ONTARIO NURSES' ASSOCIATION, LOCAL 81
KENORA AND DISTRICT CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
MAYOR'S COMMUNITY COMMITTEE ON HOMELESSNESS
TOWNSHIP OF EAR FALLS
NORTHWESTERN INDEPENDENT LIVING SERVICES
CITY OF KENORA
ONTARIO SECONDARY SCHOOL TEACHERS' FEDERATION, DISTRICT 5A
ONTARIO PUBLIC SERVICE EMPLOYEES UNION
ONTARIO SECONDARY SCHOOL TEACHERS' FEDERATION, DISTRICT 5B
ELEMENTARY TEACHERS' FEDERATION OF ONTARIO
Monday 7 February 2000
Ontario Nurses' Association, local 81
Ms Judy Carlson
Kenora and District Chamber of Commerce
Ms Debbie Schatkowsky
Mr Blair Hutchings
Mr Pat Brett
Mayor's Community Committee on Homelessness
Ms Sue Swaigen
Township of Ear Falls
Mr Stan Leschuk
Mr Geoff McClain
Northwestern Independent Living Services
Ms Kristan Miclash
Mr Wayne Ficek
City of Kenora
Mr David Canfield
Mr Bill Preisentanz
Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation, district 5A
Mr Dave Rhind
Ontario Public Service Employees Union
Mr Len Hupet
Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation, district 5B
Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario
Mr Andrew Hallikas
Mr Gary Gamsby
STANDING COMMITTEE ON FINANCE AND ECONOMIC AFFAIRS
Chair / Président
Mr Marcel Beaubien (Lambton-Kent-Middlesex PC)
Vice-Chair / Vice-Président
Mr Doug Galt (Northumberland PC)
Mr Ted Arnott (Waterloo-Wellington PC)
Mr Marcel Beaubien (Lambton-Kent-Middlesex PC)
Mr David Christopherson (Hamilton West / -Ouest ND)
Mr Doug Galt (Northumberland PC)
Mr Monte Kwinter (York Centre / -Centre L)
Mrs Tina R. Molinari (Thornhill PC)
Mr Gerry Phillips (Scarborough-Agincourt L)
Substitutions / Membres remplaçants
Mr Howard Hampton (Kenora-Rainy River ND)
Clerk / Greffier
Mr Tom Prins
Staff / Personnel
Ms Elaine Campbell, researcher,
Research and Information Services
The committee met at 1004 in the Best Western Lakeside Inn, Kenora.
ONTARIO NURSES' ASSOCIATION, LOCAL 81
The Chair (Mr Marcel Beaubien): Good morning, everyone. It's 10 o'clock. I'd like to bring the committee to order. This is our fifth day on the standing committee on finance and economic affairs' pre-budget deliberations. This morning we have the opportunity and the honour of being in the great city of Kenora. Beautiful weather this morning, nice and cool.
Our first presenter this morning is a representative from the Ontario Nurses' Association, Local 81. Please step forward and state your name for the record.
Ms Judy Carlson: I'm Judy Carlson.
The Chair: On behalf of the committee, welcome. You have 30 minutes. You may use the entire 30 minutes for your presentation. If not, whatever time is left after your presentation we'll use for questions, comments or statements.
Ms Carlson: I'd like to welcome you to northwestern Ontario. Actually, those of us from northwestern Ontario think this is a warm morning. It's too bad you have to spend it indoors, because it is beautiful out there.
My name is Judy Carlson. I am a resident of the new city of Kenora. I have lived and worked in Kenora for the past 30 years. I have raised both of my children here. At present I am a registered nurse and I work full-time in the emergency department at Lake of the Woods District Hospital here in Kenora. I am also the local coordinator for Local 81 of the Ontario Nurses' Association. The Ontario Nurses' Association is the union body for registered nurses in Ontario. Local 81 covers northwestern Ontario west of Thunder Bay.
I represent the staff registered nurses working in Atikokan General Hospital; La Verendrye general hospital in Fort Frances; Rainycrest district home for the aged in Fort Frances; Emo Health Centre; Rainy River Hospital; Northwestern Health Unit, which covers all of northwestern Ontario; the Kenora and Rainy River district community care access centre, which also covers all of northwestern Ontario; Lake of the Woods District Hospital here in Kenora; Pinecrest district home for the aged here in Kenora; Birchwood Terrace home for the aged in Kenora; Dryden District General Hospital; Sioux Lookout District Health Centre; and the Red Lake Margaret Cochenour Memorial Hospital in Red Lake. As you can see, this is representative of many areas of health care: acute care, long-term care, community care and home care. All provide an essential service to our communities.
I was born and raised in southern Ontario. My hometown is in Meaford, on the western shore of Georgian Bay, which is quite a rural area. I did my nurse's training in St Thomas, just south of London. I know this province well. I have travelled it extensively and I know people who live and work in most of the province. I am here to say that Ontario is a very diverse province. The various areas are very different. What might work in southern and metropolitan Ontario does not usually work in northern and rural Ontario.
I am sure you are all aware of a recent study that shows that people living north of Parry Sound are at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to longevity. Most, if not all, of the hospitals in northern Ontario have submitted deficit budgets. These hospitals are running as lean machines as it is now. There is no more fat to be cut without cutting what most would qualify as essential services. If that service is cut, there is no one to take it over. In the north we have traditionally worked as a community, through necessity, in co-operation. There is not the population base to have many places providing the same services. For example, if a hospital cuts outpatient physiotherapy service, which in many cases is an essential service, there is nowhere else to get that in the area.
Lake of the Woods District Hospital is running on a budget that has had a decrease in funding of $1 million over the past five years. Add on inflation and other increases, and this is really more like a $5-million revenue reduction.
If there is not access to these services, it makes it very difficult to attract health care providers: doctors, both family practitioners and specialists, nurses, physiotherapists, and other health care providers. Even new businesses are reluctant to move to a community that cannot provide a wide range of health care services.
Privatization does not work. It does not save dollars in any setting. For those needing the care, it creates great inequities. It makes a two-tier system. Those with money get; those without go without. And private, for-profit agencies are not attracted to this area because of the geographics and population base. There is no profit to be made providing health care in northwestern Ontario. In fact, I was talking to a friend in Winnipeg last night who works at a private, for-profit nursing home in Winnipeg, and conditions are pretty terrible.
Health care in northwestern Ontario is in crisis. Health care in all of Canada is in crisis, but northern and rural areas are critical. Because of cuts to health care systems over the past years, there is no health care system; it is sick care and there is no system. There are silos of funding. Hospitals, nursing homes, long-term care, community health, home care, diabetic education and many other areas all should be under one umbrella, all coordinated into a system that works to serve the people of this province.
Essentially, bureaucrats tend to pass the blame on to other departments or levels of government when there are problems. The people at that level need to know how the system works.
A Ministry of Health spokesperson was recently quoted in the Thunder Bay paper on January 18 as saying that he was not aware of any hospitals in the province where there was not always a doctor on-site. I hate to tell you that in most, if not all, small community hospitals there are many hours every day that, if there is not a critical situation going on, there are no doctors on-site. There needs to be an effective accountability framework in all levels: funding, service and delivery.
Some examples of how the fractured system we now have is failing us:
Between Christmas and New Year's there was a patient in a small hospital in northwestern Ontario who needed more advanced care than could be provided there. At no hospital in Ontario, not in Thunder Bay, Sudbury, Ottawa, Kingston nor Toronto, was there a bed to be had. The patient was transferred to Duluth, Minnesota, USA, for two days, flown there and back. This is not the only patient from northwestern Ontario who has had to have treatment in Duluth because the treatment was not available in Ontario. Actually, the treatment was available but due to a lack of beds, staff or funding, they could not get it in a timely manner. In southern Ontario, patients are being sent to American facilities for their cancer care because there are not adequate resources in Ontario. Does this make economic sense, to pay our tax dollars to another country to provide a service that could be provided more economically at home if there was a system that worked? Imagine the unnecessary stress on these patients and their families.
There is a critical shortage of nurses in northwestern Ontario. This past summer, the hospitals in Dryden, Fort Frances and Kenora each spent at least $50,000 over a four-month period just in overtime. That means nurses were working more than full-time hours and/or beyond their regular shifts.
In Rainy River hospital no one got holidays, because there was no one to replace them.
Last fall the Lake of the Woods District Hospital closed 10 beds and cancelled all elective surgery for several weeks due to the nursing shortage. They created 10 new full-time positions. Some of these positions were not really full-time; they were made by combining part-time positions that were not filled. The 10 new positions are filled and we are still working overtime. I could have worked two shifts this past weekend, and I am as a last resort.
Now we have very few part-time and virtually no casual nurses to fill in for sick time, vacation etc, but no one will come here for anything but full-time work. Can you blame them? If nurses are forced into part-time jobs but require full-time to pay the bills, they work more than one job and are still not available for call-in. This is a scenario that is common in every town across the north and in many of the areas in the south as well.
There needs to be funding made available for health care facilities to create local incentives to attract nurses to the communities. The universities must be encouraged to make northern and rural experiences available to their nursing students, much like what is done for the doctors.
It has become abundantly clear to the Joint Provincial Nursing Council subgroup, the nursing task force, that it is impossible to track the dollars and where they go and how they get to front-line nursing in their nursing care plans, or even if they make it there. The government has made repeated announcements of dollars flowing to health care. We know the same dollars were announced on several different occasions in different formats, and that makes many believe there is a lot of money coming back into health care when in fact the front lines see very few of those dollars. They are soaked up somewhere and they are never seen at the patient-care level.
A few years ago this government spent many thousands of our tax dollars looking at integrating health care systems. Communities put a lot of time and effort into bringing their data to that forum, but to date we have seen nothing.
Please take immediate action on the recent Health Services Restructuring Commission recommendations released in December 1999 regarding primary health care strategy. Having a comprehensive primary health strategy system will ensure better utilization of all parts of the system, and the real winners will be the public: the consumer, the taxpayer.
In the present non-system there is underfunding of the public health units, the one real area that concentrates on health. There must be provincial standards set up. With the downloading on to the municipalities, municipalities may choose not to fund the health units, and those very important public health services will not be provided.
Home care and long-term care have had their funding cut. If public health units were adequately funded to carry out all their mandates fully, if home care was funded as an essential service, which it is, and not privatized to the lowest bidder, which it is, and if there was an adequate number of long-term-care beds that were adequately funded, there would not be a backup of long-term-care patients in acute beds. Long-term-care patients could be cared for by adequately educated caregivers and would not require acute-care beds as frequently as in the present situation. As you can see, it's all related, not separate.
Continuing education is an essential for health care providers. It is mandated by the Regulated Health Professions Act that health care professionals must have a continuous education plan. Education in this area is very difficult to access. It's expensive to travel out for education and it's expensive to bring people in to educate. University tuition has skyrocketed out of the reach of most people. Education is definitely another field that this government is in the process of desecrating-but that would take another day-but it does need careful consideration and needs to be made more accessible to all.
Locally, there is a registered practical nursing program that is to be discontinued, a program that is desperately needed with the nursing shortage. As well, there is a proposal to have a registered nurses' program here at Lake of the Woods District Hospital, a program that would help relieve the nursing shortage, at least locally and in this area of the world. We ask for your support.
In the business plan for 1999-2000 of the Ministry of Health and Long-term Care there were to be five areas of focus:
Hiring more nurses: 10,000 is the number that I recall. Recently the number 4,300 has been a guesstimate; again, no way of tracking, but still a long way from 10,000, and unless there are a lot of positive changes in the system, it will be very difficult to reach that 10,000.
Decreased waiting lists: Until there is sufficient funding returned to the system, this will not happen. Waiting for medical and surgical interventions, especially of a critical nature-for example, CT scans and diagnostics-is very stressful for people. Imagine waiting two, three, four, maybe even more than five weeks to see if you have a cancerous growth, all the time wondering, "Is it growing while I wait?" And afterwards, "If I had gotten treatment sooner, would I have a better prognosis?"
Relieving pressure on the emergency rooms: Unless the whole system is considered, this is not going to change. Of interest to you perhaps, there is no redirect in northwestern Ontario. From Kenora, the next emergency department is 130 km to the east, in Dryden, or 200 km west, in Winnipeg.
Expanding home care: a necessity with the downsizing of hospitals and the rush to get patients out sooner. But that means there must be sufficient funding; public funding, that is. This will also help meet the previous three areas.
Expanding long-term care: Again, a necessity, but again it requires adequate funding. There was a proposed 20,000 new beds in the province. So far we have not seen any locally. There is some shifting from community to community, but there do not seem to any more beds. There must be strict standards of care, high standards that are mandated and monitored.
A few years back, there was a reduction of funding hours required for each resident in long-term care; this at a time when residents are requiring more and more care. People are not in these facilities unless they need more care than can be provided at home. There are changes to the Long-term Care Act being tabled this spring. I would ask that there be full consultation with the public, with adequate time for all to respond. You can tell that even these five focuses are all related, all one system.
In closing, I encourage you to look seriously at the five principles of the Canada Health Act when you are making recommendations on the health care budget: public administration, comprehensiveness, universality, portability and accessibility. It is imperative that if the single-tier health care system that we as Canadians are so proud of is going to survive, adequate funding, at a pre1993 level, must flow and must flow quickly to a publicly funded, comprehensive health care system that will provide universal, portable, accessible health care to the residents of Ontario.
The Chair: Thank you very much on behalf of the committee. We have approximately four minutes per caucus. I'll continue on the same rotation that we left off on Friday afternoon, and I'll start with the government side.
Mr Ted Arnott (Waterloo-Wellington): Thank you, Ms Carlson, for your presentation.
I think I can probably speak for all members of this committee. We are all very happy to be visiting Kenora today to hear the views of the people of this community on issues of concern. You started off with probably the number one concern across the province of Ontario, still the health care system, and you outlined some very good advice, I think, that we have to consider.
You said the budget for the local hospital in Kenora is about $1 million less than it was five years ago. Have there been reinvestments taking place? I don't have the figures in front of me, but there have been a number of announcements in the last year or so which provide reinvestments for most of the hospitals. Is that included in that figure that you've given us?
Ms Carlson: Yes. Sometimes what happens when it filters down to the smaller hospitals is that it doesn't make enough-the nursing money that came in wasn't enough to even create a new full-time position to attract new nurses to the area.
Mr Arnott: It was always the expectation and hope of the government that reduced funding to hospitals wouldn't mean less patient services, that hopefully there would be improved patient services by directing resources towards patient care as opposed to unnecessary administration.
Ms Carlson: From the staff perspective, I think we are about as lean as we can get in management. Even if you could say you were going to get rid of one management position, that wouldn't give us enough to improve where we need to improve. I think it has been shown in a few other places where they have cut management to the bone that then there is no leadership. You have to have leadership in the area. If there is no leadership, then things don't happen as they should.
Mr Arnott: You mentioned the tendency of levels of government to point the finger at other levels. At the risk of sounding like I am doing that, I point out the fact that the federal government has reduced transfers to the provinces, as you know, by about $6.2 billion, although there was a partial reinstatement of about $2 billion in the previous budget. Last week in Quebec City, the pitch of all provincial governments of all political stripes, not just our provincial government, was that in its upcoming budget the federal government needs to restore that funding fully so that we can ensure that our health care needs are being better met across the whole country. I assume you would support the call of the premiers in that respect.
Ms Carlson: Yes, we do support that. If you are looking at the whole picture of northwestern Ontario, to our north, which all the provincial hospitals in the south serve, we have our aboriginal communities, which are federally health care funded. There doesn't seem to be any coordination between the provincial and the federal, and it all runs together here. Sioux Lookout is a big area, and is probably one of the very few small communities in this province that has two hospitals. They have the provincial hospital and the federal Sioux Lookout zone hospital, which over the past couple of years has had what I would call catastrophic consequences with the universities from the south pulling out their medical support.
That has made a really big impact on our provincial hospitals. Not having health care services in those remote communities really makes a big impact. People who are transferred out of there and into provincial hospitals are usually very ill when they get transferred, because they aren't receiving the care they used to get when doctors went in there, and their chronic conditions were looked after. Without that, it's not happening and so they are critically ill by the time they are transferred out.
Mr Monte Kwinter (York Centre): Ms Carlson, is the ONA agreement that was ratified last weekend going to help in any way to attract new nurses to the profession, or is it just going to possibly keep there longer the nurses who are already there?
Ms Carlson: I hope it will attract new nurses. There were some good gains at the start level, to make it more attractive to people coming into nursing, so we're hoping that will happen. It's hard to project. Working conditions are a big part. If you are working short-staffed all the time, it doesn't matter how much you make. It doesn't make work a place you want to go to. If we can attract enough nurses that they are not working short-staffed all the time, it makes it a much more lucrative profession.
Mr Kwinter: You are an emergency room nurse.
Ms Carlson: I am.
Mr Kwinter: I sit on the board of Branson hospital. One of our critical areas is getting emergency room nurses, and this is in Toronto. We just can't seem to get them, and it has created a problem, so much so that with that and with getting emergency room doctors, the emergency department is closed from 10 o'clock at night until 8 o'clock in the morning. Do you have the same kinds of problems up here?
Ms Carlson: Maybe on a smaller-well, I don't know if you'd call it a smaller scale. We are a community hospital. There isn't always a doctor available, so you have to have experienced nurses working in the emergency department, especially on the night shift. You're the only one there lots of times, so you have to be comfortable in your skills. You never know what's coming through that door, and it doesn't always come in by ambulance so that you're prewarned to have extra people there.
Doctors are going to become an issue here. The doctors don't like being on call as often as they have to. It really decreases their quality of outside life when they have to do call. They are up at all hours and expected to run an office as well, because we don't have enough family physicians. I'm not sure how many thousands of people in Kenora do not have family physicians. All of our physicians are over-taxed now and cannot possibly take on more, so that emergency physician role is becoming unattractive.
Mr Kwinter: I assume the fact that there's a cap on their billings also impacts on that, because if they are going to have to stop or have no incentive, the first things they want to get rid of are the night shift and the emergency.
Ms Carlson: That's right, because if you are up all night, you can't practise in the morning and you can't do other things that you might like to do socially during the next day. And you can never tell. You might get a night's sleep and you might not; you don't know that.
Mr Kwinter: Tell me how you handle the fact that there's no redirect. What do you do?
Ms Carlson: You just have to take them. It's not uncommon to have every stretcher in our department full and three and four stretchers in the hallway, which actually doesn't quite meet fire regulations, but you do what you have to do and yell for more hands. They're not always available. We haven't had any major crisis, but even with opening the 10 beds we're still keeping people in emergency overnight, and sometimes two and three nights, on a stretcher. We do not have an observation unit, so if you're sick and in the emergency, it doesn't mean you're not going to have people coming and going in the room all night, because you're having people in and out for other things.
Mr Howard Hampton (Kenora-Rainy River): I was amazed; I think you managed to mention just about every community in northwestern Ontario in your description of the problem.
I want to ask you four specific questions. You mentioned that the registered practical nurse program, the training program here at Lake of the Woods District Hospital, is going to end at the very time when there is a critical nursing shortage. Could you tell me why that's happening?
Ms Carlson: I'm not sure why. A number of years ago it was to be in Kenora one year and in Fort Frances one year. As it has turned out, it's been in Kenora every year. But there just isn't the funding. The colleges aren't running the program.
I think there are some changes in nursing education. There's been a push to do away with what used to be the registered nursing assistant, now RPN. They are upgrading their skills. It used to be you had your diploma RN, your RPN, and the nursing aide. What I see in the future is that it will be your baccalaureate-trained nurses, the RPN will be upgraded to RN, and then your health care aide.
I might add that people working in the kitchen and housekeeping one day are not adequately trained to look after patients the next day. This is what's happening in our long-term-care facilities. Working in emergency, the people who are coming in from our long-term-care facilities-there just aren't enough hands. You can tell that they are not getting the level of care they did five years ago, and it's really sad. It's a combination of having untrained people and not enough people to look after these people. Most of these are heavy-care patients. Most of the people in our long-term-care facilities are almost total care, and for whatever reason there just isn't the money there to provide adequate funding for the staffing levels.
Mr Hampton: And the funding to continue the RPN program?
Ms Carlson: The college isn't going to continue it.
Mr Hampton: You mentioned in your comments that part-time nursing doesn't work here. Yet what we're seeing across Ontario is a move toward trying to utilize nurses more on a part-time basis, and less full-time nursing. Why do you say part-time nursing or contract nursing or temporary, on-call nursing doesn't work here?
Ms Carlson: Well, you have to pay bills, and when you're working part-time or casual, there's no guarantee of the number of hours that you're going to work. If you need full-time work, you're going to go someplace you can get full-time work or you're going to pick up two part-time jobs, three part-time jobs. If you're working three part-time jobs, some people are almost double-shifting to make sure they're getting their number of shifts in. You've got a two-week pay period; you have to pay the bills. So you work like crazy the first week, until you have yourself exhausted, to make sure you're getting-we're over 50% part-time. You don't see half-time architects or engineers. There isn't a part-time-it's the nature of the beast, but there has to be some guarantee of the number of hours that people can work. If the spouse comes into the community and has a full-time job, you don't need full-time. But to attract new people into the community, they aren't going to come for part-time work.
Mr Hampton: Is that the experience, that when you try to recruit nurses from, say, Winnipeg or elsewhere in Ontario, they're looking for full-time work, not part-time work?
Ms Carlson: Yes. "If you can guarantee me full-time hours, I'll be there in two weeks. If you can't guarantee me full-time-a full-time job, not just full-time hours-I'm not coming."
Mr Hampton: You mentioned primary health care reform. I wonder if you can elaborate on what you believe needs to happen in terms of primary health care reform.
Ms Carlson: I think there has to be one health care budget. Locally here, we fought for years-there was a silo for diabetic education and a silo for hospital. We came very close on several occasions to losing our diabetic education program. The number of people with diabetes in this community is astounding. There was nobody else to pick up that service, and when you made the call-we don't have access to those. It's all one. It's the same in long-term care. If you have a retirement community, you might need more long-term-care services in that community than in a young and growing community, which probably needs more acute care kinds of things. It all needs to be under one. The hospital and the long-term care and home care all need to be one, and that community needs to lay out where it's needed most in that community, and not have one ministry against another ministry. That just doesn't make sense. It takes so long that it's not effective.
The Chair: With that, Mr Hampton, your time has expired. On behalf of the committee, thank you very much for your presentation this morning.
KENORA AND DISTRICT CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
The Chair: Our next group is the Kenora and District Chamber of Commerce. Good morning. On behalf of the committee, welcome. Could you please state your name for the record.
Ms Debbie Schatkowsky: Mr Chairperson, committee members, ladies and gentlemen, my name is Debbie Schatkowsky, the just newly elected president of the Kenora and District Chamber of Commerce. With me this morning are two fine gentlemen: Mr Blair Hutchings, a chamber director and also president of NOACC, the Northwestern Ontario Associated Chambers of Commerce; and Mr Pat Brett, the past president of our local chamber. Both gentlemen are here this morning to help me answer any questions you may have after this presentation.
First of all, welcome to the city of Kenora. As you may know, on January 1, 2000, we became the newest city in Canada. For future reference, you could refer to us as the largest city between Thunder Bay, Ontario, and Winnipeg, Manitoba.
Being situated in northwestern Ontario certainly allows for unique situations and concerns. Northern areas are not often given a chance to voice their concerns, and I would like to thank you for giving the Kenora and District Chamber of Commerce an opportunity to represent over 200 businesses and provide input to the financial decision-making of our province.
I'm sure you didn't drive to Kenora this morning, so I thought I'd give you a really quick geography lesson, and I assure you that you will then know what I meant when I said we have unique problems and challenges different from other areas of Ontario.
Kenora is geographically situated only 215 kilometres or, in other words, a two-hour drive, from the US border at Fort Frances to the south of us. To the west we are only 55 kilometres from the Manitoba border and subsequently it is only a two-hour drive to the major city of Winnipeg. To our north lie many remote communities and, to the east of us, some 1,855 kilometres or a 24-hour drive away, is Toronto. It is believed that all of southern Ontario could fit between Thunder Bay and Kenora.
As you can see, our problems arise mainly because of location, location, location. That alone affects the following seven concerns we bring to your attention. Please note that the order in which I present these issues does not reflect the most important to the least important, but, rather, keep in mind that all these issues are of equal importance to us.
The first concern we have affects every member of our community and seems to worsen by the day. Our local health care system and hospital are at a crisis situation now and cannot take any more cuts. There are over 1,000 people in Kenora without a family doctor and the numbers are growing. Over the last two years we have lost four general practitioners. Funding must be restored for relief doctors. Our local doctors need a break or a holiday.
It's a fact that in 1993 we received $600,000 more from the Ministry of Health than we currently receive today. Kenora's health care system is not being treated fairly, and we are expected to do more with less. In 1993, 90% of the costs of our health care system were paid by the Ministry of Health. Today, 84% is covered by the ministry. That 6% decrease represents millions of dollars in actual cash cuts. When you factor in normal wage increases and inflationary issues, the problem grows. There is simply no fat; there is no give in the system. It has been expressed to me recently by a local health care official that a simple flu bug drains our resources immensely.
Our hospital was recently awarded $230,000 dollars, a 0.5% increase from last year. The provincial average increase was over 2%. If Kenora had received 2%, all of the problems we now face would be gone. It must also be noted that the administration and support services costs of our hospital are among the lowest in Ontario. In fact, our administration costs are the lowest and support services costs are the third lowest, proof of the high efficiency of our system.
In closing remarks on this issue, I'd like to point out-and this is where our geography plays a part-that if our hospital is forced to cut services to save money and meet its budget, you must be reminded that our patients are close enough to Manitoba and Manitoba will take them. The Ontario government would then, in turn, be billed by the Manitoba government services. In the end, where are the savings?
The Kenora and District Chamber of Commerce requests the financial support of the provincial government with this next concern, the snowmobile permit issue in northwestern Ontario. In a letter from the Ontario Federation of Snowmobile Clubs, President Bert A. Grant, to Premier Mike Harris, dated September 21, 1999, Mr Grant pointed out that the OFSC has worked very hard since the introduction of the Ontario snowmobile trail funding initiative in 1995 to secure sustainable funding for the operation of the province's tourism-based snowmobile trail infrastructure.
It was the understanding of the OFSC that the provincial government was prepared to support the volunteers who operate the trails upon which the growing winter tourism industry is dependent. In order to sustain snowmobile tourism trails in northwestern Ontario, new operational funding must be forthcoming before the burden on our clubs and volunteers becomes unbearable.
The initial reasoning behind the government's involvement was to create opportunities for expansion of the tourism industry by allowing the industry to generate much-needed dollars in the wintertime. Successful marketing efforts of the provincial and federal governments have dramatically increased the traffic of nonresident snowmobilers on our trails. However, the increased usage of our trails has resulted in an increase in operational costs. As a responsible partner of the government of Ontario, the OFSC felt it had to take whatever immediate action it could to protect the tourism product both had invested in. Trail-use permits are currently the only source of operational funding for trails that the OFSC has.
As Mr Brett, our past president of the Kenora and District Chamber of Commerce, alluded to in his letter to Mr Joe Spina, MPP, the proposed full-season permit fees of $300 to non-resident snowmobilers and $150 to full-season Ontario residents for the year 2000-01 are not the answer. These outrageous fees will only drive away visiting snowmobilers to other destinations that are not gouging them for permit fees.
These recent price increases have already had a negative effect on winter tourism in our area. It's important to remember that because our base population in the north is limited, the sale of trail permits to residents is insufficient for continued development and maintenance of the trail system. The dollars generated through non-resident trail permits are critical.
Mr Brett went on to point out that the revenue generated by riders to hotels, restaurants etc greatly affects the viability of many operations. In areas with a larger resident rider base, this may not be the case. It's essential that we encourage visitors to come to our area to experience some of the finest snowmobiling available in North America.
The Kenora and District Chamber of Commerce feels that it would be in the best interests of Ontario to play a greater role in expanding this relatively new and vibrant industry it helped to develop.
A suggestion we would like to make to the Ontario finance committee is that perhaps Ontario should be charging a snowmobile registration fee, using 90% of those monies to fund the volunteer groups for the trail maintenance and development. That would leave 10% to allow for government administration costs. Perhaps this would then allow out-of-province stickers to be offered at reasonable rates to encourage tourists, not deter them. I must note that an Ontario snowmobiler travelling across into Manitoba is only charged a $50 trail permit fee.
Another very important issue we would like to bring to your attention is gasoline prices. As you may or may not know, Kenora has the second-highest gas prices in Canada. We are situated on the Trans-Canada Highway, allowing easy access by fuel haulers, yet 18 kilometres west of us, in Clearwater Bay, and 60 kilometres to the east, in Vermilion Bay, the prices are lower.
The Kenora and District Chamber of Commerce is very concerned for the local retailers. They are the visible, front-line people who are seen every day when we gas up our vehicles, and with the constant rise in gas prices it is very easy for consumers to direct their anger at those retailers.
The Kenora and District Chamber of Commerce has been a participant in the fair gas price committee formed here last spring. In fact, our office was used as a clearing house and communication centre for letters and comments from the public. The mandate of the chamber is to look out for the interests of businesses in Kenora and surrounding communities, and it is clear to see that the price that northwest Ontario, particularly Kenora-area people, is paying for gasoline is a travesty and grossly unfair to all.
We felt it was extremely important that we collect and analyze the information available as to why this is happening to us. The chamber of commerce had requested information from the gas retailers in our area with respect to gasoline costs at the pump. Further to receiving it, we have investigated the information to ensure its accuracy. I must add that we feel the approximate 10% margin for retailers is not at all out of line, as the normal practice in retail is to try to have a 30% margin to cover the costs of operation, like overhead, utilities and salaries.
The following is an average breakdown of the cost of a litre of gasoline sold in Kenora today-that's regular gasoline. The provincial fuel tax is 14.7 cents a litre, federal excise tax is 10 cents a litre, the GST is 4.5 cents, making the total taxes 29.2 cents per litre. The cost of the fuel from the oil company is 38.4 cents, freight from Winnipeg is one cent a litre and the dealer's gross profit is 5.3 cents, leaving us the current Kenora pump price of 73.9 cents for a litre of regular gasoline.
The current provincial fuel tax of 14.7 cents a litre applies equally across the province. This money is spent on building and maintaining provincial roads and highways. And we do credit the government for the recent increase in spending towards northwest Ontario highways and roads-but don't stop there. The roads are our lifeblood.
We realize that much more of the money raised through the total government taxes collected, 29.2 cents, are spent on highways in southern and eastern Ontario-paying for the big toll highways and the 401. In fact, the government has recognized that less money is spent on highways in northwestern Ontario by reducing the cost of a vehicle licence here; a vehicle licence costs less here than in southern or eastern Ontario.
By doing that, the government has set a precedent. The same should apply to the provincial fuel tax-less money is spent on highways in northwestern Ontario, therefore the provincial fuel tax should be lower here than in eastern and southern Ontario.
We ask for your help to investigate why prices in northwestern Ontario are so high and encourage you to work with the federal government. Force them to the table with the oil companies. Surely there must be some room for the oil companies to move on their prices. It is simply unbelievable that it is cheaper to deliver gas to Clearwater Bay, Vermilion Bay or Dryden than to Kenora. All we want is a fair deal at the gas pumps, and the current situation is simply unacceptable.
Another issue recently brought to our attention is the Ontario government's position on economic development programs, especially in northern Ontario. Cuts to this kind of funding have the same impact on our economy as the high permit fees for non-residents have on tourism in our area.
The uniqueness of northern communities must be recognized, and special consideration given to our areas. It is very difficult to attract and keep good, qualified people in our economic development offices. Without these human resources and subsequent marketing money to promote our area, progress in economic development ceases.
It is apparent by the support from the federal and municipal governments that qualified personnel and the funds they require to provide economic development programs for our area are of great importance to ensuring our continued growth and prosperity. Should we not expect the same support from our provincial government?
In 1999 the Kenora and District Chamber of Commerce was once again asked by the Northern Ontario Associated Chambers of Commerce to submit resolutions for provincial and/or federal government action. Five resolutions were submitted by our chamber and endorsed by NOACC. The Northern Ontario Associated Chambers of Commerce represent 16 chambers, consisting of 2,000 businesses from the Manitoba border to Marathon.
The following three resolutions pertain directly to the Ontario Ministry of Finance. The first one reads:
"In the provincial sales tax `business' classification system, the `logging' and `farming' industries are exempt from paying the PST in regard to the purchase and repair of equipment and materials used to complete their job. The PST classification system does not take into account those companies in the reforestation industry who also prepare land and plant trees on that land, which is similar work to that done within the farming and logging industries. The only work the reforestation companies do not do is the harvesting of materials.
"Reforestation companies, which as their business conduct forestry/farming type work, cannot compete fairly with those companies who are classified under the PST system as being within the `logging' or `farming' categories. The main issue is in the land scarification (site preparation) which uses the same equipment as that which is used for daily logging activities. Those companies whose main industry is logging quite often do site preparation with the same equipment. This makes competition unfair because these companies, classified as `logging' have a PST exemption on all equipment, repairs to their equipment and materials necessary to complete the operations."
"That the government of Ontario, in particular the Ministry of Finance, examine the PST exemption classification with a view to the equalization of PST exemptions. This will allow for more equal and fair competition in the workplace."
Next we have:
"Smaller municipalities in Ontario have a very difficult time financing tourism promotions due to budgetary constraints. Often there is little or no moneys left in municipal core budgets to finance tourism promotion in those communities in which tourism revenue is a critical component of their economies.
"Current legislation prohibits the imposition of an `accommodation or bed tax' for accommodation facilities within municipal jurisdiction. Such tax, if able to be implemented with monies generated dedicated to tourism promotion, would greatly improve the ability of small municipalities to promote themselves, resulting in increased tourism revenues to support local economies."
Again we ask:
"That the government of Ontario, in particular the ministries of municipal affairs and finance, amend legislation which would allow municipal governments to implement an `accommodation or bed tax' and that the monies generated from such a tax must be specifically dedicated to tourism promotion marketing campaigns. Increased market presence will result in increased tourism-related expenditures in Ontario."
"Northwestern Ontario clothing retailers are in competition with Manitoba retailers for the consumer dollar. Currently, Manitoba laws permit the deletion of provincial retail sales tax on clothing if the customer is 14 years of age or younger. The resultant savings to the consumer have driven Ontario-based consumers to shop in Manitoba and reduced potential retail clothing sales to Manitobans and others travelling in Ontario who are expecting not to pay PST on such purchases.
"Northwestern Ontario clothing retailers are at a competitive disadvantage because of the current set-up of the Ontario provincial retail sales tax with respect to clothing sales to children. This results in loss of sales and potential sales for retail clothing merchants in Ontario."
"That the government of Ontario, in particular the Ministry of Finance, amend the Retail Sales Tax Act to allow Ontario retailers to delete the provincial sales tax on clothing for purchasers who are 14 years of age or younger."
In closing, once again I would like to thank you for allowing the Kenora and District Chamber of Commerce the time to express our concerns to the Ontario government's Ministry of Finance.
The Chair: Thank you very much for your presentation. We have approximately three minutes per caucus.
Mr Kwinter: Debbie, I just wanted to correct a particular statement that you have in there, just to let you know so that if you're making representations to the government you'll understand. You imply that the sales tax on fuel is being used to improve roads and build roads and that it's not coming up north. You should know that that doesn't happen. The fuel tax is not a dedicated tax that goes to building roads; it goes to the consolidated revenue fund. That's a great bone of contention with the Canadian Automobile Association and the Ontario Road Builders' Association, because initially that was what it was intended to do. But it's been years and years, decades, where that hasn't happened. The money comes into the consolidated revenue fund and is used for general government expenditures. There's no relation whatsoever of the amount of tax on fuel and the amount of money that's put into roads. You should know that, and rather than suggest that this is the case in your representations to the government, you should make that point to them, because there are others trying to do exactly the same thing.
I'd also like to comment on the snowmobile incident, which I have to admit I wasn't aware of; it's not a huge issue in Toronto. How did that work? You're saying it costs $50 for an Ontarian to go into Manitoba? I assume then that it's probably free for Manitobans or maybe just a nominal fee, or is it all the same?
Mr Blair Hutchings: Last year, the Sunset Trail Riders association, which is our local club, had reciprocity with Manitoba. They could ride for free if they had their trail permit and we could ride for free on their trails. That was just a one-year trial. That ended this year. So for a Manitoban to ride on our trails is a full permit price of $150 a year per sled.
Mr Pat Brett: That reciprocity agreement was agreed to by OFSC on a one-year trial period, but it was also ceased by OFSC this year, although representatives of the northwestern Ontario clubs-in particular the Kenora-Dryden area-went back to them and said: "This worked. We generated some new traffic in here." But their mandate being across Ontario, period, again they simply wouldn't hear of it, and the same with the permit fees. I guess the suggestion we're making is that sometimes the one-size-fits-all is making it very difficult in this particular area. We don't have the resident population to sustain the industry, so non-resident and visitor population is very critical to the economy in terms of winter tourism because that's what the whole initiative was sold under.
Mr Hampton: I want to focus just for a minute on the snowmobiling so that people get the full picture. As I understand it, there are about 700 to 1,000 people who live around Winnipeg, but the snowmobile trails in Manitoba, after awhile, get rather boring because it's all bald prairie?
Mr Brett: That's correct.
Mr Hampton: There are literally hundreds of thousands of snowmobilers in North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota, but they also get bored of the bald prairie, so they like to come somewhere where the snowmobiling has some interesting landscape and some interesting communities, communities like Kenora, Dryden, Ear Falls?
Mr Brett: And quality trails, Howie.
Mr Hampton: And quality trails, which we all partnered together to build. Is it fair to say that snowmobiling has the potential to become a very important winter economic activity?
Mr Brett: Absolutely, in an area that really had very little. It could be the premier winter activity and create jobs and create economy.
Mr Hampton: So we are talking about an important recreational activity, but more than that we're talking about an incredibly important economic development opportunity?
Mr Brett: That's correct.
Mr Hampton: What you're asking is for the government to recognize this and make a small contribution?
Mr Brett: It wouldn't take a lot to sustain the industry, but clearly it's not working the way it is, and I believe that the government could take a role and should take a role in sustaining this important economic development initiative.
Mr Hampton: Is it fair to say that the government in Manitoba has recently decided they're going to concentrate on snowmobiling as an economic development opportunity?
Mr Brett: We understand that as indeed correct.
Mr Hampton: So this becomes a competitive situation as well?
Mr Brett: Absolutely.
Mr Hampton: Could I ask just a few questions about gas prices? It is unfortunate that the government's gas price task force, which is made up exclusively of government members, wouldn't come to this community, nor would they go to Red Lake, Sioux Lookout, Pickle Lake, Ignace or any of the communities that experience very high gas prices. I just want to elaborate on a couple of things in your brief. Kenora has a population in the area of about 17,000?
Mr Brett: Correct.
Mr Hampton: Clearwater Bay, which is about 20 kilometres to the west, has a population, I understand, of about 500-about that, more or less-and Vermilion Bay, 60 kilometres to the east, has a population of about 1,500?
Mr Brett: Probably even less.
Mr Hampton: The gas all comes from Winnipeg?
Mr Brett: It goes right through.
Mr Hampton: The cheapest place to transport gas, one would think, would be right here to Kenora?
Mr Brett: You would think so.
Mr Hampton: So distance doesn't explain the fact that your prices are more expensive than Clearwater Bay and more expensive than Vermilion Bay?
Mr Brett: In many cases in fact it's the same truck.
Mr Hampton: Exactly the same truck that drops the gas. So in a nutshell, can I say that people in Kenora are infuriated about gas prices because any argument that's trotted out to justify them doesn't add up?
Mr Brett: Absolutely. It doesn't make any sense.
Ms Schatkowsky: It doesn't make any sense at all.
Mr Hampton: Then transportation doesn't explain it. There's no difference in the tax level between here and Vermilion Bay or here in Clearwater Bay? This is the largest market; you'd assume that you could actually get cheaper prices here.
Mr Hutchings: I sit on the gas committee and I just got a fax on Friday from the Competition Bureau. They were here last year doing a study and they found no evidence of any kind of price fixing. In their words, "It is because it is." Now, we don't know why it is.
Mr Hampton: Maybe the government members could advocate within their own caucus and have the government's gas price review committee come to Kenora, and maybe go to another community like Sioux Lookout, because we're very close to the refinery here-Winnipeg is only two hours away-yet there is no explanation for the differing prices that are being charged in this community and in four or five other communities.
Mr Brett: That's correct.
The Chair: Thank you very much, Mr Hampton. I know why it is we have to go there, because we've got to keep on time. So I'll go to the government side.
Mr Doug Galt (Northumberland): It's great to be in Kenora. It was just beautiful looking out the hotel window this morning across the lake with the hard water.
I'm curious. My children are older, and I don't have any grandchildren yet, but just help me out a little bit. You're talking about 14-and-under in Manitoba, and I understood children's clothing was not taxed in Ontario. Is there an age line or does it have to do with a size?
Mr Brett: I can't speak to that issue specifically, because that came forward, but I can get back to you on that.
Mr Galt: Well, I can find that out, but I'm just more curious, being here. But you're telling me there is a differential anyway?
Mr Brett: I would say there is a differential on it.
Mr Galt: Just a quick comment in connection with your one recommendation as it relates to loggers versus those planting trees: What you're suggesting is an environmentally friendly activity, and I'm certainly empathetic to that concern and a push in that direction. I think that's just an excellent one that I was unaware of before. But congratulations on bringing an environmentally friendly one like that forward.
Certainly, when it comes to gas prices, there's no question we'll be taking it back and commenting to the task force.
You know, I travelled through here extensively in the summer of 1970, and it was hard to understand then the gas prices. So in 30 years I don't know that there's anything really new in the confusion of gas pricing, and it's sort of moving up in parallel. As I understand, your figures on the tax of gasoline are accurate. The only thing that moves up as the price of gas gets more expensive is the GST; the rest of them stay fixed on a per-litre basis.
Certainly gas pricing is very frustrating in southern Ontario, talking with truckers recently, particularly in diesel fuel. But it isn't just in Ontario; it's also in the US, up as high as, they were telling me, US$1.99 per American gallon, which puts that very much in line with the price of diesel fuel here in Ontario. Don't get me wrong; I'm not trying to defend the petroleum companies, far be it from that. But it would appear that out of the Middle East there is a crisis going on.
As we talk about highways, one of the things to help balance this just a little bit is that in the south, such as in my riding in Northumberland, all of the provincial highways have been turned over to the local municipalities, except for the 401-it's the only one that runs through my riding that is supported by the province-whereas a lot of your main roads still are supported by the province in northern Ontario. So I do have some empathy. Hopefully our task force can come up with something that's helpful, but there are a lot of people pretty frustrated. The people in Kenora, I can assure you, are not the only ones really frustrated over the price of gasoline.
The Chair: With that, Mr Galt, I must bring your comments to an end because we've run out of time. On behalf of the committee, thank you very much for your presentation this morning. It was very informative.
MAYOR'S COMMUNITY COMMITTEE ON HOMELESSNESS
The Chair: The next presenter this morning is a committee on homelessness, the city of Kenora. Could the representative come forward, please, and state your name for the record.
Ms Sue Swaigen: Sue Swaigen.
The Chair: On behalf of the committee, welcome.
Ms Swaigen: Thank you. I'm speaking this morning on behalf of the mayor's community committee on homelessness. We're here today to ask you to listen very carefully to a pressing economic and social need of our city and the surrounding communities.
Kenora is a brand new city, and we have inherited all the forces which give rise to homelessness everywhere. Affordable housing stocks are drying up. Private-sector developers have not moved in to fill the gap. Affordable housing provided through the non-profit housing sector has undergone budget reductions continually over the past number of years. Changes to the Landlord and Tenant Act give landlords more discretionary power to determine who they will consider and who they will turn down, leading, we believe, to human rights violations. Vacancy rates have markedly declined over the past years. Psychiatric patients are expected to be cared for in the community. Social assistance rates and restrictions in eligibility to get both welfare and EI have meant that many formerly stable and working-class, working-poor families fall through these traditional safety nets into the street. Responsibility for affordable housing has devolved to the municipalities. Mental health reform means that the kinds and quality of care that were previously there are no longer there, and the response to homelessness has become crisis intervention and emergency services, jails and hospitals.
It's important to know that Kenora, a young city, just over a month old, is affected by all these factors; we're not unique in that regard. But we are unique in another regard, that in addition to all of the at-risk groups that are impacted by those factors-which are the addicted and mentally ill, the working poor and welfare families, abused women and children, disabled elderly and youth-we also have a very large, damaged and marginalized street population. This fact oftentimes and unfortunately is the first thing that comes to mind when people think of Kenora. We had a bit of flurry in the press around the election time. This issue is a sore point and continues to be a sore point with people in our area.
The provincial task force on homelessness was here in April 1998, and the chairperson, Mr Jack Carroll, reported to the press: "Kenora was certainly different than most small towns we visited. You have a particular issue with homeless people that is typical of a centre much larger and certainly not like a similarly small-sized town in southern Ontario. It's a complex issue for the community to deal with, and surrounding First Nations have to co-operate if it's to be remedied." He added, "I think Kenora's solution will be designed in Kenora's best interests, and the province has to support the community."
The chairperson also suggested that the final report may have to have a special section reserved for the unique problems in Kenora. "I don't know that there will not have to be another chapter that has to be written for Kenora. I sense that your problem is different. I leave here with no more sense of what the answer is than when I came here."
Kenora is positioned as an economic, cultural, social and political centre, surrounded by 10 First Nations communities. When the traditional cultures eventually collapsed, under much ongoing strain in the last half century, Kenora became the receptacle for many First Nations persons who fell through the cracks when their communities began the long and arduous effort to restructure. Kenora remains a destination for many persons who have "lost their connection to family, work, education, community and their personal support system." This is the definition of homelessness used by the provincial task force on homelessness.
I'll just stop there and make a point. It's important to understand that the definition of homelessness is not "not having a home." The definition of homelessness is "lost connection to family, work, education, community and their personal support system."
Kenora has been overwhelmed, frozen in ambivalence and indecision about how to address this community problem for some time. For political, historical and complex reasons, we have been unable to reach a community consensus. Our group, the mayor's community committee on homelessness, from the time it was struck in 1997, has had a long and troubled history, through a period of frustration and eventual dormancy, to now renewed resolve to doggedly study, understand, come together and act to fulfill our mission statement, which is: "To provide shelter for those in need of emergency accommodation in the Kenora area."
Our problems are not going to go away by themselves. The Kenora Police Service recently reported in the local press, "A 30% increase in arrests of drunks projected-hostel called for by police chief and advisers."
We are a little city with big-city problems. We are a new city without big-city experience. We are a vigorous, responsible and generous city with hopes of creating a community free from the divisions that give rise to poverty, crime and despair. Mr Carroll, reflecting on his visit here, observed:
"This is the first community we've been to where the police have been involved in the discussion. Everywhere else they say it doesn't affect them, so I think we have a different problem here. Mental diseases seem to be less of an issue but substance abuse and more First Nations people are involved and that's apparent when you speak to police in this area."
Our local detoxification centre, of which I am the supervisor, sees admissions steadily increasing with, sadly, many new and younger faces showing up at the door.
The Honourable Claudette Bradshaw, Minister of Labour, who is responsible for the homeless, visited our community in July and heard from various interest groups in the community, including our committee. The text of our community committee submission to her is attached. We asked that the unique needs of this far-flung northern constituency-extreme climate, long distances between communities and our disproportionate share of social problems-be taken into account when allocating federal money. We felt that Ms Bradshaw heard us.
Our committee envisions first and foremost a shelter for Kenora's homeless. This will be the first step towards the kind of compassionate intervention envisioned by Ms Bradshaw. She stated to the local press:
"The homeless are homeless for a reason. They have problems we can address. We need to offer them compassion and love. Housing and feeding are one thing but we must also provide support where it is needed most."
Kenora's position and problems are unique. This has been established. The shelter we require must be permanent, well-equipped, staffed and securely funded. It will be an intake point to help those on the street rebuild their lost connections. It will be a safe and comforting place where, with the help of staff and community volunteers, residents can begin to imagine a new life to construct the steps necessary to rebuild the connections. Advocacy and support will be provided to help each resident through the sometimes nightmarish maze of bureaucracy to access welfare, treatment, literacy training, job preparation, health care and eventually more stable housing. Once vulnerable citizens are safe, we will begin to work with the First Nations to help each resident strengthen their connections.
However, we recognize that the legacy of assimilation-the residential school heritage-racism and social chaos have produced some individuals for whom the shelter will become home-those souls who have lived on the margins of both cultures and truly cannot envision any connected future. These persons deserve and require care, respect, dignity and refuge. Our first commitment is to them. These are the persons to whom we truly owe a shelter as our basic human social contract. These are the persons who die on our streets, in police cells, accidentally or through acts of violence, sometimes self-inflicted. They must be kept safe.
We see our shelter as more than a roof and warmth. It will be a clearinghouse or entry point to our already well-established but uncoordinated and sometimes unresponsive social service delivery system. As Ms Bradshaw described it, "support where it's needed most."
Our committee has applied and we're waiting to hear from the Kenora District Services Board for a study grant-we've asked for $20,000-to examine our unique situation and to find innovative ways to involve the broader community, especially the business sector, in planning. We will be vigorously pursuing any money that becomes available. The disproportionate number of seriously disadvantaged persons in Kenora is not going to change any time soon. We cannot deny or ignore this reality any longer. We have to accept that we do have big-city problems. We're ready to act. We require attention and responsiveness from our provincial government to work together in trust to help rebuild the social fibre of our community.
The community committee does commit itself to continue on with aftercare and support for people once they leave the shelter. We will be continuing to examine the factors in our community that continue to give rise to homelessness.
In conclusion, I want to say that Kenora, like many communities in the north, feels a deep sense of isolation, indifference and abandonment by the provincial government. We feel acutely that our reality is simply not understood or accounted for often in provincial decision-making. Our gasoline prices, cancellation of the spring bear hunt and abysmal health care are obvious examples. Sometimes it feels that our rights and our needs are simply not taken into account. Funding formulae applicable to Cobourg or Barrie simply do not apply here. Our sprawling geography and the special needs of our citizens mean that allocations to health care, transportation and education based on per capita calculations penalize us over and over again.
The savings which accrue to the government funders are now borne by the municipalities and Kenora suffers specifically under this formula. One of the initiatives identified by the social services minister announcing the $100 million to help the homeless is "Supports to communities to allow innovative approaches to local homelessness issues with an emphasis on prevention."
We hope we have clearly outlined Kenora's needs and plans and our urgent need for "supports."
The cost of not addressing the issues of the homeless and disenfranchised in our community is resulting in higher policing costs; higher incarceration costs-up to 60 detainees in custody over a single weekend; escalating court costs; much higher utilization of emergency services at hospital; loss of civic pride, which impacts on our ability to aggressively market ourselves as a tourist destination; and, I believe most importantly, the discrediting of our community as one which fails to care for its most vulnerable. This causes entrenchment of exclusionary attitudes and results in an unhealthy and fractured community.
Economic health is vital to the development of any community; however, social health and stability is the foundation on which a healthy community is built. This social health and stability costs money.
In your deliberations regarding allocation of provincial dollars, we ask you again to listen very carefully to the Kenora area's needs.
The Chair: Thank you very much for your presentation. We have approximately four minutes per caucus. Mr Hampton.
Mr Hampton: Thank you very much. I want to ask you four specific questions. I understand that a number of the police chiefs, not just here in Kenora but in northwestern Ontario, have remarked that their holding cells are often taken up not by people who have engaged in criminal conduct but by people who are simply mentally ill and on the street or homeless and on the street. Is that a fair assessment?
Ms Swaigen: I couldn't speak for the other communities, but for Kenora, it's certainly a fair assessment, absolutely.
Mr Hampton: As I understand it, Lake of the Woods hospital is the one hospital west of Thunder Bay that has psychiatric services.
Ms Swaigen: For the north, yes.
Mr Hampton: So patients come to Kenora, Lake of the Woods hospital, from other communities across the northwest for those services.
Ms Swaigen: Yes. The Lake of the Woods District Hospital's area goes right up to James Bay, Hudson Bay.
Mr Hampton: I understand as well that Kenora and Fort Frances are the two communities where most court hearings occur in terms of criminal law or quasi-criminal law. Incarcerated persons are brought here from elsewhere in this broad expanse, which covers over 30% of the province's geography. Is that true?
Ms Swaigen: I couldn't say that for sure. I don't know that for sure, but certainly the reports that appear in our newspaper indicate that court happens here for the whole district.
Mr Hampton: To your knowledge, someone who is brought here either for psychiatric services or to appear in court, what happens when they are released? Do they get transportation back to their local communities, or very often are they simply released on to the streets of Kenora?
Ms Swaigen: I can't really speak with authority on what happens when they come for treatment or for court and are discharged, but I can tell you that the facility that I supervise is the detox centre, and we are the detox centre for northwestern Ontario. There are many times that people leave our centre with absolutely no options. They have no money, they have no way of getting home and they have few supports, if any, in the city of Kenora. There is virtually nothing that can respond immediately to their needs. This is extremely painful for staff at the detox, to see people who are struggling and don't have the after-care supports they need, for sure.
Mr Hampton: I used to work in the court system and I know that people would often come here to Kenora for court hearings and then not have a way of getting home and would simply become part of the population who are poor and with no place to go.
I hear you making a plea for two things, I think, and I want to be sure of this: One, you are saying that because of the uniqueness of Kenora-people come here for health services, the justice system etc from all across the northwest-there has to be some kind of decent, financed hostel set up here, otherwise this simply becomes impossible.
Ms Swaigen: That's pretty much exactly what I'm saying. As I tried to outline in my presentation, because of the way we're positioned, it isn't going to be just formal reasons, to come to Kenora court or for medical treatment. Kenora is the urban centre. It's going to draw people who don't have connections in their communities. That's just a fact of life. That's just what cities do. That's what Toronto does. Some 55% of the people in Toronto's hostels are not from Toronto. We just have to accept that this is a responsibility that Kenora is going to have to fulfill.
Mr Hampton: Do you think a hostel alone, though, is the answer?
Ms Swaigen: I think a hostel is the absolutely essential beginning. We have to start there, as I tried to say here, as an intake point, because we have to keep people safe, and then we have to start building the supports and making the connections with them and for them.
Mrs Tina R. Molinari (Thornhill): Thank you very much for your presentation. I have a few questions and some comments.
I noticed that your report stated that this is one area where Mr Jack Carroll said that the police have been involved, unlike other areas, and I guess it's because of the nature of the homelessness that is its cause, not mental diseases but substance abuse and others. Is there any community involved in any projects underway that would assist some of the people in difficulties of substance abuse to move away from that disability, for lack of a better word?
Ms Swaigen: Are you asking if there are substance abuse treatment programs?
Mrs Molinari: Yes, and what are they.
Ms Swaigen: First of all, I'd like to say that I think Mr Carroll made that comment in response to the police presentation to the committee. The police in Kenora take people they pick up on the street to the cells because they don't really have an option. We have a detox centre but our capacity is limited. They also take people who are intoxicated and in need of medical care to the hospital.
My statement is that it's difficult to deal in isolation with these factors that give rise to homelessness. Certainly mental illness and addiction are two of the big ones in this community, but there are so many other social problems that people have: They have lost the connection to their family; they don't feel welcome in their home community; they maybe don't have, or have been cut off, welfare; they don't have good work skills, job skills. So the future is very bleak, it's very dark, and a lot of people just don't know where to start. We're saying in this proposal that we want to at least give people a place-I think I made it clear-where they're welcome, they're comfortable, they're safe. Then, if we can engage and build on whatever motivation they have, we can connect to the broader social service delivery system.
Yes, we are a centre here for mental health services. There are several out-patient services that are offered in the community and through the hospital: addiction services, out-patients and the Challenge Club, which is a service for ex-psychiatric patients. We have a detox centre, which is attached to the hospital, that helps people recover from the immediate effects of intoxication. We also have a two-week pre-treatment program. There is a local First Nations treatment centre as well.
The Chair: You have one minute left.
Mrs Molinari: Then just briefly, the $100 million that was announced by the social services minister to help homelessness, can you expand a little on how that was spent, where that money went?
Ms Swaigen: How it was spent? I think it's about to be spent.
Mrs Molinari: Then if you could talk about where it's going, what specific things have been targeted for improvement.
Ms Swaigen: My understanding-this may not be accurate; please correct me-is that $60,000 was allocated to the Kenora-Rainy River district. Just this past year that was upped $20,000 from the previous year. The previous year the shelter in Red Lake, which is basically a couple of Atco trailers that have been pulled together and have no beds and no kitchen and no shower and no washer or dryer-they're simply heated boxes to keep people from freezing, and that's commendable and I'm happy that they have it; it's more than we have-received $10,000. The shelter in Sioux Lookout, which is of the same order, also received $10,000. The fellowship centre here in Kenora, which is an outreach program of the Presbyterian church, received $20,000 to keep their drop-in centre open 24 hours a day over the winter months. But you can't sleep there; it's just a drop-in.
Mr Kwinter: Do I understand that there are no shelter facilities for the homeless in Kenora?
Ms Swaigen: There are no shelter facilities for the homeless in Kenora.
Mr Kwinter: Now that you're the city of Kenora, is there any provision to provide one?
Ms Swaigen: That's why our committee is here today, to ask you in your deliberations to remember Kenora and to remember our unique needs and to understand that this kind of funding-$40,000 for the whole of northwestern Ontario-is completely inadequate.
Mr Kwinter: Throughout your presentation, and the report of the committee on homelessness with Mr Jack Carroll, you keep referring to the special needs. It's almost like a euphemism. I mean, let's call the problem what it is. You've got a unique problem because of people of the First Nations. It would seem to me that there has to be a coordinated effort, particularly with the federal government. They certainly have the ultimate responsibility for First Nations problems, and you would think that this is something they would be very much involved with other than just giving lip service to: "Yes, it's a problem. We're going to have to do something about it." Have you had any indication at all other than the minister coming and saying, "Yes, I understand there's a problem"? Are they doing anything about it?
Ms Swaigen: I think one of the reasons why something hasn't been done to address this issue in Kenora is that it's much more convenient for people to point their finger at another level of government-another First Nations government, city council, the provincial government or the federal government-and say: "It's your responsibility."
A good proportion of the people who are homeless in Kenora are First Nations, but a good proportion of the people who are poor in Kenora are First Nations as well. I don't really want to comment on who should be responsible or who has the lion's share of the responsibility. I believe the First Nations communities and governances are doing the absolute very best they can to address this issue in whatever way they can. Their first priority to their own community is providing housing and supports in their community.
What we're talking about here are people who have lost the connection to their community. These are the homeless. I guess our position as a committee is that we don't really want to say it's somebody else's responsibility, and I think it's kind of a specious argument. In my research and study and reading a million Web sites on this issue I came across that factor, that in Toronto 55% of the people in the hostels are not from Toronto. I think we have to accept and own that too. We're a city. We have to provide for the people who drift, shall we say.
Mr Kwinter: I'm not suggesting that we have to find one person to point the blame to, but it would seem to me that there has to be a shared responsibility. Certainly it would be the municipality, the province and the federal government, but it's got to be a shared responsibility. It can't be just pointing the finger at someone else. I'm not suggesting that, but I just feel that certainly the federal government should be very directly involved, along with the province and with the municipality.
Ms Swaigen: As a committee, we plan to apply for and lobby for whatever money we can and as much as we can to try and get this permanent shelter established. Right now we're talking to you because you're here. We will continue to talk to the federal government. Monies are coming. I don't know exactly how they're going to be allocated, but our purpose here today is to outline to you what our special circumstances are.
The Chair: On behalf of the committee, thank you very much for your presentation this morning.
TOWNSHIP OF EAR FALLS
The Chair: The next group is the representatives from the township of Ear Falls. Could you step forward and state your name for the record, please.
Mr Stan Leschuk: Good morning, Mr Chairman and panel members. We want to thank you for the opportunity to present our concerns today. My name is Stan Leschuk. I'm a councillor with the township of Ear Falls. I have my colleague here with me, Mr Geoff McClain, who is also a councillor.
I've been a councillor with the township of Ear Falls for the past 25 years or so. They usually call me one of the grand-daddies left in the Kenora district as a municipal politician. I've served on several boards and committees of council. Over the past years, I've taken a very active role in the economic development of our area. In my private life, I own and operate a Home Hardware store in Ear Falls.
Ear Falls is a small community with a population of approximately 1,500. We know how fragile the economic base of our remote communities can be. We have experienced the loss of our major industry with the closure of the Griffith mine in 1986 and the resulting loss of jobs, population and tax base. At that time, the mine was paying over 70% of our tax base, and we lost 500 jobs overnight with the stroke of the pen. We've had a tough time over the past 12 to 14 years to try and regain some of our economic development.
In 1998, a new sawmill was built in Ear Falls by Avnor, who are now Weyerhaeuser. Despite 140 new jobs in the mill and additional jobs in the harvesting and hauling of timber, the community has really seen little new development.
A new phenomenon has emerged in our area. People are travelling farther to work and shop, and this has implications for the entire makeup of the community. Daily trips of one and one-and-a-half hours are becoming a way of life and the four-hour trip to Winnipeg is becoming very commonplace. As a community, we are concerned about our ability to provide the basic needs of the community and its residents. Although people may work here, they live and shop elsewhere. While they are here, they expect emergency service, which are becoming more costly and difficult to provide. I hope to provide you with some insight into our concerns and perhaps offer some suggestions for your consideration this morning.
The topics I will be discussing include the municipal finance, health care, fuel prices, infrastructure works program and expanded highway policy.
We'll start with municipal finance. Our municipalities need some security in the area of provincial funding. The recent downloading has significantly increased costs in our responsibilities to manage services that once were delivered by the province. One has to only look at policing costs in northwestern Ontario. Although increased funding has presently offset these costs, there is a great fear that funding levels will be reduced and eventually eliminated. The speed at which the province has been able to change the basics of municipal relationships and the basic foundations of municipal financing over the last two years has left us with great concerns. From past experience with reassessments in our municipality, we knew of the many pitfalls that awaited hasty decisions. Look at the number of legislative changes and new regulations that were required mostly after the fact to deal with the implications that should have been anticipated on the changes.
I don't want to sound totally negative. Our municipality has fared well to date, I'm told, under the local services realignment and community reinvestment fund, but we must continue to look to the future. We ask the government: Maintain the community reinvestment funds. Without it, I fear there would be undue hardships on the taxpayers of especially small municipalities with no large commercial tax base. The 10-5-5 capping program is approaching its end. As municipalities prepare to meet the challenges that will follow 10-5-5, we are becoming anxious to know what will be in place to succeed it. We are interested to know what the future holds for tax policy. Where are we heading with the tax ratios? I believe that municipalities will want to start to prepare for 2001 as soon as possible on these issues.
Next topic, health care. At our recent Kenora District Municipal Association convention held in Ear Falls this weekend, the issue was one of the major concerns of the assembled municipal leaders. It is also a major concern to Ear Falls residents who have over the past few years experienced life without a physician and reliable access to medical services. It is devastating to residents who require ongoing primary care and have to travel for medical attention where no taxi services exist, there is no public transportation between communities and a visit to a clinic requires a 140-kilometre round-trip bus trip and an overnight stay in a hotel.
I am happy to say this morning that today we have a physician and an operating clinic with funding from the province under the community-sponsored contract. With me here today, as I said, is Councillor Geoff McClain, who is also chair of the Ear Falls Community Health Centre board. He would be most pleased to answer any questions concerning the health issues we're talking about this morning.
The health centre board is comprised of local community members who have a clear understanding of the health care needs of our residents. The health care centre is able to match the needs of the community. We currently offer both day and evening clinic hours, minimal wait time for appointments to see the doctor, professional nursing care and excellent linkage with other health care providers in our region. Our centre operates full-time on a budget of $128,000, exclusive of the physician's salary, employing two full-time support staff for the physician, covering all of the overhead costs of the clinic, serving our population of 1,500 residents.
Although we are managing well with these resources, we need help to address some service gaps. We currently have no X-ray services but have the capability to offer the service if we had the operating dollars, about $4,500 per year. Without X-ray services, our patients must travel the 70 kilometres to Red Lake for this service.
Another area of need involves physiotherapy services. Our population consists of workers involved in the forestry, mining and heavy equipment industries. These workers are prone to repetitive strain injuries and other workplace injuries which require regular physiotherapy. Patients are referred out of the community for such treatment, displacing them from work and creating economic hardships due to travel. Community-clinic-based physiotherapy services would greatly complement our health centre operations and save tax dollars.
We believe that we have the workings of a viable health care model for small rural communities like Ear Falls. We noted with great interest a recent article in the Thunder Bay Chronicle-Journal on Sunday, February 5, 2000. Liberal Lyn McLeod outlined a plan to address the physician shortage in northwestern Ontario. I do have a copy of that clipping at the back of the presentation. Appended to our submission, we have included copies of the newspaper clippings for your review.
An alliance of Ontario municipalities, chambers of commerce and rural and new physicians identified three key points in attracting and keeping these physicians in the north: Pay doctors a good salary; limit hours of work to a reasonable standard; and provide time off with coverage for the community, for the doctor to take vacation and professional development.
These ideas are not new. Our Ear Falls health centre adopted them over one year ago, with proven success. We've maintained over the years that that is what has to be done. We would invite the government to come to Ear Falls to witness at first hand a model of primary care service that works very well on a budget that is less than one quarter of some of the community health centres serving similar populations. We are successful, but we need the government's continued support in a partnership that continues to provide excellent health care services to Ear Falls residents.
Staying with the health care subject, I'd like to take a few moments of your time to talk about recruiting doctors and other health care professionals to the underserviced, remote and northern communities. Ear Falls has participated in every doctor recruitment tour since its inception. These tours have cost the province a lot of money, and I am sorry to say I do not believe they have attracted many doctors to northern Ontario-and I've been on many of these recruitment tours over my 25 to 30 years as a member of the Ear Falls council.
I think we have to take a new approach to this problem. We are asking that more funding be made to medical schools for seats to be filled by northern students, along with fee assistance for the students who are willing to enter into agreements to work in the north for, say, five years. Failure to complete their agreed terms would require that these students repay their funds 100%. It is our view that this is one of the ways to have the new doctors coming back to the north. We have to groom our own.
We have to act now because it takes six or seven years before these new doctors come on stream. When we go through these doctor recruitment tours we're talking to first- or second-year medical students, and that's the last we see of them. I tell you it's an issue, and there's a problem that can be solved if we look at it from a really simple point of view.
Last year the University of Ottawa had 3,000 applicants for medical school. They interviewed 500, and approximately 80 were accepted into the medical program. I happen to follow this issue with interest, as last year my son made it to the waiting list. He wants to become a doctor, and I know that he would be glad to practise in the north and reach his dreams. Instead he's going through the process again this year, and if not accepted in Ontario or Canada, has acceptance in an American university, and I'm sure that if he becomes a physician you won't see him back in Canada.
I read in the Thunder Bay Chronicle-Journal of Friday, February 3, 2000, that the training for radiation therapists will be transferred from Thunder Bay to Toronto. While the training was in Thunder Bay, it was found that these professionals were staying in the north. It is now being moved to where radiation therapists are in high demand. We agree with the city of Thunder Bay that this training should stay in the north. We need your support to get and keep training here, especially since it has proven to keep those professionals in the areas where they have been trained, in northern Ontario. Also, in the appendix in the copy that I sent to you, the director of the cancer treatment service certainly outlined that in his presentation.
Now we'll go on to fuel prices, and you've heard that this morning. We recognize that there is a special task force looking into the price of gas in Ontario. This body is not coming into this area so I am taking the liberty to note our concerns. We here in the north have the greatest distance to travel and are paying the highest prices. Fuel trucked through the area from the west is sold at lower prices east of us than it is here.
In short, we ask that the government consider equalized pricing at the least, to lay to rest once and for all the issue of price gouging. Nobody can seem to get a handle on why the prices fluctuate so much within a 100kilometre distance. We believe that prices should actually be less here than further east. We hope that through the deliberations of the government and all the parties this can be seriously looked at and that they will try to equalize provincial gas pricing.
I was in the gas business a number of years ago. We would get a phone call at 8 o'clock in the morning saying, "Tomorrow morning your price is up 2.5 cents per litre." No reason for anything, just up, down, and as the retailer you just have to take your marching orders and do what you have to do.
I'd like to take a few moments now to talk about the infrastructure works program. The township of Ear Falls supports the reintroduction of an infrastructure works program. It makes good sense to us that funding be spread across the three levels of government.
Here in the north our costs are higher; most contractors are located a good distance from the communities. Maintenance of infrastructure already represents a good part of our operating budgets.
We must emphasize that municipalities must be given greater authority to develop projects within their priorities on the infrastructure program. We know that the weekend's meeting of the Kenora District Municipal Association supported a resolution to this effect, which I expect will make its way to the provincial government in due course.
It is in the best interests of all governments to ensure that infrastructure is maintained in good condition. It's good for people and it's good for business.
The next item I'll touch on is the expanded highway policy. The Trans-Canada Highway through northern Ontario is deplorable when compared to its counterparts throughout the rest of Canada. Here it comes through some of the roughest terrain and weather conditions in all of Canada. All the other provinces have made tremendous strides to make their sections meet world-class standards. Ontario has made some strides in the right direction, but there is work to be done.
We recognize the great job that has been done to upgrade the highway over the past few years in this area, but this is just the first major work to be undertaken since the highway was first constructed.
We are aware that Ontario highway policy is presently not addressing any expansion. Ontario needs to develop highways into the north. This will help to promote economic development and create jobs for these regions.
We believe that Ontario has to work with the federal government to improve the Trans-Canada Highway and seriously consider a highway expansion program for northern Ontario.
In summary, the township of Ear Falls extends its appreciation to this standing committee for the opportunity to deliver these concerns here in Kenora today. We ask that you consider the issues we have raised.
We are concerned with municipal finance. We need to know what is happening to us in a timely manner.
Here in the northwest health care is a big issue, as it is elsewhere. We strongly believe that local health clinics offer one of the best opportunities to improve the health of our residents. These clinics can provide many services and reduce pressure on hospitals and ambulance services. More funding has to be directed to our clinics.
Fuel prices affect us as individuals, as businesses and as municipalities.
Our municipalities liked the infrastructure program and benefited from it greatly. We suggest that this type of program is good for everyone and efforts should be made to bring it forward, permitting municipalities to identify their priority projects.
The Trans-Canada Highway needs to be upgraded to North American standards as a national highway. Road expansion is needed in the north. The province needs to get the government of Canada to work with it in these efforts.
Again, on behalf of our mayor and the rest of council and the citizens, I thank you for the time that you've given me here this morning.
The Chair: Thank you very much for your presentation this morning. We have approximately three minutes per caucus, and I'll start with the government side.
Mr Arnott: Thank you for your presentation. It was excellent. I really appreciate hearing your views. You've been at this for a long time-you said 25 years-and it shows. The way you've gone about it is something that's very positive, and I think the government will take these concerns very seriously and work to address them.
You mention the community reinvestment fund, and it's my understanding that it's still the government's intent to make that a continual ongoing program, a permanent program, in future years. Certainly that would be my expectation and hope for Waterloo-Wellington as well.
I'd like to ask you about the 10, 5 and 5 system of capping property taxes on business. What would you suggest the government do, since next year I guess the caps are off if we don't take action?
Mr Leschuk: I'm glad to hear from the government side that you would be looking at keeping that assistance in, because at that level-and I can only speak for Ear Falls-we only have one little major industry. We were able to try and keep those commercial taxes down with that 10, 5 and 5, and our fear was that if the extra funding wasn't there, we wouldn't be able to hold the taxes at a proper level. I think what you did on the 10, 5 and 5, after the readjustment with all the assessments, was a very wise move. When these new adjustments now will come into play, probably on next year's assessment where a lot of the homeowners' assessments will start to balance out, and those who were too low will start to come up and those that were too high will start to come down a little more, and we can bring down the commercial cost another few points, it makes it healthy not only for the community, the residents, but also to attract new industry. I am pleased to hear that the government would consider keeping that reinvestment fund going, because it is critical to a little community. Like I said, in 12 years we lost 70% of the tax base, and for 12 years we lived on crumbs to survive. It can keep our community well and alive. So thanks for your point.
Mr Galt: Do I still have some time?
The Chair: Quickly.
Mr Galt: Just one quick comment in connection with your son becoming a physician-and thank you for your presentation. We did have in our platform this last time around paying tuition for those going into medicine. Provided they go to an underserviced area, such as the north, and stay there for five years, their tuition would be looked after.
Part of the problem of having enough physicians across Canada was a report that came out in 1992 to cut back on spaces. The government of Ontario at the time did so, probably a real mistake at the time. Not to beat up on the government of the day, the recommendation, as I understand, that we were going to have too many doctors, was across Canada. You can see today how wrong that report was.
Mr Leschuk: I am very pleased that you, as part of the government, see that. From my own experience, my friend from Thunder Bay had his son go to U of T, become a medical doctor, work two years and get offered a position in California-a great medical doctor lost, and he says he would never come back to Canada. Here we are: northern students educated here and going south. That's wrong. That has to stop. We don't all have to be Philadelphia lawyers to figure that one out.
The Chair: Thank you. Mr Kwinter.
Mr Kwinter: Thank you for your presentation. I want to touch on two issues you raised. One is health care and the other is highways.
I agree in theory with the idea of setting up clinics and paying doctors' salaries so you can attract them to a community like the township of Ear Falls, which has a population of 1,500.
The problem, from a practical point of view, for a young doctor or a doctor who is established, is to come to a community where there are really no support systems: no X-ray facilities and he has to go, you say, 60 or 80 kilometres to get an X-ray; no hospitals that have the kind of facilities most doctors would like to have access to, MRIs, CAT scans and things of that kind.
How do you address that? How do you make it a viable area for a doctor starting out, who wants to be able to practise medicine as he has been taught and to have all the resources that are normally available in the big centres? To me, that is one of the major problems we have.
Mr Leschuk: I would like Councillor Geoff McClain, who is the chairman of the health centre board, to address that.
Mr Geoff McClain: We look at places like Kenora and Thunder Bay as metropolises compared to Ear Falls. Looking at the new hospital in Thunder Bay, we're looking at the potential for expansion of training facilities in Thunder Bay, training some physicians in the north.
We are very successful when we have physicians who go on rotation through our communities. They actually get some on-the-ground experience and find out it's not such a bad thing to come to a community, deliver good-quality health care services and not have access to a lot of state-of-the-art technology. They have the experience of colleagues in the north who can provide good care.
Improvements to some of the communication linkages would be a real asset-telemedicine, videoconferencing for physicians to participate in remote training or consultation with other centres. We have a pilot project up in the Red Lake area, linking with an Ottawa hospital. Via video, they can zoom in to take a look at a skin condition, a medical condition and so on, and provide some assistance in diagnosis. So there are options there.
In participating in the doctor recruitment tour, the main concern of potential graduates, of physicians coming to the north, was that they would be the only physician in the community; they would be burned out. That's why in our submission we've identified the need for release time, vacation time. Recognize that the doctor needs to do their laundry and take their kids to school and so on. We need good coverage, but we also accept the fact that we do live in the north and there are some things we just can't have. But in speaking with the physician recruits, their greatest concerns are not being the only person in that community but having access to the linkages to the other hospitals within the region that they can draw upon, and some technology input would certainly help.
Mr Hampton: Thank you for your comments. I want to ask first about health care. There have been about four studies that show that where health care workers, whether physicians or nurses or radiation therapists, are trained in northern Ontario, they are more likely to stay here, yet at the very time when we're experiencing shortages, the government is going to end the registered practical nurse training program here in Kenora and they're going to take the radiation therapist training program out of Thunder Bay. In your sense, is that going to help or hurt us, given what you know already from your experience in Ear Falls?
Mr Leschuk: Certainly, Howard, it's going to hurt us. As Geoff and I were saying, and from my own personal experience over the last 25 to 30 years going on recruitment tours, we just can't get the people who are trained in the south to come to the north. You have to look at the home-grown policy, take your home-grown students out of the north who want to go to the south to train and get educated but are willing to come back. That is basically the only answer that will work. We can throw a lot of dollars at the medical profession, but if that desire to stay and live in the north is not there, like Monte had said, and you have the burnout factor, you will not get them here for any dollars.
We're very fortunate that under the underserviced program our doctor signed a contract. We made the schedule out with her as to the time off and the education training that she will take. We're so lucky that her husband is a dentist and he's set up practice in Ear Falls. We gave them a doctor's house at a very low rent to be one of the little perks. It's the lifestyle. We work directly with them: "You set out what your schedule has to be and we will work around it with the medical centre group." And it's working.
Mr Hampton: I know from other information that you have applied to the Ministry of Health to have a nurse practitioner. I wonder if you could tell us why you've applied to have a nurse practitioner, why that's important for your community.
Mr McClain: In the 30 years that we've had the health centre up and running in Ear Falls we've had 35 doctors. So you can see what's happening. There is a revolving door taking place. We made the application for the nurse practitioner because we recognized the necessary skills that a nurse practitioner would bring to providing primary health care, doing routine things such as MTO medicals, prescriptions for sore throats, that sort of thing, the things that are clogging up the rest of the health care system, at a much lower cost.
It is our belief that the nurse practitioner would provide greater continuity. We know that our doctor won't stay with us forever. We're always casting our radar out, looking into the future. If we lose our physician, we're back to zero. When we had our doctor sign the contract, our physician complement went up by 100%. With a nurse practitioner, it would provide us with at least base-level services. When we lose our doctor, the community-sponsored contract collapses and the clinic shuts down. So with the nurse practitioner, we'd be able to maintain that continuity of service.
As yet, we haven't heard back from the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care.
Mr Hampton: I note your recommendations for recruitment of physicians and other health care providers. Number one, you don't say, "Increase the fee-for-service"; you say, "Pay doctors a good salary," and then you point out, "Limit hours of work to a reasonable standard." So you've got a physician who's on salary?
Mr McClain: Yes.
Mr Hampton: If you add a nurse practitioner, will that help you limit the hours of work for your physician, so your physician isn't overworked and burned out?
Mr McClain: Very much so. The doctor's already giving us some feedback that she's pretty busy, but we're not at a population stage where we could return to having a two-physician complement, which we had actually given up to Red Lake a number of years ago.
Mr Hampton: So it's fair to say you'd like to see the province move very quickly on nurse practitioners, and you believe there's a future in paying physicians a salary rather than continuing on the fee-for-service road we've been on.
Mr McClain: Very much so.
The Chair: Gentlemen, on behalf of the committee, thank you very much for your presentation this morning.
Mr Leschuk: Thank you for your time and consideration.
The Chair: That completes our session for this morning. The committee will reconvene this afternoon at 1:30.
The committee recessed from 1207 to 1334.
NORTHWESTERN INDEPENDENT LIVING SERVICES
The Chair: Good afternoon, everyone. I'd like to bring the committee back to order. This afternoon our first presenters are representatives from Northwestern Independent Living Services. Could you please state your names for the record.
Ms Kristan Miclash: Kristan Miclash.
Mr Wayne Ficek: And Wayne Ficek.
The Chair: On behalf of the committee, welcome.
Ms Miclash: Good afternoon, Mr Chair and committee members. Northwestern Independent Living Services sincerely appreciates the opportunity to make this presentation today. Since 1985, NILS has been the provider of attendant care outreach services to persons with physical disabilities in the Kenora and Rainy River districts. The attendant care program assists consumers with all activities of daily living. Daily living activities are defined as those physical functions necessary for the management of one's own affairs. NILS also works in partnership with Kenora Municipal Non-Profit Housing and operates a supportive housing program.
Over the years we have seen an increasing need for attendant care services in the Kenora and Rainy River districts. As you are aware, the attendant care programs are funded 100% by the Ministry of Health and the consumers we provide services to are long-term due to the nature of their disabilities.
One such disability that we're seeing is multiple sclerosis. There is a very high population of persons with this disability in our area, and as the disease progresses the need for attendant care services increases. This past year has been a perfect example.
The issues that NILS wants to address today are the following:
When a referral is received to provide attendant care outreach services to a new consumer, Northwestern Independent Living Services is unable to meet the need due to lack of dollars.
When an existing attendant care outreach consumer's needs increase due to their disability, NILS is again unable to meet these needs.
Within our supportive housing program, we are finding that it is necessary to enhance our hours due to increased consumer needs.
Last, we are an organization that is obligated under the Pay Equity Act, through the proxy method, to increase employee wages by 1% per year; yet we have been unsuccessful in securing annualized dollars to meet this obligation.
The focus of this government is to keep people at home. We recognize that there is not an unending supply of dollars. We've been successful so far in partnering with other agencies to temporarily alleviate the pressure. However, this is only a Band-Aid solution and does not address the issue of keeping people at home and out of long-term-care facilities.
We know that costs are greatly reduced by keeping people at home. The attendant care program keeps families together by offering flexible services in the home, which allows persons with physical disabilities to maintain a level of independence that, in turn, improves quality of life.
In closing, Northwestern independent Living Services appreciates the opportunity to speak on behalf of its consumer group. It is imperative that the attendant care outreach and supportive housing programs grow with the ever-increasing needs in order to provide the necessary support to persons with physical disabilities in the Kenora and Rainy River districts.
At this time, I'd like to-unless somebody has any questions. I've never done this before.
The Chair: We'll have some questions after, but if you have more of a presentation we'll undertake that right now and then we'll come back to questions.
Ms Miclash: Sure, thank you.
Mr Ficek: In speaking for people with disabilities in the Kenora-Rainy River area, there are two points I'd like to identify for you which are unique to northwestern Ontario yet most likely universal when it comes to difficulties for people with disabilities.
The first, and one of the largest concerns or a concern that I heard the most, was dealing with transportation issues. I would ask this committee to seriously consider contributing incentives or concessions to any transportation service provider, whether it be a bus line, a taxicab or any other means of transportation within the Kenora-Rainy River district.
Kenora, Dryden and Fort Frances all had accessible taxicabs in their communities at one time or another, yet all have ended in failure. The price of purchasing a new taxi van for transporting people with mobility impairments is in excess of $45,000. Because people with disabilities represent approximately 15% of the general population in Ontario, it becomes difficult for advocates like myself to get a businessman to even consider the purchase of these vehicles when for the same price he or she could outfit three regular taxis.
I believe that it is the right of all persons to have equal access to public and private transportation, especially when one pays money for the service. However, it is also the businessman's right to try and make an honest living any way that he sees fit. If we don't try and alleviate the tremendous initial costs involved in purchasing accessible taxis, then I fear the transportation dilemma will continue.
Currently, our local Handi-Transit operates seven days a week in the Kenora area from 8 am to 8 pm. However, places like Dryden have no such service even available to them on weekends. Unless options are available, people with disabilities will continue to be isolated and will not have the option of getting out of the house or the apartment or the residential home without pretty well putting strain on friends and family.
The second part I'd like to address to this committee is the Ontarians with Disabilities Act.
More than 1.5 million Ontarians, or 15% to 17% of our population, now have disabilities. A great number of people with disabilities are seniors, aging being one of the biggest causes of disability. Therefore, as the population ages the percentage of people with disabilities will increase. Seventy-seven percent of people surveyed across Canada knew someone with a disability close to them; therefore, disability is everyone's concern.
People with disabilities living in Ontario face many barriers that make it difficult for them to participate fully in all aspects of life in Ontario. While governments, business and others have taken steps to remove these barriers, many still remain. Even more are being created daily. Since the Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee was formed well over three years ago, it has raised the awareness of both the public and governments about these barriers and the importance of removing them. The Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee has also connected with hundreds of people with disabilities, their friends, families and organizations to ask for their views on the barriers they face and what it would mean to them to have them removed.
The Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee is a voluntary, non-partisan coalition of individuals and community organizations concerned with the rights of people with disabilities. The ODA committee came together to advocate for the prompt passage of a strong and effective new law that would lead to the achievement of a barrier-free Ontario for people with disabilities by the year 2000. Regional groups have been launched to encompass and reflect the local needs of the province. The group in Kenora that I'm involved with, Persons United for Self-Help, has kept Kenora and other small areas in our community informed and up to date on the issues as they unfold.
The thing I would like you to consider is that the cost of creating a barrier-free society for people with disabilities must be compared to the massive cost to society if existing barriers are permitted to stay and new ones are allowed to be created. The removal of existing barriers and the prevention of new ones does not just help these people with a disability; it also means the needs of those who acquire a disability in the future will be met, which includes most people in society.
The Chair: We have approximately seven minutes per caucus. Mr Kwinter.
Mr Kwinter: I'd like to get an idea on your attendant care. Unfortunately, I don't know the situation here, but I can only relate it to what happens in my riding, which is in Toronto. Many of my constituents are complaining that they used to get full-time care and they keep getting cut back. There isn't a realization or an awareness that they are disabled full-time, not just part-time, and that when that care is withdrawn from them they literally are, as you say, held prisoner and cannot do the things they want to. Do you have a similar experience here?
Ms Miclash: Yes. I think one of the key issues is that it's long-term. When you have somebody with a physical disability, whether you have somebody with multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, a spinal cord injury, once someone requires services, it's not something that's going to necessarily improve or get better with time. When you have a disability such as-and I use multiple sclerosis because it is a fairly prevalent disability right now that we are seeing. With that disability it deteriorates over time. So what happens is you then have people who require services on an ongoing basis, long term, and when the dollars aren't there to enhance the service or if the services are cut back, then you're stuck at square one again. What do you do? Where does the person go? Yes, we're seeing that right now in the Kenora and Rainy River district.
Mr Kwinter: What happens with your transportation for the disabled? How is that provided now? Is that provided through commercial entities? Is it subsidized by Kenora, now that this is a city? Is the city involved?
Mr Ficek: In the past practice, the Handi-Transit has been funded by all three levels of government-federal, provincial and municipal. Although my understanding now is that federal and provincial dollars aren't available and it's up to the municipalities to continue to have that type of service running.
Kenora has been very lucky in that they have two wonderful people who drive the Handi-Transit who are very committed to their job. They go above and beyond the call when it comes to transporting people door to door, yet the dollars just aren't there to continue to offer the service on a basis where it's needed. Right now our Handi-Transit only runs until 8 pm. It will stay open until 11 o'clock if they have, I believe, over five or six riders between 8 o'clock and 11 o'clock. Obviously it's not practical for them to pick up one person.
There was a cab service in Dryden, Fort Frances and Kenora, and for one reason or another they have not been able to continue operations-largely, from my experience, because I know at first hand for the cab stand that was in Kenora, the vehicles at $50,000 apiece haven't lived up to how much they cost in order to keep them running. Right now with the D-409 package it's very stringent for pay in the transportation of people with mobility impairments, and the vehicles just haven't been able to stand up to it. What they're doing is cutting the floor of a brand new minivan, a Dodge product, and inserting a lower floor in it. Unfortunately, the structural integrity of the vehicle is being taken away. Unless we can get the manufacturer, like Chrysler, Dodge or Chevrolet, to build these vehicles right in the factory, we're going to continue to have these problems.
There was a wonderful subsidy available from the federal and provincial governments at one time for these vehicles, but unfortunately the only one doing any good out of it was the guy cutting the floors and putting these vehicles on the road. It was still costing $50,000 to buy this vehicle, and if you got the subsidy from the federal and provincial governments to help, it was still costing you in excess of $30,000, whereas you could go buy that brand new same minivan at a factory and pay a cash price for it and get it for less than that. It was costing way too much to be able to supply these vehicles.
Mr Kwinter: In the Kenora-Rainy River district, is Kenora the only municipality that's providing that service?
Mr Ficek: No, I believe Dryden does have a Handi-Transit available during the week. It works from 8 o'clock to 5 or 6 o'clock. There's no weekend service available. I know that Fort Frances has a Handi-Transit service, but there are criteria to be able to ride that. For someone with a disability that doesn't fall under the criteria of being able to ride the Handi-Transit, there's no such service that they could pay for to get a taxi to go downtown and remain in their chair. You can transfer into a vehicle, if you can do that, but for someone with limited arm function or limited mobility there's no such service in any of our communities now to access on an on-call basis, to pick up the phone and get a cab.
You have to book the Handi-Transit in Kenora 24 hours in advance and you have to cancel 12 hours in advance, if you can, before you're even eligible to be picked up. Then chances are they have to look at whether it's a work-related trip, a school trip or just a pleasure trip, and they prioritize work and school ahead of the person who wants to go to the shopping mall to get their groceries. You may want to go downtown at 8:30 in the morning but are told you can't get a ride until 10:30, when all the people who have to go to school and work have been taken and delivered, and vice versa for getting picked up. If you want to get picked up at 4 o'clock, they may say, "I can pick you up at a quarter to three or I can pick you up at 5:30." That service of being able to just phone and get a ride doesn't exist in any of our communities that I'm aware of.
Mr Hampton: I wanted to ask some general questions first and then maybe get to some more specific ones.
I was in Red Lake last week, where they have 22 long-term-care beds in a new facility replacing the 22 that were in an old facility. The point made over and over again was that they have about 20 people on a waiting list and they're desperately in need of supportive housing to help look after people. If they are not able to find the supportive housing, it will mean moving people into long-term-care beds in Dryden or Kenora or Fort Frances or wherever.
I was in Dryden, and you've got the new long-term-care beds that are being added there after about seven years of debate, but the concern is that there is a far greater need than will be met by those long-term-care beds, and in fact there is a pressing need for supportive housing. I was in Fort Frances, and again the complaint is made: "We need more supportive housing. Otherwise we're going to have a lot of people here we can't look after."
I guess my general question is this: Recognizing that allowing people or helping people to live independently through supportive housing or through the services that you provide is infinitely cheaper than more institutional beds, do you have a sense of what kind of investment needs to be made in supportive housing in Kenora, in Dryden, in Red Lake, in Fort Frances, and perhaps in Sioux Lookout? Do you have a sense of that, if we're going to maintain our people in the future?
Ms Miclash: It's interesting that you bring that up in terms of the length of time. We operate in partnership with non-profit housing, a supportive housing unit here, and we did have a proposal on the table for six years. The Ministry of Housing was able to put the building up, wheelchair-accessible apartments. At the same time, we had applied six years ago for on-site, 24-hour attendant care and the proposal was turned down. Last year we were finally successful in receiving new dollars from the Ministry of Health where we are now able to operate on-site, 24-hour attendant care. The cost of having one person in the building to provide on-site care for 13 apartments is $150,000. When you take a look at having that one person there providing services to several people living in an apartment building throughout a 24-hour period, the cost is reduced greatly, as opposed to going into a long-term-care facility.
At this time there is actually a needs study being conducted in Fort Frances for supportive housing. I am also in Red Lake taking a look at the issues up there.
Again, we look at whether or not it's people with disabilities, is it seniors, is it aging in place? All those issues come into play when we're taking a look at dollars and who requires the service.
Mr Hampton: That $150,000 essentially takes into account someone working-
Ms Miclash: On-site, 24 hours a day, one staff person throughout a seven-day period, 365 days of the year.
Mr Hampton: So three shifts during the week and possibly one shift on the weekend, or some other variety on the weekend?
Ms Miclash: Four staff: three full-time, one casual.
Mr Hampton: One part-time.
Ms Miclash: Yes.
Mr Hampton: If we're not able to get the province to see the need for supportive housing, do you have a sense of what that means in terms of more long-term-care beds?
Ms Miclash: I don't see it in terms of long-term-well, yes, I guess it would be in terms of long-term-care beds. I think what you're looking at then is that we get down more to the realistic issues of breaking up families and having somebody move into Thunder Bay or Winnipeg, out of this area. We've just had a person actually move from Red Lake who had multiple sclerosis. She was deteriorating to the point where her husband was no longer able to care for her over a 24-hour period. Had there been a unit set up there, she would have been able to stay at home or in her community and they may have been able to move together.
Therefore, in terms of numbers, no, I don't have any numbers off the top of my head, but if there aren't those options available to people in communities such as Red Lake, Fort Frances, Atikokan and Rainy River, then people are going to be moving out into other communities such as Kenora or Dryden.
Mr Hampton: I wanted to ask a question as a follow-up on the Handi-Transit. I'll speak just about Fort Frances for a minute. It's my impression that they actually had a more extensive handicapped transit system in place, but because of budget pressures and downloading of the costs they had to substantially reduce it. Has that been the experience elsewhere, and what has to happen to remedy this, in your view?
Mr Ficek: I think that's definitely a problem in that all three levels of government at one time contributed and now you're finding that it's being left on the municipalities to try to keep that service available, but we have to have alternative services besides just Handi-Transit service.
We need to have some type of legislation or something that will commit taxi companies to being able to offer service to 100% of the population. We now have approximately 21 taxi licences in Kenora. We don't need a 22nd licence, except on the month-end weekends, to be able to transport all the people in Kenora. To add another taxi licence isn't really the answer, unless it's an accessible service that can pick up everybody and be inclusive of everyone.
Nine times out of 10 in Kenora you can get a cab within five minutes, except on those month-end weekends and payday weekends when it becomes difficult, and then 100 cabs wouldn't be able to offer the service within five minutes. We have to offer some type of incentive to people to spend the money on these vehicles and to spend the money to keep them up, because without offering that type of service, people are stuck in the house and they can't get out. We need that type of service in all our communities.
The Chair: Thank you, Mr Hampton. The government side, Ms Molinari.
Mrs Molinari: Thank you very much for your presentation this afternoon. I'm interested very much in the comments that you made about keeping people at home and that the costs are in fact reduced. Aside from the money issue, I think keeping people at home with their families is bigger than just the dollars involved. I'm pleased to see the kinds of services that you offer for keeping families at home.
Would you say that in a specific situation, there are different levels of need for the disabled? Of course, there is a wide range of disabilities, so not all need the services to the extent that some more needy people would. With accessibility within the home, then people would be able to be more flexible and more independent, so putting these services in place would minimize the need for attendant care. Would you say that's a true fact?
Ms Miclash: Yes. It's also important to note that when you keep someone at home, if you have a family unit, a husband, wife, children, depending on which spouse is disabled, then the whole family contributes, thus also eliminating the need for increased attendant care. When you don't have all those services available to somebody in their own home, then you have to take a look at moving that person out of that home, whereas, if they're staying with their spouse and their children, the other family members can contribute by making the meals or by doing some of the housekeeping. Therefore, the number of attendant care hours needed in that home is greatly reduced.
Mrs Molinari: The intent then would be to move towards that to a much greater extent, where there are family supports within the home and thereby your association would be able to serve more of the population because you wouldn't be called upon as often as someone who doesn't have the family supports.
I have to say that I totally agree with a lot of the comments you made with respect to vehicle modifications. I have had a direct experience with vehicle modification. The only one that guarantees any modification to a vehicle is Ford. If it's a Ford vehicle where you can actually drop the floor, then the lift is guaranteed; the others are not. Then, with others like Chrysler and some of the other companies, they don't even guarantee the vehicle parts if you've modified it to the extent, if you could, to do that. That's definitely an area that we need to be looking further in and being able to provide more flexibility for those types of vehicle modifications.
They can only seat or fit one person in this Ford vehicle. The Handi-Transit that you talked about, is that for more than one individual? How many would you be able to get into a Handi-Transit?
Mr Ficek: Our handi-bus here can hold four wheelchairs and three sitting people, but the taxicabs-I have no experience with the Ford but I know the Chrysler handi-van or the taxi that's available can seat up to three wheelchairs at once by removing the front seat, which is removable, plus it can hold two wheelchairs in the back as well as still have a bench seat in it for people to sit. That way it's more economical than running a large bus that would cost twice the gas money and twice the maintenance to run. I think the way of the future is going to the taxi-type vehicle or the smaller-sized vehicle just for economical reasons. I have no experience with the Ford vehicle. I wasn't aware that it could only hold one wheelchair at a time.
Mrs Molinari: It's more for personal use. It can only hold one scooter type of mobility device. Thank you very much. I'm going to leave some time for one of my colleagues.
Mr Galt: Thank you for your thoughtful presentation. I certainly have empathy. I have a building in Colborne. I wanted to put in a ramp into the building about 10 years ago and the council totally objected to having a ramp put in on the sidewalk, but steps were OK. Still, to this day, I don't understand what that council was thinking. Certainly that kind of thought process creates all kinds of difficulties for you.
I guess in a very non-partisan way, I'd like to ask you what went wrong with the disabilities act that was introduced about a year and a half, two years ago. My background is more science-technology. The disabled and that whole area is not something I'm all that familiar with. I knew we were bringing one in, and there was this protest in the galleries and the next thing the bill was withdrawn. I guess my thinking is that one step is better than no steps. We'll get one step today; we'll get two tomorrow. We'll get the second one today; we'll get a third one tomorrow. Do you have a comment? Do you feel comfortable commenting?
Mr Ficek: Yes, I do. Basically, what I can see with it and what I'm aware of is that the government virtually ignored all 11 points that were put down in black and white as to what we needed in the Ontario disabilities act. In the three-page legislation that Isabel Bassett introduced, not one of the 11 points was even considered.
Mr Galt: These were 11 points that you people had brought forward-
Mr Ficek: They were 11 points put through in a blueprint that had been given to the government. Time and time again David Lepofsky and a number of members of the ODA committee had tried to meet with Mr Harris and anyone who would listen and virtually weren't able to get anywhere. My understanding now is that process is again taking shape. They are planning on meetings, but the three-page ODA that they introduced virtually ignored all 11 points of the Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee, which they said would need to have all or most of those points included to make it a strong and effective legislation.
Mr Galt: So this was brought forward to Derwyn Shea and the Honourable Isabel Bassett when they were touring the province during the consultation process.
The Chair: We're out of time. On behalf of the committee, thank you very much for your presentation this afternoon.
CITY OF KENORA
The Chair: Our next group this afternoon is the city of Kenora, the mayor's office. Could you please step forward and state your name for the record.
Mr David Canfield: Mayor David Canfield.
Mr Bill Preisentanz: Bill Preisentanz.
The Chair: Gentlemen, welcome.
Mr Canfield: Thank you very much for the privilege to make a presentation on behalf of the city and some of our concerned organizations and council. The first part of our presentation is dealing with recycling and the problem with recycling and the funding.
We've put together a letter from NORA, the Northwest Ontario Recycling Association, which covers the Kenora and Rainy River districts. NORA's been in operation for 12 years. It now serves 17 municipalities, as well as First Nations, in the Kenora and Rainy River districts. Its program has gained in popularity over the years with the citizens of both districts. With more and more of the larger towns and cities now instituting bag-tag systems for landfill sites in each community, NORA trucks are picking up more and more recyclable material.
Since the Progressive Conservatives were elected to govern in Ontario in 1995, little financial assistance has been made available to help cover the costs of operating, nor for capital items such as trucks that are urgently in need of replacement. The only financial assistance was in the form of a cheque that was received in 1998 for $34,641 through the contribution the Liquor Control Board of Ontario provided in recognition of the amount of their materials we handle. A similar amount was made available in 1999 and we trust will also be there this year as well. However, we anticipated that by now one-half of our operating costs would be covered by the Waste Diversion Organization. However, it appears that the Waste Diversion Organization will not provide any financial assistance this year. This is most unfortunate.
The attached draft budget for 2000 indicates that NORA expenditures for the year are to be $783,915. However, this doesn't provide any money for the gradual replacement of the five trucks that NORA owns and operates. Some of these trucks have over 400,000 kilometres on them and are in constant need of repair.
NORA was counting greatly on the provincial government for financial assistance this year through the waste diversion plan, as was more or less promised by Minister Sterling in a letter dated March 24, 1999, to Mel Fisher, the past chairman of NORA. However, in correspondence from the present Minister of the Environment Tony Clement and Mr Keith West, director of the ministry's waste management policy branch, it appears that financial help will not be coming this year; it is supposed to begin in the year 2001. Having to wait another year will create undue hardship on NORA and some municipalities may even choose to withdraw from NORA, which in turn creates more problems for the remaining municipalities.
Presently, we spend over $100,000 on repairs for the five trucks, and we need to begin replacing the trucks in the year 2000. In order to do this, we need financial assistance from the provincial government. Last year, the various municipalities paid money, in addition to the $8 per capita, in order to pay down the $500,000 accumulated debt due partly to the provincial government withdrawing its help in 1995. As a result, the participating municipalities can't be asked to pay more than the $8 per capita this year.
The participation of the provincial government in a large financial manner in the year 2000 is necessary to keep NORA operating. Your assistance is needed and will be greatly appreciated. NORA is a very worthwhile organization and all steps must be taken to ensure it continues.
I'll just add a few more statements on the recycling situation. As you know, not all of northwestern Ontario, and I'm sure not all of Ontario, has gotten involved in the blue box system. We have an area that covers a third of the provincial land mass and therefore it costs a lot more to run trucks up and down and around our gravel roads. It's come to the point where we can't afford to keep this service going, but we can't afford not to keep the service going, just for the impacts on the environment. We believe something has to come out of this.
Looking around, I've seen a few different possibilities. There are a couple in the provinces west of us. One of course is in Alberta, with the deposit return. In Manitoba I'm not exactly sure how it works, but I believe there's a two-cent levy on the manufacturers for each bottle or package. I understand, talking to people in Winnipeg, that with what they get from the recyclables and what the manufacturers pay them in this packaging fee, they actually break even or make money on their recycling program. I guess the unfortunate part about that is, right now they're only recycling about 14% of their recyclables in the city of Winnipeg while here we are now recycling well over 30% and deferring it from landfill. It appears that we're not being rewarded for doing a good job. I believe the government has to somehow come up with some more money or the manufacturers, the people who package the stuff, become responsible and pay the money so the average homeowner doesn't have to pay it on their tax bill.
The next item is winter tourism in northern Ontario. I understand there was a presentation made by the chamber and it will be somewhat similar to this presentation, although not the same.
While winter tourism in Ontario has experienced unprecedented growth over the past seven years, this past winter has seen a significant drop in winter tourism revenues. This is due to several factors: The cost of a trail permit for local riders of $120 to $150 if purchased after December 1 or $180 if purchased on the trail; the cost of a permit for visitors traveling on the trail system of $25 for a day, $85 for a seven-day permit; the lack of reciprocal agreements with Manitoba and Minnesota resulting in out-of-province riders needing to purchase an Ontario Federation of Snowmobile Club permit; the advent of trail wardens intimidating riders without valid permits.
All of the resorts offering winter tourism services have experienced dwindling revenues due to decreased out-of-province ridership on the trails. As well, local and regional travel is down too, as many riders have refused to purchase permits. Much of the decline can be attributed to the strict policy of the Ontario Federation of Snowmobile Clubs which does not give local clubs the flexibility to deal with issues such as reciprocal agreements, permits prices and enforcement procedures.
Some solutions have been suggested in order that this trend be altered and some preliminary ideas in this regard are:
Provincial legislation requiring mandatory permits. If all sleds were required to have a permit then the permit fee could be reduced substantially. I understand by listening to the radio that the Chamber of Commerce-I believe the way they addressed it was mandatory registration, and this would go 90% back into the trails. I understand that in Manitoba the registration they pay every year goes directly into their trail permits which, of course, cuts down the cost of the trail permit. I believe a trail permit there is around $40 or $50, where we are about three times that here.
Provincial funding for trail maintenance. The industry would support a room tax for trail development and maintenance of a province-wide trail system; the creation of a family permit to make registering more than one snowmobile more affordable to traveling families; providing trail funding directly to the local clubs instead of the OFSC-one size does not fit all, especially in northwestern Ontario.
It is hoped that the province will address this issue immediately as the tourism industry in northern Ontario needs to continue to build on the economic growth so evident over the past seven years.
Again, to add to that, because of our close proximity to Manitoba and Minnesota, being only 30 miles from the Manitoba border and about 40 or 50 from the Minnesota border on the Lake of the Woods, we do get a lot of tourism coming in this direction. Because of some probably overzealous coffee shop talk and things that have happened, there was a front-page article in the Free Press a few weeks ago telling Manitoba snowmobilers that they weren't wanted in Ontario. So although this doesn't seem like a serious situation in southern or central Ontario, in this part of Ontario it is a very serious problem. As I said earlier, one size doesn't fit all and somehow Queen's Park is going to have wake up and understand that one size does not fit all.
Another problem in the north, and I understand, listening to the news, that it's a little bit of a problem across the country and in the south, is our gasoline pricing. There has been a long-standing disparity in gasoline prices between northern Ontario and the rest of Ontario for years. Despite the best intentions of local business, special committees and previous provincial governments, this situation remains unchanged today.
The reality is that gasoline prices are controlled at the refinery market level by the major oil companies and in spite of our best intentions, gasoline prices as a whole disregard competition.
Kenora has historically been faced with higher than normal fuel prices, putting this area at a disadvantage in commercial and tourism opportunities. In fact, last week Kenora had the distinction of the second-highest gas prices in the country.
For the information of this committee, here are some facts on gas pricing in northwestern Ontario: The current price of gasoline in Kenora is 73.9 cents a litre; the current price of gasoline in Dryden is 65 to 68 cents a litre; the current price of gasoline on the Manitoba border is 60.5 cents a litre; the cost to haul fuel is approximately one cent a litre; the gasoline refinery is located in Winnipeg, and the Manitoba provincial gas tax is 3.2 cents a litre lower than Ontario.
On the gas tax, I will make a suggestion, especially for your next budget, and the fact that we have a 3.2-cent difference. I'm suggesting that we do have a serious problem with the oil companies and price fixing or gouging, however you want to put it. We also have a problem with an unlevel playing field. I would like to suggest to the government that if you plan on cutting taxes again in the future, instead of cutting income tax, you cut the gas tax so that we're at least on a level playing field. As it is with a 3.2% difference, that puts our small businesses in this community at an awful dis-advantage, not only the small businesses but the people travelling. We don't have a transit system up here. We all have to own cars. We have long distances to travel to get back and forth to work. Realistically, a gas tax cut up here would fix it a lot better for us. Again, this could be a "one size doesn't fit all," because Toronto has a fantastic transit system, and a lot of other cities in Ontario do. We do not have a transit system-it doesn't make sense because of our great distances-so we'd really appreciate your putting gas tax as a priority for tax reduction in the future.
This disparity in gas prices is affecting Kenora and its ability to compete for the commercial and tourist traffic. Given Kenora's location and proximity to the Manitoba border and the Trans-Canada Highway, we are missing economic opportunities. Tourism has become one of Kenora's main industries, with an estimated summer population of 60,000 residents. In addition, there were approximately 30,000 visitors who made direct contact with our tourism centre in Kenora and a further 13,000 requests for information. A majority of these tourists drive to Kenora. Furthermore, approximately 93,000 adult tourists visited the remote tourism establishments of northwestern Ontario.
I am aware that the provincial government has established a task force and is undertaking an investigation into the fairness of fuel pricing in Ontario. I am also aware that this task force will only be meeting as far west as Thunder Bay. I would suggest that any recommendations and final actions arising from this task force are not to be expected in the foreseeable future.
Recommendation: As a viable and practical step, we would recommend that the provincial government reduce the provincial gas tax in Ontario to the same level as Manitoba, thereby leveling the playing field on the tax side of the equation.
To add to that, in 1986 I went out to Expo `86 in Vancouver. I was quite proud when I went into the Ontario pavilion because I thought that the Ontario pavilion was one of the premier pavilions in the world for Expo `86. The problem was, sitting through the show in the Ontario pavilion, again the province of Ontario ended at Thunder Bay, and we would really like you to extend it to Kenora.
The Chair: Does that complete your presentation?
Mr Canfield: One more.
The next one is on the Canada-Ontario infrastructure program. Municipalities attending the Kenora District Municipal Association conference were advised by cabinet Minister Robert Nault of the federal government initiative to introduce an infrastructure program. Previous Canada-Ontario infrastructure programs have been very successful in levering funding for needy municipal capital projects. Municipalities with aging infrastructure have limited access to the provincial funding for water and sewer infrastructure funding and there is no funding for roads or other municipal capital projects. We strongly urge the provincial government to participate in this new initiative, given its past success.
On the infrastructure, I would like to add that I understand from the leak, as the federal government does it now on their budgets, that it's going to a one third, one third, one third. I would like to make a suggestion to the government that it be 50-50; that each level of government put in 50-50 for 100% funding, and if we so choose, or can afford it, that we top the funding up out of municipal revenues, if that's possible. The reason I say that is in the last probably 10 years-I know in the eight and a half years that I've been in municipal politics, transfer payments have been cut over all those years. We have had highways downloaded.
In my former community of Jeffray Melick, we topped the provincial list at a 33% increase to our highway system. We used to do all our major maintenance with supplementary funding that used to be put out years ago that has also dried up. That was the only way we could do any major capital work to our highways. We also enjoyed the 90-10 relationship with connecting links and bridges. That has also changed where it's a 100% cost. So if we don't get infrastructure money, our infrastructure will eventually crumble and fall apart.
My last subject is the crisis in health care. Throughout the province the committee is undoubtedly hearing the message of the crisis in the health care system and municipalities are hearing loud and clear from their citizens. We are now finding ourselves, as municipalities, involved in their health crises.
We had hoped to get a lot more information on health care and some facts and figures. We didn't have that opportunity as we were pressed for time in getting this together. With everything that's been going on, and as a new city, we were kind of working 24 hours a day, and our administrator is getting a little tired. But again, this is a situation where one size doesn't fit all. Some of you might know, and others wouldn't, that the Kenora district hospital is a district hospital and services a very large area all the way up to Fort Severn and Hudson Bay, one third of the provincial land mass. It serves a lot of northern native communities. This hospital has been strapped, and working hard to try and keep functioning and keep services going while at the same time running an annual deficit.
In some discussions with health care professionals in our community, we found that they've done just about everything there is. I think in audits they found that the hospital here is run extremely efficiently. At the same time the cuts have happened throughout the years. I'm not blaming the provincial government. As we know, this all started with federal transfer payment cuts to the provincial government. The bottom line is that between the two upper levels of government it has to be fixed. I'm sure you have heard this right across the province. It is in a crisis situation.
I do want to compliment the committee for coming here and for realizing that Thunder Bay wasn't the end of Ontario. We just hope you can continue with other committees and make sure that Kenora doesn't fall off the map, because we're going to be growing rapidly and we will be in the news a lot and we expect to see a lot more of you.
The Chair: Thank you very much. We have approximately three and a half minutes per caucus.
Mr Hampton: Thanks very much, Mayor Canfield. I want to focus for a minute on the tourism issue because some of the government members and I had a discussion over lunch hour about this. I'm struck by your comment, first, that winter tourism is a growth industry and one that has grown rather significantly in the last seven years. So it's an important industry for this part of the province, is that right?
Mr Canfield: That's right.
Mr Hampton: Your comment, "Much of the decline can be attributed to the strict policies of the Ontario Federation of Snowmobile Clubs, which does not give the local clubs the flexibility to deal with issues such as reciprocity, permit prices and enforcement procedures," is this another case of one size fits all?
Mr Canfield: One size doesn't fit all.
Mr Hampton: Your recommendation that instead of simply providing funding directly to the OFC, the government actually look at working with local clubs and local organizations, because the challenge in Sudbury may be different from the challenge in Kenora or the challenge, let us say, in the Ottawa Valley may be different from the challenge in Dryden or Ear Falls, do I hear you saying that there is a solution to this if the government's willing to work with local communities?
Mr Canfield: I believe there is. Some of the points come here from input from different organizations. The reality is, a club in North Bay or Sudbury, as you said, is totally different from a club here because of the typography of the land and a lot of different issues.
I don't think this is a really easy one to sort out but I do believe you're not going to please everybody on this. I'll tell you that right up front. We can't afford having tourists turn around at the border and go home because of the trail permit agreements. At the same time, by no means do I want our volunteers and our clubs here to feel the pressure they're getting, because they're doing a very good job and we much respect that. The problem is that it's not working.
I don't know if it works in southern Ontario, I don't much care, and I don't think they much care if it works here, but we do care if it works here because this is our revenue line. Tourist camps have opened in the wintertime because they just couldn't quite make it on summer tourism any more. It was an opportunity and it's been building rapidly. We have to have something that will work here, and it might not be the same thing that works in southern or central Ontario.
Mr Hampton: I want to ask you just one question about gasoline prices. Again, we had a chance to talk about this. My understanding is all of the gasoline comes from Winnipeg.
Mr Canfield: That's right.
Mr Hampton: And there aren't significant trans-portation costs to bring that gasoline two hours from Winnipeg.
Mr Canfield: One cent a litre.
Mr Hampton: Is there any way to account for the fact that if you go 18 kilometres west of here to Clearwater Bay the price of gas is cheaper, or if you go 60 kilometres east of here to Vermilion Bay the price of gas is cheaper, and yet both of those communities are significantly smaller than Kenora? Is there any way to account for that, in your view?
Mr Canfield: We can't figure it out. The only way we can account for it is strictly through the oil companies. To give you an example, approximately five years ago, when the price of oil was up around $29 or $30 a barrel, before it started dropping, the price of gas in Toronto was 66.9 cents. I believe home heating fuel was around 38 cents or 41 cents at the peak. I'm not sure, I didn't check what the price of a barrel of oil was today but it has been hovering around the $27 or $28 mark, yet our gasoline is now 73.9 cents and home heating fuel is 47.9 cents. If anybody can make any sense of that, I'd sure like to find out how.
Mr Hampton: I take it you would urge the government to send the gas pricing task force to communities like Kenora, Red Lake, Sioux Lookout, Pickle Lake. Perhaps the committee can make some sense of the wild disparity in prices.
Mr Canfield: Definitely. We'd like to have them come to as many communities in northwestern Ontario as possible. The scary part of this, and correct me if I'm wrong, is that the provincial government has a task force and the federal government has a task force. Maybe these two task forces had better get together so at the end of the day they can quit passing the buck back and forth on whose decision it is to regulate it. I think an amalgamation of the task forces, provincial and federal, might help out.
Mr Galt: Thank you, Your Worship, for your presentation. I just have a couple of comments in connection with recycling etc. When that all started out and the grants for that, it was a start-up for X number of years, tapering down, certainly moving in the direction of the Waste Diversion Organization as a carrot approach versus the stick approach. I was unaware of the slippage that you've just told us is in here. I was with Norm Sterling as the PA for environment and was quite enthused with the Waste Diversion Organization. It seemed like it was heading in the right direction but it looks like a bit of time slippage there.
I want to quickly ask you a couple of questions, one relating to the 3.2-cent difference in Manitoba versus Ontario. If that was changed, we'll say for northern Ontario-in southern Ontario it isn't going to make much difference as it relates to across the border-what would that create job-wise? It must be having an effect on jobs now. Do you have any gut feeling as to what that might be in jobs?
Mr Canfield: I don't have a real gut feeling what it might be in jobs. I do have a gut feeling on what it's going to do to the existing jobs. It's definitely going to hurt the small businessman, the truckers who are hauling wood. I'm sure that Abitibi Consolidated and Weyerhaeuser and the other companies are not going to come up with more money for a cord of wood because of this increase in gas and fuel that we've just seen recently. This is why I say it's a twofold problem. Hopefully we can get the 3.2 cents back down to the same level as Manitoba. The government has bragged about having the lowest provincial income tax. We respect that. We'd also like them to be able to brag about having the lowest, or at least a comparable, gas tax.
It's really hard to give a number in jobs. You're not going to see a lot of growth, I don't believe, in the leisure industry. That's a big industry up here. What's the first thing you're going to quit running when you don't have the money to run it? It's probably your snow machine or your Sea-Doo or your boat and motor as opposed to your car, because you have to get back and forth to work. I'd be afraid of a recessionary trend as opposed to trying to guess on jobs.
Mr Galt: Jumping to tourism, I'm still not clear. I think you are about the third one in who has talked about these trails. The permit fee-this is over and above li-censing of the vehicle-goes to the provincial snow-mobile association? Is that where that fee is going, rather than to the local ones, and then they look after the trail? I don't have it clear. Who requires them to pay that? Could you just walk me through that at the Dick and Jane level?
Mr Canfield: I understand that $25 goes to OFSC and the rest remains local.
Mr Galt: Who says it has to be $150?
Mr Canfield: The OFSC dictates what the price will be.
Mr Galt: But they only get $25 of it and the rest of it comes locally.
Mr Canfield: That's right.
Mr Galt: So this extra money, when it's that high versus Manitoba and the other provinces, the other states, really comes to the local association. Can't the local association say to the provincial organization, "Hey, get your fee down so we're competitive"?
Mr Canfield: I understand, with some discussions, they've tried to do that. You have to understand that it's little brother up against Big Brother. You don't have the numbers here to change democracy. I strongly believe in democracy. That's why I keep going back to the phrase that one size does not fit all.
Mr Galt: Is it $150 for all trails in Ontario?
Mr Canfield: That's what I understand.
Mr Galt: So in southern Ontario that's what you pay to take your Ski-Doo and run it on one of the trails down there as well.
Mr Canfield: That's right.
The Chair: Ms Molinari, you have one minute.
Mrs Molinari: It's a quick question. First of all, thank you for your presentation. The question on the gas tax-part of the challenge of this government when we're reducing taxes is to make sure that savings is directly to the taxpayer. Do you have any ideas on how, in reducing that gas tax, we would ensure that the saving would be directed to the taxpayer? We can talk about regulating the gas prices, and we're looking forward to the report the task force is coming out with on that, but will that go directly to the taxpayer or will that just be another increase that the oil companies will take?
Mr Canfield: I guess that's the cop-out. Mr Nault used the same one on me, and you're probably going to get the same answer-maybe not quite as rough; we were in private. In my mind, that's a cop-out by any government. The government has to get control of this situation. They have to regulate or they have to bring some kind of rules of whatever that the gas companies have to follow. Let's take care of our backyard and do what has to be done with the gas companies.
You asked, how do I feel this will go directly back to the individual? An individual making $10,000 or $20,000 a year probably doesn't pay any provincial tax today, so a provincial tax cut is going to help me at my income level, but it's not going to do anything for the person with a low income anyway. Most of these people in this part of the country have to own and drive a car to get back and forth to work, and that kills them. When you're making $10,000 or $15,000 or $20,000 a year, can you imagine driving a car 10 or 15 miles to work every day at 73.9 cents a litre?
Mrs Molinari: But if it's not-
The Chair: We're out of time, Mrs Molinari. I have to go to Mr Kwinter.
Mr Kwinter: Mr Mayor, are you in a position to discuss the budget of NORA, Mr Brown's budget?
Mr Canfield: I can try.
Mr Kwinter: I don't want to put you at a disadvantage, because I know it isn't your presentation. You were just doing it on his behalf.
Mr Canfield: That's right.
Mr Kwinter: The question I ask is, if you look at it, you'll see that the only government participation is the $34,641 that is really the LCBO contribution, which is in order to look after the materials the LCBO generates. When I look through the correspondence with Mr Sterling, he was saying that they were looking to fund up to 50% to encourage municipalities to get involved with the blue box program. You're telling me that Kenora is involved in that program.
Mr Canfield: We're very heavily involved in the program. In fact, at the end of last year the then town of Kenora implemented a bag tag, which has doubled or tripled the amount of material going into the blue box system. I believe that is the right track. In fact, my goal eventually-if I'm around long enough-is to get into 100% recycling. We're doing the right thing, at our cost.
Mr Kwinter: So the proposed budget for the period ended December 31, 2000, shows a break-even, which includes the $34,641 coming as a result of the LCBO. They were promised a 50% contribution. They haven't got it yet, and the then minister-I don't know whether there's been a confirmation with the new minister-said it would be in 2000; then he said it's going to be delayed; now he's saying it's going to be 2001. Other than the capital requirement that Mr Brown seems to ask for for the replacement of the five trucks, he seems to be running on a break-even basis. My concern is that as long as he keeps putting forward these budgets, the government is going to say, "They're asking for money but they seem to be doing fine. They seem to be operating and they're not incurring any debt because it's picked up by the municipal contribution of $8 and all of the other things they're getting." How do you address that?
Mr Canfield: I believe-and I'd have to relate this to Bill-it costs the new city of Kenora about $180,000 a year to be part of the blue box system, which we didn't have to pay at one time and which we now have to pay, along with other transfers of highways and connecting links, as I stated before. We've jumped through all the hoops. We've amalgamated; we've found efficiencies. But we're getting to the point where we're getting strained. I believe there's an answer here, and I'm not necessarily saying it's with the government. Maybe we should be putting this back in the hands of the manufacturers. Maybe a system like Manitoba's or Alberta's is a better system. I believe that the people who manufacture these goods should be responsible for these goods.
Mr Kwinter: Have you had any discussions with industry about that?
Mr Canfield: I've read quite a bit of the stuff. I haven't been on the NORA board over the last few years and I'm not as up on it, but I do read all my material and try to keep up on it a bit. No, we haven't, but that would come, I imagine, from the provincial government, from legislation forcing them to be responsible for their packaging.
The Chair: We've used all of your time. On behalf of the committee, thank you very much for your presentation this afternoon.
ONTARIO SECONDARY SCHOOL TEACHERS' FEDERATION, DISTRICT 5A
The Chair: Our next presenter this afternoon is the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation, district 5A, Northern Shield. Could you please step forward and state your name for the record.
Mr Dave Rhind: My name is Dave Rhind, president of district 5A, Northern Shield.
The Chair: On behalf of the committee, welcome.
Mr Rhind: Thank you for the opportunity to make a presentation. Much of what I am going to say actually comes from my staff. I represent secondary teachers in Dryden, Kenora, Red Lake and Ignace. We basically are a very large board, 100,000 square kilometres, so we don't have much chance to get together. I asked them for their comments on this, and they sent me some material. What I am going to try to do is to show the extent of the problem being faced by education in the north, due partially to budget restraints and what we consider to be a fairly inflexible funding formula which has been used to cut hundreds of millions of dollars from education.
Currently schools in my board are being run on a shoestring. That's the comment that comes up from many teachers. The philosophy apparently is to get only the bare necessities; in other words, it's a make-do attitude. As a result, out-of-date texts are not being replaced and some classes are using different editions of the same textbook. I have an example in senior biology in my high school of Beaver Brae in Kenora, which has two different editions because they don't have sufficient of either one for the students. Senior math classes in Dryden don't have enough texts for their current class numbers, forcing the teacher to either photocopy or have students share texts or in some way make do.
Special-needs facilities in my school are woefully inadequate, especially to service the severe-disability stu-dents, who have very specific needs with regard to lunch, bathroom facilities, toileting and extra care. Due to the age of many of our high schools, major renovations are required to adapt current rooms to handle these students. Unfortunately, money for these renovations is almost nonexistent and has to come out of some other budget, if we can find it.
The lack of resources due to budget constraints has led to some interesting dilemmas. For example, the science department at my school, Beaver Brae, has $15,000 worth of computer-based labs, purchased using a special federal fund for that, but they can't afford to purchase the hardware necessary. They have one computer in the entire department that will run these programs. They can't afford to buy more and still buy the necessary supplies for classroom instruction.
Not only have resources for the classroom been cut back, but the current funding model has put a serious strain on the adequate education of special-needs students. At present, we have a lot of special-needs students coming in from northern schools and remote communities; they require very specialized programming and often one-on-one workers. Unfortunately the current special-needs funding does not get transferred with the students, and so our resources are being stretched to the limit due to the funding crunch.
One of the problems I found out today is that the new special-education funding is with the program, not the student, so you have to establish in May of the previous year what you believe your requirements will be for the following year. In our case, if we get students coming in from remote communities and northern reserves who require special ed, we don't get the dollars, because we didn't know about it the previous May, and they show up in September.
It is not uncommon now to have classes of 22 or more students-and this is especially true in our computer labs-with up to five special-needs students and no teacher's aide, our support personnel to assist the classroom teacher. This is at a time when curriculums are being revamped and made harder and changes are being introduced at all times.
The reality of small northern schools is that we've always had a difficult time offering the wide range of class options available in the larger southern schools. This difficulty has become a serious problem with the current education funding model inadequately recognizing the costs in providing choice for students in a small school. Split-grade classes, such as 11-12 or 9-10, as well as mixed levels of difficulty, academic and applied together, are the norm for many of the optional subjects. We are seeing more of these classes than ever before. I have an example of a teacher last semester who had a grade 11 class with a basic-advanced split. He had to teach both with no support personnel for his special-needs students who were in that class.
An ongoing concern to many teachers in the north has been the cutback in professional development opportunities at the same time as curriculums are changing, technology is changing and the demands on teachers are increasing at a rapid pace. PD days have been cut in half-they actually have gone from nine down to four-and the dollars available have also been reduced. Sending even one person to a conference in Toronto costs a minimum of $1,500, as you know if you had to fly up here. No business introduces new equipment or new technology into the workplace without substantial in-service. Unfortunately, teachers in the north are not receiving enough of this training and development.
Not only have we seen a cut in the actual dollars being spent in instruction in the classroom, but extracurricular funding has also been drastically curtailed in the past four years. In fact, extracurricular has been removed from the funding formula. It has been well documented that a good secondary program must also include opportunity for participation in sports, drama and music, as well as field trips to museums, theaters, plays and other productions. Unfortunately, the reality of life in this part of the province is distance, and today distance equals higher costs. The province's funding model does not adequately take into account the facts of life for northern students. As costs for the extras keep mounting, more and more students are prevented from participating fully in their secondary school programs.
An example of the burden higher costs are placing on local schools and ultimately the students is the recent increase in bus rates from the local bus company, Excel. I phoned them a couple of days ago to find out exactly what it costs to transport students. These are just two I took out of what they sent me: A round trip to Dryden, which is our closest neighbor that we participate with in terms of extracurricular sports and other activities, was $395.85 as of last November, and just last week it changed to $553.20, plus GST, and that does not include overnight; to Winnipeg, which is where we often go for drama productions, museums, theatres, musicals, it's $992.50, plus GST, for a one-day round trip.
Obviously, the educational opportunities for our students in the north are fewer than those in the larger southern boards, and as costs continue to rise, not only will participation drop but the number of opportunities for the extras of high school life will also decline. Students, in my opinion, are being shortchanged in their high school experience.
Distance, as I said, is obviously a fact of life in the north, yet the Ministry of Education has chosen not to recognize this fact for the Keewatin-Patricia District School Board. The board covers approximately 100,000 square kilometers but is not considered remote and isolate, at least for the purposes of extra funding. Yet the Rainy River board, with half the number of students and a smaller area of operation, gets an extra $600,000 a year. Apparently, adequate consideration has not been given to the need for travel and communication throughout the board. I attached an appendix from what the board presented to the Ministry of Education to make a request for its extra funding.
A more recent ramification of the change in education funding has been the decision not to replace teachers retiring at the end of semester 1 or leaving to take jobs elsewhere, as I had in my school. Locally this has led to the canceling of some semester 2 classes and the subsequent changing of teacher and student timetables. Many staff and students learned only days before the beginning of the new semester that their courses were changed. In Dryden, they changed 15 teachers' timetables, and they only have 62 on staff. In my school, it affected seven teachers. This has added an extra burden on to teachers already trying to finalize semester 1 marks and get ready for semester 2, all in a very short period of time, as a matter of fact in less than a week.
We now have in Ontario a very rigid funding formula that does not take into account the realities of bargaining. Teachers have a right to expect to participate in the wealth of this province and will certainly be going for a salary increase this year. Such an increase is necessary not only to restore some of the lost purchasing power of the last seven years, with no raises and an increased cost of living, but also to make teaching in the north an attractive option for young teachers.
It will be increasingly more difficult to attract these qualified young teachers to the north, similar to the difficulties being faced by the northern communities trying to attract new doctors, as teachers in the north are falling further behind employees in both public and private sectors. For example, in Kenora, teachers have not received a raise since January 1993. This was only one-half of 1%. Since this time we have suffered through Rae days, inflation, increased benefit costs, as well as the current government's inadequate funding model.
Traditionally, our board has looked to Manitoba to replace some of its retiring teachers. There is hardly a school in northern and northwestern Ontario that doesn't have somebody who was born and raised in Manitoba or Saskatchewan but comes to teach here.
A recent article in the Winnipeg Free Press, which I have included as appendix 2, would appear to put this source of qualified young teachers at risk. The headline in the January 24, 2000, Free Press reads, "Fort Garry," which is a Winnipeg school division, "could see horrendous teacher shortage."
The hiring crunch is expected to be very serious in Manitoba this year; so serious, in fact, the St James school division is offering a $1,500 bonus to any teacher planning to retire who informs the board before February 29. It's expected this allows the division to scoop up new graduating teachers from the universities in Manitoba by offering them firm contracts rather than tentative ones based upon what projected retirements might be. The reality is, we will have an increasingly difficult time hiring new teachers out of Manitoba, especially as this year's hiring fair at the University of Manitoba will also have recruiters from Calgary and Los Angeles.
Considering the higher cost of living in northern Ontario-an example would be gasoline at 73.9 cents in Kenora and only 61.5 cents in Winnipeg, because I was there yesterday filling up-and the current state of amenities, such as health care, the question is: How are we going to attract the highly qualified, energetic young teachers needed to teach the tougher new curriculum?
The job of teaching has never been an easy one. Recently, however, due to cutbacks, amalgamations, lack of resources and a curriculum that is changing faster than the changes can be absorbed, the task is becoming impossible. Teachers are demoralized and frustrated. They believe their job is no longer considered valuable by the province or their board. Most teachers feel they have little or no control over their work environment and, yet, studies show the more employees feel in control of their destiny, the better they do their job. As a consequence, more teachers are looking elsewhere, either to teach out of province or to get out of teaching altogether. The unfortunate part of this is that the ones doing most of this kind of thinking are the young teachers or those in the technical trades programs who see their colleagues in business participating in the wealth of the province while they are not. Experienced teachers also are feeling the stress of day-to-day teaching in the current environment and more can't wait to retire. The topic of conversation in the staff room turns repeatedly to the benefits of retirement, but the concern has to be who will replace these qualified experienced teachers when they go.
I'd just like to add, I actually received this an hour or two ago on my desk in my office in the school. It comes from one of our second-year teachers. She goes through her day during exam time. She had two exam supervisions of two and a half hours where she was not able to do any of her marking. Rather than go through all of it, I just want to get to the end. Her day basically starts off before 8 o'clock in the morning and goes oftentimes till 12 o'clock the next morning, because she also coaches. She coaches for three or four hours and then she tries to go home and do her marking, which was due last week. At the same time, she's trying to prepare for her brand-new second semester classes which started the day after exams ended but prior to the time you can get all your marks done, and she hasn't seen her husband in about a week, so I won't mention who it is. As a result, she is seriously considering next year, if this continues, not to coach at all and she's only been at it two years. So the problem we're facing is that the young teachers are getting burnt out and the older teachers can't wait to retire.
The Vice-Chair (Mr Doug Galt): Thank you very much for your presentation. We have about five minutes for questions and/or responses from each of the caucuses. We'll start with the government caucus.
Mr Arnott: The point has been made on a number of occasions since this committee initiated its discussions that the education funding formula continues to evolve. It's certainly my view that as legitimate problems are brought to the attention of the government and backed up by analysis and the kinds of ideas that you've put forward today in a positive and constructive way, the government is obligated to consider those ideas and to hopefully see what it can do to initiate positive change.
I also want to ask you about something you said in your brief. On page 4 you talked about the increased cost of busing for what you call some of the extras. Apparently it has gone up for bus trips to Dryden and Winnipeg, and I can understand why you would want to have various programs where kids could see what is happening in the cities in terms of museums, theatres and so forth.
Do the kids have their own fund-raising programs to raise money to offset the cost of these trips, or is it something that traditionally has come out of the education budget, the school budget?
Mr Rhind: I have been teaching in this town for 26 years, so I can go back to what it used to be and then tell you what has happened. It used to be that a component of the budget for each department would be field trips. Recently those have been cut out. Probably in the last six years, those have been cut to almost none, and now it's almost entirely raised by the students, which brings us to fund-raising burnout in a small town. You're constantly hitting the same people, time after time. A lot of teachers and students are now saying, "We just can't afford the $20, $30, $40 or $50 a trip."
Mrs Molinari: Thank you very much for your presentation. Certainly you bring a different perspective, and we are hearing a lot of that today from the northern community and that one size doesn't fit all. Some of the comments you have made that are specific to the needs of the north-as a government, that is part of the process we are going through now so that we can hear from various communities.
I have one question on your presentation: On page 5 you say that in education funding there has been a decision not to replace teachers retiring at the end of September or in semester one. I don't know what your collective agreement would entitle but, based on my knowledge, it's not up to a school board whether you replace a retiring teacher. Depending on the number of students you have within the system, your collective agreement calls for the number of teachers required. So a new teacher would have to be hired when one retires.
Mr Rhind: That would have been the case years ago. In the last round of negotiations, we were under the gun for a fair number of things. One of the things the board insisted on removing was the clause that said, "If you have this number of students, you have to have X number of teachers." One of the concerns with the funding formula is that because schools have been cut so lean, they have to keep as many students as they can. And when they find in the second semester that they don't have as many as they originally anticipated, they have to find the money. One of the ways they do it is simply not to replace. Two teachers left in Ignace. They didn't replace them. One left in Dryden-actually two; one is on maternity-neither was replaced. I had one who just left and didn't get replaced because they simply figured they would not get the money come the March 31 reporting date to pay for the programs.
Mrs Molinari: So that was a result of a reduction of students taking second-semester courses?
Mr Rhind: According to the board, it was a reduction in terms of what they anticipated they would get. I haven't got all the exact figures yet, because as we speak-they go through guidance-they are still enrolling new students. But the decision was made not to hire the teachers. So they have changed a tremendous number of timetables, students' included, to accommodate the lack of classes.
Mrs Molinari: I know what it can be like at the beginning of a second semester, where the expectation is that you are in a certain class and suddenly get your schedule changed. I can sympathize with some of the difficulties around that.
Before the new funding formula was introduced, there was municipal taxation, where an education levy was tapped. So boards had the ability to levy taxes. How was that here in the north? In York region, the community I come from, there was a constant upheaval every time, because education taxes seemed to be increasing the most in the municipality. The idea was that it's not based on what you can afford, it's based on how much your house is worth and the mill rate and so forth. How did that taxation base affect the community here?
The Vice-Chair: I have to step in and move to the Liberal caucus. My apologies.
Mrs Molinari: You won't even allow him to answer the question?
The Vice-Chair: Do you want to have a quick response, and then we'll move on?
Mr Rhind: Well, nobody likes paying taxes. There isn't really a quick response to that one. I'm sorry.
Mr Kwinter: Thank you, Mr Rhind. I was listening to your presentation and it really struck home. I just want to share with you an experience I had as recently as Saturday.
My wife is a schoolteacher. She loves to teach. She often jokes that they would have to remove her when she was using her walker, because she really felt it was something she has enjoyed doing for her entire adult life. She is retiring this year, under duress. The duress isn't that they are making her retire; it is that she says she cannot afford to get sick because it puts a huge burden on her colleagues. They won't get a supply teacher unless, I think, seven teachers are away. This means that every time she feels she just cannot get in to school, she really feels an obligation to be there, otherwise it's going to put a burden on staff who are already stressed out.
Saturday night I had dinner with a principal who teaches in the same board, but not her principal. He was telling me that he has never had a worse time in teaching and is thinking about pursuing some other vocation.
My question to you is, with that kind of attitude-I certainly know my wife and I know this principal. These are dedicated educators. The morale is so low that it has to impact on the quality of teaching that is taking place in those schools.
Mr Rhind: Unfortunately you are correct. I have been teaching in this town for 26 years. I have seen a lot of teachers come and go. I have said goodbye to a lot of them at retirement parties. I have never seen a group so eager to get out of teaching as I have in the last five years. They are demoralized; the morale is low. It's not the kids. To a person they will tell you: "I love the kids, I love teaching, I love what I'm doing. I just can't put up with the budget problems. I can't put up with dealing with the board any more."
The comment you made that you can't afford to get sick is very true. Apparently, in our board, you had better not have a relative die who you feel close to. We had an example last year where a teacher was asked to be a pallbearer. Unfortunately the person who died was not part of what our collective agreement says was a close enough relative for him to get time off, so they docked him a day's pay to go to Winnipeg to be a pallbearer. It's happening all over the place. The best they will do is charge you the supply teacher rate. Recently we were told, "We may dock you a day's pay, but your other colleagues are going to be covering your classes while you are away at a funeral, if indeed you have to go."
Mr Kwinter: That seems to be the main problem. It puts an added burden on your colleagues, who are already stressed out and having difficulty coping because of the constraints.
Mr Rhind: You have marking to do, you have preparation to do, and you have a brand new curriculum which you supposedly have to get prepared to teach and the prep period you have just got taken up doing an on-call for another teacher who is ill. Yes, the stress is increasing, and more and more it's the young teachers who are saying, "I just can't do this any more." Something has to give.
Mr Kwinter: Given all this, and I don't know whether this is getting out to these enthusiastic new teachers, are you finding that there are still lots of teachers who want to come in and get those jobs?
Mr Rhind: I really don't think I'm qualified to comment, because I'm not part of the hiring team. I know we sent somebody from the board to Thunder Bay to interview. I don't know the results. Given the fact that in Manitoba, if you read the article from the Free Press, one of the superintendents in the Fort Garry division school board says, "We are going to have to make education more attractive by increasing salaries and benefits," if they are going to start increasing theirs, I would say we're not going to get the staff we thought we would get out of Manitoba. I know there are some who are currently teaching in our school who come from down east, the Maritimes, who are considering leaving and going back home. I don't think we're going to get the numbers of energetic, qualified young teachers, the best of the best, as one of our superintendents puts it. I don't think we're going to get them the way we used to be able to.
Mr Hampton: I have two questions. The first is about the education funding formula, especially for special needs. The second is about remote and isolated boards.
I was at two of the schools in Red Lake last week, and the issue of special education funding was brought up in each case. I was at three different schools in Dryden last week, and the issue of special education funding was brought up there as well. I am hearing a lot of it in Fort Frances. What, in your view, is the problem with the funding formula with respect to special education? I asked the teachers I was talking to then about the announcement of the additional $40 million for special education and the response was, "Well, that's good, but it doesn't come anywhere near the need."
Can you explain for us the problem with the funding formula for special education and what has to happen before it gets fixed?
Mr Rhind: I'm not an expert on the ISA grants, which is where they are generating most of their funding now, but I had it explained to me at noon by one of our special-ed teachers, so I'm trying to relate what I just heard at noon.
Apparently, the problem is that in order to qualify for complete 100% funding, you have to have a severe disability. What's happening is that more and more of the board's money goes to certain individuals and less is now available to those who are in the regular classroom but could benefit from a resource program or from having some extra help: one worker in with five or six kids. The money's simply not there, because to get the money you have to go through a series of hoops in order to qualify as a category 1, 2, 3 or 4 type of disability.
Mr Hampton: So students who may be coping with a disability, but whose disability is not so severe as to be classified by ISA, essentially fall through the cracks now.
Mr Rhind: Precisely. That's the way it was put to me by one special-ed teacher. More and more of them are doing just that, falling right between the cracks.
Mr Hampton: The issue of remote and isolate boards-and I thank you for bringing this graph which compares the Keewatin-Patricia board, the Rainy River board and the Superior-Greenstone board. Some of the government members and I had a chance to talk about this over lunch, so I wonder if you could emphasize it.
I want to draw your attention to the Rainy River board. The area recognized within the board is 6,015 kilometres. I know the history of that. In 1987, the then Fort Frances-Rainy River board made an application to the Ministry of Education to have what are called remote parts of Rainy Lake and Lake of the Woods and some of the other areas that are not necessarily serviced by road added to the board's geographic area. The Ministry of Education in 1988 assented to that, so the board gets credit for places that are at the end of the road, and even beyond the road.
I know the old Kenora board made a similar application in about 1988, but there was a torrent of letters and faxes from people-I think the Right Honourable John Turner wrote a letter opposing it-and so the government of the day declined to recognize the geographic area of the northern part of Lake of the Woods and some of the other geographic areas falling within the board.
I think what I hear you saying is that if there's going to be equitable funding for Keewatin-Patricia, that area has to be recognized, because even though it may not be the most urban of areas or may not even be a suburban area, it geographically ought to fall within the extent of the board, and the board therefore ought to be recognized for remote and isolate funding. I think that's what you're asking for, isn't it?
Mr Rhind: I actually am repeating what our business administrator for the board made as a presentation. That's where this chart came from. His argument was just that. This doesn't take into account the fact that we are responsible for running all the way from Red Lake down to Sioux Narrows and all the way from the Manitoba border to Ignace. All this grant does, or all the ministry will take, is the actual jurisdictional boundaries of those towns rather than the distance in between, as though somehow one can magically go from Kenora to Dryden and all that distance in between that you're covering, that theoretically is not in your jurisdiction according to the old boundaries of the old boards, doesn't cost you any money; you can get there free.
Mr Hampton: In fact, it does cost you an awful lot of money.
Mr Rhind: We're basically responsible for providing service for anybody who lives within those boundary lines too.
Mr Hampton: As I understand it, if all of those areas were within the geographic boundary of the board, the province would actually add to its educational property tax resource.
Mr Rhind: That's what I have been told.
The Vice-Chair: Thank you very much for your presentation and your responses. Best wishes.
Mr Rhind: Thank you very much for listening to me.
ONTARIO PUBLIC SERVICE EMPLOYEES UNION
The Vice-Chair: Our next delegation is from OPSEU, Mr Len Hupet, vice-president. Would you come forward and state your name into the microphone for recording purposes. Thank you very much for coming forward.
Mr Len Hupet: Good afternoon. My name is Len Hupet. For over 30 years, I've been a correctional officer at the Fort Frances jail. Right now I'm on leave from that job and serving my second term as first vice-president and treasurer of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union.
I want at this time to thank you very much for the opportunity to address these hearings, and welcome to the north.
I am here today to bring my union's perspective to the provincial budget. Since 1995, OPSEU members have found themselves directly in the path of the Conservative steamroller. Since 1995, we have seen over 25,000 members lose their jobs, not only in the Ontario public service but also in our community colleges. We have seen dedicated workers in health care and social service agencies struggle to serve their clients in the face of ongoing budget reductions.
We are among those who have paid a heavy price for the Common Sense Revolution. We believe we have a particular understanding of what this government's policies have done to Ontario. We believe we have a unique perspective. We know what it means when a government deliberately chooses to destroy public services.
I want to talk about two main things here today: first, our ongoing concern with the general fiscal direction of this government and, second, the impact of this direction on our members, their work and their communities.
As everyone knows, this government decided a long time ago that tax cuts were more important than any other policy goal; more important than public services, more important even than deficit reduction, which Conservatives normally put a premium on. This singleminded focus on tax cuts is about one thing and one thing only: to change the way the wealth of this great province is distributed.
In the north, we are used to seeing our resources shipped away to make other regions better off. Under this government, the same thing is happening, but it's not just a transfer of wealth from poor regions to rich regions; it's a transfer of wealth from poor people to rich people.
Of course, the government doesn't want to just come right out and say that cutting taxes and chopping public services are moving money from the poor to the rich, so they make up reasons. They say that we have to cut taxes to compete globally. They talk about a brain drain. They talk about tax cuts as if they put more money into everybody's pockets. They talk as if tax cuts are actually making Ontario a better place to live. They are not. You just have to read the headlines: emergency room tragedies, environmental disasters, homelessness in Toronto, deteriorating roads in the north, and students who can no longer afford a higher education.
In the middle of these serious problems, the government always tries to put the blame on others: the federal government, poor people, the union movement and its own employees.
According to the alternative provincial budget, the Tory tax cuts will double the provincial debt, an additional $80 billion since 1995. So much for being conservative. Driving us into debt, slashing public services and cutting taxes all have the same effect. Debts give future governments an excuse to cut public services. Tax cuts give the current government an excuse to cut public services. When public services are slashed, they deteriorate. This causes people to lose faith in government.
Unlike the Bill Davis Conservatives, good government is not this government's goal. Their goal is no government. With no government, the playing field will be wide open for private corporations to run everything, and when corporations run everything, democracy means nothing. This is the direction the Harris government is driving us. They never say that, of course. They say tax cuts actually increase government revenues. If this were true, and it's not, the best way to increase government revenues would be to give all our money away. Well, the real world doesn't work that way.
A recent study by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives compared British Columbia and Alberta between 1993 and 1997. British Columbia faced slower growth in the economy and introduced few tax cuts. Alberta had a faster rate of economic growth and introduced deep and extensive tax cuts. It should come as no surprise to anyone that British Columbia had a faster rate of revenue growth; it's common sense.
Yes, revenues are growing in Ontario, but not because of tax cuts. Since the Harris government came to power, the United States economy has been booming. The federal government has maintained a policy of low interest rates. These two things are driving the current economic boom. But a very sad thing is happening. At one time, an economic boom was good for everyone. They used to say, "A rising tide lifts all boats." This economic boom is different. While some get richer and richer, others are getting poorer and poorer, and the destruction of public services only helps those who can afford to buy their own. In their hearts, Ontarians know this. In poll after poll, the public ranks education, health care, the environment and assistance to poor children, to name a few, far ahead of tax cuts.
This isn't that surprising, given the actual pocketbook impact of the tax cuts. As you have previously heard, the Centre for Social Justice has recently released new figures from Statistics Canada tracking the income of families raising children under 18. The centre compares the year 1994, the last full year of the NDP government, to 1997, the most recent year for which statistics are available. During those four years, the disparity in income earned in the marketplace between the richest 10% of the population and the poorest 10% of the population actually dropped. The gap fell by over 70%. Amazingly, however, after this government's intervention in the market through tax cuts for the wealthy, transfer cuts to average Ontarians and new user fees, the gap between the richest and poorest actually increased from six times after-tax and after-transfer income to almost eight times.
The political choices of this government have ensured that our society is even more divided than ever.
The impact on public services and OPSEU members: I want to talk about the impact of public service cuts. Public services have always been the backbone of our northern life. Publicly maintained highways have moved our resources to market. Government regulation has, to some degree, made sure that our resources have helped build the province and not only line the pockets of corporate shareholders. All of that is coming undone.
By laying off hundreds of resources technicians, this government has given forest companies free rein over a resource that is supposed to belong to us. By laying off over 40% of the staff in the Ministry of the Environment, they've given polluters a free ride through what they call "self-regulation." Asking private industry to do its own management of public resources and cut pollution voluntarily is exactly the same as expecting speeders to turn themselves in at the next OPP detachment. It just doesn't happen.
What's happening to our northern highways is even more obvious. This winter people across the north are asking, "What's gone wrong with our highway maintenance?" For starters, it's not as good as it used to be. There's less salt, less sand and less plowing. That means more dangerous roads. It may mean more highway deaths. In communities like Schreiber, Neebing, Temagami, Latchford and Ottawa municipal councillors are wondering if poor maintenance is causing highway deaths. If it is, there is a good chance that privatization is to blame.
Starting in 1996, the government launched an ambitious plan to privatize highway maintenance. Their goal is to have all of it sold off to private corporations by this spring. The 1999 report of the Provincial Auditor did not slow them down one bit. This past November the Provincial Auditor, Erik Peters, wrote a scathing report on how the Ministry of Transportation had handled highway privatization so far. Here's what he said. "The ministry's procedures were not adequate to ensure that the outsourcing initiative was managed with due regard for economy and efficiency, nor to ensure compliance with legislation, policies and contract terms and conditions." In other words, MTO did pretty much everything wrong.
First off, the report proves taxpayers didn't save money by contracting out. What appears to matter to the government is not satisfying highway safety and maintenance but only satisfying its corporate friends.
The report noted the inadequate monitoring of safety standards in privatized areas. The auditor also saw selling off public highway equipment and then listing the revenue as an attempt to "cook the books." He pointed to evidence that the government had double-counted certain budget items to make the work performed by public employees look like it cost more.
The auditor's report confirms what OPSEU has said all along about the privatizing of roads: It's too expensive and it's too dangerous. Public employees do a better job because they don't have the profit motive interfering with their work.
When you privatize a service like road maintenance, the motive is there for private operators to cut corners to increase their profits. They might use less salt or sand or they might lift their plows off the pavement to save the blades. Whenever that happens, the public is put in danger. We cannot support that. That's why OPSEU is working now with northern mayors to call for an independent review of the whole highway maintenance scheme. We believe privatization is destroying our roads and endangering our lives. We believe an independent review will prove it once and for all.
Despite the fact that privatization has been an all-out disaster for Ontario's highways, the government now wants to do the same damage to another area that has a lot to do with public safety. That area is correctional services. Right now, the government is planning to privatize one and likely two of the 1,200-bed superjails it is building in Penetanguishene and Lindsay. They plan to privatize the escort of prisoners when they are taken into the community for medical appointments or when they are being transferred between institutions. They plan to privatize the maximum-security facilities for young offenders. This is very dangerous.
People who live in communities with provincial jails don't think about them much. That's how it should be. Ontario jails have an excellent track record in keeping inmates locked up and keeping communities safe. The people who run Ontario jails are directly accountable to ministers of the crown. In addition, provincial jails provide decent-paying jobs that support local economies.
These are the three things that our communities will lose if private jails come to Ontario: safety, accountability and economic benefits. And don't think it's something that will just happen down south. The corrections ministry has already completed its review of the northern district. We don't know what they've got planned, but we do expect community jails to close and bigger jails to be built. If the government can get away with private jails in the south, they will privatize here as well.
By now, most people have heard the horror stories about what has happened with prison privatization in the United States and overseas. In 1997, the city of Youngstown, Ohio, invited the Corrections Corporation of America to set up a private prison with the promise of 450 jobs to be created. The CCA prison held 1,700 inmates. In the next 10 months that prison had 13 stabbings; two of them were fatal.
All of the other prisons in Ohio, all publicly run, had only 12 assaults with deadly weapons during that period. No one died. The public prisons in Ohio held 48,000 inmates. In other words, the record of violence in Youngstown was 30 times as bad as it was in the rest of the system.
Peter Davis, director of the Ohio state corrections agency, said, "There is nothing in Ohio's history like the violence at that [private] prison."
Maybe some people don't care about what goes on behind the locked gates of a jail; we do. Correctional staff do not want to die so some foreign corporation can make money. Then there's the community aspect.
In Youngstown, six inmates broke through seven layers of prison security. Five of these escapees were convicted murderers. When they escaped, the prison held off on calling the police for several hours. This is not an isolated case.
The two private prisons in New Mexico run by Wackenhut Corp had riots, nine stabbings and five murders in just over a year. One of them was a guard. The man who died was named Ralph Garcia. He signed on at the prison for $7.95 an hour. He had not completed his short training course, but he was put in a cellblock with 60 unlocked prisoners. Leaving Garcia alone was part of Wackenhut's cost-cutting policy. The response from a Wackenhut executive was, "We'd rather lose one officer than two."
In a public facility, you've got experienced, professional staff who know how to keep things calm. You've got managers who are accountable to citizens. A corporation is accountable to its shareholders. It is not accountable to local citizens. Private corporations exist only to make money. In private prisons, they do this by cutting costs. And that means jeopardizing safety.
We've already seen this in Ontario at the government's private boot camp for young offenders. Project Turnaround is a facility for offenders aged 16 to 17. It opened in August 1997 near Orillia.
We don't know exactly what's going on inside Project Turnaround right now. As a private facility, it's not open to scrutiny the way a public facility is. The public can't even get a copy of the minister's report on the escape that happened there.
The escape happened on the day of the grand opening. The minister went up there to do a big media event and the kids did one instead. Two of the inmates broke out of their rooms, hot-wired a van and crashed it through the gates. Fortunately for police, the breakout damaged the radiator and the van broke down not far down the road. The inmates took off into the bush and were not captured for several hours. After that, real correctional officers from the public service were called in to secure the facility. Taxpayers paid for that. Taxpayers also paid $380,000 for security improvements at that facility.
There was a public meeting held near Project Turnaround a few months after the escape. One of the local citizens posed a hypothetical question to ministry officials. He asked what would happen if the escaped inmates had crashed the van into his wife and children and killed them. He wanted to know who he would be suing.
The then corrections minister Bob Runciman couldn't answer the question. Finally, a ministry spokesperson said, "That would be up to the courts." Of course, that's not true. In reality, he would be suing the company and the government. The government cannot escape liability by contracting out. It just loses control. Taxpayers are always on the hook for extra costs, but the company's profits continue. The history with private prisons is that the public is always the last to know what is going on.
Finally, there is the money issue. Governments who push private prisons always say that they will save money and create jobs at the same time. Neither is true. According to the most comprehensive report done by the General Accounting Office of the US Congress, there is no evidence that private jails are cheaper than comparable public jails. There is also no evidence that a private jail puts more money into the local economy than a public jail. The reason is simple. To make a profit, the company must take money out of the service and out of the community to ship back to the corporate head office. Taking money out of the service means taking it out of payroll.
On March 1, 1999, the Ontario government privatized Arrell Youth Centre, a secure-custody facility for young offenders in Hamilton. The first effect of this was that the facility lost almost all of its experienced correctional staff. Of those working at the facility before privatization, only five employees remained after. The correctional officer's salary for new hires dropped from $44,500 to between $31,168 and $34,058. At the same time that salaries were being cut by over $10,000, the government gave the private operator an extra $300,000 a year to run the operation. The budget went from an existing $2.2 million to $2.5 million a year.
Privatization did not save money; it cost more. On top of that, it cost the public the services of experienced professionals.
Deregulation of resource management and privatization of highways and jails are not being driven by common sense, not at all; they are being driven by a government that has set itself one goal: to move wealth and power from democratic citizens to corporate shareholders. On behalf of my union, I'm here to say that this is not the direction Ontario should be going.
I would like to ask each and every one of you on this committee to take a hard look at what is happening, and when you get back to Queen's Park, please fight for an Ontario that is for all of us, not just the lucky, Conservative few. Thank you very much.
The Chair: We have approximately two minutes per caucus.
Mr Kwinter: Thank you for your presentation. I'm going to do something I don't like to do: I'm not going to ask any questions, I'm just going to make a statement.
I believe that government has the same responsibility as the private sector, and that is to become as productive as they can and to be as efficient as they can. If that means consolidating and getting rid of employees, I have no problem with that, if that's the goal. It happens in industry every day. Where I do agree with you completely, and this is what I want to talk about, is the whole issue of privatization.
We have a situation where in the previous government the man who is now the Minister of Transportation was absolutely critical of what was happening with Highway 407. He would stand up every day and condemn it and say it was the most terrible thing that ever happened. Then he becomes the Minister of Transportation and it's the greatest thing going.
The government sets up a minister in charge of privatization and hires someone to run that ministry, the most expensive civil servant in the government. After a few months, he's gone and the minister is gone, the reason being, if you take a look at it, there is example after example that privatization doesn't always work. I have no problem-if you can show the benefits, privatize. They talked about privatizing TVO and the LCBO. They've backed off on that, the reason being that just because it's in the private sector doesn't mean it's going to be better, and sometimes there are things the government should be running.
I agree that in the correctional service, that is a role for the government. There are many areas, as I say, that can be privatized. We've heard of tree nurseries. Big deal. They privatize a tree nursery. That was their benchmark issue of how they're going to privatize things. So I agree with you completely on that area.
On the other hand, I want to make sure you understand that from my perspective there has to be an examination of everything the government does, and if there is waste, if there are unproductive areas, they've got to be addressed. We have a responsibility to the taxpayer to get value for money and to make sure that it happens. I feel there's got to be a judicious application of where you increase productivity and where you increase safety and responsibility for the taxpayer where the government has a role to play.
Mr Hampton: I want to ask you some questions about highway maintenance because I think the government members need to hear this. This has not been a particularly severe winter in northwestern Ontario, in fact it has been a relatively mild one, yet we've had 15 highway deaths since the beginning of December. In almost every case, highway maintenance or the lack of winter highway maintenance has been identified as a major contributing factor.
What are you hearing about what has changed with the privatization of much of the winter highway maintenance? What are you hearing is the difference?
Mr Hupet: I believe the difference is that the roads were, for lack of a better word, supervised more frequently by public service employees. In other words, they were out constantly looking at the condition of the road and would dispatch plows and sanders, and those vehicles were out instantly.
That is not the case with private operators. They make the assessment on when they go out, how much sand or salt to use, and where that plow should be situated.
A private operator is obviously out for revenue. If it means having a couple of opportunities to go out and do one snowfall rather than do it once, that is an issue for us. We know that our members, Ontario public service employees, did a great job on our highways on the maintenance side, and we have noticed a tremendous difference in the last few years.
The Chair: You have 30 seconds.
Mr Hampton: I understand that the area that highway supervisors now have to cover, the distance on the highway, has in many cases tripled or quadrupled from what it used to be, that the cutbacks are such that someone has to be responsible for, say, 250 kilometres of highway, which is almost impossible when you get into a winter situation. Is that your understanding too?
Mr Hupet: That's my understanding.
The Chair: For the government side, Mr Arnott.
Mr Arnott: Thank you very much for your presentation, Mr Hupet. You have argued your perspective very well, I think, but I have to tell you that I disagree on a pretty fundamental level with most of your conclusions as to what ought to happen.
I must point out what I think was an inaccurate statement in your presentation that the debt has gone up by $80 billion since 1995.
It is my understanding that the provincial debt was about $30 billion in 1985, when the Conservative government left office. It was around $42 billion in 1990, when the Liberal government left office. It was around $100 billion in 1995, when the NDP left office, and today it is around $118 billion.
While I agree with you that it is not good public policy to allow the debt to explode while you are in office, certainly it is the opinion of the government that we are now at the point where we should start paying down debt, and I support that.
I would ask you a couple of questions about your statements about privatization or the belief that there is going to be privatization in our jails.
At the Fort Frances jail, where you formerly worked, I was wondering if you know what percentage of the overall operating budget is comprised of salaries and wages. Would it be around 80%, or would I be wrong in guessing that?
Mr Hupet: I think it would be safe to say that.
Mr Arnott: Do you feel there has been any effort to identify areas of wasteful spending within the institution such that money could be saved? That is the kind of thing the government is looking at in terms of privatization. It is not being driven by a philosophy but by a belief that there may be ways we should explore to do things better and cheaper by looking at alternatives. If savings were identified within the existing way of doing things, I think it would make it less likely that the government would move towards privatization.
So my question is, what more can we do to identify savings within the Fort Frances jail so that we can save the taxpayers money and still do the job the way it has to be done?
Mr Hupet: I think one area to start with would be having an opportunity to dialogue with the government. That would be the first place, and we are certainly open to having those discussions.
On the issue of the privatization model, given what we know in our history and our research of the US situation, atrocities have taken place. It is surprising to us that the government would be looking at a model where there has been all this activity over the years and you now have US Congress and other government officials looking at ways of getting out of the mess they are in.
We find it very surprising that the government would be looking at attempting to bring that kind of model into Ontario when we know that we have a safe system here.
The Chair: With that, we've run out of time. On behalf of the committee, thank you very much for your presentation this afternoon.
Mr Hupet: Thank you.
ONTARIO SECONDARY SCHOOL TEACHERS' FEDERATION, DISTRICT 5B
ELEMENTARY TEACHERS' FEDERATION OF ONTARIO
The Chair: It's my understanding that the next group, Women's Place Kenora, is not in the audience. However, apparently the 4 o'clock group is in the audience. So I would invite the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation, district 5B, Rainy River, to please step forward and identify yourselves for the record.
Mr Andrew Hallikas: A slight omission in who's presenting; we're co-presenting with the Elementary Teachers' Federation. I'm Andrew Hallikas of OSSTF.
Mr Gary Gamsby: Gary Gamsby, ETFO.
The Chair: On behalf of the committee, welcome.
Mr Hallikas: We would like to thank the committee for their time and also for making the journey to Kenora. We really do appreciate the chance to be heard up here.
We would like to speak to you today about the education funding formula, and in particular we would like to talk to you about education in the north.
Although the secondary and elementary teachers of the Rainy River district federations are co-presenting this brief, the brief itself was prepared with the co-operation and also input from the board chair, the director of education, principals, vice-principals, elementary teachers, secondary teachers, caretakers, students and educational workers of the Rainy River District School Board. We all have a lot of concerns.
John Snobelen, when he served as Mike Harris's first Minister of Education, was quoted widely as saying, "The system is broken," and "We must invent a crisis." We'll all remember those quotes. Of course the system wasn't broken, but the Conservative government certainly invented a crisis in education. We believe this crisis served as the excuse the Conservative government would use to extract money from the education system in order to fund its income tax reduction scheme. The Conservative government has cut close to $1 billion out of the education system.
In 1998 Ontario was ranked 55th out of 63 North American educational jurisdictions. This is down from 13th in per student spending in 1993 and 42nd in 1995. We invest less in the education of each child than every American state except Utah. When you examine what the 12 Canadian jurisdictions spend on education as a percentage of their gross domestic product, Ontario is at the bottom of the class again: 10th out of 12.
Although the message that continues out of the Premier's office, as well as from the ministry, is that this government is spending more on education today than at any other time in Ontario history, those of us who work in the classroom and see first-hand the effects of underfunding know that the government truly has created a crisis in education.
Janet Ecker, the present Minister of Education, on three separate occasions highlighted the point that government spending on education is up, although, interestingly, Mike Harris, in a statement to the editorial board of the National Post, admitted that education spending, when inflation and increased student enrolment were considered, had declined under his government. Again, those of us in the classroom know that we have less in the classroom than ever before.
Operating expenditures, which represent the constant funding that goes into education, peaked in 1995 when this government was first elected and has never risen to this level since. This is in spite of the fact that there have been increases in both enrolment and inflation since 1995, as Premier Harris stated. It's true the government has put money into capital expenditures and is obligated to pay its share of pension contributions, but these dollars don't go into the classroom.
The government bases its case for spending more on education, on expenditures other than operating expenditures. But when capital and pension contributions are factored out, the Ontario government in fact is spending less on more students. Combine that with fewer teachers doing more with fewer resources and larger classes and you begin to get an idea of why teachers are leaving the profession that they love in droves.
Funding for full-time equivalent students has gone down. We have all seen the unfortunate result in terms of unrest, protests, demonstrations, and demoralized teachers and education workers across the province, and I'm afraid that perhaps the worst is yet to come unless something is done with the funding formula.
It's not the education system that is broken; it's the funding formula and its premise that all students are the same that's broken.
The funding formula centralizes authority and decision-making but it decentralizes blame. School boards and employees are placed by the government and its broken funding formula into a position that virtually guarantees labour unrest, something that neither boards nor unions wish for or are responsible for. Worse yet is the negative impact that this government's funding formula is having on our students.
In this brief, we'd like to comment on the negative impact that the present funding formula for education is having locally, on the teacher shortage and on collective bargaining.
Mr Gamsby: Not all students in Ontario are the same. One of the major flawed premises of the present funding formula for education is that all students are the same. This is simply not true in Ontario.
Certainly all students are entitled to equal opportunity and to equal quality of education, but the funding formula does not deliver this. Students of southern Ontario boards do not have to spend between one and five hours a day on a school bus. Students in northern boards which cover large geographical areas but do not contain large populations do not have the same access to educational enrichment that students in the southern boards have.
Our students do not have access to the museums, science centres, symphonies, universities, theatres or field trips that students elsewhere have. If our students are studying a Shakespearean play, they cannot take a field trip to Stratford, Ontario, the way students in Kitchener or London could. For our students to see a Shakespearean play, they would have to travel at least 650 kilometres, one way, to Minneapolis, Minnesota, stay overnight, miss two days of school and pay a large amount of money, if indeed they could afford it. There is little or no money available in the funding formula to provide the transportation necessary to give our students the same advantages that students in larger centres have.
Mr Hallikas: Our special education children are also being shortchanged by the funding formula. Although we received new high-needs students this year, the funding stayed the same. The SEPPA funding is on a per pupil basis, but for boards with few students this funding does not amount to very much. The last increase that our board received in SEPPA funding didn't even cover the cost of one full-time assistant.
The EIC, the Education Improvement Commission, the government's own committee, in their report on the Rainy River District School Board, commented:
"The Rainy River board is challenged to meet its community's expectations regarding special education.
"Some special-needs students require the support of a full-time education assistant. Others do not, but it is not always practical to assign more than one client to an educational assistant when the jurisdiction is so vast and sparsely populated."
The SEAC committee which oversees all special education students in the district, met very recently, February 2, and wrote a letter to the minister about the flaws in the present funding formula. There is presently insufficient funding to provide adequate special education support to classroom teachers who must provide modified programs to our special-needs children.
I would like to quote a comment that a teacher at Rainy River High School sent to me, a young female teacher just starting off:
"I taught a grade 10 Introduction to Computers class this term. The class had 20 students and was an advanced-general split. Six of these students were special-needs students. However, I did not have any educational assistants to help me deliver curriculum to these six students. I feel that these six students did not get enough individual attention, even though I spent almost all of my class time with those particular students. These students needed a lot of individual instruction and one teacher in a class of 20 was not enough. The advanced students also suffered because I had very little time to give them any individual attention at all. Furthermore there were discipline problems in the class that were a direct result of the lack of educational assistants. Special-needs students became very easily frustrated with the computers. If I could not get to them to help them soon enough, they would become restless and start to act up."
Mr Gamsby: Guidance and counselling: In our elementary system, due to insufficient funding, there are few or no guidance or counselling services available to students with emotional or behavioural problems. We are seeing a rise in student violence and acting out at all levels in our school system. Guidance and counselling at the secondary level has had the number of periods available cutback due to insufficient funding. Because of this, there is no longer a department head to oversee the program and most of the guidance counsellors are part-time.
This causes a lack of continuity in the department and also with student clients. Counselors are not seeing students as often for routine check-ups, where problems with students' courses of studies are usually caught early. This is having an adverse effect on the students. For example, often students find out too late that they require an additional course to graduate. Other duties in guidance are not being done or done as well as they have been in the past. For example, letters that need to be written to colleges and universities on behalf of the students are taking longer to do.
This year the career fair, which is very important in the north where opportunities and resources for students are minimal, didn't even get off the ground. Getting information and applications out to the students is taking longer. The course selection book is incomplete and this will get worse as all the new courses come on-line. There is a real concern for September when the grade 10 career studies course becomes mandatory. Since guidance teachers presently cannot keep up, how will they handle this additional workload?
Mr Hallikas: Presently there is no funding in the current funding formula for school councils. Funding for school councils must be enhanced in order for them to communicate effectively with parents and the community. We really believe that school councils have the potential to be of great service to the education system, but they must have a budget to be effective.
Again, the EIC commented on this in their report on our board. They said, "School council representatives also expressed concern that the focus of their role seemed to be on fundraising, particularly for essential items such as computers and library books." As a staff member said: "School councils are a good idea. They need the tools to do the job-a budget and training."
Mr Gamsby: Physical education: Due to a shortage in funding throughout the system, curricular aspects of the physical education program have been reduced or eliminated. Due to budget cuts, physical education departments cannot afford to pay the costs of busing students to facilities such as arenas, tennis courts, curling clubs or golf courses, nor can they afford the facility rental cost.
In an effort to maintain the quantity of the equipment required to run programs, the quality of this equipment has had to be reduced. The department relies heavily on using equipment purchased through booster clubs formed by parents, which is a form of user fees levied on the entire community.
In extracurricular athletics there are user fees required from all students who wish to participate. These fees have continued to rise and are now at such a level that significant numbers of less fortunate or less affluent students cannot afford to participate in a very important educational experience. There is no money at all available for the purchase of team uniforms.
Mr Hallikas: Our caretakers have not had a raise in salary in eight years. During this time positions have been cut and workloads have increased. Due to cutbacks, some of our caretakers particularly in smaller schools have no time for routine maintenance. Some necessary cleaning does not get done and consequently some of our schools are in poor shape. In some cases this leads to a situation where the health and safety of staff and students could be jeopardized. Some of our elementary schools are not as safe or as clean as they once were. Similarly, secretaries and clerical workers have lost jobs as positions are contracted out. Bus routes have been outsourced. Kindergarten students, who used to have their own bus, are now forced to share buses with older children. The distance that students must walk before they are entitled to ride a bus has been increased in some communities. The number of mechanics who service buses has been reduced. All of these employees are expected to do more with less. We feel this is a really risky premise when the purpose of our system is to nurture and develop children.
Mr Gamsby: Class size: Due to the ministry-mandated class size average of 25 students per class at the elementary level, class sizes in general have gone up, particularly at the primary level, and again at the intermediate level in an attempt to try to keep primary classes smaller.
At the secondary level, the number of teachers has decreased while class sizes have increased. Last semester at Fort Frances High School we had a record number of classes over the caps specified in the collective agreement. Although the average class size is mandated at 22 students, a record number of classes were over 30 students and some were over 35 students.
Mr Hallikas: In our entire system there is one teacher-librarian. The elementary system has no teacher-librarians. Consequently, elementary schools cannot adequately utilize their libraries, as teachers need to stay in the classroom and no one is available to supervise the library. It's very inefficient. Either the entire class goes to the library or no one goes. Since supply budgets have been cut, there is little or no money to buy library books, or much-needed textbooks, for that matter.
Mr Gamsby: Twinning of schools: For schools that are twinned, and this is a situation where one principal will look after two or more schools, unique problems occur. Since secretarial time is also insufficient and teachers are in the classroom-and there's no one in the library-there is no person available to answer the phone, deal with visitors and handle emergency situations. The EIC, in its report, commented on this. They said: "Parents and staff report that they have had difficulty contacting school staff during the day. The board should examine strategies to ensure that these schools can be contacted during the school day." This is good advice, but it will cost money and that money is not allowed for in the funding formula. This condition is especially serious for smaller schools. Again, it is our students who are at risk due to inadequate funding.
Mr Hallikas: Very recently, this past month, all of our departmental budgets were cut a further 5%. This is on top of previous cuts and at a time when resources, texts and equipment are desperately needed.
Resources are required in order to support and implement the new curriculum. Many of the resources that are presently in the schools were produced hastily-as the curriculum was-and are not effective. In particular, the following are needed for our elementary system: history, geography and science textbooks; science equipment for intermediate grades; manipulatives and equipment are needed for the primary grades; graphing calculators are needed for the secondary system.
Rainy River High School has seven graphing calculators available for all grade 9 students. The new curriculum mandates the use of these calculators and the new textbooks assume that students have them. There is no money available to purchase these much-needed supplies. In fact, our board had to take some money out of supplies in an attempt to adequately fund transportation.
Mr Gamsby: One of the major problems that small northern boards have is transportation. Many of our students are required to be transported over long distances, often in bad weather. This is very expensive to do.
A Toronto newspaper once did a feature story on how long our students spend each day on a school bus and how far they are required to be transported. The title of the article was "Canada's Longest Bus Ride." Students riding this bus travelled 150 kilometres to school every day, one way, regardless of the weather. The journey took between two and three hours, one way. By the time they graduated, these students had spent a significant proportion of their lives on a school bus.
Transportation in our board is grossly underfunded by the government. Our board is short approximately $250,000 each year. School boards can no longer turn to the property tax to make up underfunding from the province, nor are they allowed to run a deficit. This sum had to be made up from elsewhere in the funding formula and much of it was taken from the supplies budget. This means fewer textbooks, supplies and equipment for our students, at a time when there is a complete and sudden overhaul of the entire education system in progress.
The EIC report on the Rainy River District School Board stated, "The vast rural areas served by this board affect transportation costs and result in long routes for some students." Another comment by the EIC in their report was that, "Prior to amalgamation, the larger of the two predecessor boards was very frugal and had cut transportation costs to the barest minimum." The funding formula unfairly penalizes this board for its cost-cutting efforts. The EIC report states that: "The former Fort Frances-Rainy River board historically had one of the lowest per-pupil costs for transportation in the province, but the current board spends approximately $170,000 more than the ministry allocates for transportation-a significant amount for this board. The board is spending an additional $95,000 to transport students to the new secondary school in Fort Frances."
This situation will not change unless the funding formula changes. Our fear is that the shortfall in the funding formula will lead to increased pressure to close small community schools, which in turn will put further strain on already inadequate transportation funding.
The EIC stated in its report that: "The board has several schools operating at less than 80% capacity. For the most part, they are small schools in remote communities and closing any one of them would result in students having to travel long distances. The board is already spending $177,448 more than it has received from the ministry's school operations envelope."
The government, in its hurry to reform the entire educational system, has put incredible pressure on boards, teachers and students.
Mr Hallikas: The EIC also commented on professional development: "Professional development in a large northern board is a challenge, as it is difficult to get staff together because of distance and cost."
Since the funding formula provides minimal money for PD, and since the government has reduced the number of professional development days to four, the challenge is even greater, if not impossible. Teachers require professional development now more than ever before. The government, of course, has reduced the number of professional development days at a time when they are needed the most. In order to implement the new curriculum, get the necessary training, learn how to do the new report cards, learn new assessment strategies, report to parents, evaluate resources and much more, more not fewer professional development or activity days are required. The government must provide funding for this if they wish their reforms to be implemented properly.
Just as students in the north do not have access to the same educational enrichment possibilities as students in larger urban areas, so also are northern teachers disadvantaged. There are few local professional development opportunities available. Teachers in specialized areas must travel either considerable distances to obtain specialized training or experts must be brought in at considerable expense. Simply to attend a conference, most of which are held in Toronto, entails a substantial expense. Small boards do not have the money to provide professional development comparable to that provided by the larger boards.
Many of the new curriculum reforms are technologically based, and again, we do not have the resources to properly implement them. With the electronic report cards, planners, graphing calculators, computer technology and so on, teachers need greater access to training, technical support and access to equipment. Our board presently does not have the resources to provide this.
Presently staff morale is at an all-time low. Even the EIC noted that, "Morale is a problem for both union and non-union staff."
Due to the inadequacy of the funding formula, there are fewer staff, all of whom have increased workloads and who have not had a meaningful raise for eight years.
There are inadequate classroom resources to deal with a huge amount of change that has occurred in a very short time. Yet the EIC says, "We believe that it would be appropriate and productive to give people a period of stability and time to settle into their new roles." We also believe this, and we wish the government would provide sufficient funding and phase the new reforms in over time, instead of rushing ahead with them, so there could be some stability. With much more change to come, and little in the way of resources, it is not surprising that staff members are stressed and morale is low.
Mr Gamsby: Janet Ecker, in her address to branch presidents in September, asserted that the government hopes to build an excellent education system and that one of the cornerstones of such a system is excellent teachers.
Record numbers of teachers have retired in the past two years. Given that thousands of senior teachers will be retiring in the next 10 years, it seems obvious that the government should be thinking of a strategy to attract excellent young teachers to replace them. A central part of that strategy should be a plan to provide funding for reasonable and fair increases in teachers' salaries and reasonable working conditions. There is no component in the present funding formula to address this. In particular, we in the north are having a great deal of difficulty in attracting teachers not only to replace retiring teachers but also to replace those who get ill or go on maternity leave.
There is also great difficulty in attracting experienced and competent administrators, especially since the Conservative government has destroyed their job security by removing them from the teaching federations. Presently, the Rainy River District School Board is forced to utilize retired, unqualified or inexperienced administrators in order to run schools. The EIC stated: "Recruiting qualified staff is difficult for this board particularly in certain teaching specialties. In some cases the board is using unqualified occasional teachers because qualified teachers are not available." The EIC also says, "As is the case in other sparsely populated and remote northern communities, this board has experienced difficulty in hiring qualified personnel." The EIC goes on to say, "Concern was expressed by the board's senior staff that the board may need to pay higher salaries if it wants to attract highly qualified staff."
There is presently a shortage of teachers in our neighbouring province of Manitoba, in our neighbouring board here in Kenora and in neighbouring states such as Minnesota. It is estimated that the Keewatin-Patricia board of education will require at least 80 teachers this coming year. The Rainy River District School Board will also require teachers and administrators next year and in the future. Will we be able to attract them?
The superintendent of education for Winnipeg, Manitoba, was quoted recently in the Winnipeg Free Press as saying that there is a teacher shortage and that salaries and working conditions must be enhanced in order to attract enough young teachers to fulfill the demand. In the absence of such a plan, the much talked about brain drain to the US and other provinces will include many of our enthusiastic and excellent young teachers looking for higher salaries.
There is expected to be a demand for 2.5 million teachers in the US in the next 10 years. The situation is so bad that in some areas such as math and science US boards are engaging in aggressive recruiting campaigns. Signing bonuses are not uncommon-up to $30,000 in some cases-and teacher salaries are higher in many cases. Additionally, most states pay teachers to take on coaching and other extracurricular activities. Meanwhile, back home in Ontario teachers are facing increased workloads, belittling paper tests and impoverished resources.
If the current funding formula does not address this situation, we risk losing our best and our brightest teachers. Clearly, unless the government starts directing funds towards making Ontario teacher salaries more competitive, Ecker's assertions about creating an excellent system will ring hollow. Attracting and keeping good teachers is a critical element of school reform, an element that this government does not seem to understand.
Mr Hallikas: The Conservative government is publicly patting itself on the back as it advertises the present prosperity in Ontario. There is no doubt that many Ontarians are prospering. In fact, many bargaining groups in other sectors are negotiating reasonable and fair increases in wages as they share in this prosperity. Recently the auto workers, local mill workers and nurses have negotiated collective agreements that contain significant increases in wages and salary.
The minimum increases negotiated in industry are in the range of 2% to 4% per year for multi-year contracts. Many teacher bargaining units have not had an appreciable increase in salary in more than eight years. The cost-of-living increase for 1999 was close to 2%. Teachers and educational workers have seen a reduction in purchasing power of approximately 10% during the 1990s. Teachers and educational workers, like all other workers in Ontario, are entitled to share in the present prosperity. However, nowhere in the funding formula is there money set aside to pay the reasonable and fair increases that may be negotiated by teachers during the next round of bargaining.
Presently, secondary teachers in Ontario teach six out of eight classes. They have less than one preparation period per day per semester. These preparation periods are very important to both teachers and students. The funding formula as it stands is designed to increase teacher workload to seven classes out of eight. This means that in one of the two semesters teachers would have no preparation time. It also means that even fewer teachers would be teaching more classes with less time available to help students.
The EIC comments on this in their report, stating: "The secondary teachers' collective agreement has a workload assignment of six periods out of eight. This settlement is difficult to fund under the province's current funding formula and could lead to serious funding problems in the future."
During a time of prosperity in Ontario when many workers are negotiating wage increases and benefits, we have a funding formula which assumes that educational workers will not receive a share of this prosperity. Not only that, but their workload is expected to increase as colleagues are laid off. Is this the government's solution to the teacher shortage: to reduce the number of teachers required by increasing teacher work load?
Since all secondary and elementary teacher collective bargaining agreements expire at the end of August of this year, it is reasonable to assume that, like other workers in Ontario, teachers will be looking to negotiate reasonable and fair collective agreements which contain fair increases in salary, increases which many teachers have done without for more than eight years. Boards of education recognize this and would like to do the right thing, but are hampered by the fact that the government has refused to address the issue in its funding formula. The government, with the present funding formula, has backed both the school boards and the teachers into a corner and is attempting to avoid blame for a problem that is solely its responsibility.
Earlier I stated that the major problem with the funding formula is that it centralizes authority and decentralizes blame. Here is a classic example of this. The Conservative government made the decisions that have created major problems in Ontario's educational system, and now the government is trying to lay the blame for these problems on boards and educational workers.
Committee members, the government must accept responsibility for the mess that it created in education and must now provide the means to repair this damage through increased funding to education.
We thank you very much for your time.
The Chair: On behalf of the committee, thank you very much for your presentation, but we have no time for questions and comments.
Do we have any representatives from the Women's Place Kenora in the audience? If not, travelling plans have been changed quite a bit. The taxi will leave the lobby at 4:50 pm, so if everybody could be ready by that time.
With no further ado, this committee will reconvene tomorrow morning in Timmins at 9 o'clock. Note the change of time. Thank you very much.
The committee adjourned at 1606.