LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY OF ONTARIO
ASSEMBLÉE LÉGISLATIVE DE L'ONTARIO
Tuesday 24 April 2001 Mardi 24 avril 2001
Tuesday 24 April 2001 Mardi 24 avril 2001
The House met at 1332.
LET'S BUILD A BRIDGE
Mr Ted McMeekin (Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Aldershot): My first goal after accepting Dalton McGuinty's challenge to be the municipal affairs critic for the Ontario Liberal Party was to attempt to connect with municipal leaders across the province. That's why in February we launched the Let's Build a Bridge tour in response to some 80-plus invitations from communities all across Ontario -- large, small, rural, urban.
It quickly became apparent that what Aristotle said was true, that if you want to know if the shoe fits you have to ask the person who wears it, not the person who made it. It quickly became self-evident that there were two basic themes being expressed as we travelled across Ontario: one was the basic mistrust that municipal leaders hold the province in, and second, provincial legislation has hampered their ability to build strong, vocal, prosperous communities.
One municipal leader told me, "Municipalities would do a whole lot better if the province would just leave them alone." Another said, "All we have received so far from this government" -- by way of legislation -- "is disabling legislation."
I know the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing -- because I've met with him -- shares some of these concerns: concern that we need to start rebuilding bridges between municipalities and local communities.
I would like to invite the minister and others who share the concern for that to join with me in subsequent phases of the tour so that we can hear from municipal leaders and begin to build those bridges of trust and respect that are so important.
CLARINGTON BUSINESS EXPOSITION
Mr John O'Toole (Durham): It is my pleasure to stand in the House today to talk about just one of the positive events taking place in my riding of Durham, one designed to help promote business growth within the municipality of Clarington.
The second annual Clarington Business Exposition, or Cbex, is being sponsored by both the Clarington Business Group and the Clarington Board of Trade. Businesses from Bowmanville, Newcastle, Courtice, Orono, Tyrone and Newtonville, to name but six, will be on hand in Bowmanville to show customers and businesses what they have to offer. They're open for business.
I would like to take a moment to recognize a few of the members who have been involved in coordinating this important project: Victoria Greene, Ron Collis and Adrian Foster. All members of the executive for both organizations have worked tirelessly, along with the Courtice Lions Club, which will also help throughout the day.
This year Cbex has attracted 70 businesses, 20 more than last year. There will also be a variety of exhibits from all sectors of Clarington's business community. They will be on hand to explain their services and act as the front-line service providers in the business community.
Last week in the throne speech our government reasserted our commitment to economic growth, along with prosperity and accountability. Small businesses are the number one driving force in Ontario's prosperous economy, and I'm proud to see that Durham riding and our business people are taking the initiative in finding new ways in which to deliver their services.
Mr David Caplan (Don Valley East): I rise today to mark the 86th anniversary of the Armenian genocide. April 24, 1915, was the start of a planned and systematic campaign to eradicate the Armenian people. One and a half million Armenian men, women and children were brutally murdered.
At the time, the world community sat idle and did nothing. The stage was thus set for other genocides and human tragedies. In fact, upon unveiling his final solution for the Jewish people, Adolf Hitler noted to his aides that the world would not even lift a finger because, in his words, "Who today remembers the Armenians?"
What is doubly tragic about the Armenian genocide is that today much of the world refuses to acknowledge the horrific events. The perpetrators still deny the truth.
This is an open wound that can never heal, because peace can only be achieved when we have justice, and justice cannot exist without the truth and the truth is not divisible by two.
I was honoured to stand in remembrance with members of my community over this past weekend. Every year I've been proud to participate in a youth vigil here on the grounds of the Legislative Assembly.
Recent events around the world will give members of this Legislature pause to remember the human tragedy of genocide and to give the survivors of this horror the recognition they seek and deserve.
Mr Garfield Dunlop (Simcoe North): It is an honour to rise this afternoon to pay tribute to the thousands of men and women of Ontario who act as hospital volunteers.
In this, the International Year of the Volunteer, and this being National Volunteer Week in Canada, it is important that we as provincial legislators recognize the efforts put forth by the citizens of this province, citizens who spend many hours of their time making our hospitals more humane, warm and comforting places to be in. I'd like to use three hospitals in my riding as examples.
First, the Orillia Soldiers' Memorial Hospital: this hospital, under the leadership of Volunteer Services Director Sandi Johnson, has 60 to 70 active volunteers every day of the week. The volunteers range in age from 14 to 80.
The second and third hospitals, the North Simcoe Hospital Alliance made up of the Huronia District Hospital of Midland and Penetanguishene General Hospital, have a combined total of approximately 300 volunteers who donate almost 25,000 hours of their time per year.
In all cases, the volunteers enhance the job of paid staff and do not take a paying job away from anyone. They work in the gift shops and coffee kiosks. They help with patient feeding, pastoral care, hairdressing and operate the magazine and book carts. They help with clerical support and reception desks. They are there for fundraising and special events. They all have a special love for their hospitals. Whenever you meet them, they have a warm and friendly smile for you.
I'd like to thank the volunteers who put so much effort into the hospitals of Simcoe North, and I encourage all members to acknowledge hospital volunteers from across our province.
NORTHERN HEALTH SERVICES
Mr Rick Bartolucci (Sudbury): Again, the Mike Harris government has failed the people of northern Ontario. Again, this government has turned its back on the people of northern Ontario.
As we speak, Northern Development and Mines Minister Dan Newman is up in Sudbury making an announcement about a virtual reality medical school The people of northern Ontario do not want virtual reality. We want a real, independent medical school. We want professors. We want people coming to northern Ontario. We are tired of this government playing word games with the people of northern Ontario.
Do you know what else is shocking about the announcement today? This morning in the scrum, the Minister of Health was unaware of the northern health travel grant. He was unaware of the problems of the northern health travel grant. I say to you that 70,000 people in northern Ontario have sent you a petition saying we have to increase the northern health travel grant. It is a sad commentary that I stand in my place today and say the working families of Ontario, the working families of northern Ontario in particular, have again had the government's back turned on them.
The reality is Mike Harris, Tony Clement, the Minister of Health, the Minister of Northern Development and Mines and the entire Tory caucus do not care about northern Ontario. Dalton McGuinty and the Liberal caucus care about working families in Ontario.
MUNICIPAL PROPERTY TAXES
Mr David Christopherson (Hamilton West): I rise in my place today to respond to an article on the front page of the Hamilton Spectator, written by Joan Walters, that's headed up, "Texas firm wants to be our taxman." The article states that the government is actually entertaining the idea of allowing a Texas company to come into Ontario and be responsible for the collection of outstanding municipal property taxes. They've even gone so far as to hire a gentleman named Mr Ralph Lean, who is reported as being a top fundraiser for the Mike Harris Tories.
It's no wonder they're drooling at the prospect of getting in. We're talking about property taxes in 1999 that were paid to the tune of $18.5 billion and $1.7 billion of that was outstanding in 1999. In Hamilton, for instance, it's $66 million.
Let me give you a couple of reasons why this is a bad idea. First of all, it follows the John Snobelen school of politics that says, "Create a crisis when you want to cover up doing something unpopular." You bungled your property tax reform. It took six or seven bills after your initial bill to fix the mistakes you'd made in the previous bills. This is your problem. You created it. Ontario taxpayers shouldn't pay the price.
Lastly, this is law enforcement. By extension, does this government accept the idea that Texas goons would come into Ontario and run our police services? I think not.
Mr Wayne Wettlaufer (Kitchener Centre): Since December, I have enjoyed working in my Kitchener Centre riding, which, as you know, is one of the most successful and prosperous communities in all of Canada. Contrary to the Liberals, who by their statements yesterday think they had a four-month holiday since Christmas, I spent the last few months taking the opportunity to meet with literally hundreds of constituents from a wide array of varying backgrounds and interests.
Everyone is both interested and concerned about what our government will be doing to ensure that Ontario is positioned to combat the looming economic shift from a boom economy to a slower-growth economy. I sought their advice, asking my constituents what they thought the government should be doing to prepare for a tougher economy. Not one of them wanted to see this government increase taxes. The majority of them are urging the government to find further ways of reducing taxes. The message from my constituents was also very loud and clear that they wanted this government to become more efficient in how it was spending their tax dollars. They even asked that we ensure we control municipality spending, including the salaries and benefits municipal councillors vote to themselves. They wanted assurance that every one of the tax dollars will be accounted for and used with maximum efficiency. Accountability and increased efficiencies continue to be priorities that the taxpayers in my riding want to see this government focus on in this term.
I want to assure my constituents and all taxpayers in the province that our government is committed to honouring our tax cut pledge.
ALGOMA STEEL INC
Mr Michael A. Brown (Algoma-Manitoulin): Yesterday Algoma Steel sought and was granted court protection from its creditors while a debt restructuring plan is being negotiated. The company has assured the employees and pensioners that it will be business as usual.
Algoma Steel is not the Algoma Steel of 10 years ago. It is a low-cost producer with a state-of-the-art direct strip mill. It is Canada's third-largest steelmaker. ASI employs 4,000 employees, has 8,000 pensioners and purchases $150 million in goods and services from the Sault Ste Marie-Algoma area. Its predecessors have been making steel in Sault Ste Marie for over 100 years. It has been an important and significant anchor in the Sault Ste Marie and Algoma economies throughout its history.
I would ask the Premier, the Minister of Economic Development and Trade, the Minister of Municipal Affairs and particularly the Minister of Northern Development to convey to ASI and the communities of Sault Ste Marie and Algoma their concern over these developments and to offer the good offices of the Ontario government to work with the community, the employees and the company to bring about a strong, vibrant, competitive ASI in this challenging situation.
Mr Bert Johnson (Perth-Middlesex): I rise today to draw the attention of members to the seriousness of breast cancer. A study published in a recent journal of the Canadian Medical Association found that women in Canada with breast cancer sometimes wait six weeks for surgery. While these findings clearly indicate that more has to be done to address the issue, several doctors in my riding have been able to reduce waiting times significantly. Last week, after these findings were released, Dr Kent Sorsdahl from Stratford commented that he and his colleagues take breast cancer very seriously and local women wait no more than three weeks for surgery. I commend Dr Sorsdahl and his colleagues in Stratford for their work and the seriousness they give this deadly disease.
I'd also like to recognize Carol Miller, a breast cancer survivor in my riding who has established The Quilt, a breast cancer support project. Since 1998 Carol has been gathering quilts from across Canada to support women who have experienced or are experiencing breast cancer and to educate the public about this disease. For her first event in 1999 Carol received 134 quilts donated from across Canada to auction. Carol continues to work tirelessly in my riding and across Canada to support women with breast cancer and raise public awareness.
Please join me in thanking Carol Miller and the doctors in my riding for their work in the fight against breast cancer.
The Speaker (Hon Gary Carr): Before we proceed, in the members' west gallery we have a former MP, Geoff Scott, who was the MP in Burlington-Wentworth, which is now the riding of Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Aldershot. Would all the members please join in welcoming our guest.
Hon Janet Ecker (Minister of Education, Government House Leader): I seek unanimous consent to put forward a motion regarding private members' public business.
The Speaker: Unanimous consent? Agreed.
PRIVATE MEMBERS' PUBLIC BUSINESS
Hon Janet Ecker (Minister of Education, Government House Leader): I move that notwithstanding standing order 96(d), the following changes be made to the ballot list for private members' public business: Mr Barrett and Mr Galt exchange places in order of precedence such that Mr Barrett assumes ballot item number 37 and Mr Galt assumes ballot item number 8; and Mr Tascona and Mrs Molinari exchange places in order of precedence such that Mr Tascona assumes ballot item number 49 and Mrs Molinari assumes ballot item number 3; and Mr Parsons and Mr Bartolucci exchange places in order of precedence such that Mr Parsons assumes ballot item number 25 and Mr Bartolucci assumes ballot item number 2.
The Speaker (Hon Gary Carr): The government House leader has moved that notwithstanding standing order 96(d), the following changes be made to the ballot list for private members public --
The Speaker: Dispense. Is it the pleasure of the House that the motion carry? Carried.
Hon Janet Ecker (Minister of Education, Government House Leader): I move that the following substitutions be made to the membership of the committees of the House:
The standing committee on estimates: Mr Miller for Mr Stewart;
The standing committee on finance and economic affairs: Mr Hardeman for Mr Arnott, Mr O'Toole for Mr Young, Mr Spina for Mrs Molinari;
The standing committee on general government: Mr Miller for Mrs Munro, Mrs Mushinski for Mr Barrett;
The standing committee on government agencies: Mr Ouellette for Mr Spina;
The standing committee on justice and social policy: Mr Barrett for Mrs Mushinski, Mrs Molinari for Mrs Elliott;
The standing committee on the Legislative Assembly: Mr Arnott for Mr Wettlaufer, Mrs Marland for Mr Clark;
The standing committee on public accounts: Mr Gill for Mrs Mushinski;
The standing committee on regulations and private bills: Mr Mazzilli for Mr Coburn and Mr McMeekin for Mme Boyer.
The Speaker (Hon Gary Carr): Mrs Ecker has moved that the following substitutions be made to the membership of the committees of the House --
The Speaker: Dispense. Is it the pleasure of the House that the motion carry? Carried.
PUBLICATION OF RECORD OF DEBATE
Hon Janet Ecker (Minister of Education, Government House Leader): I move that the record of debate during orders of the day during the afternoon of December 4, 2000, be now published electronically and in print, but that the name or names of any young offenders in such remarks be first expunged in all versions by suitable methods as determined by the Clerk of the House
The Speaker (Hon Gary Carr): Is it the pleasure of the -- a point of order. OK. Any debate on that? The House leader, the member for Niagara Centre.
Mr Peter Kormos (Niagara Centre): This is a most unusual step or course for the House to be taking or travelling. We're not aware of any single incident in the history of this Legislature, the history of Hansard since 1942, which is when Hansard was established by way of motions -- Messrs Drew and Frost having made that motion establishing a Hansard -- calling for a stenographic record of events in the Legislature.
We are all aware of the circumstances that gave rise to this. We're aware that those circumstances resulted in a police investigation; that the police investigation concluded that no charges were to be laid under either the Young OffenderS Act or any other criminal legislation and that the rationale provided for that decision was that the immunity of the House attached to those statements, the identification of young offenders, those young offenders having been identified in the Legislature -- not only identified but published by virtue of the transmission -- as compared to a forum or a venue outside of the Legislative Assembly.
The New Democratic Party caucus is, as indicated, prepared to consent to this motion being put to the House. It's suggested that, were there not consent, the motion in itself would well be objectionable in that one would query whether the House has the authority to merely delete portions or sections of the Hansard transcript, the transcript merely reflecting what took place. The incidents of that historically in Ontario are rare, as well as being rare across the country and in the federal Parliament. The Senate takes far more liberties, as we have discovered, where senators quite liberally amend what's called the "blues," the draft transcript. Indeed, we're told by authorities in the Senate that even the editors of Hansard will take great liberties in addressing or adjusting Hansard to reflect what they felt should have been said or would have been said, were people more temperate or more on point in their particular comments.
We, because of the very unique circumstances -- and it's acknowledged that were the names of these young offenders merely to be published in the Hansard, the same rationale that gave rise to the reluctance to lay charges against the member of the Conservative caucus who identified these young offenders would apply, that the mere publication in Hansard doesn't constitute an offence.
But as the motion very carefully states, the effort is to expunge these names so as, I put to you, to effect compliance with the spirit of the Young Offenders Act, a statute of Canada, criminal legislation flowing from the federal Parliament, in contrast to perhaps a legal or technical breach. Certainly this Parliament does not want to be a party to a breach of even the spirit of the legislation.
So New Democrats are wary and reluctant and certainly insist that no precedent is being established here; that this is the most unusual of circumstances, that the names of these young offenders, were they published, would not in themselves constitute an offence, based on the rationale used by investigating police officers, but that this House is interested in and, by virtue of its vote on this motion, will be demonstrating its interest in complying with not only the letter of the law but the spirit of the law, at least as it applies to the Young Offenders Act of Canada.
It is for that very, very restricted and limited reason that we are supporting this motion, and I repeat once again, having no intention whatsoever of suggesting that this is regular or that this motion, without there being unanimous consent, would not similarly be out of order. It would be a significant violation of the spirit of the Hansard to start using, for instance, the majority of the House to try to tinker with Hansard after the fact.
We all say things here; some things we regret saying, things like were said by the member who identified these young offenders, which resulted in a police investigation. But it doesn't change the fact that they were said, and that's why Hansard is there. We live with it. At the end of the day it's a public record, it's a historical record, as it should be, and it should, in all circumstances, reflect what in fact was said. It is the uniqueness of this situation that prompts us to support this particular motion to protect the identities of these young offenders who were regrettably identified by a government caucus member.
Mr David Christopherson (Hamilton West): Just to follow up a bit on the words of our House leader, I just wanted to underscore the thought and the effort that went in behind this motion leading to this point. I was the House leader at the time when this initially came up as to whether or not we would expunge, and said that I had some concerns about what this meant. It started to get just a little too close to George Orwell's 1984 and going back and changing history. So we did a survey and, as our House leader has pointed out, other than the Senate, there are very few examples of anything similar to this.
The record should underscore the significance of the exception that's being made, but I would add that we've had similar circumstances and we didn't take the same action. There have been incidents during the course of this government's power in Ontario where a name was mentioned that shouldn't have been -- in a throne speech, no less. That was followed up with a police investigation and no action was taken there. To the best of my knowledge, that name is still there. I know that in the previous government there was a cabinet minister who, again inadvertently, mentioned a name that was on a briefing note. That wasn't supposed to happen and also the record wasn't changed.
Not only are we creating an exception; we are taking a different course than we have. The reason for standing today is that the sanctity of Hansard should only be violated upon the greatest of extreme circumstances and this, we believe, is one of those. But anyone looking back down the road or from other jurisdictions should understand that we have not done this lightly, nor do we intend to make it a practice to go about changing the actual historical record of what took place here in this chamber.
The Speaker: Further debate? Seeing none, is it the pleasure of the House that the motion carry? Carried.
Mr Jean-Marc Lalonde (Glengarry-Prescott-Russell): On a point of order, Mr Speaker: I wish to clarify the comments of the Minister of Consumer and Business Services. In reply to a question posed by the member for Lambton-Kent --
The Speaker: It is not a point of order. You can clarify your own record. You can't clarify somebody else's record. Only they can do that. Sometimes people think the questions and answers are wrong. Unfortunately, it is not a point of order.
The Speaker: No, it is not a point of order to clarify the situation. What you may want to do is ask another question in the House, which would be totally acceptable.
STATEMENTS BY THE MINISTRY AND RESPONSES
FUTURE OF HEALTH CARE
Hon Tony Clement (Minister of Health and Long-Term Care): I rise in the House today with my colleagues Helen Johns, associate Minister of Health, and Brenda Elliott, Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, to outline components of our future direction for health care in Ontario.
Health care is something all Ontarians cherish. Here in Ontario we're fortunate to have one of the best health care systems in the world. We are also fortunate to have some of the finest health care professionals and facilities in the world. You need only look down the street, south of this building, to see many examples of the excellence in Ontario's health care system.
Since taking office in 1995, we have made significant progress in modernizing the province's health system to ensure that Ontarians have the integrated, accessible, quality health services they need -- and to which they are entitled -- at every stage of life, no matter where they live in this vast province.
I would like to share with the members of this House just a few of the things we accomplished over the last six years.
Since 1995 we've made the tough decisions needed to modernize our health system. We took immediate action on fundamental reform and we built on the strengths of the existing health system. We've invested in Ontario's long-term-care facilities, in community-based services, in health promotion and disease prevention programs, in nursing initiatives, in mental health reform and in drug programs.
For example, we have introduced and funded a province-wide flu vaccine program so that each and every Ontarian could receive the free vaccine. This initiative entailed an investment of some $38 million.
We established three new full-service cardiac centres, and three additional new catheterization labs. Coupled with some $138 million in new funding, we have seen an increase of more than 50,000 additional cardiac procedures.
We have increased funding for cancer treatment by more than $328 million. We have also committed $186 million to construct five new regional cancer centres and to expand existing cancer centres.
We have increased the number of MRIs in Ontario to 42. This is a significant accomplishment from 1995 where there were only 12 MRI machines available in this province.
We increased funding to hospitals to $8.4 billion for 2000-01 fiscal year. We continued with our historic investment of $1.2 billion for 20,000 new long-term-care beds, an increase of some 35%. These will be the first long-term-care beds to be built since 1988.
We have provided more than $375 million in annual funding to create new, permanent nursing positions across all sectors; invested in continuing education for nurses; invested $10 million annually to create 106 nurse practitioner positions; and funded an aggressive retention and recruitment strategy for our nurses. Our government has also proclaimed the Expanded Nursing Services for Patients Act, which legitimizes the role of primary care nurse practitioners and improves access to primary care for patients.
Our government has also invested more than $370 million on community mental health services, and passed new legislation called Brian's Law to ensure that people with mental illness receive the care and treatment they need. Our government also believes that our children deserve the best start in life. That's why we introduced the Healthy Babies, Healthy Children program and have continued to expand the program so that new mothers and their babies receive the services they require.
It's clear that our government has been steadfast in its commitment to a health care system that puts patients first. We want to ensure that all people have access to quality health care, where and when they need it. Consequently we will be increasing health care spending for the sixth consecutive year. Once again, this spending will rise faster than the economy grows.
Health care spending has indeed increased at a dramatic pace: 27% in just five years; 19% in the past two years alone. However, double-digit increases in health care spending are no longer sustainable.
To increase spending without improving quality is unwise. To increase spending well in excess of economic growth is unsustainable. At the current rate of increase, within five years health care spending would consume 60% of the Ontario government's operating budget -- up from 44% today and 38% since our government was first elected.
Responsible choices and tough decisions are needed, not merely to sustain but quite literally to save Canada's health care system. The Ontario government believes fundamental reform is necessary to save the nation's health care system, and our government is prepared and ready to lead the process of change. My colleague the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs will provide this House with more details on this initiative in a few moments.
At the same time as we address the sustainability question, our government will accelerate reforms to improve the quality of Ontario's health care system. Last month, for instance, the Premier announced the creation of the Ontario Family Health Network. The government will ensure families have access to convenient, quality health care closer to home by establishing family health networks across the province. The government wants at least 80% of family doctors to join these networks by the year 2004.
Dr Ruth Wilson, a highly respected practising physician who brings a wealth of wisdom and experience, will lead the Ontario Family Health Network as the chair of the agency.
Working with the Ontario Medical Association over the past few years, our government has established 13 network pilot projects in six communities: Hamilton, Paris, Chatham, Ottawa, Parry Sound and the rural Kingston area. These pilots are a resounding success, with 170 physicians and more than 222,000 patients involved.
The family health networks will represent better co-ordination of patient care for more efficient, effective treatment.
To ensure Ontarians have round-the-clock access to professional health care advice, and to help relieve pressure on emergency rooms, our government will make its free telehealth service available across the province by the end of 2001.
The telehealth service is now up and running for people with 416 and 905 telephone area codes, as well as in northern Ontario. I'm pleased to say it will be extended in the near future.
But physician shortages remain a very real issue in many of our communities across this province. This government has introduced many measures over the past few years to help address this shortage. To help with physician recruitment and retention within our northern and rural communities, since 1995 our government has created 40 new residency positions for family medicine and specialities for practising general/family physicians to go back to resident training and then return to underserviced areas. We've provided $4 million for free tuition and location incentives to new doctors willing to practise in underserviced areas. We've increased medical school enrolment by 40 positions and doubled the number of community development officers to help underserviced areas recruit doctors in their communities. We've developed the Internet-based physician job registry, which matches communities looking for physicians with physicians interested in establishing medical practices in these communities.
However, despite these new initiatives, it's a fact that there are many communities that are still in need of a physician or specialist and we recognize that more must be done. That is why, on behalf of our government, I am pleased to announce that our government is committed to the development of a made-in-northern-Ontario medical school that will train medical professionals to practise in the north. Making use of the latest e-learning technology, this northern medical school would fulfill the ultimate objective of bringing doctors to northern Ontario and keeping them there.
We're not stopping there. We realize that the physician shortage issue extends beyond northern communities. That's why I also am pleased to announce that in order to address physician shortages, the government will streamline the process for accepting foreign-certified doctors and set challenging targets such as more than doubling the capacity in assessment and training programs.
We will also be working with other health professions to improve our health care system.
Many in this province rely on naturopathy and other practices of alternative or traditional medicine. Knowing the significance of these practices, the government asked the Health Professions Regulatory Advisory Council to make recommendations on the best method of regulation and looks forward to acting on the council's proposals.
In particular, this government understands the value and importance of traditional Chinese medicine and acupuncture to many people in Ontario. It wants to work with practitioners on the creation of a self-financing, regulatory college that would establish professional standards for these traditional practices, and will act quickly once the Health Professions Regulatory Advisory Council issues its report.
Finally, before I conclude my remarks today, I would like to talk about the importance of health privacy. A modern and effective health system requires modern and effective protections for health information. I commit to this House to work with the minister responsible for privacy protection to introduce privacy legislation that recognizes the unique sensitivity of personal health information and the need for strong safeguards.
It's clear there are many challenges that lie ahead of us as we strive to ensure the provision of excellent health care for those who need it, and meeting these challenges will not be easy. But our government cannot and will not be complacent. We will not be content with the status quo. It is clear that in order for Ontario's health care system to be sustainable and excellent, we will need innovation, new thinking and accountability to get this job done. We need to lay out a vision and a plan that will improve the quality of Ontario's health system and ensure we have successfully built a health system to serve the present and future generations of this new century. Today's announcement is the very first step.
I would like now to turn the floor over to my colleague, the Honourable Helen Johns, the associate Minister of Health.
Hon Helen Johns (Minister without Portfolio [Health and Long-Term Care]): I intend to speak in particular to the growing shortage of medical professionals in small towns and rural Ontario. Our government understands the problem and intends to act.
It is partly a matter of lifestyle choices by these professionals and partly the lack of availability of people to share the workload. For instance, we know there is a direct link between where medical professionals train and where they end up practising their skills. There is a tendency to settle where you learn.
But we are all aware that in recent years the medical professional shortfall has not been restricted to remote or northern areas. The government knows this. Therefore, the government will support the development of expanded rural medical training opportunities in rural Ontario.
Over time, we would expect our support of expanded rural medical opportunities to produce success rates in our program equivalent to the existing Ontario family medicine north residency program. Seventy per cent of that program's graduates have located practices in the north. A key success factor is that trainees in this program spend two years of training in the north, and we expect to see similar results with this program having a southern rural focus.
But we must also better organize how we provide family care and, thus, the future expansion of telehealth, telephone health advice service for the 519 and 613 area codes, is an important key. Another key element in our strategy to stabilize the supply of available, quality health care in rural and small-town Ontario resides in the family health networks announced by Premier Harris. In short, we have identified the problem of shortages in rural and small-town Ontario and are determined to meet and solve it both on the supply and the demand sides.
This government remains committed to quality health care for all and, where necessary, will accelerate reforms to improve the quality of Ontario's health care services. Through careful and strategic planning for the future, we will ensure that the future of Ontario's health care system is sustainable, accountable and available to all.
Now I would like to turn the floor over to my colleague, the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, Brenda Elliott.
Hon Brenda Elliott (Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs): You've just heard from my colleagues what Ontario has accomplished over the past five years and what we are committed to do here in Ontario for the future. This is occurring at a time when the federal government cut the Canada health and social transfers to new lows. It is time for the federal government to step up to the plate and commit to high-quality health care that Ontarians need and want.
We need to address the issue of sustainability in our health care system. We share the view of many experts that unless substantial changes are made, the health care system, as we know it today, will consume all public spending.
We agree with the federal government in the need to reform medicare. We congratulate Mr Romanow on his appointment to lead the federal Commission on the Future of Health Care. Mr Romanow comes to this challenge with a wealth of experience and recognition from his leadership as Premier of Saskatchewan that the health care system needs to be saved.
Before his resignation as Premier of Saskatchewan, he initiated a study in his own province about the need for change in the health care system. The study that he commissioned on health care in Saskatchewan stated that, and I quote, "pouring more money into a system with known inefficiencies will not improve it.... More money for an often poorly functioning health care system often means less money for education, job creation and tax relief, all things that can contribute to improving the health of the people of Saskatchewan. Thus, spending more on the current health care system without addressing its underlying problems would be irresponsible."
We agree. That is why there needs to be an open, national discussion on the future of health care. The commission must be free to consider all aspects of the system and explore all possible solutions. Here in Ontario, we want to be part of a dialogue that is broad enough to identify real, lasting solutions to the accountability crisis. However, we believe that these discussions need to happen immediately. Mr Romanow will not report to the federal government until November 2002. We feel this is too long to wait before acting to save medicare.
That is why our government will be moving forward to ask patients, doctors, nurses, hospital administrators and all Ontarians with an interest in the future of the health care system to identify reforms and to seek consensus on the best way to allocate the billions that we spend annually on our health care system.
Historically, our health care system was funded by the federal and provincial governments, with the original 50-50 principle of medicare and the tax base available to each level of government. Last September the federal government committed to restore some of the billions it cut to health and social transfers. This leaves the federal government's share of total provincial-territorial spending at 12% in 2000-01, 14% in 2002-03, but sliding back to 13% in 2005-06. This is unsustainable, and that is why our government is committed to improving the health care system. It is a priority for the people of Ontario, and we agree. We need to take action now if we are to have a health care system that is sustainable for future generations.
I would like to respond by also commenting on some remarks from Mr Romanow as he undertakes his study across Canada, and I quote:
"Ontario's speech from the throne underlines the pressing need for a national study of our health system. All Canadians want to find solutions to the problems in health care as quickly as possible, but they also want these solutions to stand the test of time. To do this, we will have to carefully review the health policy research and recommendations available, work with federal, provincial and territorial governments to bring forward sustainable solutions...."
We in Ontario understand that fully. We have listened closely to the people of Ontario, and I can assure you that we are willing to step forward to seek consensus and to find a way to make the health care system that we so value sustainable for many decades to come.
The Speaker (Hon Gary Carr): Responses?
Mrs Sandra Pupatello (Windsor West): My question for the Minister of Health is: How many times can we hear the same announcement? Speaker, is there a limit to the number of times this government can go forward as though they're advancing new ideas? This minister stood in the House today to talk about funding to hospitals. For the first time, we are at the all-time record high of hospital debt in Ontario. Some 77% of our hospitals are in debt. You must be accountable for the cuts that this government made to hospitals when you first took office. You have been trying to make up ever since.
Today we see a litany of examples of announcements and re-announcements, but I ask my neighbours and friends where I come from and across the province, is our health care better today than it was before you took office? The answer is a resounding no.
When we talk about nurses, you bring into the House today the notion of funding for nurses. We ask you, where are the nurses? All of the professional nurses' associations ask you the same question: Where are the nurses? They are barely being hired part-time across this province. You want to come in again and talk about primary care reform. You've been talking about this for six years, and today we see no further action. We just see one more repeated announcement after another.
We talked about primary care reform six years ago when you first came here. There is nothing new today that we are hearing from this minister. Despite the dire straits that 103 communities are in today, being so desperately underserviced by physicians, we see one announcement made over and over again.
You came in today to talk about telehealth. Last night on television I watched your commercials on telehealth. Is this news for Ontario that everyone is to pick up a 1-800 number and call? This is not new, Minister. We want to see action; we don't want to just see rhetoric repeated over and over again.
This minister decides to come in the House and talk about medical schools. You've got the gall to talk about medical schools on the basis of, what, we e-mail you a doctor to the north? Or do we in Windsor e-mail our concerns to some doctor in some other place in Ontario? Those who are waiting in emergency rooms, do we e-mail the broken leg somewhere else to be dealt with? I ask this minister today to come in the House with real answers, like the ones that Dalton McGuinty and the Liberals have advanced year after year. Today, you come in with more rhetoric.
This minister has the gall to talk about foreign-trained physicians. The ministry knows there are 450 doctors waiting in Ontario today who could practise here tomorrow, and this minister has the power, through the college, to set the regulation today for what they must do, not wait for yet another process, another streamlining, setting challenging targets. Minister, the doctors are here today and they could be practising tomorrow but for your pen that won't make the mark on the paper to make it happen. We don't want more rhetoric. We want the doctors here.
We talked about privacy legislation for four months. While we were all away from this House, when we should have been asking you questions in this House, we sat in committee and heard our federal Privacy Commissioner call your last attempt at a privacy bill the Widest Open Access to our Health Care Information Bill. That's what he dubbed it. I look forward to seeing what you are going to invest in this House in the form of another privacy attempt.
These are just more announcements of the same. When are we going to see action by this government to deal with the real problems Ontarians are suffering under this government?
Mr Dwight Duncan (Windsor-St Clair): The government has failed miserably for working families. The government today has not announced another new physician training position in Ontario. They've re-announced 40 positions, positions they announced last year.
Dalton McGuinty and the Ontario Liberals have a plan for working families. We will increase the number of physician training places in Ontario by 120. We will build a new, independent, free-standing medical school in northern Ontario, and we commit and have committed to working families that we will create satellite medical schools in places like Windsor and southwestern Ontario to serve the people of this province. Those details are out. We'll talk about them in the election. Working families can count on Dalton McGuinty and the Ontario Liberals for meaningful answers to our health care crisis.
The Speaker: OK, we've had our fun. That's enough.
Mr Howard Hampton (Kenora-Rainy River): The Minister of Health tries to describe this document as national leadership in health care reform. Then he goes on to try to do an Orwellian rewrite of history. He tries to refer to an integrated health care system.
The health care system in Ontario couldn't be more unintegrated than it is today. Ambulances have been shoved off on to municipalities. Home care is now being operated by private, for-profit companies; similarly, long-term care. The government talks about setting up a telehealth program but has no idea how you integrate that into the rest of the health care system. There's no integration here; there's just a series of announcements and misannouncements, none of which add up to an integrated health care system.
The government says they care about health promotion and disease prevention. The vast majority of public health units out there don't have sufficient budgets to do the specific work they're mandated for, never mind some of the health promotion and disease prevention they know is so important.
Then they say, "Well, we've done great things in cancer treatment." The first thing this government did was to cancel, literally cancel, cancer treatment centres that were half built. Then they eliminated the radiation technology program at the community college, with nothing to replace it. Then we had massive waiting lists for cancer treatment, and in an effort to cover that up, they started shifting patients to Buffalo, Cleveland and Detroit. Then to further try to cover it up, they put in place a health travel grant program that says to some patients, "Because of where you live and the kind of cancer you have, you get everything paid for," but says to other cancer patients, namely, in northern Ontario, "Because of where you live and the kind of cancer you have, you get virtually nothing." Disintegration -- not something we should be proud of.
Then we have the government talking about how they've increased funding for hospitals. The first thing this government did was to try to close a bunch of hospitals, cut the funding of other hospitals, close a lot of beds, and after they created chaos and realized it wasn't going to work, they started putting the money back in to cover up the mistakes they made. But the result is a lot of money spent unwisely, money spent trying to cover up the mistakes that you made initially.
You want to talk about nurses. This is a government where the Premier, in the insult of all insults, compared nurses to out-of-date, redundant Hula-Hoop workers, and then he wonders why so many nurses left Ontario. They say now that they want to return nurses to Ontario, but we know that nurses won't come back as long as you treat nursing as a part-time, on-call, on-contract temporary service. You don't pay it the dignity and the respect that the nursing profession deserves. Again, not a sign of integration, not a sign that the government knows where it's going in terms of health care, just announcement after announcement trying to cover up the fundamental mistakes that you've made.
Then they talk about Healthy Babies, Healthy Children. The reality is we have more children living in poverty in Ontario than ever before and we have more children forced to use food banks. This government actually claws back the child tax credit which is intended to help the poorest children. They're not helping; they're putting children further and further in trouble.
Then they have the temerity to say that to increase spending without improving quality is unwise. That's the history of this government. They have dumped more money into private, for-profit health care. They have disintegrated the ambulances and shifted them off to municipalities, despite the fact that the auditor says it's going to cost more money to operate that way. This government hasn't operated according to a vision or a plan. They have simply tried to spend more money to cover up the mistakes they've made.
Finally, just to show how lacking in integration this is, the most recent announcement is a private, for-profit cancer treatment program at Sunnybrook, which shows just how lacking in vision you are. With the bonuses and everything else that's involved, the emphasis is going to be upon putting more money into the pot, not upon quality health care.
Mr David Ramsay (Timiskaming-Cochrane): Mr Speaker, pursuant to section V, subsection 21(a) of the standing orders of the Legislative Assembly, I rise today on a point of privilege. I believe that my rights and privileges granted to me as a duly elected member of the Ontario Legislature have been abused by the actions of the former Integrity Commissioner, the Honourable Robert Rutherford.
The Members' Integrity Act allows a member of the Ontario Legislative Assembly the right to make a complaint against any other member when he or she believes there is an issue of conflict of interest. Subsection 30(1) states, "A member of the assembly who has reasonable and probable grounds to believe that another member has contravened this act or Ontario parliamentary convention may request that the commissioner give an opinion as to the matter."
Mr Speaker, as you are aware, beginning in September of last year I made a series of complaints concerning what I considered to be the Premier's improper involvement with the Adams mine garbage proposal. These complaints were all filed with the previous commissioner, the Honourable Robert Rutherford. I received a response to my first two complaints. These responses I found to have been unusual and to some extent curious.
It is the role of the Integrity Commissioner to investigate whether there has been any wrongdoing, whether a member has acted contrary to the Members' Integrity Act. Instead, Mr Rutherford dismissed my complaint, not on the basis of the Premier's actions, but on the fact that at the time the city of Toronto was not proceeding with the shipping of its waste to the Adams mine. The commissioner stated, and I quote, "Whether Mr Harris conducted himself properly in supporting the disposal of Toronto's garbage in the Adams mine landfill site thus remains a largely moot issue."
This is tantamount to saying that as a member of the Legislative Assembly, it is permissible to act improperly as long as one is unsuccessful at it. I don't believe that is the intention of the Members' Integrity Act.
However much I disagreed with the substance and tone of the response, I understood I had to accept it. There is no avenue for appeal. The commissioner's response is final. However, on February 23 of this year a Toronto Star article written by feature writer Bill Schiller revealed that Mr Rutherford had a friend help write his report that cleared the Premier of any wrongdoing. In the article Mr Rutherford admitted that as the province's independent watchdog overseeing the ethics of MPPs, his use of outside help to produce reports was not a good practice.
The commissioner made a number of other statements, among them that: he could offer no assurances that his friend had not done any consultancy work for the government or any of its ministries; the report was typed off-site by someone other than the commissioner's own staff and then brought to his then office at Bloor and Bay Streets; the friend contributed at least 25% of the content of the report; he did not know what area of legal expertise his friend had or specialized in; the commissioner signed the report on December 27 in his office, at a time when it was officially closed and staff was on holiday.
Subsection 46(4) of the Legislative Assembly Act RSO 1990 sets out the jurisdiction for the assembly. It states that the assembly has all rights and privileges of a court for the purposes of inquiring into a list of offences. One of those, as set out in subsection (4), states, "It is an offence to interfere with an officer of the assembly while in the execution of his or her duties."
I believe interference took place while the commissioner was considering my complaint. There are many unanswered questions as to the extent of the outside influence and from whom it came. Not knowing who offered the advice brings concern as to who else may have been consulted on this issue. Having breached the bounds of his office, there is no certainty to the extent of the influence brought to this complaint, or where it came from.
I ask you, Mr Speaker, to investigate and to rule that what occurred here is an abuse of my privileges as a member of the assembly. I believe it is my right to have the Integrity Commissioner render a decision on any complaint, independent of any outside influence. I also believe that the complaint should remain within the office of the Integrity Commissioner and not be responded to by an unknown outsider on his or her home computer.
There are many unanswered questions I believe must be answered. It is important to ascertain who offered the advice and what, if any, relationship that person had with the government or with the Premier. Mr Speaker, I ask you on behalf of all members of the assembly to consider my point of privilege.
The Speaker (Hon Gary Carr): The member for Niagara Centre.
Mr Peter Kormos (Niagara Centre): Speaking to that, Speaker, the member raises issues that are and have been concerns of ours since the, quite frankly, incredible revelations by the press. I think we can understand that the commissioner can adopt if he chooses, for instance, the written report of an author who is somebody other than himself. But as I understand the point of privilege being raised by the member, it remains a matter of concern, not just to the member but I suggest to all of us, that when the author is not known -- because the press reportage identified that it was an author other than the commissioner, but the commissioner was very careful not to identify that author. Were it someone in his office, for instance -- and most of us are well familiar with the very capable staff that the commissioner Judge Rutherford, as he was then, and his predecessor had. Were one of those persons within his staff identified as one of the assistants authoring a report, we then would still be capable of understanding the source and the absence or presence of any real or perceived biases by that person.
One of the critical things about this is that there is an anonymous author of at least one response to a very serious and legitimate issue put to the office. That's number one. That means that none of us is in a position to -- we respect the office. Quite frankly, Judge Rutherford did not perhaps receive kind treatment in response to those revelations, in terms of the manner in which it was disposed of, and we should all perhaps regret that.
But I encourage the Speaker, on behalf of New Democrats, to address very specifically the fact that it's not a matter solely of the commissioner of the day adopting the report of somebody else, somebody who perhaps was in his office and subsequently identified as the author of that report adopted by the commissioner. We have here an anonymous person who can't be tested in terms of his or her relationship with the Premier, his or her partisan relationships, his or her motives, and again, the mystery surrounding the absence or reality of remuneration for that person, the nature of the relationship between that person and the commissioner of the day, and the motivation for that person to engage in this activity. I think that adds to the concern as well.
One understands, perhaps, the interest of a friend in assisting another friend or colleague, but it remains that this is all very much in the dark. The dilemma, then, I suggest to you, Speaker, very quickly, is how does the Speaker respond to this point?
I submit once again that the member raises a point because it was his specific request that resulted in the report which caused concern for him and which caused even greater concern when all of us are subject to the revelations about the anonymous, mysterious author, the unnamed author.
I submit to you that this warrants a reconsideration of any reports that were prepared during the tenure of this commissioner and an investigation to determine the anonymous author, as well as, I submit to you -- and the New Democrats support the member and his request that the matter be readdressed.
New Democrats share in the concern of the member. We acknowledge that the privilege is his specifically in this specific instance, but quite frankly it's the privilege of all of us when we've seen this incredibly peculiar, bizarre twist of events, which can't be allowed to sit there. It can't be allowed to simply be a part of the record any more. It has to be addressed, it has to be visited and it has to be resolved.
There wasn't transparency at the time. I submit that it is incumbent upon you -- with the appropriate investigation, utilizing your powers -- to create transparency, to have all of the factors public, and to ensure that this particular issue is not allowed to rest merely as a cloud but is opened completely and thoroughly.
The Speaker: The government House leader?
Hon Janet Ecker (Minister of Education, Government House Leader): A couple of comments on this. First of all, it is quite distressing to hear what the honourable member is saying about Mr Rutherford, who has a very distinguished record for this country, for this province, as a war veteran and his many other services that he has given to us all.
I think it is also fair to say that Mr Rutherford has resigned. If there are any questions that an honourable member may well have about any particular rulings by Mr Rutherford that have occurred, it is certainly appropriate and it has certainly been the position of this government that every member has the right to go to the sitting Integrity Commissioner and ask that person to take a look at any particular issue that they may well see.
Mr John Gerretsen (Kingston and the Islands): That's not right.
The Speaker: On points of order or points of privilege, I don't want any heckling or yelling. The other side listened patiently while your member spoke. I'm going to insist on it. You can save it for when you've got question period, but when it is a point of privilege I need to hear it, and if you don't be quiet I'm going to name you very, very quickly.
Sorry for the interruption, government House leader.
Hon Mrs Ecker: Thank you very much, Mr Speaker.
I would also like to point out that the discussions about Mr Evans, about him coming to be an Integrity Commissioner in the event of Mr Rutherford's resignation, was something that all three parties agreed to, because we do respect and understand the importance of the Integrity Commissioner. So it is indeed within the purview, within the power of any member here to go to the Integrity Commissioner if they have any concerns about previous activities or conduct that may have occurred.
I think it's important to note that under the Members' Integrity Act legislation, it does clearly say, "The assembly and its committees shall not conduct an inquiry into a matter that has been referred to the commissioner..." so the legislation does speak to this point.
With all due respect, Mr Speaker, I do feel that this is not a matter for the purview of this particular Legislature.
Mr Dwight Duncan (Windsor-St Clair): On a point of order, Mr Speaker: The government House leader indicated that my colleague could speak with Mr Justice Evans. When one reviews the Members' Integrity Act, it is very clear that a sitting Integrity Commissioner does not have the jurisdiction or the authority to review a previous decision. I spoke with Mr Evans about this matter and he confirmed that point of view.
I should also point out and remind members that the issue we are dealing with now is whether or not undue influence was brought to bear on an officer of the Legislative Assembly. That is a very clear violation of the Legislative Assembly Act, and that, sir, is what we are asking you to consider.
The Speaker: I thank all of the members for the points -- the member who raised it, the House leader of the opposition, the House leader for the third party as well as the government House leader. I will reserve my judgment and rule accordingly.
EDUCATION LABOUR DISPUTES
Mr Dalton McGuinty (Leader of the Opposition): My question today is for the Minister of Education. Minister, I guess it was close to five years ago that a representative of your government specifically said that your government intended to create a crisis in public education. Regrettably, you have been very, very successful in that regard.
Until the end of last year there were 57 work stoppages, affecting over one million Ontario school children. This year alone, to date there are three.
In Windsor, the education of 27,000 children has been disrupted for five weeks. These kids are now going to school on a rotating basis.
You are well aware that here in Toronto there are 560 schools now closed, affecting over 300,000 children; and, tragically, over 20,000 children with disabilities have been unable to go to school for four weeks.
Will you now accept, Madam Minister, that your policies have led to the turmoil that has become a chronic and permanent feature of public education in Ontario?
Hon Janet Ecker (Minister of Education, Government House Leader): The disruption in education that is occurring in some schools and in some boards across this province, what is happening to those students' education, is absolutely deplorable, and I think the parties should look very hard in the mirror when they are making these decisions about the impact they are having on students when they allow disagreements such as this to drag on for such a long period of time, because it is not fair to the kids, absolutely not.
Boards have resources to come to collective agreements with their staff. I understand that the unions involved here are fighting very hard for increased resources for their members -- I appreciate that -- but boards have the responsibility, as everyone does in their household budget, as every government has, to live within their budgets so that we are not putting the taxpayers of this province into deficit situations, because that is not fair not only to hard-working taxpayers, but it's also not fair to the kids, because it's mortgaging their future too.
Mr McGuinty: I'm going to ask the minister herself to take a long, hard look at herself in the mirror when it comes to these matters. This is the result, Madam Minister, of your handiwork. Your fingerprints and Mike Harris's fingerprints are all over this turmoil and instability in public education. You can no longer stand by as a disinterested observer as this turmoil unfolds across the province of Ontario. You put the preconditions in place now for real difficulties at the local level. You're telling our boards how much money they've got, you're telling them specifically how it is that they spend it and you're telling them that for all intents and purposes arbitration simply won't work.
You can no longer stand by as a disinterested observer, Madam Minister. You have laid the conditions for disaster in public education through your policies. What are you going to do to deal with the matter, not only with the Toronto matter and the Windsor matter, but all of those yet to come?
Hon Mrs Ecker: If the honourable member has labour questions about the process for arbitration, whatever, he may well wish to direct those to the Minister of Labour. But regarding the education circumstances, this government, this ministry -- both the education ministry and the Ministry of Labour -- have continued to work with the parties to support the parties to do what we can to have them come to fair collective agreements, but it is indeed their responsibility to do that.
Now, if what the honourable member is suggesting is that we should take away from boards their responsibility to come to fair collective agreements, he should say so, because you can't have it both ways. You can't on the one hand say we should give boards responsibility to make decisions according to local priorities and then on the other hand, as soon as they make a decision the honourable member doesn't agree with, say we should take it away from them. We don't think that's the appropriate fashion.
We have indeed improved funding again this year for all of our school boards. There is over $310 million more that is going out flexibly, according to --
The Speaker (Hon Gary Carr): Order. The minister's time is up. Final supplementary.
Mr McGuinty: Madam Minister, why don't you just own up to the fact that you have taken $1.8 billion out of public education on Mike Harris's watch? By so doing, you have created impossible conditions in our schools. We've got schools that are robbed of their enthusiasm, we've got teachers without spirit, we have children without extracurricular activities, we've got children who are knocking on doors selling chocolate bars so they can buy basic resources like rulers and dictionaries and atlases for their school work. That is the state of public education today in Ontario as a result of your policies. What is happening today is because of your handiwork; it has your fingerprints and Mike Harris's fingerprints all over it.
Again I ask you, on behalf of Ontario's working families, when are you going to begin to take responsibility for the mess you have created? When are you going to start putting some money back into the system to create real working conditions that will enable the parties to negotiate fair settlements?
Hon Mrs Ecker: The honourable member obviously didn't read his research briefing note; either that or he wasn't paying attention. We have just increased education funding yet again for the education system by over $310 million. Maybe the Liberals think $310 million of taxpayers' money is not a significant amount. It is a significant amount. It will go a long way to helping school boards.
The other thing is that we make no apologies for saying to all of our education partners that they have to live within their budgets, just as this government does, just as those working families he professes to speak on behalf of do. They have to live within their budgets. His position is that he --
Mr Mike Colle (Eglinton-Lawrence): Apologize to the kids.
The Speaker: Order. This is the last warning. You're not going to violently yell across like that. You do it again and you're named. Minister of Education, sorry for the interruption.
Hon Mrs Ecker: His position is, "Let's just open up the tax gates. Let's let the boards tax property owners yet again. Let's solve all our problems by taxing people more." With all due respect, that is not the answer.
We have asked our boards to live within budgets. We've increased those resources. They have additional flexibility yet again -- and obviously they have missed that -- so they can settle fair collective agreements, so the kids can be where they should be: in classrooms.
FAMILY HEALTH CARE NETWORKS
Mr Dalton McGuinty (Leader of the Opposition): My question is for the Minister of Health. One more time today we learn -- and this is a year after it was first announced -- that Mike Harris has talked about his target for 80% of our family doctors to be practising in 24-7 health care teams by the year 2004. The announcement was made one year prior.
On behalf of Ontario's working families, who are very anxious to have better-quality health care available to them around the clock, I'm wondering how you're doing with respect to meeting your target of 80% of Ontario's family doctors being enrolled in these family care networks. Can you tell us today, understanding that one year has now elapsed, and your target being 80%, what percentage of family doctors are now practising in 24-7 health care teams?
Hon Tony Clement (Minister of Health and Long-Term Care): I'd be happy to respond to the honourable member's question and report that, as I said in my earlier remarks in the minister's statement, I believe there are 170 physicians, certainly over 150, who have participated thus far in family health networks in five Ontario communities: Hamilton, Chatham, Ottawa, Paris and Kingston. There are, incidentally, nurse practitioners who are also participating in a number of these networks. I believe they have seen over 222,000 patients so far.
Of course, this is the start of a very exciting new phase of family medicine in Ontario. We wanted to work with the pilot projects first to get some bugs out of the system. We believe we have done so.
When the honourable member asks exactly why a family physician should be involved in this, they get peace of mind, they get a roster of doctors around them to work with them and it improves patient care. I think that's good for everybody.
Mr McGuinty: You're telling us that we've got 160 of our family doctors who are now enrolled in these family care networks. There are 9,000 family doctors in Ontario. You've been talking about this forever. You know what your predecessor Jim Wilson said. He said 1996 will be the year that primary care reform comes to Ontario. This is 2001. We've got less than 1% of our family doctors enrolled in family care networks. Ontario's working families can't wait 80 years for you to get primary care reform up and running.
Tell me, what specifically are you going to do to ensure you meet that target? It's one thing to hold a target out there, and it's quite another thing to achieve it and put in the plans that are essential in order that you in fact achieve it. What specifically are you doing to ensure we achieve that target of 80%?
Hon Mr Clement: We have created an agreement with the Ontario Medical Association so that we have the co-operation of the physicians of Ontario to meet our goals. We have appointed Dr Ruth Wilson, who is a very well respected family physician in the Kingston area, who is going to be the implementer, along with us, of Ontario family health networks. We have committed this government through our 2000 budget to $250 million of Ontario taxpayers' dollars to ensure that we have a remuneration package for doctors who sign on to the family health networks, and that they have an IT package so that their practices are more modern and can track what has to be tracked in terms of patient information. If the honourable member wants to know more about this, I encourage him to log on to our Web site.
Mr McGuinty: I appreciate the minister has a sense of humour, but Ontario's working families aren't looking for virtual solutions. They're looking for real solutions. They're looking to make sure they've got access to a family doctor or somebody practising together with their family doctor on a 24-7 basis. You should know that the notion of taking a three-year-old at 4 o'clock in the morning in a snowy Ontario winter and putting them in the car because they're running a high fever and taking them to the emergency ward should be as antiquated as bankers' hours. We've got to get our doctors practising together with nurse practitioners, nurses and other health care personnel working around the clock.
The question I've got for you again on behalf of Ontario's working families is, when are you going to achieve that target of 80% and what specifically are you doing to make it happen?
Hon Mr Clement: Since I do in fact have a three-year-old, I know whereof the honourable member speaks.
I can assure the honourable member that the entire process by which we are delivering this is as fair as possible. It is designed to get us to the goal of 80% by 2004. That's the government aspiration. We have put our money where our mouth is. We have put $250 million of taxpayers' hard-earned money to improve the remuneration, to improve the information technology for family physicians. We have created an implementation through Dr Ruth Wilson that is respected by both the participants and the family physicians, as well as the government of Ontario and Ontarians generally. We are implementing this very important transformation of family health services, and certainly it is our commitment that this will continue more successfully in the future as well.
Mr Howard Hampton (Kenora-Rainy River): My question is for the Minister of Energy and it is about his deal to sell off Ontario's hydroelectricity system and drive up our hydro rates. Minister, your government talks a lot about accountability, but your numbers don't add up. A year ago, you were telling the people of Ontario that there was already a debt repayment charge in their hydro bills. In fact, on May 16 here in this Legislature you said that the debt repayment charge is "currently built into hydro bills and people have been paying it for years." You then went on to say that the debt charges in the future would "probably" be "lower than what consumers are paying now." Three weeks ago you announced an 8% increase in electricity rates and you said it's to cover off debt repayment charges.
Minister, people want to know who was telling the real story: Jim Wilson a year ago, when you said that this was already covered off, or Jim Wilson now, when you add a further 8% to people's electricity bills.
Hon Jim Wilson (Minister of Energy, Science and Technology): If there's one reputation I have in this House it's for always telling the real story to the people of Ontario, whether it's as health minister or energy minister. In fact, in many ways I'm often the first minister to come along in many years to tell the people of Ontario the real story about a system, and I'm very proud of that.
The honourable member is correct in what he has said. Depending on your rate today, 35% to 40% of your bill coming into your home or business is debt retirement. It was a bundled rate in the past so there was never a line item in your bill that said "debt retirement charge," but certainly 35% to 40% of the gross amount of money that would come into our hydro companies goes toward paying off the $38 billion worth of debt legacy.
Because we've had to spend $2 billion on the environment recently --
The Speaker (Hon Gary Carr): Order. I'm afraid the minister's time is up. Supplementary.
Mr Hampton: We didn't learn anything from that answer. All we know is that there was an 8% increase and it's got nothing to do with debt repayment, because the debt repayment charge was already there.
We understand that there's a further 12% increase in hydro rates coming, only when you increase it a further 12% later on this summer, you're going to tell people that it's a payment in lieu of taxes. But the real story is, just like the debt repayment story, that this is about jacking up the hydro rates so that your corporate friends will be able to earn their profit level.
Minister, confirm or deny: is there another hydro rate increase on the way?
Hon Mr Wilson: I'll finish the answer to the first part of the question. We've spent $2 billion improving air quality from our hydro plants over the past years under this government, and frankly it started in 1993 under that government. That's $2 billion less we had to pay toward the debt retirement program.
The auditor was very clear in January of this year. He said, "Because you spent all this money on environmental measures," which we should get some credit for in improving -- we've got another $1 billion as a result of the Minister of the Environment's recent air emission quality standards, which will meet or exceed the EPA standards in the United States.
We are committed to the environment. That comes first. That money is being spent. As a result, we had $647 million worth of debt that we weren't able to pay off last year, and that's why the auditor encouraged us to come forward with this 8% increase, which is the first increase in eight years. Inflation has been 15% over that period of time. We've spent so much money on the environment that we weren't able to keep up with all of our debt repayment, and that's why the 8% is going to be used for debt repayment and the environment.
We've been very clear and honest and we've told the real story from the beginning, the first --
The Speaker: The minister's time is up. Final supplementary.
Mr Hampton: In fact the minister is trying to change his story today from yesterday. Yesterday he said that the increase was due to debt repayment. Now he wants to say it's because of environmental issues, and he tries to avoid answering the question, "Is there another 12% increase on the way?"
I put that question to him again: confirm or deny there's another 12% increase in electricity rates on the way, and, Minister, tell the truth. It's got nothing to do with debt repayment. That's already there. It's got nothing to do with payment in lieu of taxes. That's already there. It's got nothing to do with environmental issues. You said that was going to be handled by the private operators. It's got everything to do with, you've got to get the rates up there in order for your corporate friends to come in and buy and make a profit. Tell the truth.
Hon Mr Wilson: If you don't believe me, go look at the audited books of Ontario Power Generation. You'll see what they spent on the environment, you'll see what the debt is, you'll see what the auditor's report is. If you don't believe the government, check with the auditor. Get your bloody facts straight, is all I can say, Mr Hampton. Get your facts straight, and stop scaremongering the people of Ontario.
The answer to your 12% made-up tax increase is, no.
Mr Hampton: What we've confirmed here is the rates are going up under this government for hydroelectricity.
EDUCATION LABOUR DISPUTES
Mr Howard Hampton (Kenora-Rainy River): My question is for the Minister of Education. Minister, you have indeed created a chaotic situation in our schools, and it is the unfairness, the inadequacy of the funding formula, that has done it, whether it's in Windsor or North Bay or Toronto.
But I want to address, just for now, the Toronto situation. Since the labour dispute happened, you have pocketed $15 million that should have gone to the board. Minister, why don't you put that money back in the hands of the board so that they can go to the bargaining table and settle a collective agreement, so that you can get the children back in the schools and end the chaos you've created? Just give back the $15 million that you've pocketed so we can negotiate a collective agreement. Will you do that, Minister?
Hon Janet Ecker (Minister of Education, Government House Leader): With all due respect to the honourable member, nobody pockets any savings out of anything like the strikes that are occurring in some of the boards. All that money stays in the education system, as it should.
I've talked about the new money we've put in this year. We've also given boards more money for fuel costs, more money for teacher compensation, more money for special education. Dollars stay in the education system because we agree it's a very, very important priority. Another $310 million more in new dollars has gone to boards. It's going to boards in a local priorities grant. They can put it to their local priorities.
I know he would prefer that we bring in a social contract to try and solve this dispute. I don't think that's the appropriate step to take.
Mr Hampton: I put myself in the position of parents listening to this minister. The fact is, you have pocketed $15 million since the labour dispute began. If you give that money back to the board of education, where it belongs, a collective agreement could be settled today and the students could be back in the classroom tomorrow. That's the issue. Don't blather on about all the other nonsense.
Do you want the children back in the classroom? If you do, put the $15 million you've pocketed back to the board of education and let them sign a collective agreement. Will you do that?
Hon Mrs Ecker: The members of this particular union have chosen to go out on strike. The so-called savings you are talking about -- if you put it back in, as the member proposes, it's not going to pay for new wages. It's going back into the education system. The money's going to stay in the education system, as it always does, because we believe in important investments in the classroom. That's why we gave school boards another $310 million this year, so they can continue to move forward on improvements in the classroom like the new curriculum, like teacher testing, like standardized testing. Those are important quality improvements that we believe should be there.
All of the school boards and the unions are being asked to come up with fair collective agreements that are living within the budget. Those kids should be in classrooms. Those parties have the responsibility to negotiate those agreements. We are continuing to take steps to support them in that, and we may well take further steps if that is required.
Mrs Sandra Pupatello (Windsor West): My question is for the Minister of Health. I'd like to ask you about Cancer Care Ontario. Specifically, I'd like to ask this Minister of Health, how do you give approval to a company without going through a tendering process, the opportunity for this company to walk in, use publicly owned equipment, have patients who are on waiting lists in Ontario go through existing cancer clinics, through this private company, which receives money from the government without having gone through this tendering process?
Minister, we understand that you're nicknamed Two-Tier Tony. We just want you to explain to the House today -- when Dr Ken Shumak was asked this question as the CEO of Cancer Care Ontario, he said, "We did this in a very quiet manner because the public would be outraged if they knew."
Minister, we'd like to ask you, how do you go forward working with a private company at this level with no public tendering process?
Hon Tony Clement (Minister of Health and Long-Term Care): I can certainly tell this House that the Cancer Care Ontario board, which is a board that is apart from the government, approved the proposal, and that a review of the board's practices and Management Board of Cabinet's practices indicates that all conflict of interest and procurement guidelines were adhered to.
I just go back to the public policy issue, which is, when given a choice as public policy-makers between sending an Ontarian with cancer to Buffalo or to Detroit for their care or sending them to Sunnybrook Hospital, we chose Sunnybrook Hospital, and we're proud of that.
Mrs Pupatello: Minister, I believe you should answer the question you're asked. Why would you hand over $4 million to a private company for start-up costs when this company is using the facilities at Sunnybrook, they're using their equipment, they are using staff that ordinarily works at cancer centres during the day? You could just as easily have expanded hours in these non-profit cancer clinics, but you chose instead to turn over Ministry of Health dollars -- $4 million worth -- for start-up for this company.
Minister, I ask you: what start-up costs could they have? The equipment is from Sunnybrook; the staff are staff that work in cancer clinics during the day. In fact, the president is the former VP of Cancer Care Ontario. What $4 million worth of start-up costs could there be? This is not a cancer care board decision. This start-up money came from the Ministry of Health. Minister, answer the question. I ask you again: how could you go through a private company with no public tendering process, the thing you could have done through the existing system?
Hon Mr Clement: That's where the honourable member is wrong. In fact, despite the investments and the reinvestments and the new money that has been put in by the government of Ontario, the existing system was not capable of increasing the amount of service for cancer care patients in Ontario. Given the choice that was created by the inability to respond, the way the system was responding was by sending them off to Buffalo, sending them off to Detroit, sending them off to Cleveland. To us, that is unacceptable.
If the honourable member wants to stop everything in its tracks, to cling to the status quo, to cling to a system that wasn't working, that's her business. But we on this side of the House will not accept that status quo. Our job is to give better cancer care to the people of Ontario where and when they need it, and we will not ever shrink from that purpose and that goal.
Mr Doug Galt (Northumberland): My question today is directed to the Minister of Health and Long-Term Care. I was pleased on April 16, 2001, to be able to inform the Quinte Healthcare Corp that they would be receiving one-time funding to put them in a better financial position to improve their performance this year. The Quinte Healthcare Corp, since its formation following the HSRC-directed merger in 1998, has been committed to efficient operation, with the ultimate goal of operating without a deficit. I'm proud to say that since April 1999 the hospital has brought the administrative and supportive areas of organization to benchmark.
In the throne speech our government committed to accountability at all levels of government, as well as across the broad public sector. Minister, can you tell this House what this means for the Quinte Healthcare Corp and other hospitals across this province?
Hon Tony Clement (Minister of Health and Long-Term Care): I thank the honourable member for the question. Indeed, on April 16 I announced a further $177 million in one-time funding to put 68 hospitals in a better financial position, to improve their performance in the new fiscal year, but that does not come without strings, because we are interested in accountability. I should mention for the record that the Quinte Healthcare Corp received $1.85 million of that total. With the assistance of the honourable member for Northumberland we are working hard to get the benchmarks in place, to make sure that efficiency is job one when they're delivering excellent health care services to the patients.
I'm pleased with Quinte's work and their commitment, and we will continue to work with the member's hospital in order to achieve the clinical efficiencies necessary without reducing the clinical program, and that's the key.
Mr Galt: Thank you very much, Minister, for your answer. Minister, our government will be expecting hospitals to be accountable to taxpayers, but hospitals have concerns about how they'll be funded and how that amount is achieved. What will we be able to tell hospitals like the Quinte Healthcare Corp, and all other hospitals across the province, about funding in the future?
Hon Mr Clement: As the honourable member knows, there has been a consultation process through the joint policy and planning committee, which has been conducting regional consultations on a new funding formula for hospitals. But obviously there is a situation that involves funding already in place -- almost $8.4 billion of funding in place right now, up from $7.7 billion for last year. That's a $1-billion funding increase in one year -- unprecedented in the history of Ontario. With this level of funding we are expecting hospitals to provide effective, efficient, accountable health care in their communities. Taxpayers need to know the funding is being used to deliver effective health care.
We're pleased to see that the OHA also wants to participate and seek some input from hospital executives. We will work with them as well as with other stakeholders and with patients to get the quality health care in an accountable and efficient way delivered to each and every patient in the health care system.
MEDICAL SCHOOL ADMISSIONS
Mr Dwight Duncan (Windsor-St Clair): I have a question for the Minister of Health with respect to first-year medical school enrolment in the province of Ontario.
Your government, Minister, often compares the province of Ontario to a number of our competing American jurisdictions: the states of Michigan, Ohio and Illinois and indeed oftentimes to Quebec. The state of Illinois, with a population of 12 million people, has 1,064 first-year medical school places. The state of Ohio, with almost an identical population to the province of Ontario, has 981 first-year medical school places. The state of Michigan, with a population of 9.8 million, has 657 first-year medical school places. The province of Ontario, with a population of 11.5 million, had, until your announcement last year of 40 new places, 532 first-year medical school places -- half the number of first-year medical school places compared to these competing jurisdictions. How are we going to stay competitive in terms of keeping doctors if we're simply not training enough, and why did you today let down the people of northern Ontario and of Windsor by failing to deal with the medical school shortage of positions in the province of Ontario?
Hon Tony Clement (Minister of Health and Long-Term Care): I thank the honourable member, who seeks to Americanize health care in Ontario. The fact of the matter is that we have been increasing enrolments in this province -- he mentioned it in his remarks himself -- from a lower base. That was the base that we inherited. There are more investments to be done.
We think that physician retention also involves ensuring that the physicians we have in the province who have graduated from our medical schools have the proper funding arrangements and have the proper incentives in northern and rural and remote communities to stay here rather than going off to greener pastures. That is the purpose of our announcements to date and certainly today as well.
Yet the honourable member is saying that we need more medical graduates. I agree with him. We need more medical graduates, not only from Canadian medical schools but also from other medical schools that fit our criteria and reach our quality care that we want here in the province of Ontario. That is the purpose of the announcement today, and we'll be following through on it.
Mr Duncan: If you don't want to look at American jurisdictions, look at the province of Quebec, with seven million people, four million less than Ontario. They train exactly the same number of doctors as we do.
If you won't listen to me and you're going to trivialize this, listen to the Canadian Medical Association, which says that the ratio of physicians to population is going to decrease by almost 22% in the next five years if we don't create an additional 500 medical school places across the province.
Working families don't need rhetoric from the minister; they need a plan. They need a plan to deal with this, not only in the short term but in the long term.
Minister, we've put forward a plan that calls for 120 new first-year positions -- by the way, the same number that was recommended by the McKendry commission. We've put forward a plan for a full northern medical school and satellite training campuses in Windsor. Why won't you do what your own commission says and what a Liberal government will do when elected in two years, and that is, create 120 new medical school positions so that the working families in this province, when they need doctor, can get one.
Hon Mr Clement: I don't understand what part of my announcement earlier today he did not understand, but to the honourable member, if he listened closely, we indicated that we are moving ahead with a made-in-northern-Ontario medical school and with plans to deal with medical education in our rural communities. That has been our plan. That has been the recommendation. We have been studying it very closely and, as he knows, having meetings with stakeholders, with mayors throughout the province, to deal with this issue, as well as with the local practitioners. That has been our plan. We announced it today.
That will mean more medical places in medical schools in Ontario. The first new medical school in decades in Ontario has been announced today. What part of yes does the member not understand? What part of moving forward with a plan does he not accept?
Mr John O'Toole (Durham): My question is for the Minister of the Environment. First, I would like to take this opportunity to welcome Minister Witmer to her new and very important portfolio.
Sunday, April 22, marked the 31st annual celebration of Earth Day, and I understand that more than 500 million people in over 160 countries participated in events designed to help our environment.
In my Durham riding there were several organizations and school groups taking up the challenge of protecting our environment. One example of the young people pitching in was last week's Central Public School's program, Eco Kids Club, helping Reverend Frank Lockhart's Valleys 2000 organization to clean up one of the municipal parks in Bowmanville.
Minister, would you share with people today how Earth Day was marked in other important places throughout this great province of Ontario?
Hon Elizabeth Witmer (Minister of the Environment): I think many members of this House took part last week in Earth Day activities. In fact Earth Day has grown in 31 years from a celebration on just one day to celebrations of a week's and a month's duration. Some of the events I had the opportunity to participate in involved young people, service clubs and just about every citizen who had an interest and wanted to participate.
One of the events that was interesting, I thought, from the perspective of trying to involve children in influencing adults to take better care of the Earth, was the project in one of the schools in Toronto that was entitled No Idling at School. We've gotten in the habit today of driving our children to and from school, and people are sitting outside idling their cars. So these children are being encouraged throughout the province to ask parents and friends when they pick them up to please don't idle. Certainly we can save --
The Speaker (Hon Gary Carr): I'm afraid the minister's time is up. Supplementary.
Mr O'Toole: Minister, it's clear that everyone can participate in their own small way to improve our environment in Ontario. In my own riding of Durham, for instance, real people like Reverend Lockhart, whom I mentioned, Martin Feaver, Deb Vice, Kevin Campbell, Glenn Barkey and Bernie London belong to a group called Protect the Ridges, which speaks out about the use and storage of paper sludge in agricultural areas.
Minister, what can the people of Ontario do to get more involved and celebrate not just Earth Week but our environment in general?
Hon Mrs Witmer: I would like, on behalf of all of us in the House here, to take the opportunity to congratulate the many people who participated in Earth Day, Earth Week and Earth Month activities, and also for the leadership that's been demonstrated. Earth Week provides us with an educational opportunity. It raises public awareness of our need to protect the environment and the health and safety of people in the province.
Following through on what I said before, if we all walk more and drive less, that can make a very significant improvement to our air quality. As the weather warms up, we can consider green alternatives to pesticides. Of course, we can all take care to recycle, reduce and reuse. There are many initiatives we can all undertake throughout the year and I hope everyone in this House will demonstrate leadership in this regard.
Ms Frances Lankin (Beaches-East York): My question is to the Minister of Health. I want to return to my question of yesterday about your agreement to allow Cancer Care Ontario to contract with a private, for-profit company. Yesterday I asked you for a copy of the contract you agreed to that will spend public dollars on a private, for-profit service deliverer. Despite all your rhetoric about accountability, public institution spending and transparency, you refused to give us a copy of what you call a private contract.
Your government created this crisis we see now in cancer care and cancer treatment. You cut funding, you delayed construction of treatment centres, you created a backlog that saw patients having to seek treatment in the US, and now your solution is to fund a private, for-profit scheme that offers volume incentive bonuses, bonuses based not on the quality of care given but solely on the number of patients who are seen. This is like piecework. It's like treating patients like widgets in a factory. It's saying that production based on increased profits is the bottom line. It is unacceptable.
You have refused to give us a copy of your so-called private contract. What I want to ask you today is, will you give us a copy of the funding agreement entered into between your government and Cancer Care Ontario?
Hon Tony Clement (Minister of Health and Long-Term Care): I would like to correct a misunderstanding, perhaps, of what I said yesterday, which was that we would co-operate fully. If there is a value-for-money audit, which was the original question that was posed at a legislative committee on this very matter, we would co-operate fully with a value-for-money audit. If there is information any honourable members wish to see as part of an overall audit, we would co-operate fully with that. So we're certainly willing to co-operate with any information they would like to see available.
The fact of the matter is that on the public policy issue, however, maybe she and I do disagree, because when looking for lower cost, better quality-of-life alternatives for cancer care patients, we're on the side of third-party delivery at Sunnybrook -- better as an alternative to their flying to Buffalo or Cleveland or Detroit. If she and I disagree on that, so be it. I think we're on the side of a made-in-Ontario solution for quality cancer care here in Ontario.
Ms Lankin: But you see, Minister, your solution is worse than one that would be delivered in the public sector, with public dollars, public administration, and without a profit motive that treats patients like widgets in a factory. While it may be better than Buffalo, it's worse than a made-in-Ontario, public sector solution, and it fits your government's ideology quite clearly.
Tell me how you have accountability and transparency when you're going to hide everything behind so-called private contracts. You have an accountability here in this House. Are you telling me today that you won't provide us with the details of your funding agreement with Cancer Care Ontario? I'm asking you, are you bonusing based on volume incentive? The public has a right to now. They have a right to transparency, to know what you've funded, what the profit incentives are, what the quality-of-treatment incentives, if any, are, and you have denied us access to that information.
I'm going to ask you again: was your rhetoric in the throne speech about accountability a sham or are you going to be accountable and transparent? Will you provide us with a copy of the contract between Cancer Care Ontario and the private company, and your funding agreement between your ministry and Cancer Care Ontario?
Hon Mr Clement: Again, I would be happy to state for the record that we would comply fully and without hesitation with any value-for-money audit. If the Provincial Auditor wishes to get involved, that is fine by us.
The fact of the matter is that the honourable member is suggesting there was a choice to extend the care and the providers of the care under the current framework. That's not my understanding. My understanding is that when you looked into the labour contracts and union agreements, that was far in excess more expensive than the alternative that has been provided by this contract. If the honourable member has other information, I'd like to see it.
We are here to provide the most comprehensive, quality cancer care for the most people in Ontario. I am not going to apologize for looking outside of the box, for looking at private sector providers if they can do it better for less within universal accessibility, which is what this contract does.
NANTICOKE GENERATING STATION
Mr James J. Bradley (St Catharines): I have a question for the Minister of the Environment. Minister, your government is the owner of the largest single source of air pollution in all of Canada. The Nanticoke coal-fired plant is the largest coal-fired plant in North America. Nanticoke is Ontario's largest source of nitrogen oxide emissions. You know that contributes to smog and acid rain. Nanticoke is Ontario's largest source of carbon dioxide emissions that contribute to global warming and climate change. Nanticoke is southern Ontario's largest source of sulphur dioxide, which contributes to smog and acid rain. Nanticoke is Ontario's second-largest source of mercury emissions. That's a potent neurotoxin, as you would know. Nanticoke emits six cancer-causing substances, including arsenic, barium, cadmium, chromium, lead and nickel, and Nanticoke's coal-fired emissions more than doubled between 1995 and 1999.
Minister, you have a chance to make a bold move, a bold stroke in favour of the environment. Will you today assure members of this House that you will convert this dirty coal-fired plant, the largest single source of air pollution in all of Canada, to natural gas and eliminate so many of these contaminants that are causing great damage to the health of the people of Ontario?
Hon Elizabeth Witmer (Minister of the Environment): The member has indicated that we have a chance. Well, I would like to indicate to the member that his party had a chance, and the NDP had a chance as well.
Our government is following through on our commitment to ensure that we improve air quality in the province of Ontario. We have completed a review of our coal-fired plants and we have taken a very significant step. We have announced that we will be demanding, as of April 2005, that Lakeview no longer be in a position that it can burn coal and that it must convert. I can tell you, that announcement has been well received by people in the province of Ontario, particularly people in the Toronto area.
Mr Bradley: The minister avoided the question. I should say to her that I don't know whether it worked in health or whether it's going to work any more anywhere else, but you know, you have to deal with the problems that are here today.
We have a situation --
Mr Bradley: Let me set the position, because I think the Minister of Municipal Affairs is very interested in this. As a result of the deregulation, of the wide-open market that you're going to have in terms of production of electricity, there's going to be a stoking up of the dirty coal-fired plants in the province of Ontario. If you sell it to the Americans, they'll have it going full blast.
Your plan calls for only two changes to two of the units to reduce some of the contaminants. You can take a very bold step, because remember, the Ontario Medical Association says this costs $9.9 billion a year in health care and other costs and contributes to 1,900 premature deaths in Ontario.
Minister, will you not admit that the best thing that you can do with the Nanticoke station, the largest coal-fired plant in North America, the largest single source of air pollution, is to require its conversion to natural gas?
Hon Mrs Witmer: Our government will be following through and has been following through with initiatives in order to ensure that we improve air quality in this province. I would just remind the member opposite, they had a chance and so did the NDP.
In fact, I'd like to read about the response to the announcement on Lakeview. This is from Jack Gibbons of the Ontario Clean Air Alliance: "This is a tremendous victory for public health, since Lakeview is the single largest source of air pollution in the GTA." He said, "This is a step forward. They're finally doing something...."
Ann Mulvale congratulates us for taking this important step in improving air quality in Ontario.
I would share with you the other steps that we've taken. Not only have we announced the closure of Lakeview, we have announced tough new emission caps for all the coal and oil generating --
The Speaker (Hon Gary Carr): Order. I'm afraid the Minister's time is up. New question.
ASSISTANCE TO FARMERS
Mr David Tilson (Dufferin-Peel-Wellington-Grey): I have a question for the Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs. Constituents in my riding are asking me about the provincial government's plans for the $104-million federal safety net payment which it announced. This is important to me, as it is to all other rural members in this House. The federal Liberal MPs are saying that our government has been holding up the transfer of these dollars to Ontario farmers. My question to the minister is whether he can tell us whether or not these allegations that are being made by the federal Liberals are true.
Hon Brian Coburn (Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs): I thank the member for the question. I find it difficult to understand why some of the federal MPs have difficulty with this. The $104 million that the federal government provided to help distressed farmers was certainly not adequate, but they had put a condition on it that we'd work with our stakeholders and then advise them on how that money is to be distributed. I sent that letter off to the Minister of Agriculture on April 17 to suggest to him how that money should be distributed. As soon as the federal government gives us the OK, that money will flow.
If the federal members have a problem, they should call the federal Minister of Agriculture. Hopefully he will be able to give them the right information.
Mr Tilson: I have a question with respect to the $90-million one-time payment made to the grain and oilseed producers. I believe that our government is continuing to support farmers, when it's evident the federal government is not doing its job.
I ask the minister if he could clarify for me the issues surrounding the provincial government's $90-million one-time payment made to the grain and oilseed producers. It seems the federal MPs in my area, and specifically in my riding, are advising our constituents that this payment is not $20 million more than what was committed. In fact, they're simply saying it's old money. For clarification, can you tell this House about the $90-million payment given by the Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs to the farmers of Ontario?
Hon Mr Coburn: I thank the member for the opportunity to explain the $90 million. Traditionally, the arrangement between the federal government and the provincial government has been a 60-40 split on some of these payments. Our government recognized the serious situation farmers were in and went beyond that in this particular case and provided $90 million. Under the 40-60 split, it would have been $70 million, so we went beyond it. That was new money, not old money.
The amount the federal government had committed to agriculture in this country, $500 million, fell $400 million short of what farmers needed. We saw fit to recognize that situation with the farmers, and I'm quite proud to say that our government recognized that and gave the additional money.
Mr Gerry Phillips (Scarborough-Agincourt): My question is to the Minister of Finance. I'll start by congratulating him on his appointment.
My question is relatively straightforward. It has to do with the status of the tax cuts. Two years ago, as the minister will know, you announced a 20% cut in personal income tax, and the last two budgets have included cuts in that. You've announced that the budget in two weeks will finish the 20% tax cut, that it will complete it. What per cent of the 20% cut has already been announced and implemented and what per cent of the 20% cut still needs to be announced in the upcoming budget?
Hon Jim Flaherty (Deputy Premier, Minister of Finance): We are on track with respect to the commitments that were made in the Blueprint that over time we would reduce taxes by 20%, $4 billion. I can assure the member opposite that this is on track. We are continuing our pre-budget consultations, of course. I've met now, I'm told, with more than 350 people, discussing tax issues in Ontario. That's still a work in progress, and I'll look forward on May 9 to announcing further tax cuts in this chamber.
Mr Phillips: This isn't a difficult question. You made the promise. You said we would cut it 20%. The people of Ontario are entitled to an answer. How much have you cut already? We've asked this question, by the way, of your staff and they refuse to answer it. You've made the announcements. You made the promise. It's a very simple, straightforward question that you deserve to answer on behalf of the people of Ontario.
Nothing could be simpler. You've made the promise, you've made the commitments. It's very simple. You promised the 20%. What percentage have you already implemented and what percentage is still to go? Nothing could be simpler for a Minister of Finance than to tell the people of Ontario what you've already done in clear, unequivocal terms. Can we have that simple little answer right now, Minister of Finance?
Hon Mr Flaherty: I do thank the member. I look forward, as I've indicated in my previous answer, to reporting to the House with respect to the status of our tax reductions, the status of the tax cuts over the course of the past several years when the budget is announced on May 9, when I have an opportunity to present in this place the complete fiscal picture of the province of Ontario at that time.
Virtually all forecasters in Ontario congratulate this government on the fact that we have reduced taxes, which clearly is a stimulus to the economy in the province of Ontario. We intend to keep our commitments with respect to the tax cuts and I'll have all the figures for my friend opposite -- not just some -- but all of them, on the 9th day of May.
Mr Wayne Wettlaufer (Kitchener Centre): My question is for the Minister of Economic Development and Trade. Since we arrived here at Queen's Park, I think each and every one of us reads about the issues and the programs daily that affect us here and affect this great province of ours. One issue that I've read about lately, and not just lately but in the last couple of years, is the difficulty that employers are having finding the skilled workers that they need to run their businesses successfully. This is particularly important in my riding of Kitchener, where I hear of the challenges that employers face daily.
Minister, I know that this is an area in which our government has been actively working, and that's for the last couple of years, since 1998. I wonder if you could report on what our government has done to assist in training more skilled workers here in Ontario.
Hon Robert W. Runciman (Minister of Economic Development and Trade): I want to thank the member from Kitchener Centre for the question. The member is quite right. The government has been involved in helping train skilled workers.
In 1998, under the leadership of the late Al Palladini, our government developed a strategic skills investment program, which grants funding to specific skills training programs across the province. The skills investment program has been a great success. So far we have invested $54 million in 34 different training projects across the province and our investments have been matched with $156 million from education and business partners for a total of $210 million invested in the skills employers need most to keep our economy growing.
Mr Wettlaufer: Thank you, Minister, but what you've explained is what we've done up to this point and I agree it's been helpful, but I have to ask what are we going to do next? I speak to John Tibbits at Conestoga College, I speak to Klaus Woerner of ATS, I speak to members at Research in Motion and other businesses in our area and I hear over and over again that we have a shortage of skilled workers.
Businesses are struggling to find workers with the skills that they need to make it in today's competitive world. You told us what you have already done. I want to know what we're going to do in the future. What else can Ontarians look forward to from this government in the area of skills training?
Hon Mr Runciman: The program was very successful in 1998, so much so that in the 1999 budget the Minister of Finance announced the program would be extended to a $100-million multiyear project. I'm pleased to say that our government has $76 million to invest in the program over the next few years.
Applications to the program are on the rise and the projects themselves are becoming larger, more innovative and more complex. The call for proposals is located on the ministry's Web site and will be there through 2005-06.
The strategic skills investment program is one of the tools our government is using to build the skilled workforce that is one of our great strengths in attracting and keeping investment here in Ontario.
NORTHERN MEDICAL SCHOOL
Mr Tony Martin (Sault Ste Marie): My question is for the Minister of Health and it's regarding your brief, very vague reference to a made-in-northern-Ontario medical school using the latest in e-learning technology. Will this be an independent, stand-alone facility, will there be a campus or campuses, or will it be just another exercise in distance education, and how many spaces will be set aside for students from northern Ontario in this new school?
Hon Tony Clement (Minister of Health and Long-Term Care): Can I encourage -- and I mean no disrespect -- the honourable member not to be so cynical that this would be some sort of fluffery of some sort of distance education. Nothing could be further from the truth. Clearly there has to be a physical, bricks-and-mortar presence in northern Ontario on a site or sites.
But my vision and our Premier's vision is: let's use the best of e-learning so that this is a national and international centre of advanced learning, second to none perhaps in the world. So this builds on the bricks and mortar, builds on the site or sites that have to be there. I encourage the honourable member to think beyond the boundaries in that respect when it comes to the students themselves. This is replying to the need that we all recognize on all sides of the House for medically educated doctors to be in the community, and that's what we're going to be responding to.
NOTICE OF DISSATISFACTION
Mrs Sandra Pupatello (Windsor West): On a point of order, Mr Speaker: Pursuant to standing order 37(a), I have submitted the correct paperwork for requesting a late show with the Minister of Health and my dissatisfaction with his answer to the question regarding Cancer Care Ontario and the non-tendering of a project.
The Speaker (Hon Gary Carr): I was just going to announce that; you beat me to it. You've obviously filed the paperwork correctly, because there it is.
The Speaker (Hon Gary Carr): Just before we begin the petitions, I would like to ask all members to join me in welcoming our group of legislative pages serving in the second session of the 37th Parliament. They are: Jason Apostolopoulos from Thornhill, Annette Carrier from Timmins-James Bay, Alison Chapman from Oakville, Brendan Clark from Barrie-Simcoe-Bradford, Andrew Clarke from Waterloo-Wellington, Shan Cooper from Huron-Bruce, Kristen Duimering from Kitchener-Waterloo, Dominic Fok from Willowdale, Laura Fountain from Simcoe North, Melissa Gallant from Bramalea-Gore-Malton-Springdale, Bethany Joosse from Oxford, Leonard Loewith from Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Aldershot, Theresa Robertson from Whitby-Ajax, Matthew Shalhoub from Windsor-St Clair, Darren Smith from Mississauga South, John Trickett from Durham, Mark Ungar from Parkdale-High Park, Kate VanBuskirk from Brampton West-Mississauga, Peter Wanyenya from Toronto Centre-Rosedale and Tara Warder from Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound.
Would all the members please join in welcoming our pages.
Notwithstanding the announcement by the member, I apparently do have to announce it, so pursuant to standing order 37(a), the member for Windsor West has given notice of her dissatisfaction with the answer to her question given by the Minister of Health concerning health and cancer care. This matter will be debated upon adjournment today.
SIGN LANGUAGE INTERPRETERS
Mr Rick Bartolucci (Sudbury): This petition is to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario.
"Whereas the American Sign Language/English interpreter training program at Cambrian College is both the only program of its kind in northern Ontario and an extremely valuable resource for training people to work and assist our deaf community; and
"Whereas students from this program make an important contribution to the medical, legal, educational and mental health systems by providing vital communication services; and
"Whereas there is a massive shortage of interpreters in the region to accommodate the needs of the community, resulting in long waiting periods for people requiring interpreters; and
"Whereas insufficient funding of the American Sign Language/English interpreter program at Cambrian College threatens to destroy this program, and to deprive many in Ontario of these important interpreter services and of equal access;
"Therefore, be it resolved that we, the undersigned, petition the Legislative Assembly of Ontario to commit to increasing funding to the American Sign Language/English interpreters program at Cambrian College in order to allow this vital program to survive."
I'd like to thank Sadie Marr, who garnered 680 signatures to this petition. I affix my signature because I'm in complete agreement with it.
Mr Peter Kormos (Niagara Centre): I've got a petition addressed to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario.
"Whereas the Conservative government under Mike Harris has cut funding for regulated child care spaces in Ontario by 15% between 1995 and 1998;
"Whereas the Conservative government under Mike Harris has yet to implement the recommendations of its own commissioned Early Years report by Dr Fraser Mustard to create a seamless, integrated early years education system;
"Whereas the Conservative government will receive $844 million over the next five years from the federal government for early years development projects;
"Whereas the Conservative government lags behind other provinces in announcing its plans for the $844 million in federal money for early years development; and
"Whereas other provinces are implementing innovative, affordable and accessible child care programs, such as Quebec's $5-a-day child care program and BC's $7-a-day child care expansion;
"Whereas the need for affordable, accessible, regulated child care and family resources continues to grow in Ontario;
"Therefore, be it resolved that we, the undersigned, petition the Legislative Assembly of Ontario as follows:
"We demand the Harris government immediately match and earmark a significant portion of the $844 million from the federal government for expanded regulated child care spaces."
That's signed by Jeannette Denchfield of Welland, Graham Wykes of Welland and hundreds of other people from Niagara region and beyond.
Mr Gerry Martiniuk (Cambridge): I have a petition signed by over 300 good citizens of Cambridge addressed to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario.
"Whereas on September 27, 1997, Cambridge was legally designated underserviced, having an insufficient number of family doctors for its citizens; and
"Whereas thousands of men, women and children in Cambridge are not cared for by their own family physician and this unfortunate situation exists in other Ontario communities;
"We, the undersigned, hereby petition the Legislative Assembly of Ontario as follows:
"That the Ontario government substantially increase the number of family doctors in Cambridge and other underserviced areas by:
"1. Permitting substantial numbers of qualified and highly competent foreign-trained family doctors the right to practise in Cambridge and other underserviced areas in Ontario; and
"2. Substantially increase the number of available student spaces in Ontario medical schools and require new graduates to serve in Cambridge and other underserviced areas in Ontario."
I proudly attach my name thereto.
Mr John C. Cleary (Stormont-Dundas-Charlottenburgh): I have a petition to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario:
"Whereas the Catholic District School Board of Eastern Ontario plans to build a new high school in Cornwall to provide accommodations for 300 students at the taxpayers' cost of over $9 million;
"Whereas the Upper Canada District School Board currently has 700 excess pupil spaces in the high school level in Cornwall and is looking at filling these spaces with grade 7 and 8 students, necessitating an elementary school closure;
"We, the undersigned, petition the Legislative Assembly of Ontario as follows:
"Please urge these coterminous boards to share the facilities that exist. Due to a previous collaboration effort these boards presently share space in one high school. This has been a harmonious, cost-effective union. We request that the government of Ontario urge the continued co-operation of these boards to avoid unnecessary spending of tax dollars. Without this co-operation we face sending our young children into high schools at an early age simply to fill space."
This petition was signed by 1,600 of the constituents in my area, and I also affix my signature.
PROTECTION OF MINORS
Mr Raminder Gill (Bramalea-Gore-Malton-Springdale): I have a petition to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario:
"Whereas children are being exposed to sexually explicit materials in many commercial establishments;
"Whereas many municipalities do not have bylaws in place to protect minors and those that do vary from place to place and have failed to protect from unwanted exposure to sexually explicit materials;
"Whereas uniform standards are needed in Ontario that would make it illegal to sell, rent, loan or display sexually explicit materials to minors;
"We, the undersigned, petition the Legislative Assembly of Ontario as follows:
"To pass Bill 95, Protection of Minors from Sexually Explicit Goods and Services Act, 2000, as soon as possible."
It's my pleasure to attach my name to it.
Mr Gerard Kennedy (Parkdale-High Park): This is a petition to the Legislature of Ontario.
"Whereas the provincial government has implemented an alarmingly high number of changes to our education system;
"Whereas these changes were both sudden and severe, affecting the quality of our education system in a negative way;
"Whereas the provincial government claims to have implemented these changes to benefit students;
"We, the undersigned students of Toronto, call upon the provincial government:
"(1) to consult with students on the impact of massive changes to our secondary schools before enacting new laws;
"(2) to respect teachers by acknowledging the work they do outside the classroom; and
"(3) to stop making one-size-fits-all laws that decimate our school life."
I am happy to affix my signature to this petition, which is signed by students from Parkdale Collegiate, Western Technical, Humberside and many other schools in the Toronto area.
MAGNETIC RESONANCE IMAGING
Mr Richard Patten (Ottawa Centre): "Whereas the current level of magnetic resonance imaging services in the Ottawa area is the lowest of any major urban area in the province and waiting lists for those services exceed 7,000 patients and seven months;
"Whereas the delays experienced by patients waiting for these services are potentially harmful to their health and often result in the mental anguish of uncertainty, needless suffering and financial burden;
"Whereas Ottawa area hospitals have submitted proposals for increased MRI services;
"We, the undersigned, petition the Legislative Assembly of Ontario as follows:
"That the Minister of Health be directed to take immediate action and provide sufficient funding to resolve the alarming backlog of patients waiting for MRI scans at Ottawa hospitals."
I have over 200 signatures and I would like to add my name to the petition.
Mrs Leona Dombrowsky (Hastings-Frontenac-Lennox and Addington): I have a petition to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario.
"Whereas the North Hastings community of Bancroft and the surrounding area is a predominantly rural geographic area that faces many of the same challenges that northern communities contend with," and in that "livestock plays a significant part in that economy; and
"Whereas the community is experiencing a crisis due to the fact that their veterinarian for large animals has indicated he can no longer provide services to the Bancroft area, and there are no immediate alternatives for animal care within their geographic area; and
"Whereas the only known incentive program for veterinarians is funded through the Ministry of" Northern Development and Mines;
"We, the undersigned, petition the Legislative Assembly of Ontario to urge the Ministry of" Northern Development and Mines "and the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs to work together to find a solution to this immediate crisis. We call on the Legislative Assembly of Ontario to introduce measures that would create incentives for veterinarians to practise within the described northern and rural communities in order to abate this emergency situation and to prevent similar crises in the future."
I happily sign my name to this petition.
M. Jean-Marc Lalonde (Glengarry-Prescott-Russell) : J'ai une pétition ici qui contient plus de 200 noms provenant de parents de jeunes familles de la région de Casselman. Cette pétition est accompagnée d'une lettre depuis le maire de Casselman, M. Marcel Lévesque.
« À l'Assemblée législative de l'Ontario :
« Attendu que la garde d'enfants en résidence privée comprise dans la Loi sur les garderies définit la garde temporaire, moyennant rémunération ou avantage quelconque, de cinq enfants au plus âgés de moins de 10 ans ;
« Attendu que dans les régions rurales, il y a un manque et en grande partie l'absence de transport en commun, et étant donné que la population est majoritairement éloignée des centres et des écoles ;
« Nous, les soussignés, présentons la pétition suivante à l'Assemblée législative de l'Ontario :
« Que le gouvernement de l'Ontario apporte la modification suivante sur la définition de la garde d'enfants en résidence privée comprise dans la Loi sur les garderies, permettant un nombre plus élevé de cinq enfants de moins de 10 ans dans les régions rurales. »
J'appuie cette pétition.
The Deputy Speaker (Mr Michael A. Brown): Pursuant to standing order 30(b), I'm now required to call orders of the day.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
THRONE SPEECH DEBATE
Resuming the adjourned debate on the motion for an address in reply to the speech of Her Honour the Lieutenant Governor at the opening of the session.
Mr Dalton McGuinty (Leader of the Opposition): Let me begin, Mr Speaker, by telling you how good it is to see you again. We on this side of the House would like to see you much more often. We happen to believe that this Legislature is an important place. We believe that it is in fact the people's place, the place where the people's work gets done.
We don't agree with some of the members opposite who seem to think this is just some sort of temporary layover between trips to Florida. And we don't agree with some of the members opposite who seem to think this is some sort of snack bar at the turn, where you drop in occasionally between the 9th and 10th holes.
We happen to believe that this is the place to be, that this is the people's place and this is where the people's work gets done. On that note, we are very happy indeed to be back.
As for the throne speech, it was interesting to watch the government lurch from buzzword to buzzword, the latest, of course, being "accountability." I want to tell you that we on this side of the House believe that we are all accountable to the working families of Ontario. I want you to contrast this with members of the government. We don't believe that we are accountable to the well connected or to the wealthy few or to the government's special interests, such as their developer friends or their friends in private health care. We are accountable simply to working families, the people who pay the bills, both theirs and, frankly, ours; the people who work hard day in and day out just to make ends meet, the people who strive every day to make their children's lives and our communities in this province better. We feel accountable to those people.
You see, we understand that when our families succeed, our province succeeds. We know our families aren't looking to government to solve all their problems, but they are looking to us to help them with those challenges that are simply too big for them to tackle on their own.
I understand what families are facing today. My own family faces many of the same challenges. Terri and I have four children: Carlene, who is working her way through university, and our sons, Jamie, Liam and Connor, who seem to be eating their way through high school. At home we refer to the fridge as the black hole, because anything that goes in there disappears forever.
But all kidding aside, for Terri and I there is nothing more important than our kids. I spend far too much time away from my family, but I do it because I believe in what I'm doing and what I'm fighting for and who I'm fighting for. I think that what I'm doing will help my family and families just like ours right across the province. So while my job may not be typical, I think my family is.
Like other families, we worry about saving for the kids' education. Terri and I were told a couple of weeks ago that we could be looking at as much as $200,000 to put four kids through university. At the same time, of course, we're trying to put away enough to ensure that the kids won't have to support us as we grow older. And we spend some time thinking about health care, but especially from our parents' perspective, because they're getting on in years and they will have a greater call upon our health care system.
We look at our natural environment and we want to know that our children and grandchildren will have clean air and clean drinking water, let alone wilderness areas to enjoy. I can remember when the kids were growing up we went out of our way to lock up all the household toxics, whether you're talking about shoe polish or pills. I think parents right across the province make that effort in their homes, but they also expect that the government will take responsibility for those toxics over which we as families have very little control.
I've got to tell you that mostly in my family we just scramble. We lead busy, hectic, just-in-time lives. There are bills to pay, schedules to juggle, taxi service to provide to this one or that one. We've got to stay on top of the kids' homework. Terri's got her own assignments to mark and classes to prepare. The kids have all got part-time jobs. They want to make sure they're putting enough money away for college and university. We want them to be home at a reasonable time on weekends, and so on and so on. Don't get me wrong. It's a wonderful life. We feel blessed, but it's hectic and it can be very stressful at times.
Families need help from government with the big things, things they need to be able to count on. When we drop our kids off at school in the morning, we want to know that our children are getting the best possible education. But in Ontario today, sadly, kids are learning in cramped classrooms with stressed-out teachers in an atmosphere that's been poisoned by this government's brand of politics. That's why we've put forward a plan to help our families by improving education. It starts with a real cap on class sizes in the early grades. No class in junior kindergarten through grade 3 will have more than 20 students.
This government is satisfied with an average class size of 25, and what that means in real terms is that today in Ontario there are over 500,000 children in classes of 26 or more and there are 90,000 children in classes of 31 or more.
We think that our real cap of 20 makes good sense. These early years provide the foundation for learning throughout life. Research tells us that children in smaller classes are better behaved, they do better in school and they are more likely to get into college or university.
We'd like to lower class sizes in every grade, but, like a family, we want to be prudent with our finances. The cost of this cap on class sizes is one tenth of what the government has already earmarked for additional tax cuts. Let's place this in some reasonable perspective. That's what we're calling for at the end of the day. It's not an issue here -- and the government would colour it another way but I want to be very clear: it's not an issue for us as to whether or not we should take all of the surplus monies today and put them into a tax cut, or take all of the surplus monies and put them into program spending, into investments. It's a matter of balance. This government has an unhealthy obsession with taking virtually all extra monies available and putting them into tax cuts, the majority of which help those who need help the least.
We think it makes sense to take one dime out of every dollar earmarked for tax cuts for the wealthy few and large corporations and use it to cut class sizes. That's something that will help, in a real way, our working families, and that will secure our future. We'll be most competitive over the long run if we have a highly educated, highly skilled workforce.
We've just completed an interesting exercise in my hometown of Ottawa. We like to take pride in some of our high-tech successes there. We're going through this branding exercise and trying to figure out the best way to market ourselves to the world at large.
The people involved in this project sought the opinions of people in the international high-tech community. The questions we had for these potential investors were, "What are you looking for? What is it going to take to attract you into our community? What foundation do you have to find in order to establish yourselves here or to expand your existing base here?" Do you know what the number one answer was? They want a highly skilled and educated workforce. That's what they're looking for.
If the government understood nothing else in terms of the ideas we are putting forward, I wish in all sincerity they would understand this, that given who we are here in Ontario, at this stage in our history, it's important that we play to our natural advantages and the future is to be found in developing here in our province a highly skilled and educated workforce.
Everybody's looking for an edge, we understand. It's a highly competitive global economy. We're all looking for an advantage. We all need to hone an edge. Our edge is a highly skilled and educated workforce and the way we get there is through education. That's why our party remains so committed to making sure we offer our children, our young people and all of those adults who want to pursue lifelong learning every good opportunity to improve themselves by providing high-quality education. That's what it's all about.
We've got other strong ideas for education. We believe in public school choice. We believe parents should be able to choose the best school for their child, even if it's not in their neighbourhood. We want to bring lighthouse schools to Ontario. If a school is successful in one way or another -- it might be that one school has made exceptional headway when it comes to parental involvement. It might be that a school's got an outstanding anti-bullying program. It might be that another school has made exceptional advances when it comes to academic achievement. It doesn't matter how they are excelling, if a school is successful, it should receive additional funding and it will under our plan, so that it can be used to share its best practices with other schools so that the entire system is lifted up.
Something else we would do is introduce turnaround teams to Ontario schools. If a school is failing on a consistent basis, if a school is struggling, we would send in turnaround teams, teams of experts that will make the necessary changes by offering expert advice and assistance and guidance. We won't write off any of our schools, because to do so would be to fail our children.
The government has signalled a willingness to implement some of our ideas. That's encouraging to a point. What's worrisome is that the government is shying away from those ideas that require an investment in education. For instance, it has not adopted our real cap on class sizes. The question of course is, why? I'll tell you. This government still sees education as an expense, when our families understand in their heart of hearts it is an investment. We know in our families of all the things we might spend money on, nothing is of greater value to us than investing in our children, in our future and, from a provincial scale, in a prosperity that lasts.
We've got to ask ourselves how we can provide our families with the best education in the world when the government can't even find a way to provide something as basic as soccer after school. Again in the throne speech and for the umpteenth time, the government promised to do something about that.
Gerard Kennedy and I put forward a peace plan. We did that on behalf of our caucus. We worked long and hard on coming up with some kind of a responsible solution that would reconcile differences between the government and teachers and put the interests of our students first. We came up with a solution. This government dismissed it out of hand.
The government had its own task force look at the matter. That task force came up with an alternative solution. Again this government dismissed it out of hand.
The Minister of Education and the Premier will cry crocodile tears for our students, but real action on behalf of families is nowhere to be seen.
I can tell you, and I say this with a great deal of pride, if the government fails to deliver real action on behalf of working families, I've got a team of delivery men and women right here beside me ready to go. There is always room for others, I say to the members opposite.
Mrs Margaret Marland (Mississauga South): And they're all here today.
Mr McGuinty: Margaret, you look good in red. Come on over here.
Throughout this session, we will be urging the government to do what's best for Ontario's working families. In education, this means we will be urging the government to put peace in our schools ahead of politics, and the interests of our kids ahead of ideology. When you take a look at what's happened to public education in Ontario during the past six years, our kids have suffered enough. It's time for this government to admit that and mend its ways.
I can tell you that working families are also looking to us to prove that we share with them an unwavering commitment to public health care. They want quality care, not just a bed but caring, professional, hands-on care. I feel very strongly about this in a very personal way. My mother worked as a nurse for many years, most of it in a children's hospital, as if she didn't have enough on her plate with 10 kids to care for.
Inspired by her example, four of us kids worked in hospitals at one time or another. After high school, I took a year off myself and I worked in the National Defence Medical Centre in Ottawa. I had some very basic, hands-on responsibilities for World War I and World War II veterans. My job was to bathe these men, shave these men, brush their teeth, brush their hair, give them back rubs, turn them from side to side so they wouldn't develop bedsores, treat the bedsores and talk to them. They didn't want to talk about the war. They just wanted to talk. I loved that job. I learned a heck of a lot about human dignity and the value of quality care.
At the beginning of the 21st century, we've been very ingenious in terms of the kinds of technology that we've introduced into the delivery of health care. But I've got to tell you, there are no two instruments more important in health care than human hands, no better way to give expression to our collective care and compassion for our sick, for the members of our families, than through our hands. The problem is that today's nurses are so busy running around and filling out charts, trying to get from bed to bed, they don't have time to provide that kind of care.
We now have the fewest nurses per capita in the country. The government sent thousands of them packing. Now it's begging them to come back and it's no wonder that so many of them refuse to return.
We put forward a plan to turn around health care. It's a plan to give families peace of mind. It starts with what I call 24-7 health care. We believe that doctors should work in teams, together with other doctors and nurse practitioners and nurses, and be available to their patients on a 24-7 basis.
If you have a child running a high fever and it's 2 o'clock in the morning and it's snowing outside, the notion that you've got to physically remove them from their bed and their home, put them in a car and take them to an emergency ward should be as antiquated as bankers' hours. We've got to do better for Ontario's working families.
We know that 24-7 will serve our families well, even though it will be fought by the government's friends, the special interests in the health care field who want to profit from the crisis in confidence by dismantling medicare. The government is clearly on their side, not the side of working families. That's why it's threatening working families with two-tier health care: a Cadillac system for the government's wealthy friends and supporters who can afford private care, and for the rest of us user fees, extra billing and still longer waits.
In the throne speech, the government claims that the federal commission studying the future of medicare has a mandate that is simply too narrow. Well, the one thing that is not on the table is one-tier, universally accessible, publicly funded health care. The government clearly wants a health care system that is not universally accessible or is not publicly funded.
Of course, the Premier and the Minister of Health try to dance around this, doing their now familiar two-tier two-step: step 1, you float the idea; step 2, you deny that you've floated the idea. Well, here is step 3: We on this side of the House will fight every single day to protect universally accessible, publicly funded health care for every Ontarian. We're telling working families, "It doesn't matter to us that you're not well off and that you're not well connected. You can count on us to protect your health care."
Working families know that medicare is the difference between disease and despair. Working families know that medicare is the difference between falling ill and tumbling into poverty simply because you are ill. We on this side of the House will fight for our working families.
I know that some of the members opposite are having difficulty with our commitment to Ontario's working families. I know that some of them are great supporters of two-tier health care. Some of them even campaigned for it in the last federal election. But we on this side of the House believe in medicare for all and we want to save medicare by reforming medicare.
The importance of that really hit home for me three or four years ago. Terri and I finally succumbed to the Disney World advertising. We couldn't resist it any more, so we went south. At one particular point in time Carlene was running around a wooden pool deck and there was more than a sliver, really a shard, of wood sticking upwards like this. Carlene was running around this wooden deck and unfortunately she drove this one-and-a-half-inch piece of wood deep into her foot. Terri was frantic and she signalled for me to come over. I did, and I looked. I couldn't see a darned thing, except the fact that Carleen was in serious pain.
So we grabbed a cab; we headed to the nearest doctor's office in Florida. Carlene was in tears, Terri was at her wit's end and it was a bad scene. Speaker, you will know this: you haven't really experienced life to the max until you've had a child in distress and you're trying to figure out what to do.
So we went to the doctor's office, got the doctor, and I had the insurance forms. I said, "Here, Doc. Here are the insurance forms." I'll never forget what he said to me. He looked me straight in the eye. Terri was there, frantic, in tears, my daughter beside her in tears. The doctor said, "If you want me to look after your daughter, it'll be cash, traveller's cheques or credit card. That's how we work here." That's what he said to me. I can tell you, if we continue to drag our heels on health care reform, that will be how we work here, too.
So let's move ahead with 24-7 health care. Let's start to reform the system. I'm not saying that it's perfect, by an means. But let's understand that the foundation, the bedrock for our medicare system is universal accessibility and public funding. Beyond that there's ample room for improvement and reform and innovation, but we're not moving off our bedrock.
I can tell you that families are counting on us too to fight for the environment. This is not an abstract concept for our working families. I'm talking about the air that we breathe and the water that we drink. Any mom or dad will tell you that kids often have simple nightly request: "Can I have a glass of water?" That shouldn't be a difficult question for any Ontario parent to answer, but in Ontario today, families unfortunately have reason to think twice.
We've put forward a plan for safe drinking water. It calls for regular inspection of our water treatment facilities, strict enforcement of our laws, including a new one that we'd put on the books. We'd regulate the waste produced by our industrial-sized farms.
Government also has a role in defending our water supplies by protecting our communities from unfettered, unchecked, unbridled, reckless development. In this session, we will be once again urging the government to start protecting the Oak Ridges moraine. If the government wants to move beyond talk, if it really wants to protect the Oak Ridges moraine, all it has to do is pass Mike Colle's bill. It's ready to go. Water you can drink and communities you can live in have got to take precedence over industrial farms and well-connected developers.
Then there's the matter, sadly, of our air quality. My colleague Mr Bradley was putting a question earlier today to the Minister of the Environment and talking about how 1,900 people today die annually prematurely as a result of breathing bad air in Ontario. I'm not sure of how many of the members opposite understand that the single greatest cause for hospital admissions for Ontario children today is asthma. I'm not sure how many of the members opposite know that the single greatest cause for absenteeism in our elementary schools is asthma. The air is making our kids sick.
It's time that this government get its priorities straight, that it take responsibility for the natural environment and that it start by adopting our plan, referred to in the House today by my colleague. Why does it not proceed to convert all of our coal-fired plants to natural-gas-fired plants? That's good for our families and it's good for our future.
When it comes to the province's finances, I believe we can serve families and learn from them at the same time. Most families frankly are smarter than most governments. Families invest in things that secure their future without spending money they just don't have. They put away money for the kids' education over taking care of themselves or their loved ones in their old age. I think we should do that too in a fiscally responsible way.
We on this side of the House believe in balanced budgets. In fact we believe in a balanced approach to budgeting. We're all for tax relief that benefits working families, but not across-the-board tax cuts that do the most to help those who need it the least.
Of the tax cuts announced so far by the current government, half of the money has gone to the wealthiest 20% of Ontarians. It's no wonder that most working families feel someone else has benefited from the Mike Harris tax cuts. Families want and deserve tax cuts, but they want tax cuts that are fair and they know that we need more than just tax cuts, that we need a plan for the long term, one that also invests in education, health care and the environment. This balanced approach, one that puts the interests of our families ahead of politics and ahead of ideology, is the one Ontario Liberals believe in and embrace.
This balanced approach is one that makes for prosperity that lasts. A highly educated, highly skilled workforce, excellent health care, safe and liveable communities -- these are the things that really attract jobs and investment. This balanced approach has been missing in Ontario. Think of this now: during six years of tremendous economic growth, the government poured money into tax cuts for their special interests, the large corporations and the wealthy few. At the same time they failed to invest in education or health care or the environment. They failed to put money aside for a rainy day. They failed to protect Ontario's working families or to copy the real common sense that families apply to their own budgeting.
Now the government wants to continue to cut taxes for their special interests, while announcing more cuts to education and still more cuts to health care. They continue to put politics and ideology ahead of the interests of Ontario's working families. They continue to believe in the quick fix of across-the-board tax cuts, cuts that do the most to help those who need it the least. It's a quick fix that really amounts to a foundation of quicksand for our economy.
So I say again, why can't we take just one dime out of each dollar pledged to future tax cuts for the well-off? We could reduce class sizes for our kids and do something that's good, not only for our children but for our families and our future.
It's really quite a sad state of affairs when a government is too old to change its ways, too stubborn to learn from experience and too blinded by politics to do what's right for our families. I want to make this perfectly clear: we stand with Ontario families, families just like yours and mine. We don't stand with special interests or the wealthy few or the well-connected. We stand with Ontario families. It seems to me that's standing for something very important indeed.
When we fight for smaller class sizes, universal access to quality health care and safe drinking water, we are fighting for our families. When we fight for livable communities, for prosperity that lasts, we are fighting for our families. When we are fighting for our families, we are fighting for Ontario's future.
In this session and beyond this session, we will continue to fight for Ontario's families. In this place and beyond these four walls, we will continue to fight for Ontario's families. This is what drives me. It's what drives my caucus colleagues. Our only special interest is working families. Our only goal is to provide them with the things they need to succeed: good schools, quality health care, clean air and water, prosperity that lasts. These are things that are worth fighting for, because when our families succeed, our province succeeds, and when our province succeeds, we all succeed.
I've got to tell you, it is great to be back, because we've got a lot to fight for.
The Deputy Speaker (Mr Michael A. Brown): Further debate?
Ms Frances Lankin (Beaches-East York): I'd like to move adjournment of the debate.
The Deputy Speaker: Ms Lankin has moved adjournment of the debate. Is it the pleasure of the House that the motion carry? Carried.
The quandary is that we have a request for a late show. The standing orders are slightly problematic in this area. One of the standing orders requires that this happen at 6 o'clock, and one of them says following adjournment. The problem I'm having is just trying to sort this out. If we had unanimous consent, we could have the late show on another day, or we could have the late show right now. I'm looking for a little bit of direction from a House leader or --
Mrs Sandra Pupatello (Windsor West): On a point of order, Mr Speaker: This may be of assistance. I am prepared to move it to Thursday, as is being requested, if I may have some guarantee that the Minister of Health will actually be in the House on Thursday at the end of the day.
Hon Chris Hodgson (Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing): Speaker, the Minister of Health is not here but, on his behalf, I'm sure that he would relish the opportunity -- one of his expressions -- to debate this matter on Thursday.
The Deputy Speaker: I will put the question: Do we have unanimous consent to have the late show on Thursday at 6 o'clock? Agreed? No.
Hon Mr Hodgson: If they're saying it has to be the minister, I cannot commit to his schedule. Mr Speaker, I don't want to mislead the House. I can say that he would relish the opportunity to go through the normal process, where they've requested the late show to be on Thursday as opposed to today.
Mrs Pupatello: On a point of order, Speaker: If I may be of further assistance, I'm prepared to have the Premier in the House in the Minister of Health's absence for the late show on Thursday.
Mr John Gerretsen (Kingston and the Islands): On a point of order, Speaker: In light of the fact that the government seems to be in total disarray over this issue, I would seriously request that we at this time move the standing orders to a special committee of the Legislature so they can be studied and improvements can be made to that immediately.
Hon Mr Hodgson: In light of the fact that the opposition didn't want to debate further or add comments to their leader's discussion and wanted to wrap up early, we will comply with the rules to have the late show today.
Mrs Pupatello: My understanding is that the Minister of Health is on his way and will be here in two to three minutes. I'm very prepared to wait for the minister.
Hon Frank Klees (Minister without Portfolio): Mr Speaker, that was going to be my point, that if we could be patient under the circumstances, the minister will be here.
The Deputy Speaker: We will take a five-minute recess. Following the five-minute recess, we will have the late show. Is that agreed? Agreed.
The House recessed from 1643 to 1649.
The Deputy Speaker (Mr Michael A. Brown): Pursuant to standing order 37(a), the member for Windsor West has given her notice of dissatisfaction with the answer to her question given by the Minister of Health concerning cancer care. The member for Windsor West has five minutes.
Mrs Sandra Pupatello (Windsor West): I am disappointed that the Minister of Health isn't here to address this concern. He seemed so intent on avoiding the answer to this question during question period today that perhaps the parliamentary assistant to the minister will be more forthcoming about the rationale behind the move by this government to hand over hard-earned taxpayers' dollars to a company that was simply created to take money from the Ontario government Ministry of Health, use all of assets of the already-started cancer clinics, use staff that currently work in the cancer clinics as part of Cancer Care Ontario and deliver service to cancer patients.
My question to the Minister of Health this afternoon was very simple. I asked him, how does this government rationalize turning over the delivery of health care to a private company when the Ministry of Health is continuing to fund it and having absolutely no public tendering process to select this particular company? I asked the parliamentary assistant to the Minister of Health today to address especially this part of the question: why is there no public tendering process to hand this service over to this particular private company?
We won't question the ethics involved. Apparently the minister says that no conflict-of-interest rules were broken. Maybe that's going to cause a rewrite of conflict-of-interest rules in Ontario.
On the one hand we see that the minister says, "We've got to get these patients off the backlog. We've got to clear up the backlog." I asked the minister today, if we could have done this, why didn't we do this a year ago when we were sending our patients to Detroit, Buffalo and everywhere else? Why did we wait to turn it over all of a sudden, with no public tendering process, to a company to deliver this service? Why would you not tender this?
When Dr Shumak, the CEO of Cancer Care Ontario, was asked this very same question, he said, "We didn't want to make a lot of noise about this. Why? Because we knew there was going to be public outrage." How absolutely ridiculous is an answer like that?
Secondly, this government is going to come out with some kind of announcement in the near future about accountability. We asked this government about accountability. We want to know why you would hand over funding from the Ministry of Health, with all of the other services that are being required today in this ministry, to one company. I've got 100 people who are prepared to line up. Not only are they going to get handed $4 million in start-up money to start the business, but they are also using public assets. They are using the equipment that we own through the cancer clinics already. They are using our equipment.
And where are they finding the employees for this venture? They are our employees. These are people who during the day work for us to deliver health care service to cancer patients. So what is the $4 million for? What is the start-up cost for? I've got 100 people tomorrow who are going to come to your door and say, "Give me $4 million in start-up and we'll do the same thing." It's like a temp agency, for heaven's sake. They just move on in after hours and they move on out when they're through, and in come the rest of the people at Sunnybrooke who work there during the day.
We find it just unbelievable that you would turn this kind of money over and, secondly, with no tendering process. How did you come to choose the company that was being headed by the then vice-president of Cancer Care Ontario itself, the very organization that's come up with this scheme to stop patients from going across the border? That vice-president is now running this private company, which has been handed over $4 million in start-up costs. Who is answering for all of this?
I am asking the Minister of Health this very respectable question that deserves the dignity of a respectable answer. People across Ontario ought to know what you're doing with our money and who is going to be accountable for it. We know we can't even make a freedom-of-information request of Cancer Care Ontario, yet it is controlled enough by this government that this government approved start-up money for that private firm. This government knew that it was going this route. You could have taken that same money and any profit that would be earned by that private company and put it back into services to be delivered to cancer patients in the name of radiation treatment or any other kind of treatment these cancer patients need.
Yes, we want to keep people from going across the border at all costs. Explain to me how you are going to rationalize handing money to a private company whose only modus operandi and purpose for being is return on investment. That's what you get when you work with a private company. They want to see where their money goes and they want more of it. I asked the Minister of Health this question today and we deserve an answer tonight.
Mr Bart Maves (Niagara Falls): It's my pleasure to stand in place of the Minister of Health today and answer the question from the member opposite, a question that actually took in a lot of points.
One of the points she talked about was one they talked about today in the public accounts committee. When I sat on that committee, it was actually a Liberal Party member, Ms McLeod from Thunder Bay, who introduced a motion, after Cancer Care Ontario had appeared before the public accounts committee, to have the auditor do a value-for-money audit of Cancer Care Ontario's decision to contract cancer services to a private company. It was initially defeated, but I was a member of that committee who then allowed the reintroduction of the motion and in fact voted in favour of the motion. As the minister has said today, that committee has voted to ask the Provincial Auditor to go ahead and do a value-for-money audit of that decision by Cancer Care Ontario. I believe that the Premier has stated publicly that he thinks it's fine for the Provincial Auditor to do a value-for-money audit of that decision. The minister has said the same thing several times in the House today and, I believe, when he was asked yesterday.
Many times in the history of Ontario -- I remember when Ms Caplan was the health minister for the Liberal Party opposite in the 1980s, there were often headlines in the papers about patients being sent to Michigan, Buffalo or other places for cancer treatment. Now we have Cancer Care Ontario, which works closely with the Ministry of Health but is an arm's-length agency, that oversees cancer care in Ontario. Cancer Care Ontario has on occasion sent people to Buffalo, Michigan and other places to get cancer services.
What's important to note here is that Cancer Care Ontario several years ago adopted a standard of four weeks from diagnosis to beginning of treatment. The reason Cancer Care Ontario, I believe, was before the public accounts committee was that the Provincial Auditor said that only 50% of patients are meeting the standard that Cancer Care Ontario set. It's because only 50% are getting treatment within four weeks that they're often sending our Ontario patients to Buffalo and Michigan.
What isn't widely known is that that's the most aggressive standard adopted in the world, to begin treatment within four weeks. It's actually an admirable standard for Cancer Care Ontario to adopt. We don't have enough technicians in the province, and for a variety of other reasons we've been unable to get 100% of our patients, but we actually have a better record than just about any province in Canada. However, on occasion, as I have said, Cancer Care Ontario has taken the decision to send our patients to Buffalo, Michigan and I believe some other provinces to try to get services more quickly for Ontario patients.
Actually, that's a wonderful part of our publicly paid-for health system, that we go to those lengths to make sure our Ontario patients get that kind of service. However, Cancer Care Ontario has decided it would prefer not to continue to send if they have excess patients who can't get in to be seen in that four-week window, that if they continue to have patients they have to send, they would prefer to send them to a clinic in Ontario. As such, Cancer Care Ontario has decided to contract with a company here in Ontario to provide that service. That was, as I said, a decision made by Cancer Care Ontario and it is one the government has supported.
As I said before and as I said at the outset, the Premier, the Minister of Health and the Liberal Party of Ontario came in with a motion at the public accounts committee. They asked at that committee for this decision by Cancer Care Ontario to go to the Provincial Auditor for a value-for-money audit.
Mrs Pupatello: It's called public tendering. Are you going to address that or not?
Mr Maves: The members on this side of the committee voted in favour of that motion and in favour of the Provincial Auditor doing an audit. The minister has supported that. He supported it again today in the Legislature.
Mrs Pupatello: Talk about public tendering.
Mr Maves: If the auditor goes forward and does that value-for-money audit, and if there's anything the member is concerned about on that point, I'm sure we'll be happy to hear from her again then.
Hon Frank Klees (Minister without Portfolio): Speaker, I move adjournment of the House.
The Deputy Speaker: Is it the pleasure of the House that the motion carry? Carried.
This House stands adjourned until 1:30 of the clock tomorrow afternoon.
The House adjourned at 1700.