The House met at 1330.
The Speaker: I would like to ask all members to join me in recognizing the first group of legislative pages to serve in the second session of the 34th Parliament. They are:
Sarah Bhatti, Ottawa-Rideau; Edward Conroy, Scarborough Centre; Jeremy Dickson, Rainy River; Carolyn Elston, Huron; Julie Felton, Lambton; Jocelyn Kervin, Timiskaming; Rasha Khayat, York Mills; Natasha Klukach, Bruce; Marcel Lemay, Sudbury; Michael Marsden, Carleton; Mark McLeod, Port Arthur; Ian Ross, Lake Nipigon; Joseph Santos, Kingston and The Islands; Teresinha Silva, Parkdale; Cindy Sleiman, Essex South; Jamie Smith, Kitchener; Anne-Marie Stacyszyn, Windsor-Walkerville; Robert Taylor, Parry Sound; Robert Thomson, Ottawa Centre; Gwyneth Tristram, Chatham-Kent; Meghan Whittaker Van Dusen, Scarborough West; Samantha Winslow, Burlington South; Blair Yarranton, Quinte, and Heather Young, Waterloo North.
Please join me in welcoming our pages.
OCCUPATIONAL HEALTH AND SAFETY
Mr Mackenzie: On Friday, 28 April, a national day of mourning for workers killed or injured on the job will be observed in cities across Canada. As this House will not be sitting on Friday, I would ask the Speaker and members of the other parties to acknowledge the sacrifice of our workers with a minute of silence in this House on Thursday, 27 April, as well as an opportunity for each party to make a few comments.
I personally found it disturbing that on the eve of this national day of mourning, in response to questions on the omissions from his throne speech, our Premier (Mr Peterson) should be quoted as saying he was not certain his government would be proceeding with its own piece of health and safety legislation, Bill 208.
Surely the accident record of the last year and particularly the disturbing number of avoidable mining deaths in the last few months clearly indicate that the need to endorse labour’s concern for a campaign to end slaughter in the workplace is more valid today than when it was first launched a number of years ago.
It is legitimate to ask this government what its commitment to health and safety in the workplace is worth and when Bill 208 will be brought forward for second reading in this Legislature.
SOUTH CENTENNIAL MANOR
Mr Pope: Not only was there no reference in the speech from the throne yesterday to northern Ontario or to mining, forestry or the resource sector, but there was also no mention of assistance for the homes for the aged across the province.
I want to bring to the attention of the Minister of Community and Social Services (Mr Sweeney) and this government a very particular situation involving South Centennial Manor in Iroquois Falls.
On 28 July 1988, as a result of a level-of-care study conducted by the Ministry of Community and Social Services, there was a recommendation to increase the nursing staff at South Centennial Manor, and that permission was given in a letter from the minister to the board of that particular manor.
But, lo and behold, when the budget allocations for this current fiscal year were forwarded to the South Centennial Manor, there was no funding for the increased staff they had asked South Centennial Manor to hire the previous year.
As a result of that, notices of layoff or reduced hours were sent to 18 employees of South Centennial Manor in order to reduce the equivalent of eight full-time positions, and immediate steps were taken to transfer 10 extended care residents to area hospitals.
This situation was created by the Ministry of Community and Social Services, which tried to blame the Minister of Northern Development (Mr Fontaine) in letters it sent to the board.
The Speaker: The member’s time has expired.
Mr Pope: The fact of the matter is it is incompetent management to allow this to happen.
Mr Faubert: Yesterday, as the Lieutenant Governor read the speech from the throne, I thought of the people who took the time to make submissions before a hearing I and the member for Scarborough Centre (Miss Nicholas) held Monday in the Scarborough Civic Centre on the report Transitions, Also at that meeting was the member for Kitchener (Mr D. R. Cooke), the chairman of the standing committee on finance and economic affairs.
In all, submissions were made by 15 groups and individuals ranging from welfare providers, food bank representatives, community service groups and welfare recipients to concerned individuals from advocacy groups and church representatives.
Their submissions covered such concerns as a need to simplify the social assistance system as well as an express need to ensure that incentives, skills and opportunities are harnessed so that those alienated by the system can once again become participants in the workforce. Another recurring concern was the effect of the high cost of housing on the budget of social assistance recipients and the working poor.
The presentations ranged from angry to extremely poignant, but all expressed hope in the implementation of the Transitions report.
The throne speech expressed this government’s commitment as it announced such progressive initiatives as increased payments for shelter support to persons on social assistance; the removal of barriers which serve as disincentives to work; the expansion of the network of employment counselling and referral; basic training and preparation programs, and increased children’s benefits.
The visionary intentions of this government announced yesterday will indeed give hope to the people I spoke to last Monday that the barriers of poverty will one day be overcome.
PROPOSED BUILDING SITE
Mr R. F. Johnston: Among the platitudes of the throne speech were promises on environmental protection, including setting up Cleantario where the Minister of the Environment (Mr Bradley) will impersonate Vanna White and basically try to convince the people of Ontario that this is a new game show we should all follow. I would be very pleased if this government were in fact using the legislation and the powers it has now to protect the environment.
In my riding, a development is proposed metres away from a dump site where 4,000-plus people will be housed unless this government decides it is appropriate to have a full environmental assessment of that site. Today I will be introducing some of the petitions I have from the community members who insist that this government take that kind of action to protect them from the inappropriate development this would entail. This is the Runnymede site on Gerrard Street in my riding.
It would be a terrible misuse of his present powers if the Minister of the Environment is not given the go-ahead by cabinet to require a full environmental assessment of this project.
PROPOSED EARTH SCIENCES CENTRE
Mr Pollock: A group of concerned citizens from the Bancroft area is interested in establishing an earth sciences centre. There have been many letters and calls to different ministries about this project.
Most recently, the project planning committee received a letter of support from the Minister of Mines (Mr Conway). The minister said that he is in favour of undertaking a feasibility study to explore the options and the costs of the involvement. I too would like to lend my support to this project. I hope the Ontario ministries involved will do their utmost to assist the Bancroft citizens with their request for financial help for this feasibility study.
I sincerely hope the earth sciences centre becomes a reality in eastern Ontario. It would be a major tourist attraction and education centre for the area and could be a positive focus in the mineral industry.
Mr Adams: The concept of a place to die with dignity is pre-Christian, but the current hospice movement has its roots among the poor of Europe a century ago. Then, homes for the dying were set up for those with tuberculosis, the scourge of the time.
The first modern hospice was set up in Britain in the 1960s and the movement spread rapidly to other parts of the world, including North America. The new homes for the dying were for those terminally ill with cancer and, more recently, acquired immune deficiency syndrome, the scourges of the 20th century.
Hospices offer a variety of support services for the dying and their families. Some offer 24-hour hospital care, some offer care and respite services on a daily basis, while others offer professional and volunteer home care.
In Canada, there are two free-standing hospices, Casey House in Toronto for AIDS victims, and Maison Michel Sarrazin, near Quebec City, for cancer patients. There are, however, some 30 hospice organizations in Ontario alone. A good contact before a provincial association is established is Palliative Care Services of York Region. Those interested in setting up a home care hospice could contact Hospice Peterborough, described in my statement of 17 October 1988 to this House.
SENIOR CITIZENS’ SERVICES
Ms Bryden: As the critic for senior citizens’ affairs, I was shocked to find no part of the throne speech devoted to plans for dealing with the huge increase expected in senior population in the next decade. We will need a great many more geriatric services, a great many more programs to help seniors stay in their own homes, a great many more programs to look after the health care of seniors.
I am sure all seniors in this province were also shocked at the failure of the government to deal with the extreme shortage of homemakers in the province. Homemaker programs are an essential part of enabling seniors to stay in their own homes as long as possible and are much less expensive than institutionalization.
Previous throne speeches promised big increases in homemaker programs for seniors, but this year’s speech does not even mention them. In fact, expenditures on homemaker programs were frozen on 30 September 1988. When will the government lift the freeze and make adequate homemaker services available throughout the province?
The Speaker: There are five seconds left. I believe no one would want to make a statement in that time.
STATEMENT BY THE MINISTRY
Hon Mr Ward: I am very pleased and proud that yesterday’s speech from the throne had such a great emphasis on the quality and renewal of education in this province. This government’s agenda clearly places children first and is based on the principles of equal opportunity, accountability and the need to ensure that our children progress and grow with the skills they will need throughout their lives.
Today I am pleased to provide details of an important throne speech initiative, a key component of our plan for education reform; that is, the elimination of streaming in grade 9 and providing a core curriculum in the transition years of grades 7, 8 and 9.
Over the past 18 months, having met with many parents and educators, I have come to the conclusion that our young people must have the opportunity to fully explore their options and develop their interests and abilities before choosing an area of specialization that will ultimately help determine their career paths. But equally important is each student’s need for a solid foundation of knowledge and of skills.
Our new core program in the transition years will build upon a renewed emphasis on basic skills in the primary grades, with a focus on measuring achievement, identifying problem areas and providing extra help where needed.
More than ever, today’s young people must have the ability to communicate clearly. They must also acquire basic skills in mathematics, science and technology and understand how these subjects apply to their lives. All of our children must have an equal opportunity to master the skills and knowledge that will be essential in finding meaningful employment in a new and highly competitive economy.
This program will be fully in place as of September 1992. Three quarters of the new core program in grade 9 will consist of mandatory subjects, a core curriculum including such essential areas as language, mathematics, science and technology. Students will be permitted to choose options for only one quarter of their grade 9 program, including such electives as technological studies, business studies and family studies.
In the days and months to come, I will be consulting with our partners in education on the implementation of this initiative. With their advice and expertise, I believe we can develop a curriculum and teacher training program that will be required and avoid the kinds of problems that were associated with the last structural change in 1984, when structures were changed without the appropriate backup and teaching resources.
In keeping with the excellent recommendations of the select committee on education, I will soon announce pilot projects in various parts of the province to assist us in developing the most appropriate curriculum and implementation strategy.
The process of learning is a process of change, and clearly we have to show the flexibility to accommodate this change. If we are to be successful in providing all of our students with an equal opportunity to learn, we must make it easier for students to adapt and switch areas of specialization in their later years. Our emphasis all through these years will be on counselling, flexibility, co-operative learning, enhanced guidance and home-room teaching.
The opportunity to learn must be an opportunity shared by all of our children. These and other changes will help us to allow our children to reach their full potential.
Mr R. F. Johnston: It was a short throne speech, some might even say a focused throne speech. Some of us were a little disappointed with the constraints on it, and now we are finding out that even that which was supposed to be the meat of the throne speech is not going to take effect in this province until 1992.
We are going to have three more throne speeches before we even see this program on destreaming take place, and we are supposed to get excited about the action of this reform-minded Liberal government which is now reasserting its agenda.
This is laughable. It clearly indicates that the minister himself has a bit of a reading problem. He had a little remedial help in terms of even looking at what the consensus of the select committee on education said. He seems to have been able to read only certain recommendations. He missed certain pages almost entirely as he has brought forward this half-baked notion of what destreaming is going to be.
I would just like to suggest to the minister that one of our prime notions on that committee is that there has to be an emphasis on counselling, not just one word about it in a statement in his second-last paragraph, but an understanding that kids in grades 7 and 8 do not receive sufficient counselling at this stage and that there is a gap between the counselling they receive in the elementary panel and what they receive in the secondary panel. We suggested that he link up that counselling and make the counsellors follow the students as a fundamental portion of what he is talking about.
He said very little in this speech of his today, short as it is on detail, about whether he understands that there must be a reduction of class size in grade 9 if he is going to make this work.
Teachers in the secondary panel who have been teaching heterogeneous classes -- in other words, they have been specializing in dealing with a basic-skill class or an advanced-skill class but not mixing those kids in their classes -- are not trained to deal with the kind of new heterogeneity we are asking for.
They are not used to the home-room style of teachers who have most of the classes under their care and they are not going to be able to deal with 30 kids in that kind of a situation where we have several learning-disabled kids, some kids who would normally be considered basic-level kids, some general-level kids and some advanced-level kids.
They are not going to be able to deal with those without a major reduction in class size in grade 9, and there is no recognition of that fact in this presentation, even though the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association, when it came before us, stressed that the government would have to make these kinds of changes.
I do not understand why the minister has not said something here about the kind of retraining possibilities that will be there for those teachers and about what he is going to do to pick up the bucks that will be required if that is to be done appropriately.
The important thing about this is we tried to indicate in the committee that we have to start the notion of getting away from streaming an awful lot earlier in the system and that grouping kids by ability only was taking place in the primary section at the moment, not just in the intermediate section, and that whole practice has to be broken.
Again, the minister has not concentrated on that this afternoon, as he should have, and as a result is telling us the government has not thought through how to do this, has no particular plan at all to put forward and is not going to be answering the great concerns out there in the teaching community and in the boards about this kind of process.
Those of us who have been wanting to see destreaming undertaken are basically kind of disappointed that the minister is so slow off the mark and that he has not realized the context it should be put in. Those people who are hostile to destreaming are going to have all of their fears magnified by this announcement today.
We in this party are very disappointed with the lack of direction of the government at this time.
Mr Jackson: I guess my primary concern about the minister’s announcement is that it follows so quickly on the heels of the throne speech yesterday. I understand that the government is carving out this territory with respect to educational reforms. They read a couple of polls. They tell the public what it would like to hear. There has been very limited consultation on the specific details of implementation.
What the public must realize very quickly about this government’s quick-off-the-mark approach to education is the overall context in which the financing for these educational reforms will occur. The government must realize, and the minister is painfully aware of it, that the general legislative grants in this province have dropped from 44.6 per cent down to 42.7 per cent, one of the most severe, draconian drops in general legislative grants in the last decade.
The minister has to realize that everything he enunciates in this House has a pricetag attached to it. He keeps reducing the provincial contribution and further compounding and overloading local property taxpayers all across this province.
The fact is that he will not address the issue of resources. In his response to the select committee on education, very clearly the only mention he makes of the commitment to fund these programs -- I will quote directly from his response -- the Minister of Education (Mr Ward) says his ministry “recognizes the importance of providing resources to boards and will continue to make every effort to secure appropriate financing.”
It is abundantly clear, based on the general legislative grants and based on the recent capital allocation and his formula reduction, that the minister is losing in his battle at the cabinet table for the necessary resources to implement these kinds of reforms.
I want to ask the minister about his time lines for implementation. There were some very good presentations made to his office during the select committee on education activities but, quite frankly, his implementation date is mysteriously timed for the next provincial election.
If he is going to use pilot projects across this province, how can he suggest that these pilot projects, with only one year, or a year and a half at best, will give him sufficient time to analyse whether or not they have been effectively implemented?
Finally, I would ask the minister, because he has not been very clear in his very brief announcement today, what treatment he is going to be giving to students in occupational and vocational schools because, quite frankly, mainstreaming in these institutions presents a severe challenge to some of Ontario’s students. We do not want the minister in his announcement to leave those teachers, those students and those parents out on a limb.
I see the Minister without Portfolio responsible for disabled persons (Mr Mancini) is nodding in disapproval, but there is a Western Secondary School down in his part of the country and it cannot get a straight answer from this government with respect to where it is going with vocational students. I encourage the minister who sits directly behind the Minister of Education to perhaps examine this question and demand that the minister make some clarifying statements for those families of vocational students.
I would encourage the government to stop continuing in its trend of avoiding being the bill payer of this province for education reforms and stop being the total and solitary decision-maker for educational matters in this province and to work in a consultative manner with both school boards and teachers in terms of implementing these reforms.
Mrs Cunningham: I think the real question for the transition years in education is, one, who will teach these students? We are talking about 140 people in teachers’ colleges across this province, 140 in technical education studies. They should all be hired by one school board tomorrow. That is 140 technical teachers for the whole of the province.
The other question that should be answered is, “Where will they be taught?” Right now, the real problem in education is that we have too many students in portables. Does this really mean, during the transition years, that we will be teaching students of technical education and business in portables? When the minister talks about partners in education, is he talking about co-operating with business and industry, and where is the emphasis today on technological education?
Mr B. Rae: I have some questions today to the Premier about garbage. During the break, the Premier was very heavily involved with the announcements made by the five regional chairmen about garbage and the disposal of garbage. He was personally at the press conference.
I would like to ask him a question very directly, and bring him down to earth if I can with respect to some of the things that were said yesterday in the throne speech. There is a contingency landfill which is now being actively discussed, the next landfill that will take in the garbage from the five regions.
The chairmen talk about the fact that the province has agreed on contingency provisions because it wishes to avert any potential environmental crisis. The greater Toronto area proposal is very careful to say that there will be a “public environmental suitability examination,” but it does not refer to an environmental assessment.
I want to ask the Premier specifically this question. Can he tell us whether there will be a complete, exhaustive environmental assessment of the next dump site contingency, part-time, full-time or whatever, or are we going to make do with a process in which the government simply does an end run around this whole situation?
Hon Mr Peterson: I think the minister can help my honourable friend with this whole matter.
Hon Mr Bradley: I have missed the House over the last period of time and the opportunity to share a few thoughts with my colleagues.
Mr R. F. Johnston: Where are those fluorescent green pants you were wearing?
Hon Mr Bradley: They are not on today. This is just the tie today.
Mr Reville: Where do you scratch and sniff?
Hon Mr Elston: Mr Speaker, they will not let the honourable member answer the question. They do not want to hear the answer to this.
Hon Mr Bradley: There will be tickets available at the appropriate time. I know that members of the opposition will want some of those tickets and we will ensure that they are available across Ontario.
In regard to the question of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr B. Rae), there have been a number of discussions which have taken place between officials of the government of Ontario and the chairmen of the regions, who have expressed an interest in getting together to work on the environmental challenges that they must meet over the next few years in terms of disposal of garbage.
One of the areas that we have placed a good deal of emphasis on, of course, is the fact that there must be a very significant diversion of waste from either landfills or incinerators in Ontario. We have established the goal, as the member would know, of course, of some 25 per cent by the year 1992 and 50 per cent by the year 2000.
Mrs Grier: I would certainly like to welcome the Minister of the Environment to the discussion of the greater Toronto area’s waste disposal problems. It is the first time he has been heard from on the issue, so we are glad that the question was deflected to him. I did not hear an answer to the Leader of the Opposition’s question and I would like to place it very directly to the Minister of the Environment.
Does the Minister of the Environment consider that the inclusion in the GTA proposal of the description, “public environmental suitability examination,” when it comes to the contingency landfill, is sufficient? If not, will he ensure that there is a full environmental assessment of any contingency landfill?
Hon Mr Bradley: As the Premier indicated at the time of the announcement, looking at the long-term efforts of the various regions that are attempting to get together to solve problems which they have had to solve exclusive of another in the past, they have indicated very clearly that there will be an environmental assessment taking place because we are looking well into the future when we talk about the long-term results of this particular scrutiny of any of the options that are available.
In terms of the interim, the member knows that in our policy in Ontario, we have expansions which take place from time to time. We have applied a policy that where an expansion takes place or an addition to a site takes place, there is an appropriate environmental hearing under the Environmental Protection Act in that specific instance of an expansion of a site, which examines very carefully all aspects of that particular site that may be placed on the table.
Any site that would come forward on an interim basis, we would look at very carefully to determine what should and what should not be approved. Our ministry officials look at it carefully. All government agencies scrutinize very carefully any site that would be put forward to determine whether that site is environmentally safe or not. We want to ensure that all the scientific and technical information --
The Speaker: Thank you.
Mr B. Rae: On 23 January 1989, I asked the Premier to tell us in detail what he knew about the proposal from Envacc Resources for the greater Toronto area. The Premier said this was a regional responsibility. He did not tell me or the House that on 23 June 1988 he met with a number of the principals of Envacc Resources, was briefed for some time, gave that company particular advice as to how to proceed and indicated that he was impressed with the fact that Marco Muzzo was one of the principals of the company.
Was the minister present at that meeting? Can he tell us why the Premier did not inform the House as to the details of that meeting? Can he tell us, if he was not there, why he was not included in a discussion which is of considerable importance to the future of the environment of the greater Toronto area?
Hon Mr Bradley: As the Leader of the Opposition will know, the Premier meets with a number of people throughout the year, probably hundreds, perhaps thousands of people, to discuss a number of proposals that affect the government as a whole.
The member will recall particularly that the Premier is the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs as well as being the Premier. In that capacity he has the ability to meet with people who are regional chairmen and other municipal people on a variety of subjects. It is to be said that all options are available to the regional chairmen who have agreed to get together to solve what they consider to be a genuine challenge in the future and that all options are being canvassed by those people.
The Premier has, over a series of months, met with a number of people on this subject and other subjects, to deal with the Metropolitan Toronto area, the adjacent regions and some of the long-term options that the government of Ontario is canvassing. I am sure that in the future, if public sector or private sector people desire to meet with the Premier, they will have an opportunity to do so.
The Speaker: Order.
Mr B. Rae: The question is whether he will invite the minister to the meeting. I guess that is the one we are all asking.
Mr B. Rae: I have a question for the Minister of Financial Institutions about car insurance. The minister made an announcement a couple of weeks ago about his plans for the future.
I wonder if he can tell us exactly what authority under the current act, the law which was debated and presented by the Treasurer (Mr R. F. Nixon) when he was minister and which was debated in this House for some time, what sections, what parts of the act he is relying on in his declaration that there will be a 7.6 per cent cap for this year and that in fact no changes will take place until 1990. Can he tell us what legal authority he has for that?
Hon Mr Elston: Legislation will be required and it will be brought forward in due course.
Mr B. Rae: I wonder if the minister could then confirm that he is telling us that this House spent weeks, indeed months, debating legislation with respect to automobile insurance following the 1987 election -- I want to make sure I have got this right -- we then set up the Ontario Automobile Insurance Board, which spent over $7 million of public money in having a hearing on classification and on rates, involving millions of dollars of insurance money which ends up coming out of the hides of drivers, that is literally millions and millions of dollars taken out of the hides of drivers and out of the hides of taxpayers --
The Speaker: Question.
Mr B. Rae: After that entire process is over, is the minister telling us that what the insurance board has done and ordered will not in fact take place this year? Is that what he is telling us?
Hon Mr Elston: The value of the Ontario Automobile Insurance Board has been well discussed, and I can assure the member that the advice it has given me in the course of several recommendations has provided us here in the legislative forum and also the public with the opportunity to examine in very minute detail the manner in which insurance rates are structured or put together and the components that go into determining what costs there are in running insurance programs.
You will know, Mr Speaker, much better than perhaps the Leader of the Opposition, that money spent in examining in very thorough detail the way in which products are delivered to provide protections for the citizens of this province is never misspent; in fact, the money has been well spent and has been very useful for us as we examine options which are ahead of us.
I can tell the honourable gentleman that we are moving to examine the options that are now in front of the Ontario Automobile Insurance Board and that we view the deliberations that it is now involved with as being very critical items, in particular items which will come forward to us as we make a decision on product reform.
The money has been well spent. It has been well worth it and in fact it has been a process which has provided the public in Ontario with the best education possible, I think, about insurance in any jurisdiction in North America.
Mr B. Rae: I talked to the minister about this back in February 1989 when we got the first report out from the insurance board. I want the minister to listen to the words he used to describe what I said. I warned him what would happen in terms of rates going up and what the implication would be. He said what I said was absolutely false; he said what I said was absolutely wrong. He went on to say that we did not know what we were talking about and that as time unfolded, time would prove how right the minister was and how wrong the critics of him were, whether they were on this side or in that party -- my good friend the member for Leeds-Grenville (Mr Runciman) -- or from the senior citizens’ organizations.
Hon Mr Wrye: There’s a real setback for his leadership.
The Speaker: Order.
Hon Mr Ward: You guys are going to have a strike.
Mr Reville: He just dropped 10 points in the poll.
Hon Mr Bradley: Are you watching, Tom Long?
The Speaker: Order, order.
Hon Mr Scott: One down, six to go.
Hon Mr Bradley: Left is right and right is left.
The Speaker: Order.
Hon Mr Conway: Boy, that makes Lorne Nystrom look pure.
Hon Mr Peterson: Who are you running for anyway?
Mr Harris: May I get a thousand copies of that Hansard?
The Speaker: Order. Does the Leader of the Opposition have the final supplementary?
Mr B. Rae: I do; and when I say “Leader of the Opposition,” I mean the whole opposition.
What I want to ask the minister is, in light of the things that he said would happen -- which have proven to be completely false -- if I may borrow his words, and in light of the allegations which he made about all of us on the other side who were so critical, does he not think he owes it to the people of this province to resign, in light of the genuine incompetence that he has shown in terms of the handling of this issue? It has cost millions of dollars; it has wasted taxpayers’ money.
Hon Mr Elston: I owe it to the public of this province to ensure that we have a product that protects the people. That is what I am doing; I move with dispatch to make sure there is protection in place for the people of this province. I may have made a mistake in trying to find a common bridge between the Leader of the Opposition and the left-leaning member for Leeds-Grenville, but I see that has now occurred. The leader agrees that they are good pals and everything, but I will say that I never deviate from my one criterion, and that is that with respect to this party we reach to protect the public of this province in a way which is sensible and in fact sensitive to the needs of the people. I will never deviate from that. I will step in where required to protect the interests of the public. I will not shirk my responsibility in that manner at all.
Mr Brandt: As an aside, let me just say that the member for Leeds-Grenville has been called many things, but very few times has he been called left wing -- I want members to know that -- or particularly a friend of the Leader of the Opposition.
Mr Brandt: My first question is to the Premier and it is with respect to the throne speech which was read yesterday. The Premier will recall the section relating to the extension of programs for students in kindergarten and the half day that was going to be made available through his government for four-year-olds and a full day of kindergarten classes for five-year-olds.
Government officials we have contacted have indicated to us that this will require some 50,000 student spaces in order to fulfil the Premier’s commitment made in his throne speech. I know that the government would not make such a commitment without a very full, a very thorough and a very detailed analysis of the cost.
Would the Premier simply share the cost of this program, what he feels it is going to amount to in terms of the total cost for providing these spaces, and will the Premier indicate and make a commitment that his government is going to pay for those costs?
Hon Mr Peterson: First of all, let me say to my honourable friend that I am delighted he is here to ask such an insightful question. We were all worried that my honourable friend was going to be so upset by the rumblings in his own party that he was going to leave and not be here in this House with us. I would say to my honourable friend: They may not like him, but we do like him on this side of the House.
I am glad my honourable friend asked that question, because I think he understands the significance of this initiative. As my honourable friend will know, this government believes in improving the quality of education. We started some time ago in bringing the student-teacher ratio down in grades 1 and 2. We will be continuing in the long term with offering child care to five-year-olds and four-year-olds. Many of the studies, my honourable friend will be aware, say that it has a significant impact on their capacity to learn. This is a significant new thrust forward.
My friend has done some research over the last couple of minutes to give him some new insights into the significance and importance of this program. Let me say that it was worked out in quite significant detail and at the appropriate time in this House the minister will stand, in conjunction with the Treasurer (Mr R. F. Nixon), and give him all the details, and I am sure he will stand up and squeal with delight.
Mr Brandt: The Premier has made my day and I am so delighted to hear that he likes me. I just cannot tell the members how that has fulfilled all of my aspirations for this day’s question period.
I have not as yet heard an answer to my question, however, so I will help the Premier with some of the research that has been done in connection with the cost of this program.
The analysis that we have taken on this side of the House would indicate that the 50,000 spaces that are going to be required to fulfil the Premier’s commitment are going to cost a minimum of $162 million and probably considerably more than that by the time all of the program is fully implemented.
I would simply like to ask the Premier one more time -- it is a very simple question: Is it his intention to have his government, the province of Ontario, pay the full cost of the program or does he intend, through the kind of unique approach he uses to some problems over there, to introduce perhaps a new lottery that he could call Kidtario or something like that?
Hon Mr Peterson: That is the most creative idea my friend opposite has had in a number -- we will write that down and we will study it, but we do not believe in funding education through lotteries, as my friend obviously does. But I do appreciate his idea.
I can tell him that this program, like all the other ones, will be funded appropriately, by a very generous and insightful and thoughtful Treasurer, at the appropriate time.
Mr Brandt: The Premier may think that is an adequate answer. I have asked him whether or not his government is prepared to pay for the cost of the program he is introducing.
I want him to know that an analysis of the promises he has made through his Minister of Education (Mr Ward) to date would indicate that the government has broken a number of promises which total some $3 billion. That is what has happened under his government. We have another promise which is heaped upon that -- $3 billion in broken promises.
Very simply, is it the Premier’s intention to hold to his commitment to fulfil the costs of what this program is going to cost -- obviously he has analysed it; we do not have to wait for the Treasurer’s budget to find out this information -- or is he, one more time, going to shove the cost of these programs on to local boards of education?
Hon Mr Peterson: I say to my honourable friend, of course we are going to fund it appropriately. It will all be in the budget when the Treasurer brings it forward and the member will be delighted.
Mr Brandt: Appropriate funding in the past has been raising taxpayers’ costs at the local level far too frequently.
Mr Brandt: My next question is to the Minister of the Environment. I would like to pursue, if I might, the same question with respect to the Environmental Assessment Act and the minister’s proposals in regard to the Rouge Valley.
The minister will be aware that the greater Toronto area, which is studying this entire matter at the moment, may well make a recommendation today in connection with the Rouge Valley and its use as a possible dump site. Within the last week, the Minister of Skills Development (Mr Curling) indicated, in remarks that were attributed to him, that the province of Ontario intends to protect the Rouge Valley. By that, I would take it to mean that he will protect the Rouge Valley against a dump site and also against the possibility of a highway being constructed in that particular area. Will the minister today confirm to this House that it is his intention to undergo a complete environmental assessment -- the answer to that question which he did not respond to when it was raised by the opposition party -- and will he in fact indicate that his government is prepared to do everything possible to preserve the Rouge?
Hon Mr Bradley: As the member would be aware, the Premier (Mr Peterson) has said on a number of occasions that the government of Ontario will in fact be protecting and preserving the park land in that area. He would be aware as well that the Minister of Natural Resources (Mr Kerrio), under the auspices of his ministry and through the conservation authority, has provided a good deal of money already for the purchase of land and for the operation of a park.
We, as a government -- and I am sure I am speaking on behalf of my colleague the Minister of Natural Resources, who has jurisdiction over parks -- as the Premier has said intend to have the valley protected for park purposes. That is the policy of this government. A number of discussions are taking place; the municipalities have been involved; the conservation authority has been involved; there has been some public involvement in terms of residents of that particular area who have given input. At an appropriate time, the government will make an announcement as to its policy in the entire area.
I know the member shares with our government the feeling that the Rouge Valley is rather a unique place, and that we intend to preserve it as an urban wilderness area.
Mr Brandt: I can recall, with some degree of interest, the response of the now Minister of the Environment whenever the environmental process was bypassed for whatever reason when he sat in opposition. Here we have one of the most sensitive parcels of land left in the greater Metropolitan Toronto area and we cannot get a straight answer out of him as to whether or not he will make sure that the application of the environmental assessment process is fulfilled to the letter of the law.
Since he will not answer that question, will he answer the question in regard to the offer that was made directly to him by the federal government in connection with a $10-million park? Is he now prepared, since he is constantly indicating that the federal government is not prepared to enter into a partnership with him on various programs, to commit that he will enter into a partnership with the federal government to develop a proper park land in the Rouge Valley?
Hon Mr Bradley: I am going to talk about it positively. I do not want to sound negative on this day. There is a new federal Minister of the Environment to deal with, so I will try to be very positive about this.
We see that $10 million as an excellent deposit on the ultimate cost of the development of this area. I remember when the previous minister, Mr McMillan, came to that part of the province and indicated his support. I expressed at that time again, as did the Minister of Natural Resources, happiness that the federal government was prepared to begin to involve itself financially in such an undertaking. We welcome it. But I think the minister who is responsible for parks would indicate to you that the final cost of the acquisition of land and the appropriate looking-after of the area would be several times the $10 million which has been suggested.
Please let me say that I think it is an excellent start. We welcome them in joining in the program that the Premier and the Minister of Natural Resources have announced to retain this area for park purposes. We welcome their contribution to our plan, and if they wish to bring more money --
The Speaker: Thank you. Final supplementary.
Mr Brandt: I want to try one more time to see if the minister will in fact respond to a very direct question in connection with the ultimate use of that property and the process that will be used in order to reach a decision acceptable to all of the councils that surround the Rouge Valley, in response to the interest they have expressed directly to him by indicating they do not want a dump in that particular area.
I want to ask the minister a very clear and very simple question: Is he prepared to require that the full environmental assessment process be fulfilled with respect to any undertakings in the Rouge, or is he going to continue to dance verbally and hope that he can get off the hook on this somehow so he does not have to respond in terms of specifics? What is the intention of his ministry? It is a very simple question.
Hon Mr Bradley: There has been some speculation that the member has referred to as to what might take place in that area. It is probably inappropriate to comment on that kind of speculation.
I have seen no such proposals coming forward for the Rouge Valley at the present time, other than the park land proposal, which the Premier and the Minister of Natural Resources have made reference to.
I think the proposal that I have seen that the member makes reference to, which is speculation, is in fact not one which is in the Rouge Valley. I think he is talking about some lands which are in Scarborough at that point. I would say that there will be a very careful assessment of anything that is brought forward for the purpose of development of any facility in that area. It must meet all of the requirements of the Ministry of the Environment as it relates to the environmental assessment process and as it relates to all aspects of any proposal that would be brought forward. There will be a public hearing under the auspices of the Environmental Assessment Board, as there is in these instances. I imagine that would be the case for any proposal that is brought forward.
Mr R. F. Johnston: My question is to the Minister of Education and regards the rather limited goals set for kindergarten, which turn out to be even less significant than we had thought.
The minister must be aware that the vast majority of school boards around the province already have the programs he is talking about, and the majority of the ones that do not are the growth boards, which cannot accommodate them.
I want to ask a question around half-day junior kindergarten as it relates to the York Region Board of Education. They estimate that 20 per cent of their schools cannot accommodate one more portable. Therefore, they have to consider enormous renovation costs to do what the ministry is requesting, because it is not putting money into this. They either have to bus junior kindergarten kids from one part of their ward to another or provide inequality of access, depending on their growth areas, to their existing areas. What is the minister suggesting those boards to do with this particular announcement that came out yesterday?
Hon Mr Ward: I am delighted that the member for Scarborough would raise the issue of this very important initiative, one that I believe represents a very important investment in our future in this province.
Many boards throughout Ontario have been offering junior kindergarten programs; very few, I might add though, have full-day senior kindergarten programs, only nine out of 178 boards clear across the province.
There is no question that these initiatives will have associated with them significant costs, but over the course of the past year and a half, having listened to parents throughout this province and having received input from teachers and very many other interested parties, I believe it is essential we proceed. I believe the people of this province are prepared to pay the costs associated with this initiative.
Mr R. F. Johnston: The minister has his head in the sand when it comes to these growth boards and their terrible problems of space. Let’s deal, if we can now, with the issue of full-time senior kindergarten. Talking to Ms Parrish of the Peel of Board of Education, which has 558 portables on hand at the moment I remind the minister, she estimates that to go to full-time senior kindergarten in that board alone would cost $77.5 million.
I was trying to think of my second supplementary. Ms Parrish gave it to me and I would like to pose it to the minister on her behalf. What the hell are the growth boards going to do now that the minister has raised everyone’s expectations to levels which cannot be met?
Hon Mr Ward: I point out that the member should know by now that this government has participated in a very large way in trying to help local boards of education meet their accommodation needs, a responsibility that does rest with local boards under the regulations and statutes of this province. I will let the figures speak for themselves.
In the last two years, our allocations have created space for an additional 120,000 students during a period of time in which total enrolment growth in Ontario has been 45,000. Sure, it will take some time to meet the backlog of needs, but the member will know that even in the growth regions our allocation program is producing additional accommodation at a much greater pace than the pace of enrolment growth.
I also point out to the member that many boards within those growth regions in fact do offer junior kindergarten programs, because they have made a choice at the local level that these programs are indeed important. I believe they are important to the 50,000 parents of 50,000 four-year-olds in this province who do not have access to these programs. I do not think their ability to access this program should be limited to their ability to pay the costs. They should be available for each and every child.
The Speaker: New question, the member for Burlington South.
Mr Jackson: My question is also to the Minister of Education.
Mr R. F. Johnston: Then why are you not changing the Education Act to mandate four year old attendance?
The Speaker: Order. The member for Scarborough West has asked a question and a supplementary.
Mr R. F. Johnston: I’m sorry; I promised the Speaker I would not heckle today.
The Speaker: You did. New question, the member for Burlington South.
Mr Jackson: I am going to ask basically the same question, and we will keep asking these questions until we get the answers. Yesterday in its throne speech, the government stated that the federal government must honour its funding commitments to joint programs. That seems to contradict exactly the practices of the provincial government with respect to funding commitments for local school boards.
Last Friday, the minister announced school capital allocations in the Halton region, and we find out now that 50 per cent of all the new capital allocations for schools, for new classrooms, must come out of the local ratepayer. We want to know, now that the government wants the Halton Board of Education to introduce junior kindergarten programs where those programs are not being provided, where is the minister going to get the additional classroom spaces to implement those programs? Where is he going to put those children and who is going to pay for those programs?
Hon Mr Ward: As I indicated in a response to the previous question, the member knows full well that this government has participated very substantially in a program to assist boards meet their capital needs. It seems the member for Burlington South has a very short memory. Let me take him back to his days as a trustee with the Halton Board of Education when, some five years ago, that board embarked on a $35-million expenditure plan, all at local taxpayer expense because the government of the day would not participate in capital programs.
The government of the day had, over five years, an expenditure level that was less than the annual commitment to boards given by this government, given because we believe it is appropriate and the needs of our children come first in our school system. Frankly, we intend to meet the needs that are out there. We intend to ensure this program is fully implemented in every region of this province and we intend to provide the support necessary to see this is done.
Mr Jackson: The numbers thrown around by the Minister of Education certainly are not designed to illuminate the truth of what is happening in capital allocations to school boards. In fact, what he will not put in any of his press releases is that he is $163 million late with the flow of that capital money. That speaks of the strength of his commitment.
If we can go back to Halton, on Friday, he announced $23 million worth of new schools and renovations for that board. On that same day, the minister unilaterally reduced the percentage contribution that comes from his government and he did that without prior consultation. As a result, $11 million is now going to have to be raised by local taxpayers with what he calls long-term debt financing. Since the kindergarten initiative is dependent on finding new classroom spaces, is it not just another one of his sexy Liberal promises that is going to be built entirely on the backs of taxpayers from their wallets?
Hon Mr Ward: I would just say to my friend how short his memory is and take him back once again to his days as a trustee in the region of Halton when all those costs were being borne by the local ratepayers. Last week, it was my pleasure to announce a program that will generate $1.1 billion worth of school construction in this province.
I do not think we should lose sight of the fact that over the course of the past three years alone, some 200 new schools have been under construction in this province and that enrolment in all our schools is still some 200,000 students less than it was in those schools just 10 years ago. It will take some time, I will acknowledge, to make up for some of the backlog of needs that has accumulated over the years for some strange reason, but I can tell the member that we will continue to provide that support to local boards to meet the needs of all the children in this province.
DISCLOSURE OF ADOPTION INFORMATION
Mr Miclash: I have a question for the Minister of Community and Social Services. In 1986, when adoption disclosure amendments were presented to the Legislature for first reading, the minister spoke of a need to strike the best possible balance between the right to individual privacy and the right of adoptees to know about their past. We all favour a more open approach to adoption disclosure. However, I am concerned that adoptive parents do not receive the kind of support that has been so appropriately provided to the adoptee and the natural parent.
I would therefore like to ask the minister if he would consider providing counselling to adoptive parents in recognition of the fact that sensitive information about an adoption can be disruptive to the family unit.
Hon Mr Sweeney: When we made the changes the honourable member speaks about, we indicated clearly, with respect to the final decision that would affect the birth parent and the adult adoptee in terms of the opportunity to have a meeting, that it would require the consent of only those two. That was a change from the previous legislation which also required the consent of the adoptive parent.
However, we indicated at that same time that the range of services that was contained in those changes would be available to any party to the adoption process. That certainly included the adoptive parents at that time and certainly includes them today. We are not in any way suggesting the adoptive parents should be left out of the procedure. The only change we made was to not require the active consent of the adoptive parent. But as far as counselling services are concerned, that is certainly available to the adoptive parents as well.
Mr Miclash: I thank the minister. My question is, how are the adoptive parents made aware of the availability of these counselling services?
Hon Mr Sweeney: That does pose a small problem because the present procedure calls for the adult adoptee and the birth parent to have both registered their names on the adoption register. When that happens, they are both approached by staff of my ministry and asked whether or not a reunion is desired. If they say yes and if they both give their consent, that is done. There is no requirement in the existing legislation to involve the adoptive parents in any similar way.
However, any adoptive parent, I am sure, would be aware of the fact this process is under way. A simple request from any office of the Ministry of Community and Social Services would bring the necessary counselling support if that is what they would require.
Mr B. Rae: I have a question for the Minister of Health. I am sure she will know that my colleague the member for Riverdale (Mr Reville), my friend the member for Lake Nipigon (Mr Pouliot) and I went to a number of communities on James Bay last week. It was a revelation to the three of us. We spent four days in a number of communities, talking about health care and a number of issues, but focusing especially on health care.
I would like to ask the minister a question about Attawapiskat, a community she knows because she visited it herself. A coroner’s jury reported earlier in 1989 on the tragic death of a young woman named Rita Koostachin who died in June 1988 after falling off an all-terrain vehicle. It took six hours for her to be properly transported and cared for.
When the minister was in Attawapiskat, she received a letter from the chief and the band which outlined a number of areas of concern. One of these specifically was the question of why there are no ambulances in this community, and I might point out to the minister there are no ambulances in any of the communities we visited.
The second recommendation of the coroner’s jury in the death of Rita Koostachin is that there should be an ambulance vehicle that is associated with the hospital, that is attended by professionals and that is there on a 24-hour basis. There are over 1,000 people in this community. It is completely isolated.
I wonder if the minister would not now agree, after the tragic death of Rita Koostachin and the report of the coroner’s jury, that it is now time to provide ambulances for these communities.
Hon Mrs Caplan: As the Leader of the Opposition knows, I was in Attawapiskat and I am aware of the conditions there. What I have said very clearly to our native communities is that while we do not wish in any way to interfere with their aspirations or enter into any kind of jurisdictional dispute with the federal government, we have appointed a native health coordinator within the ministry to help us meet the needs of the native communities in this province.
Mr B. Rae: The appointment of another civil servant is, I am sure, going to cause joy and celebration to spread all throughout north of the 50th parallel. In fact, I am sure as they hear this news, they are cheering on the shores of the Albany River and on the Attawapiskat, right across up to Hudson Bay. That is not the issue. The question is, what are the services that are going to be provided in these communities?
I asked a very specific question to the minister. She was asked that same specific question when she was there last summer. We now have a coroner’s jury that says an ambulance is essential in order to save lives and advance the interests of people whose lives are threatened because of the absence of services.
I want to ask the minister specifically, why is there now no ambulance service in Attawapiskat? Why is there no ambulance service in Fort Albany? Why is there no ambulance service in Moose Factory? Why is there no ambulance service in Kashechewan? What is she going to do to see that there are ambulance services in these communities?
The Speaker: Order. There are four questions there.
Hon Mrs Caplan: As the Leader of the Opposition would know, the remoteness of the James Bay coast presents very special challenges to meeting the needs of the native people. We are very aware of that and I want to tell him that ministry officials are going to be in the James Bay area in May, meeting with the communities to discuss ambulance services specifically and the health needs of those communities in general.
Mr Runciman: My question is for the Minister of Financial Institutions. I am sure many of us are intrigued by the decision-making process within this government and I think the Leader of the Opposition’s call for the minister’s resignation was quite appropriate. Although I consider the minister a friend, I do not think there is any question this whole issue has been terribly mismanaged by this government.
The basis for the minister’s decision was common knowledge a year and a half ago. The standing committee on administration of justice -- witness after witness -- and his own study by William M. Mercer Ltd indicated there was going to be severe dislocation if they went ahead with their new rating criteria. I would like the minister to explain to taxpayers and consumers across this province why he waited until the last minute and why he wasted millions of their dollars by doing that.
Hon Mr Elston: The honourable gentleman is out looking for friends, having won the friendship of the Leader of the Opposition whose presence in Toronto awaits only his departure for Ottawa to replace Ed Broadbent. My friend the member for Leeds-Grenville is asking me about waste. I can tell him, as I told the other people who asked the questions, there is no waste involved there when you consider the amount of information we have generated to understand exactly what goes on inside a very complex insurance industry.
We have taken the industry apart section by section. We have looked at the components that have gone into the costs associated with the premiums we pay in this province and we have looked at those in a very technical and detailed manner, in a manner which we now know provides the consuming public of Ontario with information they never had before so that they can be wiser consumers in the purchase of their products. We have also found that in going through that entire process, it has moved our judgement as a government to look more towards product reform as a manner in which we will provide the protections required by the people of the province.
Our decision-making processes should not be any mystery to the member or to that other party. They should not be any mystery to the public. We want to protect the interests of the public. We want to protect the interests of the consumers of this province. We are doing so. In fact, we are committed to ensuring there is fair and equitable protection at a fair and equitable price for consumers across Ontario.
Mr Runciman: I guess $7 million of taxpayers’ money flushed down the toilet is a Liberal example of money well spent. I guess if it goes to Liberal worthies and a so-called independent board that can be disregarded in a moment, that is well-spent money.
This minister knew a year and a half or two years ago as well that the only precedent with respect to the system the government put in place in Ontario was what has occurred in the state of Massachusetts. I want to talk about forward planning. We know many companies are not writing auto policies in Toronto now. Thousands upon thousands of Metropolitan Toronto drivers could be forced into high-cost Facility Association insurance this summer in the coming months. I wonder, in terms of the minister’s planning, is he simply going to scoff at the opposition again and say it is not going to happen, or is he doing any planning? How is he going to deal with this crisis that is probably going to face thousands of Metropolitan Toronto drivers this year?
Hon Mr Elston: I have tried to deal with the questions of the honourable gentleman, the member for Leeds-Grenville, in a reasonable fashion. I have to repeat, however, for the people of the province so that they understand what is happening, that there is no waste in that.
I can tell the honourable gentleman that the $7 million that was spent has provided for us the detail, the background, the understanding with respect to the insurance industry in Ontario that is not so found in other parts of the land. In fact, we know what is going on inside the insurance industry now and we have decided that we will move to look more clearly at product reform. In fact, we have already taken several initiatives on the basis of the hearings.
The strange part about this is that when the member stands up and speaks to his public audiences, and when the members from that opposition party stand up and speak to the public, they use some of the material that was generated at the public hearings in front of the Ontario Automobile Insurance Board to say, “We have to have reforms here, here and here,” some of which we have already announced as a government, to move towards better driver education, better standards of control of accident costs and things like those.
In addition to that, we have moved further to refer to the board in a very public manner a review of products that may help us reform the system to be even fairer in the appreciation of the problems created by automobile accidents. We are doing the work that is required for forward-thinking and for the protection of the people in the province.
Mr Faubert: My question is to the Minister of Transportation. Last week, the Toronto Star carried an article that speculated about a possible announcement on the extension of the Spadina subway line to Sheppard Avenue, north from Wilson Avenue. In this article, it was mentioned that the province has said it prefers a York University extension to the Sheppard subway proposal. As has been well noted in the past, the Sheppard subway would provide the essential transit link between the Scarborough Town Centre and the North York Centre, as well as have the benefit of attracting commercial development on nodes across the route itself.
Can the minister advise the House if the government has established a preference between the Sheppard subway and a York University line?
Hon Mr Fulton: I thank the member for his question and his ongoing interest in the transportation needs around Metropolitan Toronto. He would be aware that last May in this House, and in other forums, we announced a transportation strategy for the greater Metropolitan Toronto area and the four surrounding regions.
He would probably be aware that today Metro Toronto council is debating some of the options that have been reviewed and presented within that document. One of them, of course, is the extension of the Spadina line. He would also be aware that, in that connection, some time ago we announced a million dollars’ worth of funding to in fact ensure and protect the Sheppard corridor, not only within the defined area as outlined in the Network 2011 report but also in fact to extend that protection right through to the Scarborough Town Centre.
Mr Faubert: I am pleased that the decision has not been made on the York University-versus-Sheppard line; but in addition to the protection of the right of way, can the minister advise the House what else has been done to ensure that the Sheppard subway remains the viable alternative that it needs to be?
Hon Mr Fulton: The member for Scarborough-Ellesmere will be well aware that there have been numerous negotiations ongoing with both the Toronto Transit Commission and members of Metro council. Indeed, I met only recently with the various mayors and the chairman of the Metro corporation. We share an interest with them in getting on with needed transit projects within the Metro area. There is a variety of options available, on the table, well known to them and well known to the public, with three or four options. We consider the Spadina extension as proposed to provide perhaps the maximum number of options as we proceed. It does not in any way preclude an east-west link along Sheppard or any other location.
Mr Morin-Strom: My question is for the Minister of Natural Resources, in the absence of the Premier (Mr Peterson).
In yesterday’s throne speech, the Liberal agenda for the province totally ignored northern Ontario and in particular one of the most important industries in northern Ontario, the lumber industry. This industry is under severe threat and in fact has lost, in the last week, another 800 jobs. We have heard of considerable losses, in fact in the home community of the Minister of Northern Development (Mr Fontaine), in Hearst, with the closure of Lévesque Lumber; in Sault Ste. Marie, where some 500 workers in the mills and woodlands associated with G. W. Martin have been laid off indefinitely as well.
The minister knows that the softwood lumber tax is at the heart of the matter. This government went along with that agreement. It has done nothing to put the funds that have come from that and that have gone to the provincial government back into those communities and back into that industry to ensure the long-term future of those workers. The Liberal response to the softwood lumber taxes has gone --
The Speaker: Order. That is a speech. Do you have a question?
Mr Morin-Strom: Will the minister tell us what he is going to do in order to ensure that workers in the lumber industry in northern Ontario will have a future in Ontario?
Hon Mr Kerrio: The comments that were made have absolutely no credibility. This government has made it a high priority to address the problems in northern Ontario. There has been a great deal of money expended to move my branch of forestry into northern Ontario, which is the first time that kind of initiative has been taken in the kinds of numbers that we are talking about. The fact of the matter, and one point that the member does make, is that the export tax is a major problem.
The other thing that he has said is absolutely not a matter of fact. This government has fought from day one not to go along with the export tax. We are not the only government in Canada to have taken that stance. Alberta stands just as firmly as we do in objecting to what the federal government did when it sold out our softwood lumber industry. I want to be fair and answer the questions the member poses; but they are so full of inaccuracies, how do I respond to something that does not make any sense?
The fact of the matter is that we stood firm against the 10 per cent. Alberta has. They have been trying to get us to put replacement measures in. We were not willing to do it.
Mr Wildman: Let’s deal with reality. Tomorrow 300 mill workers and woodlands workers will be laid off at Lévesque Lumber in Hearst. There is nothing in the throne speech at all about northern Ontario, much less anything dealing with this government’s response to the crisis in the lumber industry that has meant a total of 1,700 jobs has been lost. There is nothing from this government in the throne speech.
Can the minister explain why there has been this slap in the face to the mayor of Hearst, Gilles Gagnon, and to the workers in the lumber industry, in that the government has failed to respond to his request in a letter to the Premier (Mr Peterson) of 4 April 1989 when he pointed out the urgent need for assistance to ensure the lumber manufacturing industry in Ontario regains its competitive position? Why is there nothing in the throne speech outlining the steps Ontario intends to take for adjustment assistance for the industry and for the workers who have been hurt by the 15 per cent tax, since more sawmills are going to be closed in the future as a result of it?
Hon Mr Kerrio: There are a few things that have to be brought into perspective when one talks about this particular issue. I certainly am just as concerned as the member is, and many people on our side are, about the impact of the softwood lumber tax on our softwood lumber people, but that does not take away from the fact that this government has made a major commitment to planting, to aerial spraying and to some $80 million spent last year to protect the forest from fire.
We have been very active in the important aspects of protecting our forests. The Minister of Industry, Trade and Technology (Mr Kwinter) has an involvement with restructuring and doing some of the things that we can in order to address the problem of workers being displaced.
It is very high on my priority list. I would like the members on that side to know that it is a very important priority of this government to do everything that can be done for those people who are displaced.
Mr Wildman: Let’s deal with reality.
Hon Mr Kerrio: If the member were really interested he would not be shouting at me. I listened to what he had to say and I think it is appropriate he should do the same on an important issue like this.
The Speaker: Order.
Mr Harris: I was hoping today that the Minister of Housing could enlighten us as to why the Liberal government is virtually ignoring Ontario’s housing crisis. The throne speech is a document which lays out for one and all those directions and issues the government believes are important in the coming year. My question is: Why did the minister fail to make representation to the Premier to have housing included in this document?
Hon Ms Hošek: The member opposite knows very well that housing has been a high priority of this government for a number of years and, in fact, we have demonstrated our commitment to making sure there is action on the housing problem in a number of very concrete ways.
His question gives me the opportunity to detail them for the people in the House. As he knows very well, in the last budget the Treasurer (Mr R. F. Nixon) said there would be $2 billion of Canada pension plan funds available for building nonprofit housing in this province. I have been all over the province in the last number of months announcing 21,000 units of nonprofit housing to be allocated and to be built.
There are groups of nonprofit volunteers from churches and ethnic organizations, Rotary clubs and legions all over the province right now who are involved actively in the building process as a result of the commitment this government has made to making sure the supply of nonprofit housing in this province is massively increased. So right now, all over the province, there are people planning and actively involved in building as a result of our commitment to housing.
Another thing we have been doing that is very important, I think, is working with the municipalities to make sure the supply of housing comes on stream more quickly and that our goals for making sure housing is affordable --
Mr Harris: I have in this hand last year’s throne speech, where there were 14 specific housing thrusts that were mentioned as priorities of the government. I have in my right hand this document, the throne speech we heard yesterday. Not only does this speech ignore housing, it fails to mention a single accomplishment over the past year from the 14 specific thrusts that were mentioned here. I find this, quite frankly, rather bizarre. I would ask the minister this.
We want to know why there was nothing in the throne speech, and I think she owes this House an explanation as to why it was not in there. Was it because she does not believe there is a crisis out there? She reiterates the litany of what she is doing. Or is it that she acknowledges there is a crisis, but she really does not know what it is she should do about it, or does she simply not have the clout in cabinet?
The Speaker: Thank you. Order. The question has been asked.
Hon Ms Hošek: The member opposite knows that our budget in the Ministry of Housing today is twice what it was in 1985-86. The reason the budget is so high is all the commitments that have been made and that are being actively acted upon right now.
If the member opposite were more in touch with what was going on in his riding, he might know that more than 240 families in North Bay are now benefiting from the fact that a low-rise rehabilitation program has rehabilitated their housing. He would know that there have been 265 subsidized units put into North Bay, in his very riding, in the past two years. That is up from 16 such units that were present when his government was in power -- from 16 to 265 subsidized units.
If the member opposite is having trouble paying attention to all the things that we have been doing in the housing sector all over the province, I think that is a serious difficulty. We continue to pay attention to our commitment to housing and are working actively to build, to implement, to make very real the commitments that we have already entered into to make sure that the housing needs of the people in this province are more adequately met.
PROPOSED BUILDING SITE
Mr R. F. Johnston: I have a petition which, as well as being made out to the mayor and council of the city of Scarborough, is in fact addressed to the Honourable the Lieutenant Governor as follows:
“To the Honourable Lieutenant Governor and the Legislative Assembly of Ontario:
“We, the undersigned, beg leave to petition the Parliament of Ontario as follows:
“Whereas high-density residential development is being proposed adjacent to an abandoned dump site near Gerrard Street East and Clonmore Drive in the riding of Scarborough West, we insist that a full environmental impact study be carried out prior to excavation and construction of the proposed project.”
There are 138 signatures and I add my signature and my support.
SCHOOL OPENING AND CLOSING EXERCISES
Mr Pollock: I have a petition signed by approximately 800 people which reads as follows:
“To the Honourable the Lieutenant Governor and the Legislative Assembly of Ontario:
“We, the undersigned, beg leave to petition the Parliament of Ontario as follows:
“Whereas we believe the amendments to regulation 262 relating to the collective recitation of the Lord’s Prayer in open or closed exercises in public schools deprive many Ontario citizens of their established freedoms, we therefore object to the loss of our freedoms.”
I have affixed my signature to this petition.
Mr Epp: I have two petitions, one from a number of residents of Stratford. It reads:
“To the Lieutenant Governor and the Legislative Assembly of Ontario:
“We, the undersigned, beg leave to petition the Parliament of Ontario as follows:
“Whereas it is my constitutional right to have available and to choose the health care system of my preference;
“And whereas naturopathy has had self-governing status in Ontario for more than 42 years;
“We petition the Ontario Legislature to call on the government to introduce legislation that would guarantee naturopaths the right to practise their art and science to the fullest without prejudice or harassment.”
Mr Epp: I have another petition from my own constituency with hundreds of names on it and it reads:
“We, the undersigned, ask that there be a moratorium on clear-cut logging in Ontario until the problems of soil erosion, soil compaction, gross waste of wood, inappropriate site selection and harmful effects on plants and wildlife have been addressed.
“We further ask that the following measures be immediately adopted:
“That public and private sector funding for reforestation programs be increased to allow both long-term monitoring and expansion of programs to a large enough scale for sustaining future forestry;
“That current monocultural methods of reforestation be changed in recognition of the known dangers of this approach;
“That logging companies be compelled, by law, subject to financial penalties, to monitor and maintain reforested areas.”
SOUTH CENTENNIAL MANOR
Mr Pope: I have a petition addressed to the Lieutenant Governor and the members of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario:
“We, the undersigned, beg to petition the Legislature of Ontario as follows:
“The Ontario government okayed renovations and staff increases to cover extended care services at the South Centennial Manor in Iroquois Falls, Ontario.
“That same government is now reversing its decision, after the completion of the project, and is planning to limit extended care services in the South Centennial Manor, which in effect, would place a number of our senior citizens, without choice, out of the manor and into the hospitals.
“We, the citizens of Iroquois Falls and surrounding areas, protest the Ontario government’s decisions to limit extended care service in the South Centennial Manor.”
It is signed by 1,242 residents of Iroquois Falls and I have affixed my signature to it.
Miss Roberts: I have a petition to the Honourable the Lieutenant Governor and the Legislative Assembly of Ontario.
“We, the undersigned, beg leave to petition the Parliament of Ontario as follows:
“To amend the Teachers’ Superannuation Act, 1983, in order that all teachers who retired prior to May 31 1982 have their pensions recalculated on the best five years rather than at the present seven or 10 years.
“The proposed amendment would make the five-year criteria applicable to all retired teachers and would eliminate the present inequitable treatment.”
There are 29 signatures and I have affixed my name to it as required by the rules.
SENIOR CITIZENS’ APARTMENTS
Mr Harris: I have two petitions. One is to the Honourable the Lieutenant Governor and the Legislative Assembly of Ontario.
“We, the undersigned, beg leave to petition the Parliament of Ontario as follows:
“Whereas in 1973 the Ontario Housing Corp. constructed a senior citizen complex, consisting of a senior citizen apartment building situated at 135 Worthington Street West, in the city of North Bay; and
“Whereas it has come to our attention that senior citizen apartments have been rented to nonseniors;
“Be it resolved that we the undersigned support the establishment of a regulation whereby senior citizen apartments be made available to seniors only.”
I have signed this petition and it is signed by a couple of hundred petitioners. It is the third such petition on the same subject that I have tabled in this Legislature.
Mr Harris: The second one is to the Honourable the Lieutenant Governor and the Legislative Assembly of Ontario:
“We, the undersigned, beg leave to petition the Parliament of Ontario as follows:
“We would urge the provincial Treasurer and the government of Ontario to maintain tobacco taxes at their present level.”
I have affixed my signature to that as well. This is signed by several hundred petitioners and, I am sure, it enjoys the overwhelming support of my colleague from Carleton as well.
Mr Elliot: I have a petition to the Honourable the Lieutenant Governor and the Legislative Assembly of Ontario. It reads:
“We petition the Ontario Legislature to call on the government to introduce legislation that would guarantee naturopaths the right to practise their art and science to the fullest without prejudice or harassment.”
There are approximately 70 signatures on this petition and I have affixed my signature to it too.
REPORTS BY COMMITTEES
STANDING COMMITTEE ON FINANCE AND ECONOMIC AFFAIRS
Mr D. R. Cooke from the standing committee on finance and economic affairs presented the committee’s report and moved the adoption of its recommendations.
Mr D. R. Cooke: Briefly, this is a report we feel is a focused report unanimously asking the Treasurer (Mr R. F. Nixon) to: first, consider in the budget the recommendations of phase 1 of the Social Assistance Review Committee; second, set up a cross-ministry, cross-budget analysis of what that accomplishes; and third, consider a permanent round table on social and economic policy. It also includes a number of taxation recommendations and a number of other areas that the committee feels should be given priority consideration in an upcoming budget.
On motion by Mr D. R. Cooke, the debate was adjourned.
STANDING COMMITTEE ON SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT
Mrs O’Neill from the standing committee on social development presented the following report and moved its adoption:
Your committee begs to report the following bill as amended:
Bill 194, An Act to restrict Smoking in Workplaces.
Motion agreed to.
The Speaker: Shall the bill be ordered for third reading?
Mr Sterling: Committee of the whole House.
The Speaker: Some members said, “No, committee of the whole House.”
Hon Mr Conway: The question, as I understand it, is the ordering of Bill 194 for the next stage. Certainly it was our expectation that it would go to third reading. I am interested, if anyone wants to illuminate me otherwise.
Mr Harris: I think the committee members will recall that the member for Carleton (Mr Sterling), who has very ably represented my party on this, indicated that he felt this bill should indeed come before committee of the whole House. He indicated at the committee stage that he would be asking for that to take place. Therefore, I suggest the next logical step for it to go through is committee of the whole House before proceeding to third reading.
Hon Mr Conway: I am taken a bit by surprise because I certainly do not recall --
The Speaker: Order. Is there agreement that it go to committee of the whole House?
Bill ordered for committee of the whole House.
STANDING COMMITTEE ON GENERAL GOVERNMENT
Mr Elliot from the standing committee on general government presented the following report and moved its adoption:
Bill 170, An Act to revise several Acts related to Aggregate Resources.
Motion agreed to.
Bill ordered for third reading.
Hon Mr Conway moved that the appointment of the member for Windsor-Walkerville (Mr M. C. Ray) as deputy chairman of the committee of the whole House be continued for the second session of the 34th Parliament.
Motion agreed to.
PRIVATE MEMBERS’ PUBLIC BUSINESS
Hon Mr Conway moved that, notwithstanding standing order 71, private members’ public business not be considered until the first Thursday following the completion of the throne debate and that the requirement for notice be waived with respect to ballot items 1 to 4 inclusive.
Motion agreed to.
Hon Mr Conway moved that, notwithstanding standing order 2(a), the House shall meet at 1:30 pm on Thursday, 27 April 1989 and Thursday, 4 May 1989.
Motion agreed to.
INTRODUCTION OF BILLS
PORT BRUCE BOAT CLUB ACT, 1989
Miss Roberts moved first reading of Bill Pr1, An Act to revive the Port Bruce Boat Club.
Motion agreed to.
CITY OF TORONTO ACT, 1989
Mr Kanter moved first reading of Bill Pr19, An Act respecting the City of Toronto.
Motion agreed to.
MOTION TO SET ASIDE ORDINARY BUSINESS
The Speaker: Pursuant to standing order 37(a), Mr Kormos moves that the ordinary business of the House be set aside, Wednesday, 26 April 1989, to discuss a matter of urgent and pressing concern; namely, the crisis in auto insurance for Ontario drivers created by the government’s incompetent and incoherent response to rapidly increasing insurance rates; namely, its rejection of public insurance in favour of an auto insurance board, which the government continues to undermine in the face of growing refusals by the industry to write insurance policies in Ontario.
I wish to inform the members of the House that notice was given in ample time; it was given on 20 April at 12:20 pm. Therefore, this motion is in order and I would of course listen to a representative from each party for up to five minutes discussing why this motion should be debated this afternoon.
Mr Kormos: It is essential initially to take a look at the position that the government has indeed taken with respect to the Ontario Automobile Insurance Board.
On 5 December 1988, the Minister of Financial Institutions (Mr Elston) said in this House:
“I am quite prepared to leave the hearing and the determination of the rates with the Ontario Automobile Insurance Board. They have proven in the past, with respect to their previous three hearings, that they do a very thorough and reasonable job...and in fact make recommendations where there is a deficiency of same upon which to make good and valid recommendations.”
He further said, “The mandate of the board is to establish fair and equitable rates with respect to insurance.” He went on to say: “We will then have the board making a determination for us. That is the mandate, the legislation speaks to that as the regimen under which we are operating, and that is in fact what we have at the present.”
Further, on the same date, speaking again of the auto insurance board, the Minister of Financial Institutions said, “I expect that this hearing, which is starting next Monday...and which is open to all public participants, to be no less thorough and come up with what in effect will be fair rates in Ontario.”
Two days later, the Premier (Mr Peterson) said in the House: “We are constantly trying to build a system that serves the consumers well. Obviously we look at the examples in other provinces -- the problems of startup, the problems of rates, the political manipulation” -- he said “the political manipulation” -- “all of that kind of thing -- and we think our approach is comprehensive and addresses the problem in a real way.”
Once again speaking of the Ontario auto insurance board on 12 December, the Premier said, “It is an independent board, there to represent the public interest.”
Two days later, on 14 December, the Minister of Financial Institutions said that after the board conducts its hearing and sets its rates:
“Then not only will we be sure that the rates are fair, but that the people of the province are getting the coverage that insurance is designed to provide them in a reasonable manner, a cost-effective manner and in a manner which provides them with the coverage which they require to protect their interests in the event of accidents.”
On 10 January 1989, the Minister of Financial Institutions had this to say, speaking of the board once again:
“They are carrying out that policy directive now, which is to look at the industry, examine it, study it, see what goes into setting rates and then set a range of rates. They are doing that now.”
On 26 January, the Premier in the House, again speaking of the automobile insurance board, said, “The independent board will make its own judgement.”
On 13 February, the Minister of Financial Institutions, referring to the government, said, “We like the competitive marketplace.” He said, “I think what the honourable gentleman would like to tell the people of the province is that he was wrong about the board in his criticism of it” -- and he was referring to the Leader of the Opposition (Mr B. Rae) -- “that he was wrong when he said it could not come to a fair and reasonable rate, that he was wrong when he said the hearings would not amount to anything.”
Similarly, the Minister of Financial Institutions a short time later, 16 February, said it is important, “...to deal with the critical issue, whether we are under a public or private form of supply of auto insurance....”
Some $7 million later, the board and its whole purpose, its whole mandate, having been scuttled -- notwithstanding the comments of the Minister of Financial Institutions on 14 December which promised that there would be “coverage that insurance is designed to provide them in a reasonable manner...and in a manner which provides them with the coverage which they require to protect their interests in the event of accidents” -- now the government is seeking an insurance company plan of no-fault insurance that is designed to limit and, in many cases, exclude the benefits that are provided to injured parties, one which even the insurance industry says will not produce the saving to the industry or the benefits to Ontario drivers that the government is hoping for.
I am speaking specifically of the comments of Bill Star, president of Kingsway General Insurance Co. reported in the Toronto Star.
The Speaker: The member’s time has expired. The member for Nipissing.
Mr Harris: I actually regret that I am on my feet today -- perhaps everybody in the chamber as well regrets that I am on my feet -- discussing this particular issue. I am somewhat of a traditionalist. I respect intensely the traditions of this Legislature and of Parliament and of parliamentary democracy. We are losing some of these traditions, I do not think for the good of democracy, little bit by little bit, piece by piece.
One of the traditions is the throne speech and the traditional moving and seconding of that throne speech, which would take place today. More exciting, of course, is the response the next day from the Leader of the Opposition and the response the following day from the leader of my party.
It is with a sense of regret that this is before us in this particular manner and it is with a sense of regret that I tell you I will support this motion that the debate proceed today, but I want the members to know that I do not come to that conclusion very comfortably or very easily.
The way this government has handled automobile insurance really is a shame. It is a crying shame that politicians have been asked, this minister has been asked, by the Premier to respond to a statement that he made back in 1987, when he said, “I have a plan to lower auto insurance rates.” The Premier cannot be seen to have said something that is not fact. So then the great charade began, the hustle by his colleagues and his party to dream up something, when it is obvious that he did not have a plan, he was talking through his hat.
So $7 million, a considerable amount of legislative time all went into a process to respond to this silly statement that the Premier made during the 1987 campaign. We saw minister after minister, we saw the Premier, we saw Mr Kruger stand up time after time. “This will work. You guys in the opposition don’t understand what you’re talking about. You’re wrong. All the critics are wrong. Bob Rae is wrong. Bob Runciman is wrong. The leaders are all wrong. The insurance industry is wrong. The consumers are wrong. We know what we’re doing. We’re right.”
We listened to that for a year and a half while the government bungled away $7 million. When precisely what happened is what we told the government would happen, it then -- and why Mr Kruger did not resign, I do not know, other than that he is a Liberal crony, a hack bought and paid for by those people. He stood up time and time again and said: “This is an independent board. No politician interferes with this board. I will make the decision. The Premier said that; the minister said that.”
Hon Mr Conway: It’s vicious.
Mr Harris: You bet it is vicious. You bet it is, and it is vicious that we have to debate this today.
The Premier comes along at the last minute and cuts the rug out from underneath all the commitments he made and everything he said. He leaves no credibility with anything that he does as a government. Who can trust him when he does things like this?
Then he had an opportunity, after he changed the rules midstream and cut out Mr Kruger, to show us indeed what he planned to do. Where is the bill? Why is this not Bill 1? Why has he not come to the opposition and said: “Gosh, we made a terrible mistake. We’re sorry. We apologize. You were right. We were wrong. We need to do something now to effect a change”? Why has he not come to us and said, “Could we debate this in the first couple of weeks”? We would have accommodated that.
The Speaker: The member’s time has expired.
Mr Harris: He did not do that. That is why this motion is on the floor today.
The Speaker: Order. The member’s time has expired. The government House leader.
Hon Mr Conway: I want to say at the outset that I have known the member for Nipissing for seven or eight years. I know him to be a vigorous debater but really quite a fairminded fellow. I hope that upon reflection, he will really think about what he said in so far as the person of John Kruger is concerned. I know that in the heat of debate we all say things -- I have said things that, upon reflection, I have wanted to amend. I am not going to put words in anybody’s mouth, but I really would ask my friend from Nipissing to think seriously about what he said about a public servant, who does not have the opportunity to come and defend himself in this chamber.
Having said that, I, like the member for Nipissing, am a traditionalist. Today we gathered to begin, or we thought we gathered to begin, a time-honoured tradition following the reading of the Lieutenant Governor’s speech. From our point of view, we have come today to hear two of our colleagues move and second His Honour’s speech, a very important part of this legislative process. These members are prepared to begin that process today. I must say that it would be my preference to do as tradition would suggest and proceed in that fashion.
I have, in the course of this afternoon, talked to my friends, the opposition House leaders. I have indicated to them the concern of the government, that here we are on the opening day of the session, that is, the day following the reading of the Lieutenant Governor’s speech, and we are asked to debate a motion for an emergency debate that has been with us over six days.
The date stamp here is 12:20 pm, 20 April 1989. This emergency debate request was placed in the Speaker’s office over six days ago. I think that says something about the extent to which this is viewed as an emergency by the sponsors.
I know my friends in the New Democratic Party would say this is the first opportunity they would have to debate the question of insurance. I want to say to my friend the member for Welland-Thorold (Mr Kormos) that one of the really significant advantages afforded to members of the Legislature by the throne speech debate and the budget debate that will follow is that it is a general debate, in which all members will have an opportunity to stand in their place and address whatever issues interest them, quite frankly.
Mr Hampton: Auto insurance.
Hon Mr Conway: I have to say to my friend the member for Rainy River (Mr Hampton) that if we had the throne speech debate beginning, there would be ample opportunity for the members of the Legislature, regardless of their party affiliation, to stand up here and address the insurance question or any other area where it is felt the government is doing either very well, or perhaps in the view of the opposition, not as well as might be imagined.
I do not take the request lightly. I want to make clear on behalf of the government that we want to get on with the business of the Legislature. I said earlier this afternoon to the opposition House leaders that we want an orderly process of events here. We respect the right of the opposition to take a vigorous part in these debates, but they have to understand that the government has a program that it wants to proceed with. I have to say that this throne speech debate we will begin soon will afford ample opportunity, as will the budget debate, for every member of the opposition to stand up and to say whatever he or she wishes to say, within the rules, on any matter that is properly before the House at that time.
Having said that, I have a sense that if we do not allow this to proceed this afternoon, we might waste an afternoon’s opportunity to proceed with the public’s business. I have been home for six weeks and the taxpayers of Renfrew expect me to be here today, getting on with the public’s business. I do not have the time or patience today to begin the session with opposition pyrotechnics that just waste public money and legislative time.
I want to say that recognizing the opposition’s desire to debate insurance, we as a government will allow this debate to go forward this afternoon, quite frankly because I do not want to contemplate the alternative, which is wasting an afternoon on bell-ringing. But I want my friends in the opposition to know that we are here to do business, the business that was outlined yesterday, and they should not confuse patience for weakness on this side, because we are here to do a job and we intend to get on with that job.
The Speaker: We have now completed sections 37(a), (b) and (c) of our standing orders. Members in attendance have heard the pros and cons for this debate, I have now under standing order 37(d) only to put the question, shall the debate proceed?
Motion agreed to.
The Speaker: I remind members that they have the opportunity to debate this matter. Each member will have an opportunity to speak for up to 10 minutes. The debate will continue until we have run out of speakers or the clock will strike six. The first speaker will be the member for Welland-Thorold.
Mr Kormos: If there are comments to be made about wasting taxpayers’ money, then comments must be made about the $7 million that was spent on the Ontario Automobile Insurance Board, which was scuttled on 16 April by the Minister of Financial Institutions (Mr Elston).
At the same time, when one speaks of doing the right thing and doing the public’s business, we have to be aware that it was only after a persistent campaign by the opposition, the New Democrats, that the minority Liberal government established that auto insurance board to determine insurance rates and to review premium increase applications.
We have to remember that board is the creation of a Liberal government promise of 23 April 1987. The policy announcement of that day stated clearly that the steps announced by the government -- the creation of the board, among other things -- were intended to benefit and protect consumers.
It was said then that the response to “shabby treatment in the marketplace” of consumers by the insurance industry was “inadequate” and that “in view of those circumstances, the government had decided that it was necessary to take immediate steps to protect Ontario consumers.”
On that day it was announced, on 23 April 1987, that a “series of legislative initiatives were being established to increase the fairness of Ontario insurance rates.” It was promised that an auto insurance board would be created. It was promised that the government would gain control and management of the motor vehicle statistical information base. It was promised that there would be a cap on rates until the insurance rate review board dealt with the rates applicable to the policyholders’ classification. It was promised that there would be the establishment of a consumer insurance bureau headed by an insurance advocate with a special focus on auto insurance. And that advocate, we were told by the government, would have the authority to appear before the rate review board.
Drivers in this province were told in April 1987 that “premium rates will no longer be determined in isolation by vested business interests,” that “consumer groups, individuals and the government...will be able to argue their cases during public hearings conducted by the board.”
Each and every one of those specific promises was specifically broken. Indeed, across the province, drivers not only feel a great sense of betrayal, but they express a great sensation of having been overtly and boldly lied to.
The control of the statistical database has remained very much with the insurance industry, and indeed problems with data and understanding the implications of the data have plagued the entire rate-setting and profit-setting process. The government took off the cap not once but twice, so that rates have increased by 9.2 per cent, prior to the most recent increase, since the so-called pre-election cap.
There was no consumer advocate, notwithstanding constant cries for one on the part of the opposition and an illustration of a need for one as the course of the hearings was under way. There was no submission from the government, no position set out by the government at all.
The board, as a result of that lack of direction, failed to recognize the original purpose of the legislation as it was set out in the original announcement, because it was said then: “It is clear to the general public and it is clear to” -- the government -- “the automobile insurance rate structure is arbitrary. While overall profitability increases, some consumers continue to pay unjustifiably higher premium rates with no recourse for their shabby treatment in the marketplace.”
It was also said by the government that “in a system where automobile insurance is mandatory we must place the interests of the consumer first.” Well, that is precisely what the government and its auto insurance board have failed to do.
Indeed, in 1987, the Premier (Mr Peterson) knew car insurance rates were too high. In the four and a half years since 1983, premiums in Ontario increased by almost 65 percent. That, no doubt, explains the promise the Premier made on 7 September 1987, one that has been quoted oftentimes in this House and elsewhere. He made a promise to the public that he had a very specific plan to reduce car insurance rates. Once again, that is a very specific promise that was very specifically broken. Indeed, drivers across the province have a very strong sensation of having been lied to.
The Ontario Automobile Insurance Board had the responsibility to interpret the legislation before it, quite frankly with a single fact in mind, and that was the original purpose of the legislation. Even according to its author, that purpose was to protect consumers and to place the interests of consumers first.
In its decision on profitability the board stated that the proposed underwriting margins are based on a balancing of the interests of consumers, investors and insurers. It remained, however, that the overriding consideration in determining rates was the factor of profitability.
It remains impossible to justify, as indeed at the time it was impossible to justify, the kind of return on equity that the board had accepted when one takes into account the extraordinary profitability of all the other aspects of the insurance business. According to the board’s own figures, the return on equity for all other business was 26.89 per cent for the year 1987.
In that the purpose of the legislation as it was originally proposed was to protect consumers, the board and the government betrayed those consumers by giving priority to the profitability of the private insurance industry. The board should have dealt primarily with the question of the impact of rate increases on consumers and should have made a quite different determination on how Ontario’s insurance industry should be run.
Of course, much has been said about the way public plans operate, as opposed to the private insurance industry as we have it here in Ontario. Published evidence clearly shows that private industry spends far too much money on administration and litigation, compared with the more efficient and rational public plans. It also shows, taking the period from 1983 to the present, that rate increases in Ontario’s private system have far exceeded those in public plans.
I recall questioning the Minister of Financial Institutions about the concerns we had as to the premium rate that a 65-year-old driver with 40 years’ driving experience would pay in Scarborough, compared to the cities of Winnipeg, Regina or Vancouver respectively, especially when I discovered -- it is common knowledge -- that the rates are some 35 per cent, 50 per cent or 30 per cent less in each of those municipalities.
It was suggested it was a comparison of apples and oranges to suggest that a 65-year-old driver in Scarborough was somehow in the same category as a 65-year-old driver in Vancouver. Indeed, that suggestion is quite right. It is a matter of apples and oranges. It is unfair to compare a driver in Scarborough with one in Vancouver, because the accident rate in Vancouver is almost three times higher than it is in the city of Scarborough. Yet its premium rate for a 65-year-old driver with 40 years’ driving experience remains some 30 per cent less than in the city of Scarborough.
The auto insurance industry has cried poverty for many years. It is remarkable that an industry that insists it cannot make any money fights so hard to maintain its hold. We do not have to look far to see where some of the exorbitant premiums that are being gouged out of drivers are being spent: $1 million by the Insurance Bureau of Canada in its futile campaign in British Columbia to subvert the insurance Corp of British Columbia; hundreds of thousands of dollars to date on its current campaign, glossy ads, television and radio, with its 1-800 number; over $100,000 invested in Liberal candidates during the last general election; advertising campaigns, glossy booklets and brochures that are in the range of hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars.
It is remarkable, in view of the fact that public auto insurance was introduced in Saskatchewan as far back as 1946, that political parties which at the time were the opposition and opposed those plans -- as they did in Manitoba and British Columbia, since the introduction of those plans -- formed the government and yet those same political parties have not dared tinker with or dismantle the public driver-owned nonprofit insurance plans in those provinces.
Why? Because they work, are more efficient and provide insurance that is affordable, that is provided fairly, that encourages good drivers to keep on being good drivers, and similarly, that discourages bad drivers by imposing higher rates.
The government has indicated that a public system is not being studied. Rather, it has thrown all of its cards on the table and relied solely upon a no-fault system that the insurance companies advocate, one which is designed to increase profits --
The Acting Speaker (Mr Carrothers): The member’s time has expired.
Mr Kormos: -- for the insurance industry and in no way to reduce the premiums or with a view to fairness or affordability to drivers in the province.
Mr Runciman: I, as well as my colleague the member for Nipissing (Mr Harris), regret having to deal with this matter at this time and in some respects going against the traditions of the House. But as a party we felt we had to support the motion because indeed this is an emergency situation, certainly in the minds of the members of the opposition parties, and I believe in the minds of a great many members of the public. The auto insurance fiasco is perhaps the most telling example of the leadership vacuum in this province. What has happened in the past number of weeks has been a very serious blot on the reputation of the Minister of Financial Institutions, a reputation, I might add, that has been so carefully cultivated over the past year or so.
I mentioned earlier in question period that I like the minister and respect him, but in this instance he has very seriously fumbled the ball. He has to take the heat for what happened. He is the minister. He had to be hit between the eyes with a two by four before he took some action.
He has the unmitigated gall to stand in this House today and say that he was doing it in the best interests of consumers. Let’s face it, he was doing what he perceived to be in the best interests of the Liberal Party of Ontario. He does not really give a damn about consumers, and the action or lack of action that he and his colleagues have taken with respect to auto insurance in this province in the last two or three years is clearly indicative of that. There is no question about it.
I believe quite sincerely that the minister should step aside. I very strongly support the suggestion made by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr B. Rae) earlier today. This has been terribly mismanaged. It has been incompetence of an unbelievable level, but at the same time this minister has the temerity to stand here and smile and joke and not admit that he has very seriously mismanaged this whole issue.
I want to support my colleague the member for Nipissing as well with respect to comments he made earlier about the need for the resignation of the chairman of the Ontario Automobile Insurance Board. The chairman has been quoted publicly as saying, “The minister may have knee-capped me on this, but if he hits me again I may consider resigning.”
The fact is that was the second time this minister and this government had kicked the chairman in the teeth, if you will. We go back to the auto insurance issue with respect to seniors. The board made some very specific recommendations with respect to seniors. The government started to feel some political heat, did another flip-flop and came out with concessions, again undermining the credibility of this so-called independent board. Mr Kruger turned the other cheek on that occasion as well.
Here we have such a serious slap at that individual’s credibility, not to mention the board’s credibility. Months and months of work, millions and millions of taxpayers’ dollars and the minister, within a day or two, overturns the whole thing, going against everything that he and his colleagues had said for months, going against what the Premier had said in chastising the Minister of Natural Resources (Mr Kerrio) who had the gall at the time to say, “This is exactly what is going to happen: the cabinet is going to overturn and we will have the final decision-making authority.” The Premier gets up and publicly chastises the Minister of Natural Resources for making such a suggestion and what happens? It is exactly what the Minister of Financial Institutions does, throws all that work out the door.
We are not just talking about the $7 million of taxpayers’ money; we are talking about the millions of dollars that were spent by the insurance companies as well to go through the hearings process, to provide their submissions, to prepare their submissions. We are also talking about the millions of dollars spent by insurance companies in this province to convert their systems to be able to handle the new rating criteria the minister put in place.
Who is going to absorb those costs? The minister knows who is going to absorb them: Joe Consumer. Whether it is going to be through their home policies or through some other means, the consumers of this province are going to assume those costs. They are going to absorb those costs that the minister has placed on their shoulders, an additional burden on top of the $7 million that the minister, through his incompetence, has placed on the shoulders of the consumers of this province. There is no other answer for it -- sheer incompetence.
We can go back to Mr Justice Osborne’s report, which I think cost the taxpayers about $1.5 million. Again, the minister and this government did not have the patience to wait for Mr Justice Osborne. So what do we have? We have a report that cost millions of dollars put on the shelf, flushed down the toilet.
The Minister of Consumer and Commercial Relations (Mr Wrye), the man who is supposed to represent consumers’ interests in this province, can sigh and groan. Where was he around the cabinet table with respect to the way Mr Justice Osborne’s report was treated, flushed down the toilet? Where was he with respect to the $7 million of taxpayers’ and consumers’ money flushed down the toilet? Where was he with respect to the millions being spent by insurance companies that consumers will have to shoulder in this province? He was not representing their interests. If he was, he did not do a very effective job.
We can go back to the way this whole matter has been dealt with from the outset. We can talk about the Premier’s commitment in September 1987 that he had a very specific plan to lower auto insurance rates in this province. Where is that very specific plan? I guess that went down the toilet with the millions of taxpayers’ dollars. He did not have a very specific plan. He misled the people of this province, and that is going to come home to roost. Those guys can make all of these ad hoc, seat-of-the-pants, crisis, panic-driven decisions, but ultimately they are not going to be able to avoid it. They misled, they deceived the people of this province, and that is going to come home to roost at some point in the future.
I want to talk about another aspect, which the minister would not even deal with in question period this afternoon. Again, it deals with their forward planning or lack of forward planning, lack of foresight. They really do not know where the devil they are going on this issue. But we know that many drivers in Metropolitan Toronto, for example, are going to be faced with increases, despite the cap he has placed on it, because auto insurance companies are simply not going to write policies in Metro. The return is not adequate, so they say.
What are we going to do? We are going to see those drivers forced into the high-priced facility. He does not have an answer for that. He does not know how he is going to deal with it. Again, he is going to have to be hit between the eyes with a two by four. We are going to have this seat-of-the-pants kind of decision announced Wednesday after cabinet that we are going to do something else that is devastating to the long-term interests of the consumers of this province. That is the way they act, that is the way they manage. It is very disturbing, to say the least.
All of this information was available a year and a half to two years ago. I went through the standing committee on administration of justice hearings. We had witness after witness tell us what was going to happen. We had a report commissioned by Mercer, by the justice committee and by the government, which told us exactly what was going to happen.
I can read a quote from a speech I gave in February of this year: “The really important element politically is the impact of the government’s decision to forbid insurance companies from classifying risk on the basis of age, sex and marital status. That decision will mean rate increases of up to 82 per cent for some young women, and some of our seniors will see increases of up to 60 per cent.”
This was no secret. It was right out there, laid in front of this minister, laid in front of his cabinet colleagues months, even years ago. He waits until the last minute, after they have spent $7 million of taxpayers’ money to make a decision that is totally inadequate, totally incompetent and totally unconscionable. He really has no excuse for the way he has dealt with this issue, no excuse that will stand up to scrutiny. That is the truth. As much as I regret saying it, that is the regrettable truth.
In any event, there is very little solace, if any, in saying, “We told you so,” but if you go back to what happened on the last day of the justice committee hearings, what did members have thrown in front of their desks? We got an assessment of the situation in the state of Massachusetts the last day of our hearings. That is the only jurisdiction with a system comparable to what this government brought in in this province. What it spelled out to all of us at that time, if we cared to spend any time reviewing it, was sheer and utter chaos in the state of Massachusetts -- 60 per cent of their drivers in facility. Most of the insurance companies were out of that state. It was really a blueprint for the disaster that lay ahead in this province.
The minister and his predecessor did not have the intestinal fortitude to provide that study to the committee while we had an opportunity to really absorb the implications. They did not have the foresight to take a look down the road. Again, they have been acting in ad hoc fashion, by the seat of their pants. They really have no plan. Again, it is perhaps the most telling example of the very critical leadership vacuum that exists in this province.
Hon Mr Elston: I do not really know where to start first, whether to be critical of the acting lessons which my friend the member for Leeds-Grenville has obviously undertaken, and the result which they have given, or whether to be critical of the fact that the only real emergency which these two opposition parties are providing for the public of Ontario is whether the New Democrats or the Tories could upstage one or the other in getting forward this motion for debate.
The fact remains that in Ontario, the Liberal government moved with dispatch to put a cap on increases of auto insurance rates at 7.6 per cent. That is what those parties refuse to acknowledge has been a positive step for the consumers of this province. The consumers know that it has been a positive step for the consumers of this province.
In addition to that, we have taken the time to analyse exactly what it is we need to do with the insurance industry by taking a very serious look at what has taken place in front of a very public board with very public hearings, with material being put in front of it not only by members of the public at large and people who are in the actuarial business and take a lot of activity through insurance company writing and advice but also from politicians like the member for Welland-Thorold (Mr Kormos) and the member for Leeds-Grenville (Mr Runciman). Those people have been there and they have put their case. We have seen a very public discussion, a very public analysis of an industry which is very important in delivering a service to the people of the province. We have seen that and we have taken the steps that we deem appropriate to protect the consumers.
Part of the process was to take a look at how rates were established, to see exactly what components went into the establishment of the price of the product, to see where there could be improvements made. In fact, we have already announced a series of initiatives designed to assist us in dealing with improvements.
The difficulty for the people of the province is that the opposition parties refuse to acknowledge the positive steps taken forward by this government. Now, that is their job. They can be animated in their criticism. They can call for resignations of ministers who stand steadfastly in support of the interests of the consumers of this province. I do not mind their being animated, but I do mind the fact that they put the whole case as to what has gone on in front of that board. They refuse to admit the value of the deliberations of that board because they refuse to admit that they did not know what the insurance industry was about either. They refuse to admit the positive aspects of the studies which have come out and released to the public, in the broadest possible fashion, the details of the reasons why prices have been going up.
They refuse to acknowledge, as well, the fact that the decision we have taken is one of good common sense because we are determined to have product reform in Ontario so we can be assured that there is reasonable and fair compensation available to those people in the province who, as a result of automobile accidents, are disadvantaged.
They have failed to realize that we have made a determination that it would be silly to penalize consumers and companies in implementing a plan which would not have an effect a few months down the road after we deal with product reform.
They can criticize us if they will. I do not mind criticism. It is a business that results in criticism when you make positive moves to protect people.
They want to do it one way in the New Democratic Party, by taking it over. We are not sure about the third party. We do not know what they want to do. One day the member for Leeds-Grenville is a friend of the member for York South (Mr B. Rae); the next day he is trying to separate himself. We do not know whether they want public insurance, private insurance or no-fault insurance.
In fairness to the member for Leeds-Grenville, he is not like my friend the member for Welland-Thorold, who wants everything in insurance. He wants people to be able to sue, but he wants no-fault benefits. He wants a whole series of issues which just are not compatible in one product.
The NDP has wanted it all for a long time, and that, of course, is what this issue is about. It is about people with a series of shopping lists who are prepared to say outrageous things so that they can unsettle the minds of the consuming public in Ontario, so that the people can be distracted from what the real purpose of this government is.
The real purpose of this government is to provide reasonable compensation for those people who are, as a result of automobile accidents, able to receive fair and reasonable compensation; to the best of our abilities to put them back in a place where they would have been if the accident had not occurred.
We are doing that, and we want to examine the rationale behind product reform in a stable and very sensible fashion. These people want to make it into some kind of emergency so that they can distract the people, so that the people will not be able to analyse thoroughly, as we wish them to do, their options as we look at product reform to bring them a new regime which will help them and assist them in the purchase of a very necessary product in Ontario; that is, insurance against damage by automobile accident. I am committed to that.
Those people, I know, are opposition people and they wish, the best they can, to cause a state of instability, so the discussions and deliberations can make the whole process look mismanaged in some ways. And, of course, they claim mismanagement for their own personal benefit. They say there is no benefit to the expenditure of some millions of dollars. There are benefits to the expenditures of those millions of dollars.
We know about the insurance industry. We know what costs are related to accident claims. We know now, as a result of some deliberations, what some of the product reform options provide for us in terms of benefits and some of the demerits.
I have asked the Ontario Automobile Insurance Board not to quit or to cease making decisions, but to continue on and also to hold public hearings, so a forum can be held where we can examine the merits and the demerits, if there are some, of the products which we placed in front of them to be examined.
Far from cutting away the authority of the board, I have given them a broader scope for playing a very valuable and important role in protecting the consumers of the province. This whole issue is about people. Sometimes, we forget that. We are trying to discover what product will provide the best support for the person who is injured or disadvantaged by accident.
Some people, like the New Democrats, would like public insurance, because they believe, no matter what the issue is, public is always best. They do not have a clue what it means. They do not understand what it will take. They try, the best they can, to say there are no subsidies provided by other provinces that have public insurance. They try to obscure, the best they can, the costs associated with establishing public plans and the costs that are associated with that which have to be borne by taxpayers.
Those people who are in the third party are not willing to understand exactly what the issue is about at all. They think it is about the insurance industry.
This man from the Leeds county area stands up and indicates he thinks, for some reason, there ought to be some better benefits in this for the purposes of the insurance companies. At one point, he talks about the benefits to consumers. Next time, “You put too many costs in the insurance companies.” Where is he coming from? We do not know yet; his leadership material has not yet hit the street. But pretty soon we will find out.
All I am telling the people of Ontario, in the most direct fashion possible, is that, yes, we have spent money; yes, we have taken time; yes, we have studied the very public record about those items which are required for us to make sensible judgements in order to preserve, in the best way possible, fair compensation provisions for the people who are disadvantaged as a result of accidents.
That is where we are at. That is where we are moving. We have done it in a very public forum. I guess, if we were a covert government, none of this activity would be carried on, because the people would say, “What have you been doing?” since they would not think anything had been done.
We are doing it publicly. We are examining it publicly. Everybody can have his say. The member for York South contemplates moving off to Ottawa. The question is whether he will get there before the member for Oshawa (Mr Breaugh) does -- and they certainly are not going to get there together, as we understand their great affection for each other -- the great question is, for me, fairness for the people of the province.
That is what I am striving towards. That is where I am putting my efforts. That is why I made that move forward to say that 7.6 per cent is the capped increase. That is why I am watching what is happening in writing the insurance in Ontario. That is why I will continue to work for the benefit of the consumers here.
Mr Farnan: This is indeed an issue of consumer protection. The New Democratic Party is indeed the party for consumer protection. It amounts to which party you can trust to defend consumer interest. When the New Democratic Party speaks, it speaks consistently.
There is a difference between New Democrats and Liberals. When we say we have a plan, our plan is the same before an election and after an election. There is a very clear difference when the Premier of Ontario said in Cambridge, three days before the election, “We have a very specific plan to reduce premiums.” There was no plan, there never was a plan, there still is no plan, and indeed the government is flying by the seat of its pants.
There is a problem, though. There is a problem with auto insurance. We will continue to fight this issue because we have received thousands and thousands of complaints about the system: complaints from small business owners, from young people, from ordinary working families hit with increase after increase.
It is not fewer accidents or a rural economy or government subsidies that give people with driver-owned plans a fair and affordable car insurance system, and it is not greed by Ontario drivers that causes the problem here. Driver-owned plans provide massive savings. These plans are more efficient, putting the interest earned on investment back into the system to reduce premiums significantly. The nonprofit nature of the driver-owned system saves motorists millions of dollars.
That is what consumer protection is: giving the drivers of Ontario a better deal. The drivers of Ontario understand that; if New Democrats say, “We will provide auto insurance at a cheaper rate by plowing back the profits of insurance to reduce premiums,” that makes good consumer protection legislation, and that is the difference between New Democrats and Liberals.
Ontario drivers deserve better. The drivers of this province deserve an auto insurance system with fair, affordable rates; one which rewards good drivers by making sure they pay less, one which treats drivers fairly and one which provides insurance at affordable rates.
We remain committed to driver-owned public auto insurance in Ontario. The driver public cannot afford any more broken promises.
Auto insurance continues to remain a problem, especially for the Liberals, because they have difficulty with these three simple words, just to say, “We were wrong.” How simple it would be if they could say, “We were wrong,” or four simple words, “The NDP was right.”
The reality of the matter is that auto insurance poses a problem for the Liberals because basically it does not fit into the established Liberal pattern of solving problems. It is very difficult for the Liberal government to pass on this responsibility to municipalities, for example. It does not fit easily into that package. Or it is very difficult to have a concept of an Autario lottery for auto insurance. The two basic solutions for Liberals of giving it to municipalities or having a lottery just do not solve the problem.
It is probably little consolation, but New Democrats at this time can say quite clearly, “We told you so.” I want to read into the record what happened when the Ontario Automobile Insurance Board was being established. I said at that time in the House:
“I think we can give a guarantee to the consumers out there, to the drivers out there, that we will continue to fight. New Democrats will continue to fight. The fact that this bill passes today is not the end of the battle; it is the beginning of the battle. But the battleground has changed because up to now, when the drivers of Ontario were getting upset, when the drivers of Ontario were getting those extra premium increases and when the drivers of Ontario were angry, they were angry with the insurance industry.
“But believe me, from today, after the bloated Liberal majority files in and sheepishly passes this bill, not only will the drivers of Ontario be looking at the insurance industry, they will also be looking at this government, which has been a partner in the betrayal of the drivers of Ontario.”
There has been a window into the industry, but the window into the industry furnished by the rate review board was a window in which only two partners were allowed to look: the auto insurance corporations and the Liberal Party. They had a commitment to the auto insurance industry, and that particular commitment was based on the fact that the auto insurance industry, prior to the election, in the Insurance Brokers Association of Ontario newsletter, said, to a great degree, “Both the Liberals and Conservatives have been defenders of the industry. We can put our trust in them.”
Indeed, the Liberal Party did not let them down. Far from doing what they said, which was that they would reduce auto insurance premiums, we had a 4.5 per cent increase, and now, after the auto insurance board met and it appeared that it would just go sky-high, the Liberals realized that the price they had to pay to their business friends was getting them into increasingly hot water.
We were hearing the possibility of 30 per cent, a million drivers with increases of 30 per cent; some increases of up to 80 and 90 per cent. Even the Liberals had to say to their big-business friends: “Hey, we can’t stand this kind of heat. We’re going to have to stop. We’re going to put a 7.6 per cent cap on this.”
The minister thinks this is something marvellous. Add up the increases in the 18 months and you are talking about 16.6 per cent. That represents increases far above the rate of inflation, at a time when the Premier in Cambridge said, “We’re going to reduce the cost of auto insurance.” The people of Ontario clearly heard what the Premier said and the reality of the matter is that premiums did not go down; they went up far above the rate of inflation.
At this stage, we have to consider the fact that the drivers of Ontario will ask themselves one basic question, because the drivers of Ontario are consumers. If I were a driver and I went to a store and the store were the Ontario government, and the shopkeeper in that store said: “I’ve got a deal for you. You do your business with me and I’m going to give you a reduced auto insurance” -- because that is what he said: “I have a very specific plan to reduce auto insurance” -- so they accepted the words of the Premier. They said, “Okay, let’s put our faith in this group.” They did and they elected 94 Liberals and immediately their auto insurance rates continued to go up, continued to escalate.
New Democrats have a store right next door and we are saying to those same people out there who voted and went to that particular Liberal store and put their auto insurance bucks on the line and found they were ripped off: “Next time, there is another store you can go to. It’s right next door, but the difference between the two stores is that the store run by the New Democrats is honest. When we say we’ll give you a deal, you’ll get a deal, and when we say we have a plan, it’ll be the same plan before the election as after the election.” When we say we will take the profits from auto insurance and plow them back to reduce the premiums, people will understand that.
The one thing about consumers is that you cannot continue to rip them off, and both the insurance industry and its friends in the Liberal Party have done precisely that. They have ripped off the consumers and now they are trying to dissociate themselves and put some distance between themselves and their big-business friends. The people of Ontario, the driving consumers of Ontario are going to say: “We want an honest broker. We’re going to the New Democratic Party. They’re honest. We’ll get the deal we want.” That is why they are going to come to the New Democrats.
Mr Villeneuve: I too am pleased to participate in this emergency debate, and it is an emergency debate this afternoon. There is an emergency out there. The Minister of Financial Institutions attempted to make this Legislature believe that it was an issue of protecting people when indeed it is an issue of politics pure and simple. I will be quoting a few statements that will really bring that into focus.
I see the Minister of Natural Resources is here this afternoon. He proved to be the best crystal ball gazer that we have here, because earlier this year the honourable minister told the Niagara Falls Review, a very good newspaper in that area, on 4 January 1989 that it is cabinet’s prerogative to look at it and see what is acceptable and fair.
But of course at that time the Minister of Financial Institutions was busy telling the Legislature that:
“I am quite prepared to leave the hearing and the determination of the auto rates with the Ontario Automobile Insurance Board. They have proven in the past, with respect to their previous three hearings, that they do a very thorough and reasonable job of analysing the material that is available to them and in fact make recommendations where there is a deficiency of same upon which to make good and valid recommendations.”
That is the same board that cost $7 million of the public purse and brought in its recommendations. In order to be more palatable politically, the Minister of Financial Institutions decided that cabinet would indeed have the last word in spite of what he had said on many occasions, that he was quite prepared to leave the hearings and the determination of the rates with the auto insurance board. The Minister of Natural Resources wound up again being right. I guess he may be right in more ways than one. However, he was correct in that situation: cabinet did have the final say, for political purposes pure and simple.
My concern is the following: I live close to the Quebec border and I see no-fault insurance operating in that province, operating through regular insurance brokers, the no-fault section which looks after property damage and p ublic liability. We have la Régie de l’assurance automobile du Québec which covers bodily injuries, and you pay for that through your licence plates and licence renewal.
Here in Ontario we have begun to tamper quite extensively with a system that is suiting the government for its political purposes and political reasons only. My big concern, as I mentioned before, is that we will have many drivers who will be told by their insurer, by their carrier that they are very sorry but because of the risk they present, they will not be renewed or they will not be accepted. Therefore, we will have these drivers going to facility insurance at exorbitant rates with really no protection at all. I can see this within the next year.
I wish the Minister of Financial Institutions could answer this one for me. What will I tell my constituents when they come to my office and say: “Look, I am sorry to bother you today, but my insurance agent has told me they will not renew my insurance. What happens to me now?” I will probably have to tell them that the reality is that there is no choice. You have to have insurance on your vehicle in Ontario and therefore the facility will be the only place you have to go. The facility will be expensive and the facility may even wind up being operated by the government of Ontario, depending on what sort of manipulation it puts in if the insurance companies decide to establish a facility.
The state of Massachusetts, I understand, has over 50 per cent of its drivers in the facility coverage because of risk factors. Therefore, I do not know what sort of politics will be played at the time when that reality comes forth.
I want to quote a senior vice-president of marketing with the Co-operators General Insurance Co, the largest insurer here in Ontario. William Weafer says his company expects the provincial move will increase its expected loss on car insurance in Ontario to as much as $53 million to $60 million in 1989.
“I think you will see quite a number of companies pulling back from the market,” Mr Weafer said, and indeed that company already is not accepting new cases or new customers and will probably be looking at some of its existing customers as maybe higher risks than it wants to look at, and they may be told that their insurance is terminated.
We will, in the short run, because of this government’s unilateral move into that area, have the consumers say, “The government protected us.” It is what you might call short-term gain for long-term pain, and that is not quite the answer to the dilemma facing the car drivers of Ontario.
Ted Belton, chief executive officer of Pafco Insurance Co, predicted that the government’s action would precipitate a crisis in the marketplace like we have never seen before. That is a totally different company, one that insures liability coverage for car drivers here in Ontario.
A significant number of Ontario motorists, mainly young men under the age of 25, are already having problems obtaining coverage in the regular auto insurance market at present.
Mr Speaker, I ask you what this unilateral move by this minister and by this government will indeed create. It will create havoc. You and I, as members of this Legislature, have some problems in dealing with the Workers’ Compensation Board, for example. We are creating a situation that will be 10 times worse, because it is a small percentage of Ontarians who have to deal with the WCB. Every car driver in Ontario has to have insurance and therefore when drivers line up at your constituency office and mine with problems in that these people cannot get insurance through the regular channels that they have been used to having, you and I will have to face the music; face the consequences and try to explain the move that this government recently has made, capping at 7.6 per cent in a situation that will inevitably lead to chaos.
In conclusion, I hope this government has a more clear-cut mandate and more direction than simply coming in with a political short-term solution to the insurance dilemma. We will be facing major problems in this province within the year. Facilities may not even be able to cope with the type of demand that will be put on them, and certainly the cost will be prohibitive.
Hon Mrs Wilson: The importance of this issue of auto insurance on senior citizens in Ontario is one that we must not underestimate. For many seniors who drive, a car represents a vital link to the community: a lifeline for them, for those they care for and also for the lives of the many whom they enrich through their volunteer work.
For many seniors, a car is a necessity in carrying out the activities of day-to-day living: medical appointments, shopping, visiting with family and friends and the activities that add to the self-esteem and independence of older Ontarians. In small and rural communities, where there may not be public transportation, seniors rely overwhelmingly on their cars to meet these needs.
Our government is committed to developing a system of insurance which ensures fair rates and fair compensation for all drivers. The government is looking closely at options for a system of no-fault insurance. In the meantime, the cap on rate increases will provide some immediate relief from unacceptably high insurance premiums.
I have met with representatives of the United Senior Citizens of Ontario, the Ontario Coalition of Senior Citizens’ Organizations, Canadian Pensioners Concerned and the Canadian Council of Retirees. I have also received many letters and calls from individual senior citizens. All these seniors have expressed concern about the need for a fair and affordable insurance system to support their need for mobility and independence.
I have been particularly concerned about the impact of the proposed rate increases on seniors with low and modest incomes. The additional burden of substantially increased insurance rates is a burden that these seniors in particular would have found very difficult to shoulder.
The government of Ontario has recognized these concerns by capping rate increases for 1989 at 7.6 per cent. That will ease the burden of premium increases on seniors and others with low and modest incomes. Seniors I have met with have strongly endorsed the government’s action in capping rate increases for 1989.
There is also a need for a fair compensation system, one that can respond to those on limited incomes in a timely fashion. Board hearings that are now under way are an important part of the process. Of course, senior citizens from across the province will be invited to take part in these hearings, and I know that they will take part.
In designing a new system of automobile insurance, the government will be particularly mindful of the concerns that are raised by our older Ontarians. Our goal is to develop a system that will be equitable for all drivers.
Mr B. Rae: I have listened to the speeches by the Minister of Financial Institutions and the Minister without Portfolio responsible for senior citizens’ affairs (Mrs Wilson) with a sense that I must have been living in a different place.
To listen to the Liberals talk about this insurance fiasco which they have led us through over the last three years, you would think that indeed the last decision that was made by the minister, in a state of panic some 10 days before the House returned and in the middle of, I am sure, certainly judging by my own mail, what must have been a barrage of concern in his direction, to make the statement that this is all part of some unfolding Liberal plan; that they have some keen sense; that back when they set up the insurance board, they knew exactly how it was going to emerge and that is why their decision to move in this particular direction, to take the panic decision they took 10 days ago, is all part of this consistent concern that they allege they have for the consumer.
I think the consumers of this province have been shafted, bamboozled, badly treated and badly deceived by the Liberal Party of this province. They could have had by now a better scheme, a fairer scheme, not one that would be free, one that everybody would have to pay for with premiums, but one that would be visibly seen to be fair.
I listened to the minister say to us on this side of the House that the New Democratic Party does not have a clear idea of exactly what it wants and that in fact the Liberal Party alone is capable of managing the system. The Liberal Party has demonstrated more incompetence, just sheer administrative incompetence in the handling of this insurance issue than any regime in dealing with insurance in Ontario’s recent history. They have demonstrated an absolutely mammoth incapacity to come to terms with this industry, to come to terms with the facts of this industry and to understand the implication of the law which they themselves passed.
I hear the Minister without Portfolio responsible for senior citizens’ affairs saying, “We wanted to protect consumers from the kinds of price increases which the insurance board was going to propose.” What did she expect? How could she possibly have expected anything else when she stood and voted for the bill itself? It states right in the heart of the bill that the insurance board must consider the interests of the insurance companies in earning and retaining a profit.
The evidence before the insurance board was overwhelming that once the board had established that the insurance companies had a right to try to earn over 12 per cent as a rate of return this coming year, as opposed to what they had been making before, it was crystal clear to all of us that was the fuel driving the insurance rate increase, obviously in combination with the classification changes which have been amply debated in this House. That is what happened. It should be no mystery to the Liberal members.
I see members on the other side, allegedly with small business experience, members who are lawyers, accountants, real estate salesmen. At one time, I think, the member for Guelph (Mr Ferraro) was one -- excuse me, a banker. These are people with business experience. We all have great respect for bankers. There are travel agents, people around who have been involved in different fields of life.
This is the Minister of Natural Resources, whose business experience and acumen is renowned throughout the province, certainly as far as Port Colborne.
This is the business government that has supposedly demonstrated its business acumen in what has happened. What did they do? First of all, they asked Mr Slater, the economist, to go out and help them solve this insurance crisis. Mr Slater went out, and he said: “You can go to no-fault. This is what you should do.” Then they said, “No, we don’t want to rely on Mr Slater to tell us what to do.” All this while, what is happening? Rates were going up 12 per cent, 14 percent, 18 per cent, 24 per cent, 30 per cent, 35 per cent, 40 per cent in the period during which Dr Slater was looking at this stuff.
Then the government said: “No, it’s not good enough just to have an economist. We ought to get a judge,” and a judge from Kitchener. I am sure the member for Kitchener (Mr D. R. Cooke), who is a lawyer practising in Kitchener, knows Judge Osborne well. He has had vast experience in the field of motor vehicle negligence.
Hon Mr Conway: I know a New Democratic commissioner from Kitchener who went to the municipal board. We should have got Morley Rosenberg.
Mr B. Rae: I hear the government House leader touting the case for Mr Rosenberg. I am sure he could have done a fine job.
I say that Osborne was then appointed, and he looked at the whole range of things. He did a comprehensive study. He commissioned all kinds of information. He had information coming out of his ears, two thick volumes. I can say this government has not acted on one of his recommendations, not a single one, not even on the recommendation that insurance forms should be made comprehensible and understandable to the ordinary person. They have not even moved on that.
Instead of which, we went through the election campaign. The government said: “We’ve got a better idea: We’re going to lower rates.” We went through that period where they said they were going to lower rates. They had a very specific plan to lower insurance rates.
Then we had the debate on the insurance board in this House after 1987, when the Liberals had their mammoth majority. I would invite any of them, I would invite the government House leader, who I know is a reader, likes to read, and enjoys it -- the print can be made large for him if it is necessary; he does not have to move his lips -- If he takes time out from reading a Victorian biography on some corrupt Tory politician of 100 years ago in the United Kingdom, he can have a hard look at the speeches that were given by members of my own party, if I may say so; by the former member for Welland-Thorold, who led the fight for public insurance here for so many years; and by many colleagues of his. He will be able to contrast the predictions from this little ignorant band of people on this side who know nothing about the way the world works, and those worldly, wise geniuses with their business acumen, earned from years of long, hard experience, working in the field of free enterprise, as they all have been, and their acute understanding of the way in which the world really works.
That is the Liberal Party over there, and it is the business genius of the Liberal Party who gave us this insurance board and appointed Super Saviour, the man who appeared in the Toronto Star with a Superman shirt on: John Kruger. He solved the pension problem, did he not? He did. He gave the companies just about everything they wanted and said: “Look, you don’t have to worry about taking the money out. Don’t be so crude. You don’t have to worry about taking the money out. Just don’t put the money in. If you don’t put the money in and go on holiday, nobody’ll know because we don’t keep a record of the companies that don’t put the money in. We only keep a record of the companies that take the money out.”
So John, with a rare genius, solved that pension problem, then turned around and said: “Premier, please, let me help you out of this insurance crisis. I can solve this insurance crisis for you.” So we spend $7 million on studies which give us what the Premier called a very good database.
I may be a mere ignorant socialist on this side of the House. We may know nothing about the way the world works, but when a government spends $7 million on a database, something is fishy. You could spend a little bit less than that, give it to a good graduate student or an economist and say to the insurance companies, simply by matter of law: “Tell us what you’ve got. Tell us what you’re doing, and make that information available.” You could do it for a lot less than $7 million.
Do not tell me that this has all been planned, because if it has been planned, the people of Ontario have truly -- I mean, this makes the five-year plans in the Soviet Union look like something the people really see coming. This makes the agricultural mess in the Soviet Union look like a model of capitalist efficiency. These guys say that they really want to carry this thing through in the most efficient and fair way.
I want to say this by way of conclusion: there is something called accountability, as I would understand it -- I am told about it in the private sector -- people who have to meet a bottom line. What if any company that any of the members of the Liberal party opposite work with carried on with such a degree of incompetence and then proceeded to accuse everybody who disagreed with them of being stupid and ignorant and malicious and deliberately misleading people?
That is what the minister said about us, and then turned around and said, “We are here to protect the consumer.” He has never even had the grace to admit that he was wrong, never the grace to admit once that he had made a mistake, never the grace to admit that this time they blew it, they blew it badly and should pay the price. The minister should be accountable and the Premier should be accountable. They are responsible for the mess and should pay the price with their jobs.
Mr Cousens: This emergency debate on the automobile insurance industry is something that is reaching a crisis, as you can see, not only in the Legislature between the opposition and the party in power, but also with the many people in Ontario who really want to know where they stand and how their problems are going to be resolved with regard to their auto insurance. It is a crisis. It is a crisis that became far worse once the government became involved in this process.
We all know the history, but I would like to just touch on some of the components of the history that have led us to this moment, the fact that in 1986 and 1987 automobile insurance premiums in Ontario rose by approximately 40 per cent. Then on 23 April 1987 the Liberal government, under the Premier, froze automobile insurance rates and announced a plan to establish the Ontario Automobile Insurance Board.
So there were a number of moments, then, that began to unfold as the ministry of Consumer and Commercial Relations became far more involved in the setting of rates. A lot of what we are facing today is crystallized by a statement made by the Premier on 7 September 1987. He was campaigning in Cambridge and announced a plan to combat skyrocketing auto insurance rates. I would like to quote the exact words the Premier spoke on that day, just prior to the provincial election of 10 September, when he won a majority of 95 seats in this Legislature.
He said: “We have a very specific plan to lower insurance rates.” Did everyone hear that? That is what the Premier said before all of this began to unfold. If he had a very specific plan, we have yet to find out what it is because no one knows, because what we have seen is a kind of waffling and movement and changing of mind, of making decisions and then rescinding decisions.
What I would like to point to are some of the statements that have been made by this government, by the Minister of Financial Institutions and by the Premier and others that really cause politicians to have a bad name. Is it any wonder that people do not trust politicians? When you come along and you get the Premier making that kind of statement and then not backing it up with actions or deeds or follow-through, that begins to test the credibility of people. It certainly has tested the credibility of those of us on this side of the House, except for the rump.
I think you just have to look at some of the statements that have been made along the way. On 5 December 1988, when the Minister of Financial Institutions was saying that he was going to be somewhat removed from this whole process, here is what he had to say:
“I am quite prepared to leave the hearing and the determination of the rates with the Ontario Automobile Insurance Board. They have proven in the past, with respect to their previous hearings, that they do a very thorough and reasonable job of analysing the material that is available to them and in fact make recommendations where there is a deficiency of same upon which to make good and valid recommendations.”
The beginning of that statement by the minister says a great deal, “I am quite prepared to leave the hearing,” as if they were going to be somewhat removed from his involvement.
On the same day, 5 December 1988, not that long ago, the minister said as well that the honourable gentleman will know that the mandate of the board is to establish fair and equitable rates with respect to insurance.
He was talking about Mr Fixit’s program -- Kruger, that is -- who was in there to set the rates and to solve the problem. That was all part of the statement by the Premier that he had made way back on that 7 September that he had a very specific plan to lower insurance rates.
On 7 December 1988, just a few days later, the Premier said:
“A bill passed through this House. It” -- that is, auto insurance -- “is in independent hands, and I think my honourable friend knows our approach to that....It is an independent board that will get independent advice from the member and from whomever else it chooses....The whole object of having the board is to build an independent database.”
They have a plan and then they do not have a plan. They have a policy and then they do not have a policy. In fact, what you are really seeing here is a situation where the government has built expectations in the people of Ontario that it was going to do something about automobile insurance; that it was going to do something to protect their best interest; and the fact of the matter is it has failed totally to do that.
What they did was set a whole series of things in motion through the establishment of this board, and then everybody was led to believe that they would be allowed to come forward with their recommendations, and then our good friend the Minister of Financial Institutions has to backpedal on it.
The same minister said: “The government is committed to moderating the cost of insurance premiums, increasing efficiencies within the insurance industry and providing for fairer treatment for all drivers in Ontario.”
That has not happened; that is not happening; and that is why today we are in the midst of this emergency debate, first thing when the House is convened, to deal with an issue in which the credibility of the government is in question.
I just wish that more people would sit back and pay attention to some of the things that the member for Leeds-Grenville has been saying, because he forecast some time ago the kinds of problems we are facing today. He has been articulate, he has been to the point, and he has been telling the government for a long time that it has failed to understand just what is involved in getting involved in setting these rates and structures.
What I would like to do is quote from the man who represents the people of this province and the man who is continuing to work on behalf of our party and all those people who are out there looking for someone to be a defender of what is right and good. Let me quote from the member for Leeds-Grenville. He said:
“The Liberal government has behaved in a bizarre and inconsistent manner. First the Premier promises a very specific plan to lower auto insurance rates, then the government appoints a board which proposes a plan that would increase rates, and then the minister overrules the board and recommends a plan that will also increase rates. The consumers and insurance companies in Ontario are sick and tired of the government’s shell games on auto insurance.”
Who are the losers? I say every one of us is a loser because in fact what they have done, through the Premier’s statements and by the actions of the government, is to build up the expectations that the government was going to do something about it. What has in fact happened is that they have invested piles of money, piles of time and they have built up expectations among people who think that the government was actually going to do something to solve the problems around auto insurance. What they are having to do now is to come out with a last-ditch, last-minute program that is leaving everyone wondering just what is going on.
What does all this mean? First of all, it means that the government’s actions in themselves have completely undermined its own creation, the Ontario Automobile Insurance Board. Everything he has done, as minister -- changing things arbitrarily, setting up a whole procedure and then backtracking on it -- really shows a lack of confidence in what he said and in us it creates a lack of confidence in his ability to say what he really means. Who knows? It is no wonder people do not trust politicians when those guys keep on giving all the innuendo. They say one thing and they do the opposite.
I would have to say that after endless time, after the kind of money and the protests that have been made about what the government is trying to do, I think very few of us recall that, in fact, in December 1988, the auto insurance board received over 2,700 phone calls, they received 386 letters and 22 petitions with 65,000 signatures on them, saying that this government was wrong and the way they were handling it was wrong -- just blazing ahead, as if they are not even going to listen to it.
Now, we are concerned; so is the industry. They were flabbergasted when this government came along and reversed decisions, getting involved as they are. Most of all, the consumers are concerned, because they are the ones who listened to the Premier on 7 September 1987, just before he won his big mandate, when he went and said he was going to do something about it. Those very consumers are the people of Ontario who need to remember that the honourable Premier of our province is the one who came out and said he had a specific plan. He does not have a plan today. He did not have a plan then. Why is it that he is allowed to get away with that kind of statement?
That, in itself, is the kind of thing that creates an emergency with everybody. Here is a government having a chance to govern and do something; what they have done is mess up the system. We are upset and we are going to keep on fighting for the people who need to have someone who is going to defend them.
Mr Offer: I am pleased to rise in this debate today, because it gives us, on the government side, an opportunity to discuss how this government is dealing with this issue of such great concern to so many people in this province. Let it not be misunderstood. I direct my comments specifically to the members of the opposition that this Minister of Financial Institutions has demonstrated a singlemindedness of purpose, a purpose which is driven by what is in the best interests of the people of this province, of the consumers of this province.
The actions done by this government, and specifically by that minister, can only be shown to demonstrate an unfailing regard for the drivers of the province and what is the best course of action to take. We have, through this government’s initiatives, learned much about the insurance industry. We learned much about the whole question of the setting of rates and the impact of rates. That is important information to know, to understand and to appreciate, because without being able to know and appreciate that information, we are not going to be able to take appropriate steps in dealing with the whole question of product reform.
The members of the opposition party would think: “We do not have to know that type of information. Let us just run off in all directions and let us hope that something works.” That is not the action of a responsible government, that is not the action of this government, and it is not the action epitomized by the Minister of Financial Institutions, because the Minister of Financial Institutions has taken the course of action which states: “We are moving forward. We are moving forward with an understanding, with an appreciation of the factors that make up a very complex industry and that will serve the best interests of the consumers of this province, drivers, seniors, all persons of this province.”
We have heard some great concern about this cap that was imposed, why and how such a cap could be imposed. Let me say, as the member for Mississauga North, that the reaction from those in my riding has been only positive. They see this as a responsible action, while the government is, with knowledge and with understanding, undergoing an analysis in a public consultative manner of product reform. They see this as something which is absolutely necessary to bridge the transition from this point to whenever that final decision is made on product reform. They are appreciative; they understand.
If only the members of the opposition parties could understand, as do the constituents not only in my riding but, I trust, in many other ridings across this province, about the actions of this government, the actions of going forward with understanding, knowledge and appreciation of what makes up the insurance industry and what impact an improper type of decision could have on those consumers. They understand where we are going and they support the direction in which this Minister of Financial Institutions is leading.
It is not only the actions of the Minister of Financial Institutions that symbolize this type of action by the government. In dealing with this issue of insurance, there is the important aspect of the whole question of the tort or civil claims system of this province.
The Attorney General (Mr Scott), in a statement made to this House on 9 February 1989, indicated, “The tort system can be fine-tuned and therefore made better, fairer and more efficient in its treatment of those who have suffered injuries.” He then went on to say that he was undertaking tort reform in five specific areas: (1) the entitlement of prejudgement interest on damage awards; (2) the use of structured settlements; (3) the efficiency of the litigation process; (4) the use of advance payments by insurers, and (5) with respect to the further development of alternative dispute resolution for no-fault accident benefits.
What this does is show that the government is moving on different fronts, a number of fronts, not only through the leadership of the Minister of Financial Institutions and the Premier but also through the leadership of the Attorney General, in making an in-depth investigation as to how our tort system can be reformed to make it fairer and more efficient, which will be of direct benefit, again, to the people and the consumers of this province.
There is a great opportunity for us on the government side in these types of debates to put forward what is in fact happening. We have heard some of those things from the members of the government side today. I think what we are seeing is that not only are we moving in terms of product reform, and in terms of consumer protection until we get to that product reform, but also we are talking about the whole question of tort reform and how that will be of benefit not only to the drivers but to so many other persons in this province.
I would like at this point to congratulate the Minister of Financial Institutions for the leadership he has shown in this area. It is a difficult area, a complex area, an area where there are many people who have many concerns and opinions. Throughout that, the Minister of Financial Institutions has shown that his overriding concern is what is in the best interests of the driving public and the consumers of this province.
Let me tell the House, we in this province are well served by the minister in this regard for the people of this province. We are well served by the Premier in providing the initial leadership that follows through with the Minister of Financial Institutions, and also the tort reform initiatives that have already been announced by the Attorney General.
With those many initiatives being undertaken by this government, the consumers, the drivers, the people of this province know, understand and realize that we are moving forward with an understanding and a responsibility, and that in the end result it is their interests which will best be protected and safeguarded.
Mr Hampton: It is with some degree of joy that I enter into this debate. I must say it is with some degree of joy that I am able to speak after the member for Mississauga North. I have had the privilege of working on committees with him, I have had the privilege of entering into debates in this House with him and I want to say to him that I have seen him do some wondrous things with the English language, but I have never seen him reach so far as he has today to try to make something that is absolute balderdash and absolute nonsense seem like something that is sensible. I want to say that to him just to set the ground rules straight before we get into this.
Mr Philip: I’ve seen his torts and I’ve seen your torts, and I prefer your torts any day of the week, Howie.
Mr Hampton: I want to thank the member for Etobicoke-Rexdale (Mr Philip) because he, having been in this House for a long time, knows how long this debate has gone on and knows how wrong the government is in everything it has done in terms of the auto insurance problems of this province.
I want to say as well that I am happy to enter into this debate today because I was one of those members of the Legislature who sat on the standing committee on administration of justice when it considered the bill which brought into law the Ontario Automobile Insurance Board. I sat through the whole process. I was on the committee when we travelled to places like Windsor, Thunder Bay, Sudbury, Ottawa and Hamilton and we heard from all kinds of individual citizens about the magnitude and scope of the problems in the auto insurance industry in Ontario. They repeated it for us chapter and verse.
I was there to listen to the government member for York Mills (Mr J. B. Nixon), who was then the parliamentary assistant to the Minister of Financial Institutions, and he was there with us every day, and I heard him say at length and repeat at length that what the government had in mind was a rational plan. This automobile insurance board was a rational plan that would stabilize the auto insurance situation in the province. It would deal with situations like the arbitrary cancellation of insurance policies. It would reduce premiums and it would stabilize the auto insurance problems in the province now and for some time to come. That is what they repeated in basically every community we visited. That is what the government repeated when we looked at the bill clause by clause.
We said at the time very directly to the government and in the committee that what the government had in mind was going to be a very costly and bureaucratic undertaking, if anything. We suggested to the government that the government sit down and look at how some of these so-called rate-setting boards have worked in the United States in various industries, because the history of them is clear: It does not take long before they become the captives of the enterprises they are supposed to be regulating and it does not take very long before consumer interests are lost and shuffled along in the bureaucratic melees.
The government said: “Oh no, this will be a rational system. This will govern the insurance industry in Ontario and regulate the insurance industry in Ontario, which will be to the utmost benefit of consumers and to the utmost benefit of the providers of auto insurance both at the same time. It will take all of the irregularity out of it.” We heard that ad nauseam when we were in the committee, and we heard it ad nauseam from the Treasurer (Mr R. F. Nixon) of the province, who was at that time, when this bill was debated in the House, the Minister of Financial Institutions.
I want to repeat what the leader of the official opposition said earlier here today. Whenever we brought up with this government the fact that this was not a plan, that it was not well thought out, that it was not the answer to what has become a chronic problem in Ontario in terms of the auto insurance industry, we heard from them: “No, no. You’re wrong. You’re mistaken. You don’t know. You don’t understand. You’re trying to excite the public over something that’s going to work. You’re trying to mislead the public.” We heard that time and time again from the government.
We tried to point out to the government, when the Ontario Automobile Insurance Board held its first hearings, that what was evolving was not a very rational system. When the consultant called before the board to give expert information turns out to be a consulting group owned by one of the world’s largest insurance companies, right away you have to say, “What’s going on here?”
When they turned around and said, “If you want to do the right thing for insurance in Ontario, if you want to stabilize the market and solve the problems, you should offer an increase of between 35 per cent and 41 per cent, a one-shot increase; that’s the way to do it,” we raised questions again. The government said: “Oh, don’t worry. This is a rational system. This is going to work. The board is going to sort through all of this.”
Then we heard more submissions. The board finally came out with nothing at all that was going to lower insurance premiums, as the Premier said during the election campaign, nothing which was going to give predictability, nothing which was going to give stability. In fact, in its initial decision, the board set what are called benchmark rates of 7.6 per cent but then said that rates may vary up to 17 per cent. What was predictable about that?
Then when we looked at the situation of senior citizens and saw that their rates would be going up by anywhere from 20 per cent to 40 per cent, there was certainly nothing predictable or logical about that. Yet the government said: “You’re trying to alarm the public. You’re trying to mislead the public. You’re wrong. You don’t understand.”
Now, in a panic, without even legislation enabling them to do so, the Minister of Financial Institutions announces suddenly that the whole thing is off. This rational plan that had been considered for so long, that the government had explained ad nauseam in committee, ad nauseam in this House, ad nauseam to the public, this whole rational plan is scrapped and out the window.
But the legislative equipment to do that is not even in place. It is not even there. How can that have been a rational plan at any time? How can all of this be some evolution towards an intelligent, thought-out position? This is not a rational plan. This is not an evolving, conscious mind, knowing where it is going and what it is doing. This is flying by the seat of their pants, and the minister knows it.
I just want to reassure the minister that we know what changed his mind. We know. We have constituency offices. We are in touch with the public. I had senior citizens coming into my constituency office having received their letter from insurance companies saying: “We anticipate that your premium for the year, should you wish to renew, will be 30 to 40 per cent more than it was.”
I had other people coming into my constituency office with a questionnaire from their insurance company asking them every question from “How old are you?” to “How far do you drive? When do you drive? Where do you drive?” -- almost, “Where do you go to the bathroom?” It was the most incredibly detailed questionnaire, and people were unmistakably upset by it. What could be happening in the insurance industry that all of a sudden they want to know all this information?
Then this so-called 7.6 per cent benchmark was exposed for what it really was, a fraud, because every insurance company in the province was serving notice on consumers: “No, it’s not 7.6 per cent. It’s going to be a 17 per cent increase we want in your insurance premium.” People knew that was not a plan to decrease insurance prices and it was not a plan to stabilize. That all became very evident. So the minister cannot tell us that this is some rational plan.
Finally, I just want to make a few remarks about the so-called tort reform, because what the government plans to do is to allow the insurance system to have the laws of the province changed to suit the insurance companies. Is this not wonderful? Imagine who is going to be next. The finance companies? The life insurance companies? Who else is going to appear in this House and ask this Legislature to rewrite the laws of the province to suit them and only them? That is an irrational plan. It is an empty one.
Mr Cureatz: After that thrilling discussion by my learned colleague to my right, I am moved to participate in this debate. It gives me nothing but great pleasure once again, on the second day of this session, to let my feelings soar high so that those who are running the show over there, and sometimes I wonder if they know who is running the show, can be reminded about the fiasco we have encountered over automobile insurance.
Now, for the moms and dads at home, welcome back to Queen’s Park. To refresh their memory, we are debating this afternoon a motion for an emergency debate brought forward by the official opposition -- because we are the third party now -- regarding, interestingly enough, as it is stated here, “the crisis in auto insurance for Ontario drivers.” I do not know. For emergency debates, if we look in Webster’s dictionary, another word might have been substituted for “crisis.” Be that as it may, it is a concern about what is taking place, I say to the Minister of Natural Resources. I will tell members if the Minister of Natural Resources had control of this issue, it would not be an issue; it would be resolved.
But what has happened? The nasty front four have been trying to manipulate automobile insurance premiums in Ontario. They wandered into this mess back from the election of 1987, about which I am going to give all the members some chronological information. I know how excited they are about that. They have dug themselves so deep into this that now they are trying to dig themselves out. They are going to need not a shovel, but a great big backhoe, because they are in trouble.
It is interesting. I had the opportunity of substituting on, among other committees, the standing committee on public accounts. This was about a week and a half ago. I can give members the date when I look at my chronological order. I was walking down the main hallway, rushing to good old public accounts, and I encountered the minister himself with one or two of his staff. He was shuffling along the main hallway towards the east door, head down. It was not like the old minister I know. He is usually smiling and energetic, as he should be, living in that wonderful part of Ontario with Wiarton and the Bruce Peninsula up there, but not that day.
I got back to public accounts. Let me see, I think it was the House leader for the New Democratic party who was gleaming with excitement. He said, “Do you know what the Minister of Financial Institutions just did now?” I said, “No, what did he do?” He said: “He just announced the stoppage of the whole insurance board and he has put a cap on the premiums. Isn’t that exciting?” I could not get that excited about it particularly, but I knew the political ramifications of it because the Minister of Financial Institutions had been given his marching orders.
The mess they had got themselves into on this automobile insurance had finally come crashing down about his ears and he was told by the front four what to do -- and I know he did not like doing it. In the days of ancient Rome, the messenger was usually killed. He looked in pretty bad shape that particular late morning after that press conference, because he did not want to do what he did, and that was to pull the rug from underneath that insurance board.
Mr Kruger, whom I think I have seen the odd time walking along Wellesley Street, was going to be the guru, the czar of this insurance board. He was going to bring forward from Mount Bay Street, or wherever his particular office is, the new method of setting premiums for Ontario. After $7 million, what do we get? We get some good old-fashioned political interference.
It is interesting that on that public accounts committee, the first thing someone piped up with was the member for Durham-York (Mr Ballinger) who said, “I am so happy too, because we have limited the increase.”
I say to the member for Durham West (Mrs Stoner) that she has her own problems, as she and I well know, because the dump now looks like it is going into north Pickering. That is typical of this government. It does not know what it is doing with some of the major issues in Ontario, be it waste disposal -- they was sending fear through my riding of Durham East on the possibility of putting the Metropolitan Toronto dump in my riding.
Happily enough, I am a third-party member and I could raise all kinds of Cain and bring in garbage bags and seagulls, but what is the member for Durham West going to do, who is so supportive of the government? She has to face Pickering-Ajax Citizens Together and all that group out there. I sent her a little note this afternoon.
I would love to have a little talk with her. I would give her some direction on how to handle the front bench and on what she is going to do to save her riding, because she is going to be either made or broken over this issue.
Hon Mr Wrye: She is doing just fine.
Mr Cureatz: Oh, yes. Let’s put the dump in his riding, I say to the Minister of Consumer and Commercial Relations. He would not let that happen. He would be screaming in cabinet. I know; I have been there: You sit around the table and you say: “No, not me. Let’s look to a backbencher. Let’s put it in her riding.” That is what happened to the good old member for Durham West.
How about Sunday shopping? Does the government want to talk about that issue and how it passed that buck over? How about the health care issue that is taking place? What about the Workers’ Compensation Board? Holy smokes. I sat on that committee. The members should see the protest over at the University of Toronto, Convocation Hall.
Where were all the backbenchers? They were not there taking the flak. There were about six poor Liberals and they were getting beat up time after time. The member for Mississauga whatever it is was over there. I felt embarrassed for them. I really did. I do not know how they could take it. I thought, doggone it, they should have the Premier or the Attorney General or the government House leader (Mr Conway) or the Treasurer taking that guff, or even, for that matter, the Minister of Labour (Mr Sorbara), who brought forward the legislation.
Now we have another mess, this insurance mess. Gee, I hardly have enough time. I cannot believe it. Let me review some of the statements the honourable minister made about the Ontario Automobile Insurance Board. I like these. These are really good. I really do.
This gives me as much joy as it did when I was reading back all the now government House leader’s statements, when he was House leader for the opposition, about closure motions and how it is disruptive to the parliamentary system and how slighted he was, and there he is, now in government, doing the same thing.
This gives me almost as much pleasure, because what did the Minister of Financial Institutions say? Do the members know what he said? “I am quite prepared to leave the hearing and the determination of the rates with the Ontario Automobile Insurance Board.” That is what he said, back in December 1988. On 7 December 1988, from none other that the guru of gurus of the Liberal Party, “A bill passed through this House. It” -- the auto insurance -- “is in independent hands.”
I know why the minister was shuffling around, leaving the press conference towards the east door, head down, sad and forlorn. It was because he had to interfere with the insurance board after he came up with these pronouncements that it is independent, “We are not going to interfere.”
Do the members know what the minister said on 13 December? “The board has been set up on the basis that it be at arm’s length and independent of us.” And him a lawyer. You would think he would know better: “Independent.” Then he comes back in April and he tells the board what the cap is going to be. Is he not a little embarrassed, a teensy-weensy bit ashamed? How does he get in the limousine and live with himself after telling the board what to do?
On 10 January: “But right now,” says the Minister of Financial Institutions, “I am not going to go out and issue a directive” -- this is great -- “that says that rates, despite whatever the member has heard, are going to be X.” Let’s read that again. That is beautiful. “Right now, I am not going to go out and issue a directive that says the rates, despite whatever the member has heard, are going to be X.”
“What,” I know the Speaker would like to say to himself, “does that mean?” That means -- shall I say the word? -- a little hypocritical; not big hypocritical because I would not want to be unparliamentary. You will get out Erskine May, the book with 15,000 pages, and look under the section to see if that word is not proper for these chambers. So I will just say a little hypocritical, because he said back on 10 January that he was not going to interfere in what happens.
Mr Speaker, no, he did not drop his seating plan; he interfered. He went contrary to what he has been saying all along since the passage of this bill.
The saga continues, I say to the folks back home with the remaining eight seconds left. I am sure they will be hearing more from all of us, the humble numbers that we are, about the fiasco that is taking place in the insurance industry because of this large arrogant government.
The Speaker: Order. The member might like to sit down and wind down.
Ms Poole: We always find the member for Durham East (Mr Cureatz) to be quite entertaining. However, we are not here today to be entertained. We are here to talk about a very serious topic that is very important to the people of Ontario: auto insurance.
I would like to speak a bit about the Ontario Automobile Insurance Board. When the member for Bruce (Mr Elston) made his announcement regarding auto insurance on 17 April, he made a point of emphasizing that the government’s action in no way was a criticism of the Ontario Automobile Insurance Board. Indeed, the minister had nothing but praise for the board.
This government has every confidence in the auto insurance board, and I would like to take this opportunity to expand on the minister’s words of praise. Without the tireless efforts of the board and the long hours its members have laboured, the government would not have known with the degree of certainty that it does today that, first, the cost of insurance claims is driving the cost of insurance premiums, and second, that our current tort system will only drive them higher in the coming years.
The government has benefited greatly from the activities of the board and its decision-making process. The board’s decision regarding a benchmark rate was made within the context of its mandate under the statute establishing the board, which is to establish rates within the existing insurance delivery system.
The government, however, is responsible for making any decisions with respect to product reform. By capping the rates at 7.6 per cent until the introduction of product reform, the government has acted to ensure cost moderation now, with a view to achieving both fair rates and fair compensation in the future after a decision is taken with respect to product reform.
The opposition has questioned whether the auto insurance board’s hearings have been a waste of time and money. The answer to that is obvious. No, they have not. The opposition should, and does, know better. Through the public hearing process, where everyone has been given an opportunity to be heard, the auto insurance board has identified the appropriate across-the-board increase: 7.6 per cent.
The board has also brought into the open exactly how auto insurance works. Before, to many of us, it was a very mystifying process. So it has been a very worthwhile education process for each and every one of us, including members of the insured driving public. As well, the board hearings currently in progress are giving the public an opportunity to participate in the process of product reform in the auto insurance industry in Ontario. These are all worthwhile outcomes of the board’s hearings.
The government’s immediate priority is to ensure that the board carries on with its scheduled hearings on no-fault automobile insurance systems. The government will be looking carefully at the conclusions of the board arising out of these hearings when it is selecting the best no-fault system for Ontario.
There will, of course, be changes. For example, the current classification scheme will require re-examination in light of the insurance product we end up selecting. I am sure we will seek the board’s advice in dealing with this. The issues of the appropriate process for the setting of rates for the new system will also have to be reviewed, and of course we will again rely on the board’s assistance in this matter.
The government continues to believe that an effective auto insurance system can be delivered without ratings based on age, sex, marital or family status or handicap. However, a new classification system should be put in place, along with the new insurance product, on a basis that ensures individuals do not experience any more dislocation than necessary. We believe consumers will be better served by one transition into a new insurance system, rather than making a large change in June and a further change again shortly after a decision is taken with respect to product reform.
In acting now, we have avoided the upheaval of putting the people of Ontario through two major changes in auto insurance in a very short period of time. We have asked the auto insurance board to give us its advice about the various options of no-fault insurance and have every confidence that its advice will assist us in choosing the system of auto insurance that will best serve the people of this province.
Ms Bryden: I am glad the New Democratic Party called an emergency debate on the chaos in the auto insurance market as the first order of business in this new Legislature. I am sorry the first bill introduced was not the bill to tell us what the government’s solution is to the chaos that has been created by the excessive rate increases proposed by the new regulatory body.
I want to speak particularly about how seniors played a role in the change in government policy that resulted in the imposition of a 7.6 per cent cap on excessive increases in auto insurance rates, which had been recommended by the newly appointed rate regulation board. Seniors are to be congratulated for raising the hue and cry that forced the government to act. Many seniors already were paying close to $800 a year in Metropolitan Toronto and would have been asked for increases of up to 17 per cent a year or more beginning 1 June 1989.
At the 6 March hearing of the Ontario Automobile Insurance Board, I presented a brief pointing out that the proposed rates hit seniors particularly hard because seniors’ discounts were no longer allowed and their many years of claim-free driving were not recognized in any way. Seniors’ organizations and many individuals attended the hearings in droves. They pointed out that over half of them lived below the poverty line and that their pensions would not increase by more than a few dollars this year. They cannot afford huge increases of the kind proposed by the regulatory board. Many would have had to give up their cars, a necessity for those living in areas without adequate transit.
Seniors said it was grossly unfair to bring in a new system that took no account of their low-risk record and contained no cap on rate increases or any special adjustments for low-income persons to cushion the impact of the proposed rate increases. I recommended measures to cushion the impact of the new rates, as did our NDP critic for insurance, the member for Welland-Thorold. We also recommended the appointment of a public advocate and a cap on the amount of increase in any one year for people on low incomes, people with disabilities and the thousands of men and women still awaiting action on pay equity, and therefore receiving lower incomes.
The board rejected the seniors’ pleas and our recommendations. They did bring in a small low-risk category for which few seniors or other low-income people would qualify. It was also not mandatory, so it depended on the willingness of the companies to offer it.
Unfortunately, the legislation setting up the rate regulation board gives it absolute discretion to set the rates. One wonders, of course, where that discretion has gone with the recent actions of the government announcing a cap. Under the legislation, the government can only issue policy statements to guide the board, but so far it has not done that either.
The act does not say that affordability has to be one of the criteria considered by the board. So far, profitability and rate of return have been the main criteria. Instead of the proposed rate reduction that was promised in the election, we have a regulatory board that keeps rates at a level that will preserve the present inefficient system of selling automobile insurance across this province.
The government has not yet indicated what is going to replace the present inefficient and unreal board. The board has proved to be a paper tiger with regard to the insurance companies. The public hearing process is too cumbersome and it is weighted against insurance buyers. The hearings are often very lengthy, with mainly insurance company lawyers and advocates occupying a great deal of the time. The public has no public financing for its research or its expert witnesses or its lawyers. The hearing rooms are somewhat remote in the North York city hall complex.
Nothing is being done by the board to curb the powers of the insurance companies to decide arbitrarily who will get insurance and on what terms. This is why it was so essential that the work of the board be brought out, as has happened with the seniors and other adversely affected people raising a hue and cry. But they are not going to be satisfied with the continuation of this inefficient and inadequate regulatory board. They are going to demand, “What is the government going to put in its place?”
After all, the cap is only a desperate, temporary measure to save the government’s face from offending and disadvantaging hundreds of thousands of people by the new rates. What will happen in 1990 when this cap term presumably runs out?
This is again where Grey Power may tell the government that it has to bring in an insurance system that will bring us cheaper insurance and more efficient delivery of selling automobile insurance in this province. To me, that adds up to a public, driver-owned insurance system.
A regulatory body that is a paper tiger is not only useless, but it is very expensive to this province. It has already presumably cost us $11 million. We may have learned a few facts about the insurance industry, but the government has not learned the facts about the insurance industry. It is fragmented and inefficient and it is not the way to deliver the product most people want, and that is adequate insurance on fair rates that will reward the good drivers and will penalize very quickly the bad drivers, so that ultimately they may even get off the road.
That is what happens under the public auto insurance plans in this country. It is notable that they were introduced by NDP governments and have not ever been removed by succeeding governments.
I think this debate is very important to bring out why we need to reassess our whole approach to the delivery of auto insurance to the customers of this province. It is important to let the seniors and others who were going to be seriously affected, particularly a large number of women and a large number of single parents and low-income people, know as soon as possible what is going to be the picture on insurance for the next year, not just for the next six months. I am sure they are really only breathing a temporary breath of relief for the moment. The board is still there and the board may still be mainly an advocate for the insurance companies with the government. That has been the picture in the past.
We have to get out of this Legislature, this session, some definite legislation that will tell us how we are going to get the cheaper insurance rates that the Premier promised to us and that the people of this province deserve. Insurance is compulsory under the law. We should be getting it in the most efficient way and not in the way that we have been observing in the chaotic 15 months since the insurance board was appointed.
Mr Ferraro: As parliamentary assistant to the Minister of Financial Institutions, let me say initially how disappointed I am to hear some of the silly remarks by the opposition, specifically in regard to the fact that they say the minister should resign. I can tell you, Mr Speaker, that it has been my pleasure to be his parliamentary assistant. If any man has the best interests of this province and the consumers of this province at heart, it is indeed the Minister of Financial Institutions.
I find myself participating in this emergency debate and the first question I have to ask myself is: What is this emergency all about? The minister who, quite rightfully, saw some exorbitant fees coming down the pike on 1 June had the courage to take the action he did: cap rates, as we all know, at 7.6 per cent.
All of a sudden, the opposition, the New Democratic Party, says: “No. This isn’t good enough. We have to have an emergency debate.” You wonder why the socialist party, the opposition of Ontario, would want to have an emergency debate. The first thing that came to mind was: “They must be closet capitalists. They want insurance companies to get more than 7.6 per cent.” Surely that cannot be the reason; surely it cannot.
The real emergency, I suggest, deals with the research staff. We took the next two months’ questions dealing with automobile insurance right out of the mouths of the NDP. I can just see them standing up day after day saying, “Mr Speaker, so-and-so in the village of such-and-such is being subjected to totally unreasonable insurance premiums”; that this is unacceptable and that we are an uncaring government and all rest of it. I feel sorry for the research staff, because now they are going to have to search and find some new questions for the NDP to ask and they were not prepared for that.
Thank goodness we have a government in power that at least has the flexibility to deal with real emergencies. Can you imagine if the NDP, God forbid, were ever in power and had an emergency? They would immediately have to call a national convention, because any major policy decisions are decided there. God knows what would happen if indeed that were to transpire.
I was trying to think of an analogy of the action of the opposition calling for an emergency debate on this issue. I tried to think of something in history that would be analogous. The only thing I could think of is, we all know the story about the little guy who put his finger in the dike to hold back the flood. We all know that.
Mr Laughren: I never heard that. Tell us about it.
Mr Ferraro: I think he was about the size of the member for Nickel Belt (Mr Laughren).
Anyway, if that were to happen today, if the little guy put his finger in the dike to hold back the flood and if the NDP was there, surely it would have him whipped, because he did something that was good for the consumers and good for the citizens he represented. That, obviously, is the motive behind this emergency debate. It baffles the mind.
Why did the minister say we are going to cap insurance premiums? Why did he do that? It has been alluded to by a number of people already that while many people who require automobile insurance were going to have savings, a substantial portion of them, somewhere around a million of them, were going to experience as a result of the new classification system increases in excess of 30 per cent, some as high as 90 per cent. It is unacceptable, I am sure, to every member of this House; people, our constituents, could not bear that type of increase. I think we reacted the only way we could.
Politically, it was not acceptable to me -- and I will speak for myself, although I am sure many other members in this House would have to agree that it is politically suicidal and unacceptable. Politics motivates a lot of the things, if not most of the things, that the members in this House do. It motivates the NDP to say it is against free enterprise. Indeed, they purport to be the exponents of socialism, that indeed the government should control everything.
Politics motivated the members of the Conservative Party, in 1975, to come out with rent controls; indeed, to steal then from the NDP because it was politically advisable to do so.
I think it is quite rightly fair to say that politically, for me, it was unacceptable. The people in my riding, the great riding of Guelph, would not want me to sit still and allow exorbitant increases to come about, so we are not doing that, especially when the reality is, and the board is hearing it now, that a couple of months from now we are going to have for the people in Ontario at least two new forms of auto insurance, whether it is threshold no-fault or choice no-fault.
If the scenario had been allowed to progress according to the opposition, then what we would have had was a lot of people being extremely upset, dislocated financially and mentally, experiencing problems in getting insurance, and then two months from now, they would have the options of lower auto insurance and different types of auto insurance. Logically, it did not make sense, quite frankly. We felt that capping it until we have all the pieces of the puzzle in place made the most sense.
This is the second question that has to be addressed, and it has been attacked by the opposition: Is the board useless? Did we waste $7 million? Absolutely not. They got many of the arguments they are using today from the hearings the auto insurance board presented to the public. Indeed, we have taken all these decisions out of the closet, out of the boardroom, and educated not only other insurance companies but also politicians and the consumers of this province. I think it is money well spent, to say the least.
I remind members that we had absolutely no central data point. We had no collection of information or database on which to judge auto insurance. Indeed, no province in Canada now has the same degree of information that we have at our disposal.
We did not know, and the auto board told us, that obviously the amount of premiums we pay is directly related to the amount that claims cost. We did not know that the claim cost was rising at twice the amount of inflation. We did not know that we needed the degree of tort reform that is directly related to the cost of claims and, obviously, directly related to the cost of premiums.
The board came out with 7.6 per cent as a benchmark, which of course is the amount the minister and this government will grant. The board will continue to be an invaluable asset in the future when it deals with the issues that it is presently dealing with, that is, the specific types of auto insurance, again whether it is threshold no-fault or choice no-fault.
It is interesting when I listen to the opposition members and they talk about their solutions. I was listening to the member for Welland-Thorold last week, and he said, “We propose a public, driver-owned nonprofit plan where there would be adequate, speedy wage replacement, adequate compensation for medical and rehabilitation expenses, but there would also be retained the right to sue.”
Indeed, I could not help but listen when the Leader of the Opposition referred to himself as an ignorant socialist. We all know that is far from the truth. A socialist he is; ignorant he is not, nor is the member for Welland-Thorold. In their pronouncements and condemnations of this minister and this government, they did not mention the cost of the premiums for his proposal nor the increasing cost of claims, which is a reality this government has to deal with.
When the member for Welland-Thorold talked about the premium comparison of Vancouver to Scarborough, did he talk about the capital cost associated with implementing the public auto insurance? Did they talk about the millions and millions in lost interest that the taxpayers have lost as a result of that action? Did they talk about the constant injections of funds every time the public auto insurance fund goes broke, or is on the verge of it? Did they talk about the thousands of lost jobs as a result of their action? No, they did not. Obviously, it is selective memory recall.
I want to say in conclusion that indeed again this government is showing the leadership -- under trying circumstances, I admit -- that is needed. The board will continue to provide invaluable information to everyone, including not only the consumers of this province but the politicians and the insurance companies as well. With product and tort reform, we will have lower premiums for auto insurance in this province and we will have a much better educated consumer.
Mr Philip: On 7 September 1987, the Premier said that if re-elected he would implement a plan to lower automobile insurance rates for Ontario drivers. There is no mention about automobile insurance in this throne speech, the one delivered just yesterday. Normally the throne speech is used to let citizens know about the programs planned for the future, but also to take some credit for the accomplishments since the last throne speech.
Obviously the government must have been aware, when it wrote the throne speech that was delivered yesterday, of the outcries from the public, and in particular the senior citizens, their spokespersons and their organizations, about escalating insurance rates. It is fairly obvious that they realized that their plan to stop the escalating insurance was a failure or they would have talked about how successful those plans were in the throne speech yesterday.
Similarly, if they had had any concrete plans that would have worked, that would have delivered the Premier’s election promise, which we all saw on TV in the numerous ads that helped to get him his majority, one would have expected that there would have been an announcement in the throne speech yesterday on the specifics of the plan that would lower automobile insurance in keeping with the Premier’s promise of 7 September. But there is no such thing in that throne speech.
It is fairly obvious that the government has not been successful in keeping the Premier’s promise and it is fairly obvious that the government knows that it will not be able to keep the Premier’s promise. I refer the members, though, to the throne speech of 28 April 1987. It is interesting to contrast. That throne speech said, and I refer members to page 9 of Hansard:
“My government will protect Ontarians from unfair and arbitrary practices in the marketplace. In doing so, we will take steps to promote increased consumer awareness.
“We recently announced a comprehensive package of new auto insurance legislation. Among other provisions, the program will cap auto insurance premiums and establish a public review process under which insurance rates must be justified.”
What has the government done? The government has undertaken three studies: Slater, Osborne and, lately, the Ontario Automobile Insurance Board, which it has transformed from a tribunal into a glorified study group. The cost of the auto insurance board has been some $7 million. With all of his studies, this minister should apply for an Ontario student assistance program grant, because he has undertaken more studies than any graduate student I know -- but at a cost of $7 million?
It has been transformed from its original objective, which was that of studying the rates, of protecting consumers, to being an expensive study group. After spending all these millions of dollars, the government still does not know what it wants to do and motorists continue to have their insurance policies renewed at higher and higher rates and in some cases are being forced off the roads. I refer members to conversations I have had with some limousine drivers at the airport and indeed with some of the taxi drivers for Kipling Cab, which services a lot of the people in my area. These people are being forced off the road by the escalating auto insurance rates.
We still have arbitrary decisions by the insurance companies. A constituent came to me only today. I will be meeting with her tonight, because she is bringing in the documents. She has been charged with driving recklessly. The court date is set for November, but the insurance company is not awaiting the decision of that court to raise her rates. They have already cancelled her insurance. So the insurance company, in an arbitrary manner, thinks that its decisions are better than those of the court and has superimposed that she is guilty whether she is found guilty several months from now or not. That is the kind of arbitrariness we are facing and the government has done nothing to stop this kind of thing.
After spending all that tax money, the minister states he wants to study it further and that he will study the possibility of private, no-fault insurance. It is interesting that the only public bodies, the only lobby groups, that are asking for private, no-fault insurance are the insurance companies. Private, no-fault insurance is the equivalent of the Red Cross Society saying, “We’re going to shelve our responsibility for managing the blood bank and give it to Dracula and his friends.” It just does not make any sense whatsoever.
The reason the insurance companies have been clamouring for no-fault for years is because it restricts the ability of accident victims to sue in instances when they have not received an acceptable claim resulting from an accident.
In other words, the Liberals have now come up with a strange way of protecting the consumer. First, they have developed a system which allows very high escalating rates in premiums, and now they are proposing another system which will allow the consumer to be ripped off not just on premiums but also on claims when they have a serious accident. The consumer is really well protected. They are slammed at the beginning when they buy the insurance, and in the event, unfortunately, that they have a bad accident, they are going to get shafted at that end as well. Some protection by the Liberals. Certainly it is protection for the insurance companies, but not for the consumer.
The government claimed it had a solution to escalating insurance rates. It introduced legislation in this House and said that legislation was the solution. We debated that legislation. Even at that time, the Liberals broke their election promise. They had promised a consumer advocate to appear before all tribunals where prices would be set or established. At the time it set up this legislation, it did not establish that consumer advocate and broke a promise even in introducing that legislation.
Now, today, we have an astonishing admission. What the minister is saying is: “Yes, I introduced an act a year ago. Yes, I said I had a solution, but the legislation is not good enough. The legislation is not good enough and therefore I’m going to have to bring in yet more legislation, because after setting up this tribunal I cannot live with the decisions of that tribunal, so I have to bring in legislation to overrule it.”
Well, one has to ask: Why spend $7 million to set up a tribunal if after spending all that money, they are going to make the decisions themselves anyway? Why does he need the tribunal if he is going to set the rates?
Any reasonable person would have to ask how one can have any confidence in a government that says: “I’m going to bring in legislation one year to solve a major problem,” and then a year later says, “I’m going to bring in more legislation, but it’s going to undercut the original legislation.”
One has to ask: If the original legislation was adequate, why does the minister need another bill? Why does he have to bring in a tribunal and then bring in more legislation to say the rates will be set by the government anyway?
On 1 March 1989, the minister said: “It has been my position that I would not interfere in the hearing process.” Similarly in January, just two months earlier, he said: “I will not interfere with the tribunal.” He set up what was supposed to be an independent tribunal. Then when the heat comes on, when the consumer groups say, “We’re being gouged. We cannot stand the kind of insurance rates we’re getting,” the minister, the cabinet, the Premier or whatever little group in the Office of the Premier that seems to dictate to all the Liberals what they have to do, be it on Sunday shopping or whatever other issue, brings the axe down and the minister is cut off at the knees and is told: “You can’t do that. Sure, we said we would set up an independent tribunal. Sure it cost the taxpayers $7 million, but, my goodness, it’s not working out the way we wanted and we’re losing votes on this so we’d better do something different. So now we’re going to have another piece of legislation. The first piece hasn’t worked. The second piece we’re going to introduce as a way of stalling, and somewhere in the future we’re going to have a solution.”
Well, some promise. Some way of running a government.
What is even more frightening is that the Minister of Financial Institutions is also the Chairman of Management Board. The Chairman of Management Board is supposed to be the minister who sees that the public purse is protected from mismanagement. If that is the minister who is protecting us from waste and mismanagement, after squandering $7 million, after wasting the time of the House on a piece of legislation that he is now undercutting, one has to ask: “What kind of manager is he as the Chairman of Management Board? How many other millions of dollars are being wasted as a result of the ineptitude of this minister and this government?”
Mr Mackenzie: Just very briefly, I could not resist it; I would hope my colleagues on the government side of the House would do the right thing for once.
It is obvious that they could not live up to their promise to lower insurance rates in Ontario, a promise that almost everybody who was following the election saw or watched and has certainly heard repeated a number of times. The tribunal has not worked, the auto insurance board setup has not worked. They have obviously seen that the rates were going to be so high that numbers of people would have been down their throats over the increases they were seeing in their auto insurance rates, and their friends in the insurance industry are not happy. They tell us that they are not making money, that you cannot make money in auto insurance today, that the costs are too high, and indeed some of them are even getting out of business themselves.
Why not put them out of their misery and score a whole pile of Brownie points and do away with all of the problems they have by bringing in a public auto insurance plan right off the bat? They would resolve all of these problems and even gain some credibility again, which they have totally lost.
I would suggest that they move that way and make their auto insurance friends happy, who do not think they can make any money in the business, make the people happy with a plan where they can see what it is going to cost and the yearly charges when they renew their licences, and get out of the trouble they are in with their own incompetence in terms of auto insurance.
Mr Reycraft: Now we’ll hear the voice of reason.
The Speaker: Order. Are there any other members wishing to participate?
Mr Laughren: I was not originally intending to take part in the debate this afternoon, but it really is remarkable to see how the Liberals have tried every conceivable means of avoiding the real issue here; and that is whether Ontario should have private auto insurance or public auto insurance. There is virtually no amount of money that they will not spend in order to avoid dealing with that central question.
I do not think that this government needs to be told, but I am going to tell it anyway, just to make myself feel better. In the three provinces out west where NDP governments brought in public auto insurance and subsequently governments changed -- I do not understand that, but anyway they are no longer NDP governments out there -- the new governments, Social Credit or Conservative, have not changed the public auto insurance programs in those provinces. They still have public auto insurance there, even though in Saskatchewan and in British Columbia in particular, for example, you have people in charge of that government who can hardly be called sympathetic to the cause of the public sector and who in fact would like very much to divest themselves of the public auto insurance programs if they thought they could get away with it. But they have not done that. They simply have not done that.
Why? Because they know that they have got the most efficient system possible in place in those provinces.
Mr Campbell: With subsidies?
Mr Laughren: No, not with subsidies -- no subsidies; that is the point. They know that if they were to do away with the very efficient public plans in the western provinces, there would be such an uproar among the population that they would be turfed out of office in the next election, and I would predict that it is a matter of time until this government, despite the fact that its Premier resides in and represents the city of London, Ontario, the heartland of the Canadian insurance industry, at some point this government is going to have to come to grips with that problem. It is going to have to say: “Look, we have tried everything else, we have set up the insurance board, we have tried to give it the autonomy to take the heat off ourselves; it did not work. We spent $7 million on the process and then flushed the whole process down the sewer with the most recent announcement.”
Hon Mr Elston: No, no, no; that is wrong.
Mr Laughren: Well, that is exactly what the government did. Tell me what came out of that $7 million. What came of it? To what good use has that expenditure been put? How has it been used? How has it contributed to the cause? All it did was tell the Liberals that the system is not working. It must be a terrible embarrassment to have opposition members --
I am not going to say it, because other members have said it and I do not need to repeat what the Premier said about how he was going to lower insurance rates in the province of Ontario. Since then, of course, insurance rates have only gone in one direction and that is up; sure as hell not down. It must be a terrible embarrassment for the Liberals to be reminded of that all the time. I do not need to remind them, because other members have done it often enough.
I do not know how the Liberals look at each other in the caucus room every week when they think about that and when there is a discussion in their caucus room about auto insurance. It must really bother those members, particularly those who are in danger of being what we affectionately call one-trippers around this place.
Mr Mackenzie: Rollers; roll right in and roll right out.
Mr Laughren: Rollers; roll in and roll out. It is going to be mighty tough in the next provincial election. If those people who are in danger of being one-trippers -- I am not talking about Sterling Campbell, the member for Sudbury, but I am talking about those other members who are in danger of being one-trippers. I do not think Sterling is going to last the session.
If the Minister of Financial Institutions was really serious about two things, he could kill two birds with one stone, so to speak. He could insist that -- and I will just use this name once, Mr Speaker, and then I will go back to referring to members by their proper names; I hope you will allow me that latitude once more only.
If the Minister of Financial Institutions was really serious about it, he would resolve a lot of his problems by insisting that Sterling Campbell be appointed as his parliamentary assistant. That way, it would make it much easier for the member for Sudbury to campaign on the fact that he was close to the heart of government and close to the important decision-makers on the front benches in this government. Right now, it is not fair. The people in Sudbury have been complaining to me that they think one of the reasons that auto insurance rates are in such a shambles is that the member for Sudbury is not the parliamentary assistant to the Minister of Financial Institutions, the minister who is responsible for auto insurance.
It is really not up to me to make appointments on behalf of the Premier, but I think that unless something is done to help out the Minister of Financial Institutions, there will be absolutely no confidence left in this government to manage its affairs at all.
I do not want to put the entire obligation or responsibility or burden on the member for Sudbury; I think that would be inappropriate. But I do think his talents are not being appropriately utilized around this place. If the Premier wants to consult with me at any time as to where his talents lie, other than in what he is doing now, I would be very happy to help him out in that regard.
In conclusion, I do think the government has played fast and loose with the consumers of Ontario -- the automobile drivers; it has played fast and loose with Mr Kruger of the Ontario Automobile Insurance Board; and it has played fast and loose with all the people of Ontario by not keeping the promise the Premier made, which I am not going to refer to any more.
The House adjourned at 1800.