Ontario Human rights Reform - A call to Action
TEXT OF ONTARIO LEGISLATURE DEBATES ON THE MCGUINTY MUZZLE MOTION ON BILL
107 PUBLIC HEARINGS
November 24, 2006
Below we set out the text of the debates in the Ontario legislature surrounding the McGuinty Government's shutting down further public hearings on the widely-criticized Bill 107. Bill 107 would weaken the Human Rights Commission and take away key rights that we fought for and won 25 years ago, rights regarding public investigation and public prosecution of discrimination cases.
This is a lot of material. (some 62 pages) We provide it all to ensure everyone can see what is said on this important topic on the floor of the Legislature. You will see:
* the November 14, 2006 exchange in Question Period when the Attorney General gave commitments regarding the public hearings process.
* The November 20, 2006 exchange on Bill 107 in Question Period hours before the McGuinty Government would surprise one and all with its motion for closure to shut down the promised public hearings.
* The extensive exchanges in Question Period on Tuesday, November 21, 2006 on the impending closure motion. (17 pages) This occurred while many in the public Galleries (whose scheduled public hearings were cancelled) looked on. These exchanges occurred just hours before the closure motion would be debated.
* The actual debate on the evening of November 21, 2006 on the McGuinty Liberals' "closure" or "time allocation motion. (35 pages).
* yet more exchanges in Question Period on Wednesday, November 22, 2006 on the shutting down of Bill 107 public hearings. (7 pages)
* More on this topic in Question Period on Thursday, November 23, 2006.
There are a good number of other mentions of this topic scattered in debates over other topics over this week. We have not included those here.
We again express our deep appreciation to the NDP and Conservative Party for continuing to press this issue.
As you read these debates, you will see that the Conservative leader John Tory repeatedly offered that if the Liberals restore the cancelled public hearings, the Conservatives will support a swift vote on the bill when the legislature resumes in March. The Liberals never give a reason for turning this offer down. The Liberals claim that this matter has been debated or considered for over 200 days. However, there have not been 200 days of debate in the Legislature or the Standing Committee on this bill. Throughout the vast majority of those 200 days, we had all been relying on the McGuinty Liberals' commitments regarding the public hearings, and preparing for them. By this closure motion, the McGuinty Government breaches those commitments.
The Liberals say they have heard enough at the hearings. Yet the clear message from a majority of the presenters to date is that the bill is seriously flawed.
Here is a list of all the Liberal MPPs who voted on November 21, 2006 for the McGuinty muzzle motion. You may wish to call these MPPs to let them know how you feel about the muzzle motion, and to urge them to get the Government to reverse itself and re-open the promised public hearings.
Bradley, James J.
Chambers, Mary Anne V.
Fonseca, Peter Gerretsen, John
Mossop, Jennifer F. Orazietti, David
Van Bommel, Maria
Ontario Hansard Tuesday, November 14, 2006
CONSIDERATION OF BILL 107
Mrs. Christine Elliott (Whitby-Ajax): My question is for the Premier. During the last election campaign you talked about cynicism among the electorate with respect to Ontario politics. You explicitly promised, and I quote, "Your MPP should be free to represent your views, not just parrot the views of his or her party. We will make sure all non-cabinet MPPs are free to criticize and vote against government legislation." Premier, Bill 107, your proposed destruction of Ontario's human rights public complaints and investigation system, is not yet law. According to the website of the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal, a transition team already has been hired and is working to design a new tribunal. What happened to your campaign promise? You're presuming that Bill 107 is going to pass, thereby making a sham of the committee process. How can you possibly expect your MPPs on this committee to vote without even considering the views of their constituents? And what do you have to say to the many racial --
The Speaker (Hon. Michael A. Brown): Thank you. Premier.
Hon. Dalton McGuinty (Premier, Minister of Research and Innovation): To the Attorney General.
Hon. Michael Bryant (Attorney General): I'm not quite sure what language is used on the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal's website. As you know, the tribunal is at arm's length from the Ministry of the Attorney General. Certainly nobody in this House -- and neither the tribunal nor the commission in any way, shape or form -- presumes to know what this Legislature will do in any matter. If you're suggesting that the tribunal is engaging in that activity, that's not my experience at all. In fact, I think what the tribunal is trying to do is look at the various options that may be ahead for the system in the event that Bill 107 moves forward. Certainly nobody presumes to question in any way, shape or form the wisdom of this Legislature as it continues to look very closely at Bill 107.
The Speaker: Supplementary.
Mrs. Elliott: My question again is for the Premier. Your campaign promise was, and I quote, "We will make our institutions more democratic by freeing your MPP to represent you," and "We will give more independence and power to legislative committees."
Premier, as you know, the justice policy committee is going to be voting tomorrow on a proposal to extend the hearings on Bill 107 until the hundreds of concerned organizations and groups have had the opportunity to make their presentations before the committee.
Given the precedent that was established during the summer committee hearings, that everyone who wishes to make a presentation before the committee can do so, are you going to allow your Liberal MPPs on this committee to vote freely on open and democratic hearings and to follow the established precedent, or are they going to have to act like trained seals and shut off the hearings?
Hon. Mr. Bryant: Obviously, the committee will have a number of matters that it's going to be considering this week. It's in the hands of a very good committee. I note that the reason there is significant interest in this bill is that we have not had the opportunity to provide and update the human rights system in more than 40 years.
When the Conservative Party was in government, there was absolutely zero interest in reforming the human rights system. They cut funding to the human rights system, they showed nothing but disdain towards the issues faced by the human rights system and they made no effort to reform the human rights system. So it is good to see the Conservative Party's new-found interest in human rights reform.
I look forward to the matter being debated in the committee, not only tomorrow and the next day but however long it takes. As the member knows, that's in the hands of the House leaders and that's in the hands of the committee, where it should be.
Ontario Hansard Monday, November 20, 2006
Mrs. Christine Elliott (Whitby-Ajax): My question is for the Attorney General. On April 26, 2006, during first reading of Bill 107, your proposed human rights reform legislation, you said, "We would ensure that, regardless of levels of income, abilities, disabilities or personal circumstances, all Ontarians would be entitled to share in receiving equal and effective protection of human rights, and all will receive that full legal representation."
Last week, in what was described by a presenter at the Bill 107 committee hearings as a public hearing by ambush, you announced certain amendments to be tabled by your government, including an amendment regarding a proposed human rights legal support centre. As taken from your website, the proposed amendment reads, "The minister would establish a Human Rights Legal Support Centre to provide a range of services including information, support, advice, assistance and legal representation."
Minister, the way this amendment is worded is vague at best. Will this amendment guarantee that all Ontarians will receive full legal representation by a lawyer, as promised?
Hon. Sandra Pupatello (Minister of Economic Development and Trade, minister responsible for women's issues): Michael, remind them about the bully bill.
Hon. Michael Bryant (Attorney General): In the supplementary I'll remind them about the bully bill.
As members know, the rules applying to the submission of amendments require not that they be introduced on the first day of public hearings, but rather that they be introduced, subject to certain timelines, in advance of clause-by-clause. It was in the interest of being able to discuss and debate and have people appearing before the committee consider the amendments that we introduced those amendments in advance of clause-by-clause. It was for that very reason that we did something that, when the Conservatives were in power, they never did, which was to put those amendments before the committee. Not only did the Conservative government not put amendments before the committee in advance, but they didn't even bother having any public hearings for any of their bills. So it is precisely because we did this that the member is able to ask her question right now and, to answer the member's question, yes, that's what I said when I introduced the bill and I stand beside those words.
Ontario Hansard November 21, 2006
CONSIDERATION OF BILL 107
Mr. Frank Klees (Oak Ridges): The decision by the McGuinty Liberals to invoke closure on Bill 107 committee hearings is an undemocratic and draconian dismissal of conscientious criticism that groups representing concerned, vulnerable Ontarians had expected and deserved to bring forward.
In its arrogance, the McGuinty government has decided it doesn't need to hear from the following: Catherine Dunphy and David Lepofsky of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance, Avvy Go of the Metro Toronto Chinese and Southeast Asian Legal Clinic, and Margaret Parsons and Royland Moriah of the African Canadian Legal Clinic.
The McGuinty Liberals' decision to prevent these and many others from expressing their views on human rights is neither democratic nor respectful of their rights as citizens and as stakeholders on this important issue. If this is the Liberal agenda for democratic renewal, then the very foundation of our parliamentary democracy and legislative traditions are in serious jeopardy indeed.
The people of Ontario are watching this process, and they will judge the McGuinty Liberal government accordingly.
CONSIDERATION OF BILL 107
Ms. Lisa MacLeod (Nepean-Carleton): The McGuinty Liberals have spent $106,000 to advertise public hearings that won't now take place because they don't think it is important for MPPs to hear from the people.
I'm speaking out on behalf of the people when the McGuinty government has
decided to shut out of the debate on Bill 107, the human rights act. The
following people are:
-- Emily Noble, president of the Elementary Teachers' Federation;
-- Noulmook Sutdhibhaslip of Asian Community AIDS Services;
-- Marilyn Oladimeji of the Ontario Coalition of Rape Crisis Centres;
-- John Argue of the Ontario Coalition for Social Justice;
-- Raj Dhaliwal of the Canadian Auto Workers;
-- Maria York of the Canadian Institute of Workers;
-- Barbara Anello and Lina Anani of the Disabled Women's Network.
The people won't be heard. The McGuinty government, by arbitrarily deciding to prevent them from testifying at public hearings, has just told these people and organizations, as well as approximately 200 others, that it doesn't care what they have to say. We on the Conservative side of the Legislature are appalled by that. We believe that Bill 107 should be open to public consultation and that the people of Ontario have a right to be heard. We will be doing everything we possibly can to make sure that that is the case.
CONSIDERATION OF BILL 107
Mr. Ernie Hardeman (Oxford): The McGuinty Liberals have decided that they know better than the people and the groups who deal with human rights concerns on an ongoing basis. Today, the McGuinty Liberals plan to shut their ears and muzzle anything the following groups may have to say about human rights:
-- Orville Endicott and Dawn Roper of Community Living Ontario;
-- Nancy Schular and Seema Shaw of the Ontario Disability Support Plan Action Coalition;
-- Malcolm Buchanan of Civil Rights in Public Education Inc.;
-- Steven Adler of the Canadian Jewish Congress;
-- Rosalyn Forrester of Canadian Transsexuals Fight for Rights.
These are among the 200 people who thought they would have a chance to share their experiences, insight, concerns, criticisms and suggestions, some of whom have already been scheduled to speak.
In fact, the Liberal government spent $160,000 to advertise for people to appear at hearings. They spent staff time scheduling these meetings. Now the McGuinty Liberals, if they proceed with cutting off public hearings on Bill 107 prematurely, are telling these people and many more to go away. The McGuinty government doesn't think they have anything worth saying.
Every member of the McGuinty caucus should be ashamed of themselves. Many
people whose voices are being ignored are in the gallery today. If you have any
integrity left, you will publicly apologize to them and withdraw your closure
The Speaker (Hon. Michael A. Brown): Order. Member for Oxford. Minister of
ONTARIO FRANCOPHONIE AWARDS
Mr. Robert W. Runciman (Leeds-Grenville): At the outset, on behalf of the Progressive Conservative Party and our leader John Tory, I want to extend congratulations to the recipients of the Francophonie awards and thank them for their contribution to the province of Ontario.
Rather than responding extensively to the statements that were made in the House by ministers, we'd like to take this limited opportunity, on behalf of the official opposition, to express our very real concerns about the way the government has opted to deal with Bill 107, the amendments to the Human Rights Act. The fact that the government last evening, to the surprise of virtually everyone in this place, and I would have to assume the members of the justice committee as well, filed a --
The Speaker (Hon. Michael A. Brown): Order. This time is set aside for responses to statements made by the government. I'm sure the member is about to tie this statement to a statement made by one of the government ministers and I hope that he would get there quickly.
Mr. Runciman: Well, Mr. Speaker, that may be somewhat difficult, but I'll do my best. If I could speak French a little bit better, perhaps that would assist on this occasion. Je suis un étudiant de français.
In any event, I simply think the fact that we have this time allotted to express our very serious concerns is important and that it is going to have an impact on the business of the House as we move forward. There has been a co-operative effort on behalf of all three parties. We may have concerns with respect to statements made today or with respect to other pieces of business that the government has brought forward that are currently on the order paper for this House for debate or before committees of the House. We have attempted in a very co-operative way to work within the House leaders' meetings and beyond that, certainly, to put our views on the record and see the business of the government proceed in a reasonably timely way.
I think that has all now been put in jeopardy by the government's decision
with respect to Bill 107, and it's important that I have this opportunity to put
that on the record. We're approaching the end of the session, approaching the
end of this year. In fact, the decision has been made, and we hope they will
take a deep breath and step back from this, otherwise from our perspective we
are not going to be in a position to be able to, in a constructive way, approach
the business of this House in the coming weeks.
It's critically important that that be on the record, that there be a complete and thorough understanding of the position the official opposition is taking with respect to the government's decisions to close off debate and close off hundreds of people who may wish to appear to express their concerns.
CONSIDERATION OF BILL 107
Mr. John Tory (Leader of the Opposition): My question is for the Premier. Late yesterday, under the cover of darkness, your office gave orders to shut down the committee hearings on Bill 107, the human rights legislation, against the express wishes of the legislative committee, which included your own Liberal members.
Now, one week ago, the Attorney General stood in this House, and he said in question period, "I look forward to the matter being debated in the committee, not only tomorrow and the next day but however long it takes." That's what the Attorney General said: "However long it takes."
My question for the Premier is this: Why is the Premier deliberately going
back on the word of his Attorney General? Why is he ignoring and refusing to
hear the hundreds of people who remain to be heard on this bill? And why did you
order that the debate be shut down in this manner at this time?
Hon. Dalton McGuinty (Premier, Minister of Research and Innovation): There are a couple of points I want to put on the record here. First of all, I'll note in passing that the
Conservatives, when in government, invoked closure 102 times, on 102 separate occasions, something that the leader of the official opposition may want to keep in mind when he considers his moral standing with respect to putting forward this point.
The second point I want to make is why it's so important for us to move ahead with improvement to our human rights system here in Ontario. Complaints presently take far too long. Five to 10 years for resolution of a complaint is simply unacceptable.
The legislation has been under discussion now for over 200 days. In fact, the
call for change started some 14 years ago. The committee has toured Thunder Bay,
London, Ottawa and, of course, it sat in Toronto. We were bringing forward
amendments, but we think it's important that we move ahead.
Mr. Tory: The standing committee on justice policy decided that it wanted to hear from as many presenters as it could, and they unanimously -- with the support of your members, the Liberal members of the committee -- voted in favour of an extended hearing schedule that would in fact go beyond this month. They've got hearings booked solid, in any event, through to and including December 14. Beyond that, there were advertisements booked, on the instructions of the committee, by the clerk of the committee, at public expense of $106,000 to put ads in the newspaper advertising the hearings that had been agreed to by the committee. This is another $106,000 that you seem to be prepared to flush down the toilet because you have no respect for this House or for taxpayers' money.
Your Attorney General said, "However long it takes," and you said, on April 27, that people would be given ample opportunity to be heard. There are hundreds of people waiting to be heard. Why are you going back on your word and not letting them be heard?
Hon. Mr. McGuinty: To the Attorney General.
Hon. Michael Bryant (Attorney General): There has been ample opportunity for this to be heard. This bill has been before the House for more than 220 days. We have had several days of second reading debate. We have had several days of public committee hearings. But let's be clear as to where each of the parties are. Last week, the member for Whitby-Ajax put out a press release saying that we should suspend the public hearings, stop them. In the summer, the House leader for the New Democratic Party said that he would filibuster the bill. We don't think that we should stop the hearings. We don't think that the hearings should be filibustered. We believe that there should be hearings this week, that they should continue next week, and that this should come back to the House for third reading. That is in fact what is going to happen, and that is going to ensure that for the first time in 44 years, our human rights system is actually going to get a reform.
Mr. Tory: The fact of the matter is that when you are bringing about reform to a piece of legislation such as the Human Rights Code that is a foundation piece of legislation in this province, when you are doing it for the first time in 44 years, if we accept your calendar on that, that is precisely why you need to take the time to hear from people, as you said. It was you, the Attorney General, who said that we would listen for however long it takes to people who wanted to be heard on this bill. That's what you said. The fact of the matter is, the official opposition only suggested the hearings be suspended until you actually shared with them, perhaps out of a sense of respect for the opposition, the wording of hundreds of amendments you were bringing forward to your own legislation.
My question is this: What happened to the person who stood in this House and said to the opposition and to the people of Ontario, "However long it takes"? You were right then on something that's amended once in 44 years, that people deserve the right to be heard. Why are you shutting them down now? Why is the Premier bringing the guillotine down on this debate and on these people and their right to be heard? It's a disgrace, and you know it.
Hon. Mr. Bryant: I think the member knows that if in fact a matter has indefinite debate, it means that the bill will never pass. And if that is the purpose of the official opposition, then I think they should make that clear. It has been the position of the third party that in fact they do not want the bill to pass. They have said that they will filibuster the bill. Mr. Kormos said that the Chair of the justice committee will be an old man before this bill passes.
We heard today from some people who have been, in their own words,
re-victimized by this very system. We heard from Stephanie Payne, who talked
about a complaint with the commission that was a traumatic experience that
lasted 10 years. We heard from Suvania Shiu, who said she was re-victimized by
the process: Eight and a half years before the commission, and the case was in
I'm not going to wait until victims of human rights are old men and old women before we have an opportunity to bring this bill back to the House for an up-or-down vote --
The Speaker (Hon. Michael A. Brown): Thank you. New question.
Mr. Tory: My question again is to the Premier. There is no one suggesting it
should go on indefinitely at all. We're just suggesting --
The Speaker: Order. The Minister of Northern Development.
The Leader of the Opposition.
Mr. Tory: We're merely suggesting that the people who have expressed a wish to be heard should be heard. The reason that legislation of this type gets dealt with only once in a generation is because it is so important, because it is so complex, because the issues are difficult to deal with. There is no one who is arguing the status quo should prevail. Not one person is arguing that the backlog that has been created over time should be allowed to continue.
It was the Attorney General of Ontario, the very man who was just lecturing me, who said: "We look forward to ... getting feedback from Ontarians." "We anticipate this should go to committee." "I look forward to this debate." "I look forward to [it] being debated ... however long it takes."
These are quotes from the Attorney General.
I ask the Premier this question: At every corner, this government has broken promises. Now Mr. McGuinty has humiliated his own Attorney General -- who said, "However long it takes" -- by going back on the Premier's and the Attorney General's word. Will you withdraw this time allocation motion, allow people to be heard --
The Speaker: The question's been asked. Premier?
Hon. Mr. McGuinty: In government, as I'm sure the leader of the official opposition will recognize, we have a responsibility to bring about progressive reforms that meet the needs of the people of Ontario. Equally important, we have a responsibility to ensure that people have an opportunity to lend shape to policy initiatives. And of course, we also have the right, as the duly elected government of the people of Ontario, to move forward legislation once we have made a call that it's important legislation and that we've ensured that people have an opportunity to lend shape to that legislation.
This call for change started some 14 years ago. The legislation has been under discussion for over 200 days. In the end, it will have more than 40 hours of debate. Again, we're talking about a committee that did have the opportunity to tour the province. We think, all things considered, that this is an important public policy initiative. We think we've given the people of Ontario ample opportunity to lend shape to this policy. We'll be having more committee hearings, and we look forward --
The Speaker: Thank you. Supplementary.
Mr. Tory: What the Premier just said about having more committee hearings is not consistent with the facts, not in terms of listening to people. There will be hearings to consider amendments -- hundreds, dozens of amendments that have been brought forward.
Let's trace through the chronology. On November 14, in Hansard, in question period, the Attorney General says, "However long it takes." On November 14, Mr. Bryant, the Attorney General, writes a letter to Mrs. Margaret Parsons, in which he says that the committee intends to hold additional public hearings in the winter on dates and in locations to be determined. On November 15, the committee itself, including the Liberal members, votes in favour of an extended round of hearings at that time. And then on November 20, the guillotine is brought down by the Premier's office to shut down debate, to gag these people who want to be heard on this human rights legislation.
Premier, what happened between November 14 -- "However long it takes" -- the letter, the vote by the committee and you bringing down the guillotine? What are you afraid of? What happened?
Hon. Mr. McGuinty: To the Attorney General.
Hon. Mr. Bryant: The member may be mistaken about his facts. There was a published report out today which suggested that debate and committee hearings will end today. That, in fact, is not accurate. Yes, we are debating that tonight. There will be further committee hearings this week, there will be committee hearings, as I say, next week, and this bill will come back for third reading in November.
It is the very nature of this bill and this reform that this matter has been
debated and studied and filibustered to death. On that basis, nothing has
happened in some 44 years. The New Democratic Party empanelled a task force to
look at the matter and did nothing about it. The Conservative government, which
didn't even bother empanelling a task force, did nothing about it. How many days
of public hearings did we have on human rights bills under the Conservatives?
Zero. How many days of public hearings under the NDP? Zero. Have we had ample
debate on this? Yes, we have. Yes, we --
The Speaker: Thank you. Final supplementary.
Mr. Tory: I come back to my question. It wasn't me who stood in this House and said that they would take however long it takes to listen to the people. It wasn't me who wrote the letter to Mrs. Parsons saying that there would be hearings held in the winter on dates and in locations to be determined. In fact, if you check the motion brought forward by the government House leader, it says that the committee is authorized to meet from 9:30 to 12:30 and after routine proceedings on November 29 to consider and complete clause-by-clause consideration of the bill, and it goes on to talk about other things after that. What happened? Why don't you just stand up and admit, then, that you wrote a letter and misled this woman with respect to the fact --
The Speaker: You'll need to withdraw the offending word.
Mr. Tory: I'll withdraw that. But why don't you stand in your place and say you wrote a letter to Mrs. Parsons and were grossly inaccurate with respect to the fact that there would be further hearings that you committed to, that you didn't mean it when you said you'd let the hearings go on for however long it took to hear the people who wanted to be heard. Answer the question. What happened? Why won't you let people be heard on this bill?
Hon. Mr. Bryant: Well, this is great. This is from the leader of a Conservative Party whose one contribution to the human rights system when they were in government was to cut the legal aid system by $2 million, preceded only by the NDP government, which, in the year before the Tories took power, cut the legal aid system by $2 million. Your sole contribution to this entire process has been to cut the funding for legal aid, and last week your critic said that we have to suspend public hearings on legal aid.
We will not do that. We will not continue the tradition of cuts. We will not continue the tradition of silence. We will not continue the tradition of inaction. We will reform the human rights system in the name of those victims so that we in Ontario can have a human rights system we're proud of instead of the one, and the record you have, which you should be ashamed of.
The Speaker: New question. The leader of the third party.
Mr. Howard Hampton (Kenora-Rainy River): My question is for the Premier. After promising advocacy groups and visible minorities concerned with human rights protection that you would hold public hearings on Bill 107, today you announced that you're cancelling the public hearings and shutting down debate.
Premier, you promised to listen to human rights advocates, not shut them out. What's your justification for this betrayal of trust and this betrayal of your promise?
Hon. Mr. McGuinty: I'm happy to take the question of the leader of the NDP.
I think it's really important to understand what is at stake here. What's at stake is an absolutely essential reform of an antiquated, outdated human rights system.
We have heard from many people for many years now, over a course of various governments of various political stripes, none of whom have had the courage, until ours, to decide to pick up this ball and run with it.
It's not without some controversy; we understand that. But we also think we have given the people of Ontario good opportunities to provide shape to our public policy initiative, and we think it's really important that we move forward.
As I said just a few moments ago, the legislation has been under discussion for over 200 days. We will have more than 40 hours of debate by the time this matter is brought to conclusion --
The Speaker: Thank you. Supplementary?
Mr. Hampton: This is once again about promises that you and your Attorney General made. Your Attorney General gave you a copy of the letter to Margaret Parsons, executive director of the African Canadian Legal Clinic, where he says, "The committee intends to hold additional public hearings in the winter on dates and in locations to be determined." You got a copy of that.
Now you're saying you don't care to hear from advocates for the vulnerable, you don't care to hear from advocates for the disabled community, you don't care to hear from advocates from visible minority communities -- you don't care to listen to them or hear from them.
Premier, some of those advocates are here today. Can you tell them why the McGuinty government doesn't think you need to listen to them or hear from them after you promised to do so?
Hon. Mr. McGuinty: To the Attorney General.
Hon. Mr. Bryant: I'm sure the leader of the New Democratic Party doesn't want to talk about the social contract being pulled out of committee: no hearings, and cutting off of debate.
I'm sure the leader of the third party would like to talk about those people who disagree with him, who are here today in the Legislature to say that we need to get these reforms and that the filibustering tactics of the third party cannot be allowed to continue forever.
I'm sure that Mr. Hampton heard from the people who support Bill 107. I'm sure he heard from June Callwood, and as well from the president of the Ontario Coalition of Rape Crisis Centres. I'm sure he heard from Catherine Frazee, former chief commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission. I'm sure he heard from Buzz Hargrove, president of CAW Canada. I'm sure he also heard from the Centre for Research and Education on Violence Against Women and Children. I'm sure he also heard from METRAC and from the Faye Peterson Transition House.
Why is the NDP not listening? Everybody is saying we need to change the system. We have a bill before the House to do so. Why --
The Speaker: Thank you. Final supplementary.
Mr. Hampton: Premier, you're the one who said to the people of Ontario that you believed in open, accountable, transparent government. You're the one who told these advocates that there would be continued public hearings and that you wanted to hear what they had to say.
Community Living Ontario is opposed to your scheme. So what have you done? You've cancelled their hearing. David Lepofsky, a pioneer in fighting for the rights of the disabled, is opposed to your scheme. So what have you done to him? You cancelled his hearing. The Asian Community AIDS Services, the Disabled Women's Network, the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance, what's happened to them? Cancelled, cancelled, cancelled.
Premier, it's your promise. You said you wanted to hear from these people. Tell them why you don't care what they think, what they say or how this may affect them.
Hon. Mr. Bryant: The leader of the third party opposes this bill. The leader of the third party does not want this bill to pass. The leader of the third party will do everything he can to stop this bill from ever passing. The leader of the third party doesn't care about continued debate with a view to having this bill come before the Legislature for a vote. The leader of the third party wants to do one thing and only one thing: He wants to filibuster and derail this bill.
Why did the leader of the third party take the task force that he empanelled, led by Mary Cornish, that called for these reforms and shelve it? Why did he do that?
The Toronto Star said on November 19, "In the face of clear evidence the current system is broken, Ontario cannot afford to let this opportunity slip away." We will not let this opportunity slip away.
The Speaker: Order. New question, the leader of the third party.
Mr. Hampton: To the Premier again, because once again, this is his promise. Premier, there is no filibuster here. There's been no filibuster. The only question I've asked on this legislation is about your government's willingness to hold public hearings and to hear from all the human rights advocates who may be affected by it. So stop trying to pretend that somebody is trying to pour cement in the works. That's not happening.
Premier, what's really interesting is that you spent over $100,000 on newspaper ads advertising that there would be public hearings. That's $100,000 of public money. So I want to ask the Premier this: If you weren't interested in hearing from these human rights advocates, if you don't care what they say, why did you spend $100,000 placing ads saying there would be hearings?
Hon. Mr. McGuinty: Just to support something my Attorney General said a moment ago, I think it's really important that we understand what's at play here. The Conservative Party and the NDP are absolutely opposed to moving ahead with human rights legislation in the province of Ontario. They've made that very clear. They are cloaking that under the guise of a desire to support additional representations to be made by members of the public. We understand that and we see through that. Our higher responsibility owed to the people of Ontario is to ensure that we reform Ontario's human rights system.
I can understand why the previous governments have shied away from that. It is fraught with some real challenges, but notwithstanding that, we've heard from Ontarians. I think we'll have close to 10 days of hearings at the end of it. We've had ample opportunity to hear from people, and we're open to more representation to be received by way of e-mail or letter, but we really think it's time for us to move ahead.
Mr. Hampton: Premier, I want to remind you of some of your comments and your Attorney General's comments of just a few years ago. Your Attorney General, when he was in opposition, said, "I, too, choked when I saw that yet another debate-killing motion was before this Legislature." He said that time allocation is a guillotine motion, "We want more debate, not less debate."
You spent $100,000 telling everyone far and wide in the province there would be more debate and there would be public hearings, that you wanted to hear from the people who might be affected by this legislation.
Premier, if you're so opposed to guillotine motions, if you're so opposed to shutting down debate, if you're so opposed to shutting out people who want to be heard on important human rights legislation, why would you ever bring in a guillotine motion yourself that terminates the hearings and shuts down debate?
Hon. Mr. McGuinty: To the Attorney General.
Hon. Mr. Bryant: June 8, 1993, Bill 164, auto insurance: three days in committee before time-allocated. Bill 165: four days in committee before time-allocated by the NDP government. Bill 48, the social contract: one day in committee before the whole House moved on a time allocation. Bill 100, regulated health professions: five days in committee before movement of time allocation.
Let's be clear here. The third party's approach to Bill 107 is to filibuster. I'm not guessing; I'm quoting. Mr. Kormos, on August 10 in standing committee, said, "I want to filibuster the bill ... [and] you'll be an old man before this thing passes, okay?"
Well, I don't want the victims of human rights to be old men and women before this bill passes --
The Speaker: Order. Member for Halton.
Mr. Hampton: Besides breaking promises, the McGuinty government is very good at only reading half the quote, because what Mr. Kormos said is, "Let's just get realistic here and be practical and act in good faith, like we have so far," and have the public hearings. But do we see good faith from the McGuinty government today? No, not for a second. What we see is a government that is afraid that people who have credibility in the human rights field might criticize it; that human rights advocates like David Lepofsky might point out that your legislation isn't all that you've advertised it to be.
Isn't that the real issue, Premier? You don't want to hear from these human rights advocates because they might be critical of your legislation, and nine months before an election you're prepared to put your political future ahead of their human rights advocacy.
Hon. Mr. Bryant: I can say with a lot of confidence that in fact this government has heard from many, many, many people on this issue, both in committee hearings and outside of committee hearings. We've heard from people who support Bill 107, and believe me, I have heard from people who are opposed to it, and I've heard them several times. I've sat down with some of the people -- from the letters you are quoting from -- several times. We've spent hours and hours and hours debating this bill in and outside of the House. We've spent years and years and years considering these human rights reforms.
But meanwhile, what about the 2,500 people who come to the human rights system every year and who see years and years and years of delay? This reform is about ending the delay in the human rights system. And if any party is playing politics with this debate, it's that party right there.
The Speaker: New question?
Mr. Tory: A question for the Premier: In stating that both of the opposition parties were not interested or were opposed to reforming the human rights act, you made statements that had no foundation in fact. We think the system has to be fixed, and we believe that a backlog, in effect, acts to deny justice or deny access to people.
But it's very interesting to note that the Attorney General, in getting up and listing all the people who had been heard recently, listed people who had come in favour of the bill. It is very interesting to note that a lot of the people you're guillotining and gagging and who are not being heard are people who have concerns about the bill. You've decided you are not going to hear from them on a bill that we amend every 40 years or so.
My question is this: If we commit to agreeing to have this matter come to a vote first thing when we come back in the spring, will you agree to let the hearings go ahead that were scheduled and agreed to and committed to at your word by your government? Will you agree to let those hearings go ahead and let these people be heard on this fundamental piece of legislation?
Hon. Mr. McGuinty: To the Attorney General, Speaker.
Hon. Mr. Bryant: The leader of the official opposition talks about human rights reform as if it's something that the Conservative Party had been remotely interested in. Was it in your platform in the last election? No, of course it wasn't. Was it in the platform in 1999? No, of course it wasn't. Did they introduce a single bill before the Legislature to advance the human rights system in the eight years they were in office? No. They've never had an interest in improving the human rights system. Their sole contribution to the human rights system is that they cut it by $2 million in their first year in office. So we're not going to take any lectures from that leader when it comes to reforming the human rights system.
Mr. Tory: The Attorney General should check the history books. It was John Parmenter Robarts, Conservative Premier of Ontario, who introduced the Human Rights Code in this province. But let's forget about the history.
Let me reiterate that I want to know what happened between the time the Attorney General of Ontario said, "However long it takes" -- he wrote to Ms. Parsons and said there would be winter hearings. If you want to talk about good faith, I'm standing here saying that if we agree that we will allow a vote to be taken first thing when the spring session of the House begins, will you agree to let these people be heard, as you said you would in writing -- your word -- as you said you would in this House in response to a question, and if not, why not? Why won't you keep your word and why wouldn't you agree to a reasonable accommodation like that when it comes to human rights legislation -- foundation legislation in this province that people have the right to be heard on?
The Speaker: Order.
Hon. Mr. Bryant: The leader of the official opposition quotes from Premier Robarts and asks what happened. I don't know what happened to the grand old Conservative Party, but I can tell you they've lost all their interest in human rights reform in the last 40 years.
Let's be clear --
The Speaker: Order. I'm having great difficulty hearing the Attorney General.
Hon. Mr. Bryant: The member is quoting from statements that have been made over the last few months. I'd remind him of the statement made by the member for Whitby-Ajax. She said that the committee hearings should not proceed. She wanted the committee hearings to stop last week, and we're saying no, we're not going to stop the committee hearings, and no, we're not going to filibuster the hearings. Rather, we're going to make sure that an appropriate amount of committee hearings take place -- more committee hearings than ever took place on the social contract, and more committee hearings than took place on just about every single bill that was before this House under the Harris-Eves government --
The Speaker: Thank you. New question.
Mr. Hampton: My question is to the Premier. I want to read to you a letter that is addressed to you as of today's date:
"I wish to express my profound dismay at your government's notice to invoke closure and prematurely end debate on Bill 107, An Act to reform the Ontario Human Rights Commission."
Further, "By bringing an abrupt halt to the proceedings, the opportunity to reform the legislation is lost. I fear the existing divisions will become more polarized and bitter."
This is a letter from Barbara Hall, chief commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission. If you won't listen to me and you won't listen to the human rights advocates who are here today, will you at least listen to the chief commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission, whom you appointed?
Hon. Mr. McGuinty: To the Attorney General.
Hon. Mr. Bryant: Here is the NDP trying to have it both ways. When the chief commissioner was before the justice committee hearings, the House leader for the third party, Mr. Kormos, questioned whether or not Ms. Hall was speaking on behalf of the entire commission and, as a result, he said, "We need to have every single staff person in the commission come before the justice committee and testify" -- every single person. You can't question the credibility of the chief commissioner on one hand, and then rush to the defence of the chief commissioner on the other.
To speak to the chief commissioner's concerns, I can assure everybody in this House that yes, as she asks, there will be an opportunity to fine-tune the amendments; yes, the commission will be given an opportunity to address the amendments; and yes, Chief Commissioner Barbara Hall supports Bill 107.
Mr. Hampton: Premier, I want to quote further from the chief commissioner of the Human Rights Commission, whom you appointed: "It may seem trite to remind you that justice must not only be done but must be seen to be done. This is an essential truth with the law and particularly in regard to human rights. The justice policy committee clearly felt that an extended period of consultation would have value; however, the invitation may now be withdrawn. Dozens of groups and individuals who have waited to take part could be denied the opportunity at the 11th hour."
Premier, the chief commissioner is asking you to withdraw your motion of closure. I am asking you, will you do the right thing? Will you withdraw your motion of closure and hear from these human rights advocates and build consensus rather than creating division, which is what you are doing now?
Hon. Mr. Bryant: Look, it is a matter of determining the point to which one lets the New Democratic Party filibuster this bill. There has to be a point at which the government says, "This many days and then let us have a vote."
The Speaker: Order. The member for Erie-Lincoln. The member from Renfrew.
Hon. Mr. Bryant: The member refers to justice being done and seen to be done, and that is absolutely the case. We have to ensure that there is an ample number of days and hours devoted to this bill. But I remind the member of another truism, which is that justice delayed is justice denied. For too many people who go to our human rights system, they are receiving no justice at all. We heard from people this morning who were before the human rights system for eight and a half years, for 10 years, and no justice. For these people, justice delayed means no justice at all.
This bill shortens the pipeline from complaint to resolution. That's why this bill is before the House. That's why it needs to come before this House for an up-and-down vote, and that's why we need to reform this human rights system right now.
CONSIDERATION OF BILL 107
Mrs. Christine Elliott (Whitby-Ajax): My question is for the Attorney General. Yesterday, in response to my question, you stood in your place and guaranteed that all Ontarians will receive full representation by a lawyer throughout their complaint process under Bill 107. The Hamilton Spectator, however, reported on November 10, 2006, that you said, "The province is willing to make changes to its proposals for overhauling Ontario's human rights systems but it won't pour in more money."
Minister, you can't have it both ways. It's time for you to be honest with the people of Ontario, particularly the most vulnerable people in Ontario. How can you possibly reconcile these two statements and provide a lawyer for every person who wants one without putting in additional funding?
Hon. Michael Bryant (Attorney General): Well, the Conservative Party can't have it both ways. The Conservative Party cannot on the one hand cut funding to the Ontario Human Rights Commission and then, on the other hand, say that in fact they want to reform and improve the Human Rights Commission. And the member opposite can't say last week that the committee hearings should not proceed, on the one hand, and yet we should have more committee hearings, on the other hand.
When it comes to these committee hearings and when it comes to this bill, there has been a significant amount of debate. The positions are very well known. I don't anticipate I'm going to change the minds of some people, which is not to say that the committee amendments we've already presented before the committee are not going to continue to be considered and consulted on, and I look forward to the member's comments, substantive comments, on the specific amendments that are before her right now, because we put those amendments before her in committee last week.
Mrs. Elliott: Minister, you know and I know that what I said in committee last week was that we should suspend the committee hearings until we have the full text of the amendments so that we know that your smoke-and-mirrors amendments have some substance. You know that you did not table the amendments with us; you gave us some vague statement that people are attaching to you because you're saying the words they want to hear. But you know and I know that that's not what the amendment said. We don't even have the amendments. You're the one who's cutting off the debate; you're the one who's muzzling disability and racialized minority groups. And before these hearings are cut off, let's be clear: How do you plan to find a lawyer for every person who wants a lawyer in these proceedings without putting more new money in? Let's be honest with the people of Ontario.
Hon. Mr. Bryant: Funding for the Ontario Human Rights Commission reached a 10-year low. It happened in 1996-97, and it happened under the Harris-Eves government.
The views on this bill are well known. The views on human rights reform are well known. They've been known for years. The views on Bill 107 have been known for more than 200 days. The e-mails, the letters, the meetings, the committee hearings -- there have been dozens and dozens and dozens.
We know that the third party wishes only to filibuster. I don't know if the official opposition wants to filibuster or simply derail. I do know that the only way in which we're going to get the first reform to the human rights system in 44 years is if at some point it comes back to this House and we have an up-and-down vote on reform for the victims in Ontario, so that we can give them real, adequate and timely justice, something they've not had for far, far too long.
CONSIDERATION OF BILL 107
Mr. Norman W. Sterling (Lanark-Carleton): My question is to the Premier. During the last election in a platform document, Government that Works for You, you promised, "We will require public hearings for all major legislation."
Mr. Premier, we've had probably five or 10 pieces of legislation which I would consider major during the last three years. I consider Bill 107 as one of those major pieces of legislation. Do you consider Bill 107 a major piece of legislation?
Hon. Dalton McGuinty (Premier, Minister of Research and Innovation): To the Attorney General.
Hon. Michael Bryant (Attorney General): We have had public hearings. Let me say it again: We have had public hearings, and we're having more committee hearings, and we're having more debate on this.
I know that there was no bill under the Harris-Eves government that dealt with human rights reform. I understand that. There weren't any public hearings on that when the member was in that government. They didn't bring any such bill before the House; we have brought this bill before the House.
The member knows very well that at some point after there's debate and committee hearings, there's a time when the views are well known, there are times when the positions are well established and there is an opportunity for members of this House to come in fully informed. Nobody can suggest that they are not fully informed on issues around the human rights system and have an opportunity to vote on this. That is the opportunity that we have with this bill and that is the opportunity the members of this House will have when it comes to this Legislature for a vote.
Mr. Sterling: All of us in this Legislature, save and except for the Attorney General, perhaps, can say that we are not informed, because the amendments to this legislation have not been shown by the Attorney General to the committee or to this Legislature. How can you cut off the process? How can you cut off the process, Mr. Premier? How can you cut off the process when all of the facts are not on the table? Will you, at the very least, postpone the guillotine motion to be debated tonight until after the Attorney General puts the amendments on the table so everyone knows what they're dealing with? Is that not a most reasonable request?
Hon. Mr. Bryant: This is coming from a government House leader past who was the captain of closure motions when he had the opportunity. Seriously, I have great respect for the member asking the question, and I find it hard to believe that the member seriously thinks that the calls for reform to the human rights system that are before this House have not been before this House for many years. The member knows very well that when he was the House leader, the government would never show up at committee hearings and propose the amendments, as this government has done. We've proposed the amendments; we've put them before the House. I would like to hear feedback from the member as to what he thinks of the amendments. Of course we will file the amendments in accordance with the rules; of course we will file the amendments in accordance with the standing orders. But we went one step further: We provided them in advance. This is all just smoke and mirrors. This is an effort to try and derail a bill that deserves to come to this House for an up-or-down vote once and for all so we can reform this human rights --
LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY OF ONTARIO
Tuesday 21 November 2006 Mardi 21 novembre 2006
ORDERS OF THE DAY
The House met at 1845.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
Hon. Leona Dombrowsky (Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs): I move that, pursuant to standing order 46 and notwithstanding any other standing order or special order of the House relating to Bill 107, An Act to amend the Human Rights Code, that the standing committee on justice policy be authorized to meet from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and after routine proceedings on Wednesday, November 29, 2006, to consider and complete clause-by-clause consideration of the bill; and
That the deadline for filing amendments to the bill with the clerk of the committee shall be noon on Wednesday, November 29, 2006. On November 29, 2006, at no later than 5 p.m., those amendments which have not yet been moved shall be deemed to have been moved, and the Chair of the committee shall interrupt the proceedings and shall, without further debate or amendment, put every question necessary to dispose of all remaining sections of the bill and any amendments thereto. The committee shall be authorized to meet beyond the normal hour of adjournment until completion of clause-by-clause consideration. Any division required shall be deferred until all remaining questions have been put and taken in succession with one 20-minute waiting period allowed pursuant to standing order 127(a); and
That the committee shall report the bill to the House not later than Thursday, November 30, 2006. In the event that the committee fails to report the bill on that day, the bill shall be deemed to be passed by the committee and shall be deemed to be reported to and received by the House; and
That, upon receiving the report of the standing committee on justice policy, the Speaker shall put the question for adoption of the report forthwith, and at such time the bill shall be ordered for third reading, which order may be called on that same day; and
That, on the day the order for third reading for the bill is called, the time available for debate, up to 5 p.m. or 9:20 p.m., as the case may be, shall be apportioned equally among the recognized parties; and
That when the time allotted for debate has expired, the Speaker shall interrupt the proceedings and put every question necessary to dispose of the third reading stage of the bill without further debate or amendment; and
That the vote on third reading may be deferred pursuant to standing order 28(h); and
That, in the case of any division relating to any proceedings on the bill, the division bell shall be limited to 10 minutes.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Ted Chudleigh): I think in the fourth last paragraph you said "5 p.m." and I believe that it reads "5:50 p.m."
Hon. Mrs. Dombrowsky: I stand corrected.
The Acting Speaker: Thank you very much. The minister has moved motion 248. Would the minister like to say a few words?
Hon. Mrs. Dombrowsky: I do want to make some comments on Bill 107 and the motion today and why the government believes that it is very important that we move this legislation along.
As we have heard in the Legislature today, certainly the Attorney General and our Premier have taken the opportunity to remind the people in this assembly that this is legislation that has been awaited for a very long time. I remember, when I was in opposition, I met with many groups in my constituency office who had concerns about the human rights bill and where there needed to be improvements. I congratulate the Premier and the Attorney General because they have moved this forward. They have recognized that there is a need to ensure that people who wish to avail themselves of the justice system can receive that justice in a timely way.
Just a few points that I want to make on behalf of the bill. Under this proposed legislation the Ontario Human Rights Commission will be strengthened. It will have a mandate that will focus to address issues such as education promotion to share with the people of the province how they can better and more easily access the justice system. There is a public advocacy component, and I think all of us in this House certainly appreciate how important it is that people across the province of Ontario have it made known to them what their rights are and how they can seek justice if they believe that they are victims in any way, in that particular circumstance. The bill also accommodates for research and monitoring.
I've had the opportunity to review the bill. One component of the bill -- it is obviously not a part of the present bill that Ontarians have to deal with -- is the fact that in this bill, number one, there is a requirement that the commissioner will provide an annual report to this assembly. So accountability is a big part of this bill. Also, there is a requirement in the bill that the legislation would be reviewed in five years. Going forward, if there are shortcomings in the legislation or in the operation of the commission, if they are identified, this piece of legislation actually directs that in five years there would be a review and therefore an opportunity to improve and/or correct any parts of the bill that are not adequately meeting the needs of the people of Ontario. We, however, do believe that the changes that were being contemplated when this bill was drafted have been made after much consultation and many years of consideration on how, going forward, we can better ensure that the rights of Ontarians are considered and defended and represented.
Other features of the bill are to address the systematic discrimination that may occur from time to time in our province. There are very specific commissions in the tribunal, very specific responsibilities. As a result of the kind of input and the real-life stories that have come to us, we have been directed by those. As a result, we have, I believe, brought forward a piece of legislation that will better enable people in the province of Ontario who may be victims of racism, for example, or who may be disabled and feel that they have been victimized because of their disability -- this bill provides that they would have better access to justice to have their cases heard.
I have to say that I have heard anecdotally a number of stories from constituents who right now have been caught up in a human rights system where it can take literally years and years to be resolved. In some cases, the parties who brought the action forward are no longer even involved in their roles. In many cases when the processes drag out that long, you really have to ask: Has justice really been served if it has taken so long to actually complete?
I listened very carefully to the Attorney General today when he was answering questions during question period, and I think the point he made that, for me, perhaps makes this piece of legislation most relevant to my constituents is that Bill 107 is going to provide real, adequate and timely justice for the people in the province of Ontario. In many cases -- in far too many cases -- that has not happened.
Our government is an activist government. We believe in acting on behalf of the good and the well-being of the people in our province. There is no question that any time a government would look to act on legislation of this nature, it's going to evoke controversy. We think that is a very good thing. That is the reason why we have scheduled so many days of committee hearings, so we could hear that response, that reaction, that this kind of legislation understandably does inspire. We have listened very carefully. I know that the Attorney General has been working very hard to ensure that folks who have a desire to make their feelings known about this legislation have had the opportunity. I know that he works very hard to ensure that their issues have been and will continue to be addressed. I know that he is going to be proposing amendments.
So I think it's very important, for the members of this House and most importantly for the people of Ontario, that they recognize that our government believes that it's important to act swiftly, that people have had to endure delays in justice for far too long and our government is not going to tolerate that anymore. We maybe don't understand but certainly respect that there are parties in this House who really have no interest in moving this legislation forward expeditiously, if at all. Well, we're not going to be a part of that. We're here to act on behalf of the people of Ontario. We will do what we believe is best in their interest, and we believe that, by considering Bill 103 and having it dealt with in the matter, what we're doing this evening is what's best for the people of Ontario. I thank you very much for this opportunity.
The Acting Speaker: Further debate?
Mr. John Tory (Leader of the Opposition): In the short time that I've been here, I think this is the first time I've spoken on one of these time allocation motions. I realize that this is not the first time in this House, by governments of any party, that time allocation has been used. In fact, we had had quite an interesting recitation today, I think from the Attorney General, of various times it's been used in the past.
What is particularly sad about this is that the one thing that I find frustrating about being involved in the political process and being involved as an elected representative is the degree to which it's difficult, quite often, to engage members of the public in the pieces of legislation that we're passing here, to get people in large numbers to show genuine interest -- pro, con or otherwise -- on things that we're doing here, to get people to actually decide that maybe they're interested enough to watch the television at 7 o'clock at night, watch some of the debates we're having.
This bill, because it is what I described earlier today as a foundation piece of legislation, which I think really has a lot to do with the way we live our lives, the way we govern ourselves -- a lot of the things that we talk about in here, in terms of basic core values of Ontario citizenship -- is one of those pieces of legislation that I'm not surprised the people of Ontario have a great deal of interest in and would like to see us amend and reform with great care.
I thought that the Attorney General today, quite frankly, was outrageous in talking about how the only part of the record of the Progressive Conservative Party with respect to the human rights legislation was to cut it. In fact, I just went back and got out Hansard from 1961, where it talked there about the fact that that was the day on which the Ontario Human Rights Code -- it was then called the Ontario Code of Human Rights -- was introduced. It was a consolidation of bills, every single one of them passed by a Progressive Conservative government: the Racial Discrimination Act, 1944; the Fair Employment Practices Act; the Female Employees' Fair Remuneration Act; the Fair Accommodation Practices Act; the Ontario Anti-Discrimination Commission; and on it goes. Every one of those things was introduced by a Progressive Conservative government. In fact, the Attorney General, aside from being unfair in that characterization today, also suggested that this was the first time in 44 years that this bill had been amended in a significant way. That, too, is inconsistent with the facts, in that Dr. Bob Elgie, the member at the time for York East, led a very significant reform to the Human Rights Code in 1980, which Mr. Lepofsky referred to today when he was on the premises at Queen's Park. It was said by Mr. Warrender, the Minister of Labour in 1961, "We all agree that respect for the dignity and rights of every human being is the foundation stone of peace and justice in this country and this world. The promotion of the kind of society where men and women of all races and creeds can come together in co-operation and goodwill is the basic objective of Ontario's Code of Human Rights."
It was very interesting, because on that day we had speeches in this Legislature from members of the New Democratic Party and members of the then official opposition, the Liberal Party. I'll come back to this at the end, because the spirit within which that was dealt with at that time was quite different from what is going on here today.
Having looked at that history, I did want to correct the record in that regard because I think the Attorney General's comments were totally inconsistent with the facts and were outrageous. Having said that, what is equally outrageous is the history of this matter in the recent period of time. The first thing we have -- and the Attorney General will recall this, as will other members of the House -- is that there was a series of questions asked last spring about the degree to which there had been adequate consultation undertaken before the bill was introduced. As I recall -- and I can't quote it; I don't have it in front of me -- the Attorney General had made a commitment, at that time, that before any bill was introduced -- I think I'm correct in saying this -- there would be full consultation. He was able to stand up in this House and read off a long list of groups that he'd consulted, and I take him at his word. I'm sure he did. The problem was that we were able to get up in this House and read a long list of groups that said they had not been consulted and wanted to be consulted. So already, at that time, the minister was not acting in a manner consistent with his word in that he failed to consult a lot of these groups that said they weren't consulted.
So we started off, on a matter that should be of common cause between all parties, common cause as best one can pull it together -- and I know it's not easy -- to try to get a consensus behind this most fundamental foundation piece of legislation in our society with a group of people who felt, inconsistent with the word of the minister, that they were left out.
The minister then has answered for this, or not answered for it, as the case may be, throughout a period of time since then -- because we've asked various questions about when you were going to consult -- and every time, I think it's fair to say, it's, "Don't worry; we will. Don't worry; we'll consult. Everybody will be heard."
The most explicit he was on this was just a week ago, on November 14, when in this House, in question period, in response to a question from my colleague from Whitby-Ajax, he said, "I look forward to the matter being debated in the committee, not only tomorrow and the next day but however long it takes." That is exactly what he said: "however long it takes." He didn't say, "however long it takes as long as it's over by next Tuesday," or "however long it takes if we can hear the next eight groups that want to be heard," most of which, by the way, were favourable to the government's legislation. It's an odd coincidence that the people who probably were lined up to speak first -- because the government knew it was going to do this, notwithstanding that the minister's word, given in this House, was that we would have this discussion go on and hear from people, to use his words, "however long it takes."
That may have been the minister claiming he misspoke himself. I don't know. He hasn't explained yet why he said one thing and did another, notwithstanding that we all understand that that is the hallmark of the McGuinty Liberal government. But the very same day, he signed a letter to Ms. Margaret Parsons, executive director of the African Canadian Legal Clinic, in which he talks about looking forward to the committee holding additional public hearings in the winter on dates and in locations to be determined -- in the winter. I don't think he thinks it's winter now. It's not winter yet. "Winter" means after December 21, by which time the guillotine will have been brought down on this bill and people will have been shut out. Why did he write and sign that letter on the 14th, giving his word that there would be opportunity for people to be heard and that this was in the hands of the committee, which is what this letter says? Those are the two things we have from him most recently, on top of all the things from the spring where he gave his word that people would be heard, even those whom we identified as not having been heard earlier on.
Then it gets even more interesting because the next day the committee meets, and it has a report from the subcommittee recommending more hearings be held, including hearings after Christmas, to make sure we heard from all those who wanted to be heard.
What happens that day? The committee unanimously votes to accept that report to have the extra hearings. I know there is this fraud that is perpetrated that sort of says, "Oh, the committees really control their own affairs. We never have anything to say about that." That's kind of like last week, when the Premier wrote a letter to the Ombudsman saying, "Don't worry. You'll be heard and you'll get the time that you want at the committee." Meanwhile, his members were ordered to vote down the Ombudsman having 15 more minutes of time that the Ombudsman wanted.
In this case, lo and behold, what we have here is a good thing. All the members of the committee from all parties -- as it should be on a piece of human rights legislation like this -- vote in favour of having the extra time and the extra hearings and, on the strength of that, the clerk of the committee goes out and spends 106,000 taxpayer dollars buying ads in the papers to say, "Come to the hearings. We want to hear from you." That's money we now can't get back, by the way, but this is not about money. It's just interesting that they permitted that to happen.
Lo and behold -- that's on November 15 -- five days later, on November 20, the guillotine comes out, so obviously what happened here is that the Liberal members knew what they wanted and they did vote to have the hearings go ahead. The Premier's office and the Attorney General's office ordered that this debate be shut down because it was inconvenient to them to actually think they might listen to some people from across the province. I wonder what it is they're afraid of hearing. We are trying -- I think we should be trying, in any event -- to develop a consensus as broad as we possibly can when it comes to the Ontario Human Rights Code and what the minister I think has correctly described as "fundamental reform."
By the way, the minister got up and asserted -- or I guess it was the Premier who did today -- that we, the Progressive Conservative Party and the New Democratic Party, are opposed to reforming the Human Rights Code. No one has ever said that, but we do think that, if you're reforming as fundamental a foundation piece of legislation as this, you take the time to do it right, you hear the people who want to be heard, especially when we have so much trouble engaging people in legislation and things we do here, and especially when a lot of people do have some concerns about the bill. So we should get it right, as opposed to getting it done quickly.
The fact of the matter is that passing it now versus passing it, which we offered to do, first thing up in the spring, after the people have been heard today, is not going to make a material difference in terms of eliminating the old backlog or getting started on the new one, where the minister himself has been extraordinarily vague about the degree of legal advice people are going to be able to get: how much of it, how many lawyers, where they are going to be. Heaven knows, we won't even be able to hire the people between now and the time when we could have that vote taken in March, after everyone had been heard and with a much greater chance that we will have developed a consensus by that time that will allow for this legislation to be passed in the manner that it should be passed, and so we have the guillotine.
I want to just share a couple of quotes. We have pages and pages of these, and it's almost nauseating to read them. But we have the government House leader, and he said, "Each of the time allocation motions which close off or choke off debate in this House seems to be more drastic as it comes forward ... more sinister as it relates to the privileges of members of this House and as it relates to healthy, democratic debate for the people of this province." That was December 16, 1977.
Then on the same day he says, "The opposition role is to help to slow the government down, and I think ultimately better legislation for all the people of this province emerges when the government is forced to take a little longer to pass that legislation." Well, they're singing quite a different tune today about how that delay is going to be the worst thing on earth and that the world is going to come to an end if we don't jam and ram this through on a couple of hours' notice.
Then we have again Mr. Bradley, the member for St. Catharines, on December 10, 2002: "I find it most unfortunate as well that this bill will be rammed through with what we call a time allocation motion or what is known as closing off debate. If nobody cares about this, governments will continue to do it. No matter what those governments are, they will continue to do it. It's not healthy for the democratic system. It relegates individual members of the Legislature to the status of robots, and that's most unfortunate."
What really pains me is that the people who are most being relegated to being robots are the people on the Liberal side of the House. I predict with certainty that there won't be one who will have the guts to get up in this House and say, "This is wrong," that we should be hearing from these people who want to be heard, that this is a fundamental, foundation piece of legislation that this Legislature is considering, that these people have every bit as much right to be heard as the people who spoke in favour, whom they did allow to be heard last week. They will do what they're told. They will do what they're ordered to do.
They showed a rare glimmer of independence in voting for the additional hearings, but then the hammer came down on them and said, "How dare you vote with the Progressive Conservative Party and the New Democratic Party for more hearings and to actually have people be heard? We've got to shut her down -- shut her down. We don't want to hear from those people. We know what's best. We're the McGuinty Liberal government. We don't care that our word is on the record saying that we'll listen to people, that we'll take however long it takes. Our word means nothing. You Liberals here in caucus should all know that. We're closing it down."
That, of course, brings us finally to the honourable Dalton McGuinty, now Premier of Ontario, who said on December 19, 2000, "For a government that promised to be open, this closure action is the height of arrogance, the height of exactly everything you campaigned against and you said you were for." Well, guess what? I will stand here in this House today and say to the Liberal Party, Premier Dalton McGuinty and the Attorney General: This is the height of arrogance. It is the height of exactly everything you campaigned against and said you were for. It is a total disgrace.
I want to just finish with two last points, and I think it's worth reading into the record -- my friend from Niagara Centre, or maybe his leader, today read into the record a couple of passages from Barbara Hall's letter. This is Barbara Hall, my friend and my classmate from law school, whom I commended on her appointment to the Ontario Human Rights Commission and who was appointed by this government to that post. She said earlier this week that she was generally content with some of the amendments, or whatever she said. But she wrote a letter today which said this, and I want to just read a few quotes from it:
"[T]he commission has commented on the need for full consultation by the Ministry of the Attorney General." I think she's referring in this next sentence to what I talked about last spring. She says, "What should have been a broad, consensus-building exercise in the best traditions of promoting human rights was undertaken in a way which, instead, caused division within the communities concerned." Doesn't that say a lot, that the person charged with the responsibility of administering this act and protecting human rights in this province, the chief human rights commissioner, says that the way in which the government has handled this is causing divisions within the communities concerned?
She goes on to say "that the committee's hearings," it had been hoped, "would lead to further progress with more common ground being found." That's what we're trying to find too -- to listen to people to see if we can find more common ground. She goes on to say, "In particular, there is a need to fine-tune the Attorney General's proposed amendments and to allay fears within the community by making clear the transition from the old system to the new. By bringing an abrupt halt to the proceedings," Ms. Hall goes on to say, "that opportunity is lost; I fear the existing divisions will become more polarized and bitter."
What a great legacy this will be for you, Attorney General, I say through you, Mr. Speaker, to have the existing divisions "become more polarized and bitter;" to have the most vulnerable people in our society, whom you claim to be protecting better through this piece of legislation, in fact saying that you had no time to listen to them.
We have nothing but time here. If we had to sit extra time to hear these people, we have said we will sit in the winter months. You have said, "No. Shut it down. We know best. We don't need to listen to these people. We don't need to hear those most vulnerable people. We don't care that the chief human rights commissioner of the province of Ontario says this is going to lead to bitterness and division in this province," because you're choosing to do this the way that you're doing it.
She concludes the letter by saying this: "On behalf of the commission, I urge you to withdraw the motion for closure. This should be a time to encourage discussion, for consultation and for healing of divisions. All sides share the goal of a stronger, more effective human rights system for Ontarians and care passionately about human rights. It is crucial in this context to seek common ground, for the sake of the people we both serve. Please" -- the letter concludes -- "let their voices be heard."
Well, I can tell you, speaking on behalf of our party, and I know it's true of the New Democrats -- they will speak for themselves -- that we too "share the goal of a stronger, more effective human rights system." We too reject the fact that there should be a backlog that lasts for a year and a half, or whatever period of time it is. Changes need to be made.
We are saying, though: Listen to the people who want to be heard. We have people demonstrating their interest and their engagement. Listen to the people who want to be heard and give them a chance to come here and say what they have to say. Maybe they might actually have a valuable contribution to make; in fact, I am certain that they will.
I want to conclude with a little bit more history from the very same day on which -- if I could find it here -- the new human rights legislation was introduced. In this case, it's a little while later; I guess it's actually the end of the second reading debate, February 22, 1962.
It's very interesting. History always teaches you a lot of lessons about a lot of things, but in this case it shows how it could be done, because the bill I referred to earlier and the reference I made to the speech introducing the Ontario human rights code or whatever they called it -- the Ontario Code of Human Rights -- then was followed by some very interesting speeches by Mr. Bryden, who was a long-time member of the New Democratic Party. He taught me political science at the University of Toronto -- a wonderful man, a totally engaging man. He got up and spoke about the bill and said -- you know what he said in his speech? It's interesting. He said, "In introducing the bill, the minister said that he wasn't really changing any principles involved in the bill, but I think he shortchanged himself." He went on to indicate that there were some important principles in a positive sense that had been brought forward by this new bill introduced by the then Progressive Conservative government. This is the critic for the NDP saying this.
Mr. Robarts made the concluding speech on the second reading debate. He was the Premier at the time. He said, "If you go back to the beginning of this type of legislation and the human rights legislation that has been introduced here, I think you will find that over the years, there really has never been a sharp difference of opinion on the underlying principles between the various groups in the House."
He goes on later to conclude, in talking about the very same thing, "I think the hon. Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Wintermeyer), the hon. member for Woodbine (Mr. Bryden), and I all realize that this bill is an important step in what we are trying to achieve. The codification of the act will promote understanding and acceptance of the principles involved in them. What we are really attempting to do is to place education and legal sanctions together...." He then goes on to conclude his speech. What a sad commentary it is that that can be the way they managed to do it in 1962.
In fact, I remember, because I was here, and frankly there was more controversy within our own party --
Mr. Peter Kormos (Niagara Centre): In 1962?
Mr. Tory: In 1982 -- when Bob Elgie introduced the changes to the Human Rights Code at that time that took huge steps forward in a number of areas of discrimination that became prohibited areas of discrimination, and probably there was more dispute inside our own party -- I'm being honest about this -- about the wisdom of those things, but ultimately they passed, obviously with the support of the government and with the support of the other parties, because that's how we recognized at that time that you do these things: that you hear people and that you work together as parties to build a consensus so that we can say to the people proudly, "We have moved forward and reformed and improved the human rights legislation of this province, and we've done it through consensus building and by listening to people and getting better ideas as to how we could do things better."
On pieces of legislation like this, the fact of the matter is, there is no division between the three parties about what it is we're trying to achieve. But there are different ideas sometimes as how best one can achieve it, and there are certainly going to be some different opinions about that among members of the public, while they don't differ on the principle involved.
So I say to the government, I made an offer today -- and I will conclude on this last note -- and for the life of me, I don't understand what's wrong with it. I don't understand what's wrong with it, and the minister didn't answer today and the Premier didn't answer. I said that when we come back in the spring, if they agree to have the hearings that they had agreed to have and that their members had voted to have, and that they placed ads in the paper to have and so forth, that the minister gave his word that we would have -- the Attorney General's word was given on this -- if they agree to have those hearings, speaking for our party, we will agree to have this matter brought to a vote. And everything that the government talked about being so important today will happen on the first couple of days back, whatever works for the government House leader.
But to me, to adopt the approach that they're adopting now, to bring down the hammer, to jam and ram this through, to completely give the back of the hand to all of these groups of people and all these individuals who want to be heard, I think is a disgrace. It is inconsistent with why we're here, it is inconsistent with how this has been handled in the past in this Legislature when major reforms have been brought about, and I think the government is letting themselves down. I think they are letting the people of Ontario down. I think they are letting down the people who care very much about the human rights legislation. That is why I wanted to speak tonight against this time allocation motion, because I think as a matter of process, as a matter of principle, it is a grave mistake that we will pay for, as said by no one less than, no one other than, the chief human rights commissioner. It will create the kind of bitterness and division she talked about, and we will rue the day that we did it this way.
Mr. Kormos: New Democrats oppose this time allocation motion. We're going to be voting against it. I think it's important that we review some of the history of Bill 107 before the justice committee. I do want to indicate that it was not only a pleasure but a very useful experience to have had Ms. Elliott and Mr. Runciman as Conservative representatives on that committee. I know that they will find some of my recollection of the history of the bill before the committee familiar because, of course, they were involved very actively in subcommittee meetings and in negotiations around ensuring that this bill even got to committee.
Let's understand what the government's obsession was with. It was with Bill 14, the paralegal bill. Let's understand that the government had made a decision to displace Bill 107. It had. Mr. Bryant made a choice. Opposition parties -- the Conservatives and the New Democrats -- agreed, notwithstanding, again, the tremendous concern around Bill 14 -- don't think this is the only contentious bill that bears the fingerprints of one Michael Bryant -- around which there has been no resolution of the tremendous conflict.
I recall very, very clearly sitting in subcommittee as well as the House leader's office and talking about the fact that opposition parties worked as much as we had to after the Labour Day holiday to get committee hearings done on Bill 14, to accommodate the people who wanted to speak to Bill 14, and to make our best effort to get it reported back to the House by the time the House began sitting. I also remember some of the inevitable delays, not caused by opposition members but by the incompetence of government members, by government amendments that had to be read into the record that were pages and pages and pages long. The whining and the whinging that took place was incredible. In fact, opposition members, the Conservatives and myself as the New Democratic representative, assisted as best we could and as best the rules allowed to get Bill 14 back to the House for third reading. Were we happy with the result? No, we weren't. But do we understand the process? Yes, we do.
Throughout the very beginning of the summer, the latter part of the spring, there was, of course, discussion around Bill 107. Opposition caucuses -- Ms. Elliott, myself, Mr. Runciman -- told the government that there was undoubtedly going to be a lengthy list of persons who wanted to be heard with respect to Bill 107 and that we were prepared to begin hearing them when the committee was freed from its responsibilities around Bill 14. The government bizarrely, peculiarly, strangely, with no seeming rationale, insisted that at the beginning of August, we travel to three cities: London, Thunder Bay and Ottawa. I remember opposition members agreeing to sit extended hours in those cities where there was tremendous demand. The opposition members offered to sit extended hours to accommodate the folks in those cities. It was Ottawa, as I recall, that had the lengthiest hearings, although somebody could correct me.
I remember that it was government members who were whining about the travel arrangements. A plane had been chartered. There were actually government members who got to Thunder Bay on the charter plane who wanted to hire commercial flights to come back to Toronto rather than come back on the charter because it was too uncomfortable. I recall suggesting to them that that wouldn't be the most astute thing to do, because I would undoubtedly expect to read about it in a Toronto tabloid the next day. Do you understand what I'm saying? A plane had been chartered, and that, in and of itself isn't unreasonable. It was an uncomfortable -- there were two little planes. It wasn't a very comfortable journey. Again, we were accommodating folks in these three cities. And there were government members -- dumb as bags of hammers, if you ask me -- who were going to buy tickets and then charge them back to the committee to travel home on a commercial flight from Thunder Bay to Toronto. Have I got the two cities right, Ms. Elliott? Yes.
That, in and of itself, is just a story. It's an accurate one. Ms. Elliott, am I wrong?
Mrs. Christine Elliott (Whitby-Ajax): No.
Mr. Kormos: Ms. Elliott replies. Well, let's not have any rewriting of history here. Stalin died over 50 years ago. We shouldn't be rewriting history here at Queen's Park.
We then had House leaders' meetings and discussions -- Mr. Wrye will recall that; he's sitting there behind the Speaker's chair -- indicating that we expected Bill 107 to be lengthy. We also expressed -- we, the opposition members, told the government members, "Are you guys nuts? You're advertising for three days in the beginning of August, and you've got to advertise extensively because you're appealing or addressing an ethnic community, amongst other things, but then you're going to have advertise all over again."
You see, none of this happened without the government's approval, because the government has the majority of members on the committee. The committee has to approve the subcommittee recommendations. When we were cleared of Bill 14, I remember the subcommittee meetings, and I remember that it was opposition members who suggested to the government, "Let's get moving on this. We've got to get some ads out. We've got to get the legislative broadcast advertising, which doesn't cost anything to do. And let's get going. We've got a list already. Let's not wait for the ads to go out; let's start hearing submissions," and indeed we did start hearing submissions last week, November 15 and November 16. It was opposition members who suggested that the committee sit to 12:30 rather than the usual hour of 12. Ms. Elliott, is that correct?
Mr. Kormos: We also indicated, opposition members Ms. Elliott and myself -- I remember asking Ms. Elliott, "Is it okay?" I know she's got kids. She has three sons who are teenagers now, and she's a very dedicated mother.
Mr. David Zimmer (Willowdale): I'm coming back.
Mr. Kormos: "I'm coming back," Mr. Zimmer says. I'm sure you are, Mr. Zimmer.
I remember us suggesting to the government, "Let's start our committee hearings -- to start dealing with this, four days a week -- a week after New Year's Day." I remember the Chair of the committee -- do you remember that, Ms. Elliott? Because if you want to tell what happened, let's tell everything that happened.
Mr. Rosario Marchese (Trinity-Spadina): Do we really need to know?
Mr. Kormos: Oh, I think you'll be fascinated. See, the Chair of the committee, one Mr. Dhillon, says, "January is kind of difficult for me." I said, "Why, Chair, how could that be? Why would January be difficult for you? You're being paid as Chair; surely you can chair the committee." He said, "I'm supposed to go to India with the Premier." The Premier is taking a junket to India in January. I said, "Well, Mr. Dhillon" -- and I'm sure he is; he's of South Asian background, ethnicity. I said, "That's okay. You don't have to go. Mr. Kular can go." Mr. Kular is familiar with the region. He said, "Mr. Kular is going." I went, "Oh." I said, "Tell you what; maybe Shafiq Qaadri can go." Mr. Dhillon said, "But Shafiq Qaadri is going too." And I said, "This is no longer a mini-junket; this is a full-blown, full-fledged junket entourage." Full-blown, full-flight, junket entourage; taxpayer-funded tours of India. I said, "Mr. Dhillon, surely your responsibilities as Chair of the committee are superior to your interest in going on a junket" --
Mr. Marchese: Transcend.
Mr. Kormos: -- as Mr. Marchese says, "your responsibilities as a Chair transcend your desire to go on a taxpayer-funded junket to India." Well, somehow, somewhere -- and don't tell anybody about the junket, okay? Don't spill the beans. If we can keep it in the room, the third floor won't pick it up; the Sun and those people won't pick up on it. Look, I promise not to tell anybody if you promise not to tell anybody, okay? Speaker, are you in? Shh. Nothing about the junket that would interfere with Mr. Dhillon's ability to -- you see, the point I'm trying to make is that Ms. Elliott, with three teenaged boys, was prepared to say, "Notwithstanding that it's the so-called winter break, I'm prepared to spend it here at Queen's Park -- four days a week, eight or nine hours a day -- listening to submissions."
That's the way it happened. We made that agreement in the House leader's office. The government member of the committee agreed to it in the subcommittee, didn't he, Ms. Elliott? Why, as recently as last week, the Attorney General was telling you in this House -- and I believe the Attorney General because he's no Charlie Harnick. Mr. Hoy understands what I'm saying. The Attorney General said, "Well, we'll keep on meeting and hearing these people and their concerns." Did you believe him then, Ms. Elliott?
Mrs. Elliott: I certainly did.
Mr. Kormos: She replies. You know what? So did I. I believed the Attorney General. I was amazed, shocked and awed to learn -- don't go away, Mr. Berardinetti; we're going to be talking about you too in just a few minutes. I don't want to do it in your absence.
Mr. Marchese: Are you a member of the committee?
Mr. Kormos: Mr. Marchese says, "Is he a member of the committee?" Yes, that's the whole point. Remember last Wednesday? You wouldn't know that he was a member of the committee, would you, Ms. Elliott?
Just who's playing games here? Because on Wednesday, when Mr. Zimmer, as parliamentary assistant, sat through that committee, when Ms. Elliott sat through that committee and I sat through that committee, we saw five government chairs, one of them empty for the whole day -- we're down to four members. We had another chair empty for the largest portion of the day -- we're down to three members. Even though there was no music playing, there was musical chairs being played. It makes you wonder just how serious the government was even from the get-go, huh?
I remember the parliamentary assistant bringing to the subcommittee the request to have the minister appear on the first day of committee hearings, and I remember Ms. Elliott and I readily agreeing that we should adjust the agenda to include the Attorney General. It wasn't a matter of showing good faith; it was a matter of simply acting in good faith.
I remember the next request, when Mr. Zimmer, the parliamentary assistant, needed permission to bring the chair of the tribunal to the committee. Opposition members of the subcommittee, Ms. Elliott and I, said, "Well, of course. We'll accommodate. We'll sit later into the lunch hour to make sure that he gets a 30-minute slot rather than the mere 20 minutes that were available."
We know this is a contentious bill. We know that there are some very mixed views about it out there in the province of Ontario. I understand those who advocate for the bill; I understand what they're saying. I happen to disagree. But when New Democrats, along with Conservatives, agreed to sit for however many weeks it would take in the winter break to accommodate those people, we knew we'd be hearing from advocates for the bill as much as we'd be hearing from opponents. And whether it was in Ottawa, Thunder Bay or London, none of which were particularly successful for the government, it just didn't happen that way. I can't recall opposition members being anything other than courteous to advocates for the bill. It was an argument. It was a debate. It was a difference of opinion. As a matter of fact, there are two very different perspectives on how you deal with human rights abuses, how you deal with discrimination in a jurisdiction. New Democrats just happen to believe that the identification of, the detection of, the exposure of, the apprehension of discrimination should be a public function in the public interest.
One of the most capable parallels that I recall speaking to during second reading debate was the comparison of the Human Rights Commission to, let's say, the crown attorney's office. If somebody is a victim of a crime in this province, in this country, you call the police, a public investigative body; you report a crime. Police do their best to collect evidence, lay a charge, initiate a prosecution, and then a crown attorney has to assess it and determine whether or not there's a reasonable likelihood of conviction -- that is the test, isn't it, Attorney General? -- and then prosecute it or, in the case of more than a few frustrated victims, explain to victims that there isn't a case here, that there's no reasonable likelihood of conviction. Is that the test, Ms. Elliott? That's the test, as I recall it, for crown attorneys vetting charges.
We still have a private system whereby, if Mr. Marchese has his car stolen, he can litigate. He can sue the thief for conversion. Or should someone assault him, he can sue that person for assault and battery. That's a private exchange in a public forum, in a public courtroom. But it's in the public interest that we prosecute crimes.
Of course there's consideration of the victim -- increasingly, thank goodness. We've seen that evolution in the last short while when we talked about victims' rights, for instance, and ensuring that the role of the victim is not diminished in the course of a public prosecution, in the public interest, of a crime. We New Democrats very much see the Ontario Human Rights Commission as the parallel of that crown attorney's office and police force. Are there huge backlogs in our criminal courts? You bet your boots there are. Could we solve those backlogs by saying, "I'll tell you what: If you're a victim of a crime, don't bother calling the cops and don't bother going to the crown attorney's office. Hire a lawyer and sue for assault and battery, or sue for conversion, or sue for trespass"? That would sure eliminate the backlog, wouldn't it? That would clean up that mess.
But we regard criminal offences to be of such a serious nature that there's a strong public interest in their detection, investigation and prosecution. We don't prosecute criminal cases, crimes against you or you or you, in the specific individual interest of you or you or you; we do it because we have an interest as a community in suppressing crime. That's not to say that judges can't and won't make restitution orders, or that they're not part of probation orders. Any number of things can and do happen.
There is a clear difference of opinion. We're not afraid of the arguments being made on behalf of Bill 107. We're prepared to hear them. We're prepared to hear the proponents of Bill 107 and understand why and how they believe that this is a superior regime. However tedious the prospect might have been, Ms. Elliott and I were prepared to sit for three weeks, four weeks, five weeks listening to them. Why? Because we're gluttons for punishment? No. Because we believe that people have a right to make those submissions. That's why we told the government, "Let's start sitting in January." We've got the winter break. We're coming back March 19. The bill will be ready for third reading by March 19.
The Acting Speaker: If I could interrupt for just one moment, I'd like to introduce Gary Malkowski, a former member of the House, the member for York East in the 35th Parliament. He served from 1990 to 1995, and he was the first deaf member of this House. I wanted to introduce him while Laurie Scott was there, the member for --
Ms. Laurie Scott (Haliburton-Victoria-Brock): I'm trying to interpret for him.
The Acting Speaker: I didn't know that she knew sign language. Welcome to the House.
Mr. Kormos: The opposition parties have tried to be very accommodating. Has the government? No.
Let me tell you about John Rae, a submitter to the Bill 107 hearings, who was at the committee last Wednesday, when the Attorney General announced his proposed amendments. We knew, the government knew, that Ontarians with disabilities, people with disabilities, in this province have a strong interest in this bill because of the betrayal they perceive it as being in the context of the ODA that they supported. Mr. Bryant made his announcement. Mr. Rae stood up from the floor and said, "What about me?" Mr. Rae wanted to be able to review the proposed amendments too. They'd been distributed to everybody, but Mr. Rae said, "What about" -- you see, Mr. Rae's blind. He needed a version of the amendments that he could read via Braille or in html or text version that he could plug into his computer so that his computer could read it to him because he's blind. He can't read, but he can hear. We raised it in the committee that day, saying -- and the Ministry of the Attorney General had staff there: "Please, will you accommodate Mr. Rae? This is about human rights, after all. It is about fighting discrimination, and surely that means fighting discrimination against blind people and ensuring they have access too."
By Thursday, the next day, when Mr. Rae made his presentation, he still hadn't received either a Braille version or an html or text version that he could put into his computer so the computer could read it to him. Not very accommodating, is it? The Ministry of the Attorney General didn't give a tinker's dam about Mr. Rae and his right to be involved in the process. It was simple enough, because when I spoke to Ms. Stokes that afternoon, early afternoon -- she's the clerk of the committee. Ms. Stokes, because she's the custodian of submissions, arranged for Mr. Rae to receive an html or a text version of the submission so that he could pop it in his computer or however it got to him; whether it was e-mailed or not. So the clerks' office fulfilled its responsibilities, made sure that Mr. Rae wasn't the victim of discrimination. The Ministry of the Attorney General demonstrated disdain, indifference and downright callousness. They're the one with all the big resources. They've got staff coming out of their yingyangs.
Mr. Kormos: Well, they do. The clerks' office is the opposite; it has the stressed committee budget in terms of advertising and travel. They do. This last round of -- what? -- 110 grand that the government spent on committee hearings that it had no intention of ever holding didn't exactly help the solvency of the clerks' committee travel budget.
We understand the thrust and parry of adversarial partisan politics; we do. Quite frankly, I think New Democrats can certainly give as well as we take -- maybe a little better than most -- but we also have a true and genuine and real passion about a bill that has this much significance, that has this much impact, receiving full and thorough consideration, especially when the government agreed. Hogwash, I say to the Attorney General, and I'm being as parliamentary as my vocabulary permits me, when he says that he had to bring in time allocation because Ms. Elliott was going to -- what were you going to do? Suspend the committee?
Mrs. Elliott: Part of the reason.
Mr. Kormos: My goodness. I recall exactly what Ms. Elliott proposed. She proposed a method whereby those people who had been denied the opportunity in their submissions to make comments on the proposed amendments be given that opportunity. The Attorney General says that it was back in August, way up in Thunder Bay, that this member from Niagara Centre, a small-town member, a mere backbencher, declared he was going to filibuster the bill.
Mr. Marchese: What power you've got, Peter. I'm impressed.
Mr. Kormos: Well, it took a long time for the Attorney General to get with it. That was back in the beginning of August. In fact, if people are thoroughly honest and read the Hansard, they'll understand that there was an exchange whereby this backbencher from Niagara Centre -- we are, indeed, small-town Ontario and maybe we're not as slick as big-city people. I don't wear expensive suits; I understand that. I don't wear Rolex watches, and I don't have a big fat Mont Blanc pen sitting in my pocket. I don't eat at -- I don't know; where do these people eat in Toronto? I don't eat at Prego Della Piazza or Bistro 990. But we do our best.
You see, the whole government theme has been a vilification of the commission. Do you understand what I'm saying? The whole government rationale for this legislation has been a vilification of the commission, trying to create the impression that somebody is incompetent or corrupt. They didn't say who. Is it the front-line staff? Some incredibly outrageous allegations were being made against them. When I confronted one submitter, one Mark Hart -- do you remember that one? -- with the data from the commission for last year -- 2005-06, if I remember correctly -- Mr. Hart said, "Oh, the commission spins their numbers." "Well, shame on you, Barbara," I said over his shoulder, because Barbara Hall was sitting two rows behind him. I thought, that's interesting. The commission spins their numbers. Let's see what Ms. Hall has to say. I said, "Ms. Hall, do you spin your numbers?" She said, "Of course not."
What's the story here? What's going on? What's the problem with the commission? Is it incompetent staff or incompetent management? It's not a big corporation. It ain't Weston. There's a pretty small number of people. Is it incompetent commissioners? Which one is incompetent? Ms. Hall? Mr. Norton? Ms. Frazee? Tell us which one. We'd like to know, if that's your allegation, if that's your raison d'être.
So New Democrats, with the support of Conservatives, made a modest proposal. We said, "Why don't we get some of these front-line workers in here to the committee?" Because we heard some pretty incredible stories about delays. We said, "Let's get some of these workers in here to find out about the delays."
Then there was a suggestion to get commissioners in, and Mr. Zimmer said, "Let's get all the commissioners in." I said, "Fine." It's what you said, isn't it? And I said, "Fine," or words to that effect. We said, "While we're at it, let's get some managers in here. Let's find out what the hell has been going on there." Then we get the outrageous proposition that the government has to time-allocate this, shut the door on committee hearings, all because the member from Niagara Centre -- that's me, by the way, folks -- wants all of the staff to appear. Cut the crap. You know damned well that isn't what I wanted, nor what I proposed.
The fact is, your government blocked from the get-go the attendance of any front-line staff members, any OPSEU members. You blocked their participation in this committee hearing. You sure as hell didn't know what they had to say, and you weren't going to let them say it, nor were you going to let managers come. There's something going on here. I'm convinced that this government is apprehensive about what it is that the front-line staff people would have to say -- oh, not ones cherry-picked, hand-picked, by the ADM.
Barbara Hall wrote you a letter. Barbara Hall appeals to you. She's your commissioner. If you don't have confidence in her anymore, fire her. That's just so apparent. If you don't have confidence in Ms. Hall, if you're not going to heed her counsel, then fire her. I'm serious. Or are you going to wait till she quits?
Ms. Hall has tried to temper her enthusiasm for Bill 107, but she has made no secret about her support for the fundamental proposal. However, did she blow it when she showed up and said, "By the way, we'd like to see the restoration of appeals," huh? Did she overstep her bounds?
Mr. Robert W. Runciman (Leeds-Grenville): Probably.
Mr. Kormos: Mr. Runciman says.
"I wish to express my profound dismay at your government's notice to invoke closure and prematurely end debate on Bill 107...."
Look, you can say what you want about us; we expect it, coming from you. You're going to allege everything under the sun, the moon and the stars about us. What do you say about Ms. Hall? What axe is she grinding when she talks about the premature end of debate? Is she full of crap, too, or is she just stupid, or does she not know what she's talking about, or is she trying to filibuster the bill, or is she trying to obstruct it from getting through the House?
Come on, Attorney General. Why is Ms. Hall calling upon you to avoid the premature end of debate on Bill 107? Has she been turned? Is she some sort of dupe? Are you going to announce some kind of conspiracy theory? You had enough confidence in her to hire her; do you have enough confidence in her to heed her advice?
You're insisting that this bill has had exhaustive debate. Ms. Hall says you're full of bunkum -- amongst other things, I presume.
"I urge you to withdraw the motion for closure. This should be a time to encourage discussion, for consultation and for healing of divisions. All sides share the goal of a stronger, more effective human rights system for Ontarians and care passionately about human rights. It is crucial in this context to seek common ground, for the sake of the people we both serve. Please" -- please, please, please, Mr. Attorney General -- "let their voices be heard," says Barbara Hall, your commissioner, not the assembly's -- a hand-picked, partisan appointment.
Say what you will about the motives of opposition members. Tell us what the motive is of Ms. Hall -- or is she just corrupt or incompetent, like you're alleging previous commissioners, inherent in your argument, to have been? I don't think so.
I'd like the Attorney General to come clean. Don't give us that stuff about Kormos promising or threatening to filibuster the committee hearings in August in Thunder Bay when in fact the argument was because one Mr. Berardinetti started to get paranoid about our request to have staff members come up. I said, "Oh, for Pete's sake, get with it. Don't be stupid. We're trying to open the shutters here and get some light on this stuff to find out what the hell is going on." And there was the clear suggestion in his tone that I was going to filibuster. Oh, for Pete's sake. How dumb is a bag of hammers? Useless; dumb as wallpaper. Filibuster, for Pete's sake -- the government's got a majority. What's the matter with these people? Read the standing orders. The last effective filibuster in this Legislature was back sometime around 1989, give or take a year.
Suspend the hearings -- Ms. Elliott has been as courteous, yet as effective, as engaged, as adversarial yet accommodating, a member of that committee as you could ever want. She's been nothing but productive in her role on the committee. And the absurdity, the embarrassment of your somehow suggesting that, oh, she was trying to bugger up the committee -- that is shameful. That warrants an apology. She was doing her job as a committee member. I wish some of your colleagues would do theirs, I say to the Liberals. Start by reading the bill. Then, second, you can start by listening to some of the folks who have concerns about the bill.
Mr. Runciman: Start by listening to your own appointees.
Mr. Kormos: Mr. Runciman notes that you can start by listening to some of your own appointees.
The very first presenter to the committee was Toni Silberman, immediate past chair, Ontario, League for Human Rights of B'nai Brith Canada. She gave an articulate and effective presentation. Like some others, she expressed concern and dismay that she wouldn't have a chance to consider, analyze and then comment on the proposed amendments. On November 21, 2006, she writes expressing "grave concerns regarding the government's motion asking the Legislature to invoke closure on Bill 107....
"This bill ... has been fraught with difficulty since its inception, including limited and one-sided consultation on its drafting, reluctance to hold hearings into its merits, and the ambush of the democratic process taking place at the hearings by the last-minute introduction of proposed `amendments.'"
Somehow the Liberals have managed to conjure up a sufficiently high level of arrogance so that everybody is wrong but them; everybody is wrong but the Liberals. I caution you, friends, about hubris.
Let me just speak for a moment -- because I've only got a few moments left. By God, I wish -- you see, this is the problem. The bill is capable and worthy of some significant and lengthy analysis and discussion in debate. This is what time allocation does. Let's talk about your so-called commitment to set up a services centre. What do you mean? Like the Office of the Worker Adviser, so understaffed, so underresourced that the lineups aren't at the WSIB and WCAT tribunals; the lineups are at the Office of the Worker Adviser -- two years, three years, to get your case taken on? You haven't talked once -- Ms. Elliott has raised it a dozen times -- about the costing of this so-called legal representation. Your legal aid clinics limit and limit and limit the scope of the work they do for people and, of course, impose a means test at the same time. Your legal aid certificate system -- bankrupt. Women aren't getting representation in Family Court; they aren't. If any of you think that's funny, I invite you to go down to a provincial court, family division, some day and see the misery that's lined up in those hallways: beaten women, abused women, who can't get representation because the legal aid certificate has a cap on the number of hours and there's a precious few number of family law lawyers with any competence whatsoever who will represent them. In fact, they'll put a cap on the number of hours, because they know they can't do it adequately and in a responsible way. Oh, please. What a stupid sop. You expected people to fall for that? My goodness. You don't give the people of Ontario very much credit; not very much credit at all.
Oh, no -- you give them more credit than we thought, because you slammed the door in their face when it comes to committee hearings around Bill 107. You know full well that the current lineup of people wanting to appear in front of that committee could be accommodated during the winter months and this bill could be reported back for third reading, should your government wish it to pass through committee in time for the spring session. There's something going on that you're not talking about, that you're not telling about, that you're doing your very best to conceal. I think the Attorney General simply cut and run. He can't handle the debate; can't handle it. The Attorney General and the Liberal government embarked on a privatization process, privatizing human rights and human rights advocacy here in the province of Ontario. Opposition parties don't want anything to do with it, nor do a whole lot of Ontarians, and you're afraid of the debate. You won't engage in the debate. You run from the debate. You flee from the debate. You silence those who are critics of your legislation and your policies. And you call yourselves the government of democratic reform and democratic renewal and openness and transparency? I say, shame on you. It's a disgusting moment in the history of this government.
Ms. Scott: On a point of order, Mr. Speaker: Because Gary Malkowski is here today without a sign language interpreter and because of the closure on Bill 107, which muzzles what is a basic human right, it's shame on you, the Liberal Fiberals.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Jeff Leal): I'm not sure it's a point of order.
Mr. Kormos: Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker: The government knew that persons with disabilities were going to have an interest in this bill. For that reason they ensured that signers and interpreters and other assists and aids were available at committee hearings. I say to you that unless this chamber, in and of itself, unless this assembly is going to be guilty of discrimination against those very same people with disabilities, we should be providing those same resources for persons with disabilities sitting and attempting to be members of this province of Ontario right here and now.
The Acting Speaker: Further debate.
Mr. Kormos: You don't say "further debate"; you rule on my point of order.
The Acting Speaker: It's not a point of order, I tell the member for Niagara South.
Mr. Zimmer: I want to speak more directly to the issue of closure. That's what this debate is all about. This bill has been before this House now for about 200 days, and I think the common ground of all members in this Legislature, from all sides of the House, is that the system as it exists is in real need of reform, and essentially the reform is needed because the system has ground to a halt. We've heard about the backlogs and the difficulty in getting hearings and the long waits. That's not surprising, because the system is 40 years old. Our demographics in Ontario and in Toronto have changed dramatically in the 40 years since the legislation was first introduced. Now, in the year 2006, there is a whole new set of demands from a whole new diverse, ethnic, cultural, religious community out there that has needs for an effective human rights system that can effectively and quickly process their claims. That's what this legislation is all about.
It's very difficult for members of this House, members of good faith, whether they're on the Liberal side, the Conservative side or the NDP side, because I think everybody wants to see the system reformed. Certainly in the last 200 days, all of the correspondence that's come in, all of the e-mail traffic that has come in, all of the visits to our various constituency offices from constituents, the debates we've had in this House, the five days of hearings and the ongoing debate since we've completed those five days of hearings all centre around, have a commonality about it, and the commonality is that the system needs to be fixed.
We've had experts in the human rights world come and say that the way to reform the system is to move to what I'll refer to as the direct access model as contemplated in the legislation. There are, of course, experts on the other side of that debate who have appeared and communicated with us, met with us in stakeholder meetings, who have another view, and their view is that the existing system should be modified and adjusted, and that's the best system. What all of those people have in common is a desire to fix the system.
What are these two views that have emerged? There's the direct access view and "maintain the system as it is but" -- I'll use the expression -- "beef up the current system."
As I've said, I sat through the five days of hearings and I've read through submissions. I've read through the e-mail traffic, and when I read a submission or I hear from one of the expert witnesses, whether it's the former chairs of the commission or the human rights lawyers on one side of the debate, I listen to it and I understand what they're saying. Within the context of the argument they're making, the syllogism of it, it makes sense. When I hear arguments from people who are opposed to our model and I listen to it within the context of their argument and follow the syllogism, it makes sense. So there's our dilemma: We've got good-meaning people on both sides of this debate.
It's my sense that, having been through the five days of hearings and gone through all of the correspondence and so on, if we were to continue the hearing process for another five days, another 30 days, another six months and receive additional submissions for the next few months, at the end of that exercise I dare say what we're going to have is a longer line of people on one side of the debate -- that is, the people who support the direct access model as contemplated in this legislation -- and we'll have an adding line on the other side of the debate, people who want to beef up the current system.
What does a government do, faced with that sort of a debate that's going on there? A responsibility of government at the end of the day in dealing with these issues is to make choices, to make decisions. That's what the art of government is. When we're thinking about whether we should vote for this closure motion, I think we have to ask ourselves: Are we, as a government, as a Legislature, able to make an informed choice, an informed decision whether to proceed with this legislation or not, or do we need more hearings, more submissions? I would say to this House, this Legislature, that we've heard all of the arguments. We've heard five days of hearings -- and I remember the hearings in Ottawa, London, Thunder Bay, and two days in Toronto. The hearings were structured: There was a supporter of the proposed legislation; there was someone who was critical; there was a supporter of the legislation; there was someone who was critical. And that's how the hearings evolved.
I think, in fairness, if you asked any of the people on that committee -- whether they were on the Liberal side or the NDP side or the Conservative side -- if they answered the question objectively and fairly, thought the question through, they would have to say to themselves at the end of the day, as I've said, "Do I understand the issue here? Do I understand the pro arguments? Do I understand the contra arguments?" And I do. I think all of us in this Legislature, no matter if we had hearings for another 30 days -- there's nothing further to add to the debate.
We're now getting to the point where government has to take the responsibility of making a decision, making a choice. It's time now to close the hearings off. I think, and I can genuinely say on behalf of my Liberal colleagues, that if there was a sense that there was something new that we could learn from continuing with hearings, we'd want to continue with the hearings and hear something new. Tell us something that we haven't already heard. Tell us some theme that hasn't been developed almost ad infinitum. And these themes and these submissions, as I say, are presented by experts on both sides of the debate.
So the government has taken a decision to bring the closure motion and to move ahead, to take a decision by effecting closure and moving on to the next stage. We'll continue the hearings that are set for next week, then we'll go through clause-by-clause, and then it'll come back for a vote. I think a responsible act of the government is to take that decision, make that choice in good faith, knowing that it has all the arguments before it.
The government could certainly, as I've said before, continue with the hearings, but ask yourselves: Is there a greater benefit to be obtained by hearing another 25 or 30 arguments for the proposed legislation and another 30 or 35 arguments against the legislation? What is that continuing hearing process or that continuing debate going to serve? At some point, like most things in life, one gets to the end of the book, and this has been a very thick book with lots of information in it. But I don't think there's anything new to be learned.
That's why we're debating this closure motion: so that we can move on and get the legislation behind us, because the greater benefit is to reform the system and move ahead with it so that the people who have complaints can start having their complaints dealt with quickly, effectively and fairly.
Mrs. Elliott: Thank you for the opportunity to speak on this government's motion to choke off debate on this very important issue respecting human rights in Ontario. I'd like to say that each and every member of this Legislature has a solemn obligation to respect the views and the rights of all of his or her constituents to the best of his or her ability -- all of their constituents, and that includes people with disabilities, people who are members of racial minorities, people who have been victims of discrimination. These are among the people who are the most vulnerable citizens in our society and in our communities, the people who most need our support and protection.
Yet what have we seen from this government? What has this government proposed to do to protect the rights of these people? Nothing; in fact, I would say, worse than nothing, because this is the government that has led these people along -- these people who trusted in them to do the right thing and to do the things they said they were going to do -- for seven months, promising full public consultation, fair hearings, and open and transparent processes with respect to the changes that they propose to make to our human rights system. Yet what have they done? They've slammed the door in their faces, told them that their views don't matter and to just go away. How can you possibly believe that things could have gotten to this point since April when this matter was first brought before this Legislature?
When this was first raised on April 26, 2006, in this Legislature by the Attorney General, there were numerous complaints from many organizations respecting people with special needs and people who had been the victims of discrimination that they had not been consulted with before this bill was presented. This goes back to a time when the Ontarians with Disabilities Act was proclaimed, which was before my time in the Legislature, but I'm told by these people that they were assured by the Attorney General at the time that they did not need an enforcement mechanism built into the act because the Ontario Human Rights Commission was going to protect them.
Then they were faced with this legislation and felt betrayed. So what happens? Then we go ahead with this. The Attorney General stated in the Legislature on April 26, "We need to continue to have public debate and consultation. That must continue. We will continue to meet with those in the human rights community to get their input as the bill progresses through the Legislature, and I look forward to province-wide public hearings on this bill to take place as soon as possible."
There we have it. We undertook three days of travelling hearings in early August, long days of hearings in London, Ottawa and Thunder Bay, as was rightly pointed out by my colleague the member from Niagara Centre. It was agreed at the time among all the members of the subcommittee of the justice policy committee that we would do our very best to accommodate every person who wanted to make representations before the committee because the matters were so important, so we scheduled very long days in order to be able to do that. Yet, despite that, there were still some people in the London area whose views could not be heard, and we were assured that they would have time to make their representations in due course. Fine.
We then go through the committee hearings, and I would like to say that at those committee hearings in London, Ottawa and Thunder Bay there were very many presenters -- in fact, the overwhelming majority of presenters at that time -- who indicated that they did not support Bill 107 and had very cogent reasons for saying so. Even those people in the minority who represented that they were in support of this bill did so with such significant caveats to what they were saying that it was apparent, to some of the members of this committee in any event, that they were not really supporting this bill at all. The pillar in all of this that has been touted by the Attorney General is a legal support centre, and we didn't see anything. All of the presenters -- everyone, without exception -- indicated that the legal support centre was critical to the success of this bill.
So we went on. Nothing happened. We then hear that this matter is going to be coming before the subcommittee to determine the rules for the Toronto hearing. We meet at the committee. On October 26 we had a subcommittee meeting and ended up with 21 detailed recommendations that the subcommittee wanted to advance before the full committee on justice policy. There was a consensus amongst all the members in the subcommittee that, as we had established by the precedent in Ottawa, Thunder Bay and London, we would do our utmost to accommodate all the presenters who wished to make public presentations to us at the hearings in Toronto. That would include advertising again in all the newspapers at a cost of $106,000 to taxpayers. Though it's not about money, you have to wonder how this government can so cavalierly toss away $106,000 of taxpayers' money when they really had no intention of proceeding with these hearings in the first place.
We were prepared to continue these hearings. We were prepared to sit as long as it took to hear from every single person. I hear from the parliamentary assistant that we've heard enough to make a decision. How do we actually know we've heard enough until we actually hear from the people who want to make presentations? How can we presume to know what every single person is going to say with respect to this matter?
Nonetheless, we proceed to the subcommittee. Then we hear on November 14, the day before the presentations are supposed to commence, that the Attorney General wants to appear before the committee on November 15. In the spirit of accommodating everyone who wants to appear before the committee, Mr. Kormos, the member from Niagara Centre, and I agreed: Of course the Attorney General should be able to appear before the committee. The Attorney General, after talking to the press at length about the dozens of amendments that he proposes to make, shows up at the committee with a four-page backgrounder document of little substance. He talks about the proposed amendments, doesn't actually say what he intends to say, and uses a lot of magic buzzwords that people want to hear because they want to believe that he is going to do what he says he's going to do here. But the actual facts speak for themselves. The Attorney General says he's going to establish a human rights legal support centre and entrench it in the legislation and that he's going to fund the legal support centre.
It became apparent to me, as we proceeded to hear the first presenters, on November 15 and 16, that there was a huge amount of confusion among not only the members of the subcommittee but the presenters who were appearing before the committee about what this actually meant, in the face of the Attorney General's comments that he was prepared to look at some amendments but was not prepared to put any more money into the system. Well, how can you have a full legal support centre without committing significant money to the system? It just flies in the face of any kind of logic to expect that the members of the committee, the presenters who wanted to appear before the committee and the people of Ontario would actually believe that.
Because of my concern about the degree of confusion and because of the concern that the presenters have a right to know what it is that the Attorney General is proposing, I suggested in the committee that we suspend the committee hearings until the full text of the amendments became available -- in fairness to the presenters -- which is not what the Attorney General said in this Legislature. He said half of what the truth was here. He said half of it: that I wanted to suspend the consultations. Nothing could be further from the truth. What I wanted was for every person to have an opportunity, knowing the full text of the amendments and knowing what the Attorney General's full intentions were.
I know that many of my colleagues want to speak to this, but I would also like to say that one of the significant presentations that we heard was from Ms. Toni Silberman, from the League for Human Rights of B'nai Brith, who was the first presenter after the Attorney General appeared before the committee. I would like to quote from a letter that she has written to Premier McGuinty, of today's date:
"In a highly unusual gesture, the Attorney General introduced proposed changes to Bill 107 mere minutes before the Toronto hearings began last Wednesday. We were scheduled as the first presenters, and were therefore unduly prejudiced by this action -- an action which effectively removed the existing bill from the table and replaced it with a revised bill. A subsequent technical briefing delivered by Ministry of the Attorney General's staff confirmed our fears that the amendments were not, in fact, amendments, but further amorphous promises with neither the fullness of thought nor the wherewithal necessary to implement them."
I couldn't say it any better myself, and that's what I was attempting to express to the committee and to the Attorney General through the parliamentary assistant: that it was essential, because the Attorney General was stating to the members of the committee that he wanted to make these amendments, that we should know exactly what the amendments were saying. Numerous other presenters agreed with that. But probably the most telling of all are the comments made by the current commissioner, Ms. Barbara Hall, also in a letter of today's date, to the Premier. Sections of her letter have been quoted, but there's another section that I think is quite important here:
"It may seem trite to remind you that justice must not only be done, but must be seen to be done. This is an essential truth within the law and, particularly, in regard to human rights. Such rights have come to form the foundation of our democratic principles. There are those who will see your actions as a denial of those principles."
It has been said that one of the marks of a civilized society is the respect and protection it affords to its most vulnerable citizens. Well, this government has demonstrated very clearly that it does not respect our vulnerable citizens and has betrayed their trust not once, but twice: in failing, first of all, to consult with those people who will be most affected by this legislation before bringing forward this bill as they promised, and secondly, in choking off the debate and failing to hear from all of the people who have something to say with respect to this bill, thereby committing a double betrayal.
This is a very dark day in Ontario's history if this motion is passed: the day that this government turned its back on our most vulnerable citizens.
Mr. David Orazietti (Sault Ste. Marie): I'm pleased to join in the debate this evening on the closure motion with respect to Bill 107, a piece of legislation long overdue to be passed in the province of Ontario. I want to commend the Attorney General for his efforts in bringing this piece of legislation forward and for his willingness for broad consultation to take place on this bill. As a member of the standing committee on justice policy, I had the direct pleasure of listening to many of the concerns expressed by those individuals who appeared before the committee.
I want to say a couple of things this evening. First of all, our government is moving forward to reform legislation that has fundamentally remained unchanged in 44 years. Reports have been done, evidence has been gathered, recommendations have been made, and past governments -- both Conservative and NDP governments -- failed to act on these recommendations, on these reports, to move forward on much-needed human rights reform in the province of Ontario.
Today the opposition parties suggest that there has not been broad enough consultation, that there has not been enough discussion about the changes needed to move forward with Ontario human rights reforms. I want to say otherwise, and I'm going to reference some of the speakers who both appeared at committee and who have also given their endorsements to Bill 107.
Let's take a minute to check the facts, first of all, on the system that we've got in place today, and what that means to Ontarians trying to get their human rights issues dealt with and addressed. The commission takes an average of about 2,500 cases per year. The commission refers to the tribunal, on average, 50 to 100 cases per year. The commission provides legal support to only 50 to 100 of those cases, a far cry from the 2,500 a year that are submitted.
The average length of time for a case to be referred to the tribunal is three to four years. The Attorney General said it this afternoon: Justice delayed is justice denied. There's no justice at all for many of these people. The average length of a hearing is one year. Therefore, the average length of time, from filing to resolution before the tribunal, is four to five years. I don't know how anyone in this Legislature could possibly think that that was fair and swift justice for many of these people who have very serious human rights complaints.
On average, 30% of cases closed by the commission are dismissed. Investigations done by the commission are then redone by tribunal lawyers, if a case goes to the tribunal.
Eighty-seven per cent of the commission's budget is spent on processing, mediating, investigating and litigating complaints. It's no wonder it takes four to five years.
Commission decisions to dismiss a case provide only broad written reasons and sometimes no reasons at all. Parties cannot appear before the commission to present their case. It's very problematic in terms of the present operations of the commission.
Previous governments commissioned studies, which were then ignored, and both parties cut funding to the commission when they were in government. Our government will stand behind recommendations that have been made for more than a decade.
Let me share with you some of the comments of a few of the presenters who appeared during hearings last week. With respect, the Association of Human Rights Lawyers, Mr. Mark Hart, appeared before the committee and he said this:
"The current state of affairs is completely unacceptable and is notorious to anyone who actually works on the front lines of the current system, as we in the association do. This horrendous situation has not gone unnoticed.
"In 1992, a report was released by a blue ribbon task force headed by Mary Cornish, who's in the front row today. She's one of the most prominent human rights lawyers in this province. The task force also included leading human rights advocates from racialized groups, the disability community, the lesbian and gay community and the First Nations community. This task force crossed the province and heard from everyone who wanted to speak. Giving careful and deliberate consideration to all they heard, this task force recommended that the existing human rights process be substantially reformed and replaced with a system where human rights claimants have direct access to a hearing at the tribunal with publicly supported legal representation available to them, which is precisely the model we see before us in Bill 107."
That's what Mr. Hart said.
"In the year 2000, another blue-ribbon task force, this time headed by Justice La Forest, formerly of the Supreme Court of Canada, released a report to reform the federal human rights system, which is the same as the one in Ontario. This task force crossed the entire country again and heard from everyone who wanted to speak on the issue and came to the same conclusions as the Cornish task force.
"The plight of human rights claimants in this province has not gone unnoticed by the international community as well, which, in 1998, condemned Canada and this province for its backward and paternalistic human rights system and urged Canada and this province to guarantee that human rights claimants have access to a hearing.
"Through all these years, the association and the many vulnerable clients we represent," according to Mr. Hart, "have watched and waited as governments came and went and still no action was taken on human rights reform.
"Now, finally and at long last, Bill 107 provides us with a golden opportunity to achieve what so many have been studying and recommending and advocating for so many years."
What do we have today? We have opposition members standing up and saying, "Let's drag this process on and on and on" -- more process.
"If anyone thinks that the current system is still working" -- this is what Mr. Hart said at committee hearings, the committee hearings we had, unlike the Conservative Party, which barely held hearings on anything. I think it's fairly obvious that there's a difference there. "If anyone thinks that the current system is still working, I'd ask that you take a moment to sit with one of our clients to hear about the devastation they felt when, after they've pursued their complaint through the commission's process for so many years, they got tossed out with this little slip of paper with this inscrutable reasoning.
"Bill 107 will fix this by getting rid of the commission veto over whether or not claimants are entitled to a hearing and ensuring that all claims get filed with the tribunal and have access to a hearing, where the claimant will actually get to interact with the decision-maker, participate in the process and understand why their case wins or loses." It sounds fairly straightforward. I can't understand the opposition to doing this.
"The next significant problem in the commission is the inordinate and inexcusable delay. You've heard about this, I'm sure, from your constituents, many, many times." I know I have in our constituency office, about the human rights commission and the present process. "The delays are horrendous at the commission, and I'm sure there are a lot of statistics thrown around that you may have heard of and may yet hear of at this committee hearing. The significant one for our clients is that when a case goes to investigation, the average time it takes for the commission to deal with the case is three years: That's the average time. I have represented clients where the cases have taken six, eight, or even 10 or more years," if you can believe that, to go through this process. Yet I hear opposition members suggesting, "Let's delay and delay and delay and delay the process of this bill."
"We are here to say" -- here's what Mr. Hart said, so you should listen to what Mr. Hart said, not me. Mr. Hart said this: "We are here to say to this committee today that the fundamental structure of Bill 107 is sound and is in keeping with the recommendations of the reports which have studied these issues and is consistent with our international obligations.
"We are aware that there are some who disagree, some who have been our colleagues in the human rights community over the years, and we have seen the so-called blueprint for reform which is being promulgated by David Lepofsky and two other dissenters. No doubt you will hear about this blueprint in submissions to come. I like to call this blueprint `two steps backwards.'" That's how Mr. Hart refers to it.
It goes on and on. It's quite easy to continue to refer to presenters who have come before the committee to indicate their support for Bill 107.
According to Mr. Hart, "Read the Cornish report, read the La Forest report, and see how Bill 107 embodies the recommendations and will repair and reinvigorate the human rights system in this province and make it a beacon for other jurisdictions struggling with the same problems."
A number of other presentations were made: Mr. Raj Anand, the former chief commissioner; the Coalition for Lesbian and Gay Rights in Ontario; a former commissioner, Mr. Tom Warner, who added his comments to the discussion and also endorsed Bill 107.
The time to act is now.
John Fraser, executive director for the Centre for Equality Rights in Accommodation, said, "The move to a model where all complaints can proceed to the Human Rights Tribunal with publicly funded legal supports, and where the commission can focus on what it does best -- public education, research, advocacy and public interest complaints -- is a huge step forward. In our view, Bill 107 could produce one of the most advanced and progressive human rights systems in the world." Yet we get delay, delay, delay from the opposition.
Michael Gottheil, chair of the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, also presented.
Ruth Carey, executive director of the HIV and AIDS Legal Clinic: "I applaud the Attorney General's legislation to reform human rights. Human rights and community groups have asked for this for many years. We welcome this government's commitment to human rights."
Lorne Sossin, a law professor at the University of Toronto: "Reform of the human rights system is long overdue....
"Given the discussions that gave rise to this set of proposals and the many studies and consultations that have preceded this round, it is difficult to imagine any views on this matter remain hidden." Yet that's what we hear from the opposition tonight: "Let's delay and delay and delay." We stand here to talk about making important changes to the Ontario Human Rights Commission, and members suggest that we've not listening to stakeholders out there. I read stakeholder after stakeholder who has been consulted who endorses the bill, yet we get those kinds of comments from the opposition. I'm not sure where they're coming from. It's just bizarre sometimes.
Robert Sexsmith, secretary of the board of directors: "We want to applaud this undertaking ... made in the Legislature to establish a new human rights legal support center that would provide real assistance to claimants at each stage of the new process."
I could go on and on. Jessica Carfagnini of the Ontario Coalition of Rape Crisis Centres executive committee: "Our centre was relieved to see the Attorney General's introduction of Bill 107 and that this government will be proceeding with long-outstanding human rights reforms to include the right of direct access to a hearing."
There are pages and pages of recommendations by stakeholders in this province who have said it is time to move on. Opposing the closure motion for the sake of opposing the closure motion is, in my mind, against the interests of Ontarians who have said time and again, "Listen to the reports. We're happy to see a government that's showing leadership on the human rights issue in Ontario, that didn't just produce some expensive report, shelve it and go on to make excuses as to why they're not acting on this legislation."
I want to commend the Attorney General and our government for showing leadership on reforming Ontario human rights, something that hasn't been done fundamentally in 44 years. It's long overdue. Let's get on with it.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Ted Chudleigh): Further debate? The member from down east -- Brockville.
Mr. Runciman: Thanks very much, Mr. Speaker. I appreciate that introduction from the Chair.
It was interesting to listening to the Liberal member from Sault Ste. Marie talking about the opposition. Not once did he reference the very serious concerns of the Liberal-appointed chair of the Human Rights Commission, Barbara Hall, whose letter was read in the House today by the leader of the third party and by John Tory as well. They're trying to ignore the existence of the heartfelt concern of the individual they felt was qualified to serve as chair of the Human Rights Commission.
I want to say a couple of quick things about the folks who have been speaking out in opposition. We hear those stories about "delay, delay," which is not the case at all, Mr. Speaker, as you know. Our Progressive Conservative representative from Whitby-Ajax is Christine Elliott, who's a relatively new member to this assembly but has been doing an outstanding job speaking out on behalf of many people concerned about this legislation and all Ontarians; she has done just a magnificent job. The House leader for the third party, Mr. Kormos, Niagara Centre: One of the pleasures, if there are pleasures, of going back into opposition after eight and a half years in government has been the opportunity to work with him and sit in committee with him. He has developed his own persona around this place. There's no question about it. He doesn't wear a jacket, doesn't wear a tie. He can be a wee bit outrageous at times. But I tell you, from an opposition perspective, I don't think too many members can say that he doesn't make an enormous contribution to this place in keeping the government on its toes, and I applaud him for that. This is another case in point where he has once again outlined the concerns.
I'm not going to talk about the bill. I haven't sat in on the hearings. I sat in on some of the Ottawa hearings, but that's about it. I want to talk about the process here and what's happening with this government and the way they're approaching this issue.
I think this is essentially about integrity, about honesty. We heard the Attorney General in the House today. This is just another case in point of members of this government taking liberties with the truth. My colleague Ms. Elliott talked about this, where the Attorney General got up to defend what they're doing here and talked about Ms. Elliott, the member from Whitby-Ajax, wanting to suspend the hearings. Mr. Speaker, there are certain words I can't use in this place, but what an atrocious example. This is the chief law officer of the crown getting up and making a statement like that, suggesting that Ms. Elliott was in agreement with the stoppage of these hearings and not allowing hundreds of people to appear, people who have every right to make their concerns known. He was suggesting, implying, that we were in support of that and that Ms. Elliott, our critic, was in support of that. That's completely false, and I think it reflects badly on the office of the Attorney General.
The House leader of the third party and I have been around this place a long time, and I don't think we've witnessed the kind of performance we've witnessed from this individual in terms of an Attorney General. We talked about the passing of Ian Scott. We sat in this House with Ian Scott. We sat in this House with so many honourable people -- Roy McMurtry -- people who have filled that role as Attorney General with dignity, with respect for all members of this place. What we've seen from this Attorney General on so many occasions is that kind of partisan rhetoric -- not just partisan, but going over the line with allegations like those he made with respect to the member from Whitby-Ajax, which is truly unfortunate. It does this place no good. It does all of us as honourable members no good. This Attorney General has nothing to be proud of. We were baffled, as House leaders, when we went through these discussions. He blames us for this. Well, the reality is that he seems to -- I call Mr. McGuinty and his Attorney General the Laurel and Hardy of Ontario politics. McGuinty, as Laurel, is always saying to the Attorney General, "This is another fine mess you've gotten us into, Ollie; another fine mess you've gotten us into." And it's one mess after another, not just for the members of the government but for the people impacted by the messes the Attorney General creates.
I guess we have to surmise that this is the creation of some kind of legacy, that the Attorney General wants some kind of legacy when he leaves this place. He doesn't want it just to be pit bulls. As the leader of the thirty party mentioned, we think we heard more witnesses on pit bull legislation than this Attorney General is allowing with respect to this very significant foundation legislation for Ontario dealing with human rights for everybody in this province. He gives more time to pit bulls. That's the reality and of course he's embarrassed by it. So what does he want to do? And then he blames us for this and for Bill 14. We talked about this also, trying to have agreements as well with respect to paralegals. We said, "Bring in stand-alone paralegal legislation and we can deal with it in a timely way." What does he do? This legacy builder throws everything but the kitchen sink into an omnibus bill, which creates all sorts of difficulties for every member of this Legislature in terms of coping with this. We did it in an agreeable way, with negotiations with the House leader of the government, and then at the end of the day, what do they do? They bring in over 100 amendments again. This is the kind of operation the Attorney General and the McGuinty Liberal government is operating. They don't know what they're doing. They don't know what they're doing from one day to the next.
He blames everybody else for it. He talks about our critic causing the problem and the House leader for the NDP causing the problem. It's not his fault and there's no responsibility on his part. That's the message we hear over and over again from this Liberal government. When anything ever goes wrong, "It's not our responsibility. Oh, we took advice from experts." But then when you ask them who those experts were, of course they will not reveal the names of experts. What does that say about honesty and integrity? The Premier gets up and says, "Well, now it's my responsibility," once the heat was on with respect to coal-fired generation. They were blaming it on experts, and we want to know who those experts are. The Premier tries to deflect by saying, "No, it's really my responsibility." Well, were there any experts? Our critic for energy, Mr. Yakabuski, has posed this question on a number of occasions: "Were there any experts?" I think there's a serious doubt that there were any experts. This is another fabrication on the part of the Liberal government of Ontario, led by one Dalton McGuinty, who has to assume complete responsibility for the lack of honesty and integrity in this Liberal government.
Mrs. Maria Van Bommel (Lambton-Kent-Middlesex): Certainly, it has been a very interesting evening, with lots of good debate. I sit on the standing committee for justice policy. It's a real honour to sit with the members from Whitby-Ajax and Niagara Centre and my colleagues.
As we discuss the whole issue of human rights and the code, I still think it's wonderful and an absolute honour to be able to sit and discuss that and debate it. We're in a country and in a province where we can do that. We have human rights here, something that a lot of people in this world don't even enjoy. I think that is a real privilege, so I want to thank all the members of the standing committee for that opportunity. I think it's a privilege and an honour to sit with all of you.
But along with that honour and that democratic right comes responsibility. The responsibility of a government and of standing committees is to come to a point of going beyond the debate and going beyond the hearing and starting to make decisions, because if we don't come to a point of making decisions, then we are in danger of becoming inactive as a government, and possibly even being paralyzed.
I have certainly heard many different sides to the debate. We've heard from many people, and I think honestly we've heard both sides quite well. I think we need to come to that point where we need to start debating what we've heard and we need to start moving forward with the amendments and the decision-making process.
One of the things I'm really particularly, not so much concerned, but something that I think I have learned in listening to people, including when we travelled from London and Ottawa and Thunder Bay -- I heard from my own constituents in London about things. I heard about things such as the delays that were taking place, and the amount of time. What I really had a sense of was that a lot of people didn't have a sense that they had any real control, that they gave this over to the commission and they basically gave up control of their complaint at that stage, that they had to wait and had no way of knowing what was happening with it or how it was moving forward. At the end, when they did have a decision on this whole process, it was a decision for them. It didn't make any systemic change. Certainly, a number of people have individual complaints and the ruling is for them and it addresses their issue. But I think a lot of times what I heard from a lot of people was that they were representing others as well, and when they won a decision, it was for themselves, but it didn't change the system.
One of the things that this bill will do is free the commission to deal with systemic problems. I think that's a very important thing to have happen. There is really nothing to be gained by forcing citizens to go one after another with the same complaint, trying to win one-offs all the time. When people come forward and they have an issue and they win, it should mean that the entire system is examined, to make sure that it doesn't happen to other people. How often do we hear people say they go through this so that no one else will have to? Yet that's exactly what this system, as it currently stands, forces them to do.
So I want to see this move forward. I think we need to move. When we say that justice delayed is justice denied, I think we have to take that very seriously as legislators. We need to move forward. We need to provide that justice. We need to provide those human rights for our citizens.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Joseph N. Tascona): Further debate? The Chair recognizes the member for Halton.
Mr. Toby Barrett (Haldimand-Norfolk-Brant): Haldimand-Norfolk-Brant, Speaker. I appreciate the opportunity. We even look alike sometimes.
I appreciate the opportunity to address the government's time allocation of this proposed legislation, Bill 107. I took a look at Hansard, going back four years ago. I don't know whether the Attorney General will recall. On September 30, 2002, Mr. Bryant spoke out against the time allocation motion, at that time calling it a "guillotine motion." We see somewhat of a transformation in this minister of the crown, now our Attorney General. Essentially, four years later, we have an Attorney General who has stolen some pages from the book of Maximilien Robespierre of French Revolution fame, sending public debate on a flawed bill to its fate under the guillotine. I will point out that Robespierre himself was guillotined, allegedly face-up. Can you imagine how that would feel to have the blade come down and you are forced to watch it come down?
So this change of heart on closure indicates to me that the McGuinty Liberals will basically say anything, whether it's true or not, if they think they can get an extra vote or ram through or jam through this kind of legislation. We all know this is the case. Anything will be said if required. I suggest that we have members opposite who may pay lip service during a campaign for greater protection of some of the rights that we're talking about but will vote no on something like this.
This is where we see what I consider a fallacy on democracy and human rights in this case, coming from the McGuinty Liberal government. Prior to election, Liberals opposed time allocation; today they support time allocation. They claim to support human rights but refuse to listen to input on actually improving their human rights legislation.
I give an example of another bill. This was last month. Bill 57 was a private member's bill put forward by myself which proposed amendments to the Ontario Human Rights Code. If passed, it would have restored property rights not only to landowners but also tenants in the province of Ontario. When it came down to the vote, I was pleased to see that several members of the NDP joined forces with the opposition to vote in favour of land rights and responsibilities. It was neither a left nor a right issue. It seemed to be an issue where members opposite were coerced, if you will, to vote against that bill and to vote against what I consider and what much of rural Ontario, land-owning Ontario, would consider an important amendment to the human rights code. So I'm very disappointed that this particular piece of legislation is being rammed through. Very simply, I'm disappointed.
Hon. Michael Bryant (Attorney General): Let me start by saying that the government doesn't have the luxury of choosing between human rights reform without time allocation versus human rights reform with time allocation. There's really only one option here under the current circumstances.
There's no question, if you look at the history of this reform and if you look at the history of this bill, that there has been no amendment to the human rights complaint system in 44 years. The leader of the official opposition was right to say that the code has been amended, and it has. He mentioned that Mr. Elgie amended it; Attorney General Scott also amended it. But he referred quite proudly to Premier Robarts's creation of the human rights system. It was a proud moment for his party, it was a proud moment for Ontario and it was a proud moment for Canada when Premier Robarts created it. But since then, there has been no change to the system.
It's also interesting that the leader of the official opposition would talk about the way things worked, I think he said, in 1982. He was referring to the way they did it in 1982 and the amendment of the Conservative member who amended the code at that time. It doesn't work that way around here anymore. I sat in justice committee beside Mr. Kormos when I was in the opposition, and I learned a lot; I did. Mr. Kormos has a particular perspective on history as to what happened to this place and to the committee system. Up until 1990 and the way things worked up until 1990 -- and I'll let him speak for himself -- it worked; it seemed to work. There was a certain consensus that was achieved. After 1990, he told the rookie MPP from St. Paul's sitting in opposition beside him in justice committee -- I remember Mr. Kormos saying to me, "I wish you had been here when it worked well. I wish you'd been here when you saw that the committee system worked well and when you saw that the parliamentary system worked well." The member for Niagara Centre said that with some sincerity.
I live in the here and now, and this is the reality that we have under the current standing orders. Everything about this reform for the last 44 years has been about cutting and running. There were task forces occasionally, studies occasionally, but never a bill before the House, and certainly never a bill before the House that was passed.
The foundation legislation that the official opposition refers to: Believe me, if we look back to 1990, if we're going to take modern parliamentary history, the amount of debate and committee hearings for this bill more than exceeds the bar set for foundation legislation, as set by NDP and Conservative governments. This more than exceeds any review of the number of days of the second reading debate, third reading debate and committees for foundation legislation under the Conservative government.
The member for Niagara Centre may correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't ever remember a single bill between 1999 and 2003 where the justice committee had hearings for more than eight days. Maybe there was one; I don't think so. In any event, committee hearings took place last summer after the bill was introduced in the spring and after there were, I believe, two full days of second reading debate. There were committee hearings in London, a full day on August 8; in Ottawa, a full day on August 9; and in Thunder Bay, a full day on August 10. On November 15, we had committee hearings that were extended by an hour. On November 16, committee hearings were extended by an hour; on November 22, I understand the committee hearings will be extended by an hour; on November 23, committee hearings as well; then on November 29, clause-by-clause hearings; and then back to the House for third reading debate.
I remember in 2003, when I was sitting over there, there were time allocation motions by the Conservatives where there were no committee hearings -- zero -- and no third reading debate. I understand that prior to 1990, not having third reading debate was not all that unusual, but that was after an agreement was made on second reading debate and on committee hearings.
Is the system working right now as it might? I don't know. But in the history of this reform, there is no question that it is either that we see this bill through and bring it to a vote or it will never happen. The New Democratic Party does not support this bill and it will do everything it can to derail this bill. It will do everything it can to stop this bill from passing. They will do that. The government at some point has to say, "Do we want this bill to go to the Legislature for a vote, or are we going to blame the NDP for not getting the bill passed?" Well, no -- we want this legislation to come to the floor for a vote so that we can say to the people who go to the human rights system in the future that it's a system they can be proud of.
You didn't hear anything about those people tonight in the debate; you didn't hear anything about the people who come to the commission and years later find themselves without justice. You didn't hear about Stephanie Payne and her experience before the commission that she talked about this morning: 10 years. Can you imagine? You feel that you're a victim of discrimination, you go to the commission for relief, and 10 years later? If that isn't revictimizing victims, I don't know what is.
Suvania Shiu: Eight and a half years. She made a complaint to the commission in 1995; dismissed in 2004. She said she spent over $50,000 to fight the commission; she said herself she was revictimized by the commission.
There are thousands of people who go to the commission every year. They don't see justice within a year, typically, and that's wrong. That's wrong. They should get relief. Back when the system was created 44 years ago, the idea was and Premier Robarts's vision was this: It is not good enough that people go to the courts only to get remedies for discrimination. In other words, 50 years ago, if you found yourself a victim of discrimination, what would you do? You'd have to retain counsel yourself at your own expense, you'd go to the courts, take your chance with the Superior Court, with no necessary expertise, and sue them under tort law. So no expertise, no assistance and, in many cases, no justice. So they created a system where you could go to the human rights system, you would get assistance, you would get legal advice, you would get expertise and you would get a result -- and typically you'd get a result within a year. And it continued. It worked in the 1960s.
I heard from a commission counsel who worked in the 1970s for the Human Rights Commission and he said it worked then, too. What happened, I heard again and again, is that over the years -- 1960s, 1970s, 1980s and 1990s -- decisions came down and process upon process was built up, it became more and more adjudicative until the point where you may have had the right to a lot of process when you went to the human rights system, but there was no remedy. There is no remedy and there is no justice.
We say that justice delayed is justice denied, and we say it in debates such as this, but what does it mean, really? What does that mean, "Justice delayed is justice denied"? It means for Stephanie Payne that she feels she's a victim of discrimination, she goes to the human rights system and nothing happens after one year, then two years, then three years, then four years, then five years, then six years, then seven years, then eight years and more. No justice; no justice.
This is a process where somebody can go to the human rights system and within a year you can get a result. That's justice.
I read with great interest the following remarks --
Mr. Gilles Bisson (Timmins-James Bay): And you're the Attorney General? You're the Attorney General for how long? Three years of inaction. Come on.
The Acting Speaker: The member for Timmins-James Bay, this is a debate. We're going to try to listen to the Attorney General. Can we do that?
Mr. Bisson: Oh, he's the AG. I'm sorry; I didn't realize.
The Acting Speaker: There will be no other warning. That's it.
The Attorney General.
Hon. Mr. Bryant: In the House, the following is said, and I take this from Hansard: "When I announced measures to clear the backlog of cases at the Ontario Human Rights Commission, I also gave a firm commitment to review the Ontario Human Rights Code. Clearing the backlog of cases is absolutely critical to providing justice to complainants who have waited far too long. But the backlog is symptomatic of a more fundamental problem: outdated enforcement procedures that cannot respond to the increasing and complex cases of today." Do you know who said this, Speaker? I didn't say this.
Mr. John Yakabuski (Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke): You just did.
The Acting Speaker: The member for Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke, what's going on? We're trying to hear the Attorney General, okay? Can we do that?
Hon. Mr. Bryant: I didn't say those words. I didn't talk about the outdated enforcement procedures. It was the Honourable Elaine Ziemba. Do you know who said that? It was the Minister of Citizenship in 1991 for the NDP government. They knew then, when they were in government, about the problems of the human rights system. They yuk and they guffaw and goof it up over there, but they had a chance to make a difference. They had a chance to make a change. They had a chance to deal with the backlog, a backlog "symptomatic of a more fundamental problem." So what did they do? They had a task force. Oh, a task force. As it turned out, it was a good one. It was a very good task force. Mary Cornish headed it up. It was extensive and exhaustive, and they came forth with recommendations. They called for a direct access system and they called for the empowerment of the Human Rights Commission. The NDP government took Mary Cornish's report and the speech of the Honourable Ms. Ziemba of the New Democratic Party and they shelved it. They didn't do anything. They didn't introduce a bill; they didn't do anything. They ducked. That one was going to be too much trouble, I guess. Forget about the fact that their own minister said there was a systemic problem with backlogs and a systemic problem with procedures. They ducked it.
There were more inquiries and task forces. The La Forest commission went across the country to canvass Canadians about the state of human rights complaints. Then of course we in this House -- occasionally the New Democratic Party asked questions about it when they were in opposition. I think they did.
So then we have an opportunity with this bill, presented to the House, to finally reform the human rights system. And what happened? We've had debate, we've had public hearings and we've heard all sides. The New Democratic Party just said they don't support it. They think it's a step backwards.
Mr. Michael Prue (Beaches-East York): And it is.
Hon. Mr. Bryant: They say it is. They've had their say. They've had their say again, and they'll have their say again and again and again and again and again. But at some point we have to come back to this House and not continue the delay and not continue justice denied, but finally, for the sake of those thousands of people who go before the human rights system and get no justice and for the sake of those thousands and thousands and thousands of people to whom the Human Rights Commission, if this bill passes, will be able to reach out and make systemic claims on behalf of -- it is for those people that we need to bring this matter forward to a vote. It is for those people, who deserve a better human rights system, a human rights system that Premier Robarts started 44 years ago and that the McGuinty government is changing and improving for a better human rights --
The Acting Speaker: Thank you.
The Chair recognizes the member from Nepean-Carleton.
Ms. Lisa MacLeod (Nepean-Carleton): It's my pleasure to join this debate tonight. I want to congratulate my colleague, my very good friend Christine Elliott, for shepherding this through for the Conservative Party tonight, because she's been working very hard since both of us were elected. I want to applaud her.
I want to thank my leader, John Tory, for reminding this Legislature -- even though he and my colleague Christine Elliott's words have been grossly distorted by the minister, who has suggested that our party has no legacy on human rights in this province and in this country. That is absolutely false, whether we're talking about John Robarts, John George Diefenbaker or the current Senate Speaker in the Parliament of Canada, Senator Noël Kinsella, who is Canada's foremost human rights lawyer and advocate.
I also want to say thank you to my good friend, my colleague from Leeds-Grenville, who is a man of unimpeachable integrity and I think has added an enormous amount to this debate tonight.
But what I'm concerned about is that this McGuinty government has once again decided, since I've been here in this very short time, to force legislation through without public consultation. It makes people, especially new members like myself and the member from Whitby-Ajax and my new colleague from Toronto, very cynical. What is especially shameful is that not only is this government shutting down public debate, but they have also not tabled the amendments they have drafted. Sure, they've given some vague statements of what it's going to be about, but let's be clear: The consultation is being shut down and the major amendments to this act have not been made public and have not been provided to the opposition members. No one, no member of the public, knows what this legislation will look like at the end of the debate.
I have a very short time here, so what I'm going to do is speak for the people that they won't speak to. Close to 200 people want to speak to this legislation whom they're ignoring. They spent almost $106,000 on advertising, and now they're telling people not to show up for consultation. The gall of this government to not have a simultaneous interpreter tonight for the people who actually have human rights -- but they're not being met tonight by this government.
I'm going to mention their names: Catherine Dunphy and David Lepofsky of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance; Avvy Go of the Metro Toronto Chinese and Southeast Asian Legal Clinic; Margaret Parsons and Royland Moriah of the African Canadian Legal Clinic; Emily Noble, president of the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario; Orville Endicott and Dawn Roper of Community Living Ontario; Nancy Schular and Seema Shaw of the Ontario Disability Support Plan Action Coalition; Malcolm Buchanan of Civil Rights in Public Education; Steven Adler of the Canadian Jewish Congress; and Rosalyn Forrester of the Canadian Transsexuals Fight for Rights. Those are some of the 200-plus people in this province who have not had an opportunity to speak to this legislation, and they have a right to. Unfortunately, the people across the way are ignoring that fundamental right to speak to legislation that should be the centrepiece of all human rights in this province. You're not affording them the fundamental right that they should have to speak to this legislation. In fact, the McGuinty Liberals' decision to prevent those individuals from expressing their views on human rights is not only an affront to our democracy but it's contrary, quite ironically, to what this legislation is supposed to be about.
In the very short time I have left, I want to close by saying something that the chief government whip once said: "Stop this closure stuff. Let's get on with business and consult with the people. Let them have input into this piece of legislation."
The Acting Speaker: Ms. Dombrowsky has moved government notice of motion 248. Is it the pleasure of the House that the motion carry?
Those in favour, say "aye."
Those opposed, say "nay."
In my opinion, the ayes have it.
Call in the members. This will be a 10-minute bell.
The division bells rang from 2118 to 2128.
The Acting Speaker: All those in favour, please rise one at a time and be recognized by the Clerk.
Bradley, James J.
Chambers, Mary Anne V.
Fonseca, Peter Gerretsen, John
Mossop, Jennifer F. Orazietti, David
Van Bommel, Maria
The Acting Speaker: All those opposed, please rise one at a time and be recognized by the Clerk.
Horwath, Andrea Klees, Frank
Murdoch, Bill Prue, Michael
Runciman, Robert W.
The Clerk-at-the-Table (Ms. Lisa Freedman): The ayes are 36; the nays are 23.
The Acting Speaker: I declare the motion carried.
It being past 9:30 p.m., this House stands adjourned until 1:30 p.m. tomorrow.
The House adjourned at 2131.
Ontario Hansard November 22, 2006
CONSIDERATION OF BILL 107
Mrs. Christine Elliott (Whitby-Ajax): I'd like to speak just for a moment about integrity, and in this specific case the lack of integrity shown by this Liberal government with respect to Bill 107, and the lack of respect that they've shown to the members of this Legislature and to the hundreds of presenters who've been lined up to speak to this matter for several months. For several months, they've been led along by this government in the expectation that they would have a fair hearing before the justice policy committee. Actually, up until November 20, all of us in this Legislature and all of the presenters were under the impression that they would have this opportunity, before this government last night brought down the guillotine and choked off the debate on this fundamental issue so important to all of Ontarians.
Not only that; there haven't been just procedural problems here. There are substantive issues and there's a lack of integrity shown here, issues around the so-called amendments that have been presented to the committee. In fact, they're not amendments at all. One of the significant presenters, Ms. Toni Silberman, called them "vague, amorphous promises." I couldn't agree more.
There has been a lack of clarity with respect to these amendments, because in actual fact I don't think they even know yet what they want to do with some of these things. They're leading us along, hoping that somehow a solution is going to be found, to the detriment of the people of Ontario.
CONSIDERATION OF BILL 107
Mr. John Tory (Leader of the Opposition): My question is for the Acting Premier. Mr. McGuinty and your government used the parliamentary majority you have to bring the guillotine down on the committee hearings on Bill 107
, a fundamental piece of legislation regarding the Ontario Human Rights Commission. This was done despite the promises and repeated assurances, some of them in writing, from the Attorney General that he would let debate happen for "however long it takes."
I want to know why the government decided to break this promise, to go back on the word of the Attorney General. Why couldn't they, for example, keep the commitments that were made in writing to Margaret Parsons and others that hearings would be held over the course of the winter, and why couldn't the government live up to the commitments in advertisements, at significant public expense, that appear today in the Globe and Mail, the Toronto Star and the National Post, among other places? Why did you go back on your word and break your promise to listen to these people on a piece of legislation of this importance?
Hon. George Smitherman (Deputy Premier, Minister of Health and Long-Term Care): I guess it's obvious to anyone who is joining the debate that the leader of the official opposition has now made himself an expert on the matter of guillotine motions, recognizing that no one has been more expert at this practice than the party he is privileged to lead. The list of those motions and issues that were brought forward is really quite extraordinary.
What we know about the issue at hand is that it's a fundamental issue. It's critically important and, accordingly, has had the advantage of very considerable debate already. More than 40 hours have been dedicated to it; 70 presentations; a wide variety of opportunities for individuals to make their views known. There are, obviously, differing points of view, and I think it's an appropriate opportunity for the legislative committee to be able to work through a variety of amendments that may come forward with a view toward strengthening the bill and bringing it back here for yet further debate.
Our government is very pleased with the progress that's been made, and the debate and the opportunities that have been presented. We think it's time to move on on this fundamental issue.
Mr. Tory: It's interesting to me that when the Acting Premier or others bring up the past, they sort of suggest it was wrong then but it's okay now.
I think the reason Premier McGuinty and the Acting Premier won't stand up and admit to is that they've made a political calculation that it's actually easier and better for them to muzzle people who are interested in this legislation, muzzle people who, in many cases, are vulnerable and marginalized and just want to be heard, than it is to hear them speak. It's very odd that that would be the case when we're talking about human rights legislation, and I suggest that is the wrong decision.
David Lepofsky calls it "a blistering betrayal." Mohamed Boudjenane of the Canadian Arab Federation calls it "anti-democratic." Barbara Hall, a good friend of the Acting Premier, says, "What should have been a broad consensus-building exercise ... was undertaken in a way which ... caused division within the communities concerned."
We agree. Reform is needed, but this government is going about it in the wrong way.
Acting Premier, yesterday we made an offer of co-operation to let the committee hearings continue as planned and then to let this matter come to a vote when we come back here in March. Why would you not accept that offer of compromise and co-operation on human rights legislation?
Hon. Mr. Smitherman: The honourable member has effectively got himself wrapped up in the discussion about process today, but in using the word "vulnerable," the honourable member doesn't manage to find any empathy for those people who have waited too long for the justice associated with appropriate action of these bodies.
He speaks about an individual as an example; he names David Lepofsky. This is an example of an individual we all have a tremendous amount of respect for. That's why I had breakfast with him on this issue.
The point is, over a long period of time there has been an opportunity for people to make their views known in a variety of settings and forums. Those views are well expressed already, through the wide variety of presentations at committee and presentations that have come in the form of submissions and letters to all of us individually, and most certainly to our colleague the Attorney General. Accordingly, it's appropriate that we give the legislative committee the opportunity to work through a series of amendments, which will be brought forward from a variety of perspectives, reflecting an opportunity to strengthen the bill and bring it back to the House for yet further debate --
The Speaker (Hon. Michael A. Brown): Thank you. Final supplementary.
Mr. Tory: I'm delighted to hear that the Acting Premier had breakfast with Mr. Lepofsky, and that's great, except it does nothing at all for the hundreds of other people who want to be heard on this.
We just finished saying -- I said it last night and again today -- that we agree reform is needed. What we're arguing about here is that people want to be heard on this bill and you won't let them be heard. It's an insult, frankly, that you won't even address the offer of co-operation that was made about bringing this to a vote after people are heard. This is an area where we have to show we can listen and co-operate with each other if we deserve to be called leaders.
June Callwood wrote to the Premier today. She said that she supports reform and that she has some concerns about the bill which she thought would be addressed at committee. She goes on to say, "I beg you, I urge you, to reschedule the hearings."
I will ask you again: Will you accept our offer to have this matter brought to a vote in the first couple of days when the House resumes the week of March 19, 2007, in return for hearing the people who want to be heard on this human rights legislation? We could undo the travesty of last night with unanimous consent right now. Why won't you do it?
Hon. Mr. Smitherman: It's only through action that we can undo the travesty, which is that they're pretending to be interested in an issue that for eight and a half years they ignored. In fact, their only action on this file was to reduce the amount of resources available for those people who needed legal assistance. That is the legacy of your party.
Just take, as an example, the comments of June Callwood: What did you say? How did you characterize it? You said that she thought the committee was the place where some of the concerns she has will have the opportunity to be addressed, and indeed that is the way the process works. The honourable member wants to talk and talk and substitute process for action. Instead, we think it's important to give the legislative committee an opportunity to consider amendments from a variety of perspectives, which will give advantage to a stronger bill. I look forward as a member to have the opportunity in this House to stand and vote on third reading in advance of reform and action, not more process and talk, for which the honourable member opposite has now become the standard-bearer.
CONSIDERATION OF BILL 107
Mrs. Christine Elliott (Whitby-Ajax): My question is for the Deputy Premier. Today, in one of the last few remaining hearings of the justice policy committee on Bill 107 before the debate gets choked off, we heard from a great many groups and individuals who are fiercely opposed to your government's decision to invoke closure. I should say, these are people who brought a fresh perspective, who brought information to the committee that we had not heard before. So any suggestion that you've heard it all, that you don't need to hear any more, was completely negated by the evidence from these people this morning.
For example, we heard from Operation Black Vote Canada, which stated in their submission:
"We find the Liberal government's action undemocratic and unconscionable. The Attorney General stacked the first days of hearing with his supporters for Bill 107....
"My community has been completely shut out."
A former MPP from York East, Gary Malkowski, an individual representing the Canadian Hearing Society, who is also deaf himself, was passionate in his pleas for you to cancel the motion. "I cannot believe you are doing this," he repeatedly stated.
Deputy Premier, it's one thing to say that you want to move forward with this legislation, but you're muzzling the public from expressing their views on human rights. You and I both know that the right thing to do is to listen to these individuals who are pleading with us to be heard. Why won't you cancel this motion and let them be heard?
Hon. George Smitherman (Deputy Premier, Minister of Health and Long-Term Care): To the Attorney General.
Hon. Michael Bryant (Attorney General): Again we hear from the opposition about concerns about the process that will lead to the reform, but nothing about the reform itself. I've yet to hear a single thing from the member about how Bill 107 may or may not be improved; how in fact we can take a human rights commission, a legal support centre and a human rights tribunal system that might be improved.
I know they have concerns about the process. What about the delay of eight years to reform the human rights system that was visited upon those same people during the eight years in which that party was in power? What about the delays that are affecting the people who go to the human rights system, in some cases eight years? We heard yesterday from someone who was before the human rights system for some 10 years. My concern about process, Mr. Speaker, is a process being faced by victims of human rights discrimination, and the purpose of this reform is to address those delays in a meaningful way. With this bill, we'll be able to do just that.
Mrs. Elliott: Again to the Deputy Premier: We also heard in committee today from Elizabeth Bruckman, who is a staff lawyer with the Parkdale legal clinic, and her evidence was quite revealing. She advised the committee that when she and a number of other presenters attended the technical briefings on the amendments to Bill 107 that were arranged by the Attorney General's staff last week, they asked a number of questions of the staff about the legal support centre that the Attorney General has promised. Surprisingly, they were advised that it's too soon to know what form the legal support centre will take but certainly that not everyone will be represented by a lawyer -- notwithstanding the two statements made by the Attorney General in this Legislature that everyone will be represented by a lawyer.
Deputy Premier, do you have any idea whatsoever how much this centre is going to cost, how it's going to be funded, what form it's going to take or how it's going to operate?
Hon. Mr. Bryant: Well, that person was at a technical briefing, and that is the point. We are sitting down with people, for those who want to sit down with us, and trying to get the information and work with them to put together a human rights system that draws upon their expertise. They want to talk about more process and more process; they want to talk about more committee hearings. We're having more committee hearings. We said that there would be more debate and there is more debate. The question is, at what point do the Legislature and the government say that after 44 years it's time to take a bill, bring it to this Legislature and let the people decide, through their members of provincial Parliament, what the human rights system is going to look like?
We've heard a lot of talk over the years from the NDP, who did nothing about that. We heard no talk about the subject from the Conservatives, who also did nothing about it. Now we've got a bill before the House. It has been here for more than 200 days. We've had committee hearings. We will have more. We'll have more debate and we'll have more amendments. I look forward to getting members' input on this. But we have got to move forward with the human rights reform.
The Speaker (Hon. Michael A. Brown): Thank you. New question.
Mr. Howard Hampton (Kenora-Rainy River): My question is to the Deputy Premier. Yesterday, when you announced the cancellation of hearings on your human rights scheme and quashed debate, you tried to represent that June Callwood, a member of the Order of Canada, was in support of the government. But I have June Callwood's letter from yesterday, where she says:
"I am concerned with some sections of" Bill 107, "and I assumed these would be addressed in scheduled hearings over the next few weeks.
"To my great dismay, these hearings have been cancelled, and the government will not have the benefit of listening to thoughtful analysis of those elements which could in future cause some injustice....
"I beg you, I urge you, to reschedule the hearings."
Deputy Premier, is this the McGuinty government's definition of "justice" and "human rights" in Ontario: "justice denied"?
Hon. Mr. Smitherman: The honourable member apparently doesn't subscribe to the widely held notion that justice delayed is justice denied. He stands among those who have acknowledged that it is their desire, it is in their interest, to stop the progress and advance of a bill. This is the interest that he takes, but he does not acknowledge that to the people of Ontario. The person beside him, who many days leads that party, has very aptly demonstrated that, and that is in the record of this place. He has put on record that it was his desire that people should turn old. But the reality is that many have, because this issue has been around for a long, long time and has not received the consideration that it needs.
June Callwood has an expectation of some enhancements of the bill. That point of discussion is coming soon through the actions that we've taken. A legislative committee will have the opportunity to consider the perspectives that have been brought forward, to make alterations and to bring back a bill for third reading that has been enhanced as a result of a considerable amount of process.
Mr. Hampton: I don't know whom the Deputy Premier is trying to fool, but this bill has now been time-allocated. There won't be any time to hear these thoughtful suggestions from people who care about human rights. There will be almost no time in committee to deal with these amendments.
Here is the reality: An unsuspecting person in Ontario who picked up Toronto's Globe and Mail today would think that there are going to be hearings. An unsuspecting person who picked up the National Post would think that there are going to be hearings. An unsuspecting person who picked up Metro would think there are going to be hearings. An unsuspecting person who picked up the Toronto Star would think there are going to be hearings. In fact, that is a fraud. There are not going to be any hearings. There's not going to be any more deliberation. There's not going to be any more discussion.
I say again to the McGuinty government, is this your definition of the protection of human rights, the protection of democracy: simply shut it down, deny it and pretend that it might happen some day?
Hon. Mr. Smitherman: To the Attorney General.
Hon. Mr. Bryant: The leader of the third party talks about unsuspecting people. An unsuspecting person tuning in to the legislative channel in 1991, listening to the NDP minister responsible announce that human rights reforms were coming, might have been led to believe that human rights reforms were coming. An unsuspecting person who heard that the Cornish report had been filed before this Legislature under that government might have thought that reforms were coming. That unsuspecting person would have been fooled into thinking that that government cares a whit about reforming the human rights system -- so clinging to the status quo today that they will do everything in their power to derail this bill.
We will not allow that party to derail human rights reforms overdue for too many years. We will have committee hearings continue. We will have clause-by-clause hearings when amendments can be heard, and it will come back to this House --
ONTARIO HANSARD QUESTION PERIOD NOVEMBER 23, 2006
CONSIDERATION OF BILL 107
Mr. Garfield Dunlop (Simcoe North): Anyone watching the parliamentary channel last night might have wondered why bells were ringing in this particular Legislature. I can tell you, Mr. Speaker, it’s because of some actions taken by the McGuinty government, their muzzling of Ontario citizens on Bill 107, the Ontario Human Rights Commission. That after the government spent $106,000—$106,000 of your taxpayer dollars—on ads alone to advertise for committee hearings.
Our leader, John Tory, asked if this debate could continue. We promised a vote at the earliest opportunity, which would have been March 19, 2007. We don’t think that’s unfair for a bill that hasn’t been amended in 40 years. We think that the public has a right to hear many people speak. There are over 200 people waiting for the opportunity to speak to Bill 107 and they were denied. They were muzzled at that opportunity.
That is why our party last night rang bells in this provincial Legislature. We felt that it was appropriate. We do think that it was a mistake to muzzle the citizens
That is why our party rang bells last night in this provincial Legislature. We felt that it was appropriate. We think it was a mistake to muzzle the citizens of Ontario and would like to have had that opportunity to vote after a lot of committee hearings, after a lot of opportunity for debate next March. Again, $106,000 of your tax dollars spent, wasted as this government decided to muzzle the province of Ontario on Bill 107.
CONSIDERATION OF BILL 107
Mr. John Tory (Leader of the Opposition): On Tuesday evening, I was privileged to be able to speak here in the Legislature about how the then Premier John Robarts spoke, upon the introduction of the original Ontario Code of Human Rights, about how important he thought it was that he and the then leader of the opposition Liberal Party, Mr. Wintermeyer, and Mr. Bryden of the New Democratic Party, saw it as an imperative that they should work together to form a consensus on that original bill that passed through the Legislature at that historic time. In responding that night in the Legislature, the present Attorney General said that kind of co-operation and consensus-building just wasn’t possible any more in this Parliament, for reasons he didn’t elaborate on.
I have offered, on behalf of the official opposition, to guarantee that this matter would be brought to a vote the first week back in the Legislature in the spring, if you, in return, offer to hear the hundreds of people who want to be heard on this bill, representing some of the most marginalized and vulnerable people. Barbara Hall, June Callwood, the Canadian Jewish Congress and the Toronto Star say you are risking divisions and polarization on this matter if you proceed with your current course of guillotining the discussions. I have made an offer in good faith. Will you consider it?
Hon. Dalton McGuinty (Premier, Minister of Research and Innovation): I know that the leader of the official opposition would want to recall that, without getting into the details of the number of times that closures were invoked—
Hon. James J. Bradley (Minister of Tourism, minister responsible for seniors, Government House Leader): One hundred and three times.
Hon. Mr. McGuinty: One hundreds and three—sorry, we’re actually going to get into the details—separate occasions by the previous Conservative government. We’ve had seven public hearings taking place in four different communities. The call for change started at last 14 years ago with respect to how we might improve Ontario’s human rights system. The legislation has been under discussion now for over 200 days. We have heard over 75 presenters. We’ve received over 40 written submissions.
On the basis of the good advice we’ve got from those people who are interested in this bill, we will be introducing more amendments. We are eager to move forward with this. We think Ontarians who rely on our human rights system have waited long enough.
Mr. Tory: Some of those facts in terms of how long it has actually been under discussion are not consistent with the facts.
The Premier is very fond of talking about the past, but we’re talking about what is going on today in terms of a time allocation motion that you have brought in. You said you were going to be different, especially, I would have thought, on a foundation piece of legislation like this that goes to the human rights of the people of Ontario.
If we thought you were in a rush because you had everything ready to go, that might be another thing. One of the centrepieces of this bill is the promise that everybody who requires representation under the bill will get it, but you have no idea how that’s going to happen. We hear the Attorney General has been to Management Board twice looking for money and been turned down. We have a letter from Legal Aid Ontario saying they’re not interested in running this support centre which will help these most vulnerable and marginalized people to get representation.
If you don’t have any idea how you’re going to implement it, why the rush? Why wouldn’t you agree to a reasonable compromise proposal that says you will hear from all those who might just have an idea as to how we can improve the bill? it might just avoid the polarization and bitterness. Hear from them and we will agree to put this matter to a vote the first week back? Why would you not agree to consider that?
Hon. Mr. McGuinty: To the Attorney General.
Hon. Michael Bryant (Attorney General): In fact, what has happened is that, as a result of the consultations before the bill was introduced and in the more than 200 days that have passed since the bill was introduced and because of the committee hearings and the consultations outside, we were able to propose a number of amendments—as the member has already conceded, dozens of amendments—
Hon. Mr. Bryant: —the subject of which has been offered a technical amendment to the official opposition. Formal amendments will be filed again next week. As a result of that, we’ve made changes. We’ve made changes to the way in which the Human Rights Commission would work, we’ve made changes to the way in which the tribunal would work, and we’ve clarified the way in which the legal support centre would work. So, for example, the MS Society, which was before the committee today, said that they were originally opposed to the bill, but that they were consulted, that they were listened to and felt that they were listened to, that their amendments were addressed and that they now support the bill.
So we have been listening. We’ve made changes as a result of those—