The House met at 10:04 a.m.
Mr. Speaker: I would like to draw the attention of all honourable members to the presence in our gallery this morning of the Honourable Rafe Mair, who is the Minister of Health for British Columbia. He is the guest of our own Minister of Health (Mr. Timbrell). Would you please welcome him to our presence.
Mr. Nixon: Mr. Speaker, since the Minister of Health is here bright and early this Friday morning, I would like to direct a question to him which has to do with the decision taken by the officials in Toronto to undertake a thorough review of the public health aspects of asbestos in the atmosphere and in buildings.
Since the responsibility for this matter at the provincial level seems to be widely distributed, and the Minister of the Environment (Mr. Parrott) is not here today -- I think this is his day to exercise his horse -- could the Minister of Health indicate what sort of correlation there is at the provincial level to assist the various health units and boards of health across the province, since it appears quite clearly that in the future we are going to have to survey all the public buildings, and many private buildings, erected since 1945? Would the minister care to comment on the level of the health hazards from the standpoint of public health?
Hon. Mr. Timbrell: Mr. Speaker, there is an interministerial group at the provincial level involving the ministries of Health, Environment and Labour. The lead ministry in this, as the member knows, has been the Ministry of Labour. He may want to relay his question, or redirect it.
Mr. Nixon: Just before the minister transfers it to the Minister of Labour (Mr. Elgie), can he comment on whether he is giving any directive to the various health units and boards of health that come under his direction, who are obviously concerned about this and are taking very proper but unilateral action as far as he is concerned?
Hon. Mr. Timbrell: We are all taking our lead from the information that has been gleaned by the Ministry of Labour in this regard. Over the last year we have made all the medical officers of health aware of the various aspects of this asbestos question as they have unfolded. We are all working together with the Ministry of Labour and using our resources in Health and Environment, for that matter, to back them up.
Mr. Cassidy: Mr. Speaker, can the minister explain why the government has been so negligent on the asbestos issue in that there are no standards for the disposal of asbestos that is being taken out of schools and other public buildings? Can the minister explain why, as a consequence, asbestos is being put in large plastic garbage bags and placed on dumps? The moment a tractor or bulldozer goes over them, those bags are going to break and spread asbestos back into the environment where it does not belong.
Hon. Mr. Timbrell: The aspect of disposal is one that would properly fall under the jurisdiction of my colleague the Minister of the Environment (Mr. Parrott). I will take that as notice for him, but I think it should be stated that asbestos is widely distributed in the environment. For the honourable member to ignore that is to ignore a very basic fact of the question. The Minister of Labour may want to comment on the basic question.
Mr. Nixon: Since the Minister of Health is taking the one question as notice for the Minister of the Environment and responded by indicating the minister directly responsible is the Minister of Labour, will he permit the question be transferred to the Minister of Labour?
Can the Minister of Labour tell the House just how he is co-ordinating the policies and programs of the government of Ontario which appear to public health officials at the local level, and to us here in the Legislature, to be ill-coordinated, ineffectual and insufficient?
Hon. Mr. Elgie: Mr. Speaker, as the member well knows, the interministerial committee dealing with this particular health hazard has been fairly active to date. It has been active with regard to the Toronto Transit Commission subway situation, and fairly significant inroads into the problem in the school system have been carried out by the Ministry of Education.
We are continuing to receive recommendations from that interministerial committee, and we have referred the matter of the overall public aspects of it, as well as a variety of other problems, to a royal commission.
I might also tell the member that we have sent to the Ministry of Health, as well as to the medical officers of health and the Ontario Hospital Association, copies of the publication we prepared for the Ministry of Education to distribute to the school system. So we are continuing to deal with the situations that become apparent in the community, in spite of the fact there is a royal commission reviewing the matter in greater detail.
Mr. Nixon: Mr. Speaker, I have a question for the Treasurer. It is related to the fact that we have about four active days left here before the session adjourns for the summer. The information given us a few days ago indicated that the level of unemployment is rising more rapidly in this province than in any other, and there was news this morning about the alarmingly high increase in the cost of living, 1.2 per cent for the month. When is the minister going to make available the discussion paper he announced on page 10 of his budget with the following words: “I would also like to inform the members that this government will be tabling a discussion paper in May which will outline alternatives available to deal with this pressing situation”? I could go on. He describes it in glowing terms. I realize that statement dealt largely with the economy in its reaction to changing interest rates, but obviously the matter has tremendous impact on what we are talking about: unemployment and the high rate of inflation.
Does the minister, as Minister of Economics, not believe that he should be making a statement for the good of the members of this Legislature and for the community at large?
Hon. F. S. Miller: Mr. Speaker, specifically, I expect the paper to be ready for distribution on Tuesday. It has been at the printers, I am told, for more than a week. I expected it to be back within two days of going to the printers. I think I made some indication to someone a week or so ago to that effect. I trust it will be released as soon as it comes out.
In terms of the unemployment situation, I know the members opposite asked the Premier (Mr. Davis) a number of questions on that matter yesterday, or the New Democratic Party members did. I am sure the honourable gentleman would be as anxious as I am to minimize the real problems of unemployment; so I want to reflect one of the comments the Ontario Federation of Labour made yesterday. I think I am reflecting it accurately.
They pointed out one of the greatest problems today is that people are concerned about the security of their jobs. I do not blame them for being concerned, but concern for the security of jobs often reflects in deferment of purchase decisions. Purchase decisions deferred, sadly enough, add to the problem. In effect, that is one of the major points we talked about yesterday.
I would like to state a few positive things because, whether or not we take seriously the give and take in this room, the member opposite and I seem to be very serious. I have to tell him that if he tells somebody over and over and over again how bad things are, he may not be doing them or the economy a favour.
Mr. Mackenzie: You are not going to make it go away by doing nothing.
Hon. F. S. Miller: I am leading into my response. The honourable members have chosen quite properly, as opposition people, to dwell upon negatives. Let me dwell upon positives too. There are some positives. There are 22,000 more people at work today in Ontario than there were a year ago. I listen to the members opposite; they make it sound as if the world had ended.
We have more than four million people employed in this province, and there have been very few months in its whole history when there were more than four million people employed. We have the highest percentage of the population available to work in this province in all Canada -- 62 or 63 per cent here, versus 59 per cent for Canada. So we have more people available for work. We are affected more by recession in the United States than is any other province in Canada. Why? Because, fortunately, in Ontario we have more than half of the manufacturing employment in Canada. Therefore, when there is a recession, planned or otherwise, on the US side of the border, a market that is very important to us, obviously it affects us and obviously we are concerned about it. But let us not minimize the fact that we have more people at work and almost a record number at work.
Mr. Nixon: The minister seems to be forgetting the fact that he must deal with the situation as it is, not perhaps how he would like it to appear on the basis of some psychological mumbo-jumbo. The minister must be aware that in the recently announced increase in unemployment in Canada, close to 90 per cent of it was in this province.
While we are concerned about the status of the economy in Canada, we are members of this Legislature and we are concerned with the inadequacies of the policy of this Treasurer. He has promised a full paper reviewing this. We are almost at the end of the session. The only reason the government survived the no-confidence motion was that the New Democratic Party members, in voting with the Conservatives, said they were expecting this paper --
Mr. Speaker: Is there a question there somewhere?
Mr. Nixon: -- to come along and solve the problem. What is the minister going to do to answer that situation?
Hon. F. S. Miller: We took action before the paper came out in the sector that was agreed to be one of the two of greatest concern, and that was the farming sector. I believe that action was taken with the support of all members, to assist an immediate problem, and $25 million was allocated to assist. The fact is that legislation is already in place to allow us to do it.
Mr. Nixon: How much have you lent? How much have you granted?
Hon. F. S. Miller: My friend, we do not lend, but we will pay three per cent of the cost of borrowing money, up to $25 million; that is our estimate. We did not even say, “We stop paying it at $25 million.” I have to tell the member, that was well received by the farming community of Ontario; I have a letter from the president of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture telling me it was well received.
I want to say one more thing. Had it not been for two actions taken by Ontario, one last year and one this year, things could have been worse. We have fought for a realistic Canadian oil price to maintain employment. Heads of the Ontario Federation of Labour representatives were nodding up and down again when we talked about that yesterday, understanding that if the kinds of pricing the member recommended were in place, there would even be more unemployment.
Mr. Laughren: Mr. Speaker, since the Treasurer admits that he has addressed himself only to one of the two groups with serious problems concerning interest rates -- the other is the home owners -- will the Treasurer make a commitment here and now to provide relief for home owners whose mortgages are being renewed and whose total mortgage cost will exceed 30 per cent of their income? Will he make that commitment now?
Hon. F. S. Miller: Mr. Speaker, I do not want to pre-empt my paper. I hope, when it comes out on Tuesday, the member will find it satisfactory.
Mr. Peterson: Mr. Speaker, I am concerned with the mental health of the government and the Treasurer. His frequent response, as well as that of the Premier, is to accuse us of being nabobs of negativism. Has he not read the paper from the Ontario Economic Council? Has he not looked at what has been said by almost every economist who has analysed the Canadian scene today, looking at the structural deficiencies and weaknesses in the Ontario economy?
Will he not agree with me that, if he is going to rectify some of those problems, albeit they are difficult and will take a long time to solve, he first has to recognize them? Will he not agree that his Pollyanna view of the Ontario economy, at this time and for the immediate future, is just incorrect compared with that of all the other experts?
Hon. F. S. Miller: I do not think I am a nabob of negativism, and the member is obviously not a savant of sartorial splendour. I do not look at the world through rose-coloured glasses. One of the reasons we allowed the cash requirements of the province to remain above those we could have maintained this year was that we predicted this was going to be a pretty soft economic year. Taxes not taken out of a worker’s pocket are dollars he or she has to spend to help maintain the economy.
Mr. Makarchuk: Mr. Speaker, in view of the fact that corporate profits declared yesterday were running something like 100 per cent ahead of the corresponding quarter of last year, would he consider taking the taxes out of the corporations and putting them into the economy instead of taking them out of the workers’ pockets?
Hon. F. S. Miller: We do that very effectively. If one wants to look at the reason I got such a good cash result last year, it was because my corporate taxes went up by $200 million to $300 million above predictions. I hope they stay there, because I need that source of revenue.
The honourable member knows, and I know, that figures reported are historic, not current. If we want to see some of those companies survive the next few months, we are going to have to make sure they have some cushion to do so.
FRUIT AND VEGETABLE PROCESSING
Mr. Cassidy: Mr. Speaker, I have a question of the Treasurer, since he asked for some suggestions about what should be done within the economy.
Is the Treasurer aware that, during the 1970s, we lost 1,818 jobs in the fruit and vegetable processing industry in Ontario and another 3,000 jobs in other sectors of food processing? Can the Treasurer explain why no action has been taken by the government to maintain this essential sector of our industry in Ontario, particularly in view of the fact that food and vegetable prices are up by 14 per cent over last year and the fact that unemployment in the Niagara region now is running at one worker out of every nine?
Hon. F. S. Miller: Mr. Speaker, I understand a study is being done by at least one and possibly two ministries on that very topic. I would point out that the member is always able, particularly in cyclical downturns, to point to changes. Let me just say that when the 1970s started there were three million people employed in Ontario, and when the 1970s ended there were just over four million, a 33 per cent increase in 10 years.
Mr. Cassidy: The minister has not answered the question. Is the minister aware that at the beginning of the 1970s we had a trade deficit of about $180 million in foods and foodstuffs in Ontario and in Canada, but that had grown by three and a half times, to close to $800 million, by 1978? In other words, rather than standing still or improving our situation and our ability to feed ourselves, we have been getting worse and worse every year at the expense of jobs here in the processing industry in Ontario. Why has there not been a policy from this government to ensure that we grow what we can use for ourselves and process it here and give jobs to Ontario workers, rather than continue to allow this essential industry to run down?
Hon. F. S. Miller: I could argue that the best person to whom some of these questions should be directed in terms of actual dollars is the Minister of Agriculture and Food (Mr. Henderson), but I want to tell the member one thing. We have taken several steps to try to help. We do export quite a bit of food, and he tends not to take that into the picture. One should look at the net. If the member likes orange juice for breakfast, and I do not know whether he does, or if he likes bananas, he is importing food. I happen to drink apple juice or grape juice, but I do not know about him. Even the cabinet stays with apple juice, grape juice or tomato juice these days.
Mr. Warner: We also like turkey.
Hon. F. S Miller: He likes turkey. Well, he certainly should, because he is seated with a bunch of them.
The second thing we have done recently is that through the Employment Development Fund we have requested more companies to get into the processing business. The member for Welland-Thorold (Mr. Swart) is forever bringing in evidence of lower-cost foods from somewhere else. One of the reasons for that is it happens to cost less to grow certain of the Canadian fruits in areas of Georgia and Alabama.
Mr. Swart: It might have something to do with the profits of some of those Canadian companies.
Hon. F. S. Miller: Hardly. If there were profits in the fruit-growing business there would not be the problem that the honourable member’s colleague is mentioning. The fact is, there are very competitive processing problems in fruit and vegetables, and the member knows it.
Mr. Riddell: Mr. Speaker, the question posed by the NDP leader is really a followup to the question I posed earlier in the week about the Consultative Task Force Report on the Fruit and Vegetable Processing Industry in Ontario. Why is it that this report, which was completed in July 1979, was never sent from the Ministry of Industry and Tourism to the Minister of Agriculture and Food? The minister just got that report yesterday and did not even have a chance to read it. When are we going to have some communication between the two ministries? When are they going to act on that report?
Hon. F. S. Miller: The member is not asking either of the ministers involved.
Mr. Swart: Mr. Speaker, does the Treasurer not realize that the loss of agricultural land alone in terms of its productive value in this province in the last 18 years has meant a loss of something like $800 million in revenue? At the present time we are importing $800 million worth of food that could be produced in this country. Does he not think his government has been extremely negligent in not having a plan to deal with this?
Does he not realize his government lost canning factory after canning factory, and because of this we cannot supply our own needs and have become dependent on the United States? Does he not think it is time he took some immediate action in this field to reverse that policy?
Hon. F. S. Miller: No, I do not agree. Why are some of the fruit lands under pressure? It is not because industry has chosen to go to a particular area. In many cases we have large areas of agricultural land not in production because there has not been a demand for the product. We have more ability to produce food than there are consumers for it, thank goodness.
Mr. Swart: There is too much coming from outside.
Hon. F. S. Miller: I wish the member was as pure in his actions as he is in his words.
Hon. Mr. Henderson: Mr. Speaker, in view of the question just submitted by the member for Huron-Middlesex (Mr. Riddell), and in view of the question he presented to me the other day, I believe this would be an appropriate time for me to answer.
Mr. Speaker: I am not aware that there was a question directed to you.
Hon. Mr. Henderson: On Monday of this week, the member for --
Mr. Speaker: Are you saying you have the answer to a question that was asked previously?
Hon. Mr. Henderson: Yes, and it will add to this question.
Mr. Cassidy: On a point of order, Mr. Speaker: I have a supplementary question for the Treasurer. Could he explain how the people of Ontario can have any faith in the policies of this government to create jobs in the fruit and vegetable processing industry when for 20 years the government has stood aside while multinational corporations have systematically seen to the shutdown of canneries in Ontario? Can the Treasurer explain how the people can have any faith in the policies of this government when there is a request to open new canneries and yet 548 food processing plants have been closed down in Ontario during the course of the 1970s? Why does he stand idle so long while jobs disappear in Ontario?
Hon. F. S. Miller: The member asked if I can explain. I have tried explaining my fundamental beliefs to him for a long time; they are totally divergent from his. I do not think, therefore, that I can convert the member to the fact that in our kind of system food is produced more efficiently than it ever is in any of the countries he emulates in his policies. Long-range planning has never made farmers produce, and the member knows it.
Hon. Mr. Henderson: Mr. Speaker, on Monday of this week, the member for Huron-Middlesex asked a question, which I want to answer.
The Ministry of Industry and Tourism conducted a task force and supplied my ministry with a copy of its report. The report covers six major areas. The first four deal with proposals for economic incentives to be made available to growers and processors. The last two deal with the marketing board/processor relations and information needs. The specific areas were financing and incentives, reviewing the tender fruit processing industry, stimulating the tomato paste industry, increasing the apple juice industry, improving processor/marketing board relations and information and intelligence gathering.
The report was submitted to my colleague the Minister of Industry and Tourism on July 27, 1979. The Ministry of Agriculture and Food viewed this report as helpful in its ongoing work with the processed fruit and vegetable industry of Ontario.
I would like to take this opportunity to bring members up to date on a number of initiatives within the marketing division of my ministry which relate to some of the recommendations in the report. I would point out that many of these programs were well under way prior to the release of the task force report.
You will recall, Mr. Speaker, that last year the Ontario Vegetable Growers’ Marketing Board was seeking price-setting powers. I successfully resolved this area of conflict between the board and processors. Both parties reported they were quite satisfied with the negotiations for the 1980 vegetables for processing crops.
My ministry has worked, and will continue to work, with processors and marketing boards to further develop a spirit of co-operation and understanding between these two sectors. Last week my ministry called a meeting between representatives of the Ontario Food Processors’ Association and the Ontario Vegetable Growers’ Marketing Board for the purpose of developing a forum for working together in the area of marketing development.
I am sure most people are aware of the major commitment of my ministry to the development of the tomato paste industry in Ontario. A major study, conducted by my ministry in co-operation with growers and processors, was completed last year and was extremely well received by the industry. It is serving as a model for further development in this area. My ministry has also arranged for funding, through the Employment Development Fund, of $270,000 to Sunbrite Canning for expansion in the tomato paste area. These are but two examples of our ongoing work in this important area.
The tender fruit processing industry is regarded as an essential industry by my ministry and by me. I am pleased to report there has been considerable advancement in the area of clingstone peach development. The Tender Fruit Producers’ Marketing Board, in conjunction with a major processor, has initiated a development program and my ministry will continue to work with this industry. My ministry is working with the Apple Commission and processors on the development of an apple juice industry. The main area that has to be dealt with is economic viability, and we are continuing to work in this area.
My ministry has a number of other ongoing programs related to the recommendations of the task force. The domestic section of my ministry’s market development branch is in the process of identifying commodities with the best potential for development in Ontario with the objective of replacing imports.
The export section of the market development branch is continually analysing market opportunities in foreign markets for Ontario products. A major part of this program is taking Ontario companies on export missions to these foreign markets and bringing in foreign buyers to meet with Ontario companies.
I would like to point out that the marketing division of my ministry has the responsibility for dealing with all agricultural and food-related applications for assistance from the Employment Development Fund. My ministry has assisted and will assist any applicant in this area.
I submit that the marketing division of my ministry views the further development of the processed fruit and vegetable industry in Ontario as a vital area, and this is well proven by our ongoing programs. This is an area of responsibility for the Ministry of Agriculture and Food, and I assure members we will continue to meet this responsibility with all the resources available to us.
I have to apologize to the member for Huron-Middlesex. I had this report yesterday, but it was six pages then. I have reduced it to two pages this morning.
Mr. Cassidy: Mr. Speaker, I would ask that you declare that to have been a statement, because it took five or six minutes of members’ time and that in future it should not come --
Mr. Speaker: A new question.
Mr. Cassidy: On the point of order, Mr. Speaker: Could that answer not be deducted from the question period? It was very much a statement.
Mr. Speaker: The question asked by the member for Huron-Middlesex was fairly detailed and I think the minister was entitled to give a detailed answer.
TORONTO DOCTORS’ DISPUTE
Mr. Cassidy: Mr. Speaker, I have a question for the Minister of Health. Could the minister say what the government intends to do in the face of the threat by doctors in Ontario to boycott the city of Toronto and to cut off essential programs, such as immunization, school clinics and other preventive health services? Since the city was doing nothing more provocative than exercising its freedom of choice of doctors, can the minister say what the government intends to do to ensure that the essential services of doctors are not cut off to public health in Toronto?
Hon. Mr. Timbrell: Mr. Speaker, I think this is a matter that can be resolved between the doctors in Toronto and the health unit. The remarks of the medical officer of health, as quoted in the press, indicated to me, at least, that this is not a likelihood. While there is a dispute between the Ontario Medical Association and district 11, and particularly the OMA and the city, I do not believe that will result in the services being cut off, as the honourable member says, because they are being paid on a sessional basis, and I am sure they will be able to obtain the physicians’ help that they need.
Mr. Cassidy: Can the minister explain why it is that in the face of bullying tactics by the Ontario Medical Association which include a call to its members in Toronto to boycott these public health services in the city and the establishment of something that amounts to a strike fund to compensate those doctors if they withdraw the services, the minister simply says he believes something can be worked out?
Mr. Rotenberg: Doesn’t that union have the same rights as other unions?
Mr. Speaker: Order. Is something troubling the member for Wilson Heights?
Mr. Cassidy: Why is the minister prepared to tolerate these kinds of bullying tactics, which have been adopted not by a group or a handful of doctors, but by the senior leadership of the Ontario Medical Association gathered in their convention at the Harbour Castle Hotel here in Toronto? Why should the people of Toronto have to put up with those kinds of tactics after Ontario has just given doctors the richest settlement in terms of an increase in the history of medicare in Ontario?
Hon. Mr. Timbrell: With respect, I rather suspect that both sides in the discussion think that the other is trying to provoke them to the discussion. What I am saying to the member is that, rather than always rushing to the rampart and always being there to hold somebody’s coat, which is his style, I think it can be resolved between the OMA and the board if they will both just step back from the rhetoric for a minute and look at the health needs of the city.
Mr. Cassidy: I have a lot more time for the city of Toronto, trying to protect people who want services under the Ontario Health Insurance Plan, than for the Ministry of Health and this government, which stand aside while doctors continue to charge just as they did before, despite the increase they got in December.
Why will the government of Ontario not take action, now that doctors have the settlement they got in December, to ensure that nobody in Ontario should have to pay extra? Why does the minister not use the pressure of this government to ensure that doctors stop the extra billing which is now making a mockery of medicare in Ontario?
Hon. Mr. Timbrell: We have been through this many times before. The fact remains that in Ontario we do have a good balance between the rights of the public and the rights of the profession, guaranteed in our Health Insurance Act. The number of doctors opted-out in the province has gone down every month for five months, not because we came along with a big club and said they have to do it our way because it is the government way, but because we have found ways to entice doctors back into the opted-in status. That’s the way to do it.
I were to adopt some of the ideas advanced by the member for Ottawa Centre, we would have a serious deterioration in the system on a provincial basis. We would have the kind of situation, on a provincial basis, that prevailed in Saskatchewan a number of years ago. On a provincial basis, we would have the problems that still persist in Saskatchewan, where they have got to go outside of Canada to get doctors. We do not have that situation because we have a good balance and we are going to keep it.
Mr. R. F. Johnston: Mr. Speaker, I would be interested to know from the minister how he feels the board of health has misstated the position, or what it is they are asking for that is so outrageous?
Hon. Mr. Timbrell: On a point of privilege, Mr. Speaker: I did not say that.
Mr. R. F. Johnston: I would like to know why the minister thinks there is any need for the board of health to step back from its position, which is a very sensible position?
Hon. Mr. Timbrell: My understanding is that the board pays for the services in question on a sessional basis. There is no question of billing OHIP. There are bills that go into OHIP, individual claim cards; they pay on a sessional basis. What I am saying is I think there are sufficient physicians in Metropolitan Toronto prepared to do that kind of work for the board of health. The member is not going to see the services disrupted as is suggested by his leader.
I did not say the board misrepresented their position. I am saying that rather than trying to assist in promoting a fight, if the two sides would step back from the rhetoric, it could be resolved.
NIAGARA REGIONAL HEALTH UNIT STRIKE
Hon. Mr. Elgie: Mr. Speaker, last week the member for St. Catharines (Mr. Bradley) asked about the involvement of ministry officials in the labour dispute between the board of health of the Niagara Regional Health Unit and its employees.
As I am sure he knows, ministry officials were involved with the parties in several meetings prior to the actual commencement of the strike on May 22, but unfortunately no agreement could be reached at those meetings.
Subsequent to the start of the strike, a mediator has been and continues to be in touch with both sides and stands ready, should either side indicate an interest in resuming discussions. At the present time, I do not believe there is such a desire on the part of either side.
Mr. Bradley: Mr. Speaker, may I direct a supplementary to the Minister of Health, because the Minister of Labour’s answer involves the Minister of Health?
Is the Minister of Health aware that some people have tested the situation with the Niagara Regional Health Unit by making a call suggesting some work be done by the unit, and it has been unable to comply with this request? I believe it was to check out rats in a particular building.
Is the minister satisfied that the situation in the Niagara region as it relates to public health is being adequately looked after by the supervisory staff, who are currently doing the job? Those who would normally be doing it are now on strike.
Hon. Mr. Timbrell: Mr. Speaker, I am sure the medical officer of health and his supervisory staff are having to be selective about the calls they answer. They look after the urgent priority items first.
I have to rely on the medical officer of health and the board to advise us as to the point at which they feel they have a problem, when we and other health units would back them up if they are not able to look after emerging health problems. To date, all the indications to us have been that they are capable of handling the situation. They have it in hand.
WELFARE SHELTER ALLOWANCE
Mr. Bradley: Mr. Speaker, I have a question for the Minister of Community and Social Services. In view of the very serious unemployment situation in the construction industry of Ontario, particularly in certain pockets where the auto industry is involved, and in view of the dramatic increase in the cost of living, will the minister inform the House whether he is prepared to comply with the request of a municipal resolution which is going around the province, and which was endorsed recently by the regional municipality of Niagara, to increase the shelter allowances for welfare recipients?
Hon. Mr. Norton: Mr. Speaker, at this point I think I have received a copy of that resolution as endorsed by one municipality. It reflects a misunderstanding of the purpose for which the shelter allowance still remains as part of the assistance. As I have explained in the House a number of times, every time there has been an increase in the allowance to either family benefits or general welfare assistance, it has been applied to the total allowance. That was the case this year with the 10 per cent increase, although it has not been reflected in the specific component that has been traditionally earmarked as shelter allowance. The reason for maintaining that is merely to meet the requirements of the Canada Assistance Plan.
We have deliberately moved away from trying to maintain compartmentalized components in the allowance so we can treat those persons on public assistance, in the sense of giving them a pay packet, the same as anyone else who is in receipt of income from any source. The honourable member’s income from the Legislature does not come in component parts, saying that so much is for food, so much is for shelter and so much is for something else. That is the way we would like to treat the recipients of public assistance in this province as well.
Mr. Bradley: In view of the statement made by the minister, and since the fact remains that the cost of living has increased tremendously and there is chronic high unemployment in the Niagara Peninsula, is the minister not aware that the municipalities must pay any additional funds if they are to provide supplementary assistance or special aid because there is not enough money coming from the province? In the area I am talking about, this additional municipal money has to come from the regional municipality of Niagara. Therefore, the local taxpayers, using the property tax base, which is generally conceded to be regressive, are forced to pay more in an area where there is high unemployment.
Hon. Mr. Norton: I am aware that the honourable member and certain others share the views that he has just expressed.
With respect to special assistance, I have had some discussions recently with some municipalities in the province which may lead eventually to some change in the cost sharing with respect to special assistance.
In some other areas of assistance -- for example, the purchase of counselling services through municipalities -- we have just made a major shift in cost sharing this month from 50-50 to 80-20, which I hope will be of particular assistance in those communities where, in times of difficulty like this -- I know there has been a special request from Windsor -- there is a need for additional financial and other types of counselling. We have improved the cost sharing in those kinds of situations.
Mr. McClellan: Mr. Speaker, leaving aside the question of how a social work counsellor is a substitute for enough money, let me ask the minister whether he is aware that when a family benefits worker visits a recipient to fill out his ministry’s little form, the social worker asks how much rent is being paid? Is the minister aware of that?
What does he mean by trying to tell us there is not a separation between rent and the rest of the allowance when be knows full well that he only pays $130 a month as the base for rental allowance, when rents are in excess of $200 a month and even more in a place like Metropolitan Toronto?
When is the minister going to face up to the fact that people are having to pay the rent out of their food money and bring in reforms, even on an emergency basis -- perhaps a rent supplement program itself, which his ministry would administer -- to relieve the enormous burden on social assistance recipients?
Hon. Mr. Norton: I must confess that the way in which we have made the effort to move away from compartmentalized components within the allowance has played into the hands of those people like the member for Bellwoods, who does -- but will not, for public purposes -- understand what we are trying to do. I have answered that question many times in this House. The honourable member knows what we are attempting, and he knows what that component represents. He knows it is only significant for those who drop below it; there are very few, and everybody else gets the same amount. I do not think there is much point in explaining it further to him.
NORTH AMERICAN CAR SALES
Mr. Laughren: Mr. Speaker, I have a question of the Premier, which is particularly pertinent in view of the Treasurer’s remarkable complaint a few moments ago that the Ontario economy was too dependent on the United States.
In view of the fact that if one takes the automobile industry out of our exports, only 17 per cent of our exports are manufactured goods, and in view of the fact that we are incredibly dependent on the automobile industry and, since the North American automobile industry’s world share has dropped from 40 per cent five years ago to 20 per cent now, with no indication that is going to turn around, what are the Premier’s plans to turn around the Ontario economy’s dependence not only on the United States but also on the automobile industry in general?
What are his plans? What is he talking about in cabinet to make sure we do not continue this incredible dependence on both the United States and the automobile industry?
Hon. Mr. Davis: Mr. Speaker, I listened very carefully to what the Treasurer said, and I would not want to suggest for a moment that the honourable member did not understand what the Treasurer said.
Mr. Laughren: And I would not mislead you, either.
Hon. Mr. Davis: I certainly know the member for Nickel Belt would not want to mislead anyone either. I do not know how Hansard operates. I read this very carefully.
Mr. Martel: You fellows turned off the mikes.
Hon. Mr. Davis: My hearing is still very good. I didn’t need a mike to know what he said yesterday. However, I don’t want to be provocative on Friday the 18th. I know it would suit some members of the press gallery who, because of a modest interchange yesterday, are trying to escalate matters. It would make them feel happier with the stories they have written. I don’t want to make life difficult.
Mr. Swart: It would be a disaster for you.
Hon. Mr. Davis: I say to the member for Welland-Thorold, one disaster around here is him, to be very frank about it.
I would just love to get into this debate on food and its importation, and just how many people of the members eat imported foods seven days a week.
I saw the odd member of the NDP caucus eating strawberry tartlets at lunch yesterday, and those were imported strawberries.
Mr. Nixon: What about your butterscotch sundae?
Hon. Mr. Davis: Butterscotch sundae? Made in Ontario.
Mr. Speaker, as I listened very carefully to the Treasurer, he made it quite clear -- and it is factually correct -- that the economy of this province is affected because of the high manufacturing component in the automotive industry, but one cannot separate that out of the economy of Ontario. One cannot say, “Forget about the automotive industry.” The reality is that we are dependent to the extent that the United States represents our most significant market. That is what the Treasurer would say.
When the Americans are not buying it means we are not exporting as much as we would be normally. This is true in the automotive field, it is true in other sectors of manufacturing, and it has been traditionally true in the resource sector. If the automotive industry is down, the resource sector suffers to a certain extent.
I have no magic solution as it relates to my concern with respect to the automotive industry in North America losing its traditional share of the market. I know the kind of automobile I drive -- I don’t drive it; it is driven for me. I know the kind of automobile my wife drives. I am sure every member of the New Democratic Party caucus drives a car that is made in North America. I would do a quick evaluation, but I am sure that is the case. If it is not the case, I am sure those who do not will rush out and rectify that over the weekend.
What is necessary in relation to the automotive industry is to do as the people in Windsor are doing -- and we are endeavouring to support it -- make it abundantly clear that it is in the interests of Ontario citizens and of the American citizens that they buy North American-produced vehicles. But I would say to the honourable member it is incumbent upon the industry to produce vehicles that relate more specifically to consumer demand.
I cannot account for, and I am taking no responsibility for, decisions made by the automotive industry as to the size of automobiles, styling of automobiles, et cetera. Except I will remind the honourable member that traditionally, while they have had their ups and downs, the North American automotive industry has been able to compete with foreign imports.
My expectation -- and I cannot say this categorically, as I am not involved in the business -- is that the North American industry will be able to compete. I think there is still going to be a short time frame while they adjust to the market reality. When that happens, I think they can regain their share of the marketplace. I think all of us in this House not only have to hope that, but we also have to encourage it, because it does relate very directly to the economic strength, not only in this province, but also in the United States.
Mr. Speaker: I think that answer is sufficient.
Hon. Mr. Davis: Does the Speaker think I have covered the whole territory?
Mr. Speaker: Yes, I think so; very adequately.
Hon. Mr. Davis: Very adequately. I hope the members heard the Speaker say it was very adequate.
Mr. Laughren: Mr. Speaker, I had a supplementary but I am not interested in giving the Premier a platform on which to play court jester.
Mr. Ruston: I have a supplementary to the Treasurer, Mr. Speaker. Is the Treasurer now prepared to accept a plan similar to that of the United States with regard to a tax credit on automobiles provided they meet certain standards for gas mileage, which would entice people to buy North American cars, as the Premier has just said? Such a plan would cover at least 95 per cent of North American cars but still would not exempt imports.
Hon. F. S. Miller: As my colleague will have noted, that was a federal bill in the United States. I would think that might be the appropriate level of government to deal with it in Canada. It cannot be done here.
Mr. Cassidy: Mr. Speaker, that was a question to a different minister.
Mr. Speaker: The member for Essex North said it was a supplementary.
CHARGES AGAINST COMPANY OFFICIALS
Mr. Hall: Mr. Speaker, I have a question of the Minister of Consumer and Commercial Relations in connection with companies known as C and M Financial Consultants Limited, Re-Mor Investment Management Corporation and Astra Trust. Can the minister advise whether, as a result of recent court appearances, Mr. Carlo Montemurro is free to leave the country? Does he have any concern about such a possibility?
Hon. Mr. Drea: Mr. Speaker, to put it into perspective, the charges against Mr. Montemurro at this time basically involve Astra Trust. I have been informed that there have been certain modifications of the bail order concerning the accused. I am very concerned about the matter, as indeed are the Ontario Securities Commission and other investigatory groups.
One of the reasons for my concern is that the Astra Trust criminal proceedings and the Astra Trust civil proceedings are separated, the latter being under the direct control of the federal government at the moment, and there is an ongoing investigation by the Ontario Provincial Police into activities of certain related companies above and beyond the first set of charges. I intend to talk to my colleague the Attorney General (Mr. McMurtry) or, in his absence, the director of crown prosecutions on this matter.
I have very grave concerns. I do not want that to be interpreted in any way that I am taking issue with the decision of the court. Notwithstanding that, I have the greatest of concerns in this matter, particularly because of the ongoing investigation.
Mr. Hall: From the minister’s remarks, I take it that he feels there is a degree of urgency in this. I think the creditors who are facing a substantial loss in this matter would feel more assured if any trips outside of Canada were accompanied, even if they were with the point of view of trying to resolve some of the financial problems that are there. Their situation would be worsened, it would appear to me, if Mr. Montemurro’s presence is not guaranteed in this country.
Mr. Speaker: A question? Would the minister agree?
Mr. Hall: Yes. Would he agree?
Hon. Mr. Drea: I do agree, Mr. Speaker. But, without getting into the detail of the matter, I also want to underline that my concern is with the ongoing investigation and the impact upon that of the accused’s presence and where, I understand, he intends to go.
FRENCH-LANGUAGE HIGH SCHOOL IN OTTAWA
Ms. Gigantes: Mr. Speaker, my question is to the Minister of Education. I would like to ask if the minister realizes that the years of hesitation and foot-dragging and delay by her and by her predecessor, and her very belated approval in April of the construction of the new Carleton board French-language high school in Gloucester township, have now resulted in a municipal planning process tangle that virtually ensures the school will not be ready for classes this fall and perhaps not even for this school year?
Hon. Miss Stephenson: Mr. Speaker, I recognize and I understand that as a result of some kind of local reaction, there has been a delay in the approval of the zoning change that is necessary within that area. I am also aware that alternative activities are being undertaken at the present time.
Ms. Gigantes: I think the minister does not have the correct information. There is no zoning change involved, and the planning process has had to be rushed as a result of her late decision, so that there is real danger to the opening of the school. I would like to know what action she is going to undertake to fulfil her promise to francophone families of the Carleton board that their urgently needed high school will be open this fall?
Hon. Miss Stephenson: Mr. Speaker, I have just said there are alternative activities taking place to ensure that the commitment will be met. It is my understanding that the planning board has refused to hear the school board or the board of education, and has refused to meet with them at this point, on the basis of an application, until the end of June. If that has something to do with the ministry, I would like to know what it is.
ONTARIO STUDENT ASSISTANCE PROGRAM
Hon. Miss Stephenson: Mr. Speaker, if I may, the member for Windsor-Riverside (Mr. Cooke) raised an issue yesterday regarding overpayments of student assistance grants to university and college students. I suggested yesterday I would be pursuing the matter with my colleague the Minister of Government Services (Mr. Wiseman), into whose hands the collection of this falls.
I have been assured by the Minister of Government Services that if the students are still attending university or college, they may delay their repayments; and if they are unable to repay the full amount owing -- as I said yesterday, 50 per cent of those students are not attending university or college at this time and are working -- there will be a mechanism developed to allow them to pay gradually.
What I really wanted to mention was the fact that the honourable member suggested there had been a very peremptory letter sent by the Ministry of Colleges and Universities about this matter. What the honourable member quoted was only one line at the bottom of a notice of overpayment which is sent to all students with a covering letter. I should like to read the covering letter:
“Dear OSAP Recipient:
“May I draw your attention to an important matter related to your Ontario study grant for the 1978-79 academic year.
“The Ministry of Colleges and Universities is continually auditing after the fact student award applications in order to confirm that the proper amount of assistance in keeping with ministry policy in force has been paid. The audit process has established that some students receive less assistance than that for which they were eligible, and some students receive more. Where students receive less than their entitlement, the amount of underpayment is being paid. Where students receive more than their entitlement, they are being asked to repay the amount received in excess of their entitlement.
“Enclosed is a notice of grant overpayment which states the amount of overpayment to you on your Ontario study grant for 1978-79. I would ask that you make arrangements to repay this amount to the province of Ontario, following the instructions upon the notice.
“You will appreciate that funds for the Ontario Student Assistance Program are provided out of tax revenues paid by the public. As a consequence, the ministry, on behalf of the government of Ontario, is obliged to ensure that all students receive their correct entitlement.
“Your immediate attention to this matter is requested. Yours truly.”
It was certainly not a peremptory note.
Mr. Stong: Mr. Speaker, arising out of the question I had asked the Minister of Education (Miss Stephenson) during the week with respect to busing and financial allocations for a new school in German Mills, I have a petition signed by almost 600 people protesting the busing on that particular issue, which I would like to present at this time.
GRANT TO RACING CAR DRIVER
Mr. Epp: Mr. Speaker, on a point of privilege: I want to draw to the attention of the House the statement the Minister of Industry and Tourism made yesterday with respect to the Maurice Carter affair, when he indicated to the House that the federal government had given $5,000 to Mr. Carter with respect to his pleasure trip to France.
I have learned the federal government has not given that $5,000 and the minister may have inadvertently misled this House. I am wondering whether the minister has a statement with respect to this matter.
Mr. Speaker: I would like to make it quite clear to the member, that is definitely not a point of privilege. His privileges as a member of this House have not been abrogated in any way. He rose on a point to correct the record based on the information that he has. Let us not misconstrue it as being an abrogation of his privileges or of anybody else’s. Does the Minister of Industry and Tourism have anything to say?
Hon. Mr. Grossman: Mr. Speaker, I would like to recorrect the record. I can only relate to this assembly the information relayed by the appointed representatives of the federal government of Canada, the embassy representatives in Paris, when they indicated that their government was making that contribution to the racing car.
If the member believes that information to be incorrect, he should take up the matter with Ottawa because their representatives, in that case, would be misstating the facts. As I understand it, I am correctly relaying the information relayed to our people and to the public in France by the embassy representatives.
Hon. Mr. Wells moved that notwithstanding the previous order, the House will meet in the chamber on Wednesday next, June 18, at 2 p.m., no routine proceedings to be held.
Motion agreed to.
BUSINESS OF THE HOUSE
Hon. Mr. Wells moved that private members’ business not be taken up on Thursday, June 19, and that ballot items all be moved down one place, accordingly.
Motion agreed to.
INTRODUCTION OF BILLS
FUNERAL SERVICES AMENDMENT ACT
Mr. Foulds moved first reading of Bill 125, An Act to amend the Funeral Services Act, 1976.
Motion agreed to.
Mr. Foulds: Mr. Speaker, the purpose of this bill is to require that a funeral director provide an itemized price list to a purchaser of funeral services and supply it before the purchaser enters into an agreement for the provision of any funeral services and supplies.
FUNERAL SERVICES AMENDMENT ACT
Mr. Foulds moved first reading of Bill 126, An Act to amend the Funeral Services Act, 1976.
Motion agreed to.
Mr. Foulds: The purpose of this bill is to permit persons who are not funeral directors to provide funeral supplies.
FUNERAL SERVICES AMENDMENT ACT
Mr. Foulds moved first reading of Bill 128, An Act to amend the Funeral Services Act, 1976.
Motion agreed to.
Mr. Foulds: The purpose of this bill is to prohibit a funeral director from embalming a dead human body unless he has been specifically instructed to do so by the purchaser of funeral services or unless the body is to be transported out of Ontario.
These three bills reiterate a number of principles I introduced in a bill that was blocked by the Tory government when we debated it in the last session. It is a fall-back position.
ANSWERS TO QUESTIONS ON NOTICE PAPER
Hon. Mr. Wells: Mr. Speaker, I would like to table the answers to questions 59, 140, 206, 207, 209, 211 to 218, 220 to 223 and 235, and the interim answers to questions 202 to 205, 210, 227, 228, 231, 232 and 239 standing on the Notice Paper.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
House in committee of the whole.
ONTARIO MINERAL EXPLORATION PROGRAM ACT (CONCLUDED)
Resuming the adjourned consideration of Bill 50, An Act to provide Incentives for the Exploration of Mineral Resources in Ontario.
Hon. F. S. Miller: Mr. Chairman, members will recall we asked that this bill be put aside for a while because we were discussing the amendments to sections 2 and 3. After consultation with the parties involved, I would like to withdraw my amendment to section 3(1)(a) and (b) and replace it with a new amendment, if I may.
Mr. Chairman: Do members agree to the withdrawal of the amendment?
On section 3:
Mr. Chairman: Hon. F. S. Miller moves that section 3(1)(a) and (b) of the bill be struck out and the following substituted therefor:
“(a) is ordinarily resident in Canada; and
“(b) is not actively engaged in mineral production in Ontario and is not an affiliated corporation nor associate of any person actively engaged in mineral production in Ontario.”
Hon. F. S. Miller: Mr. Chairman, only one word was changed. The word “Ontario” was replaced with the word “Canada” for the domicile of individuals who are eligible. That was one of the points we argued the other night.
Mr. Peterson: I want to thank the Treasurer. I think that is responding sensibly to the concerns raised by my colleague, the member for Rainy River (Mr. T. P. Reid). We support that and congratulate him on his flexibility, newfound as it is.
Hon. F. S. Miller: Mr. Chairman, I want to correct what I may have said a second ago, because I assumed that standing before you for discussion were also the other two amendments I had in place the other evening. If they have to be reintroduced I will gladly reintroduce them. Do you have any amendments in front of you at the moment besides the one I have just mentioned?
Mr. Chairman: I have quite a few pieces of paper.
Hon. F. S. Miller: All right. There are three amendments before this committee. Two of them were there before, I thought, but I want to check that, and they are amendments to sections 2(2)(a) and 2(2)(b), section 3(2) and the one I just read.
Mr. Chairman: Shall the motion for the amendment to sections 3(1)(a) and 3(1)(b) carry?
Motion agreed to.
Mr. Chairman: Shall the motion for the amendment to section 3(2) carry?
Motion agreed to.
Section 3, as amended, agreed to.
On section 2:
Mr. Laughren: This was the part of the bill that bothered us, because of the possibility of large operations domiciled elsewhere coming in and taking advantage of an incentive grant, the purpose of which was to stimulate the local prospecting and development for mines in Ontario. We have no problem with that.
Mr. Chairman: Shall the motion for the amendment to sections 2(2)(a) and 2(2)(b) carry?
Motion agreed to.
Section 2, as amended, agreed to.
Bill 50, as amended, reported.
On motion by Hon. F. S. Miller, the committee of the whole House reported one bill with certain amendments.
SMALL BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT CORPORATIONS ACT (CONCLUDED)
Resuming the adjourned debate on the motion for second reading of Bill 51, An Act to amend the Small Business Development Corporations Act, 1979.
Hon. F. S. Miller: Mr. Speaker, we adjourned this debate at the request of the opposition because we were within a minute or two of the hour and the opposition critics were still discussing the bill. I shall await completion of their discussions.
Mr. Peterson: If the Treasurer did have a comment, and I don’t recall he made one, he is certainly welcome to go ahead.
I don’t intend to speak at great length on this. We had a very full discussion of this a year or so ago. We all had certain hopes and expectations and different points of view at that time, and it is to some extent a subjective judgement as to whether this has been successful or not.
As the House will recall, it was the Treasurer’s wish to turn this province into a “nursery for capitalists,” and this was his great vehicle to so do. We all know the figures. We know that something like $4 million has been paid out in incentives in the first year. We also know, on the basis of history and what we have seen, that most of this money is going into specific instruments, specific-application kinds of investment, as opposed to a generalized free pool of risk capital seeking different kinds of investments around the province.
I say respectfully that this was one of our concerns at the time. We are very much in favour of any device, any instrument, that brings new risk capital into the marketplace. On the basis of performance after a year, we have reservations that this has been the case. In fact, what has transpired in the majority of situations is that the small business development corporation has become a vehicle for an alternative conventional kind of device for financing relatively safe operations. Obviously, any entrepreneur who did not take advantage of this situation would not be doing his job today. But we do not see evidence that the money is being applied to and invested in the kinds of situations we would like to see.
We expressed that reservation at the time. I know you personally have analysed this very carefully, Mr. Speaker, and I suspect you would agree with me. That being said, we are not of a view that it should be cut off. It is, I gather and I hope, gaining some momentum. It is a function to some measure of the publicity it receives and its successes in certain situations. We hope it will continue to grow and provide the kind of risk capital that we feel should be involved.
I know the Minister of Revenue (Mr. Maeck) is very carefully monitoring the kind of applications of this bill. He has expressed -- and I do not believe I am putting words in his mouth -- some reservations about the way it has been used. Of course one could have easily assumed that, given the situation; the sharpies -- or the people who are looking for every government advantage to do these kinds of things -- are going to take advantage of these kinds of programs, not necessarily for the motives the government would like to see. That, generally, has been the case.
His first amendment, I gather as a response to the northern lobby, which would reduce the minimum capital requirements to $100,000, is something we argued for on second reading of this bill a year ago, as the Treasurer will recall. I support that very strongly because we have to tailor the size to the specific application.
Another amendment I would like to see, interestingly enough, is an increase in the maximum amount. I understand there have been two public companies floated -- three now; my information is a little stale. The majority, as I said, are specific application, private SBDCs, but it seems to me we have to tailor this program to fit a multiplicity of purposes.
Yes, we can have the small ones that address problems in specific northern communities. I agree with that. But if we want to get capital flowing freely at arm’s length in the marketplace, I think we should contemplate, very seriously, increasing the maximum to get this money into the hands of so-called professional fund managers, as opposed to friends of the entrepreneur, as has been happening in this particular situation. As larger funds are established and professional fund managers organize this, looking at objective investments, it may create more investment in the kinds of things we want to see happen.
The other aspect of this is that if one is only making one investment through an SBDC, one tends to be more conservative and justifiably so. But if one has a broad range of investments, one is probably prepared to take a higher risk on some of them, compensated by the more conservative investments on the other side.
Most portfolios run that way. They have some stable guaranteed assets and some a little more volatile, a little more risky. Perhaps almost on the insurance thesis some of those SBDC fund managers would say, “Yes, I am prepared to take on a little more risky stuff.” This is the entrepreneurial capital we would like to see going more into the marketplace. I leave that with the Treasurer and the Minister of Revenue for their consideration.
We have nothing to lose by doing that kind of thing. When we get this money into the hands of the professionals, such as Wayne Beach, Aurelian Small Business Developers Limited, or whoever, it is not impossible to see the major brokerage houses going into this kind of thing. They have a wide network of contacts. They know where the highest return is in the marketplace. They have contacts with the government that a lot of individual entrepreneurs do not have. The government may want to expand the vehicle into that kind of an area.
As you know, Mr. Speaker, we expressed some reservations at the time this bill was brought down because we felt ideally a pool of risk capital should be in conjunction with the federal government. I certainly recognize the limitations the Treasurer had. He did not have that co-operation and he had to move on his own.
Ideally, the simple and creative way to do this thing would be along the lines of an RRSP, along the lines of a federal and provincial income tax deferment, as this is really because it is only a tax deferment and not really a grant, to take advantage of the tax situations in both areas and to run it in probably a far more simple way than this is being run. It still requires a lot of bureaucratic discretion and bureaucrats sometimes are going to be right and sometimes they are going to be wrong.
We have seen a number of cases of people expressing some reservations because there are ways to get around the system. I am not suggesting it is not illegal and I am not suggesting that if they were aware of it, bureaucrats would not put a stop to that kind of thing. That being said, this system could potentially be abused by having friends, nominees or trustees handling money and washing money for one back into one’s own company. I know the Treasurer is aware of it and is watching that very carefully, as well he should, but there are other systems. If life were ideal and if our relationships with our federal friends and the government’s federal friends were ideal, we might have a different and better way to structure this kind of situation.
I wanted to express that one reservation I have and also to bring to the attention of the two ministers involved that they should be using whatever moral power and moral suasion they have to bring about the kind of investments they would like and I would like. If it is just an alternative for conventional sources of capital and the government is giving out free money to people who would be going ahead anyway, which is what it looks like, then it probably has not accomplished a great deal in terms of job creation, stimulating new employment or stimulating new investment in this province.
It is a difficult judgement, as I recognize, because everyone who comes will say, “Yes, we would not do this without this extra assist from the government.” I just commend that point to the Treasurer for his consideration and say that I know he is looking at it and is going to be sensitive to it.
There are a few other amendments with respect to pension funds getting involved in SBDCs. I think that is a sensible and worthwhile amendment, as is also the tax credit treatment of investments in an SBDC, all of which I am in favour of and all of which our party is happy to support.
We recognize, as the Treasurer expressed a year ago, that we are all fishing our way through this situation. Some of my reservations, I must say, were probably overstated last year. I think some of them proved dead on. Some of the Treasurer’s estimates were on and some of them were dramatically off. We were all groping with a new vehicle, with a new mechanism for providing the kind of investment we all want to see.
We -- at least on this side of the House -- recognize that with the deindustrialization and the underinvestment in capital, plant and infrastructure in this province we do have a serious structural problem. The Treasurer probably will not agree with me and I do not expect him to, but we feel that way. We feel that creative use of risk capital is one of the ways to start to rectify this problem.
I do not intend to speak much longer, but I want to say that as of April 8, of the 47 SBDCs registered, 26 were in Metropolitan Toronto. That is of some concern because we tend to have more financial sophistication in this bailiwick here in the Golden Horseshoe. People are used to being close to government, to using and working with government and taking advantage of every little program it provides.
The government may want to look at the dissemination of the information for this program to make sure it is getting out to the tourist resorts up north, and that kind of thing, where we do need some investment. I hope that with this reduction in the minimum capital required, they will make it more available and attainable for certain kinds of situations.
The other reservation I expressed at the time, and I still have, is that generally speaking it is a relatively complicated process to create a special company, a special class of shares, make applications, sit through the process of waiting for approval or nonapproval, getting approval every time they make a pay out and before they can get a grant. From that point of view, a lot of people will look at this and wash their hands of it and say it is just too complicated; it is not worth fooling around with.
I also commend to the government that they may want to keep their minds operating on ways to simplify this procedure. I have heard from more than one person that it is so complicated, it is almost offputting. I have no simple answer to that problem because, at the same time, we have to provide the safeguards so the program is not being abused.
What is done in the process, and I think we see evidence of this, is to take it out of the hands of all but those people who are reasonably sophisticated, who have some kind of appreciation of how to use the system. It takes it out of the hands of the guy who does not want to hire expensive lawyers and accountants to get him through this process. The front money, in terms of lawyers and accountants to make an application, is still significant. When we are talking about a small enterprise, a small hotel, a small manufacturing plant or whatever, this almost takes it out of the hands of these people or provides, for want of a better word, a false saving, because what they are ultimately going to get back from the government in terms of tax deferral or interest saved on money, is going to be more than gobbled up in professional fees.
I do not have a simple answer to that one and I am sure the ministers are sensitive to those problems. I would urge them to use their good offices to see larger funds, and in addition to this, to see more mobility of cash, to see it broaden, to see it widen, to see it being employed in more places in this province.
Necessarily, they want to do two things. They want to bring this down to the level of small capitalists, to the individual entrepreneur. For the reasons I have expressed, I think it makes it in some instances just a little complicated for that kind of investment.
On the other hand, they want to use their accounting companies, brokers and all of those kinds of institutions, banks and trust companies, which have wide networks and contacts throughout the entire province, to make them aware of the programs available to small entrepreneurs so they can take advantage of this program reasonably and fairly right across the province.
With those little provisos, those little words of wisdom to the ministers involved, I will sit down and say that we will support these amendments with those few qualifications.
Mr. Makarchuk: I want to join in the discussion on this bill. I want to bring to the minister’s attention the fact that one form of tax incentive or another has been around for some time. There is a great deal of evidence available now to indicate that they do not do the job. That is the tragedy of the situation because what they are doing here is continuing policies that now have been proved, from past experience, to be useless.
If we look at the evidence that is available in Canada right now on the tax incentives that were provided by the federal government and the provincial government, we find that the industries that really need them, such as agriculture, forestry, fishing, service industries, hotels, et cetera, as mentioned by my colleague from London Centre, really get very little of that money or very little advantage from those incentives. The people who do get the money are in the mining and manufacturing industries.
There is no question but that we want to increase the manufacturing in this province, but if we look at the results, we find that in each and every one of those industries there has been a loss of jobs every year. The incentives are not doing the job. If the government is going to use taxpayers’ money, which in effect it is using, for a social purpose and if the social purpose is to provide jobs it is going about it the wrong way. The jobs are not being provided through this method. If one looks at it closely one will also see that what this type of plan does is to help to entrench those businesses that are already established. It helps to entrench those people who have the money, who have the expertise, who have the lawyers and who have the accountants. It does not provide any new source of revenue for the small man; it does not provide any or easier access to capital for the small businessman.
I would suggest to the minister that he should look closely at what Saskatchewan is doing in this particular department. They have two provincial agencies. There is the small industry development loan program for businesses worth $100,000 or less that is prepared to give these businesses loans that will forgive from 25 per cent to 35 per cent of the amount of money granted. The Saskatchewan Economic Development Corporation provides money to businesses at rates that are generally lower than the bank rates. That is very important these days, as members well know.
It also provides long-term financing, which is the other problem. There are businessmen right now in Ontario who have difficulty arranging long-term financing. They would like to have working capital, either through a mortgage on their property or some other means, to obtain the capital, particularly when interest rates are lower. Ordinarily, if they have a loan from the bank, they are stuck with paying the high interest rates, and their interest rate on their loan fluctuates with the going rate at the bank.
Under certain conditions, they may be able to operate under certain interest rates, but when they get up to 17 per cent or 18 per cent, as was the case with a businessman who talked to me the other day, they find it difficult to operate. This businessman has no other source of capital. He can’t find any capital. In 1979, the Saskatchewan Economic Development Corporation handed out something like $50 million in long-term financing. In 1980, they expect to put out about $100 million in long-term financing at the same interest rates as the banks or lower.
On a similar basis, the population of Saskatchewan being about one eighth of the population of Ontario, this government should be putting out something like $800 million to small businesses. Despite the statements that the Tories are supporting small business, they are very miserly and very insensitive to the needs of small business in this province.
Losses by the Saskatchewan Economic Development Corporation have been less than one per cent. I don’t think that is a bad record in comparison to the number of jobs they have created in the province. Members know that small businesses create jobs. If we compare the unemployment rate of Saskatchewan with a Socialist government to Ontario’s unemployment rate under a so-called private enterprise system, we find the unemployment rate in Saskatchewan is less than four per cent compared to Ontario’s of about eight per cent.
Hon. Miss Stephenson: They have 900,000 people.
Mr. Makarchuk: They have more than 900,000 people. That is beside the point. Their unemployment rate is lower. Remember when members used to stand here and say the reason they have high unemployment in Saskatchewan is that they couldn’t run the province? Remember when they used to say the reason people were moving out of Saskatchewan was they had a Socialist government?
Hon. Miss Stephenson: They still are.
Mr. Makarchuk: No, they’re not. They have an increase in population. People are moving out of Ontario. There is a net loss of population in Ontario. It is because there is a Tory government, I presume. Let us be consistent.
Hon. Mr. Maeck: They are moving both ways.
Mr. Makarchuk: They are moving both ways, but generally out.
To be effective, to be helpful to small business, as was suggested on numerous occasions here, the minister should perhaps increase the powers of the Province of Ontario Savings Office and get it a charter so it can operate as a bank and provide some competition in the banking industry so that the small businessman in Ontario would have some alternative place to go. That is one point.
The other point is that perhaps the government should develop the Ontario Development Corporation to the extent that it competes with the bank, that it is an effective source of money without the great difficulties created by running around, all the consultants, all the investigations and everything else which generally turns everybody off any time they go through the whole process. The government should take a chance on the small businessman in Ontario, take a chance on the people of Ontario. Sure, the government may suffer some losses and may make some bad loans, but as the net result it would do a lot more to create jobs in this province than has been done to this point.
The last figures indicate there has not been very much success. In fact, the economic actions of the government have been deplorable. Right now this bill is cutting benefits to the needy at the same time burdens are being removed from the rich. It is not really creating jobs.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. MacBeth): Before the next speaker, I wonder if I might take this opportunity to introduce to the House a delegation from the Southeast Asian region of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association: from Malaysia, the leader of the delegation is the Honourable Abu Hassan Bin Haji Omar, who is parliamentary secretary; from Singapore, Dr. Yeoh Ghim Seng, who is the Speaker there. Gentlemen, we welcome you.
Mr. Laughren: Mr. Speaker, I would like to add to our words of welcome; perhaps some day we will journey there and investigate the problems of corporate law. That perpetual committee some day may get to Malaysia.
Mr. Peterson: They know what free enterprise is in Singapore. They run a good country.
Mr. Laughren: We could go down there and, I am sure, they would like the benefit of our experience in running the odd Socialist jurisdiction as well.
Mr. Peterson: In two days you would ruin the country.
Mr. Laughren: Mr. Speaker, my colleague from Brantford, as our small business critic, has put the position of this party together very nicely. He is quite right. The Ontario Conservatives operate on a grand scale when it comes to dealing with Ford, Chrysler and other big companies, but when it comes to the small business community the minister piddles around -- I think “piddles” is the right word -- he piddles around with it and really offers them nothing of substance.
I am sure the 30 per cent tax dodge is welcomed by those who use it, but can you imagine the small businessman who is struggling to expand? He wants to borrow money at a reasonable rate, or perhaps he needs financial advice or other kinds of marketing information that is sitting there.
I have a friend in Chapleau. Where is the Minister of Education (Miss Stephenson)? She should come to Chapleau and meet this fellow. Anyway, this fellow applied for a Northern Ontario Development Corporation loan last August. To this date he has received no answer. There is no answer of yes, no or maybe. Since then, on commitments he had from contractors, in the first case to a building contractor, the estimates have now gone up between 15 and 20 per cent. Another person was going to provide supplies; his estimate now has jumped 15 or 20 per cent. Meanwhile, NODC will not provide him with an answer of yes or no. That is not the kind of assistance that the small business community needs.
As a matter of fact, I have often thought that if this government really wanted to do something for the small business community it would provide more access to information when they need it, more access to money at a reasonable rate of interest. That is really what the small business community wants, Mr. Speaker.
We part company with the Treasurer in that we believe the small business community, while it creates the bulk of the jobs, will thrive as the big business community thrives. I think of the efforts of 2001, for example, in Sudbury, without diverting into its problem with goats. I told them from the beginning they should be into sheep anyway.
Putting that aside for a moment, it is very difficult for the small businessman to turn economic conditions around. I use the Sudbury model as an example. If we had a thriving mining machinery complex in the Sudbury basin, then the small business community would thrive as well, for a couple of reasons; first, they would be supplying materials to the mining machinery complexes there, and second, the increased population would make the small business community more prosperous.
The Treasurer seems to think, I guess because of his own personal background, that the small business community itself can turn things around. That is the Schumacher theory of small being beautiful and that is what will make our economy thrive. We have a feeling that day has passed us by. We should be encouraging the small business communities, but, unless the economy overall is healthy and prospering, it is going to be extremely difficult for the small business community.
We are very proud of the efforts of our western provinces when they had NDP governments to work with the small business community in a very positive way. I would suggest to the Treasurer he might contact the small business community in those provinces and see what kind of response he gets. I bet they had more co-operation from the New Democratic Party governments out there -- I am thinking of Manitoba and British Columbia -- than they are getting from the present regimes, if I might use that term, Mr. Speaker.
We are going to support this bill because it does do some good things. The northern Ontario amendment is one that particularly pleases me. That same community of Chapleau had businessmen come to me about an SBDC. The $250,000 was just too large an amount for a small community of 4,000 people to think about. This, I hope, will encourage that kind of creation in the small communities, and it ties in, of course, with allowing what is formed to grow to 200 employees rather than 100.
The amendments being put are ones we can support, but I reiterate to the Treasurer that the biggest favour he could do to the small business community in Ontario is to create a healthy economic climate in Ontario; not the de-industrializing climate we have in the province now, but one in which we are thriving and creating industries to meet our domestic demands. Then the small business community can say, “We have a government that has our interests at heart.”
Hon. F. S. Miller: Mr. Speaker, I obviously agree with a number of the comments made by both my critics in terms of the possibility for the bill to be expanded in the future. The increase in the limit beyond $5 million, as mentioned by the Liberal critic, bears watching. Just last year I said I would keep on watching and make changes again. I will do so, I think, this year. The number of dollars available may be the limit more than anything else. That is one of the reasons for not changing the $5 million limit this year.
The fact that companies can make parallel small business development corporations and stack them also helps. There are three public companies to date. They are, I hope, going to get out into the kind of area the honourable member talked about, where they manage the capital of small investors and take some of the risks.
The northern Ontario amendment, as the member for Nickel Belt has just said, is an attempt to get what I hoped would happen, that is, more of the less sophisticated people investing in their own communities. I hope it works this year and I hope the change encourages it to work.
The kinds of risks of money being invested in enterprises that really do not meet our criteria are real, as pointed out by the member for London North. The spirit and intent provision, though, has been very --
Mr. Peterson: North? I am Centre.
Hon. F. S. Miller: London Centre, my golly, yes.
Mr. Laughren: He represents the soft underbelly of the Liberals.
Mr. Peterson: No, the vortex.
Hon. F. S. Miller: Vortex is better than fulcrum, I will give you that. Vortex implies wind.
In any case, the spirit and intent provision has allowed us to look beyond some strictly legal proposals and say they were not doing what we had hoped or intended to see happen and so they were not passed. I am glad to see the credit unions and pension funds being allowed to receive grants and to become involved. I read the law to allow the banks to do it. I have checked this and I am assured they can. They can form an SBDC. I was rather hoping we might find some through the banks at the local levels, almost at the branch level, willing to make equity.
One of the things I have discovered is the weakness, not necessarily of the drafting but perhaps of our attitudes, that many of the potential small businessmen who desperately need capital are not willing to dilute equity.
Mr. Peterson: I told the Treasurer that. I told him that earlier.
Hon. F. S. Miller: I am not arguing that. What I am bringing up is that I think the selling needs to be in the other direction at this point in the fact that --
Mr. Peterson: This will get them into the debt business.
Hon. F. S. Miller: They can have 30 per cent of their money in debt. The member knows that. The fact remains that I think they can have the advantages of preferred redeemable shares with certain terms and covenants that are all set up there.
Mr. Peterson: It is too fancy for most little guys.
Hon. F. S. Miller: They may be too fancy, my friend, but the fact remains that we need to protect the potential investment companies as well as the --
Mr. Peterson: They need lawyers and accountants and God knows what else to implement it.
Hon. F. S. Miller: One of the comments of my colleague from Brantford was, “Tax incentives do not work.” He may quarrel with it but I would say this was not a tax incentive in that sense. It is a reduction of risk. It is a grant against an investment which is only payable back to the government if, as and when the company is wound up and there are assets left over and above zero. We share in them.
Mr. Laughren: It is a 30 per cent tax dodge. Admit it. Call it for what it is.
Hon. F. S. Miller: In the strictest sense it is for corporations.
Mr. Peterson: It is a tax deferral.
Hon. F. S. Miller: It is a tax deferral but it is not a tax incentive in the sense that we have lowered a tax rate. We reduced a risk. I think that was the key difference. One implies the rate of taxation on profits has been reduced. What we have done here is lower the losses if a company goes belly up.
In the last year I have been intrigued, in fact, I have admired the ingenuity of some of the companies coming before us with proposals. I think one was called Infinitum Growth Fund.
Mr. Peterson: I am going to invest in that one.
Hon. F. S. Miller: That is run by a fellow named John Turner.
Mr. Peterson: My friend John Turner?
Hon. F. S. Miller: Yes.
Mr. Peterson: If he is doing it, it must be good.
Hon. F. S. Miller: Understandably, the attitude has changed. The people behind that fund did do something one of the members referred to -- they rolled the Registered Retirement Savings Plan and the SBDC together to get the maximum benefits of the federal and provincial programs. It was very creative thinking and I hope we will do some of this. Our friends talked about the programs of lending and investment out west.
We do have the Ontario development corporations, which was brought up later. I would be the last one to defend them. In fact, I have been a critic of the time frame it takes government to approve a loan. Let us all work toward improving that time frame. They have a bright young executive director or chairman of the Ontario Development Corporation who, I believe, is determined to improve that and I think we need to encourage him to do so.
Apart from that one criticism the member has made, which I think has to be accepted as valid, which was the length of time it takes government to make a decision as opposed to banks that are in the market on a risk basis, we have to recognize the Ontario development corporations and the Employment Development Fund have been partly filling the role that the member talked about in comparing us to the west. We are talking quite strictly about risk equity participation here.
I am happy with the first year. I could recite a lot more statistics about the number of corporations. About 82 have been either formed or are in the basis of being formed.
Mr. Laughren: Would the Treasurer answer a question?
Hon. F. S. Miller: I do not know if it is in order at this point.
The Acting Speaker: Do you allow him the question?
Hon. F. S. Miller: I will allow him the question.
Mr. Laughren: Have you had an application from an insurance company called Predator Life?
Hon. F. S. Miller: Predator?
The Acting Speaker: It sounds to me like a little frivolous question. Do you have a frivolous answer?
Hon. F. S. Miller: It is a voracious question. Mr. Speaker, I never have frivolous answers.
Motion agreed to.
Ordered for third reading.
ONTARIO PENSIONERS PROPERTY TAX ASSISTANCE ACT
Hon. Mr. F. S. Miller moved second reading of Bill 48, An Act to provide Property Tax Assistance for Pensioners in Ontario.
Hon. F. S. Miller: Mr. Speaker, first I would like to say that I have a proposed amendment to this bill which will be put in committee. That amendment deals with the eligibility for receipt of pension under --
Mr. Peterson: Do you have copies of it?
Hon. F. S. Miller: I gave out copies of the proposed amendment to the bill several days ago. I believe all proposed amendments were traded on either Friday or Monday and examined by each party. We received a copy of the member’s and he got a copy of ours. So I think we have all had a chance to look at each other’s proposals.
Mr. Laughren: Were you negotiating behind the scenes with the Liberals?
Hon. F. S. Miller: No. In fact, it was all above board in this room, as everything I do always is.
Mr. Peterson: The Treasurer couldn’t get me to dinner at the Albany Club.
Hon. F. S. Miller: Well, the truth is we settled on the National Club. I didn’t even get the member for my Rotary tickets yet.
Mr. Peterson: I paid you.
Hon. F. S. Miller: Oh, the member did pay me, pardon me. Did he get his ticket?
The Acting Speaker (Mr. MacBeth): What has this to do with property tax assistance?
Hon. F. S. Miller: The Speaker got his touch too. I would also like to inform the House, and I will say this again when we are in committee, that we have had the required message from Her Honour with respect to my proposed amendment.
I strongly believe this is a fine bill, bringing to Ontario pensioners, people over 65, a direct payment for property taxes up to the amount of $500. The bill itself deals with property tax assistance and sales tax assistance.
My feeling is that many of the criticisms aimed at this bill ignored the fact that there were four parts to our program to assist the elderly: the property tax part, the sales tax credit, the Gains increase and -- of course not within our jurisdiction, but taken into account in the preparation of our program -- the guaranteed income supplement changes that we knew were being made by the federal government because we had been told of them.
Mr. Peterson: Are you going to make a speech about what great guys they are?
Hon. F. S. Miller: No, I just simply say that so often one government is accused of working independently of another and either duplicating or leaving uncovered areas of programs that I would think all members would be glad to realize that in preparing our program we took into account in advance the stated changes being made by the federal government, rather than simply ignoring what was happening on the national scale and doing something that was either not complementary or undoing what was done federally.
I would be pleased to leave this bill in the hands of my opposition critics, both of whom I know will jump to support it, and allow the discussion to go on.
Mr. Peterson: Mr. Speaker, my party will be supporting Bill 48 on second reading. We will support this bill in principle because we believe, like all members of this House, in providing enriched support for senior citizens in Ontario, too many of whom live close to or below the poverty line.
However, we in the Ontario Liberal Party have serious reservations about this bill, about its fundamental lack of equity and its unnecessary administrative costs. I will be introducing an amendment at the committee stage which is directed towards solving the equity problem in the government bill. More about that amendment in a moment.
This bill parades under the guise of a scheme to provide pensioners with increased assistance. In truth, it gives more to well-to-do senior citizens -- the better off they are the more they get -- and less to those most in need. Only a Tory government could dream up such a plan to redistribute the wealth to those who already have most of it.
The Treasurer himself admits 135,000 tax credit claimants will receive less under his new scheme. He also claims many of these will have their losses counterbalanced by a $10-a-month increase in Gains payments. What he neglected to mention is that Gains is available only to those pensioners with incomes under $5,000, well under half the pensioners in Ontario.
Why introduce such a plan? What is the real intent of these changes? Nothing could be clearer: There is an election coming up in this province some time in the next year. Some may say it may be right around the corner; some may even say it is going to be two weeks after the first cheques go out and that the Tories want to be mailing out those cheques to the old people of Ontario, with the Premier’s (Mr. Davis) or the Treasurer’s name on them, before the polls. They may even steal a line from the Minister of Industry and Tourism’s (Mr. Grossman) play book and put their pictures on those cheques.
This whole exercise is an election ploy, purely and simply -- a ploy that is going to cost the taxpayers of Ontario an additional $3 million in administrative costs. Ontario taxpayers will be making a $3-million involuntary contribution to the Tory campaign fund.
I want to take a few minutes to review a few concrete examples of how this program will actually work, especially for those most in need. The Treasurer, to this time at least, has not disputed any of our examples or any of our figures.
I want to look first at the Gains recipients. Any senior citizen who receives Gains payments from the province is to be compensated for the loss of the pension tax credit by an increased Gains payment of $10 a month. They end up with about the same under the new scheme as under the old. This juggling hardly justifies an extra administrative expenditure of $3 million, but of course that would be the conclusion of hard-pressed senior citizens, not of cynical Tories worried about their re-election prospects.
Let’s take the case of single pensioners with an income of about $6,000 -- remember, that means they are not eligible for Gains -- who are fortunate enough to be living, say, with their children and are probably contributing or would like to contribute to their upkeep. These pensioners claim no property tax credit and therefore are not eligible for a grant. Under the old system those pensioners would have received no property tax credit, a sales tax credit of $43.10 and a pensioner tax credit of $110 for a total of $153.10. Under the new bill they will receive a property tax credit of nothing and a sales tax grant of $50 for a total of $50.
If this bill is passed unamended, those old people will receive over $100 less than they do now. This prospect is unjust, and to us is unacceptable. Indeed, any pensioner who pays no property tax and moderate rent or no rent will lose the pensioner tax credit without gaining any benefit from the enriched, for the more affluent only, property tax credit.
Let me take another example: pensioners with incomes over $5,000 a year and under about $8,000 who rent rooms for, say, $75 a month -- and there are a lot of them. Under the present schemes they receive a property tax credit of $198, a sales tax credit of $43.10 and a pensioner tax credit of $110 for a total of $351.10. Under the scheme proposed by the Treasurer in this bill they will get a property tax grant of $180 and a sales tax grant of $50 for a total of $230.
These pensioners on their own with few resources are going to receive $121 less from the government of Ontario, but they will receive it by way of a cheque from the Treasurer or the Premier. Mr. Speaker, ask any one of the approximately 325,000 pensioners, 60 per cent of the pensioners in Ontario, whether that in any way compensates for the loss of that assistance they require so badly. Any pensioner with a low gross income paying less than $131 a month rent loses under this marvellous new scheme dreamt up by the worried Tory election planners. I assume this is Eddie Goodman at his finest.
But to be fair, let’s look at the case of pensioners who actually benefit from this plan. A pensioner earning between about $5,100 and $8,000 annually, almost 30 per cent of the Ontario pensioners, who pays the average for pensioners of $574 in property tax, receives a property tax credit of $237.40, a sales tax credit of $43.10 and a pensioner tax credit of $110 for a total of $390.50 under the old scheme. Now they are going to receive a property tax credit of $500 and a sales tax grant of $50 for a total of $550.
How does their net benefit compare with that of another set of winners under the proposed plan? Pensioners with incomes of over $20,000 a year who also pay the average $574 in property taxes, benefit too. These wealthier pensioners will receive an additional $450 while the poorer beneficiaries get a paltry $159 more. What kind of priority is this whereby those who need it least get the most? I would wager that many of those who will receive the greatest benefit would be the first to declare that this proposal is wrong and that it is their less-well-off counterparts who should be on the receiving end of any additional benefits.
Those pensioners who reside in the 182 municipal and charitable homes for the aged in Ontario are hit the very hardest. The bill makes it clear that pensioners who live in charitable institutions, homes for special care, homes for the aged, private nursing homes, public nursing homes or chronic care facilities will not be eligible for the property tax grant as they have been for the property tax credit.
Take the example of a resident of Huronview in Clinton, Ontario. A percentage of the daily rate charged this pensioner at Huronview is considered as rent, and he is allowed to claim a property tax credit on that amount. That, together with the sales tax credit and pensioner tax credit, brought him $371.51 last year. This year, if the bill passes intact, he can expect to receive only the $50 sales tax credit. This represents an incredible loss of $321.51 for this senior citizen. I ask the Treasurer to look at these examples of how he is hurting specific people.
If one looks at how the distribution of additional funds under this new plan breaks down, one will see that out of the additional $75 million some 353,000 pensioner tax filers earning less than $5,000 a year share some $3.8 million of the increase, or five per cent. The 212,000 pensioner tax filers earning between $5,000 and $10,000 share another $10.1 million. Those 101,000 pensioners with incomes between $10,000 and $15,000 share $16.7 million, or 22.3 per cent of the increase. The 48,000 pensioners with incomes between $15,000 and $20,000 share $13.9 million, or 18.5 per cent. Incredibly, those 70,000 pensioner tax filers earning over $25,000 get $31 million, or 41 per cent of the additional funds, for their use. In sum, 85 per cent of Ontario pensioner tax filers, those with incomes under $15,000, get $31 million of the increase, while nine per cent of those who earn more than $20,000 share the same amount of $31 million.
The chart in the budget paper tells the story. For those with incomes of $5,000 per year or less, the new grant system provides increased assistance of five per cent towards the payment of their total property taxes. For those with incomes of more than $20,000 per year, the new grant scheme provides increased assistance of 1,000 per cent towards payment of the total property taxes of this group.
We believe the scheme is unjust, inequitable and quite simply wrong. I will be moving an amendment on behalf of the Ontario Liberal Party which will ensure that no eligible person will receive less under the provisions of this bill than he or she would have received under the Ontario tax credit program in force in 1979, if that program had continued in force in 1980 and in subsequent years.
While we believe in enriching support for our senior citizens, we would not conceive of doing it at the expense of our poorer pensioners. The Tories would not only give these seniors less, but they would have the taxpayers among them help contribute to the $3 million in administration costs resulting from this new plan. That is a clear case of double jeopardy. There appears to be no limit to which this government will go when faced with the prospect of an election.
I sincerely hope the Treasurer will re-examine this program. I honestly believe he hadn’t completely thought this whole matter out prior to the introduction of the bill. Maybe he hadn’t delved into it in depth with his bureaucrats because he was so entranced with the idea of sending out a cheque with his signature on it that he didn’t fully think though all the implications to a great number of specific individuals in this province. His response that it is going to be made up by increases in Gains or by federal supplement programs is only partially correct. There are a number of specific cases of people who are going to be hurt, which is not fair, and there is going to be no compensation for them.
How this government chooses to distribute the money inside the global context is its own responsibility and we are prepared to continue with that, but any system that sees the great majority of that money go to the wealthy -- some nine per cent are getting half of that money and all the rest are getting the other half of the money -- is uneven and it is not rateably distributed.
I commend that the government look at it, as it did with the bill in response to my colleague from Rainy River (Mr. T. P. Reid), go back and look at this. An amendment should be brought in that will protect those people that we are so concerned about. You are aware of our position. We laid this out in the budget response very shortly after the budget. We are right; our figures are correct. They have never been challenged with authority.
I say to the minister, he should go back, look at this, redraft it, redistribute it, but protect those people in our midst who are most in need of that kind of assistance. Anything else is unfair and we are going to fight very hard to protect those tens of thousands of people who are going to suffer under this plan.
Mr. Laughren: Mr. Speaker, this bill provides increased financial relief for some pensioners in Ontario. It is typical, especially more recently, of Canadian governments that we chip away, seemingly forever, at inadequate or discriminatory legislation. We have, in Ontario, as in other provinces, an incredible hotchpotch of income support programs for senior citizens.
This bill deals with property tax relief but does not remove the burden of property taxes for senior citizens. We have old age security, guaranteed income supplement and Gains and thousands of senior citizens living below the poverty level; we have property tax relief for senior citizens, but there is still no commitment in principle to the removal of this regressive form of taxation. We have property tax relief but we do not say we are removing property taxes from senior citizens; in the same way as we say we are providing income support for senior citizens, but we will not take them above the poverty level.
This government is indeed providing relief for some pensioners but it cannot bring itself to simply remove all property taxes for senior citizens. This situation can also be found with the Minister of Labour (Mr. Elgie) -- I am glad he is here -- who cannot introduce progressive legislation without having regressive elements in it as well.
It was interesting that this government introduced legislation to increase grants to pensioners but at the same time was prepared to discriminate against Ontario residents who had not been residing in Ontario for 10 years. The amendments the minister will introduce are a tribute to my colleagues in this caucus who fought so hard for them and, in particular, I would pay tribute to my colleague from Downsview (Mr. Di Santo) who fought extremely hard and passionately for his people to be protected against discriminatory legislation, which the Treasurer was prepared to bring in and live with. I am very proud of my colleagues for the battle they fought on that particular part of the bill.
We are going to support this bill because it does indeed provide increased benefits for many senior citizens. We are not happy that the bill reduces benefits for some. We have done some calculations as to what happens to some people before and to some after this particular legislation. I would like to give the Treasurer some examples.
If a pensioner lives with his family and has no shelter costs, last year he would have received the pensioners’ tax credit of $110 plus the sales tax credit of about $40 for a total of $150. This year he will get the sales tax credit of $50 only.
If someone rents an accommodation where the annual rental cost is $3,000, in other words, $250 a month, by combining the pensioners’ tax credit and the property tax credit, plus the 10 per cent of occupancy cost, plus the sales tax credit, last year he would have received $390. This year that pensioner will be better off than last year because he will receive the $500 on the property tax credit plus $50 in sales tax credit for a total of $550.
The person who owns accommodation where the annual property tax paid is $1,000 will also be better off, because last year those pensioners would have received $430, by my calculations; this year they will receive $550. Someone who owns accommodation and whose annual property tax is only $300 -- in other words, pensioners whose property taxes are very low -- will be slightly worse off this year, at least in the example I have used. Last year, they would have received $360; this year, $350.
The part that causes us the most concern involves people who live in what the Treasurer chooses to call charitable institutions; that is, homes for the aged and nursing homes. They will lose not only property tax benefits but also the pensioners’ tax credit of $110, and will be left with only the sales tax credit of $50.
I understand very well the rationale used by the Treasurer, namely, that they are already receiving a high subsidy from the people of Ontario, in that they only pay part of their accommodation costs in those institutions. Still, we would have much preferred it if the Treasurer had brought in legislation that did not do that, and it could easily have been done.
The Treasurer does not seem to understand that a universal program is easier to administer, much more efficient and more equitable. In that case one simply taxes back at the source on income. That is an argument we Socialists have been putting for a long time, and I guess we will always be fighting a battle against the Treasurer on those kinds of arguments.
Someone who lives in an Ontario Housing Corporation unit, by our calculations, if they paid annual shelter costs of $960, last year would have received about $350. This year, that will drop to about $250. So one can see discrimination there as well.
We are not entirely happy with this legislation. We think the Treasurer could have done better for all of Ontario’s senior citizens. It seems to us the pensioners who will receive less are those who received tax credits last year in excess of property taxes paid. That is the one part that has some logic to it, I suppose. I guess that is what the Treasurer is hanging his hat on, that no one should receive a property tax credit in excess of property taxes paid. I would remind the Treasurer his government introduced that into the legislation, I think in 1974. They caused that problem, and now he has to find a way to squirm out of it. There is no compensating action so that the Treasurer is not discriminating against all pensioners.
Hon. F. S. Miller: It’s like buying a ready-made suit versus a hand-made suit.
Mr. Laughren: Oh, my goodness. I think I am going to be ill.
We know that the Royal Commission on the Status of Pensions in Ontario will be reporting some time this year. At least we have a fervent hope they will. We have had several completion dates anticipated for the commission to report, and we very much hope they will report later this year. This government will have an opportunity then to demonstrate its commitment to senior citizens. I suspect the pressure from social agencies and senior citizens will mount substantially in the next few years. We are already anticipating the commission report and we will be anxiously looking to the government’s response to that.
We are very hopeful there will be recommendations for some very fundamental reforms.
While we in this party understand the need for federal action, we also know that the provincial government cannot stand idly by and watch the problems of our pensioners increase. Government, including whichever party is in power in Ontario, must respond to the pressures that are going to be applied in the years to come. It is a sad commentary that the plight of our senior citizens will be improved not because it is right, not because it should be done, not because we have an obligation to our senior citizens, but simply because their increasing numbers will make it politically expedient for this government to do it. That is why this government and the federal government will respond.
It does not seem to matter that our colleague in the House of Commons, to whom I will refer further in a moment, the Honourable Stanley Knowles, PC -- which stands for privy council, not Progressive Conservative -- has been calling for years and years for a better deal for senior citizens. It fell on deaf ears until now, but with the demographic shift in the country we have what is known as grey power. These people will have a large number of votes. How cynical can the federal government get? And this government is no better than the one in Ottawa.
In Canada, the number of senior citizens will increase from 2.1 million to 3.4 million in the next 20 years. A common front for pensioners has been formed. The federal Croll committee has reported, the Ontario royal commission will report, and I suspect there will be commissions in all the provinces reporting to their governments in the years ahead, as the free enterprise governments in this country continue to flirt with and chip away at minor pension reform.
This bill is a precious example of how our governments are so tentative about fundamental change. This government is prepared to create a bureaucratic jungle consisting of bits and pieces of income relief for senior citizens. This government, however, is not prepared to grasp the nettle and sit down with the federal government to work out a proper pension scheme for our senior citizens.
This government has become mean and narrow in spirit. It cannot give without taking away. I am glad the Minister of Labour (Mr. Elgie) is here. The problem of income support is dramatically simple. A commitment by this government to a universal and decent income for senior citizens is attainable here in this country and in this province.
A decent retirement income, whether at age 65, 60 or 70, will not be achieved with legislation such as this, which provides property tax relief for some and does nothing to alter the basic problem of a guaranteed decent income retirement for senior citizens. Furthermore, this bill does not deal with those people on disability pensions. This is one that really sticks in my craw. All sorts of people under the age of 65 for one reason or another, because of health or an injury, are living on restricted incomes. Very often, because they are younger, these people have families at home. This government does not treat those people properly.
This legislation does not apply to disability pensioners. I would like the Treasurer, when he is finished working out a new compromise with the Minister of Labour, to tell us how he makes the distinction between disability pensioners and old-age pensioners in legislation like this. What is it that makes this inequitable distinction? Is there something about disabled people under 65 that they should not be entitled to the same kind of benefits as people who are over 65? That is an outrageous distinction. I hope the Treasurer will address himself to that problem.
To move an amendment on our part to include disability pensioners would be ruled out of order by the Speaker because it would be regarded as a money amendment.
Mr. Warner: That is the Treasurer’s protection.
Mr. Laughren: I thought so. That is why we did not move an amendment dealing with disability pensioners, knowing that the Speaker, because of his expertise with the rules, would rule it out of order as a money amendment.
I want to say to the Treasurer that it is wrong to make the distinction between disability pensioners and senior citizen pensioners. I hope the Treasurer will look at it. It would not bankrupt the province to do the decent thing and bring disability pensioners in under the umbrella in order to enjoy all the same benefits that are enjoyed by senior citizens. Think about it. It does make sense.
I have several friends who are under the age of 65. In one case, the fellow is only about 50. He is very active in the Inco pensioners’ group. He feels very passionately about this. His name is Tom Hannaway. Maybe he has even lobbied some members. He cares very strongly about this, not just for himself but because he sees other people of his age with children at home who are placed in terrible positions and who simply cannot get by. I condemn the Treasurer for not including disability pensioners under this legislation.
Senior citizens have objected to paying property taxes because they have no children in school. They object to paying property taxes because they have lower incomes and are not adequately protected from inflation. This bill does not deal with the problems of either the educational component of property taxes or the level of income of senior citizens.
We in this party believe that education should be reduced and eventually phased out as a component of property taxes. If the Treasurer wants any advice on that, I would ask him to call my colleague the member for Wentworth (Mr. Isaacs), who knows more about property tax reform than even the member for Parry Sound (Mr. Maeck). Between the member for Wentworth and the member for Hamilton Mountain (Mr. Charlton), we have a reservoir of knowledge about property tax reform that is the envy of the free world.
We believe property taxes should pay for municipal services, and not for health, education and other social services. We believe those services should be paid for on the basis of people’s ability to pay, namely, through a truly progressive income tax.
This government adds property tax relief, sales tax relief, relief of Ontario Health Insurance Plan premiums, prescription drug relief and the Gains program on to the bottom of the federal government’s old-age supplement, Canada Pension Plan and guaranteed income supplements, and we have an incredible series of layers of bureaucracy all to minister to the needs of senior citizens. This government talks about efficiency. Mr. Speaker; think about all those different kinds of assistance for senior citizens and the fact that in total they have not solved the problem. I could not devise a more inadequate, incompetent system than we have devised in this country to aid senior citizens. It is simply outrageous.
I will tell you something, Mr. Speaker. We have the machinery there now, and it is called the Canada Pension Plan. It is a tribute to the private sector that it left a gap wide enough to drive a truck through which led to the creation of the Canada Pension Plan. I will bet the House that they are kicking themselves today. But there are still enormous gaps out there in pensions in terms of portability, vesting and funding. The governments simply have to address themselves to that problem.
All these bits and pieces of support go some way to providing relief for pensioners, but the fact remains that many pensioners in this province are living below the poverty line. The problem is particularly acute with single pensioners. We all know the argument that two cannot live as cheaply as one, and we know as well that one cannot live half as cheaply as two. Did I get it right?
Mr. Laughren: I think I will not repeat that, Mr. Speaker.
The point is that it is very difficult for a single pensioner to get by. It is a very serious problem for single pensioners. When we told the Treasurer earlier that despite his legislation there were still senior citizens in Ontario living below the poverty line, do you know what he did, Mr. Speaker? He whipped out his engineer’s slide rule, put together the OHIP premiums that are paid and said, “When you add in all those extras that we have in Ontario for senior citizens, senior citizens are not very far below the poverty line and sometimes are even flirting with it.” He dared even to say some were above it. Is that not magnificent?
That is not good enough. This bill, while providing tax relief, does not address itself to the very serious financial problems of our senior citizens. It is a telling commentary that in this country more than half of our senior citizens receive guaranteed income supplements. As we know, one does not receive the supplement unless one’s income is inadequate. In this country, a country as wealthy as this, we have allowed that to happen in our social system.
Our esteemed colleague in the House of Commons, Stanley Knowles, has recommended that our senior citizens be granted a retirement income -- is the Treasurer ready for this? -- of 125 per cent of the Statistics Canada poverty level. I should point out to the Treasurer that StatsCan has the lowest recognized level of poverty. Other social agencies, like the Canadian Council on Social Development, have a higher level, I think a more realistic level. The Social Planning Council of Metropolitan Toronto also has a higher level, so my colleague Mr. Stanley Knowles is saying, “Let us not guarantee poverty for senior citizens, let us guarantee an income that is in excess of it so that there is some give there.”
As inflation occurs, and six months go by and there is no increase in their pension, then that 125 per cent at least keeps them above the poverty level until the next increase can fall into place. That kind of commitment to our senior citizens would make us proud as Canadians. To do otherwise is perverse. It is not as though other countries cannot do it. Check with the system in Sweden. Check with the system in Germany. They have done it in Holland. They have provided much more dignity for the senior citizens than we have, and who would say they are wealthier than we are in this country.
Mr. Knowles makes the pertinent argument that fighting for a level of poverty is hardly an honourable battle. We should be fighting for a life of retirement that removes the spectre of poverty as a condition and a fact of life for our senior citizens. To argue that we cannot afford to collectively provide for a decent retirement for our people is to confess to a monstrous perversity in setting both economic and social policies.
This government can get away with cosmetic reforms for senior citizens for now, but the day is fast approaching when no government in this country will be allowed to treat senior citizens in such a cavalier fashion. Increasingly, young working people are saying to their employers and to government that retirement income must become a priority, and increasingly the awareness is growing that inequitable distinctions between disabled pensioners and senior citizen pensioners must be removed.
This legislation represents strictly a holding action for this government. The New Democrats say it is not good enough. We shall monitor very closely the recommendations of the Ontario Pension Commission and of course the government’s response to it.
I would like to conclude, Mr. Speaker, by quoting briefly from the federal special senate committee on retirement age policy, sometimes known as the Croll report. It is called Retirement Without Tears. I am quoting from Senator Croll’s report:
“Those who believe that the cost of maintaining the elderly in the next 25 or 50 years will materialize out of thin air are deluding themselves. This money will come either from savings in this generation or taxes in following generations.”
Mr. Croll goes on: “The elderly must organize politically in order to achieve their goal. Politics is power. The elderly in this country for far too long have had too little political power to satisfy their needs. We believe that the elderly must be given the basic rights that go to all citizens in our society. Our report invites and urges the elderly to mobilize their considerable resources, to organize themselves politically and to demand their rights. We do this because we know the pursuit of human dignity by any one group can only enrich all of us.”
Mr. Nixon: Mr. Speaker, I was interested in re-reading the Treasurer’s introduction of the concept that has resulted in this bill as laid out in his budget message some weeks ago. He indicated that he thought of improving the position of our pensioners with this additional $75 million by enriching the tax credit.
I can well recall when his predecessor as Treasurer, John White, introduced the concept of tax credit. I have not been a well-known proponent of Mr. White’s initiatives in this House, but I did feel the concept of tax credits was quite a good one. He almost got into trouble with some of them, as you will recall, Mr. Speaker, when he was going to put the sales tax on everything, including children’s clothes and food and heating oil.
He was going to return a tax credit to families, except for heating, of course, where his solution was to suggest if they did not like to pay so much for heating oil, they could put on a wool sweater. I wish he were still here, actually. He was an awfully good representative of the true philosophy of conservatism.
The tax credit concept, however, was reviewed by a committee of the House. My former colleague and our former Treasury critic, Donald Deacon, was a member of that committee. I can recall him urging us in the Liberal caucus to accept that concept, which we did rather reluctantly but which I think has proved itself quite well.
It concerns me, however, that the Treasurer would say the reason he did not enrich the tax credit was because he felt there might be some delays in getting this required money into the hands of the pensioners. Probably, if you are going to look at that statement with your eyes wide open, and looking at the record of the Conservative Party, what it really means is that they were not getting enough votes for the buck; that in fact they felt the grateful pensioners were not grateful enough that the Conservative Party had in fact put the dollars right in their hands.
I do not know whether the Treasurer recalls, I do not think he was in such an eminent position, when the new policy of paying half the land taxes on farm properties was introduced. That might have been done as a tax credit or in some more rational way, but the political decision taken by the Conservatives was that the cheque would be sent directly to the farmers.
The minister is well aware that the first time this occurred, the rebates from the province of Ontario, well designated with signatures and a picture of these Parliament Buildings in the background on the cheque -- not the minister’s picture; I am afraid there are no votes in that; not in the farming area; not in Paris -- arrived in the hands of the farm voters the very week of the election. The general public responded just the way the Treasurer is responding -- with mock amazement and a wide smile, as if to say, “We are pretty smart and we got you again.”
Frankly, I am ambivalent about this. I know the farmers are very canny. They are prepared to take the minister’s money and not stay bought. I think the government is aware of the fact that its support in the farming communities has been gradually going downward. I see the member for Middlesex (Mr. Eaton) shaking his head. We have our sights set on his riding next time as well. Perhaps I should say we have our sights set on his riding again.
I do not think the farmers are so naive that they are going to be bought with their own money. I feel the same way about the pensioners. I feel the tax credit scheme has been reasonably well accepted. To begin with, many pensioners who had never filled out an income tax return, felt they never would and certainly did not want to, were persuaded to with the assistance of many of the members of this House, because it was a rational procedure whereby in essence a negative income tax system was established so that the money came to those who could prove through their return that their requirement mandated the return of these funds. Surely it would have been a much better way to proceed, particularly since the policy was established that the assistance for the pensioners was going to be enriched by an additional $75 million.
There is also an indication that the minister did not want the pensioners to wait unduly, and he was at least honest enough to indicate the first cheques would go out this fall, but that in 1981 there would be two cheques, one to cover the interim payment in the spring and of course one for the final payment in the fall. It really is just about the greatest extent of brazenness that one could imagine; that is exactly what it is. The minister does not even have to worry about when the election is coming, because whenever it comes there is going to be a cheque, with his name on it and he even indicates it will have his face on it, which is going to be put in the hands of the pensioners across the province.
As they say, Mr. Speaker, I am a bit ambivalent because I know the senior citizens, ahead of all others, who have had an opportunity to watch the chicanery of 37 years of Toryism, know exactly what is going on. They will take the money and they will have the same smile on their faces as the Treasurer does because they are just as astute politically as he is. The government is not going to buy their votes with this handout.
I regret as well that obviously this political machine is going to cost an additional $3 million simply to print and send out the cheques. I know the Treasurer does not worry about those small numbers. So far he has restrained himself from expressing any view like such as, “What’s $3 million?” But we know his attitudes in this connection. He is an amateur, a dilettante when it comes to running the Treasury. We miss that strong hand on the helm we were used to over a few months and years when his predecessor was here. I am not talking about John White. I was not too sure which way he was steering the boat. At one stage he was steering it straight down. That is another matter. He is not here to defend himself, but I do not worry too much about that either.
This Treasurer is here, and I do not know where the grand concept came from to change the program into a direct payout by cheque to the pensioners. It smacks of the approach to politics of the Minister of Agriculture and Food (Mr. Henderson) who in his area probably will save the postage by delivering the cheques personally door to door.
Anyway, the bill is before us. Certainly we want to assist the pensioners in every way possible and I am very glad my colleague has given notice to you, Mr. Speaker, and the members of the House that his amendment is going to protect those who are going to escape even the very careful net the Conservatives have put out to give as much money as possible to as many people as possible from their own resources. We want to be sure that no one is going to receive less than he would have received under normal circumstances.
It is a little frustrating because nobody is interested, I suppose, in the approach my political experience leads me to take to an amendment like this. Unfortunately the people in Ontario and the people who report this House are more or less inured to that approach. They are steeped in the concepts of Conservatism. If they are going to spend money on a program, they have to get the credit. It has to be seen to provide a good harvest of votes in response to this sort of largess, this sort of generosity, this spending of the people’s own funds.
I simply say that if the Treasury were well and efficiently run, the money would very much better have been provided through a system of tax credits now understood, well-established, and which can be improved, rather than this reversion to the old Tory concept, “Here is a buck. We want your vote.”
Mr. McClellan: Mr. Speaker, as the Treasury critic for our party indicated, we will be supporting this bill we are debating this afternoon. But let us not delude ourselves that the bill begins to address the financial needs of senior citizens in this province, because it does not.
The Treasurer makes the argument that this bill in a sense tidies things up. It makes the property tax relief program more logical and more consistent. In some respects that is true. At least there is a theoretical niceness, I suppose, about tidying the program up so that the tax credits are only available to those who actually pay money towards municipal property taxes. One cannot argue with that notion theoretically, that a property tax program ought to be available for those who actually pay property taxes. There is only one thing wrong with it, and that is the poverty position of senior citizens in Ontario. We cannot really address this bill in isolation from the reality that many tens of thousands of senior citizens in Ontario in 1980 are living below the Statistics Canada poverty line.
The concerns raised by both the opposition parties are raised because of that reality and because of that dilemma that confronts tens of thousands of retired Canadians who live in Ontario. That is our difficulty in being very enthusiastic about this particular bill.
We have at least managed, before even getting to second reading, to eliminate what was a fairly glaring error in the drafting of the bill. I can only hope it was a drafting error because as printed, the assistance is restricted to Canadians who live in Ontario, who receive old age security. As a result of the prodding of my colleague, the member for Downsview, who pointed out that restriction would disentitle many residents and citizens of this province, the Treasurer has wisely and, I say, generously made the necessary amendment so that all residents of Ontario over the age of 65 will be eligible for the property tax assistance.
But let me go back to the fundamental problem we have and the reason we are concerned with the fact that some people will be receiving less and some people will be excluded entirely. It is not a question of housekeeping, or of tidying up, or of making some nice little theoretical consistencies in the program. The reality is poverty.
Even with the increases in old age pensions that have been announced by the federal government, which will be taking place in a few months -- I am not sure of the precise date -- we were told by the Treasurer a few weeks ago that, once those increases go through, a single pensioner will be receiving, through a combination of old age security, guaranteed income supplement and Gains, an income of about, rounded off, $5,200 a year. That sounds like a lot of money, but the Statistics Canada poverty line for a single person, updated to June 1980, is $5,554 a year.
Even with all of the programs that are supposed to provide a measure of income security for senior citizens, even with all of those programs paid at the maximum rate, a single pensioner living, for example, in Metropolitan Toronto and receiving the new rate of $5,200 a year is still $300 a year below the poverty line.
We have argued over the years that it makes no sense to be relying on a property tax assistance program -- whether it is administered through a negative income tax, or through a direct grant is irrelevant basically -- it makes no sense to be relying on tax credits, property tax relief, as an anti-poverty measure. That is absolutely nuts. No senior citizen in this province should have to be in the position of paying property tax in order to escape from poverty. No senior citizen should have to be in that ludicrous and iniquitous position.
It is because of the failure of the federal government and the failure of the provincial government to develop, over the years, a decent social security system in this country that we are now in the ridiculous and ludicrous position where a senior citizen has to pay property tax in order to escape from poverty. What kind of nonsense is this? What kind of imbecility is this? What kind of iniquity is this?
We are waiting for the results of the Royal Commission on the Status of Pensions, and we are trying to prepare ourselves for what we hope will be a major debate on the financial needs of retired Canadians. I say to the Treasurer, once that royal commission report is available to us, I hope the government will ensure that this Legislature has a full opportunity to debate the issues involved in the provision of a proper social security system for retired Canadians, because we have never really had such a debate in Ontario. What we have had in Ontario is a series of vetoes and nyets which have prohibited and blocked any change in the Canada Pension Plan.
We are, in 1980, in the unenviable position as an advanced industrial country of having one of the most inadequate social security systems in the western industrial world. That’s why we have to rely on things like property tax assistance grants to raise senior citizens up out of poverty because we don’t have a decent public pension plan. The Canada Pension Plan in 1980 is almost a joke. It’s a plan that pays on the basis of 25 percent of earnings and it’s a joke. We know that many tens of thousands of Canada’s pensioners are also receiving the guaranteed income supplement.
We have a Rube Goldberg collection of programs and add-on programs and compensatory programs which we have developed over the last 15 or 20 years for senior citizens, but the net result is still, despite all of the programs, an enormous incidence of poverty among senior citizens.
I really wish the government would stop trying to deal with the income needs of senior citizens on this patchwork, hotchpotch, ad hoc basis. We can’t oppose the legislation because, granted, it does provide additional benefits, but surely the government can have the decency to say, “Yes, we can provide a decent income for pensioners in this province through the guaranteed annual income system.” Surely the government can have the decency to make a commitment to raise the levels of the Gains pension to a level above the poverty line. The figure our colleague, Stanley Knowles, has suggested is 25 per cent above the Statistics Canada poverty line. If the government is unwilling to do that, let the Treasurer or let the Premier stand up and say, “No, we can’t afford to pay our senior citizens an income above the poverty line.”
They should stand up and say that in the House during the course of this debate and be honest about it. They should tell us if they can’t afford to pay senior citizens a retirement income above a level of poverty and then tell us why they can’t afford to do that, because even with the tax credit scheme that the Treasurer has brought forward today and even with the Gains increase that he announced, taking effect on May 1, and even with the increases that the federal Liberal government has announced to the guaranteed income supplement program, even with all of these programs, pensioners are still living below the Statistics Canada poverty line.
We can’t escape that reality and the problem is particularly acute for single pensioners. The preponderance of single pensioners is of course women, who have traditionally been excluded from benefits under the Canada Pension Plan, inadequate as those are.
I hope very much that the government would proceed by way of a major initiative to address the income needs of seniors. We are prepared to support this on an ad hoc basis as providing some increased benefits. For people in a constituency like mine in an urban industrial area, I do not deny that the benefits under this bill are significant but they don’t deal with the issue that underlies the dilemma. This kind of tinkering can’t begin to deal with it.
I would like to suggest to the government, now that the Premier has joined us, that there is a unique opportunity facing Ontario with the imminent report of the royal commission on pensions to sit down as a Legislature to design an income security program that could truly meet the retirement income needs of the citizens of this province.
I hope the government will not continue to keep its cards so close to the vest that nobody else will know what is happening. Does the Premier have anything up his sleeve?
Hon. Mr. Davis: I can’t find a thing.
Mr. McClellan: All of the fundamental decisions about the Canada Pension Plan that have been made since 1965 have been made in back rooms with the 11 heads of government sitting there with their cards up their sleeves and in their side pockets. Never has there been an opportunity for the people’s representatives through their legislatures to engage in the fundamental issues with respect to the design of a pension program.
Hon. Mr. Davis: Only Premiers Blakeney and Barrett had cards in their pockets.
Mr. McClellan: They had the good cards. We know what the role of Ontario was during this period. It was to say no to the dropout proposal. It was to say no to any significant enrichments in the Canada Pension Plan. It was to continue to regard the Canada Pension Plan solely and exclusively as a pool of cheap-interest borrowing money for public purposes, regardless of the fact that the Canada Pension was totally inadequate to the retirement needs of senior citizens.
One cannot live on the Canada Pension Plan. One cannot live on the Canada Pension Plan and the old age security program. One cannot live on the Canada Pension Plan, the old age security program and the guaranteed income supplement program. If one is excluded from the Canada Pension Plan, one cannot live on old age security, guaranteed income supplement and Gains with whatever kind of hotchpotch and skewed-up add-on program the government wants to devise.
We cannot go through another decade like this. We have gone since 1966 with a totally inadequate public pension plan and periodically we add another little piece on to it. We add a little invention here and a new gimmick there, but still we have not been able to move a vast number of senior citizens out of poverty. Until we are able to do that, we will be perpetuating a fundamental injustice.
I invite some of the Tory back-benchers to participate, to get up and tell us why we cannot afford to raise the Gains program for single pensioners above the poverty line so that the people can understand what the financial constraints are that force this government to keep so many tens of thousands of senior citizens in poverty.
Mr. Worton: Mr. Speaker, I would like to draw to your attention one item I discussed with both the Treasurer and the Premier shortly after the budget was brought down.
There is no question but that some enrichments have been made in certain areas. The Treasurer, however, is well aware, as I am, that in homes for the aged, there are two rates, one of which is for the person who has nothing else except his old age pension. Of course, that rate is subsidized.
The Treasurer made the comment that because these institutions were subsidized he did not feel the occupants were entitled to the tax rebate. I must remind him that there are widows and widowers who are living in these homes for the aged who are now paying $800 to $900 a month with two of them sharing a room. It is nothing short of gouging when the government does not give them an opportunity to attempt to get a rebate.
This type of legislation is very wrong. People with the funds to pay their own way can now be paying between $800 and $900, plus another $51 for comfort allowance. Come next spring, when these people make out an income tax return and find they will not get any refund, this government is going to be in hot water in many communities of this province.
On motion by Mr. Di Santo, the debate was adjourned.
The House adjourned at 1:01 p.m.