David H. Tsubouchi (Minister of Community and Social Services
Mr Bob Rae (York South): I'd like to ask a question of the Minister of Community and Social Services. I'd like to ask the Minister of Community and Social Services, when was the last time he bought tuna at 69 cents a tin?
I'd like to ask him by way of supplementary, in response to his answer, which I can honestly say I was not anticipating so I do not have a text for this, but I'd like to ask him, when was the last time he bartered for food?
I think the whole object here is to look and see whether or not we're looking at the rate cuts. Obviously this is what the leader of the third party is getting at. We strongly believe that we have reduced the rates to 10% above the average in the other provinces. With all due respect, I think the leader of the third party is really asking whether or not it's possible to buy food on this type of a budget.
I would be happy to share with the leader of the third party perhaps not the entire text of this but certainly afterwards I can share this with you. I had some research done to indicate how and whether or not someone who is a sole single on benefits or a single parent with a child -- we've actually provided a budget here. Someone had asked me that before, whether or not someone can budget for this. I have it here in this binder. I'd be willing to share this with the leader of the third party.
Mr Rae: I'd love to have it. I'd love to have a copy and I'd like to share it with all the working parents of this province. I'd like to share it with the women and children who are out there now. I'd like to know what you and your ministry and the cabinet think is enough to live on. I think the people of this province would like to know what that is, and I'd like to hear from them, because I trust their judgement a whole lot more than I trust yours or the cabinet's on the basis of what it takes to live in this province. Their experience is much more eloquent than your data.
By way of final supplementary, the minister's aware that under the existing way of life for people on social assistance there are 100,000 people on social assistance who are now working in the STEP program. I wonder if the minister can explain why those people who are now working -- not the ones that you've ordered to go out and get a job, not the ones that you've told should go out and get a job, the people who are now working -- why, for example, for a single person who's working, their rate has gone from $842.85 to $769.85 and why a single parent with one child who's working under the STEP program is going from $1,721.95 to $1,393.69. Why, even in the world of your own tellings, of your own truths, of your own pieties, would you be punishing who have already taken your advice and have gone out and gotten a job? Why are you punishing those people as well? You're punishing everybody in the province.
Hon Mr Tsubouchi: First of all, our government is committed to breaking the cycle of dependency and giving people the incentive to get back to work. With all due respect once again, our commitment was to make sure that people have the opportunity to earn back the difference between the old base rate and the new base rate. We're not taking about programs to enhance income, which obviously the leader of the third party is right now. So I don't have to explain this, because once again we strongly believe that by reducing the rates 10% above the average of the other provinces, not at the average of the other provinces but 10% above, certainly this is going to be sufficient.
Mr Dominic Agostino (Hamilton East): My question is for the Minister of Community and Social Services. Minister, this is a can of tuna -- it is dented -- for $1.09. If you can tell me where you can get a dented can for 69 cents, please let me know because we'll buy it. Take a close look at it -- not 69 cents, $1.09 at every store where you can get it.
Mr Agostino: No, it's not. Minister, in the throne speech, in the House yesterday, yourself, the Premier, stated that welfare recipients could earn back the amount of money you reduced without a penalty, a clawback or a reduction. Minister, this information is inaccurate; it is dead wrong; it is a myth.
In fact, this government by its policies is punishing people on welfare who want to work. You're penalizing people who you encourage to go out and get a job and then the clawback does not allow them to earn the amount of money that you've cut from them.
Minister, you know your statements are wrong. You do not understand the system. You do not understand your own ministry regulations. How can you make changes to the act without a common understanding of what you're doing? How can such punishing changes take place when the minister does not understand the social assistance system in Ontario?
Mr Agostino: I ask you to admit to the House today that the information in the throne speech that you gave, that the Premier gave, was wrong. Will you commit to changing the regulations for people with jobs to earn it back?
Hon Mr Tsubouchi: It's difficult to pick a question out of all that rhetoric. But, once again, with a little bit of work the people in this province have the opportunity to earn back the difference between the old rate and the new rate. Once again, I have to say that what we have done is remove disincentives for people to get back to work. It's very important for people to get off this cycle of dependency, and this is what this is intended to do.
Mr Agostino: Again, the minister by that answer has shown us once again that he does not understand his own regulations, does not understand the comments he made yesterday. Minister, yesterday you said people can earn back the amount you cut without a penalty or a clawback clause.
The reality is, with a single person, a single parent with one child or a couple with two children, in every single case the clawback clause kicks in before the reduction so therefore they will be reduced the amount of money that they can earn before you take away from them. You allow people after the clawback to keep 25% of what they earn. Before that happens, the reduction is already greater than you have anticipated.
Minister, the information you gave is wrong. You're not addressing the question again. These misguided and uninformed decisions are causing the hardship, the pain and the chaos in Ontario today. What province do we live in? What irrational decisions is the government going to make today?
Again I ask you, Minister, can you clarify your statements of yesterday, where you stated that the clawback clause you have in your regulations to allow people to earn back what you have deducted from them -- because the facts do not bear that out. Change your regulations and make consistent what you and the Premier have said in the House.
I will say this to the honourable member for Hamilton East: We are prepared to ensure that there is the flexibility in the system to make sure that everybody can earn back the difference without clawback. This is an assurance I will give to the member.
Hon Mr Tsubouchi: Would you like me to repeat that? Is that what you said? I will ensure that there is the flexibility there. We've had individual circumstances brought up prior to this date in the House. I've also asked that if these circumstances are brought to my attention, we will deal with them. I will give this House the assurance that everybody will be able to earn back, without clawback, the difference between the old rate and the new rate.