L072B - Thu 17 Dec 1998 / Jeu 17 Déc 1998 1
The House met at 1831.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
RED LIGHT CAMERAS PILOT PROJECTS ACT, 1998 / LOI DE 1998 SUR LES PROJETS PILOTES AYANT TRAIT AUX DISPOSITIFS PHOTOGRAPHIQUES RELIÉS AUX FEUX ROUGES
Mr Clement moved second reading of the following bill:
Bill 102, An Act to amend the Highway Traffic Act to permit pilot projects relating to red light cameras / Projet de loi 102, Loi modifiant le Code de la route pour permettre les projets pilotes ayant trait aux dispositifs photographiques reliés aux feux rouges.
Hon Tony Clement (Minister of Transportation): Madam Speaker, I would like to seek unanimous consent to limit debate on this particular matter to one hour split three ways among the three political parties and that any unused time be further split between the two opposition parties.
The Acting Speaker (Ms Marilyn Churley): Is that agreed? Agreed.
Hon Mr Clement: It is my pleasure to join in the second reading debate on this very important bill, the Red Light Cameras Pilot Projects Act, 1998.
Let me take this opportunity at the outset to thank both the Liberal Party - the opposition party - and the New Democratic Party - the third party - for their co-operation on this bill being debated to its successful conclusion this evening. Their co-operation will allow the government of Ontario to work with the municipalities early in the new year to move forward with these pilot projects. That is the kind of co-operation that is necessary because we are dealing with an issue of extreme importance to the citizenry in Ontario.
I said when I introduced the bill that according to Ministry of Transportation records collisions at municipal signalized intersections account for 21% of all collisions in Ontario; these collisions contribute to the over $9 billion which is the annualized cost of all collisions in Ontario; and in 1996, the last year in which we have complete statistics, there were 21,500 convictions for running red lights. I said at the time that's 21,500 times too many, too often, that we have this violation in our society. Indeed, the fatality statistics also tell the story: 20 deaths last year at signalized intersections; 20 deaths too many.
We've all been grappling with ways to handle this issue. I would like to think that through this discussion we have come to the conclusion that the best way to proceed is through a pilot project that genuinely tests throughout, not only in the municipalities of Toronto or in other urban municipalities but in any municipality that has signalized intersections that wishes to proceed, to test how best to combat this aggressive driving behaviour.
I am of the view that the same people who habitually run red lights are the people who are taking unnecessary risks on our highways, who contribute to road rage by weaving in and out of driving vehicles, who habitually flout our laws in the misperceived notion that somehow this is allowable and that somehow they are exempt from the rules of physics, exempt from the rules of mortality perhaps, but they are a risk to other innocent drivers or pedestrians on our roadways.
We concur with the idea that now is the time to test these red light cameras - some of those photograph the back plate, some of those photograph the front plate and driver - in conjunction with enhanced police presence at our intersections as well. I can tell the honourable members that the enhanced police presence option was initially tested for a brief period of time in my region, the region of Peel, in the city of Mississauga, and indeed it was found to have some deterrent effect. We would like to try that in a broader pool of municipalities, and through the participation of the Insurance Bureau of Canada, the cost of that is being shared by the private sector.
In Peel it was found that although the cost of those additional police officers was $50,000, there was over $250,000 worth of tickets that were issued, not only on red light running but also on lack of seat belts, driving while suspended and driving without insurance. Our police officers were able to identify these drivers on the spot and issue those sanctions that are attributable to those offences, and the result, I believe, is safer roadways.
But I do not want to prejudge. The issue here is, can we allow red light cameras to be part of the solution? The answer is yes. Let us work on all of the solutions - police presence, red light cameras, maybe other video camera technology - let the municipalities decide what is best for them and come up with a proposal that makes sense, and we will be happy on the government side to proceed with those proposals and to test those results.
With that, again I want to thank the opposition this time for being part of the solution that we all want to get to, which is safer roads in our communities. I believe we are on the cusp of a solution that allows the municipalities to test some of the solutions that are out there. I commit my ministry to working with the municipalities and with other members of this Legislature to combat this aggressive driving behaviour before it unduly takes more lives and creates more damage in our society, which we can ill afford. I thank you for your time.
Mr Mike Colle (Oakwood): Madam Speaker, as you know, both opposition parties have been very anxious to see red light camera technology used in Ontario and have been asking for it, have been pleading for it really, along with many Ontarians, for the last two and a half years.
I think most Ontarians are essentially fed up with the epidemic of red light running that's occurred at intersections all across this province. Whether you're in Hamilton, Ottawa or Toronto, it has been something that's sickened a lot of people, especially people who've had family members who have been victimized by these accidents. I wish this had happened earlier. We could have saved a lot of lives. We could have saved a lot of accidents, the grief of families going through accidents.
These accidents at intersections are the most severe. They're usually T-boning at high speed. The evidence shows internationally that when a photograph is taken of the red light runner going through an intersection, they're not only going through a red light and disobeying a signal, they're also going at a speed higher than the speed limit. They're going 60, 70, 80 kilometres per hour at the same time. So they're endangering not only themselves but innocent people.
In terms of the bill itself, I think it's a necessary step. I know the government has had many misgivings about the technology, but the government has bowed to public pressure. The public really didn't accept no for an answer, because there is no other solution by itself.
You can have all the police presence you want if you have the financial resources to do it. Even that is not sufficient, because when a police officer goes to court, time and time again it's almost impossible for the police officer giving the evidence not to be contradicted by a very astute defence attorney who will question the time of day, the lighting, the police officer's vision. So even though the police officer is right on the spot catching a red light runner, that police officer may have to spend days and months in court. As in the case of the Laporte family in Ottawa, the eyewitness account was not taken by the judge. That's why police presence by itself cannot do it. That has been proven in country after country.
It also puts the police in danger. You can imagine a police officer who has to be stationed at an intersection when a person runs a red light. What does the police officer do? Does he or she then proceed through the red light to catch the offending red light runner? It is a very precarious situation for police officers in a moving violation, especially when a person is probably going at a very high speed and not obeying the red light.
Whether you're in Melbourne, Australia, New York City, Scottsdale, Arizona, Los Angeles, or now the province of Alberta, red light camera technology helps the police do their job more effectively. It's a tool for the police. It's a tool which gives them not only potential evidence if it goes to court, but this tool acts as a deterrent. In city after city, the evidence shows that the installation of red light cameras reduces the incidence of red light running by up to 30% or 40%. The cameras themselves act as a deterrent.
As you know, in the case of the pilot project that the city of Toronto put in at the corner of St Clair and Dufferin, there was a 50% reduction in the number of people who ran red lights in that trial period. When they first put the cameras in, an average of 60 cars were running the red light each hour during the first month of operation. In the second month, that was down to an average of 28 cars. So from 60 per hour with one camera, it went down to 28 per hour, and they weren't even issuing tickets or summonses. The fact that the camera was there was acting as a deterrent in this one pilot project at St Clair and Dufferin.
In cases where cameras have been in use in Australia, since 1983, there has been a similar example whereby there's a deterrent effect of up to a 30% to 40% reduction in violations that occurs right off the bat because the cameras are there. The cameras are also signed. There's a warning as you approach the intersection telling you you're coming to a red-light-monitored intersection. It acts as a deterrent by being there.
What I hope this will start and what we've been trying to do for the last couple of years is to educate the public about how the cameras work and how horrific this problem is. Thankfully, with the help of people across this province, we've been able to educate people about the horrors and the consequences of red light running. A lot of people I've talked to have a much different attitude about red light running today than they had two and a half years ago. A couple of years ago people said: "The cameras are like photo-radar. We don't like photo-radar. We don't want cameras." But I think people have begun to understand. These are not about people speeding; these cameras are about people injuring other innocent victims - pedestrians, cyclists or motorists - at high speeds at intersections, where death and injury result. We're trying to stop that with the cameras.
It's not about a person speeding on a highway somewhere; it's about a person speeding at the corner of King Edward and Rideau in the city of Ottawa; it's about a person speeding at the corner of Broadview and Danforth, constantly, 60 per hour, or at Bathurst and St Clair, at Dufferin and Finch, intersections where there are pedestrians, seniors, ordinary people going to work in their cars, and if there are 60 per hour running these red lights, you can imagine the danger they're putting people in.
You have to take into account that in the city of Toronto there are about 1,800 signalized intersections. How many police officers would you need? There are about 3,200 in the GTA. How many police officers would you need to be there 24 hours a day, trying to catch these red light runners? You'd almost have to double the number of police offices in the GTA to catch them, considering the frequency of red light running which occurs.
As I said, it's part of an education process. I hope the ministry takes this seriously enough to also include a major section in the driver's handbook. Right now there's just reference in passing. I think we need a major section in driver instruction, in the driver's handbook, about the importance of stopping at lights.
I want to thank people across the province who made this an issue that the public supported. It happened, first of all, because of the Laporte family in the city of Ottawa. Mr Roger Laporte owns a nursery in Jean-Marc Lalonde's riding of Prescott and Russell, in Cumberland. In 1997, his son Michel, while going to work, unfortunately was T-boned by a red light runner. Mr Laporte, his whole family and his three children were extremely distraught, to the point of - what do you say at that point, when that happens to your son and your grandchildren go through that?
One of the things Mr Laporte did was that he said to his friends and relatives that he wasn't going to let the death of his son Michel go in vain and that he could maybe prevent other deaths from occurring. By alerting people to the dangers of red light running, he could maybe do something to make up for the loss of his son. So Mr Laporte, along with his neighbours and a regional councillor in Ottawa, Diane Holmes, decided to try and make this horrific tragedy into something positive, as much as they could.
Mr Laporte, the Ottawa city council, the Ottawa regional council and the police chief, Mr Ford, all supported positive action to stop the red light running epidemic through the Ottawa-Carleton region. Mr Laporte was even here in this Legislature literally begging the Premier of this province to do something about the red light running problem. Our hats should go off to the Laporte family and to his friends and neighbours who supported his efforts to try and do something in memory of his son Michel.
I think his efforts mean that we have this bill before us today. A lot of people across Ontario in the future should think back to the work done by the Laporte family at a time of great grief. They did this publicly, and that takes a lot of guts.
I also want to thank councillors all over the province; safety advocates like Councillor Di Vona and Councillor Ferri in the city of Vaughan, who also passed resolutions through their council; the mayor of Ottawa, Jim Durrell; Hamilton city council; Mississauga council; and Chief Julian Fantino, who is a great supporter of red light camera technology in the city of London.
Also in the city of Toronto, we had Mayor Mel Lastman who took this on as something that he was going to carry, and he did, I think, with a lot of effort and a lot of energy, along with Chief David Boothby, who wasn't afraid to take on the government's no. They fought and fought and did their own awareness campaigns, and I want to thank them for their efforts. Councillors like Councillor Jack Layton in the city of Toronto, Madam Speaker, whom you know well, also made the public aware of the horrors of red light running and the impact it has on ordinary Canadians, ordinary citizens in Ontario.
These are some of the people who for the last couple of years have been working to try and explain that there was a serious problem and that the problem could be solved in part by the use of red light technology. They all did something very valuable over the last couple of years and, again, I think they deserve some congratulations for their efforts.
I also want to thank the people in the St Clair-Dufferin area, who have had a horrific problem at that intersection, for being involved with community safety programs, demonstrating and doing whatever they could with petitions, with flyers. They helped wake up the government to finally do the right thing and bring in red light camera technology, despite all the excuses and all the obstacles this government kept putting forth.
What we need now is some explanation, because there are so many questions that people still ask every day about the technology. Maybe by putting some of this on the record in Hansard, we can help get the cameras in as many cities as possible.
One of the things I like about the legislation is that it gives each municipality the opportunity to bring in technology and to use whatever technology they see fit that suits their community. I think that's a good part of the bill because there are different traffic scenarios in every part of this province and what may work in downtown Toronto may not work in Mississauga and may not work in Ottawa. They are going to be given the opportunity to try a different configuration. I don't begrudge them trying the frontal photography technology. Let them try that if they wish. I think that will possibly work in some cases, but the bill will allow each city and municipality to try the technology.
Some of the questions that are asked are: "What happens if I'm making a turn and I'm caught in an intersection? Will I be given a ticket?" The answer is no. The camera takes pictures only when the signal turns red and then the camera is activated. You also have to cross a sensor in the road. So the camera will very clearly show a picture of the intersection with a time sequence and also the colour of the light will be there. Therefore, if you're caught making a turn, it will not count. It's people basically running solid reds.
Also, people ask, "Do red light cameras violate privacy?" This was one of the things that people were concerned about and it was an issue the government raised. The answer to that is that you're on a public highway and you have a public responsibility. If you break the law, you have to also think of the privacy of the person involved in an accident. As one of the victims told me: "What about the privacy of my daughter when she was pulled out of that wreck at the intersection in broad daylight as a result of the red light runner? What about her privacy?" I think the general good overweighs the concern of that red light runner who's concerned about their privacy. They have a public licence on a public roadway and they have a public responsibility.
Also, one of the things that people ask quite frequently is, "Which technology is best, rear licence technology, which is used in most cases, or frontal visual technology through the windshield?" Most experiences show that the rear licence technology is easier to enforce because the licence plate is clearly there, whereas if you take a frontal picture through a windshield, there may be problems with light, with a person maybe not shaving or wearing a hat or glasses. Generally speaking, that works, but again, this bill is going to allow both types, which I think is good: frontal technology or technology that takes the conventional ones of the rear licence plate.
I also want to say that this kind of technology has been in use in countries like Australia, Austria, Belgium, Germany, Israel, the Netherlands, Taiwan, Singapore, South Africa, Switzerland, the UK and the United States.
I remember I had the pleasure of meeting Lord Jeffrey Archer, the famous author, a former member of the Thatcher government and a staunch Conservative. You couldn't get much more Conservative than Lord Jeffrey Archer. When he visited Toronto, I asked him: "Lord Jeffrey, we're trying to get this government to come to grips with the use of this technology to stop red light running. What are you doing in London, England, about red light running or this type of thing?" Lord Jeffrey Archer said they use it in London and it's quite successful. In fact, he said he thought it should be expanded even beyond its use in London, England. He said it's helped in London. I said, "We've got a Conservative government here in this province that's objecting to this technology being used." He said: "Listen, this is not a matter of Conservative, Liberal or whatever; this technology helps save lives. I encourage you to keep pushing the government to do the right thing and put in this technology."
I just wanted to throw that in as an anecdote, that this is beyond something of political stripe. It's people from all over the world who have been faced with the same problem we face in our cities, with road rage, with aggressive driving. There are solutions, in part, and this solution, in part, has been used successfully, as I said, in cities like London, England, New York City. Mayor Guiliani is a great exponent of it, and he's a Republican. He told Mayor Lastman to do it.
There's encouragement that this technology will help because of the track record of the cameras, but the cameras are not to be seen as the end-all of this problem. I've been telling people that. The congestion problems are very complex and growing in our big cities. I urge people and I urge municipal politicians who are looking at technology to ensure that the technology goes hand in hand with a massive public education campaign. I think all of us are guilty of being very anxious on the roads, streets and byways of this province. We all have to be reminded of the responsibility of driving an automobile in this province. Whatever we can do in terms of our schools - I think road safety, car safety should be taught in elementary school and in high school as part of civic responsibility.
I think organizations like the provincial government, MTO, Canada Post, the city of Toronto, should make red light signal obeying enhancement mandatory as part of their employee training. In other words, part of getting their job and keeping their job is to take an awareness course about obeying signals. They are on the roads 24 hours a day and they should be leading advocates of slowing down at intersections. I hope part of this campaign throughout this province to tell people that red means stop is that municipalities, crown corporations, corporate entities like the courier companies, UPS or whoever they may be, the truck drivers, the Ontario association of transport drivers, all these organizations integrate the obeying of signals as an everyday part of doing business.
That's a challenge that has to be put out by the government. We in opposition don't have the authority to do that. The government now has the wherewithal to challenge everyone, to make us all more aware of our responsibilities in driving safer and in obeying signals because of our responsibility and the consequences of an accident at intersections where unsuspecting drivers, cyclists or pedestrians are hit by people who are running that red light.
It is a very prolific problem. It is not a problem isolated to any part of the province; it is a problem throughout the world. It is very acute in Ontario and has been growing for the last number of years.
There is a lot of work to do. There is a lot of work that has been done. I hope municipalities all across this province look at the options of bringing this epidemic of red light running to a halt. I think it can be done. I think the public is very much onside with this, as they have been. It's a matter of the government finally getting up to speed with the general public on this, and then we've got it.
I just want to read into Hansard something which will help explain it. It will help people who are having debates about this in other parts of the province. It's an article entitled "The Technology: How it Works."
"Typically, a photo detection system comprises electromagnetic loops buried in the pavement, a terminal block that houses a microprocessor, and an industrial 35-mm camera atop a 15-foot pole. Cables connect the terminal block to the loops and the signal. The loops are buried six to eight feet past the stop line in each lane. When the light turns red, the system becomes active and the camera takes pictures when cars entering the intersection disturb the electromagnetic field over the loops. Generally, a 0.2- to 0.4-second gap is left between the signal turning red and the camera becoming active to allow vehicles already in an intersection to clear."
This helps explain the technology so people will not be confused by the technological aspects. Most systems shoot two pictures, one as a car crosses the loops and another one about a second later. Then what happens in most cases is that you get a ticket in the mail. You get a picture of your car - hopefully not your car, Madam Speaker - with the time, the date, the colour of the light and when you entered the intersection. You'll have a chance, I suspect, the way the government is going to work the regulations, as in most jurisdictions, to dispute that picture. You'll have a chance to challenge it or you'll accept it like another ticket, whatever it is.
I fervently believe the cameras will act as a deterrent. The money to pay for the cameras and the loops will come from the tickets. I know the government has said they will put the money in escrow while they get the provincial offences downloading thing straightened out. So the money will be there. Basically, the offenders pay for running the light. In most jurisdictions, they don't see this as a cash cow; they see it as a way of preventing accidents. That's where the money should go and should stay, paying for the technology.
The beauty of the technology is that you don't have to have a camera in each one of the boxes. You can change the camera from intersection to intersection. But the driver doesn't know whether the camera is in the box or not. So you can also have the so-called dummy cameras, which may not be active, but you, the driver, do not know.
It does work. It will save lives in this province, it will save accidents and it will save hundreds of millions of dollars in insurance fees, car repairs and hospital bills. Most of all, it will save the grief of families who have had to go through a red light runner's consequences in the past.
I want to say that we accept the government's coming to a realization that cameras are a good thing. We accept that. We want the government to go ahead. We also urge cities across this province to look at this seriously and take up this option. You'll help prevent a lot of unnecessary deaths and accidents.
Mr Tony Silipo (Dovercourt): I'm pleased to rise to put a few points on the record on this bill. I know a couple of my colleagues will also want to have some time. Although we are dealing with this bill in a fairly limited time frame, let me say to anybody following that this should in no way be an indication of anything other than the support that all of us bring to this issue. I want to particularly say that we are pleased that after we have pushed, cajoled, prodded and pushed again the government to do something on this, they finally have come forward.
As I said yesterday, let me also acknowledge tonight in this debate the work the member for Oakwood has done in bringing forward his private member's bill. I will give him the benefit of the doubt in terms of the other contradiction that the rest of his Liberal colleagues seem to be able to deal with, which was that they were opposed to photo-radar and yet are in favour of this. He wasn't around when we dealt with photo-radar so, as I say, I will be happy to give him the benefit of the doubt. But I want to say that I have been very supportive and will continue to be of this initiative of red light cameras. I was particularly pleased to see the member for Oakwood bring forward his bill. I wish the government had acted on that, because it actually is a little bit tougher than what is here.
We are happy to support what the government has brought forward, because this enabling legislation will allow municipalities to go forward and put together the kind of enforcement mechanisms that they and many others have said they want. I know the government has come forward with a piece of legislation they claim - and in fact it does in the legalese - sets this up as a pilot project for two years, and that the legislation sunsets after that time. So technically we will have to review it, which is always a good thing. Whoever is here at that time will have to pass legislation to make this permanent in some fashion or other. I have no doubt that is going to happen.
I believe the issue of calling this a pilot project is simply the most convenient way for the Tory government of Mike Harris to get around the fact that they undid the photo-radar scheme that we put in place and could not get themselves philosophically or politically to a position where, even though many municipalities are telling them they should do this and implement it, they could justify that kind of turnaround, even though logic dictates that that kind of turnaround is exactly what is in the public good.
What we have here tonight is a piece of legislation that actually allows for red light cameras to be installed at various intersections. We have some concerns. I know that a number of the details of this are still to be set out in the regulations. We will continue to pay attention to what the government is going to do on this and to ensure that those issues are addressed in the regulations.
I know there are also some outstanding issues of funding which I've certainly pursued with the minister. Although I wish he had put those clarifications on the record, I understand that he's going to be fairly flexible in terms of the demands he will have of municipalities around the match, for example, that they are expected to make between the number of red light camera intersections versus the number of intersections where they will be expected to actually have police officers doing some kind of spot checking or enforcement in terms of people who might be potentially crossing the intersections on a red light.
As well, we've also raised the issue with the government and with the minister that the province has not yet turned over to the municipalities the Provincial Offences Act revenues that are owing to the municipalities under the new arrangements of the Who Does What downloading exercise. Again, I understand from the minister that those issues will be resolved, are being resolved, and the money that is now being held in escrow will find its way out to the municipalities. Let there be no mistake about this: While there is an infusion of money through the Insurance Bureau of Canada that will be made available, there will also likely be an infusion of money necessary from municipalities themselves. Even though that is the case, I know that municipalities such as my own municipality here in the city of Toronto are eager to move on with this.
Mayor Lastman and members of council have indicated time and again that they are prepared to roll with this. You will recall that some weeks ago, following a meeting between Mayor Lastman and the Minister of Transportation, Mayor Lastman indicated there had been some level of agreement reached to do, in effect, what we have now. At that point the minister said no, that had not been worked out. I can only assume that he still had to get approvals through the cabinet process, and I understand that. I don't want to be critical of the minister on that score because as a former cabinet minister I certainly understand the process that one has to go through in getting approval.
I just want to say on this issue that it is something that has been a long time in coming. It is something that certainly we would have wished to have done earlier. We would have wished the ability to have the bill out in committee for a short period of time to make sure there weren't any problems.
This is not the best way to deal with legislation. We had legislation introduced yesterday, as in this case, and we are approving it some 24 hours later without the benefit of ample time to look at it properly, to analyze it, and particularly to get it out to committee where we would have had the benefit of some useful input from the local municipalities, from people in the insurance industry, from people in the policing communities and many others who I think could have given us some good advice, and I have no doubt some advice that would have led to a piece of legislation that would have been even better, I say to the minister, than what we have in front of us tonight, because that has been the experience of the process around here.
Earlier today, speaking on another bill, I heard one of the government members proclaim the virtues of the committee process and getting bills out to committee. I think it was on the CFSA, on which we agreed earlier to pass second reading so that it can go out to committee, presumably during the break. At that point one of the government members was making the point, with which I concur, that any time government legislation has gone out to committee it's never come back in exactly the same format. In other words, we have always improved upon it. We have always made it stronger. We have always made it better. I have no doubt that would have happened in this case.
While we will give our consent tonight, we also need to be very clear about the fact that our strongest wish would have been to have had the opportunity to deal with this legislation in the proper format. Had the government seen fit to introduce this even a few weeks ago, let alone a few months ago when they should have introduced it, we would have the benefit of the bill going out to committee and the ability to look at it with some more care.
However, we will trust that the limited time we've had to analyze this is sufficient to at least set up this framework, which the government can continue to call pilot projects as long as they want but which municipalities and others who are interested in this kind of enforcement mechanism being put in place understand to be in effect the beginnings of something that will assist in monitoring and hopefully limiting the number of people who go through red lights and, consequently, the number of people who either get injured or killed by virtue of those drivers going through red lights.
It is an issue that has been growing in importance because the number of incidents has been growing in number. As the number of cars in our cities continues to grow, we will also see, as we have seen, a growing impatience, it seems, among drivers. Those extra couple of seconds seem to make all the difference in the world to them to get through that light. I think people need to understand that when they do that, sometimes they put at peril not only their own life but the lives of many others - pedestrians and other people who may also be trying to get through those same intersections.
The ability to install these red light cameras will, if nothing else, act as a deterrent. I think the enforcement mechanism that supports it, the fines, the ability to identify the cars if not the drivers - and I know there is that option available to municipalities under the legislation, to put in the camera facilities that will allow the photographing of either the licence plate and/or whoever is driving the car.
I want to say to the government that however the municipalities choose to proceed with one of those two options, we will see an enforcement mechanism that will catch some of those drivers who will go through, but having that mechanism in place, in and of itself, will act as a serious deterrent to people and hopefully, through that, also as an education tool to remind drivers that no matter what kind of a hurry they're in, they can never be in such a hurry as to put in danger the lives of themselves and particularly other people who are going through those intersections.
We will give our support to this because we think it's necessary. It's late in coming, but better late than never. We want to see these red light cameras up as soon as possible. Certainly I want to see them here in my own municipality. I know the Dufferin-St Clair intersection, which is within my riding, is one of the main ones that we have continued to be concerned about. There are others throughout the city and indeed others in other cities in the province. We look forward to the implementation of this beginning in earnest in the new year.
An emergency alarm sounded.
The Acting Speaker: Further debate?
Mr David Christopherson (Hamilton Centre): I think all of us have had the experience of finishing a speech here on the floor of the Legislature and having somebody afterwards say, "Good speech" or "That was really hot," but I've got to tell you, I don't think any one of us has set off fire alarms with the speech that we've given. It also sounded like it was the bridge of the Enterprise. I don't know how much the microphones picked that up.
I'm also pleased to stand again - it's getting to be a very bad habit - in support of yet another piece of legislation.
Mr Christopherson: Well, it's been quite a few times. We're bailing them out again. They couldn't manage the House properly so at the last minute they needed us to give them quick approval to get these things through. But I am pleased to be here and to support this.
I think there are a lot of us who think well, on a personal level, of the Minister of Transportation, who found it actually painful to watch the question periods where this was being raised. The minister had to consistently stand up and offer up the flimsiest of excuses, in my opinion, for not doing this. I find the Minister of Transportation someone who not surprisingly ended up in cabinet. After you've been here a while you start to identify folks who you think are going to rise up quickly and will ascend to the cabinet level and I wasn't surprised at all to see it happen; obviously a very bright fellow.
It's somewhat worrisome to see him so involved in the right-wing philosophy of - your ability doesn't surprise me but it's worrisome to see someone with that much ability lost in that far-right quagmire. I don't know you well enough to know why. I'll write it off at this point to naïveté and ambition as opposed to a mean streak that deliberately leaves so many other people behind in the kind of philosophy you believe in. But I do think very much of the minister.
It was painful to watch because it was also so obvious that this was a step that any other government would have taken months ago. It didn't happen for a very simple reason: The government ran on a platform of eliminating photo-radar and they were worried about appearing hypocritical in approving virtually the same type of technology but in a different capacity. They wanted more than anything to avoid that tag of hypocrisy, and hence the minister standing up in question period after question period, looking so lame and offering up such lame excuses for not doing it.
I am not surprised, however, that we're at the point where you are moving on it. I'm surprised it took you so long, simply because for a party - the Harris Conservatives - that touts common sense, you so often show so little of it. Dragging your heels on this is one of those cases. I guess what really tipped the scale was when more and more communities came on side and more and more of their municipal counterparts started standing up and saying, in the wards that are parts of our ridings, "This is something that we want and something that our citizens need." Eventually the Tories caved and brought it in and they've couched it in a pilot project.
The fact is that once it comes in, it's not going anywhere. In fact, I have no doubt that in the future photo-radar will be back, because it just makes so much sense. It has been tested in so many other locations around the world, and it does save lives. It probably won't be this government - there's not much time left - but photo-radar will be a reality in Ontario simply because it is an application of new technology that does save lives and it makes a lot of common sense in my opinion.
I want to just go out on a bit of a limb. What I'm about to say now is not party policy - it hasn't been talked about - it's my own personal opinion. Personally, I think there's a little bit of room. I was interested to see the trial balloon that the government flew a little while ago about raising the speed limits, and I've got to tell you, I was surprised at the reaction - I thought it would be a populist move, and I suspect you did too or you wouldn't have done it - not just because people want to speed but because at the end of the day there was more support for photo-radar on the QEW than I expected.
My brother Mark drives for a living - he's a broker for Loomis - and I expected him to be all over me. He makes his living delivering parcels, and time and speed and distance are the three factors that dictate what his day is going to be like. I thought I'd hear from him big time, and I did. After it was in place for a couple of months, he threatened me within an inch of my life if we removed it, and the reason was that he felt so much more confident when he got up in the morning and got into his truck that there was a better chance he was going to come home to his wife and kids at the end of the day because the QEW was so much saner. I took a lot from that. It was a perspective and an approach I hadn't expected.
When the Minister of Transportation removed it, I heard from so many constituents who were so sad, really disheartened, because they had felt a higher comfort level on the QEW. That's a scary piece of highway to have to drive. I drive it a lot between Queen's Park and home all the time and it can be very frightening. There are people who won't drive it or won't drive during busy hours. It really did calm down.
I raise this because I don't think there's room there to increase the speed limits. Those are relatively narrow laneways. It doesn't have the same kind of buffer zones that a lot of the newer roadways do. This is not an area that I would suggest is open to it.
On the other hand, when I go to the other side of Toronto and go on the 401 east, I'll tell you, if you're sitting at the speed limit or even marginally over, as a lot of people do, depending on weather conditions, you're practically standing there, and these vehicles are whizzing by, and the majority of them in my opinion - and I'm not an expert - are going faster than the speed limit allows, but I don't get a sense that they're all reckless and dangerous.
As the OPP pointed out, when the weather conditions are right and the traffic flow is right, it does seem as if 110 or so - I'm sorry, the number is just off the top of my head - would not be unreasonable and really wouldn't increase. I thought to myself, if you do a proper study and then couple that with photo-radar and even allow the flexibility - we've now got the technology nailed down pretty good to show the electronic display boards on highways. The OPP could literally set the speed depending on the day, the light availability, the traffic flow, the road conditions and of course the weather conditions. They could set the limit and people could adjust accordingly. But the enforcement would be that the photo-radar was there, and you don't beat that system. If you're breaking that law, it nails you.
I put that out. Again, it's not a party platform; that's strictly me speaking as one parliamentarian. But I think there's room to look in that area, to combine the technologies, combine the better road conditions, not only to lower the number of accidents but to make our highways more efficient, and for the short term, until people -
Mr Sean G. Conway (Renfrew North): A 10-kilometre increase in the speed limit is a terrifying prospect.
Mr Christopherson: I don't think so. That's what I'm saying, I don't think it is.
Mr Conway: I joke.
Mr Christopherson: Oh, I didn't hear the first part of it. I thought you were saying that -
Mr Conway: I said that a 10-kilometre increase is a terrifying prospect.
Mr Christopherson: You're being facetious is what you're telling me.
Mr Conway: Yes.
Mr Christopherson: I see. Well, that's my point exactly.
The reason it's absolutely necessary to couple it with the photo-radar is that, it's true, if you increase it by 10, that gives licence to those yahoos who are out there to go another 10 or 15 beyond the outrageous speeds they are going. No matter how fast the traffic flow goes over the speed limit, there are always those few individuals the minister was alluding to earlier who are going to drive dangerously, recklessly, and believe that somehow when they're behind the wheel they're above the law.
I'm suggesting that it's the coupling of the better roadways, the use of technology, the variable speed limits and the enforcement of photo-radar that may be an opportunity for major advancement. I'm strictly musing out loud, but this is to me part of this whole discussion.
I want to say that my community of Hamilton was one of those that requested this, and I know that our city council will be very pleased. Knowing the aldermen the way I do, I'm sure they'll move on this immediately and Hamilton will be one of those that will give you the first test results. I have no doubt that it's going to help in Hamilton, that it's going to slow people down. It will save lives. It will save money. It will make our streets safer for our kids, for our seniors, as well as people who are driving.
There's one thing that I do find rather curious, though, and I don't know whether it was part of your need to grasp at something to say during question period or whether you really mean it, but since I see it as a possibility here in your legislation, I guess you do mean it. I find it passing strange that you're looking at allowing not just the photographing of the licence plate but of the driver. I say that as one of the ministers involved in the integrated safety program, the photo-radar program of our previous government, where we had incredible resistance from the privacy commissioner of Ontario who felt very strongly that it was an invasion of privacy to have the state taking photographs that would show an individual's face, and there were a whole lot of reasons why.
That was a major concern on the part of the privacy commissioner, and we spent a lot of time working with the manufacturers of the equipment so that we could offer assurance that the face wouldn't be photographed and that it would only be the licence plate, yet I hear no such concern on your part. Maybe there has been a change of thinking there. I see the minister nodding his head up and down, so maybe at some point he could advise me of that, because I know that was a major concern with the system we were looking at. The privacy commissioner felt very strongly about the state photographing individuals, notwithstanding that it's being done in a circumstance where they're violating a traffic law. I guess it was weighing the level of infraction of a traffic law versus the rights of a Canadian citizen to privacy, but again, maybe that has advanced somewhat in the research that the current government has done and that has changed.
As I wrap up, because one of my colleagues wanted an opportunity to speak and I see he is here in the House now, we are supporting this, we are allowing it be fast-tracked through, a further example of the fact that this opposition is prepared to be co-operative when legislation is in the public good; just like when we believe that you're hurting the public, we will go to extreme lengths to do everything we can to slow you down and stop you from doing that. I think it's a shame that it took so long.
On a personal level, I feel sorry for the minister, who I'm sure was pleading with his Premier and cabinet colleagues to come to their senses and recognize that that position couldn't be maintained. I don't think it speaks well at all about the importance of public safety in the scheme of the things this cabinet looks at when they have allowed all these weeks and months to go by. We could have had these test programs up and running, but because you feared looking hypocritical vis-à-vis photo-radar, you allowed it to drag on. I regret that. It's a real shame that has to be. I think to some degree each cabinet minister has to accept that there were more accidents and more people hurt because, for political reasons, this wasn't put in place sooner, which in my mind may also be, on a very much smaller scale, an example of something else that's happening in the world right now.
With all of that, I thank you for the opportunity to speak and allow my colleague to make a few remarks.
Mr Gilles Bisson (Cochrane South): In the little bit of time that I have left, I want to make two or three points very quickly. I was part of the government, as was the former Solicitor General, that put in place photo-radar. At the time we put that initiative in place we said, as we do now - we're being consistent - that particular initiative saves lives.
I remember being in the House and listening to the position of the then Conservative third party, which was deathly opposed to the whole issue of photo-radar on the basis of the privacy issues. It's interesting to note at this point that the government has finally come to its senses. The Tory party has finally agreed with the previous NDP government that in the end photo-radar was a good idea and that you can use some of these technologies in an effective way to make our roads safer.
I congratulate the government for finally coming to its senses and realizing that they were not the 10 lost years, as the government likes to say in its mantra. In fact, there were a number of good laws and good initiatives that were put in place by the former government and the government before that. There was good policy work that was done as well as good economic work. That's the first point I want to make.
I also want to congratulate the Liberal Party for finally coming to its senses. I can't fault Mr Colle, because he wasn't here in the previous Parliament, but I remember the Liberal caucus between 1990 and 1995 being opposed to photo-radar and at that time saying it was the wrong thing to do, for the very same reason the Conservative caucus had back between 1990 and 1995, and that was the issue of privacy. It's nice to see that the Liberal Party has got on side; they've come over and they've finally accepted that the idea the NDP had in 1993-94 to put in place photo-radar was actually a good idea. It was a good way to use the technology so that in the end we can make our roads safer.
It's one of these things that you get to see in the Legislature every now and then, where a party comes up with a good idea; in this case, the Bob Rae NDP government under the safety initiative of the Ministry of Transportation and the Solicitor General. The policy was worked up, legislation was brought into the House and photo radar was introduced. The two opposition parties opposed it.
We find ourselves now in the dying moments of this Tory government's mandate. I think they're not going to come back as the government next time around; it will be a new government and hopefully it will be an NDP government. But this government, in its last days is starting to realize that you can use this technology in a way that respects citizens when it comes to the right to privacy, but also balancing that off against the right to make sure that our roads and highways are safer for the motoring public of Ontario. That's what I wanted to say.
The Acting Speaker: Mr Clement has moved second reading of Bill 102. Is it the pleasure of the House that the motion carry? Carried.
Shall the bill be referred for third reading? Agreed.
Hon Mr Clement: Madam Speaker, I believe we have unanimous consent to proceed with third reading of Bill 102 this evening.
The Acting Speaker: Is that agreed? Agreed.
Mr Bisson: On a point of order, Madam Speaker: I think this is a good thing and I support it, but I'm wondering, if we're in the spirit of doing unanimous consent in going from second to third reading, if we would do the same with the Al McLean bill and agree to go from first to second reading at this particular point? I would ask for unanimous consent, considering we've done it -
The Acting Speaker: Is there unanimous consent? I heard a no.
RED LIGHT CAMERAS PILOT PROJECTS ACT, 1998 / LOI DE 1998 SUR LES PROJETS PILOTES AYANT TRAIT AUX DISPOSITIFS PHOTOGRAPHIQUES RELIÉS AUX FEUX ROUGES
Mr Clement moved third reading of the following bill:
Bill 102, An Act to amend the Highway Traffic Act to permit pilot projects relating to red light cameras / Projet de loi 102, Loi modifiant le Code de la route pour permettre les projets pilotes ayant trait aux dispositifs photographiques reliés aux feux rouges.
Hon Tony Clement (Minister of Transportation): I will not take too much time. I've moved third reading. I think we've had a very enjoyable debate this evening. It appears there's a calm descending upon the Legislature on the eve of the festive season. I think that we are all resolved to -
Mr Bud Wildman (Algoma): How about a chorus of Silent Night?
Hon Mr Clement: Kumbaya, whatever would work. I believe there is a consensus that we can move forward with this piece of legislation.
I want to put on the record for the honourable member for Dovercourt's edification that we have a procedure resulting from Bill 108 having passed this Legislature to deal with the revenue issues. The revenue that is raised under the Provincial Offences Act is in escrow and we are proceeding to deal with the municipalities in such a way that they can gain access to that revenue upon certain agreements being reached so that the citizens of Ontario are guaranteed due process and fairness by the new handlers of those provincial offences. The revenue issue I think is under resolution.
I can again put on the record my intention to be flexible on the handling of these pilot projects with the municipalities because we do want to work with the municipalities to roll this out as soon as possible.
The Acting Speaker (Ms Marilyn Churley): Questions and comments?
Mr Sean G. Conway (Renfrew North): I just want to take the opportunity in the two minutes provided to clarify a point that has been raised by a number of my friends in the third party. Because it is true that I was probably the most strident opponent of the previous government's experiment -
Mr Wildman: Runciman, of course.
Mr Conway: Maybe the mad dog from Brockville - and I want to be clear that my objection -
The Acting Speaker: Member for Renfrew North, you have to withdraw that, and you must refer to the riding, as you know.
Mr Conway: Your wish, Madam Speaker, is my every command. I withdraw.
Mr Wildman: Withdraw the word "dog."
Mr Conway: I withdraw. I also want some time back.
My objection was primarily about money. I personally understand that there will be privacy concerns, and governments have to make those choices all the time. But as I said to the member for Hamilton Centre, I remember the day when I was driving and it was in the Peterborough area - and I see the member for Peterborough. It was about four years ago now when the OPP announced that they were going to set the little machine five kilometres over the speed limit.
I'll tell you, that was the day I was absolutely convinced the photo-radar experiment had a lot more to do with picking my pocket than it did with changing my behaviour, and I'm no saint on the road, let me tell you.
Mr Conway: I just want to make it very clear that when one is driving Highway 41 between Napanee and Pembroke under a clear moon on a November night at about 10 o'clock and not a bloody soul around except a few deer, some of these lectures about the congested traffic problems of the QEW fall rather by the wayside. I simply resent the suggestion that people like myself objected on privacy grounds. It was about the picking of my pocket and that got my attention.
Mr David Christopherson (Hamilton Centre): I would just comment that, first of all, the OPP sets that and they're not given direction by any government, at least they're not supposed to be, in terms of those sorts of things.
I find it surprising that the member would suggest that was the first time he was opposed to it. I'm sure he was on record before then as being opposed and conveniently an issue came along that he felt very strongly about personally. Normally the member is very clear and forthright and I'm feeling that's not as much the case this evening on this particular issue.
I've got to tell you up front I think it's because the Liberals are a little sensitive on this too because, as we would expect from Tweedledee and Tweedledum, they were just like the Tories in saying they were going to get rid of photo-radar. They have exactly the same kind of track record to be concerned about as the Tories do in this regard.
Let me just say to the Minister of Transportation in response to his comments that the calm that's descending over here is because we have an evening where the kind of legislation that we can support and do support is what's being brought up. Take something else from your little bag of tricks and watch the demeanour in this place change in a blink. I'll tell you, if you were prepared to be fair on taxation, fair on your health care policies, fair on education, fair in terms of protecting the environment, you'd get a lot more co-operation than you might think. It's because you've attacked those various areas that are so crucial to the quality of life in Ontario that you get the resistance. When you do things like this that are the right thing to do, you will both get the credit for it and the support that you deserve for doing it. But when you do those other things, you will get the fights.
Mr Gilles Bisson (Cochrane South): I speak first to the minister and his comments and I want to pick up on what the member for Hamilton raised, and that is the calm in here. I think you need to stress and understand where we're coming from.
An emergency alarm sounded.
Mr Bisson: Listen, the sirens are on. I'll tell you, the button has been pushed and the alarms have just gone on.
But if there is calm in this place, I think it's for the reason that the member raised, that we're debating legislation that all three parties can accept. There would not be that kind of calm if you were in here with a lot of other bills, about 90% of the ones you passed in the last three and a half years.
The calm that I sense on the other side, on the Conservative benches, is the calm before the storm that will be called the election. I really don't believe that as a result of that people are going to elect the Conservatives as a majority government in the next election. You have managed in the last three and a half years, four years by the time the election will be called, to deal with almost everything out there under the sun.
You've got property taxpayers who are mad at you. I've got people in my community who thought they were going to get a reduction in commercial assessment. Now we're finding out that in 1999 they're going to be paying more taxes than they paid in 1997 as a result of the latest bill the Minister of Finance has brought in to fix your assessment fiasco. You've got people in the education community upset, you've got people in the health care community upset, and I think that the people of Ontario, come the next election, are going to have a very difficult time voting Conservative when it comes to a lot of what you've done.
To the member for Renfrew North, who talks about deep pockets, the seriousness of it is that that was a safety initiative. Photo-radar had little to do with revenue. It was about trying to find a way to make our highways safer. I can attest to the fact, driving on the 400 series highways, that when photo-radar was in place, we saw much safer highways because speeds came down and in the end lives were saved. I'm proud to have been able to do that.
Mr Wildman: On a point of order, Madam Chair: Could we please have an explanation as to what these alarms are about? Is it because Richard Brennan is leaving this place or what?
The Acting Speaker: Perhaps I should take this opportunity to explain to people what is going on as it was explained to me. There was a fire alarm earlier. We were given the all-clear signal. They are trying to reset the fire alarm and there seems to be some problem doing that. There is no danger but there is some problem with resetting it.
Minister of Transportation, you can sum up if you wish to.
Hon Mr Clement: I have no further comments, Madam Speaker.
The Acting Speaker: Further debate?
Mr Jean-Marc Lalonde (Prescott and Russell): I'm delighted to be part of this debate. I want to first congratulate the member for Oakwood on his speech. Also, he has been pushing to get that bill through since June of this year.
I'm pleased that the government has recognized the importance of the red light camera bill. In the past 12 months in this province over 25 lives were lost, caused by red light running. As was mentioned by the member for Oakwood, Mr Roger Laporte is the father of Michel, who got killed by a red light runner in 1997, leaving his wife, Ellen, and his three sons. Today Roger Laporte has launched an awareness project. As he said, this will not bring back his son, but he wants to save lives in the future.
The Ottawa-Carleton transportation commission is supporting the bill. They have gone further at their October meeting, including in the motion they passed that they decided to go ahead with having stickers printed that read, "This car stops at red lights." Every car under the jurisdiction of the Ottawa-Carleton municipal council will have this sticker just to show how supportive they are of this type of bill.
One month ago, just two blocks away from where Michel got killed, another fatal accident happened. Again there were some witnesses, apparently, but by the time it goes to court those witnesses might not want to appear in court because of the evidence of what could happen after. This red light camera bill will in the future permit police officers to have the evidence that a certain car has gone through a red light. In the past that was not available, and speaking to different officers when they hand out tickets to red light runners, the chances are 50-50 that they will not be found guilty because of lack of evidence. But today with this bill you would be going to court and you would have proper evidence in such cases as the two fatal accidents that happened on Innes Road in the municipality of Cumberland.
As the minister said a little while ago, 21% of all accidents in Ontario happen at red lights. It's costing insurance companies over $9 billion a year, and who has to pay for that? All the people who own cars. By having this bill go through, we will definitely have savings for all car owners in this province.
Once again, I will definitely be supporting the bill.
The Acting Speaker: Questions and comments?
M. Bisson : Je veux féliciter le membre de Prescott et Russell d'être venu à la conclusion que toute la technologie de la caméra quand ça vient soit aux feux rouges soit à la vitesse est une bonne idée.
Moi, j'ai pensé, dans les années 1993-94, que M. Pouliot et le cabinet de M. Bob Rae avaient mis en place une politique qui, à mon avis, faisait beaucoup de sens quant à la sécurité de nos autoroutes. Simplement dit, c'était d'utiliser des caméras attachées à l'équipement de radar pour pouvoir dire, «OK, si tu vas te promener sur une autoroute de la série 400 et que tu vas à toute vitesse, il y a une bonne chance que tu vas devoir payer.» Cela aidait à envoyer un message au monde que ce n'était pas une bonne idée de faire de la vitesse, et qu'ils avaient besoin de ralentir ou ils seraient poignés. Oui, il y a eu beaucoup de monde qui a été poigné au commencement, mais après, le monde s'y est habitué un peu et on a commencé à ralentir.
Je me rappelle que, peut-être une ou deux semaines après que cette technologie avait été installée sur la 427, je m'en allais de l'aéroport de Toronto. J'ai embarqué dans une voiture pour prendre la 427, et aussitôt que j'avais embarqué la 427 - moi, j'ai été habitué d'appuyer sur la pédale, puis tu fonces un peu pour être capable d'embarquer la 427 assez vite. Mais une fois embarqué, il m'a fallu mettre les freins parce que la vitesse de toute l'autoroute avait diminué par 10 à 15 kilomètres à l'heure. Cela m'a dit à ce temps-là que oui, on voyait que la vitesse avait ralenti.
Deuxièmement, ce qu'on a vu et ce qui est plus important, c'est qu'il y a eu moins d'accidents sur les autoroutes série 400 qu'auparavant. En d'autres mots, la technologie a marché. On a sauvé des vies, on a évité des accidents, et il y a eu moins de monde qui a été blessé à cause des accidents de vitesse.
Donc, comme j'ai dit, je félicite les libéraux d'avoir finalement tenu -
The Acting Speaker: Thank you. Questions and comments?
Mr Mike Colle (Oakwood): I want to thank the member for Prescott-Russell for his support of this bill and for his support of the efforts to bring red light cameras to fruition. He certainly went out of his way and lobbied the Ottawa-Carleton regional council and helped the Laporte family in their efforts, and I'm sure he'll continue to do that.
I know that some of the members here tonight tried to relive the photo-radar debate, but this is a different issue. I hope we understand that this is about a situation whereby innocent people have been getting killed and maimed and injured at intersections.
Mr Bisson: Yes, that's why we had photo-radar.
Mr Colle: I know that the member for Cochrane South would like to talk about old issues, but I came to this issue because nine innocent people were waiting for a streetcar at St Clair and Dufferin two and a half years ago, and I think most of us in that community said, "Sure, we're always fighting these traffic problems, but this time we're going to do something about it."
That's where this bill comes from. It's a serious attempt by ordinary people to come to grips with a problem that was affecting their families, their friends and neighbourhoods. That's why this won such wide support across this province. There was one poll done that showed 80% of motorists supported red light cameras. That's the kind of evidence this government cannot deny any longer. That's why they had to do it, because the public demanded it.
I think it's a good message to everyone out there who feel they can't fight city hall, they can't fight this government: that together you can make them do things and you can come up with good results. I encourage them to keep fighting and not to give up on issues like road safety.
The Acting Speaker: Member for Prescott-Russell, do you want to wrap up? No?
Mr John O'Toole (Durham East): Thanks for the opportunity just to comment. The member for Oakwood raised a concern. Road safety is an important initiative of our Minister of Transportation. I know I'm supportive of this bill. What it demonstrates is that this government is responsive to the people of Ontario, and so road safety is a high priority for the Minister of Transportation. I'm pleased to support it.
The Acting Speaker: Questions and comments?
Mr Bisson: To the member opposite on questions or comments - I've been given an opportunity. The member says it demonstrates that this government is listening and is trying to be responsive to the people of Ontario. What this recognizes is that the government has finally come to its senses and recognized that the NDP government previously, when it came to photo-radar, got it right. The government, at that time the Bob Rae government, put in place technology that was going to in the end save lives on the 400 series highways where photo-radar was installed, and that technology worked.
I've listened to the debate for the last year as there's been a call now on the part of this Legislature and also by municipal politicians for the government to put red light cameras on intersections where there are problems. Finally the government has come to its senses and has recognized that the very technology that was put in place by the NDP in 1994 was technology that worked and in the end saved lives. So bully, bully for the government. They finally figured it out.
The Acting Speaker: Questions and comments?
Member for Durham East, would you like to sum up?
Mr O'Toole: No.
The Acting Speaker: Further debate?
Mr Clement has moved third reading of Bill 102. Is it the pleasure of the House that the motion carry? Carried.
Be it resolved that the bill do now pass and be entitled as in the motion.
COURTS OF JUSTICE AMENDMENT ACT (IMPROVED FAMILY COURT), 1998 / LOI DE 1998 MODIFIANT LA LOI SUR LES TRIBUNAUX JUDICIAIRES (AMÉLIORATION DE LA COUR DE LA FAMILLE)
Mr Harnick moved third reading of the following bill:
Bill 48, An Act to Improve Court Services for Families by Facilitating Expansion of the Family Court and to make other amendments to the Courts of Justice Act / Projet de loi 48, Loi visant à améliorer les services fournis aux familles par les tribunaux en facilitant l'expansion de la Cour de la famille et apportant d'autres modifications à la Loi sur les tribunaux judiciaires.
Hon Charles Harnick (Attorney General, minister responsible for native affairs): I believe there is unanimous consent to debate this bill for one hour and to split the time equally between the parties.
The Acting Speaker (Ms Marilyn Churley): Is there agreement? Agreed.
Hon Mr Harnick: On December 4, I was pleased to announce that the government is expanding the Unified Family Court to 12 more communities to better serve Ontario families and better protect the interests of children. The new sites are Ottawa, Newmarket, Durham region, St Catharines, Cornwall, Peterborough, Cobourg, Lindsay, Brockville, Perth, L'Orignal and Bracebridge. With this expansion, the court will soon reach approximately 40% of Ontario residents.
The central purpose of Bill 48 is to support the expansion of the court by making minor adjustments to judicial administration. All members, I am confident, agree that the Unified Family Court represents a better way of delivering family law services, finding solutions to family disputes and reducing the emotional toll on children.
The Unified Family Court offers a number of significant advantages. The court addresses all aspects of family law, with jurisdiction over matters under both federal and provincial statutes. It therefore provides convenient and accessible service for families in crisis.
The Unified Family Court is based on a specialized bench with judges who have demonstrated expertise in family law. This model also provides access to mediation services to help families resolve disputes without resort to costly and time-consuming litigation. An impartial mediator helps the parties find common ground and keep the best interests of the children foremost in mind.
Finally, the court is guided by special procedures to help families resolve cases more quickly and less expensively.
For all these reasons, family law experts have come to a consensus that the Unified Family Court is the way of the future for the delivery of family law services.
The Ontario government is firmly committed to the goal of province-wide expansion of the Unified Family Court. I have called on the federal government to make it a priority to appoint more judges at the earliest opportunity so that the Unified Family Court can be extended to all Ontario communities. In the meantime, we will proceed with the current round of expansion. Our aim is to have the new courts operating by spring 1999.
In addition to expanding to new locations, the Ontario government is going to make the Unified Family Court model even better. We will offer family law information sessions in all Unified Family Court sites to assist the parties to make informed decisions about how to resolve the dispute. We will also provide parent education sessions at all sites to help parents focus on the children's best interests. These additional services will complement family mediation, which is provided at the existing sites and will be offered at the new sites as well.
To strengthen the Unified Family Court model, we intend to further streamline the court's procedures. New family law rules were recently passed by the family rules committee and will soon go forward to cabinet.
Finally, our plan includes a number of improvements to judicial administration. The amendments are designed to ensure that the Unified Family Court operates as efficiently as possible and to ensure that Ontario obtains the maximum benefit from the judicial resources available.
It is these administrative changes that are the subject of Bill 48. The amendments confirm the authority of the Chief Justice of the General Division over the Unified Family Court and to fully integrate the court into the operating structure of the General Division. The bill establishes the office of senior judge of the family court to provide advice to the Chief Justice on issues affecting the Unified Family Court from a policy perspective. As well, the bill recognizes the constitutional authority of the Chief Justice to assign General Division judges into the Unified Family Court on a rotational basis.
In addition to these changes in judicial administration, Bill 48 provides that Young Offenders Act matters will be heard exclusively within the jurisdiction of the Provincial Division. Judges who deal with young offender cases every day tell us that these matters should be dealt with in the Provincial Division, as is currently the case in almost every county and district in Ontario and other provinces. The removal of Unified Family Court jurisdiction in Young Offenders Act matters will also free up judicial resources to permit wider expansion of the Unified Family Court.
On November 26, the standing committee on finance and economic affairs of the House held public hearings on Bill 48. A number of groups and individuals appeared, to provide a ringing endorsement of the bill and to underline the advantages to families, such as one-stop shopping in a single-level court.
Clearly, the Unified Family Court represents a better way of finding solutions to family disputes, one that puts children first. I call on all members to support this bill, to help bring the significant benefits of the Unified Family Court to more Ontario families.
Madam Speaker, I would like to conclude by wishing you and my fellow colleagues in the Legislature a happy and healthy holiday season, and the same of course to all Ontarians, particularly those who are watching tonight.
The Acting Speaker: Further debate.
Mr Sean G. Conway (Renfrew North): Thank you, Madam Speaker. I intend to share - it's not clear to me now what kind of time we've got here. What are we working with?
Mr Conway: Twenty-seven. I'll be sharing the time of the Liberal Party with my colleague the member for Kingston and The Islands.
Mr Conway: Pardon me?
The Acting Speaker: Order, please, member for Perth.
Mr Conway: Well, I think you are a better judge of these things perhaps than some of the rest of us.
I want to say to the Attorney General this is good policy and it should and will be supported by myself as well as many other members.
Before I get to a couple of specific questions and concerns, I simply want to say that the Attorney General has been a very busy man lately in my part of the province, working very hard. I see that the other week he was in Cornwall officially opening the new provincial court building. They have quite a wonderful facility. The Attorney General must have been having a very tough day that day, and it's a tough job he's got. He was so beleaguered and so overworked he didn't seem to understand that John Cleary was the member of the Legislature for Cornwall city.
I was talking to a couple of my friends who were at the event and were rather upset, quite frankly. It's not fair to blame the Attorney General, I suppose, but the want of courtesy shown by the government of Ontario to the local member on that occasion - it's not something about which the local member would say anything publicly, but it reminds me of the worst of the crappy business of politics. Actually, by and large, we've graduated from that.
I can remember when I was first elected you would go to these events and it was laughable. Poor old Bradley here used to rant and rail about what used to happen to him in St Catharines. I never much mattered. If there were some kind of an event you just went, and if you weren't on the program, you just walked up and took the mike in the best Charlotte Whitton tradition.
I'm also glad to see the member for Victoria-Haliburton. I was reading the Lindsay Daily Post the other day and, by gosh, there he was, large as life, almost a full colour page of Davy Crockett announcing the Unified Family Court for Lindsay.
Hon Mr Harnick: It is not true, Sean.
Mr Conway: It may not be true, and I shouldn't necessarily blame you, but I'm going to tell you, my friends who were there were not very impressed, and they're big fans of the Attorney General. I don't know which minion or which functionary was responsible, but the story I heard was totally believable. Having been a minister, I tried not to do those things, and I know you wouldn't, Charlie. I just thought I'd make the point that it could be passed along to Mr Fagan or whoever was responsible for that inadvertent oversight.
Mr Toni Skarica (Wentworth North): On a point of order, Madam Speaker: It seems to me the member for Renfrew North is engaging in somewhat of a personal attack against the Attorney General and is not talking about the bill at all.
Mr Conway: I am talking about events that involved the department of justice and the courts -
The Acting Speaker: Member for Renfrew North, I have a point of order here. I'm not so sure, from my view, that it was a personal attack, but if the member wants to withdraw or apologize, he has that opportunity.
Mr Conway: I will withdraw any suggestion that there was a personal attack on the Attorney General. I'm just reporting what actually happened.
Mr Conway: Well, listen, the newly altered member from - that's probably going to be personal, too. I'm really struck by the member for Wentworth North. He's been an arbiter of parliamentary etiquette ever since he joined the crime commission. I simply wanted to make the point that an event occurred in the department of justice down in Cornwall a couple of weeks ago that caused some concern among some people. This does relate in a way to what I want to talk about tonight because -
Mr Conway: I happened to be reading the Lindsay Daily Post, as I often do. It was hard to miss. The only bigger and brighter picture of the member for Victoria-Haliburton was the one with the Minister of Natural Resources when they were announcing some $500 grant over in Beaverton, and it was an even bigger colour photograph. I'll tell you, that Conrad Black knows how to give an advertisement when he wants to give an advertisement. In all my years in politics, I don't think I ever got such coloured advertising on the front page of any Thomson or Conrad Black paper for what seemed to be not a large amount of money, though undoubtedly it was good work.
This is good policy and I support it. I want to congratulate the Attorney General for, among other things, his not inconsiderable courage in, as he does in schedule B of the bill, setting out to change or alter the nomenclature of the courts. Those of us who know judges and the courts know that no greater risk can any minister of justice ever take than to undertake to alter the language and the nomenclature of honourable judges.
Mr John Gerretsen (Kingston and The Islands): What are they called now, judges?
Mr Conway: I'm not going to use my time tonight. There are a variety. Do you remember that debate of 10 and 15 years ago? I can remember being lacerated, and more up in Sudbury from a number of my good friends who were judges, and boy, were they some upset about some changes to nomenclature. I want to encourage the sensibilities of the member for Wentworth North. I want to stand in my place tonight and give full credit to this Attorney General for his willingness to open that Pandora's box of nomenclature, as he does in schedule B of Bill 48, lest anyone wonder what it is I am talking about. That is part of this enterprise.
I want to say to the Attorney General that my primary concern with respect to Bill 48 has to do with a couple of pockets that remain in eastern Ontario. I'm glad my pal from Belleville is here because I think the Attorney General would agree with me that nowhere have the agents of the departments of justice, provincially and federally, done a better -
An emergency alarm sounded.
Mr Conway: You know, you expect CNN to come live to tell you that some kind of an attack has been launched from the Red Sea or whatever.
At any rate, one of the very real accomplishments in the administration of justice in the last number of years has been the work that's been done in eastern Ontario, of which the Attorney General is well and fully aware, in terms of cleaning up backlogs and bringing about a better degree of efficiency and much smoother movement of cases through the system. He's talked about that.
One of the things I hear from my lawyer friends in places like Kingston and Hamilton is that, as the attorney mentioned in his remarks, the Unified Family Court does a very good job of making it just simply a lot smoother and a lot simpler for families and clients and providers to move cases through the system.
There is some surprise, Mr Attorney, that in eastern Ontario, where you've done some good work with this initiative, the announcements - I just have the materials that were sent out by the department of the Attorney General, dated December 4. You read that list rather quickly and there may be a slight change. According to the material that I have, Ottawa, L'Orignal, Cornwall, Brockville, Perth and Cobourg will now be part of the United Family Court. Kingston, as the member from there will indicate shortly, has already been in the Unified Family Court system for a couple of years.
What we are left with, I say to my friend from Hastings South, or I guess we now call it Quinte, is that we've got two pockets. We've got Belleville and Pembroke or Renfrew county, the only two parts of the region that will not be part of the family court. I gather, from usually reliable sources, that our friend the Attorney General did a very vigorous job in trying to apply the resources across the region, for the obvious reason that you want, particularly in the assignment of judges, to be able to say the whole region is covered and so we don't have a two-tiered system in any particular region. Well, we've got a two-tiered system.
My friend the local director of the family and children's services in the county of Renfrew and city of Pembroke, Mr Jerry Muldoon, as it happens wrote me just yesterday saying:
With the recent announcement regarding unified family courts, I am very curious about the rationale for exclusion of Renfrew county from that process.
"Any help you can provide in telling me why we were left out would be much appreciated."
I just thought tonight it might be timely for the Attorney General to indicate to people in Renfrew county and Hastings why they are being left out, because they are the only two parts of the region. One of my sources, my old friend and colleague Robert Stanley Kemp Welch QC, led a delegation from St Catharines, and the delegation was very determined that they should share in this expanded offering of the Unified Family Court. I have a high regard for Bob Welch. This may not be a fair representation of his activity in this respect, and all well and good that St Catharines is considered and has been approved, as I understand it.
But it does seem to me that there is now going to be a problem. I just wonder if the attorney in his remarks could indicate what the rationale was and what he sees as the problems, because clearly lawyers, court officials and others in places like Pembroke and Belleville are seeing a difficulty, in the short term at least.
I want to digress again, in a spirit of bipartisan goodwill, and say what I've said privately to the Attorney General: that his recent appointment of Ms Jane Wilson of Renfrew as the new Family Court (Provincial Division) judge in our county has been enormously well received. I know Ms Wilson. I have known her for some time. I think I speak for not just the local bar but many in the community who would want me to say, "Well done, Mr Harnick, you have given us a very fine replacement for a very outstanding long-time family court judge," Judge Lorne Foran, who retired just a few months ago.
But, again, people who commend the appointment are left somewhat perplexed as to why we are not going to have a Unified Family Court in Pembroke and Belleville. I can imagine, for example, being a senior or supervising judge trying to deploy judicial resources across that region. In almost all these cases, you're going to be dealing with a Unified Family Court except in Renfrew county and in the Belleville area. That was essentially my concern about what is clearly a very good step in the right direction.
I would also ask the Attorney General, in his remarks, because I'm sure this will be of great interest to all, including my friend from Brockville, how Her Majesty is going to receive recommendations for whatever appointments are to be made in the name of this very good policy. Those of us who have been in the political service for some time would want to admit, perhaps a bit sheepishly, that few appointments are made in Her Majesty's name that attract the vigorous interest we find for judicial appointments. I can imagine that every bar association, certainly across my part of the province, including one I know in Leeds and Grenville, is excited at the possibilities that this very good initiative presents. I have to believe that the Minister of Justice for Canada and her provincial colleague in Ontario have some kind of understanding as to how these appointments are going to be made.
Interjection: They've probably been made.
Hon Robert W. Runciman (Solicitor General and Minister of Correctional Services): John's name is at the top of the list.
Mr Conway: Well, as I said, the appointment in Renfrew was very good. I see that George Beatty has been summoned to the judicial service in the Bracebridge area. I think that's undoubtedly being widely hailed in that part of central Ontario. George is well known for his community work, his legal abilities and, dare I say it, I think George has joined some of the rest of us in other levels of public service and activity. Let me say very clearly: That ought not to disqualify him from serving on the bench, as it didn't disqualify my old colleague Marietta Roberts and others I could think of.
But I imagine the excitement that must be around and about the legal and judicial circles as to not only how people are going to be styled in their titles but who is going to get what summons. So if the Attorney General, in his remarks at the conclusion of this third reading debate, cares to touch on any of those matters - I would say, in all seriousness, that the one about Pembroke and the Renfrew and Hastings concern, is obviously my primary concern.
As I take my seat and surrender the rest of the time to my friend from Kingston, I want to say seriously, and perhaps I was a little too quick to judge in the first remarks, I don't know what happened there in Cornwall. But whatever happened, the basic tenets of courtesy appeared not to have been shown to the local member, and it was commented upon by some of the people I know who were at the event and who are big fans of this Attorney General.
Mr Gerretsen: The Attorney General seems to be on a roll this month, when you think about it, the legal aid bill just the other day, and we also had the law society bill and now the courts of justice bill. That's three bills within the last week or so. He must really feel a sense of accomplishment once this bill passes.
I will not bother with the musings of the member for Renfrew North about the various appointments that ought to be made. I would rather deal with some of the issues that arise in this bill.
Mr Conway: Some of us are lawyers and others aren't.
Mr Gerretsen: That's correct, some of us are lawyers and others aren't. That's right. But I would like to talk about the concept itself, because I think the concept of a Unified Family Court is long overdue. Of course, we've had the court operating in Hamilton for almost 20 years, maybe even a bit longer than that. I almost have a tendency to look at these issues not so much from a lawyer's viewpoint but more from a consumer's viewpoint. What happens to an individual when they happen to be caught in circumstances where they are involved in a family law matter?
Let me first of all say that for anyone involved in those kinds of issues, it's a very traumatic experience. Back in the 1970s and early 1980s, I used to practise a fair amount of family law. As a lawyer, you have to be very much concerned with the trauma people go through when a family breaks up. To try to explain to people under those circumstances that for certain purposes they have to go to one level of court and for other purposes they have to go to the family court, it's very difficult to understand.
To the average person, whether they walk into a family court courtroom or a General Division courtroom - a county courtroom as they were called in those days - it's much the same. They're usually in different buildings. But they didn't understand why it was necessary that usually matters relating to support, custody and access were handled at the family court level, and matters of divorce, property settlements and separation of properties had to be dealt with at another level.
You could get into the whole argument with people that one lies within federal jurisdiction and the other lies within provincial jurisdiction. But the bottom line is that the system itself, to assist people in using the system to try to resolve their issues and the problems that were outstanding between the couple and what their future relationship was going to be for their children as far as custody and access were concerned, was always very difficult for people to understand. It was a system where I can quite often remember cases taking place with the same couple at the same time in the family court system and in the country court system. Of course, the general public saw this as just a manner in which lawyers could make more money, because they were in effect involved in two separate actions at the same time.
The notion of bringing this together in one court has been around for a long time, as I mentioned before. The Unified Family Court system, which started as a pilot project in Hamilton, and maybe the member from Hamilton can correct me, has been around at least 20 years, probably even longer than that. From what I've always heard, within the profession as well, it was a very successful project.
I often wondered why the system wasn't carried forward. That's when you get involved in the kinds of issues the member for Renfrew North was talking about, that the federal government very jealously wanted to protect the fact that it was appointing federal judges who operated in the county court system and of course the provincial Attorney General, not only the Attorney General but the system, wanted to really protect the jurisdiction and protect the turf that the provincial government had in the matter of appointing provincial court judges. Thank goodness that's gone, at least in this particular issue.
I remember when the Attorney General gave his speech on second reading. He seemed to lay great emphasis on the fact that the federal Minister of Justice, through orders in council, had appointed only 17 new judges for the new Unified Family Court whereas the province had requested 22. He somehow seemed to take great issue with the federal Minister of Justice about that. To my way of thinking, if that's the biggest complaint he has, that there were only 17 appointed rather than the 22 they asked for, then let's try it out with the 17 first. It has taken 20 years for the one pilot project in Hamilton to be evaluated, and three or four years for the other system that has been operating in Kingston and Napanee and a couple of other areas in the province with the new Unified Family Court. It's going to take some time to get it installed throughout the rest of the province.
I really hope that as soon as this new system gets up and running in the communities that he talked about, every effort will be made to make it province-wide as soon as possible. There is absolutely no reason why people in some counties will be able to take advantage of the unified system whereas people in other counties will still have to go through the old-fashioned system of saying: "What am I really asking for? If it's property division, I have to go to the General Division court, and if it's custody and access, more likely than not it's going to be done in the family court system." As a result of these two different systems we have, some people in Ontario are going to be paying more for their legal services than other people. I just don't think that is fair.
I will not get into the whole argument tonight about what's really been happening within the Attorney General's department as far as cuts in funding in various programs are concerned. He has taken great issue with me on that on a number of occasions here. Maybe he doesn't like to listen to the facts. I would just leave it this way with him: It is nice to set up all these systems, it is nice to make the changes necessary to legal aid, as we did the other night, but none of that really means anything in the long run if it isn't adequately resourced.
We have to deal with the reality of the situation. For whatever reason, there are more marriage breakdowns occurring in the province now than there were 10, 15 or 20 years ago. I guess there are fewer people getting married now as well, so maybe we'll see a turnaround the other way in years to come. I really don't know. The point is that the need for a Unified Family Court system is much greater than it was 10, 15 or 20 years ago because more and more people, for whatever reason, have to use the system a lot more than used to be the case at one time.
That is going to require resources, and I'm talking about staff people. Everybody always seems to think about judges, but it isn't just judges who are involved in these court systems. For every judge I suppose you have nine or 10 staff people. Think of the court reporters, the trial coordinators, all the clerical staff who are involved.
I can tell you that one of the main problems with respect to the Family Responsibility Office had nothing to do with the way the system was put into place, but it had all to do with the fact that there weren't an adequate number of people looking after the files that were in the system. The concept is a good one. If there's a support order outstanding, why shouldn't payments be made immediately from the employer into the system so there can be every assurance given that the other spouse or the other parent will get the support money as quickly as possible and with as little chance as possible of there being disruption? The system broke down - and it certainly broke down when all the regional offices were closed down - because there just weren't adequate resources there.
The same thing applies to the Unified Family Court system and to the legal aid system. We can argue exactly how much money there should be in the system, whether $130 million is enough or whether it should be $180 million or whatever the amount is, but surely we cannot argue about the fact that no matter what system we put into place, we have to adequately resource it if we really want to make it meaningful to the individuals who have to use that system from time to time.
I see that my time is rapidly over. I think this is a good day for the people of Ontario. I hope the system in the communities he mentions will be up and running as quickly as possible. Maybe he could give us some sort of idea as to what the time lines are. I have no idea, when something gets announced here or in the communities that he talked about, are we talking about six months? Are we talking about a year? Are we talking about January 1? It would be interesting for the people in those communities, especially those people who require those services immediately, to know when they would be available.
I'm not trying to pin him down to a specific date in a specific community, but maybe he can give us some idea as to when the system will actually be up and running in those dozen or so communities he talked about where the new Unified Family Court system will now operate.
The Acting Speaker (Mr Jerry J. Ouellette): Further debate? We had divided the time.
Mrs Marion Boyd (London Centre): Thank you, Mr Speaker, for setting us straight about what we had agreed to. We're all a little tired.
Mr Conway: Mr Speaker, on a point of order: Perhaps we can agree to some consent at the end to give the Attorney General three or five minutes to respond to a number of questions.
The Acting Speaker: Agreed? Agreed.
Mr Bud Wildman (Algoma): I was going to say it depends on what he has to say.
Mrs Boyd: Bud, I don't think that condition has been put in place.
I'm pleased to have an opportunity to speak to third reading of this bill. I spoke extensively to second reading and would simply like, in a very brief way, to reiterate some of my comments.
First of all, I congratulate the Attorney General on having been able to persuade his federal counterparts to at least appoint the number of judges that have been appointed to enable the family court to expand. The family court is an extremely important mechanism for us to ensure that family law is appropriately enforced in this country, that disputes are settled by a court that is dedicated to ensuring that family law gets the attention it ought to have. Very often the more glamorous field of criminal law seems to absorb everybody's minds as the only part of the justice system, yet family law is probably more important to the average person than the criminal justice system ever is in terms of their personal life. We know that it affects many thousands of Ontarians every year.
The Attorney General will know that I am a very strong fan of having a dedicated family court because I believe the expertise that is needed to appropriately adjudicate the matters that come before the family court is a specialization, and the expertise that is gained case after case, the kind of competence that builds when you have your time and your energy dedicated to a particular field of law, really develops an expertise that is to the benefit of all those who come before the court.
The Attorney General also knows that I am very apprehensive about the move within the Courts of Justice Act amendments which enables the Chief Justice to rotate into the family court any justice from the General Division. My fear, obviously, is that over time that family law expertise may be diluted. Everyone who is assigned to the bench certainly has a history of practice in law and usually has a specialty, but I myself have attended the swearing-in of justices who have little or no experience in family law and who may have very valuable experience in other areas such as commercial law or criminal law. My whole point of supporting the family court is that you need that expertise in family law.
We are very fortunate to have as the administrator of our General Division Mr Justice Patrick LeSage, a justice for whom I have a great deal of respect. I have spoken to him personally and he has assured me that while he is administering the court, it would not occur to him to rotate into one of these family courts anyone from the General Division who was lacking in experience in family law, lacking in a commitment to the practice of best-quality, best-practice family law. Knowing him as I do, I have absolutely no reason to fear that during his administration of the courts there would be a situation where someone would be rotated in who was either disinterested in family law or inexperienced in family law. So I have no problem with that.
But we all know that things change. This bill does not limit those rotated-in judges to those judges who have that interest and that competence, that commitment to family law. As the Attorney General knows, I urge that there be a limitation on that rotation in to those who have clearly a dedication to the field of family law, and unfortunately no amendment came forward.
I know that the Attorney General shares my concern that the family court remain a specialized court; I understand that. He believes that leaving that up to the ability of the Chief Justice to ensure that those who are rotated into the court have that experience is sufficient. I would say to him that given the constraints on the administration of justice in this province, given the very real problems that the justices are having accommodating in a timely fashion all the work they have to do, I worry that at some point this may not become the focus of whoever succeeds Mr Justice LeSage as the administrative Chief Justice. So that remains a concern.
My other concern that I spoke of was the decision of the Attorney General to put all young offenders matters before provincial court judges. As I said at second reading, I have great respect for provincial court judges and I am not at all suggesting that they are not able to deal with the criminal matters that come before them under the Young Offenders Act. In many jurisdictions, in fact in most jurisdictions in the province, that is exactly the way young offenders matters are handled, and while some, particularly in the government, have criticized justices as they deal with young offenders matters, I think there is a real effort on the part of the provincial bench to be mindful of the special circumstances of young offenders, to be very aware of the requirements under the Young Offenders Act and to dispense justice in as fair and even a manner as possible.
However, when we expanded the family court to London, Barrie and Napanee, one of the things we did was say, "Let's put young offenders matters into the family court." We know that a huge percentage of people who come into contact with the criminal justice system as young offenders have also had a contact with the family court, because of issues around abuse and neglect, because of issues around separation and divorce, custody and access, because they have come under the protection of a children's aid society and been made crown wards.
My concern always has been that there appears to be one attitude, on the part certainly of the public and of some in this government, of great empathy, great sympathy towards children who find themselves caught in the middle of family law matters with little recognition that those same children often are the same children who appear in young offenders court and who, because of the experiences they've had, turn to unlawful means either to get attention when they feel that their matters are not being dealt with within the family or to exact revenge on parents who they feel have not appropriately nurtured them. We know that explanation is there in the criminal courts, in the young offenders courts all the time.
It was always our belief that it was important to build an expertise in all the justice issues that concern children, in the issues around custody and access, the issues around child support, the issues around crown wardship, the issues around child protection, the issues that are there when children are orphaned and there needs to be a disposition made in terms of guardianship. We felt those issues as well as the young offenders issues would be well served by a bench that was dedicated to matters that deal with family law as well, so that was what we decided to do.
I know that many on the bench disagreed with that, both the provincial bench and the General Division bench. In fact, the administrative justice in my own jurisdiction in London has consistently not supported putting young offenders matters into the family court. Although the family judges understand why it's important to do so, there aren't enough of them to deal with all the issues, and that whole problem of their being too busy and the provincial judges not being busy enough has been a workload issue. When you're trying to administer the courts within a very tight budget, I can understand why it has been the recommendation from both benches that the provincial court bench deal with young offenders matters.
I continue to believe that's not the right way for us to go, that we should be going in the other direction. The Attorney General knows that we have to disagree on this matter even though it in no way takes away from the fact that we both believe that this direction of the expansion of the family court is an important direction for us to pursue.
I know that one of the ongoing rubs is the difficulty we have of getting a sufficient number of federally appointed family court justices. As we take this measure today, I hope that the federal Minister of Justice does not think that Ontario, by making these arrangements to rotate people in in order to expand the courts, is giving up on the notion that we need more family court-appointed justices. I don't believe that's the message the Attorney General wants to send at all.
I think he is continuing to say that Ontario, because of its population, because of the workload that's there in the courts, requires the federal government to move ahead with as many new appointments as possible in order to attain that better level of service in the family courts. I certainly hope all members of this House will continue to encourage the federal justice minister and the federal government to allocate sufficient resources, that we have the federally appointed family court judges dedicated to family law that we need so that this issue of rotation in becomes less of an issue as we are able to have those dedicated justices available to us.
We will certainly be supporting the bill and will be watching very carefully to see what the effects of these changes are on the operation of the family court.
The Acting Speaker: The Attorney General will have four minutes to summarize.
Hon Mr Harnick: I want to respond to a few of the remarks that were made by each of my colleagues who I appreciate very taking part in this debate.
First, I'd like to say to the member for Renfrew North, involving the opening of the Cornwall court, that it was certainly my impression that Mr Cleary, his colleague from Cornwall, was very appropriately acknowledged for the work he had done to ensure that a court was ultimately built in Cornwall, and if that was not the case, it was certainly not the intention from either me or the member for Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry, who was also present at the opening of that court.
That being said, I want to respond to a couple of the issues very specifically that he raised about the expansion of the Unified Family Court. He specifically noted that the town of Renfrew was excluded. It was excluded quite simply because we were not given enough judges from the federal government to appoint judges to the Unified Family Court. We had expected 22 judges. We received 17 and we maximized the 17 by adding to it judges from the existing General Division who are already doing family work.
I couldn't agree with him more when you look and see in Ontario two different systems being used for family matters - the member from Kingston also remarked on this - that that is just not right. I would urge them in all seriousness to tell the Minister of Justice to make the appropriate number of appointments so that we can get this court expanded across the province as fast as we possibly can. It is a very important thing to any person in this province going through the family court system.
It's interesting to note that when we were given 17 judges, our expectation was 22, and the cities of Halifax and Dartmouth were included in the same expansion and they received eight judges. The eight judges on the same per capita basis would have meant the equivalent of about 60 judges for Ontario. I think if you take a look at that, it's pretty astounding that Ontario has been left behind as a result of this.
As well, I want to say to the member for Renfrew North that the appointments that will be made to fill the Unified Family Court will be made by the Minister of Justice. However, there is a commitment by the Minister of Justice that 75% of the appointments will come from the existing provincial court in Ontario and, for that, we're very grateful.
To the member from Kingston, spring of 1999 is the targeted date for the opening of the unified family courts that we announced, and I think we will be on schedule with those. In terms of resources, I say to the member from Kingston, the provincial government is prepared to provide all of the resourcing that we must provide to open courts across the province as soon as possible. That includes mediation services, education services, information services, staff and everything that goes with it. So for that, I urge him to speak to the Minister of Justice.
To the member from London North - London South. No, I'm sorry, London Centre.
Mrs Boyd: North Centre next time.
Hon Mr Harnick: I'm running out of time. In terms of the young offender issue, she and I differ. It is an issue of philosophy. I believe the provincial court is the appropriate place. Insofar as the rotation of judges, the commitment is that they will be rotated for six-month periods. The senior judge of policy, who is a permanent fixture, will ensure that those policies are adhered to, and I think that is the appropriate safeguard.
I again thank my colleagues for taking part in this debate.
The Acting Speaker: Mr Harnick has moved third reading of Bill 48.
Is it the pleasure of the House that the motion carry? Carried.
Be it resolved that the bill do now pass and be entitled as in the motion.
VINTNERS QUALITY ALLIANCE ACT, 1998 / LOI DE 1998 SUR LA SOCIÉTÉ APPELÉE VINTNERS QUALITY ALLIANCE
Mrs Ross, on behalf of Mr Tsubouchi, moved second reading of the following bill:
Bill 85, An Act to provide for the designation of a wine authority to establish an appellation of origin for Vintners Quality Alliance wine and to administer that system / Projet de loi 85, Loi prévoyant la désignation d'un office des vins afin d'établir et d'administrer un système d'appellations d'origine pour les vins de la société appelée Vintners Quality Alliance.
Mrs Lillian Ross (Hamilton West): Ontario's wine industry is an outstanding example of what can be done when entrepreneurial skills are encouraged and supported. In just a few short years, our winemakers and grape growers have transformed the industry, to make Ontario one of the great winemaking regions of the world.
Ontario is now producing some of the best wines anywhere and our winemakers regularly win top honours at the most prestigious wine competitions in the world. Sales of Ontario wine are increasing every year in both Canada and overseas. In Ontario ice wine is winning growing acclaim and popularity around the world.
As a result, there are now more than 50 wineries in the province and the wine-producing regions of Niagara and the Lake Erie North Shore are becoming tourist destinations, much like the Napa Valley in California. Visitors to these regions can see how grapes are grown and how wine is made and can enjoy fine foods, locally produced and prepared, all of which means economic growth and an increasing number of jobs.
A very important part of this transformation was the formation by the industry in 1988 of the Vintners Quality Alliance. The VQA is dedicated to the making of premium quality wines from 100% locally produced grapes. In just 10 years, sales of VQA wines have grown to five million litres annually with a value of $72 million. Industry figures show VQA wine sales are rising an average of 40% a year and account for 9% of Ontario's worldwide wine markets. VQA wines have scored spectacular successes in international competition and have changed consumer perceptions at home and abroad.
The VQA marque on the label assures consumers they are getting the very best quality wines made right here in Ontario. However, trade restrictions threaten to keep important markets closed to our winemakers. As of April 1, 1999, Canadian wines entering the European Community will require a certificate stating that they comply with the standards of designated wine-producing countries, including France, Italy and Germany. These standards include legislative rules governing how fine wines are made and labelled.
This bill, the Vinters Quality Alliance Act, proposes to legislate VQA standards. It will establish an appellation of origin system for Ontario wines, backed by the government, and will ensure the quality of every VQA wine produced and is a necessary precondition to addressing trade barriers. This is a vital step in ensuring the long-term credibility of the system the industry has spent a decade developing. The bill also establishes the not-for-profit wine authority to monitor and administer the new act and its regulations.
This legislation responds to industry requests to enshrine VQA standards in legislation. It will help to remove an obstacle to gaining access to international markets for VQA wines. It will protect the integrity of the VQA system and Ontario's growing reputation for premium wines. It will strengthen the competitiveness of Ontario's wine industry and it will support regional economic development and job creation. I know the members from St Catharines and St Catharines-Brock who are in the House tonight will be particularly interested in having economic development grow and jobs created in their areas.
I urge all members to support this very important legislation that will bring our wineries into the 21st century.
The Acting Speaker (Mr Jerry J. Ouellette): Questions and comments?
Mr Gilles Bisson (Cochrane South): I have to say I was in the whip's office researching this very matter not more than an hour ago, looking at the difference between VQA and non-VQA wines, and I can tell you I much prefer VQA.
The Acting Speaker: Questions and comments? The member has two minutes to wrap up.
Mr John Gerretsen (Kingston and The Islands): What do you say to that?
Mrs Ross: There's not much to say, Mr Speaker, other than I'm sure the members of this House agree that we have the best wines grown anywhere in the country here in Ontario.
Mr Derwyn Shea (High Park-Swansea): Absolutely we do, unanimously.
The Acting Speaker: Further debate?
Mr James J. Bradley (St Catharines): I'm in the unenviable position of having to live up to a promise that I made some time ago to actually offer some praise on this particular occasion. I have to watch carefully how I word it because I always have this fear that if you say anything positive about the government, you're going to read it in a brochure somewhere. I don't have to worry about my friend Tom Froese, the member for St Catharines-Brock, using it in a brochure, but one of his successors, whoever that might be, seeking the Conservative nomination - I won't go into that one - might well want to use this.
We were dealing with another piece of legislation which dealt with brew pubs a while ago, and I remember during that speech saying if you were to bring forward the VQA Act before the end of the session and we passed it, I would be praising that. I will offer this praise: I am pleased to see that you have capitulated to the pressure of the opposition to bring in a Vintners Quality Alliance Act today. It's important for the wine industry. Those of us who represent the Niagara region or southwestern Ontario are well aware of the very significant and positive changes that have taken place in the wine industry over the years.
Certainly, grape growers have endeavoured to produce the kind of wines through the grapes they produce that would be very popular with the consuming public not only here in Ontario, where we would expect that perhaps people would want to try our wines and find them to be pleasant and use our wines for a variety of reasons, but also beyond the borders of this province. There was a sense of wine snobbery out there for many years which said that if a wine was produced in Canada or, if I could be more parochial, in the province of Ontario, somehow it couldn't possibly be as good as a European or Australian or South American wine. This was nonsense, of course. We knew it, though in the very early days of wine production, largely in the Niagara Peninsula then but in other parts of Ontario, the quality of wine was not what it is today.
One of the reasons we are able to market our wine in Ontario as being high quality was the establishment of the Vintners Quality Alliance by some very progressive-thinking people such as Don Ziraldo of Inniskillin wines and others who joined him. He of course, as you would know, was one of the winners of the Order of Canada. He was recognized in the winter of this year as one of the recipients of that particular award, again for the leadership that he's shown in business over the years. In fact, I watching a replay on CPaC one night at about 1:30 in the morning and I was watching him getting his award. That was about three months after he received it. It was something to see, and he certainly is deserving of it. But so many people have worked hard to meet the challenges that face the wine industry.
My friend from St Catharines-Brock, who has considerable experience, as does his family, in the farming business, in a previous incarnation in the financial institution business with the Niagara Credit Union where many loans were made to people in the agricultural business, would understand the genuine problems that were confronted by grape growers and wineries in Canada, particularly when the challenge of free trade came upon us and the challenges of NAFTA and challenges which were forced upon us by the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade - the international community.
There was always some pressure put on us by particularly I think countries such as France, and we always felt, I think with justification, that there was an unfair advantage given to the European wines. There was heavy subsidization, and whether they want to agree that this is the case or not today, there's still heavy subsidization, direct or indirect, for European wines. All our grape growers and our wine makers have asked for is a fair shake and a level playing field. Indeed, they have worked hard to make their wines acceptable and marketable and sought after around the world.
When you have what you call a blind taste test - this is interesting with what I call the wine snobs out there who say automatically that if it's a French wine it's got to be the best, instead of an Ontario wine. When you cover the label up and have them try both, you find out that the Ontario wine more often than not is a pleasanter wine, a better wine, than many of its European competitors. Now, particularly the wines under the auspices of the Vintners Quality Alliance are winning international awards.
We had a very challenging time in the late 1980s with our grape growers. There was a program to pull out grapes which were used in wines and grape juices which were not selling very well. They were replaced with varieties which were much better for the making of wine. This move has vastly improved the quality of wine that we produce in Ontario. So we need not apologize on any occasion for this quality of wine
I should go back to that to say there are a lot of people who don't like government intervention or government assistance. I can assure you that one of the significant reasons that grape growers and wineries were able to cope with some genuine challenges from abroad, from offshore, was because of the assistance, which was not a low amount of money, that was provided for the grape pull-out program and other assistance that could be provided for that transition period when free trade was coming into effect with the United States and NAFTA, and of course the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade.
As a result, the wineries working in partnership with government in those days, the grape growers working in partnership with government, we were able to overcome that crisis at that time and now, even though there's still tough competition and a lot of issues out there, we're able to see our wines doing exceedingly well, and that's as it should be.
We've had in the Niagara Peninsula, and I believe this is certainly the case in southwestern Ontario, the growth of what we call cottage wineries, smaller wineries, not necessarily widespread production but wineries that have been set up where people actually come to visit them. They have a tour of a vineyard perhaps, if they have a vineyard adjacent to it, a tour of the winery. They often like to see ice wines. We hope this year the weather a little later on is going to be cold enough to be able to produce our high-quality ice wines which bring in a considerable amount of money.
I think what is always underrated in our society is the contribution that agriculture makes to our economy and spinoffs from agriculture to our economy. If a plant closes in a community and there are 5,000 people involved in that plant, it is considered to be a catastrophe. Governments run to assist them, as they should. But when it happens in agriculture it's wider spread and there tends to be less of a focus in one specific geographic area. For that reason, governments and the media and society all tend to be, I won't say less sympathetic, but less inclined to move very quickly.
I believe that everything we can do to make farming viable will ensure that we have a good industry carrying on, because farming is an important business for Ontario and we should never forget that. Particularly those of us who reside in urban areas and represent urban areas must understand that to be the case. Certainly the people who represent agricultural areas understand it exceedingly well. That is why, of course, we have to preserve the agricultural land that we have in places such as the Niagara Peninsula, that we not allow unfettered and unwise development on prime agricultural land and land where the climatic conditions are conducive to the growing of certain produce.
For instance, in the Niagara Peninsula, because of the specific difference - for instance, if you think of what I call the top of the escarpment and the bottom of the escarpment, you'll find that on average there are about 27 or 28 fewer growing days, frost-free days, over the top of the escarpment than at the bottom of the escarpment. We have a very special pocket, climatically speaking, in the Niagara region where we can grow tender fruit which will not sustain frost, because frost absolutely ruins them. For that reason, we have to protect those lands.
I become worried when I hear that we want to expand highways to 12 lanes now. I've heard that proposal. I become concerned about the effect on agricultural land. I hope there is a diversion of some of the traffic which is now on the QEW to other routes, again to protect our agricultural land from development, because what happens is that the price of that agricultural land is driven up to unbelievably high levels. You'll find that developers will purchase agricultural lands, let them lie without any farming taking place on them and then, using what I call crackpot realism, will say, "Of course they're not being farmed." Perhaps the use is obnoxious or noxious, one of the two, and they tend to want municipalities to capitulate to those pressures for development.
We have to avoid what I call these widespread severances - some people call them economic severances - because what they represent in effect is a situation where you have death by 1,000 cuts for agricultural land and the farmers in our part of the province and other parts of the province.
We know that the Vinters Quality Alliance will be endorsed by government. Before, it had been there, but it was not officially recognized within legislation in this Legislature. While it's good for the selling of the product, the European competitors degrade us and say, "You can't call these quality products because you don't have this appellation condoned by the government of Ontario." We're going to have that under this legislation and that will take another argument away from those who wish to be argumentative about whether our wine should be recognized under the auspices of the Vinters Quality Alliance.
As well, some of the moves that have been made in the past have been helpful. I'm not in favour of widespread Sunday shopping around the province and never have been. That issue is behind us. I opposed it in this House. I would oppose it if it came up today, but that issue is behind us. However, I thought where you had family operations such as farms and you had produce available at roadside, that was fine. Of course with our wineries, which had the ultimate produce from those agricultural areas available for sale, it would be nice to have it available on the day of rest, Sunday, where people from Toronto, for instance, would come down to the Niagara Peninsula and make their purchases right at the wineries.
Another was the opportunity to use a credit card. Interestingly enough, our American friends would come over to make purchases - they've heard about our good wine - and they had to have cash. They could not use a credit card. They were allowed in the 1980s to begin to use a credit card at those wineries, and that was very helpful to them.
Every time we take a step that is helpful to the industry, I don't think it's protectionism; it's simply making that playing field level.
We have the Liquor Control Board of Ontario. I hope the next term any government has, whether it's Liberal, Conservative or NDP, it would not want to privatize the Liquor Control Board of Ontario. There are a variety of other arguments, but if I may focus because of this bill on one, even though from time to time the winemakers are not always happy about this, the one place where we can have some fair and even promotion of our product is in our own Liquor Control Board of Ontario stores, and that's important. I wasn't particularly delighted when they announced that those stores are going to be open on Sunday because they compete with the wineries which are right on-site, but it's an issue behind us. I'm not going to fight that one again, only to note the effect on the outlets for wine production.
We have that opportunity today. I challenge people all across Ontario and our country to try the wines produced in Ontario. We have each year the Niagara Grape and Wine Festival, supported by people across the Niagara Peninsula, and we're delighted to have that. It focuses attention on that. The Premier was in St Catharines at that time, along with the Minister of Consumer and Commercial Relations - I won't say for a photo opportunity - for the opportunity to flip some flapjacks and other things to do with a special breakfast associated with the official opening of the grape and wine festival. We were happy to be there and swat the bees away. Tom Froese and I were down at the market square on that occasion to help out and I think Frank Sheehan was there. Frank, I think you were there during the grape and wine festival to help out with that. It's a good time. People come together at that particular time.
If we speak to the people who are part of the wine industry, they have certain challenges they face and they have asked us to take certain action. This is another step. They will be delighted as well, and I'll be looking for it in the next budget from the province, to allow the wineries to sell their product directly to the restaurants and bars in Ontario. When the Treasurer gets up during his next budget, if there is another budget, and announces that, you won't need the script for the government members to clap; I'll be leading the applause on that particular occasion if that happens. So there's another challenge out there. I'll be happy to say again that you have accepted a recommendation from those of us in the opposition, and whenever you do that, I'm there to applaud that particular effort.
Mr Tom Froese (St Catharines-Brock): The trouble is we recommended that already.
Mr Bradley: I've recommended that many times in the House. I'm glad to see others have joined me in this particular effort. Let's see whether that will come to fruition. I'm sure it will come to fruition if I have anything to do with it in a very direct way. I hope in an indirect way there can be some influence on that. So I say to you, do not diminish in your mind the importance of the grape and wine industry to this province.
My friend the government House leader, who was the Minister of Consumer and Commercial Relations, was the celebrity at the celebrity luncheon. I think he was the 15th person they had asked, but I didn't want to say that to him. I want to say he was available, and his speech, though a wee bit partisan, was nevertheless a delightful experience for those of us who paid our $40 to hear him speak on that occasion. Knowing that the money wasn't going to the Progressive Conservative Party but rather to a good cause, I was more than happy to pay that $40 to hear the minister speak.
Hon Norman W. Sterling (Minister of the Environment, Government House Leader): I recognized you.
Mr Bradley: He recognized me. I think he mumbled my name out and there was some smattering of applause, but the real star of the show was the Minister of Consumer and Commercial Relations. He understood. I knew from the notes he read during his speech that he was fully immersed in the challenges to be met by the grape and wine industry and did say that.
I want to pay tribute to the Ontario Grape Growers' Marketing Board, John Neufeld from Niagara-on-the-Lake, who does an outstanding job with the grape growers' marketing board. We certainly want to pay tribute to the Ontario wine council as well, which has played a significant role in this. I have already phoned them to say that I've had this bill placed before the House this evening. I didn't know whether the government was going to bring it forward but I urged the government House leader to bring it forward. He did bring it forward, I won't say reluctantly. I'll strike out the word "reluctantly" because it wasn't there. He was delighted to bring it forward. I assured him there would not be a fulsome debate on it but that we would have to put on the record some of the issues that are important to those of us who represent the Niagara region.
To the members of this Legislature, I hope we have unanimous consent to move forward not only with this second reading, but I am delighted to see us move forward after second reading debate. We don't have to go into committee of the whole, as we should with the supply bill, but with this bill we're happy not to go to committee of the whole or any other committee, because I think there's a consensus on this bill. I'll be happy to go to third reading and have third reading without any debate. That's how urgently I believe we should be moving forward with this piece of legislation tonight.
To our grape growers in this province, congratulations. To our wine-makers in the province, congratulations. We, the members of the Legislature, as a group endorse your efforts. We believe that the official designation and appellation given through this piece of legislation to the Vintners Quality Alliance will be helpful in making us even more competitive in fending off the wolves who want to do damage to our opportunity to put our product on the market with a level playing field.
With those remarks, I look forward to the passage of this piece of legislation this evening.
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Questions and comments?
Mr Bisson: I just have a short question to the member for St Catharines. I want to know how he feels about the changes the government has made to land use policy in Ontario, first of all by way of the humongous changes we've seen to the Municipal Act that allow urban crawl to work its way into some of the best agricultural land in Ontario, namely, the area around St Catharines. I want to know how he feels about that and if he thinks those policies are going to bode well for the winery industry over the long term.
I'd also like to know how he feels about the issue of the Ministry of Agriculture budget being cut to the extent that it was and what kind of impact he thinks that will have on the winery industry.
The third thing I want to know, in the end, is how he feels overall about what the environmental policies that this government has adopted, which seem to me to be very anti-environment, mean to the agricultural industry, specifically to the winery industry in the St Catharines area.
Mr Tim Hudak (Niagara South): I'm pleased to rise and comment on my colleague from St Catharines's earlier remarks. Those of us on this side of the House from what we call the Ontario wine council - Tom Froese, St Catharines-Brock; Frank Sheehan, Lincoln; Bart Maves, Niagara Falls; and of course often our leader, who won't let go of the issue, Jack Carroll, from Chatham-Kent - are very pleased to see this legislation go forward this evening. I have to say too, my commendations to Minister David Tsubouchi for being the minister who brought this forward to enshrine the VQA standards in law.
I certainly agree with the member for St Catharines in what he said. There's a bit of an economic miracle going on in the Niagara Peninsula on many fronts, but certainly when you look at the estate wineries in Lincoln, in Niagara-on-the-Lake, even in the Grimsby and Stoney Creek area, it's an incredible thing to behold. We look forward to many more successes in the future. In fact, I was in the Jordan area the other day, and Stoney Ridge has recently moved into the Lincoln area with expansion plans, to expand their line of products as well as offer a winery and restaurant. They're looking at what they've done with Cave Springs, Vineland Estates and Hillebrand, among others.
There are changes in education as well, with the program we're offering at Brock University and Niagara College, to train people in viticulture so they can find opportunities in this field and, as I said, continue to build on a minor economic miracle in the Niagara Peninsula. Those of us on this side of the House who are on the Ontario wine council are very pleased with this piece of legislation going through this evening.
Mrs Ross: I wanted to compliment the member for St Catharines. He certainly does care about his community, that's for sure, as do the other members of the Niagara area, and understands the importance of the grape industry and the wine-producing industry to their area.
I was with Mr Froese when the institute of viticulture opened at Brock University. You can see that this industry is growing rapidly. It's becoming so much more important. Consumers out there are recognizing the importance of good-quality wines, and the VQA marque on the wines will assure them that the standards are the highest they can possibly be in Ontario.
The Speaker: Response?
Mr Bradley: Thank you for the comments on the remarks I made this evening. I want to answer some questions that were asked. I thank the two members from the government caucus for their compliments. Indeed, I want to underline what I think is a very significant transformation taking place in the Niagara Peninsula. One of the areas where that is happening - we're all boosters of the Niagara Peninsula - is certainly in the cottage wine industry, in the agritourism industry. All of us who represent the Niagara region are quite delighted to see that happening. I compliment the farmers and the wine-makers for what they have done in that regard.
To the member for Cochrane South who asked a couple of questions - am I concerned about the cutting of the Ministry of Agriculture budget? I certainly am concerned about that. I hope it doesn't have a detrimental effect on agricultural industries all across the province, but one can't help but believe that there may be a detrimental effect there.
Second, the change in land use policies concerns me very much. I can tell him that right on the border of St Catharines there are big developers who bought up the property which is agricultural land. They've driven the prices way up so that farmers wouldn't easily be able to buy that and now want to put developments on it. So we have this crawling urban sprawl taking place across the Niagara Peninsula. We want to put a stop to that. I prefer to see vineyards and orchards on that particular property and I look forward to that happening.
He was also probably wanting to ask about the Niagara Escarpment Commission and whether there were any problems with that. Since Norm Sterling had that snatched away from him and given to the Ministry of Natural Resources, I am very perturbed that we may see an erosion of the protection that would take place for some of the agricultural uses on the Niagara Escarpment.
The Speaker: Further debate?
Mr Bisson: I first want to put on the record that our caucus will be supporting this legislation. Simply put, this legislation tries to enshrine a system of rating of Ontario wines under the VQA system. If you wonder why that's important, I guess you'd have to understand something of the wine industry. The wine industry, as we know, is a very competitive industry in itself. It's not only Ontario wines being marketed here in Ontario; obviously, we're competing against wines from Chile, from the United States, from Italy, from France, from a number of countries. South Africa also makes some very good red wines, and white wines as well.
As you know, the Liquor Control Board of Ontario has put out - it's not driven by them, it's driven by the vintners alliance. They run what they call the VQA system, so that when you go into a LCBO store or you go into one in another province, to buy a wine that's made in Ontario and it has a VQA label on it, you know that wine has been rated according to a rating set up by the Vintners Quality Alliance, which says, "This is a pretty good wine." That's important because buyers of wine want to have a reasonable assurance when they go out and buy red or white wine, as it might be, that the wine is of quality. What does it mean for our growers? It means for our wineries here in Ontario, simply put, that they're able to sell that wine, if it has a VQA rating, as a premium wine, and basically compete in a different league.
Quite frankly, the VQA system has served the vintners of the province quite well. As the member for St Catharines has mentioned, we have some excellent wines here in Ontario, local grapes grown here in our province, made into wine and bottled here by our various vintners across the St Catharines area and others in the province. A number of those wines are VQA, and we know when we buy that wine and it has a VQA rating on it, we're buying a good wine.
The problem, however, is that this particular VQA rating is basically only a rating that is done by the Vintners Quality Alliance itself. The vintners, as I understand it, want to be in a position to say, "Our VQA ratings are recognized as ratings of quality wine," but more importantly, "as set out in legislation," so there's no tinkering around. You know that if the member for Nepean goes out to buy a bottle of red or white wine with the VQA rating, which I'm sure he does from time to time, he would know that there's no way of playing around with that VQA rating. In other words, if a vintner, for whatever reason, were to say, "I'm just going to put a VQA rating on that wine to try to market it as a good wine," when maybe it is not, in the end if the member for Nepean were to buy that false bottle of VQA wine, he would be in a position to say, "Hey, there's a law against this." That bodes well for the industry because it lets the market know that particular wine is very interesting - I was saying "interesting" because I was listening to the comments by the member.
The Speaker is having a pretty good discussion over there, and I got somewhat sidetracked. Thank you very much, Speaker, for coming to order. It's the first time a member, in his speech, has had to tell the Speaker to come to order.
I was just saying that when a person goes out to buy wine, if you have the VQA rating system in legislation you will have a guarantee of knowing that you cannot monkey around with the VQA rating; in fact, you are buying good wine. For our wine industry that's very important because, as I said at the beginning, the wine industry which the Ontario vintners have to compete in is very competitive. By having this VQA rating regulated in legislation, you will know you are really getting the quality that is put on that bottle. You will know that when you buy a VQA wine, you are getting a VQA wine.
I want to say to the members of the assembly, I love wine. Wine is probably one of the nicest juices ever invented by man.
Mr John R. Baird (Nepean): And Polkaroo.
Mr Bisson: I like Polkaroo too. I actually have a picture of you and me and Polkaroo. I just want to say that I'm a maker of wine; I make my own wine in my home. I have my own equipment to make wine. I recognize quite well the difference between a good and a bad wine. To me, as a consumer of wine, the VQA rating is always a good indication that I'm buying a good wine. So I feel a lot better as a consumer knowing that this VQA rating actually will be rated under law and there will be no monkeying around with that.
I want to say to the government, however, that we're here on this, probably the last debate before the next provincial election. There's probably a 60-40 chance that the government is not going to call the Legislature back before the next election. There's a fairly good chance, probably an 80% or 90% chance, that this Conservative government will no longer exist after the next provincial election. I want to put on the record, because this is probably -
Mr Baird: You'll be invigorated.
Mr Bisson: And you will not be invigorated. I really believe that the people of Ontario, come the next election, are going to have a very difficult time supporting your policies through an election.
As this is probably the last speech we'll have in this Parliament - that I intend, with the good graces of the people of Timmins-James Bay, the new riding, on coming back as a representative - I want to to put a couple of things on the record as they pertain to agriculture and this particular VQA bill that we have before us.
We have seen this government, from the very beginning, introduce legislation that does not bode well for the agricultural industry and does not bode well for the vintners of Ontario. We have seen a number of pieces of legislation that have gone to make Ontario more business-friendly when it comes to the question of environmental regulation. Some would say, "What does environmental regulation have to do with what happens on the farm?" It has everything to do with what happens on the farm. For example, I remember early on in the life of this government, I believe in the fall of 1995, the Minister of Municipal Affairs, Mr Leach, introduced bill that basically changed the Municipal Act. In the changes to the Municipal Act, we changed a number of provincial policies as they apply to what happens within the land use planning policies of municipalities. One of the things we used to have in the old land use policies was the issue of trying to figure out ways to deal with urban sprawl, so we didn't have a whole bunch of construction going on, on the outskirts of communities, chewing up very valuable agricultural land when you have, in the centre of an existing community, land that could be developed more effectively and more efficiently.
I remember, during that particular debate, as the municipal affairs critic going around the province, travelling with my good friend the parliamentary assistant, Mr Hardeman - I can't remember your riding - and others who were purporting that this was a good bill and that municipalities needed the flexibility that this bill would offer. I remember back then saying: "I have some concerns. The purpose of the Legislature is to balance the needs of the developer against the needs of the municipality and the needs of the rural community."
I felt then, as I do now, that by moving towards allowing more urban sprawl in communities like Niagara Falls and that whole grape-growing area, we were making it far more possible for developers to pick up prime agricultural land in Ontario and start to take that out of the entire holdings that we have in Ontario when it comes to the agricultural industry.
I admit that's not going to happen overnight. It's not all of a sudden, because you get rid of these policies, that developers are going to run out and pave everything that's green under blacktop. That's obviously not going to happen. The point I make is that if you don't have good land use policies, you will end up in a situation, over a period of time, where you will start encroaching on agricultural land to the point that we'll be taking some very valuable land out of the land base that we have here in Ontario.
As the member for St Catharines has pointed out, the whole Niagara region is one of the better agricultural areas we have in Ontario. It's not the best; there are others out there, as we know. The Holland Marsh is another that is very productive; and places in southwestern Ontario, and northeastern and northern Ontario. But we know, particularly when it comes to the wine industry, the St Catharines-Niagara Falls area is very important to the industry in Ontario and our economy.
I want to put on the record that I was opposed in 1995 to the changes to the Municipal Act that led to allowing more urban crawl, and I would hope that in the next Parliament, when we come back, we will be in a position as a party to revisit that as a government and try to strike a balance between the needs of the developers and the needs of the agricultural community, to make sure the land base is there in the future.
I also hearken back to a debate that happened probably in 1994. I can't remember exactly what bill it was, when we were the NDP government, but there was a bill, I think in 1993 or 1994, that dealt with issues that would have made it possible for people to sever land. I'm not sure if it was an agricultural bill or a municipal affairs bill, but the point I want to make is this: There were a number of people in Ontario who were really pressing our government to allow severances to happen in a bigger way. The idea was that if you had a family farm and you happened to have - I'll just give an example - 250 acres, the policy now, as I understand it, would allow one severance passed on to the second generation. What people were trying to push was the ability for the land owner to sever that 250 acres into smaller lots to make money, or to sever them off to the family so a son, a daughter, a son-in-law, whoever, would be able to build their houses on that land.
I had people who reside within the agricultural community in my riding who lobbied me quite hard, when were the government, to have our government move legislation to allow the severance of agricultural land. In that particular debate through the committee, the Conservative members on the committee - I believe Mr Murdoch and Mr Hodgson were two of the key players - were pushing our government to allow land severances, and tried to make big political capital in my area and in the Sudbury basin, my good friend Shelley Martel's riding as well, that our NDP government would not allow severances to happen to the extent that this particular group in the public wanted.
I remember back then resisting those calls to allow the severance of agricultural land, because I felt then as I do now, that you have to allow some severance to ensure that the second generation, if they want to work that farm, is able to build a home on the land without kicking off their parents, but you couldn't allow the severance of the land to happen for the sake of taking the land out of the land base and then allowing all kinds of things to happen, as far as development is concerned, that would take prime agricultural land out of the land base.
The point I make is this: The Conservatives back then, in the third party, were trying to push our government towards land severances. They made a solemn promise in communities like Sudbury, Sault Ste Marie, Thunder Bay and other places that when they got to government, if they did, they would move on allowing severances to happen in a fairly free way - I shouldn't say a "free way," but in a way that would be a lot more user-friendly to the person who wants the severance.
I'm glad to note that in the end the government did not go that way. In fact, what we had was the two Conservative members on the committee making a big brouhaha and trying to whip people up about something that I thought was a bad idea at the time. In the end I imagine that the Minister of Agriculture probably had something to say about this, that it wasn't a good idea to be out there severing land for the sake of development.
If you sever land for the sake of a second generation to operate a farm, that's fine. But if you're going to sever the land on the basis of just allowing development, it would be a bad thing. So good people like the Minister of Agriculture and my friend the honourable member for Oxford I imagine had a play in this and eventually must have beaten back the member for Grey-Owen Sound and the Chair of Management Board from wanting to have this land severance.
I want to put on the record that the NDP government did not agree with the policy of opening unrestricted severances of agricultural land, and finally the Conservative government obviously came to its senses and didn't do it. I think that was the right thing, because it would have been dangerous when it came to the agricultural community.
The only other thing I want to say on the record of the government when it comes to agriculture is that we have seen over the life of this government a dismantling - not a dismantling; that wouldn't be fair. I want to be fair, and this is probably the last time the Minister of Agriculture will get a chance to listen to speeches from the government side. I'm really disappointed in the actions of the government when it comes to how the Ministry of Agriculture was treated. I remember the Minister of Agriculture, when he was a member of the third party, in opposition, making a solemn promise to the people of Ontario, I think it was in an interview I saw somewhere - I can't remember if it was on Focus Ontario - wherever it may have been, that the Ministry of Agriculture would be protected from any cuts, that we would not see any cuts to the Ministry of Agriculture if the Mike Harris third party was to get themselves elected as government.
I've got to say that it's been a pretty sorry record. The government has managed to do some very interesting things, when it comes to the Ministry of Agriculture, that bode badly for the people within the agricultural community. I want to put on the record one of the things they did: They closed the agricultural office in northeastern Ontario, in my community of Matheson. Matheson is an agricultural community, as the Minister of Agriculture would know. We have seen under its stewardship this government seeing fit to shut down the ag rep's office in the community of Matheson. I think that was a mistake. The community utilized that office to a great extent, it was utilized by the farming community, and what we see now is that this government basically closed that office. I think it was a bad thing and short-sighted. In fact, we lost a very good citizen of our community, a former reeve of Matheson, Pierrette Blok, who ended up having to transfer out of Matheson because of their decision to close.
Je veux dire dans les deux dernières minutes que j'ai de parler sur ce projet de loi que notre caucus va supporter cette initiative pour mettre en place en législation un système qui va assurer pour le monde qui achète les vins dans la province de l'Ontario et autres un vin de bonne qualité -
M. Bisson : Il y a quelqu'un qui fait du vin dans le nord qui est dans le marché à travers la LCBO pour un autre débat une autre fois.
On supporte l'idée avec laquelle le gouvernement va de l'avant pour mettre en place ce système pour assurer que le «VQA» écrit sur la bouteille d'un vin de l'Ontario est là parce qu'on reconnaît que ce vin est fait en Ontario d'une manière de qualité qui va donner aux compagnies la possibilité de vendre leurs vins d'une manière peut-être plus intéressante dans le futur qu'on peut rêver.
I again say congratulations to the government for bringing forward this initiative. Overall, I think the VQA system is a good one. Putting it into legislation I think only strengthens that. I would just hearken back to an agenda on the part of this government that we've seen over the last three and a half years, a very sorry state when it comes to the environmental record of this government and how it impacts on the agricultural community.
With that, Madam Speaker, I would like to thank you for this opportunity to debate it.
The Acting Speaker (Ms Marilyn Churley): Further debate?
Mr Sean G. Conway (Renfrew North): I want to join the debate on Bill 85 to say some things about business that I don't know a great deal about except that I consume VQA product from time to time. As a matter of fact, I was driving the other night and I was listening to someone on private radio say that there was a -
Mr Ted Chudleigh (Halton North): You weren't drinking and driving, were you?
Mr Conway: No, I actually wasn't drinking and driving, and I'm confident that I can say that in this modern Legislature none of us does. I can remember - oh, I'd better not say that or I'll really get poor old Toni Skarica in a high flight of moral indignation.
I was driving the other night and I actually heard somebody, I think from the wine or hospitality industry, talking about some contest they were running where - I think it was an Andy Brandt prize. Did you hear that?
Hon Noble Villeneuve (Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, minister responsible for francophone affairs): Yes, a special award.
Mr Conway: A special award. I thought, "God, Andy has really trumped us all," because he has not only done a good job over at the liquor board but he's got prizes now or special brands named in his honour.
Hon Mr Villeneuve: How can you argue with that, Sean?
Mr Conway: I don't want to argue about it. I want to make a couple of observations, because there is a great deal of credit owed to whomever in the agricultural and business communities down in the peninsula, I suspect.
One of my oldest friends in politics was a former member from Lincoln, a former mayor of Lincoln, Ross Hall. I can remember, Ross came here in the mid-1970s and was part, and Bob Welch was certainly perhaps an even more well-known patron, of the domestic Ontario wine industry.
I see Ibbitson here from the National Post. I think it was the other national newspaper, at some point back in the mid-1970s, that suggested editorially that the choice in Ontario wines was the choice between premium and unleaded. It was terrible, the things that used to be said about Ontario wines. People like Ross Hall, Bob Welch and Mel Swart tried their very best to argue the case, and it has to be said that this Legislature years ago voted potfuls of money, I mean vast sums of public money, by way of subsidies, direct and otherwise, to develop, to prop up, to expand, to do all kinds of good things for the Ontario wine industry.
Hon Mr Villeneuve: And it worked.
Mr Conway: Did it? I don't know.
Mr Conway: I will say to my friend the former head honcho from the Toronto Transit Commission, the now minister of housing that used to be, that something has happened and something has worked.
Hon Cameron Jackson (Minister of Long-Term Care, minister responsible for seniors): We've stopped drinking Baby Duck -
Mr Conway: Someone across the way says, "We've stopped drinking Baby Duck." I say this quite seriously, because it is a major achievement for the private sector in this province, I suspect in the Niagara region, and I'd like to know some day - we don't have the opportunity tonight to enter into a lengthy discourse, but this is a very interesting economic question. We spent a lot of time and a lot of money with a lot of subsidy that from a lot of analysis didn't produce the results we had all wanted.
To be sure, as the Minister of Agriculture opined a moment ago, it was not without any beneficial effect, but it certainly did not produce the payback we had expected. Tom Froese is here; Tom knows more about this than I do. I don't know whether it was having to come to terms with the FTA, whether it was some kind of new technology, whether it was some kind of new international market; I don't know what it was, but something very interesting happened. In a very short period of time we have gone from a situation where a lot of people, many in this Legislature, quietly derided the domestic product in wine. Oh, we would show up and say, pro forma, the right things, but we would quietly then go off to one of those government pharmacies known as the LCBO and buy the French or the -
Hon Mr Villeneuve: Government pharmacies? Come on.
Mr Conway: Listen, in my part of the world -
Hon Mr Villeneuve: No prescription needed.
Mr Conway: Well, still some prescription, thanks to the Solicitor General and the Attorney General. But we now find ourselves, all of us, consuming substantially increased quantities of substantially improved domestic Ontario wine.
Hon Mr Villeneuve: And replacing the French wine.
Mr Conway: And replacing the French wines, as my friend from Moose Creek rightly observes.
Bradley, when he was here a moment ago - the member for St Catharines - made the point, and I suppose others have as well, that it's not just what's happening in the wine industry - and the VQA labelling is absolutely central to this, because there is now an understanding in the consuming public that there is a standard, that there is a good, minimum standard that bespeaks a quality that we can all be sure of. But there are other things happening. I was down in the peninsula not too long ago and I was out on the town, as they say, in Grimsby.
Hon Mr Villeneuve: Wow. Sean Conway was on the town.
Mr Conway: Listen, I'm just an innocent kid from the Ottawa Valley. When I get down in between the lights of St Catharines and Buffalo, I sometimes lose my way. But I was very impressed at some of the eateries -
Hon Al Leach (Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing): How did you like the subway?
Mr Conway: I say to the minister of housing that used to be that the subway's still beyond my experience. Elevators and subways are still something that I have to come to terms with.
Seriously, the tourist business that's developing around the burgeoning Ontario wine industry is quite remarkable and impressive, and it's not just in this province. I was on private business in the Okanagan this past summer and out in places like Kelowna and Summerland and Penticton it was astonishing to me the thousands of people one would meet on a sunny summer afternoon going to the local wineries, going to the restaurants that are attached to those wineries. In the case of British Columbia, I was struck by the fact that the BC natural resources department had linked up a number of excursions where you would go on an outing and you'd go for a hike in a provincial park, and then you would go down to the winery and have a little bit to drink, and then obviously something substantial and sobering to eat. I was really staggered by the number of people that I was seeing in small-town British Columbia - a major stimulus to the local tourist economy.
Again, that certainly has been my experience in my limited travels in that connection in the Niagara Peninsula. Tom, what's that restaurant, Top of the Twenty?
Mr Froese: On the Twenty.
Mr Conway: On the Twenty. That is a very impressive establishment. Being a member of the Legislature, I can't afford visits to a place like that too often, but I'm told by my ministerial friends that it can be habit-forming, and it should be, because it's a very delightful experience.
I simply make the point in supporting Bill 85 that we've come a long way. We've come a very long way in the last 25 or 30 years from those days when we would be voting these subsidies and hearing from the Globe and Mail and others that we were subsidizing in a way that offended every good trade principle that the governments of Canada and Ontario had subscribed to and not creating a kind of environment that we said we wanted.
Hon Mr Villeneuve: But the FDA brought all that about.
Mr Conway: The Minister of Agriculture offers a very helpful aside; it may very well have been. He says it was the FDA that changed the environment. I think many of the rest of us in other parts of the province - when I look, for example, at my part of Ontario, where we have an old and established resource economy, largely forestry, we've got some challenges in coming to terms with some of the current trade barriers and trade practices. One of the questions -
Mr Conway: Well, it's just too bad, I say to the government whip, that we're going to debate a few things here tonight. I have no intentions of prolonging things unduly, but I have been keeping very careful track of the agreements, and this is an important bill because this is an important success that we celebrate.
I make the point in conclusion that there may be other sectors of the Ontario economy that have something to learn from the Ontario wine industry, and I'm not so sure that one of them isn't in my own area. When I look, for example, at the forest economy and some of the ongoing problems that it faces, I often think maybe we should get somebody up from the Niagara area and say: "All right, you people had your backs to the wall and to your great credit you not only endured but you prevailed. You've succeeded in a very impressive and successful way."
We celebrate that with Bill 85, and we should. Those of us in the opposition are often told that we spend too much of our time complaining. We're here tonight to say, "Three cheers to this industry." You have done very good work and we want to give you a legislative endorsation and support for more of that work.
I'm very proud to stand here and say one of our old colleagues, Andy Brandt, has played a very helpful role in moving this along, but so have hundreds of other in the private sector, including many in the agricultural communities that are represented by my colleagues from the peninsula. I say again that this is an industry that has really turned itself around.
Mr Conway: The member from Lanark has something to say about my sobriety?
I simply say that there may be some very good lessons to be learned in other parts of the Ontario economy and I would encourage the ministries of agriculture and economic development and trade not to be shy about broadcasting the essence and the nature of this success elsewhere in the Ontario marketplace.
The Acting Speaker: Questions and comments? Further debate?
Mrs Ross has moved second reading of Bill 85. Is it the pleasure of the House that the motion carry? Carried.
Shall the bill be ordered for third reading? Agreed.
CITY OF TORONTO XXIX SUMMER OLYMPIC GAMES BID ENDORSEMENT ACT, 1998 / LOI DE 1998 APPUYANT LA CANDIDATURE DE LA CITÉ DE TORONTO CONCERNANT LES XXIXe JEUX OLYMPIQUES D'ÉTÉ
Mr Kells moved third reading of the following bill:
Bill 77, An Act to endorse the proposed bid of the City of Toronto to host the XXIX Summer Olympic Games / Projet de loi 77, Loi visant à appuyer la candidature que se propose de présenter la cité de Toronto pour accueillir les XXIXe Jeux olympiques d'été.
Mr Morley Kells (Etobicoke-Lakeshore): As the members of the House may appreciate, it has not been a great week for the Olympic family; nevertheless, the Toronto bid is moving forward very strongly. We understand that there are these problems in how you gain acceptance for the games.
I can assure the members of the House that the thrust of the Toronto bid for the Olympics is based on moving forward with one thing in mind: that we will not be playing any shenanigans in regard to the bid. It will be a straightforward, honest bid. Should we be successful, that's fine, and should we not be successful, then we'll have to live with that.
I want to say to the members of the House that I certainly appreciate the support from the opposition parties and the fact that even in the concerns that you have about the possible problems with shelter, you've couched those in terms of support for what we're trying to do. I can assure you, from my point of view and from that of the office of the Olympics Commissioner, we've taken your concerns into our understanding of what we're trying to do and we will move forward with that in mind.
Mr James J. Bradley (St Catharines): I'd like to say briefly that we in this House are unanimous in our support of the Olympic bid for the city of Toronto and indeed for other areas. At the risk of sounding parochial, we could expect perhaps that we would see the rowing events taking place on the Royal Canadian Henley Regatta course in the city of St Catharines, which will be hosting the World Rowing Championships in late August 1999.
We are delighted to see the member bring forward the bill, and we're delighted to assist in having it go through all three readings in this session of the Legislature.
Mr Tony Silipo (Dovercourt): Briefly, to indicate our support for this bill also and to express our appreciation for the manner in which Mr Kells, as the commissioner for the government on this issue, has carried forward his duties to date. We hope and are assured that he will continue to take seriously the concerns that we and others have expressed, as he has indicated tonight. We're happy to continue to give our support to the Olympic bid.
Mr Sean G. Conway (Renfrew North): Very briefly, I want to wish my friend from Etobicoke all the success in his very special undertaking. He is a very accomplished athlete, and I want to say just a word of caution. Jean Drapeau delivered a baby in this exercise. We wish our friend from Etobicoke good luck and better results.
Mr Kells: In response may I very briefly repeat myself and say that I certainly appreciate the good wishes that have come forth from the other side of the House. We will endeavour, as the weeks and months go by, to live up to your admonitions to do best, and thank you again.
The Acting Speaker (Ms Marilyn Churley): Mr Kells has moved third reading of Bill 77. Is it the pleasure of the House that the motion carry? Carried.
Be it resolved that the bill do now pass and be entitled as in the motion.
Hon Norman W. Sterling (Minister of the Environment, Government House Leader): Madam Speaker, I believe I have unanimous consent to proceed this evening with third reading of Bill 97, standing in the name of Mr Silipo.
The Acting Speaker: Agreed? Agreed.
HUMMINGBIRD PERFORMING ARTS CENTRE CORPORATION ACT, 1998 / LOI DE 1998 SUR LA SOCIÉTÉ DU CENTRE HUMMINGBIRD DES ARTS D'INTERPRÉTATION
Mr Silipo moved third 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): Briefly, to express again, as I had the chance to do this morning when we had unanimous support for this bill on second reading, my appreciation to all three parties for their support, and particularly to the Minister of Municipal Affairs, who has facilitated this bill going through. I know the good people from the Hummingbird Centre, some of whom have come back tonight to watch this happen, who have been working at this for a couple of years, are delighted to see this initiative taken that will establish the centre as an independent entity separate from the city of Toronto.
The Acting Speaker (Ms Marilyn Churley): Further debate?
Seeing none, Mr Silipo has moved third reading of Bill 97. Is it the pleasure of the House that the motion carry? Carried.
Be it resolved that the bill do now pass and be entitled as in the motion.
Hon Norman W. Sterling (Minister of the Environment, Government House Leader): Madam Speaker, I believe we have unanimous consent to call orders 59 and 60 together, so they can be moved and debated concurrently relating to Pr bills.
The Acting Speaker: Is there consent? Agreed.
TOWN OF RICHMOND HILL ACT, 1998
Mr Klees moved second reading of the following bill:
Bill Pr23, An Act respecting The Corporation of the Town of Richmond Hill.
The Acting Speaker (Ms Marilyn Churley): Is it the pleasure of the House that the motion carry? Carried.
Mr Klees moved third reading of the following bill:
Bill Pr23, An Act respecting The Corporation of the Town of Richmond Hill.
The Acting Speaker: Is it the pleasure of the House that the motion carry? Carried.
Be it resolved that the bill do now pass and be entitled as in the motion.
ONTARIO ASSOCIATION OF CERTIFIED ENGINEERING TECHNICIANS AND TECHNOLOGISTS ACT, 1998
Mr Baird moved second reading of the following bill:
Bill Pr25, An Act respecting the Ontario Association of Certified Engineering Technicians and Technologists.
The Acting Speaker (Ms Marilyn Churley): Is it the pleasure of the House that the motion carry? Carried.
Mr Baird moved third reading of the following bill:
Bill Pr25, An Act respecting the Ontario Association of Certified Engineering Technicians and Technologists.
The Acting Speaker: Is it the pleasure of the House that the motion carry? Carried.
Be it resolved that the bill do now pass and be entitled as in the motion.
Hon Norman W. Sterling (Minister of the Environment, Government House Leader): Madam Speaker, I have, as you know, two motions and we have third reading of the vintners' act. I'm going to move the first motion at this time, relating to prorogation of the House, and then revert to the vintners' act after.
STATUS OF BUSINESS
Hon Norman W. Sterling (Minister of the Environment, Government House Leader): I move:
That, notwithstanding the prorogation of the House,
(i) all government bills, except Bill 61, An Act to extend the deadlines for appealing property assessments and for giving certain notices relating to taxes and charges on properties with gross leases;
(ii) all private members' bills; and
(iii) all private bills;
remaining on the Orders and Notices paper at the prorogation of the second session of this Parliament be continued and placed on the Orders and Notices paper of the second sessional day of the third session of the 36th Parliament at the same stage of business for the House and its committees as at prorogation; and
That the order of precedence for private members' public business be continued in the third session of the 36th Parliament.
Madam Speaker, I have no debate other than to say that this just holds over these bills after we prorogue this evening, hopefully, and that these bills will remain in place.
It's only fair to the private members that the bills within this draw of private members be held over. The private members' draw is going to remain in order. Private members who have not had the opportunity to put forward a private member's bill will have that opportunity in the next session. We didn't think it was fair to deny those people that, but we didn't think it was fair for those who had already gone through the process not to have their bills held over into the next session.
Mr Sean G. Conway (Renfrew North): I have much to say on this motion and I'm delighted to have the audience that I have. If anyone has some business to attend to, they can come back in 45 minutes or an hour, because this matter will be under debate.
I understand everybody's instinct, and do you know what? It's mine as well. You all want to go home, and I understand it as much as everyone. As I said to this House yesterday, I will go home, but I want a vote on a rather important matter before we go home.
We as a Legislature, quite rightly, just gave to our friend from Dovercourt in one day second and third reading of his initiative, the Hummingbird bill. We did it like that.
The Minister of the Environment, the government House leader, has now presented the motion for prorogation. He's done so in a very clever way - actually, it's not that clever. And poor old Tom Froese and others are wondering, "What about third reading of Bill 85?" Let me tell you, I would have much preferred that we move directly to third reading of Bill 85, the vintners' act, and I hope we don't leave without granting third and final reading to Bill 85, because we should do that. It's good policy; it's unanimously endorsed by everyone in this House. But the government House leader has put a motion, and he has put it in a way that seeks to take advantage of the fact that the hour is late, the session nearly at an end, and for all we know, this may be the last day that we meet before the writs for the next general election are issued. I'm not here to complain about that either, because that is rightly the prerogative of the first minister.
But I happen to be here tonight as a member of this Legislature, with opinions and with duties, and one of the most important duties I have to perform is to vote supply, and I don't have before me in the motion the supply bill that I want. We have completed debate on all of the estimates contained in the supply bill, the appropriation bill, and let me tell you the time is now to stand in our places and vote supply. That can and should be done before we prorogue, without any more debate, even on my motion. I'm quite prepared to say that. We've had the debate. I've done my share of talking, and I'm quite prepared to say I've said my piece, but I want my vote.
It's very easy for me to come tonight and assent to the good bill standing in the name of Mr Silipo, the member for Dovercourt. I'm delighted to be here tonight and to join the members for Lincoln and St Catharines-Brock and the member from St Catharines city and say, "Isn't Bill 85 a good thing, and should we not agree?" Yes, we should, and not just on second reading, as I said a moment ago, but on third reading as well.
But we are not doing our duty, I say to this House, if we walk out of here tonight and we do not deal with the supply matter. I have no objection, none whatsoever, if the supply bill is voted on and I lose my point. I understand that in these matters there is not likely going to be on any matter, particularly of the kind involved with the appropriation bill, where we're voting approximately $52.4 billion of public monies - but I want the vote. I want this House to pronounce itself on supply, and it's not good enough, I say to the government House leader and my friends on the treasury bench -
Mr Bert Johnson (Perth): How about your own House leader?
Mr Conway: If you want to join the debate, I say to the Deputy Speaker, you are more than welcome to do so. You are a lively participant in most matters when you are not ably adjudicating as Deputy Speaker, and I would be delighted not only to have the wisdom of your words but the clarity of your position and the standing of your vote, and I'm not being disingenuous when I say this.
This House has a duty to perform, and that duty, in my view, is to deal with the supply bill. To shunt it aside and ship it off and hope that it goes away is the coward's course. and I don't think of my colleagues on any side as cowards, and I certainly don't want to have to have any evidence before me that suggests that, particularly at this point in time, when as I said yesterday, there has been a very consistent message offered from the treasury bench especially that the time for probity in public finances, the time for more accountability on the part of elected officials, is now.
We have had more than one member of the government caucus tell us, and tell us colourfully and tell us powerfully, that we should be embracing referenda legislation as a methodology to hold our feet to the fire. We had from the first minister himself earlier this week a statement of intent. I suppose it's now sitting on the order paper - legislation to ban certain kinds of behaviour by future governments. That's entirely within the right of the government to offer, and at some point this Legislature or a subsequent Legislature is going to have to dispose of those matters.
But how, I say to my friends, how are we going to walk out of here tonight and hold our heads high if we run away from the matter that is material to my amendment? I ask my friends, including my good friend from Parry Sound. Listen, I have been the government House leader and I've got some sympathy tonight for Norm Sterling. I'm sure he's about at the end of his tether. He has had enough of cabinet ministers and deputy ministers and ministerial aides telling him what he needs to go and when he needs to do it and how he needs to do it. I suspect even he has had the odd barking command from the chancellor of the exchequer.
Hon Ernie L. Eves (Deputy Premier, Minister of Finance): He's had enough of you.
Mr Conway: The member says he has had enough of me, and I understand that as well. I make an offer to my friend the government House leader. He can be rid of me very fast indeed.
Mr John R. Baird (Nepean): One-time-only offer.
Mr Conway: I want to be fair. He can be rid of me. I know what a pest I can be. I know how stubborn and cranky I can be, not part of my charming self, I have to admit confessionally. But I think on this point I stand with a goodly number of Ontarians. They would want their trustees in their places in this Legislature before we adjourn for months.
The Minister of Agriculture winces. Let me say, "Adjourn for months." Even if we follow the calendar, and we won't, we're going to be gone for the better part of 10 to 12 weeks as a full Legislature.
Mr Tom Froese (St Catharines-Brock): We may come back on Monday.
Mr Conway: The member for St Catharines-Brock says we may come back for Monday. It may very well be that we will.
I can remember a time when my Conservative and NDP friends ganged up in a very public-spirited way to keep us here - Bud Wildman, I think - right through the Christmas period, doing important public business. Since we're well and fully paid for our work, there are a lot of taxpayers who would say, "What would the possible complaint with that be?"
I say again, it is not my intention to delay. It is my intention to decide one important matter before we leave for the Christmas recess, and that is the matter that I addressed yesterday: that the Minister of Finance has, standing in his name, Bill 96, and it's properly put before us. It is the supply bill. It's the bill that represents the approval for all of the public spending of taxpayers' money that this Legislature must approve to give those expenditures the validity they must have. Oh, yes, committees can decide and ministers can decide, but under our system of government, it is Parliament that in the end must vote the money, and we have yet to do that. That's why my friend the Minister of Finance is here with his appropriation bill, Bill 96.
I could, I suppose, if I wanted to be very difficult, challenge my friend the sponsor of this bill through the entirety of the appropriations, and that would be transparently unreasonable for me or anyone else to do. I could, for example, inquire as to under which account his magical reopening of the Burk's Falls hospital was occasioned and approved and funded. I could, for example, look at these appropriations and ask myself, "Where did Ernie Eves get the $500,000 of special funding to lessen the burden of property tax increases in that wonderful town of Parry Sound, which were occasioned by the application of certain downloading expenses?" I wouldn't want to do that, because that would be querulous of me.
I want to be very straightforward and very focused on my point tonight, as I was yesterday.
Mr Conway: Yes, a very interesting intervention.
Hon Janet Ecker (Minister of Community and Social Services): That's the Canadian spelling.
Mr Conway: I'm sure it is.
The minister's motion is a motion to establish the intersessional schedule for the various committees of this Legislature upon the prorogation of this session at some point tonight or later in this season.
Mr Conway: I'm sorry, Noble, but yes, tonight or later in the season. I repeat, I understand the urge to get in the half-ton truck or get in the back seat of the ministerial limo and speed into the Ontario night, whether down to Moose Creek or up to Parry Sound or into north Toronto. I understand entirely.
Hon Mrs Ecker: You mean, give up this place?
Mr Conway: My friend the Minister of Community and Social Services says, "You mean, give up this place?" I suppose if she finds this place too great a burden, she has the choice all of us have as we contemplate reoffering for the next general election, the writs for which are probably no more than four or five months away. I don't want to tell her how to run her life, but if the burdens of -
Mr John Gerretsen (Kingston and The Islands): You don't want to be here, Janet?
Hon Mrs Ecker: I don't want to leave.
Mr Conway: She says she doesn't want to leave. That may make the situation just a little bit easier.
I want to say again that we have a motion from the government House leader to establish the intersessional schedule for committees and to prorogue the session at some point tonight or later in the season. Contained in that minister's motion is the ruse by means of which the supply bill is to be sidetracked for some time. What's that? "We'll park this matter in the general government committee and we'll deal with it at some to-be-decided future date." I would say, speaking for myself, that is no way for any self-respecting Legislature to behave, particularly on a matter of such central importance as a supply bill.
I repeat: The debate on the supply bill is, from my point of view, over. We have now only to vote on the amendment which I will offer, and I would be quite prepared to withdraw my amendment and have the government House leader, or the Minister of Finance more properly, bring his amendment. But whomever it is, whether it's my amendment or the government amendment, I want this House to pronounce itself on whether it wants to reduce the total amount of supply, the total amount of approved expenditures, estimated in this bill to be $52.386 billion, a reduction of whatever the amount is that has been allocated to pay the legal expenses of the member for Simcoe East in the private dispute that honourable member had with Ms Sandi Thompson.
I offer this amendment because of the reasons I advanced yesterday. In summary they are simply this: There is obviously a tripartisan disquiet about this arrangement. It has been my experience in the last number of days to encounter honourable members of all three political parties who are deeply disturbed that they, that we in the public's name, are going to vote an appropriation that contains within it the payment of approximately $130,000 of the taxpayers' hard-earned money to settle a private dispute between one of our members and a private citizen about a private matter, where a distinguished legal counsel retained by the people's assembly tells us we have no interest, we have no responsibility, we have no liability and we have no right to be paying this. That's the Finkelstein opinion.
I myself have encountered other situations where government departments, legislative committees and legislatures have been given advice to the contrary and they have made payments - full payments or partial payments - that have been controversial. But at least in those cases there was pretty clear evidence from lawyers that an obligation was clear and outstanding and had to be met by the public officials, or there was some overriding aspect of popular opinion or public judgment that would dictate and legitimize the expenditure of public money. But that's not the case here. We do not have that case here.
We have, as I have said, the Finkelstein opinion, put in writing and distributed to the members as of December 9 -
Mr Bert Johnson: For $217,000.
Mr Conway: The member for Perth is like most of us; he's got an opinion. He's obviously interested in and somewhat agitated about this, and I understand that. That's why, again, I want this Legislature to pronounce itself on this matter, because the member for Perth is typical of most members with whom I have discussed this matter in the last week. I can't find very many people, very many members of the Legislature, who want to do this, who find themselves comfortable with the rationale advanced. Are we simply to say tonight or tomorrow or Monday: "We had no choice. It was somebody else's duty. The devil made me do it"?
I want to say I for one am not prepared to do that. I am not prepared, as one member, to simply walk away and say: "I had no choice. I had no option. I couldn't have done anything even if I wanted to." You see, that's where the Minister of Finance's bill comes in. As those of us who have been around a while know, it is normal to conclude these proceedings at Christmas with a supply bill. Almost every Christmas you can anticipate that before Santa Claus arrives, before the Lieutenant Governor arrives, if there is prorogation, there is a supply bill, because it is the end of our cycle. We will come back in March expecting a new budget with new estimates and the cycle of request and response in financial matters will begin again. So we have before us, I say to the Legislature and anyone watching this proceeding tonight, the matter that is central to voting the approval for the McLean-Thompson settlement, and it is contained, as I have indicated repeatedly, in Bill 96.
The government House leader has offered a motion that essentially would have us leave tonight or tomorrow or on Monday without supply having been passed. Since the Minister of Finance is here and he will be more briefed on these matters than I, it would be interesting to me to know what the legal requirement is with respect to supply for the remainder of this fiscal year.
There is, I understand, interim supply through to the end of March, 1999. I presume that technically speaking we would not necessarily need, then, to come back to vote this supply bill until the end of March, and we probably could wait even into the new fiscal year and let Her Majesty's local government operate with special warrants -
Mr Colle: On a credit card.
Mr Conway: - on a credit card.
Mr Colle: Put $50 billion on Visa.
Mr Conway: As the member for Oakwood says, we could literally put this entire account of $52.4 billion on Visa, and I don't think any of us wants to do that. I think we want to vote supply before we leave, and I think we should. We should, because we have said -
Hon Mr Eves: I can remember a year when we didn't even vote on a budget.
Mr Conway: Well, I can remember a year when we were not even allowed to present a budget, but I don't want to go there because I'm not here to provoke my friends in either the first party or the third party.
I am here to try again to focus the attention of the people's representatives on a basic and fundamental question. We say, all of us, that we want to be responsible, we want to be held accountable. I think, in the public interest, we should be as good as our word. We should be. We should say, "Yes, I am prepared to vote supply and I'm prepared to vote yes or no to any properly put amendment around the supply bill."
You see, when you talk about these popular things like referenda or other mechanisms I could imagine, they're wonderful theories, delightful theories. All of us, I suspect, appreciate the theoretical appeal of something like a referendum, because at one level it lets us off the hook. It simply says, "On an important matter, I will submit the question to the general electric" - the general electorate; I'd better be careful that I don't get into the trouble Ms Boyd corrected me for the other night - "and I am simply then here to do the bidding of my constituents."
But the people I represent imagine that we are constituted as a popular assembly to, in our own parliamentary way, take these questions on a daily basis, hear the evidence and cast a judgment. I say to my friends, including the government House leader, who is happily returned -
Mr David Christopherson (Hamilton Centre): I don't know about "happily."
Mr Conway: He's happily returned, from my point of view, but, as the Minister of Finance quietly observed, perhaps not in the friendliest of moods, and I can understand that.
We have a golden, a glorious opportunity to pronounce ourselves on whether or not we think this deal, apparently done on our behalf by a legislative committee just a few days ago, is a good deal. My friend from Carleton, the government House leader, will say, and I'm sure he will engage this debate, that it was the only deal possible. I don't agree with him on that, but I respect his right to say so.
Mr Christopherson: On a point of order, Speaker: Given the importance of the matter and the fact that it's the last evening that the House is sitting, I think the government should be called upon to make sure they have a quorum in this place.
The Acting Speaker: Clerk, could you check and see if there's 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 Renfrew North.
Mr Conway: I say to the House that we can cut to the quick, we can decide this matter. At some point I suppose I can, and probably will, ask for unanimous consent to make the job of the government House leader that much easier at the end of a long day, and that is to simply say, let us amend that motion that's currently before the House, the so-called intersessional motion, to exempt from it the supply matter, pull that forward - the Minister of Finance is here and I'm delighted that he is, accepting that he's a very busy man - and let Mr Eves bring forward the bill for disposition in the House tonight and we will pass the bill or deal with it in whatever way the House chooses to, and it can be all over.
Is it for a reasonable person to conclude that we don't want to face what we have done in-house for one of our own? That's the other aspect of this that's been touched on.
The currency of the political class has been going down throughout much of the democratic world because there is a sense in the broad public that we have one rule for ourselves and another rule for other people. The successful party in the last provincial election in Ontario very effectively tapped into that sentiment when the leader of the Conservative Party paraded a number of seats out before the legislative building and said, "You elect me and I'm going to get rid of a bunch of those people, that superfluous aspect to government, those excess politicians." Then he followed that up and said: "You know what? Those politicians have those gold-plated pension plans and I'm going to get rid of those too."
I have to say, because, if for no other reason, my friend from Kingston is here, I'm on very thin ice. I was the problem that the new government was trying to fix in that respect. I have to say to my friend the Minister of Finance, I was fixed. I was certainly fixed in a way that causes some real consternation for a number of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle.
Mr Bert Johnson: Why don't we take that out of the supply bill?
Mr Conway: My friend from Perth may have a motion. If he does, I am quite prepared to entertain it and debate it.
I simply make the point that the too many politicians act and the gold-plated pension act were two initiatives taken by this government that, to put a charitable face on it, were efforts by the new government to address that sense that I think many of us have, that the public is getting pretty ticked off at the double standard, that "Those politicians have working conditions and emoluments and perquisites that are not available to us as regular citizens and as taxpayers."
I say to my friends, if there is any regard for that instinct, and apparently there is and has been in the Conservative caucus - and that I understand and respect; I don't always agree with their version or take of it, but I understand that. But if that is a fair assessment of the Conservative Party's response to that instinct in the public, how on earth does anyone, from Isabel Bassett to Frank Sheehan, imagine that at the local coffee shop or at the shoe store or at the dry cleaning establishment any of us is ever going to be able to explain to taxpayers how on earth they should have paid thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of taxpayers' dollars to settle all aspects - and let me repeat that - all aspects of a matter that was a private matter between two individuals, one of whom happened to be the former Speaker of the Legislature, the now member for Simcoe East?
The Minister of Finance is a lawyer and I'm not, but I was thinking the other day, who has ever heard of anyone, most especially a government, paying all sides of a private litigation? There may be examples. I'm not a lawyer. I say to my friend from north Perth, Bert, have you ever heard of one of those?
Mr Conway: I have to tell you, I have a lot of regard for my friend from north Perth, the Deputy Speaker, Mr Bert -
Mr Colle: On a point of order, Madam Speaker: Could we ask the Deputy Speaker to move up a little closer so we can engage in more direct -
The Acting Speaker: That's not a point of order, member for Oakwood. Take your seat.
Mr Conway: I raise the point simply to say that the taxpayers find themselves in this unbelievable situation of having paid all aspects of a private matter between two individuals where the committee's own lawyer, Mr Neil Finkelstein, said we had no interests, we had no liability, we had no responsibility and we had no obligation.
Again I say to my friend Ms Bassett, who is in the House tonight - I appreciate her attendance - can you imagine, on your travels through the Tim Hortons in your part of central Toronto -
Mr Colle: More like Starbucks.
Mr Conway: - or Starbucks - when somebody says: "Member for St Andrew-St Patrick, just explain this to me. We paid $500,000 or $600,000 of public money against good legal advice to settle a dispute between private parties around a private matter. Why should I do that?" I can't imagine what answer I would have. It is inconceivable to me - and I offer no comment about the substance of the allegations; I don't know. I have no evidence one way or the other to substantiate the claims or counterclaims of either of the parties to the so-called McLean-Thompson dispute. But given the substance of the dispute, given the allegations, it's not very clear to me, and it certainly wouldn't be to any of my constituents, what aspect of public responsibility would have been involved in that.
It's a different thing entirely if Ms Bassett in her responsibility as a minister of the crown is legally attacked by some individual who doesn't like something she's done as a minister. She has every right then, as a public representative, to draw on the resources of the crown to defend herself, because clearly that would be in response to her duties as a member of the cabinet.
We have not really ever debated the question here - and we're going to have to debate this sometime and make some decisions - around what, if anything, we intend to do for members who are attacked legally for the discharge of their public responsibilities. In fact, I heard I think from my friend from Oakwood that members of the Toronto city council are indemnified against those kinds of legal attacks in matters where they have been acting as a public official.
Mr Gerretsen: We had the same thing in Kingston.
Mr Conway: The member from Kingston, the former mayor of the city of Kingston, says they were similarly indemnified at the municipal level in that eastern Ontario community. I'm told by my friends the member for Oakwood and the member from Kingston that in fact that is a fairly typical legal protection offered by the community for those individuals who represent the broad community on council. I think that is a policy that this Legislature may very well want to adopt. But that is not what we have in this case. What we have in this case is a situation where, as I have said over and over again, a private matter involving two individuals has now caused the public to pay out almost $600,000.
I think maybe it is time for me to read the letter that Mr Neil Finkelstein, of the law firm Davies, Ward and Beck, sent to Mr Speaker Stockwell dated December 9, 1998, in which letter Mr Neil Finkelstein, a distinguished member of the Ontario bar, sets out in writing the arguments that he, as legal counsel to that committee, the Board of Internal Economy, advanced to those people at that committee, who had to make the decision as to what they were going to do, if anything, about the public payment of any part or all of the bills, legal and otherwise, arising out of the McLean-Thompson matter. Let me read the letter, this letter, again, from Neil Finkelstein, of the law firm Davies, Ward and Beck, dated December 9, 1998, to Mr Speaker Stockwell.
"Dear Mr Speaker:
"You have asked that we set out in writing the basis of our recommendation against the settlement for the litigation which was moved with respect to the above-noted matter at the meetings of the Board of Internal Economy on December 2, 1998, and December 3, 1998. That proposed settlement provided that the Office of the Assembly" - that is, the public purse, the Ontario taxpayer - "would make an aggregate payment to Ms Thompson in the amount of $250,000 (which was understood to be comprised of damages of $100,000 and legal expenses of $150,000) and that the Office of the Assembly" - that is, the Ontario taxpayer - "would pay Mr McLean's legal expenses in an amount not to exceed $130,000."
To digress for a moment, we now know that part of Mr McLean's legal expenses were approximately $9,000 worth of private investigator fees that a lawyer for Mr McLean had incurred in his defence.
"The reasons for our recommendation not to settle the litigation on the above terms are generally set out below," says Mr Finkelstein.
"(1) Ms Thompson's claims as against the Office of the Assembly for damages resulting from, among other matters, sexual harassment, wrongful dismissal and defamation, are not likely to succeed. It is unlikely," says Mr Finkelstein, "that Ms Thompson would succeed in any claim for damages against the Office of the Assembly, and in any event, any successful claim by Ms Thompson would be for nominal damages on the basis that her contract terminated upon the termination of Mr McLean's tenure as Speaker." Very clear.
"(2) Allan McLean's proposed claims against the Office of the Assembly for damages and indemnification are of little or no merit. In our view, if Allan McLean was found by a court to have harassed or otherwise caused harm to Ms Thompson, there is no basis upon which Mr McLean could successfully argue that the responsibility for his actions should properly be borne by the Office of the Assembly."
That is a critical point. There isn't a taxpayer around who wouldn't find that argument from this distinguished lawyer compelling. Let me read it again.
Mr Gerretsen: Steve knows. He's learned.
Mr Conway: I see the Minister of Finance's able chef du cabinet, Mr - well, I shouldn't pick on poor Steve. The hour is late. But let me read this again.
"(2) Allan McLean's proposed claims against the Office of the Assembly for damages and indemnification are of little or no merit." Why, says Mr Finkelstein? Because, "In our view" - that is, in the considered view of a very distinguished lawyer - "if Allan McLean was found by a court to have harassed or otherwise caused harm to Ms Thompson, there is no basis upon which Mr McLean could successfully argue that the responsibility for his actions should properly be borne by the Office of the Assembly. Further, Allan McLean's proposed claim for wrongful dismissal damages against the Office of the Assembly is without merit."
If you think about that for a minute, is the member for Simcoe East arguing that the Legislature that elected him Speaker had no right to unelect him as Speaker? I thought Louis XIV was dead. I don't think any of us have the kind of sanction that once elected we are permanently in place.
Mr Mike Colle (Oakwood): On a point of order, Madam Chair: I think we are missing a quorum.
The Acting Speaker: Clerk, could you check for a quorum, please.
Clerk at the Table: 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 Renfrew North.
Mr Conway: Going on with Mr Finkelstein's very powerful letter, in point number 3 -
Hon Mrs Ecker: You can't miss a -
Mr Conway: No, I don't miss - and I don't want you to miss a chance to vote. I don't much care how the Minister of Community and Social Services votes, but I want you here in your place, on behalf of the people of Durham West. Stand and tell us how you feel on this.
Hon Mrs Ecker: Merry Christmas, Sean.
Mr Conway: How can it be a merry Christmas for taxpayers who are being stiffed with this kind of bill on this kind of rationale? I want to be joyful too, but I've got some obligations. You, mother welfare, you of all people, who go from Attawapiskat to Cornwall and from Pickering to Pickle Lake beating your - I'd better be careful here - beating your record of welfare reform, and you wonder why somebody here might be questioning this? This is welfare on stilts, and it has your name on it, I say to Ms Ecker. She walks out the door and into the sunset.
The Acting Speaker: Member for Renfrew North, first of all, please remember to call people by their riding. Also, you can't comment on whether people are in or out of the House.
Mr Conway: I was provoked, Madam Chair, but you offer very good advice and I accept it.
Point number 3 of the Finkelstein letter of advice to us, our lawyer telling us what we should do about this matter:
"In the event that the Office of the Assembly was held responsible for any damages caused to Thompson, there is a strong likelihood that the Office of the Assembly would be awarded indemnification from Allan McLean. The damages caused to Ms Thompson would be based on Allan McLean's conduct and, therefore, if the office was found (because of legal principles) to be responsible to pay the damages, it would likely be able to recover from Allan McLean any amounts paid. This would be subject, of course, to Mr McLean's ability to pay."
Point number 4:
"Regardless of the outcome of the litigation, it would be unlikely that the Office of the Assembly would be found to be responsible to pay the legal costs of both Ms Thompson and Allan McLean. One or the other of them would be successful but, given the conflicting nature of the claims, not both."
Finally, point 5:
"It would be unusual for the Office of the Assembly to pay damages to Ms Thompson, the person allegedly harassed, and to also pay the legal expenses of the person who allegedly harassed her."
Friends, listen. It's almost ridiculous. Are we simply going to pass this and say, "We had no choice"?
What offends me is that bright people in the cabinet, the Minister of the Environment and the Minister of Transportation, walked in there 10 days ago and, having had this advice, said, "I don't accept it, I am not bound by it and I, Norm Sterling, Minister of the Environment," a 20-year veteran of the Conservative caucus, a well-known fiscal conservative, "and I, Tony Clement," bright, young Turk of the Preston Manning stripe - is there anyone who has ever preached more about fiscal discipline and accountability and the need for politicians to be far more careful in spending public money than Tony Clement?
It was the Minister of the Environment, Mr Sterling, and the Minister of Transportation, Mr Clement, who led the charge to ignore this advice from Mr Finkelstein and to stick the taxpayers, the taxpayers of Norfolk and Renfrew and Hastings and west Toronto, with a bill for nearly $600,000. We're paying for everything. We're paying for the activities of the alleged victim of sexual harassment, we are paying the legal fees of the alleged harasser, we're paying damages. Talk about a lottery. How can any of us justify this? I can't, and I won't. I'm going to be truculent and I'm going to be contrary and I'm going to be cantankerous, and not just here.
There is an election coming. I often think that those of us involved in partisan politics sometimes get close to the water's edge in elections, and I suppose I've done my share. But I'm telling you that I expect, a few weeks and a few months from now, there is going to be an avalanche of television and print advertising and lots of radio advertising, nice, snappy jingles about big-ticket principles around accountability and discipline.
I'm going to be there, and not just in Renfrew. I'll make it my business to go into a number of constituencies and look for opportunities to say: "You know what, friends? There was a Legislature not too many weeks ago that had a chance to pass judgment on a $600,000 appropriation of your money." I hate to say it, because it's a bit populist, to use a very neutral phrase, but the McLean-Thompson affair is not a very difficult business to explain to people. It's not going to be very hard to explain the contents of Neil Finkelstein's letter.
I say to my friends both in the chamber and underneath, from the department of finance, there are lots of cases where we've had advice that has been divided, conflicting, uneven, sometimes transparently contradictory. If you're a private member or a minister of the crown, you like that on occasion, because you can say, "Well, I didn't take the one view, I took the other view." But I tell you: We not only have the Finkelstein opinion. Ask anyone who has looked at this to come up with a contrary opinion, or ask any lawyer, "Can you imagine circumstances, in a matter where there is no obvious interest of yours at stake, where you would pay everything?" It's just beyond comprehension.
Again, that's the issue. Now the question is the bigger issue: Do we want to take any responsibility? That's why I'm offended by the government House leader's motion. It's the old bob and weave. Park it on the side, park it someplace in the dark and hopefully this will go away. And sometime in March, when nobody is much paying attention, we can bring this thing forward and get the pawprints of a majority of honourable members of this Legislature on this supply bill, including this reprehensible, obnoxious appropriation to settle the McLean-Thompson affair. Be damned you will get my pawprint on this in the affirmative. I want to get that vote and get that matter before me as fast as I can. I think it is a fair request.
I cannot believe, notwithstanding the advance of Christmas, that the people I have talked to in the library, in the corridors, in the cafeteria - honourable members who just look with utter stupefaction. "How could they have done it?" they say, and we say, about our friends on the Board of Internal Economy, and I agree. But that was then, this is now. I submit a better question is: How can we do it? How can we leave here and not decide this matter?
The Minister of Finance is right to expect that this Legislature will give him supply. That's our duty, and I think it is the fair and reasonable thing that we ought to do before we adjourn or prorogue for Christmas. The cycle is coming to an end, and the end of that cycle, in our system, is voting on the appropriations or the spending or the supply bill.
We now have a matter to decide. I will not believe that members who have in some cases, to their credit, made their reservations known in the public domain - I heard the member for Lincoln not long ago, as I would fully expect of a former activist with the Taxpayers' Coalition, protest loudly about this appropriation of hundreds of thousands of taxpayers' money to settle a private matter between one of the honourable members of this Legislature and a private citizen who for a time worked in the Office of the Assembly. So we know, for the record, that at least one government member quite understandably and quite predictably and quite powerfully spoke out loudly against this measure. I know there are several others in the Legislature, and many of them in the government caucus.
It may very well be that when the question is put, as it should be put before we adjourn or prorogue, that the matter may carry. I simply want to refresh my colleagues that the amendment I propose to place to the supply bill says:
"The amounts payable under subsection (1) of Bill 96 shall not include any amount in respect of the legal fees of the member for Simcoe East."
Translated into layperson's language, that basically means that the $52,386,596,000 worth of public money that we must vote to give effect to the approved estimates of all departments of the government of Ontario will be reduced by approximately $120,000 to $130,000, whatever the final cost of Mr McLean's legal bills are or were in this matter currently at issue, the so-called McLean-Thompson matter. That is the question. It's not a difficult question to understand, and it is certainly not a difficult question to decide.
As I said at the outset of my remarks -
Mr Conway: There seems to be a lot of distraction. I ask my friends not to be distracted from their duty in this very important matter. I ask all my friends not to be distracted at this late hour from this early and pressing necessity.
Hon Noble Villeneuve (Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, minister responsible for francophone affairs): Don't be distracted.
Mr Conway: I say to the Minister of Agriculture and I say to the minister responsible for the treasury board and I say to the Minister of Municipal Affairs, let us do our duty, let us before the night ends agree to bring the supply bill forward and let either a minister of the crown move the amendment and let the House pass judgment or let Conway move the amendment. We can do that quicker than we gave second and third reading approval to the member for Dovercourt's bill on the Hummingbird Centre, and we can also in that connection give the Minister of Finance what he rightly should expect us to give him at this Christmas break: supply.
What conceivable reason would we have, I say to the member for St George-St David, for not doing that? What conceivable reason would we have, in the public interest, for not allowing this Parliament to vote supply and any amendments attached thereto? I can assure you -
Hon Al Leach (Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing): Common sense.
Mr Conway: My friend the minister says, "Common sense." I say to my friends, if it is the position -
Hon Mr Leach: If you're trying to make a point -
Mr Conway: Yes, my point is I want a vote.
Hon Mr Leach: If you're trying to make your point in history, you have made your point.
Mr Conway: It has nothing to do with history. It has to do with a very present reality. What I want to say to my friends is, if it is the position of the Conservative Party that this settlement of $600,000 of public money represents common sense, then Jonathan Swift will be rolling in his grave. This -
Mr Gerretsen: The minister knows all about public money. He's been living off the public purse for the last, how many years now?
The Acting Speaker: Member for Kingston and The Islands.
Mr Conway: I can't believe there is anyone in this chamber -
The Acting Speaker: Member for St George-St David, come to order.
Mr Conway: - who believes that this appropriation of these thousands of dollars of public monies to settle a private matter in which we have no interest, for which we have no responsibility, in which our lawyers said we have no liability, is common sense. Surely that is the last rationale for this. I want to say this as well -
Hon Mr Leach: Not even you can believe that.
Mr Conway: I do believe it. I believe it absolutely, and I believe it especially at a time -
The Acting Speaker: Member for St George-St David, come to order.
Mr Conway: - when we have been, the government particularly, so rigorous and so relentless and at times so ruthless about telling the broad public, "You have to do more with less."
My friend Bradley, the member for St Catharines, has made plain his anger at the way in which the Office of the Assembly, with the Conservative majority at the board, dispensed with and terminated the employment contract of food workers, of gardeners and others in our employ. They got, as we say in the Ottawa Valley, the bum's rush and not so much as a thank you. What have we got here?
Mr Conway: Listen, the hour is late and the need urgent. We can make this easy, I repeat. We can simply put the question. I can't believe my friends from places like Victoria-Haliburton and Glengarry, where some of the doughtiest and stoutest Conservatives extant in the land reside, would not want to pronounce themselves on this matter.
I have heard Chris Hodgson too often be too compelling about the need for prudence and probity with the public purse. And this? This is madness on stilts. This is a raid on the public treasury for no apparent reason, for no good cause. The smiling visage of the Minister of Transportation would suggest that it is of no apparent concern to him. I suppose, if ever there was a conflicted man in this, it is the Minister of Transportation because, I say again, the Minister of Transportation led the charge in the committee to ignore the legal advice, which said, "Don't pay, don't obligate yourself in a way that you have no cause to."
I conclude my remarks with this again: With all of the speeches about the importance of one standard for all, including the political class, with all of the speeches and all of the initiatives, legislative and otherwise, about doing more with less, expecting government to be more prudent, with all of that, how is it possible that we can stand here on the eve of Christmas and justify in any kind of interest this raid on the public purse? It is unconscionable. Let us put the question and let us decide the matter.
Mr Bud Wildman (Algoma): We are debating here a motion to prorogue this Parliament, late in the evening as we come to the Christmas season. I must say that it's difficult for me to understand why a government that professes to be frugal and to want to protect the taxpayer, a government that talks more about taxpayers than it does about citizens, has not wanted to deal with what has become a cause célèbre because of the bungling and mismanagement of the members of the executive council, who are members of the Board of Internal Economy, who run this assembly.
The government has had a number of opportunities to deal with this matter and dispose of it. Initially, when this matter became a matter of public debate in this assembly, the members of the executive council, and the Premier particularly, tried to somehow distance themselves and say that this was nothing to do with the government, that it has absolutely nothing to do with government policy, government activity, government measures, nothing, that somehow the members of the executive council who are appointed by the Premier by order in council as members of the Board of Internal Economy, indeed representatives of the government on the Board of Internal Economy, had nothing to do with this matter.
It seems to me rather odd that a member of the executive council, whether that member be the government House leader and Minister of Environment, the minister responsible for Management Board or the Minister of Transportation, could somehow be a member of the Board of Internal Economy and not at the same time a member of the executive council. It seems that once they go through the door, the entrance to the Office of the Speaker, for meetings of the Board of Internal Economy, somehow they shed their personae as members of cabinet, as if somehow they became new people, different people, and made decisions with regard to this matter on the Board of Internal Economy with no reference at all to their role as members of the executive council.
What a silly argument. It was patently ridiculous, and the public understood that. The public knew that if a member of the Board of Internal Economy was also a member of cabinet nobody could logically argue that the government had nothing to do with this. Subsequently, the members of the executive council and the Premier said, "No, there were certainly members of the Conservative Party, members of the cabinet, on" -
The Acting Speaker: Member for Algoma, take your seat just for a moment. I'm starting to have a little trouble hearing. Could I ask for the meetings to take place outside of the chamber, or if everybody could pipe down a little bit it would be helpful. Member for Algoma, go ahead.
Mr Wildman: I hope the number of conversations going on, Speaker, is not somehow a comment on the quality of my presentation.
As I was saying, subsequently members of the cabinet and the Premier said, "No, no, that's true, there are members of the cabinet on the Board of Internal Economy," but they somehow tried to ignore the fact that the board had a majority from the Conservative Party and that certainly, yes, there were Conservatives who participated in the deliberations of the Board of Internal Economy, but the decisions of the board didn't have anything to do with the Conservative Party.
In other words, there must have been somebody else who held the majority, that somehow this board had input from the Conservatives but the Conservatives did not decide what happened, they didn't control what happened. Again, this was patently ridiculous. Nobody believed that somehow the members of the Board of Internal Economy made decisions without reference to their other roles in life, even the member for Nepean, who happens to be the parliamentary assistant to the Minister of Finance, which is particularly apropos since what we're concerned with here is supply; that the member for Nepean, who is the parliamentary assistant to the Minister of Finance, somehow would make decisions on the Board of Internal Economy with regard to an enormous expenditure without any reference to his role in the Ministry of Finance. It's very strange, and of course nobody believed it.
The government has had a very bad couple of weeks, not because of anything particularly that we in the opposition did but because of its own stupidity, incompetence in dealing with this matter. The uncomfortable bed that the members of the Conservative Party now find themselves in is of their own making.
It has become obvious that the members of the Conservative Party who held the majority on the Board of Internal Economy made decisions over the vociferous objections of the two members of the opposition who are members of that board, and frankly, it seems, over the opposition of the chair of the Board of Internal Economy, who happens to be the Speaker of this assembly.
Hon Mr Villeneuve: What's his name?
Mr Wildman: I know you're having a hard time staying awake, but most of us know what the name of the Speaker is.
The fact is that the members of the Conservative Party decided they wanted to end this affair quickly, after it had been dragging on for some time, so they decided they would make an offer. This is where it gets really ridiculous and where it indicates incompetence on the part of the government. An offer was made to settle, to cover the legal expenses of both parties and to pay compensation, or damages I guess, to the complainant. But at no time, apparently, did any members of the Conservative Party who were determined to make this offer and make these payments question the size of these legal fees.
There was no attempt to have an itemization of the legal fees, which frankly, considering the type of affair, the type of concern and the amount of work, seemed to me extremely high. There was no attempt to say: "OK, what exactly did these lawyers do? Are these fees reasonable?" Even if you're not going to deal with the issue of whether or not these fees should be covered by the taxpayers, surely it makes sense to determine whether the fees are reasonable, but no, there was no attempt to do that. As a matter of fact, when the suggestion was made by members of the opposition on the Board of Internal Economy that the fees be taxed, that proposal was rejected by the majority on the Board of Internal Economy.
The member for Nepean in the debate recently said: "No, no, that's not true. There's nothing in the minutes of the Board of Internal Economy that says there was a request that the fees be taxed." Well, members of the assembly, anyone who ever been a member of the Board of Internal Economy knows how the minutes are constructed. The minutes are simply the minutes of the decisions of the Board of Internal Economy, not the discussion, not the issues that are raised. They are only minutes that note what the decisions were. If there was a request that the matter be taxed and that was rejected through the discussion and the debate on the board, of course it wouldn't be in the minutes. Only the motion to cover the expenses of the legal fees and the compensation to Ms Thompson would be noted in the minutes of the board. That is the way the minutes are constructed, so the member for Nepean was raising a blue herring in this matter.
It became obvious, too, to everyone concerned and to the public that this was not thought out well by the members of the government who were members of the Board of Internal Economy. They thought somehow they could just get this out of the way and it might be an issue for a cause célèbre for a short period of time and then it would go away, but then we discovered a couple of things. First we discovered that not only had the fees not been taxed, but the fees included the fees for a gumshoe who had apparently been going around spying on Ms Thompson to try and find out some things about her that would help to undermine her credibility for the accused, the member for Simcoe East.
The government said, "OK, we'd better do something about this," so I guess they persuaded the member for Simcoe East to say, "No, I'll cover the cost of that," apparently $8,000 or $9,000 out of a total of $131,000 in legal fees, as if that was going to really resolve anything, as if that was really going to save the taxpayers any money in this affair.
This whole strategy ran into problems, though, in questioning in the Legislature, because my leader and the member for London Centre also directed some questions to the Attorney General, pointing out that the Attorney General, as the chief law officer of the crown, the top lawyer for the government of Ontario, for the people of Ontario, was a co-defendant in this suit and therefore would have to have expressed a legal opinion about the liability involved and given advice to the government. In directing those questions to the Attorney General, we found out that the Attorney General at least, as a member of the executive council, was prepared to admit that he did know something, and not just something but knew a great deal about the details of the discussions and the negotiations and the decisions that led to the passage of the motion of the Board of Internal Economy to make this offer.
I think with some consternation other members of the cabinet listened to the Attorney General start to answer questions, indicating clearly that he had a great deal of knowledge about this matter, despite the fact that the Premier, the Deputy Premier and other members of the cabinet had said: "No, no, members of the executive council didn't have anything to do with this. We didn't know anything about it." The Attorney General is not a member of the Board of Internal Economy, yet he was able to answer questions about this matter with the full knowledge of a person who had been involved in the discussions and the decisions around whether to make this offer to cover the costs for the settlement for Ms Thompson, the legal fees for her and the legal fees for the member for Simcoe East.
As members of the opposition, despite the ridiculous approach the cabinet was taking and despite the fact that the public made it clear that they knew the argument was ridiculous - the argument that the members of the cabinet had nothing to do with this, that the four members of the Conservative Party on the Board of Internal Economy somehow were no longer Conservatives, were no longer members of the government, were no longer members of the cabinet when they sat on the Board of Internal Economy - despite that, we had a difficult time finding a vehicle for dealing with this matter and for holding those members of the government accountable for the decision to make this money payment for Mr McLean, until we realized, obviously, that the $600,000, approximately, of taxpayers' money that was being paid for this matter indeed was part of an appropriation for the operation of the Legislative Assembly. That appropriation had yet to be passed, and must be passed as the vote for supply, as part of the supply bill.
We made it very clear that we didn't believe this $600,000 should be paid by the taxpayers. We made it very clear that at least the legal fees of Mr McLean should be covered by someone other than the taxpayers. In our view, frankly, Mr McLean should have covered them himself. Frankly, I think Mr McLean should have covered the whole $600,00 himself.
Mr Steve Gilchrist (Scarborough East): Bud Wildman: judge, jury and executioner.
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Order.
Mr Wildman: The members across the way say, "Hang him." I fully recognize that this matter has -
The Speaker: Order. I know it's late and I know tempers are short, but it would be very preferable for the members to just allow the member for Algoma to finish his speech.
Mr Wildman: I understand the members across the way are making the point that the accused has not been found guilty. That is quite correct. There is no question about that. But the reason this matter has not been adjudicated is because the government doesn't want it to be adjudicated. The Board of Internal Economy determined that it wanted this matter resolved by payment before it went to discovery. Why? They didn't want it to go to discovery.
Mr Wildman: The member for Perth says he doesn't know. I don't know either. I don't know why the government didn't want it to go to discovery. I don't know why the government did not want this to go to court. Frankly, I'll tell you quite bluntly right here and now that if Mr McLean had gone through the process and been exonerated, I would not be at all opposed to some assistance for him in paying his legal fees. But he hasn't gone through the process and he has not been exonerated. It has been the decision of the members of the government, and I guess Mr McLean, that they do not want him to go through that process. A man has been accused. That matter has not been adjudicated. We do not know the facts of the situation, and the government does not want us to. If the Human Rights Commission adjudicates it and Mr McLean is exonerated, fine. Frankly, I would be very happy about that.
It is not the members of the opposition, certainly not the members of the opposition who are on the Board of Internal Economy, who suggested that this thing should somehow be paid off before it was adjudicated, either by the Human Rights Commission or in court. It was the government that decided that, or I suppose it was the Conservative Party that decided that. But it certainly was not the members of the opposition on the Board of Internal Economy.
This matter is quite clear. The public is quite clear. The public does not want to have the taxpayers paying this amount. Most taxpayers are not in favour of paying the $600,000. The Premier, in response to that, said, "Then you mean you don't want Ms Thompson's expenses covered and you don't want her concerns to be dealt with." Again, I think her expenses should have been taxed. I don't think these fees are reasonable. I don't know why the Board of Internal Economy wouldn't have gone that route if they were going to pay them. Having said that, at the very least the people of Ontario generally do not want to have the specific legal fees and costs of Mr McLean covered by the taxpayers. Again, he has not been found guilty, but neither has he been exonerated.
The only vehicle we in the opposition have to hold the government accountable is on supply. It is a basic issue of responsible government, parliamentary democracy. The government must bring expenditures to the Legislative Assembly to be debated, discussed and passed, either as presented by the government, or reduced or reallocated as per decisions of the Legislative Assembly. We hold the government accountable. It goes back as far as the Magna Carta and King John. We hold the government accountable on the basis of being able to vote expenditures. We do that through the supply motion.
We had a vote today on second reading of the supply motion. According to the rules, if, after second reading, 12 members stand in their place, they can move a bill out to committee for further discussion and debate and review. Twelve members of our caucus stood in their place to move that supply motion out to committee, because we wanted to have the opportunity of a committee review of these expenditures, the specific expenditure of $600,000 and, within that, the $130,000 in fees for Mr McLean. That matter is still before us, yet the government has a prorogation motion before the House which does not make provision for this matter to be dealt with in committee. For that reason, we are very concerned that the government is attempting to avoid public review of this matter. For that reason, I'm very concerned that we would prorogue this place without dealing properly with our responsibility to hold the government accountable for expenditures that have been authorized by the Board of Internal Economy.
The argument that the Board of Internal Economy's expenditures for the Legislative Assembly have nothing to do with the government is ridiculous. They come from the same revenues that are raised in taxes from the public by the government and they are voted by the assembly. They are part of the supply motion.
Today in the media I heard the Speaker quoted. I think he was quoted as saying that the cheque is already in the mail, that the cheques to cover this matter have already been signed and sent out. So the expenditure of $600,000, approximately, has already been done.
This does present us with a problem, I think. It seems to me that this $600,000 has never been allocated and voted as part of the budget of the Legislative Assembly, which is approximately $1.3 million. If the government members on the Board of Internal Economy have basically authorized the Speaker to send out cheques for $600,000 that are not included in the Legislative Assembly budget, then the Legislative Assembly has spent money that it does not have. Unless we increase the allocation to the Legislative Assembly, this place cannot operate, because about half of the total budget has been expended over and above the allocation for the Legislative Assembly. This is a problem.
The way to resolve this problem is for the government to agree to have a committee - the government said the standing committee on general government. We would think it would be more likely the standing committee on finance, but I suppose it could be another committee; it could be the standing committee on the Legislative Assembly, one of those committees to consider the estimates, to consider the supply bill and to deal with the supply bill, to review the supply bill and to move to reduce the estimates by at least $130,000, the amount of the legal fees that have already been sent to cover Mr McLean's legal fee.
We shouldn't be proroguing without a motion passed in this assembly which would allow the committee to consider the supply bill, and for that reason I am most concerned that we apparently are not going to have any committee. We're not going to have a motion passed so we're not going to have a committee deal with the supply bill, despite the fact that, according to the rules, 12 members of the assembly stood and moved the bill after second reading out to committee.
Hon Mr Villeneuve: What 12 members?
Mr Wildman: That was done this afternoon. I know the Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs may not have seen it, but it happened this afternoon. It has already been done.
The members of the assembly exercised their rights and expressed their wishes that it should be moved out to committee for debate and passage. The government should be moving a motion now to ensure that a committee will in fact carry out the wishes of those members of the assembly. Then the supply bill could be passed, this matter could be dealt with, the expenditure could be reduced so that the assembly could be reimbursed by whoever, whether it be the member for Simcoe East or, I don't know, some other group that may want to help him, and the taxpayers will not be covering the expenses that everyone in this province understands they should not be covering. This is a private matter between the member for Simcoe East and the complainant. There is no reason on earth for the taxpayers to be covering that amount.
It's a late hour. We're headed into prorogation. I call on the minister responsible for the House, the government House leader, to introduce a motion that would allow the committee to sit after prorogation to deal with the matter of the supply bill that has been referred out by 12 members of this House. We can have a full public airing. We can find out who made what decisions and why they were made. We can move to reduce the expenditures so that the public, the taxpayers, are not having to cover the cost of Mr McLean's legal fees. This matter then could be resolved and we can get on with the other business of this place when we return in the spring.
The Deputy Speaker (Mr Bert Johnson): Further debate?
Mr Christopherson: Right here, Speaker.
Hon Mr Villeneuve: You are not in your place.
The Deputy Speaker: I'm going in rotation.
Further debate? The Chair recognizes the member for Hamilton Centre.
Mr Christopherson: I want to reiterate a point that my House leader has made. The government has played this game where they've tried to have cabinet ministers, who are cabinet ministers 24 hours a day, suddenly morphed into this other kind of creature when they walk through the door of the Speaker's office to attend the Board of Internal Economy meetings. I believe it's on record that the Integrity Commissioner has said that a minister wears the cloak of ministerial responsibility at all times.
Quite frankly, it's one of the burdens of being a minister, but you cannot at any point take off that cloak of ministerial responsibility and say: "I'm just the public now or I'm just a backbencher. The things that applied to me when I was a minister no longer apply." It doesn't work that way, and that's been ruled on. When you are a minister of the crown, the privileges, of course, but also the responsibilities that you carry are with you 24 hours a day. To suggest that ministers are acting in their private members' capacity at a Board of Internal Economy meeting is just not accurate. I've been a member of the Board of Internal Economy and sat on there for a little bit better than a year. I've been there. I also understand what happens at that table from the inside.
It's been very upsetting, given the importance of this matter in terms of the principles involved - the dollars also, but the principles too - it has been very frustrating for us to hear the government members, those few who are willing to answer questions about this, say: "It's arm's length. It's not really anything to do with our PC caucus or with the Mike Harris government. There are four individuals from the Tory caucus there." That's not the reality.
You have a majority. All of these approvals that have caused this scandal were by Tory majority vote, by ministers who are ministers 24 hours a day. Just from a practical, dare I say it, common sense point of view, who would really believe that three senior cabinet ministers would walk into a meeting where decisions are made regarding how this place operates and regarding matters of the magnitude of what we have before us with the Al McLean affair, who believes for a minute in the public domain that those individuals, those cabinet ministers, aren't acting on the best basis for their caucus? Of course they are. Would one really expect them to do differently? Would you really? Is it practical to expect that they would do something other than that? Of course not.
Why do you think all caucuses at least get a voice? Because people go in there with vested interests. I grant you, there are some matters that are not so huge that the cabinet may talk about it or that it would come up at a PC or a Liberal or an NDP caucus meeting. Some of them are just very straightforward matters that really don't have any partisanship to them, particularly if it's not an expenditure amount but deals with the details of how to operate this place or members' budgets or something sort of once removed from the political process. But on every other matter it really borders on being insulting to think that members, particularly ministers, would walk into a meeting without having some sense - if not marching orders, at least some sense - of how their caucus feels or, in a matter that's generating as many headlines as the Al McLean affair has, what the cabinet thinks.
Does anybody think that this hasn't been discussed at a cabinet meeting? I noticed that the ministers were very careful never to say in an absolute, definitive term that this wasn't discussed at a cabinet meeting. I find it really hard to believe that it wouldn't be discussed. That, by the way, is not inappropriate. There's nothing wrong with that. It would make common sense that you would.
Here you've got a matter involving one of your own backbenchers, who was the previous Speaker, embroiled in a sexual scandal that's generating headlines and bogging down the Premier, the Deputy Premier and the Acting Premier of the day in question period day after day after day. Who honestly believes that's not a matter that the cabinet would put on their agenda and talk about? Come on. Of course it was. I would expect that.
Again, I want to make the point, I'm not saying there's anything wrong with that. There's nothing out of line or inappropriate. It's one of the things that cabinets deal with. Cabinets deal with all kinds of issues. There's nothing wrong with that.
What's wrong and what's frustrating and what's borderline insulting is for members of the government caucus, in particular cabinet ministers, to suggest that such discussions did not take place or leave the impression they didn't take place or to go on about the fact that they're only senior ministers when they're outside the meeting room of the Board of Internal Economy, not really inside. That, to me, is when we cross the line.
The government knows that the two opposition members - I believe for the official opposition it's the member for Kingston and The Islands and for us it's the member for London Centre - have consistently voted against this matter. What we've asked for, and I think it's appropriate - we've been very co-operative this evening, we really have, as we should have been. The matters warranted it. We've been very co-operative this evening in ensuring that there was quick passage to bills that are in the public good. I believe we did at least three. I stand to be corrected; there may be more. There were at least three this evening that we allowed to proceed to third reading - one to second reading, to get it out to committee, which is what everyone wanted; two others to third reading. We've been very co-operative.
In fairness, in balancing out the political agendas that are in this place versus the public good, the public good took the priority; we went with that. We're not asking for any medals but we are pointing it out, since, once we walk out of here tonight, we get zero credit for that and you get all the credit for the bill. But that is indeed what we've done this evening.
What we've been talking about now for the last hour and a half is that this matter of $600,000 - I don't see any of the government members sending out press releases or holding news conferences or making members' statements about how proudly they stand behind the decision of their members on the Board of Internal Economy. Who's surprised? This issue has legs. This is an issue the public cares about, it's an issue they're going to ask you about over the holidays in the next few weeks.
Obviously what the government backbenchers would like, in fact all of government, is that they can quietly get this thing out of the way and never have to say anything publicly about whether or not they support the decision, because they don't want to appear disloyal. Backbenchers don't go out of their way to be disloyal. It sometimes is such that those things happen on various issues, but I don't believe that members go out of their way, saying, "Today I'm going to drive a knife into the back of my Premier or my cabinet or my caucus." Nobody deliberately does that.
You don't want to be put on the spot where you would not show the kind of support that's expected from a backbencher towards their government, but by the same token, if you can get away without going on the official record to say, "Yes, I support that decision," then you can quietly go back home: "I didn't really support it, you know. It was a pretty bad decision. They're independent members."
You can do all that kind of stuff back home and string it along and there's nothing on the record here at Queen's Park or in Hansard or that a reporter has got you on tape or written down that contradicts that. That way you can have it both ways. You can remain solid behind your cabinet and your government and you can get back home and slide on this issue and show that individually you don't think this is right.
I'm not saying anything to the government backbenchers that they haven't already thought of. That is part of the political process. I am not condemning you for that; I am merely pointing out what I believe to be the obvious thing going through each of your minds.
Therefore, what we would like, obviously, is to get it on the record. We do want to force you. For those who might say, "You just want to force us to vote," yes, you're right, we do. We want to force you to go on the record. You're the government. You get all the perks and privileges of being in government and you have to be held accountable for being in government.
So what we've been seeking here on the opposition benches is some manner, whether it's committee, whether it's an individual vote on a separate bill, whether it's an amendment to the supply bill, some mechanism that will hold you all accountable for this issue, so that quite frankly you can't squirm out of it.
If you think it was the wrong thing to do, then stand up and say so. Have the courage of your convictions and be prepared to put it on the record, and vice versa. But the key thing for us is to get it on the record, because without that, then we continue to see this walking that fine line of being seen to be supportive and patriotic to the government and yet being able to go back home and slip and slide.
I have to ask, how many backbenchers in the government here are really going to go back to their ridings and with every constituent who phones about this issue or raises it over the holiday season, are they going to say: "No, wait a minute, I stand four-square behind the members of the Board of Internal Economy who said, `Pay out that $600,000.' I stand solidly behind them and I'll defend to the end of the evening anyone who wants to challenge whether this was the right thing to do."
It's not going to happen. It's not going to happen unless they're put on the record. If they stand here in their place, in the people's place, and they go on the record and say that, then yes, I would expect they'll do that. They wouldn't have any choice. But by the same token, I think there's an awful lot of members of the government backbenches who are very queasy about this, who don't want to vote on it because if push comes to shove they may not be able to support the government. That's what's got to be worrying the cabinet ministers and particularly worrying the Premier. This thing could quickly escalate into crisis proportions in terms of the last thing that Mike Harris needs heading into an election sometime likely in 1999.
With that, Speaker, I thank you for the opportunity to add my opinion.
Mr Colle: I rise here tonight basically to reinforce what my colleague from Renfrew North has been saying, that this is about accountability and responsibility. This is a government that's been telling the taxpayers of Ontario, that's been telling people across Ontario for the last three and a half years: "You have to be responsible for what you do. We're going to hold you responsible. We're going to hold you to account." The government has said this to teachers, it's said it to people on social assistance, it's said it to firefighters, it's said it to municipal officials.
Now we have a situation here where the member for Renfrew North is saying he wants to hold this government to account. He wants to hold this government responsible for something that it's done. I know the government has been saying basically it's not this government or this cabinet or this Premier that's made this decision to allocate a very controversial $600,000 for a matter that certainly the public knows about. The government has said that allocation happened somewhere in limbo, at the Board of Internal Economy.
The public probably doesn't know that this board works with a majority of Conservative members, government members - and not junior members. You've got three ministers and you've got a parliamentary assistant, who represent four government members, and there's a representative from the Liberal side and the NDP side.
When this matter of expending $600,000 to settle this dispute came up at this board, the opposition members did not want to approve that. They said it was wrong. They asked for the board to basically listen to the advice of the lawyer who was retained by the board representing the Legislative Assembly, and that's representing the taxpayers of Ontario. In very explicit language by an eminent lawyer in this field of employment law, Neil Finkelstein, of the firm Davies, Ward and Beck - he was very, very clear in advising the Legislative Assembly, the members of the board, not to pay the money, not to settle. That was in the letter that legal counsel gave to the board.
The board said no to the legal advice. They basically said: "We know better. We're not going to listen to legal advice. We are going to decide to pay this money." And it wasn't all the members of the board. It was the three members present who represented the government who overruled the other members.
I'll read to you from the letter of December 9 from Mr Finkelstein to the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly. Again, he said very explicitly:
"You have asked that we set out in writing the basis of our recommendation against the settlement for the litigation which was moved with respect to the above-noted matter at the meetings...." Here are the reasons he said you should not go for the settlement, why he recommended against it:
"The reasons for our recommendation not to settle the litigation on the above terms are generally set out below:
"(1) Ms Thompson's claims as against the Office of the Assembly for damages resulting from, among other matters, sexual harassment, wrongful dismissal and defamation, are not likely to succeed....
"(2) Allan McLean's proposed claims against the...assembly for damages and indemnification are of little or no merit...." This is what the lawyer says.
"(3) In the...event that the Office of the Assembly was held responsible for any damages caused to Thompson, there is a strong likelihood that the Office of the Assembly would be awarded indemnification from Allan McLean....
"(4) Regardless of the outcome of the litigation, it would be unlikely that the Office of the Assembly would be found to be responsible....
"(5) It would be unusual for the Office of the Assembly to pay damages...."
In his concluding paragraph, Mr Finkelstein, the lawyer representing the public, the taxpayers of Ontario, says:
"We have been provided with a copy of a letter from Russell D. Laishley of Morris, Rose, Ledgett addressed to the Honourable Norman Sterling with respect to this matter. It should be noted that Mr Laishley's letter only provides a general overview of the law of costs, without any detailed analysis with respect to the facts and merits of this case. Indeed, the letter must be read in the context of Mr Laishley's disclaimer in the last paragraph...wherein he states that he has not reviewed or assessed...." This also shows that other advice - hadn't even looked at the details.
The point is that Mr Conway, the member for Renfrew North, was saying he wants to be on the record so he has an opportunity to tell his residents, to tell the people of Ontario who are interested in this issue, that he doesn't want to be included with the three members of the Conservative government who pushed forth this settlement against the wishes of good legal advice. He has the right, as we all do, to be on record on where we stand on this allocation of $600,000. That is accountability, that is responsibility, that is clear.
As you know, early today in the House there was a private member's bill introduced by the member for Kingston and The Islands whereby he attempted to get this on the record. Although the bill was given tacit approval on first reading, the government blocked attempts to go further, into second and third reading so there would be a final and very clear voting on his private member's bill, which basically said he didn't want to pay for the legal expenses of the member for Simcoe East. This was blocked by the government.
There was another block by the government today when there was an attempt by the third party to move the issue of supply - which is part of the whole reason of whether or not the McLean issue should be dealt with by the payment of $600,000 - to the general government committee, where at least there would be an attempt to debate the issue. In essence, that has also been blocked by this government.
So there have been two attempts today to have on the public record the matter of accountability for this $600,000 expenditure, and the government is refusing.
We're here tonight again asking for a very simple thing from this government: that the members of the government allow for a vote on Mr Conway's amendment to Bill 96, the supply bill, which allocates money to the government for the next calendar year. He's saying he just wants a simple vote of "yes" or "no" from all members present on whether they agree with the expenditure of $600,000.
Continually there is blockage of any attempt to express the opinion of members of this Legislature. I think the member for Renfrew North is very astute in saying that what really angers the people of Ontario is that overwhelmingly they disagree with the allocation and the payment of $600,000. They say this is wrong, they say they don't want their tax dollars spent this way, and they are also saying they don't want their MPPs voting for this $600,000. The public at large is saying that they want to know how their representatives stand on this issue of allocating $600,000. Are you in favour of the $600,000 or are you not? They would like to know how the ministers would vote. They would know how all the MPPs on both sides of the House feel, how they stand on this allocation of $600,000.
As you know, independent members on the government side have spoken publicly against it. The member for Lincoln has said it is wrong. I believe he is sincere when he says it is wrong. But what we would like is to ensure that the government members who are now saying, on one side, "We don't think it's a very good idea that this was done in this way, that some legislative committee did this in limbo, but we had no role in it" - the Premier says, "It was mishandled by someone else. It was an all-party committee." But the public now knows that it wasn't an all-party committee. It was an all-party committee overruled by a Conservative majority which said, despite very clear legal advice, "We don't care what our lawyers are saying; we are going to allocate that $600,000."
I think all members of this House, on both sides, as the member for Renfrew North has been saying for the last couple of days, have accountability in our hands. We each have to be individually accountable for the expenditure of the $600,000. You can't just go on talk shows and say it is wrong, and then come back to the Legislature and, when we say, "Can we please vote on this?" - the opposition has been asking over and over for a simple vote on this, to stand up and be counted on this thing, whether you believe it's right or wrong. We are blocked over and over again by this government.
If the government and the leaders of this government are saying in public, "We don't really think this was a good settlement; it wasn't done properly; it was mismanaged," I think it's a reflection on all of us. Because some of the public are saying, "All the members of the provincial Legislature voted for this settlement." That's what some people are saying. They're saying, "You all agreed with this," because the government spin doctors have been saying, "It's the whole Legislature."
We now have an opportunity to stand up and be counted. Don't block the vote. Allow the amendment of the member for Renfrew North, which basically allows you as a member of Parliament to vote "yes" or "no." Do you have the guts, Minister of Municipal Affairs, to vote on this? You don't. You will block it as you've blocked it all day. Do you as a member, representing your constituents, want to stand up and be counted? You refuse to stand up and be counted. What you do over and over again is not only refuse to be accountable; you also block our attempts to vote on this issue.
Not only is the government trying to say, "We are not going to be held accountable"; they're also trying to say that the opposition doesn't have that opportunity. All the opposition is doing is saying: "We want to make sure that you talk the talk and walk the walk." You told welfare recipients, teachers, firefighters, aldermen and mayors that they have to be careful with public money, they have to be accountable. Now the ball is in your court. Will you now give us an opportunity and will you now be accountable to taxpayers in Ontario?
The taxpayers across this province are very much against this expenditure of $600,000. They're against it because they say that they are not responsible for this controversy which occurred. They had no role in it, and they shouldn't be picking up the tab. So they're saying, "You, as our elected officials, should be on the voting record on how you stand on this allocation." That is the amendment to your supply bill, which is a very basic right of this Parliament: to hold all of us accountable by a recorded vote to see not only how you stand when you talk in public, but also how you stand on the record on the allocation of $600,000.
That is what we've been trying to do for the last couple of days. Over and over again you blocked it; you made procedural moves to try to block it. We're saying the public has the right to see us vote on this issue. Give us the right to vote. Don't deny our right to vote on this expenditure, because we have been denied that. We have also been blocked in any attempt to even ask questions on it, because of the fact that this issue is now basically taken away from the Legislature.
The evidence is clear: The lawyers hired by the taxpayers said, "Don't pay the money." The Conservative cabinet ministers on the Board of Internal Economy said: "To heck with the lawyers, to heck with the taxpayers. We're writing the cheque for 600,000 bucks." That's why the public in Ontario is so enraged. Despite the best legal advice, given by firms - Mr Finkelstein, who has great expertise in employment law, made a very specific recommendation. He said the Legislature, the assembly and basically the taxpayer were not liable in this matter. So the public is saying, "If the lawyers hired by the assembly said we weren't liable, why in God's earth was the cheque cut for $600,000?" It's a very simple issue.
If you disagree with that - think there are a lot of legitimate disagreements. Maybe some people thought it was a good deal and that it was a good idea to cut the cheque. But a lot of people on both sides of this House think it was the wrong thing to do.
So they want to say: "You are my elected representative. I want to know how you voted on the $600,000." That is the amendment to Bill 96, which the member for Renfrew North moved the other day. It's been blocked. It was a simple amendment that would have taken about a five-minute vote on whether they agreed with the $600,000 allocation, yes or no. A simple five-minute vote, that's all -
The Speaker: It being 12 of the clock, this House stands adjourned until Monday at 1:30 of the clock.
The House adjourned at 2359.