Consideration of Bill 26, An Act to achieve Fiscal Savings and to promote Economic Prosperity through Public Sector Restructuring, Streamlining and Efficiency and to implement other aspects of the Government's Economic Agenda / Projet de loi 26, Loi visant à réaliser des économies budgétaires et à favoriser la prospérité économique par la restructuration, la rationalisation et l'efficience du secteur public et visant à mettre en oeuvre d'autres aspects du programme économique du gouvernement.
The Chair: We'll begin this morning with some comments from ministers. They have an hour with, of course, questions; then we will proceed to responses by the official opposition and by the third party. We have Minister Leach, Minister Johnson and Minister Hodgson with us this morning. Gentlemen, you may begin.
Hon David Johnson (Chair of the Management Board of Cabinet): Start your engines? Mr Chair, I apologize. I have notes in front of me and there are copies coming. I don't think you have the copies at this instant, though. In the interest of time, do you wish me to begin or do you want to wait for a minute or two until the copies arrive?
I'm going to be making some opening comments with regard to Bill 26, the Savings and Restructuring Act, which will implement measures to renew Ontario, restore prosperity and create jobs. Many of the measures have already been outlined by the Minister of Finance in the fiscal and economic statement last month.
Our first priority must be to get Ontario out from under the burden of rising interest costs. As we all know, the debt stands at almost $100 billion, and this fiscal year Ontario will pay nearly $9 billion in interest costs. That is more than double what it was only five years ago. Ontario spends approximately $1 million an hour more than it brings in.
In 1980, seven cents of every tax dollar went to pay for interest on the debt. Today, taxpayers pay almost 20 cents of every tax dollar just to service that debt. Without remedial action, the Ministry of Finance warns that this will rise to almost 40 cents of every dollar by the end of the century.
Why are we doing this in one large bill? First, it is traditional for Finance ministers to wrap all fiscal statements or budget initiatives into a single bill. Second, as the name suggests, all components of the Savings and Restructuring Act share a common theme of helping the public sector deal with and achieve savings through restructuring and other new approaches.
It provides new mechanisms to facilitate hospital restructuring, to manage physician supply and distribution, and to reform the Ontario drug benefit program to make it more in line with similar programs elsewhere.
This bill will provide the flexibility to help the government and transfer partners restructure and streamline to provide better services for less. It will also implement measures to reduce regulations that obstruct investment and job creation, and to deal with public sector compensation.
The Ontario municipal support grants will allow existing grants to municipalities to be consolidated into block grants. These will give municipalities more flexibility to decide on their own priorities as they reduce costs.
Amendments to the Municipal Act and related legislation provide the tools for municipalities to restructure and eliminate duplication by allowing them to move services from one level of municipal government to another, and to share equipment among smaller municipalities. These measures will also allow municipalities to offer more services on a cost recovery basis.
The Interest Arbitration Amendment Act amends the Police Services Act, Fire Departments Act, Public Service Act, School Boards and Teachers Collective Negotiations Act and Hospital Labour Disputes Arbitration Act to allow arbitrators in those sectors to consider an employer's ability to pay as a criterion in deciding arbitration awards. These amendments will return economic sense to the arbitration process once the social contract expires and reduced transfer payments take effect.
As part of the flexibility needed in the health care sector, the Independent Health Facilities Amendment Act will allow new types of high-quality and accessible health care facilities to be licensed under the act. This will also allow services now being provided under the act to be eliminated.
The Health Insurance and Health Care Accessibility Amendment Act is designed to improve access to medical services by ensuring that physicians are practising where they are needed. They will provide the authority to limit physicians' eligibility to receive fee-for-service payments depending on where in Ontario they practise and whether they are affiliated with hospitals. This will also ensure the government has the ability to recover overpayments.
Amendments to the Ontario Drug Benefit Act and Prescription Drug Cost Regulation Act will protect the Ontario drug benefit program for the future. As every other province already does, Ontario will implement cost-sharing for Ontario drug benefit recipients. We will also reduce the Trillium drug program's deductible, which will allow more than 140,000 low-income people to receive coverage. The amendments will also restrict Ontario drug benefit billing access to pharmacists and dispensing physicians suspected of or charged with fraudulent billing.
Amendments to the Public Lands Act, the Forest Fires Prevention Act and the Lakes and Rivers Improvement Act will remove the requirement for mandatory permits for such activities as open burning, dams, access roads, docks and boathouses. This will be replaced by regulation-making powers for permits for certain activities, reducing the province's costs of issuing permits and saving about $3 million over two years.
Amendments to the Mining Act will require mining companies to self-regulate the closing of mines, replacing procedures that are onerous for mining companies and staff-intensive for the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines. Shifting responsibility to the mining companies will allow the government to reduce staff and save money. Mining companies will have more capital for investment.
Parts of this omnibus bill will deal with aspects of public sector compensation. The Pay Equity Amendment Act, 1995, will put pay equity for public sector employers more in line with those in the private sector and return pay equity to its original principles.
To make the public sector more open and accountable to taxpayers, the Public Sector Salary Disclosure Act, 1995, announced in November, will require organizations that receive public funding to disclose annually the names, positions, salaries and benefits of employees paid $100,000 or more a year.
Amendments to the Pension Benefits Act will exempt the government from the act's provisions which, in the event of the layoff of a substantial number of employees, could require a partial windup of the OPSEU pension plan. This could have cost the government hundreds of millions of dollars. The windup provision is intended to protect plan members whose benefits would be threatened through the significant downsizing of the operations of a plan sponsor. Since there is no threat to the integrity of the government's plan, these costs would have been totally unnecessary.
The tolling legislation authorizes the Ontario Transportation Capital Corp to collect and enforce tolls on tolled highways. This will allow the corporation to collect tolls from users of Highway 407, which is expected to pay for itself.
Amendments to the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act and the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act will discourage nuisance requests by imposing application and appeal fees. The amendments will also save money by streamlining and reducing the costs of complying with the acts.
Amendments to the Conservation Authorities Act will reduce the province's role in Ontario's conservation authorities to flood control and protecting significant lands. It will also make it easier for the conservation authorities to merge and voluntarily dissolve. This initiative will save the province $24 million over two years.
Amendments to the Game and Fish Act will allow all revenues received under the act and certain other revenues to be directed towards resources management and conservation. A fish and wildlife advisory board will be established to advise on using these funds.
This includes amendments to the Corporations Tax Act which were announced in budgets by the previous government and which taxpayers have acted on for two and a half years, assuming they would become law. It also includes amendments to the Income Tax Act, which parallel federal legislation relating to mining reclamation trusts which were proposed by the former government in its 1994 budget.
As the Minister of Finance said on November 29, our government is committed to creating an Ontario of opportunity rather than dependence, where genuine need is met with compassion and support and where government is a partner in change rather than an obstacle. These measures in the Savings and Restructuring Act, 1995, are a big step towards achieving that goal.
Hon Al Leach (Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing): Good morning, ladies and gentlemen, and thank you for this opportunity to open public hearings on the municipal section of Bill 26, the Savings and Restructuring Act.
On November 29, the Minister of Finance announced reductions to provincial transfer payments. These reductions were an important part of this government's strategy for getting the deficit under control -- and for restoring prosperity to Ontario. The people of Ontario elected this government to reduce spending and bring back fiscal responsibility. Bill 26 is proof we are taking action.
The job of this committee is an important one -- listening to what the people of this province have to say. It's not going to be an easy job. You'll be working night and day for the next few weeks, and I'd like to thank you at the outset for being part of these important proceedings.
This government is committed to the democratic process. I want to assure you that this is not a paper exercise. If changes are needed to Bill 26, they will be made. We're anxious to learn what people think of it, to see if there are improvements to be made. We want to make sure we get it right. We want this legislation to work. That's what's important in the end.
We had to make some difficult decisions about reducing provincial subsidies, decisions that had far-reaching implications for the municipal sector. But in making these decisions, we also wanted to provide municipalities with the means to cope. The legislative changes we are making will do this. They will give municipalities the flexibility to carry out business without necessarily resorting to property tax increases.
Taxpayers have made it clear that they want less government, more cost-effective government, more efficient government. On the same day the transfer payment reductions were announced, we introduced Bill 26. Bill 26 provides municipalities with a package of tools to raise revenues and cut costs. These tools will help municipalities be more efficient, more streamlined and more cost-effective. They will also allow municipalities to generate revenue in different ways.
The legislation you will be reviewing in hearings across the province responds to municipalities' desire to manage more of their own costs and expenditures. They want to be able to make choices in what services they provide and they want to be able to deliver services efficiently. Municipalities have been asking for this autonomy for years, asking us to stop treating them like children of the province and to recognize that they can and should make more decisions locally.
Bill 26 gives municipalities the autonomy to make choices -- choices that will suit local needs and offer the best solutions to local problems. This is where the bulk of local decisions should be made -- in the municipalities affected by them, by the people who know local needs and who can respond to local taxpayers.
In recent days you might have heard criticism that we've gone too far, that we've given municipalities too much leeway. I personally don't agree. We've given them what they need to help them adjust to lower funding levels. And on that note, I'd like to speak in some detail about the legislation and tools of Bill 26.
First, let's look at restructuring. The structure of municipalities in Ontario today has an origin which dates back to the 1840s. While some municipalities have reformed in the context of regional governments, the structures of others are badly outdated and inefficient. Some of these municipalities might want to look at restructuring as a means of managing with less money. They can do this in two ways: by streamlining their operations or by realigning jurisdictions.
Bill 26 will make it easier for municipalities to restructure. It will enable local decision-making, it will encourage streamlining, and in terms of boundaries, once the local authorities have made a decision and met the prescribed criteria, the Ministry of Municipal Affairs will have to implement their local decisions.
By prescribed criteria, I mean they will have to be endorsed by a majority of municipalities representing a majority of the electorate in that area. When this happens, there will be no appeal to the province and no long-drawn-out process to bring a bill through the Legislature. As a result of this, provincial legislation won't be needed to change boundaries in counties or in the north.
This is a much more efficient process than we have now. The current process stifles local solutions and, unless there is 100% consent by the affected municipalities, requires a lengthy legislative process to make any local restructuring decisions. That is hardly local decision-making and it's certainly not getting the province out of the municipalities' business.
With Bill 26, whenever a decision-making process stalls locally and a decision can't be reached or whenever it's obvious that restructuring would benefit municipalities refusing to take action, it will be possible to appoint a restructuring commission. This commission will have the power to develop and implement its own restructuring proposal.
In order to ensure that restructuring is locally driven, I intend to introduce an amendment providing that a commission will only be appointed by the province when it's requested, either by at least one of the affected municipalities or by a petition from residents.
Municipalities have asked for this assistance, and I am confident that it will yield positive change. We've already received requests from municipalities that want to restructure. In Rainy River three municipalities with a combined population of 438 have already resolved to look into amalgamation. This is an example of how eager some municipalities are to restructure, and the residents will only benefit by the more efficient service delivery that will result.
I am also pleased to announce that last week I met with regional chairs and representatives of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario. At that time AMO president, Terry Mundell, raised concerns of his members regarding the personal liability of municipal councillors who contravene a minister's regulation during a restructuring. We have consulted with others and we're going to review this section.
Another tool that will help municipalities manage costs is a new funding scheme called the municipal support program. This program will lump funds from the municipal roads grant, the northern community transportation assistance grant and the unconditional grant into one block fund. There will be no conditions attached to this new funding program, giving municipalities more freedom to decide how they want to spend their money.
Without conditions on grants, municipalities can stop sending the province mountains of information on how they now spend their money. Instead, Bill 26 will ask municipalities to be more accountable to the people who really need to know: the residents. It requires that municipalities publish information for ratepayers on the financial performance of their municipality, information that is easily understood, information that the ratepayers can use to compare municipal performance.
The bill also includes a number of new tools to help municipalities streamline their operations. These tools will help them reduce costs and raise new revenue. As I said before, municipalities have been asking for these changes for years. We believe they are long overdue.
At present the Municipal Act outlines the distribution of municipal responsibilities between upper and lower tiers. In order to transfer responsibilities from local municipalities to a county or regional government or to reassign a responsibility from an upper tier to one or more local municipalities, legislation must be changed. This takes a lot of time and it costs a lot of money.
Let me give you an example. York region is considering moving responsibility for fire services up to the regional level. Right now it is being provided individually by each of the region's nine municipalities. York feels that by moving fire services to the region it will be easier to coordinate them with related services such as policing and emergency services. The problem, of course, is that such a move would take an amendment to the regional act under the current legislation. We propose to change that.
Under the bill responsibilities for services such as this can be transferred on agreement from one level of local government to another. It will let municipalities implement a decision they've taken locally rather than having to ask the province to put their local decision in place.
For example, in many areas of the province, townships, counties and the province all share responsibility for road maintenance and snow removal. That's three levels of government looking after roads in the same area. You can imagine the duplication in staff, equipment, repairs and salt domes.
These are not isolated examples. Duplication and inefficiencies also exist in services such as waste management. In Huron county, for example, there are 17 different waste management systems and no county coordination. This simply cannot continue.
Municipalities have also been asking government to relax the rules on establishing public-private partnerships for many years. Under the current legislation, municipalities are able to create partnerships with the private sector for public utilities only after putting the question to a vote.
This of course requires that they wait for the next municipal election or that they go through the expense of putting it on the ballot and holding a referendum. The proposed legislation will eliminate this requirement.
The large number of special-purpose bodies ties the hands of municipalities and prevents them from managing their budgets efficiently. Taxpayers support the budget of special-purpose bodies, but in many cases they have no say in who is appointed to the board and have no say in the decisions they make.
Bill 26 will enable municipalities to dissolve or make changes to most local special-purpose bodies. Furthermore, it would allow them to integrate the functions of these bodies into the municipal structure.
Some examples of special-purpose bodies that could be dissolved or changed by municipalities are licensing commissions, parking authorities or transit commissions. A full list will be identified in the regulations. I should mention that boards of education and police services boards will not be under the control of municipalities.
Licensing is another area where the current legislation is outdated. The current law has no flexibility. There are about 60 businesses and trades included in the act, and for each it spells out exactly what a municipality can license and what it can charge for the fee. This keeps municipalities from responding quickly to new types of businesses that emerge.
The new legislation will let municipalities license most retail businesses or trades and set appropriate fees. Manufacturers and wholesalers will be exempt because their field of activity usually extends far beyond the boundaries of a municipality where they operate.
Second, the fees set in the act are frozen in time. Gasoline stations, for example, can get a licence from a municipality for only $10 a year, and so can food retailers. A bakery licence is fixed at $1 a year.
The current legislation also lets municipalities charge fees only for certain services, such as water and sewer, transit and garbage collection. The municipal sector feels these limitations are too restrictive and has asked for increased authority to charge for the services it provides.
The proposed legislation will remove restrictions and give municipalities general authority to levy user fees and charges for services or activities they provide, or for the use of municipal property.
Just to give you an idea of possible fees and charges, I know some municipalities are considering charging for accident investigations, out-calls for fire departments, responses to false emergency alarms and the rental of municipal rights of way.
I have every reason to believe municipalities will be fair and reasonable in the fees they charge. If they aren't, however, or if fees become unreasonable, the province does have the authority to overrule a municipality's inappropriate action through regulation.
Municipalities' increased authority should also be explained in terms of direct and indirect charges. Because municipalities are created by the province, they can have no powers greater than the province. Accordingly, since the province has no authority to levy indirect taxes, charges or fees, the municipalities are limited to direct charges.
This is made clear in the bill by the phrase "charges `in the nature of a direct tax.'" That phrase does not mean that any direct tax can be charged. All it makes explicit is that any charge that is levied may not be indirect.
This provision is complex. It's written by lawyers in legalese for legal reasons. I am advised that the specific reason is to protect the legislation itself from being challenged should a municipality ever attempt to implement a charge that was like an indirect tax.
It has been said that this wording opens the door to all other types of direct taxes, such as income tax, sales tax and gasoline tax. Indeed, some have looked up the definition of "direct tax" in a prominent law text and said that settled the matter.
The issue is not the definition of "direct tax." I do not dispute what that legal framing means. The issue is what the phrase "charges `in the nature of a direct tax'" means in the context of this bill. That is something that Peter Hogg never wrote about and is something that Peter Russell was never asked about.
As I've said, this is a complicated matter, and it requires the kind of answer that is rather long for question period, for example, or a media scrum, so let me be very clear: The act permits municipalities to levy fees and charges for services. It does not permit municipalities to charge sales taxes. It does not permit them to charge an income tax. It does not permit them to charge a gasoline sales tax.
This section dealing with municipal fees and charges is a totally new approach because it empowers municipalities to respond to their local needs. Under the old legislation, unless a specific fee or charge was listed, it could not be charged. This one-size-fits-all solution created real problems, because the act has to cover every municipality from the city of Toronto to Dysart township in Haliburton.
Now, this general power is very broad. But we are confident that municipal governments will use it responsibly for legitimate charges for services provided. Our government would not support municipalities moving to a flat tax payable for all municipal services, for example.
Fortunately, municipalities don't support this either. As Terry Mundell, president of AMO, said last week, a council that implemented a poll tax would find itself out of work after the next election. I agree.
As you know, Ontarians will not be without remedies if a municipality ever did implement such a tax. Under the bill, the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing has the power to disallow any fee or charge by regulation. So let me be clear: If any municipal government does implement a poll or head tax, this government will pass a regulation against it. But as I've said, I don't think that will be necessary.
I was encouraged to hear that Mayor Mel Lastman plans to seek corporate donors to sponsor such activities as library use, ice skating and swimming in public pools for underprivileged children. He said, "Where people are having a problem and they are down and out, there is no way we are going to charge them." Statements like this convince me that our trust is not misplaced.
Ladies and gentlemen, municipalities understand the seriousness of the province's debt problem. They are ready to work with us to be part of the solution. But they need the tools proposed in Bill 26 to get on with their business and begin managing with less provincial grant money. This is why we remain committed to the passage of the bill by the end of January.
We're asking you to help our municipal partners. We're asking you to conduct your hearings in a very tight time frame. I want to thank you again for your commitment to this process. I'm confident that you will be thorough in your work and I look forward to your work in January.
Hon Chris Hodgson (Minister of Natural Resources, Northern Development and Mines): Thank you very much, Mr Chair. I'm pleased to have the opportunity to speak to sections of Bill 26. I'm joined in the gallery, so to speak, by the Deputy Minister of Natural Resources, Ron Vrancart, and the assistant deputy minister from the mines and minerals division, John Gammon.
I'd like to reiterate that major change is required from all levels of government. We must refocus government's role in society, decide what the priorities are and do them well. This government has had to make tough decisions in light of the fiscal reality that we've inherited.
Bill 26 has four specific sections that deal with the ministries that I have the honour of being minister for: Northern Development and Mines, and Natural Resources. In the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines, one section of Bill 26 involves changes to the Mining Act. In the Ministry of Natural Resources, we have made changes to the Conservation Authorities Act, to three acts dealing with regulatory permitting and to the Game and Fish Act. I would like to speak about these changes in some detail.
Under the MNR, we have introduced changes to the Conservation Authorities Act. Provincial funding to conservation authorities has been reduced. It presently is $34 million annually, next fiscal year it will be $17 million and from then on it will be $10 million. This measure reflects the widespread consultation conducted primarily by my parliamentary assistant, Frank Klees.
The Ministry of Natural Resources will focus on two programs deemed to be in the provincial interest. One is flood control structures, which 50 years ago conservation authorities were established to deliver. This program costs approximately $8 million annually and will be matched with a levy formula with municipalities.
The other program is the maintenance of provincially significant conservation land. The province will continue to fund $2 million each years. Programs deemed to be of local interest will be funded locally.
I want to be clear that this change is not downloading. Downloading is when the province mandates a program but does not attach funding to provide for it to be delivered. This change represents downsizing.
Conservation authorities will no longer have to seek provincial approval for land dispositions where there is no provincial grant involved. There is also an amendment to allow for amalgamations or dissolutions of conservation authorities based on the formulas that they were incorporated under.
The second issue that I would like to address is the proposed changes to the crown land permits. The affect legislation includes the Public Lands Act, the Forest Fires Prevention Act and the Lakes and Rivers Improvement Act.
Currently, the Ministry of Natural Resources issues approximately 55,000 permits annually. The proposed changes will allow for regulations to be developed avoiding unnecessary permitting that takes place across the province. This will allow two things: (1) It will save the government approximately $3 million per year; and (2) it will allow for a reduction in red tape.
We believe it is achievable to get the number of permits issued down to 7,000 to 8,000 annually. Over the next few months, we will be studying how we can meet strict environmental and sustainability standards without issuing permits for every action.
The third issue under the MNR I would like to address is the fulfilment of another campaign promise. Under the proposed amendments to the Game and Fish Act, hunting and fishing licence revenues, fines and royalties will be retained in a special account and dedicated to conservation of those resources. This fund will be accountable to the people of Ontario through the Minister of Natural Resources tabling the annual report in the Legislature.
The Premier announced this commitment in January 1995, in A Voice for the North. Hunters and anglers have been asking for this measure since the Liberal government introduced resident fishing licences in 1987. This is essential for the sustained management of our natural resources over the long term. Over the next few months, I will be consulting with MPPs, stakeholders and the public on how best to administer this fund.
The next portion of Bill 26 concerns the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines and the proposed changes to the Mining Act. These amendments are the result of our consultation with northern communities and the miners and prospectors who work there.
The measures outlined in this change are consistent with the government's commitment to cut down administrative costs of doing business in Ontario. This amendment will save the taxpayers approximately $1.3 million per year, but more importantly, these amendments will accomplish several goals.
The first goal is that we will replace the present closure plan review process with a self-regulatory system. Companies will be required to prepare closure plans in accordance with strict provincial standards and certified by a professional engineer and designated financial officer from the company.
Fifth, we will address the public health and safety concerns associated with abandoned mines and existing mine hazards. The changes will allow the province to respond more quickly to mine emergencies. Amendments will also allow immediate access to privately held lands to respond to emergencies.
Sixth, we will clarify the post-decommissioning environmental liability. Currently, there is no provision for a mining company to be discharged from future obligations after a mine site is decommissioned.
In summation, I think the message is clear. Your government is doing what it said it would do: There are clear distinctions between provincial and local priorities; we are cutting red tape and reducing the regulatory burden on taxpayers and companies that are trying to build a better province; we are fulfilling the Premier's commitment to a dedicated fish and wildlife revenue fund; and the amendments to the Mining Act will reduce the cost of doing business in Ontario while maintaining strict environmental standards.
Thank you for your attention this morning. I look forward to hearing the results of your committee, including possible improvements to the portions dealing with the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines components of Bill 26.
Hon Mr Johnson: I have a few very brief comments with regard to Management Board items pertaining to the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act and the partial windup of the pension plan.
I'll cut it short. I think you all have a copy of this brief. Looking at the first page, flipping to the second paragraph, I would like to focus on those components which are the responsibility of the Management Board Secretariat: amendments to the Ontario Public Service Employees' Union Pension Act and the Public Service Pension Act, and amendments to the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act and the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.
It is critical for the government to focus its spending on the services that the public values the most. The amendments proposed to the OPSEU Pension Act and the Public Service Pension Act will save the government substantial costs that could have been generated by a partial windup order to the OPSEU pension plan and the public service pension plan. Let me stress that the proposed amendments in no way alter the government's responsibility to honour its pension obligations.
At the same time, however, they do avoid a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars by ensuring that these pension plans are not subject to the windup rules in the Pension Benefits Act. The partial windup rules prevent an employer that is going out of business from terminating its pension plan in stages and not fulfilling funding commitments to its pension plan. Clearly, this is not a scenario that is likely within the provincial government.
At a time when we are bringing our financial house in order, it would be inappropriate not to look at all ways of reducing costs, including those that could be incurred at a future date. The government's pension plans already have large unfunded liabilities that the government has committed to pay off over a 40-year period. The additional financial burden imposed by a partial plan windup would create more unfunded liabilities in the plans. We just cannot afford those kinds of costs any more.
Similarly, we are seeking amendments to the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act and the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. The proposed action would make it possible to implement certain recommendations of the standing committee on the Legislative Assembly and requests by municipalities.
The current freedom of information and privacy legislation does not allow an institution to charge an application fee or an appeal fee and limits what fees can be charged to the requester. Once passed, the amendment will make it possible for provincial and municipal governments to reduce costs and increase efficiency by expanding the ability of ministries and local government to charge additional fees for freedom of information requests. Why should the taxpayers of this province bear a greater amount of the costs than the people and organizations who make the requests?
The proposed amendments will create a regulation-making authority to set an application fee for freedom of information requests and a fee for appeals to the Information and Privacy Commissioner. The amendments also expand the government's ability to pass regulations regarding the charging of other fees and to differentiate fees on the basis of categories of person; for example, smaller or no fees for access by individuals to their personal information.
We will give organizations covered by the acts more flexibility by permitting them to refuse to reply to frivolous or vexatious requests on the day they get the request. This amendment is in keeping with the recommendations of the standing committee on the Legislative Assembly's review of the freedom of information and privacy legislation. This right will be subject to an appeal to the Information and Privacy Commission, who will be able to make a binding decision on whether the request is in fact frivolous.
The Chair: Thank you, ministers. The normal format for the hearings will be a half-hour from a presenter; if there's a 15-minute presentation, the remaining 15 minutes would be divided five minutes per party; each party would be allowed to ask questions or respond for five minutes and they would divide that among their own caucus as they see fit.
In this portion of our program, we've agreed to have an hour's worth of comments from the ministers and then proceed to a half-hour of response and questioning from, first, the official opposition, followed by a half-hour of response and questioning from members of the third party. I'd like to begin that now, and I would like to ask all members, throughout these committee hearings, to cooperate with a sense of decorum appropriate for these meetings.
Mr Phillips: I'd like to raise some questions with the Minister of Municipal Affairs. I'd just say at the outset that as to your comment about fees and getting service clubs to raise them -- this isn't a question, just a comment -- personally, the idea of young people wanting to use libraries and having to get service clubs to sponsor them I find objectionable. If you call that scare tactics --
On questions now, here's how I interpret your intent on the fees and charges thing. I gather you intend to give the municipalities virtually unlimited flexibility to essentially override any existing legislation on fees; you intend to give them very significant discretionary power on fees; I gather you anticipate literally hundreds of millions of dollars of new fees; and I gather that the intent of this legislation is that municipalities can do it with a bylaw; you're taking out any appeal to the OMB for residents who may feel these charges are unfair; and that you expect these fees to begin very quickly. Have I got the intent of what you're trying to do here?
Hon Mr Leach: What we're doing is giving the municipalities the autonomy to do that. The city of Toronto, for example, has indicated that it doesn't intend to impose any fees. It'll be their decision.
Mr Phillips: I gather that you've acknowledged that it is possible, under this wording, to impose a head tax. Even though you say a municipality won't do it, it is possible to impose a head tax under this wording.
Hon Mr Leach: We asked legislative counsel what we could put in to ensure that didn't happen. There are things that exist now that someone could stretch and say it's a poll tax. An individual entry fee into a recreational facility: Somebody could stretch the definition of poll tax and say that's a poll tax. My advice is that that's why the legislation is worded in the way it is. It's legalese, but I'm advised that's the type of wording that has to be there to protect the legislation.
I think every municipality will have this page before them and say, "Where can we find some new sources of revenue?" It says, "For services or activities provided or done on behalf of." Every municipality maintains its roads: plows the roads, refinishes the roads, does the curbs and gutters. That's a service provided and done on behalf of the people using the roads. Can you tell me where in this document it would prohibit putting a tax on cars in the municipality, per car, or even putting an extra sales tax on gasoline?
Hon Mr Leach: The legislation doesn't give the municipalities the tools to do that. The legislation doesn't allow a municipality, for example, to say, "I am going to charge a penny gas tax and you, gasoline retailer, must collect that for me." It doesn't have the authority to do that.
Mr Phillips: So we shouldn't anticipate any amendments, and you're convinced this would not permit a municipality to say, "Because our roads are expensive, we're going to put a $50-a-year tax on cars in the municipalities in our area."
Mr Phillips: You have a written legal opinion on that? That would be helpful for the committee. You'd be prepared to share that with the committee and table it with the committee? We'd appreciate that.
Hon Mr Leach: I could see, for example, if a municipality in cottage country had a small road that wasn't normally open during the wintertime and the cottagers wanted to open it, that they would charge a fee to plow that road in the winter as a special fee. That's the type of thing that I would see.
Hon Mr Leach: As much as they can, knowing that they'll act responsibly and also knowing that if they don't act responsibly, there are methods within the legislation to limit their ability, if need be.
Mr Phillips: Okay. I just want to go on to another section as well. I gather that in the courage of your convictions you put in this section, and this is on page 136, subsection (13), the contravention. I want to understand this section. It's that if a municipality that's being taken over by another municipality were to, for example, maybe take the salaries of the police organization or the fire organization up prior to being amalgamated, every member of the council who voted in favour of that would be personally liable for the increase in those salaries.
I think you started off here saying you had a lot of confidence in municipal government. You had faith that they would make the right decision, and I tend to agree. I tend to think that municipalities do tend to make the right decision. This is quite a threatening paragraph. It essentially says to municipalities -- and many of them will be taken over without their agreement; they'll just be taken over. But any of those municipalities being taken over, you're saying to those council members: "You are going to be personally liable if, for example, you take the salaries of someone up prior to amalgamation. If you give the fire department a salary increase, you are going to be personally liable. The municipality that takes you over could sue you or any taxpayer could sue you." That's a huge threat, I find. Why would you have put that in there?
Hon Mr Leach: Again, with salaries, if they walked in and tripled the salaries of everybody in their township, then I think you would want the wherewithal to make sure that they don't do that. I think, though, if you recall, I said in my opening remarks that we're prepared to consider changing this.
Hon Mr Leach: No, I don't think it's a bad idea. I think you should ensure that municipalities are aware that they can't go out and dispose of all of their assets for $1, for example, just because they're being amalgamated, and if they do take irrational actions, improper actions, they should be held responsible for those actions.
Mr Phillips: I will in a few minutes, but I just assure you that throughout the bill -- and in your briefing notes you've said that it is your intention to exempt cabinet ministers from lawsuits in a whole bunch of areas. Why would you go one way there, and then in the municipalities tell them they're going to be personally liable?
Hon Mr Leach: We're going to talk about it. That's what I hope the deliberations of this fine committee will achieve. If there is need to change or amend sections in this act that the committee deem appropriate, then they should. That's what you're here for.
Mr Phillips: No, but actually I've never seen a piece of legislation like this trying to be rammed through in three weeks. I've never seen it; and I've never seen the public being told, "You have about one week to let your views be known." I've never seen that.
Mr Phillips: That's true, but that does not give you the right to step and tramp on people's rights, and I would say that as far as I'm concerned, you're stepping on people's rights in this bill without allowing them due process.
But I want to pursue the way you're planning to amalgamate municipalities. Let's just take -- and I may not have the right municipalities here, but Windsor decides it wants to amalgamate La Salle. Mr Cooke can help me out here.
Mr Phillips: Anyway, I gather from what you're saying that if Windsor wants to amalgamate La Salle, even though La Salle is 100% against it, as long as there's a majority of the ratepayers voting in favour of it in Windsor -- is that how the process works, that even if the people in La Salle do not want to be amalgamated, the surrounding municipalities can amalgamate them, and there's no appeal?
Mr Doug Barnes: La Salle could be against it. If the city and all of the rest of the county are in favour, then you'd have a case, but the provision would work. You have to have a majority of the municipalities involved, and in Essex county there's more than just La Salle.
Mr Phillips: Just so I'm clear on this, La Salle then gets amalgamated. It's 100% against it, but it gets amalgamated. There's no appeal, I gather. They cannot appeal to anyone, and if any of the council members decide, for example -- I don't know if they've got a reserve fund to build a sewage treatment plant. If they were to build a sewage treatment plant, they could be held personally liable for that decision. Is that the kind of local municipal control you're thinking of here?
Hon Mr Leach: If everyone also is in favour of it, then the decision would be implemented. I mean, they do have a voice. They can take part in all of the discussions, all of the debate. They're on county council, so they have a forum to produce their views.
Hon Mr Leach: If the majority of the municipalities and the majority of the electorate in that area feel that's an appropriate decision, we think that's a decision that should be made locally and they should work that out among themselves.
Mr Gerretsen: I just want to follow up on that, and it's unfortunate that we don't have here your written material like we had with the other two ministers, because I'm very interested in what you say.
First of all, I think the fact that you said right at the outset that you believe in this public process, that it will allow a lot of groups to appear in front of us -- that's quite a bit different from the attitude the government originally took that it had to be passed by December 14. We're now on the 18th. It wouldn't have had any public input at all.
Just to follow up on that last question though, I understood you to say that if no consensus is found, then in effect, as long as it's requested by one municipality, you can set up a commission. Is that correct or not?
Hon Mr Leach: First of all, we determine what the terms of reference would be for the commission and those terms of reference can be different, depending on the circumstances that are facing the municipalities in question. If they've sorted out all of their differences on an amalgamation except for one small issue, then you could appoint a commission or a commissioner to meet with the municipalities and resolve that one issue.
Mr Gerretsen: I realize that. The other point that you've made throughout the last two or three months in the House is that you don't want municipalities to raise taxes. As a matter of fact, there's a very eloquent statement of that in the financial statement. Correct?
Mr Gerretsen: Well, it goes further than that. The economic statement says, "Municipalities can adjust to these reductions by restructuring their operations and without increasing local taxes." That's what the economic statement said. That's what Mr Eves said that day in the House.
You've just stated that one of the reasons why you're giving these great powers over fees etc is -- and I think I'm quoting correctly; I don't have the text, but I think I am -- so they can raise revenues. Do I take it then that you see the raising of revenues through fees etc as sort of the area where municipalities will make up the difference between what they're currently getting from the province and the $700 million less that they're getting two years from now? That will be raised through fees.
Hon Mr Leach: We want to give the municipalities the autonomy to explore any means available to them to raise revenues through fees or charges. There's nothing to stop it. We can't stop a municipality from raising property taxes. We're encouraged that the majority that we have heard from have indicated they don't believe it will be necessary. We just want to ensure that they have all of the tools available to them.
Mr Gerretsen: You keep talking about all of the tools, but you also stated at the end of your presentation that by regulation you, in effect, can disallow any fee that you don't like. You'll rule it out. Those are your quotes. You also said that any unfair fees, whatever the heck that means, will be ousted as well.
You're not really giving them anything here, are you? You're only giving them those things that you want to give them, and if in your opinion they go a little too far, they can just be ousted. They can just be done away with by way of regulation.
Hon Mr Leach: I think that's a whole lot better than listing a whole lot of issues and having a document that's about a foot and a half thick saying: "You can do this; you can't do this. You can do this; you can't do that." Give them the flexibility; we'll deal with the exception.
Mr Gerretsen: The ultimate club that you have over municipalities now is that you can unilaterally decide that you think a particular fee is unfair or it goes too far and that's just the end of it. You'll impose a regulation. I think municipalities will probably want to have a more specific list as to what they can do rather than having this broad power that can be taken away from them at any time if you don't like it.
Hon Mr Leach: Do you think it's reasonable to have a licence fee set in legislation? Do you think it's reasonable to say to a municipality, "You can charge a dollar for a bakery licence, and if you ever want to change that to $1.01 bring it back."
Mr Gerretsen: We're talking, Mr Minister, about the municipalities' ability to raise the extra $700 million they will need because your government's going to cut them off from that in the next couple of years, and the only way you seem to have allowed for that, since you don't want them to raise taxes, is so that they can impose fees in certain areas. And yet if they do and it goes beyond what you, in your unfettered discretion, decide is unfair, you'll cut them off as well. I don't know where that leaves us, but it doesn't leave them with too much autonomy, in my opinion.
Hon Mr Leach: I think it leaves them with all the autonomy they need to get the job done. They can do a lot of things by streamlining and productivity improvement, which most of them are doing. Many of them are looking at ways of restructuring their organizations now. The city of Toronto, for example, is restructuring its executive group, I think from 13 down to four. It's that type of procedure that we're encouraging the municipalities to take, and most of them are quite prepared to do that. Most of them have said: "This is long overdue. We want to work with you." And they are. "Just give us the tools to allow us to do the job," and that's what we're doing.
Mr Gerretsen: Give them the tools as long as you agree. I'm just curious, on a very small little matter, having been a mayor for eight years and a police commissioner, head of a police commission, for eight years as well, I'm just curious, why are police service boards not under municipal control? Why is that one of the ones you specifically want to exclude as one of the special purpose bodies they can't get rid of, or bring completely within municipal control? Could you give us a reason for that?
Mr Phillips: Just before my colleague speaks to that, just for the record, I mentioned before that I find it offensive you wanting to hold councillors personally liable. That's the ultimate threat to say, "I'll take you to court and sue you to bankruptcy." At the same time, and this is just but one example on page 57 in the bill, it's called immunity, "no proceeding shall be commenced against the...minister in respect of a decision, revocation, termination...an order or any action by the minister." This bill is filled with the ministers giving themselves immunity and holding --
Hon Mr Leach: -- about a case where a municipal council deliberately goes out and takes an action that is not in the best interests of a municipality after the restructuring process has been initiated.
Mr Bruce Crozier (Essex South): Good morning, Minister. I want to go to the section of the bill that talks about the financial reporting that a municipality has to make, I guess, at year's end. I hope you would agree that most municipalities -- in fact, you've said that most municipalities act in a very responsible fashion. But I wonder if you might tell me why this particular section is put in the act that requires municipal councils to report their financial performance for ratepayers.
Hon Mr Leach: Yes, we think that right now the financial statements that are produced by a municipality at the year-end are pretty difficult for the average resident to comprehend. What we would like to see is have municipalities produce performance measures so you can tell how your municipality is doing vis-à-vis others. For example, what does it cost per mile of road maintenance, or what does it cost per ton of garbage delivered in this municipality vis-à-vis another one; something that you can see and evaluate the financial performance of your municipality.
Hon Mr Leach: No, not as yet. We're working with the municipalities in developing that. Again, that is a request that has been brought to us. The information that we're providing now, while it's good for the clerks and finance people, doesn't tell the residents of a community very much.
Mr Crozier: Perhaps I should get more directly to the point. Could this information be used to compare one municipality to another, and if one were not very efficient, that the ministry would come in and say, "Pull up your socks or we're going to do something about it"?
Mr Crozier: No, that's not my question, Minister. I think they do that every three years without the information that you're saying they have to have, because the mill rate is really what they go on. My question again: Would you then be able to come in, if some municipality is not comparing to your par, and do something about it?
Hon Mr Leach: What it's there for is that we want that municipality, for example, to be aware that it may be doing something that's causing their costs to be higher than others for a purpose they haven't realized. By providing information to compare municipalities to each other, they will have an opportunity to ask the question of themselves, "Why does it cost us X to carry out this service when it only costs so-and-so Y?"
Mr Crozier: Excuse me; if it comes to the point of wanting to be competitive in the way of development, you obviously want to have services that are comparable to or even less than the neighbouring municipality.
Mr Crozier: There's two things I'm concerned with in this case, Minister. One is the extra cost that will be involved in preparing these forms. And for a government that wants less red tape, less regulation, less cost, as I say, being a past municipal elected official, my first feeling is that it certainly will add to the administrative costs to the municipality, because accountants don't work for nothing and I suggest there'll be some form that it'll have to comply to, to be meaningful at all.
Secondly, my concern is that the ministry will then be able to come in and make comparisons between municipalities. Those who are less efficient in one way or another with the tone of this bill -- will be able to penalize them ie, through amalgamation.
Hon Mr Leach: It's just the opposite, because right now they have to send in mountains of information to the various ministries in the provincial government every time they spend anything. By going to the block grant, for example, it will no longer be necessary to provide us with the mountains of paper they give us now. Instead of providing all of that information to us, we would like to see them develop performance measurements that would be of more benefit to them, more benefit to the citizens, more benefit to the province. Quite frankly, we think it'll be less cost, not more cost.
Mr Crozier: The Chair has a stopwatch. So I can go back to the municipalities and say: "It's going to cost you less. The information's going to be better and all those cumbersome forms that we used to use are out the window and a new set will be coming in."
Mr Rae: Thank you, Mr Chairman. I want to use the time as effectively as I can, so I'll try to avoid any rhetorical flourishes, except to say that I'd like to start my questioning with the Minister of Municipal Affairs and, if time permits, I'll have a couple of questions for the other ministers.
Let me put to you a proposition, that you have to look at the powers in this section on a comprehensive basis because you're not only authorizing the municipality to charge any class of persons and to impose a charge in the nature of a direct tax on any class of persons, but you're also very clearly expanding the licensing powers of the municipalities as well, licensing powers which, as you rightly say, are now sort of hodgepodge and set out in a whole bunch of different statutes. You're just simplifying that structure and saying: "You have a broad power to license. In fact, as a condition of doing business in your municipality you can require that the person doing that business has to hold a licence," whereas often there are many businesses right now which don't require licence fees.
Mr Rae: So in fact, just to sort of confirm my understanding, it's now possible in order to meet this $700-million revenue gap, that not only will municipalities be reducing their services, but they'll also be charging people and requiring the holding of a licence by people who've never been regulated before.
Hon Mr Leach: Yes. There are new businesses that establish themselves and new kinds of businesses establish themselves every day, and right now, a municipality cannot license them without getting legislation.
Mr Rae: Right. Part of my theory of life is that municipalities can be every bit as officious and bureaucratic and overregulatory as any other level of government. There's nothing that makes them immune from those natural diseases of government. That's true, isn't it? If we all agree that one of the pathologies of public life is that bureaucracies tend to overregulate, there's nothing that would stop a municipality from overregulating and charging a new licence in an area that was never charged before.
Mr Rae: I just would say by means of preface, I think this is all a bit of a shell game. You admit that revenues are going to have to be raised because not all the $700 million is going to be covered by finding efficiencies. You'd agree with that. Some revenues are going to have to be raised. Is there a $700-million efficiency gap?
Hon Mr Leach: Across the province there are some municipalities that will increase fees, there are some that will cover it by improving efficiencies, others will do it through restructuring and so forth. We just want to make sure that they have all of those options available to them.
Mr Rae: One of the conditions under which a municipality can impose on a business that wants to do business is on page 151. It says, "the power to impose conditions as a requirement of obtaining, continuing to hold or renewing a licence, including...the payment of licence fees, which may be in the nature of a tax for the privilege conferred by the licence or for the purpose of raising revenue."
Let me put this scenario to you. What would prevent a municipality from saying to, say, a store that sells tobacco, a corner store, "You need a licence, you need a municipal licence to operate, you have to pay that licence, and one of the conditions for that licence is that you will pay us a portion of the revenues that you receive from your tobacco sales"? What would stop the --
Mr Rae: Let me suggest to you that I don't see why that wouldn't be the case, and then let me ask you to turn to the bottom of page 153, where it says: "If there is a conflict between a provision in this part and a provision of any other section of this act or any other act, the section that is less restrictive of a local municipality's power prevails."
That's pretty broad. As I understand that section, what that section says is, we want to give as much power and as much autonomy and as much authority to the municipalities as possible, and if there's any other section that relates to the sale of goods or to any other provision that is more restrictive of the authority of the municipality, that section goes and this section prevails.
As I would understand it -- and I'm really just trying to find out here how this is going to operate -- what would stop a municipality from saying, "We think all gas store owners should pay us the following charge based on the following revenue flow"?
I believe you were asking what would stop a municipality from saying, "You have to have a licence to operate a business in this municipality, and one of the conditions that we are imposing is that you" -- did you say "need to collect a tax"? Was that the question?
Mr Rae: No. What I'm suggesting, Nancy, is that as I understand this legislation, there would be nothing particularly unusual or dramatic for a municipality to say, "We're going to have a licence but the cost of that licence is partly going to be determined by the size of your revenue flow, or by the size of your business, or by the nature of the activity which you're in." Or alternatively, I don't quite know what would stop a municipality from saying, "The condition of our licence is that you will collect a charge from everybody that buys cigarettes." What would be wrong with saying that? "The condition of your holding a licence to sell tobacco in the city of Toronto is that you will charge everyone who purchases a carton of tobacco X amount." What would be wrong with saying that?
Mr Gray: Because that's what the courts have said. Certainly there have been examples where municipalities have tried to go beyond the normal scope of licensing, and the courts have said, "That doesn't reasonably relate to the business of operating that business, so you can't impose that as a condition." One of the examples, for instance -- I don't know if it was the city of Toronto, but it was in Metro, when they tried to impose a condition on taxi companies as to the form of wording they could have in the taxicabs. I think in that case, whether it was religious, but it was not related to the business per se and the court said, "No, that isn't a permissable kind of condition to impose on a business licence."
Mr Rae: Let me put it another way. When you combine the section on page 147 with the section on page 151, I don't honestly see what would be wrong with a municipality saying to the public, "Look, we have to pay for roads somehow, and we think the people who should pay for roads are the people who drive on them. Right now, we don't have a way of doing that, and we can't charge a toll on every road, so we're going to require that gas station owners collect a fee for us from people who are purchasing gasoline from them."
Mr Rae: Why not? Wouldn't you at least admit the possibility, Scott, that somebody would say, "Despite any act" -- this is what it says -- "a municipality and a local board may pass bylaws imposing fees or charges on any class of persons"?
Mr Rae: Then it goes on to say, "A bylaw under this section may provide for fees and charges that are in the nature of a direct tax for the purpose of raising revenue." Then you have the licensing powers that are set out on page 151, and then you have the general clause that says, "If there is a conflict between a provision in this part and a provision of any other section...the section that is less restrictive of a local municipality's power prevails."
Mr Rae: I'm trying to get a very specific question, but I'm trying to look at it a little more generically and say, since the power you're now giving is so broad with respect to the imposition of a charge on any class of persons for the purpose of paying for the services and activities that are provided by the municipality, and you have the broader licensing powers that are there with respect to all the businesses that are undertaken in the municipality, I personally don't see how you could object to a municipality that says: "Look, what is more generic to what we're doing than roads? Who causes the potholes in the roads? It's not people who are walking on the sidewalks; it's the people who are driving their cars and trucks. Why wouldn't we charge people who are driving their cars and trucks? Why wouldn't we do that?"
Mr Gray: Once again, there are a lot of statements in there. I guess my reaction is, for what reason would you impose a tax if you can't collect it, if you can't require it be collected, if people don't pay it? You don't have any mechanism to deal with it. So when you're dealing with the gas station owner, you have no authority to require them to collect the taxes, you have no requirement to allow them to remit the tax, you have no requirement to allow them to maintain the records. If this is imposition of a tax, to me, if I stood here and said that municipalities can impose this kind of tax, where are they going to be? You can impose a tax; you can't require people to collect it; you can't require them to send it in; you can't require them to keep the records that are necessary.
Mr Rae: You have the power, with due respect, Scott, as they say in courts, you have the ultimate authority as a municipality, you have the power to withhold a licence. You have the power to require that anybody who wants to carry on any economic activity in that jurisdiction has to have a licence. That's an extraordinary power to have.
Let me give you another example. I don't see why one wouldn't go to businesses that are engaged in the business of selling cars or in the business of repairing cars, or -- there are lots of ingenuity that one could apply within a municipality to say, "Why wouldn't we exact something of a toll on those folks," knowing that they're going to pass the cost on to the customer. Ultimately, there's only one customer and there's one taxpayer.
Hon Mr Leach: I guess we have to ask the question. They have the authority and the power right now, and they had it yesterday and they had it when you were in power, and they had it when the Liberals were in power to do it.
Hon Mr Leach: Yes, you're right. The difference is a $100-billion debt. But they have it, and we think that the municipalities will act in a responsible manner. They had the ability, if they chose, to take the type of actions that you're suggesting that they might -- they could have done that at any time. There have been difficult financial times for municipalities over the years where they required revenue, and they've all required revenue, to resist an increase in the property tax. They had the power to do it then. If they were going to do that, why would they not do it then and do it now?
Mr Rae: Okay. Let me just say, Minister, you made a comment earlier about amendments and so on. I hope very much that if you hear alternative opinions to the ones you've been given by your staff, you will at least consider the kind of powers that you're trying to provide. The purpose of my comments, of course, to be very direct with you, is that I think that this is a bit of shell game, that you've created a $700-million challenge to the municipalities. Some of the restructuring, I agree entirely with you, is entirely necessary and needs to happen, but you are giving them no choice but to go out and raise revenue and raise taxes, but you are avoiding the provincial responsibility for that by saying: "Well, that's their business. If they decide they have to do that, we won't take the political heat for doing that."
Mr Rae: Right, but the fact of the matter is, there is a $700-million problem, and you know as well as I do that there is no way that this problem can be addressed by "finding efficiencies" alone. All the restructuring in the world is not going to find you $700 million --
Mr Rae: I would argue that what we need, Mr Chair, is at least a willingness on the part of the minister that if he can be persuaded on the basis of other people's opinions, apart from mine and others in the Liberal Party, that he is opening a door that was not as open as it now is, he would look at amending the legislation.
I have two other sets of questions that I wanted to ask. One of them is very dangerous because I don't actually know the answer, and that is to the Minister of Natural Resources on the Game and Fish Act. How much do we collect now from the licences?
Hon Mr Hodgson: Sixty-six million dollars, approximately. You have to remember, though, that these revenues are based on licence fees. There are other non-consumptive users of our natural resources. There are people who enjoy bird-watching or just walking in parks and forests --
Mr Rae: Just so I understand it, to get behind the numbers, because I can assure you we thought about a lot of these ideas as well and then we began to feel that they were a bit of a shell game. You say you're setting up a separate fund, and it's $44 million, but the separate fund is not enough to pay for the service that you're providing.
Hon Mr Hodgson: I think the reason why you didn't set it up was different then in that you thought about it and Mr Wildman couldn't get it out of the treasury's control at the time. This is more along the lines of a user fee. We've talked a lot about fees here this morning, that people pay for a specific purpose, they pay a licence, and they should have some transparency to where those funds go. So once a year the Minister of Natural Resources will have to take the advice of the advisory committee, plus where the fees are spent, and table that in the Legislature so it's accountable to the people of Ontario.
Hon Mr Hodgson: It pays for fish and wildlife rehabilitation, stocking, conservation, ecosystem management in regard to moose habitat, to use a practical example, or fish habitat, of spawning bed rehab.
Hon Mr Hodgson: No, what we're setting up is a transparency on where these funds are spent, so that no matter what happens in the future, the Ontario public can be assured that if they pay so much towards a licence for a particular purpose, that money is dedicated back to the sustainability of that particular resource.
Hon Mr Hodgson: I wouldn't assume that. What I can tell you -- Mr Chair, I think the opposition would know this -- is that in recent history, when we faced spending reductions across the whole provincial government, Natural Resources has never been viewed as an urgent priority when you're talking about other interests that can scream louder at the table. What I'm trying to do here is to protect people who pay their money for a particular use, that that money will always go towards those uses.
Mr Rae: Despite the fact that previous governments have done such a terrible job, you're still admitting that right now we're paying 50% more for conservation and for fishery stocking and for preserving the moose and deer habitat and paying for conservation officers than we're taking in on the licence fee.
If a municipality decided, for the purposes of licensing a gas station, that the cost of the licence was going to be one cent per litre of gas sold at that gas station in any given year, would that be permitted under these proposals?
Hon Mr Leach: We've asked the question. We asked it of the legal people who drafted this bill. We told them what the intent was; we told them what we wanted and what we didn't want. I asked the question: Could a municipality do this? I'm advised no, they cannot do that under the terms of this act.
Mr Silipo: I think you'll find there's going to be lots of advice to the contrary saying that in fact they can do this, and as Mr Cooke and Mr Rae were saying, the municipality will be able to set a fee on a proportion of the revenue of that business.
Mr Silipo: We're talking about legal interpretation, and there's more than one legal interpretation, especially, as Mr Rae was pointing out, when there are provisions in this bill that make it clear that where there are conflicts the provisions of this bill will prevail, and the language here is pretty clear in terms of talking about a tax. As that is understood out there, it means that you can attach the cost of a licence for an operating business to the revenue.
Mr Rae: Can I ask a technical question? Has there ever been a power "requiring the repayment of licence fees, which may be in the nature of a tax"? Have those words been used before in the Municipal Act?
Mr Barnes: Doug Barnes, director, local government policy branch. The current provisions in the Municipal Act in fact say, "which may be in the nature of a tax," currently in the act, dealing with licensing.
Mr Rae: So we have legal opinions. You get one lawyer in the room and you get five legal opinions. We don't have any legal opinions that matter in terms of what courts would say; is that right? So the answer to the question, "What would courts say about the meaning of that phrase?" is that we don't know.
Mr Rae: I understand the ministry's objective and I understand the minister's policy statement that if somebody tries to impose a tax which he doesn't like, he'll pass a regulation saying, "No, you can't do that," whatever that means, because I'm not quite clear how he would exercise that power or how long he'll be the minister or how long any of us will be around.
Just to come back and try to understand this, the phrase "fees and charges that are in the nature of a direct tax for the purpose of raising revenue" is not a phrase that has been used before in terms of municipalities, is that correct?
Mr Rae: No. What I'm doing is I'm trying to look at the structure of the act, and as I see it, these two sections can be read together. In fact, you've got to go all the way to the "conflicts" section, where it says that this section prevails over any others in terms of the powers of municipalities.
Mr Barnes: The conflicts provision, section 257.7, is regarding any conflict which arises between a licensing provision as provided here or anywhere else and not to deal with conflicts between licensing legislation and other forms or types of legislation.
Mr Rae: I understand that, but if you look at the conditions which attach to a licence and the power to impose special conditions, those are fairly broad powers and fairly general powers. Again, I just would come back to the point that I don't quite understand the sense of overall confidence that says: "Just because we've given them a power to issue a charge in the nature of a direct tax on any class of persons, that doesn't mean they're going to do things we don't like. Of course they won't do things we don't like." I don't quite understand that confidence that says that.
Mr Rae: Mr Leach was setting some store to the fact that if you didn't have the power to authorize them to pay their taxes, presumably if somebody refused to pay a certain kind of charge, you could simply impose that charge on their property tax.
Mr Rae: I just want to get through this point. A municipality can impose an additional charge. If that charge is not paid for, it then goes on to your property taxes. I'm just trying to make it clear that if people default on their property taxes, eventually they lose their home. Isn't that correct?
Mr Barnes: That's correct, but there's a technical difference here. When you say you can collect it in a like manner to taxes, it doesn't mean you can collect it in a manner as if it were a tax. You cannot, under this provision, require the tax sales procedure for payment of taxes at all.
Good morning, sir. Welcome to our committee. I'd appreciate it if you could introduce yourself for Hansard. You have half an hour to make a presentation. Whenever your presentation is done, whatever time is left over we'll allot equally between the different parties for questions.
Mr Ian Cunningham: Good morning. My name is Ian Cunningham and I'm the director of policy for the Ontario Chamber of Commerce. I'm pleased to make a presentation before the committee today on behalf of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce on Bill 26, the Savings and Restructuring Act. My intention is to give you a brief overview of the position of the chamber regarding the government's omnibus legislation and permit time afterwards for questions from committee members.
The Ontario Chamber of Commerce is a provincial business association representing 65,000 members through more than 200 federated community chambers of commerce and boards of trade. We represent the interests of the business community at the provincial level with respect to changing government legislation and policies. Our goal is to establish effective communications between business and government in fostering a better economic climate throughout the province.
Our members are drawn from all areas of the province and are engaged in every sector of Ontario's economy. They include small, medium and large employers who provide millions of jobs and one of the highest standards of living in the world. Our expansive and diverse membership and our grass-roots democratic model of governance solidify the Ontario chamber's position as the voice of business in the province.
The Ontario Chamber of Commerce supports the purpose of Bill 26, which is to achieve fiscal savings and promote economic prosperity through public sector restructuring, streamlining and efficiency. It is clear that government restructuring is long overdue. With deficits averaging near $10 billion annually over the past four years and an accumulated debt of more than $90 billion, it is imperative that the Ontario government take strong measures to reduce spending and to get its finances under control.
The Ontario Chamber of Commerce believes that the role of government in today's economy is to create a climate that will encourage people to go into business, help existing businesses to grow and attract new investment that creates jobs.
In the past, government has attempted to be all things to all people, but today we've realized that government can no longer afford this any more. Restructuring government and restoring confidence in the financial strength of the province is essential to the future of Ontario's economy. As you may know, many of our members have had to restructure their own operations over the past decade to stay competitive in the increasingly difficult marketplace. The ones that have adjusted have successfully emerged from the recession of the early 1990s, while many of those who did not adjust are no longer with us.
The Ontario Chamber of Commerce believes that the provincial government must also adjust to the changing times and demands which are being placed upon it by today's modern society. The government must realize that we cannot afford to continue running up $10-billion deficits without seriously jeopardizing the economic future of our children and our grandchildren.
We support Bill 26 because it provides the mechanism for the provincial government and municipalities to commence this restructuring effort, improve the financial strength of the province and send a strong message, a message that Ontario wants to work with the private sector and create jobs and foster economic growth.
Bill 26 is very broad and proposes amendments to many pieces of legislation affecting our members. I would like at this point to focus on the proposed changes to the various acts that will have the most impact on our members.
Schedule M of Bill 26 contains amendments to the Ontario Municipal Act and other statutes related to municipalities, conservation authorities and transportation. I would like to focus on two specific amendments proposed in the legislation, namely, the proposal to give municipalities and local boards broad new powers to impose fees or charges for any services or activities they provide and the addition of a new part in the Municipal Act that establishes new general licensing powers to municipalities.
While we support the goal of restructuring and the introduction of fees for service, the Ontario Chamber of Commerce is concerned about the broad powers in Bill 26 that are given to municipalities to impose fees or charges for any services or activities provided by them.
While the bill gives the Minister of Municipal Affairs the power to make regulations limiting or imposing conditions on the imposition of fees or charges levied by municipalities, we believe that greater definition should be given to the types of fees or charges that may be permitted under this amended section. Specifically, subsection 220.1(3) provides that a municipality may, by bylaw, impose "fees and charges that are in the nature of a direct tax for the purpose of raising revenue."
The Ontario Chamber of Commerce is concerned that this proposed amendment will lead to municipalities imposing fees that do not correspond to the value of the service being provided. Furthermore, we are concerned that fees may be imposed on businesses for the sole purpose of raising municipal revenues and not specifically related to any activity or service provided by the municipal government. This may have a serious impact on the ability of businesses to create jobs and growth throughout the province. We believe that this proposed amendment should be improved to limit municipalities to charging fees on a value-for-money basis and not for the sole purpose of raising revenue.
We are also concerned about subsection 220.1(9), which denies people the opportunity to appeal to the Ontario Municipal Board the imposed fees or charges levied by a municipality or local board under the act on the ground that the fees or charges are unfair or unjust. We believe that the government should provide some flexibility in the legislation for people who may have extenuating circumstances and permit, at the very least, the opportunity for appeal.
The Ontario Chamber of Commerce is concerned about part XVII.1, a new part added to the Municipal Act giving municipalities general licensing powers. The new part gives municipalities the ability to license and regulate any business carried out in the municipality. The chamber is concerned that, as currently worded, trade and competition may be restricted by municipalities through this new section.
We do not oppose giving municipalities the power to pass bylaws providing for the licensing and regulation of businesses; however, we believe that the proposed amendment needs to be defined and clarified to ensure that municipalities do not unfairly restrict businesses from operating or impose additional regulatory requirements that will threaten the ability of the private sector to create jobs and to grow throughout the province.
The Ontario Chamber of Commerce supports the proposed changes contained in schedule B of Bill 26 to the Corporations Tax Act concerning the mining reclamation trust tax credit and the Ontario innovation tax credit for small and medium-sized Canadian-controlled private corporations having permanent establishments in Ontario in respect of scientific research and experimental development in Ontario.
We believe these incentives for business is a positive role that the government can play to encourage the private sector to invest in the province. The proposed amendments to the Corporations Tax Act will assist these sectors to create jobs and contribute to the overall provincial economy.
Part IV of schedule F of Bill 26 contains amendments to the Independent Health Facilities Act concerning the use of personal medical information. The proposed amendment provides the Minister of Health with new powers to collect, use and disclose personal information for specified purposes and to enter into agreements for the exchange of personal information for specified purposes.
While the Ontario Chamber of Commerce supports the goal of the provincial government to reduce fraud in the health care system, we believe that the government's powers should be better defined due to the highly sensitive nature of the information involved.
Bill 26 is very broad and very comprehensive and it contains amendments to various pieces of legislation necessary to restructure the public sector and to achieve fiscal savings and improve operating efficiency of government.
The Ontario Chamber of Commerce supports the broad direction being charted by the government through this legislation. We believe that through these actions, the government is sending the right message to the private sector, that the province is open for business again.
Mr Gerretsen: It's always good to hear from my friend Ian Cunningham about these issues. But what I find very extraordinary about your presentation, Ian, is that the four concerns you have with respect to the direct taxation question and the OMB appeal, the general licensing power and the personal information matter are exactly the kind of issues that have been raised by the members of the opposition in the House with respect to this bill.
Mr Cunningham: It's certainly a concern. The Ontario Chamber of Commerce has never thought that businesses pay too little tax. I think we in the Ontario chamber believe that the government doesn't have a revenue problem; it has an expenditure problem. So any new form of a tax we would object to.
In terms of fees for service, our view is that these are probably appropriate. These are an appropriate mechanism as long as there's not additional margin beyond the cost of issuing added, that they're not simply an additional tax grab.
Mr Gerretsen: You heard the minister say here this morning that they don't want to have property taxes increased. They're giving municipalities more power with respect to fees, and the $700-million amount that's going to be lost to municipalities will mainly have to be raised through fees. Is that what you're concerned about as well?
Mr Cunningham: You and I know there's a whole lot of room in local government for restructuring and improved efficiencies. Mr Gerretsen and I come from Kingston where there are four local governments and a county government that govern a population of approximately 130,000 people. I think the vast majority of people there feel that they are overgoverned and there are efficiencies that can be gained by some new municipal government structure. The mechanics of how you put the governments together to optimize efficiency and minimize costs have to be worked out, but I think there are tremendous savings that can accrue from the kinds of efficiencies we might experience in the greater Kingston area.
Mr Cunningham: We have a book of standing policy that we can fall back on. The expeditious way in which the government is approaching this bill creates a bit of an inconvenience for many people, inconvenience in terms of the rush to get things done, but it's simply an inconvenience, and I feel comfortable that our policy positions of the past are consistent with my remarks this morning.
Mr Crozier: Just very quickly, you consider it an inconvenience with the rush to get this bill through. You realize of course that there is little that I've been able to find in this bill that if it were not passed in the spring, along with a budget, would hold up the government at all, and that we could've taken much longer through the winter months to review this bill and it would have been of less inconvenience to you.
Mr Phillips: Just quickly, we're into kind of a business environment now where we're thinking globally, and I would think many of your businesses have outlets or organizations or offices in all sorts of different municipalities around Ontario. One of the things that is of concern to us in this bill is that I think we're going to have a hodgepodge, like a balkanization, of fees and charges and even taxes in municipality to municipality. Rather than your business, which may have 10, 20, 30 outlets around Ontario, being able to deal with essentially one regime, you're going to have 20 or 30 regimes. Does the chamber want to express its view on what it does to the complexity of doing business across the province?
Mr Cunningham: We have that already. I don't mean to dwell on the Kingston experience, but local companies would have outlets in several municipalities within the same functioning community and adapt to the different regimes. The more standard it is from community to community, certainly the easier it is to deal with.
Mr Cooke: Thank you for appearing before the committee. I just get from your presentation that what you support most about the bill is the name of the bill, and then you express a whole series of concerns, which have been expressed by the opposition in the last couple of weeks too, about the broad powers, about the implication of the licensing fees and so forth. I agree with you.
You said that you supported streamlining. Everybody supports streamlining. The more I hear about this bill -- and you were here for the presentation of this ministers this morning -- I get the impression that what we're doing here is putting some new powers in place for municipalities but building into it a whole bunch of more new red tape in the relationship with the provincial government. I guess I'd just like to get your impression, from studying the bill, where does this bill provide for streamlining?
Mr Cooke: I'm not quite sure how it shows that there's going to be a lessening of the reporting to the province from municipalities when the minister says we're giving all of these new licensing and taxing powers but the minster, if he doesn't like any of them, will rule them inappropriate and pass a regulation. There's going to have to be some reporting mechanism to the province in order to know whether the province agrees with the new licensing or revenue-raising mechanisms.
I know business is always in favour of streamlining. I'd like to understand whether you just are buying into that because that's what's been said, that this is what it does, or whether you have some concrete examples of where's there's streamlining in this bill.
Mr Cooke: One of the areas that you said you do support the bill on -- and I think it's almost a quote from what you said -- is that there's lots of room for restructuring at the local level. I had the honour to be Minister of Municipal Affairs for two years, and we were engaged in some restructuring up in Simcoe county and in London-Middlesex. My experience is that while the provincial chamber will express support for restructuring, when it comes down to the nitty-gritty at the local level there's not a lot of support from business to restructure.
What are you going to do to start getting your local businesses on side, or is this just a concept that you support and then when you see -- because one of the questions I'd like to have asked the minister this morning is, how much money have they put aside so that if there is municipal restructuring, there are going to be some dollars available to phase in the shift in taxation that occurs when there is amalgamation and annexations.
Mr Cunningham: It's been my experience that local business people and community chambers of commerce are very interested in the structure of local government. I came to the Ontario Chamber of Commerce having served as the manager of the Kingston Chamber of Commerce. It was the highest order of priority of that business association, and continues to be. The efficiency of local government is a key business concern.
Mr Cunningham: Yes, I don't see the Ontario Chamber of Commerce getting on side in an amalgamation issue where one of our community organizations is situated. That's their issue, and how they propose to position themselves with respect to their local government is a local issue. I would hope they'd play a strong role in pursuing the most efficient and effective way that we can govern ourselves.
Mr Cooke: You haven't had any of that at this point. I guess I'm just going to finish, and then Tony will have some questions, I'm sure. We see, and I think you do too, that by opening up the ability for municipalities to bring in a lot of new licensing and taxing powers, that the $700 million of cuts, as you said at the beginning, is a spending problem, not a revenue problem. If the government believed in that, then I would expect that it would not have a piece of legislation before us that provides municipalities with a whole host of new revenue sources. I guess I'd like to get a read from you as to what your priority is: millions, tens of millions, hundreds of millions of dollars of new user fees or a decrease in the provincial income tax?
Mr Cunningham: Look, I think local government is the most responsive level of government. They're on the ground, where the people are. A municipal councillor talks to his constituency more than any other level of government, because he works and lives and breathes in that community. They're there every day and they're dealing with issues that affect day-to-day issues of --
Mr Cunningham: Can I finish? I think that while local government, and government in general, is not totally analogous to business, they are very, very responsive to their customers, if ratepayers and residents are customers. I think they get a pretty good sense of what their residents are prepared to pay in terms of fees and what is reasonable.
Mr Cunningham: I think chambers of commerce throughout Ontario were probably contacted quite a lot by the Progressive Conservative caucus; also by others. I mean, the Progressive Conservatives are not the only ones that consult with chambers of commerce, but I would say quite a lot.
I want to speak to the theme of questioning that I believe Mr Cooke was on with respect to the streamlining that's proposed under this legislation. Is it better, in your view, that your business constituents deal with a municipality directly as it relates to overtaxation issues, taxation versus services being disproportionate, or would your group rather speak directly to Queen's Park representatives? Is the local theme of this bill in your favour as opposed to not in your favour?
Mr Cunningham: I believe so. I think you can guess from my earlier remarks that I have high regard for local government. I think it's very responsive and on the ground, and it's easier to deal with somebody who's situated down the block in your municipal building, it's a little more accessible.
Mr Sampson: What's likely to happen to the business interest if it finds a particular local government is not providing the service but continuing to tax and tax away? Are they likely to just sit there and take it and pay their bill? What's their response likely to be?
Mr Cunningham: The ultimate response is that they would move to a lower tax jurisdiction, if tax is the only issue. I think municipalities are aware that their fees and charges have to be competitive with those of other businesses, if they're going to compete for and successfully attract new businesses into their jurisdiction.
Mr Sampson: So this particular bill then would set up an environment where you'd see the various local areas competing for business as opposed to the current situation where business, if it doesn't find the tax regime acceptable across the province, will leave the province. Is that a fair statement? Are we likely through this bill to create some competition among municipalities for business?
Mr Ernie Hardeman (Oxford): Good morning, Mr Cunningham. I just wanted to question a moment on the user fees. I think you indicated that the chamber supported user fees but you had some concern with the broader scope of being able to tax, through a licensing process, more businesses than are presently being licensed?
Mr Cunningham: On the user fees, we can accept that there is a cost absorbed currently by the municipality to issue licences, and businesses generally are prepared to accept the cost of issuing, as long as it's not an inhibiting factor to setting up a business.
Mr Hardeman: You would carry on then to say, as Mr Sampson spoke, that in fact they could be used in a competitive nature, that in fact they could be less than the required amount in order to be competitive with a neighbouring municipality?
Mr Cunningham: Yes, in the same way that I think a business looking for a new location looks at tax rates, looks at labour force, looks at all kinds of things, but often there's a focus on the tax cost.
The Chair: If we could now move to the Information and Privacy Commissioner, Mr Wright. Good morning, gentlemen. The format this morning is 30 minutes. It's yours to do with as you will. Normally, we like to leave 10 or 15 minutes for some questions which would be allotted equally among the three parties. I'd appreciate it if you would start of by telling us who you are, for the sake of Hansard.
While I appreciate having the opportunity to appear before the committee this morning to share with you my views on amendments to the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act as well as to the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, as set out in schedule K to Bill 26, I would also like to take an opportunity to comment on the access and privacy implications of provisions contained in schedules E and O to Bill 26.
What I have done for ease of reference, or what I will do this morning is I will outline my concerns with each of the three schedules. As well, you each have a letter that I've addressed to the committee attached to which is a chart which identifies my concerns with respect to specific proposed amendments, together with some suggested alternative amendments which will address those concerns.
If I could, I'd like to take a moment just to tell you who I am other than Tom Wright, Information and Privacy Commissioner. I am an independent officer of the Legislature. I report to the Legislative Assembly through the Speaker. I was appointed in 1991 by an all-party committee of the Legislative Assembly which was put together at that time.
Our office does a number of things, the most important of which is to process appeals from members of the public who have been denied access to information that they have requested. We also deal with complaints relating to privacy and concerns for the personal information in the hands of government organizations.
Turning specifically to schedule K -- and I will follow the format of the letter you have -- public access to government information and the protection of personal privacy are cornerstones of governing in the democratic society of today. Citizens who support government through their tax dollars must have the assurance that government, in return, respects their right of access to information and the necessity of protecting their personal privacy.
One of the underlying values of both freedom of information acts has been that they have been used by the public to gain access to government information which has both revealed the workings of government, and at the same time, held public officials to account for the performance of their public responsibilities.
When I refer to the use of the act, just to give you an idea, in 1994, members of the public made approximately 23,000 requests for information to all types of government organizations, both provincial and municipal, across the province. What the acts have done, I think, in this era of fiscal restraint is to keep the issues of fiscal responsibility before the public at all times. Therefore, I am concerned about the nature and scope of the amendments that have the potential to damage the carefully constructed foundations of Ontario's access and privacy system, a system which I think by all reasonable standards has served the public well since its inception in 1988.
Turning specifically to the amendments in K, in the area of fees I have a number of comments around the issue of fees. I think the most important of these is the concerns about the sections which permit government organizations to charge individuals for access to their own personal information. Presently the acts don't permit any fees for requests made for an individual's own personal information.
I have commented publicly on many occasions that government is merely the custodian, not the owner, of the personal information it possesses. The true owner is quite simply the person to whom the information relates. In most cases, individuals are not given a choice about supplying their personal information to government; they are required to do so. I feel that in such circumstances it is unreasonable and unwarranted to charge a fee for access. To do so would amount to requiring someone to pay for something which is already theirs.
I will also tell you that no other jurisdiction in Canada imposes an application fee for the right of access to one's own personal information. Other jurisdictions do have some charges relating to personal information which basically relate to a charge for photocopies of copies of records that contain your personal information.
A comparison with other Canadian jurisdictions also indicates that Ontario's new fee structure would make access to information, in my opinion, more expensive than anywhere else. Neither the federal government nor any other province has a fee for appeals in their freedom of information system. Requiring individuals to pay a fee to appeal a decision to deny access would result, at a minimum, in individuals paying twice for information they may have already been entitled to in the first place.
It's interesting, some of the potential side effects, if you will, of introducing an appeal fee. It could also penalize individuals or business entities who would be required to pay an appeal fee to protect their personal or commercial interests, even though they had no role in initiating the original request for information.
I would also mention that the amendments as they are at present do not contain any provision for a head of a government organization to waive an application fee or for the commissioner to waive an appeal fee in circumstances such as where it would be in the public interest or perhaps a matter of financial hardship.
The other change that's being made, and the other major change, in my opinion, is the decision to eliminate the two hours of free search time which presently exist. In our present system, the vast majority of requests are responded to within this two-hour window and fees are not an issue. If requesters are now assessed a fee for all search-related costs, this could result in a significant increase in the number of fee appeals and create increased work for both my office and government organizations. Members of the public might also legitimately ask what they are receiving for their application fee if all costs associated with responding to their request are chargeable under the new fee structure.
By way of summary, in my opinion, the multifaceted fee system contained in Bill 26 would introduce operational and administrative complexities at a time when streamlining and simplifying the access to information scheme is an important objective. Coupled with that is that it has the real potential to adversely affect the right of Ontarians to access to government-held information.
I'll just give you a quick example. A requester could pay the initial application fee for an access request, a fee for a search for records which results in a denial of access and then an appeal fee to challenge the denial, all without receiving any information from the government organization in question.
Briefly turning to frivolous or vexatious requests, it's probably a gross understatement to say that those two notions of frivolous or vexatious do not sit comfortably with a freedom of information scheme which grants an open-ended or unqualified right of access to public information of which government organizations are only the stewards.
Before I move on, I think it's important for me to share with the committee the notion of government information and ownership. That's a theme you've heard already from me around personal information and I think it applies equally when you talk about the rest of information that government holds. At the end of the day, in my opinion, and I think it's fair to say it's the notion that flows through all freedom of information legislation, the public is truly the owner of the information in the hands of government and, with respect, I would ask members of the committee to keep those two ideas in mind in, considering not only the comments I am making this morning, but those of others who will be coming before you in the next week or so.
Specifically again on frivolous or vexatious, I think there is a potential for the right of access to information to be frustrated merely by a government organization's subjective view of the "annoyance" quotient of any particular request or requester.
My office has looked into this matter in some detail and it was the subject of what was a fairly highly publicized inquiry that I held in August of this year. During that inquiry, I expressed serious concerns regarding the actions of individual requesters whose conduct constituted an abuse of the freedom of information scheme.
At the same time, I concluded that it was the excessive number of requests and appeals collectively, coupled with a number of other factors, which led me to conclude that the particular requester was abusing the freedom of information scheme. I expressed this opinion in the order I issued in that particular inquiry, that a statutory scheme based on frivolous or vexatious requests will not achieve the desired result. Instead of discouraging abuse of the acts, it would create a cumbersome and complex system where valuable resources are directed away from customer service and into appeals which have no relation to the substantive rights provided to the public under the acts.
I would also indicate that, again in my opinion, introducing an application fee in and of itself will achieve the goal that relates to frivolous or vexatious requests, which is basically to prevent those kinds of requests coming forward. I think my experience over the past four and a half years would indicate that the fee in itself, and I don't know what that would be, would act as a deterrent. People simply will not pay money to make requests which in my opinion would truly be considered to be frivolous or vexatious.
As I've tried to do in the letter and as I've tried to do over the past few years -- advance solutions to these kinds of problems -- there's one I'd like to share with the committee this morning and that is the notion of responding to the public's right of access to government-held information and a way of doing business on the part of government organizations that is both cost-effective and customer-driven, an approach we've called routine disclosure and active dissemination, and that's outlined in my letter this morning.
Basically and very briefly, what happens is that for routine disclosure, government organizations determine the kind of information that has been the subject of requests and proactively make it available; for active dissemination, government organizations put their mind to the kind of information in which the public might be interested and make it available before the request is made.
A very simple example is a mayor in a city here in the province who, every time he submits an expense account, because he knows the public is interested in his expense accounts, makes a copy for a file which simply is available to the public if they want to walk in and have a look at it, an alternative to the idea of having to make a request, search for the information and provide it with expense, not only in terms of fees but certainly for the organization.
I think my basic message this morning is along those lines as it relates to routine disclosure and active dissemination. These are ways in which you can avoid some of the bureaucracy of freedom of information, achieve cost-efficiencies and at the same time save the public significant amounts of money.
The first is schedule E. I guess the best way to describe it is toll roads. Our concern with this proposed amendment relates to the requirement that every vehicle must carry a tracking device. We believe that such a requirement has the potential for serious implications for personal privacy. Law-abiding citizens going about their daily business on a public highway could have their comings and goings monitored and tracked by a government computer. Furthermore, there are no restrictions on the use of the information that is collected.
I will say to the committee that I understand the value in applying this type of technology to commercial vehicles which will make regular use of new toll roads, but I do have strong objections to imposing this as a mandatory system which applies to all vehicles.
Schedule O amends the Mining Act and it provides that its confidentiality provisions prevail over the provincial Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act to protect financial and commercial information. Both the provincial and municipal acts have rigorous exemptions to preclude disclosure of financial and commercial information that should properly be exempt. What this amendment would do would be to remove such information entirely from the purview of the freedom of information legislation and it would make it impossible for the public to scrutinize transactions of public bodies when such scrutiny is necessary and appropriate.
By way of closing, I do believe that the people of Ontario have come to accept that access and privacy are part of the meaning of democracy. Freedom of information is about the accountability of government organizations, and access to general records is one of the public's most powerful tools for exerting democratic controls over public institutions. In challenging times such as these, the public's ability to scrutinize the workings of government must remain a vital part of a democratic process. Or, as was said in volume 2 of the report of the Commission on Freedom of Information and Individual Privacy in 1980, commonly referred to as the Williams commission, and it forms the basis of Ontario's legislation, "To be well governed is to be well informed."
My office has previously provided a set of the amendments that I presented to the committee this morning to the Minister of Finance, to the Chair of Management Board, the Minister of Transportation and to the Minister of Northern Development and Mines, all of whom I understand are responsible for those various schedules.
Our conclusion, in looking at the amendments that are being proposed as well as our suggested revisions, was that they will permit the government to achieve its goal of increased efficiency of operations while at the same time preserving the purposes and intent of Ontario's access and privacy legislation.
Mr Wright: We did meet with the Chair of Management Board and staff of Management Board Secretariat, but at this point I have not received any confirmation or any indication of their response to the concerns we've raised.
Mr Silipo: It seems to me that your essential point that goes through this is beyond reminding us, appropriately so, of the purpose of this legislation; it's that if government is interested in streamlining some of these operations, there are -- my words -- far less draconian ways of doing this than some of the changes being suggested. I think you're concerned that not only do they go too far, but they impede some of the original intent of the privacy information legislation.
Mr Wright: My concern is that the system work as well as it possibly can, and my concerns also come from the premise that there are very legitimate goals that should be achieved with respect to the operation of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.
I see streamlining as being achieved in ways that can in fact take the purposes of the act to the next step, and at the same time not having to increase the costs around the processing of freedom-of-information requests.
Mr Silipo: Just to pursue that point, you say, for example, under schedule E -- I'm struck very much by your point here that there are no restrictions on the use of the information collected, when I think even the government would admit that the point of having that provision is not so they can gather information on everyone but that they can apply the toll-payment provisions.
Just coming back from there, you're suggesting under the frivolous and vexatious request -- which I have to say strikes a chord with a number of members of the Legislature, certainly as I've heard the discussion, as I'm sure you are aware, even in the last private member's bill debate. But I want to make sure I'm understanding your point.
You're saying there are ways of dealing with issues when particular requesters may be abusing the process without putting into legislation some of these provisions that would limit access to information in a much broader way than is necessary.
Mr Wright: The example we've used in the chart is taken from the Alberta freedom-of-information legislation, which is the most recent that's been introduced in Canada; it came into effect in October of this year. It is indeed directed at the individual as opposed to the request itself. I think our experience over the years has shown that there have been a handful of individuals, one of which I dealt with in August, who indeed have abused the system and have to be controlled, and I accept that. I'm simply saying that I do believe there are other ways of dealing with the problem, which I feel is more individual-requester-based.
Mr Young: With regard to your suggestions on routine disclosure and active dissemination, don't you have any concerns about the fact that information would be published automatically? For instance, people may be interested in finding out how much all their neighbours make or what their mayors spend on lunch and all that stuff, but the fee may act as a minor discouragement. Don't you have any concerns with regard to privacy?
Mr Wright: Absolutely, and I'm glad and I appreciate the fact that you raised it. I guess I've talked about it so often that I've forgotten to add a very important exception to the routine disclosure part of things, and that is that it does not apply to personal information. I agree with you. There are very legitimate concerns around privacy of that kind of routine disclosure.
Mr Wright: Sure. I'm reading the section of the legislation, and what it says is that there will be a validated toll device which must be affixed to the vehicle. That, to me, clearly suggests that the only way that's going to work is if it's emitting something by way of a signal of some kind, and there are various ways of doing that. That clearly is going to be emitting information. It may be that you've charged up that card in some fashion and there's an electronic way of making deduction for travelling on the toll road. For commercial purposes, regular users, that makes perfectly good sense. But it could also be saying, "What time did you arrive on the highway? At what point did you go off?" collect this information and retain it, and then what controls are there around the use of that information as it relates to the individual? It's very easy these days, when information is in electronic form, to share it and compile it and develop profiles of individuals.
Mr Young: I understand your concerns. I don't think they emit any electronic information. You made a comment with regard to all vehicles, but it's only vehicles that would travel on the toll highway that would require that device. Do you understand that?
Mr Wright: Yes, I am. One of the difficulties with the job I have is that you look ahead, and the experience, particularly with technology, is that there is something of a slippery slope. Once you start out, we have a situation where there's a device on a car, which I think -- I don't know the details; I haven't been provided with them -- has the potential to allow vehicles to be located. Once that device is on the car, it doesn't stop being on the car when it's travelling on highways other than toll roads. I guess my obligation is to simply raise the issue of, once it's there, what other potential would there be?
Mr Joseph N. Tascona (Simcoe Centre): I notice in your "frivolous and vexatious" amendment that you're focusing on the role of your commission, with respect to the head. With the government proposal with respect to the initial access in making it frivolous or vexatious, there's an appeal process for the individual. In your amendment, I don't see any role for the individual in the appeal process because you're making a decision right up front with respect to making a decision on initial access. That troubles me. Have you got any response?
Mr Wright: It would trouble me as well. No, certainly the individual would have to be involved. You would have to take the amendment we've set out in the chart and put it in together with the other sections of the act that are presently there now that deal with how inquiries are conducted by the commissioner, which does involve the individual. I agree with you.
Mr Phillips: You're raising what I regard as a fairly fundamental principle around the issue of individuals' access to their own information. As I read you, and certainly as I feel, that is a fairly fundamental basic right. The way I read your comments and the bill, we're ending up with two different rights: If you've got the money, you have the right of access to your personal information because you can afford the fees, and if you don't have the money you don't have the right of access to your personal information because you're required now to provide a fee.
Mr Wright: Certainly it's one of the two fundamental rights that the freedom of information legislation creates. It creates a right of access to what we call general government records, but it also creates the right of being able to find out what government organizations know about you, the information they have about you. That is the second of those rights.
Mr Phillips: And it seems to me that if you begin to put a fee on it, we have two-tiered fundamental rights, if you will, that if you've got money in this province you can access your personal information, but if for whatever reason you don't have the money, you don't have that same right. Am I characterizing this properly?
Mr Phillips: How seriously should we regard this? I regard your brief as quite serious, that we're dealing with something that is central to everyone. And I happen to think it's going to become more important, because government is gathering more and more and more information about you. The bill regarding medical records, for example, is gathering more and more personal information; on the other hand, this part of the bill is putting some barriers up for you finding out what information of yours the government has. How seriously should we take your concerns here?
Mr Wright: I think the Legislature has given members of the public a very important right. They say, "We feel you should know, within certain limitations, what information we have about you." That's probably one of the more basic kinds of right you could possibly have: knowing what someone else knows about you.
Mr Wright: There are actually two parts to that. We'll be the only jurisdiction that has an application fee to make a request for the information. Some jurisdictions do indeed charge for photocopies of what that information is. There is a distinction between the two kinds.
I would like to move that this subcommittee recommend to the subcommittee of the full committee to schedule three tax lawyers on Friday, January 19, and that each caucus select one of the three tax lawyers to be invited.
The Chair: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. This afternoon we have leading off representatives from the Pay Equity Advocacy and Legal Services. Representatives, please come forward. You'll have 30 minutes of time to make your presentation. You might want to leave some time at the end of your presentation for questions, which would be divided up equally among all three parties. As you begin, would you mind please introducing yourself into the microphone for the benefit of Hansard, if you could just introduce yourself and your agency.
Ms Katerina Makovec: Good afternoon. My name is Katerina Makovec and I am the community organizer with Pay Equity Advocacy and Legal Services. This is a community legal clinic that serves non-unionized women in Ontario, providing education, advice and legal representation. We specialize in pay equity. By the nature of the focus on non-unionized women, this message that I'm presenting to you is delivered on behalf of about 80% of working women in Ontario.
I would like to also to ask you to correct, in the first line of my presentation, the name of this committee. I wrote, by mistake, "standing committee on the administration of justice" and by now I know it's the evidence subcommittee of the general government committee.
The main issue that I came here to tell you is that it is, politically, morally, fiscally and gender-equity-related, simply wrong to phase out proxy method. I am here to speak about the part of the omnibus bill that concerns the proxy method.
The proxy method is a very slow process. It's a generational process of change and it's aiming to finally bring pay equity to workers in jobs that were historically undervalued and underpaid. These are jobs that women typically do, such as caring for children or the elderly, caring for troubled youth or teaching literacy skills. These are jobs that the traditional job evaluation systems were not capable to capture truthfully and were not capable to evaluate based on the inadequate job evaluation systems.
The other issue connected with the proxy method is that the proxy method is allowed to be used only by community organizations or broader public sector organizations that are funded primarily by the government. So it was an obvious follow-up by the government to provide the small financial increments for these organizations. As I mentioned, this is a generational, incremental, slow process. So it's very -- just the simple word -- wrong to repeal this. The trend to reducing the gender inequalities in a vast section of our society is stopped by the repealing of this method. Again, it's wrong and disappointing.
Under the proxy method, the employees were supposed to received only small yearly pay adjustments for the next many years. Average estimates were about 30 years to reach pay equity at the 1990 rates. I don't know how technically you are familiar with the legislation, but the goal for the proxy was to achieve the 1990 pay rates of the proxy organizations. This wasn't indexed. So the proxy part that you are repealing did not, and does not, include indexation. It's really, really a gesture that is very important but is not very costly. In the majority of cases, it would be the grandchildren of our generation who would fully benefit from pay equity in these jobs.
As I said, the Conservative government is taking away even this minimum and abolishing the trend that brings wage justice to jobs historically discriminated against. This action dramatically hurts both working women and communities. The money the government plans to take away would be otherwise spent on buying children's clothing and food. It is not money that would disappear in the stock market.
Moreover, the Conservative government, in its widely distributed pre-election statements on pay equity, promised to "proceed with the review of the pay equity program required by law to determined if the present approach is effective, affordable and sustainable."
So we are surprised and dismayed and unsatisfied with the approach of the government that you are repealing the pay equity legislation before the effectiveness, affordability and the very existence of it have been reviewed by an independent reviewer who has been appointed and so on. We cannot help but perceive it as a step to slowly abolish pay equity in Ontario, yet another step to burden women of this province.
Not honouring the promise to proceed with the review process is another sign of detrimental moves this government takes. It is a hasty decision to introduce to repeal the proxy method before the review has been finished or even started.
Mr Tascona: Initially, when pay equity was brought into place, we were dealing with establishments; in other words, achieving pay equity within an employer's operation. The change to the proxy method certainly brought us beyond that, and what the government is doing here is moving back to where we were, which is comparing male and female jobs in the same organization.
The fact is that Ontario's the only jurisdiction to use the proxy method and, from what we've been hearing from agencies, it's become a very difficult process because it doesn't reflect their funding capabilities and also what's out there in the private sector. So I would put to you, by reverting to the original principles of pay equity, how do you feel that the government isn't maintaining its commitment to pay equity and the fact that we have already allocated $500 million to achieve pay equity in the broader public sector?
Ms Makovec: Let me rephrase your question to make sure that I understand you. You are saying that the government has committed $500 million to pay equity and that the repeal of the proxy amendments is a step backwards, that is, something that was not supposed to be done?
Mr Tascona: No, I didn't say that. I guess what I'm saying is that we're returning to the basic principles of what pay equity started out as: achieving it within your own organization. The government's commitment to pay equity in the broader public sector is the $500 million which has been previously stated. I would like to understand what your difficulty is with returning to the basic principles of pay equity which it started out, in light of the fact that we're the only province that deals with proxy method in this country.
Ms Makovec: Can I ask for a clarification? The $500 million for the broader public sector, these are moneys that are being directed towards organizations that were using proxy method or these are moneys that are directed also to public employees? Is this money for public sector or broader public sector employees only?
Mr Tascona: Yes, and what we're hearing from them is that the difficulty with proxy method is that it doesn't reflect their financial capabilities because it's not accurate or reflective of their size. They're small organizations dealing with much larger organizations, say at a university, where the proxy method would be a comparator, and the schedule that was put out. They're finding difficulties in being able to satisfy pay equity within their limited financial means.
Ms Makovec: The limited financial means are provided by the government itself. These are the agreed transfer payment agencies where the government is funding, very often, 100% of the operation of these agencies, so if the agencies do not have money for pay equity adjustments it means the government is not providing it.
The previous government promised to phase in the adjustments very slowly -- as I said, it would be a generational process -- and now even this minimum is stopped and taken away, which is disappointing. You are talking only about 3% increase and this is it, while the previous financial guidelines promised to pay the 1% increment every year until pay equity is achieved. It could have taken 30 years and our granddaughters would be likely to benefit from the full implementation of this legislation. I don't see it as costly and I don't see $500 million as being capable of covering the adjustments for several generations ahead.
Ms Makovec: There are very slow, minimal increments. My view is that the government can afford to pay these minimum increments for many years to these small organizations where women are predominantly employed and whose jobs have been undervalued by society, not intentionally, but nevertheless. This idea was to remedy the systemic discrimination. I'm saying that it is not a very costly process that you are taking away, but it has a vast detrimental effect.
Mr Crozier: Good afternoon. I wanted to make a comment at first. It's been said today and it's been said in the Legislature and at other times that Ontario is the only jurisdiction which, in this case, has the proxy method. I'm reminded of when I told my daughter at one time that I had to do something because others were doing it, and she asked me, if they all walked off the end of a cliff would I also walk off with them? In my view, on occasion it takes courage to lead, but it only takes a leash to follow. Sometimes Ontario should be a leader.
Ms Makovec: Many of the people we represent, the majority, are women with very low wages. I cannot imagine that our clients would be capable of contributing towards the continuation of the clinic. We may try other ways, but not the clients. The client base is not a base of middle-class women or upper-class women who would be capable of contributing and sustaining an organization.
Mr Crozier: Have you met with the minister for women's issues, Ms Cunningham, or have you any comments from her with regard to the work you do, the way you have been funded and what the future might be of women when it comes to pay equity?
Ms Makovec: I just came from holidays; I haven't been here for the past month. But I know we have written to all the ministers who are concerned: the Minister of Community and Social Services, minister of women's issues, the Minister of Labour, the Premier. We have presented a huge petition to the government protesting against closing PEALS. We have met with the Deputy Minister of Labour and other deputies. We requested meetings with all the ministers, but right now I'm not sure with whom we got an audience and with whom we did not. We did a number of things proving the usefulness and the successes of our organization.
In September we had our annual general meeting where we presented our annual general report. I can send you a copy if you are interested. Right now we are working on a very comprehensive review of all our files from a statistical perspective.
Mr Crozier: I believe I read some place, and you can correct me if I'm wrong, that under the present method, even then it may take some 30 years to catch up. Perhaps you made that comment, as a matter of fact.
Ms Makovec: I see this as a very detrimental and regressive decision. Pay equity is not only legislation and accounting. Pay equity is a movement. It's a gesture showing that the government recognizes the value of women's work in this province. By having the legislation and also having the legislation as the first one in the world, as you mentioned, is something we have to start somehow and build on it and improve it, not cancel it, not abolish it or repeal it.
For example, we had many delegations from all over the world coming, they came to the Pay Equity Commission, they came to our legal clinic, consulting about the system, consulting about what they can learn from us so they can bring it there. On my holidays I visited also Sweden. Sweden is one of the biggest interest countries on pay equity. It only gives promotion to Ontario and Canada. It's good public relations. It's not, as I said, just legislation and some accounting. It has a far broader effect. For a country which is so young as Canada is, this had been a very progressive step that put the province on the world platform.
Mr Silipo: Ms Makovec, thank you very much for your presentation. I was struck very much, in the initial exchange between Mr Tascona and you, to hear him categorize this as the government returning to the original principle. That's actually the point, and about the only point, you should know, that was made by the minister this morning. We didn't get a chance, unfortunately, to question him further, but his statement essentially said the Pay Equity Amendment Act will put pay equity for public sector employers more in line with those in the private sector and return pay equity to its original principle. I was struck by Mr Tascona's categorization of that, that it was the initial intent to limit pay equity within the one employer, when I thought that the whole point of pay equity was to try to rectify the historical discrimination that has existed against women in the province in terms of the level of pay they have received.
I'd like to ask you to comment a little more on this. I find it odd that what this government is doing by cutting out proxy is in effect cutting out the ability for women who work not only in some of the areas of caring for children, the elderly and troubled youth, but who also happen to be the lowest-paid women in the province. It seems to be okay for this government that people who work, for example, in the school system can continue to benefit from pay equity, as they should, but that people who work for a children's aid society or a children's mental health centre or a child care centre would not be able to benefit any more from proxy pay equity.
Maybe you could shed some light in terms of some of the people who are affected. Any information you have on that might help the government members understand the discrepancy and the horrendous discrimination they are re-creating by putting into Bill 26 this particular provision.
Ms Makovec: I would see this rhetoric about sticking to the original principles of pay equity, but cutting proxy as something supposedly irrelevant or not the original pay equity intention, as more political words reflecting the political thinking of the government rather than a serious attempt to advance the position of working women in Ontario.
As Mr Silipo said, all the working women who are here to benefit from the proxy method are those who are in the lowest-paid professions. Once I did a survey of the salaries of day care workers, and the women were receiving anything between $5,000 to about $28,000 a year. On the top were women working for Metro day care centres, but on the low end there were women working for day care centres in various church basements for church organizations. It is not fair to expect women to be undervalued, paid less than the proper and correct salary they should receive. Why would it again be women the victims or carriers of the burden that some people are creating, sometimes unnecessarily?
Ms Churley: It's Marilyn Churley; I'm the NDP women's issues critic. Although I'm not on this committee today -- I'm sorry I missed most of your presentation, but I've read it -- I just came in to hear you for a moment.
First let me say that of the many areas we were very shocked about, as the women's issues critic this was quite shocking to me. There are some who feel -- and I concur -- that many of this government's policies particularly hurt women and kids, particularly lower-paid and single moms and others who are struggling to actually do better and get a leg up. This government said in its Common Sense Revolution that it was going to give people a hand up, and I see this as just the opposite and one of many other policies that are a hand down and a backward step for women.
You touched on the fact that child care workers, for instance, are very low-paid. What would you say is the average pay, or do you know, of the sorts of women workers we're talking about here throughout this sector who would be affected by this?
My second question is, when this runs out -- in 1996, I believe, is it? -- in 1997, if some of the employers have put off paying the women within that period of time, just sort of keep putting it off knowing that the date is coming soon, do these women then have any recourse? My understanding is, there will be no body to appeal to; that that will be it.
Ms Makovec: Let me start from your second part. You are very right; it is true that the phase-out period, the transition period, is from January 1, 1994, to December 31, 1996. The employer is supposed to pay the 3% over these three years, the amount of 3% payroll, as an increment.
If some employers decide to procrastinate, because they have time -- now you have given them time till December 31, 1996, so if somebody decides not to do anything -- some employers are excellent but some employers play these delaying tactics. Those who decide to delay till December 31, 1997, and don't do anything, on January 1 the women theoretically would have a legal right to protest or to appeal or to file a complaint. But by then this part of the legislation will be gone, so the employer will be able to say: "You have no legal grounds to appeal. You're out of luck."
This is something that's a big myth or logical error that probably should be addressed even in this course of action that you are taking. The women should not be penalized just because their employers or some of the employers decide on the delaying tactics.
The Chair: Now I'd like to resume the adjourned debate on the motion by Mr Cooke. I'll read back the motion: "That this subcommittee recommend to the subcommittee of the full committee to schedule three tax lawyers on Friday, January 19; and that each caucus select one of the three tax lawyers to be invited."
Mr Cooke: I think the motion is fairly clear. I would prefer that we try to do this on the first day of the clause-by-clause, but I'm informed that because of the motion that was passed in the House, that motion would not be in order. If somebody has a suggestion of a better time, I'm obviously open to that, but I think one of the most crucial parts of understanding this debate and developing amendments that will improve the public policy outlined in this bill is a better understanding of what taxing powers we're in fact giving to municipalities. We have to understand that.
I understand the recommendations and the advice that the lawyers in the Ministry of Municipal Affairs are giving the minister. I also know there have been pieces of legislation passed in this place in the past where the lawyers in the AG's office and in individual ministries have not been correct and that changes have had to be made.
More importantly, I'd like to make sure that this is absolutely clear when this bill is passed, because if there are differences of opinion, what's going to happen is that you'll pass a law and that the province will say, "This is the law; this is what it means and we're confident of it," and the whole issue will end up, over a series of years or a number of years, in the courts with municipal lawyers recommending to their councils that they do have the authority to do something, passing bylaws and then having them challenged in the courts, and we'll end up spending a lot of time and a lot of public funds on legal fees.
I think it's absolutely essential that when we're finished this process and we've amended the bill, what municipalities are allowed to do and what they're not allowed to do in terms of fees and licences and taxes be absolutely clear. I think one of the ways of doing that is to get some experts before the committee so that we can determine whether there's a unanimous point of view, as Mr Leach seems to believe there is, or whether there's a differing point of view. If there's a differing point of view, then I think it's incumbent on this committee to amend the legislation to make sure there can be no confusion at all.
Mr Sampson: I'd like to speak to this one just briefly. One of my concerns with respect to this particular motion is, if we're to consume the time on January 19, I think that's our time in Kingston. I'm not too sure my colleague across the road here wants to have an hour or so of the Kingston time chewed up by listening to some advice from legal counsel, who, by the way, could make deputations to this committee any time through the process.
We're travelling to a number of spots throughout Ontario, spending a significant amount of time here in Toronto. It would seem to me that if there are counsel who want to make deputations to this committee with respect to the various tax aspects they choose to speak to, they are free to do so like any other Ontarian who has signed up to speak in front of this committee.
My second item is, as the leader for the third party mentioned this morning, you ask one lawyer for an opinion and you're likely to get three or four. I'm not exactly sure that we're going to clarify the issue by having three further counsel spend committee time in speaking to no doubt three different views as to the various tax aspects of this particular legislation, so I don't know whether we would be further ahead -- indeed we may be further behind -- should we choose to act on this motion.
The third item is, who pays? No doubt, advice will not come free. I'm concerned that we should go and not only consume valuable taxpayer time, because we'll be taking away from somebody else who will be here from counsel, but consume taxpayer dollars in asking for these opinions. Again I say, should there be opinions that various counsel want to present to this committee, they are more than free to do so in the various time slots that we have, and there are numerous time slots. There are even some vacant today, I see, and I'm sure there will be down the road. They can make deputations at that time.
The final point is that in order to get opinions, you must direct counsel as to what you would like them to look at. I'm not exactly sure we know even right now where we should direct counsel to look; otherwise, they're more than likely to wander through the bill and we're going to end up with a rather costly and confusing result.
Mr Phillips: Just on the detail, Friday is probably out of the question, just because I know my colleague from Kingston wants the maximum time and I believe we're heading on to Peterborough that afternoon.
But in terms of the substance of the recommendation, I tend to agree with Mr Cooke. I think municipalities, if they put this piece of paper before themselves January 30, are going to say, "This gives us" -- in fact, the compendium talks about "unlimited flexibility to override any existing jurisdiction around charges and fees." This is the language used in the compendium.
I think there is a fair debate that this does indeed give unlimited flexibility, and in the end both the opposition parties will say, We told you so," but it won't do a lot of good because "I told you so" on January 30 -- I think if I were a municipal councillor I'd pull out the compendium and say: "You wanted to give us unlimited flexibility. You wanted us to have opportunities to make up all the revenues that you think are available, and that's just what we're doing here."
In terms of paying for our lawyers, I think our party would undertake to simply get someone who's expert in this to prepare to donate their time. In terms of the charge, or instruction lawyer, I think it's very clear. It's just that there is a debate around whether this language -- I'll give you the page -- permits or does not permit direct taxes in the form of sales tax, gas tax and income tax: "Can you give us a clearer opinion on whether it does permit any one of those three or not?"
The timing of it -- I had to put a date in. I'm not hung up on January 19. If the members of the Conservative caucus want to have another time, then that's fine, or if you want to take a look at the subcommittee of this committee looking at which lawyers we should go to and asking for an extensive written opinion. But I think we're acting in a pretty irresponsible way, as a committee, if we're going to proceed with this bill and simply have the opposition saying, "Yes, it does," the government saying, "No, it doesn't," and passing public policy that I think, even as Mr Sampson would admit, is up in the air in terms of whether or not it gives municipalities additional taxing power to that which has been explained by Mr Leach.
I don't think it's overly partisan to say that there has been nothing in the performance of Mr Leach that would give any of the members of the committee -- and if the Conservative members were candid they would say it doesn't give them any comfort either that we have in fact ruled out certain powers for municipalities.
In the eighteen and a half years that I've been here, this is not an unusual request that members of the governing party have acceded to. Whether we disagree with certain parts of the bill, we're supposed to be here so that at the end we see a bill that actually is workable.
If this motion is unacceptable, then maybe Mr Sampson can say what would be acceptable. Written opinions, would that be acceptable? A different date, would that be acceptable? There's maximum flexibility on this side as to when and how this can be accommodated.
My God, if we go through the entire process and we haven't got this kind of information, then I guess the message is pretty clear that the government, even though we're having public hearings, doesn't really want to have a clear understanding of what the bill does or doesn't do.
Mr Tascona: -- this is not going to stop. If there's some lack of clarity on the part of the opposition in terms of this particular aspect of the bill, which is dealing with licensing and user fees, certainly the purpose of the hearings is not to go out to the legal community and say, "What do you think about it?" We're here to find out what the public thinks about it. I think the minister has been very clear with respect to his position; the fact that the opposition doesn't accept that doesn't mean that we have to go out and hire lawyers to interpret it for us.
Certainly, any organization that would wish to come before us and say, "We have this difficulty," which we heard today from one organization -- "Well, this is one part we don't like" -- versus not an interpretation of the particular piece of legislation is of far greater use to this committee, rather than going out and saying, "Let's interpret the act," and we could get as many interpretations as we'd like. I hardly think the exercise will result in a situation which will satisfy certain individuals who will never be satisfied in terms of whether they want to challenge it. And if they want to challenge it, they're not going to be satisfied by each party bringing in their own lawyer. I hardly think it will be.
I think what makes any law work is basically acceptance on the part of the public in terms of whether it's a proper piece of legislation that can be understood. I personally have read the act, and dealing with licensing and tax provisions, I think the explanation provided by the minister certainly satisfies me. To go out and create a subcommittee of lawyers to provide us with legal advice when we've already been provided that by the government resources, to me, is a fruitless exercise and will not resolve the situation in terms of whether the opposition understands the bill or not.
Mr Gerretsen: Look, I've already talked to two municipalities that are not taking a partisan position in this at all. One of them is looking at a gas tax and the other's looking at a potential sales tax. That's a fact. I've spoken to the chief administrative officers myself.
The whole purpose, surely, is to make sure that the legislation stands up, whatever that legislation is. If the legislation is not supposed to do those things, then write it in the legislation. If you want income tax exempted, sales tax exempted, head tax exempted, put it in the legislation. That's the whole point. The point is not how you and I interpret the bill; it's how municipalities interpret the bill out there.
Municipalities, as the minister has already stated, are looking for new sources of revenue and they will, I can assure you, look at everything that's possible that they think the bill allows, and unless somebody actually challenges them on it, they're going to do that, as they should. If you don't want them to do it, well then put something in the bill so they don't. It's as simple as that.
Mr Silipo: What I just wanted to add to this was a bit of a reminder, I guess, that whatever political decisions are made by the government in its infinite wisdom, given that it has a majority and it can choose whether or not to listen to the advice that we will hear through these hearings from people on the politics of doing these changes, among others, at the end of the day, what we're going to be passing as a Parliament is a law that has to hold up in the courts.
I would think that the government would want to have the best legal advice that it can get in terms of looking at whether its law is going to stand up in court; otherwise, if they prefer to have those issues sorted out and be discovered and ruled through courts a couple of years after they pass the bill, if I were looking at that on a political level, it would suit me just fine, but I don't think it would suit the government fine. I just find it a bit puzzling, the resistance that we're seeing from the government members, because in effect what's being suggested here is something that, as Mr Cooke has mentioned, has been done traditionally on issues of this nature. I think it's a bit disappointing and discomfiting to see the resistance on the other side.
Again, I would just reiterate what also Mr Cooke has suggested, which is that there's lots of latitude here in terms of how this is done; for example, I would add even in terms of having our research officers come up with names of people who are experts in these areas and for the subcommittee to take a look at that. That's fine.
The basic point that we're making here is there is ambiguity at the very least; even the exchange with the minister made that clear. We can disagree on the interpretation, but I think we would all agree there's ambiguity on how those provisions relate to taxing powers that have been given to the municipalities are written, and it would behoove us all to try to clarify that and to remove as much of that ambiguity as possible. I would think that it would be in the government's interest, as it would be in anybody else's interest, for that to happen. So to support the suggestion that's been made today is really with that very much in mind, and I would hope that a way can be found to accommodate and address that concern, which I think is going to be key to all of us and to the people of the province once this law gets passed in whatever form that it's going to end up being passed.
Mr Hardeman: I guess I have a problem with this morning the minister did say that he had a legal opinion and he was convinced that in fact the legislation does not allow those taxes that are being referred to. The resolution suggests that we should have three lawyers to tell us that, and I find it rather significant that in fact it is three lawyers, that in fact we want three partisan positions. I'm reasonably convinced we will have three different opinions -- maybe only two -- yes and no. It's hard to find one in between, but in fact, one of the lawyers could very well say that it's somewhere in between, that it might be or it might not be.
Not to pass legislation that does what it shouldn't do or that doesn't do what the government feels appropriate, I think the appropriate method is to go through it. If the doubt is there, then maybe it should be an amendment to clear that up, as the member opposite just suggested, that we sure wouldn't want to pass legislation that doesn't do what we want it to do. I think the minister mentioned this morning that in fact if that was the case, that it could charge those type of taxes, he was prepared to pass regulations that would prohibit that. Maybe an amendment would be appropriate that clarifies the situation that those taxes are not allowed. I'm not sure we need three legal opinions to tell us that an amendment could or could not be proposed to the legislation. So I really think it is somewhat a consumption of time and money for decisions that will not help us in the end.
The Chair: Good afternoon, gentlemen. We're about to hear from the Ontario Separate School Trustees' Association. Welcome to our committee today. You'll have half an hour to make a presentation. You can use that time as you wish. You may want to leave some time at the end of the presentation for questions. I would ask that you all start off by introducing yourselves for the sake of Hansard.
Mr Patrick Meany: Thank you, Mr Chair, and members of the evidence subcommittee of the standing committee. My name is Patrick Meany and I'm president of the Ontario Separate School Trustees' Association and a trustee of the Dufferin-Peel separate board. On my left is Patrick Daly, our first vice-president, who is also chairman of the Hamilton-Wentworth Roman Catholic Separate School Board. On my right is Patrick Slack, our executive director. Seated behind us is our deputy executive director, Earle McCabe, along with Peter Lauwers, our counsel in constitutional matters, and in this instance specifically schedule M, as well as Steven Wilson, a labour lawyer and our counsel on schedule Q. I might add that Mr Wilson was an adviser to the Inflation Restraint Board.
Mr Meany: On schedule M of the Savings and Restructuring Act, schedule M is largely devoted to amendments to the Municipal Act. The schedule creates confusion for school boards because it uses the term "local board" in inconsistent ways. As a result, under proposed sections 209.1 to 209.7 of the Municipal Act it is unclear whether municipalities will be empowered to assume a local power currently exercised by a school board under the Education Act. In proposed section 210.4 it would appear that municipalities will be given the power, subject to regulation, to dissolve or make changes to a school board. Taken together, these changes would appear to permit municipalities to dissolve school boards and to assume the powers given to them by the Education Act.
None of these possible results is acceptable to the Ontario Separate School Trustees' Association, either as a matter of policy or as a matter of constitutional right. And in spite of the constraints of time, I repeat that sentence: None of these possible results is acceptable to the Ontario Separate School Trustees' Association, either as a matter of policy or as a matter of constitutional right.
OSSTA therefore recommends that: (1) the proposed section 209.1 be amended to include a definition of "local board" that expressly excludes school boards; (2) the definition of "local board" in proposed section 210.4 be amended to expressly exclude school boards.
I did not fully explain, I think, for those who may not know who we are and what we support and otherwise, we are representing 53 separate school boards and 600,000 students. We support, as OSSTA, schedule A, being the Public Sector Salary Disclosure Act, and schedule K, proposing section 20.1 as an amendment to the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act concerning frivolous and vexatious requests for access to a record. We reserve our substantive comments for schedules M and Q, and I have begun on M. I will go on, and we have it here on page 3, on the proposed amendments to the act.
Schedule M of Bill 26 appears to continue the tradition in the Municipal Act of sometimes failing to clarify precisely what is intended by the use of the term "local board." Examples of clarity include section 83.1, which imposes new rules requiring municipalities to report information to the Minister of Municipal Affairs. The section defines "local board" to exclude school boards. Similarly, section 220.1, concerning user fees, specifically excludes school boards from the definition of "local board."
Since the term "local board" is not defined in sections 209.1 to 209.7, it seems that school boards were intended to be included, especially when contrasted to section 83.1 and section 220.1 that expressly exclude school boards from the definition. A weak counterargument is that the continual use of the expression "a local board thereof" implies that the local board must be one established by or under the municipality. Since school boards are creatures of the Education Act and not of a municipality, they would be excluded.
If proposed sections 209.1 to 209.7 are in fact intended to apply to school boards, then municipalities would obtain the power to assume, without consent, a local power, including the powers of a school board granted by and exercised under the Education Act as follows:
This is not to say that municipalities and school boards are unable to cooperate in the provision of services, especially those that are not integral to the educational mission of schools. Examples would include the operation of transportation systems or the maintenance of school grounds. It is the open-ended nature of sections 209.1 to 209.7 that is objectionable, because it would appear to permit municipalities to assume responsibility for the educational mission of school boards. For Roman Catholic school boards in particular, such an outcome is unconstitutional. The assumption of a local power by a municipality would prejudicially affect the rights and privileges of Roman Catholic separate school supporters under subsection 93(1) of the Constitution Act, 1867.
Consideration of a precedent would be helpful. In the case of the Ottawa Separate School Trustees v Ottawa Corporation, 1917, AC 76, the Privy Council considered legislation under which the Lieutenant Governor in Council was given authority to appoint a commission and to vest in it all or any of the powers vested by statute in a school board which failed, in the opinion of the Minister of Education, to comply with its statutory duties. The Privy Council struck down the legislation and made the following comments:
"Their Lordships have no doubt that the powers so given would be exercised with wisdom and moderation, but it is the creation of the power and not its exercise that is subject to objection, and the objection would not be removed even though the powers conferred were never exercised at all. To give authority to withdraw a right or privilege under these conditions necessarily operates to the prejudice of the class of persons affected by the withdrawal."
OSSTA therefore recommends that the proposed section 209.1 be amended to include a definition of "local board" that expressly excludes school boards. The definition in proposed section 83.1 of the Municipal Act could be used for this purpose.
Proposed section 210.4: This definition is excerpted here and positively includes school boards. The operative parts of the section would appear to authorize municipalities to dissolve school boards. The conclusion is that school boards are covered by section 210.4.
From a policy perspective, perhaps municipalities should have the authority to dissolve local boards that are their creatures. The same policy consideration does not, however, apply to school boards. As has been pointed out, municipalities are not qualified, competent or democratically elected to administer the affairs of school boards. The policy arguments advanced above against sections 209.1 to 209.7 apply here as well.
Labour costs, as you know, are the largest component of costs for separate as well as public school boards, especially those relating to teachers. Collective bargaining for teachers is governed by the School Boards and Teachers Collective Negotiations Act, commonly referred to as Bill 100. Bill 100 is one of the statutes affected by schedule Q to Bill 26.
To give some context to the scope of the labour-related costs for teachers in separate and public boards, consider that as of January 31, 1994, according to ERC data, there were 127,000 full-time equivalent teachers in Ontario earning, on average, salaries and allowances of $62,639, for a total cost of just under $8 billion.
On top of these salaries and allowances, there are a number of other working conditions in the agreement, such as short-term disability of 20 days per year, which is provided under the Education Act; long-term disability; comprehensive dental plans; extended health plans; and life insurance. Then there are retirement gratuities, which have, as you know, huge unfunded contingent liabilities. There are, in addition, costly provisions defining staffing levels and what is known as planning and preparation, time during which teachers are not available to instruct in the classroom.
When collective bargaining about these and other terms and conditions of employment under Bill 100 reaches an impasse, the impasse is sent to a fact-finder. The fact-finder may make recommendations about the items in impasse. The fact-finding exercise looks very much like interest arbitration. The singular difference is that the award is not binding. The fact-finder report does, however, represent a statement by an adjudicator appointed by the Education Relations Commission which may have very persuasive impact within the community of teachers, trustees and the voting and taxpaying constituency. The prudent course for the parties under the statute is to approach the fact-finding process like interest arbitration, and a 1% recommendation by a fact-finder represents millions of dollars to the local board and the taxpayers of its community.
It is against this background that fact-finders assume responsibility. At the provincial level, each additional 1% that fact-finders recommend and ultimately get implemented represents a cost of roughly $80 million. With their ability to influence grid costs and staffing ratios, their impact is extensive. It is more sobering to appreciate that this is over and above the millions and millions of dollars of expenditures for payments for movements along the grid, which is referred to as the increment.
Schedule Q introduces criteria for arbitrators under Bill 100. There are already existing and different criteria for fact-finders in Bill 100. Fact-finding is mandatory under the bill whereas arbitration is not. The inclusion of different criteria suggests that the Legislature intends different standards to apply to fact-finders.
Our association respectfully submits that: (1) the criteria for arbitrators in schedule Q be amended, as we go on to describe in our brief; and (2) there should be the same criteria for both fact-finders and arbitrators. And although it's not referred to in our brief, we would say the same for final selection offers.
If the criteria proposed in Bill 26 are not to be amended, then, with great respect, the Ontario Separate School Trustees' Association submits that the criteria for fact-finding as they now are should also not be changed.
Under subsection (1.1), "In making a decision or award, the arbitrator or board of arbitration shall give" -- and we've added the word "paramount" -- "paramount consideration to the employer's ability to pay in light of its fiscal situation...."
The reality is that we are in a period of declining revenues, especially for the assessment-poor boards that we represent in the province, and as such, this question of ability to pay assumes even greater importance. We have used language similar to that used in the British Columbia Compensation Stabilization Act, which seems to have worked, and we are recommending that the legislation be amended accordingly.
Secondly, in paragraph 1 of subsection (1.1), we've added "and taxation" levels are not increased. We want to make sure that the ability to tax is not taken into account by arbitrators. They need to understand that there is only one taxpayer, whose pockets are not deep, and that the ability to raise taxes should not be seen as a way to finance labour solutions.
The third change is subsection (1.1), paragraph 3, "The comparison, as between the employees and other employees," and we've added "outside the teaching sector." We think the comparison should go beyond school board groups and include other public organizations, and perhaps private, within our communities.
Then, on page 9, we've added section 2, that "Section 22 of the School Boards and Teachers Collective Negotiations Act be amended by adding the following subsections." That relates to our concerns on fact-finding and that arbitration and fact-finding be consistent. We've again used the same criteria, and as I previously said, we didn't speak to the issue of final offer selection in our brief, but we would suggest the same, that all three -- arbitration, fact-finding and final offer selection -- have the same criteria.
In number 3 we've added that "section 73 of the School Boards and Teachers Collective Negotiations Act be amended by also excluding from its coverage sections 22 and 35 and by imposing a standard of correctness for any appeal of a decision of an arbitrator, board of arbitration or fact-finder pursuant to sections 20 and 35."
We go on at length through pages 10 through 16 to outline the rationale for the changes we've amended. Obviously, we don't have time here in the short time we have to make this important presentation, but we would ask that you please refer to those to give background to that which we've recommended. This is the conclusion of our comments on schedule Q.
Mr Phillips: Just on section Q, the arbitrator, and your thoughts on this, my understanding is the criteria of ability to pay doesn't exist anywhere else in Canada. At one time it was in Alberta arbitrators and British Columbia arbitrators, but it was taken out, and I gather even in Ontario at one time we had ability to pay for a short period of time and then it was taken out. Do you know why other jurisdictions have removed that as a criterion for arbitrators?
I can't answer why other jurisdictions do what they do. I do know that this statute, Bill 100, suggests the fact-finder consider the cost to the board of the proposal by the party. That's already in this existing statute. But I can't tell you why other jurisdictions have done what they have done.
Mr Phillips: I was told at one time when we were being briefed on the bill that the language "ability to pay" existed in many other jurisdictions. When I asked for the evidence of that, I was told that they were wrong on the briefing and that the language does not exist anywhere else in Canada on arbitrators. I was told as recently as this morning that's the case. Have you got any evidence to the contrary?
Mr Phillips: You also mention in here about the level of service. I think it's on page 13 of your document. The very last paragraph on that page, do you interpret the language in the current schedule Q to mean that arbitrators would have to consider levels of service in their arbitrated award?
Mr Wilson: As it's now written? Yes. As I understand it, the Legislature, if this were to become law, would direct the arbitrator to consider the extent to which those services may have to be reduced.
Mr Phillips: So that the arbitrators under schedule Q in the bill would be required to consider the extent to which they're going to have to cut services if current funding isn't increased. So that, if I can use your area, the arbitrator may say, "We're going to have to increase the class size or reduce the number of teachers in order to accommodate my award."
Mr Wilson: No, I don't think "they" refers to the arbitrators. I know the Toronto Star has written an editorial and given its opinion. I don't think this statute directs the arbitrators or gives the arbitrators the power to cut any services. I think all this bill contemplates is that the employer would arrive at the hearing and indicate, "If you, Mr Chair or Madam Chairperson, were to introduce this change, it will result in the following consequences, the following cut in services." I don't think this section gives that much power to the arbitrator.
We have indicated in our material, however, that the notion is kicking around. If the Toronto Star is able to reach that conclusion, no doubt some arbitrator would reach the conclusion that he or she has that power. We reckon that would be a pretty bad decision if arbitrators get to sit and make those kinds of decisions, with the little knowledge that they have and the time that they have available to make them.
Mr Wilson: Yes, sir. They do that; there's no end of ways that they can do that, or fact-finders would make those recommendations. But they don't tell the employers what other services they have to cut in order to pay for those increased costs.
I'm actually quite surprised that you're so calmly putting forward the analysis of -- it's on page 144 of the bill -- the dissolution of local boards. I'm told by the people in the Ministry of Municipal Affairs that, yes, in fact this bill does give the power to eliminate school boards and have municipalities take over that, but that school boards will be protected by being on the list of local boards that municipalities can't take that action on by regulation.
I guess what I'm asking you is, how do you feel about the fact that the only protection that you will have as a Catholic system and your constitutional rights only being protected on the basis of a regulation? It would never even have to come back to the Legislature.
Mr Meany: Mr Cooke, if I appeared calm in referring to that, it was only a matter of good manners rather than of depth of feeling. I feel very strongly, as does all of my association. We could not tolerate this and would have to take whatever was the appropriate action, and we would.
Mr Cooke: So in all likelihood, if this bill passes as it is, you and your organization would be taking a look at questioning and perhaps even taking legal action to see whether this in fact is constitutional.
Mr Cooke: Now, this act flows out of the economic statement that the minister made. In the economic statement, there was $400 million that was taken out of the general legislative grants. You know as well as I do that there's two areas of the province, Metropolitan Toronto public and Ottawa public, that receive very little in the way of general legislative grants, so this of course means that the rest of the province will be picking up all of that reduction in general legislative grants.
Just out of curiosity, have you been given any assurances by the government that the inequity will be corrected through legislation within the next short period of time so that Metropolitan Toronto and Ottawa will actually be contributing, which would of course require legislation?
Mr Daly: Although perhaps not in legislation, we've been given every assurance that the cuts will be equitable and fair. We're assuming by that, and have been given assurance, that all boards will contribute, including the negative-grant boards. So the answer to your question is yes.
Mr Cooke: That can't be done without legislation, so I'm assuming then that you're operating on the assumption that the government will be bringing in legislation to claw back money from Metropolitan Toronto and Ottawa.
Mr Silipo: Thirty seconds? Just very quickly, at the risk of being a little provocative, I'm not sure even under the existing provisions, but certainly under the provisions that you're suggesting for arbitration, what the incentive would be for a school board to negotiate if we had those provisions in the bill that you're suggesting should be in there. What reason would school boards have to go to the bargaining table as opposed to simply saying, "We'll just wait and let the arbitrator decide?"
Mr Wilson: I think what's happening now is that the big winner in arbitration is the union movement. We've seen the public health nurses picket Queen's Park back in 1985, with Mr Rae promising arbitration to anyone who wanted it. I don't think that what we have proposed here is going to take away the incentive between responsible parties to work out terms and conditions of employment. All this says is that once the decision is made as to how much money is available, that's a decision that should be respected.
Mr Young: With regard to restructuring, I'd really like to get a better understanding of what your position is on confederated boards and how they might help us address the fact that compared to a national average, we're spending $1.4 billion more on education than perhaps we should be.
With regard to confederated boards, the bringing of the separate boards up the level of spending of the public boards would not save money. The only way I can see that it could be done would be to bring the public board spending down to our level. This would save. I've done this calculation, and multiplying the number of students in the public boards by the approximate $1,000 a year per student that we spend less would save approximately $1.3 billion per year.
Mr Meany: No. I should make it more plain. I was under the impression that you felt that confederated boards would save money, or that somebody had told you that, at great expense, and I was showing that it would do the opposite.
Mr Daly: If I could add to that, the answer is no, we totally would not support them. That's for our constitutional rights to govern. As Mr Meany has clearly indicated, it would cost the taxpayers of the province a great deal of money, rather than the myth that some are putting forward in the public really to disguise the important question in education funding, and that's the inequities in the current funding model that we hope the government will correct.
The Chair: Thanks to everybody for coming back so quickly. We've had a little mixup in the schedule. The Canadian Bar Association is here to present. Sir, you have half an hour. We'll give you to 3 o'clock -- sorry for the mixup -- to make a presentation. You might want to leave some time for questioning. I'd appreciate it if you'd start off by introducing yourself for the sake of Hansard.
Mr Michael Bourassa: Thank you. My name is Michael Bourassa and I'm an executive member of the Canadian Bar Association. It's the natural resource section of the Canadian Bar Association. I'm here today to make a presentation on the proposed amendments to the Mining Act under Bill 26; that's schedule O under Bill 26. I apologize; I didn't know how many committee members there would be. I brought six copies of a presentation, which are being circulated to you now.
First of all, the Canadian Bar Association natural resource section executive is made up of lawyers who advise mining companies, exploration companies and individual prospectors who are active in the industry in Ontario and internationally. Our executive has raised a number of concerns, which we presented to the Minister of Mines in a letter dated December 7. I've included that record in tab 1 to the materials that I've submitted to you, and that will be the basis of the submissions that I'm going to be making today.
I've also included in these materials some of the correspondence, memoranda, press releases from the Ministry of Mines with respect to the proposed amendments. At tab 2 you'll find a memorandum from the minister, the Honourable Chris Hodgson, to the members of the Mining Act advisory committee, and this was dated October 20, which had set out several --
Mr Bourassa: For those of you who are just receiving your copies now, as I was saying, at tab 1 is a letter which I had sent to the Honourable Chris Hodgson on December 7 on behalf of the Canadian Bar Association, which will form the basis of my submissions. At tabs 2, 3 and 4 are some memoranda, news releases and so forth which were circulated within the mining industry and form the basis of the proposed amendments. Tab 2 sets out the memo of the Honourable Chris Hodgson to members of the Mining Act advisory committee, and I think the stress in that memo is that they were looking for amendments to "remove any sections that cause undue hardship to" the mining industry and that would "impede their business ventures because of unnecessary red tape."
We support any proposals that the government would have that it's coming forth with in that area and we support most of the housekeeping amendments that are set out in tab 3, but the overall amendments to part VII of the Mining Act, the mine rehabilitation provisions, we think are a major amendment. They're very comprehensive and we wish we would have had additional time to review those amendments. Perhaps even if the part VII amendments were included in a separate bill that could be taken a bit longer to review, it would be to our preference, but realizing that's not likely what's going to be occurring, we are going to submit some proposals to you for changes to those particular amendments.
The news release and backgrounder which I've included at tab 4 set out some of the policy behind the part VII provisions. Again, we support the concept that's there. If you look at the backgrounder at tab 4 -- it's actually the third page in; there are two pages there -- it refers to a self-regulating system, which we think is a good concept as a whole, but we think what the proposed amendments lack are necessary appeal provisions that were in the previous act. Without these necessary appeal provisions, it'll lead to unfairness, we think, in the process.
Right now, when mining companies or individuals submit their closure plans to the ministry, there is the ability to appeal the director of mine rehabilitation's decision. We think it provides for a healthy situation where the mining companies have the ability to negotiate that closure plan process with the ministry. If the ministry is provided with the opportunity to just say, "No, this plan is not acceptable," for whatever reason, with no appeal mechanism, then I think it's unfair from the industry's perspective. We'd like to see those appeal mechanisms built in and we've provided for those. We've suggested some changes there.
A good example of that is the financial assurance provisions in the proposed amendments, which are now going towards a self-regulatory, self-assurance type of provision for companies, which we think is a good one. But there is a provision in the proposed amendments where the director can suggest changes to the financial assurance when the financial assurance is not acceptable to the director. There is no appeal from that particular provision. That we find unacceptable and we have made some comments about that in these materials.
We do have some particular concern about the new provisions dealing with mine hazards in the proposed amendments. Overall, again, we support those provisions. I think the object here was to ensure that unpatented claim holders in Ontario will not incur additional liabilities to what they already have. We have certain concerns that unpatented claim holders in this province will be liable for more than what they're already responsible for now.
If I could just take you to the letter which I had submitted to the minister, and that's at tab 1, I'd just like to quickly go through some of the changes that we've called for. If you flip to page 2 of that letter, point (i) at the top of the page, the definition of "mine hazard" refers to "any disturbance of the ground." That, to us, is too vague wording which leaves it open to the discretion of somebody within the ministry, presumably the director of mine rehabilitation, to determine when that disturbance may have occurred. It raises liabilities for unpatented claim holders which they do not now have.
Currently the act provides that an unpatented claim holder would have liability for advanced exploration activities or mining activities. This seems to open up a door for broader liability to unpatented claim holders, and I'm not sure whether that's something the government and the Ministry of Mines really intend to do, because it could lead to more concern of people staking claims, prospectors staking claims, if there's that risk of additional liability.
That, coupled with the two provisions in part VII -- subsection 147(1), for example, talks about the potential liability of an unpatented claim holder for mine hazards which have been "materially disturbed." Now, it doesn't say in the wording of those sections that it had to have been or it has to be materially disturbed by that unpatented claim holder. It just says "materially disturbed." So it could have happened prior to the unpatented claim holder's tenure of that particular mining claim, and if the wording stays as it is, I think claim holders would be obligated to do some sort of due diligence before ever taking a transfer of a claim, which would be something new. I don't think it's the government's intention here to bring on that additional liability to unpatented claim holders.
At Roman numeral II on page 2, the definition of "owner" under the act, it's now taken away the exclusion that was there under the existing act where the "owner of surface rights only" was not included in that definition. I think that could lead to some grave error in the sense that in some instances surface rights owners have nothing to do with the mining rights or the mining activity that's taking place on that particular property.
I think it's a question of fact. If a surface rights owner owns the buildings or has had something to do with or had care or control of the mining activities, then there should be some responsibility, but by taking away that wording, I think it's bringing on additional liability to surface rights holders in this province which they don't already have.
There's a new provision now, under section 150, for the surrendering of a mining lease in certain circumstances. I believe the policy behind this is to provide a window of opportunity for those leaseholders who were forced to convert to lease prior to the amendments to the Mining Act on June 3, 1991, to have the ability to reconvert to unpatented claim status so that they don't incur that additional environmental liability which they never intended to take on.
I think the current drafting is totally unworkable because it refers to the fact that the particular person that's looking to reconvert will have had to have held that mining claim for the full 10 years prior to converting to lease, which is very rarely the situation. Most often the claim will have gone through several hands. It might have been beneficially held by one party and held by another, an option holder. I think it's unnecessary wording. I think all that's necessary to refer to here is the fact that the claim was indeed held for a period of 10 years and the claim holder was forced to convert to lease and therefore now should have the opportunity to reconvert to the unpatented claim status.
Roman numeral V on pages 3 and 4: Again, I set out those provisions in the act which I believe should include appeal provisions. Many of them are what's already included in the act. Some of them are, I believe, additional ones. I think it's fair that proponents, mining companies, individuals, should have the opportunity to appeal any decision of the director of mine rehabilitation. I think that's standard under other legislation. For example, under the Environmental Protection Act you have the ability to appeal the director to the Environmental Appeal Board. It's a fairness provision which I think should be included.
At tab 5 I've set out the suggested word changes to the various provisions of schedule O, which you can take the time to review. Again, it just sets out in detail what I've already set out in the letter, but it refers to the specific wording of the legislation.
Mr Silipo: Just to go back to the beginning of your presentation, the basic point that you are making is that, contrary to what the minister has indicated to you and others, there are in fact a number of significant changes in this bill that in your view warrant not only just further examination, but possibly even separating out and dealing with in a separate bill. Is that right?
Mr Silipo: I wasn't able to follow along with a copy of your presentation, but I wondered if you could comment -- maybe you haven't already, but if you have, you could expand a bit more. One of the things we see as a concern is the process to be followed, which the minister himself referred to this morning as changing the present closure plan review process of a mine with a self-regulatory system where we would be basically relying on the company to prepare a closure plan and then have that certified by a professional engineer and a designated financial officer from the company.
That would seem to fly in the face of any outside or third-party or government certification that everything that should be done is being done. I wonder if you could comment on that and give us your thoughts.
Mr Bourassa: I support the self-regulatory proposal. I think there are competent professionals in the industry in engineering firms, geologists, accountants. Speaking from the mining side's perspective, they've been very supportive of the whole rehabilitation closure process and have made contributions and are willing to do what's necessary. The fact that the ministry's requiring it to be certified by a professional engineer -- that professional is going to have to put his name on the line. I think it's a workable system. If the government is facing cutbacks and doesn't have the ability to provide the staffing for the full review of these closure plans, I think this is probably a workable system.
I just want to emphasize, though, that the appeal mechanism should be built in, because the act still provides that the director can reject the certified closure plan. My reading of that is that it's to reject on the basis that it doesn't comply with the prescribed form; the concept is that they're not going to go in and review the content itself of the plan. But even then, with the ability of the director to reject it on that basis, there should be the opportunity to appeal if the proponent feels he has complied with the prescribed form.
Mr Silipo: Would it be through that process that we would be able, in your view, to safeguard the rights of the public or the concerns we might have about what happens with problems that come up later on that perhaps aren't noticed at the beginning, which simply by certification may be overlooked in the initial stage of the closing of the mine?
Mr Bourassa: There are public notice requirements, and it's still under the self-policing or the self-regulatory process. The public would get notice of a mine commencement, for example, and in some circumstances advanced exploration. It's the director's ability to decide whether public notice should be given. That's really no change from the present act.
Mr Sampson: Thank you very much for your presentation. You've raised a number of interesting recommendations for amendments. On page 2, item 4, the conversion to the unpatented mining, you say the current drafting is going to be ineffective. How does your drafting deal with the conversion issue from June 1991?
Mr Bourassa: The point I'm making in my proposed changes is that all that should be of concern to the ministry is, was the unpatented claim holder forced to convert to a lease? Prior to 1991, you were able to keep a mining claim for a period of 10 years with an extension for one year, so to the 11th year. In the 10th year, if you were forced to convert to lease -- because the option was either convert to lease or let the ground go. It seems to me that should be the only concern: Were you forced to convert to lease and are you still a proponent today? If you haven't contributed, during your tenure, to the mine hazard, you should have the ability to reconvert to the unpatented claim status. Why is it necessary for that particular individual to have held the claim for the entire 10 years? I think that's rarely going to be the case. This provision will be of use to very, very few proponents.
Mr Sampson: With respect to the self-policing issue, we'll add a component that basically says, in layman's language, that if you can prove you have the financial ability, you don't have to post the bond and do the other components. Do you see any difficulty with that particular amendment?
Mr Bourassa: No, I don't see the difficulty there, because I think a lot of companies could probably comply. But the point I was making earlier is that there is a provision that says if you're in the situation where the company is self-assuring, at a point in time it's still the director's prerogative and discretion to say: "That's not sufficient for us now. Now we want you to submit a bond for $2 million."
Mr Bourassa: Right, and I think it's good. The director should have that ability to say, "Oh, that's not good enough now." Or it could be the situation where you, as in Inco, may transfer to a smaller entity. The ministry would like to have the ability to revisit that closure plan and that financial assurance. But I think you as a proponent should have the ability to say, "We feel that our financial assurance is good enough and we don't think we should have to change," for whatever reason. It's based on the facts.
Mr Phillips: The letter under tab 2 is the first time I'd seen the signal that the government was planning an omnibus bill. It was dated October 20. Are you a member of the minister's mining advisory committee?
Mr Phillips: Good. I gather that at the time you were being told this bill was designed to introduce amendments that weren't controversial, just non-controversial matters to clean up things. Am I characterizing it properly?
Mr Bourassa: I think there's a bit more than that. The government, on October 20, talked about the housekeeping matters, which they set out and circulated to industry members. If you look at the news release -- I first read it in the Globe and Mail, which would have been right around that time as well -- they talked about larger changes to the part VII provisions. Anybody I talked to in the industry didn't realize that there'd be a complete repeal of part VII and new provisions. It's a complete rewrite of part VII.
Mr Phillips: Is it fair to say that these are not all matters that are not controversial and simply are designed to eliminate confusion and clarify, that the amendments we're seeing are more than that?
Mr Phillips: How do the people who were participating in this feel, when they thought that this was an omnibus bill, designed to eliminate confusion and what not, and then find that it's more than just an omnibus bill but changes in a substantive way?
Mr Bourassa: I've met with members of the Prospectors and Developers Association, for example, this morning and talked to some OMA members. They're a bit surprised. I wouldn't say they're shocked, but they're a bit surprised at the extent of the changes. I'm not saying that anything has been hidden from them. There has been talk of the proposed changes. The news release talks about the change in the self-regulatory regime. The actual wording of the amendments was not reviewed by the public until they were read into the Legislature at first reading, which is standard.
Mr Phillips: Is there anything in here that needs to be passed right away? We've been told this has to be done by -- originally, it had to be done by the end of December; now it has to be done by the end of January. What are the things in here that are very time-sensitive and have to be dealt with by the end of January?
Mr Bourassa: I'm probably not the right person to comment on that. I don't think there's anything here that needs to be done absolutely today, but there are people from the industry associations who can give you some better sense of that.
Mr Phillips: In terms of the amendments that you would like to see made, if for some reason or other the government hasn't got time to consider your amendments and what not, how serious is it if this bill passes without amendment?
Mr Bourassa: I think it's a serious matter. I think there is some liability here, some risks to unpatented claim holders, and it is an unfair process for mining companies due to the lack of the appeal provisions.
Mr Bourassa: I have had some discussion with some ministry people, and they're entertaining some of them; I wouldn't say they're entertaining all of them. I haven't talked with any of the people at the political level, but we'd like to think they are fair provisions to carry forth what the government is saying it would like to do in terms of promoting mining and exploration in the province of Ontario.
Mr Phillips: The original plan was that the bill was to be passed, actually last week, but by the end of this week. Would your industry have had sufficient time to review the bill, meet with ministry officials and draft amendments by this Thursday?
The Chair: Thank you, Mr Bourassa. I apologize for the confusion at the start of the presentation, but I think you got a good, full half-hour. I appreciate your appearing before the committee today. Thank you.
The Chair: Could we please have the Ontario Coalition for Better Child Care come forward. Good afternoon and welcome to the committee. You have a half-hour, which you can use as you see fit, but we usually advise people to leave a bit of time for questions at the end. I'd appreciate it if you could introduce yourselves for the sake of Hansard.
Ms McCuaig: I'd like to thank you for the opportunity to appear here today and to applaud the actions of the opposition parties in supporting the right of Ontario citizens to make their views known on Bill 26.
There are many parts of this bill which will directly impact on Ontario families and their children, but I'm going to focus my remarks on the repercussions for early child care and early education programs.
It's the coalition's view that this bill will undermine, if not destroy, early education and care programs for young children in the province. We estimate that neither Ontario's 25-year-old junior kindergarten program nor quality, non-profit child care programs can survive the cuts when they are coupled with the downloading on to local governments.
Since the July 21 economic statement, the government has taken a number of steps to reduce involvement in the provision of early education and care services, and I list the steps which have been taken to date. But the overall direction of these steps and the statements made by government ministers reflect a general preference for privatizing the care and education of young children. In response to this, the coalition held a public inquiry. The results of that report have been sent to all members of the Legislature; I hope you've had time to review it.
We want to note, though, that with each one of these cuts, the quality and accessibility of early childhood education and care programs was diminished. It took about 15 years to build the child care budget up to what it was, and many of those gains were stripped away in the first 15 weeks of the government. In total, $350 million has been cut or slated to disappear from Ontario's $780-million budget for young children.
We'd like to highlight one of the previous cuts to illustrate our point that the downloading of care and education programs on to local government will result in their demise. Specifically, we'd ask you to examine Jobs Ontario subsidies. These were the child care subsidies which were 100% funded by the provincial government. They were targeted to families on social assistance. As of October 1, 1995, they moved to an 80-20 cost-sharing arrangement with the municipalities. On October 1, approximately 1,000 of these subsidies disappeared when municipalities refused to pick up their 20% share. As of December 31, another 9,000 of the subsidies will be eliminated. On June 31, 1996, another 3,000 will be discontinued. So that in total, out of 14,000 subsidies, only 1,000 will survive the downloading exercise to the municipalities.
This is a tremendous cut for child care. It represents an additional $83.4 million bled from child care and education services. Most importantly, it affects the neediest of children and it affects different communities differently. Those experiencing the highest child poverty rates, such as aboriginal communities, relied almost exclusively on Jobs Ontario child care subsidies to maintain their child care programs. These were the programs which served some of Ontario's children who are most at risk and these are the programs that are most in danger of closing.
We had to note that these subsidies have melted away virtually unnoticed and without comment either in the Legislature or in the media, and that government representatives still continue to say unchallenged that the government has saved Jobs Ontario child care.
Turning specifically to the provisions of the bill which will impact on early education and care programs, the bill contains a 47% cut to municipalities over two years. Because child care is a discretionary service, municipalities do not have to provide it, and many don't. However, municipalities remain the gatekeepers to child care subsidies, which are the largest part of the child care budget. If they don't put up their 20%, the province gets to pocket its 80% share. Municipalities are now in the process of deciding how to deal with their provincial shortfalls.
Just to give you some examples of what's taken place to date -- it's by no means the complete picture, but it does give you an idea of scenarios yet to come. North Bay has the highest proportion of single parents in the region. It's reeling from the closure of the Canadian Forces base. Child care subsidies have been frozen. Criteria for eligibility has been tightened, meaning fewer parents will be eligible for child care subsidies. Per diem rates paid to programs have been reduced. Parents on social assistance and young parents attending high school have had their user fees increased to $46 a month, which becomes a problem when they've had their income cut by 21.6% a month. Program managers report staff layoffs and an increase in vacancies. Two programs serving teen parents have about two months to survive.
In a city like Peterborough, a medium-sized community in Ontario, over one third of the population relies on some form of government assistance. The Jobs Ontario subsidies have been eliminated. There's a 25% vacancy rate in programs. Criteria for parent eligibility has been tightened and programs have cut wages, some by 20%, and yet layoffs still continue.
In Metropolitan Toronto, which is the largest supplier of child care in the province and administers 54 directly operated programs and 22,000 subsidies, one in three children is on social assistance; 25,000 families who meet Metro's eligibility criteria are on waiting lists for child care subsidies. Forty-seven per cent of these families are on social assistance. A child care subsidy means these families will be able to take work, attend school or enrol in job training programs. On December 31, Metro plans to drop its 3,850 Jobs Ontario subsidies. Originally anticipating a 40% cut in transfer payments, Metro had planned to eliminate an additional 8,500 subsidies. It also intends to divest its directly operated programs, tighten eligibility requirements, reduce per diem rates paid to programs, increase user fees to parents, eliminate hot lunches in the programs etc.
So we see that these scenarios are being repeated in municipalities across the province, and when these cuts are coupled with the proposed municipal support program contained in Bill 26 which provides for municipal flexibility in the delivery of programs, there is additional reason for us to have concerns.
The government's leaked plan to scrap the subsidy system and replace it with a voucher system is public knowledge; so is the government's review of the Day Nurseries Act. These developments, alongside the MSP, lead us to believe that the province will give the municipalities the option of using public child care funding for low-cost vouchers. Area offices of the Ministry of Community and Social Services are already instructing municipalities to consider vouchers as a solution to their dilemmas. These vouchers will not be directed towards regulated quality child care. The government document discussing vouchers acknowledges that its plans will eliminate funding to 50% of group care and 67% of home care in the province. The end result will be that cost-shared funding for regulated child care will disappear.
Bill 26 also contains the elimination of proxy pay equity. On average, proxy pay equity has paid out about $1,800 per staff in non-profit programs. The funding was first capped in July and it's eliminated by the bill. But scrapping the proxy pay equity plan has another side to it and it means more than a loss of wages in a profession which is 99% staffed by women. To date it's been the existence of the Pay Equity Act and the proxy amendments which have prevented the provincial government from following through on its threat to eliminate the wage subsidy grant. This grant represents on average about $8,000 a year for child care staff in non-profit programs. It is the only subsidy which brings their wages above the minimum wage. With proxy pay equity gone, the province is now free to move to cut the wage subsidy grant.
Funding for junior kindergarten is also in the bill. Previously, ECE programs for four-year-olds were 100% funded by the province; 85% of the province's four-year-olds attend junior kindergarten. Junior kindergarten is the only ECE program available to the majority of the province's young children. Bill 26 changes this funding ratio from 100% to the rate the province now funds all other pupils, less the 9% cut. School boards will have the option whether or not to continue to provide the program. Just as an example, the region of Peel will go from 100% provincial dollars for JK to 18% provincial dollars, and parents will be left to struggle on a board-by-board basis to retain JK programs in their area, or they may not even have that option. It's also public knowledge that the Ministry of Education and Training is considering dropping all support for junior kindergarten and reducing the current full-day program for senior kindergarten to half day.
There are also plans to privatize child care, and while government ministers and members have consistently refused to meet with the non-profit child care community, either locally or centrally, they have held a series of meetings with representatives of the for-profit child care lobby. This lobby has supported the government's actions, including eliminating the wage subsidy grant, eliminating pay equity, lowering the amount paid for child care subsidies, and restricting child care subsidies to the most needy. It also supports increasing the number of children staff must care for, decreasing Day Nurseries Act requirements for space per child, toilets, sinks, reducing licensing enforcement and fire and health inspections. This sector has consistently lobbied against improvements to the quality of child care. It has lobbied against accessibility for parents. In study after study, it is consistently found that this sector is more likely to deliver poor quality child care than the non-profit sector. Yet this is the sector that this government obviously favours. We can question the support of government for the for-profit sector. It appears inconsistent with other policy directions where it has eliminated direct public subsidies to business.
We understand that Ms Ecker has been charged with reviewing child care and making recommendations to cabinet. We caution that there may be few recommendations to make, since little quality child care will survive.
Considering the above, it's not alarmist we feel on our part to predict that, if Bill 26 survives in its present form, public funding for early education and care programs for young children could be eliminated in the next six months.
A small lifeline has been thrown the child care community with the federal government's announcement last week to make new public funding available for its long-promised national child care program. With 50-50 cost sharing offered, this is a richer arrangement than Ontario now receives for any other cost-shared program. The federal government is leaving room to allow provinces flexibility to reach agreement to meet their regional needs. It does insist, however, that the child care produced be of quality, that it be affordable and accessible. A condition for receiving new federal money is that current spending levels on child care be maintained.
We encourage this government to reconsider its course on early education and child care. By continuing to cut and eliminate child care programs, it may deny Ontario families hundreds of millions of federal dollars for their children. If the province cannot accept the federal government's quality conditions, we would then ask that it stand out of the way and allow municipalities who want to build their base of community-responsive child care to make negotiated deals directly with the federal government.
We are also aware that Metropolitan Toronto has reached an agreement to pilot child care funding reform with Mr Axworthy's department. This deal only requires the go-ahead of the provincial government. It requires no financial or other commitment from the province. We hope to see a public announcement on the start date in the very near future.
Finally, we would ask you not to underestimate the willingness of parents to fight for their children's future. The walkout that the coalition organized on November 24 affecting 60,000 children, their families, and 11,000 child care staff is a minor demonstration of parents' willingness to confront government's attack on children. Non-profit child care in Ontario was built and is maintained through the voluntary efforts of hundreds of thousands of parents and child care staff. These parents have made their choice for quality, non-profit education and care programs for their children. Thank you.
Mr Young: Globe and Mail. Okay. Because I work at the Ministry of Education, I'm the parliamentary assistant to the Minister of Education, and I've never heard of it. So I don't know where that comes from.
Mr Young: -- "will not be directed towards regulated quality child care." How can you say that? So far all it is is a discussion. It's not a leaked plan. It's just under discussion, and it has been for years. But how can you make such a statement?
Ms McCuaig: Because that's what the document says, that these vouchers would not be directed at regulated child care, that they would be directed at the parent and that the parent would take the voucher where they wanted.
Mr Hardeman: I've just a question on the discussion between the 20%-80% and the fact that the province funds 80% and the municipality funds 20%, and yet there's a grave concern that the municipality -- and incidentally the politicians at the local level are the closest to the people, at least it's "common knowledge," that those closest to the people are best in the position to assess what the people want and are willing to pay for. Why is it that, with the 80% in provincial funding, you feel more protected than by the 20% at the local level, that in fact they will decide to get out of child care just to save the 20%? Do you not see that the public and the local politicians assess day care or child care as valuable enough a service that they should provide at the 20% funding?
Ms MacDonald: It's the nature of these cuts presently that child care is delivered at the municipal level. As Kerry said, it's the gatekeeper to child care and it's a discretionary program; it's not mandatory like social assistance. The nature of these government cuts, when they come down, the transfer -- we've seen it federally to the province and now provincially to the municipality -- means those local governments are going to have to make some very tough choices.
In Metro alone, they're looking at an across-the-board 25% cut. In addition to the Jobs Ontario spaces which are due to leave in January, it's over half the subsidized child care system. When that happens and then you've got a waiting list that triples, it doesn't make sense to provide child care in the same way and that's the fear, that these are decisions that are going to be made locally on a municipality-by-municipality basis. Some will be better equipped to deal with the cuts than others. We fear that child care in smaller regions, rural regions will be completely destroyed.
It's just the offshoot of downloading. You have all the other pressures and at Metro we have a tax base problem that's creating it's own fiscal pressure. Child care will just be lost in the shuffle because it's a discretionary program.
Mr Hardeman: Further to that, it would seem to me that the intent of the legislation is to provide more local autonomy so that people closest to the electorate, the people consuming the service, are going to make the decisions on the priorities. Why is it that we are so concerned that the day care will not be one of the top priorities in the discretionary field.
Ms Macdonald: Simply because it's discretionary funding. If you're under that kind of fiscal pressure, you're going to serve what you have to serve and any programs you don't have to serve are going to be at risk. It's just the nature of municipal funding.
Ms McCuaig: There's no doubt that there will be a great deal of pressure on discretionary programs, and just the examples we've given you so far are an indication of the direction the municipalities are moving in.
We gave you this sort of example because Metro Toronto didn't get to be the largest suppliers of child care because -- it's because it supports child care, and has traditionally and has a number of leading politicians in Metro in favour of it. But when they are dealing with 40% less funding from the province than they received before, then they're down to making the hard choices, "Do we plough roads, do we maintain ambulance services or do we support child care for young children?
Many of them are making those sorts of choices, but the trend to date, and this is before they're feeling not getting the money -- there is the Jobs Ontario example of what has happened where you had 14,000 subsidies on July 21 and less than a year later you're going to have 1,000 left. That's an indication of the trend the municipalities are moving in.
This, we know, fills them with angst. They express their angst to us as they make these decisions to cut child care. We're not in a debate with them about, is child care important? We're in a debate with them about, is there the money to do it under these fiscal constraints?
Ms McCuaig: It really varies with the age of a child and with the area you're in. For example, for an infant in Metro, the cost would be about $1,000 but very few families, in fact no families, receive the full subsidy. It might vary between $200 and $400 on a subsidy like that.
Mr Phillips: I share your concerns. I think that with everything going on, child care is probably one of the areas that will suffer the most. Your first worry is with the Jobs Ontario subsidies, where the province was paying 100%. Now it's moved to 80%, and you're saying that 13,000 of those 14,000, in your opinion, will disappear. You think 1,000 will survive because some municipality will pick up that 20%?
Ms McCuaig: There are 71,000 spaces in the system which are subsidized. The projection is that about half of those subsidies will disappear. Cost-shared subsidies will disappear. Already we've seen to date about $27 million disappear, and that's on the cost-shared subsidies, not on the Jobs Ontario subsidies.
Ms McCuaig: Right, and they do it by tightening up criteria, by shrinking their waiting lists, by shrinking their number of subsidies, and sort of across the province to date about $27 million has been removed from the cost-shared subsidies.
Ms McCuaig: A hundred and twenty-eight thousand spaces. This is the point that I'd like on the record. Parents are big contributors to child care. This is not a free service. Child care is a $1-billion budget. It creates 25,000 jobs. Governments put in about $500 million and the parents put in the balance. When you cut the public funding, then the parent funding goes with it. When programs close, then that parent contribution disappears as well.
Mr Phillips: That's very helpful. I'm trying to visualize over a one-and-a-half-year period or so what percentage of the spaces we may be losing. I assume from what you said that approximately 50,000 will be lost.
Mr Silipo: I just want to say, first of all, Mr Chair, in getting to the first question, my understanding is that with respect to the exchange that happened earlier around a number of pieces of information that you referred to as being in the Globe and Mail, I think all of those pieces of information were in a document that certainly we received -- I know members of the media received -- from the Ministry of Education. So it wasn't that the Globe and Mail dreamt them up; they actually came from a proposal that was circulating within the Ministry of Education.
I want to focus in on one of the points you make in here around the elimination of proxy pay equity, because I think it would interest you to note that the government's view is basically that there's no big deal here, that all they're doing is simply returning the system to the way they believe everybody understood it would be, which is that pay equity was intended in their view simply to allow for comparisons to be made within the same employer, as opposed to what I think we believe, and I'm assuming you believe, was one of the basic principles of pay equity, which was to ensure that the work women did was paid at a fair level, and that where there weren't ways in the legislation for those comparisons to be made within the same employer, through the proxy method we allowed for comparisons to be made outside of the immediate sector.
I'm struck very much by the numbers you have in your brief where you indicate that $1,800 per staff is the effect of removing proxy; that is, that people's already low wages would drop by about that much.
But then the other thing, and this is what I'd like you to comment a little bit more on, is the link between that and what you see as the next step, which will be the elimination of the wage subsidy grant. Perhaps you could expand a little bit on that and talk about what that would do in terms of both the wages of the typical child care worker and what that does to the system.
Ms McCuaig: The government has made it clear since its election that it wasn't comfortable with the wage subsidy which is being paid to child care staff. They looked at it on a number of occasions, the first being on July 21 around their economic statement. At that time the opinion of the Pay Equity Commission was that the government would be violating its own legislation if it removed the wage subsidy. With the proxy amendments gone, and that is what the majority of child care staff fell under -- approximately 14,000 women working in this sector are receiving money due to the proxy amendments.
Now when we look at the average trained child care staff in the province who earns about $22,000 a year, and you remove $10,000 from her income, then you're expecting somebody who is a trained professional to work for $12,000 a year.
Mr Silipo: Last week some of us at the social development committee had a chance to hear from the association of independent child care operators, the for-profit sector. I obviously agree didn't with a number of things they said, but I was struck by one overall observation they had which I'd like to just sort of flag here as well, which was that they, similarly to you, saw that the cuts that the government was making were going to have a pretty dramatic, if not disastrous, effect on the child care subsidies and the child care system. They used Metro as the example, as you do, as one of them in terms of looking at the level of cuts. They foresaw very clearly several child care centres simply having to close. I thought it would be interesting to put that out.
When I pursued with them the issue of why they were none the less proceeding -- I think your brief makes the point that they seem very much to have the ear of this government -- as to what, when you strip it down, would allow them to operate under what the government is doing and what they would be doing, they seemed at first to disagree and then I think agree that at the end of the day a large chunk of the difference has to do with, in effect, what we pay people who work in the system, so that essentially what they're calling upon and what I think this, through the elimination of proxy pay equity, is on the way to doing is reducing not just the quality of the system, but asking some of the already most low-paid people to take even less, and that's the way the child care system, according to the government, is going to survive.
The Chair: Can I please have the Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association come forward. Welcome to the committee. You have half an hour which you can use as you see fit. We generally appreciate it if you leave a few minutes at the end of your presentation so that we might ask questions. I would ask that you lead off by introducing yourselves for the sake of Hansard.
Ms Marilies Rettig: My name is Marilies Rettig. I'm president of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association. To my immediate right is Greg Pollock. He's an executive assistant on staff. To my immediate left is Claire Ross. He's the general secretary designate for our association.
We're here today, and I thank you for the opportunity to come and speak with you today and make a presentation on behalf of the 35,000 teachers we have in separate schools across this province. I'd also like to say on their behalf that there certainly is a real sense of frustration with the process that was contemplated with the passage of this bill, the expeditious way in which you were hoping to move through this legislative process. There's a sense of betrayal and frustration on behalf of the teaching community that certainly democratic process was bypassed in that you were not trying to seek the fullest possible input from the general public in terms of the implications of this legislation, the ramifications of this legislation, and allowing the opportunity for people to express their concerns and give direction to the government.
I will highlight three different areas for you this afternoon which we would like to bring to the attention of the committee. The first one is in the area of the freedom of information act. Certainly, I think this also speaks for the democratic process which is all so important within our society today, and that is ensuring that citizens of the province have access to information and can secure that information through various processes.
Certainly the changes that are being contemplated we have felt, as members of OTF and one of the five affiliates of OTF, first hand when we tried to secure the information and the compendium that was developed as part of this legislation. Indeed, we went through a very frustrating process in trying to achieve that material in order to try and arrive at getting that material to the extent that a number of phone calls were made, a number of channels were pursued and finally we were told that if we paid $600 the library could reproduce it page by page and that way OTF would secure a copy of the compendium. Certainly there's a real frustration with that and one should not have to pursue those kinds of venues and go through that kind of very frustrating process to secure the information that will have such an incredible impact upon each and every one of us.
Perhaps in contradiction to that and on the other side a reversal is not the securing of information, but ensuring that certain information remains private -- this is the second area that I'm highlighting for you -- in that the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act there's a possibility of personal medical records of OHIP participants becoming available to the general public. Certainly, as educators, we have a very grave concern. We think it's totally unthinkable and unacceptable that this take place. Many students in Ontario are also OHIP patients and receiving medical attention for physical or psychological difficulties. Certainly their health records may also be available, and that's something that is completely intolerable.
Our recommendation then to the committee is that the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act be fully reviewed through public hearings to address concerns expressed by schedule K of this proposed act.
The next focus is on the Municipal Affairs Act. On December 7, OTF and the affiliates of OTF had a press conference and it was during that press conference that I was given the responsibility to deal with the Municipal Affairs Act and as such I raised the concern of the teachers that the far-reaching scope and breadth of the changes would allow the Minister of Municipal Affairs to make changes to school board structures and give municipalities that kind of authority.
Certainly, the response to that within the press and other media coverage the next day indicated that neither the Minister of Municipal Affairs nor the Education minister had any idea of what the implications or ramifications really were. I think that also speaks for the fact that this has to be closely addressed and certainly much more thoroughly investigated.
Moreover, we look to the process that is currently in place. There is a task force, the Ontario School Board Reduction Task Force, that will be completing its report by the end of December. Certainly the passage of this legislation would throw in the face everything that committee has been doing for the greater part of a year.
Moreover, we look at the two reports that were done in the area of Windsor and Essex and Carleton and Ottawa by Tom Wells and Brian Bourns, both of whom did extensive fact-finding reviews of the implications of amalgamation of school boards and indeed the ramifications of those with respect to the children and the citizens of those areas. The response to those two fact-finders alone speaks for the incredible interest and the incredible concerns on the part of ratepayers and parents for this kind of change. This kind of change has to be very carefully contemplated. It has to be contemplated from two vantage points: one, assuring that constitutional rights for separate schools are still realized; and secondly, realizing that you're not just creating another bureaucracy that will be more expensive than the one that currently exists.
So certainly we bring forward those concerns to you and the recommendation that we bring forward is that for the purposes of the Savings and Restructuring Act, the definition of a "local board" under schedule M, section 8, not include school boards.
The third area of concern is that of the public sector interest arbitration. There's a fairly lengthy aspect to my report that deals with public sector interest arbitration cases. As we know, an arbitrator is there to allow two groups to come to resolution of a particular conflict. It is an external, objective person who goes in and tries to assist with the conflict resolution process.
Certainly, arbitrators have stated in numerous findings and in numerous reports that an arbitrator should not make decisions based on budgetary limitations and priorities set by the government, otherwise the arbitrator would not be completely independent, as one always must be. Certainly, the changes contemplated within the act and the regulations as you have them proposed would take that objectivity away and would take that due process away. Certainly, the recommendation that we are coming forward with is one where that is not detracted from and that due process and the process of an arbitrator can continue in the most objective fashion.
The closing pages of our report, although it is not covered within this round of hearings, do reflect the health care area. We bring that forward because we realize that there are profound changes and ramifications of the changes that are currently contemplated, many of which will have a very negative effect on the health system, on health care in general and, most importantly as educators, on health care of the children who appear before us each and every day. Certainly, we wanted to bring forward our concerns as educators for the potential negative impact upon our children and upon the children in our classroom.
In closing, I wish to reiterate our thanks for allowing us to come this afternoon. These are very difficult times; I think we all acknowledge that. As an educator, I acknowledge that and I realize the reality and the new reality that our teachers face in classrooms across this province. They're also very difficult times from a number of other vantage points. However, these times do not justify arbitrary measures and arbitrary processes and arbitrary powers. Those kinds of powers and those kinds of measures will only further inflame a very anxious, a deeply concerned, and a growing cynical group of teachers and greater public. Thank you very much.
The Chair: Thank you. Gentlemen, are there any other additions to that or would you like to go right to the questions? Okay, we'll move right to questions. We have 21 minutes. That allows seven minutes per caucus. We'll start with the opposition party.
One of your key recommendations I think we all worry about is that in the bill it is possible, it seems, to eliminate school boards. I think it's your recommendation at the top of page 9. I gather that wasn't the intent of the government in drafting the bill, but we've now heard legal opinion from yourselves, I think from the trustee organization, maybe even from the ministry. Have you had any assurance from the government it's prepared to amend its own bill to make clear that it didn't mean school boards when it was defining "local boards"?
Ms Rettig: No, we've had no such assurances. In fact, when it was first brought up, as you know, there was a query and certainly there was great uncertainty as to whether school boards were incorporated within that. There has been no discussion since that point in time with the government or other representatives of the government. Hence, we are coming forward with this recommendation for you this afternoon.
Mr Phillips: I gather there's another way of doing it through regulation. They just simply say in regulation that they didn't mean it. Our concern on that is that regulation is something that can be done quietly, in the cabinet room, essentially with virtually no public input. How would you feel if the government says, "No, we're not going to amend this bill; we're just simply going to deal with you through regulation"? Is that a serious matter from the teachers' view?
Ms Rettig: We'd be adamantly opposed to it. I think one has to reflect very carefully why one would contemplate these kinds of changes. Certainly, it was quite clear and quite evident from Essex and Windsor and from Ottawa-Carleton. It was contemplated with respect to trying to achieve savings in the long term. Those savings weren't always guaranteed and, indeed, both of those places and the hearings in both of those places give evidence to the very strong concern, the strong sentiment upon local ratepayers as to the kind of structures and regulatory structures there are.
Finally, I guess I also give evidence to the fact that school boards, and certainly separate school boards, are currently guaranteed within the Constitution. I would suggest there's grave concern, and there would be certainly some very dramatic follow-up to that kind of move.
Mr Phillips: I think our concern throughout the bill is that it puts so much discretionary power in the hands of government. It happens it's a Conservative government, but I think all of us would feel equally if it were any other government. In this particular case, I would hope that you would be putting as much persuasive power and pressure -- I know you're coming here, but also with the ministry. Certainly, I can assure you we'd be prepared to look at an amendment and be helpful in the clause-by-clause, because I do think it should not be left to a regulatory power to be defining whether school boards do not exist or do exist.
The interest arbitration issue, when we were first briefed on this -- and all of this has happened in the last couple of weeks -- when we were first briefed on this matter, we were told that the clause "ability to pay" exists elsewhere in other jurisdictions so we shouldn't really be too worried, that it's not a very significant change. We've since found out that that language doesn't exist anywhere else. We were told that at one time it existed in BC and Alberta and has been removed. I think at one time it existed in Ontario and it's been removed.
What is your advice to us, if the government proceeds with that language in the bill, of what the implications are for real collective bargaining between, in your case, teachers and the school boards? I gather it also impacts firefighters and our police organizations and our hospital workers. Is there still going to be real collective bargaining between yourselves and the boards?
Ms Rettig: I'll start and then certainly ask others to give reflection to the answer. I guess, just to preface my remarks, it's twofold: it's not only ability to pay but also the fact that the arbitrator can make a decision as to the employer's need for qualified employees, which is a very grave concern for the educational sector as well.
Does it take away from the collective bargaining process? Most definitely it does. It prejudices the entire process and it certainly prejudices the arbitrative process, where an arbitrator is supposed to come in and certainly be very objective and bring two groups towards resolution.
Mr Claire Ross: I would just like to make a few additional comments. First of all, it's extremely disturbing to find that a government is loading up a legislative package to be blatantly unfair. I think as members of the Legislature, you have to understand a very simple fact of life: If you go ahead and pass this kind of legislation, you have effectively taken from the bargaining process mechanisms of resolution which both sides understand to be fair.
In point of fact, I can't think of any group that would commit themselves to a process that they knew the outcome was prejudicially against them in such a way as to predetermine the outcome. I think what you would be inviting by this process, across this province, would be the kinds of conflicts and strikes that are only going to cause an enormous amount of, not just discomfort, but disruption, in an environment which is already extremely negative and gloomy and so on.
I often thought in previous days, in another life -- and I look at David around the table here -- that a previous government was taking to itself significant powers, but by comparison, to be honest with you, the powers that are being presumed by this government in this legislation would make what the previous government was doing appear to be rather insignificant and minor. So I say to you around this table that if you move in this direction, you have taken out of the collective bargaining process those pathways of reasonableness that have produced settlements that have been fair to both sides.
I'd like to follow on this. I've been trying to understand better the implications of the changes on Bill 100 that are proposed in this act. I haven't really been able to make up my own mind whether it basically eliminates the right to strike, because in some ways I think you could make the argument, how could a teachers' group ever go out on strike knowing that it's going to go to arbitration and knowing that the deck is stacked against you when you go to arbitration so you're not going to be treated fairly, or whether it's just going to create so much chaos that we'll have more days lost due to strikes in the education system than has ever been the case since Bill 100 came in. I guess I'd like to get a better understanding of what your opinion is.
Mr Ross: My view is very simple. You're going to move into an era of absolute unpredictability and chaos, where the focus is going to be on the nature of the strife rather than the wellbeing of children. It's unthinkable for any government, regardless of political party, to move in the kinds of arbitrary directions that are reflected in this legislation because, quite frankly, people are not prepared to respond.
I think in an environment such as we speak from in the separate school systems, where our teachers have not had a pay increase in at least five years and have suffered significantly in terms of the downsizing, given the historic privation of our system, that to simply put before them a process which has already been stated potentially takes away any rights they may have is not one which is going to bring the teachers of this province onside in support of this or other measures that this government may wish to proceed with.
Mr Cooke: I'm not going to refer to your sections on the Wells report and the Bourns report because I think we might read some different conclusions into those two fine reports, depending on how you read them, but I'd like to just ask a little bit more on the section that does give the power to government to eliminate school boards without ever having to come back to the Legislature.
The only protection besides the Constitution -- but that would be a very long legal fight for yourselves and for the French-language community. Have you contemplated what action you're going to take if the law as it's presently proposed goes through, and have you had any legal opinions that would lead you to believe that this in itself would be a violation of the Constitution?
Ms Rettig: We're certainly securing that information. Currently, as it stands, there is grave concern and we have met with legal counsel and will continue to do so in the next number of days to get the most recent input from our legal counsel, but certainly there is very grave concern with the legal implications. Yes, we are moving ahead. We will plan and there will be an active movement on the part of the entire educational community from the separate school community that will express the grave concern and indeed anger of the separate school community with what this government is planning to do.
Mr Cooke: The final question I have is, and I don't think this has been talked about enough, that in the statement in the Legislature that is very much related to this, the budget or the economic statement, there was $400 million taken out of the general legislative grants, none of which applies to Metropolitan Toronto public, or very little, or to the Ottawa public board, which I would say is probably the biggest step back in terms of equity of funding between the systems since we brought in Bill 30 in 1985.
Ms Rettig: The impact -- and I'll also refer to Greg, because he's done a lot of work on this, as well as our staff officer -- would be potentially devastating. Certainly, the reason it will be devastating is because we are the most grant-dependent boards across the province and the $400 million will hit those grant-dependent boards the hardest. We have no coordinators, consultants, left at the board level. Dufferin-Peel, one of our largest boards, has eight, and no other board has anybody at the board level. We don't have extra resources within the school. We barely meet PTR, and that PTR is the highest in the province.
It will be the same as northern Ontario when other measures were taken a number of years back. They take classroom teachers out of the classroom. We're looking at class sizes of 35-plus, and in northern Ontario in two communities you have not one grade in the classroom but four grades in a classroom. So those cuts will take additional teachers out and will make those four grades in a classroom into five or six, or going back to a one-room schoolhouse, and that's not exaggerating. That's the reality of a small, assessment-poor board in northern Ontario. For that matter, it doesn't matter if it's a public board or separate board up there.
Mr Tascona: Thank you for your presentation. Earlier today we had a presentation by the separate school board trustees' association that seemed to take a different tack in terms of the approach taken with respect to the criteria provided under schedule Q. I understand that fact-finding is mandatory under the school boards' and teachers' collective bargaining act and arbitration is not. Given that fact, it would appear to me that free collective bargaining wouldn't be affected, since arbitration is not mandatory. Their suggestion is that the criterion that we applied should apply to -- that fact-finding should be included. What would be your position on that?
Ms Rettig: Including fact-finding as well as arbitration with respect to that kind of direction would ensure that the whole process would be prejudiced. Most certainly it does negatively affect the collective bargaining process. You're quite right; we do have fact-finding first. We move through the fact-finding process, arbitration comes in, and certainly it's hoped that arbitration comes into effect either before there's any kind of sanction taken or it will end a sanction situation. So looking at the time frame and the implications of arbitration and the use of arbitration, it certainly does prejudice the collective bargaining process.
Mr Tascona: I'm curious also, in terms of the fiscal situation that would affect separate school boards in terms of the funding they do receive, how ability to pay cannot be a relevant factor in an arbitration.
Ms Rettig: Certainly it hasn't been the most significant factor. When you take a look at the kinds of gains that our teachers have made and the kinds of conditions that our teachers currently realize in the classrooms, there is a radical difference between the two. I recognize that. It's a cause-effect. Currently, our teachers have much larger class sizes and certainly haven't got the resources available to them, but allowing an arbitrator and giving them that as the evidence that can be used in a finding will ensure that that kind of radical difference will always continue to exist. That can't be the case for our teachers in separate schools across this province.
Mr Ross: I'd like to make a comment. I'm glad you raised the issue, because you have alluded to the two-tiered system of education which we have in the province of Ontario. We belong to the assessment-poor, and we're getting poorer. As David Cooke just said, when those legislative grants are cut, the $400 million is coming from the poorest of the poor. If we talk about ability to pay, quite frankly, we've more than paid at the office since 1867.
What's going to happen when you apply this latest round of cuts, exempting, of course, the richest boards in this province -- you can understand the kinds of devastation that we're going to be faced with. I would hope that you would with some sensitivity begin to recognize the potential for harm there is to the separate school system, to our students and to our teachers, and the potential this has to cause the kinds of unrest that we haven't seen in a long period of time.
Mr Ross: I think the very reality of our schools reflects the funding basis on which we have stood for these long periods of time. I think the point that's being made is simply this: that surely around this table we're not arguing to put in place a legislative façade which would make it appear as if there is a reasonable path to resolution which is fair when in point of fact it's not only prejudicially affected by the funding base of the employer for whom we work; it's also prejudicially compounded more negatively by the kind of legislative basis of the process itself that you're asking us to become a part of.
Mr Hardeman: It has been talked about the school board being a board that could be dissolved by municipalities. The minister spoke this morning and suggested that this was not the intent and that in fact he would exempt them by regulation, and as it's pointed out, your position is, and others before you have stated, that that would not be sufficient, that it needs to be in the act. In legality, and it was talked about, what would one do, if in fact it would seem to take away the constitutional right to have a separate board -- why would regulation not at that point in time at least protect that constitutional right?
Ms Rettig: I'll start and then certainly ask my colleagues to also give their insight and their input as well. But certainly putting into regulation would facilitate a change and that change could be facilitated much more quickly. So certainly the constitutional rights and guarantees could not be afforded if it was changed and incorporated in regulation.
Mr Ross: Regulation is a very low standard of legal protection. It can be changed in the inner sanctums of the cabinet by a simple fiat of this particular group, and we certainly know that the constitutional rights of separate schools are not based upon that kind of surety.
I think also from the point of view of the public systems that there is considerable fear, given the kinds of themes being expressed in the Golden report and others, that certainly municipal councils and God knows who else would dearly love to get in and take over these structures, obviously on the pretext that they can do better.
Mr Hardeman: If I could get one step further on the issue, why would this fly in the face of the report that's coming out on the reform of the school boards? Why would this legislation prohibit a good look at the report coming in from that and taking those recommendations as opposed to going in the direction of letting municipal councils take over?
Ms Rettig: Certainly one would have to contemplate the substance and the nature of the report that's coming forward from the Ontario School Board Reduction Task Force. But certainly they have done an intensive amount of work. That work has transpired over the last winter, February right through till December, almost an entire year. One would anticipate and contemplate that when that report is coming forward, one would receive the report, and upon receiving the report, recommendations would evolve and would come out based on that report and the investigation that had taken place.
It certainly was quite apparent that when school boards were incorporated within this part of the proposed legislation, that wasn't being done. These recommendations and reforms were coming forward; there was a potential for the changes to take place without any kind of contemplation with respect to why any kind of amalgamation should take place or why any kind of jurisdictional change should take place. Certainly, that is why we express that grave concern.
The Chair: Could I call on Mayor Hazel McCallion to come forward, please. Welcome, Mayor McCallion. You've got half an hour today for a presentation. You can use that half-hour as you see fit. Most presenters leave some time for a question-and-answer session.
Mrs Hazel McCallion: Thank you very much, Mr Chairman and members of the standing committee. I'm happy to be here today. As mayor of the fourth-largest city in this province, I'm very delighted with this bill as it applies to municipalities.
We've had a noose around our neck for years under the Municipal Act. In fact, the province has treated us as children. Quite honestly, I think we've grown more as responsible adults than the province has. Therefore, it's very important that we have something that will give us the flexibility we need. The large urban centres of this country have taken a leading role in trade and many aspects, and I think we've proven ourselves.
Secondly, as the province has been cutting back for years in grants to the municipalities -- it hasn't just happened this year; I've seen the educational grant go down quite considerably and I've seen other grants go down -- at the same time we have never had the flexibility or the opportunity or the responsibility, because of the Municipal Act and because of the way in which we've been treated as children, to deal with our revenue base.
As municipalities we've really been relegated to working under a Municipal Act that is very antiquated. The former government felt it was antiquated and the government before that; we've heard about it but we've seen no action. This government, at long last, is going to take action on it.
The municipal government is the closest to the people, I can assure you, and I want you to know that if we don't do what we're required to do as elected people, we have an election every three years; you folks decide when you want one. We have no decision in that. We come up regularly, on a three-year basis, to be judged by our taxpayers as to whether they like --
Through the bill, I believe that municipalities are recognized as a viable and responsible level of government and are given the flexibility to be more innovative in delivering services. You can't cut us back in grants and leave us with the only revenue generation that we've had over the years. That's why we in the city of Mississauga have gone to user fees. This is nothing new, that you're going to give us the right to user fees. We feel that if the people in Mississauga did not like the user fees we've implemented over the years, we wouldn't be there. It's a simple as that.
I understand there's a big discussion over whether a municipality will use a poll tax. Well, in a municipality that decides to do that, the people will look after them if they're not happy about it in the next election. It's a simple as that. It just says they do, as they did with the last government in Ontario. If they're not happy with you, they have an opportunity to throw you out. I'm very delighted with it. It gives us a flexibility in the services that we grant.
There are those who do not believe in user fees. Well, you have one of two choices: Bury the cost of the service in the total tax bill and keep the people in the dark; or be up front with them, tell them what the service costs and tell them what contribution they're making towards it. So when some mayors say they're going to start user fees, I say, "Well, catch up with Mississauga."
The argument is that user fees and other taxation -- if a municipality puts in user fees and then increases the taxes, I would suggest to the taxpayers they take a look and maybe they don't need those people as their representatives. Maybe that's why Mississauga has not raised taxes for five years, and one year it even gave a 1% reduction in the taxes, because we do increase our user fees on the basis of inflation and we gradually bring them up.
In fact, to give you an example, we do charge for the adult use of soccer fields, baseball diamonds etc and this year we thought we'd look at the implementing a user fee on the minor sports. Well, I'll tell you we heard from the minor sports people in no uncertain terms. We did not implement a user fee for minor sports, but you know what we got through the process? We got greatly reduced maintenance costs because they were prepared to put in some voluntary work. Isn't it interesting, you see?
So if the elected people do their homework, then I can assure you they're not going to put in a user fee that the people don't want, but you give the people a choice. You give the people a chance to get involved in providing the service if they wish to.
I understand that the bill also allows privatization. We privatized our collection of garbage for 15 to 20 years. Some municipalities close to us are only waking up to that, and we get an excellent price on our garbage collection.
In regard to the utilities, giving us the right to sell it, we looked at the privatization of Mississauga Hydro. We found out, for one thing, that it needed the approval of the city of Mississauga but it also needed a referendum. I like the idea that we can have a referendum if we want to, or we don't have to have a referendum -- again flexibility dealing with us like adults and not like a bunch of children.
So we support the bill. There's only one thing that we would say. I remember, when we did the transportation of dangerous goods by land, air and sea at the federal level after the Mississauga derailment, that the act is about this small and the regulations are this big. Therefore, when the regulations come out, which will give the details, we certainly want to be involved, I'm sure the Association of Municipalities of Ontario want to be involved and we will look them over very carefully, as we should, and try to make -- we're delighted with these arbitration decisions.
You know, negotiating with those that are binding arbitration is just fun. It's an act really, because if they go to arbitration you know who's going to win. It doesn't take into account the financial status of the municipality. But there's one thing, I think, lacking in that: They can't increase taxes. If they looked at the city of Mississauga when we have $400 million in reserves, I'm sure an arbitrator would think that maybe we have a lot of money around now, but all of it is allocated; all of it is clearly added.
We don't have any sick leave plan that is not funded in the city of Mississauga as we find out that the school boards have. We don't have that; it's all funded. We set aside money every year to cope with what we will be required to pay out of the sick leave fund.
We would hope that it might be added. I know AMO has made some slight recommendations that I'm sure will be done. But I believe that this bill will give the municipalities the right to manage their affairs.
You know, the public is completely confused as to who is responsible for what. I think the time has come that the public is demanding a clarification and a definition of the roles of all levels of government to make sure they know who is charging them for what and that therefore they are accountable so they can get to them. They get to us, I can guarantee you that, whether it's a provincial issue or otherwise.
I want to say that we support, I support, Bill 26. There are going to be problems; there were problems when we didn't have Bill 26, and there are going to be municipalities that possibly will misuse Bill 26. But I think it's time you gave the responsibility to the municipalities to see whether the municipalities that don't wish to follow the rules are prepared to take the chance.
I also am very pleased to see that all public servants who earn over $100,000 must be publicized. Great. I'd like to know what the presidents of universities get; I'd like to know what the administrators of hospitals get. I have no problem in publicizing what our commissioners and city manager get. I think the public should know. It's their money. The corporation that pays everybody knows, so why shouldn't the public, which are the stakeholders, which are the taxpayers, know what their public servants are getting? I have no problem with that at all.
What this government is doing is getting the noose from around the necks of the municipalities in Ontario and giving us the freedom and the opportunity to display our ability, because quite honestly, I don't think the municipalities are as far into debt as the province of Ontario is, so maybe they have been rather responsible in their administration. I can assure you, and I want you to know again, that Mississauga has no debt in spite of the recession and in spite of the growth we've had, from 220,000 people to 560,000 people in the last 10 years.
I don't know if you know that's what he's saying, but if that's what he's saying -- and read Hansard from this morning -- would you then still feel that you're being treated as an adult, if you know that the Minister of Municipal Affairs will be looking over your shoulder and all the others, and if you do it wrong, then he will step in? It won't be your ratepayers, Hazel; it'll be the Minister of Municipal Affairs who'll say that you're wrong and he's going to stop you.
Mr Cooke: I'm talking about if you bring in a poll tax. You said a few moments ago that if a poll tax is brought in by a municipality, it should be able to do that and it will suffer the consequences with the voters. Mr Leach has said no, that he will stop you. I don't understand how that is a mature relationship between the municipalities and yourself.
Mrs McCallion: I very carefully said to you, Mr Cooke, that the regulations are the key. This bill says things. Wait till the regulations come down, in which is the detail. Our staff will be glad to look and so will, I'm sure, AMO be glad to look at the details of the bill.
Mrs McCallion: One that we have a lot trouble with now is flower distributors -- the gentleman in Toronto has given problems to all municipalities in the greater Toronto area -- and another is photographers.
Mrs McCallion: No, it's when they come out and operate in Mississauga that we will -- this one happens to operate in an illegal way. He brings flowers out and puts them on our boulevards and sells them.
Mr Tascona: Your worship, I'd just like to ask you a few questions with respect to the interest arbitration provisions. The ability to pay, we put out the criteria, the five factors. We're heard some submissions today from different groups, one particularly, the Ontario Separate School Trustees' Association, that feel we should make the ability to pay the paramount consideration in the decision of an arbitrator. I know that would impact you under firefighters.
We've also heard from groups that say that arbitrators have said that the ability to pay is not a relevant factor. Do you feel that the measures that the government has taken with respect to the criteria are sufficient, or should they be strengthened somewhat to make sure that arbitrators respect the ability of a municipality to pay?
Mr Hardeman: Madam Mayor, I just wonder on the user fees, is the main reason they're put in in Mississauga based on the fact that it's the appropriate way to pay for the service, or are they put in to avoid raising taxes?
Mrs McCallion: It was put in to avoid raising taxes, yes, and secondly, it makes people more responsible. I don't want to touch the medical situation that this bill covers, but the time has come when I think when you go to a doctor's office, you should sign something that you were there.
In my opinion, we put user fees in to reduce the costs of the maintenance of the service we provide. In many cases it doesn't cover the full cost, but it makes the person responsible. Let me give you an example: The region of Peel surcharged the water bill with the sewage charge. In other words, the sewage surcharge that we put on was buried in the tax bill.
As soon as we surcharged the water bill with the sewage charge, the people that wasted water either smartened up or continued to waste water, because now they get a sewer surcharge on their bill, and the people who conserved water gained from it because their bill therefore wasn't surcharged as high. So it gives users of the service the ability to control what they use.
Secondly, I heard a mayor say that they didn't believe in user fees. What is a transit fare but a user fee? I don't know. It certainly is a contribution only towards the cost of transit, but it's a user fee. In other words, I guess we could bury the transit cost into the tax bill. We could bury everything in the tax bill. What we're trying to do is make people more conscious of the service they get and what it's costing.
For instance, I don't support -- here's a user fee we're looking at, Dave -- I'll give you a good one: charging for garbage collection. I don't agree with it. Do you know why? We'll have garbage all over the place and we've got a lot of vacant land in Mississauga. So here's one we have looked at in the region of Peel and we say, "No way." We don't need the province to tell us that, I can tell you. We're going to make that decision because we'd have a real problem with charging for garbage.
Mr Hardeman: There's been some concern expressed about the fact that the municipalities will not take their role seriously; in fact they will put on unfair charges and will charge for things they shouldn't. Obviously, you've been -- what shall we say? -- involved in municipal government for some time. Mississauga has taken a somewhat different approach than some municipalities. You have implemented more user fees and have worked on a balanced budget for some time.
Do you have confidence that your colleagues in other municipalities will treat this extra autonomy responsibly, or would you have a concern that the province should hold the reins tighter in some areas in order to avoid municipalities making mistakes?
Mrs McCallion: In fact that's where the minister comes into it, if a municipality is irresponsible, and I'm sure there are municipalities that could end up being irresponsible. There was irresponsibility in the establishment of lot levies in this province, and that's why the government had to bring in legislation.
We operated without legislation on lot levies for years because we justified what we charged, but there were some municipalities that just pulled figures out of mid-air and said, "Ah, we'll have a good time here getting the developers." They brought in irresponsible levies, and so the province had to step in and give us legislation.
That's where the province has, when a municipality -- I can't speak for my colleagues; I can only tell you that the large municipalities of this province surely will take responsibility and will consult with their people, as we did on the minor sports, and found out that it wasn't acceptable, but we got a deal as well. We got some more voluntary involvement in the maintenance of fields, so we reduced the maintenance costs by about 50%.
Mr Gerretsen: When the minister was here earlier today he initially had said, "Yes, everything is a go situation," then he said, "Well, if there are unfair fees," according to his definition, "or any fee that the province doesn't like," they'll rule it out by regulation. Are you not a little bit concerned that the province can just step in at any given moment and say, "Look, we don't like that particular user fee or that licence fee and we'll just cut it right out"? That doesn't sound to me like a true partnership with the municipalities, does it?
Mr Gerretsen: Regardless of what you may or may not do in Mississauga, do you not agree with me that the direct taxation provision in the act, from what you've heard about it and know about it, does allow municipalities to have a head tax and a sales tax and even an income tax?
Mrs McCallion: I guess even a gasoline tax. When we discussed integrated transit in the greater Toronto area, the only way that we can have integrated transit in the GTA -- and we discussed it, all the municipalities involved -- was a gasoline tax. We would have to ask the government to pass that. Maybe now we might have the opportunity to put it in. Yes.
Mr Crozier: Mayor McCallion, you may recall when I was first elected mayor in the town of Leamington in 1988, I came into the AMO convention and you and I sat down on the couch and I was quite pleased to talk to you about being a mayor.
You just spoke about the $3.5 million that Mississauga will lose in the transfer payments, and yet I have yet to hear you -- and you are a great proponent for your city today -- I take it that you think that Mississauga has been a pretty efficiently run municipality over the last 20 years.
Mr Crozier: The best-managed in Canada. Where in the devil are you going to find $3.5 million in inefficiency? I grant you can find part of it, but where have you been so inefficient in the last 20 years that you can now find $3.5 million just like that? No increase in fees, no increase in taxes, no increase in user fees.
Mrs McCallion: We've been hiring consultants to some degree. We're going to cut a lot of them out. We're going to do a lot of things. But when I say we're the best-managed city in Canada -- and that's what people say; I've read articles that said it -- it doesn't mean that you have a management in status quo. You're forever looking. We just hired a new city manager, and I'm sure that he's going to come in with some new ideas.
Mr Phillips: I gather from your earlier comments and responses that it is your opinion, based on a conversation you've had with your legal people, that this provision here does provide for the introduction of a gas tax, for example. It does permit that.
Mrs McCallion: That's why I say to you that it gives us the authority to do it, but the province will look over their shoulder. I have no problem with the province looking over my shoulder or our shoulder in Mississauga, because if you're doing a good job, the province has no right to step in. If you're doing a poor job, I think they should step in.
That being the case, I have a few housekeeping announcements. Mr Cooke, if you want to hold one second, please, and Mr Sampson. A couple of housekeeping things: Tomorrow morning we're going to be starting at 9:30 because of some scheduling. There's no luck so far changing the 8:30 to the 7:30, but we'll continue to try to do that. There will be some food available for members officially on the committee in committee room 2 because there are only so many meals to go around.
The Chair: Good evening and welcome to the committee. You have 30 minutes to do your presentation. You can take as much time as you wish. Usually, people will leave some time for questions at the end. If you'd like to introduce yourself right at the start for the committee members and Hansard.
First and foremost, we have a very serious concern with the speed and manner with which this bill was introduced. Bill 26 makes sweeping changes to numerous statutes and will have a significant detrimental impact on the environment, yet there was no public input. Given the very short time frame, we've had very little time to digest this bill and assess its full implications.
My comments therefore are preliminary in nature. CELA is in the process of preparing a written submission on the environmental implications of Bill 26 and we will forward them to the standing committee, hopefully by this Friday.
Our first concern is with the process. Bill 26 was not placed on the Environmental Bill of Rights registry, despite the environmental implications of this bill. On November 29, the government passed regulation 482, exempting bills intended to promote economic prosperity and achieve fiscal savings from the EBR process.
It is evident, however, that Bill 26 proposes amendments that are not simply fiscal or administrative in nature. For example, if you look at the various provisions in the bill, and particularly amendments to the Mining Act, it guts environmental standards. At the very minimum, the bill should have been placed on the EBR for public review and comment. By exempting Bill 26 from the EBR process, this government has severely undermined the integrity of the EBR process.
We also have substantive concerns with the actual bill itself. I'd like to first of all deal with schedule K, which are the amendments to the freedom of information act. The FOI is a key piece of legislation which has provided the public with access to important environmental information. A new section is created under Bill 26 providing government institutions with the power to deny access to documents on grounds that a request is frivolous and vexatious. These proposed amendments run counter to one of the very fundamental purposes of the FOI, which is that all necessary exemptions should be specific and limited.
The term "frivolous and vexatious" provides an extraordinarily broad ambit for refusal. Furthermore, it's entirely subjective criteria. The amendments also make it easier for the government to dismiss appeals. A new section is created allowing the commissioner to dismiss an appeal if the notice of appeal does not disclose a reasonable basis for concluding the record exists. This creates an onus on the requester to demonstrate the existence of a record, something that a requester will rarely be able to do. Both of these proposed amendments have the potential to create a shroud of secrecy which is exactly what the FOI act was intended to guard against.
We are also concerned about the increasing cost for FOI requests. Under Bill 26, individuals will have to pay for access to personal information and can also be charged for any cost incurred in responding to the request. These costs will make it more difficult for the public to access information, particularly low-income people.
Moving on to schedule M, which is the amendments to the Municipal Act and other statutes, there are a number of concerns under this schedule. Of particular concern, however, are the changes to the Conservation Authorities Act. It provides municipalities with power to dissolve conservation authorities and to sell land. We are concerned that with the large cutbacks to funding for municipalities, selling off the land will provide an attractive source of much-needed revenue. The changes could permanently destroy provincially significant areas which were meant to be protected and preserved for the residents of Ontario and for future generations.
The proposed amendments to the Lakes and Rivers Improvement Act are also a matter of concern. Section 3 of the current act will be amended to allow the government to make regulations prescribing circumstances where approval is required. It is premature to ascertain the full implications of the proposed amendments without reviewing the yet-to-be-drafted regulations.
However, we are concerned that the proposed amendments could allow government to streamline the approval process to allow permit by rule. In other words, there's a strong implication that the proposed amendments will relax the current approval regime.
For example, the proposed amendments could state that dams of a certain size do not need approval if certain conditions are met or if it's constructed in a certain manner. Under certain conditions, there could be an entire exemption of certain kinds of dams.
The current approval process provides an important environmental safeguard, since it's the only mechanism for provincial control over dams which pose significant detrimental environmental impacts. For example, it can disrupt fish habitat, it has the potential to impact on downstream users by affecting fluctuations in water levels, and it can also impact water quality and quantity.
We have very serious concerns about schedule O. As a preliminary recommendation, we would suggest that schedule O be removed from Bill 26 and considered separately. It's my understanding that the Canadian Bar Association earlier on made this request as well.
Bill 26 will allow mining corporations to file closure plans as opposed to obtaining the director's acceptance of the plan. Essentially the amendments are a move towards self-regulation by the mining industry. It's our submission that these proposed amendments will undermine environmental protection. Closure plans provide a very key proactive mechanism for ensuring mining companies minimize adverse environmental impact and rehabilitate the site. It's only through rigorous environmental standards incorporated in closure plans that we will be able to ensure against environmental catastrophes such as the 1990 tailings spill which occurred at the Matachewan Consolidated Mines, Ltd site.
That tailings spill was the largest in Ontario's history, causing the disruption of the drinking water supply for at least three communities and resulting in the evacuation of homeowners. The spill cost the provincial government over $2 million in cleanup, although the final figures have yet to be tabulated.
The requirements for closure plans were passed after the 1990 tailings spill to avoid a similar type of situation from recurring. As a result of these proposed amendments, however, the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines will no longer have to review the adequacy of closure plans. Moreover, once a closure plan is filed, mining companies will no longer have the obligation to update the ministry, through annual reports, of the steps taken to meet the requirements in a closure plan.
There are also new provisions which change the form of financial assurance required. Mining corporations which pass a corporate financial test will no longer have to put up cash to fund cleanups. It's unclear what type of tests have to be satisfied. That has yet to be drafted by way of regulation. Presumably, it means that corporations that are financially solvent won't have to put up the cash.
There is also provision for confidentiality of information provided in a financial assurance. Consequently, members of the public will not have access to information about the adequacy of cleanup funds. The public will be shut off from the process, and that's a matter of concern.
Section 150 allows mining corporations to have a one-shot opportunity within 12 months of the passage of the bill to surrender their lease and avoid liability provided they did not cause a mine hazard. At first blush, this provision may have some element of fairness since only those who caused mine hazards will be held responsible.
Yet this provision narrows liability under the traditional concept of liability under environmental law. It's a well-established principle of environmental law that liability should attach to those in a position of influence and control, but who fail to take steps.
In the Matachewan situation, for example, the company was held liable, under the Ontario Water Resources Act, for permitting the tailings spill because of its failure to take steps to set up a monitoring program to monitor the tailings area. The company did not do anything actively to cause the tailings spill. Rather, it permitted the spill by its failure to take any steps to prevent the incident from occurring.
Under the proposed amendments, the crown will have to bear the cleanup costs for environmental problems caused by companies in a position to prevent a mine hazard, but which opted not to do so for financial reasons or otherwise. It's our submission that fiscal savings will not be achieved by using the public purse to fund cleanup on behalf of companies that were in a position to prevent a mine hazard but failed to do so.
Another section which allows mining companies to be exempt from liability is section 149 in schedule O. This section creates an exemption from retrospective liability for mining companies which surrender their mining rights or lands to the crown. The minister may refuse to accept a surrender if a mining corporation has failed to rehabilitate a site. However, once a surrender has been made, mining corporations will not incur any future liability under the Environmental Protection Act.
Section 149 fails to take into account that many sites require post-closure monitoring in order to avoid adverse environmental impacts. For example, a tailings impoundment area requires long-term monitoring and maintenance and may not pose an environmental risk until a few decades later. I hate to use the Matachewan example again, but that's what happened in that situation. You had a tailings impoundment area that did not pose an environmental risk when the mine was shut down. Twenty years later it became an environmental risk, and we all know what happened there.
As a result of the proposed amendments, the cost for all future environmental problems will have to be borne by the crown once a surrender is made. This result is undesirable, in light of the large deficits currently faced by the provincial government.
Section 5 of the Game and Fish Act allows all moneys received under the act to "be held in a separate account in the consolidated revenue fund." Under subsection 5(3), the minister may direct the moneys to be paid to any persons, thereby potentially opening the door to privatization of wildlife management in the province.
It's our position that if the minister opts for this route, then the advisory committee for the management of the fund should be representative of the full range of groups with concern and expertise regarding biodiversity management and wildlife use in the province, including native people and environmentalists.
It is also our position that the game and fish management policy should not place undue emphasis on production of sport game and fish which can be of detriment to natural systems and indigenous species. For example, there's evidence that sport fish stocking programs in some areas may lead to a decline in indigenous fish species, to the detriment of the ecosystem.
Finally, I'd like to deal with the Public Lands Act. As a result of section 14, permits will only be required for activities specified by regulations. This could potentially be a very significant rollback of environmental laws, since activities which currently require permits include (a) logging, mineral explorations or industrial operation on public lands; (b) construction of or placing any building, structure or thing on public lands, clearing any public lands, dredging of shore lands, and finally, filling of shore lands.
Mr Sampson: It was raised earlier on today, about the allocation of the funds that the Minister of Natural Resources is collecting under game and fish licences -- do you have any problem with those funds being allocated for specific uses as they relate to the maintenance of fish stock etc?
Ms Nadarajah: Our concern is, who are you going to fund it to? Are you going to give the funds to people who are essentially concerned not necessarily with protecting fish habitats but ensuring that there's adequate supply for sportsmen? That's why we would recommend that the advisory committee which is going to be set up to direct whom the funds should go to should be very broadly represented.
Mr Sampson: That's a very good suggestion. But to the extent that those moneys are being highlighted, as opposed to buried in an MNR budget, certainly that's got to help the identification of (a) what those moneys are, (b) how those moneys relate to the expenditure in those areas, and I guess (c) where the dollars are really going. Is that not really helping the situation, as far as you're concerned?
Ms Nadarajah: It entirely depends on who you give the money to, really. That's the bottom line. If you fund people who are genuinely interested in environmental protection and protecting wildlife, yes, it could be of benefit.
Mr Sampson: I guess the way I'm looking at it is the fact that if those moneys are declared as separate revenue sources and therefore have to be spent some way, it would seem to me to be far better to have where those moneys are spent exposed, so to speak, in that format than buried in some line item in some MNR budget, I guess is where I'm coming at it.
Ms Nadarajah: Yes, and this isn't a novel request. I believe that previously similar requests have been made and the provincial government was loath to do that. There were some requests that funds be allocated for environmental protection and rehabilitation under the previous government; it was never done.
Mr Phillips: I appreciate your advice to us. You've probably been through a lot of different bills, I gather, in your experience. This is something that you and your organization work on, legislation around Canada?
In your experience in dealing with legislation, is this bill as complicated as you've seen? Is it less complicated than you're accustomed to dealing with? I'm just trying to get an idea, from the environmentalist's point of view, of how many different areas this might touch on from your experience.
Ms Nadarajah: It's an extraordinarily complicated piece of legislation. Each time you look at it you see a different impact. As I stated in my opening comments, we really haven't had enough time to fully digest the implications of this bill. It's an extraordinarily short period of time to review it.
Ms Nadarajah: Yes. You can make that submission to just about every schedule on this bill, but the Mining Act is very troublesome. I think that particular schedule poses very grave environmental problems. It changes the whole nature of liability under the act as well. I believe the Canadian Bar Association already made comments with respect to that and we echo those concerns.
Mr Phillips: This is our first day of hearings, as you know, and I think that virtually every presenter who's come before us has made the same recommendation: that we are being asked to approve a bill, or deal with a bill, that is extraordinary in its scope in an extraordinarily short period of time. The government I think has made it very clear that this is going to pass on January 29. We've probably run out of options for us to provide any more time for debate.
Ms Nadarajah: To be absolutely honest, we're still digesting the implications of the bill. We haven't even looked at proposing alternative amendments, and that's one of the requests that I made, that schedule O be taken out of Bill 26 entirely so that we can review it carefully and look at it clause-by-clause. We haven't had an opportunity to consider amendments. I mean, we're simply looking at the implications of the bill itself. That's taken all our time until now.
Ms Churley: Thank you for your presentation. I look forward to further details from you. I think my colleague who spoke before me expressed my point of view on this, that there's just so much, and so many implications in this bill, and if you put that together, outside of this bill, with some of the other environmental changes that have been made by this government, to me it's quite alarming. I'm concerned that there are so many significant pieces in this bill, among many other pieces that have nothing to do with the environment -- health care, for instance -- that people are very concerned about and there hasn't been a great deal of concentration on the environmental piece yet.
Ms Churley: I know I have to be very quick now and so do you. I just want to hear your opinion on the implications to this. It's a new bill. It gives people the opportunity to comment on changes that are going to affect the environment. Does this undermine the credibility of the whole bill of rights? And do you recommend that all the pieces that affect the environment be pulled out and placed under the Environmental Bill of Rights so people have the possibility of commenting?
Ms Nadarajah: Certainly that would be my recommendation, that all the various statutes which have environmental implications should be placed on the EBR registry. I think that the way this bill has been dealt with has undermined the EBR process entirely. There has been no public input, no opportunity for public comment, and the environmental implications of Bill 26 are very great. By no stretch of the imagination can you say that this bill is simply going to achieve fiscal savings and ensure economic prosperity. The environmental implications are very grave here.
The Chair: I now call on representatives from the Amalgamated Transit Union. Good evening and welcome to the standing committee on Bill 26. You have 30 minutes to make a presentation and you can use that time as you wish. Most presenters choose to leave some time at the end for questions. I'd appreciate it if you'd introduce yourself for the sake of the committee members and Hansard.
Mr Tom Parkin: I'm Tom Parkin, executive assistant to the ATU national director, Ken Foster. Ken would have preferred to be here personally to make this presentation to you, but unfortunately, because we were only scheduled in on Friday, he wasn't able to change meeting plans that take him to Winnipeg today.
Let me start my remarks by saying that certainly in our organization democracy isn't a one-day-in-four-years occurrence; that in our tradition, in a parliamentary tradition, the right of a constituency's representative to discuss and debate legislation of importance to the province is imperative; and equally important is the ability of the citizenry to make their opinions, their ideas, known to the elected representatives, and I think on that point there's no doubt this bill missed the mark.
I think back to the previous government, the length of time that was spent, months and months, for example, on the Rent Control Act, and the amount of time that was spent on Bill 40, I think well over a year. I think of the federal government working on its gun control legislation, with well over a year of consideration on that. Really this bill is like taking rent control, Bill 40 and gun control, stuffing them into a package and adding a whole lot of other things and expecting it to be passed this Thursday. It's not really fair to the many people who are affected who wouldn't have a clue what was going on if it weren't for the tenacity of the opposition.
For the transit industry and the people who work in the industry, the bill and the budget that accompanies this bill have some very serious repercussions. In the budget, your government cut $68 million of funding to public transportation. In public transportation we have three major funding sources. One is to the paratransit services, the second is the operating allowances given to the transit services, and the third is for the capital allowances to the transit services.
Since the last budget of the previous government, the operating subsidies from the province to municipal transit organizations have been slashed by 30%. It's about $118 million cut so far. The TTC's operating budget has been cut by $33 million by this government. Ottawa has been cut by $8 million by this government; Hamilton, $3 million; Mississauga, $3 million. I can't tell you, Mr Maves, exactly how large it is in Niagara Falls, but again it would be that a 30% cut on what was happening being taken out of the budget of the Niagara Falls transit, where we have a local, in fact.
The result of these cuts has been a loss of jobs -- already, just to speak of Niagara, jobs lost there -- and an increase in fares. This government's funding cuts have forced about 400 people who were wage earners, workers, members of our union, on to unemployment. With the direction things are going, it's certainly only getting worse.
Just as an example, in Toronto here, the average fare was $1.30 when this government took power on June 8. It's risen to $1.50 and there's a possibility of its going up to about $1.70. That's a 31% increase in a fare in about nine months. A Metropass that cost $67 when this government was elected could soon be $88 a month. To somebody who uses a Metropass 12 months a year, the difference is $252 a year, making the annual price of travelling the TTC over $1,050.
Just to think a little bit about who is the passenger on the municipal transit systems across the province, for the TTC, for example, we're looking at a large majority who are women, we're looking at the about the 75% mark of people who are using it to go back and forth to work or back and forth to school, and the majority of these folks are in the lower half of income classes.
They're not the people who are going to be getting a big tax refund. They're the people who are getting hit again and again by the cuts that are being made to make space for this tax cut. If you consider somebody earning $30,000 a year, maybe an average TTC rider or a rider in Windsor or St Catharines, they're only going to get maybe $300 of tax rebate, and when you consider the expenses that they're going to incur on transit alone, that hardly makes sense to them.
On November 29, the municipal transit operating allocations were announced for 1996 and 1997, so that's a two-year commitment, but there has not been any mention of capital allocations for municipal transit for even next year, and that's obviously less than a couple of weeks away now. It makes transit managers and transit employees a little bit anxious about what's going on.
Just to sort of highlight or take an aside on this, earlier in the summer you rededicated the government's effort to building a Sheppard subway line, which I think would have been about $50 million on the capital side. Nobody has said that the Sheppard line is being axed, but it's fairly clear from what's going on here that despite the non-announcement, axing it is exactly what this government has done. But if you would tell us what our 1996 capital budgets would be, we would know for sure.
The changes to the Public Transportation and Highway Improvement Act are where this is all contained, and in this act currently there's a 50-50 split on operations and a 75-25 split on capital. I should just mention that the 50-50 split on operations is after all the fare bucks revenue is taken into concern, and fare bucks revenue at the TTC is about 68% of operating cost; the remaining is more like 16-16. In the act, as it currently stands, it states that the province pays an amount equal to 75% of the capital and an amount equal to 50% of operating.
The bill strikes out the words "equal to" and inserts the words "not exceeding," which of course could be anything from zero, and therefore really marks a unilateral withdrawal from a partnership in transit between the province and the municipalities as it has existed for a lot of years. With no statutory requirement to fund municipal transit, the entire cost of building and operating transit systems could be dumped off the income tax on to the municipal property taxpayer.
As I mentioned, we've already got operating allowances for next year and the year following so we know we're safe for a little bit. But if this bill passes unamended, this means that capital subsidies from the province, which are supposed to be 75% of capital, could be eliminated down to zero starting on January 1 and there could be absolutely no money provided for municipal transit in 1998.
I say this is a "could" scenario, and certainly under legislation, as proposed, it is a could, but I also want to note that we've had a little bit of difficulty trying to get a meeting with your minister, who has twice refused to have a meeting with us so we could discuss these things, and so really all we can do is speculate about the intention of these things.
I would like to pose to the members of the government caucus -- since the minister is not here -- wondering if they know whether it is the intention of this government to eliminate capital funding for municipal transit systems starting on January 1 or somewhere down the line. Is it the intention of the government to eliminate funding for operations of municipal transit starting in 1998? Do we know? If it is not your intention, why are we given a bill in which that possibility could become a reality, rather than going into a process where the partnership between the municipality and the province is renegotiated, if that is what you wish, rather than just jettisoning the whole thing?
Let me raise a couple of issues why we believe as an organization the partnership is important. First of all, we believe that an element of fairness dictates that income taxes pay for a portion of transit and not simply be a municipal property tax issue, which is of course a very regressive form of taxation.
Provincial funding is the only way that allows for provincial standards in equipment, which has safety and mechanical implications. Only by funding part of the transit system can the province ensure that social goals such as accessibility for people with handicaps are met, and only by funding part of the transit system can the province ensure the stability of the people who are suppliers of the industry, including companies that build buses and subways, because we will no longer have the ability to say that we are in a quiet way directing moneys or purchases to companies that have certain design features.
The second issue I wish to raise with you is changes to the Public Utilities Act. In the act, some of the commissions that operate transit systems are enabled in that legislation. As it stands today before any privatization can take place there must be a consultation through a referendum. I'm not quite sure what is wrong with having a referendum, what is wrong with consulting with the civic population. I didn't read about it in the Common Sense Revolution. I certainly got the impression that we were going to have more consultation and more referendums and that sort of thing at the time. But certainly I don't remember any campaigning on eliminating referendums.
On this question again I would like to ask the government members if they know for what reason we are eliminating this need for a referendum. Is it that something is coming down that is going to be so unpopular that it might lose in a referendum? If there is something, would you please tell us before you take away our right to vote?
Let me deal with a third issue in this bill, so-called schedule Q. Our members are not highly paid people. They are bus drivers, mechanics, cleaners, ticket-takers. They're folks who are making $13 to $20 an hour. A lot of them are doing split shifts, night shifts, part-time. Some of them have to deal with the threat of violence from the public. It's not the easy road. they're certainly not the folks who are going to get a huge tax cut from this government.
The tax cut raises an issue which has become a truism, and that is the phrase that today's deficits are tomorrow's taxes; certainly a successful truism. My understanding is that the tax cut is going to increase the deficit by about $5 billion or $5.5 billion a year. That means we could be looking at a record deficit under this new government.
When you consider a tax cut and you consider today's deficits are tomorrow's taxes, who is tomorrow's taxpayer going to be? If people at the high end of the income scale are getting a big tax cut and the members of our organization are not, then they're evidently the ones who are going to have to pay about $30 billion that it's going to cost you to have this tax cut in place, by the end of your term.
Why I raise this is because it's fairly bad that the members of our organization are going to have to pay for the tax cut with their jobs, with these kinds of cuts that I've outlined. But schedule Q really adds to the humiliation; in this latest mini-budget, $68 million of cuts on to the transit industry, and then put schedule Q in there to tell arbitrators that the $68 million should be coming out of the pockets of employees who are not going to be benefiting hugely from your tax cut.
The translation for this in the way it's going to be perceived in the lunchrooms and on the shop floors is that the Conservative Party is telling arbitrators how much of a wage rollback our members are going to take, and that is not going to be a popular thing. I think as well schedule Q is not like the social contract. It's not like having a day off without pay. It's not like having protection from contracting out, as we have now until the social contract is over. What schedule Q says is work just as hard, earn less and maybe, if you're lucky, your job won't get contracted out or you might not get bumped.
Because our locals in the transit industry do have the right to strike, we aren't directly affected by this, but we do fall into arbitration from time to time because of back-to-work legislation that affects us. I am assuming, and again this is an assumption because we haven't been able to discuss this with anybody in particular, that guidelines for arbitration in legislating employees back to work would follow the same guidelines as are in schedule Q. My assumption is we will be affected by these if there is back-to-work legislation.
If I could say to the members of the government caucus, if there's one thing I could please convince you of, it's to not proceed with the tax cut. If it weren't for that, we wouldn't have schedule Q, we wouldn't have the $68 million worth of cuts, or at least it wouldn't be as bad as what you've had to do. The municipalities wouldn't be in the financial crunch they're in. They wouldn't be looking to sell off public assets just to pay for the day-to-day necessities of operating their municipalities.
So thank you to the members of the opposition for ensuring that we had the chance to have a voice here today. Thanks to the government members for hearing our organization's opinions and concerns. I hope the government members will ask their ministers and their ministers' political staff questions about the transportation issues that I've raised. I hope that perhaps in your caucus committees and at your caucus meetings you will have discussions, and I hope you will see that what we've outlined today is a sensible way of going about approaching the partnerships and the issues facing the transit industry.
Mr Gerretsen: I've got a question. In the reduction of the operating funds that the various public utilities, or at least the transit authorities, are not receiving throughout this province or country -- let's just stick to Ontario -- how many jobs does that translate into within your union?
Mr Parkin: We don't represent all of the transit properties in Ontario, but we are the dominant organization in representing transit employees. We have about 18,000 public transportation employees in municipal transit. If you think about the TTC, for example, a massive operation, there are about 8,000 members of ours there.
Mr Parkin: What we've seen so far, as I say, is about 400 jobs. Everything will depend on how things proceed between -- really, it has to do with bargaining. It has to do with how much we can raise fares; that's got an upper limit. How much can we cut service? That's got a political limit.
Mr Parkin: I don't know the answer to that, but we have the vast majority. We have all the largest. We have Ottawa, Toronto, Windsor, London etc, so all the largest properties are with us. Some smaller ones -- Oakville, Burlington, for example -- are not.
Mr Crozier: I must say at the outset that in my riding of Essex South, my home town is the only one that has a mass transit system, and we have one bus, but it is subsidized. So I have some appreciation for what you're saying.
Mr Parkin: This was two letters, and of course that's in addition to attempts to try and get meetings with the Minister of Labour, who said she'd be pleased to meet with us and consult about Bill 7 after the bill had passed.
Mr Parkin: We tried to meet with him immediately after the election. We sent a letter of congratulations and hoping to be able to work with him, as we had the previous government and the government before that, and then later in the summer, after there were some cuts particularly around Wheel-Trans and that, we asked a second time. To be fair to the minister, no, we haven't asked since Bill 26, but we haven't had a whole lot of luck so far.
Mr Silipo: Thank you, first of all, for highlighting, because I have to say that I for one, and I don't mind admitting it, had not realized that the protection of the 75-25 split in funding was actually in the legislation. I think that's quite significant, as you pointed out, that those words of "equal to 75% of the capital costs" -- that is, the provincial government's share -- and "equal to 50% of the operating subsidy" is now being changed by language that says "not exceeding," which means, certainly as I read it, and I'm assuming that's what you're saying, that you're foreseeing cuts coming on the capital side, as you said. The operating side at least seems to be the same for now.
Mr Silipo: Even on the operating side, and I think, as you point out, that means clearly a shift to the property tax base as the only other place where -- or increases in fares, and we know what that means. So if you have any further comments on those, I'd be happy to hear them.
I also wanted to ask you, on your other point around the removal of referendum and privatization: You don't say it and I don't want to put words in your mouth, but I take it from your comments that one of the things you're wondering about is if there are some thoughts that the government has to privatizing public transit systems.
Mr Parkin: This is a massive, massive concern for us: the changes that are going on with the Golden report process, the powers that are being given to municipalities through this act to consolidate and eliminate municipalities, and the comments from the Minister of Transportation, who appears to be very, very supportive of the private bus industry lobbyists, who are very vociferous on contracting out and privatization. He is on their press releases. I don't think that's appropriate. None the less, that is the concern, that we see a minister who is obviously very strongly in favour of privatization and contracting out, and now the cabinet has the ability to eliminate municipalities.
We haven't done the legal research but we are concerned that without even a vote, let alone a referendum, without even a vote of a municipal council, municipal transit systems could be privatized and contracted out.
Mr Silipo: My last question is around the arbitrator provisions, although, as you say, you don't fall under those rules, which puzzles me a little bit. But just taking that at face value for the time being, I think again history would show us that a TTC strike in Toronto, for example, doesn't last too long.
Mr Parkin: This is exactly the point. We've kind of got the deck stacked against us. We know the government is anxious to have back-to-work legislation, and it is a concern if TTC were to be struck or locked out. But ordering employees back to work and then letting the arbitrator set wage rates, taking into consideration the $68 million worth of cuts there have been to the industry, really flies in the face of free collective bargaining.
We also are faced by the problems of contracting out and privatization, and if forced into arbitration, the reality is that in the industry we've never encountered these problems before of contracting out. We don't have the language in our collective agreements to protect ourselves. We may need that now, and because it would be considered breaking new ground, no arbitrator will give it to us.
Mr Tascona: I understand your union and the employers that you have a relationship with are covered under the Labour Relations Act, and I further understand that this hasn't been amended by Bill 26. But my concern is arising out of your questions with respect to schedule Q, the mandatory criterion with arbitration and ad hoc back-to-work legislation which you've alluded to. Would you not think that it would be less attractive for you to go to arbitration and, as such, the procedure that's been put in place is a greater incentive for you to make a freely negotiated deal?
Mr Parkin: Because there may be as much goodwill on our side as possible but this has put the employer in the position where he doesn't have to take responsibility for hitting his own employees. It's going to be your fault now, so the employer can play the game with his employees of not having to be the bad guy, and say, "Well, it's Mike Harris and that lot."
Mr Tascona: I put it to you that in a realistic situation -- if you're familiar with labour relations, and I suspect you are -- you're not going to have a situation such as that. But you've expressed a real fear for these criteria, which you're not subject to. Wouldn't you think that would make you more susceptible and you'd want to make your own deal to avoid those? That's what I think the logical conclusion is of what you're saying, but you're saying the opposite.
Mr Parkin: But the point is it takes two to tango. If I came to you with a deal and you had no reason to accept it and you could say that it was somebody else's fault, what would you do? Would you take the responsibility for yourself and endanger the relationship that you had built? In our business, there is quite a partnership between employees and management. They don't want to blow that, yet they are in the financial problems they are in because of the tax cut that you are pushing on to our industry. They don't want to be the bad guy, so it's going to end up to be you.
Mr Young: Actually, as 1993 figures, Stats Canada, 87% of the people who filed tax returns in Ontario made $50,000 a year or less. Those people are going to get a tax cut. Your estimates of a $300 tax rebate here for someone who makes $30,000 a year are way low. It would more likely be around, over three years, $2,000.
Mr Young: You also estimated only $400 for somebody making $40,000 a year; it would most likely be $3,000 over three years. That's very good news for your members, and a lot of your members voted for us for that reason.
Mr Young: We have trustees, child care workers, civil servants, universities and colleges, we have hospitals and now transit union members all saying to us, "Don't cut me." We're spending $9 billion a year more than we take in. Where do you think we should cut?
Mr Parkin: It seems rather preposterous to me for a party that campaigned on today's deficits or tomorrow's taxes to be adding $5.5 billion to the deficit on a tax cut before the deficit is under control. That seems like a foolish policy.
Mr Young: Where should we cut? Because I struggle with this. I care. My children are growing up in Ontario. Everybody says, "Don't cut me." Where are the people who say, "I'm willing to take my share"?
Mr Parkin: I guess the point is, Mr Young, that at this point we're not talking about a situation where it is very fair. If you were perhaps willing to take the tax cut off the agenda, then we would be in a situation to talk about dealing with the province's economic problems.
Good evening and welcome to the committee hearings for Bill 26. You have half an hour to make your presentation. You can use that time as you see fit. I'd encourage you to leave a little bit of time for questions afterwards. If you start off by introducing yourself for the committee members and Hansard, it would be appreciated.
Mr Paul Pagnuelo: Good evening, Mr Chairman and committee members. The Ontario Taxpayers Federation welcomes the opportunity to comment on the Ontario government's Bill 26, the purpose of which is to achieve fiscal savings and to promote economic prosperity through public sector restructuring, streamlining and efficiency, and to implement other aspects of the government's economic agenda.
To begin with, I would like to briefly introduce myself and our organization. I'm Paul Pagnuelo, executive director of the Ontario Taxpayers Federation. We're a provincial affiliate of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.
Founded in 1990, the CTF is a federally incorporated non-profit, non-partisan organization that represents the common interests of taxpayers. With over 85,000 supporters coast to coast and close to 7,000 here in Ontario, the CTF has provincial affiliates in Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario and Saskatchewan and is in the early stages of developing a provincial affiliate in Quebec and a regional affiliate in the Atlantic provinces.
The core purpose of the CTF and its affiliates is to act as a watchdog on wasteful government spending, to promote fiscal responsibility and democratic reforms and to mobilize taxpayers who are prepared to take personal action and responsibility for seeking solutions to high government spending, debt and taxes.
There are those in this province who see the government's economic statement of November 29 as nothing but doom and gloom. They claim the so-called social fabric of Ontario will be ripped apart by the government's spending reductions. Because of these reductions, the government, in their eyes, stands accused of being mean-spirited and uncaring.
However, I would like to suggest that critics of the government's economic reforms are in fact a vocal minority. They're out to protect their slice of the pie from the Ontario treasury and believe it should be business as usual, as things were under the previous government, led by the million-dollar Premier, a Premier who thought spending a million dollars more an hour than the province has was the solution to our problems.
For those of us who really do care about the continuation of our social programs to help the poor, the sick and the elderly, the future of our children, our most precious asset, job creation, responsible government spending and a manageable and fair tax burden, the Harris government's economic statement is a sobering cure for taxpayers left with a bad hangover by tax-and-spend politicians.
If the Ontario government had decided years ago to rethink the role of government rather than put us all at risk with $10-billion deficits and a $100-billion debt today, the province right now would be debt-free and running a budget surplus and Ontarians would be paying substantially less in taxes.
The first is public sector salary disclosure. We fully support the requirement of public disclosure of salaries and benefits for all public sector employees earning more than $100,000 a year. In fact, we would like to recommend that the legislation be further strengthened and that all non-taxable perks and expenses incurred by these employees also be subject to public disclosure.
Health services restructuring: The one public service which I believe all Ontarians value the most is health care. But all of us realize that if costs are not brought under control we are putting in jeopardy the one thing that nobody wants to lose.
The issue of closing or amalgamating hospitals is an emotional one. We would all prefer to see our local hospitals escape the Finance minister's scalpel, but if closing or amalgamating hospitals means better deployment of our funds elsewhere in the health care system, I believe it's time to set aside emotion and let logic prevail.
Those eligible to receive drug benefits are objecting to copayments which may be prescribed by regulation, and that the government will no longer pay for a more expensive brand when a less expensive brand is available. We support this move, as it is in line with most private drug plans. Furthermore, we believe it is more than fair that those who are eligible for provincial drug benefits be asked to pay something towards the cost, when considering that many working citizens in this province who are not eligible for the plan pay far more for prescription drugs.
Freedom of information act: We agree with the need to put in place safeguards against frivolous or vexatious requests for access to information. While we have a concern if the head of an institution receiving a request were to be the final arbiter that a request is frivolous or vexatious, the fact that an appeal may be launched with the commissioner sets aside our initial worries that this provision might be used as a means of declining valid requests.
We do, however, feel that the elimination of the first two hours of search time without cost will result in less public accountability, particularly by municipal governments and school boards. We therefore would like to recommend that this aspect of the bill be reconsidered and that institutions subject to the act be required to make public, without cost, certain financial data which will allow taxpayers to determine that these institutions are in fact acting in a fiscally responsible and prudent manner.
In terms of the Municipal Act, we fully support the concept of block funding and the ability for municipalities to charge user fees. Many urban and rural municipal governments and school boards suffer from overstaffed and poorly managed administrations, spending which fails to deliver value for money, debt loads that squeeze out necessary services, and tax burdens that spiral constantly upwards, punishing economic growth.
By reducing the amount of free money, and by that I mean the provincial grants that come to the municipalities -- the one thing we've heard more often in most municipalities in terms of justifying what we would consider to be a frivolous or unnecessary or costly expenditure is: "It's okay, it's only going to be 10 cents on the dollar locally or 20 cents on the dollar locally. The rest is coming from the province, so let's not be concerned with cost." By reducing the amount of free money available to municipalities and school boards, the Finance minister has handed a unique opportunity to local politicians and trustees to reverse the damage that years of imprudent spending have inflicted on taxpayers, their families and businesses.
Local politicians have lacked, in our view, both the intellectual ammunition and the political will to restructure the way they do business. Where taxpayers have failed at the ballot box over the past years to try to get things turned around at the municipal level, the Finance minister, we believe, has succeeded in creating the necessary initiative by essentially shrinking the provincial chequebook. Politicians can spend a tax dollar only once, but every time a dollar is wasted by them, it either deprives taxpayers of services they should be getting or ends up costing everybody more than they should be paying in taxes.
Municipal governments that talk about cutting services or raising property taxes to offset the cuts in provincial transfer payments don't have a funding problem, they have a cost problem. Typically, their unit costs for the required quantity and quality of service are higher than necessary. Why? Because they're above market price. Although the purchase of tangible goods like road salt, computers etc are routinely subject to competitive tendering, the most expensive cost element of municipalities, labour, is not subject to the competitive market. As a result, labour costs tend to be higher than necessary because of wages, salaries and benefits which are above market, archaic work rules that impede productivity, and excessive layers of management and larger-than-necessary staffs.
The solution isn't better management, because management isn't the problem. The problem is no competition. And the solution, market cost, is something that even the best manager can't produce in a non-competitive environment. The answer to any municipal politician who is talking about raising property taxes or cutting services or imposing user fees as a means of offsetting the reduction in provincial transfer payments is to tell them to get their fingers walking through the Yellow Pages and to do it quickly. The results will be dramatic. There will be no cuts and no tax increases. In fact, better service and substantially lower cost should be the outcome.
Experience south of the border, where governments have adopted competition as the model for delivering public services, has resulted in savings of between 20% and 40% and, in some instances, 60% or higher. Philadelphia, for example, has reduced street maintenance and water cost by 50% and nursing home cost by 53%. The city of Indianapolis has reduced printing cost by 47%, street repairs and garbage collection by 25%, waste water treatment by 44% and vehicle fleet maintenance by 18%, by simply using the Yellow Pages test.
Fire protection is competitively tendered in 10 US states and the Netherlands. In Scottsdale, Arizona, the private contractor provides superior service for 30% less than a municipal operation. Transit systems are being converted to competitive tendering throughout the developed world, with cost savings ranging from 15% to 60%. In Crestwood, Illinois, the ratio of city staff to population has been reduced by more than 90% through competitive tendering.
Many of the services that are being produced by municipalities that have gone the route of competitive tendering are still being produced by public employees who found ways to improve their cost-effectiveness when faced with competition. Linda Morrison, who is the contract administrator for Philadelphia, put it this way: "Savings that weren't possible before suddenly materialize once you put a service out to bid." In Los Angeles, the mere threat of competitive tendering by the mayor resulted in a 25% cost reduction.
What's missing in Bill 26 is a provision that requires municipalities to earn their transfer payments. We believe such a provision should ensure value for money by requiring two things: both performance measurement standards and the necessity to subject certain services to competitive tendering.
User fees for certain services do make sense, but only where they're cost-effective. But what we're hearing more and more from many municipal politicians today is that they see user fees as a way of offsetting the reduction in provincial transfer payments. As such, if that's what their intent is, then they really become nothing more than an indirect way of increasing taxes. What we want to ensure is that if a certain service that is now funded through general revenues is converted either partially or in full to a user-pay basis, then the amount of the funding from general revenues that went to pay for that service must be returned to taxpayers. Politicians can't have it both ways. There's no provision, from what we can see in this bill, to make sure that happens.
Again, we don't believe that you need to cut services at the municipal level, or that taxes need to be increased at the municipal level to maintain the same quality of service that's being provided. We believe that, notwithstanding the reduction in transfer payments, it can all be done by restructuring the way municipal governments deliver services.
The section dealing with assumption of powers, sections 209.2 and 209.4 of the Municipal Act, deals with which municipal level provides services and the assumption of powers by upper-tier or lower-tier municipalities. The one comment we have on that is that this whole section seems to assume that the status quo, of two levels of municipal government, will continue forever. What we're hearing continually from our supporters and from the average taxpayer across the province is that they want to see one level of municipal government, not two. The consensus to date seems to be heavily in favour of eliminating regional or county governments and repatriating all the responsibilities to local municipal councils. We don't see provision for that anywhere in this bill.
Conservation authorities: The primary responsibility of the conservation authorities is the preservation and control of rivers and floodplains across Ontario. The authorities were also granted the privilege of controlling dams and other water control devices that went hand in hand with the prime mandate. They also assumed a responsibility for conservation, and as such, were permitted to acquire lands for this purpose on the justification that they were in some ways sensitive. The act generally gave powers to the authorities to participate in other activities which would complement their principal role. These activities included conservation education conducted through local school systems, stream rehabilitation and reforestation.
The removal of major funding for the authorities is, in our view, a good decision. In addition to saving taxpayers millions of dollars, when one considers the measurable benefits of the authorities, frankly, there is really no reason for their continued existence. The flood control efforts can be melded with other responsibilities of the Ministry of Natural Resources, and other activities like education, reforestation and stream rehabilitation were nothing more than make-work projects with little tangible or measurable benefit flowing from them.
In closing, we support the efforts of this government to restore fiscal sanity to our great province. Where representations are made during these public hearings that deal with legitimate amendments, and we believe there will be many, which should be made to Bill 26 without in any way detracting from its overall objectives, we urge the government to consider and to agree to them.
Mr Pagnuelo: It would require voter approval of any net tax increase. The third part would be that the Premier and his cabinet would be subject to financial penalties if they didn't meet deficit reduction targets.
Mr Cooke: Maybe that was another commitment that Mr Harris made on his own. Keeping in mind that pledge, if you were told that this afternoon the mayor of the fourth-largest city in the province and legal counsel for the city of Toronto, in briefing the city of Toronto council this afternoon, said that under this piece of legislation municipalities will now have the power to bring in a municipal income tax, a municipal sales tax and a municipal gas tax along with all of the other user fees that we all have heard about, and that would all be done without referendum, would you believe that this would be a breaking of the pledge the Premier made?
Mr Cooke: So you wouldn't see anything inconsistent then with cutting out $700 million in municipal grants and all the other cuts and then facilitating -- because even Mr Leach said this morning that the purpose of this new flexibility for new taxes and user fees was for municipalities to make up part of the money that they're losing -- you wouldn't see, even if that was not in the letter of the law of the agreement or commitment that he made to you --
Mr Pagnuelo: Let me suggest, Mr Cooke, that it would not be in the spirit. Because, again, we believe that municipalities can absorb those transfer payment reductions without impacting service and without having to increase property taxes. Where we agree with the new powers that the municipalities are going to get is particularly in the area of user fees. We believe there are certain services that should be recovered, in terms of cost, from the users of that service.
Mr Cooke: But I would assume, based on your philosophy, that if a municipality gets more flexibility on user fees for full-cost recovery on a particular service, that should result in a lowering of the property taxes because there should not be a net increase in local revenues.
Mr Pagnuelo: Exactly. Municipal governments should not be looking at user fees as a way of offsetting this problem. It should simply be looking at those services that should not be funded by general taxpayers and should be funded specifically by those who use a particular service. An example would be municipal building inspections. If you're building a new home, for example, all the costs associated with inspections should be borne by the builder.
Mr Sampson: I'll pick up on that theme, if I can, for a minute. Your concern is not that the municipalities would have the right to impose a particular transaction cost or user fee, as it's been called, but that they wouldn't have the fortitude, I might say, to take a look at other areas where they might save. I might point out that the mayor of the fourth-largest city also said that she was not going to increase taxes or user fees, she was going to find the savings within her own budget -- not what the member across has alluded to. But your concern is that they would not find the fortitude to cut expenses elsewhere?
Mr Pagnuelo: There are many municipalities that will, I think, make the right decision and look for ways to operate within the existing funding envelope from the province and without having to increase the overall tax burden locally. But then, again, there are many that won't. As an example, I can tell you my own township, and I reside in a rural community just outside of Peterborough, my own local council last week sent out a newsletter to all the taxpayers basically saying that they weren't sure how they were going to cope with this transfer payment reduction but that they were looking at possible things like either amalgamation of services, elimination of services or increasing taxes. Wrong, wrong, wrong -- on all three counts. Nowhere in that communication was there any indication that maybe they'll just do things just a little bit differently in terms of how they deliver services.
We believe that the problem is that most of them are simply caught in a situation where they don't know differently. They don't know how to go about the proper way of restructuring their affairs. Most municipal politicians are well-intentioned individuals who are really trying, I think, earnestly to deliver a reasonable product at reasonable cost. But when they're faced with a situation where, all of a sudden, the funding is reduced and they don't really want to go back to taxpayers, the next cry is, "We'll have to cut services." There is a way around all that without having to cut services and without having to increase taxes. I think the obligation upon all of us is to try and work with these politicians to show them how they can achieve better value for money.
Mr Pagnuelo: It stops spending; it's as simple as that. We're seeing what's happening right now in terms of Christmas sales and retailers saying that the volumes aren't there. That's simply because people don't have disposable income. If you take a look at what's happened, now here in Ontario the average Ontario family is paying out 46% of its disposable income to all three levels of government in the form of taxes. If we take a look at what's happened in terms of aggressive tax increases over the last several years, people's disposable income has shrunk to the point where they don't have anything left to go out and buy in the retail sector.
Mr Phillips: To answer Mr Cooke, I carry it around with me, the pledge. I have it always. I've been a little bit surprised at how quiet you've been on the issue, because the pledge says, "I, Mike Harris, leader of the Progressive Conservative Party, pledge, if elected, to support immediate passage of taxpayer protection legislation." We're now well over six months into the mandate and I haven't heard your voice on their failure to follow through on this immediately.
Mr Pagnuelo: Oh, we've expressed concern a number of times, and most recently during the November 29 economic statement, that once again what's missing and what we're waiting to see is legislation that's going to put into place this taxpayer protection legislation.
Mr Pagnuelo: Well, you'll have to ask the government, because I can't answer that question. I mean, what I'd like to see very quickly, as part of this entire package, are deficit reduction targets, because if those deficit reduction targets are not met annually, then the Premier and the cabinet end up paying for performance, and that means financial penalties.
Mr Phillips: I'm just surprised your voice has been silent. The other thing I'd say is that we have heard throughout today that the mayors are anxiously awaiting the passage of this bill so that they can find new sources of revenue. In fact, the Minister of Municipal Affairs said, "I think the purpose of Bill 26 is to allow municipalities to raise revenues." That's what he says the purpose of it is. As Mr Cooke said, the mayor of Mississauga said there's no doubt this bill will permit them to have a gas tax. As a matter of fact, it is their intention to implement a gas tax.
I wonder, just following up on the famous taxpayer protection pledge, is it not reasonable to expect that if the province is theoretically living up to your taxpayer protection pledge, by giving municipalities, encouraging them to simply implement things like a gas tax, we are fooling ourselves here? I'm just curious as to why the strong voice of support by the taxpayers federation for Bill 26 in light of those facts.
Mr Pagnuelo: A head tax? Look, on the issue of a head tax I think any local council that would even consider a head tax will find their political heads rolling in the next municipal election. That, simply, we don't believe will ever happen with any municipality.
Mr Pagnuelo: If it really goes into areas other than strict user fees. I mean, we fully support the ability for municipal governments to introduce user fees, because we think user fees, as I say, do make sense in certain instances.
Mr Pagnuelo: Can I finish? We don't believe that you can achieve a balanced budget situation strictly by cutting. You've got to provide some economic incentive back into the communities throughout Ontario that is going to get people spending again. And people aren't going to be spending if they're not being rewarded for hard work, savings and investment. What's happening today is that people have now gotten to that point where they simply don't have the disposable income left to go out and spend in our retail sector. As a consequence of that, we're seeing what's happening.
The Chair: Excuse me, sir; I just have to interrupt. We're trying to stick strictly to a time line to be fair to all witnesses. We've come to the end of your half-hour. I'd like to thank you on behalf of the committee for appearing today.
If there's a representative from the Ontario Coalition for Social Justice in the room, could that person come forward. We attempted to get the coalition to move up an hour, but we've been unable to do that, other than to leave a message. So we've got a half-hour recess and then we can come back for the Interfaith Social Assistance Reform Coalition.
The Chair: I call upon the Interfaith Social Assistance Reform Coalition to step forward. Welcome to the committee. I thank you for appearing. You have half an hour for your presentation. You can use that time as you see fit. You might want to leave a few minutes at the end of your presentation for questions, as most witnesses have. I wonder if you might do us a favour and start off by reading your names and the organization into the record for courtesy of the members and for Hansard.
Mr Michael Maher: Thank you, Mr Chair. I'd like to introduce our group first, if I may, please. On the extreme right of the table is Sister Doryne Kirby, who is the social action director for the Canadian Religious Conference, Ontario region. The Canadian Religious Conference is a group of major superiors of Roman Catholic congregations numbering about 80.
Immediately next to Doryne is Mr Ganga Rajballie, who is of the Christian Reform Church. Immediately next to him is Mr Michael Kerr, who is with the Buddhist Communities of Greater Toronto. On my immediate left is Ms Lee McKenna du Charme, who is the director of justice ministries for the Presbyterian Church in Canada. On the corner of our table, overflowing on the side, is Reverend Susan Eagle, who is chair of the United Church Conference on Social Justice, headquartered in London, Ontario.
In addition, we are pleased to be able to acknowledge the support and presence of Citizens of Public Justice. Mr Gerry Vandezande of that committee works with our group as well, and we are pleased that he is here tonight with the co-chairs of Citizens of Public Justice, Brian Walsh and Jennifer Harris.
We would like first to thank the committee for the invitation to appear here tonight as representative witnesses from the faith communities of Ontario. To the faith communities, the term "witness" is not a democratic process term but a demand for fidelity to God. Yet tonight the two terms and the realities behind these two terms cross paths as perhaps never before. We come, therefore, to you this evening with a sense that both witnesses and fidelity are needed now more than ever in our province. In the call of the faith communities to hear the cry of the poor and to respond to their needs, the faith communities have long walked with the poor. The faith communities have long provided health, education and social ministry to the people of our province and continue to do so. It is in the context of that faithful witness to a caring community that we offer some reflection tonight on some alarming trends we confront.
ISARC has already circulated to all of the members of the Ontario Legislature Chief Rabbi Dow Marmur's insightful and prophetic paper Common Sense, God Sense. It is a critique of the Common Sense Revolution from the perspective of the Jewish faith community and was presented at the November 2 ISARC briefing. It is a view very much shared by the multi-faith and province-wide audience at that briefing. After acknowledging the Common Sense Revolution's claim to have been subjected to an "independent analysis by one of Canada's leading economic experts," Rabbi Marmur laments one noteworthy failure. He says:
"It is a pity, though, that the authors had not subjected the same plan to a social analyst, perhaps even a theologian, who might have pointed out that there is more to human existence than economic sense -- such as justice, social responsibility, human dignity, and integrity in the face of God."
Our paper then continues with a number of illustrations and statements from the faith community leadership relative to what has been happening in this province for some time now. We choose to pass over those and leave them to your reading so that we may in fact arrive at a point where we can have some conversation and dialogue this evening. So I would ask if Reverend Susan Eagle would pick up on a further point in the paper.
Rev Susan Eagle: Over on page 4 of the document you will find that we have already attempted to identify some of the impact of social program cuts and what that means in local communities. Not only am I a minister in the United Church but I also work as a community worker, so I can speak first hand to the impact that we have seen in local communities.
We have identified some of those individual cuts as ones that are dismantling the supports to community-building; closures of neighbourhood centres and the loss of volunteer coordinators who reach out to those who are mentally disadvantaged and the disabled; closures of shelters for battered women and counselling centres that help victims and offenders in family violence; the loss of the community's ability to respond to the educational needs of new Canadians, especially in language training; the loss of halfway houses and the work of community partnering in the return of those imprisoned to the community; the loss of day care for single mothers struggling to find ways and means of upgrading their education while parenting; the loss of public housing and reasonable places to live, and badly needed municipal services.
As a community worker in the northeast part of London, Ontario, we have seen the loss of co-op and non-profit housing, which means that we now have families that are living doubled up in housing units. We have people who are underhoused in terms of families, five and six and seven members of a family in one- and two-bedroom apartments, struggling to survive. They had thought that they would be moving into co-op housing projects but now those projects have been cut.
I work with Cambodian and Vietnamese people who are now facing the loss of translation programs and also programs that will help to teach them English. I was at the William Proudfoot House, the halfway house, the day that the Legislature announced the closing of halfway houses. As it was being announced in the Legislature, the cars were driving up the driveways to reincarcerate the women from those houses, some of whom already had part-time jobs in the community, and they were carted back to the detention centres.
This is what we are seeing first hand at the community level, those of us who are working at the community. We're seeing this as background to the further cuts that we anticipate and see will be part of this omnibus bill. This is already happening in the community.
Sister Doryne Kirby: What is steering us is the face of divisiveness. The policies of this government are divisive of community. We in the faith community have repeatedly heard the government suggest that the faith community can make up the human deficit necessitated by the fiscal deficit, but ISARC knows of no single instance in which government has made any effort to consult the faith community about its decision to prefer the fiscal over the human deficit, about its decision to pass along to the faith community the burden of expanding ministries and services in response to this human deficit, about the resources necessary to accomplish this increase in the face of its withdrawal, about its policies that divide the community into the haves and the have-nots, the workers and the lazy, the deserving and the undeserving.
Nor has there been any effort by the government to even alert to its policy changes the faith communities whose ministries are now expected to make up the human deficit caused by the policies of government. Though the faith community recognizes that this government has a mandate to govern, we do not concede that the government's mandate precludes the exercise of democracy, public debate and consultation about significant changes to the fundamental social values of our society. We do not concede that government by its mandate to govern has as well a mandate to pre-empt the exercise of democracy or to exclude necessary or advantageous partnerships with community groups who are working for the growth of community, and we do not concede that government has a blind mandate insensitive to the needs of our neighbours and the poor.
The underlying thrust of much of this government's policy is to reduce the role of government in the protection and care of citizens, especially the marginalized. Thus, government sees itself as no longer responsible for the poor and vulnerable, the hungry and the homeless, the people in crisis for the moment or those whose circumstances leave them in ongoing need. If government is no longer responsible for the hungry children or the battered women, the lack of funds means that the infrastructure for the operation of these support services is disappearing, as well as our capacity to deal with these concerns collectively as a society.
Bill 26 represents yet another deterioration in the values of our society because it abrogates to government itself the decision about the role of government in the lives of the citizens of this province. Bill 26 allows government officials and bureaucrats to make decisions that impact directly on our health care, our educational programs, our social programs, our municipalities, our environment, our life in community and our relations with one another.
The bill allows government ministers to make unilateral and arbitrary decisions about community health services and hospitals. The bill places in those same hands decisions about the progress of environmental concerns, cleanup and regulation of pollution and polluters.
Mr Ganga Rajballie: There are any number of specific problems for the faith communities in Bill 26. The bill again, against all representation from faith communities, divides the community into those who can pay for access to services and those who cannot. The bill again, against all representation from faith communities, adds to the tax burden of the poor by clearing the way for municipalities to introduce poll taxes. The bill introduces legislation to allow user fees for a number of community services such as prescription drugs, community recreational facilities, libraries, garbage collection and so on. These are all forms of regressive taxation that place a disproportionate burden on the poor and those who are struggling to get by.
There are varying reports about just exactly how many pieces of current legislation are impacted by Bill 26. Some say 44, some say 47, some say over 50. Bill 26 is anti-democratic precisely because no one, including the faith communities, the public, the members of the opposition parties, perhaps even the government itself, has had adequate opportunity to study the bill or adequate opportunity to speak together as an inclusive community about the changes it brings to our fundamental values or the democratic processes for decision-making within our society.
The faith communities are clearly concerned about government policy, the lack of community values and the lack of supports for community-building. The faith communities are also denied a voice and an arena in which to be heard. More importantly, the poor and the vulnerable of this province are denied a voice in issues that directly affect them.
Bill 26 represents a clear and continuing decision on the part of government to remove the possibility for public debate and consultation on essential value questions for our society. ISARC calls on the government to suspend the timetable for Bill 26. We ask that the bill be split into its component parts and that honest time and energy be given to analysis and impact study as well as public consultation.
The questions have to do with how Bill 26 is going to empower people to participate in decision-making about their lives, about how Bill 26 will empower people to deepen their relationships and caring for one another, about the fundamental social values and the shape we want of our society.
The questions have to do with how Bill 26 will help us as a society respond to the civic and religious duty identified by the Ontario Catholic bishops when they spoke about the provision of economic security for the unemployed, the impoverished, the displaced and the afflicted.
The questions have to do with what Anglican Bishop Asbil called the patronizing attitude of this government, expressed in the rush to pass Bill 26 and in the dismissive treatment of so many asking to be heard, those of faith groups and community groups otherwise alike.
The questions have to do with what further lengths the faith communities need to go to to be heard in the debate about our relationships with one another, our common values, our duties as members of the community.
In a December 5 press release by ISARC, chairperson Rev David Pfrimmer of the Lutheran Office for Public Policy, while commenting on the lack of consultation, said: "It is sad that the government has such contempt for the public and community groups when these are precisely the people and organizations that give so much to the community and will in fact help us to find our way into the future."
Ms Lee McKenna du Charme: ISARC wants to ask this government just exactly what measures in Bill 26 will encourage people to struggle through these difficult times together, with hope and with confidence that whatever the future brings, we will face it together.
We want to ask what Bill 26 says about fairness, what it says about equality and equity and inclusion. We want to ask what Bill 26 says about mutual respect and mutual responsibility. We want to ask this committee what they are willing to do to prod this government into building up our community and building our lives together.
We want to ask what values Bill 26 espouses on our behalf when we and most others in our society have no opportunity whatsoever to participate. And what is worse, we are deliberately excluded from participation in the decision process.
In conclusion, the conviction of our faith values tells us that where there is no vision, the people perish. From the perspective of the faith community, we have already gone close enough to the dissolution of a people. We urge this government and this committee to refrain from any further incursions into what makes us a people, a community, and what unravels our life together. We ask this government and this committee to begin the process of a change of heart with a decision to delay the implementation of Bill 26 and to ask the people whose life together is at stake.
There can be no more basic exercise of our democratic society. There is no greater obligation of government than to work with its citizens to build a society free of poverty, hunger and homelessness. We ask you to ask the people if there is to be a community in Ontario.
Mr Young: I almost don't know where to start. I appreciate very much your coming here and I appreciate your sincerity. I'd like to partially answer your questions and then ask you to respond, if I may.
I grew up in the church, actually on church property. My father was a canon in the Anglican Church. I can tell you, with regard to this specific issue Bishop Walter Asbil, who's my bishop, doesn't speak for me. Bill 26 does not address these moral issues. Bill 26 addresses economic issues.
Why is there an assumption among your group that members of the government are not members of the faith communities? I've received the letters too, and frankly, I resent it. I've been a member of a church my whole life and I am to this day. Why do we have this condescending approach that we're not members of faith communities because we disagree on economic issues?
In the Bible -- I'm a Christian -- Christ gave us a mission. The mission was to take care of the poor and the needy. He didn't ask us to brush it off on to governments. We have in this province a $9-billion deficit, a $100 billion debt --
Mr Young: We're spending $1 million an hour on interest on the debt. I'm not an authority on the Bible, but there are parts in the Bible where they talk about usury, and that's what we're paying in this province. We're paying usury. If we had that $9 billion to spend to help people, imagine what we could do --
Mr Young: What I'm trying to explain is that I've seen churches close. If you ran your churches like these guys ran the government of Ontario, your churches would close, and then what service could you provide to people? We have to be fiscally responsible.
I also want to ask you, because there are some churches out there that I think have a conflict of interest. They run government day care centres in their basements, and they're talking about helping people and they're paying their rent and preserving their parishes using government money. Don't you think there's a slight conflict of interest there?
Mr Rajballie: You may think that, but nobody accuses you of not being. Secondly, if you think that faith communities are not concerned with economics, I think you are wrong. Economics and morality are very, very closely tied one with the other, and I think you are very wrong in saying that these are not moral issues, these are economic issues. My friend Dorothy here has told you that already.
Mr Rajballie: It doesn't matter to me. What I'm saying to you is that you are accusing us of talking about moral issues only. We are talking both moral and economic issues. You are saying that you are talking about economic issues. You cannot divorce economic and moral issues. They are very closely tied with each other. I don't care, and our committee doesn't care, whether you have been an Anglican, a Presbyterian or so on. That doesn't matter. If you're a member of the faith community, then you must see the point of this ISARC.
Mr Phillips: Let me say that of all the presentations we've heard today, this is probably the most significant one. I think you're trying to put an umbrella over where we're going and to say, is this really where we want to go as a province? The other presentations have dealt with the specifics of the bill. You're trying to give us a moral and a philosophical view of it. I want to dissociate myself from the comments made earlier, in the sense that I think you are here speaking from the heart and not from some strange vested interest.
The challenge we face is that the elected government believes this document is the vision for the province. They say: "We got elected. We're going to do this." It's quite a different vision than my party has, quite a different vision than the NDP has, and a vision about which I feel very uncomfortable with where they're going.
What is driving it is that they have a fundamental belief in cutting government services. They plan to cut $8 billion out of the budget, about 25% of all the spending, yet they say they don't touch health care, and $5 billion of that goes to a tax cut. This is not about fighting the deficit; this is about a fundamental shift in our society. The tax cut, as we all know, is a 30% cut in personal income tax, so the better off you are, the bigger the cut.
I share with your group the concerns about the direction, and your advice to us we'd love to follow, which is let's let this bill get some breathing time, let's let people digest where it's heading and get some input into it. I wish we could do that for you. We've gone about as far, frankly, as I think we could go with what tools we have at our disposal.
This isn't asking a question, it's just saying that we share your concerns about the direction. We will try and do the best we can, our party, to reflect those concerns in what we'll do with the bill, but I think this is a bigger fight than this bill and this is sort of a symptom, if you will, of where we're going. I take your advice. We'll do what we can to accommodate you, but I wouldn't want you to get your hopes up too much. Come January 29, frankly, this bill is going to be law, we can do nothing to stop it, and it will be law the way the government wants it because we can do nothing to stop that, other than do what you're doing and do what we'll try, moral suasion
Mr Silipo: I too want to, as Mr Phillips has done, say that this for me has been probably the best presentation I've heard today and I say that because I think it's timely that we be reminded of what this is about in terms of what responsibilities government has towards people of the province. I know, having talked to many of you in the past, that when you talk about the role of government with people, you're not oblivious to the fact that there are dollars and cents involved as well. And so, rather than reiterate my support for what you've said, I actually would like to just ask you to talk a little bit more about that side of it, because maybe the government members might find that a little bit more easy to understand than the words you've put here on these pieces of paper.
Mr Maher: Frankly, I'm a little reluctant if it means changing my tune to have the government understand, and I particularly am fascinated by the thought that somehow Jesus speaks to me but not when I become government. That fascinates me, too, Mr Young.
Rev Eagle: First of all, in response to some of the comments that we've heard tonight, not only do we believe that the government is moving in a direction that is ultimately immoral, but it's faulty economics; it's truly faulty economics. I know from the perspective of being out in the community for the last 10 years as a community worker that if you strip away the supports that enable people to stand on their own feet, they become even more pushed down and more oppressed, and ultimately it becomes a greater burden for our society. I've watched that happen and I've watched in the recent cuts that we are taking away the supports that people need to stand on their own two feet. Down the road we pay the price, whether it's in higher health care costs or people who lose out on education or whatever it is. Down the road, we pay that cost ultimately.
The second thing, though, that I want to say -- I don't know if I've got time to throw all this in -- is that we understand when we are talking about community, government is community. You are the people who have been elected to undertake the needs of community while you are in power. So to make a distinction and say you want to throw stuff back on the community, you have been elected to carry out the needs and to meet the needs of community while you are in power, so there should not be this sense of somehow throwing it back to community and saying government can no longer look after it. You are community.
The Chair: Thank you very much. I'm sorry, but the half-hour has exhausted itself. I want to thank you for your presentation. I must tell you that all three parties have set the rules out and it's 30 minutes for presentations. I'm sorry that you don't have the opportunity to say more, but I thank you for appearing before the committee today.
The Chair: Could we have the Ontario Coalition for Social Justice come forward, please. Gentlemen, if we can come to order so that we can hear the final presenter for the evening. Welcome to the committee. You have half an hour to make a presentation. You can use that time as you see fit. Most people leave 15 or 10 minutes at the end for questions or response from the three parties as they see fit to use their time allotted. I'd appreciate it if you could start off by introducing yourself and your organization for the committee members and for Hansard.
Mr James Turk: My name is James Turk. I'm the chair of the Ontario Coalition for Social Justice. The Ontario coalition is a coalition of 50 provincial and national organizations and, as well, we work with and help set up 30 community social justice coalitions in 30 municipalities around Ontario.
On the other hand, we regret how this is proceeding. We received notice that we would be able to appear tonight late on Friday afternoon. It's quite striking to us and, we feel, symptomatic of where this government is taking Ontario that a bill with 17 schedules amending more than 40 pieces of legislation that will have a dramatic impact on the lives of everyone in this province is expected to be discussed with such short notice, in such a hasty time frame.
This bill, in our view, vests in the cabinet unrestrained power to make decisions affecting a broad range of the lives of Ontarians. Many of these will be able to be made without parliamentary debate through regulation, ministerial direction and administrative order, leaving no room for meaningful public scrutiny or community input.
We see this bill as nothing short of an assault on democracy. Powers are granted to cabinet and to the ministers without statutory limitations or conditions usually provided to ensure political accountability and effective recourse to the courts. Ministers and cabinet would be given power to take away contractual rights and binding agreements, prevent enforcement in the courts and, in some cases, override or provide exemptions from provisions of other legislation.
It will free the government from liability arising from future court or tribunal decisions. It tramples on public rights and democratic process. It reflects a mentality that is more suitable in Mussolini's Italy than in a genuine constitutional democracy. Our coalition would urge strongly that this bill be withdrawn.
In a fashion that is really inappropriate in a democratic society, it does a number of things. I'm going to highlight three categories of things. It seriously reduces public access to information; it allows ministers and cabinet to exercise virtually dictatorial rights over people in communities; and while limiting the rights of individuals and the public, it grants substantial new rights to major corporations. Let me deal with each of those in turn.
In a fashion typical of a government that does not value public input or public information, it reduces access to information. With regard to the freedom of information legislation, it does that by increasing costs and widening the grounds for denying access. It will require individuals in all cases to pay a prescribed user fee. If individuals want to appeal to the commissioner, they will have to pay another prescribed user fee as a precondition of appealing. It will increase the cost of retrieval to include the first two hours of manual search time, which is presently not charged for, and would extend the requirement to pay fees for the retrieval of information made by an individual for access to his or her own personal information.
It widens the grounds to deny access by allowing the head of an institution to refuse access to a record where, in the opinion of the head of the institution, on reasonable grounds the request for access is frivolous or vexatious, even where the requester would otherwise be entitled to obtain access to the record under the legislation.
While this ruling may be appealed to the commissioner, it provides a new ground for refusal, which inevitably will result in the denial of records to those individuals unable to afford an appeal. It will delay access requests. It will involve individuals who do appeal -- it will throw them into lengthy and costly proceedings.
All the things done in this legislation -- this may be a relatively minor point, but I think it's fairly symptomatic of a government that does not value public scrutiny, let alone public accountability. We see that more clearly in the kind of unprecedented power it gives to ministers and the cabinet. I just want to give you eight examples. This bill is so long that one could cite as many as one had time for, but I'll just pick eight.
The first is the power it gives the minister to restructure municipalities, to amalgamate them, to annex them, to dissolve all or part of them and so forth, as laid out in schedule M. The minister can do this either by receiving or restructuring proposals from the municipalities themselves or by acting on the recommendations of a restructuring commission established by the minister. The minister is given virtually unlimited powers to determine, by regulation, the composition and functioning of a restructuring commission including authorizing the commission to apportion its cost among the municipalities or local bodies affected by the commission report.
The minister is entitled to establish the restructuring principles that must be considered by municipalities, other bodies and the commission when developing the restructuring proposals. Where restructuring proposal is made by the commission itself, no specific requirement for any degree of local support is set out in the bill. Any order of a minister or commission implementing a restructuring proposal prevails over any other legislation with which it might conflict.
The minister may prevent a municipality where a restructuring proposal has been submitted from exercising any of its powers, and if it does exercise them and there are any adverse effects to a successor municipality in the eyes of that successor municipality, the individual council members are held personally liable.
To take a second example, the Minister of Health is given the power to close and change public hospitals, as laid out in schedule F. The minister, not even constrained by regulation, can whenever -- and I quote -- "the minister considers it in the public interest to do so," make grants or loans, impose conditions on funding and windup, reduce, suspend or terminate funding. This is an absolutely fundamental change. The courts have ruled that under the existing Public Hospitals Act, the minister cannot act for fiscal or budgetary reasons alone or without regard to the effect on patient care in deciding to close or amalgamate public hospitals.
However, under this bill the minister would be empowered to order the closure and amalgamation of public hospitals whenever the minister considers it in the public interest to do so. The bill also provides, no amalgamation can take place without ministerial approval. In determining whether closure or amalgamation is in the public interest, the Minister of Health is authorized to take into account any matter he or she regards as relevant.
As well, the minister will be given the power to make any other direction related to a hospital that the minister considers in the public interest. And where the ministerial directions are given, the bill provides that the board of a hospital must carry out the direction. In fact, the board is deemed to have an unrestricted power to do so regardless of the provisions of any other legislation or the hospital's own letters patent or bylaws.
Further, the bill would insulate the minister or cabinet from any legal liability with respect to any direction issued to a hospital and with respect to the effect of any funding decision by preventing any proceeding from commencing against them. With respect to the powers of investigation and supervision, this bill goes further than any of us would imagine possible. The power of cabinet to appoint investigators out of the Public Hospitals Act has been expanded under this bill to allow investigators to investigate any matter related to a hospital.
As well, the bill would authorize the cabinet to appoint a hospital supervisor whenever cabinet considers the appointment to be in the public interest, without the requirement that an investigator's report first be continued for a 30-day period, as contained in the present act. The powers of the supervisor would be expanded. Instead of providing advice or directions to the hospital board, the supervisor would now have the exclusive right to exercise all the powers of the hospital board. Furthermore, the supervisor is required to follow any direction issued by the minister with respect to the supervisor's powers, which themselves are virtually unlimited.
If we look in another area, again related to health, the minister has virtually any power he or she wants to deal with private hospitals. Under schedule F, the minister would be given the power to revoke a private hospital licence at any time and to reduce or terminate any grant, loan or financial assistance without notice where the minister considers it to be in the public interest. No hearing or right of appeal presently provided under the Private Hospitals Act would apply. Again the minister is immunized from any legal liability in taking any of these actions.
In yet another example in the case of health, the present act prohibits any individual from communicating confidential information relating to a patient or former patient of a health facility, with very narrow exceptions. The bill provides that notwithstanding this protection, for any purpose prescribed by cabinet regulation, the minister can collect, use and disclose personal information. The minister can enter into agreements to collect, use or disclose personal information, and a licensee or other person must provide certain information, including personal medical information, to the director.
With regard to medication, the bill would provide the Minister of Health with a wider power to collect, use and disclose personal information, which might include information disclosing the type of medication prescribed for purposes related to the administration of the bill or for any other purpose prescribed by regulation.
The fifth example, to move away from the health area, is that the bill would provide for a process of overriding the actions and procedures of independent arbitrators to settle disputes regarding the terms and conditions of work in the fire, police, public service and school board sectors. It requires an arbitrator to use ability to pay as a criteria.
For people not familiar with labour relations, this sounds like a fairly harmless and perhaps even sensible thing, but it has very far-reaching implications. The purpose and intent of interest arbitration is to ensure that workers governed by interest arbitration in the public sector follow freely negotiated settlements in those sectors where parties have the full right to engage in free collective bargaining.
The criterion used by arbitrators to determine wages in the public sector is comparability with employees performing similar work for the same employer, with employees performing similar work for other employers and with employees performing similar work for employers in the private sector.
The proposed provisions constitute a significant interference with the independence and integrity of the arbitration process. Arbitrators have stated that basing an award on the ability to pay could render the interest arbitration process largely irrelevant, since the use of ability to pay could allow the government and employers to unilaterally determine wages and benefits by simply allocating a fixed or reduced amount for employee compensation in their transfer payments or budgets.
Arbitrators have also criticized the requirement to apply the ability-to-pay criterion on the basis that it requires public sector employees to subsidize public services through substandard wages, a situation criticized by all arbitrators as unacceptable.
Since there is no objective test for measuring a public sector employer's ability to pay, arbitrators have traditionally held that the ability to pay really amounts to no more than willingness to pay. In this sense the ability-to-pay factor can be viewed as a subterfuge for wage controls. By imposing this criterion on arbitrators, governments may be able to effectively implement wage controls without doing so directly, thereby using arbitrators as a buffer to escape responsibility and accountability.
A sixth example: This bill would unilaterally take away pension rights of public employees. In the event of a major layoff, the Pension Benefits Act provides for full or partial windup for affected employees. This bill takes away the provision of the Pension Benefits Act for public sector employees in the event of major layoffs.
Again, this seems like an arcane factor, but let me just quickly sketch out what the Pension Benefits Act provides for all employees covered by it, which would be all employees, except public sector employees, after this bill would be passed.
The Pension Benefits Act requires employers to fully fund all benefits payable to affected members within five years of a partial windup. The government, by not allowing this provision, would have a much longer time to fund fully the benefits of terminated employees, thus saving the money but jeopardizing the safety of the employees' benefits.
The Pension Benefits Act deems all members affected by a full or partial windup to be fully vested by reason of the windup, so denying this to public sector employees means that short-service plan members would no longer be able to receive a pension rather than a simple return of their own contributions plus interest.
The Pension Benefits Act, on termination of an employees' plan membership, deems that an employer must fund at least 50% of the commuted value of the member's pension plan earned since 1986. For short-service members who have automatically been vested by reason of the windup, their contributions would exceed 50%, so by denying this protection of the Pension Benefits Act to these employees, the employer would take away the excess that the employees would otherwise be entitled to.
The point is -- and I could go on with examples from the Pension Benefits Act -- by denying public sector employees the protection of having their plans partially or totally wound up in the event of major layoffs, one is taking away rights recognized and accepted and available to all other classes of workers.
A seventh example: This bill would allow elimination of the public voice, that is, a referendum regarding privatization of public utilities in section 33 of schedule M. It says, "A municipal corporation may pass a bylaw to eliminate the requirement to obtain the assent of electors before the corporation exercises a power under this act."
An eighth example of denial of rights to the public: It takes away the rights of the poorest-paid women in our society. The Pay Equity Act, when it was introduced in 1987, provided for job-to-job comparisons, comparing a class of women workers with a class of male workers in the same establishment. If there was no comparable male class, then there was no pay equity. This has serious implications for child care workers, for nursing home employees, for children's aid society employees, for employees of transition services for women and children.
This was remedied in the 1993 act, which provided two additional ways in which there could be pay equity: a proportional method and a proxy method. A proportional method would say, "If there's not a comparable male category, find another male category, determine its value, then calculate the value of the class of women workers, figure out what proportion in light of their duties and responsibilities their work would be of the male class that has been identified and pay them proportionately."
That didn't solve the problem, though, for those workplaces where there is no other male class of workers, so a third method was introduced which this bill takes away, and that is a proxy method whereby the employer with no comparable male group and no male group on which a proportional method could be found has to find a proxy employer with a male group. The value of that work is calculated and then the value of the work of the original employer's female employees is calculated and compared to this proxy group and a basis is made. In other words, with this gone, essentially women in public sector workplaces where there are no comparable male groups are simply out of luck and, as I say, they're among the most poorly paid workers in our society.
These are just eight examples of powers that this bill either grabs for ministers or takes away from the public with the signature of a pen. At the same time as the bill does that, it gives new rights to corporations. I will just cite three examples.
One, it gives drug multinational corporations freedom to set their own drug prices. See schedule G. The bill would repeal altogether the power of the minister to regulate the price of drugs charged to anyone not covered by the Ontario drug benefit plan. The bill would rename that act, which is currently called the Prescription Drug Cost Regulation Act, the Drug Interchangeability and Dispensing Fee Act, under which manufacturers would be free to determine the price of drugs other than drugs provided under the Ontario drug benefit plan. The impact on individuals and on communities, especially communities in remote areas, would likely be substantial.
A second example giving new powers to corporations: It gives mining corporations a lot of freedom when closing mines. Currently mining corporations are required to file mine closure plans and provide a combination of cash and letters of credit to deal with future problems after they've gone. This is replaced by a much softer provision requiring a closure plan, filing and spot check process to allow mining corporations to self-regulate mine closure activities.
The ministry approval is no longer even required, just the signature of a professional engineer, the financial officer of the corporation and the company's board of directors. The public is denied, through changes and limitations to the freedom of information, to access the financial information submitted by the mining companies relating to the establishment of financial assurances.
At a time when we're becoming more and more aware of the environmental consequences of mines and closed mines, we're taking away the kinds of protections that are not even yet fully adequate and replacing them with a form of self-regulation. That is a guarantee of trouble in the future.
A third example is that this bill would open the door to American for-profit health care corporations. The bill would eliminate the requirement now contained in subsection 6(3) of the present Independent Health Facilities Act that preference be given to operate independent health facilities to non-profit Canadian operators.
In other words, this bill is an assault on democracy in our view. It denies, reduces and limits public rights; it increases corporate rights; and it grants to ministers virtually unprecedented, unbalanced, unconstrained power, which in our view is incompatible with a democratic society. It's for those reasons that we feel the only option is not to amend it or modify it but to withdraw it.
Mr Gerretsen: The one area where I have some sympathy is in the arbitration situation. I know where the government's coming from. Municipalities have been saying for years that their settlements are too high, that arbitrated settlements are too high etc, so they've basically said, "Okay, we'll put in this ability to pay," which I know can be used now as a total non-negotiating issue.
On the other side, though, I think it's also fair to say that from a municipal viewpoint, especially from a small-town Ontario viewpoint, there has always been this feeling that in an arbitrated settlement the unionized positions within that municipality end up at a higher-pay scale than many of the other positions. I'm talking about small-town, though, because the comparison is usually made with those positions in larger communities, where the cost of living is high. Where is the middle ground in that?
Mr Turk: The difficulty is that one has to look at this bill in terms of its overall impact. For many years it has been recognized that the most secure, the most appropriate way in terms of long-term relationships to deal with collective bargaining issues, labour-management issues is to let the parties work it out. Where workers are denied the ability to have full collective bargaining rights, then some form of interest arbitration has been introduced.
What this bill would do, and that's the difficulty, is fundamentally undermine that process. That is where arbitrators take ability to pay as a criterion or the criterion. First of all, employers have no reason to negotiate because they know at the end of the day what they have is going to be the basis of the settlement. So you take away any pressure to try to reach an agreement with their own employees.
Where that happens, one usually finds increasingly intensified conflict in the workplace, whether directly or indirectly. I think it's the principle that is at risk here, and I don't know a middle ground. But at the end of the day employers aren't able to settle and bargains don't get reached in collective agreements that are unsustainable over a long period of time.
Mr Cooke: I'm not sure I have questions. The presentation was fairly clear. One thing I would say is that after being in government for five years and hearing pay equity explained many times in cabinet meetings and P and P, you've explained it in the clearest way I've heard it explained. Certainly it has never been that way in government.
But the one area that you didn't touch on that I think has preoccupied some of the time of the committee, a fair amount of time of the committee in the Legislature, is the taxation shift with the user fees, potentially sales and gasoline and income tax, and I just wondered if you had any comments in that area.
Mr Turk: The difficulty, as you can appreciate, with a bill that's so far-ranging is that it's very hard to decide which of the things, and I thought that one would be one that many others would cover. We're really quite concerned about both the devolution of taxing powers to municipalities in the way this government is doing and their apparent unawareness of the implications of their own legislation.
The minister has been quoted on a number of occasions -- I only have the press accounts to go by -- that he didn't fully understand initially that the distinction between direct and indirect taxation was largely a meaningless distinction any more, that he was effectively giving municipalities the right to levy a poll tax or a head tax, and then to disdain any responsibility for it by saying, "It's up to the municipality if they want to do it, but I can't imagine they'd want to do it."
Mr Sampson: Thank you very much. It indeed was a very good presentation, the lion's share of it relating to health issues, and I suggest, Mr Chairman, if we can pass that presentation on to the other committee, they might want to take a look at that in the form of a written submission, unless you've already spent some time in front of them or plan to do that. I think that would be useful to that group. I guess excerpts from Hansard or whatever would be appropriate.
My final question in the last minute or so, we clearly have a financial situation in this province that's not appropriate. We've got $100 billion in debt and a deficit prior to our government in the $10-billion range. What's the social justice of that?
Mr Turk: I would suggest the question is not the social justice of our debt and deficit, since debt and deficit is not in the interest of working people or the poor either, but rather the question is, how do we deal with that?
If any of us as individuals have a deficit problem, we can look at two sides of the balance sheet. We can look at how we can reduce expenditures, but we can also look at how we can increase income. Our criticism of this government is it's looking only at how we can cut expenditures and not at how we can increase income.
Mr Turk: There are segments of our society that escape meaningful taxation. The changes in tax law over the last decade have meant a dramatic reduction in taxation on the wealthy, a dramatic reduction in taxation on corporations. We're one of only three jurisdictions -- Canada, that is, is only one of three national jurisdictions that does not have a wealth tax. There are a variety of ways in which the tax system could be made fairer as well as generate additional revenue.
Mr Turk: I'm not saying they didn't pay taxes. I'm saying the tax burden they are paying has been reduced significantly over the last two decades, and if one re-established what it was 20 years ago, one would bring in a good deal of additional tax.
But the other part of what I want to say, if I can do it briefly, is the measures being taken by this government to deal with the deficit problem, in our view, are going to exacerbate it. We have some evidence in the United States where Ronald Reagan's government came to power with a commitment to a dramatic decrease in tax rates --
The Chair: Excuse me, gentlemen. I hate to interrupt, but we've gone one minute over and we have strictly adhered to a 30-minute time limit. It would be unfair to other presenters to go beyond that. I want to thank you for appearing before the committee today.