Wednesday 20 November 1996
STANDING COMMITTEE ON THE LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY
Chair / Président: Mr Ted Arnott (Wellington PC)
Vice-Chair / Vice-Président: Mr John Hastings (Etobicoke-Rexdale PC)
*Mr TedArnott (Wellington PC)
*Mr RickBartolucci (Sudbury L)
*Mr DaveBoushy (Sarnia PC)
*Mr TonyClement (Brampton South / -Sud PC)
*Mr CarlDeFaria (Mississauga East / -Est PC)
Mr BillGrimmett (Muskoka-Georgian Bay / Muskoka-Baie-Georgienne PC)
*Mr JohnHastings (Etobicoke-Rexdale PC)
Mr RonJohnson (Brantford PC)
*Mr FrankMiclash (Kenora L)
Mr Gilles E. Morin (Carleton East / -Est L)
*Mr John R. O'Toole (Durham East / -Est PC)
*Mr TonySilipo (Dovercourt ND)
*Mr R.GaryStewart (Peterborough PC)
Mr BudWildman (Algoma ND)
*In attendance /présents
Substitutions present /Membres remplaçants présents:
Mrs JuliaMunro (Durham-York PC) for Mr Grimmett (3:30-4:00)
Mr Douglas B. Ford (Etobicoke-Humber PC) for Mr Grimmett (4:00-6:00)
Clerk / Greffière: Ms Lisa Freedman
Staff / Personnel: Mr Philip Kaye, research officer, Legislative Research Service
The committee met at 1539 in room 228.
The Chair (Mr Ted Arnott): I'd like to call this meeting of the standing committee on the Legislative Assembly to order. We have before us our issue of referenda which we are continuing to work on and we're pleased to have Philip Kaye here today, who has been with us of course during our public hearings. He has prepared two papers which summarize the recommendations that the committee heard over the course of the public hearings, as well as a potential framework for how we might work towards preparing our ultimate report.
Your subcommittee met right before this meeting and what we decided to do was have Philip make a presentation this afternoon and then have a preliminary discussion of some of the issues, if committee members want to do that, but more so questions of clarification.
At the conclusion of Philip's presentation, Mr Clement will briefly give an overview of what the government's view is at this point in time. Then what we are going to try and do is have each caucus take these recommendations back to their caucus meeting next Tuesday so that we can have another meeting next Wednesday and get down to the business of actually writing the report. Today is just going to be more of a presentation of the summary of the recommendations and we'll actually start physically, hopefully, writing the report next Wednesday and get moving in that regard.
If I could turn now to Philip and ask him to make his presentation of the two papers that he has prepared.
Mr Philip Kaye: Thank you very much. As members are aware, I have prepared a memo entitled Committee's Report on Referenda, which has a potential framework for the committee's report. In preparing this memorandum I have looked carefully at the summary of recommendations in the submissions made to this committee and this potential framework should be read in conjunction with the summary. The order in which questions are posed under this potential framework heading corresponds in general with the organization of the summary of recommendations in the submissions.
Another document which has been distributed today which should be of assistance in reviewing the issues which have been raised before the committee is entitled Revised Overview of Provincial Referenda, which was prepared by David Pond of the research service, and it contains a table of referendum legislation in the other provinces. As I go through the framework I will be referring periodically to this table of referendum legislation, as well as to the summary.
I should emphasize that this framework is potential and of course members are free to reject it, to amend it, to add to it, to delete from it, but hopefully it will be of assistance in defining the issues which the committee may decide to address in its report.
Starting on page 2, the first general issue that is posed deals with the concept and scope of referendum legislation. In the summary, these topics are dealt with under "Subject Matter of Referenda" at the beginning of the summary on pages 1 to 6. Also, on pages 39 to 42, under the topic "General," there is a subheading, "Concept of Referenda," and on pages 40 and 41 there are some general statements made either in support or against the concept of referenda, with some witnesses highlighting the accountability aspect of referenda and others concerned about the bypassing, in their minds, of elected representatives.
Under item 1 under the framework, the question is posed: Should there be legislation authorizing the holding of provincial referenda? If you look at the table of legislation you will notice that all the other provinces, apart from Nova Scotia, have referendum legislation. If the committee decides that there should be legislation, then a series of questions have to answered.
The next question raised under item 1 is: On what subjects should referenda be permitted? This is raised in a very general sense and, as I said, it corresponds with the beginning of the summary at pages 1 to 6, where there are general statements; for instance, the first one being made by Patrick Boyer that referendums should deal with issues of transcending provincial importance and not administrative or regulatory issues.
Topic number 2 is entitled "Options Re: Initiation and Legal Effect of Referenda," and that topic is discussed first in the summary at page 6. The first question asked under this topic is: How should referenda be initiated? In the consultation paper there is reference to three ways, in general, in which a referendum can be instituted: One is government initiation; another is statutory requirement; and third is citizen initiation. I've taken that kind of categorization and broken down the options under discretionary referenda, mandatory referenda and citizen initiatives.
The general question "How should referenda be initiated and what should be the legal effect of the approval/disapproval of a measure or a proposed measure in a referendum?" really has to be asked under each of these different options.
For discretionary referenda, either the government or the Legislature in theory could have a discretionary power to launch a referendum. That question is posed first and then if there is such a power, on what issues? Then, what should be the legal effect of the results of the referendum? Should, for instance, the results be binding? You could have a discretionary referendum, yet once the referendum is instituted, the results would be binding.
In British Columbia, under their Referendum Act the cabinet has the discretion to hold a referendum on any matter of public interest or concern, but once it decides to hold the referendum, if more than 50% of the ballots cast vote the same way, the result is binding on the government initiating the referendum. The legislation in British Columbia says that in such a case, the government must, as soon as practicable, take steps within the competence of the province that it considers necessary or advisable to implement the results of the referendum.
The second category of referendum in terms of initiation would be a mandatory referendum; in other words, there would be a requirement in legislation that a referendum be held under certain circumstances. The second question raised under mandatory referenda is, if there is such a requirement, then under what circumstances must a referendum be held?
In terms of other provinces and legislation requiring referenda under certain circumstances, in Alberta, under their Constitutional Referendum Act, a referendum is mandatory prior to any vote on a resolution for a constitutional amendment. Also in Alberta, under the Alberta Taxpayer Protection Act, a referendum is mandatory prior to the introduction of a bill imposing a general sales tax.
There are also statutory requirements for referenda in British Columbia pertaining to constitutional amendments and in Manitoba prior to legislation raising certain taxes.
I should say as well that when it comes to discretionary referenda, there is widespread legislation authorizing those: federally, in Alberta, British Columbia, Newfoundland, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Quebec, Saskatchewan, the Northwest Territories and the Yukon.
The third model of initiating a referendum is the citizen-initiated model. A general question pertaining to this model would be: Should there be provision for citizen initiatives whereby citizens, by petition, may propose and require the holding of a vote on their own ballot questions? If yes, what issues could be subject to an initiative vote?
Currently there is initiative legislation in British Columbia and in Saskatchewan. The subject matter for an initiative in British Columbia is any matter within the jurisdiction of the Legislature. In Saskatchewan it's any matter within the jurisdiction of the government of Saskatchewan.
The procedure by which an initiative vote is launched involves the circulation of a petition. The petition procedure raises several questions pertaining to time limits, the threshold in terms of how many signatures have to be obtained and other issues.
You'll notice that next to time limits the question is posed: How much time should be provided for gathering signatures on the petition? In the summary on page 9 there is a list of various proposals made to the committee in terms of how much time should be allotted for signature gathering. You will see quite a variation, from there shouldn't be any maximum or it shouldn't be less than a year or it shouldn't be less than 365 days to it shouldn't be more than 12 months, it shouldn't be more than 360 days, it should be 90 days, it should be 120 days.
Another issue which I just mentioned has to do with the signature threshold: How many signatures should be obtained before a petition is successful in the sense of requiring a vote? On pages 9 to 12 of the summary there is a list of several proposals regarding the petition threshold ranging from 2%, 3%, 5%, 10%, 15%. When these petition thresholds are proposed, they may distinguish between votes cast in a previous election or eligible voters. That is a question for the committee to address, assuming the initiative model is adopted, when it comes to the petition threshold.
It is asked at the bottom of page 2, for instance: Should they be set as a percentage of votes cast in the previous election? Should the formula be based on a percentage of eligible voters? There is also a reference to whether or not the signature requirements should have a geographical component.
Looking at the signature requirements in British Columbia and Saskatchewan, which are the only two provinces which provide for initiatives, in British Columbia the threshold is at least 10% of the registered voters in each electoral district, and in Saskatchewan it's when 15% of the electors sign the petition.
Another question posed at the bottom of page 2 pertaining to petitions is whether or not there should be a prohibition against the gathering of signatures for profit. A few witnesses addressed this issue and they are listed on page 12. They favoured a prohibition against profit gathering of signatures.
The final question pertaining to petitions, posed at the top of page 3 -- this corresponds with page 14 of the summary, under "Initiative without Referendum" -- is: Where the petition requirements have been met, should the government have the option of seeking to implement the initiative without holding a referendum?
The next issue dealt with under initiatives is entitled "Legal Effect: Role of Legislature and Government." The question raised is: What should be the legal effect of an initiative vote on a proposed measure? More particularly, what action, if any, should be required by the Legislature or the provincial government in response to an initiative vote?
The recommendations the committee received on these questions are listed on pages 12 and 13, and there are various models that were put forward before the committee. There are references as well to British Columbia and Saskatchewan. If you look, for instance, at the bottom of page 13, it's mentioned that under British Columbia's legislation, a draft bill that's approved in an initiative vote must be introduced by the government for first reading, but there is no requirement on the part of the government to pass the bill. So that is one model in terms of the legal effect of an initiative vote: The bill has to be introduced for first reading.
Another model is in Saskatchewan, and there the initiative vote is not binding on the government in any way.
At the bottom of page 12 there was a proposal that if a measure is approved in a vote, it should simply go to the Lieutenant Governor for royal assent, that the Legislative Assembly be bypassed altogether. The proponents of this recommendation say that if that's constitutionally not possible, then once a measure has passed in an initiative vote, the Legislative Assembly should give it three readings within a week and then submit it to the Lieutenant Governor for royal assent, and it should be proclaimed in force within five days of royal assent.
Another model, at the top of page 13, would say that once a measure has been approved in an initiative vote, it should be deemed to have passed second reading in the assembly and should be referred for consideration and report to a committee of the assembly.
Yet a further model would say that if a bill proposed by initiative is approved by the electors, it should be enacted by the Legislative Assembly without substantive amendment and then submitted for royal assent.
Another kind of initiative would involve a vote on legislation which had not yet received royal assent. On page 3 of the memorandum I ask: Should there be provision for the legislative process to be suspended for a certain period, during which time citizens could petition for the holding of a vote on the bill in question? What should be the legal effect of such a vote? On page 13 of the summary under the heading "Repealing Bills (Prior to Royal Assent)" there is a recommendation that raises this kind of model.
Finally under initiatives, there's reference to the concept of recall, which is discussed in the summary on pages 14 and 15. The consultation paper raised recall under initiative. The basic question pertaining to recall is, first of all: Should there be a method for the recall of elected officials? You can see in the summary that a variety of opinions were received both for and against recall.
If a method for recall is supported, it has to be asked: How much time should be provided for gathering the signatures on a petition? What should be the signature requirements for a successful petition? So similar questions as those pertaining to the circulation of a petition for an initiative vote would be raised with a recall.
Topic 3 is entitled "Defining the Issues for Voting." The first heading is "Responsibility for Drafting Referendum Questions." A key question is: Who should have responsibility for drafting the text of a referendum question? Should a distinction be drawn between responsibility for drafting the questions in referenda initiated by the government or the Legislature and responsibility for drafting the questions arising from citizens' initiatives?
This issue of responsibility for drafting the questions is discussed in the summary on pages 16 to 18. Some of the recommendations range from it should be prescribed in statute, it should be set by the Legislative Assembly, a committee of MPPs and citizens should be involved, and maybe an all-party committee should have a role, to other kinds of proposals.
Once it's been determined who has responsibility for drafting the question, the wording of the question has to be set, and that is asked next in the framework document. The wording of the question is discussed in the summary on pages 18 and 19.
Some of the proposals the committee received on the wording of the referendum question were fairly specific. For instance: The ballot should offer strong and weak versions of Yes and No to allow both proponents and opponents to understand the nature of public attitudes and guide future actions accordingly. So instead of simply having choices of Yes or No, there should be (a) Yes, strongly support; (b) Yes, with reservations; (c) No, strongly oppose; (d) No, reformulate; and (e) No, postpone.
Further questions pertaining to the ballot dealt with whether there should be a prohibition against multiple questions that address the same subject matter; for instance, should the government or the Legislature be able to place a counter-initiative on the ballot alongside a citizens' initiative? The issue of multiple questions is discussed on pages 19 and 20.
The next topic in terms of the referendum process under the framework is number 4, "Deciding the Outcome," and the issue of turnout, which is raised on page 21 of the summary: Should a minimum level of voter turnout be required before a referendum result is valid? You'll notice that there were proposals that there should not be any minimum participation percentage set to there should be a requirement of a voter turnout of 50% to the requirement being proposed of a turnout of 70%. In Saskatchewan, if a referendum is held as opposed to a plebiscite, there is a requirement of a turnout of 50% of the eligible voters.
A further question pertaining to the actual voting deals with the formula for passage. It's raised at the top of page 4 of the framework document and in the summary on pages 21 and 22: What should be the criteria for determining the outcome of a referendum vote? Should approval of a measure require support by a simple majority or some other percentage of votes cast? Should the outcome instead be based on a percentage of eligible voters? Should there also be geographical criteria requiring support, for example, in a certain number of electoral districts?
In British Columbia, an initiative vote is successful if, first, more than 50% of the registered voters support it, and second, more than 50% of voters in 66% of the electoral districts support it. So there's a geographical requirement. In Saskatchewan, in the case of a referendum, the result is binding if more than 60% of the ballots cast vote the same way.
Under topic 5, "Referendum Operations," the first issue addressed is the timing of a referendum. In the summary, there are recommendations on timing on pages 23 to 25. Essentially, the proposals come down to there should be a separate date for the holding of a referendum or a referendum should be held in conjunction with a provincial or municipal election or there should be some formula allowing for the possibility of a separate date or a referendum election held at the same time as another election.
The question is asked: Should a distinction be drawn between the dates for referenda initiated by the government or the Legislature and the dates for citizens' initiatives?
A further issue under referendum operations deals with regional or local referenda discussed in the summary on pages 25 to 27. A general question is whether or not provision should be made for conducting referenda on a regional basis. This issue was central to the submission from the city of Sault Ste Marie, which proposed that a referendum be province-wide only if it is intended that the outcome will help guide a province-wide application.
Also on the topic of regional and local referenda, the question is asked in the framework document: Should a municipal constitution be enacted which would allow voters, first, to petition for a referendum on any bylaw after third reading and prior to final adoption and, second, to petition the relevant council to initiate a bylaw?
The committee received extensive material from the city of Rossland, British Columbia, on what is known as the constitution bylaw. That constitution bylaw is summarized at the bottom of page 26 and at the top of page 27, and there were two witnesses who proposed models similar to the ones in Rossland, British Columbia.
Voting mechanisms is another issue under referendum operations, discussed on pages 27 and 28. The central question is whether some form of electronic, telephone or mail-in voting should be used as an alternative or in addition to traditional polling methods. Various opinions are expressed with support but also concerns about the security of alternative methods of voting.
Campaign regulation is addressed in the summary on pages 29 to 31, at least the financing aspect. The general question is whether or not there should be limits on contributions, spending and advertising in a referendum campaign. Several points of view are expressed; for instance, on spending limits, that there shouldn't be limits or there should be limits.
The committee didn't receive extensive evidence on the issue of financing. There were references to the Quebec model with umbrella Yes and No committees, but apart from that there really wasn't much presented to the committee in terms of what is happening, what the experiences have been in other provinces.
Another question under campaign regulation is: What role should the government and the Legislature play in the campaign? That question is discussed in the summary on pages 33 and 34 under "Governmental/Legislative Participation."
The final issue under campaign regulation is, how can voter awareness of the issues best be ensured? That's combined with the topic of advertising in the summary on pages 32 and 33.
Another referendum operation issue has to do with the frequency of referenda. On page 36 that issue is addressed, the question here being: Should there be a maximum number of referenda within a specified period?
On pages 38 and 39, the issue of minority rights is raised. The committee received conflicting views on this issue, the question being, does the use of referenda raise an issue of minority rights? For those who felt such an issue really wasn't raised, the existence of the Charter of Rights was considered very important. On the other hand, a concern of those who felt minority rights might be threatened was the kind of debate that could occur during the referendum campaign itself.
Finally, in the framework document, topic 7 entitled "Other," the first issue raised is separate legislation. It's really more in the nature of a technical question: Should a separate act on referenda be enacted or should referendum legislation be part of the Election Act?
Under the heading "Political and Electoral Reform," discussed in the summary on pages 43 and 44, the key question is, does the rationale for referenda suggest the need for certain political and electoral reforms, with some witnesses favouring more free votes and a system of proportional representation.
These questions I've reviewed highlight issues which the committee may decide to address in its report on referenda.
The Chair: Thank you very much, Philip. That's excellent. I guess we've decided we're not going to get into a great debate about these questions today, but do any committee members have questions for Philip on specific aspects of his presentation at this time?
Mr Tony Silipo (Dovercourt): Yes. It's certainly not on the substance but just on the structure of this, if I may. One question and a suggestion, I think.
First of all, I think this framework that's suggested to us is very helpful because, as Philip was going through it, I was remembering a number of the points that were being made, and he himself of course referred to a number of those, throughout the hearings. Regardless of what positions we take on each of these issues, it's a very useful way to go through.
I just have a couple of areas that I've noted down that I'm not sure how best to deal with. I've got a couple of suggestions, but it seems to me that we also should deal with them.
Under section 5, "Referendum Operations," the regional or local referenda point that's made, it seems to me that we ought to make reference also, either there or, if it fits better, somewhere else, to the point of local jurisdictions, that is, municipalities or school boards,themselves having the right to hold referenda. I know that's also the subject, and I confess I'm not entirely clear, of another piece of legislation that's going through. But I just think, given that we talk here about the notion of referenda as it applies to potentially regional or local issues, the converse of that also ought to be picked up somewhere. I don't think anybody spoke to us about that during the hearings but it's an issue that I suggest we might just want to flag as something to pick up.
The other is a broader one which is this notion -- again, I don't recall anybody raising this -- of whether there is any merit to those same bodies, whether they are municipalities or school boards, also having some rights to initiate province-wide referenda as something that maybe comes back to the beginning of the discussion around and may be a subpart under citizen initiatives. I don't have a position on that but it just seems to me, as part of the checklist, that might be something useful to contemplate.
The other area where I have a specific suggestion is that I think the section that's suggested here -- I think it's under section 2, "Recall," the last piece of that -- probably fits better -- again, assuming that we have something to say on it. But even if we don't, it seems to me it would fit better as part of the very last section you're suggesting, "Political and Electoral Reform," because I see that as being more a part of that framework of discussion than part of the referenda piece directly. That's just another suggestion that I would make.
Having said that, I just want to reiterate that I think it's a very useful outline that will be helpful for us in putting our report together.
Mr Tony Clement (Brampton South): If I could just respond to Mr Silipo's point regarding municipal referenda, my recollection was that it was raised by at least one and possibly two of the groups that presented to the committee as a potential issue, so I would echo his comments that perhaps we would want to delineate that further.
The Chair: Any other questions? Philip has noted those concerns and I am sure we will respond to those. At this time, could I turn to Mr Clement, if he could give his brief overview of the government's direction.
Mr Clement: Just for the record and for my colleagues, as we discussed in the subcommittee, I do not have a formal report per se that I can present to you but I am quite willing to share with you my interpretations of the PC caucus's views on this particular issue. I can report to the committee that this was a topic of discussion at the caucus retreat that we had earlier, just before the session in September. We were able to have at least a general discussion at that time with our caucus colleagues about some of the issues.
I should say as well at the outset that not all the issues raised in this very able document were discussed with the caucus, and I might indicate that as I go through this. Just as my gentlemen friends across the way are going to go back to their respective caucuses, we are going to go back to our caucus on Tuesday for some specifics where there is merit in doing so.
Having said that, I think I can speak for my colleagues in saying that, as a caucus, we are quite in support of specific referendum legislation which would be permissive in the sense of allowing a process for referendums to occur in Ontario, not only in the sense of government-initiated or -mandated referendums, but also in the sense of citizen-initiated referendums as well. To go through the list, on question 1, as I say, the caucus would say that we should be permissive, that there should be a specific legislation authorizing the holding of referendums within any topic within the jurisdiction of the province.
In terms of the initiation and legal effect issues that are raised in point 2, discretionary referenda, the Legislature should have the discretionary power to hold a referendum on any issue, as I think is the consensus, and that the legal effect in all cases, but in this particular case certainly, would be binding in terms of the results.
In the case of mandatory referendums, I think we had a pretty clear position delineated in the election campaign that certainly on constitutional issues and on the issues of new taxes there would be a mandatory prerequisite. It was also mentioned in our campaign that we, as a government, would like to proceed with some form of referendum on casino gambling, although that might be seen as a separate issue as part of the government's commitments rather than something that you would incorporate in the legislation per se.
With respect to citizens' initiatives, there should be provision for citizens' initiatives via a petition of citizens requiring the holding of a vote. My reading of caucus is that the time limits should be relatively permissive, so that in terms of the circulation of a petition we should be looking at something longer than 90 days, perhaps 180 days, but I'd like to go back to the caucus to see whether there is a specific number they have in mind.
In terms of a signature threshold, I think the consensus was that we are looking at something like 5% or 8% or 10% of eligible voters, and again I want to go back to the caucus to see whether there is a particular number that they have in mind. It might be closer to 5% rather than 10%, if I read caucus correctly.
I have a personal opinion about the gathering of signatures for profit. I don't particularly like that idea, but that is not something that I discussed with caucus before and I'd like to get their point of view on it.
Mr Silipo: Are you getting a geographical breakdown within that 5% to 10%?
Mr Clement: No. My reading of our discussion was that there wouldn't be.
The question on the top of page 3: I confess I hadn't thought of this before, although it was part of some of the representations and I guess I didn't key in on it. I would like to get a bit more input on that. I think where the caucus is coming from in terms of being permissive on these things is that it would be consistent with the rights of the government and the Parliament that they can introduce a bill at any time on anything. This would be consistent with that, so the answer to that question would be yes.
In terms of the legal effect, I think there is no question that the government must be required to introduce a bill. Whether it is at first or second reading is an important issue, so we would like to get more specific on that.
The issue of whether a bill which has not yet received royal assent can be held up: I'm not sure whether that is consistent with where the caucus is coming from. Again, I will seek specific recommendations on that, but if I had to guess, I would say the caucus would say the government has the right to introduce whatever legislation it wants to introduce and if persons, after seeing that legislation passed, decide that it is contrary to their views on what the interests of Ontario should be, then they should initiate a citizens' petition for a referendum to overturn that decision. But I will definitely get back to the committee on that.
With respect to recall, I would like to refer that one back at this particular time.
On part 3, "Defining the Issues for Voting," there has to be some interaction between the Legislature and petitioners, in particular, in terms of the text of the referendum question, and indeed perhaps when government is initiating a particular referendum question. We heard a lot of, shall I say, distrust that if it was left specifically in the hands of one party or a dominant force in the Legislature, there might be some injustices that occur. I guess everyone is thinking about what happened in Quebec and some of the past experiences that we have had in this country recently on the question, so I think we have to develop, and have input from the opposition parties as well, the idea of an independent commission or some other means of testing that the wording is seen as objective and fair.
If I detect the mood of the PC caucus correctly, I think the mood is towards simplicity and getting to a majority vote on some of the issues so that when we look at the issue of multiple questions or minimum levels of turnout, things that diverge from how we conduct elections, in a sense, we're leaning more towards not requiring any specific targets and minimum levels of voting, not requiring anything above a 50%-plus-one margin -- and I'll get to the minority situation in a second -- and not requiring any specific targets in terms of areas of the province, such as in the British Columbia model, having to be represented in the referendum result.
With respect to part 5, "Referendum Operations," the timing of the referendum, I think we are leaning towards the permissive side, that is to say to allow it to be in conjunction with or separate from, depending upon the circumstances; with respect to regional or local referenda or municipal referenda, again on the permissive side, allowing the formulation to occur at the municipal level as well, and at the regional level.
In terms of electronic, telephone or mail-in voting, again being permissive, allowing this technology, if it makes sense in the particular circumstances, to occur but not tying ourselves necessarily to that technology.
In terms of campaign regulation, I would like to refer that back and get a sense from caucus; the same with the frequency of referenda.
With respect to minorities, we might want to talk about that a bit more, but at first blush our view is that there are sufficient protections within the Human Rights Code and the charter, and specifically the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, that would ensure that if a referendum question is not automatically passed by its passage, it still has to be passed by the Legislature, which is subject to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in its action. So there is a sufficient assurance that the action of the Legislature and of the referendum process would not contravene the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which are in part there to guarantee the protection of minorities from the abuse of power by the majority.
Separate legislation on page 5, part 7, is more of a technical question which might be at the discretion of the government.
Political and electoral reform is a very valid and important topic that must be continuously discussed by this committee and by legislators but I, at first blush, do not see it as part and parcel of this particular agenda.
The Chair: We have now concluded the business of this meeting so I would -- sorry, Mr Silipo.
Mr Silipo: I found Mr Clement's presentation helpful because, as I said in the subcommittee, it will assist me in going back and discussing this further with my caucus to know, at least to the extent that the government members have taken some positions, what those are.
There is just one other issue that I forgot earlier which I hope there will not be disagreement about the need for this somewhere to be reflected. Maybe it fits under number 5; I'm not sure. It relates somewhat to the timing but it's not part of timing, and that is around the cost of referenda. We heard some clear presentations on that topic, so I hope we'd agree that this would be reflected somehow in the report.
The Chair: Duly noted.
Mr Rick Bartolucci (Sudbury): I'd ask that Mr Clement bring back the item with regard to geographical thresholds. It's not my recollection, and I sat for the entire week -- I thought by and large the government members who were sitting on the committee had a consensus that they wanted some type of geographical thresholds, so could you go back to your caucus just for clarification?
Mr Clement: Sure. Absolutely.
Mr John O'Toole (Durham East): I have not participated in any of the referendum discussions earlier on. On the timing, number 5 on page 4, I wasn't clear on Mr Clement's comments on that. You seemed to imply to me that under the elections act, whether municipal, provincial or federal -- does that not mean some local school board can request a referendum and have some access to creating that to happen outside of those prescribed dates of municipal or federal or provincial elections?
Mr Clement: Not on their own.
Mr O'Toole: No, but would there be the opportunity to require some level of government to have a referendum outside that period?
Mr Clement: I think by the formulation that we discussed, it would be that if the government of Ontario felt it was necessary, then they could require it. Alternatively, if the local body, be it a school board or a municipality, gets the requisite number of signatures, they could force the issue.
Mr O'Toole: On to the municipal ballot.
Mr Clement: Or otherwise.
Mr O'Toole: Or otherwise.
The Chair: That concludes the business of today's meeting. We will meet again next week on November 27 and continue writing our report.
The committee adjourned at 1630.