April 18, 2012

ACCEPTING SCHOOLS ACT, 2012 /
LOI DE 2012 POUR
DES ÉCOLES TOLÉRANTES

Resuming the debate adjourned on April 17, 2012, on the motion for second reading of the following bill:

Bill 13, An Act to amend the Education Act with respect to bullying and other matters / Projet de loi 13, Loi modifiant la Loi sur l’éducation en ce qui a trait à l’intimidation et à d’autres questions.

The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Further debate? The member from Huron–Bruce.

Interjection.

The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): The member from Haliburton–Kawartha Lakes–Brock.

Ms. Laurie Scott: I’m pleased to rise this morning to participate in the debate on Bill 13, the Accepting Schools Act. Sorry, we just didn’t know if some other parties were participating, so we’re back to this.

None of us in the House dispute the fact that bullying, in all its forms, has become a scourge in our schools, victimizing young people all over the province. I know that the newspapers have been certainly pronounced in the last several months in highlighting this fact with several cases that we’ve seen.

You know, in my day, I wish I could say—and I won’t say the date—that when I was in school, this did not exist, but we all know that’s untrue. We’ve always had bullying in our schools. I doubt that any of us went through our school years without either experiencing bullying first-hand or seeing it perpetrated on someone else, a friend or a relative. Although I hate to think about it, there may even be a couple of former bullies sitting here today.

Today, our schools are much more diversified in our society. That wasn’t so obvious in the past decades. In recent decades, Canada—and Ontario in particular—has undergone a social and cultural metamorphosis. People from all over the world now make Ontario their home. They bring with them different customs, languages, clothing, religious practices, and appearances, which we now take for granted. So this very diversity which makes our society so rich and vibrant can, unfortunately, spawn even greater opportunities for bullying and intolerance, often with tragic results, which we have unfortunately witnessed in this province. My colleagues, who spoke on this bill before, have aptly described instances of such tragedies, which are heartbreaking.

With the advent of technology, social media, bullying today has taken on a far more sophisticated and malicious demeanour. We have Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. They can be educational and social bonding experiences; they can be fun, informative and entertaining. However, when used for the wrong purposes, these technologies can also be hateful and virulent in attacking and ridiculing the vulnerable.

Young people are bullied because of their skin colour, their religion, their accent, the labels of the clothes and shoes that they wear, their ethnic background, their perceived social or economic class, their complexion, how fat or how thin they are and, of course, their sexual orientation. No one is disputing any of this; it is a reality that we all share.

As some of my colleagues have already said, there is no one in this House who has the knowledge, experience and expertise on this subject of my colleague from Kitchener–Waterloo, Elizabeth Witmer. She’s a professional educator, a parent, a school board chair, an opposition education critic and a former Minister of Education. Ms. Witmer brings wisdom, compassion and practical experience to this debate. Her private member’s bill, Bill 14, the Anti-Bullying Act, is a culmination of several years of research, analysis and passion.

It is a well-written, researched, documented piece of legislation which comprehensively addresses all forms of bullying. It drew on the personal and tragic experience of real victims of bullying, which she so eloquently detailed during her debate on the bill. It was influenced by the high statistics on bullying, such as the survey by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health which stated that about one third of all students have been bullied and another one third have been the bully. Ms. Witmer’s bill also drew on a 2010 survey of grade 12 students by the Ontario Student Trustees’ Association, which found that 46% had either been the victim or the perpetrator of bullying.

So while Bills 13 and 14 take quite different approaches to the problem of bullying, both were developed with the most honourable intentions, I believe, by their authors. However, this is where the bills diverge: Bill 14 is a far more comprehensive document in detailing all the conceivable reasons that a child may be bullied.

Mr. Rob E. Milligan: It addresses the issue.

Ms. Laurie Scott: Yes. It analyzes the far-reaching social impact which bullying has on victims, their families, the perpetrators of the act, the school environment and the educational process itself. It puts a specific focus on cyberbullying, which of course is the most dominant and prevalent form of bullying in today’s society. Bill 13 only touches on this phenomenon.

What Bill 13 does do is single out specific victims of bullying rather than addressing the far broader aspects of it. All victims of bullying are equal. They share a common pain, a lack of self-worth, a helpless anxiety of who they are and where they come from, and this is the problem. Our education critic, Ms. MacLeod, has done an excellent job in her analysis of the bill—her examples that she’s brought from her riding have been actually nationally portrayed—and the changes that we’d like to see.

But this government believes that some victims of bullying are more worthy of special focus and attention and need to be specifically singled out in the legislation. Mr. Speaker, I’m reminded of the great George Orwell classic Animal Farm, in which the animal kingdom is ruled by the pigs and other animals are there to serve them. In that social satire, the first item on the animal bill of rights is that all animals are created equal, except pigs, who are more equal. Bill 13 creates a super class of bullying victims, and that’s not right. No victims of bullying are more worthy of support, compassion and understanding than other victims.

As my colleagues have already said, I’m appealing to the Minister of Education to draw on the comprehensive and well-researched bill which my colleague from Kitchener–Waterloo has put forward, and which passed second reading two or three weeks ago. The incorporation of Ms. Witmer’s ideas into the official government bill would strengthen it immeasurably. As my colleague the member from Dufferin–Caledon yesterday said so eloquently, simply because an idea originates on this side of the House does not mean that it’s unworthy of consideration and further discussion.

0910

This is not a game of good guys and bad guys. As members of the House, we are all elected by our constituents for whatever skills and talents we have to offer the people of our ridings. We all stood for office and come here every day to do our small part to try to make this province a better place for all our citizens. None of us comes here in the morning saying, “What can I do to make Ontario a worse place and make life more miserable for our citizens?” To take this type of approach is silly, childish and, I believe, political. It is partisan politics at its worst.

As many of us have said, Bill 13 would be vastly improved by incorporating much of what Ms. Witmer has put into Bill 14. As Bill 13 currently stands, it is too narrow and one-dimensional. It does not recognize the complexity of bullying in terms of both the victims and the degree and variety of bullying to which these victims are subjected.

This is not the time for partisan politics. We have pleaded on that for weeks and months—I see the education minister shaking her head, but really the stakes are too high. Stop it.

Hon. Ted McMeekin: I’m surprised you’d do this.

Ms. Laurie Scott: Really? Too many innocent young victims and potential victims are counting on us to do the right thing and make their environment safer and more respectful. Again, I implore the Minister of Education to put aside the partisanship which we have seen in the preparation, introduction and debate associated with Bill 13. As I said earlier, there is no one in this House who has the knowledge, expertise, wisdom and passion for this subject as do my colleague from Kitchener–Waterloo and my colleague from Nepean–Carleton. The government needs to put aside its fear of ideas which don’t originate on the government side of the House and embrace good ideas from proposals, regardless of where they come from.

So we cannot support Bill 13 as it is currently crafted. However, a modification of this legislation to reflect the main components of Bill 14, the Anti-Bullying Act, would undoubtedly produce a bill that’s worthy of support. I’m pleased to have the opportunity to speak to this, this morning. I trust that the minister and the government—I’ve genuinely got up and said my piece—will do the right thing and amend this bill. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Paul Miller): Questions and comments?

Mr. Rosario Marchese: Mr. Speaker, I support much of what the member from Haliburton–Kawartha Lakes–Brock has said, and I’m concerned about both political parties, the Liberals and the Conservatives. We’re dealing with an issue of bullying here, and it’s clear to me that there is bullying on both sides, and this has got to stop.

The New Democrats could have introduced Bill 15, and we didn’t because we thought that would be yet another element of division within the political parties, and we thought, given the topic, that that wasn’t a fair thing to do.

I think the Minister of Education has really—I mean, she says she’s making efforts to reach out, although in her work with the school boards, I notice that she has been quite a tough person—dare I say that she has bullied some.

Interjection.

Mr. Rosario Marchese: I have it from good sources. What I really want to say to both parties is, just reach out a little bit on either side and end the schoolyard stuff, because this is what we’re talking about. I think if you did that, we can solve this.

I support Bill 13. We do. We supported Bill 14, and there are elements in both bills that are reasonable. So I reach out to both political parties—you are both equally unfair around this issue—and I say to you both, stop it. We’re dealing with bullying, and I think one of you has to stop it.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Paul Miller): Questions and comments?

Mrs. Teresa Piruzza: I’m pleased to rise again to speak to Bill 13 as we continue this discussion with regard to accepting schools and making children feel safe and helping our schools accept all our children. As a mother, again this is an area that I speak to my children about. I hear the stories, and we can all remember when we were younger, as was pointed out earlier. This isn’t a new phenomenon but one that has certainly come to the fore in terms of the changes that are occurring in our schools.

We’ve had many hours of debate on this bill. Quite evidently, we all agree: Something needs to be done. But we are spending so much time here talking about which is the better bill, who has the better definition and who has the better information, where what we should be doing is proceeding with this, bringing this to committee and making changes if we need to make them so that we can actually go forward and protect our children. We are spending too much time discussing which is better, Bill 13 or Bill 14; again, another point where the opposition seems to think they have all the answers, they have the right definitions, they have the right bill, whereas we have the wrong bill.

So I would agree with the statement that was just made: We need to work together on this; we need to bring this forward. Bring this to committee so that we can continue to do what we need to do, and that is to protect our children, support our schools, and support our families and our community.

Our legislation provides clear expectations. I know that the opposition seems to think it doesn’t. It increases accountability. It’s a complete bill. I can’t agree with the statement that this government has been selfish or that we’re not doing what we need to do for our community. This is a world-class bill, and this government has invested heavily in our schools and our education system to work with our children and with our school boards.

So let’s remember, it’s all about the children. That’s what we’re here for. And as we continue to spend time here debating this or debating what should or shouldn’t be said in the bill, we’re wasting time. We need to bring this forward. Thank you.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Paul Miller): Questions and comments.

Ms. Lisa MacLeod: I appreciate the opportunity to congratulate my colleague from Haliburton–Kawartha Lakes–Brock on her opportunity to speak to the anti-bullying legislation.

I’m a bit disturbed at what I heard from the New Democrats and from the Liberals today that they effectively think we shouldn’t continue to debate important issues of the day in the chamber and do our due diligence. That’s the right of the opposition; it’s also the right of every single member here to actually talk about the important issues of the day, and this piece of legislation, of course, is one that’s important to my colleagues in the Progressive Conservative Party. I know it’s important to members of the other parties as well, but we shouldn’t be bullied for our points of view. I mean, that’s where they need to be careful, because at the end of the day, this impacts kids’ lives.

Parents have contacted us. As education critic for the Ontario Progressive Conservatives, I can assure you that I speak about this on a daily basis with concerned parents throughout Ontario and from my home community of Ottawa. We know, for example, that we can be doing better, but doing better doesn’t necessarily mean doing it faster. We must do our due diligence. We must allow members of this assembly to have their say. After all, Speaker, that is why they were elected to this place in the first place. They were elected to bring their views from their constituents.

I think we all agree that the stories we have been hearing and that have been told in this Legislature on this anti-bullying law have been very important and have helped shape our views, and we find that there are actually elements of commonality among all of us in this chamber, because at the end of the day, we all care about Ontario’s children. Thank you very much, Speaker.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Paul Miller): Questions and comments.

Hon. John Gerretsen: I just wanted to weigh in on this debate. First of all, I think the term “bullying” has been taken way out of context that somehow what goes on in this House between the opposition parties and the government on this particular bill can be referred to as bullying. You know, bullying takes place in our schools, in our schoolyards, on our streets, when kids feel so intimidated that it changes their lives forever. To relate what’s happening in this House on this particular bill, or any other bill, to parties somehow bullying one another is really taking that totally out of context.

These two bills both have good aspects to them. We have a government bill before the House that we would urge all parties in the House to get along with, so that we can actually do something of a very definitive nature with respect to the bullying that goes on and has been going on in our schools for years. I can remember instances when I was a child many, many years ago—my kids say it’s so long ago it was probably in the Stone Age, you know—when kids were bullied, and they carried that stigma, that feeling that goes along with it for many, many years to come.

These are good attempts to stop the kind of activities that have been going on in our schools, at times—not by most students, but by some students—for too long. It’s important that we get a hold of this by giving the school authorities the right kind of mechanisms—and that’s the way I look at this—to stop these kinds of behaviours and to also be of help to those individuals, those kids, that are involved in the bullying that takes place in our schools.

0920

Let’s not somehow pretend that the kind of discussion that takes place here, let’s not relate that and say that that’s bullying of any nature whatsoever. This is the typical kind of political debate that takes place. We’re all adults here. We know how to take care of that. Let’s deal with the real issue, and that’s with the bullying that takes place in our schools on a day-to-day basis.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Paul Miller): The member from Haliburton–Kawartha Lakes–Brock has a two-minute reply.

Ms. Laurie Scott: I thank the member from Trinity–Spadina with his comments on the bill, but also him saying to stop it and let’s all work together on the bill. He’s right, and that’s what I’m saying. We are here to debate the bill and to try to make amendments. We have the right to bring forward amendments and make changes, and we’ve articulated this. We had the opportunity for Ms. Witmer to have her private member’s bill brought up and discussed, and her points made and the changes she’d like to see.

The member from Windsor West: We’re not blocking it from going to committee. That is the next stage. We are still in the debate here. We’re doing our times; we’re on our 10-minute cycles. Yes, we do need to work together, and I said that in my comments. I was very, very serious that this is a huge issue that we need to get right. Yes, we have felt some partisan pushback from you, and I’m not going to hide that. I say we shouldn’t be doing that on this bill. It’s a very important issue.

The member from Nepean–Carleton is correct with her passion, her articulation of what she’d like to see, her real-life examples that she’s spoken so passionately about here. When you see members of the opposition kind of heckling when that happens, it’s absolutely ridiculous and uncalled for in this bill. I know that partisan politics is part of our culture here, but this bill is very serious. When we see that being abused and used for political purposes, of course we get upset, and we have a right to do that.

The member from Kingston and the Islands: Sure, bullying that happens to children at a young age does shape their lives, and you see lots of newspaper articles that say if that occurs, the less chance of getting a better education, the less self-confidence they have, the less productive they are in society. This is a serious issue. We all need to deal with it. We are here to work co-operatively. We are giving our feedback, and this government should listen.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Paul Miller): Further debate?

Ms. Lisa M. Thompson: I’m pleased to stand today to participate in the debate for Bill 13. Yesterday, we had some colleagues in the PC caucus who were very, very eloquent and stated so many examples of bullying and why it’s so important to address this whole issue in a very comprehensive manner.

Yesterday, I literally had tears in my eyes as my colleague from Prince Edward–Hastings was sharing real-life experience of bullying from his riding. It just breaks my heart. I was inspired by my colleague from Dufferin–Caledon when she so sincerely stood up and spoke for the need to collaborate between Bills 13 and 14.

This is not the time to be partisan. This issue is so important to every individual in Ontario. We need to set aside party colours and do what’s right for both the victims and the bullies themselves.

It’s interesting, because I found it very unfortunate yesterday—I’m a rookie in this House, and I’m very, very inspired through the history and motivated to represent my riding to the best of my ability, but I have to admit I was taken aback a little bit and disappointed when yesterday I heard the Premier himself say to the leader of the loyal opposition that Tim Hudak, the leader of the PC Party, was not allowed to ask questions, and it’s like, “Oh, my goodness. What on earth is this?”

Interjections.

Ms. Lisa M. Thompson: Check the Hansard. He said, “You are not allowed to ask questions.”

Ms. Lisa MacLeod: Point of order, Speaker.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Paul Miller): Point of order, the member from Nepean–Carleton.

Ms. Lisa MacLeod: This is a sensitive issue. I don’t understand why the government, if they don’t like what they have to hear, then leave—this is a serious issue—and not heckle her.

Interjections.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Paul Miller): Continue.

Ms. Lisa M. Thompson: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. The fact of the matter is that no one is above any other in this House. We all have an opinion and we should have the right to express it, and no one should be told whether they can or cannot ask a question. You know, I haven’t decided yet whether yesterday was an example of bullying in and of itself, or just simple arrogance.

But here’s the deal: When I worked for the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, one of my favourite responsibilities was staffing provincial 4-H leadership camp and regional camps, and also other experiences around leadership development with regard to the Junior Farmers’ Association of Ontario and the Advanced Agricultural Leadership Program. In those leadership opportunities, I just took great pleasure. There were individuals from all points of Ontario—

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Paul Miller): I would ask the member from Huron–Bruce to stick to the bill. You’re wandering a bit. Thank you.

Ms. Lisa M. Thompson: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker, but I do have a point, and I beg some lenience here.

The fact of the matter is, a topic that we studied and that those young people, and young at heart, identified as a priority was the fact that diversity mattered, situational leadership mattered, problem-solving mattered. And these young people, ranging in age from 12 to 21 to 32 and, as I said, to the young at heart, came to understand that every individual mattered. That experience that we had in those leadership environments was like turning on a light bulb that had a dimmer switch. Essentially, those lights got brighter and brighter and brighter. It is absolutely not acceptable to let any individual who for whatever reason chooses to bully dim those lights.

The fact of the matter is that every child, every person, deserves an uninhibited opportunity, like they did in 4-H camp, to discover their potential and discover who they are meant to be without any bullying, without any stress. Because let’s face it, life can have a lot of pressures in and of itself, and we do not need any extracurricular or extraneous events that maybe make individuals question themselves or their self-worth.

No one can argue that support systems and prevention of bullying in our schools should be overlooked. The support systems in our schools and the prevention of bullying should be paramount. Legislation to protect our children should be all-encompassing and made to protect every child from any instance of bullying, and that’s why I’m very pleased to support my colleague the member for Kitchener–Waterloo in her bill, Bill 14. Bill 13 just doesn’t go far enough. I find that Bill 14 is a comprehensive anti-bullying bill that focuses on prevention, accountability and awareness.

Awareness is so important. We have to get to the root cause: Why are people choosing to bully? Bill 14 provides students, parents, educators and the community at large with a strategy to raise awareness and prevent bullying, as well as a process to resolve it. That is so important. We need to collect data and report back to the ministry so that we can build, as I said, a comprehensive bill like our esteemed member from Kitchener–Waterloo’s. She has spent so much time making sure all the i’s are dotted, all the t’s are crossed and that her approach is relevant in terms of identifying, addressing and, most importantly, resolving the whole act of bullying.

We have to get to the root causes, because bullying happens for what seems to be a reason of validation. Individuals need to feel good about themselves for one reason or another, and they stand up and they talk over top of people. They physically bully or push people around, or they even resort to our social media and cyberspace to validate themselves by propelling themselves over top of another individual, and this just isn’t acceptable.

We have to find a way to compromise. Speaker, we have to find a way to massage both Bills 13 and 14 together, because this is an issue that should not have any partisan stripes in terms of colours. This is an important issue wFhereby we need to take off our party hats and do what’s right for the children and all victims of bullying.

0930

Again, that comes down to collecting data, reporting to the ministry and having a comprehensive anti-bullying bill that focuses on prevention, accountability and awareness. We believe in tackling bullying head-on and, unlike the Liberal bill, the PC bill does so with four critical areas: (1) reporting and investigating bullying; (2) the accountability of school officials and boards to the ministry; (3) education and public awareness to prevent bullying; and (4) remedial education for bullies to teach them that bullying is unacceptable.

Bill 14 requires anti-bullying lessons to be incorporated in the provincial curriculum from JK to grade 12, and I would suggest to you that that’s exactly what we’ve done in terms of our leadership experiences in rural Ontario—again, the Junior Farmers’ Association of Ontario, 4-H, the Advanced Agricultural Leadership Program. We learn about diversity. We learn about coping and dealing in difficult situations. We learn about situational leadership. We learn that no matter what community you come from, what religion you represent and what ideals you have, everybody matters. That is so, so important, and I feel very strongly that the member from Kitchener–Waterloo held that in her heart when she took so much time to get it right in Bill 14.

Again, Mr. Speaker, every individual in this province deserves an opportunity to discover their potential and to discover who they’re meant to be in a totally uninhibited environment. Unfortunately, if we were to move solely forward with Bill 14, it wouldn’t allow that environment. We need to explore the best of the best, take off our party colours, work together, collaborate and appreciate the essence that comes out of Bill 14 and, as I said before, massage Bill 13 and Bill 14 together. We have a chance to make a difference.

Last night we heard very eloquently from Speaker Levac that history could be made in this session, and I think we can do that again with the massaging of Bill 13 and Bill 14. Again, it’s because every individual deserves the utmost opportunity to discover who they are and make the best of their lives and feel proud about who they are. In actual fact, even the bullies themselves need a little bit of attention. They need to understand why they’re choosing very obtrusive actions to validate themselves so that they too, the bullies themselves, can address their potential and discover who they’re meant to be as well. Thank you very much, Speaker.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Paul Miller): Questions and comments?

Miss Monique Taylor: I’m happy once again to rise to this very important debate regarding bullying. We’ve definitely faced quite a bit of it in Hamilton. My niece is still in high school and I speak to her on a regular basis and question her about what’s going on in the school, and over and over and over again I hear how bad it is in her high school.

The biggest issue with these bills that I see—and that’s from listening first-hand right from the children’s mouths—is that there’s nobody there to enforce it. So if we’re not providing funding for the schools to be able to bring in people to watch over them, to be there, and make sure that there’s adults in place to monitor these situations and that there’s therapists on-site to deal with these situations, we’re just going to continue to beat ourselves in the head here. Because no matter how many rules we make, if we don’t give them the tools to do it, they’re not going to be able to do it.

So between both good bills, Bills 13 and 14, if we’re not providing them the tools to be able to implement it, we’re not going to get any further. So hopefully when this goes to committee, these will be the changes that are put into place. We need funding to go with this bill. We need to make sure we have adults on duty who are specifically going to pay attention to this kind of stuff, and that’s the only way it’s going to work, because regardless of what they’re being bullied for, they’re being bullied and it needs to be addressed. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Paul Miller): Questions and comments.

Ms. Soo Wong: I’m pleased to be able to stand to have an opportunity to speak in support of Bill 13. I want to share with the Legislature what I learned and heard last week in a constituency week with my residents and students in Scarborough–Agincourt.

I heard very clearly from my constituents that they do support Bill 13, particularly the fact that this is about inclusion, this is about acceptance. Okay? This is nothing about sex education. This is not about changing the curriculum. This is about making our schools safe. That’s the first thing I heard very clearly.

I also had an opportunity last Tuesday to visit one of my high schools, Dr. Norman Bethune high school, to speak and to consult the students about this particular bill and to talk and also to thank the students for their efforts in making their school an inclusive and accepting school. Let me share with you what the students are doing in this particular high school. They’re making the entire school turn pink for the month of May as well as the month of April. So they’re having activities every day in the school to celebrate pink. So this is a very diverse school, Mr. Speaker. Over 99% of the students in their school are Asian students. So for me, this is what the school is all about: making acceptance, inclusiveness.

But the other piece I took some time to ask the students with regard to Bill 13—I asked them, “Can you share with me, do you have any problem with regard to section 303.1(d), dealing with having ‘activities or organizations that promote the awareness and understanding of, and respect for, people of all sexual orientations and gender identities, including organizations with the name gay-straight alliance or another name’?”

They said to me, “What’s wrong with having a club? What’s wrong with having a club that has a different name than us?” They very, very clearly told me, “Do not back down, Soo. Do not—do not. Support every student in our school.” This is what this bill is all about.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Paul Miller): Questions and comments.

Mr. Randy Pettapiece: I have to agree with the member from Hamilton Mountain that we should collaborate on these two bills. We should put it together. We should work together on this.

However, from the first day in this House, I saw leaders of all three parties get up and say, “We have a minority government. We have to work together and we have to get the job done.” And unfortunately, the members opposite didn’t hear the same speech I did. We need to merge these two bills. There are too many people in my riding who do not like Bill 13 for obvious reasons, and I certainly couldn’t support it.

Mr. Bob Delaney: What are the obvious reasons?

Mr. Randy Pettapiece: Obvious reasons?

Ms. Lisa M. Thompson: It’s not comprehensive enough.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Paul Miller): Order.

Mr. Randy Pettapiece: It’s not comprehensive enough. It singles out too many people to be specialized. So that’s why they don’t like it.

However the member from Kitchener–Waterloo has submitted a very good bill, and we on this side of the House believe that you should look at it. However, like happened in the past, we never see any co-operation from your side of the House. And that includes on things such as the budget and whatever. We need to—

Interjection.

Mr. Randy Pettapiece: So it is my opinion that since there’s no co-operation on your side of the House for this bill, that the other two parties should put pressure on you to merge these two bills because of the good ideas in Ms. Witmer’s bill.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Paul Miller): Questions and comments?

The member from Huron–Bruce has a two-minute reply.

Ms. Lisa M. Thompson: Again, I have to draw everybody’s attention back to what really matters here—and again, I’m a broken record—but I believe with all my heart it’s about young people discovering their potential and being uninhibited and realizing the person they’re meant to be without any sense of bullying whatsoever, no matter what walk of life they come from, what jurisdiction in the province they come from. Everybody matters. Just like rural Ontario matters, I might say.

But that said, I really appreciate the comments that were shared. Our member from Hamilton Mountain—absolutely. It’s disappointing to hear that your niece is still reporting the fact that it is still really bad in her high school. I totally agree with you: The right people need to be in place, and we have to have the tools at hand to implement the proper approach.

0940

That reinforces the fact that the member for Kitchener–Waterloo was so much on track when her bill revolves around (1) the importance of reporting and investigating the issue of bullying; (2) the accountability of school officials and boards to the ministry; (3) the education and public awareness to prevent bullying; and (4) the remedial education for bullies to teach them that bullying is unacceptable, and that perhaps in that whole experience they can realize what they have that’s special so that they too can discover the person they’re meant to be instead of trying to tromp all over top of other folks.

I totally agree that this issue is properly addressed in Bill 14, and it needs to be massaged together with Bill 13.

To the member from Scarborough–Agincourt: I agree, schools definitely need to be made safe, but I respectfully say it’s so much more than just acceptance or inclusion. It’s about a comprehensive approach to managing the whole issue of bullying.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Paul Miller): Further debate?

Mr. Rob E. Milligan: It’s my pleasure to stand here today and give my two cents’ worth on this very serious issue of bullying.

We have two bills that have been brought forward, 13 and 14, and as noble as the members who crafted those bills are and the sincerity—I honestly do believe there’s a sincerity to move on the issue of bullying, because bullying affects, of course, young people. As a former educator myself, Mr. Speaker, for the last 13 years, I can honestly say that I have witnessed and experienced bullying first-hand.

One of the things that disturbs me the most about individuals who bully others is the fact that it’s obviously a self-esteem issue. There are issues behind the scenes that, as educators, we are not necessarily privy to: their lifestyle at home, what happens at home, among their peers etc. It’s a human instinct to lash out, sometimes, especially for young people who don’t know exactly how to focus their energies, and so they pick on younger individuals because of their differences, their variances. It has to be through the education of such seriousness that we extend that to those young individuals.

As noble as Bill 13 is—and Bill 14, I have to say—the member for Kitchener–Waterloo, Ms. Witmer, has done extensive research talking and listening to stakeholders about the issue of bullying and has actually listened to what the experts have to say. Bill 14, Mr. Speaker, I believe definitely outlines the parameters of how to address bullying within our education system, even within our society as a whole. It definitely brings forward a defined definition of what bullying on the Web is and what those penalties are for those individuals who partake in bullying in the social media.

So I think as nice as Bill 13 is and as nice as Bill 14 is, the member from Hamilton Mountain is right: We have to work together, collaboratively, towards the betterment of such a serious issue.

One thing that is concerning, however, where I have to disagree with my esteemed NDP colleague, is more funding to address the issue. As an educator myself, one of the frustrating things is, teachers and administrators don’t have the tools and resources, the power, if you will, to enforce. If an individual does something or bullies an individual, what kind of—not punishment, but what are the alternatives for an individual who does that? We need to work with the young individual, but at the same time that’s what, as an educator, I do. That’s what the guidance teachers do, right? We have other staff members—EAs, ECEs—who work with those individuals.

Interjection.

Mr. Rob E. Milligan: They’re being cut because my esteemed government’s budget is going to do that.

So the funding isn’t an issue and I don’t see it as an issue. What we need to do is give the—

Interjections.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Paul Miller): I would suggest that the members go through the Chair if they want to talk, not to each other. This should come through me, okay? Thank you.

Mr. Rob E. Milligan: Sorry. I apologize, Mr. Speaker. You’re absolutely correct.

Mr. Speaker, I don’t think that we actually need more funding in order to educate the young people about bullying and the seriousness of the impact bullying has. I think Bill 14 is a huge step forward in fighting bullying within our education system, and I honestly think that what the member for Kitchener–Waterloo has done is the correct approach to addressing any issue.

This is a nonpartisan issue. This is an issue that goes beyond political stripes. A young person on the playground being picked on can be a Conservative, a Liberal, a Green Party—it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter, their religion, their creed. What happens, Mr. Speaker, is that we need to make sure that this doesn’t happen at all; equality for all across the board. It doesn’t matter. Equal: We are all equal, Mr. Speaker. That’s what I think Bill 14 definitely addresses, the equality for all. It outlines the parameters which those individuals will face if they do not adhere to what I, as an educator, and as my colleagues in the teaching profession try to do, which is instill good character in individuals.

A good point was made earlier that we, regardless of political stripes—my Liberal counterparts are great individuals. My NDP esteemed colleagues here are great individuals. They come to the House and they have great ideas. They represent their people. This is a nonpartisan issue.

I think the member from Nepean–Carleton had it right as well. She has worked very diligently with local groups in her riding and she’s done a fantastic job of reaching out to families and communities who have been embraced and thrust into situations that, quite frankly, are almost unbearable. We have individuals who have taken their own lives, and it’s very sad because no one, regardless of their religion, creed, where they live, what their beliefs are, what their value systems are—these are individuals that should be nurtured in our society.

I think Bill 14 addresses that and I think the member from Nepean–Carleton would agree with me when I say that what Ms. Witmer has actually done—and I’ll say this again with the stakeholders, listening to them—is an extensive, extensive outreach. “Listen” is the key: Listen to what people have to say. Only by listening can you actually get to the bottom of things and resolve those concerns.

0950

Mr. Speaker, I have to say that the NDP is correct. My esteemed colleague from Hamilton Mountain is correct in a sense, and what I’m hearing from my esteemed colleague is that no piece of legislation is perfect. We understand that. That’s the humanitarian part of what we do. You’re not going to get everything perfect on the first try, but we have to try. And this is why I think, Mr. Speaker, when Bill 14 goes to committee, hopefully when it’s in committee, we can actually collaboratively work together to ensure that amendments from various bills—in Bill 13, I’m sure there are parts that may improve Bill 14. My esteemed colleague here said, “Well, we could introduce Bill 15.” In committee, that’s essentially what we’re doing. We’re working towards the betterment of a more perfect piece of legislation that’s going to have a positive impact on the lives of so many.

Mr. Speaker, I would just like to add, as I close today, that it’s a great honour to stand here and debate this bill in the sense that we honestly have to take a positive approach. I think Bill 14 is a massive leap towards addressing the issue of this serious nature. Thank you very much.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Paul Miller): Questions and comments?

Mr. Rosario Marchese: I just want to say that I agree with everything that the member from Northumberland–Quinte West has said. I have two comments in relation to what he said, however. One of them has to do with listening. Listening is always a two-way issue; it’s never one-sided. So when one person claims that the other person isn’t listening, it’s very likely that two parties are not listening, and it’s often possible that three parties may not be listening. But you have to remember that unless we mutually listen to each other, it’s not going to work. So one-way listening doesn’t work, and that applies to all groups, is the first point.

The second point has to do with funding. Not all teachers know how to solve problems. You would know that. Some mediate well, and some don’t know how to mediate problems. In some elementary schools and some high schools, some teachers are incredibly frightened to be involved in solving a bullying issue, with individuals potentially being very, very aggressive and teachers not knowing how to deal with that from a physical point of view, or indeed even a social/psychological point of view. So when you say that we are skilled as teachers to be able to tackle that problem, it isn’t so.

We need help. Teachers need support and principals need support to be able to do this job well. So when the law prescribes that school boards will have to solve the problems of bullying, it means that you as a teacher, now, and a principal, have an additional responsibility to deal with it, and unless they are trained and unless they are given support, it’s not going to be easy. It means another responsibility on teachers that they have to deal with, and that’s a problem of funding.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Paul Miller): Questions and comments? The member from Ottawa Centre.

Mr. Yasir Naqvi: Thank you very much, Speaker, for giving me a brief opportunity to talk about this bill and the debate that’s taking place on this very important bill, Bill 13, the Accepting Schools Act.

I’m heartened to hear the comments I’m hearing that we need to work together, that this is an important issue, that we need to ensure that students are protected. These are all steps in the right direction. What’s also important, Speaker, is timing. Time is of the essence right now. We need to make sure that we’ve got protections in our schools as soon as possible. This message of urgency is not just from us, the members. We’re not in schools anymore; we really don’t know what’s happening. I think all of the members talk to students in schools. This is a message coming from the students.

Like everybody else, I had the opportunity to spend a lot of time in our schools just last week. I do that pretty much every Friday when I’m home. Students don’t get this debate. Students don’t get this politics. And I don’t blame them. They are saying, “Am I going to have an opportunity to ensure that there’s programming available in our schools starting this September?” Guess what, Speaker? I couldn’t give them an answer, because we don’t know what’s going to happen.

So my request, my urging to everybody is, let’s get together and get working on this. I was really disheartened when I read in the Toronto Star today that Mr. Wilson, the House leader for the Conservatives, said, “We will continue to ring bells and use whatever tactics we can on our side to delay government legislation”—

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Paul Miller): The member from Ottawa Centre knows we don’t use names; we use ridings.

Mr. Yasir Naqvi: My apologies.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Paul Miller): Thank you.

Mr. Yasir Naqvi: The House leader said that they will continue to use delay tactics to delay any legislation, and that’s not what we need to do, Speaker. We need to pass.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Paul Miller): Member from Nepean–Carleton.

Ms. Lisa MacLeod: Just to the other member’s point, the reason bells are being rung in this place is in opposition to this government’s refusal to follow the will of this assembly in calling for a select committee on Ornge and the abuses that were taking place. I just—

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Paul Miller): The member knows that’s not the topic. Thank you.

Ms. Lisa MacLeod: But to point out that our party is trying to delay this is really not quite—it’s heifer dust, Speaker, because we know that we all have a vested interest now.

Yes, I actually have been to schools. I went to a few last week—one in your riding—and in fact I’ve also spoken to a number of other people who have been affected by this, and I must say, people want to make sure we get it right. Doing due diligence is a good thing. Allowing members to speak to this topic, anti-bullying legislation, is important work. If the members opposite really want this to be done ASAP, they’ve got their tools in their legislative toolbox to do whatever they like. They’re that major minority government, as you remember Mr. McGuinty talked about.

I do say this: We have an opportunity to have a fulsome debate, a great discussion here; we are having that. We know that there are parents who are concerned with the legislation. We’re going to hear them out at committee. But don’t try and shut down the voices of members of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party, because we do speak on behalf of our constituents, and we do have a right to our opinion, and we do have a right to share those views.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Paul Miller): Thank you. The member from Algoma–Manitoulin.

Mr. Michael Mantha: I listen to the constituents of Algoma–Manitoulin, and the opinions of my constituents vary in support of Bill 13 and Bill 14, which is why I think there’s good in both and which is why I really think that we should sit down and get this done properly. However, you need to have those discussions, and there seems to be an air of darkness here right now, that we can’t seem to get to that point.

The last time I rose, I spoke about a young woman. Her name is Candice, and unfortunately—she’s from my riding—she made a difficult decision. But what she managed to do is to get a group of us together, and when we sat down, we sat down in what’s referred to as a sharing circle. A sharing circle is a First Nation practice. When you sit down, you try and use some of the sacred words that they’ve used, and also their teachings, words like love, respect, courage, honesty, wisdom, humility and truth.

When you look at these words, let’s try and use them to get to the point that we need to get to with these two bills. If we love our kids, then let’s get this done. If we respect each other across the way, it should bring us to the proper table in order to address the issues that we need to address; and respect means listening to both sides. And then if we take the courage to take that next step in order to get together, to get to that table, that will demonstrate that we are working together in this House. Honesty: It speaks for itself. Let’s show the wisdom that we’ve learned from each other and that we’re going to present a bill that is actually going to be beneficial to our kids. The humility: Let’s check our partisanship at the door before we get in here, and let’s get this done properly for our kids. The truth: Let’s keep it, let’s live it and go forward.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Paul Miller): The member from Northumberland–Quinte West has a two-minute reply.

1000

Mr. Rob E. Milligan: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. Again, I would like to thank my esteemed colleague from Trinity–Spadina, who eloquently expressed his concerns for more funding in education. As an educator myself, I agree that we have to have the funding in place to ensure that not only bullying is addressed but other aspects of making our young people the best-educated individuals on the planet.

Also, to the member from Ottawa Centre, and perhaps the future Minister of Health: I agree that we need to work collaboratively, again, towards this. I hope that, as the member from Algoma–Manitoulin pointed out, it’s a matter of respect, Mr. Speaker.

I also am very happy to say that I listen. I truly do try to listen to all sides of what is being presented to me, and I, honestly, would love to work with each of the parties involved in this. I do, however, think that there are certain individuals, or perhaps partisanship sometimes—and I understand partisanship. I do get what partisanship is and what it does, but I think once partisanship gets in the way of progress on something non-partisan, like a piece of bullying legislation that’s actually going to have positive influence and impact on the lives of our young people, surely as mature adults we can sit down and agree.

I’m hoping, Mr. Speaker, that once these bills go to committee, we can come to some understanding, some appreciation, that is going to be for the betterment of the people which we represent.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Paul Miller): Further debate?

Mr. John O’Toole: I’m pleased to speak for a few minutes on Bill 13. It’s a bill that, I think, is in the media pretty well every day. In fact, just riding in on the GO train this morning—I’m just going to read from local papers.

On the very front page of the paper that most commuters read: “Teen’s Racist Rant Shocks Peers”. It goes on to say, “Students at Brampton’s Turner Fenton Secondary School said they were shocked by a YouTube video of a girl from their school making racist comments.” That is related, because I think we’re all talking about cyberbullying and the damage—and with this whole social networking, you’re kind of anonymous when you’re trashing someone, and that’s kind of the growing part.

In fact, another article in the same paper—I just took a few of the pages out; there were three different articles on that same issue: “Nova Scotia to Propose Legislation on Online Bullying”. It goes on to say, “Legislation aimed at cyberbullying to be tabled Wednesday in the Nova Scotia legislature is being described by the education minister as a first step in the government’s approach to bullying in schools.”

It talks about the Minister of Education and says: “For faster government action from the family of a teen who committed suicide.

“Jennex didn’t reveal details about the legislation, but she said it would address recommendations set out by a task force on online bullying last month.”

So it’s clear that the largest and fastest growing of this is the online bullying.

I think if you look at Bill 13 and Bill 14—there’s been much said about them—I think it’s unanimous that all members agree on a general statement that all forms of bullying are reprehensible and unacceptable. In fact, I think our critic, Lisa MacLeod, has spoken quite passionately and in a very informed way with respect to an incident in Ottawa, on which she’s given out a piece this morning, on the Hubley family calling on quick action on this bill.

I think the government and some people viewing say that there’s been some inappropriate use of procedure wrangling here to make another point, which isn’t related to Bill 13, but it is related to the idea that the government of the day—that’s the McGuinty government—should be listening.

Let me say this: I’ve put on the table a couple of things. In my riding of Durham, which is the community of Uxbridge, Scugog and Clarington, I have called almost all the members of the clergy: Islam, the imam of that particular persuasion; the Baptist church—all of the churches that would respond directly or indirectly about their impression of this. They want to be considered. All of them want to be considered, whether they’re Christian or non-Christian—I would just generalize that way. They are looking for leadership from the church group. We’ve heard that out here.

But what I’m hearing, most importantly, is that Bill 13 somehow ranks bullying, and that’s what I find wrong. All forms of bullying, whether it’s your body shape, your colour—whatever it is—are reprehensible, unacceptable. There are certainly going to be children of all persuasions, whether it’s their gender orientation—whatever it is. I understand that. I’m a parent of five children. I have nine grandchildren. I’ve been a school trustee. My wife’s a teacher. She’s now a trustee. We’re engaged on this.

I have a couple of articles here and I won’t, in the limited time I’ve been allowed—I may seek unanimous consent, Mr. Speaker, to have more time.

But the issue here is that the parent is the primary educator for sure. I can say, with all due respect, that I would encourage all families to be engaged in that and that the parents have—they have to consult with the experts; I understand that fully. But they are the primary educator, and as such, when I look at all the documents, I want to see a role for the parent.

The provision of opting out of some of the classes would be an appropriate compromise. Opting out, you maybe want to sit down with the parents and explain the reason. Maybe it’s a conflict with the particular perspective of those religions. And that’s the challenge here. In a nutshell, that’s the challenge.

Now, I have talked directly with the conference of bishops and also read the document respecting differences from the Catholic school trustees, and from that document—I’ve cited it in the House here before—there’s about four reasons. But I want to repeat, repeat and reinforce: All forms of bullying and intolerance are unacceptable. Education is the forum for changing your mind, learning, expanding and appreciating, respecting differences. That document says that respecting one another and not taking action to belittle the other person in any way, physically or intellectually or whatever, is where the real essence of this debate is.

Power, in its definition, is the ability to have others do your will. If you look at the study of power, it’s the ability to have others do your will or conform with your ideology.

Now, we’re seeing that in the Legislature, about how much waste is tolerable. On the McGuinty side, it seems quite tolerable. They wasted billions of dollars on eHealth and Ornge and OLG—you name it. It’s intolerant for us, and we discuss it and argue, and the people of Ontario make the decision.

But on this issue here, we’ve got to move forward. I’d like to see something in place myself for September, some clear rules. But don’t forget for one moment that there’s lots on the agenda in our schools today. I’ve listened and heard from schools, even now, about certain agendas that are being aggressively pushed in the school. I will put that on the record, and I can refute it from parents and students from high schools and elementary schools who are upset with the current curriculum driving an agenda. That’s really the issue there. I think parents should have the right of opting out. It might be important for them to sort of sit down and explain their reasons, “It conflicts with the teachings of my faith.” I’m putting that on the table.

Now, if we don’t like that, then we’re moving to a secular model of the world. And I believe that in life our children should be taught that faith is important, whatever faith. That’s important.

In law, under the charter, it’s called the duty to accommodate. As we found out last summer, certain religions pray during the day, and the public school board was accommodating them in Toronto, which is the proper thing to do if they’re praying on a Friday or whatever it is. I’m saying the duty to accommodate will arise. Some faiths will not accept teaching things that are in conflict with the values and teachings of their faith. That’s the essence of this whole thing.

Let’s get on with it. Let’s not force schools. Let’s not bully them into having these particular clubs of a particular name so that it satisfies a particular goal. All I’m saying is, we can move forward in consultation, step by step. You can educate people over time to these various combinations that are required. I would say the names of groups. The use of technology in these meetings that may occur—children in the schools are tweeting and twittering all the time on their little BlackBerrys or iPhones; if they’re going to be saying things that people are confiding in a meeting, that could constitute them harming themselves in the public by some electronic means. How about the home schooling groups? Are they going to be forced to accommodate to get their diploma or whatever it is? How about the freedom of religion itself?

I think this bill can move forward in an incremental way, looking at and respecting the work from the member, Ms. Witmer, and her Bill 13. But bullying, as the minister has said—as she is saying now with the teachers in their negotiations, “My way or the highway.” That’s not the way, in a democracy, to move forward. We can deal with bullying. We can respect parents, we can respect students, and Respecting Difference is the document that I’m referring to. It’s a document by the Ontario Catholic School Trustees’ Association. I would encourage it for all members, for your reading. There’s an extremely exemplary section in it that I would say is mandatory reading. It’s on page 5 and it says, “To insist that others share our beliefs and to eradicate the frameworks that make ... choices ... forced acceptance of beliefs ... is not the hallmark of a ... democratic society,” but quite the opposite. I think that is a very profound statement and is something we can learn from here. By me, I should first respect people with differences, and not humiliate or demean them or diminish them, and they should also accept my interpretation of the world as well, respectfully. Thank you, Mr. Speaker, for this chance.

Second reading debate deemed adjourned.

ANTI-BULLYING INITIATIVES

Ms. Soo Wong: I have a petition addressed to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario which states:

“Whereas creating a safe and positive learning environment is an essential part of helping students succeed in school;

“Whereas bullying, homophobia and gender-based violence are unacceptable;

“Whereas we need to do more than just tell bullied kids it gets better—we need to work together to make it better now;

“Whereas the Accepting Schools Act would, if passed, help to end bullying in our schools;

“We, the undersigned, petition the Legislative Assembly of Ontario as follows:

“That the elected members of all parties help make our schools safer and more inclusive by supporting the Accepting Schools Act.”

I certainly support this petition. I’m going to affix my signature and send it with page Ranbir.

Comments