Wednesday 29 January 1997
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 DaveBoushy (Sarnia PC)
*Mr TonyClement (Brampton South / -Sud PC)
*Mr AlvinCurling (Scarborough North / -Nord L)
*Mr CarlDefaria (Mississauga East / -Est PC)
*Mr BillGrimmett (Muskoka-Georgian Bay / Muskoka-Baie-Georgienne PC)
*Mr JohnHastings (Etobicoke-Rexdale PC)
Mr RonJohnson (Brantford PC)
*Mrs MargaretMarland (Mississauga South / -Sud PC)
*Mr Gilles E. Morin (Carleton East / -Est L)
*Mrs SandraPupatello (Windsor-Sandwich L)
*Mr TonySilipo (Dovercourt ND)
*Mr R. GaryStewart (Peterborough PC)
*Mr BudWildman (Algoma ND)
*In attendance /présents
Clerk pro tem / Greffier par intérim: Mr Douglas Arnott
Staff / Personnel: Mr Philip Kaye, research officer, Legislative Research Service
The committee met at 1545 in room 151.
The Chair (Mr Ted Arnott): I call this meeting of the standing committee on the Legislative Assembly to order. We are again meeting to discuss the issue of referendums and we are of course working on the report that we would expect to table in the Legislature when we complete.
Before committee members are three documents that the clerk has passed about, two letters that apparently were sent to the Premier, which have been referred to our committee, and also an appendix which would be attached to the Ontario Separate School Trustees' Association presentation which they made during the course of our public hearings.
Just to inform all committee members, we had a subcommittee meeting last week, I guess it was, and what we plan to do is go through the motion which is presently before us that has been moved by Mr Clement, rather informally discussing it point by point. We could only have, I guess, one vote at the very end of it, although I suppose we could have subvotes, Doug, on amendments perhaps, if that comes up?
Clerk Pro Tem (Mr Doug Arnott): Yes.
The Chair: Okay. Before we get started on that, though, M. Morin has indicated he would like to make a statement.
Mr Gilles E. Morin (Carleton East): Yes, I'd like to make a statement, Mr Chairman.
When we left off the last time this committee met, I think the Liberal caucus's position on provincial referenda was extremely clear. However, in case there is any lingering confusion about where we stand on this issue, allow me to reiterate our position at this time.
First, let me remind committee members that the Liberal caucus does not oppose referenda per se. We are very supportive of referenda and plebiscites initiated by democratically elected local governments. That is their right as enshrined in their governing legislation, as well as a long-standing tradition in this province and indeed across the country.
What the Liberal caucus is opposed to is this government's motion to introduce provincial referenda on issues that we feel are more appropriately handled without resorting to the expensive and possibly manipulative referenda process that allows the government to walk away from its responsibility for what it does.
All democratically elected governments across Canada must have the courage to confront and deal with difficult issues and to make tough decisions, even those that might be unpopular, such as raising taxes. The Liberal caucus does not feel that it is appropriate for an elected government to avoid responsibility for tough decisions by handing them off to the general public. You were elected to be the government, and we believe that means taking responsibility for your own actions and not offloading them on to the general public.
We've stated before in this committee that the Liberal caucus would be willing to support provincial referenda on neutral, non-partisan issues of general importance to all Ontarians. The referendum would have to be agreed to and formulated by a committee composed of all three political parties. In other words, the only way that we believe this serious and potentially very important tool should be used is upon unanimous consent of all three political parties and on topics that are appropriate for referenda in Ontario, such as issues of national unity or other non-partisan issues.
We don't agree with what this government wants to do, which is to put various questions to referenda that will advance the government's own political agenda and that will allow it to walk away from responsibility for the consequences that result. We can't go along with that; we just simply can't.
There seems to be some confusion among some members of this committee. On the one hand, they are pushing forward this motion to enshrine provincial referenda on all kinds of topics of interest to this government. On the other hand, they are members of a provincial government that has stated quite clearly that it will go ahead with its plans to amalgamate all of the GTA into a megacity regardless of the results of a municipal referendum on the issue.
What is it to be? If you believe in referenda, pay attention to what the municipal voters in Metro have to say on the megacity. If you don't believe in referenda -- and based on your stand on the megacity issue, you don't -- then drop this motion. Your inconsistency on this issue can be seen as hypocritical and high-handed to the voters of Metro, who believe their concerns are being ignored by your government.
Finally, I have to say that the Liberal caucus is very concerned that Mr Clement's motion does nothing to protect the rights of Ontario minorities. We are a multicultural and diverse society, constantly changing, and this motion includes no safeguards from the hatred, intolerance or prejudice that can be stirred up by referenda on unpopular issues. For example, if this government put to the people of Ontario a referendum on the issue of bilingualism and funding French-language services, how would the rights of the francophone minority be protected? And there are many others: separate schools, for instance.
At the end of the day, the Liberal caucus will not be able to support a motion that would allow a democratically elected government to walk away from responsibility for tough decisions by offloading them on to the people who elected them.
May I add that of course it is our intention to submit our own report.
Mr Alvin Curling (Scarborough North): So be warned.
The Chair: We're technically in the midst of discussion, I suppose, on this motion, and I'll proceed by starting with point number 1: "Discretionary referenda may be initiated by the Legislature of Ontario." Is there any discussion on that point?
Mr Tony Clement (Brampton South): Thank you, Mr Chair, for the opportunity to lead off discussion on point number 1. I'm hoping to meet some of the concerns of Mr Morin as we proceed with the discussion of various other topics. I'm going to try to limit my remarks to some of the more poignant issues of this.
The essence of point number 1 is to acknowledge that the Legislature of Ontario may initiate referendums on issues within the purview of the Legislature of Ontario.
Let me say a couple of things in this regard. Firstly, in reviewing, as I have done several times now, some of the submissions this committee heard, I note a couple of things on this particular topic. Mr Harper, for instance, said referendums "should be permitted on a broad and unrestricted range of public policy issues," and so forth. A lot of submissions suggest that the issue should be broad.
There were also a lot of submissions -- I'm looking particularly at Mr Boyer's submission and Mr Hogg's submission -- that state that the theme of referendums initiated by the Legislature should be on issues of general importance to the public of Ontario. That is to say, it should not be an issue that is so restricted in its theme or on a public policy issue that is so restricted in terms of the general importance that it is held in by the public that it would be almost abusing the process of referendums.
All of that is to say I would hope it would go without saying that a government of the day would only use the tool of binding referendum on a very small list of issues, but it would be difficult to enshrine that prayer in a motion on what that list should be. Obviously, if the future were not the future, it would be the present. That is to say, it is difficult to predict what would be an important issue a year from now, let alone a couple of years from now or a decade from now. That is why I went with broader wording, to suggest that it would be whatever was in the purview of the Legislature of Ontario. I wanted it on the record that I would agree with the submissions of Mr Boyer, Mr Hogg and others who suggested that this tool should be used in important cases of important public policy.
The other thing I would say is that the referendum, as we have noted from the constitutional legal submissions that were before this committee, cannot bind the Lieutenant Governor of the province of Ontario. That leads me to conclude that referendums should not occur on issues that cannot be translated into a bill that the Legislature can debate and vote upon and then submit to the Lieutenant Governor.
It should not be, number one, an issue outside the purview or the jurisdiction of the Legislature, because obviously a bill that is outside the jurisdiction of the Legislature cannot in good conscience be debated by the Legislature, nor could it revolve around resolutions or other issues that cannot be presented in a bill.
I think the intention of this particular point is to focus referendums on issues that would be passed into law at some point. That is what a bill is for, and I wanted to make that point up front as well.
The third thing I would say is related to this. That is that because this section 1 is a rather permissive proposal, the issue of cost has come up on a number of occasions. I believe we are on the threshold of coming to an understanding -- at least this is my hope -- with the federal government to enact within Ontario, as throughout Canada, a permanent voters' list system. We heard from Mr Bailie that such a system, were it in place, would definitely reduce substantially the cost associated with referendums and indeed would cut the cost by many millions of dollars. That's my understanding. I'm quite hopeful that as the government and the government of Canada pursue a permanent voters' list, we will be in a position to meet the concerns of Mr Morin when it comes to issues of costs as well as issues of principle.
The Chair: Next on the list I have Mr Curling.
Mr Curling: It seems to me rather timely that this motion has come through, as we look at this motion with its 12 parts, and as you instructed, Mr Chair, we will be debating each one separately. I do hope, though, with this warning that this government will not behave as it has done in the past, closure on anything, and will give us adequate time to discuss this fully. There's an attitude here to rush democracy, rush participation, and it will not give people adequate time in which to bring their views forward. I hope as we go through this that I'm not hearing that some note will slip inside this committee coming from up above, or underneath, or where they get their orders from, to cut this short, because this is important.
Having said that, it's rather timely that this motion is here at a time when even as we speak, the government in the House now is doing closure, restricting the expression of not only the people of this province but elected members in the House of Parliament.
Mrs Sandra Pupatello (Windsor-Sandwich): It's the
anniversary of Bill 26 today.
Mr Curling: It is also ironic, as my colleague reminds me, that this is the anniversary of Bill 26, that bully bill, that bill where no one was allowed to make any presentation at all, giving the orders as they were given -- the government, that is -- to vote, just nod their heads and vote without even reading that bill, not giving the elected members here an opportunity to read it and make their presentation, therefore denying the people an opportunity to make their presentation.
How timely it is on this anniversary, the arrogance of it all, to say, "We can do anything we want." We have also heard the Premier of this province say, "We will ram this bill through," meaning ignoring any kind of participatory process. That, of course, takes time and sometimes we'd like to hurry things along, but as we said, democracy is a very slow process. It's not the best, but we don't know any other. So I hope for your fair ruling, as it goes along, and that if any note starts slipping through here to wind this down, you would say to yourself that we get adequate time to discuss these motions.
"Discretionary referenda may be initiated by the Legislature of Ontario." I don't know who that is. Would that be a referendum initiated by the Liberal Party and so be it, or by the NDP or by the Conservatives? Or is it the majority members, of course the Conservatives, who have the numbers, who will prepare the line, and if a member of the Legislature puts forward that a referendum should come forward, a vote will go, what it will be, and then of course it will be ruled out because they have their numbers?
In his response at some time during the process I hope Mr Clement, whom I call the surrogate father for the 416 area who speaks on behalf of the megacity down here, will be able to tell us, because he's playing an instrumental part right in what should be said and what should not be said, who that Legislature of Ontario is. I notice you hide carefully behind the Lieutenant Governor, saying, "We don't know if we allow that," but we know who the Lieutenant Governor is. It's you, the government, that makes the rules with your majority. It's you, the government, and then the rubber-stamping goes on with of course the Honourable Lieutenant Governor.
Therefore I'm not quite sure if I know today whether the Legislature of Ontario is any one of us who can put this forward, feeling that a referendum could be discussed because it's necessary.
Let me tell you this too: I'm not one of those who is excited about a referendum. I find that sometimes it's a way of shortcutting the process. People are asked many times to say yes and no to issues that are extremely complex, and when the government so wishes, as my colleague Mr Morin stated, it could divide our country, it could divide our province, it could cause undue unrest with unsettling issues that could be quite damaging to the beautiful fabric of our Ontario.
I would like to know what discretionary referenda would be and whether the Legislature of Ontario initiating this is the majority of the House, which of course would be the government. In the meantime we hear it's a non-partisan view. Therefore it will be quite complex to know what all that will be.
There's much I have to say but there is much here, and I will leave some thoughts for the other 11 points as we go along in the couple of months to come of debate on this, because I see it's going on for a very long time.
Mr Tony Silipo (Dovercourt): I actually welcome the fact that we are finally beginning to discuss the motion Mr Clement has put in front of us. I think I've said on previous occasions when we tried to begin discussion on this that I personally and my caucus support the notion of referenda, both initiated by the Legislature of Ontario as well as the concept of citizen-initiated referenda. I've stated on the record and I don't mind repeating, although I won't repeat it at length, that the process suggested here is a useful one, particularly if we see the use of referenda not as a replacement for the parliamentary process we have but as an adjunct to that process, that a number of issues can and should be dealt with through referenda.
I've appreciated in this discussion the fact that there has been some back-and-forth and I indicated in previous discussions on this that one of those was the move to 10% of the citizens -- I know we're going to discuss that later on -- in terms of the threshold for citizen-initiated referenda, which I think is a fair threshold, a more useful threshold than the initial suggestion of 5%.
I want to say also that I think, as I've indicated before, and I'll expound on these two points when we get to them in wanting to respect the sequence of the discussion we've agreed to, that there are a couple of things in here, one that we just strongly oppose, and that is having any sense of mandatory referenda, because we don't think there should be any issue on which there is an obligation on the part of government to hold referenda. So number 2 gives us some trouble and we will oppose that. When we get to number 7, I'll want to discuss further the issue of the protection of minority rights. I think there's something further that needs to be done.
Let me go back to what I think we are supposed to be discussing under item 1, and if you'll allow me, I also feel I need to address the opening words of the motion that's in front of us, because to me they're related to where the rest of it goes. Before I get into that I just want to be clear: My understanding is that whatever we pass through, this is not the report. What we are doing here is passing a motion at the end of the day that's going to give direction to legislative research to actually draft a report that will then come back and we'll have a chance to discuss it further and make some modifications if we so choose to that, but obviously we want to give some direction to the committee. I think that's important because then there may be a possibility for us not to get too hung up on every single word, although I think we should get it as close to correct as we can.
I just want to raise, therefore, in that context a couple of things. I have some questions that with some clarification will determine the degree of support I can give, but I think, from what we've heard before, that I'll be fine with item number 1, that the opening words of the motion talk about legislation authorizing the holding of provincial referenda on any topic within the jurisdiction of the Ontario Legislature.
I'm assuming that could involve referenda being held on items that would apply across the province, which are clearly within provincial jurisdiction, as well as items that might only apply to one region of the province but which again are within provincial jurisdiction. I think the issue that we all know is in front of us in this committee today and in the Legislature with the closure motion on Bill 103 is a very good example. That clearly is an issue of provincial jurisdiction, the decision around whether there should be one city or six cities in Metropolitan Toronto, and I assume that would be covered by this proposal. I see Mr Clement nodding. I know Hansard can't get nods on the record but I'd be happy, if you wish, to have Mr Clement answer that.
The Chair: Are you finished?
Mr Silipo: I'd like to continue, but if I can get --
The Chair: Okay. Mr Clement, do you want to speak to that?
Mr Clement: My intention in framing that particular segment of my motion was that it would deal with anything which would normally be debated in the Legislature, subject to the caveats which I have enunciated this afternoon. First, I think we all understand that it should not be something which is minor. Sometimes the Legislature debates things which are of minor importance rather than things which are of major importance, so my prayer is that this would be used for things of major importance. Second, my view is that sometimes the Legislature discusses things which are not in the form of a bill, and my reading of my own resolution is that it would only deal with things which could be put in the form of bills rather than in the form of resolutions or of general debate.
Mr Silipo: I'm not suggesting we get into a discussion about the wisdom of whether to hold a referendum on some things or what is minor and what is major. We are talking here about recommending that there be a legislative framework established for quite frankly what is already in the power of the Legislature of Ontario to do. I think we all acknowledge and we all agree that with respect to the Legislature of Ontario deciding to hold a referendum, there is nothing today that prevents the government from doing that.
On that part of it, really what we're recommending here, if we agree to this, is just putting in law that notion, as well as all the process that would follow and the rules that would apply to the referendum process. I just want to be clear that the legality of what we're recommending deals both with potential referenda that would apply across the province -- because the issue affects every citizen across the province -- but that it could also deal with issues that would apply only to one region of the province, again using the example of Bill 103, the amalgamation of cities within Metropolitan Toronto.
My request would be, if there is agreement, that the wording of the report clearly indicate that we are talking about the whole breadth of provincial jurisdiction here so that there could be no confusion in people's minds on our report that this is the case. I would move an amendment to that but I'm getting the sense that there's agreement on that. If that's understood as part of the direction to the research, that's fine by me.
The Chair: Thank you very much. I'm recognizing members in order of their --
Mr Silipo: I'm not quite finished.
The Chair: Oh, I'm sorry.
Mr Silipo: Do we need an amendment on that, Mr Chair, or is that just agreed to as something that --
The Chair: I think Philip has taken note of your clarification and hopefully it will appear in the draft report.
Mr Silipo: As I say, I think that's important, given the context under which this discussion is taking place, because I have to tell you, and I suppose I'll make some of these points again as we go through some of the specific pieces where they apply, I have a lot of trouble understanding the seemingly inconsistent positions that are coming from the government side on this as well as, I have to say, from my Liberal colleagues. I don't understand the Liberal caucus position on this.
Mr Morin: Explain yourself.
Mr Silipo: I just heard Mr Morin earlier today reiterate the position that was presented earlier on behalf of the Liberal caucus which said that for a referendum to be held, there has to be all-party agreement. At the same time the Liberal caucus, as we are, is calling for a referendum to be held on the megacity bill.
Mr Morin: Two different issues.
Mr Silipo: You're not going to get agreement from the government party to hold a referendum, so you can't be saying in one place that you want a referendum and in another place that you want to put in a framework system that would prevent that referendum from taking place.
The flip side is what I have trouble understanding the Conservative caucus on. Here they are talking about wanting to have a referendum process in place, yet on a issue very important to 25% of the population of the province they're saying, "Sorry, there it doesn't quite hold." We get proposals being put forward by Mr Clement, the person who is recognized, justifiably, among the government caucus members as the author of these proposals, statements that try to diminish what is going on in Metropolitan Toronto by suggesting, for example, that the six mayors are administering the process or actively promoting and funding one side of the issue and they're in charge of counting the ballots. It almost borders on suggesting they're going to miscount the ballots and saying: "Well, that's not really a referendum, but at the same time, folks, we don't want to have a referendum so we're not going to help you have a referendum. We don't want you to have a referendum, but if you have a referendum, we don't think the rules you're using are the right ones, so we're not going to uphold it in any event."
I have trouble understanding that inconsistency. I think that what Mr Clement has presented to us would be a very logical sequence to follow in terms of having a real referendum in Metropolitan Toronto if the Conservative government were serious about having referenda.
I'll be quite interested as we continue through this in continuing to point out this inconsistency and in continuing to find out how it is that the government members can speak out of both sides of their mouths on this one. I'll be equally interested in how my Liberal colleagues will also be able to continue to justify their seeming contradictory positions on this. I mean, either you're in favour of having referenda or you're not.
You can talk about what rules have to be put in place and how they should apply. I agree, there have got to be sufficient rules. You want to have, and we absolutely need to have, in place a process that protects minority rights, and I'll have more to say when we get to that point in the discussion, but I'm sorry, you can't keep cutting it both ways.
I want to suggest to you that we have at least tried to be consistent in saying we support this. We've shown our movement in terms of indicating that as the government members moved on some of the concerns we had expressed in the early parts of this discussion, we equally would be prepared to show our willingness to eventually work on a legislative scheme that would deal with this. We're still here today saying that and prepared to do that.
I felt it important to put again my view and that of my caucus in just completely being flabbergasted with the inconsistent positions coming from the government, and I thought today we would hear a more consistent view from the Liberal caucus, but I guess that's not happening either. That's all I have to say on item 1. With that understanding on what's happening with the opening words, then I certainly would support item number 1.
The Chair: It's been my custom as Chairman, on discussions such as this, to recognize members to make their contributions as they indicate their interest. As long as the members are agreeable, I'll continue to do it that way. Next on my list is Ms Pupatello.
Mrs Pupatello: I did want to suggest at the outset, if I could remind the members of the committee, that the first time we began discussing the issue of referenda in Ontario I suggested that the government members who sit on the committee weren't cognizant of the real issues that drive referenda even coming to committee and what really is driving the government to bring this kind of bill forward.
I will say unequivocally that given a certain position at the very outset, that we would have unanimous consent on the issue and on the way a question would be worded -- that might be a very high standard, but if we are not prepared as a group to assume that we would accept that, then there is no other way the Liberal Party would be in favour of referenda.
I find it highly strange as well that the NDP caucus would choose to be in a position to suggest that we are inconsistent somehow on this issue. Today in the House, for example, the member for Dovercourt stood and said, "Perhaps, Minister, you would like the legislators to just go away," and there were a number of members on the government side who nodded their heads in agreement, "Yes, we would like you to all go away." The member for Dovercourt then realized that there may be many on the other side of the House who would prefer not to have to go through the process of legislation with the way we do things here.
Mr Silipo: I never asked that question; you realize that.
Mrs Pupatello: All of us as duly elected members of the House have the opportunity to participate in debate when government brings forward bills on any kind of issue it chooses.
On the point that the member from Brampton makes when he proposes this list of 12, and even in the discussion on point number 1, that "referenda may be initiated by the Legislature of Ontario," we say at the outset that if all parties were to agree as to what that issue and the wording of that would be, we would have no problem. But when he makes his argument as to why referenda would ever be allowed and be written in a form that may eventually take the form of a bill, he makes the Liberal case exactly, that a government that is elected by the majority of the people in Ontario can bring forward any bill it chooses on any subject matter.
There is a due process in place in this House here at Queen's Park to have a full debate by all of us. It is your bill, written the way you want it written on any topic you would like, and there isn't a government member in the weeks that this has been on the table yet -- not one government member can offer us an example of something that this government would choose or like to do in the province of Ontario where government policy is concerned that you cannot bring forward as a bill to be duly passed in the House as the majority government -- not one example of it.
So you come today, after the break during the holidays and after some of the press have spoken to some of the government members about the issue, and choose to put this across now as being more friendly to the people, opening up the democratic process of Ontario. If the NDP caucus is going to bury its head in the sand and be so naïve as to think that is the driving force behind referenda legislation here by the Conservative government, our NDP friends are very much mistaken. We recognized very early on that there's a sleight of hand at work by the Conservative government of Ontario, by the Conservative Party members of Ontario, who have put this over on the people of Ontario as though it's being more accessible, letting them have their say.
The irony of this is that today we discuss details of your bill when you invoke closure in the House on the discussion of the megacity. The irony of introducing closure is that you're starting to see a trend, and if the number of people attending your meetings for the megacity started down here, by the end, in only a couple of weeks, you have grown those town hall meetings exponentially. Today you choose to close discussion, and you do so on the whim of saying, "Oh well, we're listening to the people." Clearly you're not; you're not listening to interest groups, to the general public, to supposed experts in the field.
All of the backbenchers are starting to get hits everywhere they go at home and today you choose to introduce closure in the House on discussion, but you can go to the people on the issue of referenda, have the nerve to go to them and say, "We are going to have an open, more democratic Ontario government." That, my friends, is a crock. Today of all days we talk about being the anniversary date of the hearings on Bill 26. Well, government members took the biggest hit they ever took in terms of a new government of the day because all of a sudden people started to see the government for what it really was -- a total disregard and lack of respect for due process in this House. That was clearly pointed out to you by your friends across the floor, by your own members of caucus who knew you had done wrong.
This has become quite an ugly pattern for the government. For the first time in history in the Legislature of Ontario the Conservative government has been held in contempt by the Speaker of the House. That has never happened before to the Ontario government, and that is something that for new members -- half of us are new members in the House this time; there are 80-some new members --
Mrs Margaret Marland (Mississauga South): On a point of order, Mr Chair: I'm wondering if the member for Windsor-Sandwich is speaking to the motion when she is referring to a decision in the chamber by the Speaker which had nothing to do with referenda.
The Chair: I would encourage the member to confine her remarks to the issue at hand.
Mrs Pupatello: Thank you. The relevance of course of the decision of contempt that the government has for the Legislature, the relevance of that to this discussion is that when a Speaker ever in the history of Ontario could find the government of the day in contempt of the Legislature, and especially the member from Mississauga would understand this, having been a Deputy Speaker and very familiar with all of the terms there --
Mrs Marland: I wasn't Deputy Speaker.
Mrs Pupatello: Or at least certainly familiar with the Chair. If I'm wrong there, I apologize.
The reality is that new members coming into the House -- over half of the House is new -- didn't understand how significant a decision that was because we don't have as much time here, but those members who had been here for 20 years were absolutely astounded by this ground-breaking announcement that the Speaker had made, his decision. What it clearly said was that the government is not allowing for due process, because the contempt charge, which was then upheld and found guilty on that count, was specifically because the government refused to go through due process when it brings forward legislation and then goes to the people and tells them what it's doing. That is what you did that was wrong.
Here you are today talking about referenda, saying out of the other side of your mouth that you're going to the people of Ontario because you want to be open and accessible and let them have their input by virtue of having a referendum on some issue. You cannot have it both ways. We certainly have a lot to learn as new members, half the House does, in terms of recognizing how significant a decision that was, but if the new Liberal members have much to learn, so too do the backbenchers and/or new members in the Conservative Party, that in your own government you are in contempt of the very process of bringing a bill forward into law in this House, that you would go forward and subject the population to information that isn't appropriate, such as was done in this issue of referenda.
The government member from Brampton went forward and had a discussion about referenda with the Toronto Star and suggested that the committee and/or other members think somehow that the public couldn't understand a referendum issue or that we're not giving them enough credit. No, no, we give the public an awful lot of credit. Every one of us who sits here and has been duly elected gives them more and more credit. We have a highly sophisticated electorate and that causes us all the greater concern, because when you have a government that is prepared to be in contempt and the very next day goes ahead and does the very same thing, like it did with the fax campaign -- you remember that issue and all of that --
Mr Clement: Are you going to filibuster again for the whole afternoon, Sandra?
The Chair: Order.
Mrs Pupatello: Here we have example after example of a government that's not prepared to listen. The irony for me is too great. To sit at committee and discuss the issue of referenda that you'd think they would bring forward because they want to be more open to the public, can't you see the irony of this? It's astounding to us sitting here. We want to be realistic. We would like the public to know that this has nothing to do with being more open, in terms of being more democratic. We expect the Conservative government to be responsible to the electorate for the decisions it makes. They will hold you accountable.
This document, this list of 12, this discussion that we're having, is simply a tactic to allow you to bring legislation into the House, to let you offload and dump the decisions on the public and put it to them in such a way as all cases in history show us they will have been passed.
For the benefit of the member from Mississauga, I'm more than pleased to go back to the five-hour dissertation before Christmas and discuss the many examples, such as Proposition 13 in California, when you ask the question to the electorate and what it has a tendency to do and how governments of the day played on those tendencies to effect the outcome they were looking for and therefore tied the hands of future governments to ever be responsive to the real needs of the people in those constituencies. That was the outcome of Proposition 13 in California. That is the dangerous road the Conservative government has us heading towards.
If you were reading for these issues, even over this past weekend, there was a very interesting document that was prepared in the press. It spoke about the historical voting patterns in the state of Florida and that when you brought forward certain referenda items that had to do somehow significantly with the seniors population you could guarantee what the outcomes were going to be. When you asked a more senior population about the funding of education, it was always no. When you asked the same population about an issue that had something to do with seniors' health services, the answer was always yes. The American states have a litany of examples of how referenda have been used in this regard.
It is not acceptable for the Conservative government of Ontario to turn its back on the very people who elected them and do it by sleight of hand. I expect members of this committee to stand up and say what you are really doing because you're doing it on the basis of something that is simply not the truth.
Mrs Marland: First of all, Mr Chair, I would ask you to ask the previous speaker to withdraw the accusation that any members of this committee are doing something not on the basis of truth, because that accusation accuses any member of lying and I will not condone that unparliamentary accusation.
The Chair: Do you care to withdraw that statement?
Mrs Pupatello: No.
The Chair: Could you repeat again what you heard her say?
Mrs Marland: Her accusation was that members were not telling the truth.
Mrs Pupatello: No. What I said was that I expect the Conservative members to come here today and tell us the truth about why you are really bringing this legislation forward. If you care, Chair, we could review Hansard --
The Chair: I would ask you to withdraw it in the interest of decorum on the committee.
Mrs Pupatello: -- and if the member finds it offensive, then I would withdraw that.
The Chair: Thank you very much, Mrs Pupatello. Mrs Marland, you have the floor.
Mrs Marland: The previous speaker used the word "irony" a number of times. I don't like to keep coming from a historical perspective, but if you have been in this place as long as the member for Scarborough West --
Mr Curling: North.
Mrs Marland: -- the member for Scarborough North and I have been -- Mr Curling and I have been here for almost 12 years.
Mr Morin: The member for Carleton East also.
Mrs Marland: It's not the member for Carleton East whose comments I wish to address, but it's true, we were all elected in 1985. When we talk about, as the previous speaker did, what new members know and what old members know and what difference that makes --
Mrs Pupatello: More experienced members, not old.
Mrs Marland: -- in terms of what we do, I think it's a very interesting comment, because one of the things that has always been cherished on this standing committee of the House is the non-partisan aspect. There has always been, traditionally in the Legislative Assembly committee, an approach to debate, resolving problems, sometimes very personal problems for individual members -- we on this committee have a great number of subjects referred to us. The best part about all of us trying to be non-partisan is that it bodes well for more productive work.
One of the things that I see going on very clearly today is that today's meeting is in a committee room which is being televised. I really would like to commend the member representing the New Democratic Party today for the fact that he was very frank, very straightforward, and he was not partisan.
Mr Silipo: I thought I was.
Mrs Marland: He made one comment about not being able to understand the Liberal position on this subject, but he didn't go through all the rhetoric that we've just heard from the previous speaker.
I think one thing that we should remember in debating this motion is that, with all significant reports from the Legislative Assembly committee, we are not making decisions just for today. We are making decisions for the future of the Parliament of Ontario, and that is very significant. I think when we look at the history of the Legislative Assembly committee -- which was here, I may add, respectfully, long before any of the members who sit on it today were here and will be here long after we're all dead and buried -- we would do a better job to serve the people of Ontario if we tried to make this debate conducive to the best solution for the people of Ontario.
I heeded very closely the constructive comments -- Tony, I'm sorry, I'm drawing a blank on your riding.
Mr Silipo: Dovercourt.
Mrs Marland: I listened very carefully to the member for Dovercourt's constructive comments about the preamble to the motion, and in fact as a result of what he raised, I too have a question on one of the points that he raised. But I think if we're going to talk about ironies and what other matters are being dealt with in our chamber, as the member for Windsor-Sandwich said to the viewing audience that for the first time ever such and such took place last week in our chamber, sadly we might all remember that for the first time ever in the fall of 1985 the member for Scarborough North did something in the chamber that has never been done before. I would not put on the record that which he did, because all of us know what it was.
Mr Curling: I don't know what I did.
Mr Morin: On a point of order, Mr Chair: The member for Mississauga South is not talking on the issue.
Mrs Marland: You didn't interrupt your own member when she wasn't speaking to the issue.
Mr Curling: On a point of order, Mr Chair: I want to know what I did in 1985.
Mr Silipo: I don't know. What did you do in 1985?
Mr Curling: You can't put it on the record -- my winning the riding?
The Chair: That's not a point of order, I'm afraid. Mrs Marland, you have the floor.
Mrs Marland: All of us know what the member for Scarborough North did in the middle of the night in the chamber, but also what I could refer to as a lady is that he disobeyed the standing orders. He refused to vote during a recorded vote and then he refused, when named by the Speaker, to leave the chamber. So if we're talking about who does what here, I think it's very important that we're very fair. If you're making accusations and you're dragging in a lot of rhetoric, you're better to deal with fact.
I would simply say to you that if we're looking at records of commitment of members, there are members on this committee who are committed and abide by the standing orders and recognize, as I think the member for Dovercourt does, that certainly the NDP have some issue with, I think he said, two or three of these 12 items in this motion, but he's being constructive about that and he's going to deal with them as he comes to them.
The other thing I would like to say, Mr Chair, because it has been accepted by you as part of the debate on this motion, is the comment on closure that is in the chamber today. To hear the member --
Mrs Pupatello: You can't deny it. It's on television.
Mrs Marland: Excuse me --
The Chair: It was raised by Mrs Pupatello and I will allow Mrs Marland to make a response.
Mrs Marland: It was the topic when your colleague was speaking about it, so it certainly is permissible to be the topic when I'm talking about it. You're talking about the matter of closure on Bill 103, which is the amalgamation of Metropolitan Toronto. The reason for closure is that it's closure on second reading; it's not closure on the passage of the bill.
Mrs Pupatello: It's closure.
Mrs Marland: It's closure on second reading, and closure on second reading means that we can get that bill out to the public.
Mrs Marland: I say to the member for Windsor-Sandwich, I did not speak while you speaking.
Mrs Pupatello: Actually you interrupted me twice on a point of order.
Mrs Marland: Once on a point of order, but I didn't speak while you were speaking.
For those people who are concerned about what closure means, our government wants to hear the public input on Bill 103. We are setting aside something in excess of 103 hours -- that was the last number of hours that I heard -- for public input. We cannot get to that point of committee hearings for public input unless the bill gets through second reading in the House, and we are closing the debate at this point in the chamber on second reading so we can go to the full committee hearings. We are not putting closure on the passage of the bill today. I would think by now those members opposite would understand the difference between second and third reading.
To the motion, the comments of the member for Dovercourt about the preamble: He moved that the Legislative Assembly committee's report indicate that legislation "authorizing the holding of provincial referenda on any topic within the jurisdiction of the Ontario Legislature" -- since so many provincial statutes govern other existing levels of government -- I'm asking this question of Mr Clement as the mover of the motion -- we would be into things, for example, like the Municipal Act and the Planning Act. There are so many areas that come under the jurisdiction of the Ontario Legislature where we have given local jurisdiction through those very statutes.
My question to you is, have you looked at the interpretation of this wording? "Within the jurisdiction of the Ontario Legislature" is very broad and goes down through the regional municipality acts and the municipal acts. If a municipality decides to hold a referendum, would it still come back to the province for the approval even though we've already given it autonomy under the Municipal Act? If you could answer the question, then I have a second question.
The Chair: Mr Clement, would you care to answer that question?
Mr Clement: I have a comment on my colleague's point. There are a couple of related issues which would eventually have to be addressed within whatever legislation the Legislature proposes to pass on this issue. It would seem to me as a matter of law that if the Legislature, through one of its acts, delegated certain powers to an agent or another level of government, it would be inappropriate for the Legislature then to seize those powers on a particular issue. That would seem to me to be a matter of law.
For instance, matters of a purely local nature, say, fluoridation of water or bylaws relating to particular planning decisions within a municipality, all of those things, because they've been delegated to that particular level of government, it would seem to me we would leave the question of a referendum on those issues as a matter of course to that particular level of government. We would not seize back power in those particular areas.
The issue becomes quite interesting, however -- and you've touched upon this, Mrs Marland -- as to what happens when an issue could be argued, depending on which side you're on perhaps, or could be seen both as a local issue and a provincial issue. To Mr Silipo and others, one could argue in all honesty that Bill 103 is exhibit A on something which is perceived to be a local issue by some and a provincial issue by others. I acknowledge that point. It would seem to me that in that case however, as a matter of law, the Legislature is seized of the issue, and if there is a conflict between local and provincial, the province should obtain the ability to trump on that issue, that is to say, to continue to be seized on it and to then be in a position, should the Legislature so choose, to have that issue decided by a referendum, if that is in accordance with what the Legislature wants.
Mrs Marland: This referenda legislation is going to have to be very clear about where they have delegated the authority to another level of government through their own provincial law. They're going to have to be very clear about under what terms and conditions that would change or that would be challenged. I think that's a very important point, frankly, that the member for Dovercourt raises, because of the ripple effect.
Mr Clement: Quite so.
Mrs Marland: The other question is the question raised by the member for Scarborough North in item 1: "Discretionary referenda may be initiated by the Legislature of Ontario."
I would think that the member for Scarborough North, having been elected 12 years, knows full well what it means where there is a reference to the Legislature of Ontario. I can't believe he's asking, "Who is this?" or "What is this?" The Legislature of Ontario did a whole lot of things when you were Minister of Housing in the David Peterson Liberal government and I don't think you questioned then who the Legislature of Ontario was.
The question about who the Legislature is and what powers does the Legislature have as a Legislature: I just don't understand that question because we're in big trouble if we sit on this Legislative Assembly committee and we don't know what the Legislature of Ontario is.
Mr Curling: Do you want me to respond to that?
Mr Morin: No.
Mrs Marland: It's actually probably a rhetorical question.
Mr Curling: Oh.
The Chair: You're on my speakers' list, Mr Curling.
Have you some rhetoric to add to this?
Mr Bud Wildman (Algoma): I would just like to get on --
The Chair: You're on the list.
Mr Wildman: So I can make a rhetorical --
The Chair: Are you finished, Mrs Marland?
Mrs Marland: Yes, I have, on item 1.
The Chair: Next on the list is M. Morin.
Mr Morin: I'd just like to make a correction first as to the statement Mr Silipo made, and perhaps I wasn't clear enough when I made my presentation.
Mr Silipo: The words are clear.
Mr Morin: I will reread again: "Let me remind committee members that the Liberal caucus does not oppose referenda per se. We are very supportive of referenda and plebiscites, initiated by democratically elected local governments" -- that's very clear, local governments -- "that is their right as enshrined in their governing legislation, as well as a long-standing tradition in this province and indeed across the country.
"What the Liberal caucus is opposed to is this government's motion to introduce provincial referenda on issues that we feel are more appropriately handled without resorting to the expensive and possibly manipulative referenda process that allows the government to walk away from its responsibility for what it does."
That was the statement. I hope it's clear. If you need further explanation, of where we stand I will give it to you.
Mr Silipo: The words are clear, Mr Morin --
Mr Morin: Okay, good. Now I would just like to comment on some of the --
Mr Wildman: I find it opaque myself.
Mr Morin: -- remarks that were made by Mr Clement. I heard you say, and correct me if I'm wrong, that in a situation like what's happening right now with the municipalities, Metro, the province should reserve the right to say, even though they have the right to do that, "You're now allowed to hold a referendum on that issue."
Does it mean that you would take away their right, as enshrined in their governing legislation, to hold a referendum or a plebiscite, or is it your intention to amend the legislation?
You said in your statement a minute ago that it was a question of law, especially when you deal with an issue that you know affects a lot of people, that perhaps it would be a good thing for the government to say: "Well, no, in this instance, municipalities are not allowed to hold referenda." That's the way I understood it. Correct me if I'm wrong. If this is the case, is it your intention to amend the legislation or are you planning to take it away from the municipalities?
Mr Clement: I'd be prepared to answer that to avoid any further confusion on Mr Morin's part.
First of all, I was speaking to the question of delegation of powers, if the province has duly delegated certain powers and authorities to another level of government. That was how the issue came up: What would happen if the province then seized an opportunity to weigh in through referendum on issues they had delegated? I said in my mind it's a matter of law that once it is delegated it truly becomes an issue which the local government is seized when it comes to referendums as well.
With respect to the issue at hand, I guess you're referring to Bill 103, and I'm reading a bit into your question, but you're interplaying that with Bill 86, which was the bill that amended certain portions of the Municipal Elections Act, which provided for various ways and means for local governments to initiate plebiscites on particular issues.
Mr Morin: Or referenda.
Mr Clement: No, plebiscites. To be quite technical about it, a plebiscite is a non-binding referendum, and a referendum in all the submissions we heard refers to decisions that then become binding upon the authority, on the state or the government -- the state meaning small-s state.
In that particular sense, it is the government's view that certainly under Bill 86 the municipalities do have the authority -- I personally applaud municipalities that take that authority seriously -- to engage in plebiscites, opinion polls or other means. That is all fine, but then to transpose that and say this process we have enshrined in Bill 86 for plebiscites then becomes the process for binding referendums is a leap of logic that this government is not willing to jump.
Mr Silipo: That's why you should hold it.
Interjection: That's right.
Mr Wildman: That's why it should be provincial --
Mr Clement: The sooner we get through this, the sooner --
Mr Wildman: You could do it without this legislation.
The Vice-Chair (Mr John Hastings): Mr Clement has the floor.
Mr Clement: If I may speak to that, the members opposite are saying, "Hold the referendum." As I'm saying in clause 1, the government and the Legislature of Ontario would have the discretion under this proposal to initiate referendums on any topic within its jurisdiction.
Mr Wildman: They can already do that now.
Mr Clement: They can already do that now. The issue, though, is this government has made a choice we feel comfortable with, that in this particular case what our proposals mean for Metropolitan Toronto is a logical extension of the views we expressed in the provincial election. Page 17 of the Common Sense Revolution refers to reducing the number of politicians locally and reducing the layers of government locally. So this is a logical extension of the mandate that we perceive we received from the people of Ontario in the election.
From our perspective, we are being utterly consistent with the mandate we received, and we as a government decline to hold a referendum on that issue because we feel we have the mandate to pursue the objects we are pursuing.
Mrs Pupatello: Therein lies the problem.
Mr Clement: When we get to part 3 of my motion, there may be circumstances where citizens disagree with that decision --
The Vice-Chair: We've got one speaker on the floor and it's Mr Clement. Thank you.
Mr Clement: -- where citizens may disagree with that position. There may be circumstances, and it has happened in this Legislature before, where all three parties agree on a particular course of action, but some citizens don't agree with that course of action. In either of those cases we are proposing a method for citizens to initiate referendums so that the government of the day or the political class do not monopolize the decision as to whether the people will be consulted or not.
I might add, however, that is not the case in Metropolitan Toronto. The citizens have not initiated a petition. Six mayors sitting in a room have initiated a referendum proposal.
If the members opposite are seeking to understand what the government position on this is, I hope my comments have cleared that up for them.
Mr Curling: I just want to make some quick comments in regard to some of the concerns that the member for Mississauga North --
Mrs Marland: South.
Mr Curling: -- South had raised when she --
Mrs Marland: You'd think we'd know each other's ridings. I didn't know yours and you didn't know mine.
Mr Curling: -- asked whether it would be a sad situation if I didn't know who the members of the Legislature of Ontario are. I'm very happy she did that because in her statement she also stated that we must understand that closure is not on the bill, it's just on second reading. Let me just talk about it because we are talking about a body here that has the power now to bring about discretionary referenda or mandatory referenda.
Those of us as a public body here who are elected go through a democratic exercise in the House of Parliament here which we call debate, meaning that we are elected to bring the views of the people into the House and to express those views and some of those concerns, and when we feel we have exhausted that process, then the public itself would have a chance to hear. That, I would like to tell the member for Mississauga South, is the process.
What has happened is that we can't even exercise the normal democratic process here, to be heard, those who are elected. My demonstration, as she calls it, was in protest of the undemocratic way this government behaved, refusing to listen to us, and at the same time, right now, with Bill 103. Many of your colleagues on our side were just shocked to know this is happening but can't say very much about it, but we will speak for them if they feel they should not speak. We have that right to speak. When you shut that down, how can we then say that you will hand this discretionary power or mandatory power to a public body where they will then say --
Mrs Marland: The same powers you used when you were in government.
Mr Curling: -- "We will tell you what you ask, when you ask it and how you ask it."
Mrs Marland: Did you never bring in closure?
Mr Curling: Many times what they will do is they go back into history.
Mrs Pupatello: That was the NDP who did that, remember?
Mr Curling: You're right. The NDP, when they were in power, even went beyond contempt. They didn't want to even hold the House of Parliament. I think we had one of the most limited times of sitting to hear what the people who elected me here to do, to hear the views of Scarborough North, Windsor-Sandwich and all the members who were here. They refused to hold the House.
Mrs Marland: Did you never bring in closure, Alvin?
Mr Curling: I'm saying that right now as we prepare ourselves to give powers, as they said, to the public bodies for holding referenda, I question the fact that they do not behave in a democratic process even within the House here. Closure is one of the greatest insults to that democratic process and not only that, refusing an opportunity for members even to comment on bills before they're even heard, shutting us out in that process. I question, who then is the Legislature of Ontario? Is it those people who behave in that bully way, as the Minister of Community and Social Services said, "We have the power and since we've got the power, that's how we behave"?
Mrs Pupatello: That's what she said.
Mr Curling: Tell me something now, is that the kind of power we want, that this government then call -- I'm not part of that power. I'm not part of that Legislature of Ontario and that is why we are confused today.
Mrs Marland: You held the chamber under seige.
Mr Curling: I make no apology to bring this place under seige again.
Mrs Marland: Oh, you admit you did it.
Mr Curling: If we are denied the basic democratic process, to exercise what I'm elected to do, if you do that, you not only insult me, which is not very much, but you insult the people who elected me to come to this House, and you continue to behave in this manner daily. I don't feel I'm comfortable with this kind of government and I will resist any kind of dictatorial way they behave themselves. So I have a lot to say as we go down here on the other 11 points.
The Chair: Next is Mr Wildman, if you're ready.
Mr Wildman: Thanks, Mr Chair. I must say I've found this debate rather interesting. I might be accused of being --
Mrs Marland: Don't leave. You've got to hear him.
Mr Wildman: No, it's fine. I must say that it appears, if I were to be rhetorical, that the government's position is that the government can initiate referenda and will do so as long as they know they can win. The Liberals' position seems to be sort of along the lines of William Lyon Mackenzie King: referendums if necessary but not necessarily referendums.
Mr Clement: A party of tradition.
Mr Silipo: So they are consistent.
Mr Wildman: I suppose.
Mr Wildman: If we want to talk about Bill 103 for a moment as an illustration, and to be quite serious about this very important matter that is before the House and before the people of Metropolitan Toronto, I think it would have been far more appropriate for the government to have issued a discussion paper -- a white paper or a green paper, I never can tell the difference when they use them in the federal House of Commons. What is the difference, clerk, between a white paper and a green paper?
The Chair: A white paper is a statement of government policy that's more definitive than a green paper.
Mr Wildman: As a what?
The Chair: It's a statement of government policy. The government commits itself with a white paper, I believe. Is that not correct?
Mr Wildman: And what's a green paper? Just a discussion paper?
The Chair: It's less of a commitment.
Mr Wildman: So we have a discussion paper before this committee right now. In terms of Bill 103, I think it would have been far more appropriate for the government to have issued a green paper on governance in Metropolitan Toronto and initiated discussion, much as the government has done on this matter before this committee, throughout Metropolitan Toronto about the pros and cons of changes in governance in the region.
Then after a considerable period of time, where municipal politicians, members of the public, members of the business community, everyone who wanted to become involved had had an opportunity to participate in a debate, a dialogue about the proposals, based on the opinions expressed in that kind of a process, the government then could have moved forward to a policy position, and subsequently, I suppose, if changes were deemed to be favoured and appropriate, to legislation.
That process might have involved a referendum at some point, and I think that would have been a far more appropriate procedure. Instead we have a situation now before us where you have a political party in government that when they were in opposition indicated that they believed there should be changes in governance in this community, but the governance changes they proposed were the opposite of what they now have brought forward before the House and have presented to the people of Metropolitan Toronto.
Initially we had the minister responsible saying in the House and outside of this place that there would be no referendum, or if there was, it was a waste of money and time because the government wasn't going to pay any attention to it, and the Premier confirmed that position. Then subsequently, because of the pressure built up in the community and because of the acknowledged stall tactics of the opposition, they have said, "Okay, fine, we won't pass the legislation into law until after the referendum," but we still do not have any clear indication from the minister, the Premier or the government as to whether or not they will pay attention to the outcome of the referendum.
So we now have a situation where we have a commitment that there will be hearings, we have a commitment that the legislation will not become law until after the referendum date, but we don't have any indication about whether the outcome of the referendum will have any major bearing on the government's position with regard to the legislation. I think that's most unfortunate and I do think that is in fact not in line with the proposal which is before this committee. For that reason, I'm disappointed and that's why I suggested that perhaps an amendment, if we're going to be completely honest, might be appropriate in saying the government is in favour of discretionary referenda when and if the government believes it can win.
Mrs Marland: Now, Sandra, that's a classic, constructive, non-partisan debate on the Legislative Assembly committee.
Mr Wildman: She's not going to let you off the hook.
The Chair: Mrs Pupatello, you're next, and Mr Hastings after that.
Mrs Pupatello: I must say at the outset that one thing I do recognize as a new member -- and granted, my first election was June 1995 and I'll be the first to admit at any time that I certainly have much to learn in my role as a legislator representing my constituents here at Queen's Park -- I'll tell you that I don't think that process ever does end and many of those who are not in their first term but perhaps in their second and third have seen many, many changes happening here in the House since they were here. I just get to read about it in a textbook and then hear anecdotal stories of our history. But it certainly leaves people like me, who have those options available to us, to learn about what it was like and what things like "democratic process" mean.
Growing up as I did in Windsor, I certainly had my own views as to what it would be like when I came here. When I understood what the rules were, I understood that the rules meant exactly that, that regardless of party, I as a member of the House would have my opportunity to participate in debate, to participate in the process of forwarding potential amendments to bills etc.
When we talk about this, I have to go back to the very first question I asked government members where it concerns referenda. Tell me what issue, what single item the Conservative government would like to introduce as public policy in Ontario that cannot be dealt with by introducing a bill into the House in the process we have in place here to effect that as policy. The current government has a majority government, as we have seen through all of the other bills, many of which the Liberal Party has not been in support of but you've passed them anyway. Sometimes there has been a little change because you have been prepared, in a very few cases, to listen to input when it has gone to public hearings.
The issue becomes, why are you going forward with this? Tell me what city or town today cannot hold a local referendum, a plebiscite. They have the power today to do so. Tell me which Ontario government cannot hold a referendum today. We all could have; we all can. We have current legislation in place in Ontario to allow for referenda. That's why when Mike Harris was on the campaign trail, on the issue of casinos alone he said, "We will not open another casino in Ontario without a province-wide referendum." I know the government members remember this. Our dear member from Sarnia, this is a key issue for you. You knew that's what your Premier had promised.
That's a Premier's promise that simply did not come true. They announced the Niagara casino. They had no provincial referendum on that issue, yet that's what he said he would do, and he didn't do it. Of course, those of us who came from Windsor were most concerned about that type of referendum because we already had one open and functioning in Windsor. What would it mean to the citizens and indeed the employees who work at the Windsor casino?
The point was he knew he could say that as a promise -- whether he keeps it or not is another issue -- because Ontario as a government can hold a referendum tomorrow. They don't need legislation to do so; they can hold it tomorrow. Can citizens in the cities and towns they live in hold referenda and plebiscites at that level? Of course they can. Do the people of Ontario have an election every four years to put you in the position to make those kinds of wise decisions on their behalf? Of course they do.
When those are the answers -- and there's not a government member who can defend that that indeed is not the lay of the land today where referenda are concerned, because that is the fact of the matter -- what is really driving you on this? What is driving this government to put this forward in this way?
At one of our former meetings, the member for Durham East, John O'Toole, made it very clear, because I asked that very same question in December 1996: What do you want to ask the people that you can't ask now, that you can't do now? What's the question? He blurted out -- probably our leader in this regard, the member from Brampton, didn't want him to say it so rapidly -- "Taxes. I want to ask the people about taxes. We want to stop increasing the taxes."
Here we see in this list of 12, under number 2, as has been put forward by the government members, "Mandatory referenda shall be initiated on issues involving the Constitution of Canada or Ontario or involving new taxes paid" -- oh, how very deft of the government to put it forward in this way. Does this mean no new user fees?
Mr Clement: On a point of order, Mr Chair: We're not on number 2, we're on number 1. If the member can restrict her comments to item 1.
The Chair: I remind the member to confine her remarks to number 1. When we have an opportunity to discuss point number 2, some of these arguments will become more relevant perhaps.
Mrs Pupatello: Thank you, Chair. The relevance is that number 1 discusses the very issue of referenda and why you would choose to have them, and the member for Durham East responded immediately, "Taxes," and said that's what it was. Yet did the member from Brampton tell the press, when asked about why they were doing it, that the driving force behind the Harris government introducing this legislation is not about open democracy for the people of Ontario but is everything to do with tying the hands of governments today and in the future? That is a Republican thought, that is a Reform government thought, and that, my friends, is what is at play in today's Harris government in Ontario. I need to hear that the members opposite will admit this.
Some of their members have, of course. Caught off guard, they admit what their real agenda is. But clearly if you cannot answer the question -- and that is, "Can cities and towns hold referenda today?" Yes. "Can the Ontario government hold referenda today?" Yes --
Mr Curling: So why do they need this?
Mrs Pupatello: -- if that is the case, there is not an issue that the Harris government cannot bring forward in proper legislation in the system we currently have. So I expect the members to come clean and tell us the real agenda at work, because I believe the people of Ontario have a right to know that.
The Chair: Next I have Mr Hastings, and after that, Mr Clement.
Mr John Hastings (Etobicoke-Rexdale): Thank you, Mr Chairman. It's interesting to try to delineate out here the position of the various parties.
Mr Silipo: Don't say anything nice about me.
Mr Hastings: I was actually just about to make a comment about the member for Dovercourt. That's the way we'll start in fact. My recall is that we were having these hearings about referenda and the various groups came and made their views known, particularly on protection of minority rights and some other related matters. The member for Dovercourt admitted publicly, and it's in the notes, how difficult it was for the members from the NDP caucus to struggle with this issue.
I thought that set a pretty good tone in terms of how we all were struggling in a sense, and when we got to the point after the hearings and had our researcher go back and look at some of the technical issues of what subjects could be referred to the Supreme Court of Ontario, what ball-game rules we would operate under, we had a reasonably decent, civil tone.
I regret very much what I see has happened since before Christmas in terms of where we were going in that struggle and the portrayal or the depiction by the members of the Liberal opposition that there is some hidden agenda in this. It becomes sort of ludicrous when you try to bring the debate up a little bit in terms of what sort of subject matter could be put to the people or where the citizens and voters could initiate their own petition on a subject.
I would like to say, Mr Chair, that after we had the performance in the meeting by the member for Windsor-Sandwich, I think it was in early December, when we were trying to come to grips with this problem of what kind of report we would issue, what could be some of the common themes or principles or guidelines by which legislation could be drafted, I find that the whole tone of debate or conversation or whatever you want to call it has declined significantly.
I recall that M. Morin came in and presented the Liberal Party's position on the issue, and if you look at the Hansard of the committee of December 4 or around that time, we got to the point that there would be a committee, a tripartite group with a member of each caucus designated or however, to develop the skeleton framework of how you could create referenda legislation: what would be the principles behind it, what would be the protections so that you wouldn't end up having questions going to the Supreme Court of Ontario over items linked to the Human Rights Code or to the Charter of Rights, so that you wouldn't have questions that would be unconstitutional in the greatest sense.
Immediately after that, Mr Chair, the member for Windsor-Sandwich completely contradicted, and we listened to almost two hours of the evils of referenda, citing the California example. While that was true from some of the groups that made their views known, other groups came before us with sincere concerns and suggestions that you could hold referenda using the Swiss model as a possibility. There are some problems with what is happening in Switzerland in terms of participation and turnout, but I thought it was and is a good model to look at this whole situation. Then the whole debate seems to have gotten off track to some extent.
There is to some extent an imputing of motive in this debate. For example we have heard there's a Republican agenda. Just because I bring up the subject of referenda doesn't necessarily mean I'm a card-carrying member of the Republican Party of the US, which is absurd in its ultimate sense and illustrates the way in which this debate about the subject matter has gotten off track.
Then there was the reference made back in that meeting in December in which all the government members of this committee were somehow thinking we could create a California -- that's what I wake up to every morning? -- which is another absurdity. That's the sort of stuff I find so regrettable. If the member for Windsor-Sandwich in her two-hour presentation, to put it mildly, had said, "Yes, there are some problems with California referenda; there is an excess of them and to a great extent it's a money-making industry," all those things I could agree on.
She focused on Proposition 13 and then went on to declare that basically, because we're even discussing this subject at length, there is again a link, somehow or other some mysterious hidden agenda. I find it regrettable that we have to be subjected to that sort of an imputing of motive. I got elected to come here hoping that sometimes we could rise above that to some extent, difficult as that is.
Mrs Pupatello: Answer the questions, then.
Mr Hastings: Mr Chair, you notice when I was chairing when the member for Mississauga South spoke, when the member for Windsor-Sandwich was speaking, I tried to restrain myself. I don't always keep that due regard. But here we are, I'm making my remarks -- "Just answer the questions." Talk about us having some sort of inability to listen. Because we happen to be a majority government and therefore we won't listen is again another one of those imputing of motives. I've got to the point where I'm really quite fed up with that sort of approach. I would like to refrain from making these comments in any sense an attack, so we will get to some of the questions here.
The member for Windsor-Sandwich says, "What specific examples of items could be found in a referendum?" I think the question of taxation could take different forms. The member for Windsor-Sandwich points out that you really don't need any referendum legislation whatsoever because we already have the capacity to carry out referendum legislation. I don't know where that is in an actual bill. I can't find that the election commission of Ontario --
Mr Wildman: It's there. That's why we had one on the Constitution in Ontario.
Mr Hastings: At that particular time, yes, but they do not have a consistent, regular -- there's not a format and it took an awful lot of work for them to develop the ways in which they could implement that legislation.
That's one of the purposes of having a referendum body, suggested by Mr Clement, regarding the use of justices of the various court levels providing an air of impartiality.
With respect to the use of referenda municipally, yes, municipalities can carry out referenda, but they usually aren't binding unless it's a specific issue related to the Municipal Act, if I recall.
Mrs Pupatello: It has to be approved by the OMB.
Mr Hastings: There we go again, Mr Chairman, see? I would ask you, Mr Chairman, let's try and get a little more -- talk about order and decorum. I admit that I'm one of the --
Mrs Pupatello: On a point of order, Mr Chair: I apologize for the previous interjection. My concern is that the facts be laid on the table, and when statements from the government members simply are put in actual factual terms you can understand my concern.
The Chair: That's not a point of order. Mr Hastings.
Mr Hastings: Thank you very much, Mr Chairman.
Mr Wildman: That was a summary ruling.
Mr Hastings: I would basically just comment that municipal referenda can be held -- usually they're on subjects linked to the Municipal Act -- to be binding. Citizens themselves can make suggestions to local governments, but those aren't citizen-initiated as proposed in the discussion paper that was presented late last year.
My final comments relate around some of the dialogue again with respect to the member for Scarborough North. I found it very disturbing that he said, with regard to order and decorum and how government is acting in a dictatorial fashion, he himself would determine when he would proceed to set out a new context in which he would ascertain whether or not an action was dictatorial. I find that quite amazing, based on previous behaviour. It's not surprising to me. I think he also said if it came to the set of circumstances he'd do so again.
This brings me to the whole issue of order and decorum, which is a subject that was raised in this committee over a year ago and has never been dealt with, and I guess to some extent --
Mrs Pupatello: Mr Chair, is that on topic?
Mr Hastings: -- creates a problem for where this committee is going.
Mrs Pupatello: Mr Chair, will you make the same ruling on both sides of the table?
The Chair: I endeavour to be impartial, Mrs Pupatello, and I'd ask Mr Hastings to confine his remarks to the topic at hand.
Mr Hastings: I think, finally, that point 1 has been well focused on and we can, hopefully, move to point 2.
The Chair: Mr Clement, did you have a quick concluding comment?
Mr Clement: Yes, Mr Chair. I would like to ask your permission, whether you could determine if there is unanimous consent to divide my motion into 12 constituent parts.
Mr Wildman: Agreed.
Mrs Pupatello: No.
Mr Clement: Then I have no further comments.
The Chair: Okay, we now move to point 2.
"2. Mandatory referenda shall be initiated on issues involving the Constitution of Canada or Ontario, or involving new taxes paid by Ontario taxpayers."
Discussion? I saw Mr Clement first.
Mr Clement: I'd be happy to talk briefly about this particular part of the motion. By way of parenthesis for the record, the first three segments of the motion deal with discretionary referendums, mandatory referendums and citizen initiatives, which were delineated by Mr Kaye, our legislative researcher, as the three parts of referendums that we heard so much about in the legislative hearings. I would say parenthetically that the underlying principle that this government is pursuing -- or this motion is pursuing, I should say, to correct myself -- is that there is still obviously a pre-eminent role played in our society by representative government. I wanted to say that at this point, because certain people have attributed to this type of movement something that is somehow trying to weaken representative government, and nothing could be further from the truth. I would put it to you that in actuality, something that will strengthen the political process, strengthen the democratic process, automatically strengthens representative democracy as well.
There is no question in my mind, as the mover of this motion, that for most of the issues confronting society today it will be through representatives of the Legislature that we debate and discuss those issues. There are, however, times when there is something to be gained from our society to have the wider electorate debate and discuss those issues directly -- not just every four years or every five years at election time but directly on a particular issue.
I would call to members' attention the demographic facts that 200 years ago, when representative democracy was being formed in western civilization, to use an archaic term, the difference between the governed and the governors was quite astute -- quite acute; it might have been astute as well but it was definitely acute in that the governors tended to be able to read and write and add and subtract and see beyond the fencepost of their property to what the wider world was doing and to have access to that information. Some 200 years later --
Mr Wildman: It's the opposite.
Mr Clement: At worst it's the opposite; at best, for legislators, we're at least an even par, so most of my constituents are able to read and write as well as I can, they can add and subtract as well as I can and they have, as has been recorded by numerous people -- David Foot and others -- access to as much information as I do. The access to information that is available in society now is the greatest it has ever been in the history of humankind.
A lot of those decisions that were normally accorded to representatives of the people can now be decided upon in certain cases, where it is appropriate, by the wider population, not every day, not every week, not every month, not every year but at times, when people have decided or where the government thinks it is appropriate -- and that's an "or," not an "and" -- that certain issues deserve to be put to the people. I wanted to say that in parentheses because that animates item 1, which we have already discussed, item 2 and item 3.
Item 2 relates to the discussion we had with the presenters at this committee over what sorts of issues perhaps should be mandated to go to referendum prior to the government of the day, or the Legislature of the day, to be more exact, being able to pass a law on a particular issue. We heard a number of comments from presenters. In particular, the two that came up the most were constitutional amendments and tax measures. Constitutional amendments, I would have to say there was a rough agreement by those who supported referendums as a tool -- so that is a subset of all the people we heard from, admittedly, but it was I would say the majority. Most of those persons we heard from said that constitutional amendments should be subject to approval of the people through referendum, and certainly part 2 of my motion acknowledges that.
The other issue is the issue of new taxes paid by Ontario taxpayers. There were some we heard from, some taxpayers' coalition groups, the Freedom Party of Ontario and Tax Equity Alliance to name a couple, who opined that would be another issue that should be subject to mandatory referendums. We also heard from the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, which indeed said this issue was of such importance that it should be part of a separate bill, rather than part of the referendum bill, which is a school of thought as well, that it be a separate item done through a separate bill rather than through a general umbrella piece of legislation. That is something worthy of consideration, certainly. Those issues were canvassed by this committee during the hearings and those were paid attention to in my motion.
I guess the third issue that has come up today is the issue of casinos. I believe Mrs Pupatello made specific reference to it. I would treat the casino question differently from the others in that probably it comes closer to a commitment by this government that at some point during our mandate -- and this is how I understood Mr Harris's comments during the election -- it would be appropriate for the government to consult with the people on the issue of further casinos.
That could be seen as a commitment by the leader of our party, who became leader in the government, and that is something that we will have to be accountable on as a governing party in the next election and certainly it may well be potentially the first item for referendum, if ever we get referendum legislation passed. But I would put it in a separate category.
I suppose one could argue that in that same category one could put the commitment of most of the candidates for office representing the Progressive Conservative Party to not invoke any new taxes that were not revenue-neutral prior to a referendum, but I guess instinctually, as the mover of the motion, I felt that was of a higher level of commitment to such an extent as to suggest that this was a commitment not only of this government but it was worthy of consideration for committing it as a matter of policy in the Legislature until the Legislature so chose to change that policy through amending a bill. So that is why that is in a different category from the casino.
I'm not trying to pre-empt my friend Mr Silipo, but I do understand the NDP position is very different from the government position on this, and I respect that. It all comes down to how one interprets a commitment made in the election period by candidates who sought to be members of a Progressive Conservative government.
It may well be that this may be a point where we could have addressed in the final report, Mr Chairman, not only the position of the caucus, but also the position of the New Democrats or the Liberals as alternative positions that could then go to the government to decide which position makes the most sense to be enshrined in first reading of whatever bill comes out.
Mr Wildman: I've got a pretty good idea of which one they'll choose.
Mr Clement: But I think it is worthy of discussion. Indeed, all of it is worthy of discussion. I'm not trying to suggest otherwise, but it is a question of interpretation and how one interprets a promise.
Although we can write pages of Hansard on that, I would request that members of the committee keep in mind that I'm trying to be as flexible as possible to acknowledge that there were different positions on this and perhaps both of those positions or all three positions, in the case of here where we have three parties represented, could be alternative positions in a final report that would at least animate whatever comes to the Legislature eventually.
That's what I have to say at this time.
Mrs Pupatello: This is of course of great interest to me, given my short time in the House so far. I apologize too to the member for Etobicoke-Rexdale. I understand he's fed up. I apologize that he's fed up. Unfortunately, we can't just pat me on the head and think I'm going to go away. Only the citizens of Windsor-Sandwich will determine when that's going to happen. So I'm sorry that you're fed up.
I do, however, want to say on the record again that while you have the opportunity to speak in this forum, I would appreciate your answering the questions that are very pertinent to the discussion of referenda. When I say that these are critical elements that the public must know, you just can't wash it. You just can't send it out in your jargon and hope that the people will accept it. That is exactly what I'm here for.
So I appreciate that you're fed up listening to the dissenting view, but what is critical is that you clearly answer the question for the public. In your discussion of item 2, when you would choose to have mandatory referenda, it's absolutely of no surprise to the Liberal caucus to see "involving new taxes" would be added there. That is your Reformer John O'Toole speaking very loud and clear.
But where the sleight of hand is for the general public is that in your short stay in government so far, and it hasn't quite been two years, you have introduced any number of new user fees, any number of new copayments, and yet those are the very things that are essentially new taxes.
My greatest fear with the way number 2 has been worded, and I imagine it will eventually pass by a majority government, is this will involve more sleight of hand should you indeed bring forward a referendum that deals with taxes, because you certainly won't ask the public if you can raise taxes, but you will be required in some instances to provide some level of support for your chosen friends, and in order to do that, you will be looking for revenue everywhere. You'll overturn every rock.
Clearly that's what's happening now, and where you've gone looking for it, in fact -- and this is simply fact. It's not partisan. This is the case, and you know this is the case; you hear about it from your constituents where you come from. You've added drug user fees for seniors. That's where you have selected through your Minister of Health to bring in more revenue for the government. You have not called that a new tax, but clearly that is more revenue for government. It's a tax. You called it a copayment. You refused to acknowledge it as a user fee. Well, who cares what you call it? At the end of the day, seniors must pay more for their drugs.
So when you say "involving new taxes," clearly I expect the member for Brampton South to take the time to give me a full and complete description of everything that could be included as a new tax. I expect to go through the record of this current Reformist-type government in Ontario. In the last year and a half or more, every time you have raised the price of something, introduced a new tax, you've called it a copayment; we've called it a user fee. That essentially is what it is.
The danger when you look for revenue in that manner is that it allows some of the residents of Ontario to access it because they have the power to do so and they have the wherewithal and the wealth. It doesn't allow many other Ontarians to do so because they simply do not have the wealth.
The member for Brampton South mentioned David Foot in his little discussion a short time ago. If you look at the work of David Foot, he clearly shows the difference in generations and what it is that different generations are looking for. That is the greatest fear, that the great divide between generations, depending on the size of each generation, will play a significant part in the outcome of referenda.
Now, is that a problem? Not necessarily, because even today people can walk and vote as they choose, so that certain age groups tend to vote for certain parties, for example. That is a very natural course that currently exists, but if we go back to why governments ever came to be in the first place, the reason that government became government in this fashion of democracy was to take care of those who weren't taking care of themselves for whatever reason that they couldn't or wouldn't. That's why governments do what they do. They are there to make things fair. That's the point of government. Government is here to be fair.
When I sit as a legislator in the House, I want government to be fair. So when they introduce user fees, new taxes, call them what you will, copayments, I insist that they be fair, that people have an ability to pay, that it doesn't become a class war in Ontario where the great divide between generations that already exists, and really always has, becomes greater and greater and greater.
If we simply look at the wealth of generations today, even wealth is becoming a divider, never mind age, and depending on the size of that group, the difference becomes even more so. We're just behind the US in terms of the number of baby-boomers we have in Canada today as a natural extension in Ontario. So in a couple of years we're going to have the most massive group of 50-year-olds in Ontario ever, in Canada ever. The Americans are there now. That is why we're seeing so many things happen in the US, where referenda are concerned, where the topics specifically show the great distinction between what one age group would like to see happen in government and what the other age group would like to see. You see young students fighting so their tuitions don't increase. You see seniors fighting so that they get more and more pension, and they don't want to continue to fund education the same way.
When we look at the changes that have happened in some of the states, New Jersey, California, the introduction of charter schools, was it any surprise to us that the member from Scarborough, Jim Brown, who should know more about education than he's letting on, was out at one of those thumping-type meetings, telling the people and the throng: "Go to your MPP. Fight for charter schools. This is the time. We're in the midst of change. Go to your local MPPs and ask them to change now. We want charter schools"?
That is a throwback to exactly what happened in California, exactly what is happening in a number of states in the US. So the great divide continues, not just between generations but between classes of wealth. That, my friends, is exactly why governments were always supposed to be there to be fair.
When I look at number 2, it flies in the face of why governments ever became what they were. It flies in the face of why governments make the decisions they do and who must pay for what. So there isn't any way that we could be supportive of this.
I gave you many, many examples of incidences where people had to make choices. Human behaviour has not changed over the centuries; it tends to be the same. They do continue -- are you about to bang that gavel? Is that why you're picking that up? People do make choices, and they make them typically and traditionally in the same manner, so we can anticipate what kinds of choices they'll make when they're given referenda items.
I agree that we're in an age of information, that we've never had access to more, ever. I would submit, though, that in the very few examples that we have here in the House, there was an uproar, but it involved a very small constituency. I'll give you an example, Chair.
The government -- Harris -- decided not to make copies of Hansard available offsite and not to mail them out to people who wanted the subscriptions. Instead, they said it's available on the Internet. Well, the difficulty with Hansard being available -- and it's available almost instantly, as we know; within the hour it's up on the screen -- is that people need to have the computer, the phone line. They have to have the modem to hook up into it. They've got to pay the Internet services.
Now you have set the tone that a particular class of people -- likely age, education level in terms of computer literacy and wealth to make Hansard available to the public. When the government --
Mr Clement: Point of order, Chair: Why are we discussing the availability of Hansard?
Mrs Pupatello: Mr Chair, I'm sure you've followed along so closely that you saw the segue in terms of the discussion.
The Chair: I think it would be helpful to tie that back to your basic thesis relative to the point at hand.
Mrs Pupatello: Thank you. The difficulty is that even in the example of what Harris has done with Hansard, to keep Hansard away from the general public, make it available in a very élitist form -- Mr Chair, I don't know if you have a computer at home. You probably do, but you probably do because you fit into the demographics of education, age, income, wealth, what you do for a living in terms of occupation, but that's a very narrow band. There are many, many people who simply don't fit into that category. Therefore, you have a computer; you probably have Internet at home. The bulk of my constituents in Windsor-Sandwich do not. That is a fact. The bulk of your constituents do not. Every home has a phone; we've arrived there, though that was not the case 50 years ago. Today we're not yet at the point where every home has a computer, let alone the Internet hookup so they can have instant access to Hansard.
The point I make is that the government already is making the kinds of decisions to be exclusive and to be élitist and to be readily available to only a certain group of people. If the excuse and the rationale is that the public can make decisions based on information, my friends, you need to access the information in order to see it and digest it and therefore make a decision.
It's critical, and it's a very specific example, but it's very telling in terms of where the government is today and who they want to see and hear their message, and it is frightening. While the Vice-Chair of this committee doesn't want me to impute motive, I am pummelled by example after example, buried under example after example of the Harris Conservative government trying to subjugate the process in the House, to not allow me to get in there and see everything and do everything.
If we look at number 2, mandatory referenda "involving new taxes paid," does that mean they can go ahead and double the user fees on drugs for seniors? That would be considered a copayment; that's how the Minister of Health put it across last time. In fact, that tells me the Conservative government could jack up the fees for drugs even if they brought in a referendum on taxes. Why? Because they didn't call it a new tax, though that in fact is what it is. They didn't call it a new tax, they called it a copayment. I've got to tell you, the seniors who live in Windsor-Sandwich went to the drugstore and paid a new tax on that drug; they didn't pay a copayment. What they turned over was green, and that's all that mattered at the end of the day.
That's another perfect and clear example of why I need to see a full and open discussion and definition of what the member for Brampton South considers a new tax. I view that as a sleight of hand. If it isn't, I need to have full explanation.
If the Vice-Chair of the committee is fed up -- I would prefer that I receive the answers to the questions. We deserve to have them, quite frankly, and it does become a very large, philosophical discussion about the direction of a Reformist, Republican attitude of government. It's that ideology that was very prevalent and has become more so in certain of the states in the US and that I fear becomes more prevalent in certain parts of Canada. I reject that. Most of the people of Ontario reject that. I cannot sit by, regardless of whether other members are fed up -- I don't mean to be offensive to the member. If you're fed up, that's fine. I, on the other hand, am highly active and highly prepared to wait around until I get the answers we require on this discussion paper.
To that end, I'm going to wait in hopes that under the discussion of number 2, the member for Brampton South will offer a full disclosure of the definition of new taxes very clearly, very unequivocally, because we have many, many examples where that simply has not been the case with the Conservative Harris government to date.
Mr Wildman: Mr Chair, I understand they will probably be voting in the House soon, so I'll try to be quick.
As Mr Clement indicated, we have some serious concerns about number 2, and I want to put them as clearly as I can.
I have before me a letter dated January 24, 1997, signed by Tony Clement, MPP, Brampton South, explaining positions regarding referenda, particularly related to the controversy around Bill 103. Under the attached information, number 4, Mr Clement says: "Just what would the question be? Referenda are suited to yes or no answers. The status quo is no longer an option." It goes on.
As to "referenda are suited to yes or no answers," I must say I have some serious difficulty with that as it relates to the Constitution of Canada. We saw with the Charlottetown accord and previously with Meech that proposals for comprehensive constitutional change don't easily accommodate themselves to yes or no answers.
If it were just one single, clear change in the Constitution, one clause in the fundamental law of Canada, I suppose you could have a yes or no answer; I'm not sure. But on a total package, a yes or no answer is not easy. As someone who has spent a lot of time over the years involved in discussions around constitutional matters -- I have a personal interest in this, as I suspect many members of the House do -- I find that a little disconcerting.
I also am concerned about the position taken by the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing in this House. At one point he said that the matter facing Metropolitan Toronto, the amalgamation of the six cities into one, was too complex for a referendum. Frankly, it is beyond me how it could be that a change to the fundamental law of Canada would not be too complex for a yes or no in a referendum but the question of whether to amalgamate the cities of Metropolitan Toronto into one is. I don't ask that in a rhetorical manner. I don't understand it. The Constitution of Canada is a very, very complex matter and it is fundamental to our rights and freedoms and our system of government in this country. If it is acceptable for a yes or no answer, then how in God's name would the amalgamation of a bunch of municipalities be too complex? I have that very serious concern about number 2, on the Constitution.
On new taxes, I must say I'm in agreement with Ms Pupatello in part of this discussion, on the question of user fees. It needs to be clear on user fees, and I won't go into a long discussion about that, but we have many fees charged to residents of Ontario. Ms Pupatello has talked about the copayment for drugs, and there are many others: There are park fees, fees for licences, fees for all sorts of things that we charge to the residents of this province. I know that in the election, just as he painted himself as the Taxfighter, the current Premier also painted himself as someone who's opposed to user fees. So that needs to be clear.
But I want to get a more fundamental question about tax policy. In our responsible system of government, it is basic that the government is responsible for making tax decisions. Governments stand or fall on tax policy. If a government decides to lower a tax, raise a tax, bring in a new tax, that is a fundamental responsibility of the elected executive, the elected members of the House who become the executive, and their future as a government stands or falls on that policy. How can that then be abdicated to the general populace, to all the taxpayers, without fundamentally changing the relationship between government and tax policy, between government and taxpayers? The government may want to fundamentally change that relationship, but that has to be clear and explained.
Chair, you're looking at me as if we should be closing down. The vote is at 6 pm, I understand.
The Chair: We'll continue till 6 o'clock, unless the bells call us to the chamber.
Mr Wildman: Obviously, we want to be there for the vote.
The Chair: Yes, we all do.
Mr Wildman: Those are fundamental questions. I don't raise them as some sort of civics teacher or someone who's interested, for esoteric reasons, in political science discussion or philosophy, but because they are basic to our system of government.
I disagree somewhat with Ms Pupatello's discussion of the history of government and how it developed. I think it is incumbent upon government to be fair and I think it is important for government to protect the more vulnerable in our society. But government basically, whether it's democratic government or another form of government, was established to enable societies to organize themselves in ways to implement decisions, good or bad.
Governments are established to make decisions, to implement those decisions and defend those decisions. They are judged, in a democratic society, on the basis of whether the populace accepts those decisions and the implementation. How is it that we are now proposing that in all questions of tax policy it would be mandatory for all the taxpayers to vote?
I understand that the government wants to do this or is proposing that this is something that should be implemented, but what does that do to the relationship between the government and the governed? Is this something that has been fully appreciated by the advocates of this change?
I must say that we have fundamental problems with number 2 in regard to the view that any change on the Constitution of Canada would require a mandatory referendum while at the same time an amalgamation of municipalities is considered too complex.
On the other side of it, the responsibility for tax policy is fundamental in our system of government. That was what 1837 was about. That's what led to the American Revolution, the view that those who are taxed must be able to judge those who impose taxes and that those who impose taxes are accountable to those who are taxed. Are we now saying that the taxed will become the people who decide tax? If that's what's being suggested here, what does it do to the whole tradition of responsible government, both in the British parliamentary system and in the American congressional system?
I raise it as a very serious question that I hope we can deal with. If it can't be dealt with in a way satisfactory to allay my concerns on both these counts as well as the user fee issue, I'm afraid we will have to move an amendment to delete section 2 from the motion. I don't know what procedure you would like me to follow, Chair.
The Chair: We still have one additional member who wants to speak to this issue, but I take that as notice and I will recognize you before we move on.
Mr Hastings: Very briefly, Ms Pupatello was asking what kinds of questions could be asked. One that came to my mind that certainly any future government is going to have to deal with sooner or later involves the whole issue of information technology and privacy and the role of the individual in terms of whether government has integrated data banks for health cards, that sort of thing. What kind of stuff would be on it and how would it be separated? I can see that as a very legitimate type of question that could be posed to the electorate in this province.
I'd also like to remark that when Ms Pupatello mentioned that I was fed up with her not going away, that has nothing to do with it. I'm not fed up with dissent. I enjoy having a good, vigorous debate. What I am fed up with is the type of language being used in this committee, the sort of labelling: Republican, élitist etc. I don't think that brings anything to the debate. But since we seem to want to engage in that, I guess I would just add that we have here in this dialogue, if you can call it that, a group of Gliberals who are consistently inconsistent, opportunistic and as élitist as one can find. That's where I would like to end. Since we want to label, that certainly is the remark I'd make.
Mr Wildman: "My labels are better than your labels."
Mrs Pupatello: Exactly. How totally irrelevant.
The Chair: Order. I'd like to recognize Mr Wildman at this time with his motion.
Mr Wildman: Mr Chair, I know we're running out of time, but if Mr Clement would like to respond, I'm willing to hear his arguments. If he cannot respond adequately, I will move a motion. I don't know how you want to deal with that.
The Chair: Mr Clement, do you care to respond at this time?
Mrs Pupatello: Aren't you going through all the points, Chair? There was unanimous consent to do point by point.
The Chair: Yes.
Mrs Pupatello: So you're going to go through the whole discussion and then have a motion at the end?
The Chair: It was the decision of the subcommittee that we move point by point through the motion and have one vote at the end. However, if someone wanted to indicate their dissent to a specific point, they can move a motion to delete that particular point to show their lack of consent to that point.
Mr Clement, do you wish to respond at this time? We're getting very close to 6 o'clock.
Mr Clement: I will try to respond very briefly, at least to have it on the record for my colleague to consider until next week.
I do not think constitutional issues are too complex to be dealt with through referenda. I think this country established a watermark with Charlottetown where the public showed a great deal of maturity in dealing with the issue. Perhaps people who are watching or reading Hansard might have been on different sides of the debate, but I felt that the debate itself reached a level of maturity which the politicians engaged in the debate did not reach, but certainly among the people the debate was mature.
Mr Wildman: Keep in mind that in Ontario it was voted for.
Mr Clement: Yes, it was, by a margin of 50,000, which I thought probably matched the people's will on that.
As to how that interplays with the argument respecting Bill 103, with the greatest respect to Mr Wildman, I think he is taking one of a series of arguments for why the government decided to do something and is interplaying it with the constitutional issue. We on the government side have many reasons why we believe that Bill 103 and its passage and the public hearings are the most appropriate way to proceed.
I'm willing to answer the rest of the questions later.
The Chair: It being past 6 of the clock, this committee stands adjourned until next Wednesday afternoon.
The committee adjourned at 1801.