Lake Nipigon.
Hon Mr Villeneuve: Are you calling him an act?
Mr Gerretsen: No, I'm not calling him an act. He is one gentleman I always come into the House to listen to because I think he speaks from the heart, he knows about what he's talking about, and if he is entertaining at the same time, I think it just livens up the debate. He truly knows what he's talking about, but it does make it difficult for the next speaker to have to get up and maybe bring us back to not only southern Ontario - and I have a great respect for northern Ontario. I have been through that part on numerous occasions and I realize that because of the distances one has to travel to get from one place to another, particularly if you represent one of those ridings up north, it is very difficult and there's no reason why the gas prices should be as high as they are there.
I want to say a couple of other things as well. Let me first of all deal with the gas-busters. I think the idea of the Premier nominating three members from within his own caucus and setting up the gas-busting committee was a good idea. I've often criticized this government for not having good ideas, but that was a good idea. To send three influential members from this House to fight the oil industry in Alberta, in Ontario, to do something constructive about the gasoline crisis was a positive move.
As a matter of fact, it was a much better move than the one they did with the crime-busters. You may recall the crime-busters' annual report that we got this year. I remember the member for Etobicoke-Humber saw that report as well. When we saw that report, just the cover of the report, I didn't know whether this was something serious or whether it was a spoof. Do you remember the three crime busters, member for Etobicoke-Humber, all standing there in trench coats that were, to be charitable, two sizes too small? They were standing there just ready to fight crime.
We've often wondered what has happened to them since then. As a matter of fact, one of the crime-busters, you may recall, Madam Speaker, was demoted when he made a rather insensitive statement as to what happens on the day the Santa Claus parade takes place here in Toronto. It was the kind of statement that even when I read it in Kingston the following morning, I didn't know what to make of it. We think about a lot of things when we think about the Santa Claus parade, but we never think about the kind of thing that this member apparently says may or may not have happened here. In any event, he was removed from there and I don't think we've ever heard anything more about the crime-busters.
You may recall - when was it, about four or five weekends ago? - when one of the gas-busters got up in this House and said he was going to do something and, miraculously, when I gassed up at my local gas station in Kingston two days later, I couldn't believe it. The price of gas was actually 44.5 cents when it had been around 49 or 50 cents a litre. For a moment - no, for longer than a moment - I thought, my gosh, when the gas-buster, the member for Quinte, got up in the House and said he was going to do something about it, that he wasn't going to take it any more from the wicked gasoline companies to always push the price up just before a long weekend, he succeeded.
I made a couple of telephone calls then. I called the public relations department of the oil companies. I asked the lady I spoke to very directly: "As you probably know, the government of Ontario has appointed three gas-busters from among the government backbenchers. Did the fact that the price of gasoline in Kingston dropped by a nickel just before that long weekend have anything to do with the action of the gas-busters?" The first thing she said to me was she didn't realize that the gas-busters had been reported, and she put me on hold for a while looking for someone else, I guess, who actually had the answer to that question. She came back and said she really couldn't answer that but she would get back to me, and she did get back to me.
About two days later she got back to me and said, "In all honesty and all seriousness, sir," and she gave me a whole slate of reasons why the price of gas actually went down for a while just before a long weekend. But there was nothing that she could uncover from within her corporate structure, that she was able to find, that indicated the gas-busters actually influenced it. I was kind of sorry to hear that at that point in time and we cut off our conversation.
I really believe the members of this House should be held in high regard by the general public out there, and certainly the gas-busters should be held in high regard as well. I was hoping that actually three government backbenchers would have that kind of influence whereby the oil companies would just cringe, and the moment they made a pronouncement they would actually lower the price of gasoline, but it hasn't happened.
I think the member for Quinte is trying to do the best that he knows how. At least they haven't issued an annual report yet standing in trench coats that are two sizes too small, for which I think the gas-busters ought to be complimented. They've had the good sense not to do that. But I hope something can be done about this problem.
Let me just say one other thing. As you know, we only have two more days left in this House before we all adjourn for Christmas, and maybe we won't be back here for quite some time after that. I find it kind of interesting that on third reading we have spent almost six hours debating this bill that I think everyone more or less agrees to. I'm just wondering why the government House leader, having only tonight's five and a half hours, tomorrow night's five and a half hours and about two and a half hours tomorrow afternoon, hasn't called some of the other bills that are ready for third reading.
I know in my community there's quite an interest with respect to the Condominium Act. I think people from all sides realize that changes to the Condominium Act are required. The bill is ready. It has gone to committee. It has come out of committee. The amendments have been inserted in the act. It's ready for debate. Why aren't we debating that?
Why aren't we debating the Courts of Justice Act? That is the act that basically establishes throughout Ontario the Unified Family Court system that has been operating in the city of Hamilton for I guess the last 20 years, and in four other places, including Kingston, for the last year or two. I must say, from all the people I have talked to who have been in the system, from the lawyers involved and from the court officials, and particularly from the people who need the system, who have family difficulties, family breakups etc, it is working really well.
I think it's very important that when you have those kinds of problems, they should all be dealt with in one court system, which of course isn't the case right now. Right now, for custody and support you have to go to one court, the old family court, and for divorce and property settlements you have to go to the higher court, the General Division. Why aren't we debating that? We all agree that it's a good step. The federal government has already appointed the 17 judges who will be operating in this Unified Family Court system, and we should be debating that in the last one and a half days left.
Why aren't we discussing third reading of the lobbyist bill? This is a piece of legislation, again, that basically we all agree on. Mind you, we don't know why the government didn't bring this in much earlier. There is a certain concern on our side that perhaps a lot of the lobbying that has been going on over the last three years, particularly in the whole area of privatization and large American medical firms coming in etc, could have been much better controlled if the lobbyist bill had been in place two or three years ago. Why aren't we debating that?
Why aren't we debating the College of Social Workers? You may recall that the committee sat last night until midnight going through this bill on a clause-by-clause basis. I know there were some difficulties during those hearings where some of our staff members within the Ministry of Community and Social Services weren't allowed to answer some questions.
Mr James J. Bradley (St Catharines): Were they muzzled?
Mr Gerretsen: They were muzzled or they were told by the parliamentary assistant to the minister not to answer questions, but eventually that all got resolved. Why aren't we discussing that bill?
I don't understand it. We should be discussing those kinds of bills rather than this bill here, not that it's not an important issue, but it's not as important as some of the other issues that we have before us.
The other thing that I find very interesting is that the member for Quinte earlier today, in response to the member for Lake Nipigon, talked about how the reason the government couldn't do certain things was because of the $11-billion annual debt. The message was that we're going to be out of an annual deficit situation fairly soon and we have the Harris government to thank for that.
I always say it's important to be out of a deficit situation, and what had been going on in Ontario, where we were running an annual deficit of $10 billion a year, was totally unacceptable. But I also know that if that was really the government's main concern when it took office, it could have delayed its $5-billion tax cut from which basically the people of higher salaries benefit, by simply not implementing any tax cut at all and allowing the annual deficit to drop down at a much quicker rate. If you hadn't imposed a $5-billion tax cut on people, maybe we could have had a balanced budget before the federal government and before many of the other provincial governments throughout this country. We could have had that two years ago.
It will be the legacy of this government, and they never want to talk about it and it's not even talked about in the general population all that much any more, that they in effect will have added another $22 billion -
Mr Bradley: Surely you mean millions.
Mr Gerretsen: No, not millions; billions of dollars - during their mandate, over the last three and a half years, to the public debt of Ontario. When they took over, the public debt in this province was about $90 billion, and now it's closer to $115 billion. When you look at the annual interest on the public debt that the people of Ontario are paying, right now it's $9.1 billion per year; in 1995 it was $7.2 billion a year. There has been almost a $2-billion increase. I know that people are saying, "How is that possible?" Even during that period of time, interest rates have fallen quite dramatically over the last three years.
It's interesting that we are spending more money in interest on the public debt in this province, even though interest rates are very low, than we are on social services. With all the hullabaloo we've had with the 22% cut in the social service payments and all the cutting and misery that this government has caused to an awful lot of people who are not well off in our society over the last three and a half years, this province is still spending less money on social services for the needy and the vulnerable in our society than on interest on the public debt. That is really something to comprehend. That could have been eased if you hadn't had your tax cut.
Do I like a tax cut? Sure, I like a tax cut but it doesn't make any sense. This was not the time for a tax cut. If you hadn't had a tax cut, we could have balanced the budget a lot earlier and we probably would be at a public debt right now of, let's say, $100 billion rather than the $115 billion we have.
There's another issue that is of great concern to this House. We talked about it earlier today. All our questions were on it. It dealt with the Al McLean matter. There has been an awful lot said about that, but I would just like to remind the people of Ontario that tonight there's going to be debate about that at 7:30, when a supply bill is called.
Mr Bisson: What do you want to bet it won't get called?
Mr Gerretsen: We got the assurances of the Deputy Premier today that he would be calling it at 7:30 and he would allow a free vote on the amendment that's about to be introduced which in effect is going to deduct from the supply bill, that pays all the bills for government services - we're going to have a motion that at least $130,000 be deducted from that so the legal expenses and the private detective expenses of Mr McLean will not be paid.
I would just ask the people of Ontario who may be watching this - I know there are probably many other things on television this evening - to tune us in every now and then to see if we're actually debating that between 7:30 and 10:30, and see if it's coming to a vote at around 10:30 tonight. Then you will know where each one of the members stands on that particular issue. If it's not happening, even though we were told earlier today at the House leaders' meeting that it would be discussed tonight at around that time, I say to the government, why aren't you calling that particular bill? You said you were going to. We have to pass it before tomorrow night at midnight, when we adjourn. We have to pass it by that point in time. So it is better to do it today, and let everybody have a free vote on that issue, than to hold it over until tomorrow afternoon or tomorrow night.
I know you would like me to get back to this bill, but I thought it was important to just talk a little bit about some of the other things we could be doing here rather than having a six-hour debate on third reading of this bill. This is a complicated bill and I agree - it's a bill that goes on for about 30 pages - that the technical merits of this bill are difficult to comprehend. You'd have to be in the fuel oil business, like the member for Quinte was for many years, because it talks about different dyes in fuel and about what happens to fuel when the colder temperatures set in and how gasoline or liquids under those circumstances expand and contract, depending upon the temperature. Perhaps our pages who are surrounding you right now in the chair have a better idea about what happens to fuel when it gets colder and warmer than a lot of the members here, but that is important. Am I missing something? No, I don't think so.
I want to leave a few minutes at this point in time for some questions and comments, because I'm looking forward to hearing from the member for Quinte exactly how he was able to get the price of gasoline down by a nickel when the gas-busters went into effect there about five or six weeks ago. I will now sit down and await the comments from the member for Quinte to basically give me an answer to that.
The Acting Speaker: Questions and comments?
Mr Pouliot: I thank the member for Kingston and The Islands, who always comes with a text which is meticulously prepared, chronologically palatable for everyone. You can really follow the address through a statement of events.
Madam Speaker, you would personally know - please bear with me - you were born and raised in that special part of Canada, Labrador, and where some of us reside, in north-central, northeastern and northwestern Ontario, we can draw an analogy, we can draw a parallel that is filled with validity. I know you came from far away, but today, as we gather in this assembly and remind ourselves of the importance of this essential product, what a difference it could mean, just imagine, if by virtue of goodwill from this government, Mike Harris were to turn to the north and wave and say: "Merry Christmas, northerners. I mean what I say. I come bearing gifts. I will eliminate the 13 cents per litre of gasoline."
What a courageous move, what an act of courage, and the people in unison, from all sides of the House, would be spontaneously on their feet applauding and saying, "Mr Premier, my respect for you, my respect for your high office has been significantly enhanced, and a Merry Christmas to you too." We still have nine days. It can be done.
The Acting Speaker: The member for Kingston and The Islands, you can wrap up.
Mr Gerretsen: I know it's close to 6 of the clock. I think it's best if we adjourn at this point in time, because nothing can possibly top the last comments from the member for Lake Nipigon.
The Acting Speaker: It being 6 of the clock, this House stands adjourned until 6:30 this evening.
The House adjourned at 1759.
Evening meeting reported in volume B.