CHATHAM AND DISTRICT CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
MUNICIPALITY OF LEAMINGTON
SARNIA LAMBTON CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
ONTARIO SECONDARY SCHOOL TEACHERS' FEDERATION, DISTRICT 10
CAW CHILD CARE SERVICES
ELEMENTARY TEACHERS' FEDERATION OF ONTARIO, THAMES VALLEY LOCAL
ALLIANCE OF CANADIAN SECOND STAGE HOUSING (ONTARIO CAUCUS)
CITY OF LONDON
ONTARIO CORN PRODUCERS' ASSOCIATION
Monday 14 February 2000
Chatham and District Chamber of Commerce
Mr Ralph Robinson
Ms Gail Antaya
Mr Reg MacDonald
Municipality of Leamington
Mr Dave Wilkinson
Sarnia Lambton Chamber of Commerce
Mr Gus Mumby
Mr Michael Van Pelt
Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation, district 10
Ms Jane Hulme
CAW Child Care Services
Ms Heather Boyer
Mr Earl Dugal
Ms Anne DiCecco
Dr Peter Neilson
Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario, Thames Valley local
Ms Marion Holgate
Mr John Stevens
Alliance of Canadian Second Stage Housing (Ontario Caucus)
Ms Shelley Yeo
Ms Donna Hansen
Ms Ruth Hyatt
City of London
Ms Dianne Haskett
Mr Don Currie
Ontario Corn Producers' Association
Mr Dennis Jack
Mr Brian Doidge
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 Pat Hoy (Chatham-Kent Essex L)
Mr Bert Johnson (Perth-Middlesex PC)
Clerk / Greffier
Mr Tom Prins
Staff / Personnel
Mr David Rampersad, research officer,
Research and Information Services
The committee met at 0900 in the Best Western Wheels Inn, Chatham.
CHATHAM AND DISTRICT CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
The Chair (Mr Marcel Beaubien): Good morning, everyone. If I can get your attention, I'd like to bring this committee to order. We do have to take a bus tonight, so we'd like to run on time.
Our first presenters this morning are representatives from the Chatham and District Chamber of Commerce. Could you please step forward and state your names for the record.
Mr Ralph Robinson: My name is Ralph Robinson. Representing the chamber this morning are Gail Antaya, our general manager, and Reg MacDonald, one of our directors.
Mr Beaubien: On behalf of the committee, welcome. You have 30 minutes for your presentation.
Mr Robinson: We've broken our presentation down into five subjects. Those subjects are on page 2 of our presentation. They are: Highway 401; the doctor shortage; agribusiness; maintaining excellence in education; and the Red Tape Commission.
To lead off our presentation, I'll call on Gail to cover the subject of Highway 401.
Ms Gail Antaya: In the recent past, a number of fatalities have occurred along the Highway 401 corridor within our municipality of Chatham-Kent. Taking into consideration the increased traffic with the implementation of NAFTA and the many businesses utilizing a "just in time" delivery, the current nature of the highway creates a very unsafe driving zone. The recent announcement of the proposed twinning of the Ambassador Bridge between Ontario and Michigan will no doubt add to this increase of traffic on Highway 401.
The current improvements being made to the highway are recognized, and the widening of the shoulders will provide additional security to the driving paths. However, more needs to be done, as was promised in the summer of 1999. The increase of 22 OPP officers, 11 of which are to be stationed in Chatham-Kent, has not been completed, and the promise of the increased inspection staff has yet to be achieved.
Highway 401 begins in Windsor with a border crossing extremely busy with trucks importing and exporting to Ontario and beyond. Many tourists utilize this same crossing to enter our beautiful province. As such, it is imperative to ensure safe driving conditions for these users.
An enhanced traffic path provides more opportunity for industry development and is a major factor in attracting new business. Being competitive in today's market is a necessity. As Chatham-Kent is a contributor to Ontario's economic well-being, the concerns on the safety of the stretch of Highway 401 running through our municipality need to be met.
It is the recommendation of the Chatham and District Chamber of Commerce to: continue the proposed increase of OPP personnel along the corridor as promised by the Minister of Transportation; increase the inspection staff as promised by the Minister of Transportation; increase the current two-lane highway to a safer, more conducive three-lane freeway; create barriers between the east and west driving paths; and consider alternatives to concrete, such as the rubberized post system utilized in some areas of Europe. Implementation of the rubberized post actually reduces construction zone hazards due to the lessening of disruption and the closing of traffic lanes.
Mr Reg MacDonald: Good morning. My particular application is around the physician shortage. Chatham-Kent is in a dire doctor shortage situation. It is recognized that we are not unlike many of our counterparts in the province. Numerous reports indicate that the shortage of doctors available to our citizens will only increase in its severity.
Availability of accessible, adequate health resources should be a common standard for all of the citizens living in our community and throughout Ontario. However, this appears not to be the case. Many citizens are without a family physician. Individuals with specific needs are added to the already long lists waiting for specialists to have diagnostic testing completed or to have necessary treatments done.
In a November 1999 report released by the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences, the southern areas of Ontario, especially Essex, Lambton and Chatham-Kent, have the lowest number of doctors per capita. Our area has a continual decline in the number of physicians available to our citizens. Currently, Chatham-Kent has only 5.7 physicians available per 10,000 population. This situation will only get worse, as Chatham-Kent has a high proportion of aging physicians. The provincial health ministry has designated Chatham-Kent an underserviced area. Indications utilizing their formula prove Chatham-Kent to be underserviced by 19 family doctors alone. Our residents are not left with a choice of who to have for a doctor, but if they will have a doctor. This leaves many families relocating in Chatham-Kent having to travel hours in order to see family practitioners located in other areas of the province due to lack of accessibility to a local physician. This should not be the case.
From an economic perspective, a community and province without adequate health care creates a difficult atmosphere in which to attract business. In particular, business wants to ensure that certain standards are available prior to making an investment in a community. Health care access is one of the key standards. In order to maintain economic well-being and to continue to prosper, our province needs to correct this situation.
One of our recommendations would be that the provincial health ministry study the underlying issues creating the doctor shortage and institute corrective action. Some specific recommendations would be that the government intervene in the application of the College of Physicians and Surgeons and revamp the process and criteria for admission of non-Ontario-trained physicians in order to compensate for the current and pending shortage of doctors in Ontario; also, that the College of Physicians and Surgeons set enrolment rates back to previous levels in order to accommodate more students entering medical schools.
The second recommendation is that the provincial health ministry create location incentive programs in which doctors are paid at varied payment schedules according to levels of service available to the population.
Some specific examples would be that the current negotiations with the physicians include a process of enhanced deployment to underserviced areas, allowing for a more equitable distribution of physicians throughout the province; that the government research and design an assessment process based on demographics and identify the required types and quantities of physicians to meet the future needs of Ontario residents; and that the matrix be met by encouraging students to enter those areas of greatest need.
Mr Robinson: Turning to the next subject, agribusiness, 70% of the Chatham gross national product is agriculture-related, and we are thus a primary and secondary agriculture area. The recent downsizing of the local OMAFRA office and cutbacks in related services could have an adverse effect on this important sector of our local economy. In the past, farmers did not have to visit an OMAFRA office to receive services. Officials brought solutions to the farmer and the local agricultural sector through seminars, representation on a variety of local committees, and media articles. These officials will no longer be available to carry out local programs.
In 1998, Canadian consumers spent less than 9.8% of their disposable income to cover their food expenditure, the lowest percentage of any of the world's industrialized nations. Canadian consumers also enjoy one of the most abundant food supplies on the globe. Canadian farmers are among the most innovative, efficient and competitive on the planet, yet their share of the bounty they produce gets smaller and smaller year after year. Canadian farmers have taken pride over the years in providing consumers with high-quality and safe foods at very competitive prices, as the above ratio confirms.
Chatham-Kent has approximately 2,700 farms, with gross gate annual sales of $305 million. It is estimated that loss of cash receipts in Chatham-Kent alone in 1999 will reach $75 million because of low agricultural commodity prices.
It is imperative that both the federal and provincial governments respond immediately to the inequities and undue hardships placed upon our farm communities. Ag industry opportunities which would ultimately create jobs, boost competitiveness and strengthen Ontario's economy must be developed. We must strengthen our farm safety nets and marketing structures to allow our farmers to concentrate on competing on a global stage rather than focusing on financial uncertainties and, ultimately, survival.
It is the recommendation of the Chatham and District Chamber of Commerce:
(1) That the provincial government ensure agricultural programs and services previously available through our local OMAFRA office continue to be available to farmers. Consider partnership with local agricultural, rural and economic organizations to maintain a local ministry presence.
(2) Together with federal counterparts, ensure that programs are available to keep farmers competitive with other primary trading partners and/or competitors.
(3) That the provincial and federal governments aggressively pursue any hint of market collusion that would create unfair costs or decrease market prices to our farmers.
Ms Antaya: The Chatham and District Chamber of Commerce believes that education, from early childhood education through to post-graduate studies, including the vital aspects of apprenticeship studies, is a very important component of making Ontario North America's leading economy.
The chamber supports many of the government's actions to reform the education system. In 1998, the Ontario Chamber of Commerce recommended investing in early childhood education. Shortly afterwards, both the Leader of the Opposition and the Premier began speaking on the issue, and pre-kindergarten funding was maintained.
This year, the release of Dr Fraser Mustard's and Margaret McCain's Early Years Study pointed out the dramatic benefits to our society's capabilities if our communities make a greater investment in time, attention and money for our youngest.
The education committee of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce has worked closely with the Ministry of Education to review the business studies portion of the new curriculum. The education committee is preparing a submission on the issue of teacher testing. We, the Chatham chamber of commerce, are pleased to see the Ontario chamber wanting to continue working with the government to make education an important priority for Ontario's competitiveness.
It is our recommendation that the provincial government support the Ontario Chamber of Commerce recommendation that Ontario recognize the opportunities outlined in the Early Years Study, and that our provincial government adopt an approach to give this long-term project provincial leadership.
Mr MacDonald: In terms of a submission regarding the Red Tape Commission, the Chatham and District Chamber of Commerce supports the work of the Red Tape Commission. We believe the commission should be continued. The government should make the commission permanent and mandate it to conduct a biannual review of regulations to ensure they still remain relevant and are not a burden on business.
It is the recommendation of the chamber, then, that the Red Tape Commission be permanent; that a review of regulations affecting business be completed by the Red Tape Commission to ensure their current relevancy on a biannual basis; and that the Red Tape Commission be empowered to embrace technology to simplify filing processes for all levels of government.
The Chair: Thank you very much. We'll maintain the same rotation that we had last week. I'll start with the government side, and we have four minutes per caucus.
Mr Ted Arnott (Waterloo-Wellington): I want to thank the three of you very much for your presentation. It was very thoughtful, and you've done a lot of research that will be very helpful to the committee as we proceed with our deliberations, hopefully giving advice to the Treasurer which will be included in his budget this spring. You've identified a number of local concerns, but also some provincial concerns that affect us all.
The 401 issue is something that has been discussed extensively in the Legislature. As you've pointed out, there is a need for additional OPP officers, some 22. Can you tell me if the Minister of Transportation has given any time frame as to when those officers will be in place, or do we have any indication as to when that's going to be accomplished?
Mr Robinson: We're not aware of any time frame at this stage.
Mr Arnott: But a commitment has been made, and I'm certain it will be honoured if that's the case.
You mentioned the doctor shortage. There are quite a number of communities that are facing the same sort of problem as you are here in Chatham-Kent. Certainly the community I represent in Waterloo-Wellington has this problem, as do many other communities across the province. The government has studied the problem extensively, and a commission headed up by someone named Dr McKendry has made recommendations as to what ought to be done.
I should also tell you that the government is committed to creating an assistance program for medical students, that if they commit to going to practise for five years in an underserviced area, they would get their tuition free of charge. We're committed to implementing that as well. So we hope that will be of some assistance in solving this problem. I just want to say that you're not alone in this, and you should be commended for your efforts to attract doctors and encouraged to continue to do that.
You mentioned agriculture, farming and the importance of agriculture to the local economy here in Chatham-Kent. I wonder if you could talk about the benefits, perhaps, that have accrued to this area as a result of the ethanol plant that the government supported some time ago.
Mr Robinson: The benefit to the area with the ethanol plant is the obvious usage of product. There has been a disadvantage, but I don't think that needs to be covered in this area. But certainly the ethanol plant has created a market for corn grown not only in Chatham-Kent but also in other areas. I understand it's not limited to Ontario production either.
Mr Arnott: You talked about education. You emphasized the need for early intervention, and I wanted to let you know that the Minister of Health, the Honourable Elizabeth Witmer, has presided over a significant expansion of a program called Healthy Babies, Healthy Children. Initially, when it was started, the investment and the expenditure in that program was about $10 million a year. I think as of next year it's going to be an expenditure of $67 million, so it has expanded by a factor of six in just two or three short years.
What the program does is, through the local health units, attempt to identify children who may be at risk of unhealthy development and set the families up with available services that might help alleviate that, as well as supplementing the program with home visits by people who are very skilled at raising children and helping the families in that way.
I wondered if you are aware of the program, and if that program has been beneficial in this area.
Ms Antaya: I am not aware of this program whatsoever, unfortunately. I'm sure that if I were to do some investigation with the health unit, I might be aware of it.
Mr Pat Hoy (Chatham-Kent Essex): Good morning and thank you for being with us today. I appreciate your presentation. There are many issues here that are of great interest to myself and other members. I personally share your concerns about the 401, and of course all of your concerns, but the 401 in particular. It's my understanding that the Ontario police personnel who would be deployed here were promised in September of last year and that the funding for these officers would expire at the end of the government year or August 1. I'm glad you raised this issue so that the government can expedite their being here.
The rubberized posts and construction zones: I've seen a film about something similar, and I just want to ask if what I may have seen in this film is the same thing that you are talking about. It's a rope type of effect with a post that will fall and rise. Is that what we are probably talking about here?
Mr MacDonald: Yes.
Mr Hoy: Would you agree that a test site might be required along some highway, not necessarily 401, to test this? Notwithstanding any liability questions that might arise-we could deal with that later, I suppose-would you agree that there should be a test case, a test area for this particular safety feature?
Mr MacDonald: Yes, a test or pilot project, like any new technology for this particular area-although it's been in Europe for awhile-would probably be prudent, except that you expressed a liability situation. I'm sure that would have to be looked at, and I think the location of this test site would be a critical item as well so that the usage of it would be appropriate.
Mr Hoy: One of the situations we have here in Chatham-Kent, as you have acknowledged, is the lack of a sufficient number of doctors. Would you agree that nurse practitioners might be able to help doctors here in Chatham-Kent? I'm thinking of Dr Button who has 7,000 patients. Would you agree that there are situations and areas of expertise in which nurse practitioners could work and help a doctor here in Chatham-Kent-Essex?
Mr MacDonald: That is correct. I think that nurse practitioners fill a need, and I think that physicians would welcome those nurse practitioners as well.
Mr Hoy: I appreciate your comments on the importance of agribusiness to Chatham-Kent and, indeed, Essex. I guess it's been stated before by others that if it can be grown in Canada, it can be grown in Chatham-Kent and/or Essex, so we're quite proud of our agricultural abilities here.
The closure of the agricultural offices as you've identified here-the government is going to close 32 of them. I simply want to ask you if you've utilized government 800 numbers. First of all, have you had any occasion to use them, and second, what is your experience been with them? Was it good, fair or poor?
Ms Antaya: We've been fortunate within our chamber that we have had access to a representative from OMAFRA, not only through local conversations but on our agriculture committee that we set up and that has been active for over 15 years. We have been fortunate in the aspect that when we need an activity, when we need some answers, we have that local representation, and not only that, they bring the information to us on an ongoing basis through reports, through media, and if there is anything of specific concern it's brought to our attention.
Mr Hoy: So having a local representative here, in your mind, would be better than talking to someone on the phone at some distance away from the community?
Ms Antaya: I would think so, yes. Not only that, the representation around our own committee that we have through the chamber represents approximately 17 agribusiness-related organizations or farming community organizations. They are getting that information on a month-to-month basis, if not more often.
Mr Hoy: Many people have come to me and approached me about these ag office closures and talked about the hands-on, personal service that they would get rather than talking over the Internet or some 800 number. They've said to me that cases of importance here in Chatham-Kent may not be the same as something that's occurring in the Niagara region, if we think of the crops that are similar in both areas, and that it may not happen at the same time, or one problem may be more advanced than another, and it would be better if someone could actually look at it, rather than having a description made over the phone or by some other means.
The Chair: Thank you very much, Mr Hoy. You've run out of time.
Mr David Christopherson (Hamilton West): Thank you very much for your presentation. One of the benefits of travelling to the different parts of the province is you get a much closer feel for what's happening on the ground in each of the communities. I noticed in your text that you mentioned that the Leader of the Opposition and the Premier began speaking about pre-kindergarten funding, that they thought it should be maintained. I'm sure it's just an oversight in noting that it was the NDP government that actually mandated that boards had to provide it. It was the current government that eliminated it and then afterwards said, "Oh, gee, I guess we should be supportive of it." I would just backfill that point for you, because I'm sure it's just an oversight.
You were talking about education and the importance of education. We've had a number of presentations from parents, from teachers at all levels, education specialists, talking about the crisis that exists in education right now. I would bring to your attention that in 1992, during the depth of the recession, per thousand there were 94.9 teachers. That includes all supports to teachers. In the last year where figures are available, 1998, it's down to 82.4. The loss has mostly come from custodians, librarians, computer technicians and educational assistants, where there's a real special need and a growing crisis, again because of the funding that has been cut. They changed it. They said: "There are problems. We're going to change it." They did change it, but they've made it worse. There's not as much money as there was. There are far fewer English-as-a-second-language teachers. Right now in our ranking in North America, we are 55th out of 63 jurisdictions in terms of per pupil funding. In the depths of the recession, when the NDP government was in power, we were 13th. So we were doing a lot better in education during the depths of the recession than we are now during the economic boom.
With all the implications for the education system, I just wonder how you feel about this, in terms of the government's changes in funding. Do you think the funding ought to be increased so we can go back to the kind of quality education system we had, or are you supportive of continuing this, what I would characterize as a downward trend?
Mr Robinson: In answer to that, I would only say that we have a local Christian school in our community whose funding represents about 50% of what the public funding is, and the quality of education-studies have shown that the subsequent success of those students has not been unduly affected by the funding they didn't receive.
Mr Christopherson: So your point would be?
Mr Robinson: Funding doesn't guarantee success.
Mr Christopherson: So you're supportive of the government's cuts in education; you think we're getting more with less?
Mr Robinson: That wasn't what I said. I said that funding does not guarantee success.
Mr Christopherson: I appreciate that. I was just trying to get to a point, though, and that is, do you support the direction that we've gone in, where there is less money, where we've got experts disagreeing with you, saying that there are implications for our children-big implications-or do you think the government should rethink their funding formula and ensure there's enough money?
I've got kids in my community in downtown Hamilton who can't get into a classroom because there are not enough educational assistants. The money has been cut. I don't think any of us need to be an expert to appreciate that if the kids aren't in the school, they can't be getting a better education than they got a couple of years ago. These are real issues, and quite frankly a lot of these cuts were made necessary by the fact that the government gave up $5 billion to $6 billion in revenue in order to provide the tax cut that the wealthy benefited from the most.
Mr Robinson: I think our recommendation was fairly clear.
The Chair: On behalf of the committee, thank you very much for you presentation, and for braving the roads this morning. But I'm sure you didn't have to drive too far.
MUNICIPALITY OF LEAMINGTON
The Chair: Our next presenter this morning is the mayor of the municipality of Leamington. If you could step forward and state your name for the record, please.
Mr Dave Wilkinson: I'm Dave Wilkinson.
The Chair: On behalf of the committee, Your Worship, welcome. You have 30 minutes for your presentation this morning.
Mr Wilkinson: Believe me, I won't take 30 minutes to do this. I'm usually very brief.
I come to you from an average-sized municipality that lies within a two-tier system of government. In 1998, Leamington, in the county of Essex, did restructure from 21 municipalities down to seven. We are currently looking at that structure again.
Whatever that answer is, we know there is only one option that is needed, and that is lower property taxes. Since 1997, we have been able to maintain no property tax increases, and in one of those years we were even able to reduce property taxes. The room that was made on property taxes in 1999 by the provincial government was due to the reduction on the school tax side of things, and we certainly appreciated that move.
My municipality chose to freeze the property taxes at current levels, and the extra money that was raised from the 5% provincial reduction in school taxes was used for infrastructure inside our community. With the current good economic growth that is taking place in Ontario today, and in Leamington, more and more pressure, though, is being put on the services that we supply. We enjoyed about 3% to 4% growth in 1999, but the extra tax dollars did not keep pace with the strain on our infrastructure. We therefore strongly urge you to participate in any new infrastructure program that may be coming forth. The infrastructure program that occurred back in 1991 was a blessing to our community, but it was created to create new jobs. In 2000, though, it is not to increase jobs but to satisfy the growth that is taking place.
Bill 79 certainly has good intentions, and some of those benefits are taking place today, but there certainly are some drawbacks to it. One of the most glaring ones was the late arrival of instructions from the ministry on the 10-5-5 capping portion of the property taxes. Our tax notices were delayed throughout the year and with this came hardships on our taxpayers; it also strained our budgeted targets that we set throughout the year. Hopefully, the year 2000 will be different and Bill 79 will see the benefits in a more timely fashion.
Another factor that I urge the province to influence, if it can, is the way property assessments are handled. I believe it should have more local representation, instead of the current policy, which is more to centralize it.
Yes, tax cuts do create jobs in the private sector and in time more success for our municipalities. It makes my job a lot easier to help my municipality when the economy is good. The employment rate is lower than the national average in Leamington. Provincial decisions do affect tax rates, but we all know that both the municipality and province want to deliver services in an efficient but effective way. I urge the province to work closely with the municipalities, all ministries, so that we can continue to deliver services in an efficient way. Decreasing property taxes is a popular move with our ratepayers, but we must balance tax cuts with the services that we must provide.
I believe the province, back in 1995, did jump-start a new way for municipalities to follow, and change was needed. But as we move down this road together, it is important to have a good line of communication between the province and the municipalities.
I want to thank you for the time you have given me to speak here this morning. I will answer any questions that I can, from a municipality point of view.
The Chair: I'll start with the official opposition. We have approximately eight minutes per caucus.
Mr Hoy: Good morning, Mayor. Thank you for being with us here this morning. You talk about municipal restructuring in your area. For the benefit of others who are visiting with us today, could you describe how that restructuring took place. What I'm asking is, was your restructuring a local solution, was it done by a commissioner or was it done by legislation from Queen's Park?
Mr Wilkinson: It was a local solution that the county of Essex, which we lie within, took upon itself. As I said in the words that I read here this morning, what the province did in 1995-there was change needed, but luckily the county that I come from, that Leamington participated in, did come up with a local solution, from 21 down to seven. We've seen the benefits in Leamington of what we did. We recognize that there are probably more benefits to be had, and that's why we are currently looking at our structure today.
Mr Hoy: You mentioned your dealing with taxes locally and how currently they seem to be working quite well; you did not have to raise taxes. Did your municipality receive money from the community reinvestment fund?
Mr Wilkinson That's the CRF? Yes, I believe my municipality did. I also believe we did receive help when we restructured, same as they did in Chatham-Kent.
Mr Hoy: Would you think that any municipality that might be undergoing restructuring should have the same consideration based on a formula, that they too should have some help initially in their restructuring?
Mr Wilkinson: Yes. In my municipality we amalgamated with our rural neighbour: Leamington and Mersea went together to get down to the seven. It was a fairly easy amalgamation that took place in my municipality. In all the reports that we had throughout the year or as we moved forward on the downloading issue and the restructuring, it really was a positive thing for our community. I can't speak for the other communities, but it was a positive move that happened there. We received some help from the ministry when we restructured. It did go smoothly. We want to take another step. I believe we've seen the benefits of it.
Mr Hoy: Would you want to make that other step a local solution as well?
Mr Wilkinson: Yes. As I said, provincial decisions do affect tax rates; they really do. As we move along, I believe where I come from we know the systems down there and different things. I know the city of Windsor has been urging the province to appoint a commissioner. I come from a municipality where I believe there is a local solution that can be found, and hopefully in the year 2000 we will have an answer for the province.
Mr Hoy: You talked about the infrastructure program of the past: federal, provincial and municipal participation. At the time it seemed to be generally well accepted across the province by all those involved, all levels of government. Would you suggest again that it be one third, one third, one third, or do you have any other percentage mix of sharing in that?
Mr Wilkinson: I believe it was fair last time. As I said, before it was maybe to jumpstart the economy, a lot of it. The municipalities welcomed that with open arms. We understand that both federally and provincially you have cut back on any kind of capital programs. We certainly would welcome that back. It created jobs in 1991 and jumpstarted the economy. Today it's the fact that our economy is growing and our infrastructure is just not keeping pace. Sure, we get more dollars from the growth that's taking place, but we don't seem to be able to keep pace with the new things that are coming, waterlines and different things like that.
Mr Christopherson: Thank you, Mayor, for your presentation.
Just for your knowledge, I spent five years on the Hamilton-Wentworth regional council and Hamilton city council before I moved to Queen's Park, so I think I have a good feel for both what happens locally and the relationship between the municipalities and the province. In my hometown of Hamilton, it has been an incredible struggle on a whole range of fronts, one of them being-you mentioned the difficulties around the changes to the assessment, the CVA. I'm sure you know that when they brought in their first bill, there were a lot of us who said, "Slow down, take your time, do this right," which is the excuse they use when there are things they're being urged to do that they don't want to do. They say, "We want to get it right the first time," and that's their excuse for delaying. In this case we were urging them to slow down. We said, "You're going to run into problems," and as you probably know, it took them six separate pieces of legislation after the initial one to fix all the mistakes that happened in the first one and that continued to be made in other pieces of legislation.
All of that has left us in Hamilton in a real quandary. One of the few benefits to Hamilton was for small business in the downtown area and in Westdale, where their assessments were way out of whack, and actually this would have made them more competitive. Then, when they put the cap on, it left them being uncompetitive, and we're losing now as many businesses, if not more than, as we did in the past. I wonder if you have any similar circumstances within your jurisdiction.
Mr Wilkinson: Yes. We had those same problems as we moved through 1999. Like I said, I believe that change was needed, and it is a new way of doing business through the amalgamations and restructuring that are taking place. I guess it's just like any business. There are some new things that you put in place and there are bumps in the road as you move along. There certainly were some bumps in the road as it moved along, but I think that with every move forward, there are going to be some positive things coming out of that.
You mentioned the capping and different things. Yes, I think on the assessment end of things, and as we move forward along that line, there were some problems. That's why I urge taking a second look at those kinds of things. We just have to accept some of the bumps when change does come.
Mr Christopherson: You mentioned infrastructure, and this is something that is happening everywhere, but I would imagine it's even more crucial here, given that you're right near the opening of the funnel in terms of access to the American market. We've had many economists come in who have acknowledged that the vast majority of the economic benefits we're now receiving are not really related so much to the tax cut as to the booming American economy, in particular the auto industry. If you think about it, someone who buys a car in Wisconsin is not affected by any tax structure that we have here in Ontario, yet we benefit from the demand on our auto plants and supplier services and such.
My question is on the infrastructure part of it. Again, in Hamilton we've still got, and maybe you do in your area, some of the combined sewer systems as opposed to the separated ones, which are decades and decades out of date; bridges that need to be done; major problems with our water treatment in terms of being able to meet the demand because of the growing population. What is your sense of what will happen in your community if this isn't addressed? I recognize that it's both a provincial and a federal responsibility, but if there aren't some extraordinary steps taken, meaning above and beyond current programs, whether it's a special shared program or some major reinvestment in our infrastructure, what is the long-term prognosis for your community if that investment doesn't take place?
Mr Wilkinson: As I prepared my words for today, I knew that you were going to hear from all aspects and I tried to keep my few words here this morning strictly on the municipality and different things. Yes, the infrastructure is getting old in some areas like that. It's easy to build arenas or do things, but it's hard to find the money sometimes that you're going to put underneath the ground to fix the old. We clearly know that we have to balance between supplying the new and fixing the old. I think one message that I bring here this morning is-you know the rumours that we hear from the federal side of things-that we urge the province to participate in that and to fix, like you said, those decaying pipes and different things. But it's the new that's happening. In my municipality we have tremendous growth in the greenhouse industry and the agriculture industry, and they require water and waterlines to feed them. The hydro and the gas are something else. They're done by the private sector. We want to continue that growth and we would like to have some help on some of those different things like that.
Mr Christopherson: The cost is enormous, and I appreciate the problem. It's not very sexy. All that people want to do is to be able to turn on the tap and flush the toilet. They just want things to be done the way they should be done, and somebody else has to worry about what happens. So it's difficult to mount a campaign to run for re-election on replacing sewer lines, especially if it means increased taxes, because the money has to come from somewhere.
Just to come back to the point, though: If something is not done, and I'm not looking for a nightmare scenario but just an honest evaluation of what you think the implications will be for your community five, 10, 15, 20 years out if we don't make that investment now, what are the implications for your constituents and citizens?
Mr Wilkinson: I think that eventually the taxpayer will pay for it. It will be through property taxes that we will have those dollars to spend out there. Like I said, it's easy to be a mayor in good economic times-we have growth and extra funds coming in-but if you ask me 15, 20 years from now, if something turned around and it wasn't as good as it is now, it would be tougher; believe me. You mentioned that it's hard to get re-elected but, boy, when the sewer backs up in the basement or something, that news travels fast throughout the community. We would welcome that investment into all our communities.
Mr Christopherson: That's great. Thanks, Your Worship.
Mrs Tina R. Molinari (Thornhill): Thank you, Your Worship, for the presentation this morning. It's refreshing to hear some of the comments you've made and it's certainly in line with what we've been doing in the last number of years: the importance of reducing taxes. I compliment you on being able to freeze taxes in your community. I think that's essential.
You talked about some of the infrastructure needs. As the province is only responsible for 9% of that and there are a number of other partners that fall into place, I was pleased to hear you say that it's important that we work together. Certainly municipalities, provincial governments and the federal government all need to work together to provide for our taxpayers because in the end there's only one taxpayer.
It's refreshing to have the mayor come and make a presentation. I think you're the one who is more directly involved with the people and the public, and it helps us to hear your views, how you see it, so from my sense I appreciate the things you've said this morning and the perspectives you've put on this issue. Thank you very much for your presentation.
Mr Arnott: Thank you, Mr Wilkinson. I wanted to ask you about municipal restructuring and follow up on some of the questions that have already been put to you on that.
You indicated that Essex county has reduced its number of municipalities from 21 to seven a result of the restructuring and that you're looking at further steps to restructure to improve service and streamline municipal government. Could you tell us or highlight the benefits that have been achieved to date as a result of municipal restructuring in Essex county and what you would hope to achieve by further restructuring efforts?
Mr Wilkinson: I think one of the main benefits of the restructuring for my municipality is that it brought the urban and the rural together to think as one. There was always a competition out there between the smaller municipalities. I'm not going to say that the relationship wasn't good, but it was always a competition and different things. This brought together both rural and urban in my area to think as one, and I really believe that the rural people would say that the municipality we went with, Leamington, is our hometown. I think the public spirit that was out there is now better.
You always heard the negatives of the restructuring. From my perspective, it was a positive move. Tax-revenue-wise it was a good move; it really reduced taxes. Others say it's the public spirit of things, that now the hometown is Leamington, and even if you live in the rural area, it was a positive move.
Sure, I would mention there are some problems here as we get some information back especially in the 10-5-5, but overall it worked well. I think the local solution we came up with fit the format.
Mr Arnott: In your opinion, has there been any loss of community identity?
Mr Wilkinson: No, there hasn't been. We still have smaller hamlets inside our area: Blytheswood is still there; Albuna is still Albuna. They are just small places, but people do relate to those. No, there hasn't been any loss of public recognition to these people.
Mr Christopherson: Don't tell Skarica.
Mr Arnott: The economy is growing in Ontario. The provincial government has taken steps over the last four and a half or five years to attempt to encourage economic growth across the province, and you indicated that there has been considerable growth in your community. You would obviously agree that the provincial government, working with local governments, has a role to play in encouraging economic growth, and if they're engaging in the right kinds of policies, jobs are going to be created, would you not?
Mr Wilkinson: Yes. Like I said, I hope we can work hand in hand in promoting this. It's unbelievable, what's happening, it really is. I know there was mention here about the strong US economy. Sure, that affects what happens in Leamington, but it's the fact that the public perception out there is positive now: "Let's go. This is our chance." Whether that's because of the new technology that's coming on and because we're doing things differently-it just is positive out there. I believe that the reduction in taxes creates jobs, I do believe that, and I think everybody wants the sense of a job out there. So it is positive.
Mr Bert Johnson (Perth-Middlesex): I was wondering about the amalgamation, if that's the term you use, the restructuring of Leamington and Mersea township. What stimulated that? Had that been discussed during the past or was that fairly recent? You mentioned the rivalry. I assume that with the fantastic growth in hothouses and greenhouses in the Leamington area, that would have involved both municipalities and there would have been rivalry. In other words, what brought the two together?
Mr Wilkinson: Maybe the rivalry was just somewhat between rural and urban there, but as we look back, everybody knows that probably we should have done it 20 years ago in my municipality.
I don't want to speak for anybody else's municipality. We have an ongoing battle right now with the city of Windsor. They want-how would I say it? I don't think they want to seek a local solution, and in the county of Essex, which we lie in, we have laid out a solution to them. Sure, there is rivalry between the city and the county out there. We want to seek that local solution.
How did it all start? When Mr Harris made a speech at AMO back in I believe 1995, he laid out the fact that we're going to do things differently. I think we recognized in our county, as things started to unfold then, that we had to do something, and we really wanted it to be our solution and not something that was forced on us, so the municipality got busy and did go from 21 down to seven. We want to work even with the city. We hope there's a local solution we can come up with on that one.
Mr Johnson: The city is separated from the county?
Mr Wilkinson: Yes, it is.
Mr Johnson: And it is the only separated municipality within the boundaries of the county?
Mr Wilkinson: Yes. Windsor sits up in the northwest area of Essex county. The county has been there for 150 years. I come from a two-tier system in the county. We want to work with the city of Windsor; we have no trouble with that. I believe there is the will to go from seven down to something else. I don't know whether it will remain a two-tier system; it has worked well for us. But we want to work with the city of Windsor. We really don't want things imposed on us. We believe there is a solution out there, and we are going to come to it.
The Chair: On behalf of the committee, Your Worship, thank you very much for your presentation. I hope it wasn't too tough a drive this morning.
Mr Wilkinson: I come from the banana belt.
The Chair: Our next presenter is not here yet. However, the Sarnia Lambton Chamber of Commerce is here. If it is agreeable to the committee, we will take the Sarnia Lambton Chamber of Commerce and, when the representatives of the Labour Council of Chatham-Kent show up, we will take them at a later time.
SARNIA LAMBTON CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
The Chair: Would you please step forward and state your names for the record. On behalf of the committee, welcome and thank you for being here this morning. You have 30 minutes for your presentation.
Mr Gus Mumby: Good morning. My name is Gus Mumby, and I am president of the Sarnia Lambton Chamber of Commerce. To my right is Michael Van Pelt, the general manager of the chamber of commerce.
First of all, thank you very much for the opportunity to present our observations and to have input into the 2000-01 budget. Secondly, we bring you greetings from the membership of the Sarnia-Lambton chamber and from the business community.
Sarnia-Lambton is a community ready for growth. In the financial world, where the adage is "Buy low, sell high," Sarnia-Lambton is a preferred stock. It is soon to be a strong, stable and high-growth mutual fund. To put it another way, we like to refer to ourselves as Sarnia.com.
In the past 10 years, the Sarnia-Lambton community has been the victim of downsizing. In particular, our petrochemical industry, which was the main employer, lost approximately 5,000 jobs. As a result of the loss of these jobs, there is a reduction in consumer spending, secondary investment is difficult to attract, and the long-term impact results in weak confidence levels and the exodus of our youth workforce.
In the past three years, Sarnia-Lambton has launched a very positive effort to diversify its economy, stabilize its existing industry and move to the new economy. The attracting of a number of small but vibrant auto parts companies and the possibilities of the energy sector are indicators of this positive change. Furthermore, mentalities and attitudes are becoming changed to accept and capture the reality of a new entrepreneurial economy. However, the fact is that Ontario has enjoyed one of its most successful periods of economic growth, but unfortunately the Sarnia-Lambton area has not.
The government of Ontario has recently made two important initiatives to support change in the Sarnia- Lambton community. The first was changed labour legislation through the enactment of Bill 31. This opened the door for our major companies in Sarnia- Lambton and the unions to enter project agreements.
The second is a move to deregulate the energy industry, thus creating new possibilities to open the door to major expansions in co-generation opportunities.
The difficult truth is that the project agreements are but a temporary solution that will allow capital projects to keep existing plants viable. They are not the door to substantial growth and rejuvenation of our petrochemical industries. Sarnia-Lambton is home to Ontario's petrochemical sector, consisting of billions of dollars of investments. The province will need to be more innovative to retain and build upon what we already have.
Secondly, energy deregulation is fast becoming a very difficult and hesitant process. The chamber is greatly concerned that we will lose investment opportunities as the government gets caught up in the regulations and bureaucracy of the deregulation process.
We are also concerned that the private sector's hands are being tightly tied by the preferential treatment to the new Ontario Hydro companies.
The Sarnia Lambton Chamber of Commerce is generally supportive of the Ontario government's economic vision to balance the budget and to reduce taxes. It does, however, believe the government will need to be more strategically innovative with respect to its responsibility to the taxpayers and community of Sarnia-Lambton.
Who are we? The Sarnia Lambton Chamber of Commerce is a grassroots business organization with over 800 members in the Sarnia-Lambton area. We have a very broad sector of business representation, with the majority of our members being independent businesses.
The chamber has a very qualified economic policy and development committee responsible for understanding the economic landscape in Sarnia-Lambton. The committee's function is to monitor and analyze the economic policies of the provincial government and to understand their impact on the businesses in Sarnia-Lambton and the community at large. This committee is the author of this paper being presented to you.
Mr Michael Van Pelt: What we want to do is just roll through some of what we consider the basics, and we're going to look specifically at some of the issues that impact Sarnia-Lambton. As you may see from the report, the Sarnia Lambton Chamber of Commerce is a member of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce and was participatory in some aspects of that report, which has already been presented to you. We're not going to deal with some of the larger economic issues that are contained in that report and simply duplicate that. I sense that you've had a reasonable amount of conversation on those issues already. We want to target Sarnia-Lambton and basically look at some of these issues through the lens of our own community. We're going to target just a few issues. We'll be quick and to the point.
The first one is the SuperBuild fund. Obviously the chamber is very pleased with the overall direction of the SuperBuild fund, and especially the notion of integrating the various ministries and the infrastructure investments that the various ministries put into the community. The notion of integrating that investment is a positive idea. However, we are very concerned that Sarnia-Lambton and possibly other communities like ours don't really have the tools to utilize the investment of that fund to its greatest extent. Like the Ontario chamber, we're very concerned about the lack of clarity that's coming through on the SuperBuild fund. Some sarcastically say that it's been announced more than once, more than twice, or possibly more than three times. We're looking for some details. That might seem to be a nitty-gritty for a small community, but a small community needs to have the tools well in advance to be able to access and leverage its own community to utilize that fund, as there has been such an emphasis on the private sector character of that fund. That's our concern from a community point of view.
We're ready to come to the table with investment. We have practical examples that we can look at in our own community which we can leverage into the SuperBuild fund, but we do not want to be in a position where because we're a smaller community we might not have the resources, ie, the field of grant officers etc, that larger communities might have and end up being disadvantaged from that fund. There is a federal example that you all might be reasonably familiar with that we simply do not want to be the negative recipient of in this case also.
With respect to municipal taxation and, simply put, a little bit different emphasis maybe from our counterpart at the Ontario chamber, we think it's time to stop reviewing the options. We've reviewed the options on municipal taxation for a long time, and we want you to move quickly to allow municipalities to actively and freely utilize the range of fairness. Although the province's 10-5-5 had a very "pro-business" character to it, and temporarily kind of limited some of the increases to businesses, it also prevented municipalities from utilizing the range of fairness and simply gave them an opportunity in many cases, and in Sarnia-Lambton's case, to do actually nothing.
The chamber was very active in trying to get our county to commit philosophically to moving in the direction of making commercial taxes a little more equitable. As you know, there is no question: Commercial property taxes are not equitable. Philosophically we were very close, then all sudden 10, 5 and 5 came out and discussion's over. So we're starting on page 1 there. Forget the options. Give us that opportunity that your government philosophically committed to right off the start with municipal taxation.
Second of all, let's remove the residential preference. There was a tremendous amount of discussion and talk and hype and excitement about the business occupancy tax being eliminated. We suggest that maybe it didn't get eliminated, that in fact it got transferred right on to the commercial tax rates. There is a very easy way of dealing with the BOT, which is actually simply eliminating it-period, done. No more after that. The provision to move it to the commercial tax rate really was a residential bias decision of your government. We understand the dynamics, and anyone having to be elected understands the dynamics, of not wanting to influence the residential tax rate, but you can't have it both ways. The time is now to allow your government, and to allow municipalities, to move towards creating some fairness for commercial businesses and giving opportunity for job creation. As we know, all the research shows that property tax is what we now consider the silent job killer.
With respect to red tape, quick and to the point: Obviously, we're supportive of the continuance of the Red Tape Commission. Number one, let's stay aggressive but let's take a very sensible approach to it. We noted two issues, one on the audit side and one on the reporting mechanism of the employer health tax, just to show that there's actually a long way to go here. These are fundamentals that have to happen in terms of making our reporting mechanisms and the kind of bureaucracy that businesses have to be involved in to deal with government and to deal with government taxation-these are simple ones. We still have a long way to go, but we are very supportive of the philosophical commitment and the practical commitment, which some of you have been aggressively involved in, to remove red tape. There is still a long way to go in that area.
The final one is with respect to trade corridor investment. That's come through various different languages. We think "trade corridor" is the language that encompasses transportation and trade integration. Ontario really is the second-largest trading partner with the United States. Many people don't know that.
Of the $440 billion-and that's probably getting to $450 billion to $475 billion-between Canada and the United States, over 60% travels through Ontario's southwest gateways. Transportation infrastructure is becoming a much more integral part of the manufacturing process and will also at some point be under the scrutiny of the manufacturing process.
Without substantial investment into Ontario's trade corridors, Ontario will be at a competitive disadvantage to competing jurisdictions such as Michigan. Sarnia-Lambton is obviously a major gateway. In size, we're the largest international gateway, and I think third on the volume side of it. Simply, the corridor can't be ignored. It's a major component of our trade infrastructure, and this government, more than any, has been very excited about our export opportunities. This is becoming one of the fundamentals of that kind of opportunity. It was interesting to see Minister Eves actually pick up on the language of trade corridors and even mention our gateway in his discussions with the Ontario Good Roads Association. We now have to complete the job.
I will give you a really interesting example. In the Detroit Free Press in late December there were three full pages called "The 401, the Death Trap." That is very much integrated and interrelated with trade corridors. When you have efficiently designed transportation infrastructure that handles the manufacturing process and that handles tourism, you're not going to see three pages in the Detroit Free Press called "The 401, the Death Trap." The amount of money that one of your departments-ie, the tourism department-is going to have to spend in advertising to counteract those simple three pages in the Detroit Free Press is fascinating. It's a critical area for us as a board of community in Sarnia-Lambton, just as much for Toronto as you're starting to see. I think just last week they signed an accord with respect to transportation and are looking to begin negotiations with the Ontario government to maybe do some cost-sharing on municipal infrastructure.
I'll turn it over to Gus just to deal with the gaming revenues issue.
Mr Mumby: Point Edward, hopefully in the next couple of weeks, is going to become the home of one of the province's new charity casinos. Presently, Sarnia enjoys having the casino/slots in its municipality. These are both clearly significant contributors in terms of employment to the Sarnia-Lambton community, and the community has embraced these two opportunities. However, there still are a number of challenges now that we have had some experience with slots. We just wanted to share those challenges with you and also provide you with some recommendations.
First of all, there have been studies done and it has been determined that the present expenditure of a casino visitor outside of the casino itself is only $3.80, which we find to be somewhat alarming. Communities require a strong tourism infrastructure to increase visitors' expenditures that will benefit the entire community. The benefit of the casino/slots for a host community is premised on tourism spending in the entire community. From a community development aspect there is a concern that many of our community support groups are already experiencing substantial shortfalls in fundraising.
There has been a tremendous change over the last few years in terms of the gaming industry. We have a number of organizations in Sarnia that have been dependent upon bingo revenues, and with the introduction of the slots etc, the bingo industry has experienced a significant downturn. There are a number of organizations which are being hurt by that.
Sarnia-Lambton is preparing for tourism growth. It is an undervalued market that will provide the tourists with excellent value for their dollars. However, to be successful it must develop a broader and more diversified tourism infrastructure. Communities with smaller charity casinos need a strong impetus on the part of the provincial government for all the parties to benefit. This means that provincial investment must be beyond just the direct investment into the casinos themselves.
Therefore, we have three recommendations that we would like to leave with you: first, that the Ontario government review its funding formulas for host communities, including the Trillium Foundation grid formula, municipal support and potential infrastructure investment; second, that the government share in the research of the economic and social impact of casinos in host communities or fund the community to conduct its own research; and third, that the Ontario Lottery Corp be required to actively fund tourism promotion in host communities to support community efforts and have casino visitors enjoy Ontario tourism opportunities other than just the casino.
I'd like to turn it over to Michael for closing remarks.
Mr Van Pelt: Just one more thing before quickly closing. Just to deal with the final issue, energy and economy, this isn't specifically an economic issue, but as we know in governments, many of the non-economic issues have very much of an economic impact in communities.
Sarnia-Lambton can, and should, benefit substantially by the changes in energy deregulation. Right now we have two major opportunities coming online. Your own government touted the TransAlta opportunity, which we're very excited about, which is a gigantic investment into our community. Since then, Enron has made an announcement. Enron is in the top five energy-producing companies in North America. They will create a peak facility, and we know confidentially that two other companies within Sarnia-Lambton are doing the work, doing some of the engineering to be able to determine whether they in fact are going to launch cogen opportunities also. So Sarnia-Lambton is very poised to benefit from this and should be in a position where our costing for hydro within Sarnia-Lambton is, number one, very, very competitive and, number two, we are in a position to, at some point when the regulations get there, be able to export those resources.
We do have a number of concerns, though, and I think you already have an indication of those concerns that you're dealing with in everyday life. The process is starting to take very, very long with the Ontario Energy Board, the numerous kinds of regulations that have to happen. We're very concerned that that process ends up limiting the investment and the kinds of commitments companies will make, ie, reducing the size of their operations, reducing the size of their investment and becoming a little more strategic, kind of limiting their commitment just to see where the water is actually going to land, because it's becoming more and more confusing where the regulations are going to land and their impact on the community. Much of that is obviously surrounding making sure that the existing Ontario Hydro companies are in reasonable shape to actually launch themselves successfully into a competitive market.
We are actually concerned that there is preferential treatment for those existing Ontario Hydro companies. We give one example with the Ontario Hydro Services Co. For example, we actually have one situation in Sarnia-Lambton right now where a company is looking at a major investment, but the cost to do the hydro capital upgrades for that company is very, very high. They have no negotiating power. They have no room because, "It's Ontario Hydro Services Co you're dealing with, period, and we'll price whatever we feel like." For example, we need some bidding opportunities or some arbitration environments there to move that along and make sure these changes do not affect our ability-that's what we're looking for-to allow energy deregulation to be one of the most successful economic development tools in Sarnia-Lambton. That's what we need to happen, and it's very cumbersome.
We were reluctant to bring this up, because it's really specific technical issues that are causing very large or potentially large economic challenges for us to deal with. Just to get our membership informed on how this process is working is a difficult challenge.
I guess our recommendation is then to do whatever your government has the capability to do to move this issue along with greater speed and watch and monitor what we think is the preferential treatment to design Ontario Hydro companies most effectively to move into the new market and not be in financial difficulty within months of their moving into that market.
In conclusion, the Sarnia Lambton Chamber of Commerce appreciates the opportunity to speak with you. We are very positive and determined about the future of Sarnia Lambton. We're also realistic about our present situation. We are preparing and are already taking control of our own future. However, we believe it's time that the province's helping hand reaches out, or I think the terminology was "reaching up," to Sarnia-Lambton. Thank you very much for the opportunity for us to present.
The Chair: Thank you very much. We have approximately three minutes per caucus.
Mr Christopherson: First off, let me just say whoever designed your package here did a great job. We get an awful lot of these things, but this one sort of stands out to me.
Mr Van Pelt: We're good in Sarnia.
Mr Christopherson: Yes, I can tell. But this is excellent.
Mr Van Pelt: Thank you.
Mr Christopherson: You mentioned on your first page-it's numbered 3 but in your opening comments-the fourth paragraph down, "The fact is, however, while Ontario has enjoyed one of its most successful periods of economic growth, Sarnia-Lambton has not." Correct me if I'm wrong, but I would suspect that your view of things right now is, number one, a recognition that things are booming, especially the American economy, which is all but defying gravity in terms of the length of the current boom, and yet a recognition that this won't last forever. What goes up does come down, and it's not a question of if but when. There will be major market correction and when that happens, nobody yet is sure whether it's going to be what they call a soft landing or whether we're going to get into a hard, long recession, as we went into in the early 1990s.
Again, I'm asking for your comments on this. I would think your sense is we've got to hit while the iron's hot here, that we've got to grab some of that and get this infrastructure in place and start to benefit from some of what is happening in the rest of Ontario, or you're going to be in serious trouble if that economy falls and it goes severe, with a very long and gradual pullout, leaving you even further behind.
Is this-I don't like to use the word "desperation," but certainly a sense of urgency that you've got to make up some ground because you haven't been able to keep pace with the rest of the province, and that's why you're imploring the government to move quickly on a lot of these key local micro-issues?
Mr Van Pelt: Clearly, that's the answer. Add to that some very optimistic and very positive and determined character on the part of the community and that's a perfect mix. The reality is we're dealing with structural situations that you don't change very quickly. You don't change demographics very quickly. When you're having challenges keeping young people in a community, that is a structural challenge that doesn't get fixed in one or two or three years. We have to make sure we have the infrastructure, the economy, to actually attract young people into our community and to keep them.
If you look at the direction of the petrochemical industry, there are long-term structural changes that are happening in that petrochemical industry and that are going to keep happening. We've suffered from the larger part of downsizing in the petrochemical industries, but some of those billion-dollar investments are going to be run by less and less people. We're becoming innovative in terms of creating secondary industries. Energy is one of those secondary industries out of the petrochemical industry. We're pulling in some auto parts companies, but we need to move quicker to be able to deal with that situation so that when the economy turns, when things aren't as wild as they seem to be in the rest of Ontario, we're at least structured to be able to have a reasonably strong economy.
Mr Christopherson: I don't know this, but I would think that when there's a downturn one of the first places you'd notice it would be in the auto industry. I don't know if you were here earlier when I was reminding committee members that most of the economists who have come in and talked to us have said a lot of what's happening in Ontario is as a result of the booming US economy, in particular the auto industry. So any community that's directly tied to that will be impacted harshly. Second, with the petrochemical industry, if everything starts to slow down that means trucks are moving less, people will move around more.
In terms of diversifying to protect yourself and cushion yourself from that-you don't want to have all your eggs in one basket, particularly if you're not building up surpluses and benefits during the boom time-what other steps are you taking locally to diversify your economic base?
Mr Van Pelt: We have actively taken those steps, and your Chair happened to be involved in some of those steps. We have a very positive Council for Economic Renewal, which is an innovative economic development opportunity that has had more economic investment put into it in the last three or four years than I think Sarnia Lambton has seen in its history. It's starting to deliver. We picked up a call centre last week of around 500 people. So that's moving along. The community is putting the fundamentals into place.
What we're saying is that the province and the federal government are very key players in terms of the future of our economy just by noting the two pieces of legislation the province has been involved in. We want to make sure that Sarnia is front and centre in the face of the provincial and federal governments, that we're going to benefit from every single opportunity. The provincial and federal governments are major investors in all communities.
Mr Christopherson: I know I'm out of time, but I just want to get a cautionary note in. On your support of Bill 31, if you're looking to bring new demographics in, in terms of labour, this was not something that labour was very happy with. It was rammed down their throat, and publicly saying you think this is a wonderful thing, I just suggest to you, is not a positive message out there.
Mr Van Pelt: I'm not sure we said it was a wonderful thing. I didn't read that in the report. What we said is: "Do you know what? It hasn't delivered yet. It's a temporary notion and this government has to start thinking seriously about how we're going to act and live beyond those project agreements because something has to be done and it will be a provincial responsibility."
Mr Johnson: I wanted to say hello again, Mike and Gus. Good to see you again.
Mr Van Pelt: Good to see you again.
Mr Johnson: Thanks very much for taking your time to present to us. You've covered a lot of ground, what with assessment and mill rates and taxes and all those other things that will influence Sarnia's ability to compete in the future.
I want to touch for just a minute, if I could, on the SuperBuild Growth Fund. I didn't know if the perception was that that is a fund of money that you have an application for, and, "Where's my application? I want to apply for it," sort of thing. I think of it more as kind of an empty basket where somebody comes along and says, "This is what I want to do. I want to build another bridge. I want to put bridges in Sarnia," those sort of projects. "I want to do those things that will make the community viable into the future," and so on. It's the sort of thing that you bring your ideas, your dollars and your commitment to.
I see Sarnia as having two completely distinct challenges. One is that a lot of people pass through your community. It makes it hard-and you mentioned it in connection with casinos-to get those people to stop for a day or a couple of days and stay at your motels and eat in your restaurants. By building bridges-I think your twinning, for instance, will be a little bit like opening a dam where there's water building up behind it and it will allow you to take advantage in the future of those economic stimuli that result from it. The other one I see is in power generation.
I just wanted to suggest to you that both of those are the sorts of ideas that I'm sure this basket of super-growth would be very receptive to. Thanks very much for being here.
The Chair: We're out of time. The official opposition.
Mr Monte Kwinter (York Centre): Thank you very much for your presentation. I just wanted to talk about gaming revenues and the concerns that you have.
I sat on this committee when we looked into casino gambling for Ontario. We went to Windsor, and the people in Windsor were very enthusiastic about their casino. They made presentations to us in which they said they were going to run shuttles between the casino and the shopping centres out in the suburbs; they were going to have this incredible program that was going to take people out of the casinos into the community. The stores were going to thrive; business was going to boom and it was going to be sweetness and light forever after. I suggested that that wasn't going to happen, that history says it never happens, and I was just about run out of town on a rail. The headline stories in the Windsor Star said, "Kwinter Rains on our Parade."
What has happened is-and I'm not clairvoyant; I'm just telling you the experience that has happened, and you say it right here-"Spending in the community is approximately $3.80." Gamblers come to gamble. They don't come to shop; they don't come to do other things. They're there to gamble, and if there's a gambling location somewhere between you and them that's closer, that's where they're going to go. So there's no question that casinos benefit a community. They benefit in the sense that they create jobs. There is some spinoff for the people who work there who may have been unemployed then get employed. They then have the ability to spend some money. But to suggest that just because the casino is there there's going to be a huge boom to tourism just is not borne out by history.
As I say, you just take a look. They used to tell me about all the empty stores in Windsor. Most of those stores are still empty. With the casinos opening up in Detroit, you will see a significant difference in the attendance, because 80% of the people who come to Windsor come from the United States.
The point I'm really making-I'm not trying to discourage casinos, because certainly the province benefits. They get huge revenues from gambling. The municipality benefits because they have taxation, they have employment. But I don't think it's a strategy that you base all of your economic-and I'm not necessarily saying your are, but that you look at this and say, "This is going to be a huge benefit for our tourism," because the history just doesn't bear that out.
Do you have any comments on that?
Mr Van Pelt: Yes, we do. I think that's the very point we're making. It's a reality in our community. We will see numerous new visitors to our community. However, the strategy within the community itself is changing the nature of the visitor from a daytripper to a destination. What you need is a fundamental change in the infrastructure outside of a casino to be able to do that. You only need small amounts. If you look at Niagara Falls, one of the reasons why Niagara Falls has seen such a benefit is because of the destination character. Their dollars per person are much higher than ours. That's why we make the ensuing recommendations that in host communities there needs to be a lot more creativity outside of just that facility, and the province should play a part in it.
We also know, and I don't think it's any secret to anyone, that the Ontario Lottery Corp's marketing is very much designed to have everyone spend everything all the time in their facility. So I think the government might have to consider some kind of stipulation, some kind of criterion in host communities where there is-and that's our third recommendation-investment into the tourism and promotion body of the community, to allow them to pull what we call a "play and stay," develop some kind of sophisticated program to "play and stay." It's extremely hard, there's no doubt about it, but we only need small numbers.
The Chair: With that we've run out of time. On behalf of the committee, thank you very much for your presentation this morning. Drive back carefully.
Our next presenter, the Labour Council of Chatham-Kent, still has not shown up, so we'll take a recess until 11 o'clock unless they show up prior to that time.
The committee recessed from 1032 to 1100.
ONTARIO SECONDARY SCHOOL TEACHERS' FEDERATION, DISTRICT 10
The Chair: I'd like to bring the committee back to order. Our 11 o'clock presenter is here from the OSSTF, district 10. Could you state your name for the record, please.
Ms Jane Hulme: I'm Jane Hulme.
The Chair: On behalf of the committee, welcome.
Ms Hulme: Let me begin by stating that OSSTF, district 10, regrets that the government of Ontario would choose this location to hold this hearing. This is a site that's well known in the community for its labour strife, and the workers who work here are currently awaiting the outcome of an arbitration with their first contract. We very much oppose using this hotel.
As president of district 10, I represent the secondary teachers and secondary occasional teachers of the Lambton Kent District School Board. This region is vast and extremely diversified. It encompasses the communities of Forest, Watford, Dresden, Sarnia, Chatham, Petrolia, Wallaceburg, Blenheim, Ridgetown and Tilbury. Needless to say, the secondary schools service a wide variety of clientele. There are rural students, adult students, students with special needs and urban students. The requirements of these communities with respect to their educational needs and the necessity for this government to invest in their futures by providing adequate educational funding are the issues I'd like to address today.
In its report released in June 1999, the Education Improvement Commission outlined that several issues would be problematic for the Lambton Kent District School Board. These problems are rooted in the inequities of the provincial funding formula. The funding formula was designed to be a one-size-fits-all solution to education finance. However, rather like pantyhose-and I have experience with those-this one-size-fits-all approach doesn't fit anybody.
The EIC reported that the Lambton Kent District School Board had completed a pupil accommodation study and, according to the government's formula, there were approximately 2,000 surplus spaces in the secondary schools and 5,000 surplus spaces in the elementary schools. What became evident to the board was that the majority of these surplus spaces were in rural areas, and the school board now faces the very thorny issue of school closure. In all, the board is considering closing two secondary schools and five elementary schools.
The community of Watford, for example, is faced with the very real threat of closure of both its secondary school, which is East Lambton Secondary School, and one or two of its elementary schools. This is very much a community in crisis. The proposed plan would see secondary students bused to the communities of Forest and Petrolia, while students who are currently living within those catchment areas would be forced to attend high school in other communities, namely Sarnia and Dresden. Students from Watford who now attend East Lambton would be divvied up and sent hither and yon. This has a devastating effect on the cohesiveness of the adolescent population within eastern Lambton county. For the general public in east Lambton, the high school is the hub of the community. Local merchants will suffer loss of revenue, as the local students generate a lot of business. Real estate values for the area will drop-we're anticipating that-as proximity to schools is a real selling point, and families tend to live in subdivisions and towns that are close to schools.
Who is at fault for this dilemma? Surely this government is going to place the blame on the board of education as, rightfully so, the board must make the choices regarding which schools will close. But what has forced this decision is the fact the funding formula decrees what constitutes a rural school. Anyone who has ever been to Watford would see that the community is nestled among some of the most lush farmland in southwestern Ontario. The town itself has a population of 1,700. It's home to CornFest every August. For miles around, as far as the eye can see, there are pastures and tractors. But this secondary school doesn't meet the requirements of a rural school that would entitle the board to extra grants. It is located one kilometre too close to the ever growing community of Petrolia, a community that is currently enjoying some industrial growth. The citizens of this community have attended many meetings with respect to this issue and have offered many concrete recommendations. School closure is a hot topic in our area, particularly for the communities that are encompassed by the school board boundaries. The lack of empowerment has left most of the citizens extremely frustrated.
What community school will be safe within the context of the funding formula? The community secondary schools situated in Tilbury and Ridgetown are also at risk, given the comparatively low populations of their schools. If East Lambton Secondary School with a population of just under 300 is at risk of closure, then surely Ridgetown and Tilbury secondary schools, with populations of just above 300, will be slated for closure in the upcoming years.
When will it end? What small community school will exist under these conditions, and what will happen to Ontario's small towns? The lack of ability for the community to decide if they want to support these schools-and by this I mean the ability to raise some additional funds through local taxation-severely limits the power of the local citizens. The reality of Toronto's calling the shots has disenfranchised the citizens and has left the majority feeling isolated from the very education system that was envisioned by Egerton Ryerson.
With respect to adult education, the funding formula outlines that these are non-classroom expenditures. The cuts to funding levels have meant a drop from $7,000 per student to a new rate of $2,257 per student. While the school boards have been offering continuing education at night school for decades, the night school programs do not have the success rate of the adult day school programs.
In 1996, OSSTF conducted a survey that found that among adult students, 63% were female, 16% had disabilities, 53% needed English-as-a-second-language assistance and 48% were on social assistance. Are these not the people who need the programs that are designed to meet the special learning needs of adults?
The same OSSTF survey indicated that in the past 83% of adult daytime students got a job or moved on to further education after graduating from adult programs. By cutting the funding to these programs, are we not condemning these students to failure? Despite the high success rate of adult day school programs, the funding formula gutted available funds for adult education. In the Lambton Kent District School Board, this means that the adult education centre in Sarnia will forever close its doors. It means that the ability for adult students to remain in the milieu of their peers and not have to suffer the shame of completing their high school education in the same building as their own children is forever lost. It means that very specific needs of those vulnerable adults cannot effectively be addressed. It means that the barriers to employment will not be erased and that the majority of these students don't even have a chance of breaking the social assistance cycle.
The funding formula mandates that no money could be allocated to "non-classroom" lines. The citizens of our communities don't even have the power to ensure that programs like the adult day school can be made a priority. The restrictive nature of the funding formula ensures that local budgetary decisions cannot be made.
Special-needs students are also at risk, given the drastic underfunding that has occurred in this area. The bureaucratic red tape that is necessary to fill in the grant applications for students with special needs is extraordinary and extremely unwieldy and takes the teachers away from direct service to students. The process seems designed to discourage applications, and the technology provided to make these applications often crashes and causes teachers extreme stress and inordinate hours of extra work. Once again, poor planning and inefficient practices are putting the educational needs of our students at risk.
Students whose progress has been marginal, who had previously been placed in what we used to call basic level programs, with educational supports such as educational assistants, lower class sizes and extra resource teacher assistants, are now all lumped together with students who do not require the same supports. Not only is there no equivalent academic level at present in the new curriculum, but lack of funding dictates that there are very limited opportunities for access to the aforementioned educational supports.
Educational assistants are allocated based on grants for which the former basic level student does not qualify. The size of the classes in the aggregate is mandated by the funding formula to be 22 to 1 for secondary and 25 to 1 for elementary. Resource teachers are allocated based on school size, not based on the number of special students within the school. The funding formula mandates that the ratio of resource teachers to students will be 3.6 to 1,000 students. This means that despite the fact that in a school like Alexander Mackenzie Secondary School, where there are 300 or 400 students who are IPRC'd-that's the process for identifying these students-as having learning difficulties and special needs, the funding formula only provides 1.5 resource teachers. Another school, with a student population of 1,200 and perhaps only 100 IPRC'd students, would generate 4.3 resource teachers.
In Wallaceburg, a community with a very high population of First Nation students, the school has a population of 1,200 and has 1.5 resource teachers. These students have traditionally utilized many special education services, and the supports that were promised to the band are becoming increasingly difficult to provide.
The government insists that the funding for special education has increased; however, in the Lambton Kent District School Board the funds have actually decreased. The combined special education spending for the former Lambton and Kent boards was $19 million for approximately 3,400 students prior to amalgamation. From these grants, teachers, educational assistants, psychologists, paraprofessionals, speech pathologists and counsellors were employed to work directly with students with special needs.
Following amalgamation, the board was provided with $15.9 million in special education grants. The board opted to use one-time grants-they were called mitigation and stabilization grants-to subsidize special education budgets by a further $2.5 million to continue with what the EIC deemed to be the exemplary special education practices. Indeed, the Education Improvement Commission recognized that the Lambton Kent District School Board had "exemplary process for amalgamation for special education programs and services." The funding reductions experienced by this board will make it impossible to maintain the current initiatives.
The intensive support amount grant-we call that the ISA grant-was supposed to provide funds for intensive support for high-needs students and was to follow the student. The portability of the grant has not been seen, and when students move from another school board to ours the dollars have not come with them. The number of these students has increased from 331 students in the 1998-99 school year to 487 students in the current school year. No additional dollars were allotted to the board as the ISA grants were frozen at the 1998-99 school year by the Ministry of Education. The lack of funding for these additional 156 students has severely strained budgetary lines and, as indicated, jeopardizes the very services so necessary to our high-needs students.
The board, the SEAC committee, parents, teachers and students have not remained silent on these issues. They have written to their MPPs, they've written to Janet Ecker, the Minister of Education, to express their concerns. To date, there has been no response that addresses their specific concerns.
The very recent announcement of a grant of up to $40 million for special education is to be divided among 70 boards of education, and it is a red herring. This division will not occur evenly, with the majority of these grants being given to boards in large urban centres. While these boards certainly have need of the additional funds, it can once again be construed that boards with a higher rural population, such as ours, are being left out in the cold.
The promise of this extra $40 million is like the proverbial drop in the bucket for special education programs throughout the province, and as yet the Lambton Kent District School Board is unsure of the amount of its allocation after this announcement.
In a report to the ministry, superintendents of school boards recommended that special education funding needed an additional $100 million to provide the same level of service. Why has the ministry not responded?
As I have outlined, there is significant evidence that funding constraints are having a substantially negative impact on the programs and services so necessary to meet the needs of all our communities and the clientele within the purview of the Lambton Kent District School Board.
With this in mind, I offer the following recommendations: that the mitigation and stabilization grants be reinstituted until a complete review of education finance has been undertaken; that some level of local taxation be permitted in order to empower the trustees and local taxpayers with the opportunity to set some of those educational priorities for their own communities; and that funding be restored to adult education programs so as to provide adult students with opportunities for success.
The Chair: Thank you. I would like to clarify the record. Regarding your statement in the first paragraph, the locations are picked by the subcommittee of the standing committee on finance and economic affairs. The subcommittee is made up of one member from the government side, one from the opposition and one from the third party.
Mr Christopherson: Mr Chair, a point of order on that point, because I was going to raise it in my comments: The last thing in the world I ever like to do is take the government off the hook for anything, but nonetheless the truth is the truth. I was on that subcommittee and I urged that we meet here. You may or may not know that I was invited to speak when the strike was on. I came down here and spoke to the picketers. The fact that it was then unionized seemed to me to be a good reason why we ought to be here: to send a message to employers that there are clear benefits to allowing and supporting your employees to be unionized.
So if there's any blame, which I don't think there should be because I philosophically agree with what I just said, it is mine and not anyone else's. I was the one who urged that we meet at this location.
The Chair: Thank you very much. With that, we have four minutes per caucus. I'll start with the government side.
Mr Arnott: I just want to say that we are glad to be here in Chatham and glad that you had the opportunity to come forward and express the concerns you may have on behalf of your membership.
I do have one specific question. I found it quite startling, on page 4, where you talked about the Alexander Mackenzie Secondary School, that 300 of 400 students, 75% of the students in the school, have been identified as requiring special needs. I wonder if you could briefly explain what kind of process is undertaken to identify students as having special needs whereby three out of four students in a school are identified in that way?
Ms Hulme: The IPRC process is a process whereby students meet with psychometrists, psychiatrists, board personnel, many paraprofessionals, and doctors sometimes also are involved. The recommendations come from them as to whether these students have learning disabilities; they may have ADHD, they may have higher needs than that, they may have physical disabilities. Those students, if they have physical disabilities, meet a different criterion of grant. There are different levels of identifying students. You can identify students at the higher level also, to be gifted students, and they would also be IPRC'd.
Mr Arnott: I just wonder if that identification process has changed in recent years to-
Ms Hulme: No, it has not.
Mr Arnott: Would that be typical of other high schools?
Ms Hulme: No, this high school is absolutely atypical, but it is a high school that has 300 of 400 students who have been IPRC'd.
Mr Arnott: So there would be unique challenges there that the board has to address.
Ms Hulme: Very unique challenges, yes.
Mrs Molinari: Thank you very much for your presentation. I'm glad my colleague asked that question, because when I saw that I thought, that's very unusual. That's not the norm, that's rather the exception. I'm sure the board is pursuing the ministry with respect to situations like that, because with special education there are two grants, as you know. There's the ISA but there's also the SEPPA grant. In a school like that, I could see how that wouldn't be of as much help as it is to other schools where there isn't the high ratio of special education.
I want to address some of the points you made with respect to the funding formula and classroom versus non-classroom expenditure. You indicated that the "formula mandates that no money can be allocated to `non-classroom' lines." That's true, but there's another side to that. The funding formula is made up of classroom expenditure and non-classroom expenditure, and there is flexibility where non-classroom expenditure can be used for classroom expenditure. The protected one is the classroom expenditure, because the government's view is that it wants to ensure that money dedicated to the classroom is in fact spent on the classroom and not in other areas. So there is some flexibility.
Ms Hulme: My point there was that adult education programs are deemed to be non-classroom areas.
Mrs Molinari: Yes, because they're adult education programs; they're not specific to the students in the school. That's an area that needs to be addressed, I've heard from a few people. There's the other side to that too. I've heard some say that we shouldn't be in the business of adult education, that we're there to educate the students in the schools who are there from junior kindergarten right through to finishing Ontario secondary school. That's a whole other argument that can be for another time.
You also mention the difficulties with the community that needs to look at the possibility of school closures and the fact that one particular school is one kilometre too close to be considered a rural community. We've heard a number of presentations and comments from people who have similar concerns because of what it does to rural, that it's not the same as urban. I know the minister is looking at those very carefully.
On the one kilometre, I guess what I'd say to that is that there has to be a cut-off somewhere. If it's one kilometre over, they'll say, "That's another kilometre." It's really difficult to determine what's considered and what isn't in distance spaces, because the cut-off has to be somewhere. I'm sensitive to those comments.
Mr Hoy: Thank you very much for your presentation. You hit on a number of points. I want to particularly mention your concern for rural school closings, not to say that you aren't concerned about urban school closings. I have been concerned about this for some years now. Romney school, which was closed, was surrounded by fields and woodlots. People there told me that deer from time to time ran through the backyard. To me, that seemed to be the perfect example of a rural school, but the rural school grant or the small school grant either didn't apply to them or wasn't available to them. It just seemed strange. I think we must look closely at rural schools and the grant system.
You're quite right: I have had representation made to me on an informal basis by people who are quite concerned about schools in the Kent portion of the Lambton Kent District School Board; Tilbury and Ridgetown and perhaps others as well.
I particularly took note of your suggestion 2, to allow some taxation at the local level so that better decisions, I would think, are made for the local community in terms of its ability. Do you have any opinion as to how much taxation the local community should be responsible for? Do you have any view on that at all?
Ms Hulme: I would think that would have to be in addition to the funding formula allocations. There shouldn't be a clawback because local school boards have decided to do that. I would think anywhere from 5% to 10% would give them the flexibility to do some local prioritizing.
Mr Hoy: During your involvement with schools and education in all aspects, have you ever witnessed a school that was closed reopen?
Ms Hulme: Never. In fact, in 1986 there was a school in Sarnia-that's where I originally come from-that was sold to the separate school system for $1 and was never returned.
Mr Hoy: My understanding is that some months ago Romney school had not been disposed of. It may be now, but at the time I asked the question it was vacant and unused. In my community, the Merlin District High School, which I attended, was eventually torn down and is a vacant lot now. I certainly do have a concern for smaller communities and their schools, as I do for urban communities, and I appreciate your comments today.
The Chair: Mr Kwinter, you still have a minute and a half.
Mr Kwinter: I'd like to talk about the whole issue of where they're closing down schools and busing them to a community, but to accommodate them they're taking children out of that community and busing them somewhere else. Can you explain that to me, how that works?
Ms Hulme: That's a local board decision they have proposed to try and address the needs of filling up all the empty school spaces, according to this funding formula. Schools that have existed with the same population are now deemed to be underutilized, so they're trying to move the bodies around, so to speak, to fill up the spots. They're doing that through boundary changes to schools and adding to busing.
Mr Kwinter: So it's really a leapfrog system, where you bring someone in and then you move someone out, and then they probably are going to be displacing somebody along their way. Where does it end? How does it make any sense?
Ms Hulme: The whole community will be affected. It's not just the community of Watford that's going to be affected; it's every community. Dresden, Petrolia, Sarnia, all the school boundaries are slated for change to address this one issue.
Mr Christopherson: Thank you for your presentation.
I would draw to your attention that the first presentation we heard this morning was from the Chatham and District Chamber of Commerce. Under the heading "Maintaining Excellence in Education," they said:
"The Chatham and District Chamber of Commerce believes that education from early childhood education to post-graduate studies, including the vital aspects [of] apprenticeship studies, are important components of making Ontario North America's leading economy.
"The chamber supports many of the government's actions to reform the education system."
I drew to their attention that while they on the one hand support the tax cuts that benefited the very well off in our society, it has to be paid for somewhere and one of the places it's being paid for is in our education system. There's a crisis there, and there's a bit of a lack of continuity in terms of arguing that the tax cuts should continue, but you want to support the education system. You can't have it both ways. Chambers are usually the first to acknowledge there's no free lunch.
The government member, when speaking-I didn't get an exact quote, but it's pretty close-said, "The government wants money spent on classroom expenditures and not on other things." Of course "other things," when you phrase it that way, almost sounds like frivolous sorts of things, fat in the system, inefficiencies. But the reality is those other things happen to be heating the classroom, turning the lights on, cleaning the classroom, providing computer maintenance and, in a rural area, as we're in today, transportation, which is a huge issue. None of those things have anything to do with classroom spending, if you listen to the government.
Also, the government goes on record as saying they support lifelong learning, but it's only for people who start kindergarten and then, with no break in their education, go through the formal system. First of all, what happened to lifelong learning, and what about the notion of somebody who goes out for a few year and spends some time in the real world and then decides they want to go back to school? They just don't count. There's so much inconsistency, and I'm really glad you're in here exposing these things.
You point particularly to the adult education and that funding levels have dropped from $7,000 per student to $2,257, and you point out that the cookie-cutter approach isn't working. The government argues: "It puts everybody on the same playing field. It's unfair that there were some boards that had more money than others." Yes, they're right; it is unfortunate. But we had one presenter who came in and said, "You know, it never dawned on me that you'd go to the lowest dollar figure and drop everybody down to that."
I want to ask you where you think the education system is going to be in five or 10 years if there isn't a major turnaround in the funding for our education system. Where are we going to be if we continue down this road?
Ms Hulme: Programs like special needs programs and the adult education programs are definitely at risk. I can see that the crisis that was going to be created a number of years ago is certainly coming to light.
Mr Christopherson: What does that mean for the students, those programs not being there?
Ms Hulme: There is a lack of funding available for the resources they need in terms of people to assist them with their special needs.
Mr Christopherson: What's their future without that?
Ms Hulme: Their future without that is very risky. We have a high level of graduation for students who have gone on to succeed in life. Without these supports, I'm not sure how successful these kids are going to be.
Mr Christopherson: With the chamber calling for the need to maintain the excellence in education, yet the government still hacking away and refusing to acknowledge the damage they're doing-and you can hear the government, and they're not apologizing for anything. They best they can do is keep talking and use up the time so you can't respond to them, which is a trick of theirs when somebody comes in and points out all the problems they have.
In your opinion, don't you think it would be wise for the chamber and others who are only looking at the bottom line to recognize that they're being very short-sighted? We had one economist say that those of us who are boomers are really like pigs at the trough, because we benefited from the expenditures that created the debt and those of us who are at our high earning peak capacity are benefiting from the tax cut, and the generation following may look at us as pigs at the trough. If all this continues, don't you think they need to wake up and realize that this is short-term gain for a very few and long-term pain for everyone, including the economy, at the end of the day?
Ms Hulme: Absolutely.
The Chair: On behalf of the committee, thank you very much for your presentation.
CAW CHILD CARE SERVICES
The Chair: Our next presenters are representatives from CAW Child Care Services. Would you please step forward and state your names for the record.
Ms Heather Boyer: Heather Boyer.
Mr Earl Dugal: Earl Dugal.
The Chair: On behalf of the committee, welcome. You have 30 minutes for your presentation.
Mr Dugal: Thank you very much, Mr Chair and members of the committee. What we want to do this morning is walk you through the child care issues that are happening in the province today. With me is Heather Boyer, the administrator of the child care services that we have for our union members and for some people in the public sector. With that, I am going to turn it over to Heather. At the end, we will be glad to answer any questions.
Ms Boyer: CAW Child Care Services, which began in 1989, began in partnership with the union, the corporations and government, with a vision that child care is a right for all Canadian children. As an organization, we are active members of the Ontario Coalition for Better Child Care, and we believe in and support their mandate to advocate for the development of high-quality, non-profit child care services in Ontario.
Over the past 10 years, we have closely watched as the government of the day made promises to child care that didn't materialize. The current environment in Ontario has seriously affected the accessibility of quality services and threatens to destroy an entire system that was once envied by every province in this country. Although the Ontario government maintains that it is spending more on child care than any previous government, the actual annual child care expenditure per child has dropped 15% since 1995. Between 1995 and 1998, the number of children under the age of 12 with mothers in the workforce increased by 70,000, but only 19,000 new child care spaces were created.
Municipal downloading: The downloading to municipalities of child care costs were fully implemented in January of this year. Municipal governments are still trying to assess the impact as they prepare their next budgets. To support the transfer of child care costs announced in 1997, municipalities were given the ability to retain 100% of subsidized parent fee revenue to offset costs or enhance service. They were shocked when this support was recently deemed an interim measure and withdrawn. This latest move by the province gave municipalities the discretion to reallocate wage grants as a method of managing increased child care costs. Although based on the principles of equity, reallocation will result in lower wages for the majority of child care staff.
Child care in schools: 40 percent of Ontario's licensed child care is located in schools. However, recent education reforms do not treat these programs as legitimate school expenses. If forced out of schools, child care programs have no capital funding to relocate.
The Ontario Coalition for Better Child Care has conducted a survey to determine how child care programs in schools are being affected by education reforms. The survey data reveal that child care programs across the province are facing eviction, increased rental costs and reduced space. These and many other issues are jeopardizing the important link between child care and schools.
Changes to OSAP regulations: The 1996 decision to remove parents in post-secondary education from social assistance and eliminate the child care bursary is still having a devastating impact. Low-income parents who continue to struggle for a better life for their families are graduating with untenable debts and are the only parents expected to borrow in order to pay for child care.
Pay equity: While legislation mandates that child care programs continue pay equity adjustments beyond 1998, the province refuses to flow additional money to meet this obligation. Child care programs are being forced to decide between making the pay equity adjustments and accumulating debts that will become unsustainable, or discontinuing further adjustments that would be in direct contravention of the statute. Both options are untenable.
Ontario Works child care: Municipalities' inability to implement this program was documented in the KPMG report that concluded that the Ontario Works program could not succeed in the long term with inadequate access to child care. It predicted that children of Ontario Works clients would be forced into informal care, irrespective of parental choice.
Some municipalities have indicated that they will use only unregulated care for these children because of the lack of adequate funding. This is the first public policy in Ontario to determine that the children of welfare recipients will be limited to unmonitored care. Some of our neediest children are being placed at risk.
Playground directive: In September 1999, the Ministry of Community and Social Services' new playground directive required operators of licensed child care centres to meet new Canadian Standards Association standards for outdoor playgrounds. All licensed child care operators were also required to develop a playground safety policy
While the child care community supported the move to ensure outdoor play environments are maintained in a safe manner, they were astounded that the government would expect them to implement such a policy without adequate training and capital funding. Successful implementation of this directive requires partnership. If the government is serious about keeping children safe, it should ensure that the necessary resources and training are available.
After many years of advocating for children, the Coalition for Better Child Care has come to appreciate that what families in Ontario need to support them through the parenting cycle is a holistic approach to providing support during the early years. In Ontario, parents need a judicious mix of benefits and services that are targeted at identified needs and not designed to favour one family type at the expense of another.
The formula for good child care is no mystery. Extensive research shows that quality programs such as the program CAW offers have high adult-child ratios, consistent caregivers, small group sizes, appropriately trained and compensated staff, and adequate physical environments. These elements of quality care depend on adequate public funding, non-profit delivery, parental involvement and enforced regulatory standards.
Numerous reports, studies and experts in the areas of social policy, health, economics, education and child development agree that the best way to support children is by supporting their families through progressive family policy. CAW Canada and the Ontario Coalition for Better Child Care are calling on the provincial government to invest in the future of Ontario by developing a comprehensive system of early childhood development services, including child care, to support families during the important early years of child development.
We now know from the volumes of research available to us that the early years are too important to waste on the patchwork of disjointed and diminishing services available today in Ontario. Dr Fraser Mustard and the Honourable Margaret Norrie McCain, of the Early Years Study commissioned by the present government, urge a holistic approach to early child development and parenting, and it is needed as early as possible with leadership and commitment. It is time to transform the knowledge and understanding we now have into action.
Why do we need a system of early childhood development services? It supports healthy child development. We recognize that regardless of a parent's employment status, early childhood development opportunities benefit all children and help them realize their full potential at each stage of life.
It fosters economic growth. Early childhood development services enable parents to work or enter training so they can access employment opportunities. Flexible, reliable, affordable services help parents maintain their employment.
It creates jobs. With government investment, early childhood development services will create thousands of jobs over the next 10 years; reduce child poverty; affordable early childhood development services allow parents to participate in the labour force and to support their children; and they invest in the future workforce. High-quality, accessible, early childhood development services provide children with the best possible start in life so they can become skilful, competent workers. It is more cost-efficient for the government to invest in high-quality services now than pay later for the results of low-quality or non-existent services.
The Ontario government can make the development of early childhood development services a high priority by co-operating with the federal government in the negotiations of a national children's agenda and by allocating their own additional resources.
CAW Canada and the Ontario Coalition for Better Child Care recommend that:
(1) The Ontario government return to its traditional leadership role in developing licensed, quality child care by making substantial new investments in this sector;
(2) The Ontario government undertake a five-year plan to double the capacity of licensed child care;
(3) The Ontario government provide ongoing funding for mandatory pay equity adjustments in recognition of pay equity principles;
(4) The Ontario government make more provisions for licensed, quality child care for Ontario Works clients and exempt parents who are unable to obtain licensed care from Ontario Works participation requirements;
(5) The Ontario government amend the education funding formula to support school-based child care;
(6) The Ontario government reinstate the policy which required all new school buildings to include child care space;
(7) The Ontario government make new and substantial investments in children to address the serious issue of child poverty;
(8) The Ontario government provide the necessary resources and training to child care programs to enable them to meet CSA standards and implement safe playground policies; and lastly,
(9) As a signatory to the National Children's Agenda, the Ontario government demonstrate vision, political will and commitment to children in the next provincial budget.
The Acting Chair: Thank you very much for your presentation. In rotation, it's the turn of the Liberal caucus to start off, if you have any questions.
Mr Hoy: Thank you very much for your presentation. You make suggestions at the end of your presentation about a five-year plan to double the capacity of licensed child care. In the beginning you mentioned that between 1995 and 1998 the number of children under age 12 with mothers in the workforce increased by 70,000, but that only 19,000 new child care spaces were created. So your recommendation, I assume, for a five-year plan to double the capacity would alleviate that statistical analysis at the beginning?
Ms Boyer: Yes.
Mr Dugal: One of the big issues we're finding today in this whole area of early childhood education is the fact that the children themselves are not being educated to the point where there are spaces available for them. What is happening today is that they're allowing for a child tax credit, which really does not provide any spaces for new children in order for them to have this type of development in education. This is the seriousness of the whole program, trying to educate the youth while they are young to going into the workforce in a later year, to make them educated, because spaces are not available to do that. What we're looking for, I guess, in the presentation from finance to the Ontario people, is something to create more licensed spaces to help the people who are looking for work to have that kind of care for their children while they go to work.
Mr Hoy: I recently attended an event where scholarships were given out to some very bright young individuals. They hoped to have better employment than they do now, but in some cases their situation is that they are entering into what is commonly called entry level jobs, which have wages they hope to certainly acquire but to increase over their time, gain some experience and so on. So I appreciate the fact that you mention that a graduating student could use this help. They are not always moved right into the workforce at the top dollar within their field and should move on, eventually. Is that what you meant by favouring one family type at the expense of another, the income level situation that may or may not improve over time? Is that what you meant by one family type?
Ms Boyer: Yes.
Mr Hoy: It's based on income bracket.
Ms Boyer: That's right.
Mr Hoy: You mentioned that schools should include child care space and you heard the presentation just prior. I have some concern that the school itself would even exist, let alone have a child care space, and that's a component that is significant to rural Ontario where we have greater distances than we would perhaps in Windsor, where the next school might be only some blocks away. I would hope that the government would give some flexibility back to the local board so that we can keep the school open to have a child care space develop. You talk about risk, where a child care space may not be licensed. Maybe you could describe some examples of what risks might occur if someone is forced to go to an unlicensed facility.
Ms Boyer: One statistic we can give you is that there are more children in Ontario in unregulated child care than in any other form of child care. More children have died in these unregulated environments than we've had people dying from flying truck tires on our highways. We've had 54 new inspectors hired to monitor our highways, and not one supervisor of an unregulated child care environment has been hired to address a problem that is far more serious than people dying on our highways.
Mr Christopherson: Thank you both, Earl and Heather, for your presentation. Let me say at the outset, as not only a former member of the auto workers but as a former president of a local in Hamilton-it's 20 years ago now-I'm really proud of the fact that you've been breaking ground in this area, as you have also done in ensuring that your members have access to legal services and a whole host of social issues that go way beyond what people normally think unions do. CAW continues to be a leader in that regard.
I just want to pick up where Pat left off on the whole issue of unregulated, informal care, because there's a myth to be punctured here. The myth is that, number one, this is about choice. The government does this a lot. They will try and frame things in a way where this is about choice, that you can have a choice. Ultimately, what they want to be able to say, in terms of health care, is that you can have a choice: public health care or private health care. It's democracy. Education: You can have the public system or the private system. The fact that the public system in both those cases is going into crisis and that the choice is only available to those who have the means doesn't get on their radar screen, but that's the reality.
I'm sure they want people to think this is about either having mom come in or somebody you know next door, who is almost part of the family, totally ignoring the fact that what we've actually got is individuals who, because of tough circumstances of their own in many cases, are taking in kids. There's no way of guaranteeing that they have any parental skills for their own kids, let alone to start taking care of others'. You mentioned the number of deaths. I suspect that the only way the pendulum is going to swing back, and unfortunately we're going to lose a good part of a generation, and children are going to be hurt and die unnecessarily, is when we start having inquests. Then the whole story will get blown out and it will be on the front page of the papers and the top of the news, and eventually we'll get back to where we've been, but oh, what a waste, what a shameful waste before we get back there.
I've got to believe, for a lot of the government's friends, that this is all about not even needing child care, because, "Just hire a nanny." So life is fine.
What we're talking about is the vast majority of working people out there. We know they need two incomes and we've got to provide decent, accessible, affordable child care. So I'd ask you to comment on that.
I'll raise one other issue because I probably won't have time to get the mike back. The other thing I want to talk about-and I put the emphasis on this because it's difficult for presenters to not look self-serving-is the whole issue of wages for early childhood educators. It's shameful. We had a presentation last week and the woman making the presentation said, "I'm at the top of everything you can get. I'm in a non-profit, I've got the education skills, I've got the seniority," and she was making $38,000 tops. Most of them entering the field after leaving their formal education are starting at minimum wage. In my point of view, either they are absolutely, totally dedicated to committing their lives to helping children or they're crazy to choose this course.
Yet the government has no problem with leaving the wages where they were. They want the value of all labour to be reduced because they know that if one area of wages goes up, it's going to affect others. But I think it's important we get the message out that if we want our children cared for in a professional fashion, we've got to pay professional wages. If you don't have a full, complete person in terms of the person who is providing the care, your child is not going to receive the support they need and the education they need. So I'd like you to comment and expand a little bit more on what's happening to the wages of early childhood educators.
It has just occurred to me that they were being compared to parking lot attendants in terms of their wages. What was the phrase? I think they are up one other category in terms of the real wages that are paid. The lack of decent wages and benefits that early childhood educators are receiving is shameful, given the level of education, the responsibility and their importance in our society.
Mr Dugal: Just on your comments, David, the issue today about why people are getting into the field and taking the wages they are taking is because there is no real work out there for people to be doing that does pay very good, decent wages. The average earning of an ECE today in the field is $19,000 a year. They are taking those jobs because the only other jobs out there that the government keeps talking about are all of these McDonalds jobs and Burger King jobs and things of that nature. There aren't any serious jobs out there, where people who are looking to get into a field can look at it in a positive vein.
We bring the issue today to the committee to say to them in all honesty-and I understand that maybe some of the people in government today can afford a nanny, can afford those things that other people can't, but you are only a small minority. The majority of people today are looking for some type of help from the government so that they can feel comfortable with where their children are going.
A provider who is doing this type of work-raising a child-they're taking that risk on to make sure that child is also given that type of protection while they are in their care. For this kind of money, is that what they are worth, $19,000?
In the CAW, we say no. In the CAW, we say people should be paid a decent wage for the work they're doing. We pay our workers a very decent wage, probably the highest anywhere in the province.
I say to all of you, you can all sit there and do what you want, but at the end of the day, if you invest in the future of young kids today, while they're growing up, as they grow into their older years you will have more educated people to create things that you're looking at to be created. You won't have them if you sit there and do nothing about the whole issue of early childhood education while the children are still young.
Mr Christopherson: Well said, Earl. Thanks.
Mrs Molinari: Child care and the development of our youth and children is a very important issue to all of us and I thank you for some of the comments you've made. And thank you, Mr Dugal, for your very emotional and passionate response to that question.
I have to differ with the comment you made, though. I think those who become child care workers, other than what you mentioned, that those are the only jobs available-I've spoken to a number of child care workers and they tell me they do it because they love the kids and because they feel they can really contribute and benefit. It's not so much the salary but because it's a job they love. I'm really happy to hear that, because I know it is a very stressful job, dealing with a number of children, all with different needs and different exceptionalities. I'm glad to hear that from the number of people I've spoken to.
I have a couple of questions more of a technical nature. To begin, you mentioned in your presentation that 40% of Ontario's licensed child care is located in schools. Can you tell me a little about the others? You talked about some of the unregulated ones. I guess those would also be with families, grandparents, aunts and uncles. Some of those are in the other 60%. Can you tell me what some of the other ones might be?
Ms Boyer: There are licensed child care programs, a very small percentage. About 7% of children are in those environments; that's all there's room for. The majority of children are in unlicensed home settings, either with a relative or a parent. Families often decide to off-shift to make their child care arrangements work; there's nothing available in their community so they work opposite shifts to one another. That is a very interesting statistic that they say may lend itself to the high divorce rate, that families are not spending time together. There's no child care to be found that either they've had a choice in or feel comfortable with; they have to off-shift from one another and family time together is dramatically reduced as a result.
Mrs Molinari: Thank you for that. I know times have changed from when I was growing up and was small, but I do remember my parents having shift work so there would always be one of them home for me and my sister, to be able to take care of us. We had our Sundays, which were a very special family time. They took a lot of responsibility and made a lot of sacrifices to do that. They felt the only ones who could appropriately look after us were the two of them, not anyone else. Times have changed drastically since then.
I want to tell you a little about a school in my community that has done a wonderful job. Where there was a school at risk of closure because of declining enrolment, the community came together and took a couple of the available classrooms in that school as a child care centre. They've made the necessary modifications, and they've not only maintained that school feasible and open but they've also brought in another service which the community needed, and that was a child care centre in a couple of the classrooms. They've been able to use those resources, take something that would have been a negative to the community but made it into a positive and offered a service for the community. They're very excited about it and the community's very excited about it.
Ms Boyer: That does exist in almost every community in the province, but right now in Windsor alone there are six schools threatened with closure about which the school board just made a decision that they would keep open for another year and not amalgamate. But those very important child care programs that exist currently in those schools are also threatened with closure, with no place to relocate, should the school board decide they can't afford to not use the space in a better manner and to deal with the new funding formulas they have. That's why child care programs are very highly linked with vacant space in grade schools, but with the threat of those schools amalgamating and closing, child care programs don't have the space to exist any longer.
The Chair: We've run out of time. On behalf of the committee, thank you very much for your presentation this morning.
Before we break, a couple of short announcements: Lunch will be served in the Tree Room, buffet style. We have some reserved tables.
I'd like to have a couple of minutes of the subcommittee's time before lunch.
The committee recessed from 1200 to 1302.
The Chair: Good afternoon. If I can get your attention, we'll bring the committee back to order so that we remain on time. It is shortly after 1 o'clock.
Our first presenter this afternoon is Anne DiCecco. On behalf of the committee, welcome. You have 15 minutes for your presentation this afternoon.
Ms Anne DiCecco: Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to come before you and humbly express my opinion regarding your upcoming budget considerations.
I am pleased the current leadership has resulted in the gradual elimination of an enormous inherited deficit budget. Even if the budget could be balanced tomorrow and budget deficits deemed illegal unless in the case of war or unforeseen natural disaster, we must resort to creative measures to continue to deliver a high standard of necessary service that will alleviate prevailing fears of average Ontarians, particularly in health care, and will continue to ensure that the Ontario engine that drives the nation will continue to prevail with adequate infrastructure, an independent, robust agricultural base, and hope via excellence in primary and secondary educational standards and the ability to contribute at a higher level with a post-secondary education that embraces both a pragmatic approach to economic reality and the ability for all Ontarians to obtain higher levels of appreciation for social, historic, and artistic elements that complement the practical and enable us to appreciate how far we've come and how far we can yet travel, all the while retaining our freedoms derived from historically gained democracy and an appreciation of the fragility that is both mankind and the environment in which we prevail.
Under the excellent leadership of Mike Harris, to date 30% of provincial income tax has been cut and consideration has been made to cutting, as per election promise, an additional 20%. Unless one has a pea for a brain, it is not difficult to understand that we are so enormously taxed as to indeed undermine the prospect of increased productivity. However, it appears that the federal government should be placed on the hot seat now, especially to index the high-end tax bracket of $62,000 to an inflationarily gauged level closer to between $90,000 and $100,000. A common factory worker should not be considered within the highest tax level, so ridiculously rated as high end as to discourage a spouse from obtaining any additional income for fear of losing tax credits or being ridiculously pivoted into a bracket that negates any real gain. Until the feds initiate this "real" tax initiative, one wonders as to the merit of any provincial initiative.
I understand that the mandate to reduce taxes an additional 20% was given a window of five years to be implemented. The current government should be commended for commencing this policy, whereas others have simply increased deficits, debts and taxes. This current provincial government has not just inherited monumental deficit and debt, but as well inherited a federally underfunded health care system, deteriorated both morally and structurally, and a crumbling infrastructure.
Any tax decrease, as opposed to an increase, is certainly appreciated, and yet one wonders, although in the face of a great economic boom, should the decrease be commenced now or should we get our house in order on all fronts, infrastructurally, health care-wise and educationally, before commencing a substantial tax strike-down? If we commence additional substantial tax cutting at this juncture, can we substantiate these cuts with a guarantee of controlled, continued excellent delivery of service?
I believe I speak for the majority of Ontarians when I thank you for putting our house in order and striving to put a lid on an extravagant, unnecessary spendthrift mentality. However, I implore caution and the restoration of order, even with a return to mid-1990s transfer payments, before commencing great additional tax reductions.
Health care: Even if all mid-1990s-level transfer payments were restored tomorrow, would that provide the panacea for health care? I humbly concede not. Please consider the recommendations of Shirley Douglas, daughter of Tommy Douglas, to appoint a non-partisan health care committee to get at the crux of the matter: patient-supplemented fees. Her comments that her father's vision of public medicare for all Canadians did not consider an absolutely gratuitous approach seem to be echoed by every doctor with whom I converse that this is one worthy program that should be supported by user fees. That may be the only way to obtain the previous excellent level of service, especially in light of generational need and increased demand for costly diagnostic procedures and the pursuit, at all costs, of prolonged lifespan.
I imagine it would not be unfathomable that all patients with the ability to do so could, at a minimum, pay an individual family fee to their family practice to alleviate administrative costs and access a consultative nurse via phone. In lieu of this, we could perhaps install per visit fees, although this may provide an administrative burden, as opposed to a straight annual fee. There should be a base understanding of what services could be covered and considered reasonable within basic medicare provision. Services over and above this level, especially services that continue to have questionable success, could either be supplemented by medicare or subscribed to by private patient insurance. It is truly a mark of needed reform when cancer patients must traverse to the States to avoid prolonged waits to obtain life-saving radiation therapy.
The Windsor-Essex county area has been designated underserviced. Municipal partnerships must be formed to entice doctors to this vibrant, booming area, even without a teaching facility. I commend Ms Witmer et al for increasing the international medical training program by 50%. This program specifically targets underserviced areas, and hopefully Windsor-Essex county should find somewhat of an alleviation to their doctor shortage with this implementation.
This area has a shift-work, blue-collar base, with a majority of workers logging six days a week and many working seven. It does not seem unreasonable, then, that health care delivery should be available at a central hospital location 24 hours, seven days a week. Such a location could absorb unnecessary emergency usage, and its proximity to an emergency ward could work splendidly with effective emergency triage. I was horrified that sufficient personnel were not available throughout the holiday season to effectively attend to the flu outbreak. This is public medicare, and unless that changes, hospital administrations should be responsible for ensuring that area residents will never again be faced with this sort of nightmarish fiasco. We may be federally underfunded but I, for one, am not ready to concede Russian-style health care.
The Blueprint outlined a plan to hire an additional 10,000 nurses. We may indeed not have sufficient doctors, but they at least are respectively honoured and apparently sufficiently paid. Nurses, on the other hand, especially those with low seniority and home care providers, seem to need satisfaction in three areas: nurse practitioner implementation, full-time hours and benefits. All three of these deficiencies are most apparent in areas, like Windsor, bordering the States, where it is all too easy to find work that pays better. Most nurses I talk with would gladly remain and serve in their own country, yet there is currently very little incentive. They are overworked, demoralized and just plain cranky. It's time they received their commendation for the lifeline they provide within health care.
Please, please, please, of course we need additional long-term-care beds to alleviate misused acute care beds, but home care and hospital care can only receive stamps of excellence when this facet of health care delivery is satisfied. I understand that a national home care program has been suggested. That just may be swell, since hospitals and beds across the county have been closed and the burden of home care provision has been handed to the provinces, along with slashed transfer payments to support growing demand. It's a lovely idea, yet it resonates with me, at this point, as similar to red book promises to eliminate the GST and provide a national daycare program. I'm glad the federal government has finally balanced their budget, unfortunately at a cost to the provinces. They should concentrate on reducing the debt and taxes. The provinces may be in a position to better determine the needs of home care for their residents.
There has been much bad press regarding walk-in clinics as being taboo. I consider "walk-in" to simply refer to a form of service as opposed to making an appointment around your work schedule and finding that you cannot access a doctor, preferably your family doctor, for a week. There are very successful walk-in clinics that accommodate patients around their schedule and do not just have waiting rooms and appointments booked around the elderly, who are a more certain guarantee of consistent income. Perhaps all records will be computerized and accessible by all doctors, hopefully privacy-protected, so that walk-in delivery could be the norm and duplication and medical combinations could be effectively monitored. Is there a private or government online or phone service that could pacify patients with information/alternative treatments and centres of excellence, or could a phone service be monitored by a medical specialist to avoid current six-hour emergency waits?
Windsor-Essex county seems to be particularly deficient in the area of psychiatric practitioners. Are we now graduating sufficient staff, or are they just not inclined to venture into this area? The PACT program for psychiatric patients appears to be a godsend for patients and families of the mentally ill. Its only drawback seems to be its inability to be aligned with patients receiving pensions, noting their inability to regularly garner a consistent income. This program alleviates some need for institutionalization, and for those who recognize the benefit of the PACT commitment it provides a lifeline to ensure proper medicinal intake, counselling, access to available support organizations, and general survey of hygiene and psyche.
I am not a psychiatric expert, yet it is easy to conclude that the majority of homeless may indeed be the psychiatrically impaired, ostracized by family and society who are unable to assist them because that may oppose their freedoms and rights. It just seems very odd that the psychiatrically maligned are expected to make rational decisions when they may be psychotic and that intercession of even loved ones is not heeded to ensure the civil libertarian protection of an individual with a history of psychiatric illness. Can the PACT program work co-operatively with psychiatric pension recipients, or is this contrary to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms?
Education: My children attend the French Catholic separate school board and have had the benefit of receiving what I believe to be the best early childhood JK/SK program going. The programs have all been full day, and they certainly support the precepts of the Fraser Mustard report and the Royal Commission on Education, both highlighting the importance of strong early childhood education to encourage optimal educational excellence and early intervention to alleviate social deviance often associated with childhood learning problems, commonly previously determined too late in life when frustration, lack of confidence and peer/teacher judgment have already set in.
The French board appears to be fiscally prudent and has been able to continue delivering these optimal early childhood education programs with excellent grade 3 and grade 6 test scores in reading, writing and math to substantiate the claims of Dr Mustard as to the importance of these programs.
SK is available throughout most school boards at only half-day, and JK programs are not nationally available and/or viable within all provinces. The federal government continues to tout a national children's agenda, which may include long-fought-for child tax credit increases, which I and every other parent surely welcome. Young people starting families, paying off student loans, mortgages and car payments and being faced with less disposable income now than in the 1980s, need help now. The States at least offers the economic tax boon incentive that allows the full write-off of mortgage interest payments. Tell me that's not an incentive for a brain drain that supposedly doesn't exist. I would hope that the federal government would inflationarily index the top bracket from $62,000 to a more reasonable $90,000 to $100,000. In the interim, young families continue to struggle. To obtain any reasonable standard of living requires one and a half to two full-time incomes and there's very little left over for any rainy days or oft-needed unobtainable family and children's counselling.
Because I have very little hope that the federal government is sincerely interested in alleviating the middle-income tax burden and because every study backs the benefits of early childhood education, I am asking for Ontario provincial intervention to encourage the federal government to supplement SK to full-day funding. This would not only be supported by the likes of early childhood advocates such as Fraser Mustard, but probably by every parent who must work to live in this country.
There are many who advocate a national daycare program. Health care, infrastructure and farmers should be first in line. If the tax system was fairer for the middle level, which really is the $62,000 earner, perhaps parents might be inclined to remain at home for the preschool period. As this high-end tax bracket seems unlikely to change any time soon, I implore you to work with the federal government to initiate this improvement to early childhood education.
The royal commission on education, along with the Mustard report, supports that JK and SK be implemented and delivered via early childhood educators. I understand that a pilot project in this regard has been ongoing in the Ottawa area. Is it successful? Have the glitches been ironed out? By substituting ECE providers for teaching staff, yet following a common curriculum, could we possibly deliver a program of this calibre on a full-time basis throughout all of Ontario? Could SK be delivered with certified teachers in the morning and ECE providers in the afternoon? Of course, if there was no monetary restriction, I would certainly support the more optimal program delivered entirely by certified teaching staff. Yet, with studies identifying a very real prospect for teacher shortage, is this the right time to implement a different approach that could benefit all Ontarians, not just those attending French-language schools?
Could the Ontario government work in conjunction with municipalities to identify sufficient latchkey programs in key areas that support bus routes? This is another crucial program that supports working parents, alleviates some of their stress and, from my understanding, is operated independently of schools by private providers in co-operation with school boards. Probably Ontario's consistently poor reading test results could most assuredly be attributed to the lack of time overworked, too-tired parents do not have to give to their children. This may sound like a lame excuse until you're in this boat. Latchkey programs, properly supervised, could possibly accommodate a program that pairs grade 7 and 8 readers with program subscribers. These older students could obtain a modest allowance and everyone could benefit. It may sound crazy, but it works. My children were benefactors of a similar program.
If you are not agreeable to any of the previous suggestions, could you at the least consider decreasing student-teacher ratios from JK to grade 3 from the current 1:25 to a more early childhood compatible 1:20 ratio as an indication that you truly consider the merits of smaller class size crucial in the first eight years of life to obtain an optimal learning head start?
The Chair: Excuse me, you have one minute. I'll give you another minute to wrap it up.
Ms DiCecco: OK, fine.
As for teacher testing, I agree with the recent report from the College of Teachers encouraging optimal initiation testing only. With principals removed from unions and acting more in the position of managers having responsibility to oversee curriculum implementation and mediate between parents and teachers, we ought to give this its due. In cases where there is concern of teacher inadequacy and impropriety, we should return to the approach of my school days when superintendents were visibly conspicuous during random visits throughout schools. There should be no prior warning of these random visits. I believe that was the best way to instill excellence. When parents have concerns that they feel are dealt with effectively by neither teachers, principals or superintendents, they should themselves be able to access review by the College of Teachers.
Overall, I believe the majority of teachers are committed to excellence. They are very professional. They seem committed to the implementation of an enhanced curriculum, and it is time to honour their efforts, to publicly commend those excellent individuals who make it their life's work to mould children into responsible learned members of society with a penchant to satisfy curiosity and compel advancement of knowledge from all facets of life.
I believe the changes to education were necessary. I believe there was questionable accountability, not just from teachers but from parents themselves, who tended to prefer a lack of involvement and the notion that only schools contribute to the learning process. It is now time to support teachers with teacher development programs that make a difference, and with support from our government leaders. If teacher testing, costing millions of dollars, has failed or produced a questionable outcome in other areas, let's keep the testing to initiation levels and let's give our teachers tools and public support to get the job done.
At the post-secondary level, it is time for a novel approach. I have very little sympathy for lifelong students who chose curriculum irrelevant to realistic employment opportunities. I would like consideration be made of five-year studies of employment deficiencies and I would like students entering into these areas to be considered for subsidies or grants, with the understanding that they remain in the country for a minimum of 10 years. I'm sure this is probably contrary to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, yet it seems rather obvious that, while our great minds are being educated in tax-subsidized institutions, they have no obligation and very little tax incentive or optimal opportunity to remain in Canada. Therefore, we continue to supply especially the United States with the export of our best and brightest Canadians. Not a great way to ensure the growth of a country, and very little accountability to taxpayers who subsidize this great Canadian export.
As a simple, humble mother of five, neither a doctor nor a teacher, just an ardent observer of life, is maybe even the whole university deliverance of academia in need of an overhaul? If someone wants to become a mechanical engineer and a product designer or a civil engineer and an architect or an artist-teacher-graphic artist-animator, just as examples, do they have to become lifelong students at great cost, or could there be a little more willingness to carve out a personalized curriculum that opens more doors with less time and less cost than the current stale approach that begs an overhaul? How many courses can now be offered over the Internet or closed-circuit television? If we could just open up our minds to change, we could invite the lifelong pursuit of education to all Canadians.
The Chair: With that, I'll have to bring your presentation to an end. On behalf of the committee, thank you very much for your presentation this afternoon.
The Chair: Our next presenter is Peter Neilson. On behalf of the committee, welcome. You have 15 minutes for your presentation.
Dr Peter Neilson: Members of the committee, I thank you for the opportunity to present my views.
First, I would like to congratulate the government for the job it has done in helping to turn around Ontario's economy. Some challenges remain, of course, and it is the choice of opportunities presented by our thriving economy that I wish to address.
While critics have condemned your tax cuts, I would hope that the economy you have encouraged would allow you to explore cutting various taxes even further. At the same time, I would like to see you explore imaginative solutions to some of the problems which we all agree still exist. For instance, we continue to face discontent from some of our professionals who face specific challenges in their professional lives and unfavourable federal tax rates and policies when compared to our American neighbours. The result has been the so-called brain drain.
While we wait with frustration for the federal government to lower taxes, in the meantime we can certainly create a more favourable economic climate for professionals to not only remain in Ontario but actually move here. Therefore, I am offering the following suggestions for your consideration.
(1) Incorporation: Consider moving quickly to allow incorporation of professionals in Ontario in order to (a) help prevent the brain drain from Ontario, and to protect our education investment in these bright individuals; (b) help to attract physicians to Ontario to help offset the effects of the cap on their billings; (c) level the playing field with our largest trading partner to the south as well as with provinces which currently already allow incorporation; (d) attract entrepreneurs to Ontario from elsewhere.
(2) Transportation investment: As a resident of the greater Windsor area adjacent to the Ambassador Bridge, I fully support your announcement to invest the first part of the SuperBuild Growth Fund in transportation infrastructure. As an extremely important part of this transportation investment, I would hope to see a new bridge built to the United States from Windsor, preferably sooner than later. My fear is that the focus will be on the bridge itself, rather than what could be possible for the greater Windsor area with some imagination directed towards creating a true transportation hub with the new bridge at one end, the 401 at the other, and Windsor airport and CP Rail in the middle.
As such, I see the new bridge at the western end of the already existing E.C. Row Expressway right on to I-75 in Michigan. They are already virtually within sight of each other, as you can see on the map I've included. It's even more apparent when driving westward at the western end of the E.C. Row. E.C. Row would then connect to 401 across the eastern end of Windsor airport, via Lauzon Parkway and the 10th concession, both for ease of land connections and for the connection of air transport at Windsor airport as well as rail transport via CP Rail to the NAFTA superhighway. Local international traffic would continue to use the existing bridge and tunnel connections.
This plan not only avoids but alleviates the dangerous and rapidly growing gridlock on Huron Church Road, it avoids adding to the exhaust pollution in west-end Windsor, which already has some of the worst air in Ontario, and it greatly improves and enhances the traffic flow of the entire greater Windsor area, making it a much more livable city for coming decades. It would also cut a significant amount of time off the typical cross-border trip for trucks by avoiding all of the local streets and traffic lights on both sides of the border.
The land to expand to three or four lanes in each direction already exists on the E.C. Row. The western end of E.C. Row is a sparsely built, heavy industrial area, meaning little disruption to residents and current arteries. At the eastern end, a logical connection to the 401 exists along the eastern end of Windsor airport and along existing county roads, with little need for large expropriations of land.
The E.C. Row would also become the major east-west artery off which north-south connections could be expanded and improved to help ease smooth exit and entry to the downtown and to our major automotive and feeder plants. With the automotive plants increasingly using air transport for just-in-time delivery, the integration of Windsor airport into the overall I-75-E.C. Row-Highway 401 corridor would seem to be a natural.
CP Rail tracks are already situated close by for rail transport. As a final step to this plan, consideration should be given to moving the Via Rail passenger station from its current congested and isolated site near Hiram Walker on the river to the resulting central NAFTA corridor adjacent to the airport for the creation of a true central commercial and transportation hub for the greater Windsor and Essex county area.
I believe that focusing solely on a new bridge, especially one located adjacent to the current Ambassador Bridge, without considering the possibilities of a fully integrated transportation strategy, is short-sighted. The true potential is best viewed from a bird's-eye view of the entire city and county and not simply from the very narrow view of the current bridge. We need to focus on the future rather than on the past.
(3) Health care, high tech and genetics: Regarding health care, I would like to focus briefly on an aspect that may not yet be readily apparent but which is about to become paramount. This one example highlights the growing weakness in our current system.
The human genome project will be completed within the next nine to 18 months. I'm not sure that anyone recognizes the huge impact this is about to have on our medical treatment capabilities and thus on our approach to health care.
As high-tech genetic treatments for diseases and conditions which were never before treatable become rapidly available, every citizen will rightly expect and demand access. I am certain that our current health care model is not prepared to handle the pace of change that is about to occur as a result.
While we struggle to add several MRI machines to our provincial system every year, please consider the fact that the database on the human genome's Web site is now updated every 12 hours. This flood of knowledge, which will offer answers to a whole host of human medical problems, will be useless if it cannot be put to practical use.
The current model of universal health care was developed in the 1960s and was appropriate for that much simpler time. That time has passed us by and is gone. I suggest that rather than fiddling with details we begin to cut our apron strings to that aging model. We need to redesign the system to meet the emerging needs of the next 40 years rather than the past 40.
It is my opinion that the current publicly funded model alone will not be able to handle this change, and thus needs to be re-examined. The known factor of a rapidly aging population will test the system to its limits. The addition of a less familiar high-tech revolution and knowledge explosion will make it unworkable. The myopic view of our current federal government towards a 40-year-old health care model is perhaps the single biggest impediment that we face. In my opinion, new partnerships with private enterprise must be explored if we are to best serve our citizens.
(4) Mandatory achievement in education: I think we all know that the biggest single determinant of poverty and lack of employability is a lack of education and training. The days of being able to make a decent and dependable living on a strong back and a grade 10 education are pretty much history.
It makes no sense to me to spend large amounts on retraining programs and welfare schemes at the far end while we still allow students to quit the education system at age 16 at the near end. I believe that 16 was chosen when families needed their children to help out on the farm and little formal education was required to prosper. Those times are history.
It is my opinion that the time has come to re-evaluate the determinant of when a student can leave the education system. I suggest that achievement rather than age be the sole determinant. Such a scheme would be enforced by making successful completion of an approved course of study the criterion for having access to the full range of social assistance programs in Ontario. If we are to demand that welfare recipients work for their benefits in workfare schemes, then does it not make sense to demand that everyone achieve the appropriate skills they need to avoid welfare in the first place? With rights come responsibilities. Rules made early in the last century need to be revisited. They are not serving us very well in the new economy.
(5) Sales tax cuts: Once the promised income tax cuts of the PC Blueprint have been achieved, I would like to see cuts come from the provincial sales tax, 1% at a time.
We are told that our standard of living has lagged behind that of our American neighbours. Part of that is high income taxes, but another part is higher costs for daily goods. The playing field can be levelled by cutting the taxes that every Ontarian pays for almost everything they purchase. Alberta has done very nicely with no sales taxes at all as a result of their oil-based heritage fund. With our booming economy we will see our surplus grow and may soon be in a position to offer our consumers a break. If so, we should.
(6) Mortgage interest deductibility: This is another benefit we lack that our American competitors can offer to our best and brightest when enticing them to move south along with their fine Ontario educations. While we have the advantage of tax-free capital gains realized on the sale of a family home, the assistance of getting into the housing market with before-tax dollars is not available to young Ontarians, as it is when they make their move across the border to the US. We need to compete.
(7) Computer and Internet investment: Ford Motor Co and Delta Airlines recently announced free computers and cheap Internet access for all of their employees. Ford Motor Co were innovators decades ago when they were the first to pay their employees enough to be able to afford to buy their products.
Business has moved on-line like never before. As a result, those in the workforce who are not connected today are becoming seriously disadvantaged. Job opportunities, networking with co-workers, job improvement information, cheap and quick communication between employers and employees, continuing education, resumé distribution, and access to vital information are all available online.
Ford Motor Co and Delta Airlines aren't stupid. They are in business to make money. I suggest that your government have a serious look at the investment return of welfare recipients having available at-home Internet access to see whether there is an obvious payback. If so, then it would make sense to investigate a plan to get those on assistance who are trying to find work connected to the Internet.
Innovative approaches could be investigated, including partnerships with private industry where there might be a mutual advantage to all concerned. Incentives to master this technology could be built into such a program, such as loaning the computer to the welfare recipient on condition that studies are pursued in the basics of spreadsheets, word processing, database and Internet usage. Successful attainment of permanent employment would result in the computer being turned over permanently. Economies of scale along with private partnerships might make this plan surprisingly affordable.
As part of this same initiative, moving our school classrooms truly on-line should be pursued. Several computers in the computer room with a 10-year-old showing the teacher how to use them is simply not acceptable in the on-line world of 2000. Those students without the at-home on-line presence of many of their classmates are being relegated to second-class status without this access.
In summary, I support the general direction that you have laid out in your budgets in the past four years and, given the results, I fully expect that you will stay the course. However, imagination, attention to detail, careful management and steadfast focus on excellence can always make a good thing even better. That's my hope.
The Chair: Thank you very much for your presentation, on behalf of the committee. We've run out of time today for a question.
We've just been notified that our next group, the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario, is going to be somewhat late, about 15 minutes, because of road conditions. The 2 o'clock group has cancelled because-
Mr Johnson: Do they get a detention?
The Chair: No, I'm not going to comment on that.
However, if we wait for a couple of minutes, the Alliance of Canadian Second Stage Housing are currently in the building and they might be able to make their presentation. We'll take the teachers' federation after this group. We'll just take a couple of minutes' pause here for coffee or water.
The committee recessed from 1335 to 1338.
ELEMENTARY TEACHERS' FEDERATION OF ONTARIO, THAMES VALLEY LOCAL
The Chair: The next presentation is from the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario, Thames Valley local. On behalf of the committee, welcome. You have 30 minutes for your presentation, starting now.
Ms Marion Holgate: We're John Stevens, president, and Marion Holgate, vice-president, of the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario, Thames Valley local. Our local consists of approximately 3,200 elementary teachers who are employed by the Thames Valley District Board of Education. Our parent organization, the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario, which we will refer to as ETFO, represents 70,000 teachers and education workers in the public elementary schools of this province. The Thames Valley Local is the third-largest of ETFO.
Our employer, the Thames Valley District School Board, was created by the amalgamation of the four predecessor boards: the Elgin county, the city of London, the county of Middlesex and the county of Oxford. We affectionately referred to that as ELMO in the former days. Our local's members teach 58,000 students from junior kindergarten to grade 8, in regular classrooms, in special education programs, in ESL programs and in section 19 school settings in our employer's 160-plus elementary schools.
We propose to describe to you in statistics and in human terms the detrimental effects the funding cuts and restructuring have had on the elementary students of the Thames Valley District School Board. It is indeed our view that the current education funding model and the cuts it has administered to public education in Ontario have impacted negatively on the quality of public education, on the morale of the hard-working professionals who dedicate their working lives to the education of elementary students in our publics schools and, most significantly, on the future of this province's greatest resource, our children.
Due to time restraints, we will focus our presentation on the effects the funding structure has had on our youngest learners.
Mr John Stevens: First I'd like to concentrate on a survey of our membership done by the firm ComQUEST, which was hired by the provincial organization. We received a 49% return rate. This report confirms the following about public elementary schools in Ontario, and all of the findings apply to the Thames Valley District School Board in varying degrees.
The in-school student-teacher ratio has increased from 18.6 to 19.0, a 2% increase in one year. Teachers' jobs have been cut while enrolments have increased.
Some 22% of schools report the loss of teacher-librarians; 12% report the loss of music teachers; 9% report the loss of special education teachers. This loss of specialist teachers has a direct impact on education programs. Forty-seven per cent of schools report a reduction in their library program since the new funding model was implemented; 22% report the loss of music, design and technology, and ESL programs.
In half the schools, field trips have been reduced. Two thirds report less money for field trips, often resulting in parents having to pick up the slack.
While the average class size of boards may be 25 across the province, the data show that the average for grades 3 to 8 is higher than this, reaching an average of 28 in grade 8.
On average, schools report seven classes per school with more than one student with special needs. That is almost half the total number of classes. More than one in four classes are combined grades, and that has a significant impact when you're talking about implementing the new curriculum. Support for students with special needs has declined. While there are more teaching assistants for such students than two years ago, there are fewer special education teachers and less withdrawal time available.
Over 40% of schools report that there are rooms in the school that are now being used for classrooms that two years ago had other functions: 21% indicate the loss of resource withdrawal rooms-that's where you can take special ed students and deal with them in smaller groups; 11% have lost music rooms; 10% have lost computer rooms; 9% have lost library rooms; and 6% have lost daycare spaces.
The ETFO school-based research survey captures only the period since the implementation of the new funding formula. Its results must be placed in the broader context of program cuts at the elementary level throughout the 1990s. The survey does provide solid evidence demonstrating the impact of the funding. We will include a detailed copy of the results of this survey with our submission.
Ms Holgate: The following information continues to reflect the impact of the current funding model in provincial terms.
Despite unequivocal research to support the educational importance and long-term economic value of educating the very young, this government failed to recognize or deliberately ignored the evidence. It has continued to support the historical imbalance in funding between elementary and secondary students. There is a $600 per pupil funding gap between the two panels. Despite the volumes of supporting educational research, this government failed to seize the opportunity to correct this illogical inequity and chose to take away incentive funding for small primary classes.
It cut funding to students at risk by driving more special education students into full or partial integration. It reduced the number of teachers in the system by setting the arbitrary elementary class size average at 25. It eliminated funding for valuable programs such as early years, FSL and full-day kindergarten. By introducing the early learning grant, the government forced school boards to choose between providing junior kindergarten programs or enhancing programming for kindergarten to grade 3. In predecessor boards which have offered their communities junior kindergarten for years, as two of the four Thames Valley District School Board predecessor boards did, this is not a fair or educationally sound set of choices.
Therefore, it is the recommendation of our local that the funding for elementary be at least equal to the funding currently provided for secondary.
Mr Stevens: This next area is one of the places where we think the funding model seriously has an impact on our students. It is class size. In the Thames Valley District School Board's elementary schools, the detrimental impact of the average class size of 25 is no more evident than in the younger grades. The following charts demonstrate how the application of this arbitrary and educationally unsound number, 25, penalizes the Thames Valley early learners the most.
The first chart outlines the number of students in each elementary division for the Thames Valley District School Board. You can see the large numbers moving through the early years. Division 1 is the kindergarten, JK; division 2 is the primary grades 1, 2 and 3; division 3 would be junior; and division 4 is grades 7 and 8.
The second chart demonstrates how well the board has adhered to the provincial class size average for elementary schools. It's a perfect bell curve. What that means is, while this is student-focused funding, it shows that the further to the right of the centre of this graph, the less the focus is on you. For the younger students, the size of the grades that you see in front of you, for every one of those smaller classes of 15, for example, there has to be a class of 30 somewhere else to balance it. While this may be a fiscally manageable number and save expenses, what it really does is, some people get focus funding and some people don't.
The following four charts demonstrate the distribution of students in each of the four divisions. You can see that up at the top. In our collective agreement, what we tried to do was recognize that the younger the child, the more important it was that they were in a smaller grade. To that end, we put in the number 20 for the early years-that's JK-SK. We negotiated the number 22 for the primary grades. Then we negotiated 26 and 28 for junior and intermediate. However, because of the arbitrary number of 25, it's very difficult to get that language in place. In fact, the pattern gradually decreases. If you notice, because of the size of the classes in the earlier years, the pattern gradually decreases as the age of the student increases, resulting in the fewest classes above the class size average in the transition years.
The trend observed in the charts for the Thames Valley District School Board continues to be one of added dollars for the top part of the educational pyramid and less for the foundation. We view the early years as being the foundation of the education system all the way through to the OAC. The first educational experience of a child should be one worth coming back for.
A further compromise to the education and safety of our youngest students in Thames Valley schools is the change in the funding formula which generates dollars for education assistants. Prior to the creation of the new special education funding which "Velcroes"-that's a ministry word, not ours-EAs to individual high-needs students who have met the stringent ISA funding criteria, large early-year classes in the Thames Valley predecessor boards used to be granted EA support in addition to the teacher. This no longer occurs. Consequently, the safety of students in these large classes is placed in jeopardy.
The Premier has recently gone on record as saying that his government will do everything in its power to ensure the safety of Ontario's public schools. But if you consider the following information presented by our local early years committee, you would think otherwise.
Nobody in this room would ever take five or six or 10 three-, four- and five-year old children on their own. But regularly and daily in Thames Valley we have upwards of 31 children with one teacher, and they range in age from three to five years old. Not one of us in here would ever do that. We couldn't suffer the risk, the danger involved with having that many young children. They're all on their own page; they've all got their own agenda. Regularly, we expect that to happen in elementary schools. In Thames Valley we regularly have teachers who have 25, 26, 30 children.
"Supervision of 20-plus students aged three to five is difficult under the best of circumstances. Major safety concerns come into play when a teacher is expected to supervise children in parts of the room which have physical barriers (cloakrooms and washrooms).
Travelling from point A to point B within a school or on school property can also be a safety issue when one adult is responsible for 20-plus very small children. Some early years students do not even have the convenience of a washroom or a water fountain in their classroom, thus creating an even greater potential for accidents. Many of the classrooms with washrooms have only one washroom. This creates a problem because very young students are prone to the `domino effect.'" If you've ever been around them, you would understand that. "The very structure, design and size of classrooms create a safety problem for most early years students. Classrooms were simply not designed to hold that many very small children."
If you wanted to go back to the good old days-I'll speak from experience-my wife teaches in a kindergarten that was built probably about 1935, 1940. It is probably one of the nicest rooms in the former London board. It's got windows; it's got space; it's got two washrooms; it's got everything you would ever expect in a kindergarten. You don't see any of those kinds of kindergartens being built any more. In fact, most of the ones we've got now are converted classrooms which were designed for 25 students and desks in rows.
"Behavioural problems in a classroom with this many young children and only one adult can also be a major problem should a serious problem arise. Many small schools also have no support available to them during crisis situations due to a lack of support personnel, people (eg vice-principal)." We used to be able to come down if there was an emergency situation in the school.
The irony of Mr Harris's comment is that he and his government do have the power to ensure a much greater degree of safety in Ontario classrooms, but the funding model, as demonstrated in the elementary average class size of 25, creates a safety hazard.
Perhaps the most widely quoted research regarding the long-term economic, social and educational value of the early years education is the Perry Preschool Project in the United States. This study clearly shows that the long-term benefits of early childhood education far outweigh its cost. Indeed, for every $1 spent on early education for four- and five-year olds, the benefits gained by the whole of society are over $7.
I think maybe this is one of the problems we have: Governments come and governments go. Having the focus on the short-term future of the term of office of a government-these kids are in kindergarten right now-the people who put them in these situations probably won't be around to face the consequences of their decision 10 or 12 years from now. The payoff is down the road, but we tend to look for this year's budget, next year's budget-maybe; that's long-range-but beyond two or three years we forget about it. You're setting a pattern right now, and the investment in this isn't going to show up until 10 years from now.
Keep in mind the proportion of Thames Valley District School Board's JK-SK teachers who have the large class sizes, over 20. The information that follows is from those teachers.
"No time exists for one-on-one work between the teacher and the child. Time becomes very limited when teachers are expected to single-handedly assist 20-plus students to prepare for recess. Fifteen to 20 minutes of precious teaching time can be easily spent assisting large numbers of youngsters as they dress for outdoors. Discipline supersedes program because teachers are too busy managing activities with large numbers of very young students. Limited or crowded space does not allow for the type of activities which students of this age need to experience. The type and number of hands-on academic activities which one adult can complete with a group of 16 JK and/or SKs is much greater than those one can accomplish with a group of 26. Program quality is suffering due to sheer numbers. Time to properly evaluate the academic achievements of students is severely compromised due to the lack of one-on-one time required to complete the necessary assessments of such young learners."
You cannot have a standardized test. They don't sit in their seats and they don't do pencil-and-paper exercises that can be marked at home. You have to interact with the child.
These points are taken from Thames Valley early years teachers themselves, not from the bureaucrats or policy-makers at the Mowat Block. Yet the pain does not end simply with the class size issue. Compounding the challenges to the learning environment of elementary students is the issue of split classes. As evidenced in the following chart, by far the largest number of split classes occur at the JK-SK level. Ask elementary teachers about the added strain on the health of the learning environment when teachers are asked to implement new curriculum, with very limited support, to two different grades. Early years classes are no exception to this. The children in their first year of socialization in the public school system are very different than children in their second year of schooling. There are significant differences between a three-year-old entering a program, or one who has just turned four, and the five-year-old. The JK-SK split may serve as a quick fix for enrolment gaps in elementary schools, especially in small schools, but it is not the solution for maximizing the learning environment.
The EFTO Thames Valley local recommends that funding be provided to reduce class sizes in kindergarten to grade 3 to no more than 20 students, that funding for full-day senior kindergarten be restored, and that real caps be placed on elementary class sizes. Class sizes for grades 4 to 8 should be no more than 22 students.
I guess we always come back to the old question that we've had in the elementary panel for a long time: How come a 16-year-old is worth more than a six-year-old? What's the big difference between the kid in grade 8, who is being allocated staff at 1 to 25, and what happens the next year, when they get it at 1 to 22?
Ms Holgate: In regard to preparation time, the funding formula further undervalues elementary students by undervaluing their teachers. The formula does not even meet the standards set out in Bill 160. Consequently, elementary teachers are left to implement nine new curricula in larger classes, with reduced administration school support, reduced special education support, and more integration of special education students. They are expected to implement new report cards, meet higher demands for documentation, and meet with parents and outside agencies. The expectation is that elementary teachers do all of this with a level of support significantly below that given to our secondary colleagues. Therefore, it is our recommendation that preparation time for elementary teachers be funded at a rate no lower than the 200-minutes standard set out in Bill 160.
Meeting these recommendations would go a long way to restoring the quality of elementary education, which we believe has been eroded since the inception of the current funding model.
The following chart demonstrates how much the application of a class size average of 22 would increase the complement of Thames Valley elementary classrooms and teachers required for our district school board's 58,000 elementary students. If you follow along, you can see that the application of 22 varies so that at the bottom right-hand corner, working through that formula, it would increase the full-time-equivalent teachers in the elementary panel to 287.5 more elementary teachers if you use the application of 22 in the elementary panel.
Our recommendation is that as a minimum, any funds generated for elementary education be used exclusively for elementary education and that both the ministry and school boards be required to report revenues, allocations and expenditures by panel.
Mr Stevens: I'd just like to add to that. We spend an awful lot of time and energy in our negotiations trying to make sure that the money that is sent for elementary is indeed spent totally on elementary schools. The same situation, I imagine, would exist in secondary.
If we are going to the one-size-fits-all formula that comes out of Toronto, why is it that we would have to go to a board and try to discover where the money is and what it's being used for? It should be openly transparent to the whole world: "Here's how much money we're spending on elementary education. Here's how much money we've got; here's how much money we've spent."
Special education and ESL are two areas where, if you put these into the mix of the classes, you can get an idea of how difficult the challenge for elementary teachers is.
The ETFO Thames Valley local will add its voice to the call for greater funding for special education. The third interim report of the EIC confirmed what educators and parents have been telling the government for years: Programs for students with special needs are dangerously underfunded. This formula cheats the most needy students of the supports they deserve. We reiterate that the earlier the identification and support for learning difficulties occurs, the greater the opportunity to help more challenged students develop compensatory strategies for learning.
The Thames Valley District School Board is no exception. It spent $6 million in excess of the allocated $46 million received for special education funding to address the needs of its 12,000 special-needs students. Since special education funding was frozen in June 1998, there has been an increase in the number of special education students in the Thames Valley District School Board. They didn't stop coming because the money stopped appearing.
This board sought funds from building maintenance and computer hardware to shore up the underfunded special education line. However, in taking special education dollars to support these programs, the Thames Valley District School Board reduced the complement of learning support teachers or resource teachers for regular classrooms.
As indicated earlier in the discussion of the early years, class size and the assignment of EAs, the current funding model is far too restrictive and does not give schools the flexibility they need in the most effective assignment of EAs to particular students or classes. Criteria for the highest-needs students, for example, demand an EA for at least 50% of the school day. Students who need a lesser degree of support are out of luck. And as stated earlier, EAs are no longer assigned to excessively large early-years classes in order to deal with the educational and safety issues these classes create.
Further exacerbating the problem of erosion of learning supports for high-needs students is the issue of ESL funding. More and more of the Thames Valley ESL students come from refugee families. These children seldom have the literacy skills in their first language equivalent to immigrant children. This places them in a higher needs category than those already literate in one language. The social and emotional trauma experienced by many refugee children also places their learning at risk. Now take these issues into account with the widely accepted view of expert ESL educators that the current policy of funding ESL students for three years does not go far enough. It may be sufficient for addressing students' conversational language competence, but ESL educators would argue that in order to assure new Canadian children's achievement of adequate writing skills, five years of ESL funding support is necessary.
A government which continues to fail to fund the needs of ESL learners is a government that will condemn these children. In the end, this ill-informed or mean-spirited view of educating Ontario's most needy will cost all of society more in human and financial resources later on. This situation is reminiscent of the intransigent stance this government has taken toward blaming the poor for Ontario's economic deficiencies. Therefore, the ETFO Thames Valley local adds its voice to those, including the neutral EIC, to recommend that the government increase grants for special education, learning opportunities and English as a second language.
Ms Holgate: We'd like to talk to you about an area that may not necessarily receive a great deal of attention but that is, I assure you, of a great deal of concern not just for teacher-librarians, but for the teachers who have been depending on their support in supporting educational programs.
The allocation of teacher-librarians in the Thames Valley District School Board is that of the funding model: one teacher-librarian for every 625 full-time-equivalent students. Of note in this issue is the fact that only three of the four predecessor boards which created this large amalgamated board employed teacher-librarians. The former Elgin county board did not. Therefore, overall statistics will show that there has been a slight increase in the total number of teacher-librarians employed, given the necessity of implementing equitable library programming throughout the Thames Valley District School Board. That's not the whole picture. What the numbers don't demonstrate is that there is a reduced level of teacher-librarian time allocated in the elementary schools of the three other predecessor boards.
There are some points about the erosion of the library program in the Thames Valley elementary schools as reported by the co-chair of the Thames Valley Teacher-Librarian Association. She points out that there is definitely an erosion in the library program and that there are inequities across the valley. That continues to be their major concern.
The situation may look good on paper, but the real inequities show up when we examine the figures indicating how much of the teacher-librarian's allocated time is diverted elsewhere in the schools. For example, some teacher-librarians are spending more than 75% of their allocated time delivering preparation time, while some teacher-librarians deliver none. Some of this prep has nothing to do with library use or library-related skills.
Schools with equal student enrolments and equal teacher-librarian time allocations have very different timetables with respect to flexible scheduling and prep coverage. Some teacher-librarians' schedules are so chopped up that no meaningful teaching can go on because there are no blocks of real time. Twenty minutes is not enough to deliver a program. Some principals, due to the reduction of the allocation of administration, are assuming the role of teacher-librarian, which is very difficult to do when the administration calls on the principal's time so often or they are called out of the building so often. No school should have less than a half-time teacher-librarian. No teacher-librarian working less than half time in a library can keep up with the vast amount of administrative work and deliver a quality program.
Having the funding for time allocations based on the number of FTE students is not fair for the teacher-librarian. Junior and senior kindergarten students may be in the school only half-time, but the teacher-librarian in most schools will want to see each kindergarten class as often as possible. The JK-SK classes take twice as many time slots in a teacher-librarian's schedule to get the same program delivered to the two half-time classes. The teacher-librarian time allocation should be calculated on a student body count, not the FTE.
We submit the following recommendations:
That the teacher-librarian allocation funding be based on the student body count rather than FTE;
That teacher-librarian allocation funding be based on a ratio of 1:500 or less;
That all elementary schools shall have a minimum half-time teacher-librarian allocation;
That principals and schools boards not have authority to reassign teacher-librarian allocation to other teaching functions, such as for the delivery of preparation time.
Mr Stevens: I'd like to add one more area where a teacher-librarian is really taken in, where the use of their time has been cut.
Every school in Thames Valley now has computers, has a network. Most of us are slowly but surely getting hooked up to the Internet. Every school has a server, and those computers, once they are set up and running, don't just carry on by themselves without problems. Usually in every school they've asked to have a volunteer computer contact teacher. The job of maintaining the server, the job of dealing with how to get the new report card programs running, is left to this volunteer. There is no funding for that job. We invested millions of dollars in computers, but we have very little support money to get them running, to in-service people on how to use them, to troubleshoot them when they have a problem with software or hardware. Student administration, getting students signed up on computers, is also a difficulty. Somebody has to do the job, but there is no recognition that this job is worth doing.
School reorganization, school closures and accommodation: The funding issue that currently has the most media attention in the Thames Valley vicinity and that has motivated communities to organize and lobby the Thames Valley District School Board is that of school closures and the reorganization of boundaries. Currently, three Thames Valley communities are undergoing the turmoil of school closure and/or reorganizing their school boundaries and communities. This situation is occurring in Woodstock, Dorchester and St Thomas, where up to seven elementary schools are vulnerable to closing and many more will be impacted by the resulting change in school demographics and cultures.
Precipitated by arbitrary space limitations in this shortsighted and inflexible funding formula, the Thames Valley District School Board, like many others throughout the province, is forced to close small community schools in order to meet the criteria for continued levels of funding. Very young students are bused to farther schools, grades 7s and 8s are forced to attend classes in secondary schools, and programs are lost, oversubscribed or watered down to accommodate the changed population. Long overdue renovations to elementary schools are forgotten in this kind of exercise. The overall result is no-win. Class sizes go up, education quality goes down, community morale declines and trust in the responsiveness and integrity of the public education system is damaged further. Therefore, it is our recommendation that the formula for funding elementary pupil spaces be increased.
Ms Holgate: In conclusion, the EIC's third interim report confirms what elementary teachers have been saying: that most school boards are spending at or above the level of funding the Ministry of Education provides for classroom expenditures. Boards are paying their bills by drawing on dwindling reserve funds, by diverting temporary mitigation money and by scraping dollars from other strained lines in the education funding formula.
The EIC has also identified many other problems with the funding formula and confirms that major elements are dangerously underfunded. The Minister of Education and the Premier have heard this message from teachers, parents and school boards. Now they are hearing it from their own government agencies. If they have listened, surely it's time to take action.
If you are following our brief, we have summarized our recommendations to the committee on the last page.
I have to apologize. In our haste to get here from London in the weather this morning, we referenced the complete report that the ETFO survey has developed. I may be assuming incorrectly, but I can forward that later in the day to this committee for inclusion. It's my belief that our provincial body has also forwarded it to the ministry, but I can look after that detail for you.
The Chair: On behalf of the committee, I would like to thank you for your presentation this afternoon but we have exhausted your time so there is no time for questions and comments.
It looks like we're going to have to take another pause. The 3 o'clock group is in the building, but we can't locate them. So until the mayor of London shows up-or if the other group shows up first, we might be in a position to take them-we'll have to take a short break.
The committee recessed from 1412 to 1415.
ALLIANCE OF CANADIAN SECOND STAGE HOUSING (ONTARIO CAUCUS)
The Chair: If I can get your attention, we'll bring the committee back to order. We have our next group in the audience, the Alliance of Canadian Second Stage Housing (Ontario Caucus). Could you please step forward and state your names for the record.
Ms Shelley Yeo: Shelley Yeo.
Ms Donna Hansen: Donna Hansen.
Ms Ruth Hyatt: I'm Ruth Hyatt.
The Chair: On behalf of the committee, welcome. You have 30 minutes for your presentation this afternoon.
Ms Yeo: Thank you very much for inviting us to speak to you today about second-stage housing. We're going to focus on who we are, some of the history of second-stage housing, some current stats and our financial status today.
Second-stage housing was developed in response to an identified need for long-term safety and support for women and children leaving abusive relationships. Emergency shelter workers witnessed women having to return to abusive partners when leaving shelters because of a serious lack of safe, affordable and supportive housing alternatives in the community.
Approximately 40 women are murdered by their estranged partners each year in Ontario according to a 1994 study of intimate femicide. The study also shows that women are most often killed after first leaving a relationship.
The first second-stage housing program in Canada was built in 1979. Between 1985 and 1995 the number of second-stage housing programs in Ontario had grown to 28. A survey by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp shows that safety is the number one reason that women, with or without children, seek housing at second-stage housing facilities.
Today there are 23 second-stage housing programs operating in Ontario and one second-stage housing program in the building stage. The facilities range from three units to 40 units, with a total of 350 units. They are typically self-contained apartments, townhouses or single-family units where women can live independently with their children for approximately one year. The length of stay depends on the needs of each woman and the program guidelines.
Women often access second-stage housing after leaving women's crisis shelters. Living in second-stage housing provides women the opportunity to rebuild their lives and the lives of their children in a safe, affordable and supportive environment.
Second-stage housing provides a unique service to women and their children. Women living at second-stage housing are usually on a low income. During their tenancy, women are able to set goals and objectives, connect with appropriate community resources, and are provided the opportunity to build on new skills as they move on to economic independence.
Support in most programs is offered through individual and group counselling in order to assist women and children to develop coping strategies, build social networks, enhance self-esteem, understand the impact of violence in their lives and develop realistic future plans.
Many of the children and youth at second-stage housing have been the targets of physical and sexual violence and most have been witnesses to woman abuse. According to Children Exposed to Woman Abuse, a recent handbook that was compiled by the London Family Court Clinic, children who witness woman abuse frequently experience post-traumatic stress disorder. The symptoms of PTSD include extreme anxiety, fear, irritability, intrusive thoughts and flashbacks about the violence, unpredictable anger outbursts and avoidance of situations that remind them of the abuse they witnessed.
These children have a number of needs in common: breaking the silence of abuse; learning about safety planning in case the abuse recurs; learning they were not at fault; processing the traumatic memories in a safe and nurturing environment; assistance with coping strategies around trauma symptoms such as irritability, avoidance of situations which remind them of the abuse, anger outbursts and fearfulness; learning that there are alternatives to violence in relationships and that violence is not acceptable; learning about equality in relationships; and dispelling the myths about woman abuse.
Individual and group programs strive to increase children's and youth's knowledge and awareness of these issues, developing coping skills and supporting them in making healthy choices in their lives.
Ms Hansen: A recent questionnaire that was completed by individual program directors in second-stage housing in January 2000 indicates the following results for the year 1998.
We learned that there are 350 units of second-stage housing in Ontario and their occupancy averaged 90%. Some 2,088 women and children lived in second-stage housing programs for the year 1998. Some 1,556 women applied for residency in second-stage housing programs, but 604 of those women who applied did not move in, and the most common reason that was given to me via the questionnaire was that there were no vacancies. The average length of stay in 1998 in second-stage housing was 8.5 months.
Seventy-seven per cent of the directors reported that counselling services couldn't be easily accessed in their communities. They gave reasons, and they included: lack of available and suitable services in their community; too long waiting lists; lack of affordable transportation; the distance to travel was too long from their second-stage housing program to the services they needed; and women were fearful of being in the community and being found by an ex-partner.
One hundred per cent of the directors reported that in 1995 their programs provided on-site counselling services for both women and children; 38% reported that in the year 2000 their programs provide on-site counselling services for women; and only 29% reported that in 2000 their programs provide on-site counselling services for children.
Eighty-seven per cent of the directors reported that in 1995 their programs provided on-site group counselling services for both women and children. In 2000, that number has dropped to 38% of the programs that can provide on-site counselling services for women and 11% that do provide on-site counselling services for children.
Eighty-six per cent of directors reported they had staff on site to provide referral services until December 1995. In January 2000 only 40% of the directors report having staff to do this work.
Directors report that 75% of the programs had staff available to provide assistance in accessing education and/or training opportunities in their programs before 1995. In January 2000 only 33% of the directors report that they have staff available to do this work.
It is important to note that on-site programming at second-stage housing is now being provided mostly by counsellors who come into the facility from a counselling service in the community for a very limited number of hours each week. Directors are reporting that this is just not adequate. They report that there are insufficient hours to meet the needs of the women and children and there are long waiting lists. Further, they report that the counsellors coming into the facility cannot create the same level of trust and continuity of service that an on-site counsellor can provide. One director reports, in reference to children's counsellors: "Trust issues are not being dealt with. Volunteers and students come and go. Children (whose mothers have been abused) have suffered enough losses in their lives."
The results of the questionnaire clearly show that full-time, on-site counselling services to women and children are needed to meet the needs of women and children in second-stage housing in Ontario. As well, it is clear that in January 2000, counselling services to children have almost disappeared from second-stage housing programs. Statistics show us that children who witness violence or have experienced violence too often grow up to repeat the violence as adults.
Ms Hyatt: By far the biggest struggle facing all second-stage housing programs in Ontario today is the serious lack of funding to support counselling programs. However, the impact does go beyond the cuts to staff and services.
The number one reason that women enter second-stage housing is for safety, and in many programs safety and security have been compromised. There are two reasons for this: (1) There are insufficient funds to repair, maintain and upgrade security systems; and (2) there is insufficient staff to ensure that safety policies and procedures are followed.
We have heard stories where women have been able to move ex-partners into their apartments and there is nothing to protect the other women from these abusive men. At times, women, children, staff and volunteers are at risk from abusive partners determined to have access to the women. Every effort must be made to ensure the safety of everyone connected with the program.
Priority status moves the woman who has left an abusive relationship to the top of waiting lists for housing. In Dryden, because of the cuts to funding, the second-stage housing program is now under the administration of the local housing authority. They are addressing only priority status issues and only allowing women some place to go. There is no staff on site to provide any level of counselling or support. Safety becomes a serious issue if programs do not have adequate staffing.
Partnerships between violence-against-women agencies and community groups are used to develop prevention initiatives and public education events and to coordinate the services provided to victims of violence. Most staff in second-stage housing report that it is difficult, if not impossible, for them to attend coordinating committee meetings for violence-against-women services, for children's services in their area and for domestic assault review teams. This is because of a serious lack of time, money and staff.
Credibility has also become an issue for second-stage housing throughout the province. Systems were in place prior to 1995, when programs were funded, to ensure that the programs were supportive, responsive and accountable to the women and children using them. The complete withdrawal of funding to support counselling services disconnected the programs from the government body that gives direction to all other violence-against-women service providers. Therefore we are no longer directly involved in policy development and program planning, which also means that the women and children using our services have been taken out of the decision-making process.
Many program directors found that prior to 1995, information flowed through the provincial funding body. When funding was cut, information stopped flowing. In order for the service providers to maximize women's safety, it is imperative that they keep abreast of the changes that occur in systems that affect the lives of women and children in the program. An example of information that has not reached the second stages are the proposed changes to the child welfare legislation involving reporting procedures and service delivery.
Though staff training is a priority for many second-stage housing programs, it is not possible to allocate funding resources or staff time for training and development. Many second-stage housing boards, volunteers and staff have also needed to change their focus to fundraising for survival of the agency. Day-to-day issues and actual work with the women and children must be attended to around fundraising schedules. Many second-stage housing programs in the province have experienced significant losses of staff. Many have left exhausted and burned out.
Though second-stage housing programs may vary in size, configuration and management style, the mandate of all programs is to deliver services that will contribute to keeping women and their children safe. We need the help of the provincial government in order to continue to provide these efficient and cost-effective programs.
In the four years since 1995, all second-stage housing programs have changed. Counselling programs have been carved to the bone and many programs are in crisis-survival mode. Today, on behalf of the Alliance of Canadian Second Stage Housing, Ontario Caucus, we are asking the government of Ontario to support the continued operation of these programs for women and children fleeing abuse in this province. We are requesting $120,000 in annualized funding for each second-stage housing program in the province, which would be a total of $3,360,000.
We thank you for listening to our presentation and would be pleased to answer any questions you might have.
The Chair: Thank you very much for your presentation. We have four minutes per caucus, and I'll start with the third party.
Mr Christopherson: Thank you for your presentation. I would say that if anybody should be answering questions around here it ought to be the government. For the life of me, I don't know how some members of the government caucus manage to continue to look themselves in the mirror, given some of the things this government has had to do.
We have maintained from the beginning that, on balance, the vast majority of decisions this government has taken, outside of their fiscal policies, negatively impact women and children. You mentioned that the majority of women you deal with are low-income, so some would be using social services. We know their income was cut by 22%. God forbid that somebody who makes $200,000 a year would have their pay cut by 22%. But it's OK to do it to the poorest of the poor, the majority of whom are kids, and we know that most of those families are headed by women.
The complete abandonment of affordable housing-gone-affects this group of citizens the most. Removal of rent control, if they do happen to have somewhere to live. A lot are living in the inner cities. Because they don't have transportation, they need bus services. That, of course, has been downloaded to the municipalities. It's slowly going to be whittled away.
If you are in the inner city, you're going to one of the inner-city schools. If you've heard any of the teacher or parent presentations we've been hearing while we've been on the road, inner cities are facing the biggest crunch. That's where the greatest challenges are. You have children with developmental difficulties who need educational assistants, and they're not there. English-as-a-second-language services aren't there. All these things are affecting kids. Health care-often the woman is the primary health care provider in a family situation. All these things affect women. Yet, time after time, these bloody economists roll in here, and a lot of the chambers, and tell us how wonderful everything is. Everything is great; it's the best it's ever been. Well, for some people I guess it is. But for an awful lot of people, these are the worst of times.
God help us if they're still in power when the economy goes in the ditch. If this is the way they treat women, children and families in good times, it's nightmarish to think what's going to happen in bad times, in difficult times.
My question to you would be: Are you yet accumulating statistics that tell us what is happening to women who have no alternative than to return to abusive relationships because there's nowhere else for them to go? Do we know what's happening out there statistically, and if not statistically, at least anecdotally?
Ms Hyatt: I know that we've barely been able to keep stats ourselves.
Mr Christopherson: Because you don't have the funding to hire the people to do it.
Ms Hyatt: We don't have the manpower, or the womanpower, to do that. We do know that in our communities, where we have talked with other second stages, there could always be more second stages. But what we need is support right now for the ones that are currently in operation.
Ms Hansen: We believe that on Wednesday you'll be speaking with Eileen Morrow from the Ontario Association of Interval and Transition Houses.
Mr Christopherson: I know Eileen. She's from Hamilton.
Ms Hansen: I would be very surprised if she didn't tell you that shelters are seeing huge amounts of return visitors, women returning again and again. They come, spend their six weeks and can't find a place. They go back, they are re-abused and they come back to the shelters. I imagine that a lot of that is going on.
Mr Christopherson: What does your provincial organization hear from the government, from the minister, when you lay these issues in front of the minister? What kind of response do you get? How do they justify, or how are they attempting to justify?
Ms Hansen: We still hope we will be given a meeting with Minister Baird. Mr Baird has met with one second-stage housing provider in Woodstock. We are working with the Liberal women's issues critic, and we hope that in time we will get a meeting scheduled with Mr Baird.
Mr Christopherson: So the biggest hope you have on the horizon right now is a meeting?
Ms Hyatt: We've been asking for a meeting since 1995 and haven't been able to get one.
Mr Christopherson: Sorry, say that again.
Ms Hyatt: We've been asking to have a meeting with the minister since 1995, and we haven't yet been able to do that.
Mr Christopherson: That's incredible. It's mind-boggling what's going on in this province. The phrase has been used before, the idea of two Ontarios, but never have we seen such inequity in terms of those who are doing so well getting more and more, and those who are doing the best they can to survive and are facing horrors in their lives doing worse and worse. What the hell happened to the Ontario we grew up in? I'm done.
Mr Johnson: I had a comment or a question. Donna Hansen used to be administrator of Emily Murphy in Stratford, and you are she?
Ms Hansen: Yes.
Mr Johnson: I'm glad that you took the time to come down today with your colleagues, Donna, to make us aware of your views on what has been done and what should be done.
I wanted to make one definitive comment. The last paragraph of your presentation comes down to a very specific costing and has given us a very specific request, and I wanted to compliment you on that. So often we are given some very soft and fuzzy requests by groups that would like us to do something, but we're not asked specifically. I think of the last two or three that have presented here, we don't really know what the cost of the request is. I wanted to compliment you on being able to define that specific need. I don't by any stretch of the imagination want to leave the impression that this would cure all the ills and fill all the needs that you feel you have, but I wanted to compliment you on making yours very specific. It seems to me, as a finance committee, that's what we have to do.
Ms Hansen: May I compliment you, Mr Johnson. The Emily Murphy Centre second-stage housing in your riding has 20 units. In all of Toronto there is nothing comparable. Nellie's in Toronto used to provide a second-stage housing component to its program, but when the cuts came that closed. Nekanaan has 40 units and they are for native Canadian women in the former city of York; that's it. Windsor does not have second-stage housing; Chatham does not have second-stage housing. If you look at the map just inside, you will see that in the far north there are three; two of them have been taken over by their local housing authority. Besides the programs being starved for money for the last four years, there are huge gaps in service where women do not get even a chance to be turned away from a full second-stage housing centre; there is no second-stage housing. So you're a very lucky MPP, Mr Johnson, to have a facility like the Emily Murphy Centre in your riding.
Mr Kwinter: Thank you very much for your presentation. I read it with interest but also with a little bit of puzzlement, only because I'm not familiar-I am from Toronto and, as you said, there are only a couple in there and it's not really well known.
This has been around since 1979, and you've now got about 350 units. Is that correct?
Ms Hansen: Yes.
Mr Kwinter: Who funds the bricks and mortar?
Ms Hansen: It's important to note that in 1979, Second Stage housing started in BC. It never really got started in Ontario until about 1985.
Ms Yeo: We're all funded differently, especially since our funding was cut four years ago. Some of us have bricks and mortar funded through municipal affairs and housing; some of us are all fundraised dollars; some of us have been taken over by shelters. I'm from London Second Stage housing. We were taken over by the shelter, Women's Community House. That assists us with our funding, so we're able to continue with the program we offer, or at least we're able to house women in a safe, affordable, supportive way. Second Stage in St Thomas is all fundraised dollars, I believe.
Ms Hyatt: We get no provincial funding whatsoever. A federal grant built our building and we have a forgivable mortgage. But beyond that, we have no funding whatsoever. We raise the dollars.
Ms Yeo: As Donna mentioned, there are two second-stage housing facilities in northern Ontario that have been taken over by the local housing authority, so that's how they receive their funding, but they're not able to provide the program that they were able to provide four years ago.
Mr Kwinter: Does the provincial government have any responsibility for these programs at all?
Ms Yeo: No.
Ms Hyatt: We had contracts, initially, for them to supply the dollars for the counselling programs, but that was all withdrawn.
Ms Yeo: That was all withdrawn over four years ago.
Mr Kwinter: That's what I'm trying to get at. Right now the Ministry of Community and Social Services is providing no funding.
Ms Hyatt: Not for the counselling.
Mr Kwinter: The only funding you get is either through local agencies or through fundraising, and I guess some forgivable loans at the federal level. Is that correct?
Ms Yeo: Yes.
Mr Kwinter: What is the legal entity that owns each of these particular second-stage housing projects? Does each one have its own situation?
Ms Yeo: They're all independent.
Ms Hansen: I guess you could say that the taxpayers really own them, because the Ministry of Community and Social Services used to fund in-house counselling, and most of us were getting monies from municipal affairs and housing for the mortgage and the bricks and the mortar. Then they're all managed by independent volunteer boards of directors who direct the staff.
Mr Kwinter: At the present time they have sort of cut you adrift and you're out there on your own.
Ms Yeo: That's correct.
Mr Kwinter: You're now looking for the government to provide you with some stable funding so that you can implement these programs and provide the services that you do.
Ms Hyatt: And to be part of all other programs as well. We've just been cut adrift and are expected to survive on our own. It has done more than just cut the services. I have worked in a lot of social services programs. I watch women come through our doors initially confused, very upset, not knowing which direction to take. Eight months later, when they're leaving that program and they have has been through all the group and individual counselling and their children have been through the programs that are provided for them, they leave with such great self-esteem. Sometimes we think, "Oh, my goodness, should we be releasing them into the world?" because they're just ready to do things, so independent, and go back out there and lead productive lives. It works; we know it works. That is what's frustrating about it.
Ms Hansen: We feel very strongly that second-stage housing can lower that number of 40 women a year killed by their ex-partners because they come at the time when the murders would be happening and they get safety and support. Their lives, we believe, are literally saved by coming to second-stage housing. We would like very much to have that number go down to nothing in our lifetime. It would be great.
The Chair: On behalf of the committee, thank you very much for your presentation this afternoon.
CITY OF LONDON
The Chair: Our next presenter this afternoon is the mayor of the city of London. Your Worship, could you please step forward and state your name for the record.
Ms Dianne Haskett: Hello. My name is Dianne Haskett. I'm the mayor of the city of London, and this is John Winston, our intergovernmental affairs director. We're very pleased to be with you today. It looks like a long day.
The Chair: On behalf of the committee, welcome. You have 30 minutes for your presentation this afternoon.
Ms Haskett: Should we just wait a moment?
The Chair: I think we might as well start, Your Worship, and if they get disruptive we'll deal with it.
Ms Haskett: That's fine.
On behalf of London city council, we welcome the opportunity to be here today in Chatham to provide our input into the Ontario 2000 budget. The city of London has offered input in previous years during provincial pre-budget consultations and we are pleased to do so again. The city of London is seeking to become more actively involved with our provincial and federal counterparts. We feel it is important that we work more closely with both levels of government in order to ensure that there is a better understanding of the way provincial and federal public policy affects Ontario's municipalities.
If I could draw your attention to an example of that, we have felt that the municipal perspective be taken into account and have had the opportunity to meet with various ministers on a number of issues. London has shown real initiative, in particular this past summer with the superhighway issue. You may know that on June 18 last year in London we hosted the mayors' summit on superhighways.
The Chair: Mr Arnott, if you're going to carry on a conversation, could you go outside, please?
Ms Haskett: We in the city of London feel very strongly that some of these major issues-and I just used our major highway system in the province of Ontario as an example; it's a provincial issue, but it also dramatically affects how we succeed as municipalities because, for example, London now goes all the way down to the edge of Elgin county, which means the 401 runs right through the centre of our city. The 402 also runs right through the city of London. We see even transportation as a national issue. We have been lobbying very hard for a national policy on transportation. But we know that the funding and the primary responsibility is provincial, and you'll hear me saying several times in my presentation today that we are looking to the provincial government in your budget to recognize the need for spending on provincial highways. We want to be at the table with you when it comes to talking about the impact on our municipality, when it comes to talking about policy. We've heard recently about the possibility of toll roads being used through southwestern Ontario in order to deal with some of the great demand we have for trade and tourism. We want to be consulted on that.
I'll speak later to the issue of the funding in this budget for superhighways, but I use this as an example of the fact that we do appreciate opportunities such as today, and other opportunities, to meet with ministers and ministerial advisers, to see what is the municipal perspective on how the dollars are being spent and on how policies are being formulated.
You all have copies of our brief that was provided some time ago, so I will not read from it. Instead, I would like to touch on the highlights contained in our presentation and answer any questions that you might have.
According to the Financial Times, the city of London is the best-run city in Canada. Companies like General Motors, 3M Canada, Trojan Technologies, Ford, Magna and Kellogg have chosen to locate in London and area. They each made the decision to invest based on our highly trained, skilled workforce, our infrastructure, competitive municipal tax rates and a positive attitude by local government towards business. Having said that, I might draw to your attention that the city of London has had a tax freeze for the last two years, and as strenuous as it has been for our municipality to adapt to the dramatic restructuring and downloading that has been occurring in recent years with this provincial government, we feel that if any municipality has adapted to that, the city of London has. We have done the best that we possibly could, but throughout we have always asked for the opportunity for consultation, and we continue to ask for that today.
Even though the city of London has done its best in the restructuring, and we have done our best to keep taxes low and in the last two years to freeze them, I do have to tell you that the city of London also has its share of residents who are very financially challenged. It's hard for us to understand why, but we're a city that when provincial studies have been done, we find that we have more than our percentage of those who are below the poverty level. There are many Londoners, frankly, who have been suffering. They have been suffering, I have to be frank with you, to a certain extent because of some of the provincial policies and the cutbacks that we've seen, for example, in welfare benefits and other related cuts.
We have tried as a municipality to be balanced in our decision-making and balanced in our policies, and we ask you to do so as well in this provincial budget that you're bringing up. It's important that we be pro-business as a municipality. It's important that you be pro-business as a government, and that you attract investment to our province so there are many jobs and opportunities for people. But we must not forget those who are in serious need. We don't want to see people slipping through the cracks. Two or three years ago we set up the Mayor's Anti-Poverty Action Group and all of our policies right now, when it comes to those who are poor, are driven by the recommendations of the document put out by that group. We find ourselves, frankly, so often having to step forward and fill in the cracks that have been left by some of the changes in provincial policy. So we would ask you to be balanced in this budget. Yes, keep taxes low in the province of Ontario and reduce the deficit, but don't forget those who are poor.
Our goal in London is simple: to ensure that our citizens have every opportunity to achieve economic and social well-being for their families and to maintain the exceptional quality of life that we have worked hard in London to obtain.
Provincial funding is key to maintaining our current physical and educational infrastructure. This funding must be stable and predictable in order to allow for long-range planning and phased expansions, upgrades to our schools, hospitals, roads and community facilities.
I would like to draw to your attention the fact that right now in the city of London we are, as a council, taking the very bold initiative to invest in a number of ways in our community. London is a city that, in order to keep its tax rate low over the years, previous councils have not spent in areas where they needed to spend: on sewage treatment, sewer systems, community facilities and on many of the things, for example, that can make for a vibrant downtown.
This council is investing dramatically in our infrastructure and in our community infrastructure by way of facilities, such as new libraries, arenas and so on. We are doing so, and we're doing so responsibly. We're maintaining a AAA credit rating in the process, but we need to have stability and the ability to do long-range planning because we know what the provincial government is going to be doing. It's very difficult for us if we get hit by surprises partway through the year.
We applaud your commitment made in the recent speech from the throne to new infrastructure designed to meet the needs of tomorrow's entrepreneurs, students and workers. We could not agree more on the importance of modern schools, new roads and information networks.
The speech also touched on other areas of critical importance to the city of London. It announced that the Minister of Economic Development and Trade will work with other ministers to establish a public-private sector task group. The task group is to recommend the best long-term approach to stay competitive, create future jobs and promote high technology and innovation.
We support the concept of public-private partnership and collaboration and have been quick to follow up with the ministry to offer our assistance. We have had a policy of public-private partnership in place for many years. By working together, the province and municipalities can ensure continued economic growth and prosperity.
An excellent example of what can happen when governments work together is our city's hosting of the 2001 Canada Summer Games. Not only will this help Ontario regain its leadership in sports facilities, coaching programs and athletic performance, it will also improve our infrastructure and strengthen Ontario's tourism industry, one of the fastest-growing industries in the world.
Speaking of infrastructure, I want to be clear that the city of London is supportive of the SuperBuild fund. As an example, education, health care and biotechnology are three areas that our city clearly has an interest in both nurturing and protecting. Finance Minister Eves announced in last year's budget speech that the initial focus of the fund would be on strategic investments in our universities and colleges in health care and in roads.
Our response was overwhelmingly positive, since London is a leader in both post-secondary education and in health care. We at city council have invested some $15 million in the local health care restructuring initiative: $10 million in support of the University of Western Ontario and its SuperBuild application and $5 million for a biotechnology incubator. We have already initiated discussions with the SuperBuild Corp to work with them in identifying future opportunities for the city of London.
As a world centre for organ transplants, we are pleased with the province's commitment to develop an organ donor action plan to increase the number of organs available for transplant.
And on roads, as I was starting to say earlier, before I was a little bit distracted-sorry about that-I was starting to mention to you that in the city of London we've tried to play a leadership role in bringing together mayors across the province, first of all with the mayors' summit last summer, and that has now grown into the mayors' alliance on superhighways, where we are continually, with mayors across the province, bringing the message to the provincial and federal governments that our superhighways are in need of a national policy. We are pressing to have the provinces and the federal government go in partnership together.
If, years ago, when I was younger, there was the foresight to build the TransCanada Highway or even, for that matter, the tremendous foresight that was shown by earlier provincial governments to build the 401 and to build those highways not for the traffic that would go on those roads at that point in time but for what they anticipated in the decade or so ahead, we feel that at the very least we have to do the same today, and we want you to have a message clearly from us that the SuperBuild fund should not be for that. We should not be expected, as a municipality, to contribute towards the provincial highways. We want to encourage, we want to be there with you shoulder to shoulder in going to the federal Minister of Transport and encouraging a federal policy on transportation, opening up federal dollars, because, after all, most of the trade and tourism in the country is occurring right here in Ontario. We feel we need our municipal transportation dollars for our own roads, our own bridges and our own transit, so please don't misunderstand anything in our brief that we've provided to you. We want to work in partnership with you in the best way we can on the provincial highways by being a voice of support, but we want to be in partnership with you financially on roads, bridges and these sorts of things only when it comes to our municipal roads, because we are frankly very stretched in that regard.
In his remarks before the committee, I mentioned earlier, the finance minister announced that Ontario will deliver a balanced budget this spring for 2000-01. We applaud the government for this. We also encourage the government to make investments in Ontario that we believe will pay dividends in the future.
In the upcoming provincial budget we would like to see the following: first, substantial dollar amounts for strategic highway improvements in specific partnership arrangements; second, continued spending on hospital and health services sector upgrades; third, continued funding for innovation in education and biotechnology; and fourth, ongoing investment in land ambulance and dispatch requirements. We go into quite a bit more detail about that in our brief. Finally, as you know, the 10-5-5 cap on the current value assessment program ends this year. We are looking forward to seeing what is proposed to replace the caps. I've had opportunity personally to meet with Minister Eves about this and to speak to some of our own members of provincial Parliament.
We would like again to see predictability and fairness but, moreover, we would like to see a plan. We have not yet heard what the government plans to do when that cap is lifted, and it does eventually have to be lifted so that people will end up paying taxes for their properties that reflect the actual value of those properties. We have encountered quite a bit of difficulty in London because of that 10-5-5 cap coming back on arbitrarily, and we need to know what the government's plan is so that we can plan and so that we can communicate with our citizens.
Another point that I wanted to make is possibly for this budget, but it's for the budget beyond as well. We would like to show support in the strongest possible terms for the infrastructure program that's a three-way partnership with the federal government of which we've seen two versions previously, what we call the COIW program. I don't know if that's how you refer to it in your circles. We used that program very significantly when it was available earlier this decade. We feel that it was a great vehicle to create investment in our communities, and it raised the calibre of communities across the province.
The key that I would appreciate you as MPPs writing down is that we as the municipalities must be the ones to tell you where those dollars can best be spent. It is absolutely wrong for the Premier and the government to say, "All right, here's how much we get from the federal government, and we will decide how that is spent across the province." There has to be a fairness in the dividing of those funds among municipalities. I believe, with the greatest of respect, that no group knows better than local councils and mayors where those funds need to be spent. As we look to the federal government's budget and what we are hoping will be their announcement of a similar infrastructure program, we do hope that you will recognize that the municipality needs to be an equal partner in the decision-making and in the spending.
There is still the need as well to have the new Municipal Act passed in order to clarify the roles of the two levels of government. That will ultimately lead to greater efficiencies, we believe, for both governments.
In closing, on the remarks that I have at this point- I'm going to take just a moment to highlight a little bit of the brief-we want to acknowledge the provincial government's efforts to create jobs and improve the investment climate. The city of London, like many municipalities, has an important role to play in ensuring that the momentum continues. We look forward to working together on the building of crucial new infrastructure.
I do want to say that we have tried with a concerted effort in the city of London, in spite of the challenges, to work with the provincial government. We accept that this is a government that has certain philosophies and certain policies and we don't always agree on what those policies are, but we have tried in every instance to come to the table, to work together and to adapt to whatever the present reality might be. We would always continue to ask for the opportunity to do that. In other words, it's not just the budget that comes down; it's how we are given the opportunity as municipalities to be consulted and to be able to ensure that the way these policies are carried out is the fairest possible.
If I could just take a moment and only highlight two or three sections from the brief. I'll just highlight the headings. First of all, you can see what we say about SuperBuild, about economic development, about health care, on restructuring, access to service, information systems, federal transfer payments, how we support the provincial government in your efforts with the feds, and what we say about education.
I would like to draw your special attention to what we say about social services, and I'll just take a moment to read that. The city of London has been active in seeking appropriate solutions to poverty-related issues in our community, and we encourage the province to: (1) examine the issue of shelter ceilings, which are frequently inadequate, to allow Ontario Works participants to sustain quality housing; (2) reinstate the monies deducted from social assistance recipients as a result of the national child benefit supplement; (3) reconsider the elimination of special assistance and supplementary aid for the working poor; (4) reconsider the elimination of the pregnancy allowance; and (5) provide budgetary support for any costs associated with the implementation of a new social assistance service delivery model.
If I might move down to housing. To ease the issue of homelessness, the city of London believes that funding is required to address the following needs: (1) enough year-round crash beds, that is to say, beds with no other support services provided for the more difficult to serve; (2) community support workers to provide assistance to those individuals and families leaving emergency shelter and moving to permanent accommodation; and (3) a central housing registry to access both social and private sector housing.
The city of London endorses the FCM quality of life infrastructure program proposal, which calls for all levels of government to participate in the provision of adequate and affordable housing for all Canadians now and in the future.
We have right now an affordable housing task force that has been meeting in the city of London for almost the past year. I'd like to tell you that this has been a very broad-based committee, although the person who initiated it might described as very left of centre, out of her concern for the poor and for the housing needs in the community. We have seen brought together members of the development industry, in other words, the housing construction industry of the business community in general and of all aspects of the community.
This group has been gathering data and gathering opinion throughout the city of London. I can tell you that we are very concerned that we will not be able to meet the needs that already are there now, let alone what will be there in the future, if we do not have greater help with the capital cost of rebuilding housing that needs to be rebuilt and building new housing where it is needed. We have a long waiting list of people who need affordable housing in our community-3,000 families currently. You can just imagine how many that is if you add up all the members of the family in current need in the city of London. We do not have the resources to all of a sudden be finding it within our budgets, based on the property taxes, to be building.
We're not saying it's all the responsibility of the provincial government. We're saying the federal government has really stepped away from it's responsibility. We want to be a partner with you in pressing them and in playing your own part.
You see our comments on policing, which we feel are quite significant. We've been really stretched in the city of London with the need for more police officers. The police college is not graduating sufficient numbers. I've talked to you already about what we feel about highway improvements, and you can just amend the comments in the brief here to reflect some of what I said about where we feel the funding should come for that.
I'll just finally close by reiterating our point that we support the pro-business, low-tax approach of the provincial government, that we don't feel that you should move forward so fast that you forget those who are in need. We believe that in the long term, any community that forgets its poor and forgets those who are in great need, whether it be those who are disabled or those who are students needing help with education and so forth-it may be a short-term gain but it will not be a long-term gain. So we urge upon you balance and we urge upon you consultation with the municipalities, particularly with London, since I am here on behalf of London. We will always come to the table any time you offer us the opportunity.
Thank you for this opportunity today, and I'd be happy to answer any questions.
The Chair: Thank you very much for your presentation. We have three minutes per caucus, and I'll start with the government side.
Mr Arnott: Thank you, Mayor Haskett. I really appreciate the presentation you made today. You've been fair. Where you've been critical of the government's policies, you've been constructive in your criticism and you've offered alternatives, and we appreciate that.
I am glad you mentioned that the federal government has reduced transfers for health care to the provinces. The reduction to all the provinces in recent years has been in the range of $6.2 billion. Last year's federal budget gave partial restoration of those cuts to $2 billion, but certainly the provincial government has been forcefully pushing for full reinstatement of those reduced health transfers as well as the establishment of an escalator clause to respond to our growing and aging population. I am glad you highlighted that issue, among the many issues you raised.
Ms Haskett: That's probably the issue you hear about more than any from the electorate; we certainly do. Obviously, we have shortages of all sorts of specialists and GPs in London. At one time we didn't, but we certainly do now. So I hope you are hearing that message loud and clear.
Mr Arnott: Yes. Thank you.
On another issue, you talked about the 10-5-5 property tax cap for business properties. You've suggested that the city would encourage the province to initiate an exit strategy that incorporates predictability and fairness. I'm wondering if you're in a position to be more specific as to what your city would recommend the provincial government do in this respect.
Ms Haskett: Frankly, we wish the provincial government had left things the way they were, which was to go to market value assessment. We as a municipal council already took all the political hit there was to be taken on that. That was mostly coming from car dealerships that had purchased property which not too much earlier had been farmland, so it had been not terribly expensive property. Then, all of a sudden with market value assessment-none of them said their property wasn't worth what it was being assessed at, but they saw it was going to go up substantially. These were businesses that were making substantial profits.
We were probably going to lose votes from a certain sector, but we had already taken the hit. Then the provincial government came in and, for the whole city and for every municipality in the province it's this 10-5-5. What that meant was incredible inequity for those who had already been told their taxes were going down. They not only had to bump back up and lose that deduction, but then to see that again the next year is simply not fair.
I believe you should leave it to us as municipal politicians to deal with that, and we had dealt with that. I would say that since we're where we are now, the sooner you can get to market value assessment the better. If you have to stretch it over three years, that's fine. But don't be stretching it over five or seven years. We believe a truly smaller percentage of businesses would have been impacted if you'd left things the way they were, and those were businesses that for the most part could have afforded it.
Mr Arnott: That may have been the case in the city of London. There may be other communities where-
Ms Haskett: I realize it may not be the same elsewhere.
Mr Hoy: Thank you very much for being here and making your presentation. I must say it is balanced, with some criticisms and some praise. From time to time we see suggestions that are weighted on one side and maybe not on the other.
There is much here to talk about, but I want to talk about the 401 and toll roads. The other day I learned through the press that Mr Eves was thinking about toll roads. It wasn't expressed or clear, but it seemed to be implied that these were new roads and not necessarily the 401 or the 402 that we know now.
Would you agree with the view that perhaps what the government should do first is make sure we have safe highways, such as the 401 or 402; that before they move on they should make the upgrades that have been suggested by many, provide the police that were announced in September and do those things first to the 401 and 402 or other roads the province has jurisdiction over before they move on to toll roads, expropriation of lands, which takes a great deal of time etc? Do you think we should work on the 401 first?
Ms Haskett: I'm really happy that you asked that question, because I feel very strongly about the answer. I also want to say how much we in London have appreciated your intervention on these issues. We've seen that on a consistent basis and we've appreciated it. I feel very strongly that the provincial government needs to move immediately to improve the existing infrastructure. And I don't speak only on my own behalf; I can tell you that the mayors across the province are supportive. We have formed an alliance. We agree on the fact that the existing infrastructure needs to be improved, particularly between Windsor and London, and beyond; in fact, even beyond to Kitchener and so forth.
We feel that this area in particular where we are now, which has seen such carnage over the course of the last year-we've just driven it again today and we can see its shortcomings-must have a divided highway and it must have three lanes on either side. With all the infrastructure worthy of a province that is enjoying the benefits of NAFTA and all the free trade and tourism that brings, and with the safety of our citizens at stake, absolutely that has to be done first and foremost. We would not encourage toll roads before that is done.
However, I have said publicly that if the choice was put to me as the mayor of London, if I had a choice between no improvements and a toll road, would I accept a toll road? I've only said that I would, in that case, rather see an additional toll road than no work being done, no vision on improving the highway infrastructure, but we would want to be consulted as a municipality as to where that would go. It would be very important to us that we continue to maintain the trade we now have and the tourism and so forth. I understand one of the toll roads they might be looking at might go from Windsor, for example, to the Niagara Peninsula. I would be very concerned as to what route that would take.
But I believe the best possible investment for the provincial government is the investment of improving the existing infrastructure.
Mr Christopherson: Thank you, Your Worship, an excellent presentation, really excellent in terms of looking at things from a municipal perspective. I think you've really captured the essence of what most locally elected municipal representatives struggle with in terms of trying to find that balance. I join with my other colleagues-I think you're the first one who has gotten us to do that, so that's an accomplishment right there-in congratulating you on the nature and the essence of your presentation.
A couple of things: You talked about the Trans-Canada and the 401 and the fact that those were made as investments. I think one could argue that we're living off the dividends of that investment, the same as you could argue that we're living off the dividends of the investment in our public health care system and our public education system, particularly at the post-secondary level, and if we don't get a renewed investment at this point, eventually those dividends are going to peter out.
First, I would want your thoughts on the notion that if they do start to peter out and someone makes the argument that there's not the capital there to reinvest, we ought to look at going to the private system, both in education and health care. How do you feel about that? Given your strong feelings about tax cuts, I think your opinion would be of value on that.
I was going to ask about the exit strategy, but that's been covered by Ted.
You also talked about the re-creation of a loan corporation similar to the ODC in terms of significant economic development initiatives in local communities. I would ask you to tease that out a bit, if you have any further thoughts on how that might work.
And a question that's totally unfair, so if you choose not to answer it, I'll respect that. But given that I quit counting at 14 initiatives you were recommending that actually had dollars involved, that to achieve some kind of benefit to what you were recommending there were dollars involved, if it came down to a question of being able to fund these recommendations but it meant giving up the planned 20% reduction in taxes, which way would you go? Would you give the higher priority to these investments or would you give the higher priority to the further tax cut, if it was a straight either/or?
Ms Haskett: It's going to be a real challenge for me answering this one because I'm not a provincial politician, and I know this is starting to step into a bit of political philosophy and policy so I'm going to tread-
Mr Christopherson: It's an election year too, so I expect you to be prudent.
Ms Haskett: I would say, when you were asking the question about health care and education and how we would feel about changing the whole underpinning, the philosophy that's been behind it of it being publicly funded as opposed to these partnerships with the private sector, I'm going to just keep my mayor's hat on here. Believe me, I have lots of other opinions if I were ever to run provincially or federally, but I just keep my mayor's hat on in these presentations.
The most important thing to me as the mayor is that the people of the city of London get the service they need, that we can maintain the quality of life and that people aren't having to wait for chemotherapy or cataract operations or things like that. That's the most important thing. In that sense, totally apart from any political philosophy, if what it takes to free that up, to make the system work a little better even in the short term, is some involvement different from what we've known in the last 20 years, then I would be flexible. It's more important to me that the people get the service they need.
I feel very strongly that we should never have a two-tier system where those who are poor cannot afford the same services as those who are rich, but I still think in all of that there may be an opportunity for people to still get the service by subsidy for those who are in greater need and so forth. If somebody, for example, has all the money in the world and they really want to have a cataract operation and they don't want to wait two years, it's part of that person's quality of life to be able to see, and I wouldn't stand in the way of that.
On the issue of reduction in taxes as opposed to some of these needs, I think there has to be a balance. It's not a matter of saying we don't want any of that 20% reduction in taxes. Frankly, that's helping to fuel a very strong economy in Ontario right now and we're seeing the benefit of that in London. It takes longer to work its way to London from Toronto than maybe to Mississauga. We're now finally starting to see that and our unemployment is finally starting to go down, so I wouldn't want the government to reverse its efforts to reduce taxes. But if you go too far-I think it's just balance-and take away too many of the services and programs and the quality of life starts to suffer, then businesses are not going to want to relocate here from the US and other parts of the world.
I would just say the watchword of this budget should be "balance," and it should not have the word "extreme" in it anywhere. It should be balanced, always bearing in mind those who are in need, while giving the tools to the business community to prosper and create the jobs for everyone.
The Chair: On that note, I'll bring the discussion to an end. Your Worship, on behalf of the committee, thank you very much for your presentation this afternoon. Drive carefully.
I guess we're going to have to take another slight recess because of weather. Our next presenter is not in the audience, so as soon as they show up we will take their presentation.
The committee recessed from 1518 to 1525.
The Chair: We have the 4 o'clock presenter, Mr Don Currie. Could you please step forward. On behalf of the committee, welcome. You have 15 minutes for your presentation this afternoon.
Mr Don Currie: I won't need that.
The Chair: I'm sure there'll be some questions, then.
Mr Currie: OK. My name is Don Currie. I live in Windsor and I work for Windsor Utilities. Overall, I'm very happy with the province's economic growth last year and the low jobless rate. I'm also happy with the strong growth predictions for the future in Ontario. The government needs to be congratulated for creating the necessary conditions for the stellar growth.
I have some concerns regarding debt reduction. I'm very happy that the government will finally have a balanced budget, but I'm concerned by the size of the province's debt. I would like to see a more aggressive debt reduction plan than the $2-billion reduction promised over four years. I'm concerned that 16% of the government's $60-billion budget goes to interest on the debt and that interest is our fastest growing expenditure. This is money that could be better spent elsewhere. I'm hoping that the government uses any future budget surpluses to pay down the debt more quickly.
In the area of personal income taxes, I'm very happy that the government is cutting the provincial income tax rate by an additional 20%. This is good news for everybody. But I am concerned with how steep our progressive tax rates are. Ontario currently adds two surtaxes on upper incomes. I believe that the government should work towards reducing and eliminating these surtaxes to reduce the highest marginal tax rate. A high marginal tax rate is a disincentive to hard work and contributes to the growth of the underground economy and to the brain drain. As well, I would like to see the government work towards raising the basic exemption level and keep hammering the federal government to reduce the federal personal income tax rate.
In the area of property taxes, again I'm happy that the government is cutting the provincial portion of the residential property taxes by 20%. That's great news for everybody, homeowners and renters. I would like to see the government work towards eliminating their portion of the property taxes in Ontario if that's possible.
In the area of business taxes, I'm happy that the government is continuing to cut the small business corporate taxes. They're going to cut the rate to 4.75%, half of its 1997 level. I would like to see the government to phase out incentives given by business tax credits and start looking at the economy as a whole. I think businesses currently make decisions to avoid paying taxes instead of on sound economic principles. Instead of the business tax credit, I would like to see the government introduce a low, broad-base business tax rate. I would like the province to keep pushing the federal government to reduce employment insurance payroll taxes to create more jobs in the province.
In the area of government growth, I'm happy that the government has tried to cut the size of government, but I still think more should be done. The government has grown at a rate of over 8% over the last four years, and I think that's more than inflation. I would encourage the government to find new ways of reducing the size of government by using new technologies to deliver all government services more effectively. I would also encourage the government to redesign the delivery systems for education and health care so that the benefits and costs of these systems are more clearly apparent for all system users. I want the government to continue stressing accountability in the management of these very important systems.
The Chair: Thank you very much. We have three minutes per caucus. I'll start with the official opposition.
Mr Hoy: Thank you very much for being with us here today. I took great note of your desire to see a more aggressive debt reduction plan than the $2 billion put forth by the government over the next four years.
Most people and experts in the field anticipate that the economy will grow for some number of years, barring some unforeseen calamity. So we have perhaps some surpluses in the future, and I guess it's up to the government to decide how best to deal with that.
But you said at one point that you'd like them to use that surplus to tackle the debt and at the same time you would like to see provincial income taxes reduced. As well, it's not mentioned here but I'm sure you know we have a lot of questions and we have a responsibility to address the health care and education problems that loom.
You want them to tackle the debt that has accumulated over the last number of years, which is quite high, yet you ask for more personal income tax cuts. Do you believe that's achievable?
Mr Currie: Yes, because I think what's happening is that with the underground economy, people are doing business under the table and carrying out economic activity that's not being taxed. I think if we backed off on the rates and made things more fair for people, that would more readily come forward and do business above board. I think that the tax cuts would probably stimulate economic growth. In the areas of health and education, there are definitely some changes that could be made in terms of how those services are delivered, making people more aware of what it costs to actually service them and tying the benefits into that.
Mr Hoy: At the end of your presentation you talked about the size of government growing. I actually have constituents I represent and persons outside of my riding talk to me about not being able to access a live voice through the government more often than perhaps you're talking about here. I have a lot of people complain to me that they don't reach someone on the other end of the line when they call a government agency. They have to deal with 1-800 numbers which have rather poor response ratios and they're going through the directory, which seems to be quite large, trying to find the answer to a question.
The other part is that they go through maybe eight numbers to find what they should be asking for. Then they realize they've got to go through these eight numbers again because none of them seems to match what their question is about.
I don't find that constituents believe that the government has grown in size to a burdensome degree. They find it actually the opposite, that there's no one at the other end of the line.
Mr Currie: I'm an Internet user. I check out the government Web sites. I get a lot of information that way. I love the kiosks for licence services. I think if we could expand those, they would work for me. I find that much more convenient for me. If things were Web-based and the role of the kiosks were expanded, that would work for me for most things.
The Chair: Thank you very much, Mr Hoy. Mr Christopherson.
Mr Christopherson: I pass.
The Chair: Mr Johnson.
Mr Johnson: I was interested in your comments and the issues that you were bringing forward. The first one, just because I happen to agree with you, I guess, is the debt reduction. I'm a little older than you but I remember being in a community that had 21%, 22% and 23% interest rates that had to be paid. It seems to me, if our present debt stayed the same and interest rates doubled or tripled or quadrupled, that we as a government would certainly be in straits, along with a lot of other businesses and individuals who had borrowed money as well. But it was a devastating time for that.
I was wondering, in your recommendation, how long do you think that we should stretch out the debt repayment, or have you looked at it in terms of paying off a mortgage or whatever?
Mr Currie: No, I don't really have a good understanding of how quickly we should pay it off. It's probably not even important that we pay it all off, but we have to get it down from its current levels rather quickly so we're not as vulnerable, as you say.
Mr Johnson: I disagree with you there. I guess if I had my way, we would not only pay it off but we wouldn't want to have it again if we could get away from it.
Mr Currie: I agree with that.
Mr Johnson: But I was thinking, the province of Alberta, for instance, decided they would take their provincial debt, divide it by 25 for 25 years because that seemed to be a realistic amount, and pay it off.
We have pledged in our election program to pay off $500 million a year over the next four years. I don't think that's enough. At least, if you extrapolated that rate, I think it would take 238 years to pay it off. It would seem to me that's unreasonable when as a family we would usually amortize the mortgage on our house over 25 years, or the payments on our car for three or four or something like that. That's why I was wondering if you had projected how you felt about that.
Mr Currie: So you would recommend paying about $5 billion to $6 billion a year?
Mr Johnson: That to me isn't unreasonable, when you take a look at how long we have to do it or how long we should do it and what it is at the present time.
Mr Currie: It would certainly have clear benefits to reduce the debt-16% of the budget.
The Chair: With that, we have run out of time. On behalf of the committee, thank you very much for driving from Windsor today and making this presentation.
Again, I guess we'll recess until-
Mr Kwinter: Mr Chairman, just as a point of interest, I notice, and it may be just coincidence, that earlier this morning the Labour Council of Chatham-Kent didn't show. We now have the Windsor and District Labour Council not showing so far, and it's after 3:30, when they're supposed to be here. Do you think, given what we heard about the labour situation in this hotel, that they are boycotting this meeting?
The Chair: I don't know. I'm not in a position to make any educated guess here, or wise guess. I have no idea.
Mr Christopherson: I'm not aware of it. I would think there's a good possibility, if that was going to happen, that I would have been tipped off if that's the case.
Mr Kwinter: I just think it's a coincidence that we have the two labour councils who have not shown.
Mr Christopherson: Yes. I don't know. Certainly Earl is one of the most prominent leaders in the area and would have tipped me off, because I mentioned to him that the earlier Chatham labour council wasn't here, and did he know anything about that?
The Chair: I live in the area and I certainly haven't heard anything about it, not that-I would be made aware of it, but I certainly haven't heard anything.
Mr Christopherson: If perchance anyone hears that it is-I can make a call too-I'll be glad to make sure they get a copy of the Hansard where I clarified the situation. But it would seem to me that ordinarily a labour council, if that's the way they felt, would send a very strongly worded letter and make their point, and even maybe have a couple of people picketing out front if they felt that strongly. This is not their normal style, to take up a spot. If they were going to do that, they would flood it with spots and have nobody show up. So I've got to believe it's coincidence. There's lots of ways to make mischief other than just this.
The Chair: Especially from Windsor, I can see where it may be weather-related. The one from Chatham is a little more difficult to understand, but certainly from Windsor-
Mr Christopherson: I'm sure it's just coincidence.
The Chair: I don't know. So we'll wait. We have to be here until 4:15 anyway, until the corn producers show up.
Mr Christopherson: Again, I know Gary really well. I think he would have called me and said, "Hey, what's up?"
Mr Kwinter: Just coincidence.
The Chair: So we'll recess for a few minutes.
The committee recessed from 1538 to 1548.
ONTARIO CORN PRODUCERS' ASSOCIATION
The Chair: If I could get your attention again, we'll bring the committee back to order. We have the 4:15 presenters from the Ontario Corn Producers' Association. Gentlemen, would you please state your names for the record.
Mr Dennis Jack: Dennis Jack from the Ontario Corn Producers' Association.
Mr Brian Doidge: Brian Doidge, from Ridgetown College, the University of Guelph, and I work with the Ontario Corn Producers.
The Chair: On behalf of the committee, welcome. You have 30 minutes for your presentation this afternoon.
Mr Jack: I apologize for reading the brief, but I'll go through it as quickly as I can and hopefully we can have a brief period of time for discussion, if that meets with your approval. I'll try not to cover it all.
I'd like to thank you for the opportunity of making this presentation to you, ladies and gentlemen. The Ontario Corn Producers' Association is a group representing corn producers in the province of Ontario. We have 21,000 members who fund through a voluntary check-off. Ontario Corn Producers' Association is committed to working in a globally competitive environment as part of the North American corn economy, with special attention to corn quality, niche marketing and industrial processing. Livestock continues to be a dominant market for Ontario corn, and the needs of livestock producers-for example, mould-free corn-are priorities.
But the largest growth in demand for Ontario corn in recent years has been for the manufacture of food and industrial products. A world-scale ethanol plant began operations in Chatham in 1997. Construction is expected to begin in 2000 at Port Colborne on one of the world's largest citric acid plant operations. Casco, owned by Corn Products International in Chicago, continues to expand its Ontario plant operations as a global corporate priority, and Ontario corn growers continue to seek better ways of serving these customers. Future market opportunities include both food and non-food products, such as biodegradable plastics.
The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs is a vital partner in corn development activities in Ontario, and cutbacks in OMAFRA funding are of serious concern. The elimination of local extension offices and crop extension specialist positions will have detrimental effects. It is important that no further cuts occur in extension and teaching functions, including those at regional campuses of the University of Guelph such as Ridgetown College.
Support of research must also be a continued priority of the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs. In addition, research infrastructure is important. Long-term planning is difficult if the funding base is primarily short-term in nature.
Research and development are top priorities for OCPA. R&D represents one of the most important means of ensuring the success of the Ontario Corn Producers' Association corn strategy. OCPA provides about $200,000 per year of association funds for direct support of research and is able to lever this money to provide much larger amounts of financial support. In fact, by levering other means of financing, that support usually generates between $3.75 million and $4 million in research. The funds are targeted to projects which improve our competitive position and are spent so as to complement, and not duplicate, related research activities in the private and public sectors, both in Ontario and in adjacent states and provinces.
OCPA is attempting to increase available funds for public research via a contribution of 50 cents per unit on all corn seed sales in Ontario. This would ensure that all corn growers, except those few requesting a refund of levies, contribute to the support of public corn research in an equitable way. Most seed companies are co-operating with this venture, but a few are not. Encouragement from the government of Ontario for this initiative would be welcomed.
We have a long history of environmental proactivity, being one of the founding forces for the creation of AGCare, the Ontario pesticide certification program, the Ontario Farm Environmental farm planning process, the National Agriculture Environment Committee, and more. We are active in seeking means by which Ontario farmers can help Canada meet its Kyoto obligations for reduction in net greenhouse gas emissions by building soil organic matter levels through reduced tillage and more efficient fertilizer management.
Fuel ethanol represents an excellent means of improving environmental quality. The Ontario Corn Producers' Association is pleased that Sunoco is now using 9.6% ethanol in all gasoline sold in Ontario, and there are many smaller retailers for this environmentally superior product. A recent government of Canada study shows that the use of corn-based ethanol can mean a 39% reduction in net greenhouse gas emissions compared to gasoline. Ethanol also provides the means to eliminate usage of other hazardous gasoline additives, such as benzene, for octane enhancement. The goal should be 10% inclusion in all Ontario gasolines.
Biotechnology is another means for environmental improvement both through the use of fewer pesticides and safer ones. It is critical that Bt technology be allowed to continue to develop as a means of controlling European corn borer insects without pesticide application, while reducing levels of moulds and natural toxins in corn. When a new race of rotation tolerant corn rootworm enters Ontario in the next few years, rootworm insecticide applications may skyrocket, reversing the 90% reduction achieved between 1983 and 1998, unless Bt technology is allowed to be used as a genetic means for insect control. Soil-applied insecticides for rootworm control are an especially dangerous form of pesticide usage because of their toxicity, longevity in the soil and potential for water contamination.
I'll discuss this next paragraph and then Mr Doidge will explain with his charts.
Because of threats provided by inclement weather and by high subsidy levels for competing grain and oilseed producers in the United States and the European Union, Ontario corn producers can only survive and prosper if they receive equivalent government support in Ontario.
Recent analyses by Brian Doidge, University of Guelph, have shown that the current level of Canada-Ontario support for a corn-soybean-wheat grower in Ontario is only about a third of that for an identical farmer located in Michigan. This is unacceptable, especially given the open border for corn movement between the two countries. Ontario farmers also receive far less government income support than is the case for farmers in most other Canadian provinces, even after accounting for that portion of agriculture which is supply-managed. Correcting the imbalances must be a top goal for the Ontario Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs in 2000.
We appreciate the attention which has been given by the Premier of Ontario and the Ontario Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs to inequities among provinces in the amount of federal support for agriculture provided by the government of Canada. Statements by the Premier and minister match those which OCPA has voiced for many years. Similar attention would be welcome to inequities which exist between support provided for grain and oilseed producers in Ontario versus adjacent states.
If you'd pick up the coloured charts, Brian will explain those, but I'd like to explain where we're coming from in a fairly interesting fashion, if I could.
I farm in Kent and Lambton county. We farm a little over 1,000 acres. I have a brother-in-law and one term employee. It's a family corporation. Twenty years ago, we undertook to start another farming operation in the southern United States. As a result of that, my brother farms three hours south of Memphis, Tennessee, in the Mississippi delta. He farms 4,000 acres of cropland, growing corn and soybeans, rice and cotton. The support he received from his favourite uncle last year, Uncle Sam, amounted to $150 per acre for just a little over 4,000 acres. I don't know how your math is, folks, but I think you can figure out that's a significant amount of income that he derived from the US government. That is the competition Ontario farmers are faced with. We can get up as early as anyone else in business, we can work as hard, we can work as smart, but we cannot compete with the coffers of other governments.
Mr Doidge: The kit you have in front of you attempts to demonstrate what's been happening in the last four years, particularly in the United States, concerning direct income support from the government and emergency assistance. We'll get into the pages as we go through.
The coloured bars: The green portion is the amount of income that a farmer would receive from farming-so that's from the market-the red is from direct government payments, and the tan or yellow is emergency assistance that was introduced in 1999. The reason we concentrate on the US is because it's an open border. Grains and oilseeds, in particular corn, flow freely back and forth. In fact, probably one of every five trucks delivering corn to the ethanol plant in Chatham is from Michigan. So we compete directly with these folks and, if they have additional revenues in particular from the government to sustain their operations, that makes it especially hard to do the same thing on this side of the border without government assistance.
You can see that ever since 1996 the amount of money received from the marketplace farm income has been declining. As it has declined, the US government has been increasing direct payments to producers and in fact in 1999 added additional payments. If your eyes are sharp, you'll see that the column in 1999, the portion represented by farm income, is actually less than half of total farm income. Total farm income in the United States in 1999 is going to set a new record despite commodity prices that are as low as they've ever been in history, lower than in the Depression. In fact, direct farm income support in the United States is a record $8.5 billion.
If you flip the page, you'll see the impact on us. This is a comparison for a 500-acre corn, soybean and wheat farm in Ontario operating under existing income support programs in Ontario, that being market revenue and NISA, and in 1999 the new Ontario whole farm relief program.
You can see that in 1996, farms under Ontario programs received slightly less than C$20 per acre in income assistance. Under US programs, and that's the solid line, this would be the 1996 freedom-to-farm legislation, commonly known as the US Farm Bill, and the adjustments made in the year 2000 for ag appropriations. In 1996, support under both income support regimes was roughly equivalent. By 1998 it was dramatically out of line, and in 1999 that same farm operating under US programs would have received C$110 per acre, and in Ontario it received C$41 per acre. The discrepancy is almost three times.
You might ask, "If the programs were equivalent back in 1996, why isn't the Ontario program acceptable now?" I think you have to step back and realize that all things are relative. Because those trucks come into Chatham, delivering corn to the ethanol plant every day, that's the competition. You're up against that every day. If the income support that one truck from Michigan receives is three times the amount that it is in Ontario, that's an unacceptable situation. In fact, what was acceptable in 1996, because they were roughly equivalent, is no longer acceptable, and Ontario farmers are falling dramatically behind very quickly.
The last two tables are simply some of the details, which I won't go into, of the farms. We also compared an actual large-acreage farm that's a real farm of 2,996 acres and a small-acreage farm that's a real 464-acre farm. We compared them on both sides of the border, as well as a benchmark or average farm, from a data set that we've maintained since 1992. We can get to income support questions at the end of the presentation, if you have any.
Mr Jack: We'd welcome any questions or comments or the opportunity to discuss any of this with you as we go on.
The Ontario market revenue insurance program created 10 years ago as part of the national gross revenue insurance program has served Ontario grain and oilseed producers well, including those who feed their own grain to livestock.
Market revenue insurance is the most important farm income safety net program for most Ontario grain and oilseed producers. The decision of the Ontario government to maintain market revenue insurance a few years ago, despite short-sighted decisions by prairie governments to end their GRIP programs, with the approval of the government of Canada, is probably the dominant reason why Ontario grain and oilseed farmers have not, to date, joined their western counterparts in public demonstrations about current low prices, though this could change in coming months.
A top priority is the maintenance of this program at least until the millennium round of trade negotiations establishes more stringent rules on the US and EU subsidy programs, or until current US production-and-price-distorting grain and oilseed income supporting programs end. Neither is expected to occur soon. Though we appreciate the recent federal decision to extend its support of market revenue insurance through 2000-01, this is insufficient. A longer-term commitment is needed.
In addition, there is need to enhance the support provided through market revenue insurance in order to reduce the gap between support levels provided for Ontario grain and oilseed farmers and those with whom we must compete in adjacent states.
Mechanisms for enhancing the support provided by market revenue insurance and levelling the playing field include eliminating the one-third "premium" deduction from payouts, increasing the support level from the present 85% level to 90% of historic average prices and farm yields, or both.
It is critical to ensure that the market revenue fund receives sufficient money to meet expected payout needs. Annual government contributions need to be increased above recent levels, which are typically less than 20% of amounts provided for MRI support during the early 1990s.
Crop insurance is the second most important program for Ontario grain and oilseed producers after market revenue insurance. We're pleased that corn crop insurance coverage was more than one million acres in 1999 for the first time in history, thanks to better programs and good marketing, but the participation level is still insufficient. The goal should be at least 75% of acreage enrolled versus about 50% as at present.
One major problem with crop insurance for full-time commercial field crop producers is that lack of recognition given to those who farm larger acreages. Premium discounts are needed to reflect the reduced risk associated with the inherent self-insurance which exists when crop acreage is spread over larger distances. In addition, the pilot optional unit coverage program introduced in 1999 needs to be continued in 2000, with a view to making the program permanent in 2001.
This is an issue of fairness and equity and also of recognizing the need to provide adequate economic stability in rural Ontario communities. Memories will long persist of the economic calamity which occurred because of a widespread weather-related crop disaster in 1992. I think Mr Hoy may have been a member of the Crop Insurance Commission back at that time. If so, I imagine he has some very vivid memories of the problems that were occurring at that time.
NISA is an excellent program designed to address normal year-to-year variations in farm income. It should be maintained as presently structured, including the enhancements which exist to address particular Ontario needs, perhaps with some attention given to means to further facilitate payouts during times of financial need. NISA, however, was not designed to address unique situations where need levels can be large and acute. This is why crop insurance exists. Ontario's market revenue insurance program, part of the national GRIP program, was created at the same time as NISA and as a complement to NISA and crop insurance to address the special needs of Canadian grain and oilseed farmers weathering the economic effects of high-subsidy programs for grain and oilseed producers in the United States and Western Europe. This is why market revenue insurance is still needed.
There is a need for a provincial or national disaster relief program to address highly unusual circumstances. However, disaster relief should not be used as a substitute for adequate statutory programs designed to address foreseeable needs and hazards. Perhaps too much attention has been paid over the past 16 months to disaster assistance program design. Too little has been paid to the need for and design of sustainable programs designed to minimize the need for disaster assistance. Disaster relief should not be the focal point of future safety net program design.
Corn producers deal with a large number of other issues. If you're interested in any of the pertinent information, I can assure you that we'd be glad to send you a copy of the magazine, or you can access that information at our Web site. The address is on the printed page.
The board of directors of the Ontario Corn Producers' Association expresses appreciation for this opportunity to address issues of importance to you, and we thank you very much. We welcome and will try to respond to any questions raised from our presentation. I understand there were some other discussions and comments this morning about ethanol and other issues dealing with corn.
The Chair: Thank you very much for your presentation. We have four minutes per caucus.
Mr Christopherson: Thank you for your presentation. Just so I understand the structure, are you part of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture? Is that an umbrella group that you're a part of, or are you a stand-alone umbrella group?
Mr Jack: We have membership in the Ontario Federation of Agriculture as one of the commodity groups that are involved with OFA. We tend to believe that the most widely respected voice for agriculture might at this time come from the Ontario Agricultural Commodity Council, which is a group formed of the chairs of all the different commodity groups in the province.
Mr Christopherson: That's separate and apart from the OFA?
Mr Jack: That's correct.
Mr Christopherson: They made an excellent presentation. It was well received.
I wanted to ask you to flesh out for me the whole issue on page 4 about the trade talks, the millennium round of trade negotiations. I don't know nearly as much about this as I'd like to and probably should. The talks are, again, under the umbrella of WTO, and these are stand-alone discussions that happen regarding agriculture? I see one of you shaking your head no.
Mr Doidge: No. Agriculture is one of the tables under the umbrella of the World Trade Organization. There are multiple tables, including intellectual rights, culture, all that kind of thing.
Mr Christopherson: In the last couple of years there was a flurry of information in the papers about which governments were interested in lowering barriers and which ones weren't. As I understand it-again, please help me get through this-the US were the ones that didn't want to talk about lowering any kind of barriers because of the fact that they provided so much subsidy to their growers. Is that correct?
Mr Doidge: I would say there are two culprits at that table. One is the European Union and the other is the United States.
The European Union has a very sheltered agricultural regime, very high tariff barriers, very high price of food within the European Union. The European Union has food costs that are roughly 30% of individual income. In the United States and in Canada it's around 11%. So food prices are very high in Europe. They have a high value-added tax coming in, so any imports are highly taxed and used to subsidize not only production but also the dumping of surplus product onto world markets. A particular concern to us is the dumping of beef or butter or, in our case, grains and oilseeds, which dramatically depresses world grain prices and causes the kind of terrible fall in net farm income that you see.
Mr Christopherson: We saw the problem with dumping with the Russian steel, where they were doing serious dumping and it was hurting our end from Hamilton. So I'll be aware of that, and then the high tariffs, similar to what the Japanese have done for decades with regard to their auto industry, where it's easy for them to export things out, very difficult for anybody else to import in.
Do you see any of that changing in terms of seeds and grain over the next while, during these rounds? I notice that you said, or at least you gave the impression, that you think there might be or you look forward to them. Do you think things are going to change there? Have the Americans shifted? Have the politics around it shifted? Because that's really where it's at.
Mr Doidge: No.
Mr Jack: It's an election year in the US.
Mr Christopherson: Yes, exactly.
Mr Doidge: And the fact that the Seattle round broke up early, it in fact could not achieve agreement on agriculture. Agriculture is what blew it apart. The European Union is not willing to increase import access, reduce tariffs, reduce subsidies and, in particular, support for their farmers for things not directly related to agriculture, which they were referring to as multi-functionality supports. In other words, they would support small picturesque farms on a mountainside in Norway or Switzerland because they increased tourism. Income support, for example, in Switzerland or in Norway is over US$33,000 per farm compared to, in Canada as a whole, less than US$7,000. The United States, by the way, is US$19,000, and Europe as a whole is US$19,000. So Canada is not a culprit when it comes to subsidization.
Under the WTO round, the previous round that concluded, we were all supposed to meet caps and reduce income support spending and subsidies to a certain level in part of the agreement. The United States, because of this additional spending in 1999, exceeded their cap. Their cap was $19.5 billion; it's now at $22.5 billion. Rest assured Canada is not in danger of exceeding our target.
Mr Johnson: I had a couple of things. First, I wanted to correct the statement about the cutbacks. The last figure I saw for the Ministry of Agriculture in the provincial budget was that it has been increasing and indeed was higher this past year than the year before, and it was higher that year than it was before that.
I understand about the subsidies in Europe; I understand that half their budget is agricultural subsidies. But what I want to know is, when that truckload of corn drives into the ethanol plant in Ontario, why are they not being charged with dumping if the United States subsidies are that much higher? In any other product, they would be charged with dumping, or they could be. Why aren't we doing that?
Mr Doidge: I think it's a political question. There was a countervailing duty imposed on imports of US corn at the behest of the Ontario Corn Producers as one of the litigants from about 1986 through 1991. That imposed a tariff, because of similar subsidy programs in the United States on imports of corn, of about 45 cents a bushel at that time. It was allowed to lapse, and it takes a lot of money to fight that and reimpose the thing. Under existing NAFTA agreements and WTO commitments too, it would be highly improbable that we would be able to get a countervailing duty re-imposed.
Mr Johnson: It seems to me the Americans are doing it with bananas from Nicaragua and Central America. Why are we allowing them to, if you like, run over us that way? What I'm saying is that as a Canadian I don't see myself subsidizing our farmers to the extent that they are in the United States so that we can play that game of catch-up to the Europeans who are spending half their budget on it. It seems to me that yes, you're at a disadvantage as corn producers, but there has to be a better way than just subsidizing it more.
Mr Doidge: I suggest to you, Mr Johnson, that if you don't support Canadian agriculture, and Ontario agriculture in particular, you won't have to worry about it; it won't be around.
Mr Johnson: I understand that, but my point is that we cannot afford to just keep playing that game. It seems to me there has to be another game or different rules put into it.
Mr Doidge: I agree. The trouble is, though, you're at a poker table with the players from the European Union and the United States, and what's happened is they've upped the ante, and we either play the game or we fold our hands and close shop.
Mr Jack: One of the lessons that I learned as a young lad going to school was never pick on the biggest, meanest guy in the class. The Americans and the Europeans are formidable opponents, and I don't think we're going to beat them at their own game.
You've got to understand that the programs that the US have instituted are GATT-green and trade-neutral and were developed in the US in their blue box. I say that with tongue-in-cheek, because I think we could probably prove differently, but they developed a program specifically to put the hurt on the competition, if I can put it in those plain terms. And it's working remarkably well right now. I would suggest that a number of my colleagues in agriculture aren't doing that well, including myself.
We can fight the battle with Mother Nature-sometimes we win and sometimes we lose. I can win or lose that battle depending on how I play my cards, but I can't beat what the US does. I know I may be dressed up nicely and here making a presentation to you, but may I assure you that I understand how the ethanol plant works, and if you want to get your truck with corn unloaded, the best time of the day to be there is at 5:30 in the morning, and I've been there a number of times so I am a hands-on farmer. This is part of what we do.
I understand the point you're making, and it is a valid argument. I guess one of the things we're supposed to do when we identify a problem is propose a solution. That's a very difficult thing to do, and we really don't have a total solution other than maintaining the support programs we have and enhancing them until they tire of the game they're playing. Eventually they will. The US public, I don't believe, can be willing to spend these dollars forever, but bear in mind that it is an election year in the US, and I wouldn't see that the US support will wane this year.
The program that they developed in the US was supposed to ratchet down over a period of seven years. In fact, last year the support they received was two-years-in-one support; the year before it was a year-and-a-half. That's the game they're playing. They keep moving ahead. Someday it's got to end, but when is the question.
The Chair: Thank you very much. The official opposition.
Mr Hoy: Thank you for your presentation, and I hope we can have a continued dialogue about this over time, although we won't have enough minutes today to discuss it. I do support you, and I hope the government will quickly, on the issues here, certainly around the safety nets which need implementation immediately, and ongoing issues such as disaster relief and seeing that that program, if producers want it, is looking less ad hoc than it is now. There tend to be inequities when ad hoc programs come in and they need refining from time to time.
You opened up, other than the facts about the OCPA, with a reference to the extension offices. I've had a lot of comment about ag office closures. I hope that the OCPA will put some pressure on the government to maintain those offices on behalf of producers.
It was interesting. I asked to look back at a report that was put together in a final report by Terry Daynard who works for your organization, and Frank Ingratta who is the deputy minister, and in their report they stated, "We recommend that the OMFRA retain at least the same number of field offices as at present."
So there seems to be either a lack of influence or a change of mind with the deputy minister, at least on that report which suggested that we maintain those. I hope you would speak to the deputy and the minister about it, and if need be, the Premier, because I'm not sure if the deputy had this view as to who was making the decisions within OMAFRA and who was discarding his wisdom.
Biotechnology is becoming a better-known technology among the community at large. There has been a lot of talk about biotechnology. Would you agree with me that all governments, and since I work within the provincial government sphere of things, that the provincial government could do more to accentuate the positives of genetically modified organisms or whatever other terms people have used? Do you think there is a role for them to come forward and say that these are positive technologies? It seems to me that people don't criticize biotechnology when it's a health issue, ingested into one's body either through the bloodstream or taken in pill form or whatever, but when we have biotechnology in our food chain, people seem to get quite nervous. My question is, do you think the provincial government should step forward and promote more aggressively the biotechnological advantages that exist?
Mr Jack: It might be helpful. The executives of the Ontario Corn Producers' Association have obviously talked to other elected officials. We had a meeting not too long ago with Ernie Hardeman and the deputies. That issue came up, and we dealt with it at some length. Any support that we have would be useful in the long term.
The whole issue of biotechnology has become an emotional issue. It's not an issue that deals with science or facts. My assessment of how biotechnology works is that it is another tool in the toolbox of agriculture and industry for the long term. The problems that we hear expressed and the concerns about biotechnology really stem from a regulatory process in Great Britain that failed the consuming public there and a bureaucracy that let them down. Then we get into the Greenpeaces, Sierra Club of Canada, clubs of the world that are taking issue with biotechnology. If you'll pardon me, it's the latest yuppie, trendy, causey thing. It's the battle of the day. If there isn't a crisis for us to rally around, someone seems to generate a crisis.
We are very involved in supporting biotech as that other tool. I don't wish to sound cynical but the whole discussion about biotechnology now, while it is an emotional issue that deals with all these areas of interest, has got to the point where we're concerned about who can increase market share and profitability. Do you suppose McCain's opposed the use of BT potatoes because it was a serious health issue? We deep-fry all those potatoes in oil. I'm sure that's more of a health issue than the BT potatoes. Or is it perhaps because McCain's has one major competitor in that industry, and they are owned by another family, called Irving. I think they're in a fairly life-and-death battle for market share and profitability.
It seems to me that the consuming public is led down the path and led to believe what they will believe, but a lot of the things that are stated are not really based on science but, rather, on emotion. So yes, any clear, reasonable arguments would be useful in the future.
I'm sorry for the long-winded roundabout, but I just love to preach that little sermon.
The Chair: On behalf of the committee, thank you very much for your presentation this afternoon. We've run out of time. All good things must come to an end.
I have a couple of short announcements. The bus leaves at 4:45. Supper will be served on board. It may not be a gourmet meal tonight, but it will be served.
The committee reconvenes tomorrow morning at 8:45 in Niagara Falls.
The committee adjourned at 1625.