L072A - Thu 17 Dec 1998 / Jeu 17 Déc 1998 1
The House met at 1001.
PRIVATE MEMBERS' PUBLIC BUSINESS
HUMMINGBIRD PERFORMING ARTS CENTRE CORPORATION ACT, 1998 / LOI DE 1998 SUR LA SOCIÉTÉ DU CENTRE HUMMINGBIRD DES ARTS D'INTERPRÉTATION
Mr Silipo moved second reading of the following bill:
Bill 97, An Act to establish the Hummingbird Performing Arts Centre Corporation / Projet de loi 97, Loi créant la Société du Centre Hummingbird des arts d'interprétation.
Mr Tony Silipo (Dovercourt): Let me say, first of all, how pleased I am to have the opportunity today to present this bill, to ask for second reading passage of it today, and I will be asking, assuming and hoping this bill passes, for it to proceed to third reading for this evening.
I want to say that I'm pleased to have had the opportunity to have worked with the good people at the Hummingbird Centre, and many of them are in the gallery here, following this very important discussion for them, led by the executive director, Elizabeth Bradley, and I believe there are some members of the board and many of the staff members here. I know for them this has been a fairly long process. We are seeing here in this House what will hopefully be just the last stage of this particular venture of the legislation and then a new beginning for the Hummingbird Centre. But for people like Elizabeth Bradley and members of the board, led by Councillor Anne Johnston and others, it has been a two-year or two-and-a-half-year process in trying to get agreement to establish the Hummingbird Centre as a stand-alone entity.
That is, in effect, what this legislation would do. It would still maintain public ownership of the Hummingbird Centre, but it would sever the funding relationship from the city of Toronto, from the old Metro council but now from the city of Toronto, and it would give the Hummingbird Centre for the Performing Arts the kind of independent status they have been seeking for some time and for which there is widespread support. I'm happy to stand here and tell members of the Legislative Assembly that this initiative has the support not only of the Hummingbird Centre itself - all of the unions of people who work for the centre are comfortable and happy with this proposal; all of the people who sustain and support the centre want to see this happen - but also at the local, municipal level; the old Metro council had approved this process, and I'm happy to tell members of the Legislative Assembly that as of yesterday the new city council has also ratified this proposal coming forward, and specifically this initiative and this legislation being approved. I want to put that on the record.
I also want to say that I have appreciated very much, from the day I was first approached by folks at the Hummingbird Centre about the possibility of my sponsoring this bill, that I have had the good fortune in this to work not only with them but with the Minister of Municipal Affairs, Mr Leach. You will know that I have been on my feet many a time in this Legislature critical of many of the initiatives the Minister of Municipal Affairs has had responsibility to carry forward on behalf of the Mike Harris government. I want to be very clear that, with the same fervour with which I have criticized the minister on other occasions and for other reasons, I want to thank him and express my appreciation for the support he has given to this initiative, because if this bill has any chance of proceeding beyond second reading, it is also because of the support he has indicated and, I hope through him, the entire Conservative caucus.
In talking with my colleagues in the Liberal caucus, I know they have indicated support for this bill. I hope we will have an opportunity to have that support expressed on the record all around, and, more importantly, I hope we will have the opportunity to get this bill through second reading this morning and, as I said earlier, hopefully put if forward for third reading and final passage this afternoon or this evening, when we will be dealing with those items.
Whether we are from the city of Toronto or from anywhere else in the province, we all know the importance of the performing arts and what they do to us and for us as a society, let alone the whole economic argument. Again, here we may have differences of opinion. In fact, we do have strong differences of opinion between our caucus, the New Democratic Party caucus, and the government in terms of how they have been handling this issue. But again let me say that when it comes to recognizing the importance of the performing arts, all of us are in agreement that they are economically and socially and culturally, obviously, an important sector in our community. Certainly the many centres that we have that provide an avenue for our many artists to perform, for our many actors to be able to put forward their talents and for all of us as citizens to enjoy and to learn and to appreciate even further the value that comes from the variety of programming that goes on at those centres, are really crucial.
The Hummingbird Centre for the Performing Arts is certainly among the top in our province in terms of providing that avenue and that outlet for the performing arts. The fact that the National Ballet of Canada and the Canadian Opera Company both call the Hummingbird Centre their home is an indicator in and of itself of the importance this centre has in the performing arts world of not just Ontario but indeed Canada and North America.
I am even more so proud of the fact that we have this bill in front of us, that we are able, if we can get this through, to recognize that, in the process of evolution the Hummingbird Centre has gone through, they have come to a point where they believe it's important to be able to say to private donors, to people in the corporate world that they in fact stand alone in terms of not having to rely on government funding from all levels and that in fact they can and are able to do that. They do an incredible mixture of performances, as I said, from the National Ballet of Canada to the Canadian Opera Company to many other events and performances that I think exhibit the full range of our artists and people in the entire cultural community.
It's also with that in mind that I think it's important we lend our support to this initiative, that we understand that the centre has successfully managed both its operations and ongoing capital maintenance without financial support or subsidy from any level of government for over 15 years. The surpluses they have generated have gone back into improving the centre and the performances they are able to run through the centre.
The goal of this legislation is to complete the establishment of the centre as a stand-alone entity with independent administration, operations and finances entirely distinct from those of the municipality or any other level of government. This bill would make that transition complete, would make that transition whole, would give the independent status that they want. That will allow the centre to build upon the key relationship that the board has already developed with corporate sponsors and donors.
Under the current structure, there is still a perception that there is a link to public funding, which I particularly would not find troublesome, but it is something that the centre sometimes finds problematic as it approaches corporate donors. This would allow that sense of independence to be completed, to be cemented and would allow the centre to go on to do an even greater job than it has managed to do to this date.
I want to say that I am particularly pleased that in the transition the centre will still remain city-owned. In fact, any changes in the future that may be contemplated with respect to other uses of the centre will still have to be determined in the public realm. I think that is important to put on the record and to state that this is not disappearing.
Second, I'm also pleased to note that in the transition the old employment relationships remain as they are; that is, there are a variety of workers, represented by various unions, who do all of the work behind the scenes, if you will, to ensure that all the performances run smoothly in the front of the house, and throughout, as you can imagine in a performance house like the Hummingbird Centre. In fact, all of those employees are being transferred and will continue to have the same employment relationship the day after this bill would get royal assent as they have at this moment in time.
Overall, this enshrines the importance of the Hummingbird Centre within our community. It says, by passing a bill that sets it up as an independent body, that it has evolved to a point where it is able and willing and wishful to carry on its affairs, still responsible to the public but responsible in a way that will not call upon the public coffers for funding. I think that is significant.
I just want to pay tribute to all of those who have done all of the work up until this point so that I have had the good fortune to be able to stand here today to present this bill. I hope this is a bill that will get unanimous agreement by members from all three caucuses.
Mr Michael Gravelle (Port Arthur): I'm very glad to lead off debate on the Hummingbird Performing Arts Centre Corporation Act on behalf of the Liberal Party.
My leader, Dalton McGuinty, and members of the Ontario Liberal caucus are very pleased to give our wholehearted support to this bill, and we certainly encourage the government members to do so as well and we look forward to hearing them speak on this bill very soon.
First of all, I would like to congratulate the member for Dovercourt for bringing this bill forward. Not only does it give us, as legislators, the opportunity to give something to the board and the staff and volunteers of the Hummingbird Centre that they have long been seeking, it also allows us the chance to thank them and the artists and performers using their facility for the excellent work they continue to do to enrich the lives of all those who pass through their doors.
I would like to also acknowledge and welcome many of our friends from the board and staff from the Hummingbird Performing Arts Centre who are joining us today for this debate. I'd like to particularly welcome councillor Anne Johnston, chair of the board, and chief executive officer Elizabeth Bradley and many others for being here today.
The Hummingbird is a magnificent cultural facility in the city of Toronto with a long and proud 38-year history as a leading multi-use performance venue for the people of Toronto. The Canadian Opera Company and the National Ballet of Canada are currently resident companies that use the Hummingbird Performing Arts Centre for their world-class productions. Touring companies, individual artists and performers, many of the leading Canadian names from the world of theatre, drama and music have bowed on the stage of the Hummingbird.
If I may say, as a young fellow from Thunder Bay, Ontario - Port Arthur at the time - I remember being quite excited, as an 11-year-old boy, coming down to the Hummingbird, previously the O'Keefe Centre, and seeing a production of Hello, Dolly with Mary Martin in a road show in 1961. It was -
Mr Gravelle: It wasn't Carol Channing, it was Mary Martin. It was an extraordinary, wonderful experience and a big thrill. And may I say, as a result, I think all of us across the province have been familiar with the Hummingbird for many years because of those kinds of things. Also, my sister, Elizabeth - I'm proud to talk about her - was a member of the corps of the National Ballet and I had the opportunity to see her perform at the centre many times in The Nutcracker. I think all across the province the Hummingbird, previously the O'Keefe Centre, is something that's been part of the tradition of all of us in this province.
In most respects, this bill is a housekeeping bill. It's a bill that will give the board the autonomy it needs to forge stronger private sector partnerships and the means to attract new investment. It's a bill that had the support of the former Metro council and, as of yesterday, I understand, the unanimous support of the current city council.
It's a bill that will lead to the establishment of a stand-alone entity that will be governed separately and distinctly from the city structure, but where the city will retain ownership.
It's a bill that finally acknowledges that the Hummingbird is a facility that has managed both its operations and ongoing maintenance without any financial support or subsidy from any level of government for over 15 years.
This bill presented by the member for Dovercourt is in fact a win-win-win proposition. It's a win for the board of directors, who have long sought for governing autonomy and who will now be able to forge ahead in new, exciting directions. It's a win for the city of Toronto, which will still be able to proudly point to the Hummingbird Centre as a significant cultural investment held in trust by the people of the city. It's a win for audiences who will continue to be treated to the best in live musical and theatrical performances, like the National Ballet of Canada's The Nutcracker, an annual Toronto tradition currently on stage at the Hummingbird.
This is a good bill, it's a positive bill and a bill that I am sure all of us in the House are happy to support.
However, if I may, with the little bit of time that I have left and with the indulgence of our guests here today and the members of this Legislature, I want to bring some focus to issues that affect not only the broader arts here in Toronto but all arts and cultural communities right across the province. These are issues that I think seldom get the debate they deserve. Based on the enormous impact that this government's actions have had on the overall health and vitality of our cultural infrastructure, I think they're issues that seldom get the debate they truly demand.
I think everybody here in the House realizes, but perhaps this is a great opportunity to state again, that Ontario's cultural sector is made up of thousands of cultural organizations including the publishing industry, film, television, professional theatres, non-professional theatres, art galleries, museums, individual artists.
These organizations and these individuals contribute $12 billion to the provincial economy each year. These organizations and individuals provide jobs and employment for 265,000 cultural workers in Ontario. For a very modest public investment, they contribute in an extraordinary way to tourism and community development efforts.
But for the last three and a half years and certainly for the years that I've been critic for arts, culture and heritage, I've been concerned about the fact that this government doesn't really want to talk about it and it really doesn't even want to hear about it. They certainly don't have the attitude that I think is expected from the arts community. They seem at times to ignore the tremendous value of the arts in this province and have left the organizations in a very difficult position.
A recent arts fact sheet confirmed what has been feared for some time now: This government's constant attacks on arts and culture have led to the current situation where Ontario is now ranked 10th out of 10 provinces on per-capita spending on the arts. That might startle people, and indeed it should, especially in a province where we've always been so proud in terms of arts, culture and heritage activities.
We know that one of the more alarming cuts to the system has been to the Ontario Arts Council. Since 1995 there's been virtually a 50% cut in support to the Ontario Arts Council. That is a level of cuts that has had a profound and devastating effect on the arts, culture and heritage community in this province. Certainly, we know it has meant that many organizations are really left very much in a survival mode.
I want to argue once again that this government needs to understand that the Ontario Arts Council really is that linchpin of the cultural support that is expected from this province, and it's got a long and noble tradition. I believe that the minister and this government and Mr Harris need to understand that those caps have had a devastating impact and may indeed affect the future of artists who may someday be performing on the stage of the Hummingbird Centre.
We really want to understand how we can change this. As the critic, I have had the opportunity to move around the province in the last year or so and talk to thousands and thousands of people in the arts, culture and heritage community, and they've sent us a message, that I want the members of this Legislature to understand. I know that my party, the Liberal Party, understands very fully that arts, culture and heritage do matter very much to Ontarians.
We heard a strong message as we went around the province, and we believe in a very real way that this is support that all the people of the province would be behind, the kind of feeling that the arts, culture and heritage community has. We certainly heard that the provincial government must have a leading role to play in protecting, promoting and developing Ontario's cultural and heritage identity, but the feeling out there is that the current government has no vision for culture and heritage in this province.
We heard that the provincial government should recognize the tremendous economic and tourism benefits of a healthy cultural infrastructure made up of not-for-profit arts organizations, institutions and cultural industries, but this government does not appear to care about the $12-billion economic contribution of the sector.
We heard that the provincial government should be concerned about the loss of Ontario's built and natural heritage, particularly as we sit at the cusp of the 21st century, yet we have heard many concerns that this government has not done much to prevent the continued erosion of Ontario's heritage resources.
We heard from them that the provincial government should take pride in the work of our artists, our actors, our writers, our dancers, our musicians, our singers, our composers, our film and video makers, and our book and magazine publishers. We heard that they should be proud of the good things done to bring arts and culture to Ontario communities.
More importantly perhaps, we heard that a stable public investment in the arts, culture and heritage is as good for our economy as it is for the vitality and vibrancy of our communities and as it is for the high value we all place on what it means to be Canadian.
Ontario has always had a rich history of being in the forefront of cultural development in Canada. We have the most artists, the greatest institutions, the best public libraries, the most creative and expressive arts and culture community anywhere in Canada, but our concern, and what we heard out there, is that Mike Harris does not care and will not care unless we continue to put the pressure on.
Ontario Liberals certainly believe that arts, culture and heritage do matter to Ontarians. We believe that arts education in the schools is important to developing future artists and audiences. We believe in the importance of citizen access to arts and culture opportunities and that the creative talents of all Ontario citizens should be nurtured and developed.
I am glad to have an opportunity to express some of those feelings. Certainly another member of our caucus will be speaking as well. I wanted to have that opportunity to talk in those terms, but returning to this particular piece of legislation, once again we are proud to be very supportive of this bill by the member for Dovercourt and will stand here in loud support of letting this happen so that they can continue on with their fine work.
Mr Rosario Marchese (Fort York): I too want to have a few moments to say that I support this bill presented by my colleague from Dovercourt and want to establish my own connection to the cultural sector and say that I was the Minister of Culture in 1990-91. At that time we had some very serious difficulties. As people will remember, that was an economic recession that hurt this province a great deal, and the cultural sector, of course, was equally affected by that recession. It was for that very reason that New Democrats at the time believed that we needed to play, as a government, a strong role in culture. That is why we gave $7 million to the Ontario Arts Council, to its base, because we felt it was an important organization that funds individuals and funds other organizations of all disciplines in the cultural sector, and we thought that was the most important thing that governments could do to support our culture.
We also at that time supported book and magazine publishers who we knew were struggling to survive, as a result of which we created a magazine and book publishing centre. It was a $5-million centre designed to support publishers that were really on the decline, were falling apart, were going bankrupt, and unless governments got involved at that time, we would have seen the devastation of the publishing sector in magazines and books as well. That is the connection we have had, as the New Democratic Party, to the cultural sector. I wanted to say that as a way of expressing my appreciation for the arts and as a way of saying that New Democrats believe in a strong role for government in supporting the cultural sector.
In this regard, as it relates to the Hummingbird Centre, we, the province, are asked for no particular financial support; that's not what this bill is all about. It is one of the most important cultural centres in the GTA. I suspect each and every one of the members of this House has attended some performance or other at the Hummingbird Centre, as the result of which many people understand its value to them personally and the value that this cultural centre has to the economy of Toronto, the GTA and Ontario.
What they seek is obviously an autonomous governance structure, something that the member for Dovercourt has already spoken about, so there's no need to belabour that point. The fact is that there are no enemies against this proposal. Normally, you would know that there are many sides to a particular bill and there are many who oppose it. In this proposal that is before us, there are no conflicts that I'm aware of, there are no enemies that I'm aware of. The former Metro government obviously supported this move and the new city of Toronto, I believe yesterday or the day before, has agreed to this proposal, so we don't see an enemy out there that needs to be either listened to or fought.
That is why we feel that government here, the members today should support it. Hopefully the member for Scarborough East will arrive soon so that we can hear his comments, but I'm assuming that he's very supportive, given that the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing is equally supportive. I would like to hear his comments, but again, I don't foresee any division or difference from the member for Scarborough East. There is no municipal resistance, they indeed support it, and no provincial resistance, because our role here today is administrative in nature, that is, to permit them to go ahead, so I don't foresee any problems.
I remind the House and those listening to the program that the Hummingbird Centre has received no financial assistance from the province, or the city as far as I can tell, for the last 15 years, so there are no financial obligations to each other, which should facilitate the desire for this board to have the autonomy it needs.
Again, I remind Conservative backbenchers, because it's something they may not be aware of, that during the New Democratic Party reign, we passed a total of 17 private members' bills, and I can recall a debate on TVO. I thought Mr Stockwell was one member I debated with and Peter Murphy, from the Liberal Party, was the other member.
Mr John Gerretsen (Kingston and The Islands): Tim Murphy.
Mr Marchese: Tim Murphy. Let's not say any more about that. Tim Murphy, a former member of this House -
Ms Marilyn Churley (Riverdale): He lives in my riding now.
Mr Marchese: He lives in Marilyn Churley's riding, and I suspect he'll be supporting you, Marilyn.
We had this debate on TVO about this move that the New Democrats have made, that is, to support a lot of private members' bills, 17 private members' bills. Mr Newman, you should take note of this. We passed a record number of private members' bills, and I remember the host, Steve Paikin, saying to us, "Do you believe this is a sign of the times?" I said, "I think it will be; I think it should be." But I'm not sure the Tories on this bench have taken note of this or have any recollection of that part of our history. It should indeed be a factor to consider, that governments should be able to support a lot of private members' bills, because in their very nature there tends to be a great deal of support for private members' bills, by and large - as indeed with this bill here, where there is absolutely no conflict whatsoever.
Our fear with many of these private member's bills is, of course, that while the members here might support it, they might decide there's no time to deal with any particular bill: We won't have to deal with it, or we can pass it on to the next session. This is one particular bill that needs not be put off to another session. Frankly, I'm worried that we may not have another session. It's for that very reason that I urge my friend and colleague Mr Newman to support this very strongly, because we have all-party support; we have the full board here - I suspect it's almost the full board, if not the entire board; and we have some city councillors here - Anne Johnston is here, who's obviously speaking for many of the other city councillors.
They want this autonomy. There is absolutely no reason for me or any other member here to resist it or fight against it. If that is the wish of this board and it is the wish of the city council, we should permit it. Hopefully, we'll move to third reading this afternoon.
Mr John L. Parker (York East): It's my pleasure to have this opportunity to add my voice in support of this bill that's before us this morning, the bill concerning the Hummingbird Centre for the Performing Arts.
Let me begin my remarks by acknowledging the tremendous challenge to my political career that I face in this position, standing in as I am for the redoubtable member for Scarborough East. This is his speaking position in rotation, and I'm humbled to know that in his absence I am stepping, as it were, into his shoes to register my unqualified, unrestricted and unfettered support for the bill that has been brought forward this morning by the member for Davenport. I add my words to those of the members for Fort York and Port Arthur, who have already spoken quite fully in favour of the bill.
This bill concerns the Hummingbird Centre for the Performing Arts, which is a major venue for the performing arts in downtown Toronto. Certainly, residents in the Toronto area are entirely familiar with the Hummingbird Centre and are familiar with the name change that took place just a few years ago. Elsewhere in the province, the name Hummingbird Centre might not be quite so well known and so well recognized, but I have no doubt that throughout the province the name O'Keefe Centre resonates with great memories and tremendous visions of the importance of that venue.
That is the building we are talking about, the building which opened in about 1960 with a donation from the O'Keefe company to the people of Toronto. It opened at that time under the name the O'Keefe Centre, and operated for many years under that name. As I recall, it opened with a performance of Camelot, featuring Richard Burton, Robert Goulet and Julie Andrews. That was certainly a performance that went on to great renown after a long run on Broadway, but it opened here. It began in Toronto at the O'Keefe Centre, currently known as the Hummingbird Centre.
From that auspicious beginning, the Hummingbird Centre has gone on to triumph after triumph and, as has already been noted, has been the venue for international performing artists of great reputation. The greatest names in the performing arts field, with international reputations, have all performed on the stage of the Hummingbird Centre. Many people in Toronto and, as we have heard, from all around the province and indeed from outside the country have come to the Hummingbird Centre to see the performances that have been put on there. The Hummingbird Centre, as has been noted, is the venue not only of Broadway performances, but also of more locally focused performances, and is home to the Canadian Opera Company and the National Ballet.
I'm old enough to remember when the Hummingbird Centre opened under the name of the O'Keefe Centre. My first memory of the O'Keefe Centre was attending a performance of Treasure Island. My memory of that performance, although I was quite young at the time, is very vivid in my mind still. I couldn't understand at the time why a theatre would open a brewing company on the side, but my understanding of that particular situation has increased over time and now I understand that it's a computer software operation that is operated on the side by the theatre.
The significance of the bill before us today is that it marks a landmark in the history of this very important institution. The Hummingbird Centre is owned by the people of Toronto, has been from the start, but it has always been managed under the auspices of the municipal authorities in Toronto. For many years it operated under a subsidized arrangement from Metro Toronto, but I'm very pleased to note that for quite some time now, about 15 years, the Hummingbird Centre has operated in the black, without the need for subsidy from the taxpayers of Toronto. It is a viable institution in its own right, standing on its own feet, still owned by the people of Toronto, still managed for the benefit of the people of Toronto, but operating without the need to go to the people of Toronto for a constant subsidy, which is the concern that often arises with other publicly owned theatre ventures.
If I can just digress here and respond to a comment that we heard from across the way, I'm disappointed that in a bill that has unanimous support, certainly support from all three caucuses here this morning, the discussion has already ventured into the partisan political area. We've heard the comment that Ontario is 10th out of 10 in support for the arts. If you choose statistics the way you want to, you can make your statistics prove just about anything you want. Some people will measure a community's commitment to a purpose in terms of public dollars that are directed to that purpose, but what we have here in Ontario is the most thriving arts community in the entire country. The Hummingbird Centre is a stellar example of that point. For the last 15 years, without a nickel of public dollars, the Hummingbird Centre has been home to numerous performances of outstanding artistic quality, none greater in the world than the Canadian Opera Company and the National Ballet, but they don't stand alone in the significance that the performances have taken place at the Hummingbird Centre without a nickel of public dollars to subsidize the operation of the Hummingbird Centre.
It's a recognition of the degree of maturity that the Hummingbird Centre has reached and the importance it occupies, not only in Toronto and in the greater Toronto area but, as we've already heard, well beyond the greater Toronto area, to communities throughout the province and indeed the significance that the Hummingbird Centre serves as a cultural attraction and a tourist attraction, bringing theatregoers from across the border to Toronto to see the performances that take place at the Hummingbird Centre. It is a recognition of that degree of maturity that the Hummingbird Centre has achieved that this bill comes forward today, because what this bill does is to establish the Hummingbird Centre clearly as an independent organization on a non-profit basis, operating for the purposes of the general public, still owned by the general public but not with any expectation that it will be reaching out to the taxpayer for an ongoing subsidy.
Putting the Hummingbird Centre on an independent footing, which is what this bill does, equips the Hummingbird Centre to operate independently, on its own, and to attract private assistance where it's required, where it's mandated and where it's appropriate. Putting it on this independent footing sends a signal to the vast and enthusiastic charitable, philanthropic community in Ontario that the Hummingbird Centre is a worthy cause for them to support. It is not a matter of displacing taxpayers' dollars in subsidizing the operations of the O'Keefe Centre and it's not supplementing taxpayers' dollars, because taxpayers' dollars will no longer be involved in supporting the operations of the Hummingbird Centre. It will be a stand-alone operation and it will be worthy of support by private philanthropic donation. That marks a great milestone in the life of that important institution.
The model that is represented by this new arrangement for the Hummingbird Centre isn't altogether a new one for my community. In my community of Leaside, on a modest scale, we have the Leaside Memorial Gardens, which was begun many years ago in the old town of Leaside as a community centre, a community resource owned by the community, operated for the benefit of the community and run by a community board; not by the municipality but by an independent board drawn from the community, serving the community, responding to the community and reaching out to the community from time to time for assistance where that assistance has been merited; a board that does not answer to the municipal council but that answers to its membership and to the needs of the community directly.
That's not a lot different from the model we have represented here before us in this bill for the new operation of the Hummingbird Centre. The board of directors of the Hummingbird Centre will consist of 12 members, but only three of those members will be appointed by the municipality. The other nine members will not be appointed by the municipality and the board will not answer to the municipality in the way that the current board is required to. I'm pleased to note, by the way, that the current board is well represented in the members' gallery this morning. The CEO, Elizabeth Bradley, and the current chair of the board, Anne Johnston, are here with us this morning. They've been recognized already, and I add my welcome to the words of welcome that have already been extended their way.
I'm pleased that the current board is very supportive of this bill. I'm pleased that the minister is supportive of this bill, and I'm delighted to note that by the comments registered so far this morning it appears that this House will be unanimously supportive of this bill.
Mr Speaker, thank you very much for this opportunity to add my voice in support of this very significant bill on behalf of a very important Toronto landmark.
Mr Gerretsen: Let me first of all congratulate the government on its brilliant strategy this morning in having the member for York East take the lead on this rather than the member for Scarborough East. I think this is just a brilliant move. It gets the House in the right frame of mind to deal with the issues that we deal with on a last day like this.
When we were talking about memories of the O'Keefe Centre or the Hummingbird Centre, it brought back memories to me. I hadn't realized that I actually saw that first production of Camelot. I don't mean the very first one, but sometime -
Ms Churley: Which one?
Mr Gerretsen: The one with Richard Burton back in the 1960-61 season. I didn't realize the theatre had just opened. I was just a young fellow, with our grade 13 class from my community, as a matter of fact. Later on I can remember seeing Harry Belafonte there.
Then years after that when my wife and I lived here in Toronto during my later student years for a short period of time, about a three-year period of time, my wife and I got very much interested in the opera series that always take place in October and November and I can remember we used to get rush seats. You used to be able to go up to the theatre about 15 minutes before the opera actually started and get rush tickets, sometimes for the best seats in the house that for whatever reason weren't picked up. If memory serves me correctly, these tickets were very, very inexpensive, something like $3, $4 or $5. Of course, it was a number of years ago, but they were very inexpensive, less than half the cost, or even less than that.
We all have memories of the O'Keefe and now the Hummingbird Centre, and I guess what that underlines more than anything is that this is truly not just a Toronto theatre for the performing arts. People from across Ontario have enjoyed the performances there, from across Canada and, as has been mentioned before, from across the border as well.
I think in times when the financial situations of governments get tough and when the financial situations for individuals get tough, there is always a tendency to cut the arts and cultural and heritage programs first, not just by this government but by any government. I've seen it happen at the local level; I've seen it happen undoubtedly at the federal level. But I really think it is just as important that people have an understanding of their culture and partake of the cultural activities and have an understanding of their heritage and partake of that as well as any other program that governments are involved in.
I firmly believe that, and sometimes I think we undervalue the small seed money that is required to get an entire program going. I know that quite often in any kind of fundraising that we were involved with for arts and cultural matters, for example, at the local level, the question that always came up when you went to a corporate organization was, "How much is the municipality going to put into this?" They wanted to see that seed money.
We're talking here about a very successful centre that for the last 15 years, I guess, has basically operated without public funds. What we tend to forget is that most of the arts and cultural grants that the province is involved with are for organizations that really need that money, because we're dealing with young, struggling artists in a variety of fields that need that extra push and that extra benefit. I really think that for the amount of money we're talking about in the totality of things - for example, the museum grants are down to $4 million in the 1998-99 budget and the Ontario Arts Council is down to $25 million. It's not a drop in the bucket at all, but when you look at it in the total amount of money that's spent by government, it certainly is not a large amount in that sense. And when you look at the stimuli that this brings to the artistic community, I think this is something we should really take a very hard look at and government should not take the opportunity whenever it can to cut these various programs.
We totally support it, and we also hope that this government will bring in a new Ontario Heritage Act as they promised to do when they were elected in 1995.
Ms Churley: It's my pleasure to be able to speak this morning in support of Bill 97, An Act to establish the Hummingbird Performing Arts Centre Corporation, and to also thank the member for Dovercourt for bringing it forward. I know that the members of the board and staff and people involved have been waiting for this for some time.
I want to welcome Anne Johnston, the chair of the board, and the CEO, Elizabeth Bradley, and would like to say that it's a pleasure to have Anne Johnston here. We were sort of colleagues some years ago, although she was on the then Metro council and I served on city council. May I say that it was always a pleasure to work with Anne. I know how devoted and committed she has always been to the arts, and I'm delighted that she's now the chair of the board of the Hummingbird Centre.
I also want to particularly thank the lawyers for drafting this bill, and I want to thank them for being a little bit late in getting the wording correct. Because, and let me drift away from this bill briefly, the wording wasn't quite ready for last week, which was when Mr Silipo was going to present his bill, I was able to slip in the little space created and get second reading on my adoption disclosure bill, Bill 88. I must say that I'm very thankful for that, because I might not have been able to bring that bill forward if the lawyers hadn't been having a little bit of difficulty, I understand, in getting the wording right. So it's a win-win situation for all of us. I'd like to say as well that when my bill was debated last week, it got second reading on a 57 to 3 vote, I believe.
I would say to the people who are here today from the Hummingbird Centre that you are witnessing a very rare occasion in this Legislature, and that is peace and harmony among all three parties on this bill.
Mr Dan Newman (Scarborough Centre): It's Christmas.
Ms Churley: It is Christmas, but it's more than that. Obviously we all support your bill, and my understanding from the member for York East, whom I must congratulate - I think he did a very good job standing in for the member for Scarborough East, and we were delighted that he was able to stand in for him this morning, because we now know for sure that this peace and harmony is going to stay within these walls this morning. Of course, he could come barging - oh, I'm not allowed to talk about the fact that he, I'm sure, was detained beyond his control this morning.
Anyway, I'm delighted and I suspect, from what the member for York East said, that in fact we will go ahead this morning and allow this bill to go to third reading, because there is some concern that we may not be coming back. I certainly hope that we do because, again coming back to my private member's bill, however briefly, I'd like to thank the government House leader for promising yesterday that if the House does prorogue, he will allow my bill, the adoption disclosure bill, on a special motion to be carried forward notwithstanding the House proroguing. I really appreciate that.
You may wonder why we are even having this debate this morning, because we all do agree. We do want to be on the record as supporting this. Three of our four Toronto members in the NDP caucus are here this morning to speak to this bill, and the member for Beaches-Woodbine would be, but she has a friend who is very ill and she was not able to be here this morning. But she wanted me to extend her congratulations and good wishes.
To the member for York East - and I want to say this very briefly, because I agree that in a bill like this which we all support, we shouldn't get too political - I just want to say that we're not playing with numbers and statistics here. It is an inescapable fact that the Harris government cut about $15 million from the Ontario Arts Council, I think from about a $45-million budget, whatever. It's not a whole lot of money for the entire arts community. I mention that because it's significant in terms of what we're doing today. These cuts, and cuts overall across the system, do affect young and emerging and new artists, and there's more, I would say, competition for the charitable dollar out there, not just in the arts community but throughout the community as a whole. That's why I think this bill is even more important, and that we pass it today.
The fact that the Hummingbird Performing Arts Centre has not had to use any government funding from any level for 15 years tells us that they certainly are in a position to be able to continue fundraising from the private sector. They've proven that over the past 15 years, and it would be very foolish indeed to allow the perception, when they are out there fundraising from the private sector, that they are getting funding from Toronto council when in fact they are not. The fact that they could end up not being able to get some of those dollars through a misconception is very foolish, so it's absolutely essential that this bill be passed, and passed quickly.
I would like to again thank the member for Dovercourt for bringing this forward today.
Mr Frank Klees (York-Mackenzie): I too rise in support of this bill before us. It's always a real privilege when a member is able to bring forward a bill of this nature, because I believe there is going to be broad support from all three parties for a bill that makes ultimate sense to an organization that has served our very broad community so well.
I don't live in Toronto. I live in the wonderful town of Aurora and represent the riding of York-Mackenzie, but I can tell you that many people from across the GTA come into the heart of Toronto largely because of attractions such as the Hummingbird Centre and the wonderful presentations that are made there.
I had much to say today, but my friend Mr Parker waxed so eloquent and, as usual, cut into my time. I was hoping that this could be my stepping stone on to that stage, because there are certainly people here today who, had they heard my soliloquy, I'm sure I would have had some calls. I can only say that you have wonderful seats here today as members of the board and the very senior people. We trust that when we come to the Hummingbird Centre you will accommodate us likewise, and perhaps at the same price.
Welcome. We look forward to passing this bill. I leave some time for my colleague from Durham-York.
M. Gilles Bisson (Cochrane-Sud) : J'aimerais additionner ma voix à ce projet de loi introduit par mon collègue M. Silipo. Pour ce qui est important dans ce projet de loi, c'est pour créer une structure indépendante pour la Société du Centre Hummingbird ici à Toronto.
Je veux que le monde en comprenne l'importance, parce que c'est très difficile. Il y a une perception que l'argent pour ce Centre est payé par la ville de Toronto et payé par les contribuables, mais ce n'est pas la situation. Comme on le sait, nous à cette Assemblée, ce Centre fait tout son financement à travers des prélèvements de fonds, et la raison pour laquelle ils ont besoin de cette indépendance à travers ce projet de loi, c'est pour avoir l'habilité, quand ils font leurs prélèvements de fonds, de dire, «Nous sommes une entité séparée. On n'est pas financés par la ville de Toronto ou par la province de l'Ontario avec des gros chiffres, et il est important que vous venez nous donner le support nécessaire avec vos dollars pour qu'on puisse continuer nos activités.»
C'est pour cette raison que le Centre Hummingbird veut avoir cette indépendance. Ce ne pas parce qu'ils sont en chicane avec la ville de Toronto, très le contraire. C'est pour leur donner la distinction d'être vue comme une organisation séparée. Quand ils font les prélèvements de fonds, ça devient beaucoup plus facile et beaucoup plus subtile quand ça vient à être capable de rechercher l'argent dont ils ont besoin.
Mrs Julia Munro (Durham-York): I simply want to add my congratulations to the member for Dovercourt for providing us with this piece of legislation today. While many have spoken on a personal basis about the Hummingbird Centre to reminisce, I would like to take this opportunity to talk for a very brief moment on the future. As someone who has a nephew with the National Ballet, I recognize that this is a most important institution within our cultural community which steps out into the economic and social life of our city and in fact our province. I want to compliment you on bringing this forward today, and certainly support it.
The Deputy Speaker (Mr Bert Johnson): The member for Dovercourt has two minutes to wrap up, but before he does, I didn't want you to think that I was culturally deprived. I come from 100 miles away, and my wife and I will never forget the performance by that icon of music, the man with the musical trumpet, the late Louis Armstrong, in your centre.
The Chair recognizes the member for Dovercourt.
Mr Silipo: Speaker, dare I say that this is what private members' public hour should probably be more and more about? It's a position that I've held from the first day that I stepped into this Legislature, and I'm really happy to see that we were able to come together on something like this that gives the Hummingbird Centre its unique independent status.
Let me just thank a few people in the remaining moments that I have. My colleague and friend from Riverdale mentioned the lawyers, and she's quite right that the reason we are dealing with this issue now rather than last week is because we wanted to make sure there was 100% agreement and consonance between the city of Toronto, the board and the ministry. Again, I want to thank the minister for making that commitment, and particularly in this case for making the legal counsel from the ministry available to work with the legal counsel from the city and our own legislative counsel.
I want to personally thank the lawyers who actually worked on this from the ministry, Hal Linscott and Tom Melville; from our own legislative counsel, Cornelia Schuh and Susan Klein; and from the city of Toronto, Allison Fowles. What we see here in front of us is the product of many hours of work that they have put together, which obviously builds on the many years of work that has come through the Hummingbird Centre and the kind of dedication of the members of the board, led by councillor Johnston, who's here; Michael Prue, Maria Augimeri and others who have served through the years; obviously, as well, the general manager and chief executive officer, Elizabeth Bradley; our own assistant, Carolyn Gloude. Let me thank lastly my own legislative assistant, Carmela Sasso, who has done a lot of the running around, back and forth, to get this bill to this point.
I thank members of the House for the all-party support for this important piece of legislation which will give the Hummingbird Centre the future stepping stone that they so well deserve.
PROTECTION FOR HEALTH CARE WORKERS
Mr John Gerretsen (Kingston and The Islands): I seek unanimous consent to be able to read the motion into the record and that Mr Kennedy's leadoff speech be set down until later.
The Deputy Speaker (Mr Bert Johnson): Mr Gerretsen has asked for unanimous consent to read in the motion before us. Is there consent? It is agreed.
Mr Gerretsen: Thank you very much. I'd like to thank the government members for the generosity they've displayed this morning on two separate occasions now.
The resolution reads as follows:
That, in the opinion of this House, since individuals, organizations and corporations who provide health care have a unique role in shaping both the public's understanding of, and policy within, the health care system; and
Since in an era of rapid change it is crucial there be sufficient information to ensure the public is protected at all times; and
Since these health care providers are presently restricted by a variety of direct and indirect strictures and pressures from publicly raising issues in Ontario's interest that are discerned in the course of their duties; and
Since the resulting lack of openness in the health care system results in mistakes that could be readily prevented;
Therefore, the government should take immediate legislative action to guarantee these care providers who in good faith apprehend that the safety, wellbeing or dignity of present or future patients is or will be compromised and be allowed to speak responsibly within the public forum without any reprisal to health care employees by their employer or to health care employers by the government.
The Deputy Speaker: Pursuant to the standing orders, the member for York South has 10 minutes.
Mr Gerard Kennedy (York South): It is my privilege to support and to introduce, with help from the member for Kingston and The Islands, this resolution today.
It is an extremely important time in the development of health care in Ontario and it is vital that this institution, the Legislature of Ontario, provide to the health care workers of this province some sense of where we stand in relation to the situation that they face, because what we have in Ontario today, I think all parties can agree, is a circumstance of rapid change, so that, for example, the Ivey school of business talks about it as an unprecedented effort in terms of the kinds of things that are happening in the hospital corridors, in the rooms and the various other organizations that are trying to provide health care.
What it means for us is an appreciation of what it is that the doctors and nurses are facing both in terms of the individual challenges they have for their skills and their abilities as health care providers, but also for the climate in which they're operating.
What we find in Ontario today is a climate that precludes the safety of patients in a very significant way. Nurses and doctors find they're not in a position to express their true feelings about the circumstances that are facing their patients, and for each of us recognizing in our constituencies how much our local families, the elderly, the people who turn to the medical system most often, depend on the opinions of health providers in terms of trusting the system which we in this Legislature have the ultimate responsibility for.
It is, therefore, vital that there are no barriers in the way of doctors, nurses, nurse assistants and the health organizations themselves in fully joining the debate, in being able to express to our local public, to the people in our areas, as well as ourselves and the government in its capacity, the information we need to know about what's really happening as a result of health changes, the difficulties that could happen at any time in any era, but particularly now. The goal of this motion is to enhance patient safety. The method to do that is to ensure that the reprisals against individuals and organizations are prohibited if they're speaking out responsibly and in good faith about health matters of which they have direct knowledge.
The trust that the public puts on health care providers is, of course, instructive to us as elected officials. I think some of the recent polls have shown that doctors and nurses enjoy respect ratings of around 65% or 67%, whereas politicians sit around 9%. I think the important thing is that there is a place and a purpose for nurses and doctors to be able to speak out, not just on their own behalf but certainly on behalf of their patients. Their ability to do that should not be left to coroners' inquests of the type that just concluded in Mississauga looking into the circumstances of the death of five-year-old Kyle Martyn. We don't want health professionals only to be able to tell us their considered opinion about what is happening because of changes or alterations in the health system after the fact. That's simply not good enough.
Health professionals now have that duty under the regulations of their professional colleges to speak up, to talk about those things, and there are processes to deal with that. What there isn't provision for is the ability for nurses and doctors to really have a voice when changes are taking place in so many important areas.
The recent news around difficulties for a high-risk delivery, for example, in Toronto, when you look into that situation facing the Bouffard family, where triplets had to be delivered in Kingston, 300 kilometres away, it wasn't a one-off situation. It wasn't a circumstance, a confluence of fates, where somehow they found themselves in that difficulty. To the consternation, I'm sure, of every new parent, they need to know that the professionals who work in that system - Dr Clifford Librach, who brought the situation to light, and Dr Barrett, who's the head of the multiple birth clinic at Women's College, had prior and standing knowledge that there were not enough neonatal beds. They, as well as the nurses who work in that unit, know that there simply are not enough of those beds open. It is extremely important, and I think it should not intimidate any member of the government, any member in this House, to have that knowledge spoken of and put out there publicly so that we can have a fair and open debate about the changes which are taking place in the health system. I'm sure it was not a matter of point of pride to the government when the Premier had to call the Bouffard family and basically apologize or relate that he wished it hadn't happened.
Today, we have a resolution which would have the government act in a fashion that would ensure that some of those things could not happen. What is happening today we've only learned because of this near tragedy, this four-hour ambulance ride that the Bouffards had to take to get from Toronto to Kingston, all through which they ran the risk of those triplets dying, because if they were delivered en route they would not have survived. The reason they were traversing that route was because the equipment to keep those new infants alive did not exist in all of the greater Toronto area.
It's extremely important that we recognize that this is a public safety measure that we in this Legislature need to take. I know some of the rationale for this may be difficult in terms of government members, but I don't think it should be. In other words, recognizing that there are changes in the system, that some areas have been cut back, that there's lower job security for nurses - for example, members of the public may not be aware, but when we hear about more money being spent in health care, a very large amount of that, in fact in the last two years, $410 million, has been spent to fire nurses, to lay off the very people whom we would like to be able to have the confidence to tell us what is happening in the health system. Instead, they're working in a climate where that's extremely difficult, where doctors no longer have the assurance that they will have privileges at the organizations they need to in order to practise their craft. The hospitals are now not able to offer privileges to the doctors who had them before. When all 45 hospitals slated by this government close, that is certain to be the case.
All that needs to be accepted about those conditions - I'm sure there are members on the government side who will defend those kinds of decisions, but we must recognize that one of the consequences, one of the by-products, if you like, is that it creates a climate of intimidation for nurses and doctors, where they don't feel they can speak up, again not on their behalf but on behalf of patients; where they're forced to choose between their livelihood, their ability to continue, and the things they see in front of them. Of course, significantly, many of them are voting with their feet. Doctors have left this province in record numbers, and so have nurses left the profession. We have had a historical number of retirements on the part of nurses. We have widespread reports of discouragement.
I'm sure there is nobody on the other side of the House who doesn't believe that part of the reason I'm bringing this forward is because I have the privilege to serve as the opposition critic for health. But it is only one part of that capacity that leads me to bring this forward, in what I hope will be received as a constructive spirit. I have met with nurses and doctors all around the province at various times who have not felt secure to be able to express their opinions, who have not felt they could speak up. I've also spoken to organizations that feel, perhaps without foundation in some instances, the government would enact reprisals against them. So we in this Legislature are not being told the truth about what's happening.
It's not necessarily, I would venture to express, an intimidation for the government to recognize that that would be a beneficial thing for us to have. These are not always going to be complaints about the government; they're always going to be, under the spirit of this resolution, matters of patient safety. I would like to believe there is nobody in this House who would be against that; there is no one who would not want to see patient safety protected at all times.
In terms of the need for this legislation, I want to announce today the results of a poll by the Ontario Nurses' Association. They polled nurses on November 17, and 78% of those nurses say that problems go unreported because of fear of losing their job; 55% say many problems go unreported, 23% say some problems and only 7% say that all problems are being reported. I would like to believe that in this House we would stand for having all health problems reported and none not reported as a result of a feeling of intimidation or fear of losing their job on the part of nurses.
The only manner in which we're going to be able to proceed is to have a resolution from this House which calls upon the government to do what it has already agreed to do. The minister has agreed to pass a patient safety act. The resolution of this House would simply relate our urgency and conviction that this patient safety act be sure to include those provisions which it's supposed to in order to protect the ability of health providers to speak up.
Mrs Marion Boyd (London Centre): I'm pleased to have an opportunity to respond to the resolution brought forward by the member for York South. I think it is very clear where our party is on this issue of patient safety. We brought forward a Health Care Accountability and Patients' Bill of Rights Act, and one of the most significant matters in that act was the protection of employees from whistle-blowing.
The member for York South talks about the climate of fear that is there in health care facilities, in health care in general, even health care that's provided in the community, among those who are actually giving the services to patients. He is very right. As we've gone around the province, we've heard from nurses, from registered practical nurses, from home care workers and from physicians about their concerns that the cutbacks that have happened in many areas of service, the lack of infused funding to deal with increased demand in the long-term-care area, is actually making them fearful that they are not fulfilling their obligations as professionals, as required under the Regulated Health Professions Act.
We heard from nurses who clearly believe that what they are being asked to do is not safe for patients, that there are too few of them. We heard from a registered nurse, for example, in a long-term-care facility who has sole care of 90 elderly frail patients overnight. Those of us who have loved ones in long-term-care facilities like to believe that their safety is protected. I recall a situation not long ago in Mississauga, within the last couple of years, where a fire erupted at a long-term-care facility. An inquest clearly said there were not enough staff to evacuate people carefully, to evacuate people quickly enough to prevent them from suffering damage.
Nurses and health care workers work in these circumstances all the time. It's not surprising that the Registered Nurses' Association of Ontario, the Registered Practical Nurses Association of Ontario and the Ontario Nurses' Association have all asked for a patient safety bill that clearly lays out what the standards are for nursing care; that would clearly allow them to go to work with the comfort that they are meeting their professional obligations under the Regulated Health Professions Act, to answer to their colleges for their actions in a way that is responsible. That's what they want. But that requires them to be able to blow the whistle when their employer is not following those standards. So there are two things that are required: first the setting of standards, and then the capacity to complain.
I would say to my friend the member for York South that the capacity to complain without any standards means very little, because although they may complain, what kind of an investigation could there be and how could it be proven that in fact the standards haven't been met if we're not all clear about what those standards are?
In long-term care, for example, when our government put in long-term-care reform, we put in a regulation that required every nursing home to dedicate 2.5 hours of nursing care each day to each resident in a facility. That was a standard. If that standard wasn't met, there was a way of dealing with it. It was a way for investigators to look at the staff rosters, to look at the number of patients, to look at whether or not that standard was being met.
But one of the first things this government did was to repeal that regulation. Quite frankly, one of the things that amazes me is that the people of Ontario haven't risen up in force and said: "What on earth is going on? There are no guarantees when I put my grandmother, my mother, my cousin into a long-term-care facility that there is any standard of care that I can accept."
As we've travelled around the province to facilities and to home care providers, we know that when there is not a requirement, especially for profit-making organizations, to staff to a standard level, what we see is a deterioration in care. For the frail elderly, this usually means they may be either restrained physically or put in a situation where they are drugged to maintain their quietness or, at very least, that they don't get the kind of activation that's necessary to keep them healthy.
If we believe that each of us is entitled to a quality of life to the end of our life, the prospect of ending our lives in facilities where that dedication isn't there and the resources aren't there, and there isn't some mechanism for determining that that care is provided, ought to be very frightening. That's exactly what the situation is today.
Frankly, in home care it's even worse, because in facility care at least there is a possibility for families to get together and to talk about what is happening in that facility. It's possible for families to talk together about the problems that are happening around hygiene, the problems that are happening around bedsores, the problems that are happening around a lack of attention to people who require intensive work with them around their toileting, around their eating. It's possible for them to at least have some collective voice. But in the home care area, we are all isolated in our own home care situations. Frankly, there's an effort on the part of the government and home care providers to try to convince us that if we complain, we're denying someone else the care that they deserve. The Minister of Long-Term Care, when the member for Kingston and The Islands raised the issue of 2,000 elderly patients losing service in the Kingston area, stood in this House and said, "They were getting too much service, and we have to spread the dollars around so everybody gets the same low level of service," which is terribly offensive in communities that have worked hard together to build strong home care programs.
When you are caring for a person at home you are, just by definition, isolated in a very real way, when there's no mechanism for you to complain and you certainly can't get the support of your home care worker - who, as the member for York South has pointed out very clearly, if they complain on the part of the patient, are very often job-threatened. We run into really serious difficulties.
I would say the most serious problem we've run into is when the profit motive drives those who are delivering care. It is hard under a non-profit situation to deliver care effectively with the levels of funding that this government provides. That's difficult. But when you also have the demands of shareholders, who are expecting a return on their investment, and that return on their investment comes out of the dollars that we as taxpayers pay for the care of patients, the situation is that much worse.
We know from talking to employees across the province that their apprehension around reporting lack of standards, lack of care, is much worse where their employer is a private employer, where they may not be protected, in many cases, by a collective agreement, where they may not, in many cases, have the comfort of knowing there is some public accountability on the part of that organization. We have to remember that private organizations are not required to give details of how they spend the public dollars they get. One of the issues in terms of enforcing standards for health care is making sure the money that is supposed to be spent on patients' food is spent on patients' food, that the money that is supposed to be spent on qualified staff to care for patients is actually being spent there. As soon as you have shareholders demanding an ever-greater share of the public tax dollars that go to those organizations, you see more erosion of care.
I would not suggest that every public organization is necessarily guiltless in this whole issue. I am very aware that there are efforts to cut corners, particularly where municipalities, through their tax dollars, are supporting these organizations as well. I worry about that. I am saying that whether you're getting your care publicly or privately, there should be standards that need to be met; there should be an enforcement mechanism to be sure that when those standards are not being met, the providers are required to come up to standard and to stay there. Very often, the only people who know the reality of what goes on in a facility, the reality of what goes on in home care in terms of cutbacks, cutbacks, cutbacks in the level of service and how that affects patients, are the health care providers themselves.
The member for York South is absolutely right to say that there should be some protection for these people. I'm amazed, quite frankly, that he would come up with a resolution that wanders all around the issue, rather than a very clear bill that gives whistle-blower protection to health care providers in these circumstances. This government has entertained quite a few of the opposition party's private bills. We've had big discussions, extensive discussions, about some of the Liberal private members' bills that have come forward. I am amazed that we do not have here a bill that clearly outlines what the Liberal position is on the setting of standards and whistle-blowing. Instead of that, we have this woolly, wordy piece of verbiage that does not clearly say what they would do if they were to form the government. This is what we see throughout the health care thing: all sorts of lovely words pandering to everybody without any clarity about what they would really do.
It's important at this point for us to be very clear about what our positions are. We have done that. We put forward a Health Care Accountability and Patients' Bill of Rights Act, which was passed by this House, which sits there on the docket - without going anywhere, I may add - that at least clearly puts us on the record as to where we think we need to go with this, that clearly states how you set those standards, that you set them in conjunction with the professionals who have the expertise, with the colleges that have a responsibility for maintaining standards of practice under the registered health professions, with the Ontario Hospital Association, that has some responsibility in terms of publicly funded hospitals to ensure that best practices are followed.
We have clearly said in that bill that there needs to be protection for workers who work in the health care field when they call attention to the fact that the standards set are not being met. We have a commitment. We're very clear about it. We're not saying, "People should be protected and we should look at their expertise, and therefore we should protect these people." We're saying how you do that and we're saying why you do it, and we're giving the mechanism by which that can happen. That's what we need. We've had a lot of change in health care, and we need to be prepared to continue to look at the best practices that can be delivered in all aspects of health care. Whether it's delivered in hospital, whether it's delivered at home, whatever the mechanism of delivery, we have to be sure that our tax dollars are going for a standard of care of which we will be proud as citizens and which we will then be able to access when we need it.
It is important, I think, for people in the province of Ontario to know that it is possible to set standards, it is possible to enforce standards and it is possible to protect those who blow the whistle when standards aren't being met. Government can do that through legislation. They can't do it when all they do is talk about it. They can't do it unless they are clear about the mechanism, unless they actually have a process which people can follow when they have concerns.
I have spent a lot of time with patients and with their families around this issue of standards of care and best practices. We have a population in the province of Ontario that is knowledgeable, that knows it's important for them to know what to expect, that knows it's important for them to be able to rely on the government that pays for the services to enforce standards and knows that their best ally in that effort is always the health care professional who delivers the services.
The member for York South will find great support for the notion of whistle-blower protection. It's just unfortunate that he didn't outline how this would really work.
Mr Dan Newman (Scarborough Centre): It's my pleasure to join the debate here this morning on this resolution. The member for York South has brought forward a resolution that has been essentially debated in this House previously. I am of course referring to Bill 50, which was brought forward by the member for London Centre earlier this year. Specifically, Bill 50 included a section that addressed the issue of health care employees ensuring patient safety. It was this bill that was brought forward by the member for London Centre, the patient safety act, which as I mentioned was introduced earlier, in June, and received second reading and was sent to the committee of the whole. This bill incorporated specific detail with respect to openness in health care reporting. I agree with her that the Liberal health plan or lack of a health plan leaves me too with many question marks.
As I mentioned in previous debates, I want to again reiterate some of the commitments our government has made when it comes to patient safety and the delivery of health services in Ontario. I must begin by saying that the content of this resolution and what it is asking the government to do is a very complex issue. Patient safety and the delivery of services are of the utmost importance to this government, and that is why we are taking several steps to ensure that these issues receive careful consideration before any decisions are made.
For example, our government will work with various organizations such as the Ontario Medical Association, the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario, the Ontario Hospital Association, the Ontario Nursing Association, the Registered Nurses' Association of Ontario and the federation of regulatory colleges to ensure accountability for patient outcomes. More important, our government is currently working to introduce a comprehensive health care quality act that will encompass a far broader recognition of health care accountability.
The resolution being debated here today does not go far enough, and I say that because it does not go far enough in that our government believes it is important to include not only employees of the health sector but also family members who raise issues surrounding patient care and the delivery of services.
While I agree with the resolution in principle and what it represents to the people of Ontario, I must wonder if it's not just another attempt by the Liberal health critic to strike fear in the minds of Ontario's health workers and patients. Mr Kennedy's resolution implies that health care workers are unable to voice their opinions with respect to health care reform and the delivery of services, and I ask him why when his party was the government in this province they did not bring something forward to deal with it.
I know that all members of the House here know that the member for York South has a knack for creating a crisis; in fact, in a Toronto Star article back in 1996 his successor at the Daily Bread Food Bank referred to his ability to create a crisis. I think he has brought that with him to the Legislature.
Mr Frank Klees (York-Mackenzie): Chicken Little syndrome.
Mr Newman: The Chicken Little syndrome, I say to the member for York Mackenzie. I agree with that.
The letter of September 12, 1997, from the president and CEO of the Humber River Regional Hospital says:
"While there are many issues and challenges in merging organizations and consolidating services which impact on our patients, staff and members of the community, you seem more interested in generating fear within the community around the safety and quality of care provided to individuals regardless of whether or not the facts support this conclusion."
That's shameful. In fact, if we look back at the Sudbury Star of September 19, 1998, the editorial says:
"Kennedy would better serve voters by listing what needs to be done to the system to ensure services" -
Mr Gerretsen: Mr Speaker, on a point of order: We have listened to this member now for the last three minutes doing nothing but attack the integrity of the member for York South. He should stick to the issue. There's a specific resolution. I would ask you to ask him to stick to the issue and not to make personal attacks against members in this House.
The Deputy Speaker: That is a point of order; however, we differ very much on the interpretation of the facts as you have stated them, so I will not -
Mr Gerretsen: Do you agree with what the member is saying about our member here?
The Deputy Speaker: It's not within my purview to agree or disagree with anything that is said in this House; it's to carry out the rules as you have made them.
The Chair recognizes the member for Scarborough Centre.
Mr Newman: I note that I was not attacking the Liberal credibility on health care; I was attacking their lack of credibility on health care.
It says here, September 19, "What We Say: Grit MPP Does Voters a Disservice."
I know that the member for Kingston and The Islands had cut into my time. I just want to again mention that our government is spending $18.9 billion on health care. That's $1.5 billion more than any other government in the history of this province.
I'm going to share my time with the members for Northumberland and York-Mackenzie, and I'll leave them the rest of the time.
Mr Mario Sergio (Yorkview): I only have about five minutes, and I want to contribute on the resolution brought in by the member for York South. It is not only timely but it's a very important resolution, and I do hope, according to the last speaker, that indeed we will see their support, because he just said it is good but it doesn't go far enough. As a beginning, let's hope that they will see the light and support this important resolution here.
It addresses one very important aspect of our health care system and providing health care to the most needy in our society. It doesn't make any difference whether you take a child to a hospital because he has a fever or a senior is being provided care in their own home or in a nursing home. This is a wake-up call for the government, not only to the millions and millions in cuts that they have made to the health care system - that is why we are in this situation. Certainly you cannot provide an efficient, quality health care system when you have fired the most-qualified nurses to the tune of some 13,000 or 14,000 nurses. You cannot provide the quality of service when you don't have the qualified people. The people who are on the front line on a daily basis, either providing service in a hospital or home care or providing homemaker services, are the real people who on a daily basis provide the service and then come back and report on the conditions of those sick people. What happens? Often those very comments brought back are totally disregarded. I could give you a couple of examples if I have the time, and I hope I will be able to do that.
This is not creating another snitch line; this is providing freedom from fear to those people who provide those services to come out and report incidents, lack of services, lack of attention, to the providers, so that we indeed can provide whatever care or whatever attention is needed.
One senior told me one day that one particular thing is gone from our health care system, the most sacred thing in our province. He said, "The three As are gone." I said, "What are the three As?" He said, "The availability, the acceptance and the attention." How true, because now we lack all of that, but worst of all is that the people who provide that front-line service, on top of the pressure they get because of lack of assistance, lack of personnel, have to deal on a daily basis with their frustration that they cannot report incidents, if you will, weaknesses in the system.
I know for a fact that one of these providers came into my office seeking assistance as to why she was fired - solely because she said to the providers that they need more of this particular care and more assistance. She paid for reporting that the provider should be providing that particular service there. That was one case.
I have a couple of nursing homes, maybe more, in my area, and I have to tell you that we see a problem with those care providers as well, because now we have family members going in there and saying, "What's going on here?" Care is not being provided, so family members have to go in and assist in providing for their own people, for whom they are paying extra money in those facilities. They go one day and their clothes are gone. They go another day and they are no longer on the same floor. They go another day and they are sleeping in somebody else's bed. They go one day and the nurse says, "You have to go and look for yourself; we don't have the time."
This is the care, this is the attention and that is what this resolution speaks about. It speaks about giving the freedom to those front-line caregivers, giving them the freedom without fear of reprisal to report those incidents which if gone unnoticed and not reported can result in the loss of lives of some patients. Ultimately, isn't good care for patients what we all want?
Unfortunately, I'm just over my time, but I do hope that members of the government will support the resolution introduced by the member for York South.
Mr Klees: I'm pleased to rise to address this resolution this morning. It's so typical of the member for York South. Rather than getting to the heart and recommending specific solutions, as the member for London Centre did in her Bill 50, he continues to approach the issue of health care from a fearmongering perspective for which he is well known now across the province. When the member for York South appears at a meeting, people are prepared for a great deal of noise: "The sky is falling and there is no hope."
I can tell you that the people in Ontario understand the realities. Regardless of what the member for York South and his Liberal Party may want the public to believe, we in Ontario have the best health care system in the world, second to none. All it takes is for someone to leave this province and experience elsewhere, beyond the borders of Ontario, the health care system that's there and they will very quickly support the premise that in Ontario we have the best health care system; not perfect and there's a great deal of work to do.
I can tell you that the member for York South should have spoken to Allan Rock, who was a speaker at his fundraising reception, about the $2 billion the federal government cut back in transfer payments to this province. He should also speak to the Liberal Prime Minister, who clearly doesn't understand what is happening within his own government, suggesting that the Premier of this province should restore that $2 billion.
Let the public know, and I believe they do know, that we have restored it. Not only have we restored the $2 billion without relying on the federal government, we've gone beyond that and in this province we are spending an additional $1.4 billion on health care, regardless of what the federal Liberal government is doing and their disdain for public health care in this country.
I support the concept and the member for York South knows that I support the right of health care workers to have their say, to express their views, to have the ability to tell people not only in the workplace, not only their employers, but publicly what they feel about the health care system.
I trust that the member for York South will carry on this principle of supporting the right of health care workers to exercise their consciences. When he has an opportunity to say something in response to the debate this morning, I want the member for York South to go on record to say whether or not he supports not only the right of health care workers to express their consciences with regard to things that are going wrong in the health care system, but also the right of health care workers, consistent with the legislation that many in the health care system are calling for, to recognize the freedom of conscience of health care workers, prohibiting coercion of and unjust discrimination against health care workers because of their refusal to participate in matters contrary to the dictates of their consciences and establishing penalties for such coercion and unjust discrimination.
I don't believe for a minute that the member for York South will have the courage to support that. No. What he is interested in is for health care workers - in fact, not only is he providing a platform, he's actually encouraging them to not necessarily come forward with solutions. It's interesting, his own resolution refers to the fact that they should be publicly raising issues. There's nothing wrong with publicly raising issues, but what he is really suggesting should happen is that the rest of the people in Ontario and health care workers resort to the same kind of fearmongering that he and his political party resort to.
I want to compliment the third party, the members of the NDP, who at least on the issue of health care have a policy. They have come forward with specific recommendations. We admire that. We have no respect for the kind of rhetoric that's being brought forward here by the member for York South.
Mr Gerry Phillips (Scarborough-Agincourt): I want to rise to support my colleague's motion. Mr Klees and Mr Newman just mentioned fearmongering. Let me tell you about a specific case in the area that I represent. About a year and two months ago the family of a woman came to me; the wife of this man was 30 weeks pregnant. She arrived at my local hospital, which is a terrific local hospital, and had a brain hemorrhage. The hospital then began to make urgent phone calls; 21 phone calls were made here in the city of Toronto desperately trying to get her a bed to provide neurosurgery. The hospitals were aware how desperate the situation was. They were told it was critical, life-threatening.
No bed could be found for that person in the city of Toronto, and I think there are three hospitals here, maybe four, that provide the service. Finally, a Hamilton hospital said, "We'll accept this patient." Air ambulance was then phoned; air ambulance was not available. This individual was transported by land ambulance to a Hamilton hospital. When she arrived, the hospital knew that she was in desperate straits but that hospital did not do obstetrics. So another hospital in the Hamilton area had to be phoned and a doctor rushed over from that hospital to try and save the baby. The baby was saved, fortunately; the woman died.
The family said: "What should we do? We want to go public with this." I said, "Let's give the ministry an opportunity to explain what happened." They wanted to make it a public issue and I counselled - and I now regret counselling this, actually - that they try and deal with it privately. I sent the minister a letter saying, "Can you possibly explain what happened here, and importantly, can you assure the people of Ontario that this problem has been solved?" I was told that she couldn't provide an answer, that it was in the hands of a coroner.
That was over a year ago. I then sent another letter saying, "I understand it's in the hands of a coroner, but can you at least provide assurance that this won't happen again to some other individual?" I still have not had an answer on that. That's well over a year ago.
There's no explanation for this, why a woman - and it's all documented, it's all written. I can provide anybody in the province the documentation from the 21 phone calls made over a two-hour period, the knowledge that it was life-threatening and why the hospitals said they did not have the resources to open a bed.
Almost the first action that the Harris government took was to cut hospital funding. You can go back and look. It was in the fall of 1995 when Mike Harris announced they were going cut $800 million from hospitals. You can say it was the federal government, but when the federal government reduced transfers to Ontario, Mike Harris said, and I've got it here, "We publicly support it." It was Mike Harris who said to the federal government: "We support your cuts. We should cut more. We publicly endorse it."
So the very first thing that Mike Harris did was to cut hospital budgets. When Mr Newman and Mr Klees say we are scaremongering, I will go back to the tragic case of this woman in my area. The way I tried to handle it was to avoid scaremongering, was to try and deal with it privately. But now the price we pay is the minister, to this date, still has not answered the question, "Can you assure the people of Ontario that this won't happen to another person?" I've never had an answer to that. I've phoned many times, sent at least two letters to the minister, never had that answered.
I hadn't planned to raise this specific case until Mr Newman and Mr Klees started to use language such as "scaremongering." This is just simply relating the case of an individual, and as I say, I regret I didn't raise it publicly earlier because of the situation with the triplets that happened a few days ago, where the lives of the triplets were under threat. Perhaps that wouldn't have happened had we made this case more public.
Mr Doug Galt (Northumberland): Thank you for the opportunity to address this motion. At first blush this appears quite benign and innocent. As I look at some of the preamble, it comments that "in an era of rapid change it is crucial there be sufficient information to ensure the public is protected at all times." It goes on and is basically making reference to whistle-blowing type of legislation. I think it is rather ironic that this is coming forward from the member for York South, who is in the Liberal Party. It looks like they are rolling out a platform, sort of piece by piece, rather than the leader coming forward with a position on where they stand on health care in general.
It's a party where the leader was first for and then against hospital closures. It's one where a leader has first been for and then against reopening hospitals. It's been a leader who has been first against and then for additional health care funding. It's been a leader of a party who has been first for and then against raising of taxes. One place where the leader has been consistent in health care has been silence on the improvement of long-term and community-based health care.
I would like the real leader of the Liberal Party to stand up and say what he really stands for on health care. We're still wondering. We have no idea what the position is. We see from the member for York South that their position really is coming out piece by piece.
They talk about the closure of beds. Well, who in this province started closing hospital beds? It was started by the Liberals between 1985 and 1990. The NDP screamed blue murder that it was just terrible that they would be closing hospital beds. Then what did they do between 1990 and 1995? They closed more. So between the two, in ten years 10,000 hospital beds were closed in this province, equal to 30 to 35 hospitals, but what did they do about the hospitals? They left them all open. They didn't have the intestinal fortitude to stand up and do something about it.
I think it is interesting to note what has been going on federally. They started out with 50 cents per dollar for health care in this province back in the early 1970s. Where is it at today? It's at 7.6 cents on the health care dollar. If you take the average family and look at a family, we'll say, of four - two children, a mother and a father - what is it costing them in health care dollars, the real cost? It works out to just about $7,000 for that family. That's what's out of their pockets. How much is it in provincial taxes? It's about $6,500. The remainder, a pittance, comes from the federal government.
I really have to ask the member for York South. He had his fundraiser recently. The federal Minister of Health, the Honourable Allan Rock, was there, his guest speaker. When they were dancing cheek to cheek, did you ask for that $2 billion, did you ask, for the other provinces, where the other Premiers are asking, for the $6 billion that has been cut from health care since 1994? It would have been in order when you were befriending him, dancing cheek to cheek, to have asked about that $6 billion, particularly the $2 billion that has been cut from the province of Ontario.
It's interesting to read from the National Post what was recently quoted from Prime Minister Chrétien. He has challenged the provinces: "If they want to talk restoration...I will tell the premiers the same thing: Restore all your cuts and we will restore all the transfers."
I can tell the member for York South that Romanow, the NDP Premier in Saskatchewan, is quoted as saying that all the provinces have increased health care spending during this era when they have cut back the $6 billion, and we're kind of wondering and maybe you can tell us, as you're a real close friend of the Honourable Allan Rock, is the cheque in the mail? They have not cut health care spending and the Prime Minister is committed to returning this, to refunding it. I'm asking you, is the cheque in the mail?
I'm sure that in your two-minute response you will explain to us why it may not be, or if in fact it is, because being such a close friend and having him at your fundraiser, at hundreds of dollars per plate -
The Deputy Speaker: Further debate?
Mr David Caplan (Oriole): It's very interesting to listen to the government members on this very important resolution by one of the most passionate defenders of health care in this province. The government members don't want to remember the case of Mr Ed Whitehill at Peterborough Civic Hospital. He died in the hospital corridor. The nurses and the doctors at that institution wanted to talk about this government's actions that led to that tragedy. What happened? The Ministry of Health sent in inspectors routinely, in fact in the words of the local staff, "to intimidate the health care staff." Then Health Minister Jim Wilson accused the staff of a publicity stunt around the conditions at Peterborough Civic Hospital. This is the government's actions when it comes to people who want to stand up and speak out about the impact of this government's funding reductions and funding cuts to hospitals and health care.
I think the member for Northumberland talked about community care. In my riding, in the area that I represent, which is Oriole, a part of the former North York, we have the North York Community Care Access Centre. They've been drastically underfunded. It's absolutely a shame what this government has done. It's only recently, on the verge of an election, that the government has moved in to stabilize some of the funding that the agency is under. It's unacceptable to me that in an area like North York, like Oriole, where we have a growing and a rapidly expanding seniors population, that we have these kinds of examples. But you don't hear from the director or the staff of the CCAC because of the threat of reprisal from this government if they were to speak out, just like when Jim Wilson threatened the workers at Peterborough Civic Hospital.
It's another example, by the way, of how a rigid, inflexible funding formula can fail a community. They've done it in education; they're doing it in health care. We need resolutions like what my colleague from York South, Mr Kennedy, is proposing so that the workers, the staff and the administration at the community care access centres can speak out about the underfunding and what it's doing to their clients.
I want to spend a little bit of time - unfortunately I don't have a great deal - to talk about the impact of what's happened to the health care centre in Oriole. We have a fabulous hospital. North York General Hospital is one of the best hospitals in the province of Ontario. That's why we recognize it. But this government has seen fit in a two-year period of time to cut almost $9 million from that hospital - just unconscionable. They have the busiest emergency room in Ontario. They have massive capital needs to keep up with these kinds of pressures.
They've closed Branson Hospital. North York is taking all of the overflow. I was at a meeting with the Ontario Nurses' Association, local 5, at North York General just a short time ago, and those health care workers, those nurses, said they welcome this kind of resolution, this kind of action from the government. They support Mr Kennedy, they support this resolution, because they would like to speak out about $9 million of cuts to the place that they work, which has removed from them the ability to give care, which has demoralized them, which has put them under that strain. That's the record of this government; that's what they've done. Whenever health care workers have stood up and wanted to speak about what their experiences are, they have been silenced, they've been threatened, and this government -
The Deputy Speaker: The member for York South has two minutes to wrap up.
Mr Kennedy: I appreciate the tribute from the members opposite in terms of at least acknowledging that the problems that are out there have to be dealt with. They would like to deny them. I heard a hopeful thread from Mr Klees, who said he would support the ability for nurses to speak out, and I would hope that test - the members today may have political disagreements with the interpretations put on events, but I hope there is no member in this House afraid to confront the facts. They show discomfort, they show distaste, sometimes distasteful activity in the face of those facts, but I would hope in this House, this Legislature that sets the laws for this province, there is not a member of this Legislature afraid to hear what nurses and doctors have to say; who will stand behind the need for your government, for the members opposite, for this whole House to endorse the idea that this government bring in legislation that specifically makes reprisals against individuals in organizations illegal.
There was a distasteful episode in Peterborough where the former Minister of Health actually tried to blame the doctors and nurses for a publicity stunt when a patient died in a hallway. It brings no credit on the local member that he was nowhere to be found speaking on their behalf at that time.
In the instance of York-Mackenzie, there is a hospital there that has been running a deficit. There are people in the hallways. I'd be happy to discuss the veracity of that with you, member for York-Mackenzie.
The member for Northumberland would apparently like to close the hospital in Port Hope. That's what he said today, that he has the guts to close a hospital. Member, you have not talked to the health nurses and doctors in your riding to learn the real effect of closing that hospital. This would make it possible for you to hear from those people, and they would not fear reprisals.
I hope the people who would like to debate the health care issues on a political basis would invite me to their ridings, because I'm happy to respond to each one of them. Today I hope they will protect doctors and nurses and other providers' ability -
The Deputy Speaker: The time for private members' public business has expired.
HUMMINGBIRD PERFORMING ARTS CENTRE CORPORATION ACT, 1998 / LOI DE 1998 SUR LA SOCIÉTÉ DU CENTRE HUMMINGBIRD DES ARTS D'INTERPRÉTATION
The Deputy Speaker (Mr Bert Johnson): We'll deal first with ballot item number 39. Mr Silipo has moved second reading of Bill 97. Is it the pleasure of the House that the motion carry? It is carried.
Shall the bill be referred to the committee of the whole?
Mr Tony Silipo (Dovercourt): Mr Speaker, I would seek unanimous consent to have the bill ordered for third reading.
The Deputy Speaker: Is it agreed? It is agreed.
PROTECTION FOR HEALTH CARE WORKERS
The Deputy Speaker (Mr Bert Johnson): We will deal now with ballot item number 40, standing in the name of Mr Kennedy. Is it the pleasure of the House that the motion carry?
All those in favour say "aye."
All those opposed say "nay."
In my opinion the nays have it.
Call in the members. There will be a five-minute bell.
The division bells rang from 1202 to 1207.
The Deputy Speaker: Mr Gerretsen has moved private member's notice of motion number 36. All those in favour will please stand.
Bradley, James J.
Conway, Sean G.
The Deputy Speaker: Those opposed will please stand.
Ford, Douglas B.
Jordan, W. Leo
Leadston, Gary L.
Stewart, R. Gary
Tascona, Joseph N.
Young, Terence H.
Clerk of the House (Mr Claude L. DesRosiers): The ayes are 16; the nays are 25.
The Deputy Speaker: I declare the resolution lost.
It being well after 12, this House stands adjourned until 1:30 of the clock this afternoon.
The House recessed from 1210 to 1333.
ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES LEGISLATION
Mr Dwight Duncan (Windsor-Walkerville): The Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee has started a "Premier Harris has scrooged Ontarians with disabilities" campaign. I would invite all members of the government caucus, if they haven't already done so, to see what's being circulated throughout Ontario even as we speak.
This campaign addresses the utter insensitivity of the Harris government to its own commitments to the disability community. Hundreds of disabled Ontarians attended a rally this past Wednesday evening where they denounced the broken promise of this government; they denounced the government's continual attempt to undermine their desire to have a barrier-free Ontario.
Ontarians with disabilities and tens of thousands, indeed millions of other Ontarians call upon the Harris government to drop their so-called Ontarians with Disabilities Act and replace it with meaningful legislation that will help to remove barriers in this province.
Those of us in the official opposition, our leader, Dalton McGuinty, and Liberals across Ontario will join the Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee in fighting for a meaningful Ontarians with Disabilities Act that will help to remove barriers and make persons with disabilities full members of this great province.
Mr Tony Silipo (Dovercourt): I rise today to bring greetings on behalf of the NDP caucus to Ontario's Muslim community who this weekend will begin dawn-to-dusk fasting to observe the holy month of Ramadan.
For 30 days our Muslim sisters and brothers will be living a life of restraint and piety, staying away from any food and drink during the course of the day.
The exercise of Ramadan has a message for all Canadians: the sense of community, the sense of sacrifice, the sense of reaching out and relating to the hunger and deprivation that is a reality to so many millions around the world.
However, as I speak, Canada's Muslim community is undergoing a heart-wrenching experience. With the bombing of Iraq and the death and devastation that such bombing causes, Muslims around the world feel that they are victims of a double standard. Ontario's Muslims share this feeling.
On the eve of Ramadan, I'd like to assure the Muslim community that my colleagues in the NDP and I share their pain and would like to express solidarity with them in this particularly dark hour.
Inshallah, God be willing, peace shall return to Iraq and the ordeal of its people will end. I join all my NDP colleagues in condemning the US attack on the Iraqi people and wish Ontario's Muslims, Ramadan Mubarak.
DELHI BELGIAN CLUB
Mr Toby Barrett (Norfolk): Today I would like to recognize the contributions of the Belgian community in Norfolk. Many Belgian immigrants came to North America following both the First World War and the Second World War and settled in and around the town of Delhi. The major wave followed World War II, and these Belgian Canadians formed a club in Delhi to keep their heritage, culture and language alive, the largest Belgian club in North America.
The Delhi Belgian Club celebrated its 50th anniversary this June with a gala dinner and a packed house. The club is thriving, with a new front entranceway recently built. It is a social centre for the community, with card games, archery competitions and numerous weddings.
Recently the red carpet was rolled out at the hall for the visit of his Royal Highness Crown Prince Philippe of Belgium. The 38-year old bachelor, who is trained as a fighter pilot and a paratrooper, chatted with 500 people in attendance, toured the kitchen, and took a few shots at the club's archery range. My wife and I were honoured to attend this event and help pay tribute to the contributions of the Belgian community.
The Delhi area is steeped in a diverse cultural heritage, and organizations like the Delhi Belgian Club help to keep community spirit alive. I congratulate the members of the Belgian club on their 50th anniversary, an anniversary I consider truly an impressive milestone.
Mrs Lyn McLeod (Fort William): My office continues to receive letters and phone calls from college and university students who are struggling to manage because of the Mike Harris government's cutbacks to student assistance.
It's incredible that a government that has sanctioned skyrocketing tuition increases has actually cut back on student assistance instead of increasing it.
In case there is any doubt about the cutbacks, let me cite the 1998-99 estimates book, where it says quite clearly that this government is planning to spend $45 million less on student loans in 1998-99 than they spent last year, and that would be $100 million less than they spent on loans in 1996-97. The costs go up; the government provides less support.
Fortunately for students, the federal government is more than making up for Ontario's cuts to loans. But for every dollar the federal government puts into student assistance, the Ontario government cuts their funding back. There are more loans going out because more students need help, but the average loan per student is going down.
Mike Harris says student debt is not a worry. The fact is, he is just not making the loans. He wants parents to pay more, he cuts part-time students off altogether. Far too many students are finding that his cutbacks to student assistance mean they just can't go to school.
Mike Harris says that he will shut down universities if students are denied a chance to go to school because of financial need. It is the Harris government that is denying students a chance to go to school. It is time to shut the Mike Harris government down.
Mr Bud Wildman (Algoma): I rise to confirm my full support for the work of the Frontiers Foundation in the small northern and rural communities across Ontario. The foundation's assistance has been crucial, particularly for aboriginal people living off reserve, for making it possible for people's housing to be upgraded and homes renovated.
The members may be aware that the living conditions for many aboriginal people in the small northern communities resemble only too well those of people living in Third World countries. This is a disgrace for our country, and Canadians owe a great debt to the groups working to improve these appalling conditions, groups like the Frontiers Foundation.
I'd like to know how much money this government has allocated to the foundation this year to assist in upgrading substandard off-reserve aboriginal housing in Ontario.
The need is urgent. For instance, an aboriginal woman recently contacted me. She is living with her brother, his spouse and their four children in one room. I understand that the Ministry of Citizenship, Culture and Recreation has committed about $20,000 total to the Frontiers Foundation through the Ontario Native Aboriginal Association for one or two home renovations.
The foundation already has a waiting list of over 40 families who require housing. The government has demonstrated its willingness to meet the emergency needs of ice storm victims in eastern Ontario last year. Surely the government will ensure that the urgent need for improved off-reserve aboriginal housing is also met.
Mr Frank Sheehan (Lincoln): Businesses across Canada and Ontario wanting access to the world's fastest-growing economy should look no further than Welland and the Niagara region.
Recently Welland's mayor, Dick Reuter, and the chair of the regional municipality of Niagara signed an historic agreement with the mayor of Tongxiang in China's burgeoning Shanghai-Yangzi delta region. The agreement, signed during a high-level Chinese mission to Niagara, establishes a one-of-a-kind unique partnership and paves the way for lucrative joint ventures in a variety of industrial sectors.
It continues Welland's leadership in initiating trade agreements and ensuring local companies enjoy secure access to China's booming economy. It is also an example of how local government and business can work together to ensure international success.
The mission resulted from previous contacts made by Rudy Kroeker of Whiting Industries, Welland. Whiting operates a successful joint venture in Tongxiang which will soon be mirrored by other Welland businesses. In fact, Whiting Industries has just hired 12 engineers, a direct result of this joint venture.
The Tongxiang-Yangzi delta region has China's third-highest per capita gross domestic product, representing 25% of the entire Chinese economy - bigger than Malaysia, Argentina and Sweden.
Welland and Niagara's business community have secured a preferred access to this region, something that many other municipalities cannot do.
Mr Richard Patten (Ottawa Centre): I rise today to protest yet another dilemma in which municipalities have been placed by this government. On the one hand, it has cracked down with more stringent laws for drunk drivers, which I applaud, but on the other hand, it's backing down on funding for enforcement.
In my community of Ottawa-Carleton, for example, the region's RIDE program has been practically decimated, reduced by more than 50% as a result of severe cutbacks in provincial grants that fund the program.
A traffic sergeant today was quoted as saying: "The amount available has gone down each year.... We get less money for the region than we got just for the city of Ottawa three years ago."
We all know the importance of the RIDE program over the festive season, especially as a deterrent. While we have made many strides with young people who are quite diligent about appointing a designated driver, we know that other drivers continue to take chances, and a certain group repeatedly takes chances, often with serious consequences.
Further, from today's Ottawa Sun: "In the past two weeks in Ottawa-Carleton area, police have stopped 4,784 vehicles and laid nine impaired-driving charges. Twelve people have been killed in Ontario in alcohol-related accidents this month."
If we ever hope to minimize drunk driving, enforcement funding must not be jeopardized.
Mr Gilles Bisson (Cochrane South): It would appear that the government is handing the commercial sector in our community a ticking time bomb when it comes to what this latest fiasco has done with property taxes.
As we look at what the government has done in regard to the cap, it would appear that those people who got a decrease last year in their municipal taxes, when it comes to commercial-industrial assessment, are not going to be doing as well as they think they are come 1999 when they get their interim tax bill. I think that this government has mishandled this whole tax assessment system to the point that they have thrown the entire system into chaos. We are probably going to see next year those people who got a decrease in 1998 having a tax increase based on their 1997 assessment and, in addition to that, on any savings they would have got in 1998.
Pure and simple, if you got a tax break last year because of the reassessment on the part of the new AVA system, you're going to see next year a huge tax increase, courtesy of Mike Harris, as a little Christmas present to start off 1999.
Mr E.J. Douglas Rollins (Quinte): It is my pleasure to rise in the House today to give a special thanks to Gus Christopher and members of the Greek Orthodox Church on Harder Drive in Quinte West.
Each year these volunteers prepare and serve a Christmas dinner to less fortunate members of our community. Last year they served 320 constituents of mine, some of whom otherwise might not have had the means to enjoy a traditional Christmas feast. Many others who find themselves alone on Christmas day came to enjoy the festive atmosphere.
The selfless efforts exhibited by the volunteers represent the true Christmas spirit of kindness and compassion: individuals taking care of one another not out of obligation but out of a genuine concern for others.
As we go about our daily business this last hectic week before Christmas, I hope the members of the Legislature will remember the example set by the Greek community in my riding of Quinte.
On Christmas Day, Bridge Street church is the setting of another example of volunteers in my community. They gather together for a sit-down dinner at 12 noon served by volunteers.
I personally would like to express, on behalf of members of this Legislature, a very deep thanks to all the people in the Quinte area who volunteer unselfishly at Christmas time to serve others.
Mrs Sandra Pupatello (Windsor-Sandwich): Thank you for this brief point of order, if you'll indulge me, Mr Speaker: Last night in this House we had the opportunity to be debating the supply bill, and I was very disappointed that there were comments coming from the government whip that evening that suggested I might go somewhere on a broomstick. My disappointment is that if there were, for example, a male equivalent of that kind of remark, there could have been a very funny retort to it.
The point is, in keeping with the kind of debate we had, what we view was inappropriate use of monies and specifically how it affects women in Ontario, that I found that kind of remark made towards me especially inappropriate given the context of the debate.
I would like to give the opportunity to the government whip to withdraw the remark and suggest that he think a little more clearly the next time he chooses to make those kinds of personal remarks.
Hon David Turnbull (Minister without Portfolio): I withdraw.
REPORTS BY COMMITTEES
STANDING COMMITTEE ON RESOURCES DEVELOPMENT
Mrs Brenda Elliott (Guelph): I beg leave to present a report from the standing committee on resources development and move its adoption.
Clerk at the Table (Mr Todd Decker): Your committee begs to report the following bill without amendment:
Bill 34, An Act to amend the Environmental Protection Act / Projet de loi 34, Loi modifiant la Loi sur la protection de l'environnement.
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Shall the report be received and adopted? Agreed.
The bill is therefore ordered for third reading.
INTRODUCTION OF BILLS
TAXPAYERS' PROTECTION FROM PAYING AL McLEAN'S LEGAL EXPENSES ACT, 1998 / LOI DE 1998 ÉPARGNANT AUX CONTRIBUABLES LE PAIEMENT DES FRAIS JURIDIQUES D'AL McLEAN
Mr Gerretsen moved first reading of the following bill:
Bill 104, An Act to protect taxpayers from paying Al McLean's legal expenses / Projet de loi 104, Loi visant à épargner aux contribuables le paiement des frais juridiques d'Al McLean.
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Is it the pleasure of the House that the motion carry?
All those in favour, please say "aye."
All those opposed, please say "nay."
In my opinion, the nays have it.
Call in the members; this will be a five-minute bell.
The division bells rang from 1350 to 1355.
The Speaker: All those in favour, please rise one at a time and be recognized by the Clerk.
Baird, John R.
Bradley, James J.
Conway, Sean G.
Ford, Douglas B.
Guzzo, Garry J.
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
Tascona, Joseph N.
Tsubouchi, David H.
Young, Terence H.
Clerk of the House (Mr Claude L. DesRosiers): The ayes are 96; the nays are 0.
The Speaker: I declare the motion carried.
Short comments, the member for Kingston and The Islands.
Mr John Gerretsen (Kingston and The Islands): The comments are quite simply this: Al McLean's legal expenses ought not to be paid out of the -
The Speaker: About the bill.
Mr Gerretsen: This is in the bill, sir - ought not to be paid from the supply expenditures that are about to be moved. But I would request unanimous consent at this time -
The Speaker: No. You're out of order now, OK? You want to have a point of order now?
Mr Gerretsen: Yes.
The Speaker: Point of order, member for Kingston and The Islands.
Mr Gerretsen: I would request that unanimous consent be given in this House to give this bill second and third reading now.
The Speaker: Agreed? I heard a no.
CONSUMER PROTECTION AMENDMENT ACT, 1998 / LOI DE 1998 MODIFIANT LA LOI SUR LA PROTECTION DU CONSOMMATEUR
Mr Crozier moved first reading of the following bill:
Bill 105, An Act to amend the Consumer Protection Act / Projet de loi 105, Loi modifiant la Loi sur la protection du consommateur.
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Is it the pleasure of the House that the motion carry? Carried.
Mr Bruce Crozier (Essex South): The purpose of this bill is to extend the scope of section 36 of the Consumer Protection Act to protect consumers from the practice of negative-option billing with respect to the provision of services. Currently the section only applies to the provision of goods.
FRANCHISES ACT, 1998 / LOI DE 1998 SUR LES FRANCHISES
Mr Martin moved first reading of the following bill:
Bill 106, An Act to regulate Franchise Agreements / Projet de loi 106, Loi visant à réglementer les contrats de franchisage.
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Is it the pleasure of the House that the motion carry? Carried.
Mr Tony Martin (Sault Ste Marie): This bill provides a comprehensive scheme to regulate the entering into of franchise agreements and, even more importantly, the ongoing relationship between the franchisor and the franchisee.
TAXPAYERS' BILL OF RIGHTS, 1998 / LOI DE 1998 SUR LA DÉCLARATION DES DROITS DES CONTRIBUABLES
Mr Hastings moved first reading of the following bill:
Bill 107, An Act to amend the Income Tax Act and the Retail Sales Tax Act to provide for taxpayers' rights / Projet de loi 107, Loi modifiant la Loi de l'impôt sur le revenu et la Loi sur la taxe de vente au détail pour octroyer des droits aux contribuables.
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Is it the pleasure of the House that the motion carry? Carried.
Mr John Hastings (Etobicoke-Rexdale): The bill amends the Income Tax and the Retail Sales Tax Act to provide the following rights for taxpayers:
(1) Taxpayers are entitled to receive complete and accurate information about the Income Tax Act from the federal minister who collects taxes payable under it and complete and accurate information about the Retail Sales Tax Act from the provincial minister who collects taxes payable under it.
(2) Taxpayers are entitled to be treated fairly and with courtesy and respect for their dignity when a minister or an agent of the minister collects taxes payable under the two acts from them.
REGIONAL MUNICIPALITY OF DURHAM STATUTE LAW AMENDMENT ACT, 1998 / LOI DE 1998 MODIFIANT DES LOIS EN CE QUI CONCERNE LA MUNICIPALITÉ RÉGIONALE DE DURHAM
Mr Ouellette moved first reading of the following bill:
Bill 109, An Act to amend certain Acts with respect to The Regional Municipality of Durham / Projet de loi 109, Loi modifiant certaines lois en ce qui concerne la municipalité régionale de Durham.
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Is it the pleasure of the House that the motion carry? Carried.
Mr Jerry J. Ouellette (Oshawa): Essentially what this bill does is allow the direct election of the regional chair within the region of Durham. I'd like to thank my Durham colleagues for their support on this position as well.
ASSESSMENT AMENDMENT ACT, 1998 / LOI DE 1998 MODIFIANT LA LOI SUR L'ÉVALUATION FONCIÈRE
Mr Christopherson moved first reading of the following bill:
Bill 110, An Act to amend the Assessment Act / Projet de loi 110, Loi modifiant la Loi sur l'évaluation foncière.
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Is it the pleasure of the House that the motion carry? Carried.
Mr David Christopherson (Hamilton Centre): There's been a situation in my region where a family that had a disabled member decided that they wanted to construct a new home that was accessible to this family member rather than renovate an existing home. Under the Assessment Act, you can get property tax relief for an existing home that's modified but there's no equally fair ability to lower the property taxes if you should choose to build a new home. It went to the municipal board; on a technicality it lost, but even the chair of the board indicated that it seemed to him that it was unfair. I agree with that, and this bill is a move to correct that and to allow the tax relief under both circumstances.
Mr Gerry Phillips (Scarborough-Agincourt): On a point of order, Mr Speaker: I'm seeking unanimous consent of the House to allow the member for Scarborough East, Mr Gilchrist, to correct the public record and to apologize to the member for York South. It was a week ago that the member for Scarborough East made some very serious allegations against the member for York South here in the House, at a time, I might add, when the member wasn't here. I've subsequently looked at it and many of the charges were not true.
He said someone from Mr Kennedy's office phoned down to the government whip's office and claimed to be calling from the Premier's office. That was incorrect. He said that -
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Member for Scarborough-Agincourt, I think there's full recollection of it. I'm sure the member for Scarborough East recollects it. He can have the option to withdraw it if he chooses to do so.
Mr Phillips: I was seeking unanimous consent to ask the member to withdraw the comments and to apologize to the -
The Speaker: Agreed? I heard a no.
Mr Phillips: Bunch of lies.
The Speaker: Member for Scarborough-Agincourt, that's out of order. You must withdraw that comment.
Mr Phillips: I withdraw.
The Speaker: Member for Windsor-Walkerville, please come to order.
SUPPLY ACT, 1998 / LOI DE CRÉDITS DE 1998
Deferred vote on the motion for second reading of Bill 96, An Act to authorize the payment of certain amounts for the Public Service for the fiscal year ending on March 31, 1999 / Projet de loi 96, Loi autorisant le paiement de certaines sommes destinées à la fonction publique pour l'exercice se terminant le 31 mars 1999.
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Call in the members. This will be a five-minute bell.
The division bells rang from 1408 to 1413.
The Speaker: All those in favour please rise one at a time and be recognized by the Clerk.
Baird, John R.
Ford, Douglas B.
Guzzo, Garry J.
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
Tascona, Joseph N.
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.
Conway, Sean G.
Clerk of the House (Mr Claude L. DesRosiers): The ayes are 66; the nays are 33.
The Speaker: I declare the motion carried.
Shall the bill be ordered for third reading? I hear a no.
Mr James J. Bradley (St Catharines): Committee of the whole.
The Speaker: No, I want to - it's obviously going to go to committee. Parliamentary assistant, what committee?
The Speaker: I need a government member to give me a decision.
Hon Norman W. Sterling (Minister of the Environment, Government House Leader): General government.
The Speaker: Ordered to the general government committee.
BOARD OF INTERNAL ECONOMY DECISION
Mr Dalton McGuinty (Leader of the Opposition): In the absence of the Premier, I'll direct my question to the Minister of Education. Just a few moments ago, the Liberal Party introduced a bill called An Act to protect taxpayers from paying Al McLean's legal expenses. Your party supported this bill on first reading. We have it within our means to make this bill law today. We have it within our means to save taxpayers from paying $600,000 that everybody in this Legislature knows and understands in their heart of hearts taxpayers should not be spending.
My question is quite simply, why is it that you have denied us this opportunity to save taxpayers this expense today, and will you now reconsider?
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Acting Premier.
Hon David Johnson (Minister of Education and Training): I would say two things. Number one, the scheduling of the activities of this House is conducted in accordance with the three House leaders getting together and discussing the various activities that need to be debated in the Legislature. The government House leader considers the advice of the House leaders from the Liberal Party and the NDP and then makes decisions on what should be debated before this House. My suspicion is that there are quite a number of very important activities for the people of Ontario that should be addressed today in the House.
Secondly, private members' bills, as we all know, are debated in full through private members' time, and I would assume the member opposite would wish the opportunity to bring his bill to the attention of the House on a Thursday morning when these bills are debated and to have all the members of the House consider it at that point in time.
Mr McGuinty: Minister, I appreciate the bafflegab and the gobbledegook, but this is a very simple and straightforward matter. It's a one-page bill. There are three sections. Section 2 gives the date on which it comes into effect and section 3 gives us the short title of the act. The only section that really counts in here is section 1 and I'll read it so that Ontarians will know exactly what's in this bill. It says, "No amount shall be paid out of the consolidated revenue fund in respect of legal expenses incurred by the member for Simcoe East in connection with allegations of sexual harassment made against him during the 36th Legislature of Ontario."
This bill simply says that taxpayers should be relieved of the responsibility that you've already imposed on them to pay $600,000 when they shouldn't be paying a cent. We can protect taxpayers here, now and today, but we need your consent, the consent of the members of the government, in order to help taxpayers. Will you allow us to do that?
Hon David Johnson: What I would say is that there are procedures to deal with matters before this House. Notwithstanding that the Leader of the Opposition, I gather, has read either a part of the bill or all of the bill, whatever, the government members and perhaps the third party haven't had a chance to see the bill. That's why we do have procedures such as the House leaders getting together to determine the proper order of business for the House on any given day; such as private members' business every Thursday morning with the opportunity for two members to come forward in a legitimate fashion and put their legislation before all the members of this House and for all the members of the House to have the opportunity to study the bill, to debate the bill and then to vote on the bill. That is the procedure that's in place.
Mr McGuinty: I'm going to have the page take a copy of the bill to you, so you'll see how simple and straightforward it is and that it really consists of only three sections. I want you to help me understand and I want you to explain to viewers today something about the hypocrisy connected with the government members' behaviour today.
The Speaker: Member, that's out of order. I ask you to withdraw.
Mr McGuinty: I withdraw the word "hypocrisy." Tell me something about the inconsistency. On first reading, every single government member present today stood up and voted in favour of this bill because they did not want to be seen to be voting against it. But when it comes down to the crunch, knowing that now you have the authority to make this law today, you're backing away. You're running away from this. So I'm going to ask you once more on behalf of Ontario taxpayers -
The Speaker: Question.
Mr McGuinty: - who are pleading with you to exempt them from this responsibility you've imposed on them, why can't we make this law today?
Hon David Johnson: Again, I would say that there is a proper procedure for dealing with these matters and the procedure is for the House leader from the Liberal Party and the House leader from the NDP to get together with the House leader on all matters and determine the order of business before the House. This is a time-honoured process - I'm sure the leader of the official opposition is aware of this process - and then the government acts after the advice coming from the other parties.
I would suggest that the leader of the official opposition abide by that sort of process and, if he feels strongly about it, have his House leader talk to the House leader from the government.
The Speaker: New question, leader of the official opposition.
Mr McGuinty: Minister, I'm trying to give you a way out here today. I'm trying to be helpful. Everybody knows that you have screwed up big time on this issue. Check the editorials, check with your constituents, check with your backbenchers, check with your spouses, check with your friends. They will tell you that this is an embarrassment to the PC government, to Mike Harris's government in Ontario, and it is their rightful expectation that you will make things right, that you will correct it. You have it within your power today to pass a law that says Ontario taxpayers don't have to participate in this effort to bury this scandal. I'm asking you again, why can't we make this law today and give the benefit to Ontario taxpayers?
Hon David Johnson: I certainly do appreciate the help coming from the leader of the official opposition. I would say again that it is a time-honoured tradition in this Legislature that members do vote in favour of private members' bills on first reading as a matter of principle. The member for St Catharines would know, having been in the House some - what is it now? - 25 years, that members do support first reading bills on principle.
Beyond the first reading, there is the procedure of dealing with private members' bills which this House has found acceptable year after year, decade after decade for considering private members' bills in the Thursday morning debate period. I would suggest that the member opposite bring his bill forward for debate at that period of time and all the members of the House will have the opportunity to consider it.
Mr McGuinty: This House will shortly be recessing. It will be recessing tonight for months. It's proroguing.
When it came to the red light camera bill, we offered our co-operation. We said that we could pass first, second and third reading. We did it in 24 hours because it was in the public interest to do so.
Now we have an expenditure that you have decided to saddle taxpayers with to the tune of $600,000. Why is it that we can't, together, act in the public interest once again? Why can't we save them from a $600,000 bill? We've introduced the bill.
We can make it law today. Once more, tell us, tell Ontario taxpayers why we can't save them from this expense by making this law today.
Hon David Johnson: The red light camera bill is a case in point where the House leaders have got together, as is the tradition of this House, and have had the opportunity to discuss it, have had the opportunity to see it and come to a resolution of the matter. So it does work; the process does work. The House leaders do get together and they do resolve matters.
I don't know what the implications of this particular bill are. Standing here, I'm not a member of the Board of Internal Economy. I don't know all of the details. As I understand it, there is a legally binding agreement that's in place. I don't know if this particular bill has impact on it. These are the kinds of things that the House leaders should have the opportunity to discuss, and if there is goodwill on behalf of the second party, the official opposition, there would be notice, the opportunity to discuss this kind of thing or, better still, the opportunity that it be handled properly through the private members' business time on Thursday mornings.
Mr McGuinty: All this tells us is that you still don't get it. There is no goodwill over there whatsoever when it comes to relieving taxpayers of the $600,000 bill that you shipped out to them. We've got members who pop up from time to time and tell us they're embarrassed by this, but when you're given the opportunity to do something, when you're given the opportunity to make things right, you shrink from it; you recoil. That just tells me that you still don't get it.
Believe me, this scandal is not going away. It's like a bad odour in an elevator: You can't get rid of it. This is going to haunt you right through the campaign. You've got an opportunity today to clean it up, you've got an opportunity to make things right, you're got an opportunity to show that you really are here in the interests of taxpayers and you're failing to do so.
One more time, on behalf of Ontario taxpayers, why can't we make this law today and save them from that $600,000 bill?
Hon David Johnson: You will excuse the note of astonishment from the government members when we hear from the leader of the official opposition that when it comes to spending, this government doesn't get it.
When we look at the Liberal Party between 1988 and 1990, spending was up by $10 billion, an increase in spending unparalleled in the history of Ontario, an increase in spending of $10 billion; not a total spending of $10 billion, an increase of $10 billion.
Welfare recipients, those depending on welfare: through the roof during that period of time.
I have to say that the credibility of the Liberal Party in terms of spending is absolutely nil.
There are proper procedures to consider this private member's bill. We'd be more than happy to follow those proper procedures and that it be properly debated.
Mrs Lyn McLeod (Fort William): On a point of order, Mr Speaker: Following the suggestions of the Acting Premier, I seek unanimous consent to have a brief recess of the House to allow the House leaders to meet and consider the further disposition of this bill today.
The Speaker: Agreed? No.
New question, leader of the third party.
Mr Howard Hampton (Rainy River): My question is for the Acting Premier. Your supply motion, which would provide for paying Al McLean's legal expenses, will now be going to the general government committee. That means that when it goes to committee, we will be able to have witnesses come forth, we'll be able to call the lawyers and we'll be able to get to the bottom of what it is you've been asking the taxpayers of Ontario to pay for on behalf of Al McLean.
We know that the general government committee is scheduled to sit early in the new year so that the people of Ontario will know what expenses they're being asked to pay for. Will you commit here and now to call first and foremost Bill 96, the supply bill, before the general government committee so that people can, once and for all, understand what's going on here?
Hon David Johnson: I say the same thing to the leader of the third party as I've indicated to the leader of the official opposition, that the scheduling, not only of this House but of committee time, is a topic of conversation between the House leaders. This is traditionally the way it has been down through the years. When you were in government, this is exactly the way it was. When the Liberals were in government, that's exactly the way it was. I expect that the House leaders would discuss the matter of scheduling of all committees, including the general government committee.
Mr Hampton: I'll take the Acting Premier up on this. I ask for unanimous consent from the House right now that Bill 96, the supply bill, the bill which will pay Al McLean's legal expenses, be scheduled as the first thing on the agenda of the general government committee as soon as it sits in early January. Could we have unanimous consent for that, Speaker?
The Speaker: Agreed? No. Supplementary.
Mr Hampton: It doesn't end. For some reason, the government doesn't want to get to the bottom of this, do they?
I want to read to you from Al McLean's press release yesterday. He says: "The money" - he's talking about the money that was going to be paid to him - "does not compensate for the loss of my office. It does not compensate for the suffering my family has gone through. But it does cover the costs that could have been avoided if the complaint was handled properly the first time."
We all need to know, and the citizens of Ontario need to know, what are these costs that Mr McLean says could have been avoided? If you're going to force people to pay Mr McLean, then people want to know what it is they're being forced to pay.
It's a very simple question. We know the committee is going to meet. We know that this matter is going to be before the committee. We know that when it comes before the committee we'll be able to call the lawyers in, ask them questions, and we'll be able to call other witnesses. We'll be able to get to the bottom of this.
What do you have to hide, Acting Premier? Will you put this first and foremost on the list so that people of Ontario will know what it is you're asking them to pay on behalf of Al McLean?
Hon David Johnson: We have to recall again that I am not forcing anybody to pay anything; the government is not forcing anybody to pay anything. This is a decision that was made by the Board of Internal Economy. The Board of Internal Economy has the responsibility for this matter. The Board of Internal Economy, to refresh memories all the way around, is composed of one member from the NDP, one member from the Liberals and four members from the government. This has traditionally been the makeup of the Board of Internal Economy, plus, I might add, the Speaker. The Speaker chairs the committee. This committee is at arm's length from the government and looks after the matters dealing with the Legislature in addition to matters dealing with the auditor, Ombudsman and a number of other special areas of interest in the province of Ontario.
This committee, seized of this matter, looked at all the facts over a period of time and came to a conclusion in the light of attempting to reduce the financial impact on the taxpayers.
Mr Hampton: Minister, we've heard from you, from the Premier, from the Deputy Premier for two weeks now this line that the matter has been dealt with, it's over with. But it hasn't been dealt with; it's not over with. People object to paying Al McLean's legal expenses in what is essentially a private matter.
We've given you an avenue, a regular avenue - the general government committee - where you can examine this; you can assume your responsibility as government; you can assure the people of Ontario that this is all right and proper; you can assure the people of Ontario that this should be done. We've given you an opportunity to clear the air, to show accountability, to show responsibility to the taxpayers and the citizens of the province. What do you have to hide, Minister? Why won't you commit, here and now, to put this number one on the agenda of the general government committee so the people of Ontario can understand what it is you're asking them to pay on behalf of Al McLean and his scandal?
Hon Mr Johnson: As the leader of the third party has indicated, this matter has been directed to the general government committee; the House leader has directed the matter there. I understand that this particular committee has at least one other matter, maybe other matters beyond that before it. I think there is the franchise legislation, which has been sought for many, many years, if not decades, by all the franchisees in the province of Ontario. Perhaps you don't consider the franchisees in Ontario to be important or significant; I don't know.
The Speaker: Answer.
Hon David Johnson: At least, this is a matter that the House leaders need to consider in a calm fashion, as they normally do, as they did when you in were government, as they did when the Liberals were in government, and resolve which matters take priority, which matters should be heard, when they should be heard etc. That's the way these matters have always been considered and I suggest it's appropriate in this particular case as well.
The Speaker: Supplementary.
Mr Hampton: Well, Minister, you could clear this up today.
I believe this is a new question, Speaker, just to be sure.
The Speaker: Yes, you're right. I apologize.
Mr Hampton: To the Acting Premier: We could do this right now. I asked for unanimous consent a few minutes ago. I heard virtually everywhere in the House unanimous consent to send it to committee, except I believe I heard your House leader say no. So I come back to you. Here is a perfect opportunity to schedule this before a regular committee of this Legislature to get all of the facts out in the open, to assure the public of Ontario exactly what is happening, to inquire about whether this has been handled or not handled appropriately. Here is your perfect opportunity.
The Premier says he isn't happy with how this has been handled. The Deputy Premier said he wasn't comfortable with this. Here is your opportunity, Minister. We could settle it right here, right now. You can schedule it for hearings. We can begin the work of calling witnesses, calling the lawyers. You could go to the people of Ontario in the middle of January and say: "Here's the full information." Why wouldn't you want to do that.
Hon David Johnson: The leader of the third party has indicated that the Premier has expressed that he's not happy. Yes, the Premier has expressed an exasperation, a frustration with the whole process, with the fact that apparently the policies of the Legislative Assembly, through the Board of Internal Economy, were not sufficient to deal with this matter in the first place.
I think the Premier is happy to see that the board is coming to grips and introducing policies with regard to wrongful dismissal, policies that, had they been in place in the first instance, perhaps might have dealt with this particular matter. Yes, it is a frustrating and exasperating matter, there's no question about it.
Through my 20-some-odd years in politics I've had to deal - I'm sure you had to as well when you were in government - with wrongful dismissal situations, tenders, where there is legal dispute. The only thing you can rely on is that when you get two parties involved and two lawyers involved, you get two equal and opposite opinions and the bills roll on and on and the taxpayers get hurt. So sometimes they have to be resolved, to the benefit of the taxpayers.
Mr Hampton: Minister, your own Premier said he wasn't happy with how this was handled. He didn't believe it had been handled properly. I heard your Deputy Premier not a few days ago say that he was very surprised by some of the things that were included in all of this and he didn't think it was appropriate.
Here is a regular committee of the Legislature, which we know is going to sit some time early or middle of January. Here is a chance now to get a full airing, to get to the bottom of this. If people want to advocate on behalf of Mr McLean, they can step up to the microphone and make their point. If other people want to ask questions and get the facts out, they can do that. It seems to me that's the essence of democracy, allowing that public questioning, that public debate, so that the public of Ontario can decide for themselves.
What is it, Acting Premier, that you don't like about democracy? What is it that you don't like about a full and open discussion so the people of Ontario can find out what's really happening here?
Hon David Johnson: I'm a very strong supporter of democracy. I've been involved in the democratic process for many, many years, having my first election in 1972. Through that period, I've taken part in many democratic elections and processes. I'm a very staunch supporter of democracy.
I don't think anybody is very happy with this situation. I'm sure the two individuals involved, Mr McLean and Ms Thompson, who are trying to put this behind them, who were involved in a whole plethora of lawsuits - which have apparently been cleared away by this settlement, as I understand it, although I'm not on the Board of Internal Economy - I don't think they're very happy with the situation, but they're prepared to get on with their lives and put this behind them. The Premier has expressed his unhappiness, particularly with the fact that the policies out of the Board of Internal Economy did not adequately cover this situation.
The Speaker: Answer.
Hon David Johnson: Now the Board of Internal Economy is bringing in new policies to cover this kind of situation. But I think the Board of Internal Economy, as I understand it, has done the best it could under these circumstances and is attempting to clear up this matter on behalf of the taxpayers and put the taxpayers at minimum financial -
The Speaker: Final supplementary.
Mr Hampton: The Acting Premier brings up Ms Thompson again. In her press conference, Ms Thompson said very clearly that she did not believe that the taxpayers of Ontario should be picking up this expense. She said very clearly that in her view this was a private matter with Mr McLean, and the taxpayers shouldn't be picking this up.
You say you want to look at how the Board of Internal Economy handled this. You don't believe the Board of Internal Economy handled it appropriately. Well, here is a regular committee of the Legislature where you can do all of those things. In the debate over this supply bill, we can call witnesses, we can ask people to state why they believe Mr McLean's legal expenses should be paid, we can get into all of those issues. We can have a thorough public airing of why you believe, why your members of the Board of Internal Economy believe, that the public should pick up these expenses for Mr McLean.
I just ask you again, why are you so afraid of this? Why don't you want the public of Ontario to find out the details of what's really happening here? What are you afraid of? What are you trying to hide?
Hon David Johnson: I'm a little at a loss to know what the question is from the leader of the third party. The matter has been directed to the general government committee. The government House leader has directed this matter to the general government committee. As in the case when you were in government and the Liberals were in government, the job is for the House leaders to sit down and not only consider this matter but all matters before this particular committee, and before all the other committees of this House, and to determine a schedule. It seems to have worked over the years. My suspicion is that it could work in this particular case.
Again, this is not a happy matter. The Premier is obviously not happy with it, not happy that the policies of the Board of Internal Economy didn't cover this particular circumstance. I'm sure the federal government isn't happy with the fact that it has to set aside hundreds of thousands of dollars to resolve wrongful dismissal suits. These are never happy matters, but sometimes tough decisions have to be made. I don't know if the Board of Internal Economy made the absolute best decision or not; I'm not there. I think the people there have striven -
Mr Hampton: Striven?
Hon David Johnson: - strived, whatever the word is - to reach the best resolution to save the taxpayers money in the longer run, and hopefully that's the way it has worked out.
Mr Dalton McGuinty (Leader of the Opposition): My question is for the Minister of Education. Minister, I want to speak to you about the destruction and havoc that your amended funding formula is causing to schools in the Ottawa area, my community. Outside the Ottawa area, when we talk about the public board now, there are 7,000 children going to school in portables. There is a tremendous amount of pressure coming from the suburbs to build new schools, but according to the terms of your funding formula, that means we have to shut down highly valued inner-city schools.
You said, and I quote, "No school in Ontario will have to close because of the funding formula." The fact of the matter is you're pitting community against community, and the board is left with no option but to close schools. Will you then, understanding the real implications of your funding formula, agree to scrap your funding formula and start afresh with a funding formula that doesn't pit one community against another?
Hon David Johnson (Minister of Education and Training): Just listening to the question from the Leader of the Opposition and looking down at my notes with regard to the Liberal years, I'm wondering how education was handled during those years. I see that in 1988, for example, apparently there were 17 schools built in Ontario. How many schools were closed in 1988? Twenty schools were closed. There were actually three more schools closed under the Liberal government in 1988 than were built in 1988. This is the record of the Liberal government.
The announcement made by the Premier and myself added $211 million of permanent funding, to recognize that some schools are operating below capacity, to offer a 20% top-up, to recognize that some schools have wider hallways and larger tech rooms and to offer more money for that. Two hundred and eleven million -
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Supplementary.
Mr McGuinty: There are 7,000 school children going to school in portables outside the city of Ottawa. Those kids can't get outside of those portables unless the Ottawa board shuts down inner-city schools. You don't seem to understand the value of neighbourhood schools to neighbourhoods right across this province. It's your funding formula that is pitting one community against the other. It's your funding formula that is requiring the Ottawa board to close schools. You wanted all control over all education. Well, now you've got it and you have to wear these impending closures. But there's a way out. You can scrap your funding formula, you can start anew and put something in place that attaches a real value to neighbourhood schools. Will you do that, Minister?
Hon David Johnson: I understand a couple of things. As a result of the extra money that the Premier and I announced about a month ago, some $211 million - actually, next year it works out to be $236 million, but permanently $211 million - school boards are re-evaluating their plans all across Ontario. The Catholic school board here in Toronto has decided not to close any schools. The public system here in Toronto has pulled back all of its list and will be looking at a much lower list, if anything. Last night Simcoe county decided not to close any schools.
I also understand that when the Liberals were in power, there were roughly 30 schools a year built, on average, and this government is providing resources to school boards to build double that number, double the number the Liberals funded when they were in power - that's the capital flow - and operating flow of an extra $211 million to support the maintenance and operation of those schools.
Mr Howard Hampton (Rainy River): A question to the Minister of Education and Training: You've been bragging around Ontario about the new textbook program. You've told people that this has been wonderful for publishing etc. We've looked at some of the textbooks and we are really struck by the degree to which pronunciations and sometimes spellings are the American spellings. I'll give you an example, the word "lieutenant." Do you know how that would be spelled and sounded in the English dictionary? Do you know how the word "lieutenant" would be spelled and sounded in the English dictionary, sir?
Hon David Johnson (Minister of Education and Training): I don't know exactly what the point is here. I can say that the enormous success of the program we've had to provide books to our elementary students across the province has resulted in some 3.3 million books, which is almost three books per child being allocated to students across Ontario. If the inference is that it's American publishers, I'm pleased to inform the leader of the third party that each and every publisher is located in Canada and has been providing books for at least 15 years to our schools. It was the same publishers that provided books when you were in power. It's the very same ones who provided the books, the 3.3 million books to our elementary students and we're darned proud of that program. It's been a great program.
Mr Hampton: The Minister of Education tries desperately to avoid the issue. When you look in any standard dictionary - this is a Canadian Oxford Dictionary - it is very clear that the pronunciation is "lef'tenant," and that's Canadian English. This is the Oxford English Dictionary, which is a thorough revision of the foremost authority on current English, and the pronunciation and spelling is "lef'tenant," but in your textbook, which was originally printed in the United States and where example after example are American examples, what it tells Ontario students is that it's "loo'tenant." Minister, we can point to example after example where in fact what you call Ontario textbooks -
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Stop, hold on. I'm looking up the word and it's not "lef'tenant."
The Speaker: Leader of the third party.
Mr Hampton: Minister of Education, we can find example after example that exposes the fact that these are really just American textbooks that you brought into Ontario. The question is this: What are you going to do to rectify your quick ordering of the textbooks, which in fact bring American spelling and pronunciation, and which are frankly quite confusing for a whole lot of students and are frankly quite wrong in terms of Canadian English? What are you going to do to fix up another of the mistakes that you and your government, who claim to know everything, have committed in the world of education? What do you do you do now?
Hon David Johnson: Either this has to be the last day of the Legislature or somehow I've wandered into a spelling bee; I don't know which.
The Speaker: Order.
Hon David Johnson: They're exactly the same publishers that published books when the NDP were power, exactly the same publishers that printed books when the Liberals were in power. I'll tell you what the difference is: This government has provided money so that textbooks could be printed and students are actually getting textbooks in the province of Ontario.
I can believe this spelling bee nonsense from the leader of the third party, or I can believe a parent who has written to me. The parent says: "Thank you so much. My daughter is in grade 8, and for the first time she has textbooks to study with this year. Keep up the good work." I'll believe this parent.
Mr Bert Johnson (Perth): My question today is for the Minister of Health. As we draw closer to the year 2000, computer capacity to handle the date change is of concern to many different sectors, both private and public. Many of my constituents in Perth county have expressed concern that the highly computerized sectors of government will not be ready to handle this crisis. Already people are worried that they should have emergency rations available for January of the year 2000 - I'm suggesting pork chops - in case systems that depend on their local area crash.
I was pleased when you recently made an announcement regarding additional funds for hospitals to help them deal with the year 2000 computer virus. It shows once again that this government is being proactive, fair and reasonable in ensuring that the health care sector is prepared for emergencies. To the hospitals in my riding of Perth, this announcement meant an additional $1.7 million. Could the minister please provide further details about this financial assistance from the government and outline for the people of Ontario the reaction of the hospital sector?
Hon Elizabeth Witmer (Minister of Health): Yes, our government is working with the health sector. Last week we made available to hospitals throughout the province approximately $278.5 million. That will be available to them. Many of the hospitals have been diligently preparing for the year 2000. As you know, it is important that they ensure that all of their medical equipment, such as ultrasound and others, is ready, so they are doing testing, they are doing remediation and obviously they're preparing contingency plans. We are working collaboratively with the hospital sector. We have made money available to them. We will continue to ensure that we are ready to face the year 2000 and know that the medical equipment is ready for people in this province.
Mr Bert Johnson: At the same time as the minister announced funding for the year 2000 compliance in the health sector, a further announcement was made about additional funding for hospitals. This further announcement will mean an additional $361,000 for hospitals in Perth county. Could the minister please provide the people of Ontario with details of this announcement, specifically the timing on when the money is expected to flow?
Hon Mrs Witmer: In the cases of both the year 2000 money and the transition fund, which includes about $100 million, both of these amounts of money will be available to the hospitals this month. It will be added to their allocations. The money in the transition fund, the $100 million, is to ensure that hospitals can continue with restructuring. This is an interim amount of money that is being made available to address some short-term financial pressures as they proceed with restructuring.
We are very pleased that the hospitals are moving forward. They are enhancing the services within the hospitals, they are strengthening their services, they are providing more services. We're continuing to work with the hospital sector in the advisory committee and they will be coming forth soon with more long-term recommendations in order that together we can reform and strengthen the health system in Ontario.
Mrs Sandra Pupatello (Windsor-Sandwich): My question is for the Minister of Community and Social Services. Just as a recap, the Provincial Auditor unleashed a most scathing report on the ministry's deal with Andersen, specifically for $180 million as a minimum. The minister claimed last week that she was never briefed, although it was signed.
We wondered, after the deal was signed, if the minister questioned any part of this very open-ended contract; for example, why the contract included a list of excluded costs that had no cap; why the contract called for the consultant, who is the expert, to advise on what kind of excluded items they'd require and then the taxpayer would pay for those excluded items above the $180 million. That, of course, was reimbursed by taxpayers.
The Provincial Auditor said today there is no excuse whatsoever for not entering into this on a sound business basis.
Minister, you paid another consultant $285,000 in order to enter into this deal with Andersen. Now that this deal basically has been blown up, could you tell me if you got good value for the $285,000?
Hon Janet Ecker (Minister of Community and Social Services): As the honourable member knows, the information technology system, the business process that supports the delivery of the welfare system in this province, is sadly out of date. It's unfortunate that previous governments had not started to take some of the steps to reform the system. We recognized that this was an urgent priority.
We also recognized that the ministry did not have the information technology expertise to fix the system. That's why we went through an open bidding process. We chose common purpose procurement, which is the type of contract that this is. This type of contract has been used by the federal Liberal government, it's been used by the New Brunswick Liberal government. It was a decision to proceed in this fashion by the previous NDP government.
We've certainly acknowledged that the management of this contract left much to be desired. It's one of the reasons why we have the third party review in, to help supplement recommendations from the auditor so we can ensure the taxpayers' money is indeed protected.
Mrs Pupatello: Just to be clear, you paid $285,000 to another consultant to help you sign the $180-million deal with Andersen. You received information from the Provincial Auditor months before his report became public. In fact, you received draft reports as early as February and March of this year. He specifically raised concerns about why you had begun paying Andersen millions of dollars with no proof of Andersen finding you savings, no receipts for expenses, and being behind schedule by over a year. When he pointed this out, he said that's why they were in the deal in the first place, because they were to share in the risks. You not only continued to pay them after the auditor said you shouldn't, you paid them the majority of the money after the auditor told you not to. You paid them profit on the fees they were charging you. You not only continued to pay them after the auditor told you not to, you paid them 63% more than the contract told you to pay them. Minister, how do you defend this contract?
Hon Mrs Ecker: The last time I checked, private sector companies did tend to make a profit on the work they did, otherwise they wouldn't continue in existence very much longer.
The other thing I would like to mention to the honourable member is that, unlike the previous government, we recognized that the expertise to make this reform did not exist in the ministry. That's why we went out to hire the expertise to do this reform.
The other thing the honourable member likes to conveniently forget in her rather muddled recitation of what she believes to be the facts is that there have indeed been significant savings from this contract. That is why Andersen has been paid anything at all, because there have been savings. That is one of the important things -
Mrs Pupatello: The auditor can find no proof of savings.
Hon Mrs Ecker: I know we're not supposed to accuse people of deliberately misleading the House so I won't do that, but I would really like -
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Do you know what? That's still out of order. You can't do that. It's the same occurrence. I would ask you to withdraw.
Hon Mrs Ecker: I would like to withdraw that comment, Mr Speaker, but I really would like to refresh the honourable member's memory from the discussions and the briefings she has had on this issue. There have indeed been -
The Speaker: New question.
Mr Rosario Marchese (Fort York): My question is to the Minister of Housing. On November 30 the member for Beaches-Woodbine asked you a question to which you responded: "I would like to point out that the homeless and abused spouses get first priority for any housing. They go right to the top..." of the list.
Speaker, there's a problem. I'm not sure he is able to hear me.
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Wait for the minister to get the earpiece in.
Mr Tony Silipo (Dovercourt): It's Janet who is talking.
The Speaker: I'm not certain who is making the noise, but are you ready?
Mr Marchese: Minister, on November 30 the member for Beaches-Woodbine asked you a question to which you responded: "I would like to point out that the homeless and abused spouses get first priority for any housing. They go right to the top..." of the list. We agree with that, but there appears to be an emerging problem. Your social housing committee, which reported to you on November 3, basically said that should end. Recommendation 33 says that it should be up to the municipalities to decide whether abused women get housing. More abused women could be left homeless, a situation that I would find abhorrent, Minister. You might agree with that, I'm not sure.
Why is your government even considering reducing the access of abused women to public housing?
Hon Al Leach (Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing): As the member knows, the committee that made that recommendation was a cross-section of stakeholders involved in housing and homelessness etc. They are recommendations that have been made to the government. The government has them under review.
I personally do not agree with that recommendation. I strongly believe that abused women should go to the top of the list for housing, as they do now, as is the policy of this government at the present time and as was the policy of the previous government. I believe that should remain.
That being said, the report that was done by that committee contained a number of recommendations that will be beneficial to all those who are seeking shelter and those who are suffering from homelessness at the present time. We intend to review that report and review all of the recommendations that have been made in total context.
The Speaker: Supplementary.
Ms Marilyn Churley (Riverdale): I would like to thank the minister for that response. Frankly, I believed that's what the response would be. I couldn't believe that the minister or anybody in the government would support that kind of recommendation. Thank you very much for assuring us that you will see to it that that recommendation is wiped out as quickly as possible, because there are people out in the community very concerned about this.
As you know, the United Way said that 66% of shelters say that they know of abused women who returned to the abusing partner because they felt they couldn't afford to leave. The same United Way report says that 75% of abused women who do leave arrive in shelters with their children.
As you know, we have a real short supply of affordable and social housing and the waiting list is very long, so even with these women at the top there is a real problem. I am wondering if you will commit today to your government getting back into providing affordable housing for those most in need in our province, including these battered women.
Hon Mr Leach: I'm sure the member is aware of the report on homelessness that is coming out from Anne Golden. I think it's going to be tabled on January 14 or 15. That's going to recommend, I'm advised, that the federal government, the provincial government and municipal governments get together to review what programs should be put in place to ensure that we look after all those who require shelter in Ontario, not just in the city of Toronto where the problem is a little bit more acute than it is in other parts of the province, but right across.
I have had an exchange of correspondence with my counterpart at the federal government, we have had discussions with the municipal government, and I would advise the House that when that report is tabled by the Anne Golden task force, we will immediately get together with the other stakeholders to develop a policy to deal with this issue.
Mr Garry J. Guzzo (Ottawa-Rideau): My question is to the Minister of Long-Term Care. As everyone in this House knows, the only government in Canada which has cut health care spending is the federal Liberal government in Ottawa.
Mr Guzzo: That's right, the government in Ottawa, which is headed by Sergeant Pepper of the Hunt Club. This man brags about having cut $2.7 billion out of transfer payments to this province alone. Notwithstanding those severe cuts, this government has moved forward and has provided better health care closer to home.
On that note, Mr Minister, I would like to ask you to outline -
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Minister.
Hon Cameron Jackson (Minister of Long-Term Care, minister responsible for seniors): I want to thank the honourable member, who has expressed concerned about the access to long-term-care beds in the Ottawa area. There are several members from the Ottawa Valley on the opposite benches, and I know they'd like to listen to this answer: We're very pleased that we have expanded access to transition beds and have already begun moving patients in the Ottawa area. Over 70 have now found placement. The Sisters of Charity, for example, began last week transferring residents. We're transferring them in Deep River, in Pembroke, all through the Ottawa Valley.
We're very pleased that this government has been able to provide this initiative to a growing number of nursing home residents who are stuck in hospital beds because the previous two governments failed to build one new long-term-care bed in this province. As a result, over 70 residents in the Ottawa Valley are going to be able to receive their Christmas dinner this year without having to receive it sitting up in a hospital bed; they'll now be able to receive it with their families in congregate dining settings, which is what long-term care provides for them.
Mr Guzzo: I thank the minister for the answer. I can't help but think about our $1.2-billion multi-year commitment for 20,000 new long-term-care beds, 320 of which have been approved for Ottawa, with another 1,000 to come.
I have a letter here dated November 13 of this year from the member for Ottawa South, the leader of the official opposition. I read the letter a couple of times, and not once in his stand on health care does he mention anything about seniors or long-term care. In 1995, the Liberal Party's only commitment to long-term care in their red book was to set up a committee to study long-term-care needs.
Do you have any evidence at all with regard to a plan for this party? We know they had not had one in 1995. The member for Ottawa West has announced that they don't have one now -
The Speaker: OK. Stop the clock, please.
Hon Mr Jackson: The honourable member raises a very important point, because we know that the previous Liberal government, under David Peterson, refused to build any long-term-care beds for seniors in this province and the NDP government of Bob Rae refused to build beds for seniors in this province. So now when this government puts in a long-term plan to spend $1.2 billion, when we are going to expand the number of beds in Ottawa by 1,300 new beds, when the member from Ottawa, the leader of the official opposition, Dalton McGuinty, indicates he has no position to support seniors in this province -
Mr John Gerretsen (Kingston and The Islands): Mr Speaker, on a point of order: Surely it's inappropriate. That minister can answer questions about things that happen within his government department, but it's inappropriate for him to make comments with respect to a policy that another party may have.
The Speaker: Order, member for York-Mackenzie.
Member for Durham East, I know that's not your seat.
I want to just say I thought the same thing. But the question was about long-term care. He is the Minister of Long-Term Care and it would fall within his responsibilities.
Hon Mr Jackson: The leader of the official opposition has made promises to the people of Ontario to expand health care by $3 billion, but not one of those expansions is to honour the commitment to build the long-term care beds that seniors require in this province. We are making up for 10 lost years of support for seniors in this province, yet the Liberals have no position for long-term-care to support the seniors. A thousand more beds will be built under a Mike Harris government in the Ottawa area in spite of the neglect of seniors by the Liberal Party in Ontario.
Mr James J. Bradley (St Catharines): I have a question for the Minister of Health, who wants to close the Hotel Dieu Hospital in St Catharines. The question is about a test that is important to many people in Ontario. It's called the prostate-specific antigen test. At this time, any man who wishes to have the prostate-specific antigen test must pay a fee because it is not covered by the Ontario hospital insurance plan. Many people in this province who have written to me and contacted me have said that this is a test which in some cases may have saved their lives, in some cases may have prevented further illness or deterioration in their circumstances.
I want to ask the minister: Why is it that this government is forcing men in this province to pay for the PSA test, which could prevent them from getting cancer or detecting cancer early?
Hon Elizabeth Witmer (Minister of Health): As you know, it's not the government that makes decisions as to what is approved or what is not approved; it is determined by a panel of experts. We continue to receive and review the information that is provided to us.
Mr Bradley: As usual with this government, they're first in line to accept the credit and last in line to accept the responsibility. This is clearly within the purview of the provincial government.
We all support many of the screening tests that are there for women in this province. They should not have to pay for them. They have been successful -
Mr Bradley: I'm sorry, do you not support those tests for women in this province, sir? Do you not support that? Do you not support the PSA test? If so, tell the people. We all support that in this province. There shouldn't be any cost for that.
Men in this province face the threat of prostate cancer. In many cases, that threat can be alleviated by the PSA test. Will you give an undertaking in the House today to have OHIP cover the cost of the PSA test in this province?
Hon Mrs Witmer: As the member well knows, it isn't he and it's not the politicians who make these decisions. These decisions are made by experts. The test is paid for, for monitoring purposes. But at such time as the recommendation would come forward that the extension of compensation would also be there beyond the monitoring, obviously we would be prepared to support that recommendation.
TORONTO POLICE ASSOCIATION
Mr Howard Hampton (Rainy River): I have a question for the Solicitor General. Earlier this month, the Toronto Police Association issued a press release saying that they were going to start a multi-million dollar fund which would allow them to sue anyone, investigate anyone or harass anyone who criticizes the police or otherwise causes unnecessary hardship for a member or members. They're talking about hiring private investigators to go out and investigate anyone who criticizes an individual police officer or an individual police act. If this were a dictatorship in South America or if this were a Hollywood movie about a corrupt city in the United States, I could understand a theme that says something like, "Muzzle the press, sue anyone who criticizes you or disagrees with you, and harass citizen oversight bodies," but is this acceptable in your vision of Ontario? Is this acceptable in your vision of policing and police accountability in Ontario, sir?
Hon Robert W. Runciman (Solicitor General and Minister of Correctional Services): This is essentially a local issue and should be dealt with by the police services board at that level. I fully expect police officers will continue to act in a responsible and professional manner.
Mr Gerry Phillips (Scarborough-Agincourt): On a point of order, Mr Speaker: A week ago today the member for Scarborough East made certain charges in the Legislature. I asked you to investigate those charges. You've had an opportunity to review them. Earlier I requested that he withdraw them voluntarily. I wonder, Mr Speaker, if you might consider requesting the member to withdraw those comments.
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): At the time I gave my report, it was a verbal report. I didn't do a written report, so the report as it stands was the verbal report last Thursday.
In hindsight, you must stand on a point of order and ask someone to withdraw at the time the statements are made. Let's be clear: I think he used some intemperate language. I would have asked him to withdraw at the time. Obviously, it was my fault; I didn't act appropriately. All I can do is apologize to the House and just caution all members to be very careful with the language they use.
Mr Bud Wildman (Algoma): On a point of order, Mr Speaker: I'd like to ask unanimous consent for the House to move to second reading vote on the private member's bill introduced earlier by the member for Kingston and The Islands. If I may, Speaker, I understand there was a request for unanimous consent for both second and third reading today. I'm asking simply to go to second reading vote.
The Speaker: Shall we go to second reading on Bill 104? Is it agreed? I heard a no.
Mr Howard Hampton (Rainy River): Point of order, Mr Speaker: I'm going to ask for unanimous consent. As I speak in the Legislature now, Ontario's Arab and Muslim communities are going through a particularly heart-wrenching ordeal as a result of the American bombing of Iraq. I ask for unanimous consent by this Legislature for a motion condemning the American bombing of innocent civilians in Iraq and its impact on Ontario's Arab and Muslim communities.
The Speaker: Agreed? No.
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): I want to take this opportunity to thank the pages, because obviously since it's our last day, it's their last day. I want to thank them for the wonderful job they've done and wish them all success in the future. I hope you enjoyed yourselves.
Mr Bud Wildman (Algoma): On a point of order, Mr Speaker: You will recall that I raised a question on the standing order -
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): The point respecting whether or not I have the power to refer something to a committee?
Mr Wildman: Yes.
The Speaker: You know, that's right; I do recall that. I was going to rule on that, and I will, today. I'll rule today.
Mr Wayne Lessard (Windsor-Riverside): I agree in extending acknowledgement and thanks to the pages, and I just wanted to introduce Chiara Van Hooren's parents, from Windsor-Riverside, in the members' gallery today.
BOARD OF INTERNAL ECONOMY DECISION
Mr Mike Colle (Oakwood): I wish to introduce 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 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 Harris to have his Conservative Party reimburse the taxpayers of Ontario for these legal costs incurred as a result of the McLean case."
I'll affix my name to this petition.
ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES LEGISLATION
Mr David Christopherson (Hamilton Centre): I have a petition to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario. It reads as follows:
"Whereas the Hamilton area Ontarians with Disabilities Act steering committee have worked hard and diligently consulting with the current government to provide information, advice and feedback to achieve a strong and effective Ontarians with Disabilities Act; and
"Whereas Ontarians with disabilities encounter constant barriers in accessing many buildings, public transportation, communication, housing, job training, education and health care; and
"Whereas an Ontarians with Disabilities Act should provide legislative mandates and guidelines for the elimination of barriers to disabled persons; and
"Whereas an Ontarians with Disabilities Act should include enforceable standards to eliminate major areas of discrimination and barriers disabled persons must face daily; and
"Whereas the Progressive Conservative government's Ontarians with Disabilities Act does nothing to address and correct the many barriers faced by disabled persons in Ontario; and
"Whereas the Hamilton ODA steering committee joins with the broad spectrum of groups and individuals who believe that the ODA introduced by this government is an insult to all Ontarians, especially those with disabilities;
"We, the undersigned, petition the Legislative Assembly to introduce a disabilities act that will provide mandates and enforcement measures to eliminate the barriers that Ontario's disabled face daily when trying to access public transportation, education, health care, job training, housing and communication."
I join with the Hamiltonians who have signed this petition by adding my name to it also.
Mr John Hastings (Etobicoke-Rexdale): I have a petition to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario which reads:
"Whereas bears are hunted in the spring after they have come out of hibernation; and
"Whereas about 30% of the bears killed in the spring are female, some with cubs; and
"Whereas over 70% of the orphaned cubs do not survive the first year; and
"Whereas 95.3% of bears killed by non-resident hunters and 54% killed by resident hunters are killed over bait; and
"Whereas Ontario still allows the limited use of dogs in bear hunting; and
"Whereas bears are the only large mammals hunted in the spring;
"We, the undersigned, petition the Parliament of Ontario to amend the Game and Fish Act to prohibit the hunting of bears in the spring and to prohibit the use of baiting and dogs in all bear hunting activities."
I'll affix my signature to this.
LAND USE PLANNING
Mrs Lyn McLeod (Fort William): I have a petition to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario.
"Whereas the Lands for Life round tables' recommendations that would allow logging and mining of 92% of the planning region do not reflect what we believe is best for the future of Ontario; and
"Whereas the women of Ontario represent over half the population and yet made up only five out of 40 committee members on the Lands for Life round tables;
"We, the undersigned women of Ontario, petition the government to protect a minimum of 20% of public lands in central and northern Ontario. The women of Ontario want these lands protected for generations to come from logging, mining and hydroelectric development. Experience has shown us that our wilderness cannot be plundered without consequence. We should respect its undeniable role in supporting all life, including our own. We want a legacy to leave to our children. We want them to enjoy the rich diversity and beauty of our land. Premier Harris, we want to be heard. We are your mothers, sisters, grandmothers, spouses, daughters, friends, co-workers, bosses and employees. If we lose our opportunity to protect the wildlife, wetlands, forests, lakes and rivers of Ontario, you will lose our support."
This is supported by literally hundreds of concerned women across Ontario.
Mr David Christopherson (Hamilton Centre): I have a petition which reads as follows:
"Whereas we, the undersigned petitioners, members of SOAR, Steelworkers Organization of Active Retirees, wish to object and protest the so-called fair tax assessment as initiated by the Ontario provincial government and implemented by the Hamilton-Wentworth region and local municipalities; and
"Whereas this so-called fair tax has brought hardship to many residents in the Hamilton-Wentworth area; and
"Whereas this hardship, in our opinion, is without justification;
"Therefore, we demand that the local politicians who represent the undersigned petitioners make a strong case to the provincial government to have this unfair, increased property taxation reviewed and returned to its former status for the seniors in our community."
I join these petitioners by adding my name.
CHILD CARE CENTRES
Mr William Saunderson (Eglinton): I wish to present a petition on behalf of 100 parents and workers at the Central Eglinton Day Care Centre in my riding of Eglinton. The petition basically reads as follows:
"We believe that non-profit, school-based child care is an excellent way to provide daycare and early childhood education for our children. We believe that the funding formula in Bill 160 seriously threatens this superb system.
"We, the undersigned, petition the Legislative Assembly of Ontario as follows:
"In the name of good, stable and equitable care and education for our children, we therefore ask the government to repeal Bill 160 or amend the funding formula to recognize the existence and fundamental importance of school-based child care in the education system."
I affix my signature to this petition.
BOARD OF INTERNAL ECONOMY DECISION
Mr Mario Sergio (Yorkview): 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 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 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 Harris to have his Conservative Party reimburse the taxpayers of Ontario for these legal costs incurred as a result of the McLean case."
I concur, and I will affix my signature to it.
Mr David Christopherson (Hamilton Centre): My petition reads as follows:
"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," particularly in 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 join other Hamiltonians in signing this petition.
Mr Bob Wood (London South): I have a petition signed by 15 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."
HOTEL DIEU HOSPITAL
Mr James J. Bradley (St Catharines): I have a petition signed by thousands of people in the Niagara region. It's a petition in support of Hotel Dieu Hospital, St Catharines. It reads as follows:
"We, the undersigned, oppose the proposed closure of Niagara's only denominational hospital and the devastating effects that proposal will have on patients and potential patients across the region.
"We ask that the Health Services Restructuring Commission reassess its recommendations for the Niagara region and ensure quality, accessibility and affordability through a continued role for the Hotel Dieu Hospital in St Catharines."
I affix my signature, as I'm in complete agreement with the petition.
Mr Toby Barrett (Norfolk): I present petitions from the Burford District High School survival steering committee, asking the province of Ontario to rethink the school funding formula in light of the unique needs of rural schools.
People are very concerned about the closing of Burford high school and other schools and I signed this during the Burford Fair.
"Whereas the people of the community of Burford protest to the government of the province of Ontario and to the Minister of Education and Training for the manner in which the present school funding formula has been designed and implemented, especially in regard to rural schools;
"Whereas the government has not taken into account that the rural schools are viable units in the community;
"Whereas the needs of rural school districts are not adequately served by the government's policy of allocating funds on a square-footage basis;
"Whereas local schools serve the local community in many ways and return their graduates to the community to help preserve the community;
"Therefore we, the undersigned, respectfully request the government of Ontario to rethink the school funding formula and provide a funding system that covers the unique needs of rural schools."
I support the principles behind this petition.
Mr Mario Sergio (Yorkview): I have a further petition addressed to the Legislature of Ontario.
"Say no to privatization of health care.
"To the Legislative Assembly of Ontario:
"Whereas we are concerned about the quality of health care in Ontario;
"Whereas we do not believe health care should be for sale;
"Whereas the Mike Harris government is taking steps to allow profit-driven companies to provide health care services in Ontario;
"Whereas we won't stand for profits over people;
"We, the undersigned, petition the Legislative Assembly of Ontario as follows:
"Do not privatize our health care services."
I concur and I will affix my signature to it.
Mr Ted Arnott (Wellington): I have a petition addressed to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario. It reads as follows:
"We, the undersigned, strongly oppose the closure of both Kenilworth public and Sacred Heart Catholic schools."
I have affixed my signature as well to this petition and I'm in full agreement with its contents.
Mr James J. Bradley (St Catharines): "Whereas since the Mike Harris government took office consumers across Ontario have been gouged by the large oil companies, who have implemented unfair and dramatic increases in the price of gasoline; and
"Whereas this increase in the price of gasoline has outpaced the rate of inflation by a rate that is totally unacceptable to all consumers in this province because it is unfair and directly affects their ability to purchase other consumer goods; and
"Whereas Premier Mike Harris and ministers within the cabinet of his government while in opposition expressed grave concern for gas price gouging and asked the government of the day to take action; and
"Whereas the Mike Harris government could take action under Ontario law and pass predatory gas pricing legislation which would protect consumers, but instead seems intent on looking after the interests of the big oil companies;
"We, the undersigned, petition Premier Harris and the government of Ontario to eliminate gas price fixing and prevent the oil companies from gouging the public on an essential and vital product."
I affix my signature, as I'm in complete agreement with this petition.
Mr Joseph N. Tascona (Simcoe Centre): I have a petition to the Legislature of Ontario.
"Whereas bears are hunted in the spring after they have come out of hibernation; and
"Whereas about 30% of the bears killed in the spring are female, some with cubs; and
"Whereas over 70% of the orphaned cubs do not survive the first year; and
"Whereas 95.3% of the bears killed by non-resident hunters and 54% killed by resident hunters are killed over bait; and
"Whereas Ontario still allows the limited use of dogs in bear hunting; and
"Whereas bears are the only large mammals hunted in the spring; and
"Whereas bears are the only mammals that are hunted over bait; and
"Whereas there are only six states in the United States which still allow a spring hunt;
"We, the undersigned, petition the Parliament of Ontario to amend the Game and Fish Act to prohibit the hunting of bears in the spring and to prohibit the use of baiting and dogs in all bear hunting activities."
I have hundreds of signatures and I support the petition and affix my signature.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
CHILD AND FAMILY SERVICES AMENDMENT ACT (CHILD WELFARE REFORM), 1998 / LOI DE 1998 MODIFIANT LA LOI SUR LES SERVICES À L'ENFANCE ET À LA FAMILLE (RÉFORME DU BIEN-ÊTRE DE L'ENFANCE)
Resuming the adjourned debate on the motion for second reading of Bill 73, An Act to amend the Child and Family Services Act in order to better promote the best interests, protection and well being of children / Projet de loi 73, Loi modifiant la Loi sur les services à l'enfance et à la famille afin de mieux promouvoir l'intérêt véritable de l'enfant, sa protection et son bien-être.
Mr John Gerretsen (Kingston and The Islands): In the few minutes that I have left, having last talked about the bill I believe about two weeks ago, let me just remind the people of Ontario what this bill is all about.
I suppose the major change in the existing Child and Family Services Act legislation will be the determination of what's in the best interest of the child and that that should be the paramount consideration when a children's aid society gets involved in a particular situation.
As the minister agreed with me the last time, the parameters under which children would be taken into protection by the children's aid society are going to change quite dramatically in the sense that there hasn't been an effective change to this act in something like 20 years.
You may recall, Madam Speaker, that one of the concerns we had was that the government initially didn't want to have any hearings on this bill. Let me just say that we support this bill and we think there are some very positive moves in this bill to recognize, particularly when there are younger children involved but indeed children of any age, that when the children's aid society gets involved, the main determination should be what is truly in the best interests of the child, to determine whether or not wardship should be of a crown wardship nature or of a temporary nature, whether there should be supervision, or whether or not the child should be taken into care at all.
Since that time, I understand the government has now agreed that there will be some hearings during the intersession. I think it's important to hear from the people out in the field about this particular issue.
I was involved with the children's aid society many years ago in my professional capacity as a lawyer when it first became a practice to have children represented in court by a separate lawyer. This happened probably about 20 years ago in this province. That was really sort of the last major change that happened.
You may recall that last time, the minister agreed with me that this was a major change, and we couldn't understand why she at that point in time didn't want any public hearings to take place with respect to this bill. I'm pleased to report to the people of Ontario - undoubtedly others will as well - that some hearings will take place now in January and February, and hopefully those individuals who have an interest in this subject will be given an opportunity to express their views.
When it comes to children, we should all be concerned that really what's in their best interests should be our main concern in this Legislature. That's why I'm still very much concerned, as undoubtedly I know other members are as well, particularly at this time of year, that we in Ontario still have so many children who are living in poverty. You may recall that there was a recent report issued. It was prominently reported in a number of the newspapers in this province, and here in Toronto as well, that the number of children who are living in poverty is still rising in this country and in this province. Some of the statistics are indeed staggering when you consider the fact that here in Toronto, one child in three is poor, and that the United Way reports that 41% of the city's food bank users are children.
I think sometimes there's a tendency for people who want to deal with issues of social welfare assistance etc to only look at the adults who are involved in the social welfare system. What we tend to forget in situations like that is that probably over 50% of the people who are relying on social welfare assistance in this province are children, and that no matter what kind of measures are taken, from cutting their welfare by 22%, which this government did as sort of the first action that it took when it took office back in 1995 - the people who are really being hurt by it are not only the welfare recipients, the adults, but the children.
The other interesting statistic, and a rather sad statistic, is that 31% of all boys in the province and 21% of all girls have suffered some sort of physical abuse. Presumably those are the kinds of cases that the children's aid society would get involved with. I'm sure they don't in every case, because quite often the abuse isn't known to authorities other than to the immediate family members etc. But it is really something staggering when you think about it, that three out of every 10 young boys and two out of every 10 young girls have suffered some form of physical abuse.
When we talk about sexual abuse, it's also very disturbing to read that 12% of the girls who are of a young age, under 16 - 12%, one in eight - have had some form of sexual abuse, and a much smaller percentage of boys in Ontario.
What all that really points to is that it is absolutely incumbent upon us that the children's aid societies of this province are given the best possible tools to do their work. We all know that the people who work for them, particularly those who are working in the protection areas, are extremely hard-working and dedicated individuals. They're overworked. The social workers I've talked to in my own community are overworked. The young people who are entering the profession are immediately given caseloads of 20, 30, 40 young people to look after, and the families as well, to be involved with them, to try to assist them in some fashion.
Whatever kind of help that we can give as a government to the children's aid societies to make sure they carry out the work for which these societies have been formulated, which is basically to protect children, the more assistance that we as a society can give them, the better it is.
That's why it was so ironic that last year, you may recall, initially the government withdrew some $17 million from the children's aid societies, which caused a number of jobs to disappear, thereby increasing the caseloads that other workers were handling. That has changed to some extent. Some money has come back into the system. There's an argument as to how much it is and how many people are really being employed as a result of that, but it is a step in the right direction. But we still have a long way to go.
If there's any legacy that this government has left so far during the three and a half years of its mandate, it is that children certainly are not their first priority. I can tell you that children are the first priority of the Ontario Liberal Party. The first policy document that we initiated, as a matter of fact, was the Children First policy that Dalton McGuinty and Sandra Pupatello worked on for so long.
The Acting Speaker(Mrs Marion Boyd): Questions and comments?
Mr Jack Carroll (Chatham-Kent): I appreciate the opportunity to make a few comments on the end of the speech by the member for Kingston and The Islands. I want to set the record straight. Children are an absolutely top priority of the Conservative government in the province of Ontario, and it's very unfair of the member opposite to insinuate otherwise.
I think we should be careful when we talk about the issue of child abuse and child protection, and if we talk about the issue of child poverty at the same point in time that we don't make too close a connection there. I think it's very evident that in the province there are many parents who are not living in poverty who are not treating their children the way they should, and there are many parents who are living in poverty who are doing an exceptional job of raising their children. I would hate to see us make too tight a connection there, and I sense the member for Kingston and The Islands was making that connection that child abuse and child poverty are somehow part of the same issue. I don't think that's true, and we should make sure we don't make that connection. I'm glad to see you acknowledged the additional funding for children's aid services, because in fact we have announced that.
I think one thing we should acknowledge is that the primary responsibility to take care of the children in our world, our most precious asset, lies in the hands of parents. Government in its role and those who work with disadvantaged families or with people in trouble should be concentrating their efforts on helping parents to be better parents. Separating children from their parents is not the right answer. We should concentrate our resources, through education, in helping parents to be better parents so they can discharge their primary responsibility of raising their children in Ontario.
Mr James J. Bradley (St Catharines): I thought the member captured very well the essence of the bill and the debate on this bill. What we were concerned about, of course, is that here is a very significant bill I think all of us want to see implemented. The government dragged its feet for so long dealing with any committee hearings on it, because if you have a bill with these kinds of ramifications you want committee hearings. I would have to be persuaded that there would be some significant changes in those committee hearings, but it's always better when you have them.
When you bring the bill in and then don't deal with it until the very end, the problem is that the bill probably could have passed by the Christmas recess if the bill had been brought forward earlier and there had been some hearings earlier. I don't know whether the hearings would have made a difference in terms of what the government finally had in the bill. Often they do. Often there are some significant changes people don't spot easily.
I was disappointed at how it took time, because then of course the government goes through the same old tactic at the end of a session. It tells all the organizations, "Phone the opposition," as though somehow the opposition controls this Legislature.
You would know, Madam Speaker, that under the changes imposed on this House by Mike Harris - that is, procedural rule changes imposed by Premier Mike Harris - the government essentially controls the agenda. It calls what it wants, when it wants it, it dictates what there will be in terms of committee hearings, it determines the scheduling and it determines what bills are going to be brought forward and at what time.
Now the government can even introduce bills and have them fully debated in the last two weeks of the session when often they're trying to clear up other legislation. I think the member was appropriately commenting when he commented on his initial concern about that.
I hope this bill comes into effect. We're going to have some hearings in January. If there are any changes to be made I hope the House does convene and sit again, and we are able to implement those changes.
Ms Marilyn Churley (Riverdale): I appreciated the comments from the member for Kingston and The Islands. I am going to be a little bit more generous in my comments towards the government at least partially in terms of what happened with the hearings.
I think that the minister quite genuinely felt that these changes were badly needed, and there's widespread support for them, and felt that she might have trouble getting it on her own government's agenda and personally felt how important it was to get this through, and genuinely felt that, given the widespread support, there may not need to be committee hearings.
What I objected to when our critic, the member for Beaches-Woodbine, made it very clear that we wanted hearings was that the minister and other members from the government tried to blame the opposition for trying to hold up the bill because we wanted hearings.
I know that Frances Lankin, the member for Beaches-Woodbine, has a genuine concern and I think that's been adequately expressed to the government, that when you make such major changes, which we all support, it's really important - after all, there haven't been changes in about 20 years - that people have an opportunity to come and present their views and also that legislators can have a good look at what's in the bill and make any amendments that may be necessary.
We certainly never had any intentions of stopping the bill. I think we all would have been very upset had we not been able to get the commitment that we could have the hearings and have the bill go forward as well. I believe it's a win-win situation for all of us, that we now have an opportunity to get out there and air these concerns.
There are a few things left out of the bill, for instance, that we have some concerns about. But certainly, the hearings are not to beat up on the government, in my view, but to make sure that the changes we're making are adequate.
Mrs Lillian Ross (Hamilton West): I just want to comment on the member for Kingston and The Islands and his comments. This is an important bill. It is a bill that all of us on the government side strongly support.
With respect to the member for Riverdale, when she said that the minister had to push to get this to come forward, I don't think that's the case; as a matter of fact, I think many of us in caucus believe very strongly in the needs of our children, particularly those most vulnerable in our society.
This bill is a strong step forward. It's a step-by-step strategy that looks at children's needs, assesses their needs, tries to get children out of those environments where they have been abused and violated and into safer places. That's very important and it's crucial in this age we live in.
Also, the bill provides training for those social worker agencies that provide those services to our children, and that's very important. That's a very important component of this bill and I am pleased to see it here.
I'm not here to blame anybody for not bringing it forward earlier. As the member for Riverdale said, it has been over 20 years and there should have been changes before this. I think it's a good, positive step forward. At committee hearings I have yet to sit on a bill where we haven't brought forward changes that benefit the bill and make it better in the end, so I'm looking forward to the committee hearings and hopefully improving the bill and making it the best it can be.
The Acting Speaker: Response?
Mr Gerretsen: I thank all the speakers for their intervention. It certainly wasn't my suggestion, or it wasn't my idea to suggest for a moment that all people who are poor are abusing their children, but I do think there is a connection, that there are situations where abuse has resulted, not totally but certainly from the economic circumstances people live in. There have been studies that clearly show that is more likely in those situations, but sure, abuse can happen whether a child is with a rich family or with a poor family.
I take some exception with respect to the other comment that was made by the member from Chatham. The general perception out there, and having sat here for the last three years I can only be left with one conclusion, is that with an awful lot of the activity this government has been involved in, whether they intended it or not - sure, nobody is going to admit, "Our policies are going to hurt children" - the effects of their policies have been that children, particularly vulnerable children, and indeed vulnerable people, have been hurt by the actions of this government, whether we're talking about the 20% cut in the social assistance rates, whether we're talking about the user fees that are rampant now within our municipalities, whether we're talking about the user fees for seniors with respect to the medical expenses they have and the medicine they need, and you can just go on and on.
Unfortunately, the net effect in this province has been that the gap between the haves and the have-nots has widened, and the people who are not as economically well off in this province, which includes, particularly with respect to those people who are on social assistance -
The Acting Speaker: Thank you. Further debate?
Ms Churley: Let me start by saying that I will be splitting the hour leadoff time today with the member for Hamilton Centre and the member for Dovercourt.
I also would like to say that our critic for children's issues, Frances Lankin, the member for Beaches-Woodbine, would like to be here today. She is, as you know, Madam Speaker, spending time with a very good of hers and a good friend to many of us in the House who is quite ill at the moment. We appreciate the opportunity to speak today in her place.
Madam Speaker, I also want to thank you for taking the chair for me so I have this opportunity to speak to the bill, and to thank you in general. It has been a little rough on the Speakers, sitting until 9:30 and then until midnight these past couple of weeks. Thank you very much for relieving me from time to time so I can do other things or sleep.
I take pleasure in speaking to this bill today. I haven't had the opportunity as of yet. I want to reiterate how very much in support the members of the NDP caucus are of this bill. We, as expressed by the member for Beaches-Woodbine in other readings, fully want to go ahead and have this bill pass as quickly as possible. We believe there are very important changes in this bill and we're happy to see the government, in my view, act relatively quickly on a report that had recommendations for massive changes.
We know that the coroner's office and the Ontario Association of Children's Aid Societies, the two bodies that conducted the child mortality task force, are relatively pleased with the response from the government. It's an area where I personally would like to congratulate the government for moving forward on this very important bill.
There are shortcomings in the bill, and I'm hoping that during the committee hearings some of those can be dealt with. It certainly is not my intention, nor I think the intention of any member of our caucus, to use the hearings in any way to beat up on the government and score political points on something that's so fundamentally important to all of us and for the well-being of our children. I would like to think that's true of everybody in this House, and I believe it is.
I want to spend my time today, and people may not be surprised to hear me say this, talking about one of the very important aspects of the bill that's been left out, and that is that the government didn't take this opportunity now, when the Child and Family Services Act is open after such a long time, to make the changes necessary to adoption disclosure. As you know, I have presented a private bill in -
Mr Tony Silipo (Dovercourt): On a point of order, Madam Speaker: I don't want to interrupt my colleague, because she was about to get on to some very important issues with respect to adoption disclosure, but I believe this is an important item. I don't believe we have a quorum in the House.
The Acting Speaker: Clerk, would you check for a quorum, please.
Clerk at the Table (Mr Todd Decker): 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: The member for Riverdale.
Ms Churley: Many Ontarians, both adoptees and birth parents, have been waiting many, many years for these amendments. You may wonder what this has to do with the bill before us. Of course it comes under the Child and Family Services Act.
The previous government, our NDP government, came this close, through a private member's bill, to having adoption disclosure dealt with. I understand very well from having sat in cabinet in that government how, with such a long list of legislative changes, trying to set priorities within a government is very difficult. There are many demands from all sectors of our society on governments of all stripes and it can be very difficult to get things on the agenda.
I understand that and choices have to be made. I know that when we were in government, trying to fit in adoption disclosure just didn't happen, in my view unfortunately, but we chose to do it through a private member's bill and came this close to getting the final third reading on it. Because of a few people filibustering that night, the clock ran out, and then, as you know, the House prorogued and an election was called, so it never happened.
At that time the adoption community, as you can imagine, was devastated. They were sitting here that night and they were in tears; I was in tears. Many people were extremely upset because they came that close, after 20, 25 years of working on this issue, to getting the changes made. It didn't happen.
I called the Minister of Community and Social Services's office, I believe over a year ago, to discuss this issue. What she said to me at the time was, and I'm paraphrasing her: "I generally support adoption reform. The time has come to do it. I'm not ready to move now. We will be making changes to the Child and Family Services Act, and what we hope to do and want to do is make those changes within that act once it's opened up." It's my understanding, from what I've been told, that this is the same thing that members from the adoption community, like the Adoption Council of Ontario, Parent Finders and other organizations, were told. There were some meetings held and some telephone conversations, and that was the understanding.
I believe that the minister said that in good faith, and I'm not quite sure what happened along the way, except that she assured us in the House that the priority of the government was to deal with child protection. Perhaps it was not to muddy the waters, I suppose, in a way, to keep the opening up of the act right now very clearly on the subject of protecting our children, which I can quite understand. But I also feel that this is an opportunity now, with the act being open and going out to committee, to address this vital part of the Child and Family Services Act. I call on the minister and the government members to think about that and perhaps give us this opportunity to include that discussion in the committee hearings under the act as it stands now. That would be a way of dealing with these issues here and now.
I again want to thank, I believe it was 57 members who were in the House on the day of my private member's bill last Thursday, many government members who supported me, plus most of the Liberal Party and all of my New Democratic Party. There were only three people in the whole House who objected, and even those people gave very sensitive speeches about the issue. There was absolutely no animosity or really big concerns about the bill.
I think there is a general understanding that we're way past the time when these changes need to be made. The fear now is in the understanding that the House is going to prorogue tomorrow. For those of you who may be watching this on television who don't know what that means, it means that besides journalists throwing little pieces of paper down on us tonight at midnight, normally all the bills on the order paper die. So in theory my bill, which has now received second reading, would disappear. I want to thank the government House leader and the Liberal House leader and of course my own House leader for making an agreement that my bill, Bill 88, the adoption disclosure bill, will not die. There will be a "notwithstanding" motion that certain bills will be carried over. I want to say how very much I appreciate that. It means an awful lot to those of us from the adoption community that it's not going to die.
However, there is still the fear that there may be an election call. We don't know. I don't know how many government members know at this time - tell me what you know - but we have concerns about that. If that were to happen, we would be in the very terrible position we were in the last time this private member's bill came so close to being proclaimed. That would be a real shame and a real heartache for those in the adoption community.
I certainly explained to them when I accidentally got a spot that came up all of a sudden, through a complicated series of events, that I was taking a bit of a chance bringing it forward so late in the session. But it was agreed that there is such a consensus now that the bill that Tony Martin, my colleague from Sault Ste Marie, which my colleague from Dovercourt and I as ministers in the Bob Rae government worked on very hard - we went out to committee. The bill I presented, as you know, is the same bill, as amended by the committee hearings, which is why I presented that very bill, because we worked very hard, between the Minister of Consumer and Commercial Relations, the registrar general, which was my ministry, and the Minister of Community and Social Services, with the staff, to work out the details.
There is a consensus around this bill; there's still a consensus around the bill. My colleague Alex Cullen, from Ottawa West, presented first reading of another bill which went further than mine. There are many who would prefer that bill, but I know there are certain elements of that bill which are not acceptable to some people. My bill is. That's not to say everybody in Ontario supports it. With every bill, no matter what the subject, there are some people, sometimes for personal reasons, sometimes for other reasons, who will not support it. But we know that the majority of the people in this Legislature and the majority of people - not just people involved in the adoption community but the majority of people - support changing adoption disclosure laws now.
I want to read a letter that is very moving and touching. It's a letter from a mother and father, adoptive parents of two young men, who adopted them as very young children. Those of you who were here heard my perspective as a birth mother who found my son after he had been adopted at birth many years ago, but have not necessarily heard a lot, at least in these chambers, from adoptive parents. Mr Cullen from Ottawa West is an adoptive father. I want to read you a letter that really moved me. It's from the adoptive parents' perspective. It's a letter from Guy and Jean Ryan. It says:
"After reading the article in today's Toronto Star I felt compelled to write a response.
"We have two adopted sons who are, at this time, 29 and 24 years of age, and have been nurtured and loved by our entire family all through their lives.
"Since childhood our youngest son has been asking about his birth mother. We gave him as much information as we were aware of, and always assured him that his birth parents loved him and did what they felt was best at the time and gave him up for adoption.
"We have always been so thankful to these selfless and caring people who wanted what was best for him. Our hearts have always gone out to those who had to make such a serious decision that would change all of their lives forever. Thanks to people like these we were blessed with three children, two of whom are adopted. Our family would have been so empty without each of them.
"Due to the fact that our youngest son was asking about his roots, we approached him and asked if he would like help searching, and we started many years ago. This has been as difficult for us as it has been for you, Marilyn. There have been many closed documents and locked doors that we tried to break down to help our son, only to be disappointed again and again. He is nearer now but has of yet not been reunited. We were overjoyed, when through much red tape and some public documents we found the missing link to reunite our older son and his birth mother a year ago. Over this time he has had a reunion and many questions have been answered. I have also met his birth mother and had a good visit. Our son communicates with his birth mother on a regular basis. Hopefully he will someday get to meet other members of his birth family, whom he has not yet had the opportunity of meeting, as his birth mother has not told them about this reunion, as most of them do not even know he was born.
"Thanks to the Parent Finders group we found ways to search public information sites to help our cause.
"We pray that your bill will pass so that others in our situations will not have to go through the agony that we have.
"We believe, if our children are loved and cared for, we do not have to be afraid of their searching, for these reunions will only help them become more settled and more satisfied human beings. Our love for our son and his love for us has not diminished since this reunion but only grown as his mind and heart are at peace. We pray that he will also have an opportunity at some time to meet his birth father as well.
"Thank you and that this letter will be used to show the adoptive parents' side of this heart-wrenching issue."
That letter really moved me. I can tell you that I've heard this story time and time again from so many adoptive parents.
I can say from my own experience, for what it's worth, that I have become friends with the adoptive parents of my wonderful son. They're fantastic people. When I first contacted them, after Billy and I had spent some time together, it was a very emotional time for us. I remember what Bill's father, Bram, said to me. We were both very emotional and he said: "We consider you a part of the family. If it weren't for you, we wouldn't have had our wonderful son." Of course I was quite moved by that, as anybody would be. They are absolutely wonderful people.
When my son first got the very careful letter I wrote to him, he showed it to his parents - he knew as a young child that he was adopted - and they helped him and have been very supportive and caring.
We also tracked down his birth father, which was quite an experience for me after all those years, I can tell you. But that turned out very well as well. Both sets of parents ended up at his university graduation recently, which was a very interesting experience.
Let me say publicly here how grateful I am to Bram and Helen for their response to this situation. I would say that my view is, as in the letter I just read, this experience is bringing the family closer together.
I know there are some people who don't agree. I've received some mail from a very few adoptive parents who don't support this. I think that is out of genuine concern that they might lose the love of their children. All the research and all the reading - and I can assure you that over the years I have done a lot of that on adoption - shows that it's a very rare situation where things go bad between the adoptive parents and the adopted adult once the links are made.
In many cases, the relationship doesn't work out for whatever reason, which can be disappointing but also in some ways brings some kind of closure. People know who they look like, what their roots are. Even that can be beneficial to young adults who are struggling to complete their identity.
I'm here today to speak directly about this because it does relate to the bill before us today, to ask the members for their support once again in making sure that this time this bill is actually passed one way or the other. We have some opportunities. One way, for sure, would be to allow this discussion to happen as well and be incorporated as an amendment under this bill.
If the government feels that would somehow get in the way, would be detrimental to getting the very important child protection parts of the bill passed, I certainly would not want that to happen. I personally do not believe it would because, as I said, this bill has been aired so much already, this particular bill a few years ago, but this whole adoption disclosure for 20 or 25 years. It was passed in England in the 1970s. We have it in BC, in the Northwest Territories and other countries across the world. It works. My bill is actually a small portion of adoption disclosure and we know that it works.
In fact the leaders in the adoption community didn't want this to go to committee. I want to move it to third reading but I understand that some members want to discuss it, even those who support it, and that's fine. I understand that. But certainly I don't believe there is a need for a great deal of discussion at this time about this bill.
I ask government members and all of my colleagues - there are many, many in this chamber who support this - to help me, to work with me and the House leaders and the minister, who still says she's supportive of moving forward on adoption disclosure reform, to make sure, whichever way is best, that we do it through this committee or through another committee hearing in the new year, and absolutely promise not to call an election until we come back and deal with this bill. I can assure you, you will be heroes to thousands and thousands of people across Ontario who are affected by the bad laws that exist now.
With that, I'm going to turn the floor over to my colleague from Dovercourt. I thank you very much for the opportunity to speak to this bill today.
Mr Silipo: I'm pleased to have the chance to speak on second reading of the Child and Family Services Amendment Act, as well as to follow my colleague the member for Riverdale.
She spent a good chunk of her time talking about the approach she has brought and her own personal situation and how that has influenced her wishes to see changes made to the adoption provisions as they relate to people in our care, or people who are not in the care of the children's aid society in that case, in terms of opening up the birth registration details of people who have been adopted in the past.
I want to echo her strong wishes in urging that issue be addressed as a separate issue through her private member's bill, or the government coming forward with another bill of its own, or as she has indicated, by the government embracing that as part of the changes. Many of those changes would have to be made to the Child and Family Services Act. As part of the discussion that will no doubt take place, if and when this bill gets out to committee over the recess, I think that is an issue whose time has come to be embraced, to be discussed, to be dealt with and for those amendments to be made.
I cannot emphasize enough how much that needs to be done for the group of individuals the member for Riverdale has talked about. As she said, we both had the privilege to work on similar legislation when we were in government, but unfortunately were not able to see passed by this House, relating to people who have been adopted in the past and opening up the ability for them to be able to get access to their birth records.
I also want to touch on another aspect of adoption as it relates to people who are yet to be placed for adoption. I know that is an issue that is not dealt with in the bill that's in front of us. I want to speak a little bit about that and then talk about the other pieces the bill does cover, which are a whole array of changes dealing with the question of child protection.
On the issue of adoption, let me say that I believe that equally what has to be done is that we have to catch up with other jurisdictions and, more importantly, make the issue of the best interests of the child truly mean something when it comes to dealing with the issue of adoption, and the placing for adoption of children who are crown wards. The law as it stands today in Ontario actually prevents - Speaker, you know this, as a former Minister of Community and Social Services, as I do - a judge dealing with an issue of what is in the best interests of the child in having to weigh the competing interests of placing the child for adoption, or on the other hand not placing the child for adoption, if that judge determines that it's in the best interests of that child to be placed for adoption, and yet for some level of contact to be maintained between the child and his or her natural birth parents. The law as it stands today in Ontario does not allow a judge to do that, even when and even if a judge determines that is what would be in the best interests of the child.
We all know, whether we've been in this Legislature for a couple of years or longer, that that issue of the best interests of the child has been and should continue to be, and indeed in this bill continues to be, the underlying test for everything that we do when it comes to dealing with children who for one reason or another have to be taken under the care of children's aid societies.
I wanted to start my comments by dealing with that very real issue of where an individual, not outside the system but a judge going through the formal processes, going through the hearings, weighing all the evidence, finds that the best interests of the child would be best served both by placing the child for adoption and continuing access to the birth parents. But that is not allowed.
There have been cases dealing with that issue. I can tell you when I was in private practice, I was involved in one such case. I learned about many others in the course of that case. That particular case I was involved in went right through to the Court of Appeal of Ontario, so that was reaffirmed as the law of the land, although in the lower levels, in that particular instance and in others, judges using the Charter of Rights did deem that the best interests of the child were best served both by placing the child for adoption and by still maintaining some form of contact with the birth parents. Yet as the case law went on and was eventually determined at the appeal court level, the interpretation of the current law of Ontario was that to place children for adoption, you have to sever the contact with the birth parents.
I found it interesting that in the expert panel recommendations which formed the backdrop for the bill in front of us now, their recommendation, which the government today has chosen not to follow, on that particular issue was to allow for the possibility of adoption with continued access to the birth parents.
As long as we make the determining factor the best interests of the child, as determined by a judge, hearing all the evidence and dealing with all the information in front of him or her, I want to say to the government that this is an issue they should embrace. I look forward to discussion of that issue when this bill goes forward because, to me, we will not have dealt properly with the right balance that has to be struck in dealing with the question of the best interests of the child and what that means, as we try collectively and as a society to care as best we can for children who for one reason or another cannot be taken care of by their own birth parents.
We cannot have fully done justice to that concept, the serving of the best interests of children, if we are not also able to leave that flexibility in the hands of judges who are making those decisions, expert judges dealing with these issues on an everyday basis; if we do not allow them to make that determination, as opposed to precluding those decisions being made by simply allowing the law of the land as it is today in Ontario to stand.
I hope that is an issue the committee deals with, as well as the other aspect of adoption disclosure, which my colleague from Riverdale has addressed and which I will not repeat.
I wanted to speak a little about the other issues that are addressed in this bill and some of the concerns that deal more directly with the issue of children who are in need of protection and who therefore come under the responsibility of children's aid societies. As my colleague has said, we welcome this legislation.
If our critic for children's services, the member for Beaches-Woodbine, was able to be here - she's not able to be with us today because of some personal circumstances - I know she would also be speaking very clearly in supporting the intent and the direction, as she has on many occasions in asking questions to the Minister of Community and Social Services indicated our support generally for the direction this legislation is taking and our strong wish that this legislation, despite the fact that the House will likely be proroguing tonight, will go out to committee. That would allow people to come forward, would allow committee members and members of this House to look at it in greater detail, to hear from children's aid societies, from other children's services organizations and from the general public around these very important issues.
This is the first time in some years that we are doing this kind of serious review of the Child and Family Services Act. As a former Minister of Community and Social Services, I can recall many instances of difficult days in that portfolio, but probably the most difficult was going through a period of time when there had been the death of a young crown ward. I don't care what politics anyone practises, and even understanding that as the minister you're not directly responsible for everything that happens out there in the field and in every children's aid society and every action that every worker does, I can tell you that the turmoil you go through when you see a situation like that - there are always questions about: What if something else was done? Could something have been done to prevent this particular death?
Those are very difficult situations, and I don't presume that we can ever have a piece of legislation that is perfect and that can foresee and can try to prevent every conceivable situation. So I welcome the spirit of collaboration that I think we are seeing on this particular piece of legislation in the sense that there is a willingness, despite the fact that first of all we go into this with different perspectives from the three parties and in fact may even come out of it with different answers to what these problems are. But there seems to be a willingness to take a look at the very serious issues that are raised through this bill and that have resulted in this bill coming forward.
What are those? There are a number of reviews that have been made over the last couple of years, initiated both by the minister, to give her credit, and by the children's aid societies themselves, which have resulted in a number of recommendations coming forward, probably key among them being the expert panel which has looked at the Child and Family Services Act, a panel chaired by Judge Mary Jane Hatton. Many of the recommendations of that panel are reflected in this legislation. We are thankful for that and we believe those are appropriate.
For example, Bill 73 makes it clear that "The paramount purpose" of the Child and Family Services Act "is to promote the best interests, protection and well-being of children," and that everything else really is secondary to that. It strengthens that notion that has been the foundation for the law of the province for the last number of years.
It expands the grounds for finding a child in need of protection by adding the words "neglect" and "pattern of neglect" to several grounds, and we believe that's a good move. It also lowers the threshold for protection by replacing the words "substantial risk" with the words "risk that the child is likely to be harmed." As well, we note that the threshold for emotional harm to a child is lowered from severe to serious.
All in all, those changes and other changes mean we would be giving greater strength to the notion of the best interests of the child and providing a situation in which we will strengthen that concept and therefore the ability of children's aid societies to deal more expeditiously with those concerns.
Bill 73 also makes it easier for children's aid society workers to get information that's relevant to an investigation on any of the grounds for protection, because the current law just covers abuse. So this expands again the ability of children's aid societies to deal with those concerns in a broader way. I think those are also points that move in the right direction.
I have some concerns about a couple of areas. I've mentioned the one around adoption. Another one is the issue of the length of time that a child under age six can be in a society's care before being returned home or made a crown ward, that being reduced from 24 months to 12 months.
Again, I think I understand that the intention of the government here is to try to say, "Let's get decisions made." On the other hand, the expert panel, having looked at this, suggested that a variety of timelines might be best appropriate dealing with different categories of situations that we might be dealing with. That's something I hope the committee will be able to take a look at before a final decision is made on what the best timeline is. Certainly I would say that the concept of moving on with a decision is the direction we should go, but at the same time there has to be enough flexibility in the system to allow for timelines to meet the particular circumstance and not simply for decisions to have to be made within a straitjacket and in a predetermined time that may or may not work in the particular circumstance.
I particularly welcome what I gather is a strengthening in section 6 of the bill to give the Ministry of Community and Social Services the authority to issue directives to societies, including those respecting the provision of services, and also making it even clearer than the present legislation does that the minister may take over the operation of a society that fails to follow those directives. I can recall times when there were problems with certain societies perhaps not doing everything they could have done or should have done to deal with particular situations, and I think there has to be a strengthening of that ability by the minister and the ministry, as the ultimate folks that are accountable to the public through this Legislature, to step in where that's necessary and to do that. I think experience will show that those are not situations that happen in the normal course of events. Those tend to be very much the exceptions, but there has to be the ability when those exceptional cases happen for the minister of the day to carry on his or her responsibilities to the people of Ontario in a straightforward and quick fashion to meet the circumstances that are there.
I want to finish my comments by just making two other points. The first is that none of this improvement that we are talking about, as good as it is, will make much of an improvement unless the government of the day also recognizes that part of the problem we have out there has been not just created but indeed accentuated by the underfunding that exists out there.
The cuts they have made to children's aid societies - I'm sure that members of the government will stand up and say that hasn't been the case, but if you look at the statistics I think you will see that in fact there is less money out there for children's aid societies. Certainly when you look at it on a per case basis, caseloads have gone up, workers have been asked to do more, and the number of people who are out there are fewer. In the last three years, 455 permanent positions have been lost to children's aid societies. So we cannot continue to expect our children's aid societies and other children's agencies to do, in effect, more with less. At the end of the day, those two concepts don't mesh when it comes to crucial services such as the protection of our most vulnerable children.
I want to say to the government again that we will work with them to improve the legislation. We will work with them in the most collaborative of fashions to ensure that the laws of the land in Ontario are changed so there is the strongest and best protection for our children. At the same time, they have to recognize that for that job to be done effectively out there in the field, it requires adequate funding. That adequate funding is not there. It has been deteriorating. It's going to continue to deteriorate unless the government of Mike Harris does an about-face and recognizes that that is what's going on out there.
In concluding my remarks, I just want to give one very clear example not in the children's aid area but in another important area of children's services, the child and family services area - that is, in the children's mental health area - of what is happening as a result of the underfunding that's out there.
There is an agency in my constituency located in the Dufferin and St Clair area, Earlscourt Child and Family Services, renowned across the province as one of the leading-edge organizations in the area of children's mental health services. They have pioneered a variety of ways of dealing with children who have behavioural problems, children who are not able to be assisted completely in the school setting, and they provide that additional support.
We have seen a situation at that centre where for the last nine weeks now there has been a strike, a legal strike, and the workers therefore are obviously able to be on strike in a legal position. But that has led to services not being able to be provided to the 900 or so children who are served through that centre. I continue to worry as each day goes on about what is happening to those children. I know the workers and the management, despite their differences, agree at least on that point, that the children are certainly not getting the services they need. I just want to say on the record that I hope that tomorrow, when the mediator brings the parties back together, they will be able to find a way out of the impasse.
As I understand it, the requests that the bargaining agent has put forward on behalf of the workers are not particularly unreasonable. It is not for me to say where the settlement is, but it is for me to say, as the representative for that area, that I want to see the workers back inside the building where they belong and where they need to be to continue the services.
I want to also impress upon the government and upon the minister particularly that if this thing is not resolved, she will have a responsibility to figure out a way to get the parties together. At the basis of the problems that the management side is having is the issue of funding. There are other concerns out there in this particular issue. There are other things that are out there, and I don't want to get into them in great detail here and distract from the point we are discussing most directly today.
But I do want to say that the minister will have to take account of this particular situation and others that may exist similar to it across the province if after nine weeks of strike we cannot get a resolution to this. I hope that tomorrow the mediator is able to do that. I hope on the management side there is an ability to show some flexibility and at least figure out a way to meet some of the not particularly onerous demands that I see the workers making. But above and beyond all, I hope we are able to see a situation in which this impasse is resolved, because if not, this is also one issue that's going to land on the lap of the Minister of Community and Social Services. I look forward to that issue being resolved.
I look forward to the debate on this particular bill continuing because it is time we had this whole-scale review of the Child and Family Services Act. I know we will continue from our caucus, through our many people who are interested and particularly through our children's services critic, Ms Frances Lankin, to play as constructive a role as we can in pushing the government, but also in supporting the government where we believe they're moving in the right direction.
The Deputy Speaker (Mr Bert Johnson): Further debate?
Mr David Christopherson (Hamilton Centre): I appreciate the opportunity to join in this debate. I would point out that the government often says that all the opposition ever does is oppose and attempt to obstruct and never participates in anything positive, yet in the last few days we've certainly put the lie to the myth. The fact is that where you introduce good legislation that is based on the public good, that corrects wrongs that are in our society, that promotes justice, promotes equity, promotes fairness, then you will get the support of the opposition.
Certainly we saw that the other night with Ted Arnott's bill when we were dealing with volunteer firefighters. In fact, that was cleaning up a mess you made when you rammed through Bill 99. But again, given the importance of ensuring that our volunteer firefighters were protected, as they were before you hurt them in Bill 99, we made sure that got speedy passage, extremely speedy passage.
There have been other incidents and other cases, with the red lights, for instance, again an example where we had been pushing you to do the right thing for the longest time, and when you finally did that, you got full co-operation from us.
We have that here again today with Bill 73, the Child and Family Services Amendment Act. By and large, as far as it goes, this is a good bill and we intend to support it. I am pleased, on behalf of the people I represent here in this place, to offer my support and advise you that my vote will there to help put this in place.
It's time - certainly it's well beyond time - that we acted on the work that was done by the Ontario Child Mortality Task Force. Having been a former Solicitor General, I know first-hand the work of our coroner's office. It's a world-renowned coroner's office. We are modelled by other states and societies around the world. In fact we received all kinds of requests - and I have no doubt it continues under the current Solicitor General - for information, for speakers, for case studies in terms of what we'd done.
I can remember talking to American counterparts of mine who would advise that they had no such ability. Everything there, as you know, is sue, sue, sue. They're always in the courts suing one another for everything. They envy the fact that we have a coroner's office and we have the ability to perform the kind of inquiries they do and make the recommendations they do based on the public good. They aren't meant to be hearings to find guilt; they are meant to be hearings to find cause and, more importantly, prevention.
Quite frankly, anything that involves our chief coroner and his office right off the bat gets a lot of respect from me because I know the work they do and I know the value that Ontarians receive from their work.
I think it makes a great deal of sense that Bill 73 will make it easier for children's aid society workers to get the information they need in terms of any investigation in terms of finally the threshold being one of protection. As has been stated here in the House, right now the threshold is abuse. It changes things incredibly, just that one word, that redefinition, in terms of the scope of the jurisdiction of the children's aid workers and the societies. This is a good thing and is in part why we're supporting it and why I'm supporting it here today.
By expanding the grounds for finding a child in need of protection by adding the words "neglect" and "pattern of neglect" to several grounds, it lowers the threshold for protection by replacing the words "substantial risk" with "risk that the child is likely to be harmed." These are the kinds of corrections we need in this legislation, particularly when we see some of the horror stories that have happened in virtually all the provinces of our country. To do nothing would be borderline criminal. It's good that this is here. It's good that we're dealing with it now.
I think it says a lot that the opposition are prepared to put aside partisan politics, because quite frankly at the end of the day opposition parties get squat credit for supporting government bills. The government gets all the credit. That's just the way it goes. I'm not whining about it; I'm just stating a fact. That's the reality. But again, where the public good is so paramount in an issue, we're quite prepared to give up, if you will, that turf to the government and allow the government to take the credit for having done something that is right. Lord knows, we hold your feet to the fire when it's wrong, and with this government that certainly is the vast majority of the cases. But where we have exceptions like this and you're doing the right thing, we will indeed be there.
That is not to say, however, that we don't have legitimate criticisms to make with regard to actions you have taken that affect children and affect the children's aid society. You trumpet the amount of money you're putting into the children's aid society, forgetting the fact that in the first couple of years of your governing you didn't think it was important at all. In fact, you thought it was so unimportant that it was OK to cut the funding to the children's aid societies. Let's remember where you've been on this. In your mad rush to cut budgets so that you could provide that 30% tax gift to your wealthy friends, going after children's aid societies didn't cause you any pause at all.
Yes, it's good you're putting the money back, but from what I can see of the dollars, you still haven't committed all the dollars that have been cut, certainly not immediately. Let's remember it was only a couple of years ago that you didn't think this work was important enough to leave that funding in place, let alone increase it. You felt it was OK to cut the budgets of the children's aid societies. You did that.
You're the same government that cut 22% of the income of the poorest of the poor, and you knew full well that 50% of the people who are on social assistance are kids. So all of this isn't happening in a vacuum. You've got a lot of ground to make up in my opinion before you can stand up and say that you've been a government that cares about kids - a lot of ground to make up.
Just recently the United Nations was holding out Ontario as a bad example of what wealthy nations are doing to children in poverty. That's you. You did that. That was the United Nations condemning you for the actions you've taken against children in poverty.
Mr Ted Chudleigh (Halton North): They are condemning you. It was your government.
Mr Christopherson: I don't know why you want to start heckling now. I'm telling you what happened. This is what the United Nations has said about you. The United States said this about your government. You're the government that cut 22% of the income of the poorest of the poor; one of the richest nations in the world and you cut 22% of the income of the poorest of the poor, and half those people are kids. That's a reality. Half those people are kids.
Ms Marilyn Mushinski (Scarborough-Ellesmere): You want to talk about a double standard?
Mr Christopherson: The member talks about a double standard. Exactly, because, boy, the kids of the wealthy are doing very well by you, thank you very much. That 30% tax cut is making their life even more comfortable, kids who are already fortunate enough to be in a family that has more than plenty. You decided you were going to take away from the poorest of the poor, the kids who are in poverty, the kids who go to school hungry, the kids who don't have a decent roof over their heads. You took away from them so you could give to the kids of families who already have.
Make no mistake, when we offer up our support for things that you're doing that help the public good, we have an obligation as loyal opposition to point out your entire track record as it relates to kids. Certainly when we take a look at Bill 160 and what's going on in our school system, you haven't done kids there any favours at all - none whatsoever. There's less money being spent in the school system on a per pupil basis than there was when you came into power. That's the reality. We've got all kinds of turmoil, turmoil that was totally unnecessary.
Remember your minister, Minister Snobelen, who was caught out on video saying he had to create a crisis in order to provide justification for what he was going to do? That's exactly what you did. I'd like to know how you think it helps our kids to be in a system that's in such turmoil; teachers demoralized beyond belief because of your approach to education; and what you did to the education system, they've committed themselves to as professionals. You did that. You created that. You created all that turmoil, all that demoralization, and no matter how much you try to deflect it, the reality is, if there are extracurricular activities that are not being performed in schools, that's as a result of what you did. That's as a direct result of what you did to teachers and the teaching profession in Bill 160.
When those teachers took you on with their political action, you hoped they'd be isolated out there. You hoped people would say, "Well, this can't be good for our kids, so we're going to oppose the teachers." That didn't happen, did it? The parents were out there supporting the teachers who were fighting against you on Bill 160. The trustees, by and large, were there with the teachers. Parent councils were there, the students were there, entire communities were there behind teachers in taking you on in terms of what you did to education under Bill 160. I know it surprised you, but that's what happened.
If you're doing such a great job for education, why isn't there somebody lined up somewhere offering up the contrary? The only ones who say it's better are you - the only ones. You don't hear that anywhere else. You don't hear it anywhere else from anyone else. It's only you who says it better. The minister stands here day after day, as you always do - nothing is your fault. You've been ruling like monarchs - borderline dictators, but monarchs - believing you have the right to divine rule, yet every time there's a major explosion in our communities, it's not your fault; never your fault. The reality is that virtually everything that's going on in our education system is as a result of what you've done.
When we see increasing caseloads for social workers, I say to you a lot of that is in large part because of what you've done to those who were already in poverty and those who used to be middle class and have now slipped down into poverty. These numbers are coming from somewhere. You've done nothing that changes the agenda you started down that takes care of the very wealthy in this province at the expense of the most vulnerable and kids in poverty. That's the reality of what you've done.
It wasn't that long ago when I was celebrating with the children's aid society in Hamilton-Wentworth the fact that our government had funded a brand new -
Mr John Hastings (Etobicoke-Rexdale): Huh.
Mr Christopherson: I hear one of the backbenchers over there scoffing because anybody who says anything about spending dollar one for anything is obviously and automatically evil.
The fact of the matter is, in my opinion, the $1 million that we spent to provide a brand new children's aid society building in Hamilton was a good investment for the kids in my community. That was a good investment. The building was not big enough to accommodate the services that needed to be provided, particularly in the area of supervised visits. More and more courts were ordering that that be the condition of access to children and the children's aid societies were asked to be the ones to oversee this, and they didn't even have the physical ability in their building to handle it. We said, "This is an investment in our kids," and I think that was money well spent.
I see the member for Hamilton West here. I don't see any other Hamilton members. I would invite her or anyone else to suggest that wasn't $1 million that was well invested in our community of Hamilton, because that was there to help our kids. We don't see anything like that any more. What did you do to the children's aid society? You cut their budget. You decided that kids in Hamilton-Wentworth weren't important enough to at least leave the budget alone. You cut those budgets. We've lost staff at a time when our caseload of kids who need the protection of the children's aid society is going up. How do you justify that? How do you justify standing up now, bragging about money you're investing that only puts back -
Mr Rosario Marchese (Fort York): On a point of order, Speaker: Would you check for a quorum, please.
The Deputy Speaker: Would you check and see if there's a quorum present.
Clerk at the Table: A quorum is not present, Speaker.
The Deputy Speaker ordered the bells rung.
Clerk at the Table: A quorum is now present, Speaker.
The Deputy Speaker: The member for Hamilton Centre.
Mr Christopherson: Thank you, Speaker. I wasn't expecting that. The Minister of Municipal Affairs says, "What was I saying?" and that's what I was frantically trying to remember as I was sitting there watching the quorum come in. I believe I was asking how you can possibly justify what you've done to children in the province in the short time that you've been in office.
To reiterate, when we were in power as the NDP, and it didn't do any harm that we had cabinet representation at the table, we made sure there were was $1 million to provide a new building for the Children's Aid Society of Hamilton-Wentworth to make sure they had the facilities they needed to provide the protection that Hamilton kids deserve. What did you do?
Hon Al Leach (Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing): We gave them hope and got them off welfare.
Mr Christopherson: You cut the funding to our children's aid societies two years in a row. You cut the funding so you would have the money to give that tax cut to your friends. That's what you did.
Hon Mr Leach: To take 400,000 families right off the rolls.
Mr Christopherson: I hear the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing heckling from his seat. This is the guy I heard stand in his place and say how proud he is to be out of the housing business. I wonder how proud he is when he sees how many homeless people there are, when he hears the United Nations condemn his government for what they have done to children or when he reads reports from social planning and research councils about what has happened to kids in families that are the poorest of the poor during a time when we are recognized as one of the wealthiest states in the world. We're one of the wealthiest in the world.
Hon Mr Leach: I knew I'd make your voice go up.
Mr Christopherson: Of course my voice goes up. I get angry when we talk about kids who are in poverty, who are in worse poverty because of you, at a time when you're giving billions of dollars to people who are already rich. How do you justify that? How do you sanction giving billions of dollars to families that are rich when you take away the money that poor people need to eat? That's exactly what the United Nations told you, and you ought to be ashamed.
The Deputy Speaker: Comments and questions?
Mrs Ross: It's interesting how the third party has differing viewpoints. You hear from the member for Riverdale and the member for Dovercourt, who both spoke very positively about this bill, and I listened to their comments because I felt they were very interested in this bill and wanted to bring forward what they felt was a good piece of legislation, and that's how they interpreted this bill. Then, of course, you go to the member for Hamilton Centre, who can't find anything positive in anything this government does. It's very frustrating, because this is a good bill.
This is a bill that puts children's interests first. This is a bill that looks at early intervention, that gets children out of abusive and neglectful situations and looks after their care. This is a bill that helps to provide the training to children's aid workers so they can help identify children at risk. This is a bill that revitalizes foster care, which is a very important component of looking after our children.
The member for Riverdale stated in her comments that it wasn't their intention to score political points on this bill when it came to the committee hearings. I felt that really spoke to how concerned that member is for children in Ontario, as I am, as I know our other caucus members here are. That's what I'd like to see happen.
This is a good bill. This is a good, positive, step-by-step strategy forward, and I encourage all members in this House to bring forward any constructive viewpoints they might have on this bill instead of looking at all the negative things that should have happened 10 years ago but didn't.
The member for Hamilton Centre is right. Things should have happened earlier. His government should have amended this act earlier. But we have done it. It's a good bill and I encourage everyone to support it.
Mr Mike Colle (Oakwood): I just want to respond to the member for Hamilton Centre's comments and the concern he expressed in his discussion on this bill. He has the right to be very upset with the way this government has created havoc in the homes of ordinary people, in homes where children have come home crying. Over the last couple of months, for instance, the funding formula based on 100 square feet per child in every school would have resulted in the closure of over 500 schools in the province. That caused a lot of turmoil for children throughout Ontario. It's because the government rushed into things too quickly. They didn't think of the impact of their mechanical formula.
I think of what this government has done to hospitals, where they're closing 35 hospitals in this province, shutting down emergencies. They have closed down six emergency departments in the city of Toronto. Where do children go when they're sick now? The parents are really concerned. We know of the case of a family from Whitby where the mother had to drive all the way to Kingston in an ambulance.
This is what is causing a lot of concerns among children and their parents, because this government is just too reckless. It doesn't think before it does things. Over and over again it rushes into massive changes - like housing. This government has basically walked away from its responsibility to house the needy, the seniors and children. Many children in the city of Toronto now are doubled up or tripled up in one-bedroom apartments because there is no housing available.
I support the member in his outrage, because there is a lot to be outraged about in the way children are being treated.
Mr Marchese: I wanted to congratulate the members for Riverdale, Dovercourt and Hamilton Centre for the comments they made.
In our support for Bill 73, a number of our members have pointed out that we need to balance the ability to protect children with the need to respect the integrity of the family in which that child may be. It's a very delicate balance. We have argued that where there is any conflict between intrusiveness and protection, protection of the child must win out. To deal with these very difficult issues in terms of this balance, of course we need hearings to hear from all the people involved in the field, who should be there to protect children. The hearings are a must, because that is the only way we will be able to improve this bill in terms of what people have been saying might be some deficiencies or things we have omitted, because the minister has cherry-picked and has left some things out. The hearings hopefully will bring some of those other things out.
The member for Dovercourt talked about the fact that funding is a critical matter, and the member for Hamilton Centre pointed this out. There have been cutbacks and they have been hurtful, and when there is an outcry from the opposition, when the member for Hamilton Centre says you have cut 22% for social assistance recipients, that is a serious matter for which you have been chastised by the UN committee in Geneva. They said that you as a government, and in Ottawa, "have adopted policies which exacerbated poverty and homelessness among vulnerable groups during a time of strong economic growth and increasing affluence." This isn't just something we have invented. It's something you have done by way of your policies, so the member for Hamilton Centre is quite correct in pointing that out.
Mr Carroll: We've just watched an interesting hour go by in this place as the member for Riverdale and the member for Dovercourt gave very passionate, reasoned explanations for their support of the bill, and then the member for Hamilton Centre for 10 minutes - quite frankly, I thought, "Christmas is obviously here." The member was being complimentary to our government, but that didn't quite last through the whole 20 minutes he had. He then turned, in the last 10 minutes, to his usual diatribe.
It's interesting. When he gets into those, his voice goes way up. I was once told by a very wise old man that the louder the voice, the weaker the argument. I'd like to pick a few holes in a couple of things he said. He talked about us not being interested in children. He says we're the only ones who think our education system is better. He obviously is not talking to parents and he's not talking to children. He must be listening solely to Earl Manners and his henchmen.
He also talked about all the money we've taken out of children's aid societies. We just announced in the 1998 budget $170 million extra for children's aid societies over the next three years. We just announced extra funding for children's aid societies. I know mine, in Chatham-Kent, got $1.4 million over the next three years. So we have put more money in there.
He talked about how difficult we have made it for children. There are 130,000 fewer children in our province dependent on welfare than there were during the NDP reign, so I think that's a better situation. We introduced the Healthy Babies, Healthy Children program, a great early start program for children.
He made reference to the United Nations study. The one thing he didn't tell us is that the United Nations study was based on 1995 statistics. Memory will tell us that 1995 was the year that the NDP was in power and the government of Ontario.
The Deputy Speaker: The member for Hamilton Centre has two minutes to respond.
Mr Christopherson: I appreciate the comments of the members for Oakwood, Fort York, Chatham-Kent and my Hamilton colleague the member for Hamilton West.
It's interesting that the member for Hamilton West said that I didn't say anything positive and the member for Chatham-Kent said that I spent 50% of my speech saying something positive. If we're going to talk about the way things are here, the Hansard is there.
To the member for Hamilton West, I did start out being supportive, because I think it's important to point out when the government is finally doing something right and that they be given that acknowledgement. The fact that we're going to support it and the fact that we're fast-tracking it, to me, is important to state.
But if the member thinks it's my job to spend my entire 20 minutes bowing to the Minister of Community and Social Services or taking my cap off and saying, "Thank you, thank you, thank you," and puckering up to the cabinet ministers, I say to her that that's what Tory backbenchers are for; that's not what opposition members are here for.
I thought I gave a balanced reflection of what's happening here today. The fact is that we are supportive of this bill, and I spent half my speech saying that. I spent the rest of my speech commenting and criticizing you, as is my job, pointing out where you have let children down in this province.
When the member for Hamilton West says, "Let's always talk about the positive things," listen, with what has happened in Hamilton, there's not much positive to talk about. Ask the mayor of Hamilton or the regional chairman for their comments on it. They'll tell you exactly the same thing.
What about the non-profit housing units you cut that children could have gone into, the Lister Block project that we could have saved, the money that has been cut out of social services? You didn't comment on that. That's the reality of Hamilton, not the one you see with rose-coloured glasses.
The Deputy Speaker: Further debate?
Mr Dan Newman (Scarborough Centre): It's my pleasure today to participate in the debate on second reading of Bill 73, the Child and Family Services Amendment Act, 1998. As the bill says, it's An Act to amend the Child and Family Services Act in order to better promote the best interests, protection and well being of children.
When you go through this bill and read it section by section, this bill does everything its title says it does. It does promote the best interests of children, it does promote the protection of children and it does look after the well-being of children.
The amendments in this bill make it clear that our child protection legislation needs to put the best interests of the child first, and I'm proud to say that Bill 73 does that. These are the first major changes made to child protection legislation in the last 10 years. In the last 10 years there has not been any major change made to child protection legislation. Bill 73 acts to change that.
This bill, if passed, would provide stronger tools for the courts, professionals and front-line workers to do their jobs. I think that's good news, and I'll comment a little later on that section of the bill. These significant amendments focus on rules critical to protecting children better.
I'm pleased to say that I believe the Minister of Community and Social Services has listened carefully to the advice she has received. The amendments in this bill are based on a task force and inquest recommendations, the expert panel's report and the extensive consultations we undertook with the child protection sector in this province. The amendments are also part of this government's comprehensive reform initiatives to improve Ontario's child protection system. It's not just this bill; this bill doesn't do it on its own. There are a series of other changes our government has brought forward that I'm going to be talking about later as well.
One of the most important changes is that last year 220 additional front-line child protection workers and supervisors were hired as a result of our $15-million announcement that was made in January. In May we announced an additional $170 million for child protection, to be phased in over the next three years. In September all children's aid societies had been trained and were using the standardized approach to risk assessment. I think that's good for the children of Ontario, whether they live in Scarborough or in Listowel, Ontario.
As the minister, the Honourable Janet Ecker, has noted, "We know from inquests into the deaths of children and from the report of the child mortality task force that children have been falling through the cracks." They've been falling through the cracks because no changes had been made in the last 10 years.
On October 28, she further stated: "The purpose of today's amendments is to make it clear that our child protection legislation puts the best interests of the child first. These are the first major changes made to child protection legislation in 10 years." Again, some more comments about the fact that no significant or major changes had been made over the last 10 years with respect to child protection legislation in this province.
Nico Trocme, a Toronto social work professor and member of the expert panel said: "It's encouraging to see that the government has moved forward so quickly on the work done by the panel of experts. This is a very positive move to a more child-focused approach to services for children and families in Ontario." Here we have a social work professor, a member of the panel, commending the government for this.
I know that Minister Ecker herself also stated on this day: "These ongoing investments and improvements, combined with the amendments I have introduced today," - this was back on October 28 - "represent the most comprehensive overhaul of the child protection system in 10 years. These changes will significantly strengthen our ability to protect vulnerable children in Ontario. They will provide children's aid societies and their workers with the tools and resources they need to protect children better."
I think this is a worthwhile and worthy bill, and that's why I believe, as we heard today, there is support from all three parties to have this bill passed, to receive second reading. I'll be standing in my place to support this bill because, as I mentioned, it is a worthy bill and stands to protect the children in our province, all across the province.
The bill itself makes it clear that the best interests, protection and well-being of the child are paramount. The bill also expands the grounds for finding a child in need of protection by explicitly including neglect, lowering the threshold for the risk of harm and lowering the threshold for emotional harm.
The bill also permits evidence of past parenting to be admitted in all proceedings, under part III, the child protection provisions. The bill also encourages more reporting by clarifying the public and professional duty to report that a child is, or may be, in need of protection. I think this is a very significant part of this bill.
The bill goes on to improve and streamline the processes that allow children's aid societies to access the information they need to protect children. The bill also promotes earlier and more decisive permanency planning so that decisions are made faster for children.
The bill also provides for a mandatory review of the CFSA at least every five years. So we won't have to be waiting down the road, as we have here, where it has been 10 years, to make any significant changes. This bill will say that the Child and Family Services Act will be reviewed every five years. That will be the law in this province. The bill also allows the Ministry of Community and Social Services to issue binding directives to children's aid societies in this province.
These are just some of the many important reforms this bill brings forward. As I mentioned, it's not just this bill; it's many other actions on the part of this government that have been brought about to improve child protection in this province. One of them is the common risk assessment system that has been mandated for all children's aid societies in our province. It is now in effect and helping protection workers make better judgements about when a child is at risk.
We've also established a new information database to link all children's aid societies, which will be up and going next March. The database will help front-line workers track high-risk families whenever they move and alert the system to past children's aid society involvement in these cases. I think that's important as people move about the province.
There has also been, as I mentioned, an additional $15 million that was invested last year to hire 220 additional front-line workers, to show support for this new database and to improve staff training at children's aid societies in Ontario. There has been additional funding of $170 million that is being invested over the next three years to hire more new staff, to revitalize foster care and training for front-line workers. This is significant.
There has also been the highly successful Healthy Babies, Healthy Children program, which is a prevention and early intervention program for high-risk children under the age of six, and that program is being expanded.
There is also a new approach to funding children's aid societies that is equitable and better reflects the workload and service needs that will be introduced.
There is also training and orientation for professionals, including doctors and teachers, being developed to assist them in their duty to report cases where a child is or may be in need of protection. That goes back to Bill 73, the Child and Family Services Amendment Act.
In addition to the 220 workers who were hired as a result of an announcement earlier in the year, on December 3 of this year, just two weeks ago today, the Minister of Community and Social Services, the Honourable Janet Ecker, made an announcement that children's aid societies would be able to hire 760 new front-line workers over the next three years.
Mr John L. Parker (York East): Wow.
Mr Newman: "Wow," says the member for York East, and he's absolutely right, because that 220, plus the 760, is 980 new workers who will be in place by the time those 760 workers are in place. That will be 980 additional front-line workers to protect the children in the province.
Mr Parker: That's the most in history.
Mr Newman: "The most in history," the member for York East said, and he's absolutely correct.
What the minister said on this day is that we now have a method for funding child protection that is fair and better reflects the workload and service needs of children's aid societies. This represents the latest step in our ongoing reform of Ontario's child protection system. As I mentioned, the 760 new additional workers, plus the 220 who were hired last year, will give us the most child protection workers ever in the history of this province. This government takes a back seat to no one with respect to child protection.
We've also provided new staff with a 12-week pre-work training program for these front-line workers, and also increased the minimum foster care rates by 85%. This will help children's aid societies recruit approximately 500 more foster families by the year 2001. These, again, are very significant things happening with respect to child protection in this province.
As I was doing some research for my speech today, I wanted to see what various newspapers had to say about this bill, Bill 73, the Child and Family Services Amendment Act, 1998. In the Toronto Star on October 7 of this year, the headline is, "All Parties Back Bill on Abuse," and there's reference in this article to a child who was beaten for months. That's a very sad case that happened in my riding. I hope this bill ensures that that child is the last child who ever has to endure anything like that.
The Toronto Star on October 29 - that would have been the day after the bill was introduced - said, "New Law Helps Abused Children," and it quotes the Minister of Social Services, the Honourable Janet Ecker: "I think the most significant change in this legislation is what it says to everyone in the system.... It says that the question uppermost in your mind at all times is what is in the best interest of this child." That exactly goes back to the full title of the bill.
The Toronto Sun, on the very same day, October 29, 1998: "Tories Move to Protect Children." It states, "The new law would enshrine the protection of children, not the interests of the family, as the governing principle of Ontario's child welfare laws." It quotes the minister as saying, "`These changes will provide new rules to better protect children at risk of abuse and neglect,' she told the Legislature. `This means stronger tools for the courts, professionals and front-line workers to do their jobs.'"
The National Post on October 29: "Children's Rights Put Ahead of Family in Changes to Law." It says, "Legislation introduced yesterday will require child welfare workers in Ontario to place the rights of the child ahead of the needs of the family when assessing cases of suspected abuse."
I know these newspapers are just out of Toronto, but from across Ontario, the Woodstock Daily Sentinel says: "Child Welfare Reform Wins Praise from CAS Chief." It quotes Marty McNamara, the executive director of the Oxford Children's Aid Society, and it states, "It's encouraging to see that the government has moved forward so quickly in respect to new amendments to the legislation.... We see it as a very positive move towards a more child-focused approach."
It goes on to say:
"The child protection amendments would also:
"Grant family access to children who are crown wards only if it benefits the child;
"Clarify the duty of professionals and the public to report when a child...needs protection;
"Promote earlier and more decisive planning for children's futures so permanent arrangements can be found as soon as possible.
"The amendments stem from findings of the child mortality task force and the resulting eight-member...panel Minister Ecker appointed to review Ontario's child protection legislation."
The Cambridge Reporter, on October 30: "Fewer Kids Will Fall Through Cracks." It quotes Peter Ringrose, the executive director of the family and children's services in Waterloo region, stating that the amendments in this bill "will make it easier for workers to step in when abuse is suspected." It goes on to say - and this is Peter Ringrose, the executive director, talking - "`It's lowered the threshold in a number of clauses as to the extent of evidence you would have to show,' he said. `In the past you had to demonstrate substantial risk. In the new proposals they've changed that to simply any risk that the child is likely to be harmed.'" He goes on to say that this is a good-news story.
An editorial in the Hamilton Spectator: "Support for Children at Risk." Partway through the editorial on October 30, it says: "While the legislation is overdue, Social Services Minister Janet Ecker deserves applause for making the move in response to many recommendations from child care professionals and coroner's inquest juries. The bill, in general, is broadly worded - as it should be - to give authorities the necessary discretion to intervene on behalf of children when trouble first appears. Surely, the safety of children must take precedence over the rights of parents and guardians. If this legislation had been in place earlier, some tragic deaths of children might well have been prevented."
I agree with the Hamilton Spectator when they said that on October 30, because, again, what this bill does is definitely promote the best interests of children in this province. It promotes the protection and well-being of all children in the province.
The London Free Press, October 29: "Abused Children Target of New Bill." It says here:
"Among other things, the new legislation would:
"Make it clear its main goal is to protect children rather than to preserve the family.
"Expand the grounds for taking a child into protection to include neglect and allow intervention at a lower level of emotional and physical harm.
"Encourage professionals such as doctors to notify the children's aid of suspected abuse early and often.
"Make it easier for a CAS to prevail in court, requiring the agency to prove a `risk' of harm rather than a `substantial risk.'
"The proposed legislation - the law's first rewrite in a decade - borrows from a recent panel of experts that had the support of aid society workers and managers."
The Windsor Star - going farther down the 401 - on October 29: "Ontario Overhauls Child Welfare Laws." It quotes the minister in this piece on that day, saying:
"We know from the inquests into the deaths of children and from the report of the child mortality task force that children have been falling through the cracks.
"The purpose of today's amendments is to make it clear that our child protection legislation puts the best interests of the child first."
I think that is why we have agreement from all three parties for this bill to proceed through second reading.
The Globe and Mail on October 29: "Ontario to Beef up Child Protection." It says, "The legislation also would expand the grounds for intervening to protect a child at risk, lower the threshold for intervention, and encourage more and earlier reporting of suspected abuse."
The last piece I wanted to bring forward was a piece that was written by the Canadian Press. My colleague the member for York East touched on this article on December 3 when he spoke in this House. He talked about the headline that says, "New Bill Puts Children First." He spoke at length about that and gave an excellent speech on that night, because he believes, as I do, that this is a good bill. Bill 73, the Child and Family Services Amendment Act, does indeed, as it says here in the Canadian Press article, puts children first. I think this is good for all the children in the province, whether they live in Listowel, whether they live in Scarborough, whether they live in Moosonee or any point in between any of those spots, that the children of this province will definitely be better protected by the changes in Bill 73.
On that note, I'll conclude my remarks.
The Deputy Speaker: Comments and questions?
Mr Mario Sergio (Yorkview): I commend the member for Scarborough Centre and the government as well for bringing the bill forward at this time, if not before. At least we have something to go by. We have expressed our support in general terms of the bill. If nothing else, we have said that the bill still has some areas where it should be improved and I'm very pleased to see the bill at least at this late stage. If we had had a choice, we would have liked to see passage of this bill in this session this year, but this is not going to happen.
At least we can see that the bill is moving forward. It's going to public hearings, where hopefully the members on the government side, who usually have the majority on any committee, will listen to those people who will bring forward some amendments, some much-needed changes to the bill and strengthen it, make it better than it is. Even the Children's Aid Society of Toronto has a number of difficulties with the bill, but they are also saying, "Let's get on with it," because this is at least the beginning of reforming the child care protection legislation here in Toronto. It is much needed, it is very much needed indeed, especially for those children about whom almost on a daily basis we hear horror stories. It will offer some much-needed protection for those children.
If we offer our support, it is our very serious commitment to the welfare and protection of our young children in Ontario. I'm very pleased to see that we are moving on and that this will carry on to the committee level.
Mr Christopherson: I also - you might want to write this down, Dan - want to commend the member for Scarborough Centre on his speech. The fact that he was able to read off for close to 20 minutes all the various entities, individuals and groups that support Bill 73 is an accurate reflection of the way people feel about this bill.
Certainly it's the way we feel about it. There are some issues we're going to raise in committee where we think it could go a little further, but there is general agreement that it puts abused children first and, therefore, it's in the public good that this bill proceed as quickly as possible. That's why he was able to read out the kinds of endorsements of the bill that he did and why he's receiving the support of both the opposition parties.
Let me tell you, it comes at a price. There are a lot of people who don't like you much as a government. Not you personally, Dan; I'm talking about you as a government. When people tune in on TV and see you standing here saying, "It's a good bill; we're going to support you," and then you go back to your home community, some folks there want to know: "Have you taken leave of your senses? Why are you doing that?"
The reality is that on that rare occasion when we get a good piece of legislation from the Harris government that actually helps the public good, then it needs to be supported. But I would point out to the member, and ask him to comment, that if it's so good now to hire these staff, as he's mentioned, and it's so good now to put this money in, why isn't he commenting on how bad it was to cut the staff in the first place? By the way, when you talk about hiring 220 staff, there are already 455 permanent positions lost in children's aid societies. Why don't you comment on how wrong it was for your government for two years in a row to cut the budgets of the children's aid societies? I'd like to hear that in the interest of fairness.
Mr Carroll: I want to compliment the member for Scarborough Centre on a great speech.
Mr Bradley: I too wonder why the member did not mention that, first of all, there were these huge cuts that took place in terms of child care workers in the province and then you make it look as though somehow you've done them a favour. You kick them in the stomach and then you don't kick them in the stomach next time and you think they're supposed to be happy about it. Everybody is delighted when you are converted on the road to Damascus and finally come forward with the funding that you've already taken out of the system. We thank God for small mercies, at the very least.
Second, the building in St Catharines is decrepit and not capable of handling the volume of people who have to work in it. The people cannot do their jobs appropriately. They have made representations to you in order to carry out the provisions of this bill. Obviously, they're going to have to have you respond to their request for funding to have an appropriate building in St Catharines for the Niagara Family and Children's Services. I implore you to do that. There was a local fundraising effort. A lot of people made donations to it. They were anticipating that there might be some funding coming. Who knows, with an election coming perhaps you could be the first to make the announcement.
I would also like to ask the member what he thinks of the fact that Richard "Badger" Brennan is leaving the press gallery here at Queen's Park. Tonight there is a going-away reception for Badger Brennan. I know there's almost unanimity in the government benches in terms of applause that he will no longer be badgering you people, but I can tell you that we will miss him very much here at Queen's Park. He was the president of the press gallery. He's going to have to abdicate that position now. I'm sure we all pay tribute to Badger Brennan.
The Deputy Speaker: As long as he's not taking Wellington Road through Damascus.
The member for Scarborough Centre has two minutes to wrap up.
Mr Newman: It's my pleasure to respond to the comments from my colleagues. I guess it must be Christmastime because we're all in agreement here today. I want to thank the member for Yorkview for his comments and the member for Hamilton Centre for his comments, the member for Chatham-Kent for the best use of two minutes I've ever seen, and I think that's great. I always want to thank the member for St Catharines for his comments. Sometimes his comments don't deal with the bill; some might say most times they don't deal with the bill -
Mr Parker: Do they ever?
Mr Newman: "Do they ever?" asks the member for York East. They don't normally, so why should today be any different? But we always enjoy hearing his commentary.
I know the members would definitely want to know that there are more front-line workers under this government than there were under the Peterson government or under the Rae government, more child protection workers to protect the children in this province, and that is what's important.
I mentioned this bill is all about putting children first. It's a bill that makes it clear that the best interests, protection and well-being of the child are paramount. It expands the grounds for finding a child in need of protection by explicitly including neglect, lowering the threshold for the risk of harm and lowering the threshold for emotional harm.
The bill also permits evidence of past parenting to be admitted into all proceedings under part III, which is the child protection provisions. It encourages more reporting by clarifying the public and professional duty to report that a child is or may be in need of protection. It improves and streamlines the processes that allow children's aid societies to access the information they need to protect children. It promotes earlier and more decisive permanency planning so that decisions can be made faster for children. That's what is important: putting children first. It also provides for a mandatory review of the act at least every five years. It allows the Ministry of Community and Social Services to issue binding directives to all children's aid societies.
The Deputy Speaker: Further debate?
Mr Sergio: I'm pleased to join the debate with my colleagues here in the House on this important piece of legislation. We are dealing tonight, at this time, with so-called Bill 73, which is An Act to amend the Child and Family Services Act in order to better promote the best interests, protection and wellbeing of children. It's a good title.
I believe everyone has indeed addressed the well-being and the welfare of our children in Ontario. We indicated quite some time ago our intention to support such legislation. As a matter of fact, this legislation was introduced for first reading back on October 28 of this year. That is some three years since the government took office, and they said this would be one of those things they would introduce. I wish and I would suspect that every member of the House would have -
Mr Sergio: Yes, indeed, that they would have introduced it at an earlier time. But we'll take it as it is now.
I'm also pleased to see that at least we are moving it into the new year and have an opportunity, not only ourselves but the people in the field, especially the children's aid society people and the other people who are associated with giving care and attention. They have demonstrated always, on a continuous basis and in an increasing manner, the interests and safety concerns and welfare of our children in Ontario.
It's not one of those things that you feel like bashing the government because of what they have done and the cuts and stuff like that, especially at this particular time on this type of motherhood-fatherhood bill. It is good to see that we are moving forward with it. It's a reform that is badly needed and has been neglected for a long time. If not only this government but past governments, them all, would have introduced necessary legislation with the necessary tools, the necessary mechanisms to provide those safety nets, those caring measures, we might have saved the lives of many children in our province. But so be it. We are here. As I said in my brief - Mr Speaker, if I'm allowed, I've got a memo here to stop at 17. Am I supposed to stop at 17, may I ask? Am I supposed to stop at this particular time?
Mr Colle: Yes, stop now.
Mr Sergio: I'll do that but will carry on later, for the time's sake.
The Deputy Speaker: Comments and questions? Further debate? Does the parliamentary assistant have a statement to wrap up?
Mr Carroll: No, thank you, Mr Speaker.
The Deputy Speaker: Mrs Ecker has moved second reading of Bill 73.
Is it the pleasure of the House that the motion carry? It is carried.
Shall the bill be ordered for third reading?
Mr Carroll: We'd like the bill referred to the standing committee on resources development.
The Deputy Speaker: Is it the wish of the House that the bill be referred to the standing committee on resources development? It is agreed.
CONDOMINIUM ACT, 1998 / LOI DE 1998 SUR LES CONDOMINIUMS
Mrs Ross, on behalf of Mr Tsubouchi, moved third reading of the following bill:
Bill 38, An Act to revise the law relating to condominium corporations, to amend the Ontario New Home Warranties Plan Act and to make other related amendments / Projet de loi 38, Loi révisant des lois en ce qui concerne les associations condominiales, modifiant la Loi sur le régime de garanties des logements neufs de l'Ontario et apportant d'autres modifications connexes.
Mrs Lillian Ross (Hamilton West): I'll keep my comments very brief. The Condominium Act was enacted in 1967 and revised in 1979, and since that time condominium development and condominium home ownership has changed dramatically. Where in the 1960s it used to be a relatively new concept, today it's a matter of choice of lifestyle for many people across this province.
I want to take this opportunity to thank Minister Jim Flaherty, former parliamentary assistant in this ministry, for his hard work during the consultation process. I also want to thank Paul Gordon, policy for the ministry, and Nancy Sills for their hard work - they have spent a tremendous amount of time supporting and drafting this bill - and Derek O'Toole as well for his hard work. Particularly Charles Finley, who was legal counsel and has since retired from the ministry, put a tremendous amount of work in this bill as well; and I can't not comment on Peter Ross - no relation - a fine gentleman who has since retired from the ministry, who spent eight years bringing this Condominium Act to fruition. This is a good day for Peter Ross, and one he should be very proud of.
This is a consensus piece of legislation, and I urge all members to support it and to move forward.
The Deputy Speaker (Mr Bert Johnson): Comments and questions?
Mr Mario Sergio (Yorkview): In support of the member who has just addressed Bill 38, the Condominium Act, I would tell the members that I was at the hearings we had on this particular bill. While the bill proposes a number of changes, as well there were a number of submissions that came and expressed serious concern on a number of areas. Again, I'm asking members of the government, especially those who will be sitting on the committee when this comes back for the final say, that they pay some attention and make those necessary changes so we can have those amendments. I hope the members on the government side will take that into consideration, because in the end the fact is that we want to see the best possible legislation approved in the House.
As has been said before, the government may take the final credit. So be it. It is in our interests to have our input, to see that the legislation is approved in such a way that it's fair for the owners of those condominium units, it's fair for the management people and the board of directors as well, but ultimately it has to be fair for the owners, who will have to pay the maintenance fees. They are the owners, so they will pay the taxes. They want to live in a healthy environment and not always be under pressure because of mismanagement or other factors.
I support the comments made by the member.
Mr Rosario Marchese (Fort York): It's good to have two minutes to say that we have supported this bill when it appeared before us in the past. We understand and support disclosure up front, of course. It's a good thing for people buying condominiums. We understand and support the fact that a reserve fund has been set up for capital repairs. That's something everybody has been asking for in the private sector. In the general rental market, that's something they would like as well, by the way. Reserve funds should be set aside in order to deal with capital problems and capital repairs.
I would remind you, Speaker, that this is a bill that all three political parties supported, if you recall. You will also recall that the government asked for, if I remember, three or four weeks of hearings on this bill. Do you remember that? Three or four weeks of hearings on a bill that we said we support. Normally, if three parties support the bill, you say OK, you'll possibly have a day of hearings, maybe two days of hearings. But when you have a Condominium Act that all three political parties support, do you really think you need three weeks of hearings so the good people of Ontario can say, "Yes, this is a good thing, by and large"? I don't think so.
There have been so many bills that have required or would have required a hearing from people, would have required a voice to be given to people, where you said, "No, we haven't got time for that," but for bills that we all agreed with, they give a couple of weeks, three weeks of hearings.
Anyway, we support disclosure and we support -
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Questions and comments?
Mr Jack Carroll (Chatham-Kent): I just want to compliment the member for Hamilton West again on a fine presentation.
Mr James J. Bradley (St Catharines): It's high time this government brought forward this legislation to do with condominiums in this province. I've read it thoroughly and, fortunately, you have accepted most of the recommendations the Liberal Party has made in this regard and that's why we support this. I've looked at those provisions carefully and, having done that, we support the bill.
The Speaker: Response?
Mrs Ross: This bill has gone through a tremendous amount of consultation and obviously the opposition recognizes that and that's why they're supporting it.
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): I know Mr Wildman isn't in his seat. I can assume from the member for Dovercourt that it's OK if I read the ruling. Thank you.
On Tuesday, December 8, 1998, the member for Algoma (Mr Wildman) raised a point of order with respect to the authority of the Speaker under standing order 105(i). Let me begin by defining my power under that standing order. I have no ability to direct the committee to consider a matter - whether it is procedural or administrative. I do not have the ability to request that the committee undertake a review of procedural matters relating to this House or committees in general. In addition, the committee may advise me and/or the Board of Internal Economy on matters of administration.
I believe that I, as the Speaker, do have the authority to request that the committee consider a matter of administration. Indeed, Speakers have done so in the past. However, I think that that authority stops short of making a request that the standing committee on the Legislative Assembly review and report on a decision that has already been taken by the Board of Internal Economy. Under the Legislative Assembly Act, the board is charged with the responsibility for making decisions relating to the operation of the Office of the Assembly. It is not within my power to use the committee as an appeal body for those decisions. Finally, I want to say to the members that I believe it would be highly improper for the Speaker to refer a matter to a committee that would involve an investigation of any member of this House. That is a referral that can only be made by the House itself.
Mr Tony Silipo (Dovercourt): On a point of order, Mr Speaker: When you read the first paragraph in this statement, I believe I heard you say, "I do not have the ability." The written statement says, "do have the ability." I just wanted to be clear about what -
The Speaker: I'm sorry, it should say "do have the ability." I clearly do have the authority under the standing orders.
CONDOMINIUM ACT, 1998 / LOI DE 1998 SUR LES CONDOMINIUMS (continued)
The Speaker: Further debate?
Mr Mike Colle (Oakwood): Briefly, in terms of the new condo law, I know the member for Hamilton West has done a good job on this in committee. She tried to get some of the complexities ironed out. I know some of the representations were certainly helpful in that regard.
What I experienced in the committee was the number of volunteers who sit on the boards of directors of condominium corporations and the countless hours they put in to ensure that their condominium corporation runs for the benefit of the owners and the residents of that condo, and that came across loud and clear. These people sometimes have a very thankless task. I know they had some problems with some parts of the bill, but I think they were given the ability to at least have some input and I think they should be congratulated for the time and effort they put in in helping to make this a better bill.
I also want to say that one of the concerns I should put on the record - it sort of came a bit late in the game, but there was an article on December 16, yesterday, by John Ibbitson in the Post which raised some issues that I think the government should just be on guard for. Mark Freedman, who is the former chair of the Canadian Condominium Institute, said, "There are many obstacles to successfully completing a condominium project." He said he had mixed feelings about the new law, which is three times, by the way, longer than its predecessor. He's quoted as saying, "In some ways, it creates as much red tape as it eliminates."
That is maybe one of the pitfalls of trying to redo such a complex piece of legislation. It adds to complexity for ordinary citizens who are purchasing a condominium and it is not going to be easy for them, although this bill does attempt to deal with some of the inconsistencies in the problems condominium owners have faced in the past.
I certainly commend the government for working hard on this. I know they have tried, but there are still pieces of it which I think have to be monitored. Mr Freedman raises that flag. Another flag is raised by Robert Gardiner, who is a lawyer representing more than 200 condominium corporations in the Toronto area. He is worried that possibly this might also lead to some extra pressures to have higher fees passed on to condominium owners as a result of some of these changes. I just put the government on alert, and the people who are fortunate enough to own and live in a condominium, that you have to be vigilant in ensuring this new act doesn't end up in higher fees, and it is a somewhat more understandable improvement over the old act. Our party is supporting it. It is an act that is going to benefit the majority of people who are living in a condominium situation.
The Deputy Speaker (Mr Bert Johnson): Questions and comments? Further debate?
Does the parliamentary assistant want to wrap up?
Mrs Ross: I just want to thank everyone for speaking to the bill. It is a good, positive move forward and we encourage them to vote for it.
The Deputy Speaker: Mrs Ross has moved third reading of Bill 38. Is it the pleasure of the House the motion carry? It is carried.
Be it resolved that the bill do now pass and be entitled as in the motion.
It being almost 6 of the clock, this House stands adjourned until 6:30.
The House adjourned at 1757.
Evening meeting reported in volume B.