Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Agriculture and Forestry

Issue 29 - Evidence - Morning meeting


KAPUSKASING, ONTARIO, Friday, June 1, 2007

The Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry met this day at 8:43 a.m. to examine and report upon rural poverty in Canada.

Senator Joyce Fairbairn (Chairman) in the chair.

[Translation]

The Chairman: Good morning and welcome. The committee members are pleased to be in Kapuskasing, model town of northern, Ontario, which has a rich and significant past and heritage.

Last May, the committee was authorized to examine rural poverty in Canada. Since the fall, we have heard from a number of expert witnesses who have given us a general overview of poverty in Canada.

[English]

Last fall, we heard from a number of expert witnesses who gave us an overview of rural poverty in Canada. On the basis of that testimony, we wrote an interim report which we released in December and which by all accounts really struck a nerve.

We are now in the midst of the second phase of our research where we meet with rural Canadians in rural Canada. We have travelled to every province in this country. Along the way, we have met a truly wonderful and diverse group of rural Canadians who have welcomed us with open arms into their communities and sometimes even into their homes.

The committee still has much work to do. That is why we are here in Kapuskasing this morning. We also plan to visit Maniwaki in Quebec next week and we will travel to the three Northern territories of our country in September.

In short, we still want to hear from as many people as possible so that we can be sure that we get this right and that we understand rural poverty at its core.

To help us better understand rural poverty in Ontario, we are pleased to welcome our first witnesses this morning. Before we begin, however, there is another fellow here who is a friend to all of us in this room: Brent St. Denis, the Member of Parliament for Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, would like to say a few words to open up our hearing.

Brent St. Denis, Member of Parliament for Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing: On behalf of the constituents of Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, I would like to welcome you to Kapuskasing, to Highway 11, which is the northern part of my riding.

I understand you will indulge me for a couple of minutes before Ms. Guertin starts. I certainly want you to hear from the community much more than I want you to hear from me. If there is a chance later on for me to expand on a few of my preliminary thoughts, I would certainly take that advantage.

I would like to cover some of the highlights of my initial thoughts once I heard that the Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry was coming to our area. First of all, I was impressed that you would choose to come to Kapuskasing. I know that you are very busy. I notice that among your ranks you have an Albertan, a senator from Saskatchewan, a senator from the Atlantic, one from Southern Ontario and one from Northern Ontario. You are representing this country from coast to coast.

That you have chosen to pick out rural poverty within the larger question of poverty is, I think, significant. It is far too easy for us as representatives and for national leaders, whether they are federal, provincial or local, to forget that there is not one simple and single definition of poverty.

As I travel around the riding, which is 110,000 square kilometres, there is not one constituency clinic where I would not see some aspect of poverty. It might be a senior widow who loses her husband and the day after that her income goes down because of the way our pensions are calculated. I am sure you are hearing about that.

I might hear also from a disabled person who is struggling to stay in his or her small home in a village but the home needs repairs, whether a ramp or an enlarged bathroom or the fixing of a leaky roof. That repair may mean the difference between being somewhat independent or being fully dependent on the larger society.

I might hear from a family. Typically, the father has been laid off from the local sawmill or from his work in the bush. You will hear that the forest sector in Northern Ontario is suffering terribly with thousands of jobs lost. Many, many mills have closed down, in nearby Smooth Rock Falls, for example, or in Opasatika. Hearst has taken its share. Luckily, here in Kapuskasing the Spruce Falls paper plant is still going strong. People do worry and we hope that worry someday will disappear. You can find examples of this all across Northern Ontario.

I will hear from local mayors and chiefs concerned about their ability to keep up with local infrastructure, the very infrastructure that is needed to keep whatever small businesses can survive viable and to keep those communities strong for the future.

I may hear from a father who has to travel to Alberta or up to Attawapiskat to what we hope will be very successful diamond mining operation. He has to travel away weeks at a time to make a living for the family. That has separated families. It has caused distress at home, leaving a spouse, typically the female spouse, on her own to struggle with the family.

The list of examples go on. I hope I get a chance later to throw some ideas into your mixing bowl, such as the pressure we face simply in representation. The formulas, which I suppose are a necessary thing to have, are constantly putting downward pressure on the number of federal seats in Northern Ontario. We need to make sure that our economic development agency, the Federal Economic Development Initiative for Northern Ontario, FedNor, is adequately funded to help our communities not only understand themselves economically but also plan for the future.

Another issue is access to education. Can workers who are laid off be retrained as welders or millwrights or electricians?

In conclusion, there was a time when agriculture was a strong element in this area. You are in what is called the clay belt, which extends down through the area around where Senator Mahovlich is from, down through New Liskeard and beyond, past Timmins, where there has been agriculture. There is a little bit left, but the future demands that we heed the call for more local agriculture.

Thank you very much for being here. I will spend the day listening carefully to those you will hear from in this community. I am sure that, as you have everywhere, you will learn a lot about the needs of rural Canada and the specific concerns of the rural poor who are different than the urban poor, but a poor person is a poor person. I wish you well as you continue this important study.

The Chairman: Before we start, I would like to introduce our senators to you. We do come from various parts of Canada. Senator Peterson is from Regina in the province of Saskatchewan. Some of you may remember Frank Mahovlich. He comes from this area in Northern Ontario near Timmins. Senator Hugh Segal is from Ontario. We had a hearing in his area, a little place called Athens. He also hangs out a lot in Kingston, Ontario. Senator Catherine Callbeck is from Prince Edward Island. She was the Premier of Prince Edward Island and the first woman premier of a province in Canada.

We have a great mix of people here today, and we are eager to hear what the witnesses have to say. Our first witnesses this morning are Louise Guertin, a community legal worker in the Grand-Nord Legal Clinic, and Ernie Lafontaine, a board member from Connection Centre.

Louise Guertin, Community Legal Worker, Grand-Nord Legal Clinic: I am very pleased to have the opportunity to speak to you about the difficulties that low-income people are having. We do not get this opportunity often, especially in rural areas.

I have been working with the legal clinic for 20 years. I do not by any means consider myself an expert when it comes to speaking about living the difficulties that poor people have. However, I have the luxury of hearing it first-hand.

I distributed earlier a legal needs assessment that was conducted in this area. We were looking to identify the areas that people are having the most problems with so that the legal clinic could address those issues.

In general, the three most important concerns that low-income people have in rural areas are, first, lack of transportation to access agencies and resources; second, lack of resources, because only minimal resources are available; and third, lack of access to legal representation. I will elaborate a bit and give you specific examples regarding accessing resources.

Health care is basically not available here. We have clients who apply for Ontario disability. A doctor has to complete the medical form. There are not enough doctors here, so people have to attend a local clinic where doctors come in. However, they are locum doctors, and most of them refuse to complete these medical forms because they have no history on the client. They do not know the patient. Therefore, people are not able to access a pension to which they are entitled because they are indeed disabled.

Very few health care specialists come to Kapuskasing. People have to travel to Timmins, which is two hours away, or to Sudbury, Ottawa, or Toronto. Yes, they do get a travel grant, but at $1.19 per litre for gas, the travel grant does not even get them one way. Plus, there are no monies for staying overnight or for meals.

I am certain that you are aware of the many myths about poor people, such as low-income people are people on social assistance. They are not. Low-income people are senior citizens and students. In this area, certainly, they are the working poor, people who are working at minimum wage.

Daycare costs $35 a day for one child. A single person receiving social assistance gets $535 a month. The cheapest apartment here in Kapuskasing is $400 a month. How can someone possibly survive? Unfortunately, the children have a lot of difficulty.

I thought I had heard it all in my years of working with poor people. I wondered how we can best serve these people here and now. The clinic had a project where we invited poor people to tell us what makes it difficult for them and what could be done here and now. I was appalled to hear that buying bed linen and towels is a luxury for poor people.

Poor people who receive a cheque at the end of the month cannot survive on that, but they do not want to speak up, because they are afraid that if they do speak up, they might not get a cheque for some reason.

In this area, people have worked in mills all their lives. The mills have closed down in the forest industry. These people have no transferable skills because all they know is how to work in a mill. That causes them a lot of difficulties in trying to find other employment.

The biggest difficulty that low-income people face in these rural areas is lack of transportation. There are no bus systems here. People who live in concessions who need assistance have to take a taxi. Unfortunately, many of these people hitchhike because they have no other means of getting to the resources they need.

Sadly, there are many family issues, and to make matter worse, people have to access legal representation in Sudbury, which is five hours away. Our clinic covers from Cochrane, which is one hour east of here, to Hornepayne, which is in the Algoma district. We are two legal staff in our office.

One advantage of living in a rural area is that you tend to become very creative. You have to become creative.

Ernie Lafontaine, Board Member, Connection Centre: I am thankful for being invited to speak here today. I work for the Kapuskasing Indian Friendship Centre. I am an Aboriginal social worker, and I am on the board of one of Kapuskasing's local non-profit organizations, the Connection Centre.

The Connection Centre started approximately ten years ago. The Rotary Club was instrumental in starting this Connection Centre, and we thank them for all the work they do in the community. The centre was started to give low- income families access to everyday household items that we probably pick up at our local Wal-Mart or wherever we shop in our communities. Many of these families do not have the luxury of shopping for everyday items, because they cannot afford them.

All of the items at the Connection Centre are donated by people in the community. They are brought in garbage bags and boxes and sorted at the centre. Everything you would use in your home, from utensils and coffee cups to clothes, is donated.

The Connection Centre has been a godsend for many people in the community. The centre looks for a set amount of money, maybe $2 or $5, depending on the item, but if the people cannot afford that, the centre's staff will say, ``Here is a bag of items; give us what you can afford.'' If the person has a quarter or 50 cents, we will take the quarter or 50 cents. Some people do not have the financial means, as Ms. Guertin was just saying.

I worked in that end, too, with the provincial government for five years. I worked directly with low-income families. I saw that side of it, too, and it is pretty sad when you see that in a country like Canada many people live in terrible conditions in some places. You would not think it would happen in this country, but it does. Those of us who are fortunate enough to have full-time, well-paying jobs tend not to notice these things, but when you work on the front lines with these people, you see it every day. It is sad to see people not having enough money in a month to provide the necessities, such as the right foods for their families, for their children. Our heart goes out to these people every day.

In a nutshell, that is what the Connection Centre does. We provide low-income families with all these household items, anything that is brought in. The centre has been a wonderful gift to the community. It is accessible on a daily basis, which is wonderful. We see all types of people — low-income families but also people who have jobs making minimum wage. There are things they would like to buy that they cannot afford at the local Wal-Mart so they have to get them at the Connection Centre.

I have sat on the board for six years. It has been a nice experience. It is an enjoyable thing to do when you can help other people get by with a lot of things that we take for granted in our lives.

Again, I want to thank you for inviting me here. I was not sure what it was all about when I was called. Maybe now our voice from Northern Ontario can be heard more at the macro level, at the higher levels of government, and let them realize that in the North there are a lot of people in rural communities who do not have it as good as in many other places in this country. We hope these discussions will have some impact at the higher levels of government and perhaps some things could be done down the road.

The Chairman: Thank you for your remarks, especially what you said at the end. It is absolutely true. This will go to the higher levels of government. That is why we are doing this. Our report will not just be in Ottawa. We will be sending reports into the areas where we have met people like you.

What you both have told us today is extremely important to hear, and it is important to hear it from here, not in Ottawa, but from where you are working on the ground to help people. We are grateful for that and we are very pleased that you came.

Senator Segal: I want to thank both of you for making time in your day to come and help us better understand some of the challenges that we face.

My concern from the very outset and why I am proud to be part of what this committee is doing is that I think we are very good in this country at avoiding unpleasant topics. It is always fair weather when Canadians get together. We do not talk about the elephant in the room. Our poverty statistics for the country as a whole basically have not changed in 35 years: 11 per cent to 12 per cent of all Canadians are living beneath the poverty line. In some parts of the country, those numbers are substantially higher, as both of you have referenced this morning.

Ms. Guertin, I want to understand the relationship between income and some of the worst circumstances you are seeing in your day-to-day work. You have said that many people living below the poverty line are not on social assistance. They are people who are working but not earning enough to make ends meet.

For some 35 years I have been a proponent of a guaranteed annual income — an income floor that guaranteed every Canadian the basic amount needed in their part of the country to deal with basic health, most importantly, as well as shelter, food, clothing, heat and transportation costs. That amount should be guaranteed as it is for some parts of our population now; senior citizens with Old Age Security, the Guaranteed Annual Income Supplement and those who have some measure of CPP have at least a basic income. It is not enough for some, but it is a basic income.

We find that people who are not yet seniors and do not have access to that are in the greatest difficulty. Do you think that the vast majority of the problems you see would be diminished if the income issues were addressed?

You talked about transportation as the most important question, but transportation is a problem because people cannot afford it. They do not have a car. They are not able to drive. The community is not large enough to support a public transit system across vast territories with a relatively small population.

Would income, in your judgment, be the core problem? If the Government of Canada, the provinces and the municipalities had a magic wand and an endless pot of money, which they do not, but if they did and they wanted to do the one thing that would make the most difference, would it be the income issue you would address or would it be something else?

Ms. Guertin: The income would certainly diminish the problems. I am happy that you mention that it would be different for different areas.

In terms of transportation, it is not a question that they cannot afford the vehicle. It is where people reside. When we speak of rural areas, we are talking about people who live in concessions, five miles out of town. The local Wal-Mart is on the highway. People who reside in town cannot get out there. There is no bus system.

I am happy to hear that guaranteed income would be considered, as long as it was revised on a regular basis. The working poor get minimum wage, yet the price of gas, electricity, hydro, and everything else is going up. The guaranteed income that seniors get is still not enough.

It would certainly help if there were a basic amount, provided that it was revised regularly. It would serve to alleviate some difficulties that people are facing, like transportation. People who live out of town who need to see their doctors or to access resources and disabled people have to use a taxi, and taxis start at $6 when you close the door.

Senator Segal: You mentioned the locum doctors. I think many of our physicians and other medical practitioners have been involved in that process through the health sciences centre at Queen's University School of Medicine in Kingston. I know they feel proud and honoured to be part of that. We all remember a TV show from long ago called The Flying Doctor in which doctors were regularly flying in to parts of Australia.

Let me put the question more precisely. Is there something about the way the relationship between those health care locums and the local clinic is structured that is basically flawed? Should we be financing the presence of doctors here on a more continuous, ongoing basis so that they can build a relationship with patients or patients can make applications for pensions or appropriate OHIP-financed medical activity in the South for specialized care? What is your sense of how we could fill in that gap in a way that would make the most difference to the people with whom you have been working?

Ms. Guertin: Most of the people we work with have health issues because they are poor. They are not able to afford medications. If you are on social assistance, you get a drug benefit card. If you are working poor, you do not. Most poor people unfortunately have poor health.

We are extremely thankful that we do get locums. From what I hear, it is actually a luxury to have a family doctor. There are so few doctors here. It is difficult to attract doctors to rural areas. They probably could tell you more, but my suspicion is that they do not have the resources. They are working with very limited resources. Our problem is not that we cannot attract. We have committees here that work extremely hard to attract. The problem is to keep these medical practitioners. If they are from the North, they may come back.

It would help if there were more monies for health practitioners and possibly some incentive for them to come to the North and stay. Again, for poor people, it is not just a question of getting a disability medical report done; they need an ongoing relationship with a doctor. Poor people have poor health and they need to have some rapport with a doctor to whom they know they can go as opposed to getting to see a doctor in a month's time. It is difficult to decide a month ahead that you will need to see a doctor and it is difficult to wait a month before you get to see a physician.

Senator Segal: Mr. Lafontaine, I have a question for you on the Connection Centre in general, but also on your own contact with the clients of the Connection Centre. What is your sense of the primary cause for their lack of financial resources? Is it essentially unemployment? Is unemployment the grinding issue that is producing the lack of financial capacity on their part so that the Connection Centre is very helpful to them?

Mr. Lafontaine: I think there are two categories. Unemployment is part of it definitely. You also have the working poor as Ms. Guertin stated. We have many working poor in the community. Low-income families and people who are on the Ontario Works Program or the Ontario Disability Support Program are on limited income. You have to take care of your basic needs. You have to pay your rent so the landlord does not evict you and you have to get your food. With the cost of these basic needs, there is very little left at the end of the month.

As for food, you cannot buy the best food that you need, such as vegetables and fruits, to feed the kids properly. As parents, we also need proper nutrition to live a well-balanced, healthy life. Unfortunately, if you do not have money, those become luxuries for you. That is why people access the Connection Centre daily. If they can spend a little less money on clothes and household items, I imagine their money goes for the items they need such as more vegetables.

It is sad. We do not like to see or talk about these things, but when you work with these people every day, it touches you. You can afford it and they cannot. What do you do?

Senator Segal: Is there a food bank here in Kapuskasing?

Mr. Lafontaine: There is, but it is open only once every two weeks and in the summer it shuts down. People have to eat in the summer, too. It is better than nothing, but it is not enough.

Senator Segal: You will be interested to know but not surprised that almost 90 per cent of the increase in the number of food banks across the country has been in rural Canada, not in the cities.

Mr. Lafontaine: It does not surprise me.

Senator Callbeck: How long has the Connection Centre been in existence?

Mr. Lafontaine: I have been on the board for six years, but the centre originally started about four years prior to that. It has been in existence for about ten years. Before the centre we never had this type of facility in the community for low-income families to access. Since the centre opened it has been busy on a daily basis with people coming in and out, some donating stuff and some taking it away as fast as it comes in.

Senator Callbeck: Are the numbers increasing every year?

Mr. Lafontaine: Yes. At every board meeting we get reports from the coordinator and she says that a lot of new people are coming in. There are many regulars but there are also many new faces, which means that more people are using the centre because of prices.

Many people who come cannot afford to pay for a bag of clothes. If they cannot afford 50 cents, if it is that bad, we give them the bag of clothes or whatever it is that they need at that point in time.

Senator Callbeck: The number of people coming to the centre is increasing.

Mr. Lafontaine: Yes, it is increasing, definitely.

Senator Callbeck: Ms. Guertin, I want to ask you about access to legal representation, but before I do that I want to touch on a couple of things that came up with Senator Segal.

In Ontario, when people on social assistance go off social assistance, they lose their drug card. There is no allowance in there at all.

Ms. Guertin: Yes. People who are in receipt of Ontario Works lose that. However, the Ontario Disability Support Program has been changed recently to continue to provide the medical benefits until the working person gets those benefits through their work.

There really is no incentive for people. Some say that people on social assistance are lazy and do not want to work. Well, there is certainly no incentive for people to find work at minimum wage. Yes, they are going to make more money, but they have no more benefits. They have no access to reduced daycare costs. It is very difficult. I would say that the majority of people who are on social assistance are not there because they choose to be.

I have been working in the clinic for 20 years. Prior to that, I worked ten years in social work. I have seen such a change in who is now receiving social assistance. They are people who have always worked, but now the mills and other businesses are. People on social assistance since 2000 are certainly not there by choice.

Senator Callbeck: I agree with you.

You mentioned people having to wait to see a doctor in order to get a disability form filled out. In general, what is the wait time here, unless they go to Sudbury or elsewhere to get a doctor to sign?

Ms. Guertin: They cannot go to Sudbury. The locum doctors come more regularly.

Senator Callbeck: But they will not sign.

Ms. Guertin: Exactly. That is the problem. You cannot blame these doctors for refusing to sign. They do not know the patient and have no history with the case.

Senator Callbeck: How long does the local person have to wait?

Ms. Guertin: They are hoping that the next doctor who comes will help them out, depending on who it is. People who do not have a family doctor can wait a month or two months, and we all know that the waiting period to access specialized services is even longer.

Senator Callbeck: Is your legal clinic run by a board of directors?

Ms. Guertin: Yes.

Senator Callbeck: Was this clinic set up to deal specifically with low-income people?

Ms. Guertin: Yes. That is what legal clinics do. We represent low-income people before courts and tribunals. However, we do not do only legal work. We do community development, law reform and public legal education, which is extremely important. Many poor people are afraid to speak up. If they have the right information and if they know that they have the right to speak up, it makes a big difference. In essence, legal clinics empower low-income people.

Senator Callbeck: What is the legal aid situation?

Ms. Guertin: In this area, in Kapuskasing, we have a handful of lawyers. When it comes to Children's Aid matters, we have maybe one lawyer who will consider a legal aid certificate, and that is not a local lawyer.

Unfortunately, legal clinics do not do family or criminal law. Lawyers from private practice come to the clinic once a week to offer duty counsel services. The majority of the people who use these services qualify for legal aid certificates. However, certificates in hand, they are not able to retain lawyers. I am not saying that the lawyers all refuse, but they are very selective about which cases they will take on.

We provide the legal aid certificate holders with a list of all the lawyers in the area, and they have to go through the entire list. Honestly, when it comes to family law or Children's Aid matters, people are having to see lawyers in Sudbury.

Senator Callbeck: Do many people go to court representing themselves?

Ms. Guertin: They have to because they have no lawyer.

Senator Callbeck: That is happening in my province as well. I was talking to a woman the other day who has been to court three times representing herself. She would probably have a Grade 8 education. This situation is deplorable.

Ms. Guertin: We are extremely thankful to have the lawyers who do assist clients, who do the duty counsel. At least they can tell the clients when there court date is and what they have to do. When a client is unrepresented, it slows the entire process down and creates a problem within the court system.

It would be a step towards a solution to have the legal clinics work hand in hand with Legal Aid Ontario. In the South, it may be different. In the North, it would be extremely helpful for low-income people if Legal Aid Ontario had enough funding to allow clinics to hire lawyers on a full-time basis in order to offer services to people as opposed to duty counsel coming in one afternoon a week and there being no lawyer to represent people in court.

Senator Peterson: Ms. Guertin, is your legal aid clinic under the jurisdiction of the provincial government?

Ms. Guertin: Yes.

Senator Peterson: When you are assisting people, is there ever crossover on issues to do with the federal government? Do you do that as well?

Ms. Guertin: Yes, we do.

Senator Peterson: Is there anyone here to deal with federal issues or do clients have to go somewhere else? Where is the nearest centre that deals with issues of pensions and so on?

Ms. Guertin: Issues like CPP and so on are all done out of Timmins or Ottawa.

Senator Peterson: Therein lies one of the problems.

Ms. Guertin: Yes.

Senator Peterson: On the matter of social assistance, has anybody done any cross-tabulation between social assistance, lack of food security and health care? In other words, one leads to another. If you are low income, you do not eat properly and your children do not properly. You do not get medication. Down the road, there is an increased cost at the other end. Has there been any move at all towards trying to justify a higher basic assistance at the beginning?

Ms. Guertin: No.

Senator Peterson: Transportation is an issue we have been hearing over and over again in rural areas. Is there a solution?

I come from Regina, which started a program called Telebus where disabled people or people who did not have transportation could phone up and make arrangements two days in advance that the bus would pick them up at 10:30 and take them downtown. Would it be possible to set up something like that in this area? It would not be bus service that runs every half hour all day, but one could, once a week or something, arrange bus transportation. Without such a system, as you said, people living in the concessions are stranded. How do they get out? Is that a possibility? Or is this a problem that we will not solve?

Ms. Guertin: We do have some resources, but they are very limited. We have that type of service, but there is only one bus for our population of 9,000, and for example it takes half an hour to get to Concession 10. It makes it pretty difficult.

We do not have the population for buses every half hour, but having monies available to address transportation issues would help. For low-income people, transportation is one thing, but affordable transportation is really the issue here as well. You cannot take a taxi that starts off at $6. If there were ample affordable transportation, that would certainly assist people. I really like that idea. As I said, we have to be creative here in the North. We cannot say that we will get people money to buy a car. However, having buses or other transportation available would improve the situation.

Senator Peterson: People could then coordinate their affairs as well, even if it means phoning in a week ahead or something along those lines. We are trying to deal with this because it does come up over and over again.

Mr. Lafontaine, you said that goods are donated to the Connection Centre. Are there other competing organizations like the Salvation Army or service clubs that do the same type of thing?

Mr. Lafontaine: No, this is only one in the community.

Senator Peterson: Do service clubs assist you in any way or are you on your own?

Mr. Lafontaine: We definitely have service clubs, but individual people accessing service clubs for money does not happen too often. The clubs will get to the community on a larger scale. People who need household items that they cannot afford cannot get those at any service club. That is why the Connection Centre was created in the first place, to provide these things that people cannot afford.

Senator Peterson: I understand that. I was wondering if service clubs could have a program to assist you. They could do something like collect the household items and take them to the centre. It is just a thought.

Mr. Lafontaine: The goods are donated by everyday people in the community. They have stuff at home that they do not need anymore, and instead of taking it to the municipal dump as they did in the past, they now bring to the Connection Centre. A lot of the stuff is good and salvageable and people can use it. A lot is given for next to nothing. It helps people out who cannot afford to pay the full price for those items.

Senator Peterson: I would suggest that there is lots of stuff in basements in this country that could be used if there were just some initiative or encouragement to get it out of the basement. Many people do not think about their basements until they move and then they wonder where all that stuff came from. That is unfortunate because that stuff is so desperately need by your group.

Mr. Lafontaine: Seeing people use the centre on a daily basis because they cannot afford to buy things elsewhere really identifies the need at the macro level.

Senator Mahovlich: Mr. Lafontaine, you mentioned that new people are coming to the centre needing help. What about the future? Are you planning to expand?

I am a little concerned about the future. Gas prices will go up. Apparently, we are going to use wheat and corn for fuel, which will cause the cost of food to increase. The minimum wage will be kept at the lowest possible level. More people will be knocking on your door.

Mr. Lafontaine: Yes, definitely.

Senator Mahovlich: Is that a concern?

Mr. Lafontaine: Obviously, the need is not declining, it is increasing. It has been increasing for the last six years since I have been on the board of directors. We get monthly reports from the coordinator of the centre, who sees the people and the need on a daily basis. She has told the board that they are seeing new faces coming in, more people accessing the centre. It is a sign of the times.

Minimum wage is controlled by the government. You can only buy so much with the minimum wage, especially when everything else keeps going up. Inflation it seems has always been a problem in this country. Everything goes up constantly. Businesses can increase their prices, but people can only afford so much on a fixed income.

Senator Mahovlich: That has to change.

Mr. Lafontaine: It definitely has to change.

Senator Mahovlich: I like this idea of affordable transportation. If a person gets sick and has to go to Timmins, then he feels a little more comfortable getting there if he can get affordable transportation somehow.

Ms. Guertin, you mentioned Timmins, and I am from Timmins. We always had a hospital there. Was there not a hospital here Kapuskasing 50 years ago?

Ms. Guertin: There is a hospital here.

Senator Mahovlich: An orthopaedic specialist once operated on my knee. He said he would come up to Kapuskasing once a month to do a few operations. Is that still happening?

Ms. Guertin: No. We do have specialists who come here. However, if people require surgery and need an MRI, they have to travel to Timmins.

Senator Mahovlich: For an MRI.

Ms. Guertin: Yes, and for a CAT scan they have to travel to Timmins.

We do have resources here. Please, do not get me wrong. We do have some resources, but they are very limited compared to what is available in a city like Timmins. Rural areas now use Timmins as the regional hospital for specialized procedures.

Senator Mahovlich: Has Kapuskasing looked into an MRI program?

Ms. Guertin: I cannot speak to that. I am not aware that they have.

Senator Mahovlich: I guess it is too expensive.

Ms. Guertin: Absolutely.

Senator Mahovlich: I know that in Toronto not every hospital has an MRI. It could be too expensive.

The Chairman: I thank the two of you very much. This has been an important way to start our meeting. I and my colleagues appreciate very much that you have taken the time to be here today. Please feel free to stay. Good luck from all of us in the work you are doing.

For our second panel, we have with us Adèle Bordeleau, from the Kapuskasing Economic Development Corporation, and Laurier Guillemette, a retired agronomist.

Adèle Bordeleau, Economic Development Officer, Kapuskasing Economic Development Corporation: Good morning. I am here today representing the Town of Kapuskasing as their economic development officer. For 12 years I worked for Collège Boréal and I worked specifically with youth at risk, trying to find them jobs and getting them job-ready, so I bring that perspective also.

First and foremost, I would like to thank you for this opportunity. Rural poverty is an unfortunate reality in Northern Ontario. Although I am not by any stretch of the imagination an expert on poverty, I am here today on behalf of the Kapuskasing Economic Development Corporation, KEDC, to present to you our precarious economic situation and how it has affected our population.

Once a booming resource-based community, Kapuskasing has had its share of economic troubles in the last few years. Our government needs to be aware of the underlying issues in our constant struggle to become economically secure.

Our forest industry is in the midst of the worst downturn in its history and analysts are projecting this to last well into 2008. Thousands of jobs have been lost in Northern Ontario. Tembec Spruce Falls closed their kraft mill last summer and 230 people lost their jobs. Excel Forest Products in Opasatika shut down their operations a few years ago; 75 direct jobs were lost.

Once a mill closure announcement is made, property and business values decline, workers start looking elsewhere for employment and the community starts into a negative downward cycle. We need to have a program that allows resource-dependent communities like ours to engage in substantive socio-economic planning and development.

The rise of our Canadian dollar has been disastrous for our forest industry. Additionally, low commodity prices, the slowdown of the U.S. housing market and sky-high energy prices have all had a negative effect on our most important industry.

The ripple effect in Kapuskasing has certainly taken its toll. The new statistics from the 2006 Census show an 8 percent decrease in our population since 2001. We now have an official population base of 8,509. That is down from 10,000 in the year 1999 and 12,000 people in 1970. Basically, our population base has been dwindling consistently in the last 30 years.

Why are all these people leaving? Certainly not because of the open spaces, the peace of mind, the tranquility and the breath-taking scenery. The bottom line is that most of them have to leave. They have lost their jobs in the lumber and pulp mills; they have no income, no future. Did you know that our homes and properties are so grossly under- evaluated that most vendors are losing a lot of money on the sale of their homes? There are For Sale signs all over town. Our young people are choosing to leave for school and are not planning to return. They would if we had jobs to offer them. Unfortunately, the reality is that unless we have employment, updated infrastructure and economic stability, they will never return.

The federal government must realize that rural Northern Ontario needs immediate attention. The mining industry is enjoying an unprecedented economic boom. Timmins is a mere 200 kilometres from here, but our realities could not be any more different. While they are basking in the glow of swift home sales at record sale prices, we are selling our homes at a loss.

It has been said over and over that diversification is the key to our survival. To achieve this, we desperately need the government's assurance that resources will be available to help us. Northern Ontario has a great potential for growth and prosperity with the emergence of the new bio-economy. With the amount of biomass littering the forest floors, would it not be simple to have our forest industry lead the way? If they are to diversify, our industries need the government's financial help. Ontario needs clean, renewable energy. Northern Ontario has the space, the workers, the feedstock, be it agricultural or wood-based. We also need government assistance in the form of tax incentives, energy cost reductions and funding for newer, updated infrastructure.

Northern Ontario also needs to get involved in value-added markets like producing doors, wood windows and wood flooring before sending it south. We need to create an economic environment that is conducive to secondary manufacturing. Unfortunately, the regulatory environment in the area is driving prospective value-added companies away.

The cost of doing business in Northern Ontario is very high. Energy costs are high. Transportation costs are high. Because of these costs, investors looking to start businesses are spending their money elsewhere, in places where they will turn a larger profit. The high cost of doing business also means that existing raw wood material producers are struggling to keep their businesses afloat. We must create a business-friendly environment in Northern Ontario.

These are only but a few concerns that need to be addressed. I could sit here all day talking about the issues that our industries, businesses and families have to struggle with every day. But talking about it will not make it go away. We need government assistance. We have strategic plans, marketing strategies and, most of all, we have the drive and community support to make changes. The only missing link is a real action plan tailor-made for our reality, specific to our needs and concerns.

Laurier Guillemette, as an individual: Good morning. I will give you a brief history of my background. I graduated from the University of Guelph back in 1968. A native of this area, I have always been interested in agriculture. I worked as an agricultural researcher for almost 35 years. I am currently retired and trying to keep agriculture alive in Northeastern Ontario, which is not an easy task.

I would like to thank the members of this committee for giving me the opportunity to discuss the issues related to agriculture for the area of the great clay belt of Northeastern Ontario. I would not qualify myself as an expert on the issue of rural poverty, but perhaps my views and opinions and the views of other farmer representatives on the subject of agricultural development for this region may assist this committee in their mission.

The history of agriculture in this part of Ontario is relatively young in comparison to other areas of Canada. In the beginning, after the First World War, settlers were encouraged to establish themselves in this vast area of Ontario with the promise of good farmland and a vision that the area could become an important contributor to Canada's food industry. The immigrants displaced from other parts of Canada and abroad who came to the area quickly realized and learned that land clearing was not an easy task and that the weather was somewhat less than hospitable and suitable to agricultural production when compared to their homeland. Learning to adjust to this region's growing condition limits proved too challenging to many except for a few diehards who learned quickly to work with the climate and not to try to work against the climate.

In the early years, the Government of Canada had an experimental farm system in place in the North with a full complement of researchers and technicians to conduct research and assist the farmers with their questions and needs. The provincial government also had agricultural representatives in all the regions to assist in the technology transfer. These two government agencies provided valuable and necessary services to a struggling agricultural community.

The opening of the forestry and mining industry in the area, which is also in trouble these days, offered better wages and improved working conditions. The farm population began to decline and that downward trend has yet to stop. The decline in rural farm population resulted in less federal and provincial involvement and support in the area, and this continues as we speak today and will continue unless something is done very soon.

This area of Northeastern Ontario is sparsely populated and our voice is often not heard in Ottawa and at Queen's Park because we are not a vote-rich area.

As with many rural areas of Canada, we are faced with a population decline, an aging population and an out- migration of our youth. This is not new to anybody.

I have listed some items that are common to our region. They are issues most of you have heard in the past and will hear again today, I am sure.

We have a reduction in real farm income and increasing fuel and product prices. The dollar is always on the increase, which creates less revenue for our farmers. Competition from subsidized production from foreign countries is a real problem. The distance to large market areas to sell our products is great; every large centre is at least 500 kilometres or 600 kilometres from here. We are far from Sudbury, North Bay or Toronto. At the same time, transportation costs are rising. We suffer from a lack of critical mass and infrastructure, a low rate of business creation, a loss of high wage opportunities and a lack of skilled trade and professional workers.

Small rural communities have a strong sense of survival and belonging and rely on volunteers to get things done. However, because of our small population, our volunteers are becoming tired and exhausted. Many government agencies have only a storefront presence in the area with no real understanding of local issues.

What are the options and solutions? We need more infrastructure spending in areas of population decline in order to encourage opportunities and to ensure essential services. We need to encourage immigration to rural areas instead of large urban centres.

In communities where government facilities are present, they should be more than a storefront presence. They should also act as resource centres for information and provide leadership in economic development.

The loss of prime agricultural land in Southern Ontario has created an opportunity this region can capitalize on. With the present issue of global warming, and with an increase in average temperature of almost 2 degrees Celsius, this area of Northeastern Ontario with its deep rich soils is set with an opening that must be taken advantage of before it is too late. This cannot be achieved without government intervention.

Too often in the past, this part of the province was seen by outsiders and residents alike as having little or no agricultural potential. It is time we change this perception and prove that this area can produce some of the best cereal crop yields in the province and that the climate can actually be an asset for us. Some of the best-tasting produce can be grown in this area simply because our cool nights help plants to accumulate sugars in the cells. It is time we use that to our advantage.

Beef raised entirely on good quality forages presents a golden opportunity to reduce the need to feed grain to animals and we can use this grain for human consumption or the production of ethanol. This area was instrumental in developing this golden beef choice or idea. It is just coming around the corner now.

Transportation costs are a serious issue for Northeastern Ontario residents and businesses because of the long distances between communities and urban areas. However, on any given day there are thousands of transports using the highway between our towns on route south or west from here. In there lies a solution to resolve some of our transportation costs.

Finally, the recent formation of the Northern Clay Belt Agri-Network is a step forward in linking several communities in an effort to encourage agricultural development.

[Translation]

Senator Segal: Ms. Bordeleau, in my office in Ottawa, I have the Ontario flag and the Franco-Ontarian flag. I graduated from the University of Ottawa and many of our colleagues attended Hearst College and come from other parts of the northern Ontario region. I know this region and the importance of ensuring the survival of the French language in Ontario.

My first question concerns FEDNOR'S contribution. With regard to your funding, does FEDNOR help you or does it not play any role currently?

Ms. Bordeleau: I think that economic development in our region would not be possible without FEDNOR's assistance. We have applied on a number of occasions to FEDNOR regarding different projects. FEDNOR has always been there for us in Kapuskasing. We have an extremely good working relationship with our representative who is in fact here today. FEDNOR was created to meet the needs in Northern Ontario and, in my opinion, it will continue to help Northern Ontario.

Senator Segal: This week, the Minister of Public Works Canada announced that 6,000 jobs based in Ottawa would be transferred to the Quebec side in Gatineau for the National Capital Region.

Yesterday, in the Senate, I asked the minister several questions regarding whether there was a plan to facilitate a decentralization of government offices outside of the major centres, where office rents are extremely high, towards smaller communities in Ontario in order to encourage economic development.

Could you tell me what would happen to Kapuskasing if the member, Mr. St. Denis, and others managed to convince the federal government to set up an active office, a ``back office operation'' of 500 employees? What would be the economic impact on a town such as Kapuskasing? If the federal government could install part of a major department here, with its communications, computers and all that technology, as was done for immigration in Vegreville, or taxes or GST in Summerside, do the resources exist in Kapuskasing for such a facility?

Ms. Bordeleau: Absolutely. You would be surprised at the number of professionals living in Kapuskasing; there are a number of my colleagues and friends who, like me, have graduated from university. There are people who would really like to return to northern Ontario, but there are simply no job opportunities for them. I believe that interested parties would come from southern Ontario, they would move to Kapuskasing and they would lead enriching lives.

Senator Segal: When seeking out investors, have you ever proposed that the federal or the provincial government move a small portion of a department here? Is this on your list of suggestions?

Ms. Bordeleau: This is not something that has really been discussed in relation to Kapuskasing's economic development. Given the precarious economy, we are really trying to keep what we already have, while, at the same time, hoping to be able to develop something else. As you mentioned earlier, if an office with 500 employees were to set up shop in Kapuskasing, we would give you the land and we would help you build the facility.

I think that Northern Ontario is experiencing a growth spurt, particularly with regard to renewable energy, as I mentioned earlier. It is incredible, there are multinational companies coming to knock on our doors because they are interested in what our forests could provide in the way of green energy and renewable energy sources.

In my opinion, Northern Ontario is on the cusp of what it could really become, particularly with the assistance of both levels of government.

Senator Segal: Mr. Guillemette, you talked about climate change and significant future opportunities in agriculture in this region.

You said that you graduated from the agricultural university in Guelph. In your opinion, has any research been done on the economic advantages related to climate change and the possibility of making major investments in agriculture in this region?

Are any concrete steps being taken? Is there something that the federal government could do, in your opinion?

Mr. Guillemette: I think that the federal government could provide assistance. I do not think that, currently, local or regional institutions working in agriculture are looking at this phenomenon and profiting from global warming. However, for quite some time now, based on research done previously in the region, we have known that the north is in a very good position to grow the best grains in Ontario and even, I would say, in Canada. We have the right climate for this kind of crop.

Global warming may have negative impacts on some regions of Canada, but, for our region, it is having a positive impact. I believe that, today, we must seize this opportunity and soon, I believe, because our farmers are a dying breed.

Senator Segal: We have to be able to attract people with the needed skills and a strong interest in the possibilities provided by this region.

Mr. Guillemette: That is exactly our dilemma. We lack a critical mass, a nucleus of people interested in agriculture and who are prepared to work the land. The local farmers are getting older and there will be no one left to keep our farms going.

Senator Segal: If I am not mistaken, I think that, after the Second World War, there was an experimental farm here.

Mr. Guillemette: Correct. I spent about 30 years of my life there.

Senator Segal: Perhaps we need to recommend having another one in order to do what you are saying.

Mr. Guillemette: Yes. The experimental farm was quite important. Today, it is still important, but this institution gets almost no resources.

[English]

Senator Callbeck: Ms. Bordeleau, you are an economic development officer and you say you are trying to hold on to what you have. You talked about your relationship with FedNor. We met with them yesterday, and talked about the programs they have such as the Community Futures Program. Do you think that the Community Futures Program helps develop leadership within the area?

Ms. Bordeleau: Definitely, it does. To give you an example, we are in the middle of applying for funding through Community Futures for economic development training, for counsellors, for economic development workers in the region.

The North Claybelt Community Futures Development Corporation has been extremely encouraging and has told us that it is in their mandate to train future leaders and to make different community workers aware of how to go about improving our skills as economic development officers.

Senator Callbeck: Is putting a lot of emphasis on developing leadership skills a key to revitalizing rural Canada?

I grew up in a thriving rural community. So many things that were there then are not there now. I feel that back then we had a lot of leaders. Then everybody worked and lived in that community. Now, many people live in the community, or at least sleep there, but they work in Summerside or Charlottetown. They socialize there. They buy their groceries there, and everything is in Summerside or Charlottetown. As a result, the community spirit in the rural community is not what it used to be. I think we have to develop more community spirit and more leadership.

I believe Community Futures is a great program.

Ms. Bordeleau: Definitely. We have great working relationships with the North Claybelt Community Futures Development Corporation.

On the subject of leadership in the community, I think we are so fortunate to have great leaders in this community. Our new mayor and council are very much aware of the benefits, the need and the importance of economic development. They are well-read people. They have at heart the future of our community. The only link that is missing right now is financial help from both governments, because our realities are so different from the realities of Southern Ontario. We have so much to offer. We have what it takes to bring life back to Northern Ontario. We just a need a little more help than we are getting right now.

Senator Callbeck: One of the programs they talked about yesterday was microcredit — small loans of $500 or $1,000 or $2,000. For example, if a woman wants to start a small business, she is not looking for $150,000. All she needs is $3,000 to do something out of her home. Do you have that here?

Ms. Bordeleau: The North Claybelt Community Futures has self-employment initiative programs to help small- and medium-size businesses get off the ground. They have people to help with business plans, marketing plans, marketing strategies, financial consulting and so on. Those services are available here for small- and medium-size businesses.

Senator Callbeck: Mr. Guillemette, on the experimental farm, you say you do not have the resources. Have the resources been cut drastically?

Mr. Guillemette: I think that is an understatement. The resources have been cut quite severely. It goes back almost ten years, when the budget was cut by approximately half. This reduction has continued for the last four or five years. We used to be autonomous at one time. Now, the station or the research farm is under the umbrella of a larger establishment in Southern Quebec. They are looking after their own budget. We have almost become a burden to them because every time we need money, it is money out of their pockets. It is an unfortunate situation to live in.

Senator Callbeck: You talked about rural Canada, the aging population, the youth leaving, the population declining and how the volunteers have played such a vital role in the communities but now are getting burned out. We have heard that a lot throughout our travels. What is the solution?

Mr. Guillemette: It is not an easy question to answer. On lack of population, we are an aging population, and the youth are not around to continue our efforts. By relying on volunteers all the time, we are burning them out. We have many activities in our own town. Our lumberjack festival is a good example. It requires approximately 400 volunteers a year to put on this event. The festival is in jeopardy because of lack of volunteers.

This volunteer burnout is evident in the agricultural community as well. We need volunteers to sit on various committees and groups. Because of our low population, it is always the same people sitting around the table. They have almost had enough. We need new people, immigrants, an increase in population based on new employment, new job opportunities. The declining population is not helping matters.

Senator Callbeck: Is this area actively promoting itself to get immigrants?

Mr. Guillemette: It is just starting to. We recently formed the Northern Clay Belt Agri-Network. We hope to use that as an avenue to promote the area. First of all, we have to sell the area to attract people. In 2009, the International Ploughing Match is coming to Earlton and we plan to be part of that to sell this area, to promote this area, to show the visitors from abroad the potential for agriculture in this area. It will not be an easy task, it never was.

Senator Callbeck: We are trying to do that in my province of Prince Edward Island. You are right, it is not easy.

Mr. Guillemette: It is not easy to convince people to go into agriculture. There are many more opportunities to make money in other industries. Agriculture is not a high-margin profit area. The margin of profit is very narrow. You have to have it in your heart to work in agriculture. If you do not have it in your heart, you will not survive.

Senator Peterson: After looking at your list challenges in the agriculture sector, I can see why you are struggling. One of the many challenges is the lack of critical mass and infrastructure. Do you have enough capacity here to be able to produce enough to create this critical mass?

Mr. Guillemette: It is a vicious cycle, like the chicken and egg scenario. We have the capacity to do it, but we need somebody to start the ball rolling. It is not easy to get that ball rolling, to encourage people to come to the area to produce agriculture. We have a good land mass, good soils. The climate is not as bad as everybody perceives it to be. As I have often said, when we work with the climate instead of fighting it, we have found opportunities there.

We must use the climate to our advantage and promote what can grow so well up here. I have grown vegetables in research trials here that are far sweeter than any vegetable we buy from the Bradford Marsh area. If you buy carrots grown in this area, for example, you will never buy any from Bradford Marsh again because they do not taste the same. We have to use that to attract people to come up here and then they can use the climate to their advantage.

Senator Segal: Have you ever tried potatoes? We could take on P.E.I. perhaps.

Mr. Guillemette: We can grow good potatoes up here, too. We are free of the Colorado beetle.

Senator Segal: We must get a bag for Senator Callbeck to taste.

Mr. Guillemette: There are some right here in Moonbeam.

Senator Peterson: I agree that you have to create a niche industry where you get economically marketable products.

Mr. Guillemette: Developing niche industries is one of the objectives of the agri-network. That is one way to get the ball rolling, to increase its critical mass and eventually bring it to the point that it is viable.

Senator Peterson: What can we recommend to Ottawa that would assist you?

Mr. Guillemette: We need programs to attract immigrants or people from down south to come farm in this area. We need somebody to spearhead this and promote the area for us. We can do it ourselves, but we need help from agencies and governments to do this for us.

Senator Peterson: I think you would also need to tell them why they should come. You have to develop the plan first and then I would think get the people. It is a challenge.

Mr. Guillemette: It is a challenge. It will not be easy. This has never been considered an agricultural area, so it will be hard to change that in the minds of individuals, especially those in positions of power.

Senator Peterson: Ms. Bordeleau, with respect to all the For Sale signs and the declining population in Kapuskasing, obviously the paper mill is the anchor.

Ms. Bordeleau: Yes, it is.

Senator Peterson: If you lose that, you lose everything.

We had a presentation the other day from the president and CEO of the Forest Products Association of Canada. He said basically that it is decision time: Governments have to determine whether or not they want to support rural Canada and help rural areas become or remain competitive.

What role would you play to help them? Are you in contact with these people to support them?

Ms. Bordeleau: We have a close working relationship with Tembec Spruce Falls here in Kapuskasing. Their general manager, Terry Skiffington sits on our Economic Development Corporation Committee. We have to be involved when it comes to Tembec here in Kapuskasing because they are our survival. We have always counted on Tembec for our survival in Northern Ontario, in Kapuskasing. The government needs to know that it is do or die for the forest industry in Northern Ontario, indeed the forest industry throughout Canada.

If the forest industry is to survive, it has to diversify. It has to have regional energy pricing. Tembec is one of the biggest energy consumers in Ontario. The energy prices are sky high. The government needs to be aware that something has to be done. If the forest industry does not survive, Northern Ontario will wither up and die.

Senator Peterson: The Forest Products Association of Canada mentioned those same challenges — taxes, transportation costs, all the issues that are threatening paper mills. I would hope the forestry association would be encouraging and engaging people like yourself to take that message because you are the ones who can bring that forward.

The timing is critical. If it does not happen soon, there will not be paper mills.

Ms. Bordeleau: Exactly.

Senator Peterson: You also mentioned that the regulatory framework is strangling development. I presume you are referring to both federal and provincial regulations. Could you expand on that?

Ms. Bordeleau: Everything costs more in Northern Ontario for a new business to come to Kapuskasing. Transportation costs are high. Energy costs are high. We need tax incentives specific to Northern Ontario because our realities are so different.

The problem is not to find new businesses or new industries to come to Northern Ontario. The problem is helping them to have enough resources to come and stay. The government has to understand that it is much more difficult for a small- or medium-size enterprise to set up shop here in Northern Ontario. Something needs to be done to attract these new industries.

Senator Mahovlich: Ms. Bordeleau, you mentioned Smooth Rock Falls. I know the government had a plan to transfer some Aboriginals from James Bay to Smooth Rock Falls. Did that go smoothly?

Ms. Bordeleau: It did not go, actually.

Senator Mahovlich: It did not work?

Ms. Bordeleau: No. They talked about it briefly, but nothing specific was put into place. Now the government has decided to try to bring the First Nations people from Kashechewan closer to Timmins, but they are still in Kashechewan. They have not moved to Northern Ontario. The whole Smooth Rock Falls thing is dead in the water. They are not coming to Smooth Rock Falls.

Senator Mahovlich: Is anything happening in Smooth Rock Falls?

Ms. Bordeleau: Smooth Rock Falls is such a sad situation. It is my hometown, actually. You would not believe how much the real estate has gone down in Smooth Rock Falls. People from the South are going to Smooth Rock Falls and buying a beautiful brick bungalow for $10,000. People are going there to retire and they will have all this money in their pockets to do whatever they wish.

I know that the economic development corporation in Smooth Rock Falls is working very hard to get something up and running in the old Tembec kraft mill there. I think they have investors looking at developing something new, but Smooth Rock Falls is having its share of difficulties because of the forest industry problems that all of Northern Ontario has to deal with.

Senator Mahovlich: The city of Toronto, unlike the United States, has not slowed down. House prices of houses keep increasing. I do not know how my children can cope with it. You cannot get a $200,000 or a $300,000 home. That price is for one bedroom. It is amazing. Building goes on and on and is very active.

The traffic is terrible. You are talking about transportation. Those trucks go into Oshawa taking parts down to Windsor or somewhere. They spend two or three hours in traffic in the Toronto. Then they get to the bridge in Windsor and it is another two or three hours to get through immigration.

Transportation is a big problem. I see here that the train is situated right in Kapuskasing. That must be a positive note. It would be an attraction, would it not, for a corporation such as Honda or Toyota to come up and take a look at this area?

Ms. Bordeleau: Definitely. The fact that we have the railway right downtown, basically on the highway, is one of our selling points when we talk to potential investors. It goes also west to Sault Ste. Marie and the border is over there.

We are counting on all the urban problems that you guys are having down south. We are counting on people getting so sick of living down there that they all move up to Northern Ontario.

Senator Mahovlich: Things are getting worse on Highway 401.

You also mentioned incentives. You are right. I spent a lot of time with the U.S. Congress and the senators. Congressmen from Alabama or Georgia gave incentives to large motor corporations and they have taken a lot of business down there. Their air conditioning has to go full blast in the summer time because it is very hot. Their energy consumption is very high, whereas it is a little cooler up here. I do not know how to compare the energy factor, but I am sure it would be similar to what it is because of their heat.

You talk about agriculture, Mr. Guillemette. That interests me because my mother always had a garden up in Northern Ontario. It was as good as the garden we had in Toronto. She grew potatoes, horseradish and everything. It did very well in a short period.

It would interest me to know how corn does up here.

Mr. Guillemette: We are not necessarily a corn-growing area. Corn belongs to the group of plants called C-4s, which require some warm nights. Our nights are cool here. That is the main difference.

In 1968, when we used to drive through the New Liskeard area, we would not see any corn or soybeans growing. However, in the last five years, corn and soybeans have been growing in the New Liskeard area, not only because of global warming but also because of plant breeding. Scientists have developed cultivars or varieties that will ripen earlier and that can withstand a bit more frost. Now, when you drive through New Liskeard, you will see a couple of thousand acres of sweet corn or cattle corn and some soybeans.

It does not grow up here yet because we are still another 200 miles from New Liskeard.

Senator Mahovlich: The nights are too cool.

Mr. Guillemette: The nights are cool up here, but you can grow other things.

Senator Mahovlich: It is interesting that because of ethanol, our vegetables will increase in value.

Mr. Guillemette: Yes. I can see that, because we have some good black soil in the Bradford Marsh and we have a lot of it in this area. These lands could be converted to vegetable production for a good part of Ontario. We could be exporting vegetables from this area if we put our hearts to it.

Senator Mahovlich: The Europeans are fairly good farmers. What should the government be doing for immigration, to give some kind of incentive? People come over here and they head right for the cities where their families are. The cities are accumulating more and more population. I can understand that. The newcomers get support from their families and they need that support with the language problems and so on.

What can the government do to encourage European farmers to come over here?

Mr. Guillemette: One way would be to offer opportunities to visit farms in Northern Ontario, to bring immigrants up here once in a while and show them what can be grown here. Another way would be to offer incentives to make it easy to buy farm property and, if need be, even to obtain some Crown land. Crown land is not easy to get a hold of and many farmers would like to get more property to have a large acreage. Some assistance could be made available for that. Private land is often difficult to get because it is in the hands of people in the South who do not farm this area. They just hold on to the property waiting for the land values to go up. There needs to be a mechanism to make those properties available to our immigrants.

Senator Callbeck: I have a question on education. I see you have two colleges and a university. Your list of issues or challenges includes a lack of skilled trades and professional workers. Does the Northern College of Applied Arts and Technology have courses for plumbing, electricity, carpentry and so on?

Mr. Guillemette: There are many courses but unfortunately they are not necessarily trade-oriented. Many of these smaller colleges are not trade-oriented at the moment, although some are.

It is hard to get understandings with large industries to work with these colleges in the trades, especially in this area. There are not that many opportunities.

We do have many graduates, but they do not stay here. They find employment somewhere else. Even though they do graduate from our local college, there are no opportunities for them up here so they end up working down south.

Senator Peterson: What would be the average farm size in this area?

Mr. Guillemette: I would venture to say that the ones that are viable, that are working, are about 500 acres to 600 acres at the moment. There are many other small farm operations. We have more part-time farmers than we have full- time farmers.

Senator Segal: You talked about the evaporation of the system of agricultural representatives, which was a very valuable system for a host of reasons, both federally and provincially. I notice that the Province of Manitoba did away with agricultural representatives as did other jurisdictions, but they have appointed a detailed and broad level of regional officers in very small centres. Typically there will be an agronomist, a social worker, and somebody with specific chemical and soil skills. It is a one-stop shopping place for the local farmer, and because they are in smaller centres, they are closer to local reality than are the regional centres. Is there anything like that in the Kapuskasing region? Would it be helpful if there were?

Mr. Guillemette: We have a similar situation in Northeastern Ontario. We used to have agricultural representatives a long time ago. We used to have one in Hearst, one in Cochrane, one in Kapuskasing. Then it came down to Kapuskasing, Matheson, New Liskeard. Now there is one in New Liskeard and the head office is in Verner, which is not close to us.

If we want to have a farm visit from an agricultural representative, it is four hours from here. He makes schedules. He may come up twice a year in this area because he cannot cover the whole area. If we want to see specialists, they are in the Verner area, which is even further.

The Chairman: This morning I was having a cup of coffee at the Comfort Inn at breakfast and I ran into a young fellow who is working in the forestry industry here.

As you know, in Western Canada, in British Columbia and now coming into Alberta, we are fighting a severe battle against the pine beetle. This has been particularly devastating in parts of British Columbia. This young man had been in the forestry industry there and came here because he wanted to remain in the forestry industry.

Has there been much migration of industry workers from other parts of Canada into this area because the industry in other areas has been shut down, even knowing that, as you and others have indicated, that there are difficult times in the forestry industry here for other reasons?

Ms. Bordeleau: No, I have not heard anything to that effect. I would be very surprised if people working in the forest industry came here looking for work. Even our own citizens who have been laid off in the forest industry because of all the ripple effects cannot get jobs. I would be greatly surprised if one of our forest companies hired someone from out of town, unless that person had specific skills that were being sought. That I could see, but I have not heard anything to that effect.

The Chairman: That person was glad to be here.

Ms. Bordeleau and Mr. Guillemette, thank you both very much for taking the time to be here today. We appreciate your testimony.

Colleagues, for our third panel we are pleased to have with us Louise Thomson, a nurse and placement coordinator with the Sensenbrenner Hospital in Kapuskasing; and Mona Comeau, who is with the Jeanne Sauvé Family Services.

Louise Thomson, Placement Coordinator, Sensenbrenner Hospital: Before I start, I want to say I am glad that someone is visiting us in our smaller communities. Being from rural Ontario, sometimes we feel that we are compared to the urban parts of the province. When government plans and government services are tailored, they are often tailored to a big population.

I will tell you a bit about my background. I have a degree in nursing and I have been in nursing for 30 years. The love of my life was public health. I was a public health nurse for 18 years. I did a lot of home visiting and actually looked at healthy living and prevention programs. Then I moved on to become a home care nurse. I did more taking care of the disease in the home and trying to get people back to prevention. Then I moved back into the hospital setting. In between, I did some teaching with the registered practical nurses and the nursing programs. Now I am the discharge planning coordinator at the hospital.

From what I have seen in the last 30 years, we have always been a patient advocate and I will say a client advocate. Depending on the time of the year or the time of the decade you are talking about, the terminology changes.

I have seen the access to health care services being uniform, but the ones who have been suffering the most or who are wanting to access but maybe not accessing health care services are the working poor. When I say the working poor, I am not dismissing the other groups. I am looking at the ones who are working full-time for minimum wage with no benefits. Even though all in Ontario are covered under OHIP, we seem to have people who shy away from accessing the health care services.

During the last five years that I have been the coordinator, we have seen the beginning of videoconferencing to access health services specialists. That has been tremendous. We hope that the federal government will keep funding that program for the rural communities. It has lessened the amount of time that people have to be on the road to travel to their specialists. We may not have a large population, but we have large distances that they have to travel, and sometimes in bad weather. The closest regional hospital, Timmins District Hospital, is two hours away from Kapuskasing. We do have access to most of our specialists. Because we are in the Local Health Integrated Network 13, LHIN 13, we usually access the specialists in Sudbury, North Bay or Sault Ste. Marie. If they are unable to service us, then they will suggest the specialists in Ottawa, Toronto and Thunder Bay as well.

We see the population health demographics reports on a regular basis from the health units, and we usually try to plan our programs accordingly even though we are in a hospital.

The hospital has more of disease approach, but we are trying to change the culture. We have to do a lot of health prevention and people have to be responsible for their own health and not depend on everyone else's being there to do it. Usually, we all need support.

We know from the population demographics and the population health reports that Northern Ontario has a population of First Nations, a francophone population and then the anglophone population. We know from the statistics that we have a higher rate of smoking, a higher rate of drinking, a higher rate of addiction and mental illness.

Do we have the services? Yes, but we may not have staff who are able to provide service no matter who the population is. Perhaps the reason is that when services are evaluated and funded, they are evaluated on a full-time equivalent to the population. We probably lose out on that part. Our population catchment area here may be 14,000 people, which would be evaluated as one full-time equivalent, but we might be getting a 0.5 equivalent or one full-time equivalent, but that person has to be responsible for more than one thing.

The beauty of this is that when you work in a smaller community, you are a jack-of-all-trades — maybe master of none — and you have to know everything about everything that is going on in your community. It is an asset, but it can be a downfall for the population that we service.

In my latest position in discharge planning at the hospital, I am seeing the people who have no drug plans. We try to access the Ontario Trillium Foundation. If the clients are on disability pensions, we access the Ontario Disability Support Program or we look into the CPP disability pension, or Workplace Safety and Insurance Board — all these wonderful programs that are out there — but some people are still falling through the cracks. Doctors are making a big effort, using samples or looking at the Form 8 for medication that will be funded, but then a certain percentage will have to be paid. We are finding that patients are opting not to take their medication because they cannot afford it. Even the dispensing fee is not affordable for them.

The working poor are out there working two or three jobs. If they have two or three jobs, they are not looking after themselves and they certainly cannot be looking as best they could after their family.

In the hospital, we try to liaise with the community care access centre services in the community, such as the Red Cross. Of course, Red Cross services have a maximum of 15 hours a week that they can care for people at home. If we are expecting family members to care for people at home and manage three jobs, the number of hours is deficient. For example, an elderly parent might be left alone at home for 20 hours the children are working.

In terms of rural poverty, I have found that the working poor are the main group that seems to be missing out. They are not going out to get information, and when you give them information, at times it is just overwhelming for them.

I hope I am on the right track and that this is what you are looking for today.

Mona Comeau, Services Manager, Jeanne Sauvé Family Services: I too want to extend my congratulations for having travelled to our part of our country. When I have the opportunity to go to Toronto, I find that people there consider Sudbury as being the northern area. We are often forgotten here.

I work for Jeanne Sauvé Family Services, currently as a supervisor. I have been there for 32 years. I started as a front line worker and have held numerous supervisory roles at the agency. We are an amalgamated agency; therefore we have various services under one roof, including child welfare, child protection and assessing whether or not children are at risk if they are left in their homes. We also respond to referrals that are done at our agencies, and we investigate those matters. As well, we have the mental health services for children.

Child protection goes up to 16 years of age, unless a child is in care, in which case that child can remain in our care as a ward until the age of 18 years. From age 18 to 21, youth can remain on extended care maintenance. We can assist them with their education and provide them with emotional support.

If I could make only one comment, it would be that we often have children who will pursue college or university beyond the age of 18. There are not many in our district, but we do have some. Once they turn 21 years old, we have to terminate assisting them financially. Obviously, some of those children may not be able to continue with their education and they also lose the contact they have with us, unless they were able to establish a really good rapport and bond with a specific worker. Coming from the North, we see that much more than in the bigger centres.

The children's mental health services are provided until the age of 18. At the age of 18, if they are still in our caseload, we need to refer them to Kapuskasing counselling services.

We also have the Integrated Services for Northern Children program which works out of our office. For the early years, we have the Brighter Futures Program, for which we have a specific building separate from our main office. We have Camp Cadanac, which runs throughout the year, but we use it mainly in the summer for children who are in care. We also open it up to the community. We try to support financially through donations and our agencies families who are in need and are at risk but who do not have the means to send their children there.

We have youth justice programs. We have the non-residential attendance centres. We have youth sexual offender treatment programs as well as youth restorative justice through that program. We have a children's residential program called Pavillon Jeanne Sauvé. We provide services for children who have major emotional and behavioural difficulties. This program is open to Timmins and the Kirkland area as well. We do accept referrals from those areas.

We cover a big district. We service from Calstock, which is a reserve on your side of Hearst, up to Cochrane. The main office is in Kapuskasing and we have sub-offices in Cochrane, Smooth Rock Falls and Hearst and we have access to an office in Calstock. We also service another native band out of the Cochrane office.

Ms. Thomson raised some things that I had to forgotten in the notes I made for myself. I sought feedback from my colleagues because we are all responsible for different programs within our agency.

[Translation]

We see that rural communities have suffered even more over the past five years. There are numerous job losses due to the closure of plants. This has had a considerable impact on our communities.

We provide services to areas such as Smooth Rock Falls, and there is an increased demand. Job loss has an impact on family quality of life. We are asked to investigate or provide services to these people. We see systemic poverty, the scope and extent of which are greater and clearly more alarming in our communities.

We need only look around; there are many abandoned houses; there has been a drop in local pride. Our roads are in bad shape, because our population drops from one year to the next. There are no funds with which to maintain services and the quality of roads in our regions.

There are few jobs in the region. Often, one spouse must leave the town to find a job. This creates to single-parent families. I can also speak from personal experience; half of the people on my team have a spouse who does not have a full-time job and who has to work outside the town. These mothers must manage their household, children and work, because they are single parents during the week. Each year I am shocked by the growing number of families who have to leave the region to find employment or who have to separate during the week so someone can work outside the region.

Young people going to school outside the region do not return to their communities because of the lack of jobs. Those who do come back experience great instability, because, often, they find contract jobs. Once again, I am speaking from personal experience. I have a son who is a teacher and who lives in Moonbeam. He has to go to Smooth Rock Falls and his wife must travel to Cochrane every day. My son has been teaching for at least five years, and he never knows, from one year to the next, whether he will have a job next year despite his seniority. They are expecting a baby this winter. So, what does this mean for his wife who has to travel to Cochrane?

There are many such cases in our community. Young people want to come back; they love the north with good reason, but, nevertheless, experience major insecurity living here.

Women are also hard hit by the extent of this renewed poverty. If they leave their spouse, the only jobs available are often salaried ones with poor working conditions. Often, they have no benefits. Government financial support programs are not geared to them. They often work for minimum wage. The new benefits and new regulations for the Ontario Works program have had a major impact on them and their expectations are extremely high. Women need to find work, but it is often extremely difficult because there are no jobs. They have to take minimum-wage jobs and the cycle continues for these women.

Many families can no longer pay for extracurricular activities. We have to access community services and, sometimes, we will pay so that these young people can take part in extracurricular activities. We know that it is good for their social development, but also it gives the family some respite. Often, they need services to help them access financial assistance.

Every year, our population declines. Many schools in our region are closing, as well as businesses. Every day, someone goes out of business. We try to buy locally, but it is difficult because businesses do not always have what we need. This is a major problem.

There are many layoffs. There is a lack of professional services. There are not enough doctors in the region. There are waiting lists for some services. There is a lack of funding and resources. In our office, there is a waiting list for mental health services and demand is high. We have a budget and we have to manage on that budget.

There is a great deal of insecurity at the Tembec plant because they are always threatening to lay people off. I am convinced that these people are not investing in the community because every day they face the possibility of losing their jobs.

We in the north often feel that government funds are being funnelled elsewhere. The money goes to the major centres. As I mentioned, Sudbury and North Bay are seen as northern Ontario. Often, we are forgotten in the process. We believe that we have been forgotten.

Small businesses find it difficult to start up because of the economic uncertainty and investment-related risks. No one knows if they will be able to really get their project off the ground and be able to keep it going. There is no guarantee of survival.

We need to create stable and profitable jobs. We need to provide adequate professional, educational and financial support to businesses. We need to be able to provide more accessible post-secondary education programs that are realistic. We are nevertheless lucky here because we have a university. I was extremely lucky. Three of my four children studied at Hearst University and they were able to stay here during their first three years, but then they had to continue their education elsewhere. However, there is a limited selection in programs and courses, both at the university and college level. If you want to become a teacher or a social worker, then no problem; the courses are offered here. Medicine and science courses are not taught here.

We need to look at potential new and diversified companies for northern Ontario, because we have only one plant here and this is the sole source of employment for many families in our region. When there are layoffs, there is a domino effect; everyone is affected. This also means that budgets in other areas will be cut, as well as in the retail sector.

We need to invest in northern Ontario so that our young people come back here because many would. They want to benefit from their family support network. Currently, they have to make sacrifices because they have to travel.

Something that has been extremely positive for us is that we now have access to video conferencing equipment for psychiatry services, for children who need to be assessed for mental health problems. We have the resources at the office. They provide us with the TVs and necessary equipment. This is a very effective program offered through Sick Kids in Toronto. We use it regularly. We have a psychiatrist who travels from London. This gentleman is over 70 years of age and he continues to come because he knows that his services are needed. However, he cannot come every month. When we are able to use his services, we do so; otherwise we use tele-psychiatry.

Fortunately, there is a francophone at the Sick Kids Hospital who can provide services to us. This is a plus for us too because there are many francophones in Hearst. The francophone population in Kapuskasing is about 67 per cent; Cochrane is somewhat more anglophone; it is 50 per cent in Smooth Rock Falls. So, francophones in this region are in need.

The food bank is extremely popular. Unfortunately, we can only access this service once a month now. Every two weeks it is for families and every other two weeks it is for singles. So this is another major problem.

Sometimes, we have to give people money or a coupon so they can purchase food or things they need, particularly for children; they prefer to leave the children in their homes and provide them with the support and assistance they need.

We have had on occasion to fill out forms requesting funds to pay for high medical costs, for example. There is also the problem of people who do not have any medical insurance or even a medical card.

It is important to point out that the clients we serve often suffer from drug or alcohol addictions. Sometimes we need to administer drug screening tests. Here in Kapuskasing, we are rather lucky because at one point, we were told that we would have to cover costs for uninsured clients or those sent to the emergency room. Not everyone has a family doctor, nor is it possible to wait for medical care in a regional clinic because decisions must be taken to ensure the well- being of these children. We have already been forced to pay for some costs. When the tests come out positive, or if we think people try to cheat, we resort to what is called a ``hair follicle test'' which is very expensive. Usually, the agency is responsible for the costs, and once again the children's safety. There is no money set aside for these individuals. This becomes a problem when we work with an increasing number of families who have serious drug problems.

The last point I would like to raise is the difficulty in recruiting qualified staff. People do not come to our communities. People do not want to settle here because their spouse may not be able to find work, et cetera. We try to recruit mental health workers locally; we have travelled to Timmins, Sudbury, North Bay; we have placed ads on our website, at the Ontario Association of Children's Aid Societies, at employment centres, et cetera. We have received applications. It has become increasingly difficult to find qualified people. I do not know if you have this problem, Louise, but for us, recruitment is becoming increasingly difficult.

[English]

The Chairman: We are eager to ask questions. You both made troubling and moving presentations and they need to be understood and known well beyond these borders.

Senator Segal: Before I ask a question, I want to say thank you for what you are doing. We do not say thank you enough. We take the services, the work, the devotion, the engagement and the personal sacrifices of people like you too much for granted. We should not.

I married a nurse 31 years ago. I know that nurses tell the truth. They see things that others do not see and they are pretty frank about them. I just want to say thank you for the work that you are both doing on behalf of this community and the things we all care about.

Neither of you mentioned suicide directly. We have found in other rural communities across the country two issues, family abuse — violence often, though not always, caused by substance abuse — and suicide. It is a cycle: insufficient financial resources, insufficient employment, insufficient opportunities, violence, abuse and, at some level, suicide. Could I ask you to comment on that, if you are comfortable? If you have statistics, that would be helpful, but what are you seeing yourselves? How much of an issue is it in this community?

Ms. Comeau: I will start. I was jotting down notes of things that popped up just before you started speaking.

We have kids and families coming to our attention with more complex needs than in the past. We are dealing with a lot of high-risk families. There has been an increase in domestic violence. An unbelievable number of referrals are made at our agency and there has been an increase over the last several years, more so with regard to domestic violence and substance abuse, which I referred to a while back. Of course, as you mentioned, that has an impact on children as well. It has an impact on the resources and the services that we need to put in place.

Many years ago, Moosonee was affiliated with our agency, and then we used to have about 200 children in care. That is when I first started in 1975 going into the 1980s. Now, Moosonee has its own agency, Payukotayno. Our agency gets about 40 or 45 children in care per year on average. We are now up to 60 children in care and for us, that is a significant increase. Generally speaking, our numbers are around 35.

We try to implement services. We all know that once they reach 16 years of age, these children all want to go back to their home environment, regardless of whether they were abused and were victims within their own family unit and regardless of whether there were other domestic, drug or alcohol problems. Generally speaking, these children return home. It is hard to motivate them and to keep them in care. Perhaps you are aware of the child welfare reform changes where we are changing the culture and our approach with families. We are looking at strength-based approaches, tackling the strengths and working on retaining those children within their family unit and providing the services and support that they need. Therefore we need those services and supports in our area in order to be able to do an effective job. Unfortunately, there will be children who will continue coming into our care, but that is beyond our control.

I also found that among the children, especially teenagers, that we service, a high number have a drug or alcohol problem. There are some who are suicidal or who have made suicide attempts. That is more in the cases of teenagers than younger children.

Ms. Thomson: We have seen that those who have a dependency are getting younger. They are trying the different drugs that are on the street. The age of those who attempt suicide is getting younger.

We have to keep the teenagers in the hospital a little bit longer because we cannot find a centre that will accept them so that they can get more treatment than what we can offer locally. Usually, our children are waiting to go to Sudbury if they are looking for intense treatment. They might be staying here waiting for a good two or three weeks.

Our older population, beyond the teenage years, will wait to go to Montfort for treatment because of our high francophone population. Whatever centre is able to accept them, that is what they are waiting for.

Suicide goes in waves, definitely. They are younger and more of them are trying it.

Ms. Comeau: To add to that, the children who need to be transferred to Sudbury are the ones who are considered high risk. We have workers who do the assessments locally and we try to put services in place for those who are at low or moderate risk. At times there is a waiting period for the ones who are sent to Sudbury. It is based on priority of needs. Often, the children are sent there for about three days. We have to go back and pick them up. It is rare that they are sent there for longer periods than that.

It has happened, but there is no guarantee that the children will be sent to Sudbury for treatment. It is mainly for us to receive some recommendations and to implement a treatment plan here once they come back to our area.

Another thing we find is that these children often have a pact among them. When you get involved with someone who may be suicidal, you eventually find out that there is more than one in the peer group. They have discussed it and have put something in place to take their lives away.

[Translation]

Senator Segal: You talked about the new LHIN. The principle of the LHINs, if I understand correctly, is having hospitals and community health centres working together and jointly benefiting from a global regional budget that is provided by the province. Everybody collaborates and tries to allocate funds as efficiently as possible.

[English]

It is a new idea; it is not fully off the ground yet so there are difficulties. However, I would be interested in your perspective on how the agencies here, including your agency, the organizations you have been associated with, and the agencies devoted to our Aboriginal colleagues, are cooperating together. Is there a sharing of information and a sharing of resources or are you competing for already scarce funds?

Ms. Thomson: Before the local health integration networks came into place, the groups in small communities already had no choice but to work together. Maybe we are not sharing funds, but sharing resources and exchanging information is much easier in a smaller place.

I know Ms. Comeau; I see her on the street. We have to get together. We will discuss a new proposal; there should be money out there, and we should be writing this proposal together. We discuss whether we are looking at independent living or supportive housing for people. We have none. We have hospitals and we have long-term care facilities. There is nothing in-between, which is unfortunate because the community care access centres cannot fill the void.

Of course, before local health integration networks came into place we were already doing this matching and trying to go for funds together. Now that LHINs are in place, I am anxious to see how they will work. I have been doing a lot of reading about LHINs. I know that the money is there, but to answer your question, I think the CEO would be the best person to say how they have been meeting. We have been filling in tons of surveys.

I will see the very first part of the local health integrated network myself next week in Sudbury. They are having an alternate level of care summit for Region 13, just for our group. I imagine I will see people there from the community care access centres and definitely hospital discharge planners. There will be social workers.

I am hoping that the LHIN will make a presentation telling us where they are coming from. The big worry six or seven months ago was that we thought we would have to beg for money, go see the LHIN and plead our story, but I do not believe now that that is how they will work.

I am hoping that they are not planning to regionalize the services and that it will not be more of a hardship for the people who are in the smaller communities having to get services elsewhere. As an example, Kapuskasing has surgery and maternity. We have counselling services in Kapuskasing that help us. In comparison, Smooth Rock Falls does not have an emergency service. They do not deliver babies unless you are on the road and you have to do it. Mothers have to come to Kapuskasing or go to Cochrane or Timmins to deliver their babies.

With the LHINs, I am hoping they are not going to eliminate us and then make us have to go farther to get the services. I do not believe that will happen because we will work hard to fight it.

Ms. Comeau: As I mentioned, there has been a reform of child welfare. The funding is changing as well. A number of years ago when the risk assessment model came into place, the funding was on a quarterly basis and it was based on the number of cases being referred and opened and transferred to ongoing. With the paperwork, the number of complex cases, and a shortage of staff, sometimes we miss out on funding because of not meeting those deadlines. I think the ministry has looked at the whole picture and they have developed a new funding process.

We are fortunate in our area because we are an amalgamated agency. All of the services are under the same roof. Especially with the reform, which you may have heard about in the media, we need to work more closely together. We need to develop services together and so on. When we are under the same roof, it is much easier because we have access to everyone. We have access to all the services. We can meet on case conferences. The money is in one place and it is easier to deal with.

Senator Callbeck: Thank you for coming this morning, and again, thank you for what you do.

Ms. Thomson, you talked about the rural poor shying away from accessing services covered by medicare. Can you explain that?

Ms. Thomson: The rural working poor are trying to make ends meet. They probably do not have time to shop properly for good, nutritious food, and food costs a lot of money.

They probably do not want to come to the doctor's office because that means taking time off work, which they cannot do. They cannot have a scheduled appointment with the doctor. Thank God we do have doctors who work between 9:00 and 5:00. We have a beautiful francophone community health centre that is just starting. I hope it will be the in-between service, because now patients are going to emergency when they do not need to go to emergency. The francophone health centre is starting out running two or three days, and as they build up the staff hopefully that will increase eventually.

However, we are missing services for those who have a job from 6:00 in the morning to noon and then another job that goes until 6:00 at night. Now they congest the emergency room to get some health care, even though probably their case is not an emergency; they are just not feeling well and they do not know why they have not been feeling well. They do not have a family doctor.

Our regional office is open once a month. That is when the locums come. If people cannot see the doctor, where do they go? They go to emergency. If they go to emergency and they need prescriptions, there are limited services, but they will give you what they can.

The ones who are shying away, if they are sick, they will hold on until the doctor comes. As they are holding on, they are probably progressively getting worse. When they start to recover, it takes them longer to heal and to be productive again and to be there for their family.

Senator Callbeck: I have another question I wanted to ask you because you have had a lot of experience in prevention.

The Senate is doing a study on population health. In your experience, what do you think is the best way or ways to get people to take responsibility for their health?

Ms. Thomson: I have seen the health care change. Every ten years, we seem to go a different way. In the past, we used to have classes for people to take together. However, people are shy, and classes do not work for everybody. We need different approaches for different people. When people had the opportunity of taking smoking cessation, for example, in the last 20 years, at first, it was everybody who had to do smoking cessation and do teaching. People were not coming out. Now, we are coming back and saying that we have a variety of tools, including programs that are in classes, or individual counselling and home visiting.

[Translation]

Care is administered individually, and this takes time, and there is probably not enough staff. In order to avoid having to do ``one on one'' work, we hold classes or workshops. People do not come to the workshops because they are shy. I hold workshops in the afternoon or in the evening. At the health bureau, we have tried different measures to approach people. There is no magic formula. It is different for each person, and involves an individual assessment.

They are bombarded by the media. They are bombarded with the message of ``this must be done,'' but when it comes time to get the job done, there is no money, and we cannot spin it out of thin air. People want to be well, eat well, lose weight, but to lose weight, we need food. A pill is not going to help a person lose weight. A person has to feel good about himself in order to effect a change. If one does not feel good about oneself, no change will come about.

[English]

With the population health, we know that. We see it. We have seen it over the years. We have tried different approaches. I do not think we will find the magic formula. We have to we respect that everybody is an individual. There is one thing that will work for someone, but it will not necessarily work for other people.

Ms. Comeau: I know that question was directed to Ms. Thomson, but even in social services we used to do a lot of prevention. Time, resources and money were available to do that within the schools and our communities. However, since the development of the risk assessment models and the emphasis on all these tools, concentrating on the complex needs and so on, there is no more money and there is not enough time in a day to provide the prevention aspect.

[Translation]

It is a deficiency in the social services system, and a setback for the province. There should be financial assistance and resources invested in promoting and prevention. I think this would resolve many of the problems we are talking about.

[English]

Ms. Thomson: Senator Callbeck, something just came to mind as an example. When I first started public health, we used to have a healthy geriatric program. We did home visiting once a month and we went to see a healthy senior. That program was excellent and it cut down on the number of times those seniors had to visit their physician. As well, there was a social aspect to the visit. Again, being in a rural area, family is distant. People move around more. Usually the elderly are left behind because they know everyone in the small community and they do not want to move to a city. They have never lived in a city.

Back then we had fewer staff, but we had that program. Now we have more staff, but we do not have the healthy elderly. We are concentrating on healthy lifestyle. We are concentrating on physical activity, prenatal, not smoking and so on. However, somewhere along the line we have missed something, because I consider our elderly in the rural poor. Maybe they cannot access their doctors or they do not have a doctor anymore. They cannot see the regional doctor because they cannot get there. They do not have public transportation. Who is looking after them? When they come to the hospital, they are already in trouble. We are missing the in-between piece.

Ms. Comeau: I also find that because we have taken away many of the supportive programs, we do not have the in- between care anymore. The same thing applies to the social service area. As an example, we have our early years program, which the government invests in, and it is a valuable program. Yet, we have noticed that often it is the middle-class families who participate.

We were one of the first places in the province with a parent resource centre. At the time it was started, we felt there was a need for programs for unwed mothers and young families. We would provide transportation and resources for them. However, with the years, that has changed. Often there is not enough money in those programs to provide the support that these people need such as transportation or babysitting. There is a daycare component, but depending on the program that you participate in, they may not have the necessary spaces and so on.

The Chairman: We will finish around the table and then we will invite our people here in the room to spend lunch together with us.

Senator Segal: Point of order. What is the rush? Why can we not hear people out and ask questions at some length? Where do we have to run off to that we cannot listen to people?

Could we not delay lunch a bit so that people get to ask enough questions? Will anybody die if we delay lunch?

Jessica Richardson, Clerk of the Committee: We can shorten it. We do have people signed up to speak at the town hall. My concern is that I have to get us back to Ottawa by 5 p.m. because there are members who have to catch a plane in Ottawa at 6 p.m. We can shorten lunch.

Senator Segal: Let me make the suggestion. I would rather have a short lunch because we have come here to listen to people.

The Chairman: I agree.

Senator Peterson: Ms. Comeau, is there any capacity here to deal with fetal alcohol syndrome?

Ms. Comeau: That is another big issue. I know that a lot of prevention is done in the early years program. There are a couple of cities that come out, but in terms of having a diagnosis for these children, that is lacking.

Ms. Thomson: With fetal alcohol syndrome, we are able to access the genetic program through the health unit in Timmins. The Kapuskasing Indian Friendship Centre has programs for children and the families of children with fetal alcohol syndrome. The numbers are there. The health unit will put out information. In the last six years we have had two education sessions on how to recognize fetal alcohol syndrome, an the teachers have a bit of information through their own education board. For diagnosis, we have to access resources outside of Kapuskasing. We do not have the resources here.

Senator Peterson: Are there any group homes to help those children and their families?

Ms. Thomson: Not here, no.

Ms. Comeau: If children present other complex needs, medical needs, they can be referred to the Integrated Services for Northern Children program. They could get some assessments or recommendations there or have programs put in place for that specific child and maybe there would be assistance for the schools in dealing with those cases. However, the children have to be determined as having many needs for them to be serviced.

Ms. Thomson: Timmins actually has a couple of workers here from the Children's Treatment Centre. There is one on site, but they are probably not able to give the service as often as you would get it if you lived in Timmins itself.

We do not have big numbers, but we still have the numbers.

Ms. Comeau: The person who works out of our office is there mainly to coordinate the services, to set up the appointments for the child to be assessed or the family or child to be met, and to facilitate the sharing of reports. The direct work is very limited.

Ms. Thomson: The wait time for assessments can be from six to nine months because of the waiting list.

Ms. Comeau: There are long waiting lists with the integrated services, not just for fetal alcohol syndrome but for any type of psychological assessments or other assessments that are required.

Senator Peterson: Ms. Thomson, are there any palliative care facilities in this area?

Ms. Thomson: No, there are none, but we do palliative care at the hospital. We have an excellent community committee that we put together in the last six years, called Kapuskasing Community Palliative Care. The committee comprises all the organizations that give client services in the community. We discuss how to make the transition from home to hospital and from hospital to home as easy as possible. We try to use the same charting and so forth. We do not have a hospice of any kind. The hospitals are not funded per se for palliative care. Even though you apply for palliative care beds, we do not have palliative care beds, but we do palliative care with no money.

Ms. Comeau: I want to add another piece. I mentioned Pavillon, a residential treatment facility. That is for francophones only. Any child who is anglophone is sent away from his community. The closest place would be Timmins, but there is a waiting list there as well. It also depends on needs.

We do not send many children away, but we have some right now in Sudbury and in Sault Ste. Marie. I have used Ottawa before. We have some placements down in the Toronto area especially for some of our Aboriginal children or anglophone children.

We have limited resources up here for these children. These are children who would not ordinarily function in a foster home. They may have been in foster care before, but they may need more specialized care or they do not function in that type of setting, so we need to send them away.

Another major problem with outside placements is a lack of foster care for our francophone and our anglophone families, but also for our Aboriginal families. We have to place Aboriginal children in white people's homes because we do not always have the resources. We are a bit more fortunate in the Hearst area because there are a few foster homes on the reserve there, but in our area here, it is very limited. We have tried all kinds of strategies to recruit foster families, but it is very difficult to recruit and to retain them.

Ms. Thomson: Regarding palliative care, we have a group of 30 volunteers who have been trained to assist us with palliative care. If the person needing palliative care has no family, we will call a palliative care member who will come in and sit with the person because we do not like to let anybody die alone. If there is no family, we will call on those volunteers.

Senator Mahovlich: I have a friend who was a dentist and he retired in Bracebridge. He signed up with the Red Cross and he drives people to Toronto when they need to go there. He drives people, takes them out, spends time with them.

Is the Red Cross active up here in that way to help you?

Ms. Thomson: Yes, they are very active. They had one driver and they just lost him. They are constantly recruiting drivers who will want to drive from Kapuskasing to Timmins. The big thing is usually to get people to Timmins and then from Timmins, it is another driver who will drive them to Sudbury.

We do have those programs, but it depends a lot on who we can access. We are recruiting. I say ``we,'' but usually people call me and ask if I know anybody in the community who might want to do something. Or people will call and say, ``Where can I give my name to do this type of volunteering?''

We have an Alzheimer's program through the Red Cross. We have the visiting program. We also have Meals on Wheels. When I first started 20 years ago, we were delivering meals three days a week and now we are able to do it five days a week. Again, though, we rely a lot on the volunteers.

We have seen through the years the different volunteering groups. We are getting more and more requests from people who are hungry and people who need clothing by the end of the month. Many organizations are shrinking because we are losing our population of volunteers, who may range in age from 65 to 85 years. Younger volunteers are not signing up as quickly because they are busy driving their children to different activities.

Senator Mahovlich: You have a difficulty with jobs in the area. Does the community have a problem with children being active in sports? When I grew up in Timmins we were very active. Our parents made sure that we were busy, taking music lessons, playing sports, being active. That kept us out of trouble. I truly believe that they kept us busy on purpose to keep us out of trouble.

Are you losing that?

Ms. Thomson: We are not losing it exactly. We are a hockey town, definitely. We are big on hockey.

Senator Mahovlich: I know that; I have been up here.

Ms. Thomson: However, we are seeing fewer children in hockey because it is so expensive, on top of the costs of maintaining the arenas and so on.

It would be nice to see the children who are in foster homes be able to access that if they wanted to play. I know it can be done, but it is not a big percentage. What are the families opting to do or not do? They are definitely not playing hockey. We have beautiful squash courts here that could be accessed and they are not being used.

Coming back to population health, our kids are out there playing on the Internet, playing with their little iPods and so on. We are making it so easy for them to access other people without having to move from a chair. We have to work on the parents also to get out there. It is expensive to play hockey. It is not expensive to swim, not as expensive to do curling, but the key is to get them interested.

The kids do intramural sports at school, but it seems to me that we need to do more. We are overweight in Northern Ontario along with everything else.

The town's recreation director tries very hard to develop programs for the children that cost no money, that are accessible. For the last five years during the March break there has been free skating and free swimming, so you can go out and enjoy doing those types of exercises and hopefully you will be interested enough to do it on a regular basis.

Ms. Comeau: Again, though, the problem is lack of funding for many families. They do not have the financial resources nor the transportation sometimes to take them to these activities. In Kapuskasing, many families live in concessions in the rural areas within our own communities, so having access to those activities is difficult.

Senator Mahovlich: Do you have a Lions Club?

Ms. Thomson: Yes, we do have one.

Ms. Comeau: We access money from the Lions Club, the Rotary Club, the Daughters of Isabella and les Chevaliers de Colomb, but there is only so much they can help with.

As I mentioned, we have a camp that runs throughout the summer. We are very fortunate because we get significant donations to be able to send some kids to camp. We try especially to encourage families with low incomes and we try to find some funding to send them anyway.

Ms. Thomson: We have playgrounds as well.

Senator Callbeck: Ms. Comeau, you have been in family services for 32 years. No doubt you have seen tremendous changes since the early years.

Ms. Comeau: Many changes, yes.

Senator Callbeck: You talked about all the services you provide, including child protection, mental health and the integrated services, and you talked about the lack of resources. If you were given more money, what would your top three priorities be?

Ms. Comeau: First of all, I would concentrate on prevention because I have seen the benefits of that.

We have families that we provide parenting skills to. We go to the home. We provide one-on-one attention to those families. Again, we have only so many staff who do that, so we have some people on our waiting list for that.

I would probably hire more mental health workers because we do have a waiting list for our mental health clientele.

We have changed our direction at our agency, but our goal is eventually to not have any waiting lists at all. That is where I would try to invest a lot of the money to provide support to families.

Ms. Thomson: For me, as the discharge planner, I have my top three. I have worked on three proposals for which I have not seen anything yet. One would be supportive housing. I see many people with multiple sclerosis or ALS — Lou Gehrig's disease. We have to put them in long-term care homes, but they could function very well in supportive housing having someone there maybe to get them out of bed, and they could be productive.

Supportive housing is a big issue that we are working on with the Independent Living program, which is an excellent program. If a person with MS wants to manage their own health care and the home care workers that come, that exists, but we do not have the facilities to house them. When we were first evaluated 11 years ago, when we first made the proposal, they mentioned that we would probably do very well with a six-unit apartment for supportive housing to look after the people who are out there.

I would echo what Ms. Comeau said about mental health care workers and prevention. I think often we want to react more than prevent. When there is a problem, we are reacting to it, but we are not trying to plan for what will happen in the future. As Senator Callbeck said, different strategies work for different people, so we need to concentrate on the prevention side.

For example, we are down to almost nobody smoking but young people. Why are they smoking? We have to keep in mind that it is not because there is not enough prevention out there. We have to keep doing it. Kids are kids, they are going to try it. It does not matter that they know the dangers; they will try it. As long as we remember that we want to keep teaching and keep doing the prevention, that is where the big bucks should go, too.

Also, we need to have front line workers to do the prevention. Let us not treat with a band-aid solution. Let us do strategic planning, which I think we are doing as governments, but we have to keep doing that.

Ms. Comeau: We are in an era where we do a lot of band-aid work and where we react rather than put things in place to prevent some of these issues and problems.

The Chairman: Everything you have said has touched a cord in each of us. One issue has not been raised and I would like to ask a quick question and get a quick answer.

Is literacy a difficulty in your area? It is something that I have been working at all of my senatorial life. Literacy is an issue all across the country and I would assume it is a difficult issue here as well.

Ms. Thomson: It is a difficult issue, and you have raised a good point. It did not cross my mind when I was talking about drug dependence. It is amazing how many 50-year olds are not able to read to sign consent forms and so on.

We used to have a centre for literacy, Alpha, that was managed by volunteers. It is no longer funded and we do not have it anymore. Now we have L'École alternative which is beautiful. If anybody wants to upgrade, they can do so.

As for the Ontario Works Program, when I was teaching nursing, out of a class of 25 local people, eight were being paid to come to school through an Employment Insurance program. Those are good programs. The thing is to make sure that you are getting the right people in the right program.

When we are devising our pamphlets, we are told to use Grade 8 level French, but I think they should be looking at a Grade 6 level. Francophones living up here in Kapuskasing or even in Timmins speak a lot of slang. If you are using Grade 8 or Grade 10 language, people do not understand what the words mean. Stop using the big words, use laymen's terms and people will understand a lot more.

The Chairman: Alpha is no longer with us?

Ms. Thomson: No.

The Chairman: Thank you very much. This has been a tremendous discussion today. It is probably the most in- depth one we have had of this nature.

Ms. Comeau: I hope this is what you were looking for.

The Chairman: Absolutely. The whole day has been a tremendous learning force for us. It is not what we wanted to hear, but we know that we are here to find out what is most important in this area and how difficult it is. Also, we want to know the places where you are doing well. We are very grateful to all of you who came here today for having been as open as you have. Thank you very much and we wish you the very best of luck.

Ms. Comeau: One last little plug, if I may. Through the Brighter Futures Program, we used to have the Community Gardens Program in our community that people with low revenue could access, but we no longer have it. That was a good program. We could grow some food.

The Chairman: We will have to get into that and let people know this is a place where food should be grown.

The committee adjourned.