The House met at 1330.
Mr Kormos: We have to take necessary steps immediately to increase the North American content requirement in the Canada-US free trade agreement from 50% to 60% for automotive products.
The auto parts manufacturing industry -- and companies like Gencorp Automotive in Welland are part of it -- employs 80,000 Canadians and produces $15 billion of high value added products each year, most of which are exported.
This industry has experienced tremendous competitive pressure currently. At the same time, though, it is making great improvements in quality, product development, capability, productivity and manufacturing effectiveness. Despite these gains, it continues to experience difficulty in winning business from the new transplant assemblers in North America, which continue to source the vast majority of their parts from offshore suppliers.
In Canada, this situation is aggravated by the small size of the transplants, which on average have only 35% of the production capacity of US transplant facilities. The current 50% content requirement can be achieved by the transplants simply through assembly labour and sourcing of simple parts, while a 60% requirement would require sourcing of a moderate level of higher value added parts in reasonable volumes.
This requirement will expand the business potential of our parts industry with the increasingly important transplant assemblers by up to $2 billion per year without causing significant hardship to those firms. This increases the only effective means of encouraging the transplants to develop new relationships with North American and especially Canadian suppliers. Thousands of high-technology manufacturing jobs are at stake. We must act now to implement a necessary beneficial policy change in the interest of preserving and strengthening Canada’s industrial infrastructure.
Mr McLean: Toronto’s fabulous SkyDome, which opened to great fanfare just over a year ago, is once again capturing headlines, but this time the headlines are not dealing with the great facility that the SkyDome is, they are about what the Stadium Corp is trying to avoid doing for the city of Toronto.
What the corporation is trying to avoid is a $6.4-million tax bill. The corporation claims that since it took provincial and municipal money to build this facility, it should be considered a crown corporation. What the corporation conveniently ignores is a four-year-old Ontario Municipal Board ruling that the project developing the railway lands, in this case the SkyDome, was actually a private development and not a public one.
What is it the SkyDome folks are trying to avoid by being classified as a crown corporation? Their tax bill would be cut in half by only covering the cost of the services which the city and Metro provide and not education. The remaining half would be paid by the province in the form of grants in lieu of taxes.
This $3.2 million in education taxes would cover the cost of educating about 513 elementary pupils or 406 secondary students or cover one half of the cost of building a new elementary school, not to mention how many portables could be replaced or teachers’ salaries could be paid. I am disgusted with the attitude of the folks at the SkyDome who claim that they are a private company when it comes to divvying up the profits.
SIR SANDFORD FLEMING COLLEGE
Mr Adams: Sir Sandford Fleming College of Applied Arts and Technology in Peterborough is working hard to develop enduring links between Peterborough and Japan through two important initiatives.
In 1989, 34 students, aged 18 and 19, who were enrolled in the English literature department at Osaka Seikei Women’s Junior College arrived in Canada, marking the first year of an agreement between Osaka Seikei College and Fleming. During their stay, the students undertook a special program of English as a second language and audited courses at the college. The primary aims of the program are to provide the participating students with intensive English-language training and expose them to Canadian culture.
Also, a formal agreement has been set up between Fleming College and Chuo College of Comprehensive Social Services in Japan. Chuo College is only a couple of years old. It is a privately owned institution which grants diplomas and belongs to a larger group of institutions in Osaka. The aims of this twinning program are to foster good relations between the two colleges and possibly create an exchange situation for the two institutions.
I invite members of the House to join me in congratulating Fleming College of Peterborough on these international initiatives.
Mr Wildman: Members know that the select committee on the Constitution has been given the task of holding public hearings on the agreement reached by the first ministers’ conference in Ottawa last week and reporting back to the Legislature by Wednesday 20 June.
This is a very important assignment. Indeed, the work of the committee could be described as historic. It is impossible, however, for the committee to complete comprehensive public hearings in the very short, limited time frame that the provincial Liberal government has given us.
Ironically, there is no legal requirement that this Legislature ratify the agreement reached in Ottawa on 9 June prior to the end of next week. The Premier argues that in ratifying the first ministers’ agreement before the Meech Lake deadline, Ontario would be sending a message of goodwill to the provinces of Newfoundland and Manitoba to encourage legislators in those provinces to ratify the accord.
The Constitution belongs to all the people of Canada, not just to the 11 politicians and their advisers who met in Ottawa last week. Holding five or six days of public hearings in Ontario after the discussions are over and the decisions, such as changes to the Senate, have been made, does not give the people of this province any real say in the development of our country’s fundamental law. It seems at least that we should be separating the question of Senate reform off so that we could have a real scrutiny and public debate in this province about the desirability of Senate reform. What is the rush?
Mr Jackson: When teachers were unable to get a meeting with the Minister of Education to discuss their concerns over the pension legislation, the Ontario Teachers’ Federation labelled the member for Renfrew North the Phantom of the Mowat Block. The teachers could not have chosen a better title, since it has become readily apparent that the minister is abrogating his responsibilities.
In recent months, the minister has: refused to release the Watson report on religious education that he received in January; refused to respond to the third report of the select committee on education that was submitted to him in January; refused to bring forward amendments to Bill 75 to deal with the problems of French-language governance; refused to table special education reforms his government promised; refused to respond to the Radwanski report tabled in February 1988; refused to respond to the Shapiro report tabled in October 1985; and there is no sign of a imminent release of the Premier’s Council’s “people strategy” or the final Vision 2000 report, despite all the rhetoric about preparing our workforce for competition in an increasingly globalized economy.
The Ontario Association of Alternative and Independent Schools summed it up. They were told by deputy minister Robert Mitton that the minister “has chosen to be personally incommunicado on policy issues of interest.”
Perhaps the Premier should ask why the Minister of Education has opted for early retirement without informing the Legislature and the educational community at large. Almost two million Ontario children, whose education needs are paramount, deserve better representation.
FESTIVALS IN CORNWALL
Mr Cleary: May I extend a personal invitation to my colleagues to experience the best of all worlds in the city of Cornwall. Over the next month and a half, my constituency will be hosting three very exciting and prominent cultural festivals.
One of the largest is Worldfest-Festimonde. For the fifth year in a row, Cornwall will be hosting this special event in mid-July. People from 10 different countries will come to Cornwall this year and perform their own special dances, dressed in their own native costumes. Anyone who has participated in Worldfest is sure to agree that the people of my riding not only open their homes to Worldfest visitors but also open their hearts.
On 1 July, Cornwall will be celebrating the Multicultural Festival. People from all over eastern Ontario, representing about 30 different nationalities, will pool their resources at the Cornwall Civic Complex to enjoy colourful entertainment, arts, crafts and splendid cuisine.
Tomorrow begins a week-long celebration, La Semaine Française. This year’s theme, “Sharing Together,” is an invitation extended to all people to join the francophone activities.
I am sure members can appreciate my constituency as an area full of the rich heritage of many cultures that makes our province and our country so special.
NATIONAL ACCESS AWARENESS WEEK
Mr Kormos: Down in Niagara region Monday morning just past, we celebrated the kickoff of National Access Awareness Week. I was present when a number of people in Niagara region were pleasantly awarded certificates of commendation by the regional municipality of Niagara for their contribution to access awareness: people like Mary Sinclair from Welland, who has provided leadership that is outstanding for the community of people with disabilities; people like Brad Clements, the director of the Young Men’s Christian Association, who once again has performed an outstanding job of making sure that the programs at the YMCA do not discriminate against any, least of all against people with disabilities.
I was proud to be present with people like Mary Sinclair, with people like Brad Clements, and I tell members quite frankly I am humbled by the fact that I was able to share that morning with them.
At the same time, we have to recognize that accessibility no longer means just providing ramps for wheelchairs. Accessibility means real jobs for real people with real pay, so that people with disabilities can live in dignity and can live contributive, decent lives, rather than being denied that opportunity through restrictive policies that sadly are all too often reinforced time and time again by this government here at Queen’s Park. Let’s really open the doors this time.
FOREST ACCESS ROADS
Mr Pollock: There is a major concern in certain areas of the province in regard to forest access roads. These roads were built to maintain the forest, but as time moved on, people used these roads to go in to their lakes and eventually built cottages and in some cases winterized them.
The Ministry of Natural Resources has refused to snowplow these roads and it does very little to maintain them. The local municipalities say these roads are not theirs. If the municipalities agree to take these roads, they will have to bring them up to Ministry of Transportation standards, which means a 66-foot right of way, a certain granular base and regular slope lines. The municipalities claim that they cannot afford this type of expense.
The local cottage people are not asking for these standards, just some assistance from the Ministry of Natural Resources, the Ministry of Transportation and the municipalities. I hope that these groups can work towards a reasonable and sensible solution to this particular problem.
Mr Callahan: I have the great honour of inviting all of the members of the Legislature to a reception in room 247, the government caucus office, on 25 June 1990 from 5:30 to 7 pm. At this time, the Minister of Citizenship will be entertaining the multicultural festival from my riding, Carabram, and I would like all members to come.
Any members who attended last year must have enjoyed it and enjoyed the costumes. I would then ask them to also join me in my riding on the weekend of 6, 7 or 8 July, when they would have an opportunity to go around with us and really savour the sights, sounds and tastes of a truly multicultural festival that has made Brampton a leader in terms of neighbour understanding neighbour and should be a model for the entirety of Ontario, if not for the world. It is a world-class opportunity, so I ask members to come along and join with us, and I would like to thank the minister for once again hosting this. The former minister, the member for Scarborough-Agincourt, did it in the past.
I think it is a good tradition and I think members will have a lot of fun if they come along, so I look forward to seeing them on that occasion, when they will have positive statements, I am sure.
The Speaker: Just before I call the next order, I know all members have noticed in the lower west gallery we have a former member visiting us, John Lane. Please join me in welcoming him.
STATEMENT BY THE MINISTRY
EDUCATION OF HEARING-IMPAIRED / ÉDUCATION DES ÉLÈVES SOURDS ET MALENTENDANTS
Hon Mr Conway: I am pleased to have this opportunity, during National Access Awareness Week, to address the important issue of education for deaf and hard-of-hearing students.
As members of this Legislature are aware, the Review of Ontario Education Programs for Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Students with an English-language background has been the subject of much interest in Ontario since it was released for consultation last December.
I want to thank the many individuals and organizations who participated in this review, a number of which individuals are with us in the visitors’ galleries this afternoon. I wish to particularly acknowledge the work of the external review committee, chaired by Don Rutledge, former associate director of the Toronto Board of Education.
Today I am pleased to outline the first steps in the Ministry of Education’s response to the recommendations included in that report.
Members may recall that the report of the external committee was entitled A Language for Learning. A main recommendation of the report was that American sign language be piloted as a language of instruction. The Ontario Ministry of Education accepts in principle this recommendation, and beginning in September 1990, a pilot project focusing on American sign language as an optional language of instruction will begin at the Ernest C. Drury School in Milton. This pilot project will be extended to other provincial schools in the 1991-92 school year, at which time interested school boards will be invited to join.
I wish to emphasize that we will continue to serve the needs of deaf and hard-of-hearing students through other communication methods in addition to American sign language.
Another important issue addressed by the review was the training of teachers for deaf and hard-of-hearing students. Following the report’s recommendations, the Ministry of Education has already begun the steps to transfer training for teachers of deaf students from the campus of the Sir James Whitney School in Belleville to a teacher education institution by September 1991. The institution chosen will offer courses leading towards specialist qualifications and a master’s degree in deaf education.
The Ministry of Education will also provide financial assistance for qualified deaf persons who wish to pursue specialist qualifications at this institution. In addition, the ministry will provide an avenue for qualified individuals who are currently working as teachers of deaf students but who do not hold an Ontario teacher’s certificate so that they might obtain that teaching certificate.
Beginning in the current fiscal year, the Ontario Ministry of Education will address a further recommendation of the review by spending some $380,000 to improve the resource centres at the Robarts School in London, the Ernest C. Drury School in Milton and the Sir James Whitney School in Belleville. This initiative will help the provincial schools provide parents and school boards with better access to a range of services and information relevant to deaf education. The ministry is also planning the establishment of additional resource centres, particularly in northern Ontario.
In all, the ministry has allocated some $670,000 in the current fiscal year. Additionally, existing resources for deaf education will be redirected, reflecting a new focus on key recommendations of the review.
Je suis également heureux d’annoncer aujourd’hui la publication du rapport de l’Enquête sur les programmes et services à l’intention des élèves sourds et malentendants francophones.
This review of French-language deaf education, undertaken separately, presents the findings and recommendations of two committees which were assisted in their task by an advisory committee. The external review committee was chaired by Berchmans Kipp, executive secretary of the Languages of Instruction Commission of Ontario and a former director of the Metropolitan Toronto Separate School Board. The committee was composed of the following members: Andrée Gendron, director of the rehabilitation programs at the Institut Raymond-Dewar in Montreal; Louis Guay, deaf and hard-of-hearing services counsellor in Fredericton; Raymond Leblanc, curriculum supervisor at the Resource Centre for the Deaf in Amherst, Nova Scotia, and Julie Roy, a deaf teacher of the deaf at the polyvalente Lucien-Pagé, a high school in Montreal.
L’une des principales recommandations du rapport veut que le ministère de l’Education précise le niveau des services éducatifs auxquels les ëlèves sourds et malentendants francophones devraient avoir accès, et qu’il fournisse les ressources humaines et financières nécessaires à la prestation de ces services.
In addition to this major recommendation about the level of educational services for deaf students with a French-language background, other recommendations of this report include that classes should be established in selected schools on a regional basis to provide educational programs and services to deaf and hard-of-hearing students with a French-language background, that training for teachers of deaf students be transferred to a French-language faculty of education, that affirmative action programs be developed to encourage deaf persons with a French-language background to become teachers of deaf students or to enter other professions involved in deaf education, that la langue des signes québécois be made a language of instruction and that preschool programs continue to be the responsibility of the Ministry of Education and that these services be supervised by specialists.
Le ministère de l’Éducation invite maintenant les personnes qui s’intéressent à l’enseignement aux personnes sourdes francophones à lui faire part de leur opinion afin de l’aider à préparer un plan d’action pour répondre à ces recommandations et aux autres recommandations de l’enquête.
I expect that the first steps of the response will be in place by September 1991.
Finally, I wish to advise members that the review of postsecondary deaf education conducted by the Ministry of Colleges and Universities is being printed and will be released for consultation this summer.
National Access Awareness Week is a particularly appropriate time to emphasize that in the changing world of the 1990s, all Ontarians must have access to quality education. The initiatives that we are and will be taking in this special field of education will very much help us to meet this important challenge.
EDUCATION OF HEARING-IMPAIRED / ÉDUCATION DES ELEVES SOURDS ET MALENTENDANTS
Mr R. F. Johnston: When two years ago Gary Malkowski and Judy Rebick, who are in the bleachers today, came to my office and apprised me of some of the problems in deaf education, I and, I think, they did not think this kind of review that has taken place would ever take place in Ontario or that the problems in deaf education would ever have been followed with the kind of thoroughness that they have. As a result, I am pleased to rise today and welcome the action of the government that has been announced by the minister.
However, I also have to say that I am not exactly overwhelmed by the response by the minister. Members who have had a chance to read this very informed document of the external and internal review committees that was presented in December will know that there were many recommendations, touching on many more things than have been broached today by the Minister of Education.
The first thing I would have to say is that it is disappointing to get a piecemeal response to this well-thought-out review. Second, the minister is being mildly inaccurate when he indicates that the primary recommendation of this group is that pilot projects for American sign language be established. In point of fact, the pilot project idea was part of an overall recommendation which much more importantly indicated that American sign language be recognized as one of the languages of instruction in Ontario and that then a number of things take place, including pilot projects.
The wording of the minister’s statement today does not indicate that he has accepted that principle. What he indicates is that the recommendation about a pilot project has been accepted in principle, but not the principle that we accept, as Bill 112 does, which I introduced, that we will change the Education Act to make it legal and accepted that American sign language can be used as a language of instruction in Ontario. Until we do that, we will not recognize the reality of a large part of the deaf community’s needs in terms of its own education.
Even the response of this new report, which I have not had time to read, Enquête sur les programmes et services à l’intention des élèves sourds et malentendants francophones, mentionne, comme recommandation 18, que la langue des signes québécois, adoptée en Ontario, soit reconnue comme l’une des langues d’enseignement utilisées dans les écoles de l’Ontario.
In fact, there is a wonderful parallel between this report and the former report in terms of the unanimity of approach that they are taking. Why the government has not taken the step of accepting that principle about American sign language at this point I do not know. I hope in the next number of days they do accept that the first thing you do is adopt the principle in law under the Education Act, as Bill 112 does, and then you proceed along with the pilot projects, as he has been suggesting.
One of the initial problems that we identified was the problem of teaching and the lack of supervisors in the system who are deaf. We know that these recommendations today may help us get more deaf teachers, but there is still no guarantee that we will have in the province in short order a director of one of our schools for the deaf who is a deaf person, given, ironically, that there are so many Ontarians who are directing those kinds of places in other jurisdictions. I would have hoped that the minister might have said something about supervisory paper qualifications as well.
There is nothing in here about the IPRC process that people have to go through. There is nothing in here about the 70-decibel cutoff in terms of who is hearing-impaired when it comes to getting ancillary services, and that is a major oversight in this proposal that is being brought forward today.
I would hope that in the next few days we may hear from this minister that he is willing to adapt the proposals in Bill 112 as amended, as was suggested in second reading, that would make a new 19a for the Education Act, requiring that the American sign language or langue des signes québécois, as the case requires, be made available for use as a language of instruction in Ontario. Until that is done, we are not fully accepting the reality of the reform for deaf education which is required and which we have all been working on for these last two years.
Mr Jackson: I would be pleased to respond as well to the Minister of Education’s announcement today on deaf education. I would like at the outset to suggest that this is a rare example of the government actually listening to stakeholders in education and responding with what would appear on the surface to be a majority of the main concerns expressed, and the recommendations have been responded to. I think it is somewhat fitting in the context of the needs of the disabled in this province in the week when we honour their agenda that this announcement be made.
I am pleased that it ensures the viability and extends the good work of the three provincial schools, and I am particularly pleased that we are making the commitments to teacher training in the context in which they are placed here, providing opportunities for disabled teachers to become empowered as educators and serve as the examples of the true spirit of tearing down handicaps as a bias in society. We have no better place to start with that than in our educational institutions.
There is room for some criticism based on elements of the agenda for deaf children in this province which remain unaddressed. The IPRC process has been alluded to, and earlier today I referred to the minister’s lack of attention to the government’s promised reforms to Bill 82, special education, as well as a series of other reports. But I guess it would appear that the minister can only work on one report at a time, and to the extent that he has been singularly and almost in an onerous fashion focused on this one issue in the last two years, it was timely that we get his report. He has to produce at least one response to the education community in attending to its needs and not necessarily responding to matters such as pooling and pensions.
But also, I think it would have been fitting for the minister, to be fair, to have paid the appropriate tribute to the member for Scarborough West, and I would like, on behalf of all members of the House, to acknowledge that he has provided, almost singly, the leadership and the compassion which has driven this agenda for all members of this House. I am very pleased to say that I have followed his leadership in this regard and provided the support which he so richly deserved on behalf of the children in this province. I hope that at the conclusion of my remarks, all members of the House will so acknowledge his fine contribution which has culminated in today’s response.
In closing, I think since the minister himself has referred to the significance of this week and its concern to handicapped citizens in this province, that he, as the Minister of Education, should also take it upon himself to address the needs of those handicapped children who are still discriminated against in this province, children like Wally Elgersma, who are being punished and denied access to health care programs simply because they are educated in a Christian school. In fact, we are one of the few provinces that discriminates against children on this basis. A broad range of handicapped children are denied the rights that other children have in this province.
I believe that the Minister of Education should stop blaming the Minister of Health and the Minister of Health should stop blaming the Minister without Portfolio responsible for disabled persons, and so on. It is time for the government to state, as it has today, with clarity and conviction, that it is prepared to tear down those other impediments to what we understand is one of the most important agendas for the children and handicapped citizens in this province.
I want to again encourage all members to acknowledge the efforts of the member for Scarborough West and all members in this House who have helped with this agenda.
Mr B. Rae: I want to ask the Premier a question very directly. Can the Premier tell us, is it the intention of the government of Ontario to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which the Premier will know was signed by the federal government on 28 May 1990?
Hon Mr Peterson: The Treasurer tells me that the minister is right up to date on that, but he is not here.
Hon R. F. Nixon: There he is.
Hon Mr Peterson: I am going to rag the puck until the minister gets over here to answer that question. He has just had it interpreted to him and he can assist.
Hon Mr Beer: In defence, I was discussing the upcoming debate this afternoon on that same issue.
The answer is, most emphatically yes. As the honourable member knows, the Treasurer participated last week in a ceremony here at the Legislature. I think it is terribly important that we indicate our support and that we look at our various programs and policies to ensure that in fact they do meet the standards of the United Nations declaration.
Mr B. Rae: I am glad to have the answer from the minister. I had hoped the Premier would be able to answer.
Hon Mr Peterson: I did not know.
Mr B. Rae: Perhaps he should find out about what is going on with respect to children.
Article 24 of the convention established the children’s right to the highest attainable standards of health through access to proper nutrition, clean drinking water, health care and health education, yet we now know that the death rates in 1986 for poor children in Canada, and indeed in Ontario, were 56% higher than those of higher-income children. We know that babies born into poverty are at an increased risk of being of low birth weight. We know that they are more likely to have psychiatric problems and problems in school. We know, as well, that children are twice as likely as adults to be fed by food banks.
I want to ask the minister how the government intends to avoid the charge, the accusation, of real hypocrisy on its part when we contrast its being a signatory and participating in a ceremony celebrating the rights of the child with the fact that for poor kids in Ontario today there is nothing short of a health care crisis and, indeed, even a life crisis?
Hon Mr Beer: Over the last four or five years I believe this government has taken a number of major initiatives and has made great strides in trying to provide much greater protection for children and ensuring that they have much better health care, social services, educational services and what have you. Clearly, while much has been done, much remains to be done. I do not for a moment suggest that we have been able to obliterate the ravages of poverty and how that affects children.
But I think if the member looks at the specific areas of our activities in terms of children’s services, he will see that what we are putting in place and the direction we are going will lead to a tremendous improvement. Whether we are talking about the Thomson report and the initiatives in that area or whether we are talking about programs for the developmentally handicapped or the physically disabled, in any of those areas of government action, I believe that our programs and policies are moving in the direction that the United Nations declaration sets before us. I do not think there is anything hypocritical in that whatsoever, and we can and do make a firm and clear commitment to meet the standards set in the charter.
Mr B. Rae: Quite contrary to what the minister has said, since the Liberal Party took office, the gap between rich and poor has grown in Ontario; the number of poor kids has increased. The overwhelming evidence, and it continues to grow, is that while the wealthy have done very well by the Peterson government, and indeed wealthy kids will always have opportunities, the fact remains that poor kids are more likely to get sick, are more likely to drop out of school, are more likely to have to go to food banks and, bluntly put, are more likely to die. That is the overwhelming evidence from every study that has been done in the last five years.
How can the minister have the gall to trumpet his signature on the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, while at precisely the same time preside over this kind of child neglect?
Hon Mr Beer: I think it appropriate to remind the Leader of the Opposition that it is terribly important that we sign this agreement, and sign it because we are moving in the direction that is going to lead to better lives for children. We need to recognize that the actions this government has taken are having a positive impact on children, while at the same time recognizing, as I said before, that there is much to be done.
What this declaration from the United Nations serves to do is to remind us of what remains to be done, but if the member looks at the various programs and activities, not only of my ministry but of all of the ministries of this government, that relate to children, he will see that we have been not only increasing the funding for various programs to meet precisely the issues he raised, but that we have been doing this at a time when the federal government has been cutting back on its commitment. There is no gall, no hypocrisy in what this government has been doing to help children over the last four or five years. We are going to continue to do it and we will meet the standards that are set out here.
Mr Kormos: I have a question to the Premier. According to today’s Toronto Star, the now Minister of Industry, Trade and Technology drove a Pontiac provided by Budget Rent a Car in Etobicoke during the 1987 election campaign. The value of that car rental was about $1,400. That donation was not reported, and probably for good reason because it was twice the maximum allowable. As well, his campaign chief financial officer has now been charged in connection with the provision of that car. The same newspaper reports that Patti Starr was charged with paying $500 for the oil, gas and maintenance of that Pontiac car used by that candidate for campaign purposes.
We are told the minister felt that as to the Mercedes-Benz he owns, it was not a good idea to be driving around in that kind of expensive Mercedes-Benz while he was campaigning, so they opted for a Pontiac from Budget Rent a Car. The decision to hide the Mercedes is consistent. The Liberals hid their real agenda on auto insurance along with a whole lot of other things. In view of the current Liberal Party standards for the behaviour of cabinet ministers, does the Premier think the minister should resign?
Hon Mr Peterson: As the member knows, charges have been laid and it is before the courts.
Mr Kormos: That is precisely the point. Charges were laid against the chief financial officer. Charges were laid against the riding association. Charges were laid against the minister of industry and trade’s riding association and his chief financial officer. Charges were laid against Patti Starr. The minister has avoided criminal charges or quasi-criminal charges. He is going to avoid going to jail. Yet the response from the Premier is that the Premier simply does not understand what is at stake here: the integrity of the members of cabinet. This is a clear case of Budget Rent a Cabinet Minister.
Why is it okay for the minister of industry and trade’s campaign chief financial officer to be charged, for his riding association to be charged, for Budget Rent a Car to be charged, all in connection with that minister’s election campaign while the Premier does not see that minister as being responsible?
Hon Mr Peterson: I am not sure if there is a question. I think the member pointed out that the minister has not been charged. For a lawyer, I am very surprised that he would stand in this House and be so thoroughly irresponsible.
Mr Kormos: The former Minister of Culture and Communications gets dumped by the Premier for the mere possibility that her actions in pursuit of renomination might constitute a perceived conflict of interest. We have a situation here where the minister of industry and trade -- never mind that he wants to hide his expensive Mercedes-Benz, built in Germany -- fails to report $1,400 worth of donation and a registered charity picks up the tab for gas and oil costs of a campaign vehicle. Is this not the sort of mistaken and unacceptable judgement that cannot be allowed on the part of a minister of the crown? Is that not the height of dishonesty?
Hon Mr Peterson: I think I have answered the question. The honourable member is in an increasing state of irresponsibility.
The Speaker: Order. The member for Parry Sound is waiting patiently. I hope you will give him the opportunity to ask a question. Agreed?
Mr Eves: I have a question of the Premier as well. Yesterday in the select committee on constitutional and intergovernmental affairs I asked the Attorney General if the companion resolution or Constitution agreement of 1990 had to be passed by 23 June this year. His response was that he did not know and that we should ask a constitutional expert.
As luck would have it, the next witness was Professor Hogg, who is one of the signatories to the opinion attached to the agreement, who said that we have three years from the date that the first legislative body in Canada passes the 1990 constitutional agreement to approve or ratify it. Does the Premier agree with Professor Hogg in that regard? If he does, why are we trying to pass this within the next week?
Hon Mr Peterson: I do agree with Professor Hogg. That was absolutely accurate; we do have three years to pass that. I discussed this yesterday in the House and I will tell the honourable member my view on the matter. It does not technically have to be passed for another three years. Obviously I would prefer that it was passed in this particular time frame we are talking about. The reason really is, just as a sign of good faith to the other provinces.
As the member knows, we were involved in a very difficult negotiation. As I said, my preference would be that way, but it obviously needs the co-operation and assent of the members opposite. It is not legally a requirement.
Mr Eves: I would like to talk to the Premier a bit about the process of constitutional reform. When the Premier stood in the House on Monday he criticized the process, and I think rightly so. I think that almost every Canadian would agree with that. The statement he made in the House on Monday afternoon was, “We must create a process that allows for a much broader and more involved public consultation and sharing.”
He will recall the previous deliberations of the constitution committee in this province where we sat for some months. Here are the results of the public hearings only. It went on for several months with many, many days of public hearings and deliberations. We heard over 152 witnesses. We had 288 written submissions. I think this is a very significant step in Canada’s future. I think the Premier has made a commitment to a more involved and open process of public consultation.
Does he not think that this is somewhat inconsistent with trying to ask this body to have rushed public hearings, “Get as many people as you can within the next week, but let’s get this passed”?
Hon Mr Peterson: Certainly I understand the view of my friend opposite in that regard, and I do not want to be argumentative in any way. He is quite right that when we did the Meech hearings there was very extensive committee work. I can say that the committee work done by this Legislature was exemplary, and a lot of the results of the report here formed the intellectual underpinnings for a lot of other reports. It was referred to often, I should say to my friend opposite, in New Brunswick, in the federal hearings and many others. It was an extraordinarily good piece of work. I know that on analysing that piece of work, the member will find a lot of those considerations in the agreements just passed. So it has had an influence; there is no question about that.
Now we are in a unique situation because of the 23 June.deadline that certain decisions have to be made by. My honourable friend also, I know, is aware of the fact that each Legislature and the federal Parliament has to pass an identical resolution in order to effect constitutional change.
I also agree with my friend opposite, and I refer to some remarks of mine, that we can improve this process. I can tell him that I think it was at Ontario’s insistence, in this document we signed, that we would change the process. We have a number of ideas. I think it is one of the things the committee on constitutional reform could be dealing with, putting before the other first ministers ideas on how to build future constitutional change in partnership with the public. So I think my honourable friend makes a good point.
Mr Eves: I appreciate all the remarks the Premier has made. Indeed I sat through every one of these days of hearings that the previous committee did. Is there some reason other than the fact that it would be morally right, in the Premier’s opinion, or wise to send a signal to other provinces? Did the Premier make a commitment or give an undertaking to the other first ministers that this would be passed in the Ontario Legislature by 23 June? If he did, I think we can understand the position the Ontario Legislature is in. If he did not, what better time than the present to take the lead in a meaningful step to a more meaningful process of constitutional reform in this country?
Hon Mr Peterson: I said I would present this to the Legislature as quickly as possible. There was no commitment on when this thing would be passed. Professor Hogg is absolutely correct that it could take another three years, but I think we should put this in context as well.
The member recognizes that each legislature has to pass an identical amendment. He also realizes, I am sure, that one of the problems with Meech Lake was that it was dealt with three years ago and then a number of governments came and changed their minds in this respect. That led to the subsequent negotiations and the subsequent agreement that came forward. It was Mr Wells who came forward. His number one agenda was not Meech Lake or bringing Quebec into the Confederation; it was Senate reform. Those were his priorities. We tried to address those in a sensitive way. We have advanced the constitutional agenda; there is no question about that. We have lots of work to do in the future to give expression to some of those legitimate voices from the regions, adapting our institutions to better serve Canadians.
My honourable friend is also aware of the fact that this has to conform with the other legislatures, so it is not possible in that sense to change it. My honourable friend has to rest with his own judgement in that regard. All I can say, for the reasons I have expressed, is that I would appreciate having his co-operation.
Mr Runciman: I also have a question for the Premier. It has to do with an Ottawa Citizen article which indicates that the Premier and his fellow Liberal jet-setters spent approximately $310,000 of taxpayers’ money on a nine-day trip to Italy, staying in five-star hotels, suites at $1,000 a night, very lavish expenditures. Does the Premier feel this was an appropriate use of tax dollars?
Hon Mr Peterson: Mr Speaker, the minister can give him all the details on this.
Hon Mr Kwinter: The question is, does the government think this was an appropriate expenditure of tax dollars? I am sure members will want to know that this was the largest trade mission ever to go to any foreign jurisdiction. We had almost 140 people there. They should also know that in the whole scope of my ministry we have found that the most effective way to encourage trade is to take groups of people who have a cultural and a language relationship with the jurisdiction that we are going into. I should tell the member that when we were in Italy, we not only made a lot of contacts, we not only did business, but we had an opportunity to visit every single major area in Italy.
As a result of that, we signed agreements with Lombardy. The member will see the results of those agreements when we host the Four Motors of Europe here in two weeks. We had arrangements with other countries, other companies that are using Italy as a conduit to Europe 1992. We had an opportunity to establish an office in Milan that will have long-term, positive benefits for this jurisdiction.
The Speaker: Thank you.
Hon Mr Kwinter: I am just getting going, Mr Speaker.
The Speaker: I have to allow a supplementary and then you may continue.
Mr Runciman: That was nothing more than killing time, a real non-answer. I find it curious that the Premier refers this question. The Ottawa Citizen article also says that the Minister of Industry, Trade and Technology said Tuesday that he was asked to go at the last moment. That is why his travel costs were so high. It would be nice to hear him make reference to that.
The auditor made a report last year that was very critical of high-flying bureaucrats in this Liberal government, spending tax dollars lavishly. Now we have their leaders, the elected officials, setting this kind of an example, spending $1,000 a night, lavish expenditures. At the same time in the province they are increasing taxes at over 100% in the brief time they have been in office. I would like to hear from the minister the justification for why he and his Liberal colleagues feel it is necessary to spend $1,000 a night to stay in a hotel room. Would he please justify that.
Hon Mr Kwinter: The member has zeroed in on one isolated incident and he has given the impression that the 140 members who were on this trip all spent that amount of money. That is absolutely not true. The member has to understand. If you are travelling in these particular jurisdictions, the member will know that in the hotels we felt Ontario should be represented in -- we are the 11th-largest jurisdiction in terms of economic power in the world. When we attended those particular functions we were putting Ontario’s best foot forward, entertaining people with whom we hope to enter into a business and governmental relationship. We had a situation where we did what we felt was the proper thing to do. I will say to the member that it was money well spent. The long-term benefits that will accrue to this province exceed by far any expenditures that were made on that trip.
Mr Neumann: Why don’t you come up with real issues?
Mr Runciman: One of the members was saying, “Come up with real issues.” I think this is a pretty significant issue when you look at the waste of tax dollars. Time and time again we have looked at the kinds of lavish spending by this government -- expensive parties, a kind of high-flying government. At the same time, they are mouthing off to the public that they are trying to be responsible with the use of tax dollars. That just simply flies in the face of the facts. Half of the expenditures, half of the $310,000 was spent on hotel, food and entertainment.
The Minister of Consumer and Commercial Relations has apologized. He has reimbursed $700. His room cost $1,000 a night. He was embarrassed by that. He has paid $700 a night himself. Where is the responsibility on the part of the other members of the Liberal group that travelled over there at taxpayers’ expense? Why do they not have the same sense of responsibility? Why do they not reimburse the taxpayers of this province?
Hon Mr Kwinter: I am sure all members in this House will accept the fact that this is a major jurisdiction in the world and that when we travel we derive benefits and we sign contracts. We had contracts signed by Litton. We had contracts signed by Ontario Hydro. We had contracts signed by a number of the members of this particular delegation. But more important, we sowed the seeds for long-term benefits, long-term business relationships, and you do not do that standing on a street corner. We hosted receptions for these people. We brought people in. We had an opportunity to speak to them to show them what Ontario --
The Speaker: Thank you.
The Speaker: Order.
Mr Mackenzie: I have a question to the Premier, which he will probably refer to the Minister of Industry, Trade and Technology as well. I do not think anybody objects to a trade mission and does not object to one of our leaders going and does not object to business people going. But I would tell the minister that what disturbs me is the junket-like aspects of this particular trip. It took him six months to come up with the answer to the question, so obviously it was carefully done. Why were wives included? Why did it take 10% of the Liberal caucus to attend that particular trip? Why was there a cost of $312 per day accommodation, $12,377 per participant and total per day cost of $34,003.82 on this trip? It does raise serious questions, I think, in the public mind.
Hon Mr Peterson: There were 140 people on the trip. One of the greatest assets we have in this province is a number of members of Parliament who speak different languages, who are comfortable in different cultures. It is one of the greatest strengths we possibly have. We used that to our benefit. Good Lord, the member should not be so provincial. We are making major inroads into Europe of 1992. We covered all parts of Italy day and night, from Milano to Friuli to Catanzaro to Abruzzi to Rome.
Mr B. Rae: It’s a tough job at the top.
Hon Mr Peterson: My friend opposite says, “It’s a tough job.” He enjoyed coming to Tokyo, I will remind him, and he enjoyed coming to China and so did the member opposite so he should not stand up on his high horse. Let me tell him something: We are happy to share these kinds of things, and everybody can make a contribution, but there is not anybody who understands this business who does not understand that this is part of our deliberate strategy to push Ontario out into Europe of 1992, as well as into the Pacific Rim, and we are making real strides at it.
Mr Mackenzie: We have competent Italian-Canadian citizens in business and in the ministries. We did not need a total of nine members of Parliament on that particular trip. The Premier will know that $100,000 can fund a community economic development program for 20 people with disabilities, that the children’s mental health centres across this province are desperate for relatively small amounts of money to keep their programs going, that $50,000 would fund the Wellesley program for 30 children with handicaps, and here he has spent $309,440 on this. Some of it may be legitimate, but I ask the Premier to justify the nine members as other than a straight political con job on the people of Ontario.
Hon Mr Peterson: My friend, if he is going to stand up and say that, is going to have to justify why his leader came to China or why the member for Nickel Belt came to Tokyo and then flew on to New Zealand. He is going to have to justify that.
Hon Mr Peterson: Let me tell the member something: Because they are a real asset. That is the answer to the question. They have contacts, they have knowledge of the community, they were all working extremely hard, and I consider this one of the great assets that we possibly have in this province. We have got to use the strengths of this multicultural province to reach out around the world and try to understand it. So I honestly say, if my friend had anything to offer, he would have been invited on the trip.
CUSTODY AND ACCESS
Mr Jackson: I have a question for the Minister without Portfolio responsible for women’s issues. The minister would be aware that Bill 124, the Children’s Law Reform Act, offers new and increased rights to non-custodial parents, who are usually fathers in this province, for custody and access enforcement. The minister would be aware that women’s groups across this province objected and were against this bill. The minister would also be aware that now this bill is in place the judges have been increasingly using the section on supervised access and awarding that in increasing numbers for victims of abuse and violence, but also they have increased the criteria for non-custodial parents who may abduct their child and for cases of alleged but not proven abuse.
There is concern that there is a gulf between the promise in the minister’s legislation and the enforcement access which judges are awarding and that there are no programs available. My question is simply this: What is she doing specifically as the minister responsible for women’s issues so that women and children caught in abusive situations and caught in this situation of no supervised access programs are properly supervised under this legislation?
Hon Mrs Wilson: I thank the member opposite for that question because it is an issue that is of concern to many women across the province of Ontario. Women are concerned that their children will have the opportunity to have two parents even though they may be in a situation where there has been a separation in the family. Certainly women’s groups were invited to and did participate fully in the discussions and consultations that surrounded the bringing into force of that bill.
As minister for women’s issues and on behalf of my ministry, the Ontario women’s directorate, I will certainly be monitoring how that bill works in practice. It is my view that supervised access is something that we need to be discussing, and in fact I am discussing that with my colleagues the Attorney General and the Minister of Community and Social Services.
Mr Jackson: It is rather frightening that the minister actually agrees that this legislation is not working and agrees with women’s groups that they have not been served by this piece of legislation. She has been entrusted with the responsibility to advocate with her cabinet in this growing crisis. Women in this province rightfully feel that this government’s support of Bill 124 was a concession to divorced and separated fathers, that it gave them increased rights and that the women’s and children’s rights in abusive situations have been severely compromised by this bill.
Now we have seen clear evidence. I am told of reports where the Ministry of Community and Social Services is blaming the Attorney General who has responsibility here and the Attorney General’s office is saying: “Well, don’t look at us. It’s Comsoc’s responsibility.”
My question is, in light of the fact that nobody in the minister’s government will take responsibility for implementing these programs, will she as the minister explain to this House why her government is denying funds to organizations that have come forward to present these very programs that women and children in abusive situations are calling for?
The Speaker: Thank you.
Mr Jackson: Why is she denying funds to these organizations?
The Speaker: You have already asked it.
Hon Mrs Wilson: It is significant that Bill 124 does address the issues of wife assault. It addresses them in two places. First, it says that domestic violence has to be considered by the court when it determines the ability of the person who has committed that violence. We know, however, that violence continues in many families following divorce and separation.
I have committed to women’s groups in this province, and I will commit to this member, that I will closely monitor this bill and will continue to meet with women’s groups. It is a new bill, it is just very new. I will continue to monitor it and will continue to work with my colleagues to be certain that women and children in this province are protected following separation of families.
Mr D. R. Cooke: I have a question for the Treasurer. There is a group called Basic Poverty Action Group which apparently is going to descend on Queen’s Park tomorrow by the thousands. They have a theme: “Return to sender, Mr Nixon. Your budget is no good.” The theme basically suggests that the budget does not do anything to fight poverty. Could the Treasurer tell us what the budget does, if anything, to fight poverty?
Hon R. F. Nixon: I saw the news report of the group coming to Queen’s Park. Like all groups, they are perfectly welcome and I will examine their message as carefully as I can.
I think the honourable members would know, having perused the budget rather carefully, that social assistance spending will increase by over $400 million this year. It really means that Ontario’s benefits, however insufficient they may appear, are the best in Canada in all respects. I am very proud that we have achieved that.
Also in the budget, a particular initiative that pleased me is the strengthening of our tax reduction program, which meant that another 115,000 families would receive $200 off their taxes for each child they are rearing, with special advantages doubling that reduction if there is a disability associated. It really brings to over 600,000 the people who are being assisted in this connection.
Mr D. R. Cooke: That sounds very satisfactory to me. The Treasurer would note, though, as well -- and this seems to concern this group -- that there is no chapter in the budget referring to affordable housing. Could the Treasurer perhaps enlighten us as to what in the budget assists in the establishment of affordable housing?
Hon R. F. Nixon: It is true there was not a heading entitled “Housing,” because the programs that have been put in place over the last four years are now moving rapidly, not only through construction but the utilization of public funds. There is an additional $200-million increase. The increase is $200 million this year, and it really means that the construction of housing of an affordable type, and most of it of a non-profit nature, is reaching proportions that are beginning to meet the needs, at least in many communities. There are 32,000 affordable homes that have been built since 1986, with another 40,000 planned for 1993; that is, they will be completed by that time.
The statistics and numbers probably are not as significant as they should be, but the Ministry of Housing has enjoyed the greatest growth in its budget of any of the provincial responsibilities, a 245% growth in the last four years. We feel that that shows the commitment of the government to these important programs, and I believe that we are now seeing the benefits at the community level of these accomplishments.
Mr R. F. Johnston: My question is for the Premier. Shortly after the federal abortion bill passed in the House of Commons I raised with the Attorney General the concerns that doctors were expressing about whether or not they would be liable for prosecutions and concerns people were having about what was going to happen to access to abortion. We now have two situations, publicly confirmed, of backroom or self-inflicted abortions, one which damaged a young 16-year-old in Kitchener and the other which killed Yvonne Jurewicz here in the city just yesterday. I wonder why this government has not made a statement in this House about third-party actions or about access to abortions and started to quiet some of the fears which are causing, I believe, some of the tragedies that we are now seeing.
Hon Mr Peterson: I appreciate the honourable member bringing this to my attention. I was not aware of it. I wish I could give my honourable friend an answer. He knows the policies of this particular government, the things that are going on, but he has brought serious matters to my attention. I will discuss them with the Attorney General and with the Minister of Health as well. I appreciate his sharing that with me.
Mr R. F. Johnston: I appreciate that. Perhaps, in the discussions with the two ministers, the Premier might discuss the notion of the discussion among the attorneys general which is taking place in the next couple of days here in the city with the federal minister as well as all the other provincial ministers. It seems to me this might be a very good time -- and I am asking if he will concur and will take this message to the Attorney General -- for big-man politics to assert itself in Ontario to say that we will refuse third-party prosecutions on abortion matters in this province in the coming months and therefore allay some of the fears that are out there.
Hon Mr Peterson: I think that is a constructive idea, that the Attorney General discuss those with his counterparts. Frankly, I am not sure of the agenda on those meetings today or tomorrow, but I will convey to him immediately after I leave question period the member’s ideas and get the reactions of the other attorneys general across the country. I thank him for his idea.
Mr Cousens: A question for the Premier: A serious allegation has been made that a senior member of his cabinet has been principal of the Patti Starr school of election financing. Who was that person and what action is the Premier prepared to take?
Hon Mr Peterson: We dealt with this question yesterday, the day before, the day before that and several other times. My answer is the same.
Mr Cousens: The question is going to continue to be asked and it is a serious question. It has everything to do with the role of the Premier and his cabinet in this scandal. I ask him again, does he know the identity of the individual who apparently orchestrated this affair, and what does he plan to do about it?
Hon Mr Peterson: I do not know of anyone and I repeat my answer.
OCCUPATIONAL HEALTH AND SAFETY
Mr Owen: I have a question for the Minister of Labour.
The minister will no doubt remember that last year the former employees and the families of former employees at the Robson Lang Leather factory in Barrie were very concerned with possible revelations that they might have had contact with certain chemicals at the plant when they were working there that have led them to a situation of cancer.
In October of last year, the minister caused an inquiry to be made into these problems. Today’s media are now reporting that the officials in his ministry could not find any link between the working conditions and cancer and that the minister has closed the inquiry or investigation. The people involved do not know what is going on. They are concerned about these media reports today. Could the minister enlighten us? What is happening?
Hon Mr Phillips: When I saw the report, I knew instantly that the member for Simcoe Centre would be concerned, as I was, because I know of his deep interest in the subject. I would like to assure the member that the study is continuing. My understanding is that our officials found that the original study that they had planned to do, which would have involved sampling all of the former employees, has become impossible because we are unable to get a list of all the former employees.
We have, I am told, been able to gather a fairly large list, so the study will involve the list of people we do have. Just to assure the member, because I know he has an intense interest in it, the study will continue. It will not be the study as originally envisioned, because we simply were unable, in spite of our best efforts, to find a complete list of former employees of that particular tannery.
Mr Owen: First of all, I cannot help but observe that the media’s reporting of wrong information, and its having had the effect it has had on these families, is very unfortunate. But given that as it is, I know that the ministry has had problems getting a database on which to base any conclusions whatsoever. In light of these difficulties that the ministry has had, has the ministry any idea what direction the study will now take, and whether there is any time frame as to when some indication will be made as to whether or not there is a link with these health problems?
Hon Mr Phillips: Just on the first part of the question, I do not mean to blame the media because I think that our officials probably explained that the original study they had planned to do was impossible. I can understand how some confusion could take place.
I will say a couple of things. We committed to ensure that we would consult with the workers, the community and the industry. The first thing I would like to assure the member is that, as we had promised, my understanding is there is a meeting planned for this month, June, where the plans will be reviewed with those parties. Second, my understanding is we will conduct in the area what I guess is known as a proportional study, where we will take the names that we do have and conduct the study using sampling techniques.
So I want to assure the member on the two points. One is that it is the intention of the officials who are conducting the study to convene that meeting in June, where they will review their plans with the affected parties. Second, my understanding is the study will, as I say, involve using all the names that we do have and conducting the study to determine whether there are any linkages between deaths and possible causes as a result of having worked at the tannery.
Mr Mackenzie: I have a question of the Minister of Labour. Yesterday Fruehauf Canada, which produces truck trailers and vans in Brantford, announced the closure of its plant with 334 workers losing their jobs. Last summer, the Mississauga plant shut down with 300 jobs gone. Many of these workers had 25 to 30 years of service. On Monday, the workers at Crown Cork and Seal, formerly known as Continental Can, demonstrated here at Queen’s Park over the announced closure of the plant in Etobicoke with 400 jobs lost. Many of these workers are also long-service employees.
Both of these are the result of free trade and higher interest rates. The directors of both unions, the Canadian Auto Workers and the United Steelworkers of America, have written to the Premier asking what action is being taken to protect workers’ jobs and plant closures. What is the minister willing to do, other than the usual platitudes we get about retraining and so on, to help workers in these plant closures?
Hon Mr Phillips: The member acknowledged that the reports we had on Fruehauf were that high interest rates, a high Canadian dollar and competition out of the United States were some of the things causing that. The Premier, as I said in an earlier response in the House, anticipated some of the challenges as a result of free trade. That is one reason why the Premier’s Council was set up. We invested about $1 billion in the technology fund. As the member knows, I think, the Premier’s Council is also looking at the personal side of it, the human side, the side of how we ensure that we have in our educational system, in our training system, in our labour adjustment system, plans to accommodate and handle situations like that.
So what are we doing? The Premier’s Council is, first, looking at ways that we can develop more jobs and, second, looking at labour adjustment, training and educational programs to help work with workers who are affected by such plant closures.
Mr Mackenzie: I heard an awful lot of looking. What we are looking for is some action. The minister will know that the service jobs that are replacing these jobs are paying $300 a week. The manufacturing jobs we are losing are paying $559 a week. The minister will also know that these two plant shutdowns are only a small portion of the almost 50,000 manufacturing jobs gone this year. The Liberal government is the one that said it would protect workers from plant closures before the last election. Is it not time that the minister kept that promise?
Hon Mr Phillips: Again, I remind ourselves that we have in this province the most progressive severance legislation of anywhere in Canada. We enacted that legislation to help protect workers. We are participating in the program for older worker adjustment. As I think all members know, we felt POWA could be more effective. We attempted to get the federal government to make it more effective, but in the end we are participating in POWA, and that is helping some workers through the tough transitional period.
In the end, the most important thing we can do is to create jobs. We are fortunate in this province that we have been able to have jobs created; as I said before, about 700,000 in the last five years. That is what we must continue to strive to do. Having said that, we have some programs in place to help assist those workers who are tragically affected by plant closures and we will continue to try to help those workers.
HOME RENEWAL PROGRAM FOR DISABLED PERSONS
Mrs Marland: My question is to the Minister of Housing. Yesterday I asked the minister about the status of the Ontario home renewal program for disabled persons, which I thought had been cancelled based on the information in his ministry’s estimates book for 1990-91. The minister assured me that the program had not been discontinued. In fact, he said that five times yesterday afternoon.
The minister should know that in a footnote to the expenditure details on the program it says, “This program terminates in 1990-91 and the appropriation represents the cash flow requirement to complete outstanding commitments.” A few pages later, a table and graph on the program show that the target units to be modified for 1990-91 are zero, compared to 1,000 for 1989-90.
To me, the term “terminated” means discontinued. How can this minister explain the contradiction between the answer he gave this House yesterday and the information contained in his ministry’s estimates?
Hon Mr Sweeney: I indicated to the honourable member yesterday that the program of assisting disabled people to rehabilitate their homes had not been cancelled and I repeat that today. There is not a specific budget amount in the estimates. The honourable member is correct on that. However, there are a number of ways in which the program is being continued.
The member will be aware of the fact that we do have a rehabilitation assistance program of a general nature, in which case many municipalities in this province have a trust fund to draw from for that program. They may use that trust fund for the disabled and for the non-disabled. That is open to them. Therefore, there is a source of funds for that particular program. It is not specifically identified as such, but there is a source of funds for that program.
I can also tell my honourable colleague that we have built into all of the affordable housing components in our programs a section for the disabled. The member will be well aware that while there were 1,000 units specifically identified in an earlier budget, in fact we are well over 5,000 units by incorporating that into a number of programs rather than isolating it into a specific program.
Mrs Marland: I am disappointed because usually this minister gives very direct answers. I was not asking about affordable units. Our government started building affordable units into our housing programs. I was asking about a specific program. That specific program, no matter how the minister answers it, is terminated. It says so in his own estimates book.
I do not want to know what the minister is doing in other areas because in any case for the disabled people in this province it is not enough. What I want to know is what he is going to do to replace this specific program under Ontario home renewal for people with disabilities, the very program that he has said is terminated in his estimates book. Show us where the money is and how much money it is that the disabled can expect.
Hon Mr Sweeney: I have tried to indicate to the honourable member that our general home renewal program is one where we flow funds to municipalities. Each municipality has a trust fund in which those funds are placed. They keep them and they can hand them out to a range of people. That program is available to the disabled and to the non-disabled.
Mr Tatham: My question is for the Minister of Agriculture and Food. A few weeks ago, the United States House agriculture committee voted to spend $53 billion on subsidies over the next five fiscal years. As the minister is aware, the Uruguay round of multilateral trade negotiations was launched in 1986 on an ambitious agenda for reforming the international trading system.
I am concerned about the apparent lack of progress in the Uruguay round in finding workable solutions for improving global agriculture and food trade. It appears that the positions of the United States and the European Community are dominating these negotiations to the detriment of the success of this round and perhaps to the detriment of the interests of the Ontario agrifood sector.
What is the Minister of Agriculture and Food doing to ensure that the interests and concerns of Ontario farmers and food processors are heard?
Hon Mr Ramsay: I share the concern of my honourable colleague about the success of the Uruguay round of the current GATT discussions that has agriculture on the agenda. I am taking a multidisciplinary approach on many fronts on how we are to enhance a successful and very positive outcome to this.
In fact last week I met with Michael Gifford, who is the senior agricultural trade negotiator for the federal government, not only to reinforce our view in Ontario of what Canada’s position should be and how forcefully we should be presenting that position, but also to get a sense from him of what the potential for success is of the latest GATT round.
I would assure the member that as we get closer to the conclusion of this Uruguay round by the end of this year, we will be stepping up our efforts to reinforce Ontario’s strong position for a strong Canadian position at the GATT table.
Mr Tatham: I wish the minister success.
I am also aware that the federal government recently tabled a proposal that brings greater strength and clarity to article 11. What progress has the federal government made in its bid to seek positive revisions to article 11 on behalf of all Canadian supply-managed industries?
Hon Mr Ramsay: Let me indicate to the member that I have continually pushed the federal government for a strengthening and clarifying of article XI 2(c), as the member refers to the GATT agreement. Article 11, as the member knows, gives Canada the authority to impose import controls on those items and commodities that we have supply-managed in this country. I am encouraged by the growing support for Canada’s position by the Nordic countries and the European countries. I am starting to feel hopeful that we may be successful in having a strengthened and clarified article 11.
I will continue to update the House on Ontario’s progress and the federal government’s progress in these negotiations.
Mr Wildman: I have a question of the Minister of Agriculture and Food. Could the minister inform the House what, if anything, he and his ministry are doing to ensure the ongoing success and prosperity of the egg producers in northern Ontario, to enable them to compete with the larger producers such as Gray Eggs in southern Ontario that have relationships with retailers and wholesalers that make it difficult for northern producers to get their eggs on to the shelves of the supermarkets?
Hon Mr Ramsay: As the member knows, all the feather trade in this country is under a national quota system. The egg producers of Ontario also are part of that and the Egg Producers’ Marketing Board has its orderly marketing and also negotiates price with its customers, the retailers. Northern Ontario farmers benefit from that, as do those from the south.
Mr Wildman: The minister should be aware that recently Loeb-IGA suppliers in Sudbury discontinued their contract with the largest producer in Algoma district because they had an agreement with Gray Eggs for a larger so-called rebate for their product.
What is going to be done to ensure that the egg producers under supply management have the same protections that the milk producers have in northern Ontario, to ensure that they can supply the market in their part of the province?
Hon Mr Ramsay: I thank the member for giving me notice of this particular issue in his constituency. I will be contacting the egg marketing board about this matter.
ALCOHOL AND DRUG TREATMENT
Mr Pollock: I have a question for the Minister of Health. The minister is well aware of the lack of drug and alcohol abuse centres here in Ontario. The people of Bancroft are interested in establishing a drug and alcohol abuse centre in that area to service eastern Ontario or possibly all of Ontario. Would her ministry staff work with these people to see if that could become a reality?
Hon Mrs Caplan: I do not agree with the member opposite at all
when he asks his question and suggests that there is a lack of facilities. In fact, we have seen a tremendous growth in the number of opportunities and programs in the area of drug and alcohol abuse over the course of the last few years, since this government assumed responsibility.
I can tell the member that there has been significant change. For example, we have seen an increase in both numbers of programs and numbers of dollars available. This year, the amount spent in that area will be close to $50 million, which is a significant increase.
The member asks how someone interested in providing a program should apply. I suggest that, of course, one can always have discussions with ministry officials. Local district health councils are involved in planning for future programming. But I would say to him that while our plans are under way for the future, we should be very proud of the services available in Ontario today.
Mr Pollock: How come so many people have to go to the United States for treatment then? It is my understanding that there are a lot of people who have to go to the US for treatment. That is why I feel there is a lack of facilities here.
Hon Mrs Caplan: I am quite surprised that the member opposite would ask this question. I have answered it before in the House.
We have seen very specifically an increase over the last few years which reflects the commitment of this government, particularly when his party had the opportunity and did virtually nothing in this area. We are making enormous progress with the establishment of an anti-drug secretariat to ensure that our program is comprehensive in its scope and in its nature.
The member knows as well that many people choose, for a number of reasons, to seek services outside of Ontario. Drug and alcohol addiction is a disease, and it is treated under OHIP policy as any other disease is treated. We are always working to improve the services here in Ontario.
I can assure the member that I appreciate his advice on this matter.
Mr Elliot: I have a question for the Minister of Community and Social Services. Concern has been expressed that the minister’s announcement of the long-term care initiative will result in neglect of the important provincial-municipal social services review. Would he care to comment on the state of that review?
Hon Mr Beer: I think we have right now before us two very important reviews, the one on long-term care, which sets out some strategic directions for the province and invites discussion, and the provincial-municipal social services review, which has attempted to look at the management and funding of our social service system.
I have met with the executive of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario and announced a parallel six-month consultation period for both those documents, in order to ensure there is plenty of time for input and to allow AMO at its August meeting to be able to respond to both those reports and to look at how they are each involved with the other.
Mr Elliot: The minister indicates that funds will soon be flowing for the long-term care initiative. Can he give the House a time frame?
Hon Mr Beer: As we announced in the statement, this year we are going to be flowing an additional $52 million for a variety of services in the long-term care area. They will be focused on providing more attendant care spaces as well as providing more funding for homemakers’ services and the like. That $52 million, as the honourable member knows, is part of what will be some $640 million which will be added to the overall system of long-term care.
During the six-year implementation period for the whole program, approximately $2 billion will be spent by this government to ensure better services in the community and in the home for those with physical disabilities and those who are seniors.
It is our belief that we will be doing this in partnership with municipalities, community groups and organizations. That is why we have set up this consultative process. But we will be making sure that those new dollars will start flowing as soon as this September.
DEEMING AS SESSIONAL DAY
Mr Ward moved that, notwithstanding standing order 2, Thursday 21 June 1990 be deemed to be one of the last eight sessional days in June for the purposes set out in the standing orders.
Motion agreed to.
Mr Wildman: I have a petition signed by 27 members of District 30 of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation and addressed to the Parliament of Ontario.
It points out that the Premier has failed to live up to the promise to fund education at a level of 60% of total cost and requests that the government of Ontario begin immediately a program of increased funding to local school boards to ensure that it raise provincial funding levels to 60% of total cost and that no public board suffer net loss of revenue due to the pooling of commercial and industrial assessment.
I agree with this petition and I have signed it.
PUBLIC SECTOR NEGOTIATIONS
Mr Runciman: I have two petitions, the first one from constituents of Leeds-Grenville.
These are employees of the provincial government who are very concerned about the approach of the provincial government in respect to bargaining, working conditions and employee benefits for public and civil servants and about the fact that the government has assigned a number of negotiators, which has had a negative impact on negotiations. They are urging the Minister of Financial Institutions to be directed to deal with these matters in a soberminded, businesslike and expeditious manner.
I support the petition.
PRINCE EDWARD HEIGHTS
Mr Runciman: The second petition is from residents of Hastings, Lennox and Addington counties and deals with the announcement by the Minister of Community and Social Services divesting Hastings, Lennox and Addington of a division of the Prince Edward Heights complex in Picton. This is going to have a very negative impact on that particular riding and they are urging the government to reconsider that decision.
WORKERS’ COMPENSATION BOARD
Mr Morin-Strom: I have a set of petitions that have been signed by approximately 1000 residents of Sault Ste Marie, the district of Algoma and a number of other communities across northern Ontario. This petition has been collected by the Sault labour council and the Injured Workers’ Association of Sault Ste Marie. It reads in summary as follows:
“To the Legislative Assembly of Ontario:
“Whereas the Workers’ Compensation Board has announced that workers’ compensation claims of the Sault Ste Marie and Algoma district are to be transferred from the Sudbury office to the Thunder Bay regional office; and
“Whereas there was no consultation with injured workers or worker representatives in northern Ontario before this decision; and
“Whereas it is as far to Thunder Bay for residents of the Sault as it is to Toronto; and
“Whereas services to injured workers would be improved by expanding the information service office in the Sault to a full service office,
“We, the undersigned, petition the Legislative Assembly of Ontario to ask the Workers’ Compensation Board to reconsider their decision to hold meaningful consultation and to relocate all appropriate Workers’ Compensation Board services into an expanded Sault Ste Marie office.”
I certainly hope that the Minister of Labour will take this matter very seriously and will act upon it right away.
Miss Roberts: I have a petition signed by approximately 250 people from my riding. They are petitioning the Legislative Assembly of Ontario as follows.
They respectfully request the government to provide time for opt-in classes in our public schools for the teaching of Christian religious education and moral ethics to all the students whose parents request it. If this cannot be provided, they are requesting publicly funded Christian schools on the same basis as the Roman Catholic schools.
I have affixed my name to the petitions as required, pursuant to the standing orders.
Mr Allen: I have several petitions, with names amounting to several hundred persons, who petitioned the Legislature of Ontario as follows:
“Whereas the government of the Honourable David Peterson has failed to live up to his promise to fund education at the level of 60% of total cost; and
“Whereas the government of the Honourable David Peterson has failed to give a legislative guarantee that no public board would suffer a net loss of revenue as a result of the pooling of commercial and industrial assessment;
“We, the undersigned, petition the Parliament of Ontario as follows:
“That the government of Ontario begin immediately a program of increased funding to local school boards to ensure that it raise provincial funding levels to 60% of total costs and that no public board suffer a net loss of revenue due to the pooling of commercial and industrial assessment.”
I have affixed my name to this petition as required in the standing orders.
REPORT BY COMMITTEE
STANDING COMMITTEE ON REGULATIONS AND PRIVATE BILLS
Mr Tatham from the standing committee on regulations and private bills presented the committee’s report and moved its adoption:
Your committee begs to report the following bill without amendment:
Bill Pr66, An Act respecting the Town of Simcoe.
Your committee begs to report the following bills as amended:
Bill Pr60, An Act respecting the City of Ottawa;
Bill Pr69, An Act respecting AXA Home Insurance Company.
Motion agreed to.
INTRODUCTION OF BILLS
STATUTE LAW AMENDMENT ACT, 1990
Mr Ward, on behalf of Mr Bradley, moved first reading of Bill 220, An Act to amend the Environmental Protection Act and the Ontario Water Resources Act.
Motion agreed to.
TOWNSHIP OF FRONT OF LEEDS
AND LANSDOWNE ACT, 1990
Mr Runciman moved first reading of Bill Pr68, An Act respecting the Township of Front of Leeds and Lansdowne.
Motion agreed to.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
Mr Reville moved opposition day motion 4:
As Canada becomes a signatory of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child -- a reaffirmation that children’s rights require special protection and a recognition that children require an atmosphere of happiness, love and understanding -- tens of thousands of Ontario’s children are beset by sexual and physical abuse, drugs, hunger, homelessness and despair, therefore we call on this government to live up to the obligations set out in the Convention on the Rights of the Child by putting in place the policies, programs and legislation necessary to ensure that children become our most precious resource in fact as well as in our societal mythology.
The Speaker: Mr Reville has just moved the resolution, which you have listened to carefully. I would remind all members that according to the standing orders, the time this afternoon will be divided among the three parties equally and, if the member proposing the resolution wishes to wind up, that part will have to be taken out of his party’s time.
Mr Reville: This afternoon, on behalf of the New Democratic Party, I have moved a broad resolution inspired by the fact that quite recently Canada signed the new United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. It is not yet ratified and so does not yet have the force of the law. Before ratification, the federal government must not only seek the consent of all 10 provincial governments in Canada, a process we have lately watched with dismay and perhaps amusement, but also any legislation or policy or program which would breach any provisions of the convention, provincially or federally, has to be corrected to comply with the convention or the province could be ordered to do so under international law.
It was suggested to me by Ted Ball, who is a consultant to the Ontario Association of Children’s Mental Health Centres, that a juxtaposition of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the problems that have been outlined by the association of children’s mental health centres was appropriate. It is his contention and the contention of the association of children’s mental health centres that the failure of the Ontario government to provide for the care of its children -- citing the waiting list of 10,000 children -- means that when the convention is ratified, Ontario could well be in violation of it. What a cruel and ironic situation that would be if one of the wealthiest jurisdictions anywhere in the world were to be unable, for whatever reasons, to meet the standards set out by the United Nations in respect to the protection of children.
We know that poverty is bad for people. Poverty is especially bad for children. Poverty is bad for our health. It is particularly bad for the health of children.
My leader, earlier this afternoon in questions that he posed, cited some of the findings. The Canadian Institute of Child Health released a report in January 1990. It is an independent, non-profit organization founded in 1977. The study pointed out that a poor child had a 56% higher death rate than a child of a family who was better off. We have known for some long time that poverty has a strong correlation with increased risk of illness, of psychological problems and of course death.
We know that one in 10 of our Ontario families lives in poverty. We know that if your mother is poor, the likelihood will be that you are born smaller, low birth weight, which epidemiologists tell us has quite profound impacts on the health that you will enjoy throughout your life. That is why the rates for chronic illness and other functional limitations are far, far higher among children whose families are below the poverty line.
Children are twice as likely in this province to be fed by a food bank as are adults. There are legions of studies of nutrition that demonstrate that children between 4 and 12 of poor families have serious vitamin intake deficiencies.
I promised one of my constituents, who calls me frequently because he is very interested in environmental hypersensitivity and who has made a life’s work of trying to raise the issue of environmental hypersensitivity and to try to undercut some of the mythology about environmental hypersensitivity -- the Speaker may know that sometimes people who suffer environmental hypersensitivity are wrongly diagnosed as being mentally ill. Of course, that same risk is liable to affect children who have environmental hypersensitivities as well.
It is perhaps an ironic coincidence that Judge Thomson, who wrote the much more current report, Transitions, on social assistance and recommending significant changes in our approach to social assistance, did a report in 1985 on environmental hypersensitivity in which he recommended strongly that the Ministry of Health and the government of Ontario undertake certain educational programs to make it possible for people to understand the nature of environmental hypersensitivity, and of course that is another report by Judge Thomson that this government has had before it and has not implemented adequately.
So for Chris Brown, who takes this matter deadly seriously and who will continue to advocate on behalf of those who suffer from environmental hypersensitivity, whether they be adults or children, I am pleased to be able to make that point.
“The day should be over when children are seen and not heard. They can be seen today working as child prostitutes in bars in Nairobi or as virtual slaves in cocaine factories in Bolivia, but too often they are not heard when they want to tell their stories or when they cry out in hunger. Children are the world’s most frequently abused and neglected citizens. In the Third World, and even in Canada, children make up the largest single group living in poverty.”
Those last few sentences are from an article in the Toronto Star last summer, talking about the United Nations debate on children’s rights.
It strikes me that, given the opportunities we have in Ontario to create social and economic democracy, there is no excuse for us to fail to meet the obligations under the convention and to in fact assist countries that do not have the kind of economic, political and social resources that we have here.
At the very same time as it was announced that we were about to sign this convention, we saw the most bizarre situation. It is hardly imaginable. My colleague the member for Hamilton West raised this with the Minister of Community and Social Services just the other day. A mother who lives west of Metropolitan Toronto in the Mississauga area believed that the only strategy she could use to ensure that her child would get the services of a children’s mental health centre was to place that child into care. Imagine in Ontario a parent believing that the only way she could get the care that she believed the child needed was to put that child into the care of the children’s aid.
There are so many, many examples of ways in which we have, in my view, let our children down.
I raised in the Legislature on 22 March the really quite odd situation that for 22 years there had been a program operating at the Wellesley Hospital for children with severe perceptual and motor disabilities. For the want of $50,000 in funding, that program was discontinued. I am happy to say that the parents whose children have benefited from the program have gone out and raised money privately so the program has started up again, but one of the absurdities of this situation is that not one of the ministries of this government could find a way to meet the objectives of the program.
It is a preventive program. The children are so profoundly disabled that they have difficulties with their self-image. What the research shows is that when children like this grow up, their self-esteem is so low that they often end up without a job, on welfare, perhaps in jail, and some of them kill themselves. What they do at the program is speech therapy and physiotherapy to help build life skills and social skills and confidence. Yet the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Community and Social Services, the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Correctional Services all said, “Not our department, not on our floor; go and talk to them.”
Of course, the parents went from one ministry to the other and they got, everywhere they went, a great deal of sympathy, but they did not get any funding. That is because we do not have in the province of Ontario a ministry of empowerment. If there is one project in which children have to be engaged as they grow up, it is the project of empowerment. All the structures that we put in place for our children should be empowering processes for them.
I happened to ask the Minister of Education the question that day, because it was difficult to choose from all the ministers a particular minister to ask, and he said that he would look into it. He has been looking into it, but so far nothing has happened, and I am disappointed in that.
The Convention on the Rights of the Child is organized, as are United Nations conventions generally, in a series of articles. The articles are obvious kinds of articles that would sound familiar to people: Every child has the inherent right to life; we must ensure to the maximum extent possible the survival and development of the child; article 24 establishes children’s rights to the highest attainable standards of health through access to proper nutrition, clean drinking water, health care and health education.
We know that for many children proper nutrition is the luck of the draw. It depends what is going at the food bank that day. We know from looking at the shelves of food banks that the articles on those shelves do not always meet the Canada Food Guide.
Mr Pouliot: When we were up north on the reserves there were no food banks.
Mr Reville: Yes. That is an interesting observation by my colleague the member for Lake Nipigon. He reminds me of a visit that he and I made to the reserves on the west coast of James Bay about a year ago now, where in fact we saw thousands of children all told, I guess, over the five reserves that we visited there, whose families have no access to running water, for whose communities there is no sewage treatment, whose only supply of food is through the Hudson’s Bay Co store, where a litre of milk is about $3 and where it is much cheaper, of course, to buy canned milk, which increases the prevalence of diabetes among that population because of the high sugar content.
We saw also in that very same situation how little we regard our children when we arranged for a young Cree mother, hardly older than a child herself, to be flown from James Bay halfway across the country to Kingston to have her child in an environment where no one speaks her language. What a way to start one’s life, when one’s mother is feeling the alienation and isolation of giving birth to a child far, far away from home in a different culture, in a different language, probably after an airplane ride which was the initial flight of her life.
Article 27 recognizes the right of every child to a standard of living adequate for the child’s physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social development. We are aware that it is not just meeting the physical needs of children that society must be concerned about, so when we get past the basic provision of shelter, the basic provision of food, we have to think of the ability of parents to care for and nurture their children, and we have concerns in Ontario in that regard as well. Those concerns, I expect, will be addressed both by my colleague the member for Hamilton West and by my colleague the member for Scarborough West.
We are aware from a number of reports recently -- a Provincial Auditor’s report in 1989 -- that our children’s aid societies are so overwhelmed with their case loads and so underpersoned in terms of their response to the case loads that they are unable to meet even the requirements of the laws that have been put in place to protect the children in their care. We know, for instance, of children who are crown wards. A significant percentage of those children who have been identified as in need of care because they are at risk have been physically and/or sexually abused, both in the homes from which they were removed and in the places to which they were taken for their own protection. This is a situation that has to be considered serious, shocking and, some would say it is not too much to say, obscene. We have to ensure that those who we charge with the responsibility for protecting children at risk are in fact able to do that.
Many of the 54 children’s aid societies in this province regularly break the laws designed to protect youngsters in their care. This is the information that comes to us in government reviews. We know there are children in a number of special services and youth correctional homes. We are not convinced at all that there are adequate protections in place to ensure that the situation is a safe and nurturing situation.
We will be happy to see in the fall the results of the work done by my one-time colleague Joanne Campbell and we hope they will be reassuring, but we are concerned. We have raised this matter in connection with vulnerable people in general and we must raise it in connection with children at risk. We very much need to have in this province a systematic advocacy system so that any vulnerable person, whether that person be a child or an adult, has access to advocacy services to ensure that his or her rights are protected, his or her humanity is respected and that in fact the services which we all hope will be of help to people actually are of help to people.
If members have an opportunity to travel to other parts of the world, to visit the Third World -- I guess the most shocking part of the Third World was to see the Third World right here in Ontario. I did not expect to find the conditions so shocking as I did on the James Bay reserves, but I have had some experience in working with inner-city children. I do know and I do deplore the fact that, even as I speak, people who are barely teenagers are selling their bodies in order to get enough money so that they can buy drugs. That activity is happening in stairwells to which I could walk, and if anybody wants to come with me, I will take him there. It will take us about 20 minutes. We can observe our young people whose aspirations and expectations of the future are so bleak that they are going to lose themselves in some kind of narcotic haze because it is better than contemplating what tomorrow will bring.
It is not a situation that is going to be easy to correct, because it requires action across a whole number of fronts in terms of what we in my party would describe as social and economic democracy. Of course, economic democracy is a concept that is somewhat foreign to the ideologies of the other two parties with whom we share this space, but it is a concept that is absolutely essential and central to the ideology of a democratic socialist. Not only must we have social democracy, we must have economic democracy, so that the share of the resources that are available in a province as wealthy as this is are much more even than we have ever yet been able to see happen.
With those introductory remarks, I am going to close. I know other members will be interested in the debate, because it is a persistent myth that we love our children in this society. I call on all members to make that myth a reality.
Mrs Cunningham: It is my privilege to be able to speak to an opposition day New Democratic Party motion which brings to light our concerns, our hopes and our desires for an improved quality of life for children, not only in Ontario and Canada but around the world.
I think the purpose of today is to remind all of us that right here in Ontario there are policies and programs that we should be supporting in a more efficient way and certainly with more resources, to assist children in their quality of life, their right to an adequate and good education and the right of families to live at an adequate level so that they can feed and clothe their children and look forward to a quality of life for their futures beyond what we ourselves experienced as young children growing up in this great province. It simply does not seem to be a reality for many children, not only in this great province but across Canada.
Children make up the single largest group of poor people in Canada. Despite a decline in the total number of children in Canada, the number living in poverty has gone up in the 1980s. For those of us who represent the public of Ontario in this great Legislative Assembly, I think one of our greatest challenges, if not the greatest single challenge we will have in education, health care, social services, housing and transportation, will be to face, deal with and come up with solutions to the problems today and in the future of child poverty.
More than one million children were growing up in poverty in Canada in 1986. That is an increase of 120,000 children since 1980. Parental unemployment is the main cause of child poverty. Moms and dads are unable, for reasons that some of us are aware of, to find employment. With recent improvements in the employment picture that we are aware of, certainly here in Ontario the rate of poverty among children has begun to fall gradually. For that we are grateful. But the reality is that it still remains 17.3% higher than it was in 1980. So although it is falling slightly, it is much, much higher, 17.3% higher -- and this is poverty among children -- than it was in 1980.
In spite of what I said about unemployment, working families with children are not immune to poverty. You can imagine going out and working full-time or part-time and still having to face the statistic that one half of all poor children live in families where the head of the family works full-time or part-time. Women, often the sole supporters of their children, earn only two thirds of the wages that men earn, even today.
Many of us have been working very hard to bring that statistic to the attention of employers across the province and certainly have been working hard in the Legislative Assembly to do whatever we can through legislation and guidelines to make that better, but it is still a very real fact. It affects the quality of life of so many children, and more important, their hopes and aspirations and those of their families.
The other great challenge is the challenge of affordable family housing. Low incomes and declining purchasing power are not the only causes of poverty. The shortage of affordable housing in Canada and in this province illustrates what happens when the necessities of life are priced beyond the means of modest incomes. Many of us know that the great dream of many young people, children, young parents for their children, is to have a wonderful place to live, to have their own home and to give their children at least what they were able to have when they were growing up. The challenge of affordable housing in this country is a real one, especially in Ontario.
In some Canadian cities, families with children are spending between 40% and 70% of their incomes on housing, if members can imagine. Disproportionately high housing costs, in turn, leave less money for food, clothing and other necessities, as evidenced by the increasing number of Canadians turning to food banks and other agencies for their basic needs. We in this House, on many an occasion, have had the opportunity to ask questions and listen to responses -- and certainly in committees -- to influence decision-making around the issue of food banks right here in the greater Toronto area, as well as in the city where I reside, London.
We know that we have a challenge and we know that this opposition day is here for a purpose, and that is to remind us that we have an opportunity here in this Legislative Assembly to effect change in policy and programs that will affect the quality of lives of many children in the cities and communities across Ontario.
Through legislation and the proper allocation of resources, we know that we are investing in the future of our province and in our country. By introducing policies and programs to benefit families with children, governments have signalled society’s acknowledgement of the valuable social job done by parents. Ensuring that these policies and programs continue to deliver their benefits and that benefits retain their value will signal continued commitment to sharing responsibility for the wellbeing of children. I underline that it is all of our responsibilities to ensure the wellbeing of children in our province.
The consequences of failure are very real. Through research, of which this government takes part in colleges, universities and social service agencies, people who spend their time in social service research have documented in many studies the consequences of failing to make the crucial investment in families and children. Hardship, ill health and educational failure shape the lives of many children growing up in poverty.
I would like to take the opportunity today to urge the government and the ministers responsible along some policy decisions that we in the Progressive Conservative Party feel are very important. Part of my role in the work that I do as critic for the Ministry of Community and Social Services and a person who has the privilege of asking questions in this Legislative Assembly, I like to think, is assisting the different ministers in their work as they try, of course, to influence the policies of the government and certainly the mind of the Treasurer of Ontario.
I shall begin with children’s mental health facilities. I think many of us who, for five years, have been involved in our communities in different capacities have seen the increased need for counselling and support systems for young children when it comes to not only their physical health but, just as important, their mental health, the kind of support they and their families need.
I think even the minister would agree that it is with great concern and sometimes shock and some sense of disillusionment that we see the numbers of children piling up on waiting lists for treatment in Ontario’s children’s mental health centres. It was with some dismay that I listened to members of the government speak about the adequate support systems out there. They simply are not adequate. It is a matter of priority, as I raise this issue in the House today, as we take a look at the spending practices of the government, that children on waiting lists are children who are truly there for a reason.
There is no parent, teacher, physician or friendly neighbour who would recommend that any child or family be on a waiting list for mental health counselling and support system services. It is a very serious case when a child is waiting for those kinds of special services in Ontario. I speak as one who has worked in those institutions.
Things have got worse because of the falling apart of family life, in many instances, for very young children; the despair of people in poverty, especially families with young, single parents. We all know what the statistics are when it comes to divorce, separation, support systems for our young children growing up. As a result, as we know, we cannot fix all the ills of society but we can certainly give it a good go as we represent the public.
Right now, we should know that the waiting lists have tripled since 1984. They have gone up threefold. The current waiting list for treatment is between six months and over a year, and many of those waiting suffer from physical and sexual abuse and suicidal tendencies. I raised the question in the House not too long ago to the minister, who I think responded with the same degree of concern that I have myself. I pointed out that there was a time when we used to talk about some children as being suicidal and having to be dealt with within hours. We would never let that kind of referral go beyond the end of the day, or those of us who were working in those facilities simply would not leave our work for fear of what might have happened.
Right now, anything but. Suicidal cases are considered -- I will use the word the professionals themselves use as they deal with these young children -- and are called “routine.” What has our society come to? What is happening with our support system when we in our hearts and our work as professionals, as people who are trained, can refer to any child on a waiting list as being routine. But it is happening. It will not be an easy problem to deal with, but it is one that has to be given a very, very high priority because some of these children are two and three and four years of age. They can be helped and so can their families.
Right now I will say, if I could urge the minister to do anything at all, that I would urge him to do this: There is a special Advisory Committee on Children’s Services being chaired by Colin Maloney at this point in time. I believe the report is soon to be released. I know that the mandate of that particular committee is very, very broad. I would think there would only be one small piece that would relate at all to the problem of children’s mental health counselling and those waiting lists. I would urge the minister to take a look at the request of the institutions themselves, of teachers, of physicians, of social workers who have said, “Let’s take a look at how the services are being provided for those children at the three and maybe four ministries that are involved, just for those children, and see how we can do it better.”
As someone who has worked out there in the profession, I really believe that there is a tremendous duplication of administrative services, and that these children could be reached at much earlier ages and at a much sooner period of time. That is called prevention and that is called help. That relates back to this very motion today, “ ... we call on this government to live up to the obligations set out in the Convention on the Rights of the Child by putting in place the policies, programs and legislation necessary.” That is a beginning. If you do not have the framework, you will never provide the services.
I would like to move on to another topic that I have raised in the House before, and be very specific in my request and take this opportunity, and that is a program for some very special children in our society, and young adults and adults as well. It is called the special services at home program. It has always been there as part of the programs of the ministry, but it has certainly been one that has become very much more needed in a very real way since the government of the province of Ontario -- it was our government at the time and luckily the Liberal government has seen fit to move in the same direction, and it is the direction referred to out there as deinstitutionalization, which I believe in, and I believe that my colleagues in this House believe in that.
There is no better place to be for children who are disabled, who are developmentally handicapped, who are special, than with their own families if their families can deal with it and cope with it, and that is not easy. I speak now as a parent of a special child. It takes tremendous energy, tremendous support systems, tremendous help from friends, neighbours and family, and it takes help from government. I commend the government for the help it is giving to our special children with this really great program.
The problem is this: The program started out in a very small way, and those of us who work out in the communities and the parents were told that it would take some amount of time to see the gains made by deinstitutionalization, to see those resources, those dollars move from one program into another. Parents are becoming somewhat sceptical and impatient about this, because these children may have been three and four years of age when their parents decided that they wanted to keep them for their whole life, if they could, and as they have become older and are now 8, 9, 10 years of age, in some ways because of their physical size and because of the long time it takes and the tremendous physical and emotional strain on behalf of families, they become even more difficult to care for. We actually witnessed in this House about a year ago a cutback in that program.
I will say that in talking to the minister’s office this morning we can see that the special services at home program has been given some special attention, and for the families out there that qualify and for families that have been asking -- families specifically in London and across the province of autistic children, for instance -- they will be for ever grateful. But so are all the taxpayers because, first, the young children are getting the program they need and so are their families, and second, we are doing something that is a very good use of the taxpayers’ dollars and resources, much more effective and much less costly than institutionalization.
Although we now will say thank you to the government for the expansion of this service to physically handicapped children and developmentally handicapped adults -- with all the legislation we have to deal with when we start talking about 13-year-olds and 16-year-olds and 20-year-olds, these young adults, many of them, are always children no matter what their age, so in fact they need this program.
I would say to the minister that if he has an opportunity, some time tomorrow morning if possible, could he take a look at this money that will not begin to flow until September? The summer is coming up. It is much more difficult. Families hope to take holidays. They need respite time for these children. It is a very tough time for families during the summer months. I would urge him, if he could in any way, to start flowing some of that money certainly as soon as possible.
We are seeing some $9 million to $10 million in 1991-92. We know it is not enough. It is a beginning. I will certainly be on my feet as often as I can to ask for even more because, first, it is the best program; second, it is a very efficient use of the taxpayers’ dollars; third, it is so good for families. I am actually helping the minister here today. We will get these comments over to him and we will especially make certain that we personally deliver them to the Treasurer tomorrow to help the minister out.
The third item I would like to talk about, since we are talking about children, is the issue of child care in the province of Ontario; that is, again to be very specific, the issue of quality child care. I will remind the minister again that we are very concerned about a report in February 1989 where there was a review of over some 16,000 licensed spaces. The inspection reports revealed that some 40% of those child care centres did not meet our own guidelines and regulations on safety, cleanliness and quality.
As recently, I believe, as November 1989 the Provincial Auditor himself reminded the government that the ministry has not adequately monitored the operations of problem child care centres. Given that we all believe in monitoring of quality, we are looking for a couple of things before the House adjourns. We are asking for a report on the enforcement practices, which I believe the minister did promise, which will of course reflect on the quality of child care in the province of Ontario. That one just saves me a question in the House.
Just briefly and in conclusion, I would like to remind the House and the government that the issue of truancy is very real in our school system, that we are facing -- I have raised it for the last couple of years -- some difficulties with new legislation as we take a look at the implementation of the Young Offenders Act. The judges in the court system, Mr Speaker, that you will relate to because of your own work, do not have the right or the power to counsel, ask or demand that these truants take counselling. We used to be able to do that, so we lost something in this new legislation.
Perhaps the Minister of Community and Social Services could remind the Minister of Education that we were looking for a research project on habitual absence that was commissioned by the Minister of Education. It has been completed for over two years, but the results have not been released. I am aware of it, but I think it should be publicly released.
At the same time that is released, and I would hope very quickly, the government should amend the Education Act or add to the Education Act either a new clause or some recommendations so that judges can order counselling for the truants in our school system, because our hands are tied to help them.
I hope my colleagues will go on this afternoon to speak about the challenges in our children’s aid societies, the need for lower workloads for social workers and the need for more social workers in our school systems to deal with the children, who because we have not been treating them, I believe, early enough are facing behavioural problems for which teachers quite frankly have not been trained to deal and do not have the time to deal with.
The issue of the quality of life for children is an important one. They are our future. We know, because of the great gains that we have made in society today, that there are ways we can assist children and families. We also know that we live in times that are troublesome and that are challenging, that many of us have unrealistic expectations for our quality of life, but for children they should never be unrealistic. We know that all of us are committed to do whatever we can in this Legislative Assembly to put forth those policies and practices so that we in fact will be supporting a better quality of life for children right here in Ontario.
On that note I will say that this is our challenge and it is a very real one, and I thank members for the opportunity to speak this afternoon.
Mrs LeBourdais: It is with pleasure that I respond to the resolution put forward by the honourable member for Riverdale. I feel certain that every member of this House will concur with the fact that the children of Ontario are our most precious resource. This fact, not myth, has been the driving force behind the numerous reforms and initiatives undertaken by this government in the vital area of social policy since 1985.
Concern for the welfare of our children has always been a top priority of this government. We stand determined to give all citizens of Ontario the fair start that they most assuredly deserve. To realize these objectives we believe that society, in co-operation with individual parents, must bear the responsibility for the welfare of each and every child. We are not alone in such thinking. As the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child states in article 27, governments “must recognize the right of every child to a standard of living adequate for the child’s physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social development.”
It is to ensure that this province’s children can fully exercise such rights now and in the future that this government has undertaken the most sweeping reforms to Ontario’s social assistance system in over 40 years, for like all our resources -- trees, minerals and water, for example -- children require a substantial investment on the part of both individual parents and society at large if they are to achieve their full potential.
Our reforms, based on recommendations by the Social Assistance Review Committee, represent an important and badly needed contribution towards ensuring that those responsible can create an environment in which a child can flourish, for as the convention states, and I quote again, “The parent or others responsible for the child have the primary responsibility to secure, within their abilities and financial capacities, the conditions of living necessary for the child’s development.”
Increasing these abilities and financial capacities of parents or guardians is what the government’s reforms are about. As with most of our initiatives, overhaul of what was an antiquated welfare system came about through working in partnership with other organizations and all the people of Ontario.
We embarked on the process of reform step by step, seeking consultation at every juncture. We sought not just change but innovative and creative change. We wanted to devise a system that went beyond providing the bare minimum for families and children. We wanted to create a more positive environment that would enhance the emotional, mental and physical wellbeing of all social assistance recipients.
That is why this government’s reforms are designed explicitly to help those receiving social assistance to become more financially independent. To accomplish this, we have significantly increased benefits to those faced with high shelter costs, and to make the system more accessible we have worked to reduce the complexity while introducing greater fairness.
These reforms have been backed up with significant increases in expenditure. Today the Ministry of Community and Social Services is second only to the Ministry of Health in terms of the government’s financial commitment. This year alone the ministry’s budget was increased by 16.1% to a total of $5.8 billion. The basic allowance for recipients of family benefits and general welfare assistance has been increased in both the last and current fiscal years.
In fact this government recognized early on that much needed to be done in the crucial area of benefit levels. We responded to this need and responded quickly. Between 1985 and January 1989 we implemented seven increases amounting to total additional expenditures of $438 million. Social assistance benefit levels since 1985 have exceeded inflation by 22%. We have provided these increases despite the action of the federal government this year to limit its growth in cost-sharing payments to an arbitrary 5%.
But we have known all along that simply raising benefit levels is not in itself enough, so in addition some $138 million was allocated last year to shelter allowances that assist renters and home owners who receive social assistance. New, higher ceilings for shelter costs are now covered 100% compared to only 80% in the past. Further increases of 5% have also been announced for this year. As a result the children of this province are benefiting from an improved financial wellbeing.
Our reforms have also been directed at improving other aspects of family life in this province. Encouraging adults to engage in productive, meaningful employment promotes a healthier, more positive influence on all children. This is one rationale behind our ground-breaking supports to employment program, or STEP, which was announced in October last year. STEP ensures that social assistance recipients are both financially better off from taking employment and are increasingly better off with each dollar earned.
Previously, as members are aware, social assistance recipients were often penalized financially for receiving additional income and they were explicitly prevented from working for more than four consecutive months, even if their wages were less than what they would receive under assistance. Such arbitrary rules only serve to prolong the poverty of the entire family and in particular the children. Through eliminating such rules, redefining income in net terms, providing compensation for basic working expenses including child care, exempting more earnings and no longer withdrawing health benefits, STEP is just that: an important leg up for those at the bottom of the income ladder.
But we did not stop there. This government supported STEP with another significant financial commitment, namely, $54.2 million in higher social assistance rates for parents with children. In so doing we achieved a fairer recognition of the costs of raising children at various ages, introduced a simpler rate structure for families with children, and equalized benefits between children on general welfare assistance and those on family benefits.
STEP is most effective where assistance is needed most, for this province’s single parents, and as a natural consequence the children of such parents. For instance, a single social assistance recipient with two children under 10 years of age paying rent of $600 and child care of $500 who obtains employment at $8 per hour could experience a net monthly improvement of $702 under STEP.
To add further impetus in this direction, the province, together with the municipalities, has funding to expand existing pre-employment support programs. In doing so, we aim to enable those receiving social assistance to move more rapidly towards employment and training opportunities. At the same time, work is continuing, together with our staff from other ministries and our other partners in the volunteer sector, to develop a more comprehensive design for employment support programs and services. In short, the government is making every effort to ensure that social assistance recipients achieve real benefits through STEP.
While it is still early, our faith in the program is being reinforced by positive results generated thus far. From September 1989 to March of this year, the number of people on social assistance with earnings went from 28,600 to 45,300, an increase of 58%. Furthermore, their average earnings increased from $330 per month to $520 per month, an increase of 57%.
No one is saying that these measures alone will serve to break the welfare cycle. But substantial evidence exists to prove what the SARC report originally suggested, that people on social assistance prefer to be working. A start has been made, a process begun, and this government is firmly committed to continuing that reform.
As a further challenge to any sceptics, I can cite a drop in the number of welfare recipients requiring food bank assistance since the reforms were introduced, by as much as 25%, according to food bank operators in various parts of the province. Equally if not more gratifying, the number of children depending on food banks has also declined significantly. This positive momentum must be maintained.
This government continues to increase its investment in children, our most important resource. The 1990 Ontario budget introduced a $44-million tax cut for 115,000 lower-income families with dependent children and/or dependants with disabilities. The allocation for child care has been raised a substantial 16% for the current fiscal year. In fact, over the last five years this government has increased funding for child care by a factor of 400%, from $88 million in 1985 to $396 million this year.
Through such expenditures, we have succeeded in doubling the number of subsidized spaces. This year some new $2 million will be provided as direct operating grants for an additional 3,200 child care spaces, and a new $8 million will be used to provide subsidies in support of these added spaces, to assist more families in paying for child care. In recognition of the importance we place on our partnership with the province’s municipalities, an additional $10 million is being provided to help them in meeting their child care cost pressures.
This government’s commitment to child care has never wavered and it never will. Unfortunately, however, the same cannot be said of our federal counterpart. As growth has continued in Ontario’s child care system, the federal government has imposed a 5% limit on the Canada assistance plan. Programs like child care will no longer be fully cost-shared by Ottawa, and a national child care plan has been delayed until 1993. At this time, we can only hope that the federal government will restore its traditional role as a full partner in child care and other social services throughout Canada. For, of course, much more needs to be done. No one can deny that.
As the preamble to the United Nations convention states, in all countries in the world, including Canada and the province of Ontario, there are still children living in exceptionally difficult conditions. This government agrees with the convention in recognizing that such children need special consideration. Reducing the poverty that is all too often the root cause of such conditions is the heart and soul of our reforms, and we want to continue to build on such promising beginnings.
To that effect, in May the Minister of Community and Social Services announced the formation of an independent advisory group chaired by Allan Moscovitch, associate professor of social work at Carleton University. This group will advise the minister on developing new social assistance legislation for all of Ontario. To date, some 230 issues have been identified that must be addressed if the legislation is to continue the fundamental reforms that have characterized our progress thus far.
There can be no doubt that this government fully supports the rights of the child as set out in the United Nations convention, but to give such rights real meaning we must provide programs and services in tune with the dynamic and ever-changing world which our children are entering. To be effective, the policies and programs aimed at eliminating child poverty today must be constantly changed and adapted for tomorrow.
It is to facilitate this process that the government is strengthening co-ordination between its various ministries, so that we can better target our programs to the problems at hand. It is to facilitate this process that we are seeking greater integration of government policies and programs to ensure that children receive the full benefits that are, by right, available to them. It is to facilitate this process that we are continuing to fortify our partnerships with municipal governments, the private sector and, hopefully, the federal government, so that children can have a real claim to these rights in this province and in all of Canada.
Whether we are third-generation Canadians or recent immigrants, whether we are better off or low-income, whether we sit on this side of the House or across the floor, we share a common concern for the welfare of our children. This government will not rest in its endeavours until all the children of Ontario are able to develop to their full potential.
Mr R. F. Johnston: There is a certain predictability to this kind of debate: Opposition members raise concerns and government members come back with Pollyanna statements about how wonderful everything is and list many facts about dollars spent in this division or that division to counteract the issue.
But as I read the member for Riverdale’s very useful resolution for us today, it is to say, to put it into context, that maybe we have to look at the overall state of the child in this province at the moment -- now is as good a time as any -- and do that in the context of the United Nations convention which has just been signed by this country and to which Ontario, one would hope, might indicate its support. From the last speaker I gather that there is some kind of tacit support.
This kind of notion of dealing with children’s rights is not new to this House. Long before I was elected I am sure it was dealt with, but as early as November 1979 I was involved in a debate in private members’ hour on an initiative by the then member for Bellwoods, Mr McClellan, Bill 102 at that time, to deal with the question of children’s rights in the province. They had a list of a number of things which were taken, as some members may recall, from the United Nations International Year of the Child. There was a convention, one of several which historically have been passed by the United Nations. Mr McClellan drew from that convention a number of rights which we should place into law here in the province of Ontario.
It was one of those wild and woolly nights. Some members here will remember evening sittings and the like. This had all the earmarks of an evening sitting in terms of the number of interventions made by the then Minister of Community and Social Services, one Mr Norton. I note that it was an afternoon sitting, as it should have been, but it had all the earmarks of the unruly evenings we used to pass here.
At that point the government of the day, the Conservative government represented by Mr Norton, argued against the need for ensconcing children’s rights in Ontario in law under the same kind of notion that was just put forward by the last member, that in fact the things we do are enough and that they indicate that the myth of the child as treasure is in fact a reality, a policy, as was again asserted by the last member to speak. We also dealt with the matter again in hard terms in 1982 through 1984, in the development of the Child and Family Services Act, an act which I was very profoundly involved with during that period. We tried during that period to bring forward again the idea of placing in the Child and Family Services Act the notion of children’s rights and getting them placed there very strongly, what we see as the inalienable rights of a child, understanding that they must be somewhat different from those for an adult, as I was arguing just yesterday around drinking age considerations.
There are certain kinds of inalienable rights that we should say are there for a child and not just presume to be accepted by all, because I think the argument made by the member for Riverdale is not a bad one. There is much evidence that our society does not treasure the child as much as it used to, that adult-only buildings and all sorts of structural and institutional changes are indications that in some ways children are being shunted aside, and that reflects itself sometimes in policy.
If members have recently read the Child and Family Services Act, which I am sure many will have, they will notice that we did get a number of principles accepted. But those principles did nothing much more in a major way really than to talk about the rights of the integrity of the family, the best interests of a child to be the principle that is used and a couple of specific rights about natives to run their own affairs, which was very helpful at that time. But other than that, we as opposition, along with the support of some Liberals, failed in the motion to bring in the idea of putting into the principles a statement of children’s rights in the province of Ontario. I think that that is missing from our legislation. I think that is a missing link.
One wonders why it is that the United Nations, time and time again, has tried to revamp its notion of the rights of children until we come to this new convention, much expanded from the initial ones of the early 1920s, when we do not even have a mention of the rights of a child within our own provincial legislation. So I think the timing is not bad for what the member for Riverdale has initiated today in terms of discussing this idea of trying to come up with a coherent philosophy.
I would like to touch on a number of issues that I have dealt with over the years and that continue to nag at me no matter what the assurances may be from the member who spoke previously. Rightfully, each of the members who has spoken has talked about poverty as the major thing that one can point to as interfering with the rights of children in this province and that we have hundreds of thousands of kids who have been affected by being in poor families. They have been affected in many material ways -- their health, their prospects for success, certainly their success in the education system -- and we have to take more and more action in a concerted way to deal with that.
Again, the last member spoke about some of the initiatives, coming out of the Social Assistance Review Committee, that the government has taken. I will acknowledge those initial steps that were taken to deal with increasing the amount of money going to families on social assistance that presumably will help children in poverty, but I would say to the member that we should not continually just disguise past things which have been undertaken with present action. This year’s budget increase is 5%. I do not know why there is a gratuitous attack in her statement against the federal government, which I love to attack too on a regular basis, for its incapacity to pass on more than a 5% increase to the province in terms of social assistance when that is precisely what this Treasurer has decided to do for this year. The rest of the money, and I will admit there is a larger increase involved, was promised before this year. It is not something that was planned for this year’s budget; it was already committed. I do not know that we should necessarily pat ourselves too much on the back about what we are doing to fully implement SARC at this time when, if one honestly examines the recommendations by George Thomson and others, we can say we are not exactly on schedule, to be gentle, and I will be gentle today.
Poverty and kids is a tragedy which need not be accepted in our society. The charter speaks to that, and one can think about Third World countries and how they would try to live up to this charter in terms of the rights of kids not to live in poverty. But in our country, in this province, the richest of all provinces, it is unthinkable that in fact kids are still going to bed hungry on a regular basis.
I will just say that I have done an enormous amount of work on that over the years and much more needs to be done. Leaving it just to government policy, which can be up one year and down another, depending on the vagaries of the press and other kinds of pressures within cabinet, and not saying something to do with the principle about a child in poverty being put into our laws is something which must be accepted as inadequate. We have to get this into our laws.
A sorry issue which most members may not have dealt with that much is adoption. It is a tough issue, I admit this. I would like to speak to two aspects of it.
The first is the history of adoption in this province in terms of the rights of kids, again, to some say in what takes place for those children. We changed fundamentally the involvement of the child in the Child and Family Services Act. But the presumption that allows a seven-year-old child in the case of an adoption to have some sort of say as to whether or not he likes where he is going, as is stated in the UN charter, that a child has the ability to make a decision and the right to express his opinion, is not placed in the preamble of our legislation. It strikes me as a principle that we should accept.
Now that ability to have an effect on various kinds of placements, if I can put it that way, will be different at different times. That is why, in point of fact, the Child and Family Services Act has different ages for different kinds and levels of participation with children. For instance, in terms of a long-term placement in a mental health facility the age is different from that of the seven-year-old who has a right to say something about adoption. There is some sense to that, but the principle is one which I think needs to be placed into our law.
What we did not do -- and it just strikes me as offensive, if I might put it in those kinds of terms -- is we did not admit in that law that the rights of a child around adoption are superseded by adults at the time the adoption is made. An agreement of privacy is still undertaken between the birth parent who gives up the child and the adoptive parent who takes the child, that they will not disclose who are they are, the child’s roots will not be shown and given out and that sort of thing. It is totally contrary, if you read this UN convention, to what they are talking about, a child’s inalienable rights to know his roots and his connections with where he comes from.
For the whole period of his childhood he has no rights to know who he was and where he came from. Then at the age of 18 he now, under our law, has a certain right. They have the right to initiate a search, and if the adoptive parent or the birth parent, and especially now the birth parent, is not opposed to that search being done, they may be able to trace their roots.
If we had started from the principle of the right of the child to know, that inalienable right, we may not have the problem in law that I think we have now in terms of the Adoption Disclosure Statute Law Amendment Act, in terms of this confused notion of the status of birth parents, adoptive parents and the right of the child on becoming an adult.
I regret to say that, like many things, that was affected very much by the personality of the minister we had at that time. A number of members were not present during some of those battles, but the work that was done between myself and some members of the ministry behind the scenes to try to make that a rational decision, instead of the irrational decision that we had at that time, was lost because of personality. I regret that now. We had some amendments later on, by the member for Kitchener-Wilmot when he was the Minister of Community of and Social Services, but again only going halfway to recognizing the rights of the child, in my view, on this principle of adoption.
The other major area of adoption that must be talked about is something, thank God, that we do not do so much any more. That is the adoption of native kids into white homes. What I would call the cultural genocide that systematically took place, with kids from our northern reserves being pulled out of their homes, brought into white families in southern Ontario and out of the country, and suffering abuse in many cases, and certainly suffering the highest rates of suicide of any group in our society, is one of the great blots on our history in terms of children’s rights in Ontario.
Mr R. F. Johnston: The member is asking if the rate is higher than on reserves. Yes, the proportion of kids who were actually taken into care and adopted who attempted or committed suicide was the highest rate of any group in society.
I will not go into the whole network of that, which was involved with this institutional framework where we had these schools off reserves where we pulled 15%, 60% of the kids off the reserves, stuck them 2,000 miles away or 1,500 miles away from their families and then, after a period of time, had them adopted into white families and never bothered systematically to follow them through. When we did and we started to understand finally in the late 1970s what had happened, it was no less than a kind of genocide.
I am glad that has changed and delighted that there are some articles here in the convention around international adoption which I think again we as a government need to think a little bit more clearly about. We did not address international adoption in the Child and Family Services Act as we should have, and that really needs to be looked at in a very, very careful way.
I have a limited amount of time because I know the member for Hamilton West will want to make some comments as well. I want to say that there are many other groups in our society that can show that we have not necessarily placed kids first. I would look at issues around education and child care, just to say that today’s announcement about deaf education is again the perfect example of not accepting the principle first and then moving on to the practical, good things, some of which were announced today.
If we believe that a child who is Italian has the right to assistance through his education if he does not speak any English coming into the system, assistance with his Italian so that it will help him understand English, and we accept that kind of principle, why is it that we then do not accept the principle that for many deaf people American sign language is their language? It is a legitimate language like any other, and deserves its place in terms of that community and the right to be instructed in it.
Before we start going on pilot projects, if we just accepted that principle and gave them that kind of confirmation and reaffirmation of their own society within our greater society, I think we would go a long way further than we did with the piecemeal kind of approach which we have again taken today, some items of which I support entirely.
The issue of the mentally ill has been raised by many members already today. I am glad to see the member for Sarnia here because he has taken this on as a cause célèbre in the last number of months, and I appreciate the work he has done on this.
I have a long-in-the-tooth view of this one as well. In the early 1980s, I used to raise the case of children’s mental health centres and the difficulties kids had in a number of ways. The first was the waiting list. A government member can get up and say that everything is fine and everything is dandy with government policy and then recognize the fact that I used to complain about 2,000 kids being on a waiting list. I used to get ministers all upset with me for raising that kind of number, and now we are talking about 10,000. We are talking an enormous increase in kids needing care who are not getting it. That is the one angle.
The other angle of it was that the rights of kids in care were totally ignored. I remember Stephen Lewis’s arguments around young kids being dumped into adult psychiatric institutions, being the only juvenile in a whole ward of mentally ill adults. In fact, in my own time I have actually exposed cases in this House of children in that kind of circumstance.
In the Child and Family Services Act we thought we were bringing in some changes to protect rights through the residential placement advisory committees and other kinds of systems for long-term placement of kids in those facilities. Today, we have in conflict a principle of certain rights of children to determination and say in what takes place with them in the system, as we have for adults in the mental health system, and a concept called the right to treatment that is much espoused by people who run the mental health centres.
Unfortunately that has never been argued through appropriately and the accommodation for both sides found in this, so at the moment much of the pressure that is coming from the children’s mental health centres is coming from those people who run the centres, who want the right to be able to keep kids in care who may not wish to be there and whose lawyers and families perhaps -- not always with the same interests involved there -- are trying to argue that they do not need to be there.
One of the failings in the Child and Family Services Act, it seems to me, is we did not address a definition about the right to treatment in a fashion that weighs the right and the need for a society to be able to support a person in need of mental health services with the equal and maybe stronger right of the individual to be able to say: “No, for my part, I do not wish this. When you determine I am a danger to your society, then deal with me, but not until then.” I say to you, Mr Speaker, that is still missing, and part of the backdrop to this complaint around the children’s mental health centres is the conundrum that this issue has not yet been addressed.
I want to say a lot about special education and I cannot because of the time. But a government cannot say that it is totally behind the rights of children in this province when it has not dealt with the major inadequacies in the special education bill that was passed now years and years ago and for which a public review was done four years ago and on which we still see no government action.
We are talking about a basic right of an exceptional child to an education and yet we have not changed the appeal system, we have not changed the realities of how a child is dealt with. Trying to get that kind of appropriate education in an integrated setting -- maybe a better speech today would have been just to stand up and give names like Becky Till, who could not get into a public school system when her parents wanted her to be there, or a whole list of other kids who have come through my office in my 11 years who deserved and had the right, in my view, to services and are not getting them. We have not changed that act and we are sitting back quietly on it because it is not a major political issue at this time in Ontario.
I would also talk about young offenders and take on some of the public reaction which is going on around the Young Offenders Act in the country, but I do not have time to, except to say that we need desperately to accept the principle of what has been put forward in the member for Riverdale’s motion, to take as an example the Child and Family Services Act and to sit down and add to the preamble a whole series of children’s rights which we accept as basic principles in this province upon which all children’s programs, and programs affecting children indirectly, are based.
Until we do that, I do not think we can truly say that we have changed the myth to fact of the child being the ultimate treasure of this society.
The Acting Speaker (Mr Cureatz): Continuing with the debate, the honourable member for Sarnia, former leader of the third party.
Mr Brandt: Thank you, Mr Speaker. Leader emeritus will do just fine.
I want to say to you, Mr Speaker, and to my colleagues in this House that there are many issues that of course come before us that are of importance, issues that touch us very deeply and I think in a non-partisan way, which all of us on all sides of this House would like to see either rectified or at least substantially improved.
Frankly, and I say this to the minister quite sincerely, I can think of no issue that is more important to me personally and to most members of this House than the issue we are addressing today. I have on a number of occasions had the opportunity to engage in discussion with the minister on issues relating to the whole question of children’s mental health services, and he has been kind enough to respond. I appreciate those responses and I want to say, by way of prefacing my remarks, that I in no way question either the sincerity or the commitment of the minister with respect to programs to rectify some of the problems that out of necessity I am about to identify in the context of my remarks.
I know the minister is concerned about the waiting lists, as I am. I know that he has the same kind of concerns relative to not only the numbers on the waiting lists but the period of time, which runs anywhere in most instances from six months to two years, that some children have to wait prior to receiving the critical services that are necessary to address their particular problems.
But I want to say to the minister that the 10,000 cases that we are advised are presently actively waiting for some location in which to be treated in this province is a number that is frightening. The number is going up very rapidly, virtually on an annual basis. My information, which may not be entirely accurate but I have to share it with the minister because it is the best information that my research could dig out, is that the number of cases that are waiting and are not receiving treatment have tripled over the last four or five years.
That is rather frightening, I think, to all of us in this assembly, because, at the very least, we would like to see that number being reduced. We would like to see more of the children getting the kind of treatment that they require. The government may well counter by saying that the number is not exact. It may not be 10,000; it may be 8,000 or 7,000 or 5,000. Maybe the Maloney committee can give members a more accurate number when it files its report with the minister and with this House, but the reality is that there are far too many children who are on a waiting list. I think we can reach common ground and agreement on that point.
What do we do about it? One of the things that concerns me is that the United Nations, through the efforts of Stephen Lewis and many others, has brought forward a resolution protecting the rights of children, of which our country of Canada is a signatory. Fundamentally, all it says is that a child who needs mental health services, a child who is being badly treated, either by way of abuse or sexual molestation or whatever, has the same rights as an adult in our society to receive that kind of treatment.
I think that is a very reasonable and legitimate position for a society to take, either on the part of Canada or the part of Ontario. I say that because the most vulnerable citizens are our smallest citizens, the ones who really do not know where to go. They have no place to run to. They have no one to seek shelter from other than the formal institutions that have been set up to protect them, either children’s aid societies or some of the children’s and youth centres that we have across the province where they can receive some treatment. But these children have to go somewhere to get out of a hostile environment that is threatening their very lives.
I took the time not just to speak about this and to raise questions with the minister, but to tour facilities. I took a number of days and went with some of the directors of the agencies that are delivering these services, not with the idea of coming into this House with a great suitcase full of problems that I would dump on the minister’s desk -- he has enough to do without my playing that kind of a game with him -- but to find out in a very real sense how serious the problem was.
I can assure the minister, as I know he is aware, that the problem is in fact a serious problem. It is a problem not just when you look at those very large numbers of thousands of children on waiting lists, but when you get into the specifics. As an example, in my own community at the Sarnia-Lambton Centre for Children and Youth, which was one of the agencies that I toured, I asked the director if he would supply me with some sample cases of children on waiting lists. I said: “I don’t need a great number and I don’t need names. All I want are some examples of the kind of problems that are being faced by some of these children.”
I say to the minister that I received 26 serious, critical cases from that one centre alone. It has over 125 on the waiting list who are going to wait up to two years for any kind of treatment. I do not know whether the minister has seen the 26 cases. I would be delighted to share them with him. I was going to read some of them to him in today’s debate, but I will not do that, in recognition of the time limitations that we have.
The fact of the matter is that the Sarnia situation can be duplicated across this province many, many times. The city of Windsor provided me with some 200 cases of situations that are much the same as the type of case that I have received in Sarnia: children aged anywhere from 2 to 15 who are waiting for services and who are not receiving adequate treatment.
What is really frightening is that even when we get services for some of these children, they are inadequate, as the study in Ottawa showed. Ottawa-Carleton did a review of some 87 cases that were wards of the children’s aid society, and in the 87 cases there were nine in which situations of abuse were continuing because there was no adequate shelter for some of these children.
That is 10% of the children who are on this particular list and that is just far too high. It causes great pain and concern when you see this kind of thing happening. For the richest province in one of the richest countries in the world, it is just not acceptable that we cannot find a way to provide adequate treatment for these children.
Let me suggest to the minister that I recognize that the transfer moneys to some of the programs that are being made available across the province are in the range of the rate of inflation. I do not doubt that, and I am one who believes in control and in fiscal responsibility. There are many times I will stand up and accuse the Treasurer of spending far too much money.
But I want to say very directly that what concerns me in connection with this whole issue of children’s services is that, on one hand, the government has provided a transfer of moneys approximately equal to the rate of inflation, while at the selfsame time the Treasurer has brought in an employer health tax and a pay equity program through the collective agreement of the government, and those two programs alone are taking 2%, 3% and sometimes 4% of the entire increase that the government is giving those agencies and literally wiping it out.
When you get down to the dollar reality, in other words, the spendable money that the agencies got, because the government is giving with one hand and taking with the other, the true increase I say to the minister -- and I am not trying to be political when I make this point -- is not 5% or 6%; it is probably closer to 3% or 4%, because the government has already extricated that 2% or 3% in terms of a quid pro quo with the tax collection system that the government has set up.
Even though I disagree with the employer health levy, at the very least I would say that these agencies should receive the money to compensate them for the employer health levy which the Treasurer is taking away from them and an increase which is at least comparable to the rate of inflation on top of that so that they can maintain the present level of services and not increase the waiting period and the numbers on the waiting list. But that is not happening.
I am frightened by the reality if we do not make some fundamental changes -- and I hope they come quickly and prior to an election, if that is at all possible, and that we will find a way to at least stop the number from increasing at some 10,000 and start working. I know there are no magic elixirs that the government could bring to play against this particular problem and cure the ailments overnight. I do not expect that kind of miraculous turnaround. I am a realist.
But what I am horrified thinking about is that a year from now the 10,000 is going to be 11,000 or 12,000 and in a few years could well be 15,000, because I tell members back in 1984 it was around 3,000, and the member for Scarborough West indicates that it was around 2,000 at the period of time when he was raising some serious questions about this issue some years ago. So the numbers have grown. I do not think there is any question of that.
The services are inadequate. We have got to find ways to provide those services. I have served in cabinet enough years to know that you have got to go in there to struggle for every dime that you are going to be able to extract from the Treasurer and you are in competition with all kinds of other programs. That reality I am aware of as well.
I can only tell the minister that I feel strongly about the employer health levy and pay equity taking a very substantial amount of money away from these agencies, putting them in a position where their waiting lists are going to expand and grow, to include more and more children. We have heard from many speakers who have spoken far more eloquently than I, about the future of this country. The children who need those services today if they are going to be saved as future productive citizens of this country and of this province have got to receive the treatment now. It just is not something you can shove aside and say, “Well, we’re going to wait to fix that road,” or “We’re going to wait to put this bridge in,” or “We’re going to wait to do something.” You are dealing with a human being, a vulnerable, young individual, who is reaching out and crying for help, in many instances. We, as a society, are not fulfilling their needs; we are not providing them with what they require in order to be productive human beings of the future.
I appeal to the minister to make the strongest case possible with his colleagues. If any of my arguments can do him any good whatever, he may share them with his friends.
I know the problems that he has. We will always have financial problems. Governments will always have more demands than our collective resources can respond to. That is also a reality.
But let’s try to entrench the rights of the child, if not in a de facto sense, at least in the sense of all of us getting together, either in support of this resolution or the previous one that I put before this House, which was very similar, and saying to the children of this province that we are going to make a commitment to see that we can reduce that waiting period, that we can reduce those lists, that we can provide those services, that we have the resources and the collective will and the determination that we are not going to let those children go without adequate treatment when that is necessary.
I appeal to the minister. I know he is a man of good judgement. I know that I respect the minister on the basis of the sincerity that he has demonstrated in this House. I do not question that one bit. But I appeal to him to use his most persuasive powers to appeal to his cabinet colleagues to find some way to make more financial room for a badly needed program to serve the children and the future of this province.
Mr Elliot: At the outset, I would like to compliment the member for Riverdale on his resolution. The government welcomes this opportunity to tell the House how we have been meeting and how we will continue to meet our obligations to the welfare of Ontario’s children.
First, let me say that we wholeheartedly support the fact that Canada is becoming a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. In addressing the resolution before the House today, I refer members to article 3, subsection 1, which states:
“In all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.”
It is the appropriate balance between the rights of the child and his or her best interests that this government is constantly seeking to achieve.
As a solid foundation for this important objective, we are fortunate to have the Child and Family Services Act, which was proclaimed in 1985. This act, widely recognized as one of the most progressive pieces of legislation in Canada, clearly codifies the rights of children and of families. In addition, it establishes rigorous reporting requirements when a suspicion exists that those rights have been violated. In short, it is a piece of legislation of which all members of this House can be proud.
But as society becomes more complex, so does the problem of ensuring the overall wellbeing of our children. The situations confronting them today are so interrelated and subject to so many different influences that they can only be understood with great difficulty.
That is why this government has launched a range of initiatives and review aimed at ensuring we have the solutions and support programs our children need as the 1990s unfold.
At the heart of these activities is prevention, the capability to identify children at risk and to intervene on their behalf before the problems occur. Such preventive action can only take place where the child lives, plays and studies, so, to be truly effective, we need to support the environments of the home, child care centres, schools, playgrounds and neighbourhoods.
This intervention requires considerable sensitivity. We must be careful not to contravene the rights of one individual in order to protect the rights of another. Considerable work is required to develop models of prevention which can be broadly applied throughout the province.
In this regard, we are establishing the Better Beginnings, Better Futures project, a long-term research demonstration project to support children and families living in economically disadvantaged communities. The Better Beginnings, Better Futures project is a collaborative project involving the ministries of Community and Social Services, Health, Education, and most recently, the federal Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development.
The intent is to bring together parents, community leaders, service providers and educators around the common goals of preventing problems, promoting healthy child development and enhancing communities. In four to six economically disadvantaged communities where children are at the highest risk, these educators, public health workers and child care providers will work closely with parents and local leaders to address the specific requirements for healthy child development in each community, and so that these projects will enable us to provide better solutions right across Ontario, we will be conducting an ongoing 25-year study of the children, their families and the communities.
In the short term, we expect to see positive benefits such as improved physical and mental development, and in the long term, benefits such as the reduction in school dropout rates, less juvenile crime and safer communities.
As such, the participation of the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development is particularly appropriate, for as the preamble to the United Nations convention states, we must take due account “of the importance of the traditions and cultural values of each people for the protection and harmonious development of the child.”
Native communities, francophone communities and a number of groups representing other cultures are developing proposals to become part of the Better Beginnings research exercise. It is our hope that this participation will build on the attention we have paid to the importance of cultural heritage in the past.
Since proclamation of the Child and Family Services Act, three child and family services agencies operated entirely by native people have been established, and the Ministry of Community and Social Services continues to work with native communities to establish additional agencies.
In general, funding to children’s aid societies has grown 37%, after inflation, since 1985. Children’s aid societies are of course on the front lines when it comes to child welfare in Ontario, and on the front lines nothing is more important to this government and the people of Ontario than the prevention of child abuse.
Earlier this year, serious allegations were raised regarding physical, sexual and emotional abuse of children in Ontario training schools during the early 1960s. In response, the government intensified the police investigation and ensured that support and counselling were readily available to anyone coming forward in regard to this serious matter. Above all, we recognized that steps had to be taken to ensure that this government had all the system safeguards in place to protect the rights of children and to guarantee their safety.
To this end, the Minister of Community and Social Services responded quickly by establishing a review process chaired by Joanne Campbell, the chairperson of the Social Assistance Review Board. She has a mandate to determine the effectiveness and adequacy of existing safeguards in residential facilities, to ensure that if allegations of abuse arise the systems are in place to deal with these complaints in a responsive and effective manner and to provide recommendations for improvements where necessary.
This government and governments before it have worked hard to ensure that our children and youth are better protected against abuse and assault. The roles and responsibilities of children’s aid societies and police authorities in responding to allegations of abuse are clearly established in legislation. This government subscribes wholeheartedly to sections 19 and 34 of the UN convention dealing with this matter, but we cannot be complacent, so in addition to the Campbell review, a number of initiatives are proceeding in this all-important area of child welfare.
The Ministry of Community and Social Services has recently completed an extensive survey of all child abuse programs in the province as the basis for strengthening such services and introducing greater co-ordination.
We are strengthening our services in the child abuse area in order to provide better protection. For example, we are revising the standards and guidelines for investigating and managing child abuse cases; we are upgrading the criteria for registration; we are continuing to expand our training programs for all those involved in the investigation of child abuse; and we are introducing administrative and procedural changes to increase the effectiveness of the child abuse register.
We continue to fund the Institute for the Prevention of Child Abuse with $3 million annually and have been encouraged recently by the extent of increased private sector participation. Most notably, the Ontario Home Builders’ Association has entered into a partnership with the institute to conduct a major fund-raising campaign. Such partnerships are essential, because child abuse will only be completely eliminated when all of society takes full responsibility.
That is why the government initiated in 1987 a three-year, $25-million expansion of the child treatment, child and family intervention and prevention services, with the primary focus again on prevention. That is why in 1988 the Ministry of Community and Social Services established a Child, Youth and Family Policy Research Centre, Canada’s first policy research institute active in this area, which is multidisciplinary, community-based and devoted to applied research in an area of public policy. That is why the government commissioned a report from the advisory committee on children’s services, chaired by Dr Colin Maloney, executive director of the Catholic Children’s Aid Society of Metropolitan Toronto, to advise on new strategic directions for our children’s policies.
As our base of knowledge grows about how to best ensure an effective system which safeguards the rights of the child and as we strengthen our partnerships with others active in this area, we become even better positioned to ensure that increased government expenditures on programs and services really do the job for which they are intended.
Indeed, since 1985, this government has increased expenditures on children’s services by 57% in real after-inflation dollars. We are committed to the belief that long-term change will come about through focusing significant efforts on health promotion, prevention and early intervention to ensure the emotional and physical wellbeing of our children.
In keeping with this belief, we have also been active in other areas. We subscribe fully to article 3, subsection 3, of the UN convention, which states, “Governments shall ensure that the institutions, services and facilities responsible for the care or protection of children shall conform with the standards established by competent authorities, particularly in the areas of safety, health, in the number and suitability of their staff as well as competent supervision.”
To this end, we have increased salaries in our children’s mental health centres and children and youth institutions to ensure they meet professional levels, thereby enhancing capability and reducing staff turnover. We have allocated an additional $8 million to Ontario’s foster care system in order to improve the rates paid to foster parents, enhance support for the foster care system and fund a variety of training and demonstration projects. We have raised direct operating grants to licensed child care programs in order to improve staff salaries and benefits. Safety and security have been increased in our programs for young offenders and we are assisting Ontario’s francophone population in designated areas to initiate French-language child care programs through a $600,000 community development project. The latter is in keeping with article 30 of the UN convention, which supports every child’s right to his or her own language and culture.
This government intends to strengthen the rights of children in every area under its jurisdiction. It intends to strengthen those rights in ways and means that truly represent the child’s, the family’s and society’s best interests. As such, we are undertaking an extensive review of the Day Nurseries Act, with an aim to developing new and comprehensive child care legislation.
We remain committed to the management and continued development of a stable, high-calibre child care system throughout Ontario. In fact, almost all legislation pertaining to child welfare is being studied as to how we can best benefit our children in the times ahead. Let me assure the House that this government will continue to move consistently forward with legislation, programs and services, in keeping with the welfare of our children as the top priority.
Prevention will be our focus. Realizing each child’s true potential will be our guide. I urge all members to support this resolution, as it allows us to highlight and isolate today many initiatives already put in place by this government.
Mr Allen: It is an honour for me to be participating in this debate this afternoon on the implications for Ontario of adopting, as I indeed hope it will, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
This convention says, among other things, that those states that are party to this agreement will “recognize that every child has an inherent right to life and that the parties shall ensure,” and I emphasize these words, “to the maximum extent possible, the survival and development of the child” -- not to the minimum, not to some middle factor, but to the maximum extent possible. These terms have to be spelled out in terms of, for example, “standard of living adequate to the child’s physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social development,” which is a very comprehensive statement. Finally, with reference to the national conditions of the states in question and their means to give effect to this, they “shall assist all parents and others responsible for the child to implement this right and in particular with respect to such basic matters as nutrition, clothing and housing.”
That does not leave much room for fudging or restraint or equivocation when it comes to matters of the right of the child and what that means in terms of specifics. I think we need to remind ourselves in the first instance of just what we are talking about in terms of poor children in Ontario, because from my point of view and from my understanding of the things that I have been reading on this subject, the root problem, the major problem that is central to all the rest of the difficulties that children have in our society is, in particular, the problem of poverty.
It becomes evident. When I was down at a discussion of poverty and the Social Assistance Review Committee report and so on at Dixon Hall in this city, there was a panel presenting and a newspaper reporter said, “Well, you know, perhaps you’d get further with this case if there were children dying in the streets.” Well, I had to comment -- I was not a member of the panel -- at that time that there are children dying, literally, in the streets, in our homes, in our schools, in our communities as a consequence of poverty. Let me just give members a quick synopsis of that as I included it in a brief summary that I included in a report of my own on this subject.
Poor kids in the lowest income group aged one to 14 are twice as likely to die from some cause as those in the higher income groups. The same group has five times the odds against it that it will be in a motor vehicle accident. They are three and a half times more likely to drown. From 15 to 19, the suicide rate is twice as high in the lowest income group. They are three and a half times more likely to be killed at somebody else’s hand.
Those are the direct consequences of poverty for stunning numbers of poor kids. It is not the fate of those in higher income groups.
That is not the end of the story, because if one looks at illness and disease, one finds once more the pattern is repeated. The leukaemia studies show that children aged one to 14 in the poorest income category are not only twice as likely to get cancer, they are twice as likely to die from it.
In terms of respiratory illnesses, especially pneumonia, they are twice as likely to kill a poor boy and, interestingly enough, and I am not sure of the reasons for this, six times as likely to kill a poor girl. Poor children also suffer more frequently from all sorts of more usual conditions like anaemia, tooth decay, chronic ear infections, you name it, but also mental retardation, learning disabilities, poor school performance and ill health and disability in general.
Those children who are poor and also grow up in welfare families have a stunning level of behavioural and psychiatric difficulties, namely, a 40% rate of psychiatric disorder for the boys and a 27.8% rate of poor school performance for the girls. Those children are more likely to drop out of school early, end up in deadend jobs and perpetuate the cycle.
It would seem that there is more than just the rights of the kids at stake. There is the whole question of the huge investment that we make in the whole remedial process later on, ranging from health remediation and diagnosis and treatment through to correctional institutions, educational institutions, the investment in programs to correct learning disabilities and problems, as well as all those specific programs that deal with children who have disabilities of one kind or another or are developmentally handicapped as a result of the impact of poverty factors upon their earliest years.
When one reminds oneself of that, one then begins to look at some of the services that relate thereto. When one looks, for example, at food banks -- we had a survey of food banks recently in this Legislature -- it is evident that in this city alone, 72,000 children 17 years old and under patronize food banks each year. Some 110,000 live in poverty in Metro, so it is not surprising that this is the case. Some 50% of the households with children report having gone without food for a day or more, and the impact that would have on children.
When one looks at the services for disabled children, for example, special services at home obviously again relate disproportionately to poor children since poor children turn up in larger numbers in this category than do other children. These children have faced serious cutbacks in the services provided to them over the last year in children’s mental health services, and again I refer to the psychiatric problems of children on welfare. So poor children are disproportionately affected with the problems that afflict the children’s mental health services with 10,000 children on the waiting lists.
When it comes to the services provided, the wage levels in the community services that deal with these children and their parents do not protect those services from revolving-door employment and the problems of great turnover and therefore of treatment.
When one looks at the problems in foster care and in the alternative institutions to foster care for children at risk, again one has a similar problem in the service area. One can go step by step through the agencies and discover that the lack of resources in those areas disproportionately affects poor children.
Finally, there has been on this continent a right-wing agenda that Stephen Lewis has referred to recently and that has militated against the address of this problem both nationally and, in some measure I would say, even provincially, although this government affects to have a somewhat different orientation with respect to the question of social assistance.
While I do not have more time at my disposal, it does seem to me that it is urgent that we address this issue on an across-the-spectrum basis and in a state of high emergency and devote substantially more resources than we do in order to complete what we have begun in this province, which is to provide children with the kind of supports they need for healthy and full development and for a happy and wholesome future existence.
Mr Jackson: I am pleased to be able to participate in today’s debate and to contribute to the discussion in this House on an opposition day where we are discussing Canada as a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Clearly, although Ontario cannot necessarily take credit for providing leadership in this area, it certainly can show its willingness to address some of the major issues which have been called into question by the clear responsibility of our nation’s signing this declaration. I do not consider this a paper exercise. I take the matters of this document very seriously and therefore I would hope that in my comments today we can address some of the issues on which the children in this province require having their voice heard.
I guess it has been said by many of the speakers -- some have called it a presumption -- that children are our most precious resource. Some have called it a myth. I am not going to entertain that debate but simply suggest that a society will ultimately be measured by the compassion it exhibits for its most vulnerable citizens, and clearly in our great province the two that immediately come to mind are children and our frail elderly.
To put in context the importance of this debate, we have heard from the government, which speaks at length about its pilot projects and some of its initiatives, and we have heard from the opposition parties with specific cases of its concern that Ontario has a far way to go in terms of ensuring that children have the same kinds of opportunities, not only in a Third World country but right here in Ontario, given the kinds of circumstances which we as legislators have left them to.
I want to suggest as well that children are a particularly vulnerable group within our society because they lack the empowerment to really influence decision-makers at Queen’s Park, or at the federal level for that matter, and part of that has to do with the fact that they are not voters. We know how voter-reactionary we are as politicians. We do not see children showing up in polling data. We always see that among 18- to 21-year-olds the approval rating for this government is a certain per cent. We do not empower our children to make choices, we do not empower them with the right to vote, and although I am not advocating that they have the right to vote, I am suggesting that this has caused their agenda, their personal rights and freedoms, to be less than those of the average Canadian and the average Ontarian.
For me as a politician here in this House for now over five years, for me as a parent, that these matters have taken on greater significance. I take them on, as I say, as a parent but also as a provincial member who has come to understand and appreciate, as comes with the responsibility in government, the real needs that exist in a community.
In the short time that I have allotted to me, I wish to go over some of the issues, a broad range of issues in fact, where I believe there is room for considerable improvement, where there are legitimate crises affecting our children and their future chances of success and life itself. This government must commit itself to making this a priority and risk the fact that children are not a voting block in this province and risk the fact that it may not necessarily be popular, but risk it because it is compassionate, because it is necessary and because it deals with our future and not with the immediate political present.
The matter of mental health services is one that has been raised by the opposition members. We have been raising it for the last several weeks. Our party has had a resolution on it. I have been distressed recently to see the lack of awareness, the lack of participation on the part of the Minister of Education where we are seeing some of the worst manifestations of problems for our children in this province, coping with a variety of dysfunctions, of addictions, of mental disorders.
It is mandatory for these children to be in our schools, but it is not mandatory that these children be helped. We mandate the custodial function of making sure that we know where they are between the hours of 9 and 3:30 every day, but we cannot mandate and put in laws access to psychiatric services, to put in laws an opportunity to withdraw them from abusive situations and provide the necessary support on a continuum basis. We have a range of problems that these children are focusing. It has been well documented in this House about the 10,000 children on waiting lists for mental health support services. Those 10,000 children are mandatorily required to be in school every day and they are not learning properly, are not learning to their ability. They are not even offered the promise that our Education Act promises children in this province, that we will set certain standards for their achievement.
We have case after case of a growing incidence of suicide in our schools, of successful suicides and attempted suicides. We have a growing number of problems associated with victims of family violence and their inability to cope and function.
I am pleased the Minister of Community and Social Services is with us in the House today. He would be aware of a case I have raised in this House before of a family that I am currently working with, where the mother and the daughter were both victims of incest from the grandfather and the father. The mother was receiving, after waiting a considerable time for counselling support services, psychiatric support services -- she waited a considerable length of time. The teenaged daughter, who is failing in school, who has an inability to socialize, who has become introverted and is withdrawing from society, attempted suicide twice. Yet the mother is forced into making the kinds of decisions to withdraw herself from her psychiatric supports in order to get her daughter into a situation where she can receive professional help, because the earliest she is told she will be given help is a year to a year and a half.
That is unacceptable in Ontario today. Since I raised that issue, there have been several suicides in the Halton area of teenage, school age children who are reaching out for support. Yet our government is studying this issue without even looking at the size of these waiting lists and the kinds of programs with which we can address that crisis immediately.
I want to suggest that this government’s record on justice for children is highly suspect and I would like to illustrate this with several cases. I raised one today in the Legislature with the Minister without Portfolio responsible for women’s issues. I raised the issue of Bill 124, which is a law this provincial government brought in from California. It is sort of akin to its no-fault divorce legislation. Basically it says that a child’s rights in Ontario are best served when both parents have access to a child when there is a marital breakdown, a separation or a divorce. That argument has been widely discredited all across this continent. There is no greater proof of this than that not a single women’s group in this province endorsed the Attorney General’s and this government’s thrust as it relates to Bill 124.
What I raised in the House today was a reference to the fact that because there are children who are victims of violence, of sexual abuse, that they are in these situations -- when there is a marital breakdown our law says that it is in the best interests of the child that he have access to both the custodial and non-custodial parent. Yet we know that it is not in the best interests of the child. So what does the government say? “All right. We will make a compromise here. We will make sure that this access between a parent who may have abused a child or abused the other partner in the presence of the child -- we will provide supervised access.” No, I am sorry. The bill does not say they will provide it. The bill says that the judge can so order that supervised access occur.
The fact is that with this bill now law, judges are increasingly referring cases not only where there are bona fide cases of abuse, but where there is real risk that the non-custodial parent will abduct the child and take him or her out of the province, and also where there are cases of an accusation of abuse but it is not necessarily proven. When the mother leaves court now with this new order that she must offer up the child to the former partner who was an abusive parent, there are no programs in place. In fact today we raised the issue that this government has not provided the funding when legitimate programs have come forward seeking support. Women’s groups across this province have clearly articulated the fact that this type of legislation is not in the best interests of children at all.
I would like to raise an issue about the Limitations Amendment Act, Bill 198, which this government has seen fit to allow to die on the order paper. Again this has to do with the case of children who are the victims of incest. It has been 97 years since we have changed the Limitations Act for children. Currently the act says that they have four years in which to take to court and charge a family member who has sexually assaulted them.
The member for Kitchener, to his credit, developed Bill 198, which would have extended the statute of limitations to 20 years and also for 10 years after the discovery of this event, purely a piece of legislation designed to recognize what children go through as victims of incest in this province, yet now we find out that the Attorney General has suppressed this bill. He has informed the member that he has no intention of making it the law after all the groups and all members of this House agreed that this was a timely, appropriate, sensitive and important bill for children who are overcoming the horrors of being incest victims. That is the Attorney General’s commitment to the children of this province. It is very clear where the Attorney General is coming from in this, as that example illustrates.
If I had time I wanted to talk a bit about transition and interval houses and the fact that this government does not recognize that when a mother and her children remove themselves from an abusive situation, when women or children are being battered, and they go to an interval house the government’s position is that it is merely a custodial function for the child. In that setting, with the mother present, withdrawn from the family home, they need support services and counselling. The children are just as important as the mother to receive those support services that she gets as the mother, but that the child does not necessarily get.
I think it is important that we must recognize that because they cannot articulate their pain as well as the mother can, they are no less deserving of the support of this government in order to address their psychological needs. They have no chance in school in an environment where no one is providing the counselling support for what they are going through.
I have raised issues about neonatal intensive care funding in this province and the crisis facing our level 3 nurseries for premature, high-risk infants. We have proven through a study at McMaster University that we can reduce the number of children by half who experience neurological and physiological damage if we provide the immediate support services for these high-risk pregnancies and premature babies.
Yet this government has forced hospitals to cut back services. There are beds vacant at each of the seven high-intensive emergency hospitals in this province. There are beds vacant and there are doctors on the floor, but because we will not put this nursing staff in place and they are cut back, we have had cases where children have been put at risk and we know what the risk is -- it is either death or it is neurological or physiological damage. To what extent, as this resolution calls for, are we doing all in our power to enhance their life chances?
I have risen in the House to talk about vaccine-damaged children and the degree to which we in Ontario have a commitment to the children of this province to find the safest possible vaccines, in particular the pertussis vaccine. The standard for our vaccine is the same standard as for some Third World countries, yet we do not have the political will, based on global information, to enhance the life chances and limit the amount of damage from vaccines in this province.
I realize that we are running out of time. I wanted to highlight some of the issues that I believe have quite clearly shown that this government has its own set of priorities and that children are not near the top of those priorities. I would hope and pray that all members of this House will support this resolution and that they, as a government, will react with meaningful programs to support the true intent of this resolution.
Hon Mr Beer: I rise with pleasure to participate in this debate and to commend our colleague the member for Riverdale for the motion. I think it enables us to focus this afternoon very specifically on children, the kinds of programs and policies that we have in place, the good things that we are doing, but also and importantly, those things that remain to be done.
I would like also to commend all of those who have spoken in this debate. I think that one of the good and positive things about this particular debate has been the sincerity of all those who have taken part, but in particular the number of points and issues that members have been asking us, as a government, to deal with. I would like later in the debate to comment on some of those. Clearly all members of this House support the motion and I think we can all come together in trying to ensure that we live up to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
In beginning, I would like to bring to the attention of the House a booklet that has been prepared by Defence for Children International called Children Have Rights Too. I believe this is a remarkably excellent book, a primer, if you like, with respect to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, prepared in Canada. It includes in addition to the actual wording of the convention drawings done by children from around the world and short, clear statements of what the convention means.
For anyone who has been watching this debate and would like to know more about the United Nations convention, if you go to your bookstore or get in touch with any of us in this chamber, Children Have Rights Too is an excellent primer in terms of just what it is that the United Nations convention is asking all governments to do, setting it out in an extremely readable fashion.
The other point I would want to make at the outset is that when we get talking in this House, or indeed in any assembly, about the kinds of things that we are trying to do to help people develop programs, as the honourable member for Scarborough West said at one point, we sometimes get into, “Here’s where the faults are, the things that aren’t being done,” and from the government side hear all the good things we are doing. Really, in this area I think we all have to admit that collectively we have done some very good things over the past 20 or 30 years to ensure that children are protected and that they have rights and that they are able to develop to the best of their potential. But we recognize as well that we are going to have to deal with problems, problems that change the context of the discussion and the kinds of dilemmas that we have to face in providing services for children.
When I came into the Ministry of Community and Social Services as minister one of the things that struck me in a most forceful way was to look at, in effect, the amount of money that is expended in one form or another to try to assist children, to look at a number of programs and policies that set out to help and then to juxtapose that with the continuing need that was being made very clear to us.
In my own ministry something in the order of $1 billion is spent on programs that are directly focused on children, and that does not include the funding that comes through the social assistance system. If we talk about the education system, if we talk about programs in the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Correctional Services and other areas, we soon see that we are spending a great deal of money and doing some very good things, but recognizing as well that much more needs to be done. I want to come back later to the question of the system that we have in place and that perhaps the problem is not purely one of funding -- and I do not think anyone is saying it is that alone -- but how well we organize the dollars that we have in terms of really helping the children of this province.
The other thing I think is important as we discuss this issue is to remember that we are talking about human beings. We can talk about any group -- children, seniors, the disabled -- and we can talk about them as statistics, but I think when we do that we lose our sense of what it is that we are really talking about. We need, I think, to remind ourselves, whether it is as parents, which many of us in this chamber are, and we think of our hopes and aspirations for our own children and then apply that to others in our community who have those same desires, those same hopes and aspirations for their children, I think we need to come back to that fact as we look at the things that we are doing and the things that we ought to do.
We also need, I believe, to remind ourselves that in this province over the years we have built up an incredible array of voluntary, community, social, public organizations with staffs of truly dedicated people. I do not think anyone who has spent any time in this Legislature, who has spent time working in his or her own community, has not seen examples of individuals who have made, in effect, a life’s commitment to work on behalf of children. I think it is appropriate in addressing this particular issue that we pay tribute to them because while we clearly have a responsibility to the children of this province, we also have a responsibility to those thousands of people who are working throughout this province in order to ensure that our children and their children will have a better life.
A number of specific issues were brought forward by honourable members in terms of the broad children’s services sector or children’s services program area. I want to deal with some.
I want to start with the very interesting point made by our friend and colleague the member for Scarborough West who was talking about the United Nations convention and the Child and Family Services Act in terms of underlying principles and what is it that we want to set out in terms of principles, rights, entitlements in that legislation so that we can see what it is we are trying to achieve, what it is that we want to ensure we can do. Increasingly, I think legislators not just in this House but in others are looking at ways in which to express those principles in legislative form. I think in moving forward and supporting the United Nations convention, in effect ratifying it, we will then have a set of principles and rights against which we are going to want to measure our programs.
Honourable members would be interested to know that in the work of the Advisory Committee on New Social Assistance Legislation that I set up we are looking at some of those specific issues around principles in terms of looking at what we want to have in the legislation, what are the benchmarks we want to try to achieve as we go forward in providing for a more effective social assistance system.
My colleague the member for Hamilton West noted that when we start talking about children and children’s issues probably one of the most fundamental areas that we have to deal with is that of child poverty, because countless studies, and I suppose even just our own anecdotal experience, would demonstrate that if you are in poverty as a child, the likelihood of becoming ill, of having a poorer education, of suffering from a whole series of negative effects is so far greater than for those of us who have had the opportunity to grow up in a family that had greater means of support. So as we look at the United Nations Convention, I think an appropriate place to begin in looking at our programs is to ask, how are we going about trying, in whatever ways we can, to improve the life of the child who, through no fault of her own, is living in poverty?
My colleagues have made reference to a number of the programs, and I do not want to go back over them, except to underline what for us is the critical importance of the Social Assistance Review report, the Thomson report, and the recommendations made in that report that dealt with the whole area of poverty, those on social assistance, and how much of that was directed at children and that there is, if you like, a blueprint in front of us as a government to go forward with those programs. I think we have made a very solid beginning with the $415-million program that was announced last year, much of which, as it has come into play this year, deals directly with helping children. We are able to see where we have been able to put these programs into effect, that it is having an impact on the use of food banks in terms of social assistance recipients. By no means has it solved the problem, but I think what is important for us to recognize in this whole field of child poverty is that there are things that we can do which can have a very positive impact in helping children.
The example I think that I would use in this case is the attack that governments made back in the early 1970s to address the problem facing seniors and poverty and how, by looking at rates and entitlements, we were in fact able to lift many seniors right out of poverty levels. That has to remain a commitment and we have to do much more.
The issue of natives was raised. I think here again some of the experiences that members set out and some that I have had myself underline how important was a decision the government made several years ago to work with native people to organize their own child services sector. I have been extremely impressed to see, with a number of the ones that now exist, the Weechi-it-te-win, Tikinagan, Payukotayno in the north, the impact that they have been able to make, because these programs are developed by native people for native people. Particularly with respect to children, that can have a tremendous impact because culturally the programs they are going forward with will be able to help their own people. I think this government has made a commitment to the first nations that we are going to continue to do that. I was very pleased that in this year’s budget we have been able to allocate some $14 million additional that will directed precisely to helping those organizations and creating new ones.
The other area that has been discussed at some length today is that of children’s mental health. There is no question that the complexity and the range of difficulties which young people face today have caused, in effect, a great increase in need for all kinds of counselling and support for children. We have, I think, been able to move very effectively in providing greater resources across the board in the children’s services sector, but we have to recognize that there are some problems which, in a sense, are systemic. Therefore, we have committed to the children’s mental health centres, to their provincial organization, to work very closely with them on a number of specific issues, including that of waiting lists, which was dealt with by our colleague the member for Sarnia.
On this issue, as our colleague said, whether we have a waiting list of 10,000, 6,000, 500, 1 or 2 clearly is not something that is acceptable. We want to have no waiting list. We want to see that all children are going to be effectively cared for. One of the issues, I think, as we look at waiting lists -- and we are doing that directly with the children’s mental health centres -- is to determine more specifically the nature of the needs among the young people who are on those waiting lists and the extent to which there are perhaps other resources in the community which would be able to provide the kind of support that is required. I think we have all recognized and agreed in the meetings that we have had -- and as recently as this week I and caucus colleagues met with representatives from the Ontario Association of Children’s Mental Health Centres -- that we have to get a handle on that so that we can in fact ensure the resources that are required to meet whatever those needs are.
We have also recognized that there are problems with respect to compensation for those working not only in the children’s mental health area but throughout the children’s service sector. Many organizations have grown up, perhaps in some respects as quasi-voluntary organizations. We have had to recognize over time, and particularly through the 1980s, that we have got to do much more in looking after those who are working in those fields, because we want them to stay there to be able to make a commitment to a career, to continue to work with young people. We have said to the children’s mental health centres and to others that we are going to continue to do the kind of thing that we did both this year and last year in announcing additional funds, specifically for better compensation for those working in this field.
I think that we recognize that, whether we are talking with children’s aid societies, children’s mental health or those active in the young offenders network, we have to do this as a partnership. These issues are not ones that can necessarily be resolved overnight and there is a need for us to work very closely together. I want to make the commitment to our colleagues, to those in the opposition as well as on the government side, that both I and my ministry are very active in going out into the community and working with all of those who are working directly with children to ensure that we can put forward plans, policies, programs and the appropriate resources and funding to make a real dent in a number of the issues that have arisen over the past couple of years in terms of child counselling, whether in the mental health area or in terms of child welfare. That remains a critical approach that we have to take.
I think that at this point then, when we look at a number of the issues, we have to begin coming to grips with what do we do with the system. Clearly we cannot move to one in which for every child at risk there is an adult there to help that individual. We have to find various ways, obviously prevention being critical. A number of the preventive programs have been mentioned, but we recognize that out there today are many young people at risk. If we are to meet the convention standards, how do we help them?
It seems to me that we have something to learn from the approach that was taken to long-term care, where we have to focus in particular on who it is we are trying to serve. I suppose here it means that if we are saying it is the children of this province we want to help, then we can recognize that there are a number of systems that we have got to change so that they are serving the child and we are not making the child fit our programs and our services. Here I think the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Correctional Services, the Ministry of Tourism and Recreation and my own have a particular role to play. Increasingly we have to be making to our approach so that in fact the children’s needs can be met and served.
A year and a half to two years ago, a number of us in this House served on the select committee on education, and one of the things that struck me, as a member of that committee, was the fact that we recognized in dealing with children that the one place where we find them all, at least at some point in their lives, is in school. So how do we work better with teachers, principals, those in the educational system, those in the social work field, those in the health care field, to ensure that resources are there when required?
A number of members have noted increasing problems faced by the school boards, by schools, with respect to finding appropriate support for children. I have had similar experiences in discussions with my own school boards and with teachers and those active in the school system. I think what that experience demonstrates clearly -- and it is one of the reasons behind the Better Beginnings, Better Futures projects -- is that we are only going to solve these problems and be able to move forward and cut back on waiting lists when we have the active and full co-operation of all of these ministries and that we see that duplicated, if you like, at the community level.
My sense is that as we proceed in this regard, the role of the school -- and I speak here of the school as a centre, not talking about adding tasks to individual teachers or principals, because I think in point of fact they carry already a very heavy load of things they must do. How do we integrate? I think this is the term for the 1990s. It is going to have to be the key. How do we integrate all of the different ministerial programs so that when the child needs help, the classroom teacher, the principal of the school will be able to know quickly and clearly where to direct that child, where to direct that child’s family so that those services will not only be put in place, but will be there so that the child will be able to reap the benefit of them?
Clearly at the present time we know that there are young people who are falling between stools, who are perhaps getting the attention they need but perhaps not as quickly or as effectively as they can. I think that the challenge for us as a government is to look at the system that exists right now and to see how we can make changes to it that will better serve the child and will make better use of the funds we have available.
I think it was that sense, that thrust which led my predecessor to appoint the Advisory Committee on Children’s Services, which was mentioned earlier by one of my colleagues and which is chaired by Dr Colin Maloney. Dr Maloney’s committee has looked very specifically at all of the elements of the children’s services sector, with a particular focus to see how that is serving the needs of children and how we can develop a framework which is going to make better use of all of those services.
I feel very confident that when the report of that committee comes forward, it is going to provide us with, if you like, an integrated approach to the provision of children’s services so that when we start developing new programs and expanding existing ones, they will be able to have a real impact.
Whether we are talking about programs such as special services at home which, I recognize, in terms of our ministry is one of the most important programs of helping young people with disabilities, developmentally handicapped or physically disabled, or whether we are looking at programs that will lead to more effective counselling -- which children perhaps need treatment, which ones do not need that kind of approach and could receive care in other ways -- these are all questions that we have to address. But we have to do it in the context that the whole system is seen as one, that it is child focused. If we do that, I think we will be able then to take each of the rights that is set out in the United Nations convention and respond effectively and adequately to it.
It has been mentioned that in a number of areas set out in the convention our programs and policies at this point in time might not necessarily meet the rigours of that convention. It is my view that while we recognize problems that are existing in the system, none the less it is important to stress that in Ontario we do have a very strong children’s services sector, both because of the people who are active within it and quite frankly because a number of governments over the years have seen that to be very important. I think the kind of support that has been exhibited today for the member for Riverdale’s motion indicates that it is a priority, that it is something we see as critical and important.
What I, as Minister of Community and Social Services, would want to take from today is that there is a clear commitment within this House among all parties to ensure that we live up to the standards set out in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. I hope that all honourable members will hold us to that and that we will continue to look at the principles that are enshrined in that document and measure our programs and policies against them. I think when we do that we will be able to ensure that the children of this province will receive better and more effective assistance when they require it.
Motion agreed to.
The House adjourned at 1757.