Ep 31: The Office of the Assembly Turns 50


Thursday, May 9, 2024

15 minutes (audio)



Erin: Welcome to the ON Parliament Podcast, where we help spread the word on Parliament.



David: You know Erin, I didn’t realize how many important anniversaries there are this year! 



Erin: It’s true David. I know last month we talked about the building turning 131 years old, but this month we have another important milestone to celebrate. The Office of the Assembly is celebrating 50 years. 



David: Let me guess – you have another perfectly themed game this time too?



Erin: You know it David! I always have a new game up my sleeve. The temptation to try to stump you is just too great! 



David: One of these days maybe I’ll have to turn the tables on you and stump you at your own game!



Erin: Ooh I do love a good challenge, David. Bring it on!



David: I’ll have to think of something extra devious for next time. But what have you got in store for me today Erin?



Erin: Well, since we are celebrating a golden anniversary this episode, I thought it would be fun to have you guess other inventions also celebrating 50 years in 2024 – using some multiple-choice options of course.



David: Hmm that does sound like it could be intriguing. Let’s hear the first one. 



Erin: Alright here we go. What common office supply was created in 1974? Was it Scotch tape, the paper clip, or the Post-it note?



David: Wow. One of those things is turning 50 years old this year?



Erin: It sure is. But the question is which one?



David: You know, I’m pretty sure that tape and the paper clip were invented pretty early on so I’ll go with the Post-it Note.



Erin: You never cease to amaze me with your knowledge of interesting facts David. Of course, you’re correct, it is indeed the Post-it Note turning 50 years old this year.



David: Good for them! Where would we be without sticky notes at work these days?



Erin: Good point. Next, I was hoping you could tell me what world-renowned toy is also about to celebrate its 50th anniversary this year? Is it the Rubik’s Cube, the slinky, or Cabbage Patch Kids dolls?



David: Wow. Another tough one. I think Cabbage Patch dolls are too new and the slinky is quite an old invention I believe, so I’m going to go with the Rubik’s Cube. Final answer.



Erin: Correct again! You know, I don’t think I’ve ever successfully solved a Rubik’s Cube David. I know there are videos that show you how to do it, but I never had the patience to get to the end and solve it.



David: I’m in the same boat, Erin! I recently attended a gathering where a 5-year-old solved one in about 10 minutes…unfortunately I’ve never been able to figure it out! 



Erin: Wow! That’s impressive! But I have one last one for you. Which of these everyday items turns 50 this year: the Volkswagen Golf, as-in the car, the UPC Barcode, or Kinder Surprise chocolate eggs?



David: Wow. That is quite a diverse list!



Erin: I had to make the last one a little hard. 



David: Oh you managed to make it difficult alright! This really is a tricky one. But I think I’m going to have to take a wild guess and say the UPC Barcode.



Erin: Ha! It was a trick question! 



David: Of course it was… What’s the answer then?



Erin: Actually, all three of them, the Volkswagen Golf, the UPC Barcode, and the Kinder Surprise are all celebrating 50 years in 2024!



David: You tricked me! But see what I mean? This year is a momentous anniversary for lots of folks, including us here at the Office of the Assembly.



Erin: Precisely David. 



David: But what exactly is the Office of the Assembly?



Erin: In previous episodes, we’ve spent a lot of time discussing the difference between Government and Parliament so how does the Office of the Assembly fit into all of that? Is it just another synonym for one of those terms or is it something different?



David: As a refresher, when we talk about the Government, we are only talking about the Executive Council or Cabinet Ministers and their support network of staff, often referred to as the Ontario Public Service.



Erin: Contrast that to the term Parliament which refers to all elected Members of Provincial Parliament, regardless of which party they may or may not belong to, as well as the physical forum or space where they meet to discuss issues and pass laws. 



David: So how does the Office of the Assembly fit into all of this? Well, in its simplest definition, the Office of the Assembly is the administrative arm of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario.



Erin: In other words, the Office of the Assembly is separate and distinct from the Government. It can hire its own staff, make its own administrative policies, and control its own budget. 



David: This autonomy allows the staff of the Office of the Assembly to be able to support all Members individually and collectively in their various roles in the House, in committees, and as representatives of their constituents.



Erin: The head of the Office of the Assembly is the Speaker of the House, who is also the chair of the Board of Internal Economy. The Board of Internal Economy is responsible for the financial management of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario and is currently composed of the Speaker, a Minister from the Government, and a Member from the other recognized party in the House.



David: The Secretary of the Board of Internal Economy is the Clerk of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario. They are also the principal officer of the House.



Erin: In other words, they serve as the Chief Administrative Officer of the Assembly. Their role is to make sure that both the Board of Internal Economy and the Speaker have all of the information they need to make decisions. They’re also responsible for providing parliamentary support services to the MPPs. 



David: We know that’s a lot to take in and might seem a little complicated to some folks so let’s take a closer look at some of the Office of the Assembly’s services and responsibilities. 



Erin: Today, the Office is broken down into five different Divisions: Administrative Services, Building Services, Information and Technology Services, Legislative Services, and the Sergeant-at-Arms and Legislative Protective Service Division.



David: First and foremost, the Administrative Services Division provides administrative support to Members and staff in the areas of Financial Services, Human Resources, Business Continuity, and Purchasing & Operations.



Erin: Building Services oversees the Parliamentary Food Services and Precinct Properties Branches.



David: While Information and Technology Services includes Information Services, Technology Services, the Legislative Library, and Legislative Research.



Erin: Next, we have the Legislative Services Division that oversees the Broadcast and Recording Service, House Publications and Language Services, Parliamentary Protocol and Public Relations, and Procedural Services. 



David: And last but not least, the Sergeant-at-Arms and Legislative Protective Service Division is responsible for safety and security of the precinct. 



Erin: Fun fact: up until 2024, there were only four Divisions, but Building Services was added as the needs of the Parliament continue to grow and adapt, even today. 



David: All of these Divisions ensure that our Parliament is able to function well. 



Erin: That’s right David. But only 50 years ago, some of these areas didn’t exist yet or else they might have existed but were part of the Government instead of an independent body like the Office of the Assembly.



David: So, what happened? Why all of a sudden did they decide to create this separate entity, the Office of the Assembly?



Erin: Well, it all started in the 1960s with the election of a new Premier: John Robarts. Fun fact: The University of Toronto’s largest library is named after him and is located just a few minutes’ walk from the Legislature in downtown Toronto.



David: Wait for it Erin, Double fun fact! Robarts didn’t like his Premier’s portrait that was supposed to hang in the Legislative Building, so he requested another one. That first painting is now on display in the foyer of Robarts Library at the University of Toronto.



Erin: Great use of the double fun fact David! 



David: Why thank you. But back to our story. Premier Robarts instituted reforms in many areas including beginning a process of modernization within the Government and Ministry offices. But with these changes, it became clear that there needed to be amendments made within the Parliament as well. 



Erin: In the Government’s Throne Speech of 1972, they declared that a Commission would be created to review the functions and processes of the Legislature, to enhance the role of MPPs within the Chamber, and improve access between Members and their constituents.



David: Shortly after that, the Ontario Commission on the Legislature was established. It was headed by three Commissioners, each representing one of the three recognized parties in the Legislature at the time. 



Erin: The group quickly became known as the Camp Commission, after its chair Dalton Camp. Fun fact: Dalton Camp was a well-known political organizer and journalist who was made an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1994.



David: The Camp Commission tabled five reports that dealt with everything from Members’ compensation to House rules and procedures, the media and physical facilities of the building to the administration of the Legislature and its services.



Erin: It’s thanks to these reports that the Office of the Assembly exists today. 



David: The recommendations put forward by the Commission included creating an independent office for the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly so that staffing and the day-to-day administration of the Legislature might be separate from the Government.



Erin: This was a huge step forward as it allowed the Legislature to take control of its own affairs and strengthened the role of the Speaker to better align with other similar Parliaments like those in Britain and Ottawa.



David: In December 1974, a bill amending the Legislative Assembly Act was introduced and passed that enacted many of the Commission’s recommendations and officially created the Office of the Assembly.



Erin: The bill received royal assent on December 20, 1974. Which makes this year 50 years since the bill passed into law.



David: This first iteration of the Office of the Assembly didn’t look quite like the sophisticated operation that we know today. In its infancy, the Office was made up of the Speaker and Deputy Speaker, the Clerk, and the Sergeant-at-Arms. Fun fact: the Clerk at the time was Roderick Lewis. He succeeded his father in the role. Together, they served as Clerk of the Legislature for a combined total of 60 years. 



Erin: By the late 1970s, the Office had begun to grow with the addition of the Legislative Library, a purchasing department, food and tour services, as well as the first Administrative Services Division being created.



David: Over the next four decades, more services would be added to cover the changing needs of the Parliament but always with the original goal of the Camp Commission in mind: to support the Members and the Legislature as much as possible while providing Ontarians better access to them. 



Erin: One of the bigger moments within the history of the Office of the Assembly wasn’t even the creation of a new Division. It was actually another written document that was signed in 1988: a Memorandum of Understanding. 



David: You’re right Erin. When I first started, talk of the Memorandum was still rampant. Staff who had been with the Office from the very beginning felt that it was a collective achievement that gave the Office credibility – something to be truly proud of and providing everyone with the sense that there was no turning back now. We were moving forward with a truly distinct and new arrangement.



Erin: Why was it so important David?



David: Well Erin, the Memorandum of Understanding was signed between the Ministry of Government Services and the Speaker to transfer control of the Legislative Precinct to the Office of the Assembly. Before that, the Government was responsible for the grounds of the Legislative Building and the adjacent Whitney Block.



Erin: Following the Memorandum, all services within the Legislative Precinct were finally transferred to the Office of the Assembly. 



David: Up until that point, even though the Office of the Assembly existed, many of the services fell under the control of certain Ministries. 



Erin: Following the Memorandum, the Camp Commission’s goal of having a fully separate Office to oversee all of the functions within the Legislature was finally complete. Fun fact: In the 1990s, major restoration work began to the building which was largely proposed in the Camp Commission’s final report. The first phase of the project was even completed in time for the building’s centennial in 1993.



David: Today, the Office of the Assembly has close to 500 employees in all five of its Divisions. 



Erin: The variety of the jobs within the Office has come a long way since 1974. 



David: The part that always gets me Erin, is how diverse the roles at the Office of the Assembly really are.



Erin: What do you mean David?



David: Well, considering we started with only a few employees in more administrative-type roles, it blows me away knowing that today we have services that range from TV broadcasting to Financial Services to our own protective service all under one roof. 



Erin: I see what you mean David. It is pretty incredible when you really think of the scope of the jobs that are accomplished within the Office of the Assembly. 



David: Right Erin. In this case, the Office of the Assembly is almost like its own village. Whose mission is to make sure that the Parliament is open, accessible, and running smoothly at all times for the MPPs and all the people of Ontario. 



Erin: Well said David.



David: Why thank you. I do try to make some good points during our episodes, you know.



Erin: I couldn’t do them without you David.



David: Aw shucks.



Erin: But I think that probably brings us to the end of our episode today. 



David: I would say so Erin. We’ve covered a lot of history – both past and present – in the episode today.



Erin: I guess you could say that we’ve really highlighted the golden age of the Office of the Assembly today.



David: Ohh because it’s the golden anniversary this year?



Erin: It sounded better in my head, okay?



David: I’m sure it did…



Erin: Anyway, I think it’s safe to say that we probably didn’t get 50 fun facts today although that would have been pretty neat if we managed that!



David: Something to aim for next time! How many fun facts did we manage to squeeze in today?



Erin: By my count, today we had six! 



David: Not our best show but there’s always next time. 



Erin: Onward and upward! Thanks for listening the ON Parliament Podcast, where we help spread the word on Parliament. But we’ve got to go, I think I hear the bells.



David: Bye for now!



Erin: The ON Parliament podcast is produced by Parliamentary Protocol and Public Relations for the Legislative Assembly of Ontario. Social media by Parliamentary Protocol and Public Relations for the Legislative Assembly of Ontario. Additional research provided by the Table Research Office for the Legislative Assembly of Ontario. Thanks for listening. If you enjoyed today’s episode, please support the podcast by sharing it with others and subscribing. For more fun facts about Ontario’s parliament, follow us on Twitter and Instagram@onparleducation. Et en français : @parloneducation. Thanks again and see you next time.