LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY OF ONTARIO
ASSEMBLÉE LÉGISLATIVE DE L’ONTARIO
Monday 6 March 2023 Lundi 6 mars 2023
Report continued from volume A.
Less Red Tape, Stronger Ontario Act, 2023 / Loi de 2023 visant à réduire les formalités administratives pour un Ontario plus fort
Continuation of debate on the motion for third reading of the following bill:
Bill 46, An Act to enact one Act and amend various other Acts / Projet de loi 46, Loi visant à édicter une loi et à modifier diverses autres lois.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bhutila Karpoche): Further debate?
Mr. Terence Kernaghan: It’s an honour for me to rise as the critic for economic development, job creation and trade on behalf of the official opposition to add my thoughts and comments on third reading of Bill 46, the Less Red Tape, Stronger Ontario Act.
As we look at this bill, it’s very interesting; we’ve seen many measures from this government with this dragon of their own creation, this red tape, as it were. It’s interesting, when one looks at the definition of red tape itself, which is one of excessive bureaucracy, yet with this government we’ve seen the largest cabinet expansion with the greatest number of PAs ever appointed by this government, which is really the creation of the largest bureaucracy, which is sort of interesting. It’s almost a note of self-loathing; I’m not quite certain.
With this government, we see this attack on democracy and on the environment, the dramatic overreach with suspending the charter. When this bill was dropped for second reading, it was almost like the government was trying to change the channel. So it does make one wonder what they’re considering at this time of introducing this for third reading. But one doesn’t have to look far to see what channel they’re trying to change from. It has just been announced today that the Ontario Court of Appeal ruled against the Ford government and their imposed limits on third-party advertising. It’s as though the Court of Appeal has told the government that they can’t use their little “notwithstanding” stick on it. And yet, even in the face of I think it’s their 14th court case loss, they’re still going to engage in yet another costly appeal, which will ultimately cost the taxpayers of Ontario, which is such a shame when we see that there should be money being spent on mental health, on health, on education, on justice. Yet we see a government that is determined to lose in the courts, unfortunately.
It’s also an effort at image rehabilitation, I would see, because we had the opportunity to travel with the Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs, and we heard from stakeholders all across the province. No one was singing the praises of Bill 23. Everybody talked about the need for inward and upward growth within municipalities, within lands that had already been set aside for development, not this vast urban sprawl. But we see a lot of focus on puff and fluff and less on substance.
This bill itself, at large, seems to be a collection of housekeeping amendments. I think it’s important for us to recognize as legislators that there are families in this province who are hurting deeply at this time. Many of the supposed changes within this bill really amount to tinkering around the edges when we’re not addressing the real, key issues that are facing this province.
If we take a look at the government’s backgrounder for this bill, “The Less Red Tape, Stronger Ontario Act builds on the government’s strong track record of reducing red tape which since 2018 has saved businesses, not-for-profit organizations, municipalities, universities and colleges, school boards and hospitals”—such and such million—"in net annual regulatory compliance costs.”
It’s very interesting, because in meeting with the Ontario Chamber of Commerce today, we had many discussions about the failure of the Ontario Small Business Support Grant. There are many businesses in my riding that reached out that were denied funding. They were not given any indication why they were denied that funding. There was no process for appeal. Many people were on that razor’s edge. They were deeply concerned. These are people who sometimes have their home finances tied up with their business finances. They were at risk of losing not just their business but their home. They were at risk of losing their relationship. They were at risk of losing their family. That, I don’t think, is a strong track record when it comes to looking after small businesses.
Yet again, we have seen a government that has frozen tuition costs, which looks good on paper. It is good for students. Students do need more supports. Yet that 10% tuition cut to universities was one that was not made up, and money was not provided by the government to post-secondary education. In fact, it has been shown that Ontario, despite being the richest province, spends the least amount on education. In fact, we would have to raise post-secondary funding by somewhere in the neighbourhood of 41%—not to be first, but that’s simply not to be last in Canada. I wouldn’t say that’s a strong track record of supporting post-secondary education.
Further, when we take a look at the supposedly strong track record of supporting non-profits when back in 2019 there—I’m going to quote the Ontario Nonprofit Network, who said that they “are now operating in a climate of growing uncertainty and volatility” as a result of this government’s choices and decisions. The report also reads, “Organizations aren’t just worried about having their funding streams cut, but also the speed and uncertainty of the decision-making process, as well as the lack of information, details, and engagement with the sector by the provincial government.” Some 30% of non-profits saw their budgets decreased as a result of this government, and 11% were still uncertain. The backgrounder seems to be full of all this information that is not reflected in fact, not reflected in the experience of many different organizations.
Also, the Ontario Nonprofit Network did have the opportunity to appear with the standing committee. I’d like to make sure that this government is aware of one of the recommendations that they had made. They had indicated that they would like to see a “whole-of-government approach for Ontario’s 58,000 non-profits and charities by creating a ‘home in government’ for the sector.” What they’re calling for—and I hope the government will listen—is “an associate-minister-level appointment within the Ministry of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade, supported by a deputy or assistant deputy minister in an office representing non-profits, charities, and social innovation.” I think this is a brilliant idea. I think this makes a great deal of sense. If this government would like to see so-called sector change and innovation, then this is something that I hope that they will take forward and something that they will apply.
Further, the strong track record on supporting hospitals is one that should stick out to every single Ontarian across this province. As we travelled, we heard about many small and rural hospitals being forced to close because they didn’t have the health care human resources in order to remain open. I think there were 800 that closed over the summer in places like Chesley, small rural places, and this government is currently on track to provide, I believe, a 1% budgetary increase to hospitals while there is $6.4 billion that is unallocated—$6.4 billion that is being hoarded, $6.4 billion that is not being spent on the places where Ontarians need it the most.
I’d like to turn to all of the schedules of this bill. We’ll see how the strong track record holds up on that. Schedule 1 concerns the Animal Health Act. It allows the Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, upon the advice of the Chief Veterinarian for Ontario, to issue a response order, effective up to 72 hours, to address urgent hazards threatening animal or human health, such as an outbreak of swine fever or avian flu. The order may specify biosecurity measures and restrict the movement of live or dead animals or related products or waste material, along with other restrictions the minister considers necessary. The minister may extend the order another 72 hours upon the advice of the Chief Veterinarian for Ontario.
This makes a great deal of sense. We heard in many jurisdictions people who were concerned about backyard chickens and the potential for avian flu to be spread from some of these unregulated places. It makes a great deal of sense. The Ontario Federation of Agriculture came out, and many other different organizations, and this is something that is easy to support. It’s easy to make sure that we look after our farmers. We know that farmers work incredibly hard, and we want to make sure that our food supply is not only the best, because it’s Ontario, but we want to make sure that it is safe.
Schedule 2 extends the allowable time of service for former provincial judges serving on a part-time basis from 50% of full-time service to 75% of full-time service. Many of the places that we visited also talked about the really difficult backlog of court cases, and how that is really resulting in a miscarriage of justice.
I want to turn to a letter that was sent to the Attorney General. This letter was dated September 26, 2022. It was authored by a number of different civil trial lawyers in my riding, and it states, “The overall complement of judges in the region was reduced by two approximately 15 years ago.” They took judges who were allocated to the region and put them elsewhere: “They have never been replaced despite growth of the population and work in London and region.”
They also go on: “The system in 2019 had a backlog of over 850 ... cases ready for trial.” They talk about the struggles that that will happen in courts when they have self-represented litigants. They become such a drain on the court system, because often the judge has to spend time educating them about process, helping them with paperwork, and that is something that has unfortunately become such a barrier.
We saw cuts to legal aid that were imposed by this government, and that has had a dramatic and direct result on the justice system. It’s never before been seen where the Chief Justice stood and really condemned the cuts that this government had made to legal aid. This is the knockdown effect. Now, with COVID, we’ve seen yet even further effect.
They go on, talking about civil cases. Civil cases rely on a number of experts. They rely on people to provide expert witness testimony to talk about the particulars of the case. So what will happen oftentimes is that when a trial is reached, professionals such as doctors will cancel a day’s clinics or office appointments to appear at trials. Then, what happens when the trial is not reached? That’s a great, expensive burden for anyone to be appearing at this. Patients who have been on wait-lists to see their physicians will then have that knockdown effect of them being yet pushed further down. It’s something that is absolutely unacceptable.
They also provide some real-world examples from caseloads that we’ve seen in London. There was a profoundly disabled child who was misdiagnosed with a brain infection who died. They died, Speaker, waiting for the trial. A business that was making $50 million with dozens of employees failed because the court could not find time to hear a dispute about the ownership and control of the business. The justice system failed. Parents of an injured adult child with physical and developmental disabilities incurred significant debt to pay for their child’s care in their home. A single mother who could no longer work due to injuries could not pay the mortgage and lost her home because she was waiting for trial.
This solution that the government has provided, which some have called double-dipping, is not a solution at all. It’s really a band-aid that’s been applied to this. What we need to have is we need to have more justices hired.
The recommendations that I have here are:
“(1) The allocation of two more Superior Court justices to the region and their immediate appointment, to bring the complement back up to its level 15 years ago.
“(2) The addition of two more justices to London, specifically to deal with civil matters.
“(3) That the province immediately negotiates an agreement with the federal government to implement recommendation 1 of the House of Commons justice and human rights committee 2017 report on legal aid.”
I fully support their letter that they have brought forward.
Recently in the news, London was provided three new judges to fill three vacancies. Does that address the issue? Does that include the justices that are required? It does not. Andrew Murray, who is a personal injury lawyer and partner at Lerners LLP law firm, states that the number of justices in the southwest region is no longer good enough, as the letter has outlined: “When that number was set, it was many years ago, and my own view is it now lags fairly significantly behind that robust population growth that we’ve had. We probably need an extra two or three in our region to keep pace with our growth.”
But further to that, the province also needs to make sure that we have enough staff to make sure that courthouses are able to function properly. We need security officers. We need registrars. We need many more things. And that’s not addressed with this. Again, this is not taking the problems that we see within our system and actively addressing them head-on. Instead, it’s just playing around the edges, pretending that they’re dealing with the problem, when really, the essence of the problem remains unsolved.
Schedule 3 concerns the Juries Act. We recently met with the Ontario Trial Lawyers Association, who proposed a really innovative solution to allow certain cases to be heard by a judge and keep juries for only other more serious matters and cases. I think it’s a wonderful solution.
Under schedule 3, which this government has presented, the schedule just simply allows that a person’s jury questionnaire can be obtained, completed and returned electronically. They would still be able to provide a paper version for people who might require that for accommodation reasons and accessibility reasons. That’s something that would still be available.
But this doesn’t deal with the issues, as well, with juries. Ontario is a laggard. Ontario is behind not only when it comes to program spending and making sure that we have robust social supports and that we pay for education and health care and the criminal justice system, but we also are the only province that provides no compensation at all—none whatsoever—for the first 10 days of jury duty. So, if somebody is able to participate in the system and is requested, they’ll find themselves being unpaid by Ontario. If they’re lucky enough to have benefits which cover them, perhaps that will provide something, but this is something that is rather insulting and rather shocking.
The article brings up the case of a Brampton murder trial. That case went on for 70 long days, and because of the hours that they were requested to work, they ended up being paid far below minimum wage for all of the work that they did—what is really an incredibly important and vital public service.
Schedule 4 concerns the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Act. It exempts the feeder cattle enrolled under the feeder cattle loan guarantee program from section 3 of the Innkeepers Act. Now, what the Innkeepers Act does is it currently gives stables a lien on the boarding livestock, which has the effect of preventing cattle co-op members from feeding other members’ cattle, and it limits the effectiveness of the program.
We had the opportunity to hear from the Ontario Federation of Agriculture. We heard from the president, actually, Peggy Brekveld, and she provided us with comments about these proposed changes in schedule 4. She also made some recommendations. She made some recommendations which would be really quite easy for the government to implement, and quite frankly, I’m surprised that they haven’t already been implemented.
She has requested that we make sure that the cattle feeders become secondary when there’s a case of bankruptcy where the payment has not been received. So, if you put a priority position, in terms of bankruptcy, towards the loan program, then you can put a secondary position on the people who have been spending all that time feeding that animal. It only makes sense. All of those people who have made sure to look after that animal, they’ve cared for it, they’ve boarded it, they’ve fed it—there’s a tremendous economic cost to that, especially depending on the number of head of cattle or the number of animals. So for them to be relegated to the regular line-up of everybody getting in line if somebody were to declare bankruptcy, that’s unacceptable. It’s unfair. So I urge this government to make sure that the feeding programs are also added in a secondary position.
Now, she also made an interesting recommendation, and it’s surprising that this government has not acted upon this considering their so-called aversion to red tape. Right now, the Innkeepers Act—which contains this—is under tourism and the tourism industry. So Peggy stated, “There’s potential to move that to the Farm Products Payments Act. It would make sense to have a consolidation of all legislation under the farm financial protection programming, to put it all under one act. And it would probably ... allow us to have more wholesome conversations with a ministry that actually understands feeder finance.”
It makes perfect sense, Speaker. These are things that could be easy changes. Rather than just simply tinkering around the edges, let’s look forward into the future and make sure that we are really respecting what the Ontario Federation of Agriculture is requesting.
Just to return to some quotes from the MPP from Timiskaming-Cochrane, who had the opportunity to visit with us in Timmins when we heard our consultations for Bill 46, he states, “Feeder finance means that you’re protected, but the person who is at the second-most risk in this transaction is the cattle feeder. So if there’s a bankruptcy ... the person who takes the second-most risk goes into the pile with the general creditors.” And that is not fair.
I also wanted to make sure, on the record, that this government was made aware of recommendations that have made by all different folks in terms of agriculture, which was to make sure that there is a continuation of the mental health supports that are being provided for folks who grow our food. They also recommended that those current programs would be provided for their employees, because we know how important it is that we have our mental health.
It’s very strange that today we had the opposition day motion to provide a very small amount of money, $24 million, to buttress the decade of underfunding for local CMHAs—which have seen a 2% increase from 2018 to 2019, requesting an 8% increase, which amounts to $24 million. The government just voted this down.
So I do hope that this government will continue to look for ways that they can support, at the very least, farmers and their mental health, as well as expand that program to their employees. It’s called the Farmer Wellness Initiative. There’s really no sense right now whether that funding will continue or not, because many of the decisions that this government makes are cloaked in secrecy; they’re cloaked in darkness. People are waiting for answers, and unfortunately we see very little from this government.
Another recommendation from our farmers was to make sure that we are increasing funding for the risk management program. They were very thankful for historic investments in the Risk Management Program, but across many different sectors and in many different locations, all the farmers were asking for an increase of $100 million to the Risk Management Program. It’s really an easy investment. The investment speaks for itself. It’s one that realizes excellent economic output for every dollar that is invested in the Risk Management Program. It sees wonderful financial gains. It’s something that will also—interestingly, Speaker—help the mental health of farmers, because it’s good to know that the Ontario government has their back. This government has a choice. Will they respond to what farmers require, which is to increase risk management by $100 million? I hope that we’ll see that from this government, though we are not seeing it yet.
We’ve heard much about the Grow Ontario strategy, as well. We heard many government talking points, of course, delivered by the government MPPs, about how wonderful this program was, but we’ve also seen in recent history odious pieces of legislation, quite frankly, such as Bill 23, which will really dramatically impact our environment. It is completely disgraceful that Ontario is losing in the neighbourhood of 319 acres of prime farmland per day, and we also need to consider that Ontario as a whole has lost about one fifth, or 20%, of its farmland in its history.
That we would see this government really promote the destruction of one of our most valuable resources, which is the greenbelt, something that was created, that was meant to be there forever—there has been much talk about this land swap. If you believe their talking line, they say that they’re going to be adding more acres, but that was land that was already protected. It was not something that was at any risk. There’s no net win here. No matter how many times they try to play that little shell game, nobody is buying it and nobody believes it.
When we look at these really precious ecological treasures, such as the Duffins Rouge Agricultural Preserve, we look at places where they’re so vital for the filtration of our water. I worry about the long-term environmental impacts that this government seems really hell-bent on ignoring. I think it’s something that we cannot move backwards on.
I don’t believe that any single delegation spoke in favour of Bill 23 and what that’s going to do. Also, regardless of discipline, everybody spoke for truly affordable housing and supportive housing. As much as this government would like to—
Ms. Andrea Khanjin: Point of order, Speaker.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bhutila Karpoche): Point of order: the member from Barrie–Innisfil.
Ms. Andrea Khanjin: I just wanted clarity: Are we talking about Bill 23 or Bill 46? I just wanted some clarity there.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bhutila Karpoche): I’m going ask the member from London North Centre to keep his comments closer to Bill 46.
Mr. Terence Kernaghan: Thank you, Speaker.
You didn’t like my comments? Aww, that’s too bad. You know, I think across the province, not many people like Bill 23.
In our consultations for Bill 46, people were really concerned about housing within the province and housing affordability. We need to make sure that we’re actually having improvements to those things. Instead, what we’ve seen with Bill 23, allowing these large real estate investment trusts to purchase up buildings, to convert rental buildings into luxury housing—that’s not something that we need.
The agricultural community was very clear: They want to see less urban sprawl and they want to see more inward and upward growth development. They believe that everything should be a balance. Quite frankly, what we’ve seen so far is really not that much of a balance.
Schedule 5 is potentially the most contentious piece of this legislation. It makes technical amendments defining the minister here as the Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry or executive council for the purposes of the act. It repeals subsection 11(1.1) of the act. That subsection currently prohibits anyone engaged in oil, gas recovery or related projects from injecting carbon dioxide for the purposes of carbon sequestration into an area, including an underground geologic formation. This schedule 5 within Bill 46 will remove that prohibition. The repeal of the subsection would allow for the injection of CO2 into geological formations. It has been presented as carbon sequestration or carbon capture, a long-term underground geologic storage of carbon dioxide into deep bedrock formations. This would be allowed in crown lands.
There were folks at committee who spoke about this. It’s almost like the inverse of fracking, where this widespread agitation of rock formations or shale is done in order to access natural gas deposits. The proposal seems to narrow the prohibitions here only to projects that are also engaged in the recovery of oil and gas.
What is concerning about this, Speaker, is that the way this government presented it in their discussion paper was that this was the main emphasis, this was the reason for this schedule 5 change: to promote this carbon capture and storage technology. There was no mention whatsoever about enhanced recovery of oil and gas—none. It was not in their discussion paper. Yet in this legislation itself, they changed it. They added that.
In questions to many organizations, they could not speak to the importance of allowing that recovery. In fact, many were quite frankly agnostic about it entirely. They didn’t say it was necessary. They said, “Well, if it’s an added benefit”—but, quite frankly, we’re worried, on the side of the official opposition, about who this government is listening to. Who is in their backroom? Who is making the decisions for them? Who is deciding all of these things?
Now, the official opposition moved an amendment at clause-by-clause consideration that section 2 of schedule 5 of the bill be struck out and that there would be something else substituted. We said, “Despite paragraph 1 of subsection (1), no person engaged in a project to enhance the recovery of oil and gas shall inject carbon dioxide for the purposes of carbon sequestration into an area, including an underground geological formation, and no permit shall be issued under the act for such a purpose.” So we removed the enhanced recovery of oil and gas.
It seemed reasonable. It seemed to be what everyone at committee was comfortable with, that if that was not the purpose, if enhanced recovery of oil or gas was not the reason for that being there, then it didn’t need to be there in the first place. Unfortunately—surprise—this government voted that down.
I’d like to add to my debate the words of Keith Brooks, who is from Environmental Defence. Environmental Defence, just to give a brief introduction, is a Canadian environmental charity; they have offices in Toronto and Ottawa. Their greatest concerns are freshwater and addressing plastic pollution, fighting climate change, curbing urban sprawl and protecting the greenbelt—so I don’t think that this government is really friends with them, unfortunately.
Keith pointed out that the omission from the discussion paper in January 2022—that discussion paper was, really, shortly ago. He also pointed out that there are many wells within this province that have been lying dormant and lying neglected and being ignored for many, many years. He was concerned about the fact that this government may actually choose many of those really questionable locations for the storage of carbon dioxide. There haven’t been any inspections of those locations.
I’ll get into the numbers. I believe that there are 27,000 oil and gas wells and only 19% of those oil and gas wells in the province have been inspected since 2005—not even a fifth since 2005; we’re getting into the neighbourhood of 20 years. And of that 19%, 38% of inspections occurred more than a decade ago—more than 10 years ago. So, 1,625 wells not in use have not been plugged.
He also goes on to indicate that an additional 8,000-plus wells were plugged before 1970. How’s that holding up? The ministry can’t say because they haven’t been doing the due diligence to investigate.
Now, he’s also pointed out the Auditor General’s pointing out about the dangerous situation in Ontario, especially in the town of Wheatley, and how forcing more gas out of these wells is exactly what could cause this risk to people, such as what happened in Wheatley. The practice of carbon capture and storage technology for the purpose of enhanced oil and gas recovery is not carbon neutral. It is not something that is not going to harm the environment. It is a concern.
This government should really, first of all, follow the recommendations of people at committee, because I think there were many people who said, “Yes, the ministry should go out and they should investigate these wells. They should check on them. They should make sure that they’re doing their job.” We know that this government will blame the past administration and, to some degree, yes, they’re right. But this is also their second term. What are you waiting for?
Now, the Canadian Fuels Association: In questioning, I had asked, the main intention of this legislative change is the carbon capture and storage technology, and that oil and gas recovery—would that be seen as an added benefit? And he said, “Potentially.” But the most important thing about this, he said, is “really we’re looking at opportunities to sequester emissions from our facilities in Ontario.” So, allowing enhanced oil and gas recovery was really entirely unnecessary.
I think, just for the viewers at home, it’s important that we explain the technology itself, in that when you force something into a small location, that forces something else out. That’s what’s happened in Wheatley. The government hasn’t guaranteed that there’s an adequate plan in place. They haven’t studied these locations. We want to see that public safety is maintained. We want to make sure that, if they’re going to move forward with this, there is a plan, that they’re adequately consulting with environmental groups and that they’re going to do the right thing. Because obviously, since 2005, with the number of wells being uninspected, we’ve seen governments that have not done the right thing.
I also wanted to add to our discussion the concept of free, prior and informed consent. Now, Deshkan Ziibiing, the Chippewas of the Thames First Nation—for short, I will say COTTFN as I read their words into the record—also sent a letter to the Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs, and it reads: “On behalf of the Treaties, Lands and Environment department at Chippewas of the Thames First Nation (COTTFN), I would like to submit the following comments on the proposed amendment to the Oil, Gas and Salt Resources Act. The proposed amendment would repeal subsection 11(1.1), thereby removing the prohibition on carbon sequestration in Ontario.
“Much of the area that is potentially suitable for carbon sequestration in Ontario falls within COTTFN’s traditional and treaty territory. COTTFN maintains inherent and constitutionally protected rights to access and practice Anishinaabe lifeways on that land. The Nation also entered into pre-Confederation treaties with the crown that did not extinguish rights to the subsurface. COTTFN is therefore affected by any proposed carbon sequestration activities within the region.
“Consistent with Canadian and international standards, impacted First Nations must, at minimum, be meaningfully consulted and accommodated through the development of a carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS) framework. However, the framework should go further and require the consent of First Nations on whose lands these projects would be located. There are many technical and safety concerns that must be thoroughly addressed in close collaboration with First Nations before these activities may proceed. First Nations must also have the opportunity to participate in these projects, if they so choose.
“COTTFN has concerns if the Oil, Gas and Salt Resources Act is amended without a commitment to require First Nations consent for these projects. In meeting with the representatives of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF), it was apparent that there are many unknowns at this point and there is no planned commitment to require consent. Besides their location within the Nation’s treaty and traditional territory, some of the potential areas for carbon sequestration shown by the MNRF are quite close to COTTFN reserve lands.
“We also have concerns that the amendment could facilitate enhanced oil and gas recovery as well as the continued expansion of gas plants in Ontario. Ontario must take substantial action to meet the commitment of reducing emissions by 30% below 2005 levels by 2030 and is not currently on track to meet that target. Continued expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure is incompatible with global emissions targets to keep below 1.5 or 2 degrees of warming. Despite this, the Ontario government is currently seeking additional gas plant capacity. After years of declining emissions from the phase-out of coal, the IESO’s 2021 outlook forecasted that emissions from Ontario’s electricity grid will rise by 375% by 2030 and 600% by 2040 (relative to 2017).”
Speaker, I think it’s really important, when we consider legislation in this House that will have a dramatic impact on communities such as the Chippewas of the Thames First Nation, that there is free, prior and informed consent, that there is consultation, that they are at the table, that they are being listened to and that they are able to participate in this should they so choose.
On schedule 6, we all see concerns for the Ontario Energy Board Act. It clarifies that proponents of projects that are exempted from the requirement to obtain leave to construct from the Ontario Energy Board may apply to the board for an expropriation or the authority to cross a highway, utility line or a ditch. What we see with this, Speaker, is a regulatory change. It’s related to a recent regulatory change which exempted transmission projects that are exclusively funded by commercial or industrial load and generator customers from the requirement to obtain leave to construct.
What is interesting, though, is that I would love to see in this legislation some discussion about the authority and the opportunity for the Ontario Energy Board to regulate prices for consumers. We’ve seen legislation that was introduced by the MPP for Toronto-Danforth which would make sure that gas prices were kept in line—or it was not Toronto-Danforth; I apologize. That was in the last Legislature.
These are really important things. Whether it’s the cost of food, whether it’s the cost of accommodation, whether it’s the cost of energy, we see everything going up in this province. We need to make sure that this province is also responding in kind and making sure that they are helping people live their best life.
Schedule 7 concerns the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Corporation Act. Schedule 8 is the Provincial Offences Act. It reverses prospective reforms of the early resolution process for provincial offences. These prospective reforms were passed in the 2017 budget bill to further the government’s aim to streamline and to modernize the court system by supporting early resolution of cases where appropriate. So the Provincial Offences Act will continue to provide that early resolution, but we also are concerned. We want to make sure that this will allow these discussions to happen electronically, that it will be able to happen through email, and we want to make sure that the prosecutor can withdraw charges without a court appearance, if required.
Next, schedule 9: This is an interesting schedule, Speaker. I’m thrilled, as the member for London North Centre, that there has been talk about the move for the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board ministry office to London. I’m very much in support of London having more government offices. I think this is a great thing.
We do have concerns on the side of the official opposition with the actions of the WSIB themselves. We are deeply concerned about many of—what really shows to be red tape. The WSIB is the definition of red tape. There have been calls for years for the overhaul of their processes to make sure that they’re actually providing the supports for injured workers. Year after year, damning report after damning report, news coverage which is absolutely appalling, and we’ve seen very little attention given to this. It’s almost like they’ve been given a free pass by the Liberal government and now by the Conservative government. If this government really wanted to make good on its promise to stand up for workers, it would overhaul the WSIB in a heartbeat.
I want to also congratulate the member from Sudbury with his recent effective win making sure that the WSIB would cover folks who had suffered because of McIntyre Powder, something that had been going on for many, many, many years. We think about workplace injury, and it’s something that has taken the WSIB quite a long time to think about—occupational disease—to think about all of the contaminants in a system, and certainly even longer to think about multiple exposures when they seem wanting to just laser-focus on one, rather than looking at a number in conjunction.
I wanted to talk about the steel mill workers in Sault Ste. Marie and the workers at the ore mine in Wawa, Ontario. They started filing WSIB claims in the mid-2000s, and then, Adam Guizzetti said—he’s from the United Steel Workers Local 2251—“The company wasn’t reporting to the union that these claims were being filed with the WSIB.” He’s been the WSIB worker rep for three years, and so many of these claims were being denied.
There were examples of—there’s a huge array of chemicals. There was respirable dust, asbestos, benzenes. Within this cluster, the current cancers in this cluster, many are related to coke ovens, and the WSIB does recognize a relationship between coke ovens and lung cancers. But also, people in this cluster were diagnosed with a disturbing range of illnesses and diseases. They included COPD, blastomycosis, Hodgkin’s and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, dermatitis, kidney failure, kidney stones, liver failure, mercury poisoning, mesothelioma and more. There have been about 1,300 claims made.
Local 2251, on its website, said “that as of March 25, 2021, 326 claims have been allowed by the WSIB and around 977 have been denied.” Many of them are under appeal right now, but it does make one wonder how long they’ll be under appeal. When will the WSIB protect workers, as it was founded to do?
It has been said by others that the WSIB is active in a process of delaying justice before they deny justice. They play a waiting game. They see if people can hang on. And that’s such a disgrace, if you consider the exposure and what these workers suffered, that they would treat them in this way—just despicable, truly despicable.
Another issue that many people have pointed out is WSIB’s use of what are often frequently referred to as paper doctors, people who actually never meet with the patient in person—they just look at notes from other doctors who have treated people—who are those hired guns. Is that health care? It makes one wonder. They’ve never had an opportunity to actually meet the person, to actually see them, nor to even have a discussion with them. They read somebody else’s notes, and then those hired guns, those paper doctors—what do they do? They have a different interpretation. It’s interesting; not surprising. It’s interesting.
I also wanted to talk about the Occupational Disease Reform Alliance, and I want to thank them for really bringing the awareness of these multiple exposures. I know that this government is now starting to recognize the importance of protecting firefighters. In recent history, Ottawa firefighters had to fight tooth and nail to make sure that they could get compensation for all of the toxic chemicals that they see in their workplace and that they are subject to. It’s terrible. Firefighters put themselves in harm’s way. They go into situations that everyone else would run away from, and they do that to save people; they do that to save animals. They’re truly heroes among us, and to think that there is an organization that is set up—the WSIB is set up to protect workers and to support workers. Denying them support—disgraceful. So the Ottawa Professional Fire Fighters’ Association joined the campaign with the Occupational Disease Reform Alliance. And there were miners across northern Ontario; as I said, the miners from Sudbury with McIntyre Powder, between 1943 and 1980. There were also construction workers who built the Weyerhaeuser pulp and paper mill in Dryden; steel mill workers in Sault Ste. Marie. It is important that the WSIB gets it right. These are people who have worked their entire lives, people who were told this was safe, people who were told, “Inhale this, and we’ll protect you.”
We also need to respect the demands that they have made to the Ministry of Labour, and those demands are:
“—grant entitlement for occupational diseases when they exceed the level circulating in a community;
“—use available evidence of occupational disease in the workplace—including that gathered by workers and communities—as the standard for evaluating claims;
“—expand the list of compensable diseases that are presumed to be work-related, and possibly using the firefighters presumption list as a template; and
“—recognize claims resulting from multiple exposures, carcinogens and irritants, rather than focusing on a single exposure or occupation.”
It seems ridiculous that in this time when we understand science, when we understand that there are often conditions which are happening at the same time—I believe in medical science, it’s called “comorbid”—that the WSIB would only want to focus on singular exposures rather than what happens when we have many different poisons in an environment. But it’s convenient, isn’t it? It’s a convenient way to delay and to deny.
I only have a few minutes left, but I did want to speak to an important report that happened a number of years ago. It was called Prescription Over-Ruled. It was by the Ontario Federation of Labour and the Ontario Network of Injured Workers Groups. It was from 2015. It really blew the lid off of what was happening at WSIB.
I’d also like to make sure that we talk about one of the most hideous things that the WSIB does, and that is the process of deeming—phantom jobs. They’re pretending that there is some sort of job that someone can do. I want to recognize the member from Niagara Falls, who introduced in this Legislature An Act to amend the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act, 1997 in respect of compensation for loss of earnings. I think his work is excellent here. His work is truly focused on workers. It protects workers who have been subject to some of the most terrible treatment. In this legislation, it says,
“(4.1)The board shall not determine the following to be earnings that the worker is able to earn in suitable and available employment or business:
“1. Earnings from an employment that the worker is not employed in, unless the worker, without good cause, failed to accept the employment after it was offered to the worker.
“2. Earnings from a business that the worker does not carry on.”
This would take away the WSIB’s ability to pretend that somebody can do a job that they never signed up for and a job that probably doesn’t exist. It’s always known as a phantom job. It’s a way to shuffle people around the system, to deny them supports that they are legally and morally entitled to—supports that have been denied to them for many, many years.
There are many things, as we look over this piece of legislation—there are concerns, of course. That being said, not all of it is bad. There is a surprising lack of poison pills within this legislation. For our recommendation, we will be supporting this bill. We will be supporting Bill 46. I remain concerned that this government has not listened appropriately to stakeholders and has not provided really the solutions that Ontarians need on many of these issues, but it is not enough for us to block it. I do hope, as concerning schedule 5, that the government will do the right thing: that it will do its due diligence, that it will actively inspect all of those wells, that it will make sure it inspects the ones that have been capped since 1970, and that it will make sure that any place where carbon capture and underground storage technology is used is a place that is safe—and that they’re also making sure that they have free, prior and informed consent from Indigenous people who will be affected by this.
Further, I hope that they will listen. We went to many locations with this committee. From the side of the official opposition, there were many locations where it looked like there weren’t enough people who had applied, there weren’t enough people who cared about Bill 46 to show up. But the government approached us, and they said, “Can you work with us? Can we make sure we still hold this day even though there aren’t that many delegations that show up?” Of course, the official opposition wants to do right by Ontario, so we agreed. We made sure that we were able to meet for those days. We made sure to listen to Ontarians.
A few things that the government still needs yet to do: It needs to make sure that it expands the risk management funding as recommended, but we also heard about reducing the administrative burden on doctors. That is something that we heard loud and clear on the finance committee—making sure that there are medical scribes so that part of their week is not spent doing paperwork, that they’re actually looking after people who need our health care support.
We also want to look towards the grant application structure and how non-profits are treated by this government. There are program limits and they’re often waiting so long to find out whether they’re going to have that staff in place.
Also, get rid of the red tape bill, Bill 124. That has a terrible impact, this humiliating piece of legislation which has demeaned and undermined health care workers, educators and many other people. Nobody spoke in support of it. That is a piece of red tape that this government has created. Engaging in this costly appeal process, wasting money when they’re going to lose—that’s just embarrassing.
We talk about fiscal restraint and we talk about fiscal prudence, and nothing about Bill 124 is smart with money. But also, I hope that this government, despite voting down—despite all of the powerful stories that we heard today and despite people speaking in support of mental health and people talking about the need to make sure that their friends and their family and their loved ones got those supports when and where they need them, they voted against the bill to support Canadian Mental Health Association branches. I hope that this government will look back, have some sober second thought and reconsider that.
Speaker, it has been my honour to speak on behalf of the official opposition for Bill 46, the Less Red Tape, Stronger Ontario Act. I just wish that this government would do more. I wish that they would not have these fluffy, puffy pieces of legislation which have some good things but just tinker around the edges on most things. If you want to address the crisis that’s in our courts, you know what you need to do. If you want to support farmers, you know what you need to do. There are some good things in here—don’t get me wrong—but there’s far more this province can do.
If this province really wants to make sure that they support workers, they have a lot of work to do with WSIB, as I’ve outlined.
I look forward to legislation that the official opposition will be introducing, and I hope that this government will really understand the nature of what is collaboration.
As I finish my remarks, I hope that they will also understand what exactly they mean by red tape. This government have created this massive bureaucracy, this massive cabinet, this vast number of parliamentary assistants. They have created themselves the government of red tape. So, I hope they will take that into consideration, remove the pieces of legislation that they’ve created, which are further red tape, and truly begin to work on behalf of workers in the province.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bhutila Karpoche): Questions?
Mr. Matthew Rae: I enjoyed my colleague’s speech, his time in the House speaking. In particular, I enjoyed the last five minutes, when—if I heard incorrectly, please correct me in your response—I heard that the opposition is actually going to support Bill 46, which is great to hear.
My question is really simple to the member from London North Fan—London North Centre—I got it wrong last time; my apologies. I remembered it this time. Does the opposition agree that cutting red tape is good for municipalities, good for business and good for the people of Ontario in general?
Mr. Terence Kernaghan: I’d like to thank the member from Perth–Wellington, and thank you also for getting the riding name correct.
I think it’s important that we look towards ways in which we can improve and modernize systems, but that also means that we take a look at how we can fund health care properly. We need to make sure that we have publicly funded and publicly delivered health care. Also, it’s very shocking that we sat and had a debate this entire afternoon where it seemed as though the government understood the importance of funding mental health correctly, the official opposition understood the importance of funding mental health correctly, and yet this government voted against providing supports for those Ontarians.
Miss Monique Taylor: The party of no.
Mr. Terence Kernaghan: You’re right; they’re the party of no.
The CMHA—the data from the Ottawa ICM study indicates that it costs $68 to provide community-based services as opposed to $481 for those supports in a hospital. That’s fiscally imprudent for them to not support CMHA.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bhutila Karpoche): Questions?
Mrs. Lisa Gretzky: I think it’s important that I premise this question by pointing out that today the Ford Conservative government lost a court case, an appeal, over Bill 307, because it was unconstitutional, and the government is considering appealing it for a second time, wasting millions of dollars more attacking the rights of working people—labour unions, frankly—in this province, just like they’re doing with Bill 124. So, Speaker, all of this money that the government is spending on attacking workers, all of this taxpayer money that this government is spending in court, really, it’s reducing red tape for the lawyers on the Conservative side of the House. I’m wondering if my colleague could talk about how that money could be better spent actually serving workers and protecting workers in the province, especially when it comes to injured workers.
Mr. Terence Kernaghan: I’d like to thank the member for Windsor West for her excellent question. You’re right. As I opened my remarks, I think it’s important that we recognize that this government has lost yet another court case. I think it’s the 14th court case that they’ve lost. Yet they’re not tired of losing; they want to appeal it yet again, just like Bill 124. They’re not afraid to waste their little party in the pocket of the taxpayer. They said that the party was over, but they just won’t stop.
What also concerns me, and what the member from Windsor West’s comments made me think of, was the opening of the courts, I believe it was in 2019, where the chief justice decried the cuts to legal aid funding that would impact some of the most needy people in our province, whether it’s immigrants and refugees, people who are low on the socioeconomic strata, and how that would actually cause a greater problem within our courts. We see that problem now. We see that not addressed in Bill 46. That would be a good way to spend money. If they want to spend money on courts, they should spend it on people.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bhutila Karpoche): Questions?
Mr. Brian Saunderson: Thank you very much to the member opposite from London Centre. I was in your riding this past weekend, at a rowing gala at the University of Western Ontario and had a great time. It was my first time back in about 30 years; lots of changes there.
On the topic of courts, my question to the member opposite—and I think I have the same impression as my colleague over there that you’re supporting this legislation, but I want to get a clear understanding of your comments about the judicial appointments. As you noted, any Superior Court justice is a federal court appointment, so we don’t have control over that. I just wanted to point out that, since December of last year, we’ve appointed 10 new judges to the Ontario provincial court to compliment the existing 299 judges, and supernumerary judges are a common occurrence, where we allow judges with expertise to continue to rule. I wonder if he can comment on that, please.
Mr. Terence Kernaghan: I want to thank the member from Simcoe–Grey for his comments. To him and the member from Perth–Wellington, yes, the official opposition is supporting this legislation. You don’t need to check your ears. However, I do believe the comments from the member from Simcoe–Grey are actually incorrect. The Attorney General does need to approach the federal justice minister to ask for those additional judicial appointments. That is part of the process.
I think as well that this government has so much more that they could be doing. There’s this talk and this flimsy window dressing for addressing this dragon of red tape that has been invented by this government, but I hope that this government will also address the red tape that they have created, the additional bureaucracy that they’ve created and the stuff they have allowed to continue with the WSIB and so many other things. And the red tape bill that they made, Bill 124—stop the appeal.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bhutila Karpoche): Questions?
Mr. Joel Harden: It’s always great to hear my friend from London North Centre in this place; an hour of great erudition, my friend.
Something that isn’t in this bill, Speaker, that I was wondering if my friend could comment on, is not just the red tape the government thinks is in public services, but what about the red tape that’s impacting people every day as their cost of living goes through the roof? We talk about putting money in people’s pockets; at least that’s what I hear the government saying. What about Galen Weston’s two hands stuffed deep into the pockets of people as grocery prices skyrocket? Have we seen this government do anything to deal with skyrocketing food prices? Not a thing. Could you elaborate on what this government could do to deal with the hurt that these big grocery giants are doing to people?
Mr. Terence Kernaghan: Absolutely. Throughout the entire pandemic, we saw a government that supported big business and these multinational corporations that do not need assistance whatsoever. They did not stand up for workers and they did not stand up for small businesses. They’ve actually gone out of their way to reward the Galen Westons of the world by increasing the privatization that is available therein. Whether it’s administering COVID shots—but also, just recently, I was speaking with a constituent who had a call from her pharmacist, who is actually from one of Galen Weston’s places, who was just checking in and asking, “Are you on this medication or are you on that medication or you on this medication?” My constituent—she’s sharp as a tack—said, “Are you doing a meds check on me?” And the pharmacist said, “Yes, I am.” She said, “First of all, you did not have my consent to do that.” That is something that they’re doing to reach out and grab yet more money from the public purse, because they’d be billing OHIP for that meds check. Insidious.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bhutila Karpoche): Question?
Mr. Trevor Jones: I appreciate my colleague’s very lengthy discussion about a number of different bills. I’d like to bring the conversation back to Bill 46.
Most importantly, when it comes to listening to stakeholders, we listen loud and clear. As early as 2017, former governments were charging small businesses, our workers, over $33,000 in regulatory bills, in fees, in compliance checks. We’ve reduced that, not in a fluffy, puffy way, by over $500 million annually.
So will the member opposite agree that cutting red tape is saving real people and business money so they can grow their businesses and increase our prosperity?
Mr. Terence Kernaghan: I’d like to thank the member from Chatham-Kent–Leamington for his question, though I’m surprised he would not even consider addressing the elephant in the room, which is the environmental crisis that is happening in his riding, with Wheatley.
But since he has indicated that the government is listening throughout this process, I would like to congratulate them on obviously offering farmers $100 million in the Risk Management Program as well as continuing the Farmer Wellness Initiative and expanding that to their employees—because he said they’re listening and they’re doing what people asked them, so let’s see that happen in legislation.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bhutila Karpoche): Further debate?
Mr. John Vanthof: It’s always an honour to be able to stand up in this House, and finish off debate for today on Bill 46.
I’ll just start, to make sure that there’s no confusion, that, yes, we are supporting this bill. But, somehow, we just can’t seem to catch a break, because the last time I said that I was supporting a bill, the member from Renfrew–Nipissing–Pembroke came in and gave a 20-minute speech—one of the best speeches he’s ever given, and he gives some great speeches—about, how could the NDP not support this bill? I say that in all sincerity, because I have a great personal relationship with the member from Renfrew–Nipissing–Pembroke, and I hope at some point that I can have the speaking ability to do that, to walk in and just—so I’m going to have do that now for seven minutes, so we’re being tested now.
Bill 46: There’s more than red tape reduction in that bill. I think in some ways the government is selling themselves short on this bill, honestly. I disagree with the idea that all regulation should be seen as red tape. I don’t agree with that. But there are certain parts—and I’ll focus in my few minutes specifically on the agriculture parts of the bill, where—and I’m just going by memory—the minister is given more power to make decisions regarding vectors of disease like avian flu. That’s a very important issue. That’s a very important part of this bill. If you’re worried about regulation and red tape, that is actually the opposite; that’s the idea of creating regulation, very powerful regulation, because if a farm has avian flu, that flock could be eradicated. That also goes for backyard chickens, for chickens that are pets. There are going to be people who are going to be very upset about—and I agree with this—but in my riding, I had people end up in jail over the CFIA coming to check their chickens.
So if you think that this bill is lessening regulatory authority of the government in some areas, you’re wrong. That’s an important part of this bill, but that is an example where the government is using its power to create regulatory authority that is actually good for an industry, good for the province. It shouldn’t actually be in the reducing red tape bill, because it’s not; it’s, how can the government bring their big hammer down? But specifically in something like that, there are times when the government needs to be able to do that, and I commend—one of the reasons why we’re voting for this bill is because of that part, that the government actually recognizes that.
There’s another part in the bill that talks about, again, agriculture, and whenever I’m trying to think of something to say when I really don’t have anything prepared, I spend a lot of time talking about farms and cows. This bill has something about cows, so I can actually talk about the bill and not have to divert attention. This one has something about cows and the Innkeepers Act. Now, before you’re worried that the cows are moving into the Royal York, that’s not the case—not the case at all. This is also a serious issue but doesn’t get talked about a lot. I’m willing to bet that it very rarely gets talked about, the Innkeepers Act and cows.
Again, I’m going by memory: The issue is if you own cattle. In the cattle production cycle, there are two or three stages in the beef production cycle. There’s the cow-calf segment—that’s the farmer who owns the cows and the females who have the babies—and they grow to 500, 600 pounds when they’re with their mom. And the next cycle is, they’re fed at a different place. Sometimes people buy those cattle and they hire someone to feed them in a custom feed lot. The way the law was, that custom feed lot is seen as an inn, because years ago, when you had to put your horse at the livery stable, if you didn’t pay to feed your horse, the guy who owned the livery stable got to keep your horse. Basically, that’s what it was. So, if something happened to the stability of the cattle owner or the custom feeder, the cattle belonged, basically, to the innkeeper. That’s wrong. That’s wrong.
Why the government got concerned is because the government has a program that finances these cattle, a good program: feeder finance. All of a sudden, I could buy cattle through the feeder finance program—this has never happened to me, but I could buy cattle with the feeder finance program. I could get into financial trouble, but I have my cattle at a custom feeder. The feeder finance program could want their money back, but under the old legislation the first person who got paid was the innkeeper, was the cattle feeder. That has changed under this act. That’s good, right?
There is a bit of a problem, and the OFA brought this up. The way it’s put together now, if something goes wrong, the feeder finance or whatever lender through the bank has first right, and then everybody just goes in a big pile of debtors. But the cattle feeder has got the second most invested in those cattle, because it costs the cattle feeder a lot of money per steer or per heifer to feed them, and all of a sudden they will be in the general pot and they will lose a lot of money. Is it worth voting against the bill for that? No. But it is something that we could have tweaked a little bit to make it work a little bit better—
Third reading debate deemed adjourned.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bhutila Karpoche): I apologize for interrupting the member, but it is now six o’clock. The House stands adjourned until 9 a.m. tomorrow morning.
The House adjourned at 1800.