31e législature, 4e session

L055 - Thu 22 May 1980 / Jeu 22 mai 1980

The House resumed at 8:15 p.m.


Resuming the adjourned debate on the amendment to the motion that this House approves in general the budgeting policy of the government

Mr. Charlton: Mr. Speaker, I’m very pleased to be participating in the budget debate again this year, as I have for the last two years, as our party’s Revenue critic. I’m going to start out by talking about some of the things that were in the budget that we, as a party, were comfortable with and were pleased about. There are some things, in fact, we attempted over the last year or two to egg the government into considering. So we feel we have accomplished something in the last year or year and a half.

We’ve taken some abuse and some flak over the last number of months from the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. S. Smith) and some members of that caucus over our reluctance to support their motions of no confidence. On the other hand, it’s quite clear to the members of this caucus -- it is clear from the very accurate records that Hansard keeps in this House -- that there are issues that we, as a caucus, have pushed repeatedly. I can’t, as an individual member, take credit for them, but I have to take credit for them as a part of this caucus.

It is members of this caucus who have repeatedly raised the issue of special education. We’ve had, over the past three years that I have been a member, at least three private members’ bills on the question of special education. We have also had numerous questions during the course of question period over that three-year period.

The same is true with the developmental funds for the mentally retarded. The same is true for day care facilities. And the same is especially true when it comes to the health care issue and the health care system in this province, the funding of our hospitals, and the funding of those programs that the Minister of Health (Mr. Timbrell) so often likes to refer to as the alternatives -- the programs that have to replace those things he’s been cutting back over the past three or four years. These things unfortunately were cut back up until a point this spring when the Treasurer (Mr. F. S. Miller), and whoever else he consults with, decided to start to swing that process around.

8:20 p.m.

Up until this budget, we were in a situation in the health care system in this province of almost total cutbacks and total reduction of an existing system, without additional provisions for the alternatives the Minister of Health talked about.

I think the Speaker is well aware of the efforts members of this caucus made during the past year specifically, but also during the past four years. He is aware of the efforts that have been made by this caucus to raise the issue of increasing deficiencies in the health care system and of complaints about service that was not the same as it had been in the past in dealing with specific emergencies or specific health care needs. As one member who is a relatively new member of the House, I am very proud of the role this caucus has played in that process. Even though I have not been involved of the whole process, I am proud to say it has been my colleagues who have consistently and repeatedly raised those issues.

The things we see in the budget this year as progress in terms of health care spending are not obviously all we would want and are not obviously the answer to all the concerns we raised last year during our health care campaign in the fall and that were raised in the petitions we presented here last fall. But at least it is a step in the right direction and a reversal of the policy this government has pursued for the last four or five years.

There should be additional funds not only for the current structure in health care, but also for the alternative structure which the Minister of Health so often referred to in the past, but he was unwilling to provide any additional funding for the nursing home sector and the home care sector. These are alternatives that are real issues in the major urban centres in this province.

In the city of Hamilton we have been in a situation of which I have been personally aware for the last three years -- and probably it has been going on for some little time past that three-year period -- where for all intents and purposes the number of nursing home beds have been frozen. At the same time, the Minister of Health was saying to the hospitals in the city of Hamilton, “Cut back active treatment beds. Get those people out of active treatment beds who should rightfully be in nursing home beds or in continuing care beds.”

There is nothing wrong with getting those people out of beds that are too expensive for the kind of care those people require. On the other hand, there has been over the past number of years something wrong with eliminating those beds without providing the alternatives. It has created hardships in this province, more so probably in the urban ridings than in some of the rural areas of the province, though the government’s philosophy in terms of cutback in health care has caused problems even in the rural areas of the province. We have seen it in a number of issues that have been raised by my colleagues in terms of northern Ontario, ambulance services, airlift services and other issues.

In addition to those basic reversals on the part of the government in its cutback program, there was the whole issue in this budget of senior citizens in this province. There is the issue I have personally raised in this House a number of times each year for the last two and a half years since I became this caucus’s Revenue critic: the issue of the whole question of the property tax credit.

I must admit that I never raised the issue in the specific terms it has been dealt with in this budget. I never felt, and still don’t feel, that the senior citizens of this province should have been taken out of the present property tax credit structure and put into specific, different if you like, legislation to provide them with more money without dealing with the rest of the residents of this province in a like, related-to-income fashion.

In fact, I have raised it in almost the opposite manner -- that the property tax credit in Ontario was a good and useful mechanism for redistributing income when it was introduced in 1974. It was a reasonable approach to dealing with the regressive nature of property taxes in Ontario. It was reasonably fair, understanding and beneficial in the economic sense of putting money back into the hands of residents of this province.

I have raised the issue repeatedly in terms of the fact that since its implementation in 1974, the property tax credit has been neglected in terms of its original intent; that in fact it has almost been forgotten; that those seniors, people on fixed incomes, disability pensions, workmen’s compensation, on very low and fixed incomes, people working at the minimum wage who work a full week, and all of those people at the bottom and middle end of the income spectrum, in 1974, in the case of pensioners, or those people on fixed government subsidies, got all, or virtually all, of their property taxes back.

We had regressed to a stage where they received something in the neighbourhood of 40 to 50 per cent, half or less of their property taxes back. These are people who, under the federal income tax structure, were eligible to pay no taxes and under the provincial income tax structure were eligible to pay no taxes. These are the people whom we as a party have always felt that, if they were eligible under neither of those criteria, should pay no property taxes either, or that the province should take responsibility to see that they were refunded those taxes which they paid to the municipality for the services that municipality was required to provide to its citizens.

There were also those people out there who didn’t get virtually all of their property taxes back in 1974, but whose incomes were such that they got a portion. Some people in 1974 got $75 back. I was one of the people in that particular category at that time. Some people got $150 back. Some people got as much as $300 back.

A majority of the people in this province, under the Ontario property tax credit structure, got some portion of their property taxes back. And the vast majority of those people today have incomes that have risen rather substantially. Those people have not changed their real place in the economic structure at all. Their incomes may have gone up by a third or a half -- in some instances perhaps even as much as 100 per cent -- over the last decade, but so too has the cost of living and the cost of their property taxes over the last decade.

8:30 p.m.

The property tax credit has failed to serve consistently the people it was originally intended to serve in a recurring fashion year after year. People who got $150 one year, got $110 the next year and $60 the year after that until they reached the point where they no longer got anything, regardless of the fact that their real economic situation had not changed at all. I made it a point here in the House, in committee, in estimates and on every occasion I could find, to raise with the Minister of Revenue (Mr. Maeck) and the Treasurer the fact that the property tax credit was failing its original purpose, what was intended by this House when the original legislation was passed.

We were extremely happy to see the small but significant turnaround this year in the budget. We were not totally happy to see the way in which it was done, in that seniors now will be taken out of the mainstream and put into separate legislation in order to give them an increase in the number of dollars of tax credit or rebate, call it what you like, over what they got this year and last year. We are happy to see the increase but not necessarily happy to see the way in which it was granted.

We are not happy simply because the increase of $75 to $100 a year on average for seniors in this province is at least in large part what we were looking for as a caucus. It was done in the way it was done in order to avoid having to give that increase to the rest of the property taxpayers in this province -- the people who receive disability pensions or workmen’s compensation because they have been permanently or temporarily totally disabled as a result of a work-related accident, but regardless have been put in a position where their income and their ability to improve their income has been reduced.

People temporarily on unemployment insurance or temporarily on welfare, if they are no longer eligible for unemployment insurance, who for whatever reason have been put into categories in terms of income less than what they had a short time previously, are not getting any effective increase in the property tax credit. The government has taken the road of taking the seniors out of the mainstream, out of the basic credit approach that we have had for the last six years in this province, and putting them into separate legislation that we will be dealing with shortly in this House. The government has effectively avoided the overall question and that to some degree disappoints me.

The improvements in the money seniors will be getting provides some satisfaction to me and other members of my caucus, probably also to the Liberal Party caucus and perhaps even to some of the government party members. There are, however, a number of omissions from the new program because it is a program that is in totally separate legislation. There are a number of omissions be- cause Ontario, in attempting to administer the program itself, has found that it can’t easily identify all of the people that the federal income tax structure could identify.

Within the first week after the budget was presented, my colleague from Downsview (Mr. Di Santo) told the Treasurer his new grant program was going to exclude people on the basis that they are not eligible for old age security from the federal government, it would exclude people who under the tax credit system were eligible for the full tax credit, it would exclude some people who are citizens of this country, because after three years they can become a citizen but they are not eligible for old age security until they have been here 10 years. He said the program would exclude people who, although they were not yet citizens, fully intended to be and have paid federal and provincial taxes in this country, and people who were eligible under the credit system who were not going to be eligible when we passed the bill on the property tax grant for senior citizens.

When my colleague raised that issue, it was very obvious that the Treasurer had great sympathy for the question that was put. The Treasurer made the commitment that if he could find a way administratively to do what the member was asking, to include those people who were neglected by the budget proposal because of only administrative problems, he would do it.

It seems to me to be almost irresponsible of this government to exclude people in order to avoid paying an increased property tax credit to other categories of people who are not 65 years of age or over, or in order to avoid implementing a new property tax credit formula -- a formula along the lines that was presented in the 1978 budget but was never implemented -- a formula that would have effectively dealt with every person in this province based on his or her income. In order to avoid all that, strictly because of administrative problems, this government has said, “We are going to have to exclude some people that we don’t really want to exclude from the new program, because the data we get from Revenue Canada won’t identify them for us, simply because they are not eligible for old age security.”

That to me seems inexcusable. It seems incumbent on me, on all of us in this House, to find a way around or over that kind of administrative hangup; that kind of administrative stupidity.

We have, in the weeks that have elapsed since the budget was presented in this House, raised the question a number of times and in a number of different ways. The Liberal caucus has raised the issue of those in certain institutions that were previously eligible that will not now be, or that will get less than they got before. That too is true, and that too is probably inexcusable. It is inexcusable because this government, in order to satisfy the majority in a particular segment of society, the seniors, has rushed to find a way to satisfy them without effectively satisfying the needs of the society as a whole.

8:40 p.m.

This has caused some serious problems in this caucus. We intend, as a result of that, to attempt to move some amendments, if the Treasurer and the Minister of Revenue can’t find it within themselves and their staff to find a way to make those amendments possible without them having to be moved from this side of the House.

We are well aware that most of the amendments we have in mind will be ruled out of order if they are moved from this side of the House. They certainly wouldn’t be if the Treasurer or the Minister of Revenue were to move them.

But we are prepared to move those amendments regardless. We are prepared to fight for those people who will be losing something that they cannot now, in the economic circumstances we have in 1980, afford to lose. They cannot afford to lose any dollars, never mind in some cases some fairly substantial dollars, in terms of tax rebates.

We had a debate last week on a number of the revenue bills that were presented by the Minister of Revenue and emanated out of the budget. One that was debated at fair length in this House -- I think the Minister of Revenue was somewhat taken aback by the fact that so many members got up to speak on it -- was the bill to amend the Retail Sales Tax Act.

On Tuesday afternoon when we were debating the gasoline tax amendment, the minister took it upon himself to take objections to things that I had said about some of the sections in the Retail Sales Tax Act amendment and the gasoline tax amendment. I had said it would become a joke if the government didn’t do something constructive to make exemptions provided in those two bills accessible and available to the majority of the people of this province.

I refer to the exemptions in the Retail Sales Tax Act which exempted ethyl and methyl alcohol from retail sales tax when they were going to be used as fuel for an internal combustion engine, and the exemption from retail sales tax of vehicles which would use those fuels. In addition, there were those vehicles which would use electricity and a number of other fuels -- natural gas, manufactured gas.

Unfortunately, I think the Minister of Revenue misunderstood my comment when I said to him I didn’t want to see, 10 years down the road, these amendments and the Minister of Revenue becoming a joke because nobody had been able to take advantage of these amendments and these tax exemptions. I wasn’t in any way trying to imply that the exemptions themselves were a joke, or that the conservation which they could represent should be a joke.

My point to the Minister of Revenue was then and is now, if the government does not take some constructive action in terms of seeing that the kinds of vehicles we are talking about are widely available to the people of this province, the exemptions will become a joke.

The minister took it upon himself to point out as clearly as he could that kits to convert existing gasoline vehicles to methyl or ethyl alcohol and a number of other substances were available for, he estimated, somewhere in the neighbourhood of $1,500. I am not even going to quarrel with the minister about his estimate of the dollars involved. I would, however, like to point out to the minister that a fairly substantial number of people in this province do not drive new cars, in fact buy used cars, and a fairly substantial number of people have a certain degree of difficulty in finding the $1,500 to buy the car, never mind the conversion kit.

If a conversion kit is worth $1,500, I question how much it would cost those people in addition to have it installed, if they do not have the personal, technical expertise to install it themselves. It is well and good to say the conversion kits are available or will be made available as the demand increases, but that is not the point. The point for a fairly substantial number of people at the bottom end of the income scale is, because they have never bought a car any less than five or six years old with any less than 80,000 or 90,000 miles on it, the only way they are ever going to get into a converted car that will burn the kinds of fuels that the minister has set out in amendments to the Retail Sales Tax Act and the Gasoline Tax Act, is if and when they can buy one on the used car market. The only way that is effectively going to happen is if and when the automobile producers in this province, not the conversion kit sellers, produce those kinds of vehicles in a substantial way so they are readily available in the marketplace and also eventually in the used car market.

I do not expect the minister to talk to his colleagues about seeing that all happens tomorrow. But I certainly expect a government that takes steps to see that all tax exemptions are available will take whatever action is necessary to make sure other things are happening in the economy to ensure the vehicles that can make use of those exemptions, both for the vehicles themselves and the fuel, are also available.

Hon. Mr. Maeck: What’s wrong with private enterprise? Can’t they do something about it?

Mr. Charlton: The minister knows full well there are literally hundreds of different approaches to energy conservation that have been researched and engineered, and have never become publicly available. They never will as long as it is in the best interests of some of those out there in the private sector to see they do not. The minister knows full well, unless somebody steps in to see they become available, they will not until the time is right for those in the private sector.

8:50 p.m.

We also talked, Mr. Speaker, during the debate on the amendments to the Retail Sales Tax Act, about a number of other reductions, whether existing reductions that should be further reduced or new reductions or exemptions, if you like, from the Retail Sales Tax Act that, in general, would have been far more beneficial in terms of putting dollars back into the economy of this province, far more beneficial for the residents of this province than the exemptions the Minister of Revenue this year provided in his amendments.

It was very nice to see the exemption on grain storage bins and grain dryers. During the debate on the bill the member for Brant-Oxford-Norfolk (Mr. Nixon) made the point of trying to take credit for his caucus for the inclusion of that particular item. He indicated that the farmers of Ontario were swinging back to the Liberal Party because of the position it had taken and that the tax should never have been applied in the first place.

Having looked through the records, I found it rather significant to note, having sat and listened to comments that this party had no roots and no understanding at all of the rural communities in this province, that the only times in recent years private members’ legislation was put forward that would have covered the specific exemption the minister this year included for farmers were when they came from this caucus, from my colleague from Algoma (Mr. Wildman). That is significant in terms of the way in which things in this House are dealt with. It is also significant of the way this party views this province and the people of this province who have to deal with its economy and its tax structure.

But I have to say that while we welcome the exemptions included this year, there were, as I have already said, a number of exemptions that would have been far more universal, even if not totally universal, and far more appropriate to the economic circumstances we are faced with in this province.

On a number of occasions I have raised personally, as have several other members of this caucus and even some of the Liberal caucus, the question of the retail sales tax exemption on shoes, which is set at $30 and which has not changed for a number of years. This was an exemption that was intended to reflect the dividing line between the price of the majority of shoes sold in this province and those that are obviously above average and luxury in nature. The $30 point was set to reflect that kind of situation and yet we are still stuck at that price after four or five years. All members of the House know full well that exemption no longer serves the people buying the same type of shoes they bought in 1975 for substantially greater prices now.

In the same fashion that the property tax credit no longer serves the people it was intended to serve, the exemption on the cost of shoes from retail sales tax no longer serves the people it was intended to serve and no longer serves the same quality of shoes it was intended to exempt. During the debate on the bill, one of my colleagues made the point -- and I can’t even recall the exact figures -- that the prices of those shoes have gone up somewhere between 80 and 100 per cent.

We’re in a situation where an exemption exists that no longer means very much at all. People in this province can probably still run out and buy a pair of sneakers and get the tax exemption, but they certainly can’t, even when they are buying the cheapest pair of shoes they can find, buy the pair of shoes they will wear to church or to their club meeting or even here in the Legislature.

Then we have the whole question, which is a question that has also been raised with the Minister of Revenue a number of times, of the exemption from retail sales tax on children’s clothing. That is an exemption that is based exclusively on sizes that are set out in the textile industry that the industry says will fit children.

The problem is those families who have average children or less than average children in terms of size all get the exemption on the clothes for their children. But when a child gets into the teens and happens to be above average -- and I’m talking about size, not about anything else -- his family, all of a sudden, loses the exemption on children’s clothing, regardless of the child’s age. Some 10-, 11- and 12-year-olds happen to be rather huge. Some of them may not grow any taller but, none the less, at 10 or 11 or 12 they’re huge. They are no longer able to wear children’s sizes; they’re wearing adult sizes.

As a result, because of the way this tax is structured and regulated, those families get no exemption on the retail sales tax. They pay the tax on the clothing that child wears for no other reason than that they were unfortunate enough to have a large child. I’ve talked to the minister about it a number of times and I understand full well that providing the exemption for those children is going to create some administrative problems.

As I said when I was talking about the property tax credit and the new property tax grant for seniors, if we exclude people from a basic principle we establish in this province because of administrative difficulty, we have failed the people of this province. We have failed to deal reasonably and fully with the things we have committed ourselves to them to do. In effect, that is what we have done with the retail sales tax exemption on children’s clothing. We have failed as a Legislature to provide in an effective way a commitment that clothing for children will be exempt from retail sales tax.

9 p.m.

There have been a number of other omissions. Most of them were raised during the debate on the retail sales tax bill. But there was one that unfortunately was ruled out of order by the Speaker -- not yourself, Mr. Speaker, but the real Speaker if you like. Unfortunately he returned to the chair in mid-flight of a speech and cut the member off. Rightly so, but it was ruled out of order none the less. So it was one exemption that has not, to date, been put on the record.

This Legislature has legislated the use of seatbelts in this province. We made it mandatory because of a number of very well done, in-depth studies. They came from elsewhere, but none the less were well done studies. They showed quite clearly the differences between the physical danger to human beings of wearing seatbelts as compared to not wearing seatbelts. Yet when we tried to raise in this House the possibility of an exemption from retail sales tax for restraining devices for infants and very small children -- seats and belts to be used in cars so that those children could benefit from what for this Legislature was conclusive proof of safer conditions in an automobile -- we didn’t get that exemption.

Although everybody in this province obviously does not have children every year, that is an exemption that is far more universally applicable over time at least than some of the exemptions that have been presented to us this year. Some of the exemptions this year the Minister of Revenue has readily admitted will not cost the government very much money at all. But we can’t even get from the Minister of Revenue and from the Treasurer of this province a commitment to make devices for infants and very small children, to make them safe when they are in automobiles. We can’t get any exemption on the retail sales tax to make those devices more easily and readily available for those who are having difficulty finding the money for them.

We also were somewhat pleased to see the increases in Gains presented in the budget. It is the kind of thing we are always pleased and almost relieved, I suppose, to see -- increases in workmen’s compensation benefits and pension benefits under the Workmen’s Compensation Act. We are pleased and relieved because the government of this province has not seen fit to be as flexible as the federal government in this country has been.

I have to give some credit where credit is due. I can’t say that I agree with everything done by the present and fairly long-standing federal government, except for a very short interruption last year. I cannot say I can agree with all they have done or all of the things they have presented, but at least they have been flexible enough to deal with most of their social programs on a fairly regular basis, providing increases, as I understand it, in most cases on a quarterly basis and trying to deal with the cost of living and with the kind of inflation we have had in the past decade. This government in Ontario has been extremely reluctant to get involved in that kind of humane, regular process.

We are glad to see the increase in Gains. But I have to raise as strongly as I can that this government lives under some very serious delusions. They live under the very simple and very easy-to-avoid delusion that some body who is single and living on his own can actually live for half of what it costs two people to live. You know that is a joke, Mr. Speaker, and I know it is a joke. I think all the members on this side of the House and all the members on that side know it is a joke.

One person cannot live now, and although I will not speak back into the extreme eons of history, probably has not for a long time been able to live for half of what it costs two people to live. All one has to do to understand that is to take a very quick walk around the social and economic structure in which we live. Rents for one-bedroom apartments are not any different for one person than they are for two. The rent does not change one stitch in most cases. There are a very few cases in this province where rents are based on a base level, plus so much for each occupant. While that is true, the rent is certainly not cut in half if the number is reduced from two occupants to one.

In most cases there is no reduction at all in rent on a one-bedroom apartment or a two-bedroom apartment. The difference between a two-bedroom apartment and a one-bedroom apartment is certainly not 50 per cent if two people need a two-bedroom apartment because they may need the additional storage space or whatever.

Certainly one cannot walk through any supermarket in this province and buy enough food to feed one person for half of what it costs to buy enough food to feed two, partly because of the way supermarkets are structured and partly because of the way the food processing industry is structured and the way food is packaged. Unfortunately, it is very rare in the food processing industry in this country, and in most countries for that matter, to find quantities of a particular substance or commodity that is ideally suited to one person.

That creates a serious problem for people who are on their own because of the amounts of food commodities they end up wasting. It is absolutely ludicrous. It is even more than ludicrous: it is either deceitful or extremely naive on the part of this government to think or profess, which it does by the rates it presents for senior citizens under the Gains program, that one person can live for half of what it costs two people to live.

9:10 p.m.

I would like to raise a couple of other items during this debate. There have been a number of gains in this budget but there are still a number of things that we in this caucus would like to see happen. I’m going to raise a couple of things that were raised by other members during the budget debate over the last couple of weeks.

One was presented last week by the member for Haldimand-Norfolk (Mr. G. I. Miller) when he was quoting a newspaper story he had read about an Ontario doctor who had gone to Texas to practise medicine. The newspaper quoted the doctor as saying how deficient the health care system in this province was and how much happier he was practising medicine in the more open atmosphere of Texas. In the article, he alluded to the fact that socialized medicine in Ontario had created the problem.

I hope that some of the colleagues who are present in the party to my right tonight will refer the member for Haldimand-Norfolk to my comments tonight, because I want to tell the House that the Hamilton Academy of Medicine had heard all the stories about doctors going to Texas and about all the lucrative and nice things that were going on down there. They had heard about those things, and some of them obviously had thought about making that move.

Instead of just packing their bags and going, the academy sat down as a group and decided to put together a committee to send down to Texas to have a look at what was going on -- to talk with some of the doctors from Ontario who moved, to talk with hospital administrators, to talk with people in the health care system who could tell them how the health care system compared to Ontario’s.

I would appreciate it, as I said earlier, if some of the members of the Liberal caucus would point out to the member for Haldimand-Norfolk that the committee came back to Ontario and said: “Look, friends, brothers” -- whatever they call each other in a local academy of medicine group like that --


Mr. Charlton: -- “fellow businessmen, doctors, if you go to Texas, yes, you can make more money. There is no question about that. But we as a committee that has been mandated by this group in Hamilton recommend strongly that you don’t go to Texas. We doctors are in the profession of medicine and healing for more than just the money. Yes, we like the money and, yes, we would like to get more money out of the Ontario government, but we want no part of the kind of medicine that is being practised in the state of Texas.

“We want no part of their system, their approach, the facilities that are available and the cost involved to the people. We want no part of that and we would only go to Texas as an absolute last resort because we are not happy at all with the kind of medicine that is being practised in the state of Texas.”

That is not a story from a fairy tale. It is a story from a real committee from the Hamilton Academy of Medicine. That academy actually paid to go down and study the problem. I want the member for Haldimand-Norfolk to understand that sometimes magazine articles are printed in the fashion they are printed because it is sensational and controversial. But the kind of recommendation the committee of doctors who went to Texas from Hamilton brought back is real in terms of the comparisons between the kind of health care system we have in this province, in spite of the cutbacks that have gone on over the last three or four years, and the kind of health care system they have in the state of Texas, regardless of the money there is to be made by doctors.

There was also some discussion during earlier portions of the budget debate on property assessment and the section 86 program the government has been involved in. There was a specific reference last week to the market value assessment on farms and the way in which the market value assessment under the section 86 equalization program was affecting and substantially hurting some farmers in those areas where the municipalities had chosen to have a section 86 equalization done.

This was a criticism of the government put by one or two members of the Liberal party. The criticism was that instead of using market value, for example, speculative value on farms, this government should have been using a use value related to the value of that farm land to a fanner for the production of crops and not the value that farm land may have had to a speculator or an industrialist or a commercial mall developer, or whatever the case happened to be.

I was somewhat glad to hear those comments from the Liberal caucus because, in the three years I have been here, I have been in this House as a former assessor raising a number of issues related to property tax assessment, one of which was the whole question of use value. I have raised it on a number of occasions. The Minister of Revenue will confirm this.

He has got deeply enough involved now in assessment and in the revision of assessment that he understands some of the problems inherent in full and pure market value. He understands, for example, when I talk to him about the fact that all sectors have to be assessed by the same method. One cannot assess one sector by one method and another sector by another method. Even if the appraisers tell one that one must come up with market value by using those different methods, he understands that from time to time as a result of economic pressures one does not always get exactly the same result.

He understands that because of that we were in a situation in the 1970s and are now in the early 1980s, where because of market pressures, shifts would occur if we implemented market value. Unfortunately, I do not think, up until at least very recently, members of the Liberal caucus have understood that. They certainly didn’t understand it and didn’t support my comments on occasions over the past three years when I have stood in this House and suggested as clearly as I could that not only farm land, but every kind of property, should be assessed based on its current use and not on whatever speculative potential it might have.

9:20 p.m.

They certainly haven’t supported my comments when I have said that if this government wants to try to get out of speculators those moneys which are reaped from the speculation it can’t do it through the property tax structure. It should be doing it through a land speculation tax. The minister will recall that I and my colleagues opposed the government when it withdrew the land speculation tax. The minister will also recall that on a number of occasions during estimates and during the budget debate over the past two or three years we have raised the question of the possibility of a provincial capital gains tax -- not myself specifically in that instance, but my colleague from Nickel Belt (Mr. Laughren).

Those members of the Liberal caucus didn’t seem to understand what we were saying when we talked about use value, not only on farms, but on all classes of property. We said that all kinds of property should be assessed specifically and strictly on their present use so that a residential home owner, or a farmer for that matter, since the Liberal caucus likes frequently to relate itself to rural Ontario and the farm community, who owned a home for 15 or 20 years, but now finds himself in the middle of a rezoning and a commercial development, or in the rural case a rezoning and a residential development or a rezoning and a commercial mall, isn’t taxed out of existence on his property taxes.

If he has arrived at that stage where his farm or residential property as a result of zoning changes has become eligible for a different kind of development, whether it be residential, commercial, industrial or high-rise apartment, when that property is sold and used for that new use, when the dollars that are paid for that property reflect that new use, that is the time at which this government should try to extract the extra tax dollars that new use reflects, and not before that time.

The member for Haldimand-Norfolk was correct when he said that taxing a farmer, based on the speculative value of his farm land, was making it virtually impossible in some cases for that farmer to continue the farm operation. I am suggesting to the members of the Liberal caucus that it is time they sat down and listened for a change to some of the things that are said from this caucus because the very comments that were made by the member for Haldimand-Norfolk have been made by this specific member for at least three years running. Those comments have been laughed at and chided by members of his own caucus. If he has problems with members of his own caucus in terms of the kinds of tax policies he was spouting last week in the budget debate, then he certainly isn’t going to have any effective way of getting the government across the way to change its policies.

I think I have just about wrapped up the comments that I had for this evening.

Mr. Foulds: No, no, continue.

Mr. Charlton: Does my colleague want me to continue?

Mr. Foulds: Yes, the Liberal caucus needs some enlightenment.

Mr. Charlton: I am running out of throat.

Mr. Speaker, I think I have made it reasonably clear tonight that there were some things in the budget that this caucus was happy with. In fact there were things we felt somewhat proud about having played a major role in providing to the people of this province through our tenacity and consistency.

There were also a number of things that were omitted from this budget that we feel reasonably strongly about. We are going to continue to raise them and we want to see them happen in the very near future. We have no more reasonable expectation to get support from the Liberal caucus for some of those measures than we have to get that support from the government. So we will continue to fight for those with which we have at least been somewhat successful in getting concessions from in terms of benefits to the people of the province. We are fairly confident that even if we can’t get all we ask for, we will continue to make some gains from the government.

I referred very early in my comments this evening to a question asked by my colleague the member for Downsview right after the budget was presented. He asked the Treasurer if he was prepared to see that all those people were included who would be excluded from the new seniors’ property tax grant because they were not eligible for old age security. The Treasurer’s response was that he would do everything he could to find a way to make that administratively possible.

We are prepared to fight for that but we are also prepared to work with the government whenever possible to get whatever we can along those lines for the people of this province. There are a number of areas where we have every intention of doing exactly that over the next few months.

Mr. Watson: Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have this opportunity to spend some time on the debate. I did ask the member preceding me how long he was going to be and he said 30 minutes. He was about an hour and 15 minutes; so I hope I am not that far out on my calculations.

Before getting into my remarks on the budget, the last time I rose to speak in this House was during the Confederation debate. I join with the other members of the Legislature in welcoming the results of that referendum, a basic decision made by the majority of the people of Quebec to remain a part of Canada.

With regard to the budget, I believe it represents a great achievement and a great service to the fine people of this province. It is almost incredible, in a period of rising costs and rising expectations, that this government has been able to deliver a budget with no tax increases to people of the province. And we did not even have to cut back in services. In fact, we have made increases in assistance to pensioners and other groups in this community for whom this government has a special responsibility.

9:30 p.m.

I represent part of the rural area of this province, one of the main fruit-producing areas, and I was particularly pleased to see the way the Treasurer’s budget will assist the farming population. It will help in a number of ways. We have promised to take independent action with respect to the impact of high interest rates on farmers.

I have been very disappointed about the federal government’s inaction on this problem. Although rates are beginning to come down, it seems a shame that farmers who work hard all their lives to supply this country with the food it needs to survive, as well as with export commodities, should suffer from them. Thus, it was welcome news to learn a couple of weeks ago that the Ministry of Agriculture and Food was establishing a program of farm interest assistance to farmers.

Many farmers, particularly the younger people and those who are just starting out, are facing severe financial strain because of the lack of short-term working capital and, more than that, the high cost of it. The record high interest rates, the cost of borrowing the money farmers need to buy seed, fertilizer, pesticides, livestock feed and for crop maintenance and harvesting, in some cases are higher than the potential return, considering the outlook for some of the crop prices.

We simply cannot permit outside influences to turn farming into a losing proposition. I think that’s obvious to everyone. The $25-million Ontario program will subsidize interest rates up to a maximum of three per cent on short-term working capital borrowed at more than 12 per cent.

Mr. McKessock: You realize the most they can get is $1,150.

Mr. Watson: That might be very helpful to some farmers, particularly those from Grey county. It’s payable on loans up to $50,000 over a nine-month period running from April 1 to the end of the year.

Interest rates have been dropping in recent weeks but they do remain high. The prospect of future lower rates does not help the farmer faced with the need to borrow now to get his seed, fertilizer and insect control products which must be paid for. Farmers do not get cash return from their crops until they are sold. Cash flow is a major concern for the interim period. Money is needed to finance all of those input costs, as well as the cost of harvesting.

Stable farm operations are essential to the operation of our whole nation. They are crucial to the maintenance of the stability, and I hope this program will have the effect of triggering similar measures from the federal government. We certainly cannot afford to take our farmers for granted and must continue to give them all of the help we can.

Recognition of the viability of farming operations is a strong plus factor on the part of this government. The budget also proposed tax relief for the purchase or the construction of new grain storage bins and dryers. This section of the proposed amendments to the Retail Sales Tax Act came up for second reading this past Tuesday, as members are aware. These amendments are a recognition that these pieces of equipment are vital to the farming operation.

In terms of the farming area that I represent, I do not have the breakdown of figures for my own riding but if I add to them the figures for Kent, part of which area the member for Kent-Elgin (Mr. McGuigan) represents, the estimated gross farm income from crops and livestock last year was recently given to Kent county council; that figure is $227,147,000.

To put agriculture in perspective, Mr. Speaker, if you take any two Maritime provinces and add them together, that’s about the figure you come up with. The value of agricultural produce in Kent county is equivalent to any two of the Maritime provinces.

Some people wonder why we, as a government, have problems in coming up with the absolute dollars to support agriculture to the same extent as other provincial governments. In some cases, I would like to point out, the money spent in other provinces would cover only a portion of one county in this province.

Last fall, when the new Minister of Agriculture and Food (Mr. Henderson) was appointed, I noted that within the first 10 days of his appointment he appeared at four different functions in Kent county. I reminded him then, and have reminded him since, that four out of 10 was about 40 per cent and that was about the right proportion of time the Minister of Agriculture and Food should give to Kent county because of its agricultural importance.

One of those occasions was the International Plowing Match. I know some people in this Legislature were at that particular event. Some took more part than others in the actual ploughing; others came and then went home. We think we had a tremendous event in Kent county. It brought the people from the city and from the urban areas together to put on a tremendous show. I do hope that the Minister of the Environment (Mr. Parrott) has a successful match in Oxford county next year, and that they have as good weather as we had in Kent.

Farming is a healthy occupation and quite often a high percentage of our farmers live to be a ripe old age. It is also a family-oriented enterprise and one often finds that farm families pass their operations on to the next generation. Thus, the aid and assistance for pensioners that comes out of the 1980 budget is good news for the agricultural community as well as the community in general.

Some of the members opposite have been very critical about these measures, but I believe their judgement is misguided. It is a very positive package. It alleviates a great part of the tax burden for our senior citizens to ensure security with dignity. We have been offsetting the burden of municipal and education taxes for seniors since 1968.

Under the new system, pensioners who own or rent their homes and pay property tax on them will receive a rebate of up to $500. In addition, they will get the $50 sales tax grant. Pensioners whose annual incomes are under $5,000 will receive an increase in their guaranteed annual income supplement from the province. This will amount to $120 a year for a single pensioner and double that for a couple.

The spinoffs from this will be very constructive for the people in rural areas and in the small towns. It is important to realize that all senior citizens receive a fair share of this assistance program in one form or another.

The new grants in this program will distribute direct benefits to many more senior citizens than did previous programs. Also, the elderly will be spared the necessity of filling out the Ontario tax credit forms, since they will receive their benefits in the form of a cheque, which is a lot easier for them to understand.

This is the sort of benefit the people of Ontario have come to expect from their government. It is the payoff of the tight financial management and the disciplined financial restraint. The dividends from this restraint program are being redirected to our senior citizens.

I cannot let this opportunity go by without paying tribute to the former member for the riding of Chatham-Kent, the former Treasurer of this province, who started that program several years ago. We in this province today, as a result of things he started, probably have 5,000 fewer civil servants still providing excellent service to our people -- a real comparison with what is happening to our bureaucracy in Ottawa.

There have been some related developments in recent weeks which will be of tremendous benefit to our communities. I am strongly in support of Bill 60, the Non-resident Agricultural Land Interests Registration Act, 1980. It was drawn up in response to expressions of concern by municipal officials, individual farmers and the Ontario Federation of Agriculture.

9:40 p.m.

Our productive land is one of our most precious assets. It is only sensible for us to keep track of how much of it falls into the hands of nonresident interests. I do not think anyone believes that we are being taken over by mysterious beings from outside. It is a fact that farm land is a very attractive investment for people in other areas, and we must ensure that nothing happens to destabilize our farming enterprises. This becomes increasingly possible as other parts of the world experience political and social unrest. People with money to invest naturally want a nest egg in a reliable area.

The registration of foreign ownership of farm lands proposed in this act will allow the province to formulate accurate records reflecting a clear picture of the development of nonresident ownership of our most valuable resource, the land used to produce our daily food.

Similar protection is extended to farmers through amendments to the Live Stock and Live Stock Products Act which received royal assent at the beginning of this month. It provides financial safeguards for the sellers of livestock from heavy losses as a result of buyer defaults on payment. It protects individual producers and dealers when a buyer goes bankrupt. Sellers of livestock are financially vulnerable. This is especially true of smaller operators who may sell their entire herd to one buyer. Losses can amount to thousands and thousands of dollars, an amount that can ruin an enterprise and set a farming operation back for the rest of an individual’s life. The bill requires dealers to make prompt payment for livestock. Regulations and record-keeping procedures are also streamlined. The amendments are both extremely responsible measures.

Of great value to the rural community is the money being made available as of last March for the drainage grants. This covered a backlog of projects which had been completed and inspected but for which funds were not available. More than $10 million was required to cover this backlog, and the government has turned over the necessary funds. Municipalities retain the authority and the responsibility for this program. This ensures that the funds are fairly distributed among the eligible recipients. Loans to an individual enterprise cannot now exceed $20,000 in any one year. The total balance of loans to an individual farmer cannot exceed $60,000. These sums are fairly reasonable and should be of great value in assisting farmers to get their land into peak productivity. The program is important to improve tile drainage. Beyond any doubt, if a land needs tiling that is where the money should be spent.

Rural electrification rates are a big bone of contention with farmers. Many feel that as contributors to the economic and social well-being of everyone in this province it is not right that they should have to pay rates higher than those paid by urban residents. The agricultural community welcomed the commitment expressed by the Premier (Mr. Davis) last month to bring their rates more in line with those paid by urban residents of Ontario. The Premier suggested that Ontario Hydro officials come up with new rate proposals this fall. This is good news for rural residents, all of whom are caught in the same cost-price squeeze as everybody else. At the present time, Ontario’s hydro rural system serves more than 770,000 customers, or 27 per cent of the electricity customers in this province. As municipalities expand, fewer and fewer people in our more sparsely settled regions share the total rural costs.

On October 19, 1978, I was elected to this House. On December 4, 1978, I had the opportunity of debating my first budget debate. One of the things I stated at that time was sort of adopted. It was the saying from the Ontario government, “We treat you royally.” I would like to repeat that tonight from the standpoint that I have felt very royally treated in this particular Legislature. I appreciate the courtesies extended to me not only by members of this party, but also by members from all sides of the House on a personal nature.

Everybody who comes into this Legislature has some advantages and I suppose some disadvantages, but everybody brings their experience. In my particular instance, I was the agricultural representative in Kent county, and for 20 years a civil servant in this province.

I would like to pay tribute to the civil servants who work in this province. We hear about the bad ones once in a while, but there are not very many. There are thousands and thousands who are dedicated people, who take their jobs very seriously, who do things above and beyond the call of duty and who succeed very well.

If one asks the general constituents what they think of most of the civil servants, usually they come up with the opinion most people are looked after pretty well in this province. Sometimes I think people complain just a little too much because something doesn’t go quite right for them. But having had experience in the civil service, when I am confronted with a problem I do have a pretty good idea where to go in the civil service to get an answer. I know at about what level a policy was made, and it is a lot easier to get the answer when one can go to the person who made the decision or who suggested the policy to get an explanation.

In the last couple of weeks I had a problem with an old gift-tax claim, but when I got to the assessment department in the Ministry of Revenue and explained the situation as I saw it, we were able to get the situation corrected without any fuss or bother. I happen to think that is what the constituents wanted and everybody comes out happy.

I would like to say a word on behalf of some of the ministries which are providing funds in my particular riding. The Ministry of Agriculture and Food has indicated it will participate in getting the holes plugged in two portions of the dikes in Dover township.

Some of them have been repaired and rebuilt, but there are still some that have to be done.

The Ministry of Natural Resources is working, actually in Lambton county, but it affects my riding in terms of the Darcy McKeough dam and diversion project that is going ahead. It will protect the town of Wallaceburg from flooding on the Sydenham River. We hope it proceeds on schedule and will give some degree of protection in our area.

I am particularly pleased that the Minister of Housing (Mr. Bennett) is here tonight. We like the Minister of Housing in the riding of Chatham-Kent. We have a downtown redevelopment program on stream, for which the Minister of Housing is responsible. We have a main street revitalization program going in Wallaceburg, for which he is responsible. We have a neighbourhood improvement program going in Wallaceburg, to the extent of some $900,000 at the present time, for which the Minister of Housing is responsible.

We have a planning study in Chatham township to update its official plan. The Minister of Housing has been of particular importance. Maybe he has been bugged a lot in the year by the member for Chatham-Kent, but we do appreciate him very much.

We also appreciate the recent announcement from the Ministry of the Environment for a watermain extension out of Wallaceburg. I think it was a little more than $360,000 for a grant. We do appreciate the Minister of the Environment’s consideration for that. We had a delegation down from Chatham to see him, and they explained that a line currently being used for water distribution was the original intake from the Sydenham River, or from the Lake St. Clair system, into Wallaceburg. That was put in back in 1910 or 1912, some time in that area, and it is just getting beyond the stage where it can be fixed.

9:50 p.m.

One of the things that the Ministry of Culture and Recreation is doing for our riding this year is the erection of a plaque this summer to honour the French people who settled in Dover township in the area of Paincourt. It will be an Ontario Heritage Foundation plaque. That is a historic area of this province settled very early before most of the other areas because it was on the water system.

One of the things scheduled in honouring some of our famous people -- provided they get their little strike settled -- for those members who are baseball fans, is to have a Fergie Jenkins appreciation day at Exhibition Stadium on June 15.

Mr. Foulds: Have it anyway. He deserves it.

Mr. Ramsay: He might be available then.

Mr. Watson: Yes, he might be available.

For those who are baseball fans, the Blue Jays will be playing the Texas Rangers and we invite members to come out to honour one of Canada’s great national athletes who was raised in the city of Chatham.

I would like to extend a word of congratulations to the people from Ridgetown College. Tomorrow afternoon they will be having their graduation, as many of the other agricultural colleges have had theirs. There are a lot of people from my riding going to that college who then go back and farm with their parents. The education they get there is extremely worthwhile and I think it is only fitting that we honour them.

I would like to look to the future with some optimism. I do recognize the downturn that we have in southwestern Ontario with the auto industry. My riding is partially affected by that. We are on the fringe. We do benefit from the spinoffs when things are good but we also suffer a little when things are bad.

Mr. Foulds: How are things now?

Mr. Watson: Just so-so. It is all right for a company like International Harvester that is making trucks. There is all kinds of demand. It is not so good for some of the ones that are making parts for some of the other companies.

In the city of Chatham a lot of the industry is related to agriculture; these are companies like Campbell Soup Company Limited, Libby McNeil and Libby of Canada Limited, Canadian Canners Limited in Dresden, and all the seed corn companies. One cannot really document it with figures, but I suspect that within 30 miles of the city of Chatham there is more seed corn produced than any other concentrated area in the world.

I know we do not produce as much seed corn in Canada as they do in Illinois, but there it is spread out over the whole state; one town will have a seed corn company producing seed and then one will have to go 50 miles to find another one. In southwestern Ontario all of the major companies have at least a third of their growing areas within 30 miles of Chatham. It does present some problems when you try to get 3,000 or 4,000 detasselers about July 12 to go out there, rain or shine, to pull the tassels on those corn plants to make sure the seed goes the way it should go.

If a person from the country wants to strike up a very interesting conversation with a city person, one can start talking about the male or female corn in the seed fields and how you make hybrid corn. After a while fellows like the member for Scarborough Centre (Mr. Drea) just look at you and say, “Really, you are putting me on. That isn’t really what happens.” But it is what happens. We do differentiate between the male corn and the female corn, and it is a very interesting process. We would be glad to show members everything.

I am optimistic. I think the budget was an excellent document and an optimistic document. I find it interesting that the speaker who preceded me insisted that the New Democratic Party take all the credit for all the good things that ever happened here in the last few years, the government -- the Tories -- all the credit for the bad things and the Liberals all the credit for the things that didn’t happen at all.

I do not know where most of the people in this province would sooner live. I think it is a pretty good place. I am optimistic. I think the budget the Treasurer delivered reflects that optimism.

Mr. J. Reed: Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege to be able to rise once again and address the budget for this year. Before I begin my remarks, like the previous speaker I would allude for one minute to the outcome of the most critical and important referendum we have just experienced in Quebec. I want to go on record as saying that while this province will enter into participation in change and in a renewal of Canada, I look forward to that change with renewed confidence in the country as a whole.

I think we are headed into a new age with a new spirit and sense of rededication. It is incumbent upon every elected member in every legislature across this country to take the responsibility of the months and years ahead very seriously.

I happen to have had the privilege of speaking in the town of Arnprior two weeks ago. The good mayor was on the platform and he suggested that the weeks and months ahead would require consideration of both the mind and the heart of all Canadians when we were thinking about the renewal of our country. I think those were probably the best chosen words I have heard that suit this particular time in our history. We must go with wisdom and we must go with a very clear idea of the direction in which we are headed. We must also go into this new time with a generosity of spirit that perhaps has not been expressed as universally as we hope it will be in these months ahead.

I couldn’t help listening to some of the remarks of the previous speaker, as much as I tried to avoid them. He did happen to mention some bills that were passed in the Legislature in the past few months. One he referred to particularly was Bill 60, An Act to require the Registration of Non-resident Interests in Agricultural Land in Ontario. I felt it should be put on the record that the original author of the idea of Bill 80 was none other than my colleague the Agriculture critic and member for Huron-Middlesex (Mr. Riddell).

There are a couple of other important bills too that apply to the rural area, and the riding of Halton-Burlington is that wonderful changing combination of rural and urban. The two bills I refer to are Bill 203, An Act to protect against Trespass to Property, and the companion Bill 202, the Occupiers’ Liability Act.

When one lives in a rural area on the fringes of an urban area, it becomes very quickly evident that this kind of legislation has been badly needed in the province and is long overdue. We hope it has the teeth in it it is intended to have and that it will once again foster a very healthy relationship among all people in the province so that there will be at least less misunderstanding regarding the tenure of land. I hope it will be a strong enough bill that those misunderstandings will be eliminated.

10 p.m.

The riding of Halton-Burlington also has another unique feature that is not quite as positive; that is, we still have with us regional government. One would think, after years since the inception of regional government, that the concern about it would gradually fade away. I was one of those who as far back as 1970 was speaking out in opposition to regional government, because of the inequity of the tax load from various municipalities that carried different levels of debts.

Since regional governments came into being, millions of dollars have been pumped into them in terms of startup money and added advantages of one sort or another. Even with all these, taxes have risen at a rate greater than in those municipalities that have not had regional government. This kind of phenomenon has spawned a new concern about regional government in my riding, and the government should know that the citizens of Halton-Burlington are very seriously concerned about how regional government has evolved and what it has meant to the tax load for each and every one of us.

We are at the point where we cannot take any more. We are at the breaking point. I warn the government there is going to be a most serious reaction among taxpayers if some ameliorating influence does not come into play in areas where there is regional government.

The riding of Halton-Burlington is in that area where we are experiencing pockets of very rapid urban growth. On the other hand, it contains some of the best agricultural land in all the province.

The problem of land use will be with a riding such as mine and in all the ridings around the periphery of the metropolitan area, partly because it is a very desirable place to live. We are a peaceful lot, we try to live in friendship with our neighbours, and we are concerned with one another in the various communities where we live. But the growth has put a pressure on the agricultural industry in this area. I have spoken many times about the problem we have in preserving a vital agricultural life in Halton. That is not to say that one is opposed to growth or development. But where we find ourselves deeply concerned is where land is purchased by a speculator. The pressure, the campaign then begins for an amendment to an official plan and, whether the land is needed or not, it ultimately is zoned.

I had the privilege of speaking to an Ontario Municipal Board hearing regarding a process that was taking place in the city of Mississauga on December 12, 1979, where a move was under way by a developer to change the zoning on 680 acres, I believe it was, in an area of Mississauga known as the “hole in the doughnut” south of Highway 401.

A group of young students the previous year had done a survey of the need for industrial land in Mississauga and discovered there is in existence more than 3,000 acres of industrial land not in use. Yet the OMB, following the policies of the government of course, saw fit to approve the zoning change for yet another 680 acres.

Hon. Mr. Bennett: Supported by the municipality and the regional government.

Mr. J. Reed: The honourable minister can talk about it being supported by the municipality but that does not take away from the fact that land, which is some of the highest-productivity soil in Canada, is being taken out of production forever. The minister should know -- and if he doesn’t, I am going to give him a little lesson right now -- of all the land mass in this country, about five per cent is tillable. Of that amount about half is of class one, two or three. Of that half, about half is located in southern Ontario. I just want the government to know and remember that. When these blocks of productive soil are taken out of production they are gone forever.

The means have got to be found in the immediate years ahead, on the one hand, to provide the land owner --


Mr. Acting Speaker: The honourable member for Halton-Burlington does have the floor.

Mr. J. Reed: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Sometimes it is difficult -- when one hits a sensitive nerve on the other side, they just cannot keep quiet.

I would like to suggest that the means has to be found to satisfy the value of that property so far as the farm-land owner is concerned. But at the same time we must find the mechanisms for keeping Ontario’s potential for self-sufficiency in food always with us. If we lose that potential for self-sufficiency at this critical time, with our transportation costs rising because of energy costs -- and in the future possibly energy unavailability -- more and more pressure is going to be put on agricultural production.

Hon. Mr. Bennett: More and more will be under agricultural production.

Mr. J. Reed: All right. The minister should know that in 1926 about 26 million acres were under production in Ontario. Right now I think about 17 million is, and the balance is marginal

Hon. Mr. Bennett: And the production per acre is higher than it has ever been.

Mr. J. Reed: The minister should also recognize that as the cost of fertilizer goes up and as the cost of tillage goes up, the demand is going to be on farmers to produce optimum yield for maximum profits, rather than just the old axiom of maximum yield for maximum profits. It is the way of the future and the minister had better get used to it.

Hon. Mr. Bennett: You are now claiming that is not the way it should be. Is this the new Liberal philosophy?

Mr. J. Reed: Mr. Speaker, I am claiming that the economic future is at hand, but the minister is not with it.

10:10 p.m.

I would like to turn to the subject of Ontario Hydro rates for a few minutes. Hydro rates have been unconscionable for a number of years, and the situation is getting worse. Since I have been in this Legislature, I have sadly witnessed a more than doubling of Hydro rates since 1975. One might wonder if inflation was the factor that decided the incredible increase in Hydro rates. But when one looks at the utility and what has been happening, it is very easy to observe that the reason for much of this increase in Hydro rates is not due to inflation or increased costs, but to building a generating capacity which is going unused in this province at present.

It has been the biggest single economic error that has been made under the auspices of the government of Ontario since Confederation. We are now in a situation where we have an investment in our utility in excess of the equivalent of $4 billion -- 4,000 megawatts of excess electric power. The errors that have been made over the past five or six years have been incredible, to say the least. Some of us have spoken out very loudly and strongly. We have had the most incredible reactions from the utility and from the government. There was the fear factor that was pumped into us in 1976 that we would have brownouts, blackouts and so on and that we were not going to be able to supply the demand.

There was one man in the government -- and it is unfortunate he is not here today -- the then Treasurer of Ontario, who by the seat of his pants cut back Ontario Hydro’s spending program. It was the first cutback ever undertaken. One wonders what has happened to that kind of control since he has gone, because I see no concerted effort being made to cut back the incredible spending program. It is full steam ahead. Sure, it has been modified five times, I believe, in four years, back and back and back. But, in truth, four years ago we were trying to take the message to the government and to the utility that that was where the growth rate was going to end up -- at around the three per cent level. In the meantime, the Ontario consumers of electric power have been saddled with a debt of billions.

The economy of the province, as we know if we talk to economists, has declined over the last 10 years. It would appear now, according to our figures, that Ontario stands in 10th place among the provinces in Canada. We have gone from the most affluent and the most sound economic province to one of the needy provinces.

Let me point out that one of the excuses given by this government for the economic slippage has been that the petroleum is all located somewhere else. The fact of the matter is that the government has known for some time now that there are alternatives to petroleum consumption for Ontario, but to this date it has not undertaken any measures, other than studies, to look at the alternatives.

My party put together a study last year on the potential of one of those alternatives for Ontario. That was a study on fuel alcohols. We came to a conclusion that was rather interesting. The conclusion of the study was that fuel alcohol was a feasible option for Ontario and an economical one.

Hon. Mr. Bennett: But not a good one.

Mr. Ruston: You have really got the Minister of Housing worried now.

Mr. Acting Speaker: Order.

Mr. J. Reed: The interesting part of this study was that fuel alcohol not only could be produced economically but also just from wood waste alone, in a quantity sufficient to meet the projected gasoline requirements for the province by 1990.

That came on the heels of two studies made in 1978, one by Ontario and one by the federal government. It was quite interesting because the study done by Ontario declared fuel alcohols not to be feasible; the study done by the federal government declared fuel alcohols to be feasible. Presumably they each had the same information.

It is also interesting to know that last year the federal government participated in work done by Inco Limited and by Canadian Industries Limited on the actual practicalities of developing the technology for producing fuel alcohols from wood waste.

It turns out, now those studies are concluded and the actual trials have been concluded, that the economics of producing fuel alcohol are actually better than our studies showed, that the efficiencies of conversion of wood waste to methanol are actually substantially superior. As we know, the biggest single cost for producing that sort of thing comes from the actual feedstock that goes into the process.

We have also taken a look at some of the other great energy options available to Ontario. One is the great peat resource. Ontario has the largest inventory of peat in Canada, and it has to go on the record that this country has the fourth largest inventory of peat in the world. It is an energy resource which, while perhaps not rivalling the tar sands in potential, certainly provides us with plenty to think about when it comes to becoming self-sufficient in energy and making a contribution to this country to the extent that at least we in Ontario can claim we will not be contributing to the net import situation on petroleum in Canada.

One of my colleagues brought up a question in the House today about the memorandum of understanding concerning energy policy and Ontario Hydro which has been promised now for three years by the government. The member for Erie (Mr. Haggerty) asked once again if this memorandum was finally going to come to fruition. The minister said, “Well, of course, it is still under discussion and it has not been concluded.”

There is no energy policy in Ontario. There is no policy control in any area of energy in Ontario. As a result, our large electrical utility must go on its own way without any framework or guideline as to what direction the government wants to take.

Just over a year ago, I brought a private member’s bill, entitled An Act respecting the Public Accountability of Ontario Hydro, into this House. It was blocked by 20 members on the other side. It was a bill that would have forced the government to produce an energy policy and would have required, through amendment to legislation, Ontario Hydro to accept it. We hoped, for the first time, the government would be answerable in this House to the people for Ontario Hydro. That has not yet taken place.

10:20 p.m.

I would like to deal with one other area of energy potential in Ontario, the great hydraulic resources still available to this province.

An Ontario Hydro study completed in 1978 shows that in heads of more than 20 feet there is something like 8,000 megawatts of untapped hydraulic power. Anyone who understands the production of electrical energy from hydraulic power knows that while it has high capital cost, it is the great hedge against energy inflation because from there on those costs are constant. The life expectancy of those plants is upwards of a century. It is one of the most reliable, most mature technologies we have. Yet the government and Ontario Hydro have continued to downplay the importance of this resource. Over a period of four years it has been like pulling teeth to get the Minister of Natural Resources (Mr. Auld) and the Minister of Energy (Mr. Welch), finally to say, “Yes, we think hydraulic power is a good thing.”

It might be interesting to note that, unfortunately that message has not yet percolated down through all of the ranks of those ministries. In the months to come, we would hope the message will get out and we will be able to get on with the job.

My reason for mentioning these resources in terms of the economy is simply to point out that at this particular time we are spending more than $5 billion a year for out-of-province energy resources. Think for a minute; if just half of that money were being turned over inside the province for indigenous resources, think of the contribution that could make, not only to the economy of Ontario but to the economy of the country as a whole. This is economic potential missed. It is the kind of thing a government that has been in power for the best part of 40 years cannot conceive. It has lost its imagination. It has lost its ability to look into the future. It has lost its ability to think ahead, to stick its neck out a little to restore the economic health of this province.

I have been critical, and I should not be entirely critical, because there was an area in energy that encouraged me a little. That was, of course, the road tax relief for the non-gasoline fuel; specifically, for fuel alcohol. The Minister of Energy is thinking into the future. There was, also, tax relief for vehicles burning other kinds of fuels, but it is interesting to note that with all of the ballyhoo over these kinds of deletions -- and, mind you, you have to hand it to the government; they made these deletions -- they are not sacrificing a nickel. Nothing is happening in that area at this time; so it looks good. That is all. It is a little more paperhanging, a little more window dressing. With all that, though, the Minister of Revenue came in with a broadened area of tax exemptions on energy-efficiency items of one sort or another.

To demonstrate the ad hockery of that sort of thing, I have been in this House for five years and we still have not had an exemption for stove pipes. We can get an exemption for stoves but we cannot get an exemption for stove pipes. I would like somebody on the other side to tell me just how we can go about installing a stove in our home if we cannot put up a stove pipe.

I will not go into the area of the senior citizens and the economic changes that have been made there, except to say that our people have looked into the proposed change in payment by the government, and it once again appears to be more window dressing than reality. Instead of being able to claim tax credits, the cheques will be mailed out under the hand of the good Treasurer (Mr. F. S. Miller).

It is rather a misleading way to do business, because all of us are very concerned about our senior citizens. We know that when the level of assistance for senior citizens is increased, it also helps to stimulate the economy because those people operate very close to the line.

Mr. McKessock: You don’t solve anything by taking with the one hand and giving with the other.

Mr. J. Reed: That is right, and one doesn’t accomplish anything by taking it out of one pocket and putting it in the other.

We have an awfully long way to go before we can say that senior citizens in this province are adequately looked after. To this point they certainly are not.

The citizens of Halton-Burlington have expressed to me increasing concern about the environment. One of the most serious items that has been brought to my attention is their concern with acid rain. I am not satisfied that the Ministry of the Environment has become serious about what is perhaps the worst environmental problem we are faced with now and for the next 20 years.

I suppose all of these things must lead us to one conclusion. The government has tried to sustain itself over the past 10 years using two fundamental methods: one by trying to continue the illusion of wealth with deficit spending during the flush years, and the other by the gimmickry of promotion and the ad hockery of some of these items which are first brought forward by the opposition and then plagiarized by the government. No one should be above using a good idea, but it is disappointing that some of these good ideas end up as paperhanging.

I see that the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs (Mr. Wells) has come in during this last minute. I have never done this before, but I want to remind the minister that he and the Premier are responsible for my being here.

The Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs used to be the Minister of Education, as we know, and it just happens that through a series of events and a fight we became engaged in for the people of the little community for which I live, we ended up in the minister’s office one day. I forget the nature of the conversation, except that I finally said to the minister in my frustration, “Do you mean to tell us that our only recourse is at the ballot box?” He said, “That is right.”

That must have been the trigger that fired the bullet or something that launched a young man who was originally one of the apathetic majority into a citizen concerned enough to run for this Legislature. I want to thank the minister for giving me that opportunity and to assure this government that as the weeks and months go by there are more and more candidates coming forward who are frustrated and concerned in exactly the same way I was back in 1975. Of course, we are going to have an election some time within the next 12 months. When that will happen we do not know, but one thing the government can be sure of is that the Liberal Party will have its full complement of concerned citizens running for office to try to bring some vision and imagination to this Legislature.

On motion by Mr. Foulds, the debate was adjourned.

The House adjourned at 10:30 p.m.