LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY OF ONTARIO
ASSEMBLÉE LÉGISLATIVE DE L’ONTARIO
Monday 30 November 2015 Lundi 30 novembre 2015
The House recessed from 1758 to 1845.
Orders of the Day
Strengthening and Improving Government Act, 2015 / Loi de 2015 sur le renforcement et l’amélioration de la gestion publique
Mr. Bradley, on behalf of Mme Meilleur, moved third reading of the following bill:
Bill 85, An Act to strengthen and improve government by amending or repealing various Acts / Projet de loi 85, Loi visant à renforcer et à améliorer la gestion publique en modifiant ou en abrogeant diverses lois.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Ted Arnott): I recognize the Chair of Cabinet to lead off debate.
Hon. James J. Bradley: Mr. Speaker, I’ll be sharing my time with the parliamentary assistant. The member for Scarborough Southwest is, of course, the parliamentary assistant to the Attorney General.
I simply want to say, because I want to leave the lion’s share of the speaking time to the member for Scarborough Southwest, that this is a bill that commends itself to passage by the Legislative Assembly. Indeed, as it suggests, it strengthens and improves government by amending and repealing various acts. It’s a comprehensive bill, but I would say that it is one that has been looked at carefully—in first reading, of course, but particularly second reading and in any committee time it may have had, and now we’re at third reading.
I want to say to members of the assembly that when I was first elected here, there was no third reading, or rarely was there third reading of any bill, and now it has become part—
Mr. Norm Miller: How long ago was that?
Hon. James J. Bradley: This was back when your father was a member, I say to the member for Parry Sound. When his father was a member, there was no third reading that took place; it was on a nod. Now we have a situation where the opposition has insisted upon some time for third reading. This government, which is very accommodating of the opposition’s wishes on so many occasions, of course, is ensuring that this happens.
Mr. Gilles Bisson: Do you remember who predicted that? It was you.
Hon. James J. Bradley: Probably the member for St. Catharines may have predicted that at one time.
As I indicated, I’m sharing my time with the parliamentary assistant to the Attorney General, the member for Scarborough Southwest, who wishes to elaborate during this evening session on this excellent piece of legislation which I suspect, in a final analysis, may even garner the support of all three parties in the Legislative Assembly, so I yield my time to the member for Scarborough Southwest.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Ted Arnott): I’m pleased to recognize the member for Scarborough Southwest.
Mr. Lorenzo Berardinetti: I want to thank the Chair of Cabinet for the opening remarks. I have a few minutes to speak today about Bill 85 and start third reading debate. I’m pleased to rise today to begin third reading of the Strengthening and Improving Government Act.
As the members may recall, in April this act was introduced to update or make corrections to 15 different pieces of legislation. While these modifications are relatively minor in nature, Mr. Speaker, I can assure you that they will have a significant impact on the lives of many Ontarians, directly or indirectly. If passed, this bill will help improve the way government interacts with Ontarians. Quite simply, it will help us serve them better.
I want to take a moment to highlight some of these changes for you today, particularly the amendments that will help strengthen families, provide support to seniors, improve workplace safety and keep people moving across the greater Toronto and Hamilton area.
Mr. Speaker, as you know, Ontario is currently creating an online service that will make it easier for parents to set up or change child support payments. This service will allow them to update child support payments without having to go to court, which often involves booking a day or a few days off work and arranging for child care. To support this project, we’re proposing a small but important amendment to the Family Law Act. This change will ensure that parents who use the new online service have the same financial disclosure obligations as parents who obtain a child support order from a family court.
For separated parents, making financial disclosure mandatory is important because it helps them decide whether or not to apply to change their child support amount. This would provide single-parent families with better information to make informed decisions and to allow parents to receive the financial support that they need to raise their children.
In addition, Mr. Speaker, to helping families with young children, this bill will also ensure quality care in services that are provided to the elderly. Many seniors who are cared for at home or in long-term-care facilities often use stretcher transportation services to move between health care facilities. These are private service providers which are currently not regulated. To ensure our loved ones are well cared for during these journeys, we are proposing to create regulations in that industry. These changes will be spelled out in amendments to the Highway Traffic Act. If passed, these changes would require that drivers meet specific requirements for vehicle inspection and maintenance, and would mandate qualifications for staff and equipment. These changes are far overdue, as this bill will help set a standard of care for this industry, which has never been regulated before. Most importantly, it will bring peace of mind to many families whose loved ones use these services.
Mr. Speaker, I would also like to take this opportunity to tell you how this bill will help improve workplace health and safety for Ontarians. We’re proposing to amend the Occupational Health and Safety Act to adopt new international standards for classifying hazardous workplace chemicals and providing information to end-users. These changes are part of a broader Canada-wide initiative. Under these new standards, employers and workers would have more comprehensive information about workplace chemicals. It would be presented in a standard format using clear and consistent terms, making it easier to understand than current labels and safety data sheets. As a result, Mr. Speaker, workers across Ontario will have greater knowledge about the effects of chemicals that they are using and they will know what precautions to take to work with them safely.
As the members here are aware, Ontario passed the Making Ontario’s Roads Safer Act earlier this year. This act focused on reducing collisions, injuries and fatalities on roads. But more importantly, it also provides protection to road users and increases penalties for distracted and impaired driving. I am pleased to say that this legislation passed unanimously. Building on this legislation, through the Strengthening and Improving Government Act, we’re proposing to amend the Highway Traffic Act to enable a seamless implementation of these penalties, which would implement new driver licence suspensions for drug-impaired driving.
Mr. Speaker, this bill in front of us today will help to improve public transportation in the greater Toronto and Hamilton area, otherwise known as the GTHA. It’s no secret that gridlock and congestion are daily problems faced by Ontarians living in the GTHA who struggle to try to get to work on time and back home to their families. It is for this reason that we’re proposing to amend the City of Toronto Act to help the Toronto Transit Commission, otherwise known as the TTC, expand its services. The proposed amendment would make it easier for the TTC and municipalities neighbouring the city of Toronto to enter into agreements to allow the TTC to operate local passenger transportation services in those municipalities upon mutually agreeable terms.
Mr. Speaker, there is no question that supporting municipalities for the provision of transit services is vital to keep people in our urban cities moving. The Toronto-York Spadina subway extension, which will extend the subway 8.6 kilometres from the existing TTC Downsview station to the Vaughan Metropolitan Centre in York region, is a good example of what greater collaboration between municipalities can achieve. This extension will help commuters and drivers move faster across the GTHA, as it is expected to add 36 million transit trips and will help clear congestion by eliminating 30 million car trips each year. This is a prime example of what we can achieve when we work together.
What I have mentioned here today are just some of the many proposed amendments outlined in this bill. The Strengthening and Improving Government Act is a bill that supports our government’s goals of making Ontarians’ lives easier, making our communities stronger and helping our economy to grow.
I urge all members to join me today in building a strong foundation for Ontario by supporting this bill.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Ted Arnott): Questions or comments?
Mr. Bill Walker: I’m going to spend 20 minutes shortly in the leadoff, so I’ll just hit a few highlights here as part of our leadoff.
Bill 85 is an omnibus bill that includes minor housekeeping amendments. As I’ve read through it, most of the items in there truly are housekeeping of that nature. Bill 85 affects 15 pieces of legislation, involving eight ministries.
I’m going to focus most of my speaking on a key number of pieces of this, those things that most people in my riding are talking to me about the most. The items that I will be talking about are the Highway Traffic Act, schedule 7: non-medical, non-emergency transfers. I’ll also be speaking about Family Court, schedule 1—collecting money, and navigating the Family Court system—and the physician services agreement—health cuts. There’s lots to talk about there.
One of the things that I’m hearing from a lot of constituents in my riding is about the non-medical, non-emergency transfers and the cost for those people and the process. Many people are being sent to some kind of an appointment. They’re getting down there and they’re being let go from that facility, and they’re having to find their own way home, which is very, very costly.
Murray Bray, from Lion’s Head, was in to see me. He was very concerned about the actual ride that he had in one of these non-medical emergency transfers. The length of the route: He felt that he was not necessarily taking the shortest route possible. He was concerned about the safety of the vehicle. He asked me very specific details about how the inspections went. Of course, I went back and checked with the county, and they do go through a very, very—from an ambulance. He thought, actually, at first that he was in an ambulance. So even there, we have to make sure that people understand whether it’s an ambulance or a non-medical transfer in a private vehicle. We need to make sure we’re staying on top of it.
Some of these items that I’m going to read tonight, that are going to be talked about, are very much things that I’ll support. If it’s cleaning up and getting rid of useless administrative stuff, we’re all for that. But at the end of the day, we need substantive items to come forward.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Ted Arnott): Questions and comments?
Mme France Gélinas: Bill 85, An Act to strengthen and improve government by amending or repealing various Acts, is the kind of bill that is really challenging, because there are some parts of the bill that do help people and that should move forward; there are other parts of the bill that will do more harm than good. But all of them are this mishmash that has all been put together. They have nothing in common with one another. We go from the Highway Traffic Act to collecting on family alimony and child support payments and everything else in between. It’s a bit like the kitchen sink at this point, and I have problems with that.
Like the speaker before me, I will be spending a little bit of time on section 7. I have been advocating that we need to regulate medical transportation services since I was elected, more than eight years ago. I have been asking for the regulation of that industry.
I think the Ombudsman said it the best when he said that they look like an ambulance, they feel like an ambulance, and some of them even smell like an ambulance, but they are not.
Frankly, for some of them, the wheels are falling off. For some of them, the people in the back have no knowledge or skills to be able to help the people who are strapped in there and cannot move. The whole thing is wrong.
So to say that they will be able to say, “We regulated medical transportation services by putting them under the Highway Traffic Act” is a disservice to the people of Ontario and something that I will never be able to support, because it will continue to feel like this is an ambulance where the people attending to you are able to care for you when this is not the case at all.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Ted Arnott): Questions and comments?
Mr. Glenn Thibeault: I’d like to thank my colleague from Scarborough Southwest for his presentation on this bill, Bill 85, the Strengthening and Improving Government Act. The presenter talked very specifically about many aspects of this bill and the positive impacts that it will have on not only his riding but all of Ontario, and also how it’s going to affect many of his constituents.
I know my colleague from Nickel Belt and my colleague from the official opposition also spoke to it and talked specifically about part of a change that we’re going to see in this bill relating to the Highway Traffic Act.
On top of that, there are many things that this bill is going to do to meet the needs of Ontarians, especially these public services that require a solid foundation to build upon. We’re taking this action through this act to strengthen and update existing legislation, as my colleague so eloquently presented earlier.
When we’re talking about the changes to the Highway Traffic Act, what we’re proposing to do—and I think it’s important that we get this change and this proposition out there—is, we’re looking to regulate the non-emergency stretcher transportation service, also known as STS vehicles, and their operators under the commercial vehicle operators registration, which is the CVOR, regime and require them to meet prescribed requirements, qualifications and standards. The government is regulating STS to protect passengers and ensure safety and quality as this sector expands. From an industry perspective, regulation will improve business certainty and create a level playing field for all STS providers.
With that, I know my time is out. I’d like once again to thank my colleague for his presentation.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Ted Arnott): Questions or comments?
Mr. Jeff Yurek: It’s a pleasure to be here tonight, listening to the debate going on for Bill 85. I find it quite interesting that this bill is the Strengthening and Improving Government Act when in fact this bill affects so many different acts that, as the member from Nickel Belt mentioned, it doesn’t make sense. I prefer omnibus bill, a second omnibus bill, the first of two that this government has pushed forward in the last month. I’m sure in the past, when they were on the opposition side, they protested vehemently against omnibus bills coming forward. Now they have taken up the task themselves.
It’s quite unfortunate they’ve given it the greatest title: the Strengthening and Improving Government Act. If they really wanted to strengthen and improve government, they wouldn’t have taken away the Ombudsman’s power over Hydro One to actually tell the people of Ontario what’s going on in their electricity system. We can’t trust this government to bring forth any information they can rely upon when making day-to-day decisions. Businesses can’t make their own investing decisions. The Ombudsman opened up the door and was able to track down a number of faults in the hydro system. One of my constituents was given a bill for $230,000 for one month’s use of electricity. Thank goodness the fear of the Ombudsman was there, because Hydro One fixed it quite quickly once they got the Ombudsman involved.
The other thing they could have added to this bill, maybe, is respect for the Financial Accountability Officer. The government created this position. They went through the process of hiring Mr. LeClair, who is more than capable of doing his job. When he comes down with a report, first, the government doesn’t want to share information that he needs to make a vital decision as an officer of this Legislature; and second, when he does give them advice and clarification, they ignore it.
If they truly want to strengthen government and make an act for it, there are ways to make this happen. Unfortunately—
Mr. Bill Walker: Walk the talk.
Mr. Jeff Yurek: Exactly: They’re not walking the talk.
Speaker, I’m glad to be here tonight, listening to the discussion on this omnibus budget bill.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Ted Arnott): That concludes our questions and comments. We return to the member for Scarborough Southwest for his reply.
Mr. Lorenzo Berardinetti: I appreciate the comments from the member from Bruce–Grey–Owen Sound and the member from Nickel Belt and the member from Sudbury and the member from Elgin–Middlesex–London. I also wanted to mention earlier, at the start of this debate, what the Chair of Cabinet said, which is that we usually didn’t have third reading on a bill many, many years ago. But our government is an open and transparent democracy. We’re having third reading now.
I was involved in this very chamber during second reading. Many members from the opposition stood up and said, “Why are we wasting time in this Legislature with this bill? It could have gone through as regulations. The changes could have been done through regulations,” which means, for those that are watching here, that it would have been done in the cabinet room and not here in the Legislature. We want to bring this forward in the form of Bill 85 just to make sure that the opposition holds us accountable and has a chance to criticize us and make changes in committee and do many other things to make this bill as good as possible.
I really appreciate the comments from the members, especially those from the opposition and plus the member from Sudbury. They’re all valid comments. The member from Nickel Belt mentioned the fact of the transportation of the ambulances that are used that are private, and this is the first time we’re putting some rules in place. It’s very dangerous to actually have an ambulance show up with no regulations, no rules, and transport a person from one ambulance to another. I’ve gone through this experience myself many times in the past couple of years. It’s not pleasant. I’m talking about not just the ones that are private but also the ones that are public.
I thank the Speaker for this time, and I look forward to more debate this evening.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Ted Arnott): Further debate?
Mr. Monte McNaughton: Before I start the lead for the opposition, I’d like to let you know, Mr. Speaker, that I’m sharing the lead with the honourable member from Bruce–Grey–Owen Sound, followed by the MPP for Carleton–Mississippi Mills.
We’re discussing, once again, Bill 85, the Strengthening and Improving Government Act. This bill has been debated for many hours now, and through the course of debate I think the government has heard a lot of great ideas from this side of the House about what they could do to strengthen and improve government here in the province of Ontario. But none of this is included in this bill. Instead of putting forward substantive legislation, this government has elected to put forward a very nice-sounding good-governance bill which in fact does some very light housekeeping. Given the state of our province in Ontario right now—the state the province is in right now—I think the title of this bill is a slap in the face to the people in Ontario.
Our finance critic, Vic Fedeli, has brought to my attention a very interesting analysis by BMO of the job being done by this government as compared to our neighbour, Quebec. It highlights what the government ought to be addressing with a good-governance bill. I’m going to read an excerpt from this BMO analysis.
“Both provinces reported improved results this week versus what was expected during the spring budget season, but Ontario’s came on the back of asset sales, while Quebec’s came through diligent spending restraint. This week’s results also highlight two other key differences. First, Quebec balanced the budget a year earlier than expected” in fiscal year 2014-15 “on a public accounts basis (i.e., before transfers to the Generations Fund for debt reduction). Ontario, however, is still grappling with a deficit of 1% of GDP and a tough spending plan to hit its target of a balanced budget” by fiscal year 2017-18. Economic growth prospects are firmer in Ontario, which should help on a relative basis, but keep in mind that real GDP growth has already been outpacing Quebec by 0.6” percentage points “per year on average for the past five years. Second, while Quebec still carries the larger debt burden, the gap has been steadily narrowing since the recession. In fact, net debt dipped as a share of GDP in Quebec last year and is on track to do so again” in fiscal year 2015-16.
Mr. Speaker, the BMO analysis continues, “Ontario, however, is now expecting net debt to top 40% of GDP for the first time on record this fiscal year. As a result, the gap between net debt ratios in these two provinces is now just 9.5” percentage points, “down from about 15” percentage points “just six years ago. Against that backdrop, Quebec is in a position to begin reducing its tax burden next year—Ontario, not so much.”
Again, this came from a BMO analysis comparing Ontario and Quebec and the state of the fiscal situation in both provinces.
As the report says, our net debt will be 40% of GDP. It’s unbelievable for a province that was the economic engine of Canada not that long ago. We’re not seeing anything from the Liberal side of the House that gives us much hope in this province.
To start with, if we’re aiming for good governance, we need a competitive tax system in Ontario. That’s how we can attract new investment, generate economic growth and enable job creation and innovation. It’s critical to the health of our economy, and the people of this province deserve an equitable and effective tax system.
The Canadian Federation of Independent Business recently evaluated which provincial tax system is best for small and medium-sized businesses to flourish. Sadly, it’s no surprise that Ontario is actually near the bottom. We placed behind Alberta, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick, Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island, Manitoba and British Columbia.
But despite this, in the fall economic statement last week, we heard that the government will consider even more tools for revenue growth in order to raise $8 billion to eliminate its deficit. The government needs to come clean and tell us which taxes it will raise or new taxes it will create and what other services will be cut in order to balance the budget, because if they think the measures included in this bill warrant a name like “the good governance bill,” we’re in a lot of trouble here in the province. This government could certainly use some strengthening and improving, but this doesn’t even scratch the surface of what actually needs to be done here in the province.
As far as I can tell, many of the changes proposed in Bill 85 could have been done by regulation or put in the omnibus bill, which was time-allocated and pushed through the House. Most of what is in Bill 85 was in Bill 151, from the last session, so it’s not even new housekeeping measures that the government just happened to stumble upon. It’s all minor caretaking measures that make very, very little difference, across many acts. We could have a bill that tidies things, and that’s essentially what they’re saying, but to say it improves anything is quite a stretch.
What makes this bill really debatable is its title, the Strengthening and Improving Government Act, and the way the government has been casually referring to it as a good-governance bill. It’s a good laugh and a good source of debate, but it doesn’t do nearly enough. There are many important issues we should be discussing that are the real problems here in Ontario, like the cost of hydro, which we talked about—
Hon. James J. Bradley: All day.
Mr. Monte McNaughton: —all day, as the member from St. Catharines says. It’s something that we’ve talked about for years, but of course, it keeps falling on deaf ears.
We could be talking about the new fees and taxes that this government is introducing. It would be great to discuss measures to bring down the cost of government and let people keep more of their own hard-earned money.
Bringing down the cost of living in this province would constitute, in my mind, good governance. Helping people toward the goal of home ownership, instead of hindering them, would be good governance. Giving families some tax relief and alleviating the burden imposed by income taxes, sales taxes, the estate administration tax; programs like Drive Clean, which I know the member from St. Catharines knows well; and the two dozen other taxes and fees I could name would be a start.
This government has never balanced a budget in recent memory. They try to make up for this by claiming to beat their deficit targets year after year, but quite frankly, it’s a complete shell game, a tired old trick used by governments who can’t control their own spending.
It’s no coincidence that over the last decade Ontario has experienced an historic reversal of its fortunes. Our economic growth has fallen short of the national average every year. Our unemployment rate went above the national average for the first time in 2007 and has more or less stayed there.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Ted Arnott): I apologize to the member. He has the floor.
Mr. Monte McNaughton: I know that when we talk about taxes increasing, new taxes, record spending and higher unemployment than the national average for most of the time they’ve been in government, it touches a nerve, and I think that’s what I’ve done here tonight.
We talk about debt and deficit day in and day out, but it’s like it goes in one ear and out the other with this Liberal government. Instead, they tax and spend, or sell and spend, as we’ve seen with Hydro One.
As our leader, Patrick Brown, pointed out earlier today, the proceeds the government has seen from the sale of Hydro One equate to the money squandered in the gas plant scandal. If we had good governance in this province, taxpayers would have been spared that expense. Real transparency would be a great step toward good governance. Spending millions and millions of taxpayer dollars to pay teachers’ unions—we don’t know exactly what it was for—is another good example of this government falling well short of good governance and the transparency they have promised.
Cutting nurses from our health care system isn’t good governance. Making it more expensive for tradespeople to work and maintain their licence isn’t good governance. The Premier spending unprecedented time and resources out on the federal campaign trail isn’t good governance. Four police investigations most certainly are not an indicator of good governance.
Actually, this bill may in fact be as close to good governance as the Liberals, unfortunately, are likely to get, which is saying a lot, given how thin this legislation actually is.
This trend of poor governance isn’t just an academic discussion or fodder for debate. It can be seen in the everyday lives of the people of this province. To make up for lack of priorities, prudence and leadership, this government is nickel-and-diming the people of Ontario. They’re maintaining and implementing taxes and fees that allow them to take a cut of people’s bank balance when you buy a home, have a drink, fill your gas tank and even when you die. Segments of our population are paying just about the highest income taxes anywhere in Canada. In fact, with the help of the federal Liberal government, income taxes in the province of Ontario will be the second highest, just behind New Brunswick’s.
I’ll now turn it over to the member from Bruce–Grey–Owen Sound.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Ted Arnott): The member for Bruce–Grey–Owen Sound has the floor.
Mr. Bill Walker: It’s a pleasure to speak to Bill 85, An Act to strengthen and improve government by amending or repealing various Acts—the good-governance act. This is a wide-ranging omnibus bill that affects 15 pieces of legislation across eight ministries. Most of these are housekeeping, and I do applaud and recommend that we support those, because any legislation that’s not as good as it could be, we need to clean that up, and that’s a good thing.
Just the name alone—good governance—my colleague from Elgin–Middlesex–London, Jeff Yurek, talked in his two minutes, just previous to this, about the government stripping the Ombudsman and the Auditor General of a lot of their ability to provide oversight. So when we’re talking about good governance, how do you take those legislative officers out of the mix, take them away from their jobs to truly hold the government to account? It really leaves something in your mind, asking, “Why did they really do that?” What’s going to happen in regard to good governance if they’re going to strip these abilities from people like the Ombudsman and the Auditor General?
He also referenced the Financial Accountability Officer. Again, they hired this gentleman, Mr. LeClair; they brought him in. He’s offering advice to the government, yet they kind of just push him aside and say, “Well, thanks, but we only want to hear from you when it really is what we want you to say.” That’s not really what it was.
I go back to a number of months ago; we actually talked in this House about Bill 8. Even there, the accountability act, they time-allocated it. How can you have good governance and good conscience talked about in this Legislature and time-allocate an accountability bill? Mr. Speaker, it’s perplexing at the very minimum. It’s challenging for me on every opportunity that we come to this House to speak.
I’m going to take most of my 20 minutes to talk about three different items. I’m going to talk first about the Highway Act, schedule 7: non-medical, non-emergency transfers. As I say, there are three issues, and this is the one I’m going to start with.
Firstly, I wish to talk about the regulation of medical transportation services. Specifically, I want to remind this Liberal government of the ongoing concern my constituents have with the high cost of non-emergency transfers in Ontario. I trust that many of the legislators in this House are hearing the same things. This isn’t isolated to the great riding of Bruce–Grey–Owen Sound, I am certain.
The transfers typically run a few hundred dollars. However, I have had examples in my riding of much higher numbers, much higher costs for these transfers. For senior citizens who are using the transfers for medical appointments, dialysis or returning to the facility they came from, or home, that is a significant cost. As an example, Jean Ward of Hanover paid $402 for a return trip from Chesley to Walkerton, which totals 25 kilometres. That works out to $16 per kilometre.
Another constituent paid $240. Mr. Speaker, these are not small amounts of money, particularly for people who happen to be on fixed incomes.
Another constituent was going to be charged $300 because he weighs 300 pounds and it would take two lifts to get him onto the stretcher. This was the company’s official response. We cannot discriminate on health care for those types of things.
There are approximately 300,000 such transfers in Ontario every year. Imagine the financial burden the high fees represent on our senior citizens and families who are on fixed incomes and simply cannot afford the high cost of non-emergency transfers.
As a bit of background on this contentious issue, over the years investigators have uncovered problems with staff training, infection control and vehicle safety and maintenance at private companies that provide non-urgent patient transfers.
In my two minutes earlier, I spoke about Murray Bray, who shared those very similar concerns. He was transferred from Lion’s Head down to Kitchener and back. He thought they took a very long route. He actually came and asked me about specifically the inspection for the maintenance of these vehicles. So we have to make sure that we’re following up on those and making sure it’s the most safe option that we have out there.
The government has been in consultation since 2011 to develop standards and regulatory oversight for the non-ambulance non-urgent transportation services. Mr. Speaker, that would not be good governance, taking that long of a time for something that I believe people expect to be done much more expeditiously. That doesn’t mean taking shortcuts; that means doing the job and making it a true priority when it’s the safety of our constituents that is involved.
Then, in the summer of 2013, former Ombudsman André Marin released a scathing report on the lack of safety and oversight of non-emergency patient transfers. He also publicly chided the government for failing to regulate and ensure the safety of patients who use non-urgent transportation in Ontario. The former Ombudsman’s criticism echoed concerns first raised by the Ontario coroner’s office several years ago. So again, Mr. Speaker, this isn’t an isolated one-off; this is something that has been identified by the public. It has been identified by officers of this Legislature, and yet, Mr. Speaker, we’re still not seeing the action.
In response to these ongoing concerns, then-Minister of Health and MPP for London North Centre Deb Matthews pledged to regulate patient transfers by 2014. Here we are almost at the end of 2015, and yet again another broken promise. She said: “Non-urgent patient transportation has been identified as one of the priority areas for spending of the transformation fund.”
If that’s a priority, I’d hate to see something that’s not a priority. How could you even think of not hitting that target when it’s about patient safety? The same health minister also said that she had no plan to ease the financial burden—the same minister who’s now in charge of poverty reduction in Ontario. For reasons unbeknownst to us, transport challenges of low-income families, fixed-income seniors and those with medical needs don’t seem to receive her attention, or at least her proper attention, which is why she refuses to assist them by funding non-urgent medical transportation in rural and remote areas.
I would like to see somebody in this Liberal government recognize the impact that the high cost of non-emergency transfer of patients has on patients and their families. I find the lack of standards and rules around the transfer fees unacceptable. I’ve written to the minister on this issue, and I would like to see this government address these ongoing concerns.
The second concern my constituents have with the specific schedule in the Highway Traffic Act is the lack of transport infrastructure in communities north of the GTA. This issue also remains unaddressed by this government. I introduced my private member’s motion two years ago, almost: unanimous all-party support to address transportation in rural and northern Ontario, yet I have not heard one thing from the government about what they plan to do to address that issue.
With a growing senior population—the most recent census shows the population of seniors grew by 8% in tandem with incidence of low-income households—transportation services continue to be high on demand and low on supply. Demand for transportation for seniors, people with disabilities and low-income households will continue as demand for service to health care appointments and social service agencies continues.
In response to these trends, I presented to the Legislature in the fall, as I’ve just said, my motion to create an all-party committee to study transportation woes in rural and northern Ontario. As you may be aware, public transportation is essentially non-existent north of the GTA, yet the need for it continues to grow. Transportation is the vital link to jobs, training opportunities, medical care appointments and local support services. The government will recall that my resolution passed with unanimous consent, yet access to transportation remains one of the biggest inequities in Ontario.
I’m going to devolve a little bit here just to talk about the gas tax. For many years, my colleague Mr. Yakabuski from Renfrew–Nipissing–Pembroke has brought a motion here saying, “Let’s share that across all communities.” I just saw in my report that three of my municipalities receive tax. For that, I’m very thankful and very grateful, but the largest majority of those communities in my riding do not have public transit and thus do not get a cent of that tax.
We pay more on average. I can tell you what my bills for fuel are to be able to do my job. They are exorbitant because of the reality of the rural riding that I live in and the number of highway miles I have to put on, the back roads I travel. That share should be spread across every municipality in Ontario, from my perspective.
This brings us to the concern: Where’s the fairness? I suggest that if this government is looking to improve, then it may want to start by ensuring transit plans apply to all Ontarians, regardless of where they live.
Finally, I wanted to comment on subsection 1(8) with regard to drugged driving. Apparently, ours is one of only three jurisdictions in the country that have no sanctions for drug-impaired driving. This bill calls for the driver’s licence to be suspended for three, seven, 30 or 90 days if the driver fails a roadside test and the police officer believes that their ability to drive is impaired.
After alcohol, cannabis is the second-most-widely used impairing drug. According to the BC Medical Journal, there is clear evidence that cannabis, like alcohol, impairs the psychomotor skills required for safe driving. Cannabis intoxication slows reaction time and impairs automated tasks, such as tracking ability and, for example, staying within a lane. A 2008 survey in that province found that 8.1% of drivers had been drinking and 10.4% tested positive for cannabis. Mr. Speaker, both of those need to come off our highways so that we all have the ability to drive as safely as possible.
Considering that the associate minister, Ms. Dipika Damerla, said that she was okay with people with medical authorization smoking pot and vaping marijuana—or did she say she was banning that? I’m not certain today. I think it’s still in flux. The Premier did comment, saying she would not appreciate—but now we’re coming forward as a government; now we’re going back. It’s that flip-flop again because they didn’t do proper consultation yet again.
We should not be underestimating the possibility of a rise in the number of drivers testing positive for pot, depending on where that legislation ends up at the end of the day. The point is, we should be banning anyone who smokes pot from driving, regardless of this government’s plan to legalize pot smoking.
Similar to the BC numbers, it’s estimated that between 4% and 12% of motor vehicle deaths or injuries occurred under the influence of cannabis. That’s too many fatalities and injuries and is a cause for concern.
Mr. Bill Walker: Didn’t we talk today about the devil’s advocate being a good thing for democracy?
Family Court, schedule 1 is the next thing I want to talk about: collecting money and navigating the family system.
I continue to receive complaints from constituents about the inefficiencies involving the Family Responsibility Office and the Family Court. In fact, complaints against the provincial agency responsible for enforcing court-ordered child and spousal support payments are growing every year. Provincially, the former Ombudsman reported his office received 1,167 complaints about the Family Responsibility Office in 2014-15. That’s up from 794 complaints he received two years earlier.
The Auditor General reported that outstanding arrears totalled $1.6 billion as of 2009, and by 2014, the outstanding payments ballooned to $3.7 billion. Just compare Ontario’s sordid record of $3.7 billion to the millions owed in Quebec, or the $530 million owed in BC, or the $65 million owed in Nova Scotia and the $23 million in Newfoundland and Labrador. I think Ontario can do so much better, but I have not heard the Liberal government provide us with an update about the outstanding $3.7 billion. Is it flowing to the families, I ask them? Is it flowing, truly, to who needs it?
I recently reviewed a report from a volunteer group, HER Grey Bruce in my riding. It concerns the local parents’ experiences who are registered to receive their child support through the Family Responsibility Office.
I think the government should listen up. Here are the results:
—79% report that their child support is overdue;
—54% are owed 12 months or more in overdue child support;
—76% are supporting two children, on average, on a single family income; and
—67% are owed $2,000 or more in overdue child support, while 23% are owed $20,000 or more.
These findings confirm that the Liberal government has not dealt with the delinquency, and that children involved continue to suffer. Does this government have any idea what it’s been up to in the FRO office for the past 12 years? This report would suggest that they have not been doing much and certainly have not made this a priority, despite many of those children going without the things that they truly deserve and should have.
At the time the minister responsible for FRO was caught in this scandal, which was two years ago, there were 60 delinquents listed on the government’s Good Parents Pay website. Today, there are 53. You want to lift children out of poverty? Start collecting the court-ordered support payments owed to the children.
Mr. Bill Walker: I normally wouldn’t respond to them saying “spending money,” but you certainly have a track record of knowing how to spend—in fact, overspend. I would suggest you perhaps have an addiction to spending, and you probably are right at the top of the list of any government that has ever spent, in any place in our great world.
I’m going to now turn my thoughts to health care, something very near and dear to my heart. Almost every day that I’m in this House, I think of health care, because that’s the one thing that cuts across all of us. Regardless of partisan or political stripe, regardless of whether you even think about politics, health care is that one thing that we all need the services for and that we all should be putting as the absolute priority for all of us as we set legislation in this House.
In this case, for a bill that is supposed to strengthen and improve government, Bill 85’s unambitious scope is remarkable. To strengthen and improve our health care system, the Liberals need to take action to root out waste and build a more patient-centred model of health care delivery. Unfortunately, as I said in my opening remarks, they seem content, with this bill, to simply tinker around the edges and do some housekeeping.
I’m going to talk for a few moments about the physician services agreement, schedule 3, and specifically health cuts.
This section prevents legal action against representatives of the Ontario Medical Association for acts done in good faith during negotiations with the government related to physician agreements or payment.
I would suggest that the government needs to focus on patient needs. They have the money to do it. They’ve had record revenues. Since I came to this House in 2011, they have had record revenues every year. It’s not a case of not having enough money in the system. It’s how they utilize those dollars. It’s about how they don’t waste those dollars.
I’m not going to get into the billions and billions they’ve wasted on scandals like gas plants, Ornge, eHealth and those types of things. They know exactly where they have wasted those monies.
I believe if each of them looks in the mirror each morning, they have to admit that there have been billions of dollars that they have wasted as a government that did not go to the front lines of our health care system, our education system, our low-income folks, our people from Community Living and those special needs people.
I’ve said it in here for the last six months: Special education systems were cut in my riding of Bruce–Grey–Owen Sound because of the waste and the scandal of this government.
I’m not going to debate a lot of that tonight, but at the end of the day, it has to be noted that they even have to admit they could have done a lot better job, and they should step up and take accountability for those.
As my colleague the MPP for Nipissing, Vic Fedeli, said in an earlier debate, when the Liberals took office in 2003, revenues in Ontario were just over $66 billion. Today, revenues are $124 billion, but sadly, expenses are $132 billion. That addiction that we were talking about earlier—overspending. You have to live—the people in my riding get it, Mr. Speaker. I trust that in your riding, they get it. If you have $100 that you bring in, you can spend $100. You can’t spend $105 or $110 or $120 and expect that that is not, at some point, going to catch up with you.
My two young sons, 18 and 21: I’m trying to teach them that you have to live within your means. If you get into that debt hole, you can talk all the wonderful flowery things you want, but who’s going without? There are hospitals that are on the chopping block. There are nurses on the chopping block.
A lot of the people in community and social services are coming into my office every day—the people from mental health, every day—asking for more money.
It’s sad, because this government fritters away billions on scandal, waste and mismanagement.
Sadly, I am not able to deliver all those services, Mr. Speaker, as much as I want to. I try to work with the government to provide, wherever I can, and collaborate with them. But at the end of the day, if they didn’t have an $11-billion interest payment—and they say they’re going to slay this deficit. But $11 billion, in the years I’ve been here—$10 billion, and then $11 billion—that money could have been at the front lines.
They want to talk about infrastructure? How much infrastructure could we have built if we’d had that $11-billion interest payment, instead of paying money out the door to no good, for no benefit? Mr. Speaker, they have a spending problem, and they need to admit that.
I’d suggest they focus on patient needs, namely by putting back the $54 million they cut from Ontario’s health care budget this year; not cutting physician services by more than $800 million; matching the approximately 900,000 people without a family doctor; putting the doctors back in the forefront, so that every person has access to a doctor; and even reversing the cut of 50 medical residency places in Ontario.
It baffles me how we have 900,000 people without a family physician, and yet this government says it can look into the crystal ball—and, by the way, many of their predictions have not been really accurate. They told us that the gas plants would be a $40-million expenditure; I believe it ended up being $1.1 billion. At the end of the day, forgive me if I’m a little skeptical when they give me numbers and say, “Trust me. Just trust in our good governance, and everything will be good.” Considering we have 140,000 new patients entering the health care system every year, an aging population with increasingly complex needs and ongoing cuts to health, I question how this government imagines it will adequately respond to the health care needs of Ontarians.
In my current critic role, this government has pledged for two different elections that they’re going to build 35,000 long-term-care beds. Yet, when I ask the question in this House, what they really come out with and say is, “We’re still studying; we’re working on the plan. Give us a pat on the back. We’ve built—or we’ve redeveloped—3,000.” Redeveloped has nothing to do with the 30,000. It’s great that they’re going to redevelop some beds, but what about those people on that waiting list that has about 21,000 people currently and is projected to double?
Hon. James J. Bradley: Home care.
Mr. Bill Walker: Home care only is not going to do the job. Some people are not going to be able to stay in their home. I support home care, but at the end of the day, we need beds for those with acute needs who need the proper care they are going to get there.
Mr. Speaker, I’m going to turn it over to my colleague from Mississippi Mills. In summary, there is little in this bill about strengthening and improving governance, as the title of Bill 85 suggests. It’s a lot of tinkering and a lot of tweaking on the edges, but it’s not going to drastically change. It’s not a representation of what the people of Ontario are asking for.
With everything going on in Ontario today—the fire sale of Hydro One, the continued OPP investigation into the Liberals’ gas plant scandal, the Ornge ambulance financial scandal, the ongoing bribery saga of the Liberals’ Sudbury by-election scandal and the head of our treasury’s announcement to the world on W5 that “We’re out of money”—the government party has sucked the oxygen out of this province.
Mr. Bill Walker: I’m hearing catcalls over there about me not being positive. I am one of the most positive people you’re ever going to meet, but at the end of the day, this government doesn’t give me lots to stand up and cheer and high-five about. The people in my riding of Bruce–Grey–Owen Sound are not coming into my office giving me high-fives for the programs and services they’re not getting.
I’d love to be able to stand here and high-five every single person over there, if they would just step back, listen and take into stock that they are not doing the job they could. We could work with them. We could do a lot of things collaboratively to make this a better province. I don’t see them tabling any bills that are going to stop any of this. It’s a lot more tweaking, and not enough action.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Ted Arnott): The member for Carleton–Mississippi Mills.
Mr. Jack MacLaren: It is a pleasure to rise in the Legislature and continue to speak to Bill 85, entitled the Strengthening and Improving Government Act.
As many of my colleagues have previously stated, the nature of the proposed bill is rather conventional and pertains to numerous housecleaning items to be updated, which span across eight different ministries and 15 pieces of legislation. Further, some of the suggested legislative changes stem from requests made by the cities of Brantford, Hamilton and Toronto regarding outdated articles in legislation that are no longer pertinent and need to be duly updated.
Following our party’s tone regarding working together and supporting legislation to help the people of Ontario, I will be supporting this motion.
While this bill is fairly uncontroversial, I feel it represents a missed opportunity by the government to address further substantive measures in a number of ways and in a number of areas. For example, the proposed change to the Commitment to the Future of Medicare Act is a worthwhile measure and should be enacted. As stated in the bill, the proposed change seeks to provide immunity for representatives of the Ontario Medical Association from potential legal action during good-faith negotiations with the government related to physician agreements or payments.
I feel this underscores the issue at hand, as the government should instead prioritize and address the current negotiations with the OMA and act in a good-faith manner instead of imposing contracts as well as cutting residency positions. For example, in Ottawa two dermatology residency students left the province rather than open a practice here, which is an unfortunate outcome when wait times are already far too long.
Recently, I was in Ottawa with our leader and the member from Nepean–Carleton speaking to about 12 or 14 doctors at the Queensway Carleton Hospital about the dilemma that they are in. The government is cutting fees for services to doctors two different times this year, for a total of 7% cuts to the fees for doctors. This is having a very negative effect on the doctors’ financial viability, their ability to run their businesses, run their offices and pay their staff. It will most likely continue into next year and the year after that because we have a big-spending government that has a money-shortage problem. Everything we see here at Queen’s Park revolves around the lack of will to reduce spending and the reality that they’re running out of money and so they must cut services to groups that they can do it to: in other words, groups that aren’t well-organized and large and groups that are vulnerable.
These doctors were telling us distressing stories. They were intelligent, bright, young doctors sitting in the room, specialists in various fields. One doctor ran a family health clinic. He was telling us a story of a young woman who is in medical school. She works at his clinic and is very good. They were hoping to have her join them next July when she graduates from medical school. She is $250,000 in debt from going to school for the many years that it takes to become a doctor. In recent months, the doctor has said there will be a limit on how many young doctors can go to health clinics, so she will not be permitted to go and work in this family health team in Ottawa. It’s a job that she wanted to do, that she likes and that she’s good at. It’s a place that appreciates her work and needs her help, and it’s not going to happen. But her debt will not go away, and the service that she could provide will not be delivered. The 800,000 people in Ontario who do not have a family physician will continue to be without that person as a physician. This is happening all across the province with many doctors. Instead of increasing the number of doctors that we need, we’re reducing them. All of this is to address the fact that they’ve spent too much money. They have to cut costs, and here we are cutting services in health care in so many different areas.
The number of new patients in Ontario is expected to grow by 140,000 people every year as the population grows and ages. This represents a critical juncture for health care in our province, especially with the cuts to doctors. Doctors have had their wages cut by 7%.
Hospitals: Although they’re getting increases, the increases are less. The financial funding to them does not keep up with their increased costs so they have shortfalls. They have no choice but to commit layoffs. Nurses are being laid off along with PSWs and custodial staff, and even beds are being closed in hospitals around the province. Again, we expect this to increase next year and the year after that because this government is not showing any intention of slowing their spending habits. They definitely have a money shortage, and this is one of the ways they’re dealing with it.
Another thing that’s going to happen now is that we expect 25,000 Syrian refugees in Canada very shortly, in the next couple of months. We all welcome these people. We want to help them, but we have to be prepared to help them. I don’t know how we’re going to be able to do that when these people are going to come here with needs.
There are injuries from war, whether it’s legs or arms that are missing because of shootings and explosions; the terrible diseases and illnesses they’ve picked up in refugee camps over the last year or two or three, depending on how long ago they had to leave their homes and live in camps; not to mention the mental health problems, which we’re told could be the greatest health problems of all, from everything they’ve seen and that they’ve endured—the killing, the shooting, the fighting and losing family members. So these people would most likely truly have PTSD, in some cases, which is a terrible mental health disease.
Are we going to be able to offer these people the kind of care they need so they can adjust into Canadian society and eventually become productive, healthy citizens? I would suggest that perhaps not, which would be a very sad thing when the intention of the Canadian people is that we do a good humanitarian job. We jeopardize that because we have a government that has frittered away our financial ability to help those that need help.
Regarding the issue of red tape and overregulation in the province of Ontario: The decisions by this government have made the situation much worse and have tarnished our reputation as a place for investment and economic opportunities for business. Again, we have the big spending that goes on. We have the Green Energy Act, which will take as much as $100 billion out of our economy over the next 20 years in the form of subsidies for solar and wind power at a time when we don’t need that electricity. We have all of the nuclear, gas, and hydroelectricity that we need; in fact, we’re producing too much. We’re spending that kind of money on wind and solar, yet we have to back it up with gas or nuclear.
We need only to quote Ed Clark, the government’s very own business adviser on economic growth, regarding his concerns about the 380,000 regulatory requirements faced in Ontario: “While the number is staggering, the structure and complexity of compliance is even more problematic. It makes us less competitive. We are seen by foreigners—and even ourselves—as a slow” and unfriendly “place to do business.”
Here, I want to tell you a story, Mr. Speaker, about a man I know named Mark Tijssen. This is an example of red tape and wrongful enforcement by government. Mark Tijssen purchased—he likes to buy animals like pigs, cattle and ducks and take them home to his property and slaughter them, and put them in his freezer for his own consumption. This story happened about three years ago. He bought a pig, brought it home—he bought the pig from a farmer—slaughtered the pig on his property, which is a rural three-acre property, and put it in his freezer to feed his family. He shared it with a friend. Now, technically, this is against the law because it wasn’t an inspected pig, but it was for his own consumption. His neighbour drove her pork chops down the street, and she was charged with the crime of not having properly inspected slaughtered pork. The MNR seized the pork from this lady and charged Mark Tijssen with the crime of running an illegal slaughterhouse. He spent two years fighting the MNR for his right to eat the food he chooses. He won, eventually, because they imposed upon his constitutional rights. They had MNR inspectors at night sitting in a tree stand beside his home, taking photographs of him and his family as they lived and played and ate in their home. This was a constitutional infraction because it was unreasonable search and seizure of his home.
It was thrown out of court after two years, but there was no justice for Mark; he went through hell for two years and lost a lot of time off at work. That is an unnecessary thing in this country. It happens here every day, and your government does it.
He concluded by stating—Mr. Clark went on to further say, “Governments are going to regulate things. That is their job. But they must—as in other things they do—try to” do a better job of regulating. “If they can do that they can become a source of competitive advantage.” He concluded by stating that “it’s time to look at regulation in a very different way—let’s take an outcome-based approach. In other words, what is the outcome we want, and what is the lowest-cost way of achieving it?”
I can attest to this sentiment in my role as critic for natural resources and forestry and the enormous burden placed on a myriad of companies with overregulation and excessive red tape, such as happened to Mark Tijssen, who killed a pig and spent two years in court—and the charges were withdrawn.
There are two other people that I’d just like to briefly talk to you about who endured MNR and conservation authority enforcement, to the detriment of their private businesses.
Boris Horodynsky is the largest onion grower in Ontario, in Canada. He grows onions on the Holland Marsh. He had to control water from a ditch so that it wouldn’t flood his fields. He built a dam to keep the water back from the creek, but he didn’t have a permit from the conservation authority. They laid charges against him and Boris said no, he would not remove the dike. He spent money in court. He fought them for a year and he did win. All he was trying to do was to carry on the business of running his farm.
In conclusion, Mr. Speaker, while I support this motion and will be voting in favour of it, I hope that the government will address the concerns that I and many of my fellow colleagues have raised during the debate around this bill and will implement the suggestions going forward.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Ted Arnott): Questions and comments?
Mr. Jagmeet Singh: Again, I’m pleased to join in the debate. Many people have spoken about the name of the bill. The bill is entitled Bill 85, the Strengthening and Improving Government Act, and it talks about good governance. While there are certain amendments in this bill which were necessary, and I agree that they are simply housekeeping, to call this bill the Strengthening and Improving Government Act is a little overreaching. There are a number of minor changes in this bill, but they aren’t significant changes that actually strengthen the government.
In fact, things that would have strengthened the government or improved good governance would have been ensuring that there was strong oversight in the various sectors that were amended, whether it’s health care and ensuring we have strong oversight, which this government does not support. Time and time again they’re weakening the oversight, they’re weakening the role of the Ombudsman.
In fact, for the first time in the history of Ontario, all of the major legislative officers wrote a joint letter calling on this government to strengthen the government, to improve the government, to ensure there’s accountability by including oversight over Hydro One, but they removed that. So contrary to this bill, contrary to the title, Strengthening and Improving Government Act, they have weakened and reduced the oversight. That’s a major concern.
With respect to other areas where this bill touches on topics but doesn’t go far enough, there is a major concern with the existence of temporary job agencies in this province. In fact, under this government, from 2002 to 2012, we’ve seen a 72% increase in the sector’s earnings. I’m quoting Sara Mojtehedzadeh. She published an article on May 10, 2015, and she writes: “The province’s employment services sector earned $5.7 billion in revenue in 2012, a near 72% jump from 2002. Temporary agencies account for an estimated 60% of that industry’s total revenue.” So under this government, a decade of Liberal rule has resulted in a 72% increase in a sector which is clearly exploiting the workers of this province. Precarious employment is a significant issue.
I also want to clearly indicate that I’m going to be sharing my time with the member from Nickel Belt to ensure that that member gets her opportunity to share the very important concerns of Nickel Belt.
As I was saying, this Liberal government is responsible for a significant, a massive jump in revenue for temporary job agencies. They’ve grown under this government. Temporary job agencies are a scourge on many people who are struggling to get permanent employment or struggling with the fact that they only have precarious employment, that they can only find temporary jobs. They’re cycled again and again. Even though there’s allegedly protection so that they don’t have to continue down this route, what happens in reality is that people are working in temporary jobs for multiple years, for sometimes five years. If the government would have taken this opportunity to strengthen the employment law, to strengthen the employment law, to strengthen the labour act, to ensure that people don’t have to rely on simply precarious or temporary work, that would have been significant to strengthen and improve this government bill. But the government didn’t do that.
The government didn’t take a stance. In fact, under this government, we have seen a continuing reduction in good jobs. We’ve seen an erosion of the permanent job force. We’ve see a staggering increase in temporary employment, and it’s directly the fault of this government and this government’s policies.
There are a number of other areas where the government could have amended this omnibus bill. It amends seven schedules—as the member from Nickel Belt mentioned, a wide variety of sectors ranging from ambulance services to Family Court services to everything in between.
In that wide, omnibus changing of laws, the government should have included something to address the ongoing concern around auto insurance. In this province we pay the highest auto insurance rates in the country. The government has promised to reduce these rates, but time and time again we’ve seen the government prioritize the needs of insurance companies and their profits and put the priorities of people far below. They’ve put insurance companies ahead of the average consumer and the average driver. The issue here is an issue of fairness. It’s unfair to create a condition where you have to purchase auto insurance—it’s the law—but it’s not the law under this Liberal government to ensure that it’s affordable. If you make a law to make something mandatory, you certainly have the responsibility to ensure that it’s affordable. This government is failing in that responsibility time and time again.
It’s simply unacceptable that in this province we’re paying such high rates and at the same time we’re seeing continual cuts to our benefits. Our benefits are being stripped time and time again. We are receiving less coverage, which is putting people in an even worse position. Those who are injured and those who are seriously injured are not receiving the coverage they need, and we’re seeing an increase in insurance profits; we’re not seeing a reduction in premiums. In all areas, it’s a completely unfair scenario made even worse by this government’s policies.
Again, to strengthen and improve the government, the government could have taken steps to ensure that we have better regulation of rates to ensure that people are going to see a reduction in their rates and there’s more fairness in the system, but the government did not do that. They failed again to follow through on the promise they made to reduce insurance rates by 15%. They’ve broken that promise, and there’s nothing in this bill to address that very serious concern. People are struggling in this province, and the government has done nothing to address that.
In addition, beyond auto insurance, we have another area where this government could have addressed and they’ve failed to consider. They’ve addressed seven various schedules and seven various sectors. They didn’t address another major concern, which is home insurance. Home insurance is something that is optional, but here is a little caveat: Most mortgages require home insurance. Mortgages and the financial sector are regulated through the federal government. In effect, if mortgages require home insurance and we want to ensure that people have the opportunity to buy a home, this government needs to play a role in ensuring that home insurance is also regulated. They have not done that, and we’re seeing home insurance rates increase year over year. It’s simply putting people in a more difficult position. That’s another area that needs to be addressed, and this government has failed to address increasing home insurance. Again, it’s another issue of fairness. If you have an unregulated industry and you need to get home insurance to get a mortgage and there is no protection by this government, people are going to be put in more and more difficult circumstances. This government has failed to stand up for the people of Ontario.
There are a number of areas where the government could have actually strengthened and improved the circumstances for the people of Ontario, but the government has failed.
There are indeed some major concerns with the stretcher transportation services. That, I’m going to leave to the very, very capable hands, I’m sure, of our health critic and our member from Nickel Belt.
In closing, I want to touch on the changes that were addressed in the Courts of Justice Act looking at the Civil Marriage Act and some amendments there. This could have been an opportunity to address the very serious concerns people are facing around the Family Court system here in this province. It cries out for some amendments; it cries out for changes. There are significant problems that people are facing in this province when it comes to access to court, when it comes to settlements, when it comes to navigating the system. That’s an area that the government has not acted on and we need to see more action on. I appreciate the support I’m receiving from one of the members across.
In addition, an ongoing concern with the justice system, broadly speaking, is that we need to ensure that if we want to really hold up the rule of law, people need access to legal representation, and that requires a robust investment in legal aid. That’s an area that the government has made some advancements in, but I call on the government to continue to support legal aid to ensure that in a country that is based on the rule of law, the access that individuals have to the justice system literally connects to their ability to navigate in this world. The more difficult it is to access those services, the more difficult it is for people to actually navigate in this society. So we need to ensure that there is fairness in that area as well.
Those are the areas I’d like to talk on today. I thank you for the opportunity to speak, Mr. Speaker, and I will now pass off the time to the member from Nickel Belt.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Ted Arnott): The member for Nickel Belt has the floor.
Mme France Gélinas: As I mentioned earlier on in the evening, this bill is actually a series of laws that are being amended. You have to realize, Speaker—and you know that—that when we want to make changes to a law, you can only do this when the law is up for debate. Well, with Bill 85, there are seven different pieces of legislation that are up for debate. So when you see a title such as An Act to strengthen and improve government, you figure, “Wow, this is something pretty good. I hope we can go somewhere with this.”
The first one is on the Ministry of the Attorney General, and my colleague from Bramalea–Gore–Malton has talked about some of the schedules in there that should have found themselves into that particular piece of legislation but actually never did.
The next one is on the Ministry of Government and Consumer Services. Again, what a golden opportunity to look at insurance rates when you’re talking about the Ministry of Government and Consumer Services. But no, this opportunity was not acted upon. All we had were a few housekeeping items.
Schedule 3 is on the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care and, more specifically, the Commitment to the Future of Medicare Act, 2004. To tell you, Speaker, that there is a pent-up demand to make amendments to that piece of legislation is saying it mildly. Did you know that the last time—actually, it was during health estimates that Cancer Care Ontario came. And here it was, in black and white, for everybody to see—it was the first time I saw that, anyway—that more of the preventive colonoscopies that are done under the auspices of Cancer Care Ontario are done in private clinics than in hospitals. We have now passed the 50% mark.
When you talk about a commitment to the future of medicare, ask anybody in this Legislative Assembly; ask anybody in this province; ask anybody in Canada what medicare means: Medicare means that you receive care based on your needs, not on your ability to pay. But when you see a system where now more than half of it is being provided by for-profit private clinics rather than our hospitals, I start to worry.
When I look at all the programs and services that used to be provided in our not-for-profit hospitals that are now being pushed into the community—don’t get me wrong; I have no problem with care being provided in the community if it is provided by competent providers and it is provided in a way that is not for profit, where the good of the patient is what drives this. But, no, that’s not what is happening at all.
We have a government that says to hospitals that haven’t seen a budget increase in the last five years to eight years, depending on the size of this and the kind of programs that you offer, “You have to manage within a flat-line budget.” Well, none of the expenses in a hospital stays the same. Can you imagine? Has your hydro bill gone up lately, Speaker? Well, the hospital hydro bill has also gone up. Every year, the cost of drugs goes up by at least 10%. So all of their expenses keep going up, but their budgets have stayed the same. Their budgets have stayed the same for the last five years.
What does that mean? Well, the government tells them, “The law is the law: You have to put forward a balanced budget.” So they’re stuck having to put forward a balanced budget. The government tells them, “If it is not acute hospital care, don’t provide it anymore; send it to the community.” So what are hospitals doing? Basically, everything that is not acute hospital care gets downloaded to the community, whether you’re talking about surgery, you’re talking about physiotherapy, you’re talking about cataract surgery, you’re talking about anything that is not acute hospital care—
Ms. Cindy Forster: Breast screening; colonoscopy.
Mme France Gélinas: Breast screening; colonoscopy. All of this—
Ms. Cindy Forster: Dialysis.
Mme France Gélinas: Dialysis. All of this is being sent to the community—so far, so good—but to the private sector in the community, and this is where things go wrong.
Everybody will remember our good Auditor General—I have the French version here, so I cannot tell you the page because they change, English to French. But the Auditor General looked at what happened to our home care system when Mike Harris, when he was the leader of our province, the Premier of Ontario, had this bright idea that the private sector was able to deliver better, faster and cheaper than the not-for-profit. So we had a fairly robust home care system in Ontario, and then he opened it up to the private sector. When the private sector saw this, they came by the dozen. They saw an opportunity to make money. Agencies like the VON—the VON in Sudbury went bankrupt. They had had the home care contract in our community for decades, if not 100 years. All of a sudden this multinational came and put a proposal in place that, frankly, Speaker, looked like they had cloned Mother Teresa. The care was going to be so good and so patient-focused. It was going to be great, and they were going to do that better, cheaper, faster—
Ms. Cindy Forster: They never even had a nurse on staff.
Mme France Gélinas: —and they never even had a nurse on staff; they never even had a single provider on staff.
The proof is there, Speaker. Our home care system is broken; it fails more people than it helps. Why? In big part, because we have privatized. We now have different private home care providers that compete against one another for those home care contracts. This is not how you bring forward best practices. Best practices is, when you learn something in health care, you share it with the rest of them so that we can all learn together and all provide better care together. Well, that’s not what is happening, because when a for-profit company has found an advantage in better care, they use it as a competitive advantage to win more contracts. How uncaring does that sound? There’s nothing in there to help the patient, but this is what we see.
A commitment to the future of medicare? The first thing they should have put in there is to make sure we will end the privatization of our health care system; we will make sure that our health care system is delivering—public money, delivered for the public good, through not-for-profit. So when the Auditor General tells us that a full 5% of the $2.7 billion that goes to home care goes to profit—I happen to be strong in math, Speaker—those are hundreds of millions of dollars that go to profit. Do you know how many hours of PSW at 16 bucks an hour you can buy with $1 million? That would go a long way toward fixing our system—but none of this.
So we have this golden opportunity. The Commitment to the Future of Medicare Act is open. We can really show that we are committed to medicare; we are committed to not-for-profit care based on needs, not on ability to pay. But none of that is in that bill. Those are opportunities lost.
I see that the time is just flying by. I will go to the section that is a constant irritant in my side. This is schedule 7, on the Ministry of Transportation. If somebody would have told me eight years ago when I wanted patient transport regulated that I was going to be standing out here eight years later, when people have died, wheels have fallen off, flat tires have happened on the way to a call, where people have been stranded on the side of the highway because this ambulance thing broke down on Highway 144, they got eaten alive by bugs because it was June and the windows didn’t work and the patient was covered in bug bites by the time he got to Timmins hospital—if they were going to tell me that, eight years later, the only thing that was going to be regulated was—listen to this—“As a result of these amendments, medical transportation services may be regulated under the general provisions that regulate commercial motor vehicles.”
Really? We waited eight years for that? How could that be? We all know that after the hospital restructuring we had lots of changes within our hospitals. With all of the changes that have happened to our small and rural hospitals, they are on the verge of self-imploding. They can’t do deliveries anymore, because if you don’t do at least 50 cases of obstetrics a year, apparently you’re not safe in doing this. They can’t do hip surgeries anymore because if you don’t do at least so many hip surgeries, it will cost more to do the hip surgery in Dryden than at UHN, which does 1,000 of them a week, so let’s send everybody—what are we saying? We are saying that we are not going to provide hospital care in our small and rural hospitals anymore. Instead, we will transport people to bigger centres, where centres of excellence are going to be able to do things better, cheaper and faster.
There’s a theme to this, isn’t there: “better, cheaper, faster”? What does that mean? Sure, the centres of excellence get really good: If you do 1,000 knee replacements a month, you get very good at doing knee replacements. If you happen to live on University Avenue, bonus; things are good. But if you happen to live in Nickel Belt, that means a four-hour ride during the good season; make that a four-and-a-half or five hours’ ride to get down here in the bad season, or, depending on where you live in Nickel Belt, it’s seven-and-a-half-hour drive one way to get to Toronto. The price to pay for those centres of excellence is that everybody has to travel.
For a lot of those people, that means we will be calling those—yes—privatized, for-profit patient transportation because we don’t use ambulances anymore, because you see, when you use an ambulance, the people driving and the people sitting in the back have training. They know exactly what to do in case of an emergency. In the back of an ambulance you have similar to an intensive care unit: You have oxygen available, you have a list of medications available to you, and you have people that are trained and know how to use that equipment.
We don’t use ambulances; we use those private, for-profit patient transportation services that look, feel and smell like an ambulance, but they are not. They will be a private ambulance operator who will be really happy to show you his brand new truck—it’s really an old truck with a new paint job that has a box in back; the person sitting beside you was supposed to be his neighbour who used to be a PSW, but she was busy that day so it was the daughter of the neighbour, who hasn’t got as much as a—
Ms. Cindy Forster: Has no training.
Mme France Gélinas: Has no training whatsoever; couldn’t perform CPR if your life depended on it; certainly could not administer first aid because she has no clue what “first aid” means. There could be a few pieces of equipment hanging around in the back of this thing, but she has no idea what they’re for.
You see, Speaker, all we do is regulate commercial motor vehicles. We don’t do anything about who will be driving this and who will be sitting in the back with you. But make no mistake: When they bring you in there, they strap you in. You are strapped in there. You cannot help yourself. Both of your hands are secure in there under layers of blankets and under layers of straps, so you cannot help yourself. You depend on this person, who you think has the knowledge and skills to help you, but you’re wrong. The person who sits there could be anybody, and frankly is just about anybody.
This is why everybody wants this industry to be regulated. Don’t only send it for a checkup so that we see how the tread marks are in the tires. Sure, I don’t want a flat tire, but that’s not enough. I want way more than this. I want to make sure that they have training. I want to make sure that they have quality protocol. I want to make sure that they have a base hospital so that if things go sour in the back of that ambulance, they have somebody out there at the hospital who will help them and guide them. But none of that exists. None of that exists.
They will say, “Oh, it is good to regulate the medical transportation service,” but that’s not what they’re doing, Speaker. All they’re saying is that the vehicle will have to undergo inspection. We don’t know how often. We don’t know exactly what will be inspected. We know very little. All it says is, “As a result of these amendments, medical transportation services may be regulated under the general provisions that regulate commercial motor vehicles”—“may be” and “under the general provisions.” That’s not warm and fuzzy to me, Speaker; not at all. That makes me very, very worried.
Why is it that when we have an opportunity to do change, when we have an opportunity to do good, when we have an Ombudsman’s report that cries for action, when we have a government—and members of the Liberals, one after another, say how important it is to regulate this industry, and then we come with this watered-down affair, when really, the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care—the Commitment to the Future of Medicare Act is in that same bill.
This bill is open. It was quite easy to bring some regulations that had to do with the quality of care that is provided in medical transportation. Don’t get me wrong; I would much rather that we did not have private operators of medical transportation services. I wish that we had in place a system where, when you call an ambulance, it’s actually an ambulance that shows up, that you can trust, that not only do the EMS people who stand at the back have a college education, but that they have continuing education, they have certification, they have the supports in place. None of that is there—what an opportunity lost.
How many more people will have to die in the back of those before they say, “Oh, maybe checking the thickness of the tread on the tire was not sufficient to ensure quality. Maybe we should have regulated the people who actually deliver the care”? Really, Speaker? Eight years later we could not find the time to regulate this, when we have a bill in front of us, when we have the Commitment to the Future of Medicare Act that is in that specific bill that would allow us to regulate? None of that is there.
To say that I am disappointed—it’s beyond me. I’m disappointed and I’m worried. I’m worried because like everything else in our health care system, more and more of it gets privatized. More and more of it is provided by private, for-profit. If those patient service transportation services fight amongst one another to get those contracts, that’s because there’s money to be made. If there wasn’t money to be made, they would not fight to get those contracts. So I’m worried that our precious health care dollars are going to basically make profit where there shouldn’t be, make profit where this money really is taken out of our health care system where it could provide care, where it could do some good.
I am conscious that we had made an agreement between all three parties that we would limit our notes on this particular bill to 40 minutes per caucus, and I see that I only have a few seconds.
J’aimerais, avant de conclure, vraiment exprimer mon désappointement par rapport à ce projet de loi. C’est un projet de loi qui ouvrait sept lois différentes qui existent en Ontario; entre autres, une vis-à-vis le système de santé qui nous aurait permis de nous assurer que le système de transport des patients, qui est maintenant de plus en plus privatisé et donné au privé—on avait l’opportunité d’y mettre des règlements.
En ce moment, on a amené des règlements sur une très petite partie, la partie qui regarde que le véhicule lui-même est en état d’être sur la route, mais c’est tout. On ne parle pas de la qualité des soins aux patients et on ne parle pas de la formation des gens qui se trouvent dans ces véhicules-là avec nous. Ça, c’est vraiment une opportunité perdue.
Comme mon collègue de Bramalea–Gore–Malton avait dit avant moi, il y avait plusieurs opportunités pour le gouvernement d’amener des changements, parce que les projets de loi sont ouverts, tant au niveau de l’assurance pour les voitures, de l’assurance pour la maison et pour les règlements pour le système de transport des patients. Rien de ça n’a été fait. C’est un vrai désappointement.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Ted Arnott): Questions and comments.
Hon. David Zimmer: It’s my pleasure to speak for a few moments on this bill, the Strengthening and Improving Government Act.
But I have to say, speaking of good government, that I should tell this House that the election in Newfoundland is an example of the return of good government. The latest count: Liberals, 30 seats; PCs, eight seats; NDP, two seats. We expect the new Premier, Dwight Ball, to carry forth on his pledges of bringing and returning good government to the province of Newfoundland, just as the Wynne government is bringing good government to the province of Ontario in the face of this legislation.
This good-government legislation contemplates, really, four areas: amendments to the Highway Traffic Act, amendments to the Family Law Act, amendments to the Courts of Justice Act and amendments to the City of Toronto Act.
Every few years, governments have to comb through the legislation that’s on the books. There are always ways to improve and to refine legislation that has already been in existence. That’s what good government does: It sits back, it looks at the legislation on the books, and it thinks carefully and constructively about how it might improve that legislation. Why does it do that? It does not do that for partisan purposes; it does that because it’s the right thing to do. The people of Ontario expect their governments to be vigilant and to always be looking at the legislation on the books to see if there are better ways of conducting government business. That’s what the new Premier of Newfoundland, Dwight Ball, will be doing.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Ted Arnott): Questions or comments? One of the New Democrats can respond.
Mme France Gélinas: Well, Bill 85 has a part in it that I spent most of my time talking about. Basically, we know that patient transportation services need to be regulated. More than four years ago, the Minister of Health at the time said that she had the intention “to set quality and safety standards” for stretcher transportation services. At the time, the minister went on to say, “At the earliest opportunity,” my “government plans to introduce legislation that would, if passed, regulate the industry by setting core standards and requirements on transporting passengers between health care facilities in non-emergency situations.”
Over four years have passed since the Minister of Health spoke those words, and we still have no regulation; we still have no standard. Schedule 7 falls far short of setting real standards for stretcher transportation services. There is no quality assurance, there are no limits and there is no complaint mechanism. There is nothing that gives the family confidence that proper care will be provided.
I don’t understand how an industry such as patient transportation can go unregulated for such a long period of time after the same government that is there, the Liberal government, has shown that it needs to be regulated, has said that at the first opportunity they are going to do this, and yet, after speaking those words over and over, four years later there is still nothing done. What a shame, Speaker. What a shame.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Ted Arnott): Further debate?
Mr. Bradley has moved third reading of Bill 85, An Act to strengthen and improve government by amending or repealing various acts. Is it the pleasure of the House that the motion carry?
All those in favour of the motion will please say “aye.”
All those opposed will please say “nay.”
In my opinion, the ayes have it.
Call in the members. This will be a 30-minute bell.
Again I inform the House that I have received a deferral notice from the chief government whip, asking that this vote be deferred until tomorrow during the time for deferred votes. This is pursuant to standing order 28(h).
Third reading vote deferred.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Ted Arnott): Orders of the day.
Hon. James J. Bradley: Mr. Speaker, I move adjournment of the House.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Ted Arnott): Mr. Bradley has moved adjournment of the House. Is it the pleasure of the House that the motion carry?
All those in favour of the motion will please say “aye.”
All those opposed will please say “nay.”
In my opinion, the ayes have it.
This House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 9 a.m.
The House adjourned at 2027.