L006A - Mon 3 May 1999 / Lun 3 Mai 1999
The House met at 1330.
SCHOOL BUS SAFETY
Mr Pat Hoy (Essex-Kent): Today I am reintroducing an act to protect children on school buses. It has been almost three years since I first introduced my bill: three years of intense lobbying of the government; three years gaining support from local, provincial and national organizations that advocate vehicle liability; three years waiting for the government of Mike Harris to introduce a meaningful deterrent to stop reckless drivers from passing school buses illegally and endangering innocent children. We are on the eve of an election now, and this government has not acted.
We delivered over 30,000 signatures urging Mike Harris to get tough and give the school bus law teeth. This government would make parents responsible for the deeds of their children. It has allowed vehicle liability for red light cameras, the impoundment of vehicles for owners who lend their cars to suspended drivers, and toll collection on Highway 407. Our children are equally important.
I'm proud to have Colleen Marcuzzi here in the gallery with me today. My bill was introduced in memory of Colleen's daughter, Ryan, who was killed by a careless driver who ignored the flashing lights in January 1996. She has been an ardent supporter of vehicle liability.
Pass the bill, Premier. The lives of our children depend on it.
Mr Len Wood (Cochrane North): There is a severe shortage of doctors in northern Ontario. The shortage has pitted town against town as councils offer competing incentives to lure doctors away from other northern towns. This competition is unfair and destructive, as different towns have different levels of wealth.
This is not right. The provincial government needs to step in and show leadership. That's what the NDP government did when we were in office. We took the first steps towards a progressive solution with our community health centres initiative. There are four community health centres in northeastern Ontario, the region I represent. This is good, but it's not enough. Only the NDP government has committed to bring 20 new community health centres to the north.
Why community health centres? Because they work. Community health centres encourage doctors on salary to work with a team of health care professionals. The team works together to treat patients holistically and professionally. They work with community resources to promote health at a community and individual level. Using other health care professionals along with doctors saves money and reduces the workload, the key cause of burnout for northern doctors.
The community health centre is a model that encourages our kids from the north to become doctors in the north. It is both a short-term and a long-term solution. It is good for doctors, patients and communities alike.
Only the NDP has committed $30 million to help current northern community health centres expand services and establish 20 new centres.
Mrs Brenda Elliott (Guelph): On April 9, I joined my colleagues the Minister of Health and the member for Wellington at the gauze cutting for phase 1 of Guelph General Hospital's expansion. We saw for the first time the new ambulatory care centre, the diagnostic imaging department and the critical care unit. I am pleased to report to the House that this project is proceeding on time and on budget.
Many years ago, Guelph recognized that its hospital services had to be restructured. It was a difficult but successful process, and today I offer my thanks and my congratulations to all who have worked on this project; in particular, Dr John Pate, who is the chair of the board of the General; the CEO, Richard Ernst; and of course the board members, the staff and the practitioners in the facility.
After years of empty promises from the Liberals and NDP, I am proud to say that it was the Mike Harris government that ensured this facility would be built. Some $45.9 million has been committed to this project, with the remainder coming from the city and from the county of Wellington.
Through tremendous co-operation, Guelph has shown that restructuring can be a success. By building this long-awaited hospital, the Harris government has clearly demonstrated its commitment to quality care in a stronger Ontario. The building of the Guelph General Hospital is another promise kept.
Mr Rick Bartolucci (Sudbury): Over the course of the last four months, our Premier has been travelling across the province almost being a cross between twinkle toes and the sandman. He's gone to municipalities, cities and towns all over the province, spreading a million dollars here, a million dollars there, a million for this, a million for that, trying to get the people of Ontario to forget the nightmares of the last four years that he has inflicted upon the people of Ontario, nightmares like that of Brenda Rantala-Sykes, who had to spend 14 hours in an emergency room, passing out after 12 hours due to dehydration and injuring herself more than she was when she went in for treatment; nightmares like that of Joe Zenha and his family, who had to beg on his knees in front of this Legislature trying to get treatment for his daughter. Day in and day out he knelt in front of the Legislature, begging for the Mike Harris government to do something, and finally they were shamed into it.
Nightmares like that of Erkki Martikainen, who had his simple pacemaker surgery delayed five times - one time too many: Erkki died. The Martikainen family was told that there was something else more important.
Mike Harris, I want you to go out on the campaign trail and you tell the people of Ontario that Erkki Martikainen wasn't worth it. The reality is, at the end of this election period there will be 20/20 vision restored to the province of Ontario.
LANDS FOR LIFE
Mr Bud Wildman (Algoma): In the time I have spent in this Legislature on both sides of the aisle I have worked very hard to involve people of northern Ontario, as well as other parts of the province, in good forest management planning and, frankly, resource management planning. When we were in government we moved to an ecosystem approach to managing our resources, to ensuring that we didn't just manage for timber, we didn't just manage for fish and wildlife, but we looked at the whole ecosystem.
This government is touting its Lands for Life process which led to what they call the Living Legacy as an answer to the needs for conservation in our province. I would hope against hope that in announcing further protected areas that first, this government has involved the people of the province and the people of northern Ontario in the consultation rather than doing it behind closed doors; and second, that they can ensure there will be good forest management practices carried out on the lands that are still to be harvested.
I fear that in exchange for agreeing to more protected areas, the government has agreed with forestry companies to allow for more monocultures, more clear-cuts, more spraying and less environmentally sensitive management of our resources. In the long run, this will harm us more than if we had never gone through the process in the first place.
Mr James J. Bradley (St Catharines): On a point of order, Mr Speaker: You're a man of knowledge of what's going on around here. Is the government on strike today? Are you aware of that?
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Order. That's not a point of order.
Mr Dan Newman (Scarborough Centre): I say to the member for St Catharines, we are getting ready to cut more taxes and that's what we're doing.
Last Friday, on tax-filing day, our Premier, Mike Harris, was in southwest Scarborough. I am pleased to say I was joined by my Scarborough colleagues Steve Gilchrist, Marilyn Mushinski and Jim Brown at that event.
For years, families have been working harder and longer, but higher taxes meant that they were taking home less money. Families across Ontario struggled to make ends meet. The higher taxes imposed by the Liberals and NDP only made things worse. In fact, during their reign in government over 10 years we had 65 tax hikes in our province.
In 1995 we stopped the avalanche of increased taxes in Ontario. In fact, we cut taxes 69 times. As a result of our 30% income tax cut a typical family now saves $1,385, ending the tide of rising taxes, giving hard-working taxpayers a break that has been important.
But there is more to do. There are more taxes to cut. Our Blueprint will lower personal income tax rates by an additional 20%. This will return almost $4 billion annually to the people of Ontario. Now each family will be able to keep an additional $615 each year because of our additional tax cut. When both tax cuts are combined the people of Scarborough, and indeed the people across Ontario, will see tax savings of nearly $2,000.
The debate is over. Tax cuts create jobs.
ANNIVERSARY OF POLISH CONSTITUTION
Mr Gerard Kennedy (York South): It is my honour and privilege to rise today on behalf of my colleague Tony Ruprecht and, I am sure, all members of the House to mark May 3 as Constitution Day for Poland and Polish Canadians.
The 1791 Polish constitution was only the second democratic constitution enacted in Europe, providing for equal rights, universal education and the state care of orphans and elderly. It is the struggle of Polish people for those kinds of rights over the last few centuries which has been an inspiration to the rest of the world and people of my generation, Gdansk and the inspiration that came from that.
I am very pleased to remark that today, for the first time, the Ontario Legislature acknowledged that irrepressible spirit for freedom on the part of the Polish people with a flag-raising.
Today I would like to recognize the people who participated in that: Wojciech Tycinski, the Consul General of the Republic of Poland, who is here with us today as well some very distinguished Polish Canadians: Chris Korwin-Kuczynski, ward 19 councillor, city of Toronto; Lucjan Conrad, who is the president of the Canadian Polish Congress; Marian Fijal, president of the Polish Veterans Association; Yvonne Bogorya-Buczkowski, president of the Federation of Polish Women; Ken Romanowski, chairman of the board of directors, the Polish parishes of St Casimir/St Stanislaus; Alicia Farmus-Pietrus, president of the Canadian Polish Congress; Juliusz Kirejczyk, Polish Engineers Association; Teresa Klimuszko, community volunteer and singer; Fela Rychlicki, Polish Alliance of Canada; and Lech Prusinski, Polish National Union.
I join everyone in acknowledging Constitution Day.
Ms Marilyn Churley (Riverdale): Gabriel West is 22 years old. He lives at home and he has cerebral palsy. He suffers from severe seizures that could kill him. He needs 24-hour-a-day attendant care, but thanks to the Mike Harris government cuts, Gabriel West is down to two hours a day now.
His mother, Martha Eleen, is a devoted, loving mother and she has been doing everything she can to get adequate funding for Gabriel, but to no avail. She is getting desperate and is at her wits' end. She has just had to quit her job. She is a single parent and has been trying to hold her family together despite the cuts.
I see that Mike Harris is promising another 20% tax cut on top of the 30% tax cut already given, and those individuals who are in the top 6% are benefiting most from these tax cuts.
When the Globe and Mail comes out with a ringing endorsement, as I saw today, of the tax cuts brought in by the Mike Harris government, they forget about the Gabriel Wests and the Marthas of the world; they forget that these tax cuts are being paid for on the backs of people like Martha and her son Gabriel. Shame on the Globe and Mail and shame on the government.
Mr Steve Gilchrist (Scarborough East): Last week the member for Scarborough North stood in his place and claimed that the Liberal government had created the Rouge park. Nothing could be further from the truth. There was still no park at the end of his five-year term when the people of Ontario decided that red was not their colour. His government did little more than make vague promises, much as his party continues to do today.
In fact, no government has done more for the protection of this unique resource than the Mike Harris government. We've gone further than either the Liberals or the NDP, and we've built on a commitment to our natural heritage which was in fact started by another Conservative government under Bill Davis.
As a partner in the Rouge Park Alliance, our government recently announced a number of important funding and land dedication initiatives in keeping with the commitment to protect the significant natural heritage areas all over Ontario.
Our donations to the park in the last year have totalled $26.3 million. We're also donating 660 hectares of provincially owned land along the Little Rouge Creek and the main part of the Rouge River in Markham. This land nearly doubles the area of the Rouge park and more than doubles its length.
The past four years have been very energetic and productive ones for those of us who have served on the Rouge Park Alliance. I congratulate everyone who serves on the alliance, including Save the Rouge Valley System and the municipal representatives, for their hard work. I offer special thanks to Mike Harris and the cabinet for their continued commitment to the environment and to our natural heritage, and for their continued confidence in the unique collection of talents and personalities which make up the Rouge Park Alliance.
REPORTS BY COMMITTEES
STANDING COMMITTEE ON REGULATIONS AND PRIVATE BILLS
Mr Derwyn Shea (High Park-Swansea): I beg leave to present a report from the standing committee on regulations and private bills and move its adoption.
Clerk at the Table (Mr Todd Decker): Mr Shea from the standing committee on regulations and private bills presents the committee's report and moves its adoption.
Your committee begs to report the following bills without amendment:
Bill Pr1, An Act respecting the City of Ottawa;
Bill Pr4, An Act respecting Canada Christian College and School of Graduate Theological Studies;
Bill Pr7, An Act respecting the City of Windsor;
Bill Pr8, An Act respecting the Columbus Club of Sault Ste Marie Ltd.
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Shall the report be received and adopted? Agreed.
INTRODUCTION OF BILLS
TAXPAYER PROTECTION AND BALANCED BUDGET ACT, 1999 / LOI DE 1999 SUR LA PROTECTION DES CONTRIBUABLES ET L'ÉQUILIBRE BUDGÉTAIRE
Mr Hodgson, on behalf of Mr Harris, moved first reading of the following bill:
Bill 24, An Act to protect taxpayers against tax increases, to establish a process requiring voter approval for proposed tax increases and to ensure that the Provincial Budget is a balanced budget / Projet de loi 24, Loi protégeant les contribuables des augmentations d'impôt, établissant un processus d'approbation des projets d'augmentation d'impôt par les électeurs et garantissant l'équilibre du budget provincial.
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Is it the pleasure of the House that the motion carry? Carried.
PROTECTION OF CHILDREN ON SCHOOL BUSES ACT, 1999 / LOI DE 1999 SUR LA PROTECTION DES ENFANTS DANS LES AUTOBUS SCOLAIRES
Mr Hoy moved first reading of the following bill:
Bill 25, An Act to amend the Highway Traffic Act to protect children while on school buses / Projet de loi 25, Loi modifiant le Code de la route en vue de protéger les enfants lorsqu'ils sont dans des autobus scolaires.
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Is it the pleasure of the House that the motion carry? Carried.
Mr Pat Hoy (Essex-Kent): This bill attempts to protect the 810,000 children who ride school buses twice daily. It aims to correct the long-standing problem of identifying drivers of vehicles who pass buses illegally by imposing liability on the owner of a vehicle that fails to stop for a school bus with its lights flashing.
WOMEN'S INSTITUTE WEEK ACT, 1999 / LOI DE 1999 SUR LA SEMAINE DU WOMEN'S INSTITUTE
Mr Wildman moved first reading of the following bill:
Bill 26, An Act to designate a week of recognition for the Women's Institute / Projet de loi 26, Loi désignant une semaine de reconnaissance à l'égard du Women's Institute.
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Is it the pleasure of the House that the motion carry? Carried.
Mr Bud Wildman (Algoma): The week beginning the third Monday in February of each year would be proclaimed as Women's Institute Week if this government were to pass this bill.
GAS PRICE WATCHDOG ACT, 1999 / LOI DE 1999 SUR L'AGENT DE SURVEILLANCE DES PRIX DU CARBURANT
Mr Colle moved first reading of the following bill:
Bill 27, An Act respecting the price of motor vehicle fuel and the appointment of a Gas Price Watchdog / Projet de loi 27, Loi concernant le prix du carburant pour véhicules automobiles et la nomination d'un agent de surveillance des prix du carburant.
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Is it the pleasure of the House that the motion carry? Carried.
Mr Mike Colle (Oakwood): The bill would establish the office of gas price watchdog, to be appointed by the Lieutenant Governor in Council. The gas price watchdog would monitor and report to the minister on pricing practices in the province with respect to motor vehicle fuel and conduct inquiries into pricing practices on order of the minister. The duties are spelled out in section 3 of the bill.
Mr Michael A. Brown (Algoma-Manitoulin): Mr Speaker, I would like unanimous consent to introduce a bill on behalf of my colleague Mr Crozier.
The Speaker: Agreed? Agreed.
FAIR GASOLINE MARKETING PRACTICES ACT, 1999 / LOI DE 1999 SUR L'ÉQUITÉ DES MÉTHODES DE COMMERCIALISATION DE L'ESSENCE
Mr Michael Brown, on behalf of Mr Crozier, moved first reading of the following bill:
Bill 28, An Act to prohibit discrimination in the supply of gas and diesel oil to retail dealers / Projet de loi 28, Loi interdisant la discrimination dans la fourniture d'essence et de carburant diesel aux détaillants.
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Is it the pleasure of the House that the motion carry? Carried.
Mr Michael A. Brown (Algoma-Manitoulin): The bill prohibits wholesale suppliers of gasoline and diesel oil from discriminating unfairly between dealers who are affiliated with suppliers and dealers who are not. Unfair discrimination includes wholesaling to affiliated and unaffiliated dealers at different prices or credit terms and influencing affiliated dealers to set retail prices at or below the supplier's posted rack price to unaffiliated dealers. Suppliers must file their posted rack prices with the director, who must make them public.
Mr Rick Bartolucci (Sudbury): Is the Solicitor General introducing a bill -
The Speaker: Member for Sudbury, come to order.
Mr Bartolucci: Are you doing it? Why don't you stand up and make a statement?
The Speaker: Listen, I've got some motions I have to deal with. I think probably everyone will want to hear them. I'm sure they'll have to deal with that this week.
Hon Chris Hodgson (Chair of the Management Board of Cabinet, Minister of Northern Development and Mines): I move that, pursuant to standing order 9(c), the House shall meet from 6:30 pm to 9:30 pm on May 3 and May 4, 1999, for the purpose of considering government business.
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Is it the pleasure of the House that the motion carry?
All those in favour, please say "aye."
All those opposed, please say "nay."
In my opinion, the ayes have it. I declare the motion carried.
STATEMENTS BY THE MINISTRY AND RESPONSES
BALANCED BUDGET LEGISLATION
Hon Chris Hodgson (Chair of the Management Board of Cabinet, Minister of Northern Development and Mines): Earlier today, on behalf of the Premier, I reintroduced a bill that, if passed, will ensure the provincial government never spends taxpayers' dollars recklessly again.
The Taxpayer Protection and Balanced Budget Act asks that governments not be able to introduce a new tax or raise a tax unless they ask Ontarians if that is indeed what they want. It asks that the provincial budgets be balanced. It asks, simply that governments of all stripes treat taxpayers' dollars as carefully and as conscientiously as they would their own and that they not be allowed to spend their way into debt and then casually increase taxes to pay for their spendthrift ways.
We must always remember that this money is not our money, it's theirs, Ontarians', taxpayers', and we have a trust to handle it wisely and well.
When our government took office three years ago, we inherited a situation where we were spending $1 million more an hour than we were taking in. Since then, we have worked hard to balance the budget, and we are on track to balance it by the year 2000-01, just as we promised.
We cannot condone a situation - the taxpayers cannot condone a situation - whereby, after all the hard work and the tough decisions of the past three years, future governments could tax and spend and drive that deficit up again.
This act proposes that governments receive the voters' permission before introducing any bill that imposes any new tax or increases the rate of personal income tax, corporation taxes, retail sales tax, employer health tax, gasoline or fuel tax or education property taxes. That is real taxpayer protection.
This act also proposes that beginning with the 2001-02 fiscal year, a deficit may only be run in extraordinary circumstances, such as a natural disaster or war.
Under normal circumstances this legislation proposes that the budget must balance. If not, there would be a personal financial penalty for the Premier and members of cabinet, with up to a 50% reduction in their executive council pay. We would be held accountable.
This bill is not unreasonable. It simply proposes that governments do what average working families do every day across Ontario: balance their budgets, pay their debts and spend within their means.
Spending within government's means does not mean simply raising taxes or taking away even more money from families' take-home pay. Ontarians deserve more. They deserve better.
Each of us who pays our taxes - those of us in this Legislature and the working men and women of this great province - would much rather our tax dollars be spent on health or education or children's services than on servicing a debt. Each of us would rather our children and our grandchildren not be held accountable for the debt of past generations.
The Taxpayer Protection and Balanced Budget Act is the toughest and most comprehensive of its kind in all of Canada. Ontario deserves no less.
Mr Gerry Phillips (Scarborough-Agincourt): I'm pleased to respond to the bill. I'll start by pointing out that Mike Harris still hasn't balanced a budget. He's not going to balance a budget, I gather, tomorrow. It will be March 31, 2001, before Harris will balance a budget. Quebec will have beat Ontario by two years. Newfoundland will have beat Ontario by two years. Every province in Canada except BC will have balanced budgets.
The last time a Conservative government balanced a budget, the people of Ontario should be aware, was 1969. Premier Harris was in the cabinet through the early 1980s. He never came close to balancing a budget, so an election must be close at hand. I think Ontario understands that. In the next few days Harris will bring in this balanced budget legislation but he hasn't come close to balancing a budget.
I remember in the last election that great photo opportunity of Mike Harris promising balanced budget legislation immediately. I remember that picture. All the candidates were very proud of it. Now we find it's going to be March 31, 2001, before there's a balanced budget.
I want to go on to talk a little bit about the debt. I don't think Ontarians appreciate that Mike Harris has added 25% to the debt of the province of Ontario. He's had his hands on the financial reins now for about four years. The way you find that number is to simply look in the budget. When he became Premier the debt of the province was $88 billion; now it's $110 billion. He's added 25% to the debt of the province of Ontario.
I realize that Mike Harris says the tax cut is very helpful. We have had to borrow every single penny for the tax cut: $9.6 billion. Where does that number come from? From the government's own budgets. They lay out the lost revenue for all the tax cuts. We have lost $9.6 billion of revenue. There's no magic to this. Harris goes out and borrows $9.6 billion for the tax cut. Ontarians have paid $800 million just to service the increased debt as a result of the tax cut.
I know people at home are saying, "I like the tax cut," but we've had to borrow every single penny for that. My background is business and I guarantee you that there'd be no bank in Canada that would loan this company called Ontario money to give itself a dividend when it's still running significant deficits.
We have the legislation. Ontario should recognize that in 1995 Harris signed this pledge: Immediately he'd have balanced budget legislation. We now find it will be March 31, 2001, before the budget is balanced. We have seen 25% added to the debt of the province. We find that we still don't have a balanced budget and I gather, as I say, it will not be this coming fiscal year, it's going to be the following year. Quebec will have beaten Ontario by two years. We have had to, as I say, borrow every single penny in order to fund the tax cut. So we find legislation introduced that was promised to the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. I remember they held a huge press conference for Mike Harris because he said, "I'll introduce this legislation immediately."
What we're finding is that as the election comes around Mike Harris is now saying, "I made a mistake on cutting $870 million out of the hospital budget." It has caused dramatic problems to our health care system. We're paying the price for that. He has acknowledged that he has caused turmoil in the education system, but it is too late. He has caused that turmoil in the education system.
We now find that we have had to borrow to pay for the tax cut. He has added 25% to the debt of the province of Ontario. I think Ontarians realize that here we are on the eve of an election, and Harris has now added enormously to the debt of the province. He's gone out and borrowed all the money for the tax cut and we finally get something he promised four years ago: balanced budget legislation.
Ontarians are not going to be fooled. This is the same old Mike Harris who has caused so much turmoil in Ontario.
Mr Howard Hampton (Rainy River): It's interesting to see that the government is trying this same old phony announcement again. They tried this phony announcement just before Christmas, and then through their own ineptitude they killed their own bill on the order paper. Now they're going to introduce it and never pass it.
I listened to the Chair of Management Board's words today lecturing people on fiscal rectitude. Is this the same party that has put Leslie Noble on the payola like never before? Is this the same party that's taken care of Tom Long? Is this the same party that's taken care of Mr Trbovich? Public money at the trough for Conservative friends? Now you're lecturing someone?
Is this the same government that wants to give $188 million to Andersen Consulting so they can go around the province attacking the poorest people in the province? The auditor says it is the most blatant government contract he's ever seen put out. Is this the government that wants to pay off its friends, Cara Operations, with an additional $2 million of taxpayers' money?
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Come to order, please.
The Speaker: And Lake Nipigon.
Mr Hampton: Is this the same government that's going to payola its friends, Cara Operations, with an additional $2 million? Anyone who has looked at the contract can't justify it.
This government that believes public money is nothing more than a trough for Conservative Party hacks and Conservative Party friends: You're going to lecture people on fiscal rectitude?
They talk about balance and balanced budgets. We want to ask about the balance. Where's the balance when our hospital and health care system is a billion dollars behind where it needs to be, where hospitals have had to rack up a debt of $1.7 billion because of this government's underfunding? Where is the balance when municipalities across the province are trying to figure out what they are going to do as a result of this government's downloading, first, and then ridiculously stupid tax changes, second?
I have a small municipality in my riding of 4,500 people that is $1 million behind the eight ball because of this government's downloading and financial ineptitude. The community of Atikokan has no idea how a government could stick them with $1 million in two years and then walk away and talk about fiscal and financial rectitude.
Is this the government that is leaving behind chaos in the education system, special education which is underfunded, children with special needs who can't get the help they need?
Is this the government that says they can afford more tax cuts and meanwhile children's mental health gets no attention whatsoever and children's treatment centres are strictly left out of the picture?
Is this the government that's going to talk about balance when colleges and universities in Ontario now are funded at virtually the lowest level per capita in North America? Every other province in Canada funds their colleges and universities on a more generous basis per capita than Ontario, even poor provinces like Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island. In the North American context, Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Arkansas invest more in post-secondary education on a per capita basis than this outfit.
Then we have the environment, Ontario now with the reputation of being one of those places where, if you've got a mess and you want to ship it somewhere to hide it, to bury it, ship it to Ontario, because Ontario will take it.
Today we have the disclosure that this government is so attentive to housing policy that we've now got a shortage of 64,000 units in the province in terms of people who need housing but can't get it.
To listen to a lecture about financial balance from this government, which is going to leave behind environmental deficits, health deficits, education deficits and social deficits, makes you want to run for the bathroom. The reality is that the only balance in their picture is this: They've got lots of money for tax cuts for the well-off, and they've got even more money for their friends at the trough. That's your definition of balance.
I say to my Liberal friends, you like to complain about the tax cuts, but you won't -
The Speaker: Thank you.
The Speaker: Member for Hamilton East, thank you. Member for Lake Nipigon, don't argue with me.
Mr Mike Colle (Oakwood): I'd like to ask a question of the Acting Premier, whoever that is today. Mr Hodgson? Acting Premier, I want to talk to you about a backroom deal your government has just endorsed. It's one of the most blatant backroom deals we've seen in recent years, and it's costing Ontario taxpayers $3 million. It deals with Ontario Place. They decided to look for a $50-million food services contract. You would think the best bid would win, but it didn't happen. In fact, one of the bidders, Vincent Ciaravino, said: "The rules were changed to suit someone's purpose, and that was wrong. I was basically tossed out on my ear so the big guys could come in. The whole thing stinks." This is what one of the bidders said.
In this contract here, despite what the general manager of Ontario Place, Max Beck, said and despite what the experts said, your appointed hacks to the Ontario Place board overruled the experts, fired the general manager for objecting and signed a deal that was $3 million short for the taxpayer.
Hon Chris Hodgson (Chair of the Management Board of Cabinet, Minister of Northern Development and Mines): It's my understanding that the deputy minister for the Ministry of Economic Development, Trade and Tourism has had his officials fully involved in the selection process and that he has indicated the process conformed with and adhered to all government contracting guidelines.
It's also my understanding that the deputy minister has indicated that the preferred provider's proposal was absolutely in the best interests of the taxpayers in every respect.
It is my understanding that the board chair declared his conflict and did not vote and did not comment on the selection of the preferred proponent.
These are the facts as I understand them. If members of the opposition have any information to indicate otherwise, I would invite them to bring it forward so it can be reviewed.
Mr Colle: Minister, let me again be clear on what has happened. The bid your Tory hacks on the Ontario Place board overruled is $3 million short for the taxpayers. It so happens that the chairman of the board, Mr Jim Ginou, is a golfing buddy and chief fundraiser for your party. Would that have something to do with the fact that the Ontario Place consultant and the general manager were overruled, in light of this $3-million shortcoming for the Ontario taxpayer? Is that why the experts and the general manager were overruled?
Hon Mr Hodgson: As I mentioned before, it's my understanding the deputy minister has indicated that the preferred provider's proposal was absolutely in the best interests of the taxpayers in every respect.
Mr Colle: Again, the experts hired by Ontario Place, the general manager and staff, said that this bid that was put forward by your friends at Cara Operations - I'll quote from the consultant: This is "about the weakest presentation and weakest effort that we have seen in our 14 years of operating in this industry."
You tell me how this weak proposal that was $3 million short got the nod from your hacks at Ontario Place. Will you tell me why you won't ask or call for an inquiry to see why they got this sweetheart deal? Why don't we have an inquiry and see who's really right?
Hon Mr Hodgson: As I've mentioned before, and as I've presented to this House already, those are the facts as I understand them. If members of the opposition have any information to indicate otherwise, I invite them to bring it forward so it can be reviewed.
Mrs Sandra Pupatello (Windsor-Sandwich): My question is to the same minister, the Acting Premier. The Ontario Place contract is not the first time we've seen taxpayers' money go to the elitists of Ontario, the friends of Mike Harris. We'd like to also mention people like Leslie Noble, the Common Sense Revolution writer, who walked away from Ontario Hydro with a consulting fee of $91,000, and we can't find what she did for that; Tom Long, the Tory campaign manager, author, key strategist - $250,000 of taxpayers' money from Ontario Hydro. Part of his job was to write speeches at the cost of $650 an hour. How about Paul Rhodes, the director of propaganda for the Premier, receiving $225,000, again from Ontario Hydro, for producing a 10-page fax?
Acting Premier, could you stand in your place today and explain to the taxpayers of Ontario, how do you rationalize that kind of largesse for Mike Harris's friends at the expense of everyday people in Ontario?
Hon Mr Hodgson: I understand that the opposition's intent is to throw mud against the wall and hope some of it will stick, but if not, at least they've got their message out. All those allegations you're raising have been raised before. There have been explanations and answers given. It's important to remember that this government has come in and cleaned up a lot of the duplication, waste and inefficiency in the government. We are open to looking for new ways to find efficiencies that benefit the taxpayers. A lot of change has taken place.
Mrs Pupatello: Acting Premier, let me list a few more for you: Bill Farlinger, a key Harris loyalist, in a $300,000 position at Ontario Hydro as his payback for being the loyalist. That's in addition to $138,000 in expenses per year.
Let me go on. Jim Ginou, mentioned earlier, a key Tory fundraiser, a top dog at Ontario Place, is also the chair of the Toronto Olympic bid, with co-chair, another Tory Harris pal, Steve Hudson. Barbara Minogue, Mike's best friend, now sits as co-chair of the Charitable Gaming Allocation Working Group, responsible for doling out $100 million of charity money across Ontario.
Mike Harris is like Robin Hood in reverse. I'd like you to stand in your place today and explain to the taxpayers of Ontario how you rationalize this largesse for the elite of Ontario and Mike Harris's friends at the expense of everyday people who need hospitals and schools.
Hon Mr Hodgson: I would just caution you to think twice before you impugn the reputation of people and companies that have had good reputations in this province, have worked hard on behalf of the people of Ontario and taken on some tremendous responsibilities and brought about a lot of positive change to this great province.
Mrs Pupatello: Everyone's acknowledged that Bill Farlinger is in a ceremonial position at Ontario Hydro in an enormous salary position, in addition to a huge level of expenses every year. But let me go on. As payback you're stacking every board and committee in Ontario with the Mike Harris friends. You are spending taxpayers' money in a sense that no one would ever have believed of you, especially you because you said you were different. You said you wouldn't waste taxpayers' money. Instead you're spending $100 million on propaganda advertising for a re-election campaign for Mike Harris, not to mention $180 million on Andersen Consulting with the lid completely off on excess expenses.
To the Acting Premier today, I want you to stand in your place and answer the question for everyday people: How do you explain this kind of largesse at taxpayers' expense when everyday people need hospitals and children need textbooks in schools? How do you rationalize this kind of expense at the cost of the taxpayer?
Hon Mr Hodgson: The member is correct to state that this government has taken taxpayers' money and is managing it in a more responsible fashion than previous governments. She brings up the example of advertising. I would challenge you to compare our total spending on advertising versus your total when you were in power. You'll find that we've saved the taxpayers over $100 million from your spendthrift ways.
Mr Howard Hampton (Rainy River): My question is for the Minister of Housing. Today, we have a new study by co-op and non-profit housing providers that shows that thanks to your government, more Ontarians than ever before are staring at the abyss of homelessness. Your government cancelled co-op and not-for-profit housing. You said the private sector would build housing. The fact of the matter is that private developers haven't built the housing. We need 80,000 units of new housing over the next five years. The private sector is only prepared to build 6,000. The private sector won't build, can't build and isn't interested in building housing for modest and lower-income families. Your income tax reductions for the well off haven't helped lower- and middle-income families. How do you expect them to find housing? Do you have another promise to give them?
Hon Al Leach (Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing): We probably could do a whole lot more with housing if we had the use of some of the $9 billion that went on their housing boondoggle over the past five years. This report, Where's Home? was prepared by the same people who were at the trough for all of those years. I think all they want to do is create a situation where they can get back to the trough.
For example, let's just use some of the numbers they've used in the report to see what a bad-news story we have here: city of Kitchener, 1989-94, rent increases of 17%, under their watch; 1994-98, rent increases of 6% while we had inflation of 7% from 1994-98 - not a bad-news story. Let's pick another one here: North Bay - lovely town - vacancy rate, 5.8%; rent increases, 1994-98, 3%, inflation 7% - another good-news story. Thanks for the report.
Mr Hampton: Four years ago we said this minister he was completely lost and four years later we're able to confirm that.
The question was, we need 80,000 units of affordable housing in this province. The private sector is not building it. This means that on top of the families that are now homeless we're going to see more homeless families.
I have a copy of the current issue of Canadian Business magazine. On the cover it says, "Meet Your Next Landlord: Boardwalk's Sam Kolias is taking over Canada, apartment by apartment."
Inside we learn that Mr Kolias has $1 billion and he intends to buy up lots of apartments in Hamilton, London and Ottawa and that he then wants to use your rent decontrol act to dramatically increase the rent. On the apartments this gentleman owns in western Canada he increased the rents by 15% last year.
Minister, what's going to happen to those modest-income families, lower-income families and middle-income families if this is your only plan for housing in Ontario?
Hon Mr Leach: That is why we kept the rent control guidelines in place, so we could protect tenants while they're in their homes, and we will continue to do that.
I know nothing of the magazine the leader of the third party was holding up. If someone has $1 billion to invest in Ontario, they're certainly welcome. Any time somebody has $1 billion that they want to invest in the fastest-growing province in the country, the fastest-growing community in all of North America, $1 billion is a welcome investment. I hope he gets here in a hurry, and we'll have rules and regulations to ensure that tenants continue to be protected regardless of who owns their building.
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Final supplementary.
Mr Rosario Marchese (Fort York): Minister, your government's wilful neglect borders on social criminality. That's what it is. I've got to tell you the real answer: real rent controls and a program that builds non-profit housing and co-operative housing. That's the real answer to the problem. That's what we propose instead of your plan for homelessness.
We've got to stop people like Sam Kolias before he creates more homelessness. In Hamilton and Ottawa, two of the communities Mr Kolias is targeting, over 20% of tenants already pay over 50% of their income in rent. That's the reality and that means those people are in danger of being homeless.
He laughs. The question to you and your government, Minister, is this: Do you want to stop people like Sam Kolias or do you want to see more people out on the street?
Hon Mr Leach: I'd like to quote a little bit more out of the report, in response to the member for Fort York, and just what a terrible situation the province is in.
In Ottawa, 1989 to 1994, while the NDP was in power, rent increased by 27%. Then the Conservatives came to power. From 1994 to 1998, rent increased by 2%. During that same period, inflation was 7%. Is that an isolated incident? I don't think so.
Let's talk about Peterborough, another example they show as to how things have gone to hell in a handbasket. Vacancy rate in Peterborough, 4.9% - quite a healthy vacancy rate. The rent for a two-bedroom in 1998 increased from 1994 by only 4% while inflation again was 7%.
Your own report, produced by the people who were responsible for the boondoggle in the 1990s, shows that things are pretty good in Ontario today.
Mr Howard Hampton (Rainy River): My next question is for the Acting Premier. Over the last four years we've asked question after question about the appearance of conflict of interest, shady backroom deals and influence peddling in your government. Year after year, deal after deal, it keeps happening again and again.
We don't understand how it is that you have no money for hospitals, no money for colleges and universities, no money to protect the environment, but when it comes to rewarding Conservative Party friends, just open up the trough.
So we aren't surprised to hear about the fiasco at Ontario Place. What is surprising is this: When the Ontario Place board chair, Conservative Jim Ginou, was asked about his apparent conflict of interest, he is quoted as saying: "I have no interest in any particular one (company). So, I'm so conflicted, maybe I'm not conflicted." In other words, he has so many interests in so many different companies, he's so conflicted that he doesn't feel he's conflicted any more. Is that your definition of "conflict of interest," Minister?
Hon Chris Hodgson (Chair of the Management Board of Cabinet, Minister of Northern Development and Mines): First of all, the premise is completely wrong. This government has had the courage to cut taxes and create growth in the economy, and with more people working we've had more dollars to invest into health care and into classroom education. That's a point that he has been totally wrong on and is consistent on. He is opposed to every tax cut to create this growth and this reinvestment into health and into education.
In response to his overall other allegation that he's misguided on, it's my understanding that the board chair declared his conflict and did not vote and did not comment on the selection of the preferred proponent.
Mr Hampton: You must be the only person in Ontario who believes that.
Minister, after four years of your government, I don't think the public is surprised that corporations can buy influence with your government. In fact, Cara operations, which is at the trough on this one, is number 13 in the top 30 corporate contributors to the Conservative Party. The least they gave in terms of money was $26,000 over the last two years.
But what the public would really be surprised to learn would be that you don't confine it just to your private sector friends, that you and cabinet ministers in your government actually go out there and solicit funds from school boards, from hospitals, ambulance services, municipalities, universities and colleges. In other words, it's like this: This government provides some funding to hospitals and municipalities and then they say to the hospital and municipality, "If you want more funding, you'd better show up at the Conservative fundraiser and you'd better write the cheque."
Minister, do you think it's appropriate that you and your cabinet colleagues not only, on the one hand, control the funding of hospitals and school boards, but on the other hand take political contributions from them?
Hon Mr Hodgson: In regard to the specific innuendo and allegations here, it's my understanding that the Deputy Minister of Economic Development, Trade and Tourism has had his officials fully involved in the selection process, and he has indicated that the process conformed with and adhered to all government guidelines. It is also my understanding that the deputy minister has indicated that the preferred provider's proposal was absolutely in the best interests of the taxpayers in every respect.
Mr Hampton: My first question was about a Conservative government hack who believes that if he's in so many conflicts of interest, then he's so conflicted that it's not really a conflict of interest. I didn't get an answer there.
The next part of this is that I've got a list here of municipalities, hospitals and ambulance associations that have all been making contributions to the Conservative Party and Conservative cabinet ministers. My point is this: You control the funding to these people. You're the government that has been saying to hospitals, "We're going to cut your funding." Now we find that Brock University, for example, has been contributing $1,600; Cambrian College of applied arts, $233; Niagara College of applied arts, $2,518; Metro Patient Transfer Services, $1,600; Scarborough General Hospital, $1,067. These are all contributions from public bodies.
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Question.
Mr Hampton: Is this appropriate, Minister, that public bodies - school boards, hospitals, colleges - should be contributing money to Conservative Party candidates, Conservative cabinet ministers -
The Speaker: Thank you. Minister?
Hon Mr Hodgson: I'll repeat it again for the member if he didn't think he got an answer: It is my understanding that the board chair declared his conflict and did not vote and did not comment on the selection of the preferred proponent.
In answer to his other statement, that colleges and some hospitals and others made contributions to the Conservative Party, I would remind him that political contributions are made to all parties by organizations of all types, of their own accord. So if they're saying they agree with the policies of our government and they want to see that continue, to build on the success we've seen in this province for the last four years and to make sure we stay on the right track, I think that's fine.
SERVICES FOR THE DISABLED
Mr Michael Gravelle (Port Arthur): I have a question for the Minister of Community and Social Services. Minister, I'm sure you remember my constituent Veronica Manuel, who's been struggling to keep her multi-disabled son, Dylan, at home. She wants him there because she loves him dearly and she truly believes that it is there that he'll continue to be cared for in a loving way. However, Ms Manuel has been faced with horrendous roadblocks by this government in her attempts to keep him at home and she's become worn down by the incredible inflexibility shown by this government.
But now another problem has emerged which may force Veronica to throw in the towel. Ms Manuel recently found work as a special education support worker. She was able to do this because Dylan spends the day in a multi-needs school in Thunder Bay. The problem is that Olsten Health Services, the private nursing service that visits Dylan at his school, say they will no longer provide the care he needs to stay at school.
Minister, there's no reason for them to deny him this care. Neither the school nor the CCAC can understand their refusal. My question to you is, will you intervene so that Dylan can receive the care he needs and enable Veronica to keep her beloved son at home?
Hon Janet Ecker (Minister of Community and Social Services): I'll refer this question to the Minister of Long-Term Care.
Hon Cameron Jackson (Minister of Long-Term Care, minister responsible for seniors): I'd like to thank the honourable member opposite for his question. I'd like to inform the members of the House that at all times it is important and necessary to protect the privacy rights of this individual. Therefore, I cannot comment directly -
Hon Mr Jackson: The former leader of the Liberal Party implies that there is no such privacy law to protect the families.
The point I wish to share with the House is simply - first of all, I want to assure this House that under no circumstances is an agency allowed to withdraw services. Those decisions are made by community care access centres, all 43 in the province.
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Answer.
Hon Mr Jackson: Second, I want to assure all members of this House that there is a range of options which this government has pulled together to allow persons with disabilities -
The Speaker: Supplementary.
Mr Gravelle: The Minister of Community and Social Services should be ashamed. She should have answered it. She met with Veronica about a year ago and did nothing.
The real question here is, how can this be allowed to happen? How can a company obligated to provide the service deny it to Veronica and Dylan? You just wash your hands of responsibility once the contract is signed? Is this what privatization means?
Veronica does not want to give Dylan up to the children's aid society or anyone else, but she's exhausted, demoralized and simply worn out from all the battles she's had to fight. You and the Minister of Health and the Minister of Long-Term Care, all of you, need to accept responsibility for what will happen if Dylan cannot stay at school.
Minister, my question to you, again, is - and I pray you'll accept your responsibility here - will you guarantee that Dylan's needs will be met at school, and will you at least speak to Ms Manuel personally to let her know she'll continue to receive this service? It's the least you can do. The CCAC says there's no reason to refuse this service. That answer will not do.
Hon Mr Jackson: I want to make it very clear one more time to the member opposite that the community care access centres are prescribed under legislation in order to ensure that these services are in place. The province of Ontario -
The Speaker: Order. Minister?
Hon Mr Jackson: The services that families who have a disabled child in care receive is a basket of services provided from a series of ministries. This is very well known to the member opposite. The community care access centre provides home care, provides in-school service support. The Ministry of Community and Social Services provides additional support. The fact of the matter is that even in this province we allow individuals to receive the direct funding -
Hon Mr Jackson: The member opposite would like to learn something about -
Hon Mr Jackson: Mr Speaker, if he does not want the answer to this question I am endeavouring to share with him - this is an important issue and his level of understanding should be enhanced about this important case.
The Speaker: Minister?
Hon Mr Jackson: No government in Canada has a program which directly compensates a family member for the care of a child. That does not exist in our country. We do have direct funding to individuals with disabilities once they achieve their 16th birthday. That is a program our government has implemented. We will continue to review this file and many other of these important cases that are challenging families who are working with disabled children.
Ms Shelley Martel (Sudbury East): I have a question to the Minister of Natural Resources. We understand your ministry has produced a document regarding harvest allocations guidelines written by a John McNicol. The document is interesting, because it will allow forestry companies to clear-cut our forests far in excess of the 260 hectares which is now permitted as per the terms and conditions of the timber management environmental assessment. I will remind you, Minister, that those terms and conditions have the force of law.
We're also told that the MNR is directing forestry companies now to use the guidelines for their harvesting purposes, even though your ministry is refusing to release the document to the public.
Will you table these guidelines in the House today and will you confirm that your staff is indeed directing forestry companies to break the law by exceeding the clear-cut limits which are in place today?
Hon John Snobelen (Minister of Natural Resources): I thank the member opposite for the question. I can assure you that my ministry is not encouraging anyone to break the law in the province of Ontario.
Ms Martel: We know that planners for forestry companies have been told by MNR staff not to release the document to members of the public who are interested in forest management planning at the local level. We also know that several MNR regional directors have advised that this document cannot be released to the public until after the election. It appears that the clear-cut guidelines were created solely to buy the support of the forestry companies for your Lands for Life process. If that's true. Minister, then it means you've cut a sweetheart deal with the forestry companies, you're proposing to break the law to allow huge and illegal clear-cuts, and you're going to do that all at the expense of those of us who live in northern Ontario. Can you confirm, do the guidelines exist? Will you table them? And why are you prepared to break the law on clear-cuts in Ontario?
Hon Mr Snobelen: Let me assure the member opposite that we have absolutely no intention of breaking the law. I am sure the ministry would never counsel anyone to break the law. I believe her concerns are without substance.
I can say that we do have a new forestry accord, which you've mentioned. We do have a new agreement, which you've mentioned, that creates 378 new parks and protected areas in the province, something like six million acres now protected for future generations that weren't before.
Although there have been concerns expressed, I note that Tim Gray said this on the weekend:
"New Forest Accord Gives Public a Voice.... Yes, the Ontario forest industry is powerful, but for the first time the public is getting a better shot at having a meaningful say in our forest's future because of the forest accord," because of this government.
Mr Trevor Pettit (Hamilton Mountain): My question is for the Minister of Community and Social Services. I understand the number of people on social assistance in Hamilton-Wentworth has declined. Would you please tell the House and my constituents high atop Hamilton Mountain how much of a decline there has been and how much this has saved the taxpayer?
Hon Janet Ecker (Minister of Community and Social Services): I'd be very pleased to answer the member's question, and I thank him for it.
I had the privilege of meeting with the Hamilton-Wentworth folks not too long ago, to meet one of the community agencies that have been successfully providing community placements for people on social assistance so they can get opportunities to become employed again. We have in Hamilton-Wentworth a wonderful record. They've done a superb job. There has been a 36% decline in the number of people who have been trapped on welfare in this region, which is clearly a tribute not only to the efforts of the regional staff but to our workfare program and to the economic growth in that region. That has saved $86 million for taxpayers there. Again, it's a win-win story all around.
It's very consistent with what we're seeing across the province as Ontario Works, our mandatory work-for-welfare program, has rolled out across the province. We have approximately 374,000 fewer people on welfare today than we did four years ago. We know that the majority of those individuals have left for jobs, and not just any jobs. They have left for jobs that are full-time and pay more than -
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Supplementary.
Mr Pettit: That's great news, and it's certainly beneficial for the taxpayers of Hamilton-Wentworth and the province. Minister, can you please tell us of other programs that the government has implemented that will help even more people move off welfare?
Hon Mrs Ecker: We've had great success in getting folks from welfare into jobs to date. We've had about 12 people an hour leaving the welfare rolls.
As we have people with additional barriers to employment who need more help, we have our LEAP program, which is a program for teen parents on welfare that gives them additional supports and mandatory rules to keep them in school and to give them skills to be better parents.
In our Blueprint document, which is our vision for Ontario that we will be putting out to the people, we have talked about having even further programs; for example, remedial education for those who have literacy or basic skill problems with reading or math, and also for those with drug addiction problems. That is another barrier to employment, and we will be dealing with that through special mandatory addiction programs.
Our goal is to get people off welfare and into paid jobs. We've had great success to date. We know we need to do an even better job and we're prepared to do that, unlike the opposition parties, which fought us every step of the way.
Mrs Lyn McLeod (Fort William): My question is for the Minister of Education. The parents of children attending Gorham and Ware school in the Thunder Bay district have been given a rather incredible challenge. They've been told that they have a month to find a community solution to avoid having 50 students from their rural school bused into the city to fill up vacant spaces in the downtown core.
This is not a school being closed; it is a school community being divided. It is a direct result of your rigid and inflexible funding formula that demands that all vacant spaces anywhere in a school district, even one as large as the district served by the Lakehead Board of Education, have to be filled before there is any funding given for new pupil spaces.
Minister, I ask you today, what would you advise these parents? Would they agree, do you think, to having some of their children bused into the city's schools out of their own community, or would you have a better alternative to suggest to them that would be a community solution?
Hon David Johnson (Minister of Education and Training): As in all cases of this nature where school boards have authorities and have responsibilities to make decisions within their communities, I would advise the parents and the school council members, for example, but all members of the community, to work with the local officials, the school board elected trustees, the staff at the school board, to make the best possible decision for the children. That's really what the bottom line is: making the best decision for education in all of our communities, whether it's Thunder Bay or anywhere else in the province.
Communities across Ontario are working with each other to ensure not only the best quality education in terms of the curriculum etc, but in terms of accommodation, and I would suggest that the parents do that in Thunder Bay.
Mrs McLeod: You know full well that the board of education in the Lakehead has no alternative at all. They are already closing schools in the city. They can't close them fast enough to fill up all of the spaces so that they will ever get any new money to put an addition on a rural school that's bursting at the seams.
The problem with this school is that those children are in a portable that has mould. The children have to be moved, and you're not providing any money to fix the problem of mouldy portables either, so the board has no alternative to keep the children in that school. The parents of Gorham and Ware school are considering an alternative. They are considering building their own addition, doing the work themselves to make sure their school can house all of the children in their community.
Minister, you, because of your formula, are absolutely refusing any other alternative to be considered, so I ask you: Will you scrap the formula? Will you give the Lakehead board and other boards the flexibility and the money they need to be able to keep children in their community school so that this school doesn't have to be split up? Or do you think the parents should build their own school?
Hon David Johnson: To the Lakehead District School Board, and I guess that's the board in question, the ministry has provided almost $100 million this year for various purposes, including over $1.5 million for school renewal to deal with situations within the schools that need to be attended to in maintenance repair activities.
School boards have various options in terms of funding additions or new schools. Our funding formula will fund 200 new schools in Ontario over the next couple of years, and that is unprecedented in the province of Ontario through Liberals years, through NDP years, over the last many years. We are endeavouring to be as fair as possible through the funding formula for all the needs of all the students in Ontario.
ONTARIO HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION
Mr Peter Kormos (Welland-Thorold): I have a question to the Minister of Citizenship. Last week, as she knows, the Ombudsman released her final report on the timeliness, or non-timeliness, of the Ontario Human Rights Commission's investigative process. That report was a damning indictment. The Ombudsman found not only that the problem is worsening, but that your cuts, all to finance the tax giveaway for your wealthy friends, have seriously undermined the enforcement of human rights in Ontario.
Now we've learned that the support staff in Ontario Human Rights Commission regional offices have received pre-notice of layoff. You are eliminating all the support positions outside of Toronto and effectively closing those offices to the public.
Minister, how is firing support staff going to make things run smoother or any faster?
Hon Isabel Bassett (Minister of Citizenship, Culture and Recreation): First of all, I want to make it clear that this government, since we took office, has maintained the $11.2-million budget of the Ontario Human Rights Commission. We say and we believe that if human rights are to be preserved and protected in Ontario, we must have an efficient system for managing Human Rights Code complaints. It is fundamental.
That said, in order to keep abreast of the times - after all, I say to the honourable member opposite, we are in 1999, approaching the millennium - we must keep updated. To that end, we have taken over a system that was outdated in many ways in terms of its lack of computerized records, and we now have a centralized, one-window service for inquiry, referral and intake -
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Answer.
Hon Ms Bassett: - and a highly successful mediation service that has speeded up complaints.
To that extent, we have had to look at some of the offices -
The Speaker: Supplementary.
Mr Kormos: Minister, this sounds oh so much like your colleague the Attorney General when he was trying to defend his gross mismanagement, his negligent mishandling of the family support plan. Please don't leave here with the same blemish that he will.
Don't tell us about your support for the commission. The Ombudsman made it very clear: Your cuts mean more and more people won't bother going to the commission, because they're not going to be serviced. These are people who are facing discrimination in this province. In communities like Timmins, London, Hamilton and Thunder Bay, if a person goes to their local Human Rights Commission office to get some advice or make a complaint, they get confronted by a locked door, and they already have to wait over half an hour. Try calling the number, please, to speak to someone at your 1-800 number.
Once again, we saw what happened when your government shut down regional offices for the family support plan. It created chaos and misery for thousands of people. When are you going to stand up for human rights in this province and stop the slashing of this essential service in our communities?
Hon Ms Bassett: We are standing up for human rights in this province. When people lodge a complaint today, compared to when you were in office, I might say, (1) 50% of all new cases that are closed are resolved by mediation; (2) 70% of complaints going to mediation are resolved quickly, usually within six months of the complaint being filed, and that's a lot better, I can say to the member opposite, than happened in your day; (3) 60% of all complaints filed are resolved within six months; and (4) for the third year in a row, more complaints were resolved than were filed. In other words, we are digging into the backlog that I inherited when I became minister.
Thank you for the question so I can set the record straight.
Mr Joseph N. Tascona (Simcoe Centre): My question is for the Chair of Management Board. I spent the weekend in my riding consulting with many constituents.
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Member for Simcoe Centre.
Mr Tascona: Thank you, Mr Speaker.
It seems that everywhere you go these days people are fed up with the amount of taxes they pay each year to government. The feedback I received came from many diverse sources: small business owners, middle-class families and single mothers with young kids, just to name a few. Their call is universal: They appreciate the benefit they received from our 30% cut to provincial income tax and they want to see more.
I was happy to inform my constituents that our party's platform, Blueprint, contains good news on the tax-cut front for many hard-working Ontarians.
Can you provide my constituents with detail on the proposed tax cuts?
Hon Chris Hodgson (Chair of the Management Board of Cabinet, Minister of Northern Development and Mines): It's a very good question and very relevant.
The Mike Harris government's track record on tax cuts is very clear, as you and maybe some of your constituents are aware: 69 tax cuts in four years, including a 30% personal income tax cut six months ahead of schedule. As you will recall, two thirds of the personal income tax cut has gone to the low- and middle-income earners with annual incomes between $25,000 and $75,000. The lowest-income earners received a tax break of just under 50%, and 140,000 more low-income earners now pay no income tax at all. That's great news for Ontario.
Our tax cuts have resulted in the creation of 540,000 net new jobs in just four short years, ahead of schedule to meet our goal of 725,000 over five years.
Blueprint: Mike Harris' Plan to Keep Ontario on the Right Track offers even further tax relief to grow our economy, to create more wealth to put into services that the Ontarian people deserve and need, like health care and education. It's only through tax cuts that create a strong economy that you'll have the dollars to provide for those priority services.
The Speaker: Supplementary.
Mr Tascona: I think you'll agree that it's clear that our Premier, Mike Harris, is firmly committed to continuing to lower Ontarians' tax burden. It takes strong leadership to stand up to the special interests and cut taxes to grow our economy and create jobs. It's equally clear that Dalton McGuinty is a weak leader who lacks the strength to put the needs of middle-class Ontarians ahead of the special interests, ahead of the union bosses. Can you tell me what Dalton McGuinty's position on tax is?
Hon Mr Hodgson: Another good question. I think it's pretty clear that our Blueprint to keep Ontario on the right track, to build on the success of the last four years, recognizes, along with just common sense, that the tax cuts have created a strong economy and create the growth needed to reinvest and to put more emphasis and dollars into health care and education.
We know quite clearly what the NDP's position is. The NDP, to their credit, have been quite honest and forthcoming. They believe, and they're quite clear about it, in higher taxes. They've made that abundantly clear.
The question you're asking is, what is the Liberal position on this? I think if you take a look at the quotes of the Liberal leader, he said that this province can't handle more tax cuts. That was in the Toronto Sun, April 30. "I'm not in favour of a tax break." Another quote: "I wouldn't give you a tax cut."
I think the bottom line is, the Blueprint that Mike Harris is offering Ontarians to keep them on the right track and build on the success of the last four years offers a 20% personal income tax reduction combined with -
The Speaker: New question.
Mr Dominic Agostino (Hamilton East): My question is to the Minister of Health. We have a serious situation in Hamilton in regard to waiting lists for cataract surgery and a shortage of facilities and physicians to perform them. There are currently 10 physicians who perform an average of 40 surgeries a week. Right now there's a waiting list of about 2,000 people and an average waiting time of about 12 months in Hamilton-Wentworth for cataract surgery. You've moved and made the political decision to address the problem in Burlington because of pressure, obviously, from your minister or colleague there. You have addressed that to some degree. Clearly, the same level of political influence is not there in Hamilton with the Tory backbenchers, because Hamilton has been ignored.
We're talking about 2,000 people, 12 months, many seniors in a community next door and you have failed to act. A simple question: Do you believe it's acceptable today in Ontario, under your government's policies and cuts, that senior citizens have to wait up to 12 months for cataract surgery and 2,000 people are currently on this waiting list?
Hon Elizabeth Witmer (Minister of Health): I'll pass that to the minister.
Hon Cameron Jackson (Minister of Long-Term Care, minister responsible for seniors): I want to advise the member opposite that this government has been working very hard to expand access to new services. It's interesting that the member from Hamilton is now standing on his feet trying to explain away the fact that it was his political party that refused to go after the federal government to repatriate the $2.8 million they clawed back. It was Mike Harris and this Minister of Health who said we were going to put the additional $900 million directly towards front-line surgery.
I want to advise the member opposite that this government has worked actively with the OMA to improve access to cataract surgeries by making sure that we have enough ophthalmologists who are moving to underserviced areas. This government has already put in place an opportunity for them to rise above their current cap in order that they can perform more surgeries. All these have been put in place to improve access to cataract surgery, not only in our region but across Ontario.
Mr Agostino: I'm surprised that the Premier announced a cabinet shuffle. We missed it, because I asked the question of the Minister of Health about eye surgery and she passed it on to the junior minister of health. I don't understand that.
Minister, again, let's go back to this: There was a political decision made to give special services and special consideration to Burlington. It was a political decision there with a waiting list. Then the Minister of Health ducks the question and turns it over to her colleague, who made an announcement on her behalf.
I want to go back to you, Minister. You are the Minister of Health. Last time I checked, cataract surgery and those types of services in hospitals fall under your jurisdiction, unless you've given that up to the other minister.
Let me go back to you again. There is a long waiting list: 2,000 people, 12 months. You've ignored it. You've done nothing about it. Clearly, political dealing has allowed Burlington to be given special consideration; Hamilton has not. You have treated the people of Hamilton as second-class citizens. You've ignored the needs of our seniors. You've ignored the needs of 2,000 people, who are waiting up to 12 months.
Again I want to ask you, since you are the minister and make those decisions, do you believe it's acceptable today that people have to wait 12 months for cataract surgery because of the lack of space, operating rooms and ophthalmologists in Hamilton?
Hon Mr Jackson: I'm surprised the member opposite is unaware that this province has put in place a program to deal with underserviced physician services. There is a process in which there is an application. In this instance, ophthalmologists from Halton region have made an application because there are insufficient numbers of physicians performing this important surgery. The fact that there is no application from Hamilton, to our knowledge, is the issue. The member opposite is trying to drive a wedge between the two communities.
The fact is that we have very good, capable, competent ophthalmologists operating in Hamilton and in Halton region. The truth is that we don't have enough of them. This government has moved to work co-operatively with the OMA in order to address the issues of raising the cap. We've moved co-operatively to deal with underserviced areas. The announcement you've referred to is no announcement at all. The government is processing that application, under appeal, and we're prepared to look at any opportunity we can to improve access to cataract surgery for seniors, not only in this region but any region in the province.
NATIVE FORESTRY ISSUES
Mr Howard Hampton (Rainy River): My question is for the Minister of Natural Resources. The minister will know that the community of Grassy Narrows, which is a First Nation in northwestern Ontario, has had some serious differences with your ministry and some serious differences with Abitibi-Consolidated forest products company. Abitibi-Consolidated wants to harvest the forest very close to the First Nation reserve boundary and within the First Nation's traditional territory. Members of the community have demonstrated publicly against this. They have written to you. The chief has written to you. They have asked you to intervene. They've asked you to meet with Abitibi-Consolidated and to act on their behalf to get Abitibi-Consolidated to move off of their proposed harvesting plan.
You have a responsibility to try to ensure that not only forest companies are able to operate but that other interests and other values are also protected. What are you prepared to do to assist this First Nation with the problem that has arisen?
Hon John Snobelen (Minister of Natural Resources): As the leader of the third party has indicated, the law is very clear on this in that certainly obligations to the First Nations and treaties have to be adhered to inside of these planning scenarios, and the companies which are involved in sustainable forest licences have to work, by law, with the First Nations and come to agreements. I'm sure that's what will happen in this case.
Mr Hampton: The fact of the matter is that members of the community have had to launch public protests. The fact of the matter is that they have written to you to try to get you to respond; you failed to do that. They have tried a number of avenues to get your attention and the attention of your officials, and they have tried a number of means to get the attention of Abitibi-Consolidated.
My question was, what are you prepared to do to not only protect the interests of the forest company but also to protect the trapping interests, the wildlife interests, the interests of this First Nations community? Is it going to take added protests? Is it going to take further demonstrations? Will it take the kind of event that happened at Aroland First Nation with respect to Buchanan Forest Products to get you to observe and to assume some responsibility for the other issues which also fall under the mandate of the Ministry of Natural Resources? What are you going to do in this instance, or is it going to take another protest, another demonstration such as Aroland?
Hon Mr Snobelen: The leader of the third party is perhaps uniquely aware of some of these disagreements that happen from time to time during sustainable forest licences. I think he would be aware of that. I believe he's aware of the fact that both the First Nation communities and the forest companies have a reputation for being able to solve these issues, being able to resolve these issues inside of the law, which is as prescribed.
I can tell the member opposite that we have, with the new forest accord, a new opportunity to bridge the needs of First Nations communities, the needs of the forest industry, the needs of the hunting and fishing communities and the needs of the public to make sure our natural resources are protected in the future.
This is a unique opportunity made possible by a very historic accord between these very diverse communities. We now have the opportunity to do that in the future, and I'm proud of that.
Mr Bart Maves (Niagara Falls): My question is for the Minister of Consumer and Commercial Relations. The economy in Ontario has undergone a renaissance under our government's term in office, with the creation of 540,000 net new jobs and 400,000 people off dependency and welfare. I'm proud to say that my region in Niagara has benefited greatly from this renaissance in this government's term in office. We've had a 50% reduction in our welfare load in our area. Our unemployment rate was 15.3% in 1993; it's down to 6.6%, leading Ontario and I'm very proud of that.
One of the areas that has helped very much in this job creation in our region is the wine industry. Last Thursday the House passed the Vintners Quality Alliance Act which you had reintroduced on the previous Monday. Minister, can you tell the House how this act will help the wine industry even more?
Hon David H. Tsubouchi (Minister of Consumer and Commercial Relations): To the credit of the Legislature, we passed the VQA legislation last week. This is a tool the wine industry very sorely needed to be competitive. As people know, the economic union in Europe has basically tried to block Ontario wines from access to the European markets. I suppose, in a way, that's a credit to our industry here, because if our wines didn't have the fine quality they did, I don't believe the European nations would be concerned at all about the competitiveness of the Ontario wine industry. As you probably know, it's not simply our icewines that are at the top of the world scale right now, but also we're winning gold medallions at places like Vinexpo in France, which is like the Olympics of wine; in Italy for our other wines as well.
This is a very valuable tool that they needed. As we all know, the European nations are throwing up all kinds of artificial barriers to keep wines out of Europe. This is one of them, this is the main one, and I really believe that because of my wine caucus who are heavily involved with this - Tim Hudak, Bart Maves, Tom Froese, Frank Sheehan and Jack Carroll - the work they've done with the wine industry has been an essential move for us to do this.
Mr Maves: Thank you very much, Minister. That is much appreciated. In the face of the lack of any kind of help from the federal Liberal government in trying to get our wines access into those foreign markets, the Ontario government has stepped in and taken this very wise and forward-looking step.
Another issue that we fought very hard for - myself, and as you mentioned in the wine caucus, Tom Froese, Tim Hudak and Frank Sheehan - for a little while now is the issue of allowing our wineries direct delivery to Ontario restaurants and bars. Greatly appreciated: You were in Niagara on Friday to announce that for the province of Ontario. I know it was very well received from the vintners and the grape growers of our region. Could you also explain how this will affect the wine industry in the province?
Hon Mr Tsubouchi: I thank the member for Niagara Falls for the question. As an example of some of the old policies that have been in place for a number of years, this one goes back past 10 years ago. Essentially it charged the cost to the wine industry for service provided. This was flagged by Frank Sheehan and the Red Tape Commission and was highly supported by the wine area caucus. If this can be considered a tax, I guess this is the number 70 tax this government has cut, which is very important.
Let not me talk about this; this is what the industry is talking about. The grape growers indicated that this policy will create 200 more jobs in the industry. Linda Franklin of the Wine Council of Ontario estimates that Ontario wineries will grow from about the current number right now, 30 wineries, to over 200 wineries, a great boost for the Niagara region. Len Pennachetti of Cave Spring Cellars said, and I'll close with this, "This government has done more for the wine industry in one day than any previous government during their entire term."
Mr James J. Bradley (St Catharines): This petition reads as follows:
"Whereas the major oil companies in Ontario have had a free rein to gouge consumers by raising prices together at the same time and by as much as 30 cents per gallon; and
"Whereas the Conservative government of Mike Harris has taken no meaningful actions to protect consumers from the practice of rising retail gas prices immediately before long weekends; and
"Whereas the Premier has refused to call the captains of the oil industry to account for uncompetitive pricing practices; and
"Whereas the provincial government has within its power and jurisdiction the power to take action against uncompetitive pricing policies by the big oil companies;
"Be it therefore resolved that the members of the Legislative Assembly support and pass quickly the predatory pricing bill introduced by the MPP for St Catharines to ensure that independent retailers are not driven out of business by the pricing practices of the major oil companies."
I affix my signature, as I'm in full agreement.
Mr Len Wood (Cochrane North): I have a petition here addressed to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario:
"We, the undersigned, petition the Legislative Assembly of Ontario in regard to the employment of Quebec residents in the company's woodlands department to transport our wood resources to the province of Quebec. The company's five-year plan is to ship 50% of its wood limit to Quebec in exchange for our wood resources. More employment will be created in the province of Quebec through the process of making finished products and transporting wood chips back to the company in Ontario, Abitibi-Consolidated."
This petition is signed by over 300 working men and women in the towns of Iroquois Falls, Timmins, Porquis Junction and throughout the north. I affix my signature to the petition.
Mr John O'Toole (Durham East): In the last few weeks I've been visiting a number of schools in my riding. We have an excellent education system in Ontario, but it came to my attention, when talking with Principal George Petrusma of Knox Christian School, and Fred Spoelstre from Durham Christian High School - they presented this petition to me and I'm pleased to present it:
"Whereas this government has undertaken to reform the system of education funding to ensure fair funding for Ontario's children; and
"Whereas the Supreme Court of Canada has stated that, `The province could, if it so chose, pass legislation extending funding to denominational schools other than Roman Catholic schools without infringing the rights guaranteed to Roman Catholic separate schools'; and
"Whereas providing our children with an excellent education consistent with our cultural and religious beliefs is a necessity and not a matter of preference; and
"Whereas independent schools successfully educate children across the entire spectrum of learning abilities and special needs; and
"Whereas all children of taxpaying Ontario parents deserve to have funding distributed in a manner that does not discriminate against those not using the public/Catholic systems;
"Therefore we, the undersigned citizens and taxpayers of Ontario, respectfully request that the government take immediate steps to extend fair funding to all students of the province."
I'm pleased to support this petition.
Mr James J. Bradley (St Catharines): I have a petition that reads as follows:
"Whereas essential public services have been deprived of government funding because the Conservative government of Mike Harris has diverted these funds to self-serving propaganda in the form of pamphlets delivered to homes, newspaper advertisements and radio and TV commercials;
"Whereas the Harris government advertising blitz is a blatant abuse of public office and a shameful waste of taxpayers' dollars;
"Whereas the Harris Conservatives ran on a platform of eliminating what it referred to as government waste and unnecessary expenditures while it squanders over $100 million on clearly partisan advertising;
"We, the undersigned, call upon the Conservative government and Mike Harris to immediately end their abuse of public office and terminate any further expenditure on political advertising."
I affix my signature, as I'm in full agreement with this petition.
Ms Shelley Martel (Sudbury East): I have a petition. It reads as follows:
"Our family is concerned about the future of Ontario's environment. We know that one-way plastic pop bottles and aluminum cans waste non-renewable resources and energy, create pollution, and 1.5 billion of them end up in a landfill or as litter every year in Ontario.
"We know that recycling the other half a billion of them is costing us too much money, and that our blue box program is suffering as a result. To try and save their recycling programs, hundreds of municipalities, representing over 80% of Ontario's population, have passed council resolutions in support of a deposit return system for beverage containers. We also know that a deposit-return system with refillable bottles works well all over the world and is possible for Ontario. We did it before and we can do it again. We ask you to support legislation to implement refillable bottles and a deposit-return system for Ontario."
This petition has been done by the grades 4 and 5 students at C.R. Judd public school in Capreol, and I want to thank them for their interest in this important matter.
Mr Joseph N. Tascona (Simcoe Centre): I have a petition to the Parliament of Ontario. It reads as follows:
"Whereas it is important to honour the courageous memory and sacrifices of Canada's war dead and of our veterans who fought in defence of our national rights and freedoms;
"Whereas there is a need for succeeding generations of young, school-age Canadians to learn more about the true meaning of Remembrance Day;
"Whereas Ontario veterans' associations have created excellent educational materials for use in Ontario schools on the meaning and significance of Remembrance Day;
"Whereas a special Remembrance Day curriculum for all grades in Ontario's education system, developed on the basis of the programs by Ontario veterans' associations and involving their direct participation, would increase awareness of, and appreciation for, Canada's wartime sacrifices in the hearts and minds of all Ontario citizens;
"Therefore we, the undersigned, petition the Parliament of Ontario as follows:
"That the provincial Ministry of Education and Training ensure that a suitable Remembrance Day learning unit be included in the curriculum of all grades of Ontario's education system."
There are hundreds of names on this petition brought forth by the Canadian Legion and also the army-navy. I'll affix my signature.
Mr Mike Colle (Oakwood): This petition for equity in education funding is from residents of the city of Toronto.
"Whereas the government of Ontario and all political parties represented in the Legislature strongly believe in a tolerant society in which religious and cultural differences are respected and services are provided without discrimination, as reflected in section 1 of the Human Rights Code;
"Whereas this government has undertaken to reform the system of education funding to ensure `fair funding' for the education of Ontario's children;
"Whereas the Supreme Court of Canada has confirmed that the province of Ontario has the power to extend funding to denominational schools;
"Whereas five other provinces - BC, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Quebec - provide public funding to denominational schools;
"Whereas Catholic parents in Ontario enjoy the right to educate their children in an education system" run by their community "consistent with Catholic values and fully supported by their education tax dollars;
"Whereas our education tax dollars are already used to support special education programs based on ethnicity, sexual orientation, as well as French immersion programs, without posing a threat to mainstream public education;
"Whereas experience shows that a system that in effect forces religious and cultural minority parents to educate their children in a secular school system threatens the continuity of many of these communities;
"Whereas providing our children with an appropriate education in a context consistent with our cultural and religious values is a necessity and not a matter of preference;
"Whereas denominational schools successfully educate children who are overwhelmingly from low- and middle-income Canadian families and representing the entire spectrum of learning ability and special needs;
"Whereas all parents in Ontario paying taxes for education deserve to have that funding distributed in a manner that does not discriminate against those who for conscientious reasons are unable to use the secular public education system;
"Therefore we, the undersigned citizens and taxpayers of Ontario, respectfully request that the Legislature and the government take immediate steps to extend equitable funding to denominational schools."
Mr Bob Wood (London South): I have a petition signed by 102 people from across the province.
"Whereas children are exposed to pornography in variety stores and video rental outlets;
"Whereas bylaws vary from city to city and have failed to protect minors from unwanted exposures to pornography;
"We, the undersigned, petition the Legislative Assembly of Ontario as follows:
"To enact legislation which will create uniform standards in Ontario to prevent minors from being exposed to pornography in retail establishments; prevent minors from entering establishments which rent or sell pornography; restrict the location of such establishments to non-residential areas."
Mrs Sandra Pupatello (Windsor-Sandwich): This is to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario.
"Whereas essential public services have been deprived of government funding because the Conservative government of Mike Harris has diverted these funds to self-serving political propaganda in the form of pamphlets delivered to homes, newspaper advertisements and radio and TV commercials;
"Whereas the Harris government advertising blitz is a blatant abuse of public office and a shameful waste of taxpayers' dollars;
"Whereas the Harris government ran on a platform of eliminating what it referred to as government waste and unnecessary expenditures while it squanders over $100 million on clearly partisan advertising;
"We, the undersigned, call upon the Conservative government of Mike Harris to immediately end their abuse of public office and terminate any further expenditure on political advertising."
I agree with this petition and I will be signing it.
FIRE IN HAMILTON
Mr David Christopherson (Hamilton Centre): I have a petition that reads as follows.
"To the Legislative Assembly of Ontario:
"Whereas two years ago Hamilton was the site of one of the worst environmental disasters in Ontario; and
"Whereas the Plastimet fire raged for three days in a residential area of Hamilton, releasing furans, large quantities of heavy metals and other dangerous chemicals, and consuming 400 tonnes of plastic, including polyvinyl chloride, PVC, which releases extremely toxic substances such as dioxins which are thought to cause cancer and disruptions to endocrine systems; and
"Whereas the city of Hamilton declared a state of emergency and a one-day evacuation of area residents because of fears about airborne toxins; and
"Whereas the government has cut funding to the Ministry of the Environment by more than 35%, and laid off over 750 people" who used to work to protect our environment; and
"Whereas we urgently need a public inquiry to find whether these cuts played a role in causing the Plastimet fire, whether the evacuation process was adequate, if residents and workers received adequate warning of the danger, are there ways to improve responses to these life-threatening fires, and how to prevent the nightmare of other Plastimet fires in all our communities; and
"Whereas for the past two years the Harris government has steadfastly refused to hold such a public inquiry or listen to municipalities, labour organizations, environmental groups and firefighter organizations who have all urged the government to hold a public inquiry; and
"Whereas the Harris government has allowed corporate polluters like Plastimet to operate with virtual impunity in a climate of deregulation, or industry self-regulation, along with cuts to monitoring and enforcement mechanisms;
"Therefore we, the undersigned, petition the Legislative Assembly of Ontario to put the health and safety of the people of Hamilton before the interests of corporate polluters, and immediately hold a full public inquiry into the Plastimet fire."
I continue to support my constituents by adding my name to their petition.
Mr Bill Grimmett (Muskoka-Georgian Bay): I have a petition that I'd like to present today. It has been signed by 58 people from my riding. Rather than read the petition, I will instead comply with the standing orders and just summarize it by saying that the people signing this have asked that a suitable Remembrance Day learning unit be included in the curriculum of all grades of Ontario's education system.
I submit this petition today.
Mr James J. Bradley (St Catharines): The petition reads as follows:
"Whereas the Minister of Education took more than $1 billion out of Ontario's education system at a time when there was increasing consensus on the importance of supporting our schools and classrooms; and
"Whereas per pupil funding in the province of Ontario now ranks below other jurisdictions, such as Georgia, Kentucky, Missouri and Nebraska; and
"Whereas the Mike Harris government has now embarked upon a new advertising campaign which will cost the taxpayers of Ontario millions of dollars; and
"Whereas the Mike Harris commercial does not constitute an important public announcement and instead is clearly an abuse of public funds, because," as is the case with all of these commercials, "they are self-serving political messages which are designed to influence public opinion; and
"Whereas the Mike Harris government could cancel the advertising campaign and use the millions of dollars which belong to the taxpayers of Ontario for the purchase of 40,000 textbooks," or thousands of educational employees to be hired, or on new equipment;
"Therefore we, the undersigned, call on the Mike Harris government to cancel its blatantly partisan, self-serving political advertising campaign and redirect the taxpayers' millions of dollars to classroom funding."
I affix my signature, as I'm in complete agreement with the sentiments expressed in this petition.
Mr Toni Skarica (Wentworth North): "Whereas this government has undertaken to reform the system of education funding to ensure fair funding for Ontario's children; and
"Whereas the Supreme Court of Canada has stated that the province could, if it so chose, pass legislation extending funding to denominational schools other than Roman Catholic schools without infringing the rights guaranteed to Roman Catholic separate schools; and
"Whereas providing our children with an excellent education consistent with our cultural and religious beliefs is a necessity and not a matter of preference; and
"Whereas independent schools successfully educate children across the entire spectrum of learning abilities and special needs; and
"Whereas all children of taxpaying Ontario parents deserve to have funding distributed in a manner that does not discriminate against those not using the public Catholic systems;
"Therefore we, the undersigned citizens and taxpayers of Ontario, respectfully request that the government take immediate steps to extend fair funding to all students of the province."
I have hundreds of petitions with thousands of signatures, and I affix my signature as well.
Mr Howard Hampton (Rainy River): This is an opposition day motion:
That this House declares its opposition to the Mike Harris income tax cuts, which put $4.1 million a day into the pockets of the top 6% of Ontario taxpayers, who unfairly receive 25% of the tax cut, and urges that this money be reinvested immediately in hospitals, schools, colleges and universities, environmental protection, housing and other vital services.
The Deputy Speaker (Mr Bert Johnson): Mr Hampton moves opposition day number 1. I recognize the member for Rainy River.
Mr Hampton: The first thing I want to note is that, as the opposition motion was written, there was a typographical error. What was written was $1.4 million a day." It should be $4.1 million a day. That is in fact the amount of money that is taken out of hospitals, schools, colleges, universities and communities on a daily basis in order to fund the Harris government's tax cut for the most well-off 6% of people in this province. The reality is that when you sit down and do the math on this government's 30% tax cut, 6% of the people who are at the top of the income and wealth ladder receive over 25% of the money. They receive $4.1 million a day, which is being cut from these very important health, education and community services. It works out to $1.5 billion a year.
Middle- and modest-income families, on the other hand, receive very little, if any, benefit from this income tax scheme. In fact, if you travel across the province and you talk to middle- and modest-income families and you say to them, "What did you get from the tax cut?" most of them look at you as if to say, "What tax cut?" Many others will guffaw and will say, "Well, whatever it was, it disappeared a long time ago." That's because, for lower-income families, there was no income tax cut. There are frankly more and more user fees, copayment fees, administrative fees, tuition fees, property taxes and higher rent, so that anything they were supposed to receive out of this so-called tax cut has been more than overwhelmed by all of the new hidden taxes, all of the user fees, copayment fees, administrative fees, higher rents, what have you.
For middle-income families, it may be a wash in some cases; that is, what you put out in the new tuition fees, what you pay in the higher property taxes, what you pay in prescription medicine copayment fees might balance out with what you were supposed to get from the income tax cut. But even there, if you're a family and you have two children, two young people, in college or university, you're left trying to figure out: "This is what I was supposed to get from the tax cut, but tuition fees have increased by more than $1,600 a year, so the tax cut would have to give me $3,200 a year just to pay the tuition fees," not to mention the increases in property taxes, not to mention all of the other copayment fees and user fees that have been placed on middle- and modest-income families by this government.
It's very clear when you sit down and you do the math of this, after this so-called tax cut, which is really a tax shuffle, is finished, lower-income families are paying more taxes than ever. Middle- and modest-income families might, if they're lucky, be in a balanced situation; that is, they got a little bit of a tax cut and now they're trying to figure out how to pay the tuition fees. I would suspect that most don't even get to the balanced situation; they're still paying more in taxes. It's only when you get into the highest income brackets that people actually got a tax cut.
I could recite for you some of the people who got a tax cut. For example, Frank Stronach, who has an income of about $25 million a year, gets a $1-million tax cut. Some of the bank and financial institution presidents and vice-presidents and chairpersons actually get tax cuts of even more than that from this government. This is overwhelmingly a tax scheme, a tax shuffle, designed to benefit the well-off at the expense of the rest of us in society.
The biggest cuts of all to finance this so-called income tax scheme have come from health care, from education, from the community services that the vast majority of people in this province need and have to have if they're going to be able to function productively and effectively in our society.
What is to be done in a scenario where the government has deliberately, intentionally, strategically, from their point of view, taken money from the essential services - the hospitals, the health care system, the elementary and secondary schools, the colleges, the universities, our communities. They've taken money from these very important institutions and transferred it to people who are well-off in the form of a tax cut. They've transferred it to people who frankly have enough wealth, who don't require any more.
I know what these folks over here, the Conservatives, are going to do. They're going to continue down that line. They're going to continue to underfund education, they're going to continue to underfund health care, they're going to continue to underfund colleges and universities, they're going to continue to underfund municipalities, they're going to continue to underfund environmental protection in order to transfer more wealth to those who are already well-off and those who don't need any income transfers. That's the direction they're going to pick.
My Liberal colleagues historically in this place have criticized the Harris government's tax cuts. They've said, "The money from these tax cuts is coming out of health, it's coming out of hospital budgets, it's coming out of school budgets, it's coming out of colleges, it's coming out of universities, it's coming from the poorest people in the province. Our Liberal counterparts have been quick to criticize the Harris tax cut and to say it's wrong, to admit it's wrong to take money from these vital health care services and education services and transfer it to people who are well-off. They admit it's wrong, but then, when you listen closely, you discover that our Liberal counterparts won't do anything about it. They want to complain; they know it's wrong. But when it comes down to looking at what's actually happening, they're not going to do anything about it. They would institutionalize and continue to implement this scheme of tax cuts by the Harris government.
At the same moment, Liberals say they would reinvest in health care, they would reinvest in education, they would reinvest in communities. You don't have to be a wizard to understand that if you're going to continue to finance this scheme of income tax cuts, which cost, as I point out, $4.1 million a day just for the 6% at the top, there isn't any money left over for education, there isn't any money left over for schools, there isn't any money left over for hospitals, there isn't any money left over for the rest of the health care system. It doesn't work.
I take you back to the spring of 1995, when Mike Harris said to people - and I believe I've got his argument pretty clear - "I'm going to give you a 30% tax cut. There will be no cuts to health care. There will be no cuts to education. The money is going to come from somewhere over there." Voters believed that; people believed that.
The lesson of the last four years is that there was no "over there." The money to finance their so-called 30% income tax cut, the $6 billion a year, came directly out of hospitals, directly out of health care, directly out of education, directly out of our communities, directly from the poorest people in the province. There was no "over there." The lesson is that that money came out of those things we value the most: health care, education, our communities. That's what Mike Harris said, though: "A 30% tax cut. No cuts to health care; no cuts to education. The money will come from somewhere over there."
I want people to think very clearly about what Liberals are saying today. Liberals are saying: "A 30% tax cut. There will be money for health care, money for education, and the money's going to come from somewhere over there." Does that sound just a little bit familiar? It sounds to me like the same argument, the same agenda, the same direction that Mike Harris set in 1995. The words have been changed a little, the packaging has been changed a little, but it's the same agenda.
It would seem apparent to me that the income tax scheme that is responsible for taking over $2 billion a year out of health care, responsible for taking $1.5 billion out of elementary and secondary education, responsible for taking $750 million out of our colleges and universities, responsible for downloading over $700 million in costs on to municipalities, the same agenda that is responsible for that - and that's been very much the Mike Harris agenda - can't possibly restore this. Simply rolling and repackaging that agenda that has cut health care and has cut education cannot possibly result in the re-funding, the restoration of health care, of education, of environmental protection, of the community services we all value and need.
We know where the Conservatives are coming from. The Conservatives are saying: "We're going to continue on this line. We'll continue to create an education deficit. We'll continue to create a deficit at the college and university level. We'll continue to create an environmental deficit. We'll continue to allow a health care deficit, a homeless deficit, a deficit at the municipal level to build up."
Their priority is to cut taxes for those of us who are most well-off and who need a tax cut the least. The problem we have is that Liberals want to complain about what the Harris government is doing but Liberals have already indicated they would do much the same thing. They would continue this regime of a 30% income tax cut no matter what the damage to education, no matter what the damage to health care.
New Democrats cannot abide by this. We simply cannot abide by a direction which is going to underinvest, underfund health care, underfund education, underfund our communities, underfund the protection of the environment. It's clear what the priorities of people in this province are. They want to have a good health care system. They want to have a good education system. They don't want to have colleges and universities that rank at the bottom in North America in terms of public funding. People want to see reinvestment.
We've heard the public. We are prepared to reinvest in those most important of our public services, those services which help to make us all productive, those services which are going to help position us to be even more productive in the so-called knowledge economy. How do we do it? We do it this way: Since the only people who got a tax cut are the 6% at the top who get 25% of the money - those are the only people who got a tax cut here; everyone else is paying the tuition fees, the user fees, the copayment fees, the higher property taxes - it seems only fair that we restore some balance to this. So we make this commitment to people: New Democrats would roll back the top end of the Harris income tax cut. To the 6% at the top who get more than 25% of the money, we would say, "You too have a moral and a social responsibility to help us fund the health care system we need, the education system we all need, the community services we all need, and New Democrats are going to help you meet your moral and social responsibility."
What it means: We would roll back the income tax scheme for the 6% at the top who get 25% of the money. That would give us $1.5 billion a year to put back into health care, back into education, back into the community services we all need, back into the protection of the environment. Those are the things that are the priorities of people. They are the things that are going to contribute to our ongoing productivity, and New Democrats are committed to absolutely seeing this happen.
I just want to say a word about folks who say to you: "The money is over there. Don't worry, the money will be over here somewhere." I've heard some folks say, "We'll ask the federal government for more transfer funding." It's worth reviewing the federal transfer funding. The current federal government took $3 billion a year, on an annual basis, out of health care funding. The current federal government took $3 billion a year, on an annual basis, out of education funding. In the last budget they put back a little bit of the health care money; they put back a fraction of what they took out. The fact of the matter is, they haven't put back what they originally took out; far from it. The fact of that matter is, on the education front they haven't put back any of the $3 billion they took out.
So saying that the federal government is somehow going to restore this funding I think has no foundation in reality. The federal government is guilty of some of the worst underfunding of our health and education institutions in this province and in this country. This business about "somewhere over there" just rings very, very hollow.
Let us just say another word about how serious this is. Most people in Ontario are probably proud of the college and university system that was created in this province after the end of the Second World War. A number of governments have helped to contribute to that. Conservative governments, albeit of a much different stripe from this Conservative government, made some strategic investments in colleges and universities. Liberal governments contributed. New Democratic governments contributed.
Most people in Ontario would be shocked today to know that Ontario now ranks dead last in Canada in terms of per capita funding for our college and university system. We rank last after Newfoundland, after poor provinces like Prince Edward Island, after smaller provinces like Nova Scotia or Manitoba or Saskatchewan - dead last in terms of per capita funding.
Not only that, but if we look at the North American context, there are only two states in all of the United States that fund their college and university system at a lower per capita level than Ontario. New Hampshire and Vermont are the only states that fund at a lower level, and there's no accident there; there's a reason for that. New Hampshire and Vermont have a relatively large number of private colleges and private universities. But in terms of all those states in the United States and all those provinces in Canada that rely on a public education system, we rank dead last.
We rank behind American states that have traditionally had a problem with literacy, states like Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, even Arkansas. It is a very shocking situation; even more shocking when you consider the fact that we now live in a knowledge economy.
Over and over, economists are telling us that it's not inexpensive natural resources which are going to create prosperity and help us be productive in the world ahead, it's not being close to this market or that market. Goods move around the world, natural resources are available in many corners of the world. It's not necessarily having your own pool of capital; capital now moves around the world. What determines, more and more, whether you're going to be a participant in this new knowledge economy is the knowledge, the skill, the ability of your people.
But the knowledge, the skill, the ability doesn't grow on trees. Knowledgeable, thoughtful, capable people have to have an investment made in them. They have to have an investment made in their education. But that's not happening. It's not happening under this government, it's not going to happen under this government, and any government that buys into this very unbalanced, unfair and, I would argue, unprincipled tax shuffle is not going to see it happen either.
If that tax scheme is going to be your foundation, if it's going to be your obsession, your fascination, there isn't going to be money left over for the health care investments, the education investments, the environmental protection investments, the community investments that are the foundation of being productive in that knowledge economy.
New Democrats say clearly, consistently, in all corners of the province, that education is where we must make the investment, health care is where we must make the investment, strong communities is where we must make the investment. We will roll back the top end of the Harris 30% income tax scheme, which benefits the 6% at the top with over 25% of the money. We will roll it back and we will make those investments in health, in education and in community that will provide the greatest benefit to the greatest number of people.
Mr Speaker, I'm aware that others here want to take part in this debate. I thank you and other members for the opportunity to put this on the record and to begin what I believe will be the debate of the election campaign which is officially soon to begin. It will be the theme of the election campaign: Do Ontarians want tax cuts which come at the expense of a well-funded education system, a well-funded health care system, communities that work, environmental protection? Do Ontarians want that or do Ontarians want the reinvestment in hospitals, schools, colleges and universities and our communities and the protection of our environment which will make us more productive? We're very happy to kick off that debate here today.
The Deputy Speaker: Further debate?
Mr Rosario Marchese (Fort York): It's a pleasure to continue with the comments and the theme our leader has already addressed.
I want to refer to an article that I read just a short while ago that speaks to this very issue. It says here: "During the Tory mandate up to December, the province has added 470,000 jobs. About 73,000 of them came before any tax cuts." Then it says: "Another 332,000 would have come if jobs were added no faster than in the rest of the country. That leaves 65,000 jobs to be debated." It asks, "Have the tax cuts made the big difference?" The comment he makes is: "The consensus among economists and financial analysts is no. They say a lot of other factors combined to outweigh the importance of the cuts." For example: "A 22% cut in the size of Ontario's welfare cheques in 1996 negated any economic stimulus from tax cuts for that year. The government, basically, took from the poor to leave more for the others."
This is where we say we are transferring the wealth from the poor to those who don't really need the money. We're not talking about just those who make $100,000 here - because that's what we're talking about: $80,000 taxable income, which means $100,000, $110,000, $120,000 - we go beyond that. We're talking about -
Mr Steve Gilchrist (Scarborough East): No, $80,000 means $80,000.
Mr Marchese: Steve, again in consternation today, says, "What?" We're saying that we would take off those who make $80,000 taxable income. They don't need the tax break, because they've got the big bucks. Our leader talked about Stronach, the fellow who earns $25 million a year. That's a whole heap of money. We're not talking $25,000; we're talking $25 million.
Mr Gilchrist, my buddy over there, says, "That's OK, because he earns his money, and if he gets an extra $1 million a year at the end of it, that's OK, that's good." Even though that money goes outside the country for additional investments or inside for his own needs, that's OK, Steve says.
The point of the article is that after you add all of these other factors into the picture, he says there are about 36,000 jobs that could possibly be attributed to this income tax cut. So this boasting from the Conservatives on the other side that their tax cuts have created the thousands and thousands of jobs is questionable, according to economists. I tell you, they're not my friends, most of these economists quoted here; they're friends on the other side. Imagine spending over $5 billion to create, questionably, 36,000 jobs perhaps, if that.
So, who's getting whacked in this? The little guys, women, children, ordinary people who work for a living and make $20,000, $30,000, $40,000, $50,000. These are the people who are not getting the benefits of the tax cut, because this guy here in this picture says it's a cup of coffee a day. That's what it amounts to for this guy here in this picture, an ordinary working man. Where does he work? A Toronto school teacher. He says it means a cup of coffee a day for him, but not for Stronach, not for the wealthy bankers who earn a million and a half or two and get back $120,000 a year. We are saying to these people: "Give the money back. It is your obligation to give that money back."
Tories say that's a tax increase; Liberals say - I've heard the rumours from behind - that's a tax increase. But I've got to tell you, they sing the same song. I heard Gerry Phillips today saying the tax cut is evil, and we say it's evil, at least for that upper 6% who get 25% back. We agree with them. It's the same song. But at the end of it, you realize the words are different, the script is different. We're singing the same tune - Jim, sorry.
Mr James J. Bradley (St Catharines): But they're cutting taxes in Saskatchewan.
Mr Marchese: Jim is helping me out. Jim, I thank you for the assistance.
Our leader commented on this earlier. Why repeat it? It's pointless, really. Hopefully the campaign will establish these differences.
Mr Bud Wildman (Algoma): Same old song.
Mr Marchese: The same old song, I just said, the same old song, different meaning and so on. He knows the music. My buddy Bud Wildman knows the music and he knows when people are singing out of tune and that's why we're pointing it out.
It's for the general public; it's not for us. This debate isn't between us, it's between us and directly to the people watching, because it's always live. The Tories on the other side are chatting, they're reading papers, they're in consternation with our remarks and all that, but the public is listening.
At the end of the day, they're saying, "If this tax cut for me, earning $50,000, and I get a couple of hundred dollars back, means a reduction of services in health" - which they have visibly seen. We're not inventing the cutbacks in the hospital system. People have experiential feelings about it. They've been there, and if they individually have not been there, some family member has been there. In fact people comment that they now have to bring toilet paper, their own toilet paper, they say, or their own little towel. They've got to be there to assist because there are not enough nurses. This is not a fabrication of ours. You can manipulate the information as much as you want, but the facts are that there's been a reduction of services.
Let's talk about the education system. Our leader has talked about the university system. I have a daughter who is in university and I know the cost and I am as middle class as you can get. I can't afford to pay the tuition fees for my daughter. I'm as middle class as you'll find out there. If I can't afford to pay the tuition fee for my daughter and my daughter after that and my son after that, what do people with more modest incomes of $30,000, $40,000, $50,000 do? Tuition fees that have gone up $1,600 since these Tories have gone into government are unacceptable to us all and people have to begin to establish a connection between tax cuts and our affordability problems in a whole area of services.
It now costs, I think, $60 for a birth certificate. A birth certificate that used to be, if I remember, 10 or 20 bucks is now 60 bucks. That's a service fee but the Tories are not going to tell you. If you apply for some research, for information from the privacy commission, it costs now, per document, about 70 or 100 bucks, if I recall. It used to be an accessible $10 per document. Most people now can't do enough research to be able to attack these Tories because they can't afford the fees these people have imposed, making it impossible for people to see what these people are doing.
The prescription fees have gone up for the poor seniors, seniors who have an affordability problem, seniors whose income is dwindling by the year.
We have a serious problem on our hands that needs to be addressed by the public. We opposition parties cannot solve this problem. It's the public that ultimately will solve it, and they will have to discriminate between what is being said by the Tories and what we are saying and what you, the people of Ontario, are experiencing.
Another economist, Michael McCracken of Ottawa-based Informetrica Ltd, calculates that a cut in government spending eliminates twice the number of jobs that an equivalent tax cut creates. "It would be difficult," he says at the end, "to suggest in any substantive analysis that Ontario will have added net jobs by cutting taxes." These are economists; it's not New Democrats alone who have seen the light, just people, economists, who are probably 99% very conservative minded, and the one little percent out there struggling away to make sense of a Tory world.
"Ontario debt is already about $7 billion higher because of tax cuts," says this person. "That means another $350 million a year or more in interest will be added to the debt or to tax bills until the government balances its books." These Harrisites never talk about the fact that they've increased the deficit. They say about deficits that this income tax cut has added jobs, and that's all they talk about, no reduction of services, no increase of deficit. They can't tell the public that; they wouldn't get elected if they told them that. They have to tell the public: "You're making money because of us Tories. You work hard for your buck, and we're giving it back."
But this money comes from one pocket; they're taking from another. They're taking from the poor to give to the most wealthy in Ontario. The clamour across Ontario and across Canada for tax cuts gets greater and greater because the corporate elite that owns the media in this country is pushing for articles to be published on a daily basis that say, "We need tax cuts." A couple of years ago the obsession was with deficits; now the corporate elite says, "We need tax cuts." They're not worried about the deficit any more. Of course the trouble with raising wages is that corporations can't afford it because it would reduce profits. Instead, this argument goes, the government should raise wages by cutting taxes, which will increase profits. This is the new mantra of today. The only way, the corporations have discovered, to raise wages is to cut taxes. That's how they make the extra bucks. They want governments to reduce income taxes so they themselves don't have to increase their wages. That's how they plan to do it.
This strategy is foolish, foolhardy, because when they do that, the money has got to come from somewhere, and it means a reduction in services. I've got to remind you, Speaker, because you're an intelligent man, when the next recession hits, it will be ugly. You've already put in $5 billion or $6 billion in income tax cuts; you plan to put in a couple of billion more if you get re-elected, God forbid. When the next recession hits, how will we make up for the losses? There will be drastic, tragic reductions in hospitals, more cuts in education, more cuts in social services, more cuts in the environment, more drastic cuts and whacking of the labour movement, culture will disappear. That's the litany of cuts we will experience should you, God forbid, be re-elected.
With that, I leave time for some of my colleagues, and have happily raised points that our leader touched on and did not touch on, as a way of leaving us room to add to this debate.
Hon Chris Hodgson (Chair of the Management Board of Cabinet, Minister of Northern Development and Mines): I'm very pleased to be able to lead this debate for the government today. As you know, this is an issue that's very near and dear to our hearts, giving Ontarians the opportunity to take more of their hard-earned money home every week. But I find it interesting that the NDP, not the Liberals, have brought this motion today. Frankly, I'm looking forward to seeing where the Liberals stand on today's motion. I'm hoping the Liberals will finally, at some point, give us an idea of where they stand on the whole issue, given the fact that they've compiled a list of spending promises that they've made lately.
We all know that the NDP has been very straightforward and very clear on what they would do around the issue of taxation. When they were in office they raised the tax rate in this province by $4 billion. We saw the result of those policies around their taxation increases, and that was that we had a net loss of 10,000 jobs in this province because of those tax rates being increased by almost $4 billion. We've seen as well in the last four years, under the Mike Harris government, where we've lowered the tax rates by $4 billion, we've had a net increase of jobs by 540,000 in this province.
Clearly the debate is over. Even the Globe and Mail today said that - the quote of the day was, "Why should Ontarians revert after only four years to the parties that brought the province to such a sorry pass in 1995?" The Globe was talking about, of course, the NDP and the Liberal policies.
The NDP has been very clear on what they would like to see. They would like to see higher taxes, and they have been honest with the people of Ontario. They've outlined a platform to show the people that they have that choice.
It's the Liberal Party that I'm concerned about. I'm trying to find out if the leader of the Liberal Party is against tax cuts or if he'll actually be honest with the public and admit what he has admitted to union leaders behind closed doors to try to curry their support and financial support for his party. When they listed what they call their platform - it's a compilation of promises to special interests - they called it 20/20 Hindsight, or How to Return Ontario Back to the Failed Policies of the Past.
I would challenge the Liberal leader to speak on this today and finally come clean on the issue of raising taxes, or his stand on taxes and the cost of those lists of promises that he has given to every special-interest group they've come across in the last year or so. I don't challenge this in a partisan way. I issue it out of concern for Ontarians, because they deserve to know the truth.
We know the NDP will pay for their promises through higher taxes, but Ontarians need to know what price the Liberal promises will cost Ontarians. This is a very important issue to the public of Ontario. They want to know how much money they will have in their take-home pay. Working people and families right across Ontario need to know this.
The first and foremost priority of our government has been pretty clear: to make sure that working people in this province get ahead. The key to economic success is to make sure that they get to keep some of their money to spend it how they see fit, not governments.
When we made the tax cuts a priority in our 1994-95 platform, we knew this meant we were to implement a 30% personal income tax cut. We also followed up in four successive budgets by the Treasurer, Ernie Eves, to cut taxes 69 times in this province.
The evidence is in: Tax cuts work. This economy is once again booming. Four short years ago, under the failed policies of 20/20 Hindsight the Liberals would like to take us back to, in 1995 we were dragging Canada down with one of the slowest growth rates in all of Canada. We had the highest number of people trapped in the dependency of social assistance. In just four short years, we have turned this province around by setting the fundamental economic policies back in order.
Tax cuts work. Not only has the tax cut created economic well-being for thousands of families across Ontario, but it has also restored Ontario to its proper place of leading Canada again in economic growth and in job creation. It has also helped the government provide essential services. By having more people working, by stimulating the economy through growth, there are more transactions taking place, there are more revenues coming into the province.
That has allowed us to reinvest in the priorities Ontarians have: In quality health care, there have been massive injections of dollars into our health care system; in quality education, focusing on the classroom, new textbooks, new computers, new curriculum, new standards. Those dollars for priority services that Ontarians hold dear and need can only be achieved with a growing economy.
The people of Ontario have a clear choice before them: They have the 20/20 Hindsight of returning Ontario to the past, the past failed policies of tax and spend to try to look after the government's wants, or they have a clear choice in the Mike Harris vision of growth, growing our economy and growing opportunities for Ontarians, which also grows revenues to the government, which provides for better health care and better education.
I just want to remind the members of the Legislature and the people who may be watching this on television how tax cuts have helped average people in this province and all people in this province. Let me remind the members how the personal income tax cut actually helps Ontarians.
Every taxpayer gets a tax cut, but the percentage of the tax cut is greater for those with low or moderate incomes. Ontarians with modest incomes get the largest percentage of reductions. Some 64% of the tax reductions, or $2.9 billion, goes to nearly three million middle-income taxpayers who earn between $25,000 and $75,000 in income. People below $25,000 receive a higher percentage: 50% of their taxes. What the NDP will never tell you is that we liberated 140,000 individuals, low-income earners, from paying any provincial income tax at all. People who were forced to pay taxes under the NDP and the Liberal regimes have been liberated from having to do that because it is not right that you take their hard-earned dollars when they're struggling just to make ends meet.
The Liberal record on this has been rather ambivalent. When the NDP were in power, they voted against that $4 billion in tax rate hikes, and when we were in power they voted against cutting the rate by $4 billion. I'm trying to figure out where the Liberals are on this. They voted against the NDP policies and they voted against ours. I guess it's whoever they are in front of, whichever poll they've read that week; that becomes their official position. I think the people of Ontario are entitled to see if Dalton McGuinty will come clean with them on the cost of his litany of promises. He's been rather ambivalent, but he has made some startling revelations as of late around property tax increases.
But first I would just like to reiterate to the House that the Blueprint to keep Ontario on the right track, to build on the success of the last four years - the Mike Harris Blueprint to keep Ontario prosperous - calls for further tax reductions. We've seen that we're on track to create 725,000 net new jobs in this province. We're once again leading Canada in economic growth. The economy in Ontario is up in all sectors, and there is a sense of renewed optimism and pride.
It hasn't been easy to create that environment in this province. There have been some tough decisions. There has been some restructuring that I know other leaders didn't have the courage to put forth. But under the strong leadership of Mike Harris we have seen a fundamental change in this province, and we want to build on that success story. We have offered this Blueprint to keep Ontario on the right track. It calls for further tax reductions, a further 20% reduction in the personal income tax that Ontarians pay. It's their money, and when they get to keep it and decide how to spend it, that generates economic activity and economic growth and encourages jobs for Ontarians.
Not only are we going to lower the income tax by 20%, but we're going to reduce the provincial portion of the residential property taxes by a further 20% as well. You can't just lower income taxes and allow property tax to go up. We believe there is one taxpayer, and we want to see both property taxes and income taxes come down by 20% for the portion that is the Ontario government's.
We also want to reinvest 20% more dollars to health care over the next mandate.
With this balanced approach, that will create an additional 825,000 net new jobs on top of the 725,000 when that's complete. That's great news for the people of Ontario and the future of this province.
Politics is about choices of direction. Our direction is quite clear. The NDP direction is quite clear.
The Liberal direction is a compilation of special interest policies and deals cut with union leaders. It's very interesting when you compare what we're proposing, a 20% reduction to the provincial portion of the property taxes for the province of Ontario, with what Dalton McGuinty would do to property taxes if he were elected Premier of this province. He has promised that he would open up the property tax base again to school boards in spending.
Welcome back to the past. When asked directly, he said he would open it up in the magnitude of 5% to 10% a year. That was the failed policy of the past. That didn't ensure quality. That just meant the taxes went up every year to keep pace. It allowed the provincial government to stand back and say, "Oh no, that's a local property tax issue." I can tell you, the seniors in my area were faced with an average of 10% increases each of the last 10 years under the Liberal and NDP and they can't handle it. They're on fixed incomes. They have no way to grow their income in relation to this added burden that Dalton McGuinty's Liberals are now promising to re-inflict upon them.
Don't just take another politician's word for it. I can quote from the Toronto Star on April 28, 1999. Even the Toronto Star, usually a bastion of Liberal thinking and Liberal propaganda, mentions:
"But McGuinty would give the boards back some taxing power - up to 10% of the total education budget. That could mean up to $1.3 billion a year in additional property taxes, a hefty new burden for ratepayers."
To offset the impact, McGuinty has also promised about $200 million in offsets.
So a $1.3-billion increase across the province on the property tax base, and he hasn't costed it out. I would like to see if they're going to come clean on this. I read their 20/20 Hindsight to return us to the policies of the past that have failed, but I didn't see it costed out. They couch it in terms of nice fuzzy concepts such as, "We'll give local boards the flexibility to meet local priorities." Translation: 10% a year in most areas of the province on your property tax bill.
Up to $1.3 billion, according to the Toronto Star. You contrast that to Mike Harris's vision of Ontario of a $500-million reduction over the term of our mandate on personal property taxes. That benefits every homeowner and every tenant, because under our proposal in the blueprint to keep Ontario on the right track, property tax savings must be passed on to the tenants in the form of lower rent. That's a positive vision, a good news vision for Ontario, one that creates hope and opportunity and allows tenants and senior citizens to get by on their fixed incomes without the uncertainty of higher taxes every year eating away at their take-home and disposable income. I think it's very cruel of the Liberals to propose to allow taxes on properties to go up 10% a year because they've made some deal to try to get union support from Earl Manners and others.
Don't take my word for it. Read the Toronto Star, April 28. Ian Urquhart spells it out. That's $1.3 billion year after year.
If you take a look at the compounding effect of that, in year one of a Dalton McGuinty mandate, that would be approximately $1.3 billion that Mr Urquhart mentions. If you take year two and you add that on top, there's a compounding that takes place. It would come up to about $1.45 billion on additional property taxes. Year three of a Liberal platform would be an additional $1.6 billion. Then you've got year four. When you compound and you add the $1.6 billion to that base, it would be 10% of a base that would be approximately $18 billion. It would be $1.8 billion in additional property taxes. In the fifth year of a Liberal-led province you would see it be $2 billion. If you total that up, cumulatively, for the five years, you're looking at about $8 billion more in property taxes.
I can understand why they didn't want to spell that out in their 20/20 Hindsight return to the past. But if you contrast that to the Mike Harris Blueprint to keep Ontario on the right track, which calls for a $500-million reduction, I think the choice will be quite clear to the people of Ontario. Dalton McGuinty wants to increase property taxes, according to the Toronto Star, by $1.3 billion. Mike Harris wants to lower them.
The reason we want to lower taxes is that Ontarians are overtaxed. I think today you can see it quite clearly. This weekend John Manley, who might be known to some in this House and probably quite familiar to the viewers on television - he's the federal Liberal who actually shares the same riding as Dalton McGuinty: same riding, same party, same issue, both talking about taxes. But on tax cuts, that's where the similarity ends.
Here's what the federal industry minister had to say in Saturday's National Post about the need for tax cuts to boost competitiveness and keep skilled workers in Canada. According to Mr Manley: "I've been saying for a long time we've got to lower taxes. We've got a lot of pluses, we've also got some minuses. One of those is that personal income taxes are higher than elsewhere. That, we have to try to fix."
We couldn't have said it better ourselves. In fact, that's exactly why Mike Harris has cut personal income tax rates by 30% so far and will cut them another 20% in his Blueprint for an even stronger Ontario. So could these two Liberals please get their act together?
Here's Dalton McGuinty just the day before in the Toronto Sun: "This province can't handle more tax cuts." Mr McGuinty, the evidence is clear that tax cuts have fuelled the creation of 540,000 net new jobs in this province and helped drive the deficit towards zero so we can invest in things Ontarians want and need. So why aren't you as concerned about jobs, competitiveness and productivity as your party and your colleague Mr John Manley? That's probably why the quote of the day in the Globe and Mail was: "Why should Ontarians revert, after only four years, to parties that brought the province to such a sorry pass in 1995?"
The evidence is quite clear. Tax cuts work. Not only have our tax cuts in the last four years benefited all Ontarians, but they've been particularly helpful to those 140,000 low-income earners who suffered under the NDP regime who no longer have to pay taxes.
I think the choices are quite clear in the different directions the parties want to take. The NDP and ourselves have been quite clear, quite straightforward and honest with the people of Ontario, but the Liberals are trying to not really be clear on what their special interest promise list in 20/20 hindsight to the past would cost Ontarians.
The other thing we want to mention is that the tax cuts have allowed us, by growing the economy of Ontario and getting people back to work and giving them hope and opportunity, to actually collect more revenues for the province in terms of paying for health care and education but also to meet our commitment that we promised in the Common Sense Revolution to balance the budget in five years.
I often hear people talking about: "What is the deficit? What has been added to the debt?" I can tell you that there was a choice. We could have carried on with the policies of the Liberals and the NDP to tax and spend and allowed the deficit to continue at $11 billion a year and the compounding of interest, or we could have, as we promised, grow our way towards a balanced budget and then grow our way to pay down the debt, and that's what we chose. We don't feel it's proper to just race to the bottom line. You've got to have some growth, and our party has a growth agenda and a growth plan. That's why we cut taxes to get people working. When they're working, they're buying goods, they're paying taxes, and as a result, governments get more dollars to work towards balancing their budgets and paying down their debt.
With our Blueprint to keep Ontario on the right track, not only are we going to cut taxes, grow the economy more and build on the success stories that Ontario has seen for the four years, but we're actually going to spend more on health care and education, lower personal income taxes and property taxes and also have some paydown on the debt. Just to make sure that happens, today I introduced on behalf of Premier Mike Harris balanced budget legislation which will lock in that balanced budgets will have to be the norm after the year 2000-01, and if they're not, there will be accountability measures where the Premier, the cabinet and the executive council will lose their executive pay.
That's one of the things we want to make sure of, that there's accountability. I know the NDP is accountable in laying out their platform, but the Liberals aren't being accountable. I don't know if they have something to hide. I look forward to seeing if they'll come clean with their collection of special promises to the union leaders to curry favour and financial support in the anticipated upcoming election. That'll be interesting to watch.
I know that McGuinty has been quite clear on the record. In the North Bay Nugget on July 29, 1997, "I wouldn't give you a tax cut." In the Toronto Star, March 10, 1997, "I think governments should always reserve the right to raise taxes" - to raise taxes. Not only is John Manley saying that our taxes are too high; McGuinty's musing that governments should have the right to raise taxes.
In the Ottawa leadership debate, September 11, 1996: "No, we simply cannot go into the next election with one plank of our platform being that we promise to raise taxes. That's a non-starter." He doesn't want to promise it, but he's quietly saying that they've got to reserve the right, and then maybe with the union leaders he's saying: "We'll open up this vault of money over here on the property tax side and we won't be accountable for that." I'm telling you, there's only one taxpayer, and for the senior citizens on fixed incomes in this province I think that's horrendous and I think that's cruel.
In conclusion, I welcome the NDP opposition day motion; I think it's very timely and very appropriate. They've been very forthright that they believe in higher taxes and they've been consistent on this. When they were in government they raised the tax rate $4 billion and it cost Ontario a net loss of 10,000 jobs in their term of office.
Our party has been quite consistent: We believe in lower taxes to create growth, to create opportunity and hope, and to restore Ontario and keep it on the right track to lead Canada into the next millennium. It's the Liberals who have promised all the spending that they can find and try to mirror the NDP in their promises to the special interest groups to curry the support of the union leaders, but they're not coming clean with the people of Ontario on the costing of those promises.
Thank you for the opportunity to speak here today.
Ms Shelley Martel (Sudbury East): It's a pleasure to participate in the debate. I want to frame my remarks in this way: The Globe and Mail recently released an article that showed the top income earners in 1998. The top five wealthiest people in the province of Ontario brought home $134 million in income in 1998. But if you apply the 30% Harris tax scheme to those people, in addition to the $134 million the five of them brought home, they would also have received another $4.8 million in benefits from the Harris tax scheme. You know something? This is a group that doesn't need a 30% tax scheme. It is obscene that we have a scheme in the province that allows the top five wealthiest people in the province to bring home that much more.
Modest- and middle-income families in this province know that they have seen not a cent of financial benefit from the Harris tax scheme. You ask modest- and middle-income families to add it up, to do the math, and they will tell you the following: that they are paying 60% more now for college and university tuition for their kids; that they are paying a copayment now for their senior parents to get medication they need; that they are now paying more property taxes.
Certainly we saw that everywhere in the regional municipality of Sudbury. They also now are paying in northern Ontario a vehicle registration fee that this government reimposed after we took it off in 1991 to recognize the higher price of gas.
You ask middle- and modest-income families to add it up and they will tell you that they have seen no financial benefit whatsoever from the Harris tax scheme. In fact, modest- and middle-income families are paying more than ever before right now because of all the new property taxes, new fees, tuition fees that they have to pay because of all the cuts that Harris has made to those important things.
Talk to middle- and modest-income families about what's happening to health care, education and community services, and they will tell you that those important public services are falling apart around their ears in their community. The things that people really care about - publicly funded, publicly administered health care; publicly funded, publicly administered education systems; community services that make our communities strong - those things are falling apart around people because of the cuts that Harris has made to finance this phoney tax scheme.
People will tell you about the long wait they have in emergency rooms, about the fact that they still can't find a family doctor. In my riding alone, five communities are still underserviced for family doctors. They will tell you they cannot get home care for their aging parents when they are discharged too early from hospital after an operation. They will tell you, like Lynn Brewster did in the media this week in Sudbury of how she had to be sent to North Bay to deliver a preemie because there was no room, there was no bed in the intensive care unit for preemies at the Sudbury Regional Hospital at the end of March.
They will tell you that their children who need special education resources can't get them; that there's no music, no art, no library programs for their kids; that custodial staff, teachers' aides, speech and language therapists have all been laid off because of the $1-billion cut to education. Modest- and middle-income families know the things they really care about are being destroyed to finance this tax scheme.
It's a fallacy for the Chair of Management Board to argue that the tax scheme is creating jobs. Sudbury had the highest unemployment rate in Canada again in April of this year. It has been first or second in the unemployment rate ever since Mike Harris's tax scheme was fully implemented. Where are the jobs in Sudbury, Ontario? The tax cut does not create jobs. If it did, my community wouldn't be leading the unemployment rate in Canada month after month after month.
Our position is clear: The NDP will roll back the income tax scheme for the wealthiest 6%, who get 25% of the benefits. We will roll back the income tax scheme for individuals who have taxable incomes over $80,000 and we will take the $1.5 billion that we will save and put it back into health, back into education and back into community services where it will do the most good for the most people.
That is our commitment as we go into this election. The choice for voters is very clear. There is something wrong when the wealthiest five Ontarians, who take home $134 million, get another $4.8 million from the Harris tax scheme. There's something wrong when modest- and middle-income families see no financial benefit whatsoever. There's something wrong when we continue to bleed health care, education and community services merely to finance the Harris tax scheme.
If you think it's OK to give that kind of benefit to the top 6%, if you think it's OK that modest- and middle-income families see no benefit, if you think it's OK to bleed health care and important services, you can vote Conservative or you can vote Liberal, because the position of both parties is the same. The Liberal Party says, "There's something wrong about the tax cut," but when Dalton McGuinty was pressed about whether or not he would roll back the tax scheme, he said it would be a mistake to roll back the tax scheme. The Liberals are not prepared to do anything about it.
In the by-election in Nickel Belt last fall, the Liberal candidate was asked if he would urge his party to roll back the tax scheme to put money back into health, education and community services. He said, "You can't unscramble an egg." We heard the Liberal finance critic in this House today saying that it was wrong. It's going to be wrong if you go forward with the new Harris agenda to finance even more money, to borrow even more money for this Harris tax scheme, but the Liberal Party is not prepared to do anything about it. They are going down the exact same road as the Harris Conservatives. There is no doubt about it. Make no mistake about it.
We say very clearly to people, the choice is clear. If you're concerned about health and education and community services and you want to be guaranteed that money is going to go back into those important services, if as modest- and middle-income families you want to see some benefit for a change, and if you are concerned that the top 6% are getting 25% of the benefits, then you vote NDP in this election. But if you think it's OK to bleed all of those important public services, if you think it's OK that the top 6% of the wealthiest people in this province get 25% of the benefits, and if you think it's OK that modest- and middle-income families see no benefit whatsoever from the Harris tax scheme, you vote Liberal or you vote Conservative, because they've both got the same position when it comes to this important matter.
I think the choice is going to be very clear for people. I am pleased with our position. We say very clearly to people where the money is coming from: $1.5 billion to be reinvested in those important services, and that is what we will do.
I am pleased to participate in the debate today.
The Acting Speaker (Ms Marilyn Churley): Further debate?
Mr Gilchrist: It's indeed my pleasure to add some comments to the NDP opposition day motion. It's distressing indeed that the Liberal Party doesn't feel inclined to comment. I guess that's because they just can't figure out what their position is when it comes to tax cuts.
Interjection: They have nothing to say.
Mr Gilchrist: They have lots to say. The problem is, depending on what time of day it is, it could be in diametrically opposite directions.
We heard from the NDP their vision of a future Ontario. It's to go back to exactly the sort of fiscal plan that saw this province go to rack and ruin between 1990 and 1995.
One thing I would say about the NDP's platform is that they suggest that their own plan to reinstate the taxes for those earning $80,000 or more would generate $1.5 billion in revenue. That's an interesting number, considering that for the last four years both the Liberals and the NDP have, without any debate, accepted the premise that the tax cuts put over $5 billion back into the hands of Ontarians. Even if I accept their $1.5 billion, they themselves are admitting that $3.5 billion to $4 billion worth of benefits have accrued to middle- and lower-income taxpayers in this province - $3.5 billion that those people didn't have before.
This is all about the mindset from both the Liberals and the NDP, that somehow it's government's right to take this money, that it belongs to Queen's Park, and it belongs to Ottawa, it belongs to Toronto city hall. Well, it doesn't. This is money that belongs to the taxpayers themselves. We're not giving them back anything they didn't already have.
Our goal is a very different goal. As I said earlier, the frustration is not knowing where the Liberals stand on this issue. We have said unequivocally that tax cuts create jobs. We have proved that in the last four years.
The economic theory known as the Laffer curve, named after the economist who first postulated the theory, proven in every jurisdiction in North America and around the world that has ever cut marginal tax rates: In fact putting money back into the hands of the citizens will generate more income for businesses and stimulate more employment. Those people, the new employees, will in turn start paying taxes and the net of all of that is actually more money coming into provincial tax revenues.
We have created as a result of those stimuli 540,000 net new jobs. By cutting taxes 69 times, we have created an atmosphere in Ontario that is quite frankly unparalleled anywhere else in North America. Our economy has led, in terms of growth, not only every province but it has led every American state.
It's interesting when the Liberals in particular talk about the fact that somehow none of the credit for what has happened in our economy since 1995 should accrue to the government, or for that matter to the business people and to the citizenry of the province as well; that somehow it can all be laid at the feet of Bill Clinton and the recovery in the United States, the ongoing growth down south of the border.
If that's true, then how do they explain that we have exceeded the growth rate in every American state? We have exceeded the number of jobs created in every American state. Let me stress that. With three times our population, the state of California has created fewer jobs since 1995 than Ontario. We've created more jobs than New York, or than Florida, or than Texas, or than Illinois.
Those are the facts, but you don't hear the facts from the Liberals; instead you hear rhetoric and you hear spin and you hear them pander to those who would somehow believe that before 1995 it was nirvana in this province. Madam Speaker, I'm sure even you would not agree that we didn't have a wide range of fiscal problems in this province before that election, just four short years ago.
We know that the strong economy not only creates jobs, but that the people who fill those jobs in many cases come from a circumstance far less pleasant than we would want any citizen in Ontario to have to live under: 370,000 of those people were on welfare on the day we were elected. Think about that number: 370,000 people who have broken the cycle of dependency, who clearly have far greater self-respect and whose families have far greater sense of worth knowing that they are providing for themselves, for their own needs.
Only a strong economy can guarantee that we will continue to break that cycle of dependency. Only a strong economy guarantees that we will have the revenue to pay for the important services, not just welfare for those who can't find work and who can't work at all - the disabled who are covered by our various support programs - but other important services such as health care and education.
The tax cuts that put 30% on average back into the pockets of every citizen at the same time, because so many more people are working in Ontario, have actually increased revenue by $5 billion.
When the Liberals in particular, as they did earlier today, somehow suggest that the increase in the provincial debt can be laid at the feet of the tax cut, that is sophistry at its worst. The fact of the matter is the total provincial debt has gone up less than the interest on the debt we inherited - less than the interest alone. If it hadn't been for the creation of those 540,000 new jobs, we wouldn't have the revenue to have allowed us to increase health care spending by $1.5 billion and, quite frankly, to increase education spending by over $1 billion.
There's no doubt that the strong leadership our Premier has shown in the area of tax cuts is a very clear distinction to the waffling and the weaselling and the vacillation from Mr McGuinty. We've heard in their platform - again I have to give credit to the NDP. While I disagree with their policies, they've at least been honest. They have come out and said they are reversing the income tax cuts over $80,000. I'm sure all those GM workers out in Oshawa who are in that tax bracket will appreciate being considered the rich, and I'm sure all those Chrysler workers down in Windsor will appreciate having their taxes go up 30%, and of course the Ford workers in Oakville - I imagine they're just salivating at the prospect to pay you even more money. But of course they also remember things like the social contract out in the unions, and I think your message may not fall on as fertile ground out there as you want.
The bottom line is that this province is on the right track. We've created 540,000 net new jobs. In our Blueprint, which sets a very clear distinction to not only the NDP but to the invisible platform of the Liberals, we are forecasting that this new agenda for growth will create 825,000 net new jobs over the next five years.
Clearly we are going to continue to need strong leadership in this province if we are going to attain such lofty goals, but they are attainable. The Conference Board of Canada and other economic think tanks have come out and confirmed that we are in fact ahead of our plan to create 725,000 jobs in the first five years after the election in 1995. So there is absolutely no reason to believe that the very reasonable forecasts we came up with and continue to come up with will not hold true in the years to come.
To restate things that some of the people watching may not have heard from the Premier's launch of our Blueprint last Thursday, we have committed to an additional 20% reduction on personal income tax. Imagine that. We were at 58% of the federal tax rate on the day we were elected. We've already reduced that to 40.5% and after the next election this platform would take us down to 32.5% - a 44% reduction.
Madam Speaker, in your life, in my life, we had never seen a $1 reduction in personal income tax before the election of the current government. We've seen that under our government - a 30% cut so far and 20% more to come. But it gets better than that. We also know that the burden on property taxpayers is too great, and while many municipalities have done the right thing, unfortunately many others have not.
We know that on the opposite side one of the Liberal members was formerly the mayor of Kingston and The Islands. He's been very critical of property taxes and what's happened to this province in the last few years in the hands of the municipal leaders. The good news is that our plan cuts another half a billion dollars off residential and multi-residential tax rates, and that's on top of the previously announced half-billion-dollar reduction in commercial property tax rates.
Over and above that we know that for the first time in 15 years many municipal governments did not increase taxes: no increase in taxes here in Toronto, and a stark contrast that is to the decade we were not in government. Under the Liberals and the NDP the average homeowner, the average apartment dweller in the city of Toronto saw their property tax rates go up 7.9% a year, just shy of 80% in 10 years. Instead, under our government, the city has been able to freeze its tax rate. Even better news: Some municipal governments have actually decreased by a 3% reduction, in places like Hamilton, Burlington and Nepean, and the best news comes from places like Chatham-Kent, where some parts of that new, merged municipality saw double-digit decreases in their property tax rates after only one year of amalgamation.
There is no doubt in our mind that tax cuts create jobs. There is no doubt in our mind that the NDP have taken a tack that we believe would in fact reverse a lot of the gains our economy has made. It would take money out of the pockets of consumers; it would take money out of circulation in the economy, and any economist would tell you there's a four- to five-time multiplier effect and every dollar they take back for spending by Queen's Park means $4 to $5 less positive impact out in our society.
Dalton McGuinty has said in his plan, "No new taxes," but then he gets into promises such as the ability for school boards to go back to being able to add taxes. Over and above what the municipality charges you, school boards would have the right to add another 10% to your property taxes. That's a $1.3-billion tax increase - there's no other way to slice it - and that's what the Liberals have promised to do.
Interjection: It's 20/20 Hindsight.
Mr Gilchrist: They call their 20/20 Plan. Interestingly, they stole that from the Reform Party. But the bottom line is, the creativity they showed in picking their title is just about matched by their creativity when it comes to fiscal planning.
They've gone further, and this should inflame every person in the province of Ontario who is looking for credible visions of the province's future. The Liberals have suggested that for $50 million they're going to hire more staff for the Ministry of the Environment and convert all the Hydro plants from coal to natural gas. Actually, to be fair, they say $50 million plus incidental costs. Even a very ardent environmental group has come out with a forecast that those incidental costs would work out to $1.8 billion. But it gets better. The people who actually do this for a living at Ontario Hydro, who have already converted one plant from coal to natural gas, who are in the throes of planning another conversion, have said the cost of converting all of Ontario's coal generation to natural gas would be $6.8 billion. You would have to increase taxes in Ontario by over 12% right there, just to balance the books.
Alternatively - and Mr McGuinty didn't shy away from this; he said, "I'm still sticking to that no-tax-increase promise, but I do recognize your Hydro rates would go up." Unless the Liberals believe people have the option of going to candles, the reality is a Hydro increase is just as much an impact on the low-income - in fact, a disproportionately greater impact - Ontarians than a tax increase.
Interjection: You've got to have heat.
Mr Gilchrist: You've got to have heat; you've got to have light, although sometimes we wonder about the light on the other side.
The bottom line: Mr McGuinty has said he guarantees that there will be no tax cuts if he is elected. He has guaranteed there will be no tax cuts if he is elected, so at least we have that on the record - although I know the election hasn't been called yet, and being Liberals that could be subject to change at any moment. Please do not rely on a copy of the 20/20 Plan as being the final vision. They may go back to the optometrist and get a boost in their vision. It isn't a platform. Dalton McGuinty's 20/20 release is not a platform, it's a shopping list. It is a shopping list designed to befuddle, to confuse, to obfuscate, to mislead the people of this province.
What is needed right now is a very clear message. We've heard it from the NDP. We disagree, but at least we've heard their clear message. You've seen 52 pages, the most detailed platform ever released by a political party, in particular by a government, in the history of this province. But from those who would prefer to be on this side of the House, who currently sit in the official opposition, we've seen nothing that specific, nothing that sincere, nothing with the sort of integrity that the voters of Ontario deserve - nothing less.
I know there's only one Liberal in the House here today because they don't care. They don't care about the debate, they don't care about tax cuts, which is why they're presumably not speaking on the subject of tax cuts. But the people who are watching deserve to know, not the day before the election but in plenty of time to go to those all-candidates' meetings and grill the Liberal candidates and find out precisely where the Liberal Party stands on this issue.
Madam Speaker, I would like to leave the rest of my time for our third speaker. I thank you very much for the opportunity to speak to this motion.
The Acting Speaker: Further debate?
Mr John O'Toole (Durham East): It's so seldom I get to speak in the House that this is indeed an honour. I'm somewhat apprehensive, but it's such an important subject.
In response to the opposition day - they've taken on the issue of coming forward with a clear plan to hike taxes. I applaud them for being so open and forthright.
Let's review the three positions in this, perhaps the last business day here in this House - who knows? I like to characterize the NDP plan as the tax-fight plan. I want to characterize the Liberal plan, or lack of one, as an uncosted wish list, "a spurious grasping" says a Toronto Star article, that was captioned with "Plan 20/20." In my view, the best way the people of Ontario should remember it is that they'll increase taxes 20 times by 20%. If you can think of 20/20 as $20 billion more on the debt, I think you'll be pretty close to what the real plan is.
Our plan is another important plan to encourage growth in this wonderful and magnificent province. Why would you want to encourage growth? Growth and a strong economy are the fundamentals. It's the framework for strong health care, strong education and strong social programs. Throughout this whole thing, it's important for us - why do we need such a strong economy? It's a strong social network that we need for children, children at risk. The early learning and parenting programs, the programs for speech and language, the breakfast programs could not have been possible if it weren't for the strong economy and the partnerships that this government has been able to form.
I've always felt that if you don't stand for something, you'll fall for anything. That's the problem I have with Dalton McGuinty's group. They're going to have a lot of negative spin on a good-news story.
If I look around today, I can see the result of the last four years. I think the evidence is overwhelming. If you look at the motive here, we started at a point in 1995 - Mr Bradley, respectfully, I think you would probably agree - with over an $11-billion deficit. You've always got to remember that this was in excess of $1 million an hour that we were spending more than we were taking in as revenue. Clearly, the whole plan has to be the ability to sustain those programs.
We inherited a 10-year legacy of mismanagement and miscalculations, characterized by radical moves such as the social contract. The Liberals, in the couple of years they had in government - the lean years, we'd call them - had the highest revenue and the highest expenditure. Really, their characterization is to spend their way out of every single problem. I suspect in the future, the way I've seen Dalton following around all of the special interest groups and kind of saying yes to this and yes to that, and yes to this and yes to that, if the people of Ontario really want to make a choice that's in opposition to this government, their clear choice by a long shot is Howard Hampton and his band renowned.
I come back to some simple principles. We've always been very clear on measuring and being accountable, the chart - how many jobs; the 69 tax cuts; everything being measured, accountable and transparent to the people of Ontario.
There's an old expression, if I may: "If you can't measure it, you can't manage it." I think what we're doing for the people of Ontario is saying, "We simply cannot continue to raise taxes." That is the key here.
Just recently, in fact in the paper this weekend, there was quite a little discussion between Dalton McGuinty and John Manley. John Manley is a federal member, I agree, but he seems to have gotten the message. They've seen how the prosperity in Ontario has helped the federal government to balance its budget.
I'm going to read for you. This is from John Manley:
"I've been saying for a long time we've got to lower taxes. We've got a lot of pluses, we've also got some minuses. One of those is that personal income taxes are higher than elsewhere. That, we have to try to fix."
Mr Manley fully understands that. That's the clarity of his plan. If I look to find some clarity in the 20/20 Plan - as I said, I'm going to refer to it from this point on as an uncosted wish list or a collection of articles from the Toronto Star which they have an interest in.
If I'm looking around my riding - and it really does come down to that - the important thing is to look and see what I've said. It's strange. I was looking for some office space just recently for another use. There wasn't one vacant store on the main street in Port Perry or Bowmanville or, for that matter, most of the communities in my riding. In 1995 the rents were falling; there were all kinds of storefront properties. That's just one example.
I happened to run into some friends of ours. He had a work-related injury. I happened to run into him in a store. He's on his feet to recovery and returning to work. He said, "They're so busy at work." When he was originally hurt, about three years ago, he was afraid there would be no job when he went back. Now they're so busy they can't wait for him to get back. This is a personal story of a personal friend, and I'm certainly happy to report that he's recovering. I can tell you as well that he had some of the best treatment in health care. In fact, he wrote an article in the local paper about it. There's clearly evidence there that he's happy that things are improving.
Just recently in an article in the Globe and Mail, it says, "Ontario's economy is the fastest-growing in the G7 nations" - there it is; it's being reported here - "showing growth in employment, the strongest in Ontario of all the rest of Canada."
I want to refer to a very important article. I think it's relevant to our young people. I have five children and three of them are in university. My second daughter has just finished her fourth year at Western University in kinesiology. She had been going into occupational therapy, that area, but for the last couple of summers she's been working in children's programming and children in special needs circumstances. She has chosen to go into teaching because she sees it as an important emerging opportunity for young people.
We've got to create the opportunities for young people by helping the economy grow and helping to invest in their futures.
The firm in this article is talking about the Ontario Jobs and Investment Board. One of the people, Bill Buxton, was commenting that for years he's been yelling but no one's been listening. Finally, he got involved. He said: "This has been a remarkable experience. It's better than exposure I've had in the past with other government organizations." There it is right there. This is a leading business person, with Alias/Wavefront, a high-tech firm. This article goes on to compliment the government on a new plan. He says, "The new plan is doubling the pipeline project," officially known as the Access to Opportunities program. "It's a commitment by the province to invest $150 million over the next three years to add 17,000 more spaces at universities and colleges in the areas of computer science, electrical engineering and other technical areas. There you have it from an industrial leader that, first, the government is listening, and the next most important thing is that they're delivering on important programs after listening. That article goes on at some length but I won't go on.
It's multifaceted. This whole issue talks about how innovation and diversification spur northern Ontario's growth. Looking at Bearskin Airlines, it's employing employs 24,000 people by making a $1-billion investment in an important industry in the north.
Those articles aren't rare by any stretch, but when I was looking through my materials I quickly found that we've got to have a strong economy so we can support important programs like health and education. I suggest that Ontario's on the right track. It has created 540,000 net new jobs.
If you look at the overall plan, in every jurisdiction in North America - every state and every province - the employment rate is up in Ontario and Ontario is the best place in North America in which to live, to work and to invest. Tax cuts certainly do create jobs.
Ontario has not only balanced its budget but is moving towards a plan in the future to deal with the deficit. In 1995 we inherited an $11-billion deficit - just to reinforce - and in the budget to be announced tomorrow, I am certain we are going to be on track ahead of schedule to have a balanced budget, as promised, in the year 2000-01.
Sixty-nine tax cuts have resulted in 540,000 jobs. I challenge the Liberals, the couple of them who are here today, to stand up and declare their hand. How are you going to pay for these unfunded fancy promises? You're going to raise taxes. Clearly that's the plan. The people have a very difficult decision. If it's the Liberals, you've got no choice. You've got to look at the NDP plan.
But our plan is clear. It is to continue the growth of the economy and prosperity so we can support important social programs, not just in my riding of Durham East and for families in my riding, but indeed for all the people of this great province.
Mr Bradley: I'm glad to have an opportunity to speak this afternoon in the House. I've noticed there is a hard-edged, partisan tone to the House this afternoon which tells me there must be an election coming.
If I didn't know it from the other signs that all of us have seen out there, just from the hard, partisan tone I would say there must be an election coming. I've listened to the strategy. My friends in the NDP are a bit embarrassed by this, but they'll take it. They laugh as you try to compliment them in as many ways as possible, because they know that you really don't agree with them, that you're not really trying to help them out, except out of the House. But we know the strategy. I watched the heir apparent as he rose in the House. This is the member for Victoria-Haliburton, who has been placed ahead of Dave Johnson, the former stand-in Deputy Premier when Ernie Eves wasn't here. Now it's the heir apparent from Victoria-Haliburton. I saw all the words out there. You have to get up and say you're on the right track. Those are the words you use in all your strategy; you've got to say that.
Then you've got to say, "We don't agree with the NDP, but boy, we respect them." That's what you've got to say next as part of the strategy, because you certainly recognize - at least if we look at some pretty steady polling results over time - that the only party that could replace you as the government would likely be the Liberal Party. So I understand. If it were the opposite, you would be trying to prop the Liberals up. I understand that. That's a strategy which governments use.
I haven't seen as arrogant a display as I have seen in the House today. That's a good sign, actually, for those of us in the opposition, to see the arrogance of the government. That's best epitomized, probably, in my friend from Scarborough East, who has all the answers to every question and is a hard-nosed partisan. He knows I don't criticize him for that, but that is exactly what we see: the know-it-all, everybody-else-must-be-wrong, we-must-be-right attitude of the government.
They talk about special interest groups. I know the special interest groups of this government. The special interest groups were best represented at the huge Conservative fundraiser held at the Metropolitan Toronto Convention Centre last Thursday night. Steve Gilchrist - we're not supposed to use names - will help me out if I do not have the figures correct. There were 3,300 people at the huge fundraiser you had at the convention centre - I think over 3,000 people. The net gain for the Conservative Party was $2.5 million in one night, if you can believe that.
Mr Wayne Wettlaufer (Kitchener): It sounds like sour grapes over there.
Mr Bradley: The member says it sounds like sour grapes. No, I simply say to the people of Ontario, if they want to know who the Conservative Party has catered to, it has been the rich and the privileged. So if you are very rich and very privileged and you don't have a social conscience - you have to fit those three categories - then I would strongly recommend that group should vote for the Conservative Party. I think that's a fair assessment. That is your vested interest group that you speak of when you speak of vested interest groups.
You try to court others in our society by zeroing in on what you think are good targets. I would never compare you to the worst regimes that we've seen in our history, but I want to tell you, the traits are there, that is, targetting groups that can be unpopular, trying to play on people's emotions about a minority of people in a community and to boot them around because they know it gets votes with others. I don't know if that will work this time. I think you're counting on it doing so.
I listened to the Premier in some of his late pronouncements, although he was in an argument with the Solicitor General. The Solicitor General said we're going to have armed police officers in all of the schools, and the Premier got on with Robert Fisher - that's been bad luck for him, because you'll remember it was Robert Fisher who asked him the question during the last election campaign, when they had the all-party debate in May 1995. They had a question that was placed to the Premier. They said - I'll paraphrase his question - "Does your health care plan mean any hospitals are going to close?"
Here's what Mike Harris said. He looked right into the camera, with that square jaw and handsome face and - I was going to say, "with a blue suit on," but I've got a blue suit on today - and said, "Certainly, Robert, I can guarantee you it's not my plan to close hospitals." Since that time we've had about a fifth of the hospitals in Ontario close or be forced to merge. That's Robert Fisher.
This time Robert Fisher said, "Is it true you're going to put armed police in all the schools?" He said, "No, that's not our plan, and nobody in our government said it was our plan." He was yelling, I heard, at Robert Fisher down the hallway about it after. He got back to the office and, sure enough, my friend Mad Dog, as we call him affectionately in this House, not in any derogatory way, Bob Runciman, a good friend of mine over the years, said, "I did say that." So we've got this conflict, with the Premier saying, "No, we're not having armed guards in all the schools," and the Solicitor General says we are. I don't know who to believe in that. I guess the Premier must win out. But it's going back to the fact that you're picking on all the people you think you can get votes by picking on.
Let me read from a letter which I think is still relevant today. The letter was written in November 1995, I believe; at least I read it into the record on November 20, 1995. It was an open letter from Walter Asbil. He is the Anglican bishop of Niagara. He wrote a pretty strong letter to the Premier of this province, about a style of this government that remains today. Let me quote the letter, because I think it best describes the government we've had in office for the past four years.
I know, and my friend from Scarborough East will like this allusion, that the Premier wanted to save like Scrooge and spend like Santa. I'm trying to get that Canadian Tire reference. He wanted to save like Scrooge, and now he spends like Santa. The right-wing commentators out there who said, "One thing you can say about Mike Harris is that he's different from the other politicians" - well, all I've seen is Tory MPPs running around with cheques to give out from this huge slush fund. My friend from central Ontario, the Muskoka area, the Reform Party organizer up there, must be beside himself now to see Tory MPPs running around doling out the cheques, because he ran on a platform of, "We're cutters."
But, you see, what has happened is that the Premier recognized that he can't get re-elected on those policies, so he's now got to - if it's moving, give it a cheque. He's totally shed the snake's skin. I don't mean "snake" in a negative way; I don't make those references. But you know how a snake sheds its skin or the leopard tries to change its spots, and he's now Santa Claus out there. The right-wing commentators must be wondering what they're going to say about him, because they've always said, "He's different," or "He keeps his promises," like the promise I made reference to of not closing any hospitals, and then he went around the province closing hospitals.
Let me read from Bishop Asbil of the Anglican Church, the Anglican Diocese of Niagara. Walter Asbil said the following:
"`Dear Premier Harris,
"`I write to you out of deep conviction and concern. During the past few months, this level of concern has increased to the point that silence is no longer possible.
"`You and your government have received a strong mandate from the people of Ontario and that mandate is to govern. The responsibility that comes with this charge is awesome and I want to begin by assuring you that the members of our parishes in Niagara diocese pray for you and your government on a regular basis.
"`The task of government, however, is to govern fairly'" - notice that Bishop Walter Asbil makes reference to fairness - "`with a passion for justice towards all segments of society. In trying to face the problems before it, and we all realize that you face huge difficulties, the solutions chosen must not treat one group in society more harshly than another.
"`In dealing with a problem as important and difficult as the provincial debt, every Ontario citizen should share in its solution, with those who have more resources being asked to take proportionate responsibility.
"`What I perceive, however, in the first months of your mandate as our Premier, is that your government is singling out the poorest segment in our society, the ones with no champion in your cabinet, and you are asking them to bear the brunt of your efforts to reduce the debt. At the same time, you're giving me and others like me in the so-called "middle class" a healthy boost in my health coverage so that I can more easily head to Florida for as much of the winter as I wish. Further, you are promising me a substantial reduction in the taxes I pay (30% seems to be the target). I could easily go into many other details regarding your announced policies, but allow me for the sake of brevity to paint only this broad picture.'
"This is where I think it becomes rather condemning and this is what I think members of the government should take into account and think about. I don't expect you're going to respond in the House to it, but think about it. He makes the following observation" - Bishop Asbil, the Anglican Bishop of Niagara:
"`The face your government is presenting to Ontario increasingly is one that shows heartlessness, no compassion, callous disregard and an attitude towards the poor that is perceived as mean and patronizing. Your ministers stereotype groups of people with labels, forgetting they are citizens, voters, sisters and brothers and neighbours. Some in your cabinet, and I allow generously for inexperience, shock me with their remarks and attitudes, as if speaking about things and not about people, who ask only for the respect every human deserves.
"`The patronizing attitude towards the disabled, the single parent, the poor, the abused, the homeless, all of them our sisters and brothers, is especially upsetting.
`"My strong hope and prayer is that you and your government will turn another face toward the people you govern. Why cannot the government of the largest province in Canada become known as a compassionate government? This does not mean abandoning plans to face the very real problems you confront, but it does mean that such plans are shaped with a care for people, for all people. Why cannot the government of Ontario bring a balance into its program and stop singling out, victimizing, ridiculing those least able to speak out or stand up for themselves? Why do you promise the already rich even more riches and, at the same time, slam the poor?
`"As Bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Niagara, I have responsibility for 116 congregations in southern Ontario, for the membership of 50,000, including communities between Fort Erie and Shelburne, from Guelph to the Mississauga border. This diocese includes cities like Niagara Falls, St Catharines, Hamilton, Burlington, Oakville, Milton, Georgetown, Orangeville, Guelph and many of the surrounding towns and communities. Our clergy and lay leaders continue each day in trying to respond to the basic needs of people in their particular area. Many are on boards and committees in their region who support and help people in a wide variety of ways. How utterly discouraging it is to all of these leaders when the government of our province scolds us as we try our best and offer no sense of partnership, concern or continuing financial support.
`"While I do not try to speak for every member in all our parishes, since most can speak for themselves, I do represent the clergy and people of the diocese of Niagara in asking you to have passion for fairness, for justice and for compassion.
`"My basis for this concern goes out of personal faith, from the Scriptures that Christians hold as central, from the way and example of Jesus Christ. These central things of our faith encourage our parish members to join all others in society to work for the well-being of all, having special regard for our sisters and brothers who are poorest among us.
`"The prayers of the people of the diocese of Niagara are offered to God regularly for you and for the government you lead."'
It's signed by Walter Asbil, Anglican Bishop of Niagara.
I had wished that three and a half years or the fourth year into this government that letter wouldn't apply today. It does, unfortunately. I hear it in the Conservative rhetoric. I understand politics very much - I've been in the political field for a number of years - but I cannot accept stepping on the face of someone else to push yourself up. Those people don't have the same access. They couldn't attend the fundraising dinner in Toronto, where there were tables going I think for some $12,000 a table in the prime locations, at least $5,000 a table, and there were all those people, the economic elite of Ontario. Those people couldn't afford to go to that fundraising dinner. They don't go into the Albany Club. They don't rub shoulders with a lot of people in this government, unfortunately. I guess our responsibility as elected members is to speak for those who are unable to speak for themselves.
I see the amount of money you're squandering on what is clearly self-serving advertising. Peter Desbarats, who is a professor of journalism, now retired I believe, from the University of Western Ontario, has been critical of governments of all stripes and complimentary of governments of all stripes, really said that it was the nature of the advertising that was the problem. Professor Nelson Wiseman from the University of Toronto, when asked, was condemning of this. But you see, you had money for that - $100 million worth of money - not for providing direct information, because that's quite legitimate, but for self-serving advertising, for something that should be paid for by the Conservative Party and not by the taxpayers of this province.
I don't know whether it works or not. The experts in the advertising field say, "If you hammer away enough and you put the message out there enough, people almost subliminally accept it," except I'm encountering a lot of people, including Conservative friends, who are sickened by it. They turn on the television set, turn on the radio, open the newspaper, open their mailbox and there's Mike Harris, Conservative Premier of Ontario, extolling the virtues of his government and actually even attacking those who disagree with him, using very well worded advertisements. It's a sign of arrogance and it's a sign of style.
You're going to have enough money to run the campaign anyway. You have catered your policies to the rich and the privileged in this province and they have rewarded you with millions of dollars in return in campaign contributions. In fact, in what I would, I think, fairly call an attack on democracy, you have tried to rig the rules in favour of (a) the governing party and (b) a governing party that caters to the rich and powerful and privileged.
You've done that through legislation you passed in this House which allows for far more money to be donated to political parties and far more money to be spent in a provincial election campaign in individual constituencies and across the province. It's not as though the Conservative Party doesn't have all kinds of money to spend on advertising - it does - but it's decided to abuse its public office by spending taxpayers' dollars and having ministries engage in what I think any objective person would call self-serving, blatantly partisan advertising at the taxpayers' expense.
What makes this even more difficult to accept is that Mike Harris ran as the person who was going to eliminate unnecessary expenditures. Yet here is a clear squandering of tax dollars, a clear abuse of public office. Conservative members sit silently and accept that. I don't know, maybe at your caucus meetings you say something about it.
I thought Gary Carr, the member for Oakville, who appeared on Focus Ontario with me to deal with the issue of advertising, was as fair as you're going to get. Gary said - and I'll paraphrase him; he'll get up and correct me tomorrow if he wants to, but I think I'm fair. He plays hockey with a group of people and he asked them in the dressing room, "So what do you think of our advertising?" and they said, "Why don't you spend the money on health care instead of that advertising?"
People are talking about that. I know you think you can get away with it. I know you think you've got so much party money out there that once the campaign starts you can bombard the airwaves with commercial after commercial during the hockey game or, of all things, the Monica Lewinsky interview; you even had commercials, I'm told, on that.
What I am looking at is the nature -
Mr Wettlaufer: Your government spent double what we did.
Mr Bradley: The member who is not sitting in his own seat -
The Acting Speaker: Order, please. Member for Kitchener, come to order.
Mr Bradley: If he's going to defend that - he ran as part of a team that was never going to misuse tax dollars in this province, and his attitude is, "Well, somebody else did it, so it's okay for us to do it." I'm going to tell you that the people who are objective observers who look at this believe that you have made it even more partisan than it's ever been before.
Let me quote Nelson Wiseman, a University of Toronto political scientist. He said: "I've never seen this type of advertising anywhere in Canada.... This is unprecedented."
"The Tories have `an enormous edge' over the other two main political parties and special interest groups, says York University political scientist Robert MacDermid," another person observing.
"Not only can they use taxpayers' money but they have also raised more than three times the cash of the other parties, he says."
Dr Wiseman goes on to say, "But too many of the ads and brochures have featured Harris and used blatantly political expressions such as `on the right track' and `get on with it' in regard to government programs."
Here's probably the most condemning statement of the government advertising program by Professor Wiseman. "`It's a flagrant and wasteful expenditure of public monies,' he says. `It's all the more insulting to the intelligence of the public because this is a government that said it's going to cut back on wasteful spending.'"
I looked at a secret document that got out, that was leaked, and it tells about the government advertising and what it's designed to do. I'm quoting from this secret document that was leaked some time ago. It says:
"Our creative" - that means our advertising - "must influence both the hearts and minds of target audiences. To be effective, our advertising must leave the target audience feeling comfortable with trusting the Mike Harris government with Ontario's education system. The emotional impact of our advertising is perhaps even more important than the content of the copy."
It goes on and mentions many things about your advertising: "Our message needs to be as tangible as possible. We should simplify concepts as much as possible so that the audience can picture and personally relate to them. In a given piece of advertising there should be one single, simple message. Too often we have included more than one message in a single commercial."
It goes on. You can just see how this government is trying to manipulate public opinion and is designed to do so through its advertising. There's lots of money for that, not necessarily lots of money otherwise.
Something else I've noticed that I've not seen before - I don't think I've seen it before - and that is government MPPs using what must be their global budget or something to advertise in the newspaper. It says, "A report to constituents," or something like that. I'll tell you something: I would never, ever think - I'm not trying to put myself as a virtuous person - of using taxpayers' dollars to put out a message in a newspaper that is clearly partisan. I don't know, again, how people who run on fiscal responsibility can, in all good conscience, do that.
I know constituency newsletters go out. I haven't put one out for years and years. I don't criticize anybody else for doing it - don't get me wrong - but to see these ads just days before and a couple of weeks before an election, ads using taxpayers' dollars - if the Conservative Party wants to pay, I don't object to that; that's politics - but that's an abuse of public office, and I think people are going to condemn that rather strongly.
As I look out there today into Ontario, I don't see the Ontario of Leslie Frost, John Robarts or Bill Davis, all of whom were pretty moderate, middle-of-the-road people. I see a hard-edged, very right wing and, I guess from some views, a pretty extremist government out there. It's trying to soften the image now, portray the Premier as the cuddly teddy bear out there and the person who's just one of the guys, so to speak, but you've had a devastating effect on many people in this province.
Not everything you've done has been wrong. Don't get me wrong, I want to say to the Minister of Consumer and Commercial Relations. I indicated to him the other day that we'd be happy to pass the Vinters Quality Alliance Act. That's a good piece of legislation. I'll say that publicly during the campaign. I asked for it in the House and I know others did as well. Allowing wineries to sell directly to the bars and restaurants, that's good stuff. I've advocated it and I'm sure my colleagues in Niagara have advocated it as well.
So I don't just condemn a government for everything it does. But it's not only the content, it's the style of this government: bullying, intimidating, very insensitive to people who have a legitimate point of view to express. It doesn't mean you have to accept it, but you have to at least listen to people and not put the boots to them on every occasion simply because it resonates well with a certain portion of the population.
Women in this province have probably understood better than anybody the changes, and Madam Speaker, you have raised some of the issues in the House, as have others: To watch Bethlehem Place in St Catharines lose its funding; to see women's shelters not get the kind of funding they need to carry out their responsibilities; seeing a number of social programs which help people at the bottom end who really couldn't help themselves being eliminated is very difficult.
I don't think there's anybody in this House who wants to see anybody defrauding the welfare system. I think most of us want to see people go from the social assistance category into being able to work in a meaningful job that may be available out there. Everybody wants that goal, and that's out there. But I've seen a meanness of spirit that I've not seen before. I didn't see it in Bob Welch in this House, in Tom Wells, Bill Davis, Roy McMurtry, Susan Fish; I didn't see it in those people. They were pretty moderate people. Yes, on the cautious side, as Conservatives are wont to be on many occasions, but not that meanness, that hard edge to them, that know-it-all rant of the right wing that we heard earlier this afternoon from at least one of the speakers. I won't say that of my friend Mr O'Toole, who gave a speech, but I wouldn't say it was quite in that category. But I heard another one, perhaps a couple of them.
I know what your role is. It's an election campaign. Your role is to try to discredit the Liberal Party and discredit the Liberal leader because we're much higher in the polls than the NDP now. As I said, if they were higher in the polls, you'd be trying to discredit them. That's the way it goes.
I want to talk about the health care system and what you've done to that. If anybody here in Ontario believes that if you people got re-elected you wouldn't revert back to many of your old tactics and many of your old policies, they are very naive people. You set out to cut, and that was what you wanted to do. What the kind of cutting you did brings about eventually is privatization. The rich in our society can afford private health care, but the poor cannot, and the lower-middle-income and even middle-income people cannot.
One of the things all political parties in this Legislature can be proud of is the health care system we've built in Ontario, a publicly funded, universally accessible health care system. It has got many problems today, and a lot of those problems are because this government decided that, while it was running a deficit, it wanted to give a tax cut and therefore had to make deeper cuts and borrow money.
Other governments, once they have balanced the budget - Saskatchewan, for instance - have given a tax cut. The Roy Romanow NDP government, once it achieved a balanced budget, gave some tax cuts. If you can find certain specific relief - remember, I said to the member for Scarborough Centre he had a bill a few years ago. It was kind of targeted, and he wondered why some people in opposition would support it. I said because it was specifically targeted and can be effective, not just an across-the-board income tax cut that obviously the wealthiest people benefit from. If it was targeted and if it was after the budget was balanced, it would make some sense.
I see a health care system that has been ravaged by this government. You've taken hundreds of millions of dollars out of the health care system in terms of the hospital funding.
Mr Wettlaufer: How can you sit there and say that?
Mr Bradley: The member says, from his wrong seat, "How can you say that?"
The Acting Speaker: Member for Kitchener, come to order.
Mr Bradley: You have taken hundreds of millions of dollars from our hospitals. Sir, I ask you to go out to talk to your people about the kind of hospital care that is available today compared to 10 years ago.
The Acting Speaker: Member for St Catharines, hold on. Member for Kitchener, come to order. You're not in your seat. You're out of order anyway. Please come to order. Member for St Catharines.
Mr Bradley: Thank you, Madam Speaker.
Ask any person who had a hospital experience, say, a dozen years ago, 10 years ago, and today. They will all tell you what the difference is. It's not as pleasant today, I can tell you, because you fired out the door thousands of nurses. Oh yes, you say, "We've spent all this money." You had to spend hundreds of millions of dollars in severance payments to nurses you fired out the door of the hospitals. I challenge any member of this government to honestly say that when a person goes in the hospital today that person is likely to get as high a quality of service as 10 years ago.
The nurses will tell you that's not the case, the doctors will tell you that's not the case, other workers in the hospital will tell you that's not the case, and the family and friends. You better have somebody to stay with you, you better have somebody to advocate for you, because it is a mess in the hospitals.
You people go about discrediting public institutions as much as you can so that people will accept a radical solution. In St Catharines you heard me plead, if not once, 300 times in this House for Hotel Dieu Hospital and the other hospitals in our area. So we have the doors still open. In public forums we went to, everywhere else we went to - just before an election is about to be called, they kept the doors open. But I'll tell you, Hotel Dieu Hospital is not the hospital it was before you people announced that. You see, there's no active treatment left in that hospital. You're taking out all of the active treatment beds. There will no longer be 24-hour emergency care, despite the crisis we've had in St Catharines and the Niagara region in emergency care. You've ended that. You've got some urgent care in there for part of the day.
We had a number of other hospitals running deficits. This year that will be looked after. The huge pot, the re-election pot, the one-time pile of money that you have to solve all problems politically by throwing money at them at the last minute, will look after that. But we've had a crisis in emergency care, a crisis in terms of the quality of care that our hospitals are able to offer. We've had home care which has been chaotic. We have had ambulance services where the ambulance drivers here are going to be downloaded and probably privatized. We in the Liberal Party believe the province should bring back the ambulance service to the provincial level, which of course would free up considerable money from the local municipalities.
There are other areas that municipalities should not have to accept, because you've downloaded on them. These are good people who have worked very hard over the years, and yes, they all understand they are going to get a cheque from you so they could either bring down their taxes this one year or perhaps not have the increase that was going to be there. They understand the game, but they know that the long-term responsibilities that you have downloaded on those municipalities will be costly.
Governor Christine Todd Whitman in New Jersey rubbed her hands and said, "You've got a 30% income tax cut in the state level." Mike Harris said the same thing. But you know what happened in New Jersey? Huge increases in the property taxes as new responsibilities were placed on those people.
What we have here is a vision that is much like that of the Republican Party in the United States: not the moderate Republicans, but the right-wing Republicans in the US. The United States is a great country in which to live if you have lots of money, but if you don't, it isn't. If you're poor, if you're disadvantaged, if you're unable to be part of that elite that can be very wealthy, then the United States is not the place for you. I see that coming to Ontario, and I don't think I overstate that. You people, or at least your advisers - the 29- and 30- and 31-year-old whiz kids, the right-wing ideologues - worship at the idol of the Republican policies in the United States.
I don't think Canadians want that. I think we're a more compassionate people. We're frugal, yes. We want to be fiscally responsible, yes. I think people want that. But they want a sense of compassion out there for people who are genuinely in need, and I don't see that compassion here. Those people are relegated to the category of "special interest groups" in this province.
I recognize what the government is up to. I know you think that somehow all this goodness will trickle down to the people who are at the lower echelons of our society. I don't think that's going to be the case. I don't think it has been the case to this point in time. I think people are seeing public services that they were used to in the past, that we expected to have in the past, being lost.
You people like to say, "We've cut all these taxes." I would estimate now that you've probably raised taxes 400 or 500 times, because you've raised user fees. When you raise user fees, the rich and the privileged are able to accept those user fees. They can get by with them. They benefit because then they don't have to share with others in bringing those services to others in their community.
Not everybody can drive a Cadillac. Not everybody can live in a mansion. Not everybody can go to Paris for a holiday twice a year. I don't expect that. But I think there are certain basic services that all Canadians and all Ontarians should have available to them. We shouldn't have gated communities where you have a special police force that doesn't allow undesirables into a rich subdivision. We shouldn't have to have that in Ontario, yet I could see us moving to that, if we keep going in that direction.
I see the fees that are now placed on senior citizens' prescriptions. That's to punish them because somehow this government thinks senior citizens are abusing the system because they need those medicines. There are a lot of senior citizens who are able to live to a much older age today because of a lot of those prescription drugs that are available, and appliances and services that might be available. When I see you start to delist those, take those drugs off the list, or to charge user fees, I know many are going to be hurt by that.
I look at the field of education with a good deal of sadness because education has always been a happy area, an area of energy, enthusiasm and goodwill. I've watched this government target those who are on the front line of the delivery of education services simply because it's politically good to do so. I understand that. I understand that if you bash teachers or bash people in the public sector, there is a certain segment of the population that thinks that's great. But you're discouraging people who want to help others, who want to help young people or older people to advance their education.
I've never seen morale so low as it is today, never seen it that low, and that's most unfortunate. These are the people who should be helping to bring about change. You should be enlisting their support, developing a consensus with them. But again, that's the style of this government. This government's style is confrontation: "Let's pick a fight, let's bully, let's intimidate. Let's pick a victim out there and have everybody say, `Yeah, let's take a kick at that group in our society.'"
What you've forgotten is that many of these teachers, for instance, have mothers and fathers, and sisters and brothers, and neighbours and good friends and students out there who have worked with them and who are appalled by what you've done, your attack ads on them and the Premier constantly taking a kick at people in the education system.
There are going to be some disagreements from time to time with those in the system; I understand that. But it's the appalling attitude. The attitude that you've taken now is: "We've alienated them and now, having alienated them, what we're going to do is get the support of somebody else by alienating them. We know they're not going to get that."
Mr O'Toole: After 20 years you should know something. You are all things to all people; you don't stand for anything.
Mr Bradley: I must say to the member for Durham East that there are many people in this province who believe that your style of government is exactly an issue in this campaign. That's what it is.
Mr O'Toole: Take care, Jimmy.
The Acting Speaker: Member for Durham East, come to order.
Mr Bradley: If you want to put the boots to people because you know it's popular with others, I guess that's a style that you can stand for. I can tell you, I will never stand in this Legislature to victimize people so that I can get others on my side - people who cannot support themselves, who cannot defend themselves.
Mr O'Toole: Who are you picking on?
The Acting Speaker: Order, please.
Mr Bradley: You got into a fight over Bill 130, and it wasn't a fight between the government of Ontario and the teachers of Ontario. It was a fight between those who believe in a strong, vibrant, publicly funded, dynamic education system and those who do not; and those people who sit across from us do not.
You've brought disruption and disunity and chaos to the education system. We must return to an era of stability where people work together as a team, as they did under Bob Welch when he was Minister of Education, as they did under Tom Wells when he was Minister of Education, as they did under Larry Grossman when he was Minister of Education. All of those people knew how to work with people in our society and not to put the boots to them, as you right-wingers do, those with the hard edge to you.
In post-secondary education you are bringing about a circumstance where soon only the very brightest or the very richest will be able to have access to the best positions in our universities and our community colleges. Your huge increases in tuition fees, your allowing rent control to disappear, getting rid of rent control, the new charges that are being levied on students, bring about a circumstance where a student has to either incur a tremendous personal debt or not choose a post-secondary education - that is, those who are able and desirous of attaining that.
That's why we believe you have to cut that tuition fee by 10% as a start. That's why we believe that you have to invest in our universities, so that we can compete around the world. Today, on a per-student basis in post-secondary education, Ontario invests the least of any province in this country. It's at the very bottom. We believe we must be at least at the national average, and do better than that in the future.
We believe part-time students should have access to student assistance, student loans that are available, and that students who work in the summer or when they're not going to school should be able to earn at least $1,800 a year without being rendered ineligible for that kind of assistance.
I watch a style, I watch a pattern, I watch a government which is moving more and more towards a divided society: the very rich, the very privileged, and those who are disadvantaged in our society.
I look at what you've done to the environment by cutting -
Hon Jim Flaherty (Minister of Labour): B-plus.
Mr Bradley: The member says B-plus. One report says B-plus. I hear that's going to be relegated downward since they found out what you're really up to, once they found out that you're going to allow the mining companies into those parks.
Hon Mr Flaherty: A lot better than you did as the Minister of the Environment. There's the Minister of the Environment right there. B-plus.
Mr Bradley: We will put our record on the environment, sir, against yours any day of the week. You have cut over one third of the employees of the Ministry of the Environment, those who are the policemen in the environment, those who do the testing, those who keep an eye on the polluters. You've thrown those people out the door, and those in the Ministry of Natural Resources. You have cut the budget of the Ministry of the Environment by up to 40%. You've elbowed it aside. You've passed legislation which weakens the role and responsibility of the Ministry of the Environment. As well, through regulations, through your so-called moving aside red tape, you've taken away from the Ministry of the Environment its ability to do its job.
You even took away from the present Minister of the Environment the responsibility for the Niagara Escarpment Commission. Norm Sterling, the one person on that side of the House who cared about and was dedicated to preserving the Niagara Escarpment and its lands, the Premier took out of it and gave the responsibility to the Ministry of Natural Resources. I have said in this House, and I will on many occasions say in this House, that if there's one criticism I would not render of that minister, it would be his concern for the Niagara Escarpment. Because of his strong concern, the Premier yanked him out of that responsibility, and now we have on the escarpment commission some people who believe it should be abolished and some people who believe in unfettered development. Some of the good old boys have been placed on it - not all of the appointments; some of them have been reasonable. But some of them are people who certainly are not there to defend the environment.
Ontario has become a paradise for toxic waste now. If you have toxic waste, send it to good old Ontario. There are so many areas where this government has abandoned the environment that it's sad to see that this government would undo what had been done in terms of the environmental leadership which Ontario had provided in years gone by.
One other area I wanted to touch on. I should say we're underserviced in the Niagara region for doctors. I heard about the ophthalmologists today. I can tell you that we have a long waiting line for ophthalmologists in the Niagara region.
What I want to touch on last is the movement of this government heavily into the field of gambling. If anybody in this province doesn't believe that if this government were re-elected we wouldn't see video lottery terminals in the bars and restaurants of this province, they are dreaming. This government wanted to place 44 new Mike Harris gambling halls - they called them "charity casinos" - in all of the communities, there to vacuum up all the money from those who were vulnerable, those who were desperate, those who had addictions. To see the Conservative Party doing this, and now bringing them in through the back doors simply by saying, "We'll put them all in the racetracks now" - unfortunately our racetracks in many cases have become in fact charity casinos, so-called casinos. There are more people playing the video lottery terminals or the slot machines that are there than are playing the horses. If there's a condemnation I have of this government it's allowing itself to move massively into the field of public gambling.
I understand we have some casinos which will make some sense - and my friend from Niagara Falls is here - Windsor, for instance. They're what we call "tourist casinos." But those charity casinos will just be there to take all the money out of the local community. I condemn this government for that and so much else.
Mr Len Wood (Cochrane North): I'm pleased to participate in the debate on the motion brought forward by Howard Hampton, our leader, in condemning the Mike Harris tax cut scheme that he's brought forward giving $4.1 million per day back to the richest people in the province. The 6% upper-income people in the province are receiving over 25% of the income tax cut that is being taken out of health care, education, communities, the environment. The money has to go back into these programs.
We are proud of the fact that the New Democratic Party was first to lay out our campaign platform so that people could scrutinize it and get feedback to us on what the feeling was. We're happy that it's out there, and I'm getting good response as we travel around, compared to the bully tactics that Mike Harris has used, whether it's the bully tactics in firing 10,000 nurses when they first became the government and now saying they're going to hire them back; whether it's beating up on teachers and trying to create 100 or 150 tests out there so that they can screen out the teachers, which means firing them somewhere down the road if Mike Harris were to get re-elected. People are fed up with the bully tactics.
The tax cut that we're saying we would take back, which is $1.5 billion, would be put back into health care, education, communities and the environment.
Having been travelling through a large number of ridings in northern Ontario, in the new riding that I'm presently preparing to challenge in the upcoming election - there's a lot of unemployment out there. If you ask people did they benefit from the Harris tax cut, some of them are saying, "No, I didn't even get the cost of a cup of coffee in return." Yet we have unemployment in some areas that is 30%. There are no benefits from the tax cut that Mike Harris has put out there. It's hurting education, it's hurting the environment.
You find out that Mike Harris wants to issue a certificate - I guess Norm Sterling is going to sign the certificate - to create a huge dump or landfill site at the Adams mine in northern Ontario and they're going to welcome all the garbage going in there. There's not going to be a single job created as a result of the environmental disaster they want to create, polluting all the rivers from Kirkland Lake all the way down into the Sturgeon River and beyond. It's a silly plan that is out there, but it's hurting the people of northern Ontario.
There was no consultation done when they cancelled the spring bear hunt and threw hundreds of people out of work as a result.
There was no final consultation on Lands for Life. We know that as you create more parks, the workers are going to be put at risk in northern Ontario as a result of the Minister of Natural Resources and Mike Harris saying, "We've got to hurry up and get this done and get it out of the way before the election is called because people might find out the true story of what is happening."
Northern Ontario is suffering. It shouldn't be suffering when you have a Premier from northern Ontario, but northern Ontario is suffering as far as health care, education and the environment are concerned. Community and property taxes are going up as a result of the cutbacks they've made to all the communities in order to feed their frenzy for giving a tax cut to the wealthiest people in Ontario. Why? Because there is no trickle-down effect by giving this money away. It's just hurting people unfairly as far as we in the New Democratic Party are concerned.
As I said before, I'm proud of our leader, Howard Hampton. We've put our platform out there, clearly ahead of the Conservative and Liberal parties. We're proud to be out there campaigning on it. You don't see any flip-flop back and forth from us. We're out there campaigning on it, we're proud of it and we're going to continue.
It's quite obvious from what's been happening in here and in the newspapers that the election campaign has been on for quite a period of time now. With the $100 million that Mike Harris has been spending on advertising on American channels and all the Canadian channels, it's quite obvious that he thinks the election campaign is on; he just hasn't told us the date. Maybe tomorrow he'll tell us the date and we can get out there and truly campaign to elect the New Democratic Party in this province.
Mr Tony Silipo (Dovercourt): I'm glad to have the chance to wind up debate on this important resolution that we've put forward through our leader, Howard Hampton, which is at the heart of what we believe the upcoming election is all about. We know we have been unofficially in this campaign for some time now, as my colleague Mr Len Wood just indicated, but I think it's fair to say that we may very likely within the next 40 hours be officially into the campaign.
We thought it was crucial, in this last opportunity we have before that happens, to talk very clearly in this Legislature today about the $4.1 million that is being spent every day to provide a tax cut for the wealthiest citizens in our province, the top 6%, the richest 6% of citizens in our province. Not only does that represent 25% of all the tax cuts that Mike Harris has implemented, but it is also $4.1 million a day that is not being spent in our hospitals, in our schools, in our colleges and universities, and in many of the other important services.
I've listened with great interest to the debate this afternoon and listened to the lines reiterated by the Conservative Party members across the way as to why they believe even more tax cuts is the way to go. At least we have the clarity of that position and we know where the two poles sit, if you wish. But we believe it's more important to put money into our important services of health care and education than it is to give a 30% tax cut to the wealthiest 6% of Ontarians. We believe this $4.1 million a day is better spent in those services, that the $1.5 billion that that accounts for on an annual basis should go into those important services.
I also listened with great interest to the position expressed by our Liberal colleagues today. I have a lot of respect for the member for St Catharines. As he has stood here today and analyzed and condemned and criticized the Mike Harris government, I don't think there is one word in what he said that I would have disagreement with. However, I found it really interesting and very telling that in the 50 minutes he spoke, he, and I'm assuming his party, never once told us why it is that if they are so against what Mike Harris has been doing, if they, like us, believe so clearly that what Mike Harris and his fiscal policy is doing is so wrong, they would continue the same tax cut that is at the heart of all of those cuts to services and which is at the heart of all of those increases in property taxes, user fees and in all of the myriad of other costs that most families are now having to pick up in order to pay for the 6% at the top who are getting this huge 30% tax cut. That is perhaps also telling in terms of the positions the people of Ontario will have a chance to judge all of us on as we venture out in what seems to be the official call a few days from now.
We stand proudly in defence of the many services that we have all built up, through successive governments in this province, in our health care system, in our education system, in many of our other community services, the very things that make Ontario a good place to live in. We want to maintain those services, which is why we believe it's crucial that the tax cut for that 6% be stopped and that the money be reinvested back into those services. That's the position we will clearly take into the next election. It will be interesting to see where the Liberals eventually will stand on that.
Mr O'Toole: On a point of order, Madam Speaker: Earlier this afternoon I addressed the House, and I would like to correct the record. In my remarks, I made a reference that Bearskin Airlines was a $1-billion industry. In fact, the tourism industry in northern Ontario is a $1-billion industry.
The Acting Speaker: Mr Hampton has moved opposition day number 1.
Is it the pleasure of the House that the motion carry?
All those in favour of the motion will please say "aye."
All those opposed will please say "nay."
In my opinion, the nays have it.
Call in the members; this will be a five-minute bell.
The division bells rang from 1757 to 1802.
The Acting Speaker: Order. All those in favour of the motion will please rise.
The Acting Speaker: All those opposed to the motion will please rise.
Bradley, James J.
Ford, Douglas B.
Leadston, Gary L.
McLean, Allan K.
Ouellette, Jerry J.
Parker, John L.
Sterling, Norman W.
Stewart, R. Gary
Tascona, Joseph N.
Tsubouchi, David H.
Young, Terence H.
Clerk of the House (Mr Claude L. DesRosiers): The ayes are 11; the nays are 54.
The Acting Speaker: I declare the motion lost.
It now being past 6 of the clock, this House stands adjourned until 1:30 of the clock tomorrow -
The Acting Speaker: I am so sorry, I take that back - until 6:30 of the clock this evening.
The House adjourned at 1806.
Evening meeting reported in volume B.