Thursday 15 February 1996
Decorum in chamber
STANDING COMMITTEE ON THE LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY
Chair / Président: Arnott, Ted (Wellington PC)
Vice-Chair / Vice-Président: Hastings, John (Etobicoke-Rexdale PC)
*Arnott, Ted (Wellington PC)
*Bartolucci, Rick (Sudbury L)
*Boushy, Dave (Sarnia PC)
*Cooke, David S. (Windsor-Riverside ND)
*DeFaria, Carl (Mississauga East / -Est PC)
*Froese, Tom (St Catharines-Brock PC)
*Grimmett, Bill (Muskoka-Georgian Bay / Muskoka-Baie-Georgienne PC)
*Hastings, John (Etobicoke-Rexdale PC)
Johnson, Ron (Brantford PC)
*Miclash, Frank (Kenora L)
*Morin, Gilles E. (Carleton East / -Est L)
*O'Toole, John R. (Durham East / -Est PC)
Silipo, Tony (Dovercourt ND)
*Stewart, R. Gary (Peterborough PC)
*In attendance / présents
Substitutions present / Membres remplaçants présents:
Christopherson, David (Hamilton Centre / -Centre ND) for Mr Silipo
Clerk / Greffière: Freedman, Lisa
Staff / Personnel:
Sibenik, Peter, procedural research clerk, Office of the Clerk
The committee met at 1200 in room 228, following a closed session.
DECORUM IN CHAMBER
The Chair (Mr Ted Arnott): We're back in open session again. I recognize Mr O'Toole.
Mr John O'Toole (Durham East): The standing committee on the Legislative Assembly has deliberated for almost three weeks on security. On several occasions, I have attempted to introduce the issue of order and decorum. Let me remind members of the committee that all three parties agreed to attend to both security and powers of the Speaker as part of the permission of this committee to meet during the intersession; I would refer you to the minutes of December 13 and section 3.9 of the standing orders. In the event and out of respect for the importance of the security issue, I have reluctantly allowed that discussion to take priority, and I think we all worked very effectively. However, the acknowledgement that this issue of Speaker's powers, order and decorum was accepted previously by all three House leaders -- we must proceed to make progress. Actually, standing order 15, as it relates to naming members, must be addressed. Standing order 28(c), with respect to members voting, should be amended to allow members to abstain from voting. Furthermore, the Speaker and/or the government House leader may move a motion to ignore a named member.
The intent of these amendments is to allow the business of the House to proceed in an orderly and productive manner. This discussion should not be limited to the above standing orders.
Finally, in order to ensure unanimity on the security issue and final report, I must be assured that the secondary issue must be dealt with as well. In my opinion, these issues are linked. In so far as members' behaviour sets a tone in the House, and subsequently in the government, we should not tolerate disrespect for the Speaker and/or the standing orders.
This is a statement -- a motion, if you will -- that we would be required to follow up in the next meetings of this committee on the issue of order and decorum and the standing orders.
That recommendation is moved by myself and seconded by Bill Grimmett, if that's required.
The Chair: Mr O'Toole has moved a motion. Is there any discussion?
Mr David Christopherson (Hamilton Centre): I'm not going to get into a long debate, but since the member felt strongly enough to ask that this be put down on the Hansard record, I also want to go on record as stating that as far as we are concerned in our caucus, this whole issue of decorum and wanting to deal with it is nothing more than a cover for some members of the government to deny MPPs their parliamentary rights and privileges because they find it discomforting to face criticism across the House in a way that way that seems to ruffle their feathers. We feel very strongly that the niceties that the honourable member would like to deal with are merely a desire on his part to muzzle the opposition so that the government can quietly and conveniently go about its business. We will continue to resist this blatant attempt at shutting down the opposition as strongly as possible, recognizing that if ever there were legitimate issues we would deal with them. I have seen none, and the incidents pointed to refer to two members specifically, Mr Kormos and Mr Curling, and rather than being legitimate enough to deal with those things up front, we have this charade of talking about decorum. I can't express strongly enough how my caucus and I feel about this attempt to shut down an effective opposition in this House.
Mr Rick Bartolucci (Sudbury): Just a quick comment: Certainly I appreciate all three parties and the individuals of all three parties understanding the importance of security. In allowing for some latitude with motions, I moved a motion with regard to the removal of the permanent barriers that was deferred, and I will have that motion deferred for as long as the Chair feels it is important and appropriate for it to be deferred. I have no problem dealing with decorum. I have no problem coming, in open meeting, to agree to disagree, but for an exchange of ideas, I would suggest that I thank Mr O'Toole for his understanding in allowing the latitude in dealing with decorum later on. Certainly we will go back to normal committee work and, I guess, disagree on fundamental privileges.
Mr Frank Miclash (Kenora): Just very quickly, I follow up on what David said in terms of muzzling the opposition. I see this as paralleling the incident in the House and also paralleling what could have led to a drop in the polls. It's almost a parallel to that. As Mr Bartolucci has said, the motion's on the table. We will certainly be discussing it, but you have to realize where we're coming from. Letters to members of the government have been referred to before. I think I indicated the other day to Dave that I could probably come up with just as many opinions and letters indicating that what we did was right. I think we have a strong argument, noting the amendments to that particular piece of legislation, to indicate that the process we went through certainly did bring about change. I'd like to have that on the record.
The Chair: Mr O'Toole, did you want to respond to those comments?
Mr O'Toole: I respect that the record will carry the words of David Christopherson and his party in defiantly challenging that this government is trying to ignore members. That's certainly not the case. I think the House leaders originally decided -- and agreed, I might add -- to the importance of this issue and that it should have a full, open and honest debate. It's been the intention of all parties here, I believe, to work in harmony. I really appreciate Mr Bartolucci and Mr Miclash, and our friends on the other side have all contributed positively. I'm saying that we have conceded, I believe in our own interests, to the greater good. I think our party and the members here who have diligently attended all of the meetings -- and I might add there's been some lack of continuity on the part of some parties to have continuity to see the building of consensus.
Mr Christopherson: Oh, cut the crap.
Mr O'Toole: No, there has been. I just say that we've conceded in the interests of full and honest discussion on this discussion. But we are all, from time to time, alerted by our constituents, and even I've heard members, from time to time, say in here that they recognize that decorum and order -- and you know yourself it's been challenged by Mr Cooke. The Speaker is being required to have the right and privilege to conduct business of the House and Mr Cooke has challenged him several times. That's all we're trying to straighten out, is to allow business to proceed in the interests of the people of Ontario. I respect your right to dissent -- to your own ideologies, if you will. We request the right and duty to follow through with the original resolution at our next meeting.
The Chair: If I could just quickly respond to that as Chair, it could be assumed that it is the responsibility of the Chair to lead the discussion in such a way that business is completed in the allotted time, and I would accept that responsibility as Chair. I would also add that it's my understanding that since this issue, your original motion from before Christmas did pass, it is business that's presently before this committee and will be handled in due course, along with other items of business that are before this committee, when we resume sitting on March 18.
I've two additional people who have requested an opportunity to speak. Do you still wish to speak, Mr Stewart?
Mr R. Gary Stewart (Peterborough): Yes. Just a comment: If you look at the explanation note in our standing orders, they were adopted in 1989, they were amended in 1989, they were amended in 1991, they were amended in 1992, and I think it is only accountable for us to look at them again and revisit them as an ongoing issue with this committee. So I support the motion because it has been done in the past and I believe should be done in the future.
Mr John Hastings (Etobicoke-Rexdale): The only point I'd like to make is that if this committee is to function effectively in terms of dealing with matters of decorum or order, or whatever you want to call them, and the House leaders agreed to same and it's in the motion directing us to deal with them, my only observation is that if there is a dissent from that in terms of how it's worded or what the House leaders agreed, then I think it's incumbent on the House leaders to define very precisely and target very specifically what the matters are that they agreed to. Since we agreed to deal with security, we've dealt with it. Now, if "order and decorum" aren't the words that were agreed to in their meeting -- I wasn't there; we weren't there -- then I would hope that the Chairman will go back and discuss this sort of matter with them -- whether it's any other item in the future -- what exactly do they agree to have a committee work on. Otherwise, if we can't have an agreement as to what they agreed to, how is this committee to function and get the matter disposed of one way or the other?
Mr Bartolucci: I think what we're looking at here, maybe by way of information and clarification, is that Mr O'Toole is raising this as a point of procedure rather than a motion, because the motion is redundant. The motion is on the table, as you said. It has to be dealt with. So if he's looking for procedure, then in fact that's exactly what we will be doing. As we move into meetings, we will be dealing with the motion that's on the table, correct?
The Chair: That's my understanding, that the business is before this committee and is an outstanding matter. Now, we had an informal agreement, before we moved back into open session, that we would deal with the security issue first on the 18th. We also have the private member's bill from Dominic Agostino, which may take precedence because it came to our attention first. Is that correct?
Clerk of the Committee (Ms Lisa Freedman): It actually came on December 14.
The Chair: So, in terms of the wording of Mr O'Toole's motion, there may be a slight problem. I think it indicated that we would deal with decorum on the 18th, and unless we sit all afternoon and all night, we may not get to it on the 18th. But as Mr Bartolucci's pointed out, this business is before the committee and certainly as Chair I commit to endeavouring to deal with it, with the concurrence of the members of the committee.
Mr O'Toole: Just a concluding comment: Not to prolong the discussion, and so it's clear in my mind, it has been suggested that since we have mentioned it from time to time then it could be considered as having been dealt with. That does not satisfy, in my mind, our original intention, which was for a substantive examination of at least three of the standing orders. So we're on record clearly that those are the specifics.
The Chair: So is that satisfactory? Do you feel that a vote is required on that?
Mr O'Toole: I feel a vote should be required for the reason that we've named the standing orders we want to amend and basically how we want to amend them.
The Chair: Have you amended your motion, then, relative to the date that we would commence this discussion?
Mr O'Toole: Well, at the next possible date.
The Chair: All in favour of the motion?
Mr Christopherson: Recorded vote.
The Chair: Recorded vote on the motion.
Mr Bartolucci: Then one of the two motions is out of order, Mr Chair. Let's not get into this procedural stuff. Either the original motion is now out of order or the new motion is now out of order. If he wants to deal with the new motion, he must amend the original motion, it's my understanding, procedurally. So why not in fact, once we deal with decorum, we can deal with the three items, just accept this as a point of procedure? The procedure's been clarified. We will be dealing with it and Mr O'Toole can deal with whatever amendment he would like to deal with at that time, or any one of us can.
The Chair: In light of what Mr Bartolucci's indicated, do you choose to withdraw your motion, Mr O'Toole?
Mr O'Toole: I just want to read for your clarification here the original mandate for this sitting during the intersession, that the committee is "authorized to meet during the winter adjournment in accordance with the schedule of meeting dates agreed to by the three party whips and tabled with the Clerk of the assembly to examine and inquire into the following matters....to consider matters related to the security of the legislative precincts and matters related to order and decorum and the conduct of members and the disciplinary powers of the Speaker." It's dated December 14.
My feeling is that that's all one kind of allotment of time and in my respect it sort of confuses -- we're going to come out of it with a report, and there's really no substantive record that we've even talked about decorum and that. It's a point of order, I suspect, in terms of process. Maybe, since we have a record here of discussion, we don't need a resolution.
Mr Christopherson: I just want to make the point that Mr O'Toole obviously feels that there hasn't been enough discussion, but it's clear that we have had discussion on the issue and therefore we're not in violation of the direction to this committee. Mr O'Toole and Mr Hastings, who's shaking his head back and forth, may feel that there wasn't enough discussion and they may feel that there wasn't enough resolution the way they would like to see it -- thank God, I might add -- but to suggest that somehow we have not fulfilled the mandate in my opinion is not accurate, because we have had discussion. There is no outstanding business that has not been dealt with by virtue of our not adhering to the direction we've been given. At this point it's only a question of degree of discussion and conclusion.
I want to make it very clear, and I don't want to be very provocative in any way, but I want it very clearly understood by the government members and now the public, through this open session, that following the course that Mr O'Toole has talked about on a number of occasions over these last few weeks is, by and large, a declaration of parliamentary war. I see government members rolling their eyes. The fact of the matter is that when you start talking about shutting down the rights of opposition members, you need to appreciate that you are playing with fire. I want to make it very clear that this is not a simple little matter and not a simple little question of a few rule changes so that the government can make things move more efficiently. We in opposition -- and you will too when it happens to you -- will take those rights and privileges very seriously. They are at the core of what little influence an MPP who doesn't have to sit in the government caucus has. When you attack those, that is taken as an extreme measure and a response will have to be in kind.
So I hope that when Mr O'Toole speaks, it's either as a representative of the government and we should take it as notice that this kind of attack is now under way, or there ought to be some kind of messaging from other members on the committee or House leaders or in some other arena that Mr O'Toole speaks for himself or maybe a few members of caucus but it's not the official government line. I urge you to appreciate what this kind of move on your part will have to be interpreted as by opposition members.
The Chair: Again, I would remind committee members of what I said earlier as Chair, committing myself and I think committing the committee -- we all know we have this as an item of business before us that will be dealt with in due course. Another relevant point is the need to do it a reasonable way, in a process that gives us some to prepare some briefing notes and the various things that have to be done in order to have an informed discussion. That would be a point that also should be considered.
Mr Hastings: I just simply want to let the record be clear that this matter of order and decorum, or whatever you want to call it, has not been dealt with and the motions that you have referred to clearly indicate that it has not been dealt with. If it had been dealt with, then you would have some recommendations or no recommendations. There may have been some temporary discussion about it, but there hasn't been a full discussion and airing of the item, because if you had treated decorum and order in the same way as you had security, you wouldn't have any recommendations; you would have a report coming out with an analysis of the situation with no change. That's not going to be the situation. Presumably you'd have a report going to the caucuses with some specific recommendations. That is the way you handle an issue. In this instance, it hasn't been handled at all, because there hasn't even been an analysis or a discussion. So it hasn't been treated fully at all.
The Chair: That's quite correct. It still stands, as I understand it, as business before the committee in the future. Are there any other comments relative to this motion?
Mr O'Toole: I'm going to require a -- I'm going to request a vote, not require; you can do as you wish. This is not a declaration of war, it's a declaration of discussion, so that the House can conduct the business for the people of Ontario. It's as simple as that. This committee is an all-party committee and in that respect we're very interested in input. We're not definitive on the outcomes, but we are definitive on what we expect to discuss. In that respect, I am asking that the vote be taken, as requested.
Mr Bartolucci: I'd like to ask the clerk, is the motion redundant in fact and is it out of order?
The Chair: It's the Chairman's decision as to whether or not it's in order. The motion is out of order. The meeting is adjourned.
The committee adjourned at 1220.