Tuesday 15 July 1997
Report, Integrity Commissioner
Honourable Al Leach, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing
STANDING COMMITTEE ON THE LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY
Chair / Président: Mr Joseph N. Tascona (Simcoe Centre / -Centre PC)
Vice-Chair / Vice-Président: Mr Gary Fox (Prince Edward-Lennox-South Hastings /
Prince Edward-Lennox-Hastings-Sud PC)
Mr John R. Baird (Nepean PC)
Mr TonyClement (Brampton South / -Sud PC)
Mr AlvinCurling (Scarborough North / -Nord L)
Mr GaryFox (Prince Edward-Lennox-South Hastings /
Prince Edward-Lennox-Hastings-Sud PC)
Mr ErnieHardeman (Oxford PC)
Mr RonJohnson (Brantford PC)
Mrs MargaretMarland (Mississauga South / -Sud PC)
Mr Allan K. McLean (Simcoe East / -Est PC)
Mr Gilles E. Morin (Carleton East / -Est L)
Mrs SandraPupatello (Windsor-Sandwich L)
Mr TonySilipo (Dovercourt ND)
Mr Joseph N. Tascona (Simcoe Centre / -Centre PC)
Mr DavidTilson (Dufferin-Peel PC)
Mr BudWildman (Algoma ND)
Substitutions present /Membres remplaçants présents:
Mr JimBrown (Scarborough West / -Ouest PC)
Ms AnnamarieCastrilli (Downsview L)
Mr SteveGilchrist (Scarborough East / -Est PC)
Mr PeterKormos (Welland-Thorold ND)
Mr John L. Parker (York East / -Est PC)
Clerk / Greffier: Mr Peter Sibenik
Staff / Personnel: Mr Andrew McNaught, research officer, Legislative Research Service
The committee met at 1004 in room 151.
REPORT, INTEGRITY COMMISSIONER
Consideration of the June 25, 1997, report of the Integrity Commissioner.
The Chair (Mr Joseph N. Tascona): I would like to welcome everyone here today to the standing committee on the Legislative Assembly. We're here to consider the June 25, 1997, report of the Integrity Commissioner. I believe everyone has been provided with a binder. I believe everyone has been provided with a copy of the standing committee on the Legislative Assembly subcommittee on committee business report. On that basis, the report is before you. Is there any discussion or are there any motions etc?
Mr Tony Clement (Brampton South): I have a series of motions to amend the subcommittee's report.
Mr Tony Silipo (Dovercourt): Would you like a motion to adopt the report first? Would that be in order?
The Chair: We'll have a motion to adopt the report first. Is there any discussion on that?
Mr Clement: I'd like to move a series of amendments which I have had the ability to typewrite. I'm willing to submit them to you at this time, as well as read them into the record.
First, I'd like to move that section 5 be deleted and the following be substituted:
"5. That, with respect to the agenda item indicated in paragraph 4(b), the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing and the Attorney General will be invited to appear before the committee for one hour each, according to the following schedule: 15 minutes for the witness's opening remarks, and then 15 minutes for questions and responses by each of the parties (beginning with the official opposition, then the third party, and finally the government)."
Second, that section 6 be deleted and the following be substituted:
"6. That consideration of the agenda items indicated in paragraph 4(c) will begin with two rounds of submission, as follows: each party (beginning with the government, then the official opposition, and finally the third party) will have up to 30 minutes to make submissions, after which there will be a second round of submissions for each party on the same terms as the first round."
Third, that section 7 be deleted and the following be substituted:
"7. That the second day of committee meetings will conclude with decisions on motions dealing with agenda item 4(d). At 5 pm on July 22, 1997, all motions moved will be deemed to have been put and voted upon."
Next, that section 8 be deleted and the following be substituted:
"8. That the subcommittee is authorized to work with the Chair to finalize the report based on motions adopted by the committee, including making decisions regarding its adoption, translation and form of presentation. The Chair is authorized to report to the House on the day specified in the July 3, 1997 order of the House after members of the committee have signed off on the report."
Finally, that section 9(b) be deleted and the following be substituted:
"9(b) The committee may have more to say on certain issues raised by the commissioner's report in a forthcoming report by the committee to the House pursuant to the July 3, 1997 order of the House."
I'm prepared to speak to these motions in turn, Mr Chair. Beginning with section 5, I'd like to bring members of the committee up to date that there was a disagreement in the subcommittee between the opposition and myself, representing the government, on who should be invited to participate as a witness in this hearing. I took the position that the appropriate individuals would be the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing and the Attorney General. My colleagues in opposition agreed with those two invitations but also, as is represented in the subcommittee report, sought to invite the commissioner, the chair of the Health Services Restructuring Commission and the Minister of Health.
My own view, on behalf of the government, is that the Minister of Health and the chair of the Health Services Restructuring Commission are relatively incidental in the sense that although they were the recipients of the letter, their own views on whether the commission is quasi-judicial or not are not relevant because it's the report of the commissioner that is relevant and so their time as witnesses would not be helpful to this committee.
The most important debate we had at subcommittee was on whether it was appropriate to invite the Integrity Commissioner to this hearing. Mr Chair, as you know, during those meetings I felt very strongly that it was entirely inappropriate to invite the Integrity Commissioner for two reasons. The first reason was that according to the motion we are charged, and I think quite appropriately so, with reviewing the report. The report is the report. Any extraneous comments or opinions of the commissioner are not relevant to the report. We are charged with the responsibility of reviewing the report, not other opinions that the Integrity Commissioner may have.
I see this as akin to a judgement by a judge where the judgement of the judge stands and there is no right to cross-examine the judge in those circumstances, based on why he said this or why she said that. That was the first reason.
The second reason I felt strongly that it was inappropriate to invite the Integrity Commissioner was because the motion that submitted this report to this committee for consideration said that we are to report both to the Legislature itself and the Integrity Commissioner. I felt it was entirely inappropriate to ask the Integrity Commissioner to participate in these hearings when in fact we are reporting to the Integrity Commissioner. We should report to the Integrity Commissioner based on our own views rather than be coloured in our views based upon the Integrity Commissioner's views when we are in fact reporting to him.
For those two reasons, I sought to amend section 5 of the report.
Section 6 of the report is a minor amendment saying that when we get into our rounds of discussion we should logically start with the governing party. I had a discussion with the clerk as to whether to call an additional subcommittee meeting because when I saw the written word on our subcommittee report I wanted to seek this clarification. He advised me that the best way to do it, rather than have another subcommittee, is to do it here. This mirrors how debate occurs in the Legislature and I wanted us to be as close as possible to the norms and procedures that occur in the Legislative Assembly.
Section 7 again is a minor clarification based on the subcommittee's discussions that I suggested. It was agreed that 5 pm on July 22 would be the time at which all motions would be deemed to have been put and that they would be voted upon at that time if they had not been disposed of prior to that particular time.
Section 8 is slightly different than the one that was originally before you, in the sense that section 8 indicates, "That the subcommittee is authorized to work with the Chair to finalize the report based on motions adopted by the committee...." I believe that was the understanding of the subcommittee, that we couldn't go on a frolic of our own and come up with things that were inimical to what the committee had wanted, but I wanted to put it in writing that any subcommittee report was based on motions that were adopted by this committee and so would take its direction from the committee.
Finally, section 9(b): The only change I sought to have was rather than "the committee will have more to say," I thought that "the committee may have more to say," which did not presuppose that we would have more to say.
The Chair: Anything further?
Mr Clement: I think that's about it.
Mr Silipo: There are a couple of things I want to say with respect to the amendments. First of all, with respect to the amendments that deal with sections 6, 7, 8 and 9, I think that they actually are a clear reflection of the decisions that we made at the subcommittee, and I would be happy, if you wish, to incorporate them, to adopt them as part of the main motion, however you wish to deal with them, because I believe they reflect more cleary the consensus we arrived at on those items. Procedurally, if you want to deal with them that way, I'd be happy to do that.
I have of course real problems with what Mr Clement has moved with respect to section 5. As he pointed out, this was an issue on which there was substantial disagreement on the subcommittee between him on the one hand and myself and the Liberal caucus representative on the other.
Let me just focus in on particularly the one area I feel really strongly about and where I feel the government members are completely off base in their position, and that is their refusal to have the commissioner appear before the committee. I believe we can't do our work properly without having the commissioner here.
I want to be really clear here, as I was, I hope, at the subcommittee, that in asking for the commissioner to come before this committee I am not interested, nor quite frankly are we allowed as a committee, to get into in any kind of detail the issues that took place that led to the commissioner's report, because of course the Members' Integrity Act states very clearly that the assembly, and therefore the committee, doesn't have the power to inquire further into the contravention or to impose a penalty if the commissioner recommended that none be imposed or to impose a penalty other than the one recommended. That's quite clear and I certainly intend to abide by that, as I'm sure will every member of the committee, and as I'm sure you will make sure we all abide by that, as we deal with the witnesses who will come before us and the work we will do.
My point in having the commissioner here is not to debate his findings. I made that very clear at the subcommittee and I want to make it clear to the government members particularly. My point in having the commissioner come before us was primarily to clarify the one issue over which there has been significant disagreement between the government members and the opposition, and that is the question of penalty. It's our contention, and it's certainly supported by our reading of the legislation, supported by, I understand, the information we received from the commissioner's office, that the commissioner, in determining whether there should be penalty in this instance or in any other instance, does so with respect to the member's status as a member of the Legislative Assembly. He does not and cannot determine any question of penalty with respect to the member's membership in cabinet.
You'll recall, Chair, that when the report was tabled we asked a number of questions of the Premier with respect to his responsibilities in continuing to accept Mr Leach as a member of cabinet despite the fact that he had been clearly found to have breached the Members' Integrity Act, albeit in good faith, as the commissioner finds. But he has been found to be in breach. The fact is that this is the third time Mr Leach has been found in one way or another to have breached various conventions or rules of the Legislative Assembly or the province.
The trouble I had and that we have is in the Premier's continuing positioning in saying, "I'm accepting the commissioner's findings, I'm accepting the commissioner's report and therefore I have to do nothing more." Our point is, you can't do that. You may decide you want to do nothing more, that's fine. It's not fine from where we stand. It may be fine from where you stand, but you can't do that by hiding behind the commissioner's report because the commissioner has no jurisdiction to tell the Premier whether a certain person should be in cabinet or not. It's the Premier and only the Premier who determines that issue.
I wanted to have the commissioner here so that we could put those questions to him and clarify that issue, because I fully expect members of the government aren't going to believe my interpretation. It's quite frankly not convenient for them to believe it, but they might very well believe the opinion of the commissioner if he was sitting here in front of us explaining what his jurisdiction is and what his jurisdiction isn't. I think we are doing a complete disservice to the whole process if we are not clarifying that very substantial issue.
I want to again reiterate that this is my only concern and my primary wish in having the commissioner present. I even suggested, and I'd be happy to reiterate, that if we needed to clarify that with a motion that makes it very clear we are calling the commissioner for that reason only, we could do that, although I don't think the commissioner would need any sort of parameters to be set by us, because he would be the first to tell us if we were to get into grounds we have no jurisdiction to be in and simply not answer those questions.
I believe this is a very fundamental issue that needs to be addressed and I think the government members, as I say, are doing a complete disservice if they are refusing to call the commissioner. I ask them to reflect on that and the kind of shambles these two days of committee process would be if we were to be prevented from calling people, in this case the commissioner, who would be able to shed some light on some very important points we have to deal with as part of our work over the next couple of days.
I equally support the request to have the Minister of Health and the head of the restructuring commission here because I think that obviously all of this hinges around the question of the health restructuring commission. We know the Minister of Health has made some very clear statements in the House on this point and I think it would be useful to have the minister here for us to get from him directly the interpretation he puts, as well as that of the head of the restructuring commission. I think the government members are trying to truncate a process here by not allowing these three important people, and particularly the commissioner, to appear before us.
Ms Annamarie Castrilli (Downsview): Let's remember for a moment why we are here. We are here because a member of our assembly has been found to be in breach of one of the most serious pieces of legislation we have: the Members' Integrity Act. It is a piece of legislation that sets a high standard for all of us. One of us has been found wanting, and as has been pointed out, it's not the first time; it is in fact the third time.
We are also here because the Integrity Commissioner has said very clearly that there has been not only a breach of the act but a flagrant contempt for parliamentary convention. That's a very, very serious charge.
We are here, finally, because we are required under the Members' Integrity Act to consider and respond to the report which has been placed before the Legislative Assembly, and the Legislative Assembly has delegated that responsibility to us, to make a report to it and to the Integrity Commissioner on this.
We are not here to whitewash what has happened. We are not here to be part of a sham exercise. We are here to look at the report, to look at it seriously, to use the means available to us, which means questioning, which means prodding, which means finding information that is relevant to our decision-making process and to the report that we will ultimately have to make. That's why I'm here. That's what I hope you are all here for.
That, to me, means some very basic, fundamental things. I agree with Mr Clement that we are not a court of law and we are not supposed to second-guess the issues before us and the comments that the Integrity Commissioner has made, but we are a vehicle of the Legislative Assembly. The only way in which we could consider this report fully is to have all of the parties before us and to be able to ask the relevant questions, to inform ourselves on the substance of the report, to make sure that there are no inconsistencies and that the report is clear in our minds. We are certainly not to second-guess what is in there, but we do have a responsibility to the assembly, and the only way we discharge that responsibility is to have all the participants before us and all the facts in this case clearly in our minds.
It is unthinkable that you would begin this process without the individual who wrote the report, the Integrity Commissioner. It is unthinkable that we would not have him here to ask the relevant questions. This is not a court of law, as has been said, and we would certainly not be putting the Integrity Commissioner to any cross-examination, but there are things we need to clarify. We've already proven that. The leader of my party already had to write a letter requesting clarification on the report and what the issue of penalty meant. There are some substantial issues for us to consider on the issue of penalty, and the only person who can give us that kind of information is the Integrity Commissioner.
The report deals with health issues, with the hospital restructuring commission and the Minister of Health. It is again unthinkable that we would proceed without those individuals before us to explain to us what their understanding is, what the practice is, and in particular with respect to the Ontario hospital restructuring commission, the kind of expectations they have vis-à-vis this government and the issue of interference. These are all questions that have to be put.
I ask you why we would have a hearing that misses some of the major components, why we would even bother being here without the Integrity Commissioner, without the Minister of Health, without the head of the Ontario hospital restructuring commission. What's the point? That really is finally the question.
I have said in subcommittee and I will say to you again, I will not be part of a sham process. I certainly hope that all of you are interested in having a full and fair discussion of the ideas and a complete report to discharge our obligations to the House.
The Chair: Just a point of clarification, Ms Castrilli: I believe you were speaking on point 5.
Ms Castrilli: I was indeed.
The Chair: Mr Silipo indicated that he was in agreement with 6, 7, 8 and 9. Are you in agreement with those too?
Ms Castrilli: I consider 6, 7, 8 and 9 to be points of clarification, not of substance. Number 5 is really the key here.
The Chair: So I take it that you would adopt Mr Silipo's position.
Ms Castrilli: I certainly adopt the position that I agree with the amendments as being clerical in nature.
The Chair: I take it that you agree with him. Mr Kormos.
Mr Peter Kormos (Welland-Thorold): I agree with him too because he told me to agree with his comments regarding 6, 7, 8 and 9.
Mr Silipo: That's a surprise, that he would agree with that, for that reason anyway.
Mr Kormos: I wasn't at the subcommittee meeting, Chair.
Interjection: Where were you when Bob Rae needed you?
The Chair: Excuse me. I can't hear Mr Kormos.
Mr Kormos: Let me put this to you. Let's cut the crap. At the end of the day, this isn't the most serious violation of the Members' Integrity Act that could ever be contemplated. There's no two ways about it.
It would be interesting, and I'm surprised the government would propose that the head of the restructuring committee not be here, because the head of the restructuring committee would be in a position to say that he felt no pressure or influence as a result of this letter, that he dismissed it or treated it -- probably dismissed it, but treated it with as much regard as he would a letter from any other MPP. Or he might say that yes, he felt this was an intrusion on his role as the head of the restructuring commission.
I suspect -- I have no idea; that's why it would be interesting to hear from the person -- that it would be the former. I suspect he'd indicate that this didn't have any more impact on a decision that he made or that his committee made than any other letter from any MPP. We understand, I think pretty clearly, that any MPP would have been entitled to write this letter. The difficulty here was Mr Leach writing the letter while being a member of the cabinet.
I'm prepared to concede, as I indicated right off the bat, and I hope others would be in agreement, that this isn't the most egregious violation in terms of the impact, in terms of what flowed from it. That's why I'm surprised that the government wouldn't want to hear from the head of the restructuring committee. I think it would be very interesting to hear from him because I suspect the comments that would be made there would mitigate -- I think that's the word that might be used -- for Mr Leach in that no damage was done.
I'm surprised as well that the government wouldn't want the commissioner here, because they are the ones who, in their argument during the course of questions and debate over whether the matter was going to be addressed as the act requires, brought the commissioner into the debate, both in responses during question period by the Premier and by Mr Leach. Mr Leach was oh, so ready to quote the commissioner when the commissioner said, "I recommend that no penalty be imposed." The commissioner said that; there's no issue to it.
Look what else the commissioner said. He said very clearly, "I am satisfied that the Honourable Allan Leach contravened the Members' Integrity Act, 1994 by communicating with the chair of the Health Services Restructuring Commission." Bang. It's said and done. There's no question with that.
He knows what the act requires him to do. He makes this finding, no two ways about it: Mr Leach contravened the act. Then he has to contemplate what penalty he, the commissioner, will impose pursuant to the act. I'm sure Mr Clement understands that. So he considers the circumstances and basically says, "Look, he contravened the act, but it was as a result of his stupidity." Okay? Don't pull the wings off a fly. The commissioner wasn't prepared to be malicious in his response to Mr Leach's contravention. He dismissed Mr Leach, talking about his "limited experience in government" and his "mistaken belief that he was entitled to do so," referring to good faith based on mistaken belief.
There's good faith and then there's good faith based on mistaken belief, and I think those are very much two different things, because one is good faith; the other is good faith based on ignorance. Not all good faith has to be based on ignorance. Good faith can have other sources.
But he does say it was "an error in judgement." That seems to be a pretty clear finding as well. While the Premier, when questioned about Mr Leach's capacity as a minister, refers to the third paragraph, "I recommend that no penalty be imposed," he has declined to make reference to the commissioner's finding that the minister displayed an error in judgement. That seems to me something the Premier should be horribly concerned about.
The comments Mr Silipo made about what the commissioner was actually doing here seem to me to be pretty irrefutable in terms of the manner in which the government has utilized the commissioner's final obligation, and that was to determine what penalty he was to impose under the act vis-à-vis Mr Leach's rights as an MPP. Those are the only concerns the commissioner has, and you know what they are. They can be an admonishment, they can be a suspension or they can be getting turfed from the Legislature, effectively forcing, I suppose, a by-election.
The commissioner says, "Look, under the circumstances, I don't think this member, this MPP, should be admonished," although having said that, this report is a pretty significant admonishment, especially since it refers to the prior errors in judgement. You see, Mr Leach is a recidivist, after all. Maybe we should be calling Mr Runciman as one of the witnesses.
What's interesting is that the government would want to delete Jim Wilson, the Minister of Health, from the persons called. Jim Wilson seems to have known that it would be improper for a minister, a member of cabinet, to do what Mr Leach did. It appears, as a result of questioning and references made in the House, that Mr Wilson very specifically, when it was suggested to him that he might perform this role, dismissed it out of hand, saying that of course no minister can write this sort of letter.
As I say, I don't regard this as the most serious breach, subject to what the head of the restructuring commission might say. By God, if in fact he quaked and he trembled upon receipt of that letter and worried about how he was going to accommodate the minister, then we'd be persuaded otherwise, but I suspect he didn't.
When Ms Swarbrick and Ms Martel wrote relatively innocuous letters to, as I recall it, the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario, merely urging speeding up a hearing process, a disciplinary process, merely urging the expediting of it, they regarded that, although benign and certainly as benign as this conduct, as compelling enough to tender their resignations from the cabinet. I'll tell you quite frankly, the Premier of the day accepted those resignations. It was only at the urging of the Leader of the Opposition that he reversed his position, which wasn't unusual for that Premier.
When Evelyn Gigantes intervened, in my view entirely appropriately, in a dispute among a co-op housing program in Ottawa, quite frankly, from a perspective as a member of the community, as a member of the Legislature, she was doing what I would like to see ministers do. She was trying to resolve a conflict that was developing within a co-op housing project in Ottawa that threatened the vitality of that project.
I'll be quite candid: I was proud of what she did. I thought she did exactly what her constituents and her office would have required her to do. But as it turns out, this very much good-faith exercise, in good faith and with the best of motives, caused her to tender her resignation, understanding that it breached the letter of the high standards that ministers are held to.
Evelyn Gigantes, utilizing a briefing note that had been given to her that all ministers receive, which made reference to a recipient of out-of-province health care treatment of a particular type, in the pressure and turmoil of question period mentioned the name of the recipient of the health care, totally inadvertently. That was inadvertence. Mr Leach can't claim inadvertence here. He knew exactly what he was doing; it wasn't a mere slip of the tongue. Hers was a mere slip of the tongue, again as Minister of Health, with no intention of breaching the standards. It was a pure, total accident, pure inadvertence, but again, because of the standards to which ministers are held, she felt compelled to resign.
The government has circled the wagons on this one, they really have, when at the end of the day there's no need to. I'm convinced that before the day is over they're going to be confronted with far more serious violations of standards by their ministers than this consists of. But I believe we have to address the way the government has hidden behind Judge Evans's comment that "no penalty be imposed." We have to clear the air on that.
I agree with Mr Silipo, and I'm confident others would, that if the committee wants to restrict the nature of inquiry solely to what Judge Evans -- again, he may well come here, and I agree we can't go beyond what's written here, but we have an obligation to ask him, when he said, "I recommend that no penalty be imposed," did he mean what Premier Harris says he meant and what Al Leach says he meant or did he merely quote clause 34(1)(a) of the act, which says that no penalty be imposed? If he meant what Mike Harris says and what Al Leach says, by God, I will live with that. We'll have to; we have no choice. But if he meant merely to cite 34(1)(a) that no penalty be imposed, which was his obligation and is the only way he could wrap up his report, then I suggest the government has got to live with that, and Mr Leach has certainly got to come clean.
There has been a total denial. This is like the little boy who wet the bed, on Mr Leach's part. It's absolute denial. He spent day after day insisting that he was as clean as could be. This isn't the worst possible thing to acknowledge having made an error about, and I think that's what this committee has a responsibility to do.
I'm disappointed in Mr Clement's comments. I think we could call the commissioner with a very restricted range of inquiry based on, was he merely citing 34(1)(a) when he said "no penalty be imposed" or was he venturing further, as Mike Harris and Al Leach would insist he was?
I believe we have to listen to Jim Wilson and understand why Jim Wilson knew it was wrong to do what Mr Leach did but Mr Leach didn't. I believe it's in everybody's interest to hear from the head of the restructuring commission, in all likelihood to be told that this letter meant diddly-squat to him and he could give a tinker's dam what Mr Leach wrote. It may hurt Mr Leach's feelings and diminish his stature, but that's okay at the end of the day.
We also have to focus on the fact that there was an error in judgement, and Mr Leach and the Premier have preferred to rely on other comments based on the commissioner, without addressing the totality of the report and the conclusions.
The Chair: Thank you, Mr Kormos. I would just make a comment at this point in time. We've got a subcommittee report before us. We've got two days scheduled, but I have Mr Leach scheduled for this morning only. If you want to debate this all morning -- I've got a number of other speakers -- feel free to, but I cannot control the agenda in terms of who is available this afternoon. We have some more people who wish to speak, and we'll go through those. I just caution you that we did invite someone to attend and we've got someone here who you want to speak to it, Mr Leach, so we'll continue on and I'll listen to you. Ms Pupatello.
Mrs Sandra Pupatello (Windsor-Sandwich): No, thanks.
The Chair: Mrs Marland.
Mrs Margaret Marland (Mississauga South):
I would like to start at the point where Ms Castrilli ended. She said we're not here to whitewash nor to be part of a sham process, and I want to assure her that I agree with that statement wholeheartedly as a government member.
I also think that if we look very seriously at the responsibility we have here for the next two days of hearing, we're not here for a lynching; we're here to consider the report, and if you want to consider the report, you have to consider only what is in that report. I think the report is very clear. Some of the references that both Mr Silipo and Mr Kormos have made are very accurate references.
There's one thing about His Honour Justice Gregory Evans, and that is that he's very clear whenever he writes, not only in this report that is before us, but I'm referring to page 22 of his report of 1995-96, which is a reference made in Mr Kennedy's letter on this subject. In the last paragraph on page 22 of that annual report of the commissioner he says: "The commissioner disagreed with Mr Cooke's interpretation of the various sections and stated" -- and this is another case, but just to show you how clearly Commissioner Evans writes -- "`...a statute attracts strict rules of statutory interpretation and construction. Each section must be read as a whole.'"
I draw you to his final findings and I think you have to read each section of his findings as a whole and not split it up in the format that Mr Kormos has just done. There are commas in that sentence in the second-to-last paragraph of Justice Gregory Evans's findings, and it's not there not to be read in its entirety. It says,
"I am of the further opinion that such action was an error in judgement" -- comma -- "based on his limited experience in government" -- comma -- "but made in good faith in the mistaken belief that he was entitled to do so."
That's what Justice Gregory Evans is saying.
Mr Kormos broke it up and suggested that one thing meant something else.
Then he says, "Accordingly, I recommend that no penalty be imposed."
I think Mr Silipo is perfectly right: Mr Evans is saying that no penalty be imposed. That's the report that's before us and that's what we're talking about. I don't think you can break it up and start to interpret something else other than what is here in the black-and-white printed form before us. To do otherwise does an injustice above all else to the Integrity Commissioner.
In the last paragraph on the very first page of his report he says, "On the basis of the material filed and marked as exhibits attached to my report, I have concluded that the information contained therein is sufficient to provide the opinion requested and that a more formal inquiry is not necessary."
So in fact we are into a formal inquiry, but we are into a formal inquiry because the act states we have to respond to this report. I read this as Justice Gregory Evans saying that more information isn't necessary before this committee other than what is contained in his report.
I think it's very interesting for Mr Kormos to recall the Gigantes experience as an example before this committee, because I don't recall, to tell you the truth, Peter, whether you sat on that Gigantes committee. Did you?
Mr John R. Baird (Nepean): I think he was still in cabinet.
Mrs Marland: Did you sit on the inquiry?
Mrs Marland: I don't recall whether you did or not but, in any case, I would like to tell you, as someone who did sit on that committee, that you're not comparing apples with apples in what you cited this morning. For the benefit of all the other people sitting here this morning who weren't on that committee, if you're going to cite an example, you have to make sure you're scrupulously accurate. In the Gigantes case it wasn't simply a case of a cabinet minister helping some constituents with a housing co-op; it was a case where the judicial system had been engaged. Once that takes place, no one, not even a backbencher, let alone a cabinet minister, is allowed to become involved.
There is a difference also, because the decision on the Gigantes inquiry was written by the counsel to the committee, a very esteemed, highly regarded, capable lawyer by the name of Eleanore Cronk. When that committee decided to ask Eleanore Cronk to write the report, the government, which was the government of Premier Bob Rae, had the power to have the committee write the report or have some other form of the report written, but they decided, as a majority on that committee with the opposition, the report would be written by Ms Cronk. That report was very clear that Ms Gigantes could not be involved where the judicial system was engaged, so you cannot bring that example to this hearing today, I respectfully suggest, because it is not the same issue.
As we are here today to discuss the commissioner's report, I agree with the motion that is suggesting that the necessity to have the commissioner here in person is redundant to the printed report we have from him, which, fortunately for us, is very clear "that no penalty be imposed." There's no denying that he made the other findings, which are critical of Minister Leach in some areas, but they are not the same areas to which Mr Kormos's arguments refer.
Mr Clement: I'd like to have my comments, very briefly, in two parts. The first part is to try to dispose of items 6, 7, 8 and 9 if we can. I understand there is new proposed wording on section 7 that would say, "...all motions will be deemed to have been moved and the Chair shall put all questions necessary to dispose of the matter." I'm quite agreeable to that wording as suggested by the clerk. I was led to believe that this wording was passed by the opposition parties as well. I'm wondering, given the commentary of Ms Castrilli and Mr Silipo, whether we could dispose of my amendments 6, 7, 8 and 9 at this time, after which I do have some comments on section 5.
The Chair: The wording on number 7 is, "...all motions deemed to have been moved" --
Mr Clement: I'm sorry, I thought you had the wording of this -- "and the Chair shall put all questions necessary to dispose of the matter." The clerk felt that was more in keeping with parliamentary practice.
The Chair: Okay. Are we ready?
Mrs Pupatello: I have a question to the table.
The Chair: Yes.
Mrs Pupatello: Could you tell me the availability of the ministers today? Is Minister Leach available at a particular time today only?
The Chair: At this point in time, my understanding is that he was scheduled for 10:30. I made an inquiry if he was going to be available all morning; my understanding is yes. I don't know about the afternoon. That's why I'd like to get this finished.
Mr Clement: That's precisely why, Mrs Pupatello, I'm trying to move this along, so that we can get to that.
The Chair: Is there unanimous consent on the amendment to number 7?
Ms Castrilli: Could you read that again with the changes?
The Chair: The amendment to number 7 is in the second sentence: "...all motions moved will be deemed to have been moved and the Chair shall put all questions necessary to dispose of the matter."
Mr Alvin Curling (Scarborough North): Only 6, 7, 8, and 9, not 5?
The Chair: Yes. Is there unanimous consent to adopt number 7, as amended? Agreed.
Is there unanimous consent to adopt numbers 6, 8 and 9? So moved.
Is there any more discussion on number 5?
Mr Clement: I just wanted to say something quickly. Hopefully this will be part of the wrapup, because I am very conscious of the fact that the minister did clear his entire morning and we should accommodate him.
My only point is to reiterate that there are two reasons why I felt it was not appropriate for the commissioner to be here this morning. One is that according to the motion that was moved in the House, this committee is to consider the report. We are to consider the report. The report stands on its own. Indeed, Mr Kormos -- I'm not trying to put words in his mouth -- did itemize the clarity of the report on a number of points and items. I agree with Mr Kormos that the report is clear. There might be some difference in interpretation. That difference in interpretation will always be there. Whereas Mrs Marland made it quite clear that we feel sanctions are not necessary because the mistake was made in good faith -- that was the finding of the commissioner -- the opposition has every right to put a different interpretation on it.
The second point, which I don't think any of the opposition members have turned their minds to, is that the motion that put this before this committee said, "...consider the report and respond directly to the Integrity Commissioner." We are responding to the Integrity Commissioner. I still believe it is utterly inappropriate, then, to be influenced by the Integrity Commissioner as we attempt to respond to him. That is a process that is unknown in terms of due process.
Given those two reasons, I don't think it's appropriate that we deal with the Integrity Commissioner but that in fact we deal with his report as we were asked to do by the Legislature.
Mr Curling: I sit here and I wonder if we have any respect for the process and whether or not this government can be trusted, in a way.
What I saw here was a subcommittee that met on July 3 and July 7 to discuss the process by which we will deal with this report and this issue -- two days. Then a couple of days afterwards, here comes Mr Clement with an amendment outside all of this, outside the subcommittee. Maybe the backroom boys got him and hooked him and said: "Listen, here's how we can circumvent this thing. Here's how we can undermine this thing. What we'll do is we'll pull out these other people, and we don't need the Integrity Commissioner there." I can hear the discussion: "We don't need the Minister of Health there, we don't need the chair of the Health Services Restructuring Commission; just put the minister there and the Attorney General, and that's it."
Either we have a hearing or we don't have one. A whole bunch of you are here from the government, eight of you, coming here for two days, and then we're going to go through the charade of saying, "We'll just listen to the minister and we'll only listen to the Attorney General, but we'll amend it." What happened on the way from the 7th to the 14th?
The Chair: Mr Curling, I can be very clear with you: We did have the meetings, and in those meetings it was discussed. Mr Clement's position was put forth, and Mr Silipo was very aware of that and Ms Castrilli was very aware of that. It's not something they're surprised by, because I'm not.
Mr Curling: I'm surprised by it, because the fact is I have a subcommittee --
The Chair: You're not on the subcommittee, so I'm not surprised.
Mr Curling: Exactly.
Interjection: Let Mr Curling make his points.
Mr Curling: Yes. Then I see a motion today that has changed this. Isn't that so, Mr Chair? Could you clarify that for me?
The Chair: Yes. When you came to the meeting, you received a copy of the motion to amend.
Mr Curling: Is it the first time we're seeing this motion?
The Chair: The first time you were seeing it, yes.
Mr Curling: That's right, and I'm commenting on that. I'm saying that something happened from July 7 to today, and I am hearing that quite a few people who are very pertinent to this hearing are not being presented, and the government has decided to withdraw them. I'm not here to debate right now the details of the report; I'm just making a comment on number 5, that you have drawn out other members who can be pertinent to this hearing. Something changed along the way.
If Mr Silipo and all those members were privy to all that between July 7 and July 14, God bless them, but I am also on this committee and I am seeing it for the first time and I am saying this is quite a shock to me. It changes the whole direction. How can we trust a government or trust the process with all this change happening? That's what's happening here.
I know Mrs Marland is going into all the other cases and the history, and we can bring up a lot of cases. We can bring in Joan Smith, who was just on a premises and lost her job because of that process, but here we are seeing a minister who knew. We were warned by other ministers in the House daily that we cannot approach the restructuring commission because it's not the right thing to do. When we said, "Could we?" -- "No." Then we have a minister who may sit beside the minister in cabinet and is his colleague who went and violated that. I fully agreed. When I looked at it generally I said, "Maybe I for my constituency would say, `Whoa, slow down a bit; I would like some more time for my constituents to have some response,'" but that's not the matter right now.
The matter I'm talking about is number 5 that you put forward, which makes us all a laughingstock. I am a laughingstock with this. I tell my constituents I'm coming here to hear this and I want to hear from the Integrity Commissioner his motivation. Mrs Marland is saying that we must read every comma and full stop. Yes, I want to know too from the Integrity Commissioner everything that was said here. He said it's taken in its entirety, but I'd like to ask the Integrity Commissioner some questions, I'd like to ask the Minister of Health some questions and also the chair of the Health Services Restructuring Commission.
But to get it today, to change it is telling me that something happened along the way, and we are fed up with that kind of process. Either we participate as parliamentarians and carry out the process in the proper way, or is it again those backroom boys, the whiz kids, who are telling you, "You guys, see what you got yourselves into?" Damage control here, not to embarrass the government or not to get the whole thing in, is to say, "Let us change all that and only have the Attorney General and the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing here." I don't think the whole story will come out.
Those are my comments, and I'm very disturbed by the way things are being done, but it's consistent for this government to change the rules --
The Chair: Mr Silipo.
Mr Curling: I'm not finished, Mr Chair.
The Chair: I thought those were your comments. I presumed you were finished. If you're not finished, you can continue.
Mr Curling: I'll tell you when I am finished.
These are upsetting, and we will continue as an opposition to expose the kind of thing this government constantly does in the Legislature and even outside. Now it's completed.
Mr Silipo: Just briefly, it's obvious from the response we have had from both Mrs Marland and Mr Clement that the government members have been whipped into this position, so I don't hold out much hope that any good sense will prevail and that they will see the wisdom of having the commissioner appear. But I want to push the point --
Mrs Marland: I'm never whipped, I want you to know.
Mr Silipo: I guess you've all come to the same conclusion independently, then, that you're all going to be obstinate and you're all going to block our doing some useful work. That's fine too.
I want to push the point because I really want to find out whether I'm right in thinking that members of the government are a little bit afraid of what the commissioner might actually tell us, so I want to move an amendment to the amendment, that is to section 5, by adding the following words at the end of Mr Clement's amendment:
"and that the Chair write to the Integrity Commissioner asking him to clarify whether section 34(1) of the Members' Integrity Act allows or prohibits the commissioner to make recommendations relating to an MPP's membership in cabinet."
I have that in writing for you.
If I could just say briefly, Chair, if the members of the government are not willing to have the commissioner here -- I would think if they were really interested in having this issue dealt with, they would not oppose the committee as a committee getting to the bottom through a letter -- which is not as good as having the commissioner here, but quite frankly, it's the next best thing -- having the commissioner clarify what his powers under section 34 are. I'm quite clear in my reading of them that they don't allow him to deal with the issue of an MPP's membership in cabinet, but I'm prepared to listen and to hear what the commissioner has to say.
I put that as a suggestion and I hope either Mr Clement will incorporate it or members of the committee will adopt it and vote in favour of it. I propose it now because I don't want to get caught procedurally later, once we've dealt with the report, in not being able to put it. I don't put it because it's my first position -- it's obviously my next preferred position -- but I put it as an amendment.
The Chair: Just to be clear, your amendment is to the amendment proposed by Mr Clement, and it would not fall as a new sentence, but is just taking out the period after the bracket.
Mr Silipo: That's right.
Mrs Pupatello: I just have a comment and I suppose a question as a wrapup for Mr Clement, who seems to be leading the charge on behalf of the government members. If we all agree that the Integrity Commissioner's report clearly states that the minister was in contravention of the act, then the only thing we're here to discuss is the penalty: if there should be one, what kind of penalty. Those are the issues.
Any time you ask that question, the one most important thing we're going to look at is what the impact of the minister's actions were. If you don't have the chair of the Health Services Restructuring Commission here so we can ask that commissioner what the impact was, how on earth are you going to properly debate or consider the actions of the minister?
In the end, we may find that it was an error in judgement and that we are agreeing with the result of the commissioner's statement. The point is how, and I need to have an answer before we go forward for a vote. If you can't see the impact of the minister's actions by at minimum being able to address the chair of the Health Services Restructuring Commission, then this is a sham.
You've called a number of people to come into Toronto from our home towns to be here because it was so important and you're not even allowing us to speak to the people who would, may have been or weren't impacted by the minister's actions. I would say that's more relevant than the people you're suggesting be here today, and that is who was impacted by the minister's behaviour. How do you rationalize, then, suggesting that the chair of the restructuring commission not be here?
The Chair: Mr Clement will have an opportunity to speak on this, but Ms Castrilli is next.
Ms Castrilli: I wanted to respond to Mr Clement's points earlier. I'm glad the minister has joined us, because I want to reiterate that I think it's a shared feeling that this is not going to be a lynching, but neither is it going to be a charade. I am being very forthright with you and telling you none of us on this side want a sham, and I'm glad to hear Mrs Marland say it is the same on the other side. That requires full and fair discussion. That requires all the parties to be here. Anything less is simply not a full and fair process.
The second issue Mr Clement raised and that I thought I responded to, but obviously the message didn't get across, is that yes, this is a report to the Integrity Commissioner, but if you read the motion carefully, it also says we have to present that report to the House. We are also charged under the integrity act to consider the report in its fullness. That again requires having all the parties, all the information for us to be totally informed and cognizant of what we're doing before we submit a report to the House. That's my responsibility as legislator. I hope it's also yours.
Mr Clement: I'm speaking to the amendment to my amendment, I believe, Mr Chair. Is that what's on the floor?
The Chair: Yes.
Mr Clement: I'm a bit perplexed by it because, first of all, my understanding is that any member of the Legislature has the opportunity or the right to correspond with the Integrity Commissioner to seek clarification. We heard a revelation or a statement by Ms Castrilli earlier on in this discussion that the Leader of the Opposition has already written to the Integrity Commissioner to seek clarification on the very points that you raise, so perhaps it would be opportune for the third party to do the same. You do not need the office of the Chair to do that. Any member is within his or her rights to do that directly, so I'm not sure how helpful your amendment to my amendment is in terms of our process, which is two days of public discussion about the report. Those are my comments on the amendment to the amendment.
Mr Kormos: Mr Clement indicated or certainly left the impression, not in these comments but in the ones prior, that he -- and Mr Leach, please. There are eight of them, there are only five of us. You're okay. The paddy wagon ain't waiting for you outside the front steps. You got the jury in your hands.
Mr Clement made reference to a disagreement about what the final comment of Judge Evans was and that is, "Accordingly, I recommend that no penalty be imposed." He seems to understand that the opposition is suggesting very strongly that was merely the judge fulfilling his duty under section 34 of the act and utilizing, as it was, the very language of clause 34(1)(a).
Mr Clement is going to suggest there's an honest disagreement about what that phrase meant when used by Judge Evans. I don't think it's an honest disagreement; I think it's a pettifogger's disagreement on Mr Clement's part. We are in this unique position, Mr Clement, that unlike judgements -- I know you were making some analogies to courts and Ms Marland ventured into the field of statutory interpretation, notwithstanding that the judge's report isn't a statute. But the analogies may well be reasonably fair and Ms Marland did well in her argument. We've got the unique opportunity, if there is a disagreement about what the judge meant, to ask the judge. We're in a position to do that. It seems to me such a modest proposal, so simple.
I hear what you said. You said, "Gosh, Lyn McLeod can write or Mr Silipo can write to Judge Evans" -- Commissioner Evans. We probably should call him Commissioner Evans because he's a commissioner. He's a retired judge and he's doing just fine. But I think it's important, and my question rhetorically is, why are you fearful of how the judge -- the commissioner; you see, I did it myself -- might respond to the question, "Is what you meant when you said, `I recommend that no penalty be imposed,' simply compliance with section 34, or did you intend to endorse Mr Leach's ongoing participation in Mike Harris's cabinet?"
The judge may well say, "Yes, I went well beyond section 34 and I think Al Leach has every right to be in his cabinet," or he could say: "Look, it's not my job to decide who should be in or out of cabinet. My job is to decide whether conduct was serious enough to warrant suspension or expulsion as an MPP, so I make no finding because it's not within my jurisdiction to draw conclusions about whether or not somebody's conduct takes them in or out of cabinet."
It's as simple as that, because you know what I think happened? I think some minions were reading this because they went, "Oh, yikes, the commissioner's report is in today." The minions were reading it, some of the hired help were reading it and they were going, "Oh no, holy zonkers, oh nuts." Then they got to the final sentence and said: "Ah, eureka, look, the commission said no penalty shall be imposed. There's the spin, there's the line."
It was only when somebody said, "Wait a minute. Has anybody looked at the act?" and some other minion said, "Oh, the act, yikes." They went running for the act, and they said, "Oh oh, I think maybe the commissioner just meant that no penalty was going to be imposed pursuant to his powers under the act." But by then people had become so excited about what appeared to be the penultimate defence for the minister and it had already been fed into the word processors and the little computer things that they figured, "In for a dime, in for a dollar, stick to the `I recommend that no penalty be imposed,' because it sounded good to us at first instance and it might sound good to them."
If it's an honest disagreement, or even a less than honest one, we're in a position that some mere lawyers and people dealing with court judgements aren't. You can't call Judge So-and-so -- well, you could call him, but you can't call him before a subsequent hearing and say, "Judge, what did you mean when you wrote this? What did you mean when you wrote `bluebell time in Kent'?" or whatever the cute phrase is. You can't do that. I understand that. But here you can. What a delicious opportunity to resolve this disagreement. It would be resolved once and for all. We wouldn't be at loggerheads. We could carry on with our lives with the knowledge of the certainty of what the commissioner meant.
It seems to me that this is a fine compromise, because it lets the committee write Commissioner Evans, and that way it becomes part of the record of these proceedings. I've got a feeling that if Ms Castrilli or Ms Pupatello or Mr Curling or Mr Silipo or I come here with letters from Commissioner Evans, somebody is going to say, "Yeah, so what? That's not evidence of anything," or, "We don't know what the letter meant. It's vague, it's ambiguous. We would have to hear it from the commissioner's lips." Let's get him. He doesn't mind coming. He's just 15 minutes away. We'll go visit him. One way or the other. I don't understand. This seems to me such a fair compromise. It resolves your concern about the disagreement, because you seem concerned about the disagreement. We can address your concern by passing this amendment.
The Chair: We have three amendments before us. The first one is Mr Silipo's amendment. Shall Mr Silipo's amendment to the amendment to paragraph 5 carry?
Mr Kormos: Let's have a recorded vote.
Castrilli, Curling, Kormos, Silipo.
Baird, Jim Brown, Clement, Fox, Gilchrist, Hardeman, Marland, Parker, Pupatello.
The Chair: The motion is lost.
Shall Mr Clement's amendment in paragraph 5 carry? Recorded vote.
Baird, Jim Brown, Clement, Fox, Gilchrist, Hardeman, Marland, Parker.
Castrilli, Curling, Kormos, Pupatello, Silipo.
The Chair: The motion carries.
Shall the motion as amended, which is the motion to adopt the subcommittee report as amended, carry?
Baird, Jim Brown, Clement, Fox, Gilchrist, Hardeman, Marland, Parker.
Castrilli, Curling, Kormos, Silipo.
The Chair: The motion is carried.
We have Mr Leach here.
Ms Castrilli: I'd like to make a comment before Mr Leach speaks. I have made it abundantly clear in this committee that I was very concerned about the direction --
The Chair: Is it a point of order?
Ms Castrilli: It is an absolute point of order.
The Chair: Okay, let's have a point of order, then.
Ms Castrilli: I have made it very clear in this committee that I was concerned, and I made it clear in the subcommittee as well, that I certainly would not be part of any process that wasn't full and fair and made the kind of disclosure that we require and allowed us to make the kind of informed decisions that we are required to make before we can discharge our responsibility to the assembly. Because of that and because the majority of the committee is made up of members of the government who aren't willing even to entertain the slight changes that Mr Silipo offered --
The Chair: What is your point of order, Ms Castrilli?
Ms Castrilli: I'm getting to it, Mr Chair -- quite frankly, there is no point for us to be here.
The Chair: We've already voted on any process.
Ms Castrilli: There is no purpose for us being here. Therefore, I leave the committee to your good hands.
The Chair: The Liberal Party is leaving. Mrs Marland?
Mrs Marland: Mine was just a technical housekeeping item on that subcommittee report which I discussed with the clerk. In the preamble it says that the subcommittee met on July 3 and 7. We have to define that on the 7th it was a teleconference meeting. That's simply housekeeping.
The Chair: Yes, on July 3 we met in person and July 7 was a teleconference call of the subcommittee.
Are there any other comments? I think we're ready to proceed. At this point in time, we have Minister Leach here. The process is that Mr Leach will have 15 minutes to make opening remarks and then 15 minutes for questions and responses by each of the parties, beginning with the official opposition, then the third party and finally the government. There are no members of the official opposition here.
Mr Kormos: Mr Chair, on a point of order: I'm sure they would have wanted us to use their time.
Mr Gary Fox (Prince Edward-Lennox-South Hastings): There are more of us.
Interjection: You are not a Liberal.
Mr Kormos: I'm sure they would have wanted that. The spirit of the guidelines is that the opposition parties have 30 minutes as compared to 15 minutes for the government.
The Chair: No. What we have is 15 minutes to start with Mr Leach. Mr Leach, would you like to address the committee?
HONOURABLE AL LEACH
Hon Al Leach (Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing): Thank you, Mr Chairman. I can assure you that I'll be briefer than 15 minutes.
First of all, I would like to thank the members of the committee and thank you for the opportunity to be able to speak with you today.
Let me say at the beginning that I accept the findings of Mr Justice Evans in his report respecting the letter I wrote to Dr Duncan Sinclair on March 17. I made this clear when the report was first issued and I say it again today.
Let me also say that had I known it was inappropriate to write the letter, I would never have done so. It was never my intention to breach any convention of this Legislature or the Members' Integrity Act.
In writing the letter, I was representing the concerns and interests of my constituents in heath care in their community. I was careful to limit my comments to process. I did not comment on or attempt to influence the fate of the hospitals in St George-St David.
Nevertheless, in spite of my good intentions, the commissioner ruled that I did breach the Members' Integrity Act.
It might be appropriate at this time for me to read the text of my letter into the record:
"Dear Dr Sinclair:
"I am writing to you on behalf of the Wellesley Central Hospital and Women's College Hospital, who as you know have recently entered into an alliance, to request that you extend the deadline for submissions on your restructuring recommendations from 30 days to 60 days.
"The alliance hospitals are anxious to have sufficient time to prepare a submission that will highlight cost savings and other efficiencies while ensuring that the commission is aware of specific programs such as those that focus on HIV/AIDS patients and programs for immigrants and the homeless that are respectful of the unique needs of these groups and involve them in a meaningful way, since these communities have not always been well served by our health care institutions.
"With the 30-day deadline including the March break and the Easter holidays, more time is needed for these two hospitals to make their written comments to the commission.
"I am informed that hospitals in Thunder Bay were given an extension due to the Christmas holidays and would urge you to use this precedent to extend the deadline in Toronto.
"MPP St George-St David"
By way of explanation, after the commission issued its report, it provided a 30-day period in which any interested party could make submissions. Due to the timing of the report, however, the 30 days included the spring break and the Easter holiday.
Representatives of the Wellesley Hospital came to see me. They told me they were seriously concerned that they would not be able to respond adequately in that time period. As I stated in my letter, they were concerned that the 30 days included two holidays and they also knew that an extension had been given to a hospital in Thunder Bay when it faced similar circumstances. So in my letter I asked on behalf of the hospital for an extension to the 30-day time period for submissions.
I think in fairness I should also point out that in sending my letter I did what many other members of this Legislature also did in writing to the commission. I believe that they too were attempting to assist their constituents in an important issue.
I will be frank: I found it very, very difficult to hear the many, many representations from the people in my riding and not be able to take a more active interest in their concerns. I honestly believed that by commenting on the matter of process and not commenting on the ultimate decision, I was able to discharge my responsibilities to the people of St George-St David while respecting the independence of the commission.
As it turns out, in the view of the Integrity Commissioner I was in error and I accept that, but I cannot help asking myself if in setting rules such as these we've gone too far in limiting the ability of ministers to properly represent their constituents.
I can tell you that when I first entered the civil service back in the 1950s there was an expectation that members of the cabinet did forfeit certain freedoms of their ability to represent interests of their constituents. As a matter of fact, it is my recollection that in those days it was customary to seek the approval of your riding before you could accept an appointment into cabinet.
But things have changed, and I believe that public expectations about how they are able to be served by their members have risen. I can tell you, in my experience my constituents expect me to be every bit as much an advocate for them as if I did not serve in the cabinet. Notions of what is and what is not proper change with the times, but we in this Legislature are responsible for setting our own rules and I believe that it is important that we shape them consciously.
Now I am not suggesting, nor even attempting to suggest, that I know what the answer is as to where the line should be drawn. I am not even suggesting that I am certain that the line is now drawn in the wrong place. But I am suggesting that it is necessary for us to consider this issue, because if it is a problem now, it's only going to get worse. It's going to get much worse.
In the next Legislature there will only be 103 members and some 40 of them will be ministers or parliamentary assistants; that's if the current trend continues. If that is so, roughly 40% of the population will have one level of advocacy from their member and 60% will have another. I don't think the public will be well served by two levels of conduct.
Simply put, before we are ever members of cabinet or before we become parliamentary assistants, we are members of the Legislature and as such we are representatives of our constituents. They are the people who put us there. They are the people we represent, and we should all of us have an equal opportunity to properly represent them. Thank you.
The Chair: Thank you, Minister Leach. Do you care to make any other comments?
Hon Mr Leach: No.
The Chair: Okay. Thank you very much. Members from the third party?
Mr Silipo: We obviously are here and we intend to stay and go through the process. We wish that the government members had taken this process more seriously and had allowed us to do the work properly, but we agreed, as I believe the Liberal members agreed, to the committee dealing with this when the motion was in the House and we all understood that the government members had a majority and that in fact the process would flow according to whatever the majority wished to do. We regret that they have chosen to shut down part of the process but we think it's still important that we be here to ask the questions, rather than be outside looking in.
Minister, I've got a couple of questions to ask you and then my colleague Mr Kormos does as well. I want to start from the that point you've made a lot of in your presentation this morning and then go back from there. It may surprise you that certainly I for one have a lot of sympathy for the point you're making, and this is the point I wanted to also try and get across to the government members, that when we say we're not here to do a lynching, we're serious about trying to get something useful out of this process. One of the things we hope we can get out of this process is in fact what is the status of the rules as they apply to ministers and as they apply to backbench government and opposition members.
Having been in cabinet, I understand the situation you describe when you talk about the limitations you have once you're a member of the cabinet. All of a sudden, things you can do as a backbench MPP you no longer can do. I would be the first to say that's an area that we need at some point to turn our minds to, and I hope we can do it in a way that's useful and in a way that doesn't simply do it from the perspective of government versus opposition or opposition versus government, but does it really from the perspective of understanding that, quite frankly, where you sit today I can sit tomorrow and vice versa. That's been the history of the Parliament of Ontario and may very well continue to be the history, and I think we all have to understand that indeed our first reason for being here is to represent our constituents.
That having been said, I still am troubled I guess a little bit by the tone you have taken to all of this, which is that somehow what you've done -- let me put it this way: I get the impression that what you're saying is, "This is something that maybe the rules are set up in this way, but really I didn't do anything wrong." That's the attitude I hear from you.
What troubles me about that is that there seems to be in that attitude a refusal to accept the rules as they are. You may not like the rules, but they're the rules that you knew or should have known were there when you took the job as minister. They're certainly the rules your leader, Mike Harris, espoused when he was in opposition. All of a sudden he and you seem to be saying, "Sorry, the rules here don't quite suit the situation and we're not quite comfortable with the rules so we're just going to sort of pretend almost that this didn't happen, or we're not going to take it as seriously as that."
Having said that, I go on to say, as my colleague Mr Kormos said, I don't think this is the most serious breach there ever has been and I don't want to portray this as that. But it is, in your case, an indication of at least a third instance where your conduct as a minister has been found to be wanting: here a clear breach of the integrity act; earlier, the other two instances, one in terms of a prima facie contempt of the Legislature and your admonishment in the earlier case from the commissioner in terms of how you and particularly your political staffer dealt with a situation in which there was communication between him and a member of the legal profession.
What I'm getting at is this, Minister -- I want to put the question to you in this way -- whatever you may think about the rules, are you at least prepared to accept that you have breached the rules, certainly in this case, and that has some consequences and needs to have some consequences? Otherwise, if we simply say we don't like the rules, then we can simply walk away from whatever the consequences are and then you're just sort of redesigning the rules as you go along. Let me just ask you that. Are you prepared to accept that whether you believe the rules are tougher than they should be, that they shouldn't exist in this way, you have in this case broken the rules as they are set out?
Hon Mr Leach: I think I said that very clearly. I said at the time the commissioner presented his report that I accepted his decision. He found that I was in breach of the integrity act and I accept that. I was in error. I thought I had the right to write a letter with respect to process because I was of the opinion that this was not a quasi-judicial body. He has indicated that's not the case and I accept that. I agree that if that is the case, then I indeed am in breach of the integrity report. I've accepted that I was in error.
Mr Silipo: I'm happy to at least hear you say that.
Hon Mr Leach: I've said it repeatedly since the tabling of this report.
Mr Silipo: Throughout this whole process, Minister, I've never heard you say that you were sorry this happened, which you did on an earlier occasion, at the very least. The tone with which you've chosen to defend yourself is very much along the lines of the spin that my friend Mr Kormos described earlier, which is to just latch on to this issue of penalty and say, "Since the commissioner has found that no penalty should be imposed, therefore this is not a big deal." That's the attitude I've seen, and the reason that we're here is in part for you to be able to clarify that.
Let me ask you about this question of penalty. You were here for some of the discussion that happened earlier on this morning and you certainly know about this issue because it's a point that we made in the Legislature when the issue rose. In fact, it was my colleague Mr Kormos who was the first to say, "Hey, what about the legislation and what actually is in the legislation?" I want to give him credit for that. Then we subsequently followed up on that.
I want to hear your understanding of subsection 34(1). In your opinion, when the commissioner says, "no penalty be imposed," do you take that to mean that he has the power included in that to determine -- or to recommend, because he can't determine -- what should happen with respect to your membership in cabinet?
Hon Mr Leach: He certainly has the authority to affect my role as a sitting member, as an MPP, up to the point of asking you to resign your seat. Whether he has the authority to comment on my role as a cabinet minister I think is irrelevant, because that's an issue that would rest between the Premier and myself.
Let's assume for the sake of discussion that he doesn't have any authority with respect to a position cabinet. That's a decision, then, that would ultimately rest with the Premier. As the Premier stated at the time, he did not give me an opportunity to resign. He stated at the beginning: "I do not want a resignation. I accept the recommendation of the Integrity Commissioner in this case and there will be no penalties."
Mr Silipo: But that's the key issue, Minister, and that is that the Premier, in coming to that conclusion, at least in whatever he has said publicly to us in the Legislature and elsewhere, based his conclusion on the recommendation of the commissioner in the sense that he took the recommendation of the commissioner that no penalty be imposed to also include that the commissioner was not recommending any penalty with respect to your membership in cabinet.
Are you at least now -- because you seem to be saying this in your answer and I want to be absolutely clear -- acknowledging that the question of whether you ought to remain in cabinet or not, in light of this incident and in light of previous incidents, is not an issue for the commissioner to determine but is an issue for the Premier to determine?
Hon Mr Leach: I believe that's the case. I believe that in any cabinet with any government, who is in cabinet and who is out of cabinet is solely the discretion of the Premier and nobody else.
Mr Silipo: So when the Premier says, "I'm following the commissioner's report and accepting the report," he's accepting it only with respect to the conduct. He's not accepting it with respect to saying, "It's up to the commissioner to recommend whether I should fire Mr Leach or not." That's up to him to determine. Would you agree with that?
Hon Mr Leach: What's behind the motives and the comments of the Premier is not something I can comment on. When I spoke to the Premier, he said, "I don't want any resignation. I'm accepting the report of the Integrity Commissioner," and that was it.
The Chair: You have six minutes, Mr Kormos.
Mr Kormos: I told you that you should have let me use the Liberals' time.
This is very good, Mr Leach. Your comments today were wonderful. The passage of a mere couple of weeks has converted this from a case of merely getting caught as a result of an error in judgement in good faith to becoming a crusader for more modern and liberal standards for cabinet ministers so that they can reconcile the position of cabinet minister with MPP. It is very good stuff, and I'm envious of the people who drafted this. If this person over here is the draftsperson, I compliment her.
But it's interesting. Again, I said earlier this isn't the biggest deal in the world, which is why it's unfortunate we can't hear from the chair of the commission you wrote to to find out whether he or she trembled in their boots, quaked at the sight of your signature on a letter, or whether they simply threw it in the pile with the rest of the letters they get, knowing that you, along with other MPPs, write these letters simply so you can say you wrote them, to make your constituents happy, not with any real anticipation of their having any significant impact. That's how it works. You want to be able to cc; you want to be able to photocopy these and distribute them with your newsletter to show that you wrote the letter, not confident that it will have had any impact whatsoever.
Did you make any inquiries of your staff about whether you should write this as a minister or from your constituency office?
Hon Mr Leach: Whenever a minister signs a letter or whenever a member signs a letter, the buck stops with the guy who signed the letter. I signed the letter and I accept full responsibility for the letter. Whether I talked to anybody or not is irrelevant.
Mr Kormos: See, because we're starting with the premise of good faith -- Mr Clement agrees with me about that finding -- and a mere error in judgement. I talked about two forms of good faith. I understand the difficulty ministers have. Heck, you can't do workers' comp advocacy as a minister, right? That's a real handicap, because in a whole of our constit offices we do a lot of workers' comp. There are other issues. You can't represent people before SARB, right?
Hon Mr Leach: Any judicial body or quasi-judicial body.
Mr Kormos: But if you were only an MPP, you could represent people before SARB.
Hon Mr Leach: I'm not sure if you can or not. You probably could.
Mr Kormos: And you could appear before the WCAT.
Hon Mr Leach: As an MPP?
Mr Kormos: Yes.
Hon Mr Leach: I know as a cabinet minister you can't. I've never been just a backbencher.
Mr Kormos: I understand that. I have been, and it's an onerous responsibility to appear in front of these tribunals on behalf of constituents. But you seem eager to do it and not to be hampered by what may sometimes be artificial rules for cabinet ministers. Is that a fair observation?
Hon Mr Leach: I'm sorry. Could you repeat that?
Mr Kormos: You seem eager to be able to do some of this advocacy that MPPs are allowed to do and that cabinet ministers are not.
Hon Mr Leach: I think every member of Parliament wants to represent his constituents to the very best of his ability and provide them whatever assistance and service he can. That's what they elected him to do. Often there are conflicts between the role of an MPP and a cabinet minister, and that's certainly accepted. It doesn't make it any easier.
Mr Kormos: But it seems you have made a decision to use your constit office letterhead as compared to your minister's letterhead.
Hon Mr Leach: I was writing as an MPP.
Mr Kormos: Yes, but you made that decision, I trust, because you knew there were some sensitivities involved here.
Hon Mr Leach: As I mentioned, I was writing to the commission on a matter of process and I felt that writing a letter with respect to process would be acceptable. I certainly would never have written a letter that tried to influence the decision of the commission as to whether to keep the hospital open or closed. That certainly would have been inappropriate and I recognized that, but as a matter of process, requesting an extension of 30 days in an area where that extension had been granted in other areas, I didn't feel that was inappropriate.
Mr Kormos: I understand that, but you also didn't feel, because of the nature of the body you were writing to, that it would be appropriate to write on your cabinet ministry letterhead.
Hon Mr Leach: No, because it wasn't something that concerned my portfolio. The hospital restructuring commission has nothing to do with my portfolio and it would be totally inappropriate for me to write under my portfolio letterhead. I was writing on behalf of my constituents in St George-St David, so it was appropriate for me to write that letter using my constituency letterhead.
Mr Kormos: As a mere MPP.
Hon Mr Leach: As an MPP.
Mr Kormos: It seems then you would have gone further than merely register a protest.
The Chair: The third party's time is up.
Mrs Marland: This is not a simple matter. It's a very serious matter and I think the statement made this morning by Minister Leach confirms that. I also think we've seen a tremendously petulant demonstration here this morning by the official opposition. The official opposition is the reason we're here. It was the health critic for the official opposition who brought this complaint to the Integrity Commissioner in the first place. It was the health critic whose complaint, being reviewed by Justice Gregory Evans, had the fallout of the report that was then referred by the Legislative Assembly to this committee, and now they've walked out. They've picked up their marbles to go home and play, I would suggest, because they didn't get all their own game, they didn't get all their own rules. That's how it works, and we understand that.
I appreciated the comments of Mr Silipo in terms of why they're staying to do their job as best they can in opposition. We all are here with different responsibilities. You are here as conscientious members of the third party, we are here as members of the government, and we're all trying to do our own job and assume that responsibility with sincerity and commitment. I'm absolutely blown away by the petulant behaviour of Mrs Pupatello, Ms Castrilli and Mr Curling walking out of this meeting at the beginning of its two-day hearing.
There has been some comment made questioning the problem of penalty. It's very interesting, because if you read back in some of the annual reports of the Office of the Integrity Commissioner, which I have done -- in fact I have read some of the reports when it wasn't the Office of the Integrity Commissioner but the Office of the Conflict of Interest Commissioner, which was the name under the previous act; we now have a new act, with possibly a better name but really the same purpose. When you read some of the decisions and some of those matters that have been referred to that commissioner, you will find that there have been instances where a penalty has been recommended but none has taken place.
The power of the Integrity Commissioner in itself is quite interesting, because although he may recommend a penalty be imposed, there is no compelling requirement, it seems to me, in the act for someone or some group to impose a penalty, even if he recommends it.
I really want to refer to the Premier's statement in the Legislature on June 25 because I think this brings us to the dilemma of Minister Leach before us this morning, and whether or not it's from the opposition's perspective -- frankly I don't find the opposition's comments so far this morning to be unsympathetic, knowing that this situation before us could apply to any member in this House, not only a minister of the crown, I may add, but also a backbencher acting beyond the jurisdiction. Even as a backbencher in the third party there are limitations as to which bodies we may canvass and make representation to. To the member opposite who is hastily shaking his head in disagreement with me, that's fine, he will have an opportunity to speak later.
The point is this: If we are careful, there are certain assumptions we know as a given and there are certain assumptions we don't know, and we simply pick up the telephone and call the Integrity Commissioner's office.
I can give you a perfect example in my own riding where for eight or nine months I opposed the expansion of a Petro-Canada plant in my riding that was going to have a potential problem with certain environmental emissions. I did that for nine months and then, bang, on June 8, 1995, we were suddenly the government. I still have the same concerns but now I'm a member of the government, whose own ministry is about to issue a certificate of approval for the expansion of that plant; in fact the previous Bob Rae NDP government was also about to issue their approval.
I asked His Honour Justice Gregory Evans if it was appropriate for me to continue, as a backbencher in the government, the same representation of my constituents. In that case I got his opinion in the affirmative and I proceeded.
I think the point Minister Leach brings to us this morning about the need for some further clarification is important to all of us. In the Premier's statement in the House on June 25, as you will recall, he told us there were two other ministers who had made representation in some form to the Health Services Restructuring Commission.
The Premier said, "None of the ministers believed the commission was a quasi-judicial body." The Premier also said: "After setting up the arm's-length commission, the government delegated to it the government's authority to make restructuring decisions. It was our view that this mandate did not involve the adjudication of legal rights." I believe that's a very important statement our Premier made. Then he went on to say, "However, in his report today, the Integrity Commissioner wrote that he considers the Health Services Restructuring Commission not only to be independent but also to be a quasi-judicial body."
The fact is, we have two different opinions here. We have not only Minister Leach, but we have other ministers also being under the assumption that yes, there are clearly quasi-judicial bodies but they did not consider this to be one.
I simply will close with something I think is quite ironic, also referred to in the Premier's statement. He went on to say: "For example, the Integrity Commissioner himself says the minister could have personally consulted the Minister of Health on restructuring matters, instead of consulting the independent commission. Until now, we had been of the belief that that was inappropriate."
Mr Silipo: You better read the next sentence.
Mrs Marland: I will read the next sentence, because the Premier is demonstrating his concern here. In the next sentence the Premier is saying: "I have therefore asked the Attorney General to meet with the Office of the Integrity Commissioner to clarify these issues for the benefit of all ministers and all members so that all of us know how and under what circumstances we can represent the interests of the constituents who elected us." Then in the meantime the Premier is suggesting that all members refrain from writing to the Health Services Restructuring Commission.
It has to be somewhat ironic for all of us that this is the situation. I think that is exactly what Minister Leach is saying this morning. He now has an opinion, as do we all. We have a report from the Integrity Commissioner and we frankly have some more homework to do.
Minister Leach, I appreciate the fact that you have said this morning that you have accepted that you were in error. I think frankly any member could be in the same error regardless of where they sit in the House.
Mr Baird: Thank you, Mr Leach, for coming in. Do you get CNN on your television back at your office?
Hon Mr Leach: I'm sorry?
Mr Baird: Do you get the Cable News Network on the television in your office?
Hon Mr Leach: Damned if I know.
Mr Baird: It's on the basic cable package. I think some of the members of the Liberal Party are confused with what we're here to do. They've been watching the Senate investigations on CNN too much. We're not here to conduct a US Senate-style inquisitorial investigation into this process; we're here to consider the Integrity Commissioner's report. We do it in a parliamentary system.
I read directly out of the integrity act, page 40, subsection (4): "Despite section 46 of the Legislative Assembly Act, the assembly does not have power to inquire further into the contravention, to impose a penalty if the commissioner recommended that none be imposed, or to impose a penalty other than the one recommended."
One of my colleagues in the third party mentioned that we're acting as a jury. He said, "The jury's stacked in your favour." We're not a jury. Let's be clear about that right from the beginning. This is not a jury. We have an Integrity Commissioner appointed by the Legislative Assembly to act independently of all of us as elected officials. I think it's extremely important to get that on the record, that we're not here to conduct a trial or a US Senate-style inquisition that some of our colleagues in the official opposition somehow would like to pretend we are. That's not our job here today.
I just have a quick question to you. Was your letter a secret you sent to one person? Did you want to hide the fact that you were writing that letter?
Hon Mr Leach: No, I think I sent 600 of them.
Mr Baird: So if you thought or had any belief that what you were doing would be wrong, you wouldn't want to make 600 copies of it and send them all over your riding.
Hon Mr Leach: No, I probably would have held it down to maybe 500.
Mr Steve Gilchrist (Scarborough East): Thank you, Minister. I appreciate your coming before us. I was going to make a comment about exactly the point Mr Baird has made, but let me take a different tack. Beneath all the flowery rhetoric at the outset of the third party's comments to you today, the premise we heard in the opening hour and a half was very much to the contrary, that they are looking for a witchhunt, that they are looking for something that would unduly vilify you.
I'm very confused here, as I read the act, because there is a section that deals with the activities that members of the executive council are prohibited from participating in. One hundred per cent of those sections deal with financial matters, that you're constrained from holding certain assets and you must place all your assets in a trust. Section 4 in no way singles out members of cabinet.
It's fair for Mr Silipo to say he's been in your shoes. We have not. We're driven and guided by the words in the act. Let me just read them to you, "A member of the assembly shall not use his or her office to seek to influence a decision made or to be made by another person so as to further the member's private interest or improperly to further another person's private interest."
I'm not going to suggest that Judge Evans was incorrect in his ruling, but I'm at a loss to understand where in those words there is something that would lead you to know that there was a different standard that guides your behaviour. I wonder if you could give us some sort of counsel.
It goes on in the next section to say that things should be in accordance with Ontario parliamentary convention. The judge's own comments refer to work done by Senator Eugene Forsey at the federal level. That's hardly relevant to Ontario parliamentary convention. Is there some sort of handbook that members of the cabinet, the executive council, are given that give you different rules than what's laid out in this act that supposedly governs us all?
Hon Mr Leach: If there is, I didn't get my copy.
Mr Gilchrist: I would like to conclude my comments by saying that I thought the premise behind the assembly's request for us to meet was to consider the full import of Judge Evans's rulings, not to single out, and certainly not, as my colleague Mr Baird has pointed out, to deal with anything to do with any possible penalty, because we are absolutely constrained from even dealing with that subject. We cannot even talk about it. The first hour and a half was nothing more than histrionics. What we can talk about is whether it is fair that we have this double standard, particularly when it's not even in the act itself. So I hope that in this afternoon's session and next week's we can deal precisely with that.
The Chair: Mr Clement?
Mr Clement: I'll pass for now. I think Mr Leach wants to say something.
Hon Mr Leach: I just want to point out that I do take this matter extremely seriously. The commissioner, in my view, is open to interpret the act as he sees fit. He's the commissioner. He has made a ruling. I felt I was in a position to do something; he has determined I wasn't. I accept his ruling. I'm not quarrelling with his ruling. That's what we put him in that office to do.
I don't want anyone in this room to be under the impression that I have any quarrel with the commissioner or that I don't agree with the commissioner. It's his act. He says, in his interpretation of his act, that I was in breach of that act, and I accept that. I didn't think the actions I was taking would be, but he has determined they are. I fully accept his judgement on that.
He also indicated, and I will repeat, that in his view it was an inadvertent error, and it was, and he recommended that no penalty be imposed on me as an MPP. With respect to my position as a cabinet minister, that's something between the Premier and myself, and only the Premier has the authority, to the best of my knowledge, to determine who is in cabinet and who is not.
The Chair: Thank you, Minister Leach, for being here today. I appreciate your attendance.
On that note, we'll adjourn till 2 pm.
The committee recessed from 1156 to 1406.
The Chair: The next stage of the proceedings is that the government will make a 30-minute presentation, followed by the NDP.
Mr Clement: As a way of starting out, I did take the liberty to collect my thoughts into a motion which would help structure the debate and get you, as the Chair of the committee, and us to resolve this in the time allotted by the Legislature.
I'd like to read this motion at this time as a way to start things off. We'd like to move, as the government, that the report of the committee be as follows:
"On June 25, 1997, the Integrity Commissioner for the province of Ontario issued his report in regard to a complaint brought by the member for York South in regard to the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing with respect to a letter dated March 17, 1997, from that minister to Dr Duncan Sinclair, chair of the Health Services Restructuring Commission.
"In that report, the Integrity Commissioner found that the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing contravened the Members' Integrity Act by writing the aforementioned letter.
"The commissioner further found that the action was `made in good faith in the mistaken belief that he was entitled to do so.' He recommended that no penalty be imposed.
"The Premier and the two opposition parties made statements in the Legislature on June 25. The report was also the subject of 14 questions and responses in question period on June 25 and 26.
"The Legislature was convened on July 3, 1997, at which time the matter was further debated by all parties and thereby referred to this committee by vote of the Legislature.
"Based on the material before it and its deliberations, the committee recommends that the Legislature adopt the June 25, 1997, report of the Integrity Commissioner of Ontario."
I'd like to move that at this time.
The Chair: Is there any discussion?
Mr Silipo: Can we get a copy of that?
Mr Clement: Yes. Maybe by way of explanation to the assembled opposition here before us today, again this is --
Mr Silipo: You're allowed to say who we are.
Mr Clement: The third party.
Mrs Marland: Here with us today.
Mr Clement: Here with us today.
Mrs Marland: Not before us.
Mr Clement: The purpose of this motion is to provide a framework for the future discussion. As you know, based on the subcommittee report, we go into rounds of discussion among the opposition parties that are present and the government on what they feel should be the intent of this committee in dealing with the report as referred to it by the Legislature. We as the government thought it appropriate to provide some sort of framework for that discussion.
Clearly it's my expectation that the opposition might have a few choice words to say about how they feel about that motion. That is all well and good. That is a robust debate that can occur here, but at least there's a framework for that discussion to take place. The purpose of the motion is to provide that framework.
As the motion reads, what we propose is that this committee adopt and accept the report of the Integrity Commissioner of Ontario. We agree with the report. We accept the report. We have no reason to feel that the report was in some way invalid or inconclusive. The report made it very clear, as others have mentioned here today, about what the Integrity Commissioner felt was a contravention or breach of the act, and indeed what the sanctions should be. In his recommendation there should be no further penalty. We accept that part of the report as well as its determination that the Health Services Restructuring Commission was in fact a quasi-judicial body and, in so doing, it found the member for St George-St David to be in contravention of the Members' Integrity Act.
It basically ties up into a bow reference to what has occurred in the Legislature by way of debate as well as the report itself, as well as our determination hopefully, if this motion is adopted by this committee, that we have reviewed the report and we accept its findings and that can be then referred back to the Legislature and back to the Integrity Commissioner as the deliberations of this committee.
The Chair: Copies of this motion are being distributed at this time. Are there any further comments?
Mr Clement: I think we've got a little more that we can say with our round and I would definitely cede the floor to Mr Baird if he's in order.
The Chair: Well, we're dealing with a motion here, so is it the wish of the committee to deal with the motion before we go to our rounds?
Mr Kormos: Correct, Chair, of course.
The Chair: So who wishes to discuss this motion?
Mr Silipo: Just on a point of order, Chair: I understood, and maybe you can correct me if I'm wrong, from the procedures that we adopted this morning that we would deal with motions at the end of the second day, or was that just dealing with motions that had not yet been dealt with by that time?
Mr Clement: That's my understanding, Mr Chair.
The Chair: The way I view it, in the subcommittee report it was motions that had been moved. That's paragraph 7: "All motions moved will be deemed to have been moved, and the Chair shall put all questions necessary to dispose of the matter." Now we have a motion before us. Whether you wish to deal with it at this point in time or you wish to deal with it later on is really Mr Clement's call. It's his motion.
Mr Clement: The sooner the better. I don't want to truncate debate. This would in no way truncate the opportunity for the opposition to put their views forward, but if you, Mr Chair, are willing to allow this to stand and be discussed first, certainly we would have no objection to disposing of this motion first, getting it on the record one way or the other.
The Chair: Any comments, Mr Silipo?
Mr Silipo: I'm not objecting to the motion being in front of us. I just thought that under the way we were going to proceed we would deal with debate on either the motion or any other issues that members want to debate, keeping in mind that we still have at least -- I guess we have one person still to hear from next week, the Attorney General.
The Chair: He has been invited but we haven't received a response at this date.
Mr Silipo: Right, but he presumably is not coming this afternoon, so he can only come next week, if he's going to come, right?
The Chair: That's a fair comment.
Mr Silipo: So it seems to me to be premature to be dealing with voting on motions. I don't have any problem with debating motions or anybody putting forward motions and we deal with that in the ongoing discussion that we have and then come to some conclusions at the end of the process. That would be my suggestion about how best to deal with it, but I'm not speaking certainly against the idea of the motion being here. I think we can deal with the content of the motion. We'll have some things to say on that, but I thought it would be a bit odd if we were going to proceed to vote on this motion.
The Chair: I guess there are two ways of dealing with this. The purpose of the opening statement is to deal with what we have before us. If the motion is dealt with now, this is a substantive motion in terms of the integrity report, or we can have our opening statements and then deal with the motion.
I think at one time or another we're going to want to talk about the motion. I wouldn't want to leave it until 5 o'clock on the second day. We won't be able to deal with it. I throw that out as a suggestion. It's still Mr Clement's motion, and if he wishes it to be dealt with now, it's his discretion to call that, and I will deal with it.
Mr Clement: Again, the purpose of this motion is not to truncate -- and I repeat, is not to truncate -- the opportunity for either the government side or the opposition side to go through the rounds. I just want to make the point perfectly clear that it was not an attempt to do that.
I am content to have this motion on the record and we can deal with it one of two ways: We can either deal with it now, in which case further motions could also be passed by this committee up until 5 o'clock on July 22, or hold this motion on the table and proceed with the rest of our deliberations today and next week. Either way I'm content. The opposition might want us to deal with this now because then it affords them the opportunity to move other motions as the debate proceeds, so that would probably be in their interest.
Mr Kormos: Chair, on a point of order: I suppose Mr Clement could have provided us with a written copy of the motion by way of a notice of motion; rather he moves a motion. You move a motion and then you've got a motion on the floor and that's the order of business unless there is a procedural technique used to defer the matter.
It seems rather peculiar that the Chair would invite Mr Clement to determine when the motion is going to be dealt with. The motion has been put, it's not just a notice of motion, and again, there would have been nothing wrong with that, but the motion has been put. Mr Clement considers this a timely thing to do, so here we are. The committee has a motion before it. It seems to me that the order I referred to would require that the motion be dealt with.
The Chair: I understand what you're saying, but I put it back to Mr Clement. It's his motion and he has put it back out, saying he's flexible as to when he deals with it. I guess the comment from yourself is that you prefer to deal with it now, Mr Kormos. I don't know what Mr Silipo would like to do.
Mr Kormos: But as I say, here it is. We've got it here and now. Don't move motions unless you want them debated and voted on. You can give notice of motion, you can make reference to a motion that you anticipate filing. Mr Clement talks about wanting to create some scope or some guidelines, some parameters maybe, for the discussion. What he has done is provided us with a motion. God bless. It's his right to move a motion. I'm not going to interfere with that.
The Chair: Mr Clement, the motion is in front of us. Perhaps we can deal with it now.
Mr Clement: That's fine, Mr Chair. I'd be happy to.
The Chair: Is there any discussion on this motion?
Mr Clement: I've already said what I wanted to say, Mr Chair. It's part of the record.
Mr Baird: I would just very briefly speak to the motion put forward by the member for Brampton South. I would like at the outset to put some comments on the record -- I alluded to them this morning -- as to the mandate of this committee. We're not a US Senate committee. We're not here to conduct an investigation. I think some of the members who called for this inquiry who aren't here, those members from the Liberal Party who walked out this morning, perhaps misunderstood from watching too much CNN. This is not a US Senate investigation. We're not here to investigate the actions of the minister.
That role is deemed to be so important in our parliamentary system of government that the Ontario Legislature, I believe with all-party support, has passed a Members' Integrity Act that mandates that role to the Integrity Commissioner in the person of Judge Gregory Evans. Judge Evans is well respected, I think on all sides of the House and throughout Ontario, as someone beyond reproach.
The member for Welland-Thorold mentioned this morning to the minister that we were somehow sitting as a jury, in his judgement, and because it's a jury with a majority of government caucus members on it, we had a jury that would render a favourable verdict.
It's not this committee's place to undertake that investigation. I think it would put us all in an untenable position. That's why we have an Integrity Commissioner, someone, in the person of the Honourable Judge Gregory Evans, to undertake that on our behalf. He has done so. He has looked into the complaint by the member for York South and has rendered a report. That's the report that we as a committee have been asked to consider: the report, not the issue, and not to conduct our own parallel investigation.
I quoted this morning, and I want to put it on the record again because I think it's very germane to the point, page 40, subsection (4): "Despite section 46 of the Legislative Assembly Act, the assembly does not have power to inquire further into the contravention, to impose a penalty if the commissioner recommended that none be imposed, or to impose a penalty other than the one recommended."
We do not have that power. That is not within our mandate, explicitly because the Legislative Assembly -- and to be non-partisan, it was the previous Parliament, where our party certainly was a very small minority -- I believe unanimously voted for the Members' Integrity Act and gave that job explicitly to someone at arm's length from the political actors in the process. We felt that the public's right to expect high integrity from their elected officials free from conflict of interest should be judged not by a member's peers but rather by someone who is independent and above and beyond the political fray. So it would of course be inappropriate for us to try to conduct or to pretend that it was our mandate to conduct an investigation into this issue.
The process asks us to simply consider and respond to the report. I think it's very important early on in our deliberations to note that the Premier, and the minister when he came this morning, were extremely clear. They take no issue with the report. They fully accept it -- not fully accept the spirit with which it was presented, not fully respect its end conclusion; they accept the report entirely, and did so the day that Judge Evans tabled it in the Legislature. The minister did so this morning. I think to his credit he alluded to us this morning that it is Judge Evans's place to undertake the investigation, for him to draw a conclusion, and he fully accepts that conclusion.
Another important point to make in this discussion was the motive. What were the motives of the member that he undertook in the mistaken belief that he was entitled to write such a letter? I think as we go along year by year, the public rightfully demands higher standards of conduct from its elected officials. It's undoubtedly one of the main reasons why all three political parties supported the introduction and the proclamation of the Members' Integrity Act, because constantly seeking a higher standard from their elected officials, the public demanded very clear and specific guidelines.
I think what we saw through the Health Services Restructuring Commission was a mistaken belief on whether it constituted or did not constitute a quasi-judicial body. The Integrity Commissioner writes in his report that the mistake was "made in good faith in the mistaken belief that he was entitled to do so," and there's a reason for that. The Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing did not write the commission ordering them to keep or to close a given hospital or to restructure a given hospital in Ontario. What he did was he wrote the letter with respect to the timing of the process. In my community in Ottawa-Carleton the process had already been extended by 18 days, and I understand it had already been extended in Thunder Bay. So he was not seeking in any way to pass judgement on the substance of the committee's deliberations; it was simply a question of process.
Judge Evans has reviewed this situation and has said clearly that the commission was acting as a quasi-judicial body. That decision is one that we can only respect. He is the person we entrusted to make that judgement, and we in the government have no quarrel with that. I mentioned that the Premier and the minister both have fully accepted that.
The Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing was not trying to further the cause of anyone; he was not trying to push a specific decision on the commission. When he wrote the letter, he distributed it widely within his constituency. If he was out to try to secretly push a given result or a given decision on the commission behind closed doors as a member of the executive council, there would obviously be a good amount of concern on that. He wasn't.
What he did was he simply, on behalf of his constituents in St George-St David, wrote a letter appearing on his constituency letterhead, which was obviously a deliberate choice on his part because it was a constituency issue. He wrote to the commission on behalf of his constituents in terms of a question of process. He then distributed a copy of that letter to more than 600 constituents in his riding of St George-St David. If he thought or was under any belief that what he was doing would be somehow improper or viewed as improper, the man certainly wouldn't have distributed the copy as widely as he did -- so widely that obviously the member for York South, Mr Kennedy, came into possession of one of those letters. Obviously the minister was not seeking anything but an extremely public process.
The whole purpose, the whole reason why we have guidelines with respect to quasi-judicial bodies and agencies that operate at arm's length is so a cabinet minister would not make a late-night phone call to the head of a given body and push a certain decision on that body. What this man did was to write a letter on an issue of process, in good faith, even according to the Integrity Commissioner, to a body that he did not believe to be a quasi-judicial body. It's incredibly important to note that the motive was simply one of process.
Judge Evans has rendered a report, and it causes us all to stand up and take note and to certainly be that much more vigilant as to what is appropriate and is not appropriate for us to do. These are challenges which have come to many governments over the years. Both at the federal and provincial levels over the last 10 years, a good number of ministers have had to grapple with these. That's why we in the Ontario Legislature passed the Members' Integrity Act and set up a process for an independent person acting in a judicious fashion to review the case and determine whether the member was or was not in conflict.
In the United States Senate, they would have hearings for three or four months, televised, and his peers would stand in judgement. In Ontario, our process is to have the Integrity Commissioner, an officer of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario, make that determination. In my judgement, that's the best way of doing it, because it would be far better for that independent person to stand in judgement on a question this serious, and he has done so.
Obviously we'll all have to govern ourselves accordingly, based on the decisions he makes over time. This is one that obviously applies a higher standard, and I think that's one we can certainly welcome. There's nothing wrong about that. It puts a precedent there for us all to stand up and take note of.
But the fundamental motive of the minister was to simply write a letter on process to a body where he was of a mistaken belief, and I think many of us would have been under the mistaken belief.
The Chair: I just want to offer a suggestion. We met this morning, and we may have another witness based on our deliberations this morning: the Attorney General. We did indicate in the report that we would commence the next part of this process by opening statements. It may be prudent that we proceed that way, because other motions may come out and we may be limiting ourselves in terms of the committee being able to deal with other matters. Also, I don't know whether you would want to be dealing with voting on this before you've heard one witness who may come -- this is the Attorney General -- and heard other motions that may arise therefrom, from the opening statement.
I'm going to make a suggestion, and obviously it will need unanimous consent, before we get too long into this, that any member speaking in the two rounds indicated in paragraph 6 of the amended subcommittee report can move a substantive motion, but further consideration of and decisions on the motions will be postponed until the committee's July 22 meeting. That's what I would put out to the members. If they are interested in that, with unanimous consent we can move to deal with the opening and any other motions that may come forth from that. Is there unanimous consent for that?
Mr Kormos: Wait just a minute, Chair. These guys get 30 minutes of air time before you intervene.
The Chair: I wouldn't say they had 30 minutes of air time. I would say they've had 15 minutes, with respect to Mr Baird speaking.
Mr Kormos: Well, 2:30; that's his speech alone. What gives here? I appreciate the Chair's intervention. So they've used their first 30 minutes. Okay. I can live with that.
The Chair: They haven't used their first 30 minutes, because we've been talking about other matters in terms of that. We have till 5 o'clock today. I'm throwing that out as a suggestion so we can deal with this. That's what gives.
Mr Silipo: That sounds sensible to me. I think it allows us to do the work we need to do and to do it in a proper fashion.
The Chair: Okay. If there's unanimous consent, we'll start off with the government.
Mr Kormos: I've got to listen to him for 30 more minutes?
The Chair: No.
Interjection: That was 15 minutes.
The Chair: That would be a part of your 30 minutes. I would say you have 15 minutes left. You've already been speaking for 15 minutes.
Mr Baird: I would yield to my colleague the member for Brampton South.
The Chair: It's still 30 minutes per party. There are 15 minutes left.
Mr Clement: My point is a relatively minor one in terms of the amount of time, so my colleagues will have an opportunity to add their two cents' worth as well.
Mr Kormos: For what it's worth.
Mr Silipo: Any time you don't use reverts to Kormos, right?
Mr Clement: No. Don't scare me like that.
The issue I wanted to raise was on a close reading of the Members' Integrity Act, because there has been a lot of discussion here already about the fact that the Integrity Commissioner had recommended that there be no penalty, no sanction in this case, but that the Integrity Commissioner, according to the opposition, did not have the choice of making further recommendations as to sanction in terms of the status of the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing in cabinet. That has been a central point of the opposition.
I would like to put on the record a close reading of section 34 of the Members' Integrity Act. My colleague Mr Baird made mention of subsection 34(4), which is found in tab 4 of our binders on page 40. He made mention of the fact that the Legislative Assembly could not superimpose or substitute a particular penalty if the commissioner recommended that none be imposed or impose a different penalty other than the one recommended.
What I would like to draw to the attention of members of this committee, however, is the original wording of subsection 34(1), which outlines four potential penalties available to the Integrity Commissioner if there has been a finding of contravention. I find this very interesting. The commissioner could recommend in his or her report,
"(a) that no penalty be imposed;
"(b) that the member be reprimanded;
"(c) that the member's right to sit and vote in the assembly be suspended for a specified period or until a condition imposed by the commissioner is fulfilled; or
"(d) that the member's seat be declared vacant."
So even apart from the issue of the status of Mr Leach in cabinet, even if it were correct that that is outside the purview of the commissioner, the commissioner had four choices available to him upon the determination that the minister contravened the Members' Integrity Act. Isn't it interesting that the one he recommended was that no penalty be imposed. He could have recommended something as draconian as that the seat be declared vacant.
Clearly, even Mr Kormos's comments have been that this is a bit of a tempest in a teapot and that that would not be either recommended or the obvious solution to this matter. But I find it very interesting that he could have reprimanded the minister --
Mr Baird: As he's done in the past.
Mr Clement: -- as he has done in the past, my colleague reminds me. I believe the current Speaker of the Legislature was reprimanded in his day. He could have reprimanded the member, and he did not do so. He recommended that no penalty be imposed.
Interjection: There's reprimand for you -- thunder.
Mr Clement: Maybe he is leaving it to higher forces to invoke a penalty, I don't know. But the wording of the commissioner was, after discussing the fact that there was an error that was made in good faith, "Accordingly" -- and the word "accordingly" is in there -- "...no penalty be imposed," "accordingly" relating to the fact that the mistake was made in good faith.
The commissioner, being a good commissioner, turned his mind to sanctions, could have sanctioned by declaring the seat vacant, could have sanctioned by declaring that the member could not sit in the House for a specified period of time, could have sanctioned that the member be reprimanded, which he has done in the past, and rejected all of those things and instead recommended that no penalty be imposed.
I know the members opposite would not like to mislead and have not done so in this case, but I think it is important for members to understand that the range of penalties available to the commissioner stretched far and away over and beyond no penalty or kicked out of cabinet, no penalty or kicked out of his seat. He could have reprimanded the minister. He chose not to do so. I find it highly significant that that was the determination made, based on the evidence which the commissioner himself said was satisfactory, that no further inquiry need be done, and he decided to represent to us and to suggest to us that no penalty be imposed. That is something that is worthwhile to have on the record.
Thus ends my remarks.
Mrs Marland: I think since the entire genesis of the referral of this matter by the health critic for the official opposition, that opposition which again we recognize has chosen to absent themselves from this hearing which they had requested -- the genesis is the matter of a letter going to the Health Services Restructuring Commission. It's very interesting when you read the Health Services Restructuring Commission's own guidelines on who can contact them and under what circumstances. In item 2 of their guidelines, which is exhibit 2B under our tab 1, it says: "The commission, on written application or on its own initiative" -- so here we are -- "may consider an extension of the time within which submissions may be made. If any hospital or any other person or organization seeks such an extension, the application for such extension shall be submitted to the commission within 10 days" etc.
As we sit here discussing the Integrity Commissioner's report, personally I don't find it necessary to rehash his rationale because, as I said this morning, I actually find his rationale is very clearly set out. But I think since we are trying to say, "How will other people look at this?" people other than potentially biased government members, it's been suggested -- speaking for myself, I'm not a biased government member. I try to be a very straightforward government member.
When I see this in the guidelines of the Health Services Restructuring Commission itself, it says "any person" may ask them for an extension of time. In their paragraph 3, again it says "any person." It doesn't say "any person with the exception of a cabinet minister," or "any person with the exception of a backbencher." It doesn't have any exceptions. They are saying, "Any person can ask us for an extension of time." We have, apparently, examples of where such exemptions have been granted. Mr Baird referred to a couple of examples a few minutes ago. That's one thing that I think is important for us to consider when we look at whether or not we support and agree with Commissioner Gregory Evans's findings. So those are the guidelines of the Health Services Restructuring Commission.
I also would like to take you, under tab 4, to the Members' Integrity Act itself and take you to page 8. That's funny; I guess there isn't a page 7.
Mr Silipo: It's in French.
Mrs Marland: Oh, that's why. Thank you. We have only the English before us. Okay, the page that's identified as number 8, item 4: "A member of the assembly shall not use his or her office to seek to influence a decision made or to be made by another person so as to further the member's private interest or improperly to further another person's private interest."
I don't think there is any person who understands what has transpired with this whole issue who could for a moment consider that this is a private interest. The matter that Minister Leach was concerned enough about on behalf of his constituents was not a private interest. It wasn't in fact a private interest of one constituent and it certainly wasn't a private interest of Al Leach, MPP. It was and is a public interest. It's a public interest whether hospitals close, remain open or partially close. Whatever that issue is in terms of health care, it is a public issue and it's certainly not a private interest.
The paragraph that follows as item 5 of the Members' Integrity Act is very important because this is one that is a benchmark, I respectfully suggest, for every one of us sitting in this committee. It says: "Activities on behalf of constituents. This act does not prohibit the activities in which members of the assembly normally engage on behalf of constituents in accordance with Ontario parliamentary convention."
I know that what is being said here is that perhaps in some circumstances, with some bodies, cabinet ministers have to be excepted from that item 5, but until we are clear what those exceptions must be, I don't think we can arbitrarily jump in and say, "Ha, ha, we've got you; we've got you on this one," although the common understanding is that X body wasn't a quasi-judicial body, either this one that we're talking about, the Health Services Restructuring Commission, or maybe any other of the 843 agencies, boards and commissions of this province.
I go back to the statement made by the Premier. Frankly, I appreciate the Premier's judgement in referring this matter to the Attorney General and to the Integrity Commissioner himself to resolve once and for all, for all of us, where we are allowed to go, as it refers to in section 5 of the integrity act, in terms of engaging in activities on behalf of our constituents in accordance with Ontario parliamentary convention.
I certainly think we all want to serve our constituents as well as we possibly can to the utmost of our ability and if there are impediments to that, then we must all know. I would suggest again that we must all know within the parameters of those roles and responsibilities that we have in this place.
The Chair: Mr Kormos, opening statement for the third party.
Mr Kormos: I was all prepped up to respond to the arguments put on the record on behalf of that motion by Mr Clement and Mr Baird. What's kind of interesting -- here we are. It's 2:45, give or take a couple of minutes, and this is the first day of two days allotted to the committee. The government is already using its majority. They conducted themselves in concert -- no surprise -- to defeat the invitation for the Minister of Health, for the commissioner and for the head of the hospital restructuring committee. They've got the Attorney General coming, to what end I don't know. I'm not all excited about the prospect of him coming because I'm not sure he's going to be able to tell us much more than what the committee doesn't know already.
We had Mr Leach here this morning making an opening statement, I believe allotted 15 minutes, then 15 minutes for questions put to him by Mr Silipo and myself and then 10 minutes of monologue by Mrs Marland and then five minutes of questions.
Mr Gilchrist: She wanted to pay tribute. You taught us well.
Mr Kormos: I understand. She wasn't getting air time. It's tough in the big city getting press. I understand. Unfortunately, it was this morning's audience, which as we all know, for the legislative broadcast, is nowhere near as strong as the afternoon audience. In the mornings people are busy around their homes getting things done.
What I find remarkable, though, is the solemnity and seriousness with which this is being undertaken by darn near everybody. It's like young boys who form secret societies and clubs and go through --
Mrs Marland: I wouldn't know about that.
Mr Kormos: Exactly -- and go through rituals -- some of them keep doing it when they're adults. They form secret clubs and societies and build little forts and fortresses out in the bush. It has the same seriousness as that which pre-adolescents carry with them into those sorts of things, and I suspect about as much reality, I suspect about as much import.
Government never had any intention of this coming to anything. What should it come to? Everybody's making reference to the act, some with more understanding of the act than others, and that's okay. They did it; I'll do it too, because it seems you're supposed to do it if you're sitting on the committee. It's the thing to do. If you don't make reference to the act, if you don't refer to the act, somehow you're being delinquent in your duties as a member of the committee. People have been doing that: "We're going to make reference to the act; I'll refer to subsection (3) of section 4," what have you.
I've looked at it, quite frankly, with respect to section 34 because 34 was the one that sort of was the -- notwithstanding that Mrs Marland wants to come to the defence of the minister, and God bless, that's fine, but it's all after the fact. The horse has already bolted. She's trying to close the door. The fact is the commissioner said he's guilty as charged. He breached the act. Mrs Marland says, "What he did was simply," and then goes on to explain what he did. Well, what he did was simply violate the Members' Integrity Act. There's no question about that.
I've already, or we've already -- Mr Silipo joins in -- been clear on the fact that nobody is sitting here suggesting that the commissioner's disposition of it was inappropriate. There is no suggestion of that. I don't think the fact that the commissioner didn't impose a penalty is in dispute by anybody here. I'm sure of that.
But the committee, acting on behalf of the assembly, has a responsibility to consider and respond to the report. Fair enough. Then, of course, another reference to the act, I think it was Mr Baird. He wanted to read subsection (4).
Mr Baird: Page 4.
Mr Kormos: You don't refer to the pages when you do that. It's bad form because the act could be reprinted, and then it's not page 4. It's like the abridged version or the unabridged version. It's like the illustrated version or the paperback. So here we are. Subsection (4), he wanted to read that, by God he did, and he reads well. A whole lot of public money has been spent on his education to some benefit, a far lot more public money than will be spent on the children of the people watching this because of this government's agenda when it comes to defunding support for post-secondary students, along with a whole lot of other things.
We know we can't increase the penalty; we can only decrease the penalty; we can only reject the penalty. Sorry, we can't even decrease it, because you can't go down the ladder. You can simply reject a penalty if a penalty is imposed, be it that intermediary one or the penultimate one. This committee has no power to deal with the no-penalty provision at all, because you can't reduce that, but that doesn't relieve the committee of the responsibility to consider and respond to the report.
Considering and responding to the report, in view of what the committee's powers are to invite and/or subpoena people to appear here, I think is pretty broad-based. The consideration of the report could be aided by any number of people. Mr Leach was here and he wasn't really of much help. He did his best. He did his very, very best -- I'm sure of it -- to be helpful.
This is part of the problem. Mr Baird, when he asked the minister, talked about the letter being distributed and there was a comment about 600 and then a quip about only 500 had it not been intended to be a secret. But it wasn't the letter to the commission that was purportedly distributed; it was the response to constituents who had made inquiries about the restructuring commission and the hospital shutdowns that had been distributed. It was the April letter, and I believe it was April 10. It wasn't a matter of his wanting to keep this secret or not secret, but he sent out some 600 copies of that later letter, the April letter, indicating he had sent a letter to the commission, which is cc'd to a couple of people. He made reference to that. He didn't include it as a cc, it appears, with his letter to constituents.
The problem is that he sent some 600 out to people who had made inquiries -- that's where he got the mailing list -- but I tell you there was a John Barsad lurking somewhere, because somebody obviously ratted him out to Mr Kennedy, the member for York South. Either a recipient of one of the letters or an acquaintance of a recipient gave this to Kennedy, and as Mrs Marland says, Kennedy said, "Aha, gotcha," and Kennedy submitted that subsequent letter which made reference to a letter to the restructuring committee to the commissioner.
I'm not sure the committee was clear, based on what Mr Leach had to say to it, about exactly what letter was distributed, but at the end of the day we're left with a very clear impression of what went on here. Mr Leach was simply trying to do some constituency politicking. No two ways about it. Mr Leach probably knew he had no power over the hospital restructuring committee. We've heard the commissioner refer -- he didn't use the language of "frustrating," but indicated -- to how frustrated Mr Leach must be moving from the arena he moved from into politics, from an arena where he could make things happen to politics where, as we all know, things happen with far less speed or precision than they do in other sectors.
Mr Leach was politicking. Here is he is: He's with the government. The government is identified with the hospital restructuring committee that is shutting down hospitals all over Ontario. Mr Leach wants to cover his butt vis-à-vis his constituents. Other MPPs from the government, be they ministers or backbenchers, are trying to do the same thing in their ridings.
At the end of the day, he breached the act. Nobody from any caucus could indicate this was anything akin to the worst offence or the worst breach. What's interesting and what we might have discovered would be an explanation of how Mr Leach didn't think it was contrary to the act but how other ministers did. That's where Jim Wilson, the Minister of Health, was important, because he appears to have known that he oughtn't to have written to the health restructuring committee, be it on MPP letterhead or minister's letterhead or not.
Does this committee have the power to fire Mr Leach from the cabinet? Of course not. Does it have the power to compel the Premier to fire him from cabinet? Of course not. But I think the committee has a responsibility. There are going to be partisan shots -- you bet your boots there are -- during the course of it, but surely if the committee has a responsibility to consider the commissioner's report and respond to it, it ought to do that. It ought to do that for some of the reasons that Mr Leach -- what's great though is that Mr Leach has transformed himself from a mere miscreant to a crusader for the rights of members of the Legislature to advocate for their constituents. His spin doctors have put a remarkable new turn on this, and it has been picked up by some of the members of the government here. They're talking about, "Surely we've got to start defending cabinet ministers' rights to advocate for their constituents, and that's all poor Mr Leach was doing."
The problem is that when he did so he broke the law. He violated the act. I'm not really upset about that. I'm far more upset, and I think people watching are far more upset about the fact that he would hide behind a misinterpretation of the commissioner's statement that no penalty will be imposed. That's of concern, because as I said earlier, I suspect that in the first instance people really did interpret it that way, the people around Mr Leach, the ones who went, "Oh shucks" when they saw the commissioner's report, hoping against hope that the commissioner was going to find in his favour, yet they see the report and they go, "Oh holy zonkers, the boss is in trouble again," and they went, "Phooey, but thank goodness the commissioner recommended that no penalty be imposed."
I'm sure they genuinely in good faith, but in total ignorance, misinterpreted that as meaning the commissioner is recommending he not be fired from cabinet. So that lets everybody off the hook. Mr Leach is in an interesting position now, and he's using language today very clearly and not inappropriately that it's the Premier who decides who's in and out of cabinet. Outside, when he was being scrummed, he repeated that again. He said that before he even had a chance to tender his resignation -- he didn't say that, but he made it clear it was before he had a chance to tender his resignation -- the Premier said: "Al, we'll have none of that. We'll have no resignations being tendered from you." Well, that's what he told the press out there.
Mr Leach today is very careful to talk about how the Premier decides who's in and out of cabinet. I think Mr Leach is laying some groundwork for the not-so-distant future in a way that, let's say, Sheila Copps didn't until after the fact.
Mr Silipo: Time will tell.
Mr Kormos: In a way that Sheila Copps didn't, but only after the fact. Now that's not called laying groundwork, that's called doing repair work, that's called doing catch up, what Sheila did after she became -- what was her ministry?
Mr Silipo: Minister of Canadian Heritage.
Mr Kormos: Minister of Canadian Heritage, a very important role in our country. She of course had to indicate that she would be pleased to serve her country in whichever way the Prime Minister saw most suitable, saw fit, and that there was no such thing as a demotion. Of course she was laying the groundwork.
I suspect Mr Leach has the anticipation of finding himself in a position where he might be questioned, "Gosh, Mr Leach, you're now minister of whatever" -- which could well be the title of the ministry, quite frankly. "Is this a demotion? Is this a response to the conduct the commissioner commented upon the third time or the conduct the commissioner commented on the second time or the conduct the commissioner commented on the first time?" He can say, "No, I'm pleased to serve my province." He talked about service to the province, but you see, he also has some difficulty because he wants to be able to serve his constituents.
When I asked him about SARB, I shouldn't have been unfair like that; I should have explained to him it was the Social Assistance Review Board, because to a minister who has never done grassroots advocacy, SARB, that kind of acronym, means diddly-squat. He wouldn't know what the heck it means because he doesn't do that kind of stuff, right? WCAT I think he had a little better handle on, but he would have been familiar with that by virtue of his role with the bus system here, the Toronto Transit Commission -- I'm from small-town Ontario; we have bus systems, that's it. There are no subways in Welland. We've got buses, and there are going to be fewer and fewer of those as this government abandons public transit and leaves small-town Ontario without and forces them to abandon their public transit systems, small and struggling as they are.
So we've got Leach coming here today trying to paint himself, and doing a pretty good job at it, as being sort of a hero of oppressed cabinet ministers. You can almost see the scroll on his wall: "Cabinet ministers unite. You have nothing to lose but your chains." He will lead these cabinet ministers from the wilderness of not being able to advocate for their constituents.
One of the tradeoffs -- it's like being Speaker. What Speakers have to do in their ridings is they have to convince their constituents: "As Speaker, I have special access to cabinet ministers. Don't worry that I'm a Speaker and I can't sit in the House. I've got special access to cabinet ministers, so don't forget me come the next election. Just because I was a Speaker and never debated a single issue in the Legislature, don't think I've ignored you, because Speakers get special attention." That's the line they use.
Government members, in their ridings, undoubtedly want to tout to their constituents that, "I'm with the government, so this riding gets stuff the other riding doesn't." That's the line government members use. Mind you, when they were in opposition they told a different tale. Cabinet ministers, of course, have to impress their constituents with the fact that by virtue of having a cabinet minister being your riding rep, you've got somebody sitting at the table; you've got somebody right there in the inner circle with power, with the ability to make things happen.
If you're not a cabinet minister your constituents complain to you: "You're in the government. How come Margaret Marland isn't a cabinet minister?" People have said that; they've been angry Mike Harris didn't put her in cabinet. She has to explain that since she's not a cabinet minister she has more time to advocate for her constituents. You guys know all the lines. This is the spin that goes on and has gone on for ever and ever.
Mr Leach wants to be all things to all people. Think about this, spin doctors. Think about the neat politics that would have happened had Mr Leach said: "I violated the act. I didn't intend to. I thought I was doing the right thing. I didn't make the inquiries I should have made, and because I'm a minister and because I believe ministers are held to high standards, I resign." Think about the goodwill. How could the opposition have been critical? He would have received, as you know, a round of applause. Honest, there might even have been a standing ovation. Then Mike Harris could have brought him back in 25, 30 days. That's the norm. He would have become pristine again by virtue of showing honour, by virtue of displaying honour.
Or Mike Harris could even have taken this tack, and think about it next time. This is a tactic that is used by political leaders internationally, and as often as not from totalitarian countries, which makes it very suitable for here in Ontario. It would be for Al Leach to have tendered his resignation and expressed his mea culpas, to have shown the humility necessary for a cabinet minister. If Mike Harris had said, "If he weren't so important to the functioning of this province, if his acumen and skill and leadership throughout Bill 26, for example" -- you remember Bill 26 -- "if his leadership hadn't been so successful around Bill 26, if he weren't so important to the inner workings, I'd have accepted his resignation; but since Al Leach is so important to my inner circle, I couldn't function without him at my left-hand side or at my right-hand side," they would have both looked good. Leach wouldn't have had to go through this exercise.
He was glad it only broke a couple of days before the House rose because you didn't have a protracted period of question period; it would have occupied question period. You can't ring the bells any more, unlike what the Conservative caucus and the NDP caucus did to Joan Smith. She acted in good faith as Solicitor General, in the best of good faith. She didn't know that what she was doing was wrong. She didn't try to interfere with what was happening; she merely tried to impact on the process. Joan Smith wanted to ensure that everything was okay. She was dealing with one of her constituents too, no self-interest in it for her, but the bells rang until Joan Smith was gone, and in hindsight -- and others have commented on this too -- perhaps more than a little bit unfairly. Once again, had Joan Smith merely said upon initial confrontation: "There was a foulup. In hindsight, I shouldn't have done what I did. Thank goodness there's been no impact on the course of justice -- "
Take a look at Jim Wilson, who had the dignity and respect to withdraw, in effect to resign, to move himself out of the position for the period of time in which an inquiry took place. He was cleared, and I can't have any quarrel with the disposition of that. Rather than stonewall, rather than dig his heels in, Wilson understood that as minister he should withdraw.
Can we come up with other examples of the Al Leaches in this province? Of course we can, from all three political parties. You bet your boots. But they were errors in the case of all three political parties as much as they were in the case of Al Leach.
I shouldn't use reference to a jury, because people who have commented on it are right: This isn't a jury. In any event, as I told Mr Leach this morning, everything is cool, everything is okay, because the jury is stacked. He owns it. If you read that Grisham novel about the tobacco litigation, there they tried to buy off one or two members of the jury. Mr Leach owns eight out of 10 members of the jury. Even at eight out of 13, if the Liberals decide to come back, they are his.
Notwithstanding that, as one wag put it this morning, Mr Leach is in the curious position of -- and in effect, part of this is reviewing his conduct, of course, because the consideration and the response and the report back are to the report of the commissioner. He's having his conduct -- his misconduct in this case -- reviewed by more than a few people who hope dearly that Mr Leach not only stumbles and falls, but falls flat on his face. That would allow them access into that inner circle which they so much aspire to; not every one of the eight members, but there are more than a couple over there.
Think about it. It's the same syndrome as the bell curve, let's say, in a university class. You know that as long as there's a bell curve, as long as somebody else fails, you can do miserably but you'll still succeed. What bell curves do is entice people to hope that there's somebody less clever or more lethargic than they are, so that as long as that person is out, they're in.
You've got more than a couple of people sitting over here on the government side who, although they've got to play by the rules and wish Mr Leach well publicly, still have some sinister anticipation of some empty chairs at the cabinet table. Mr Leach's chair is as good as any, because once the occupant is gone, that chair looks and sits like any other chair.
Here Mr Leach is, as one person very cleverly put it this morning, having his conduct -- because it is; it's a review of conduct -- reviewed by people who want to appear to wish him well but who also know, and nobody wishes -- well, the cabinet is a pretty hale and hearty group. There aren't any people frail of body; could be some frail of spirit, but nobody is overly frail of body such that vacancies would be created in the most morbid way. But surely there's going to be a shuffle.
I, for the life of me, can't figure out why the strategists took this spin on it, why they took this tack, other than to hold out until the cabinet shuffle takes place and simply engage in the exercise of stonewalling. At the very least, it proves to their own people that stonewalling works. That's what we've got here. Mr Baird all day is preoccupied, he's obsessed; his obsession with CNN has become a mania.
Mr Baird: I don't have cable in my office.
Mr Kormos: This obsession with it: I envision him up at 3 and 4 in the morning watching the stock market reports across the bottom when nothing else is being broadcast just so he can see the CNN logo on the lower right-hand corner of the TV screen. He's phoning people, saying, "It's 3 in the morning and I'm still receiving CNN." He knows about stuff that nobody else knows about. He has been watching Senate hearings. He's obsessed with it but he wants to point out that this is not a Senate hearing. As he put it earlier, this is the Canadian way of doing it.
Yes, this is the Canadian way of doing it, just like the Canadians did the Somalia inquiry, with a coverup and a whitewash. This is a very Canadian way of doing it, with a whitewash and a coverup and with stonewalling, using the power of government to make it just go away.
It reminds me of those opening paragraphs of Orwell's book Nineteen Eighty-four, where you're introduced to this whole system of rewriting history, where they take old London Times and they shoot them down to the clerk who is working in that solitary office. His job is to rewrite the newspaper articles. If a person has been deleted from history, he rewrites the article so that it deletes any reference to that person. Orwell writes about how history is really so untestable, because you have no choice but to read and believe in what you're told in the books as soon as human memory is eradicated.
That's the purpose of stonewalling: You can turn black into white. As I say, Mr Leach started out as a mere bungling but well-intentioned nice guy. Now he's a crusader, wanting to change the rules for cabinet ministers so they can more adequately advocate for their constituents. If that isn't the same as that little clerk sitting in his basement tomb in the Ministry of Information or wherever it was in Nineteen Eighty-four rewriting history, nothing is.
I want to see what incarnation Mr Leach assumes next. We'll just have to wait. I want to speak to that motion too, by the way, but I appreciated the chance. Mr Silipo is obviously going to use all of the next 30 minutes. I wanted to speak in many respects to how silly this whole thing really is. It's all to no end. The government never had any intention of having it come to any end. They didn't ask Mr Leach questions such that he could elaborate on the background that led to this, rather used their 15 minutes of time primarily to rush to his defence.
Again, I understand that. Unfortunately this isn't the first government to do it -- not by any stretch of the imagination the first government to do it. I'm looking forward some day, regardless of how old I am at the time, to seeing a government that doesn't do it that way any more.
Mr Silipo said time and time again, "Look, we understand that the circumstances are such that to pillory Mr Leach would be naïve and it would simply be unfair," but somebody had better devise a method around here. Whether it is a US Senate inquisitorial style that Mr Baird is obsessed with but none the less holds in disdain or some other, we'd better find some way of responding to these types of things and resolving them.
Part of this committee's response could be to talk about the prospect of changing the standards, if indeed that's the case, but you can't begin until you've got an acknowledgement that a standard was breached and that that's a serious matter -- it may not be worthy of resignation or firing, but at least that it's a serious matter for a cabinet minister to do that; regardless of how benign his or her motive is, that it's a serious matter for a minister to breach the standards, and that hasn't been done yet.
Mr Gilchrist: I'm pleased to express a few comments as we discuss this important topic. While Mr Kormos's allusion to George Orwell may not be the most apt, I'm sure the deletion of the five years between 1990 and 1995 is something that many people in this province wish they could do.
That aside, the reality is that we very much can consider the impact of the ruling by Judge Evans and draw some conclusions from his consideration of the specific matter and apply them to possible recommendations that this committee may wish to make back to the House dealing with how this bill might be amended or interpreted in the future.
I'm going to go back and pick up on a point we made this morning of which time did not permit a full discussion. The act itself at no point makes any distinction between the behaviour of a member and the behaviour of someone on the executive council, save and except that sections 10 through 18 of the act deal with certain financial issues that members of the executive council, otherwise known as the cabinet, have as extra requirements that are not faced by those of us who are not in cabinet. For example, with very few exceptions they cannot own any active businesses, they cannot even trade shares on the Toronto Stock Exchange and they have to establish a blind trust if they wish to retain any holdings of any kind. The act actually spends as much time detailing those specifics as it does talking about some of the philosophical guidelines all of us must keep in mind in the day-to-day carrying out of our duties.
But I think it is very important for anyone who has been at all intrigued by the judge's ruling or interested in the impact of Minister Leach's correspondence with the health restructuring commission to know in absolute terms that there is not one word in this act that states that someone in cabinet must operate to a different standard from someone who is not in cabinet. I think that's really quite a staggering fact when you try to assess the ruling of the judge.
Judge Evans, with all due deference, has made an interpretation. He has assumed certain things, and it is absolutely his right to do that. I don't question the past. I was under the impression, based on all the discussions that took place in the House in terms of the motion to establish this sitting of the Legislative Assembly committee, that we would have an opportunity to look at a far broader picture than just the specifics of Mr Leach's correspondence.
Just a minute ago Mr Kormos suggested that what was necessary here was acknowledgement of the seriousness of the matter. I would have thought he would be paying attention when this morning Minister Leach acknowledged in the most unqualified way that he did consider it a serious matter. He also said that it was a genuine misunderstanding on his part and, quite frankly, the Integrity Commissioner arrived at the same conclusion. But there is no doubt in the mind of the minister or anyone else that it's a serious matter. That is precisely why we are sitting here today at this meeting of the committee.
I think, though, to try and make more of that one incident, which the Integrity Commissioner has himself said was just a misunderstanding, really reduces the importance of this committee meeting to a witchhunt and trivializes what should be a very serious discussion: the long-term evolution of this bill and the evolution of the members' responsibilities in their home communities.
A point was made this morning by the minister that after riding redistribution in the next election there will be 103 ridings in this province, 103 members sitting down here at Queen's Park. We currently have the smallest cabinet since I think it was 1956. That may or may not continue to be the case, but if it's in the same ballpark, we're going have over 40% of the members who are elected in the year 1999, if this ruling is allowed to stand without any further qualification or elaboration, who will be largely or completely constrained from dealing with what every one of us would accept are the genuine constituency concerns that are brought to the attention of all of us on a day-to-day basis.
In this case it was asking for an extension of time so that the people in the riding of St George-St David would have the same opportunity that was afforded to the people in Thunder Bay and to the people in Ottawa to express their comments -- not the minister's comments, their comments -- about what should happen to Wellesley, Central and other hospitals in downtown Toronto.
I think there is a consensus -- we've heard it from the third party here this morning -- that in and of themselves those are reasonable things. That is an expected part of being an MPP or an MP, or a city councillor for that matter. We are each charged with certain responsibilities. There are certain areas of public activities which each level of government is charged to oversee. Clearly it would be an abrogation of our responsibilities if we were to simply take the position that, "I can't talk to a constituent because I've been given this other job," namely, being put in cabinet.
I think what is before us is a glaring example of how, when a bill does not speak with the kind of definition and the kind of specificity that needs to be included, we can be tripped up, as times change, as the number of members change and as various other evolutionary factors are at play.
I must admit, the way I asked the question invited a somewhat tongue-in-cheek response, but section 5 of the act says, "This act does not prohibit the activities in which members of the assembly normally engage on behalf of constituents in accordance with Ontario parliamentary convention." That's a very clear statement, one might assume, if in fact there was a handbook you could then pick up that told you what Ontario parliamentary convention is, or is not in this case.
The fact of the matter is, as the minister pointed out, that such a handbook does not exist. He has been adjudged against a standard which is not written down anywhere. I absolutely respect the fact that our two colleagues opposite -- one colleague present right now -- from the third party have in fact been in a similar situation to the minister. They have occupied a seat on the executive council and they have faced certain restrictions in how they went about their duties on a day-to-day basis. But I have not heard a suggestion from either of them that such a handbook exists, that there is a summary of all those other past precedents that would guide the hand and the actions of someone who is selected by the Premier of the day to sit on the executive council and to effectively be the government to the province of Ontario.
I don't think there's a person in our province who would accept the premise that, in the absence of anything written down, in the absence of a stated standard, it is fair to judge anyone, whether it's a cabinet minister, an MPP or a driver on the road. The old saying, "Ignorance of the law is no excuse," may apply when you have a statute that's written down, but I think just the opposite rule would apply when you are to be governed by some collective mindset that may or may not have been passed down in song and myth from generation to generation. These aren't Nordic legends we're dealing with here. These aren't Aesop's fables. These aren't even things of biblical proportion. These are standards that have now been used to judge the behaviour of a cabinet minister.
While it may be very easy for the commissioner to say, "My conclusions were ameliorated by saying that there would be no penalty assessed and that I accept it was sheer inadvertence and a sheer misunderstanding that allowed the minister to make this misstep," I think that avoids the point completely. This act does not in any way spell out why or under what terms the minister has transgressed. It is fair for the Integrity Commissioner, as I said before, to apply the good sense that he has acquired from all his years on the bench and to, in effect, read between the lines. But I would say on the flip side that surely, had he taken another step beyond the no-penalty option that was available to him and suggested a reprimand or something more serious, speaking for myself, my concern would be even greater.
I am somewhat dismayed that the members opposite would not appear as keen to join us in the discussion of how this sort of thing can be prevented in the future and how we could give greater clarity to the actions that are considered appropriate by a minister of the crown and instead would rather dwell on the specifics of this matter, which I think have been dealt with quite conclusively by the Integrity Commissioner.
I think it is really incumbent upon us to send a message back to the House that these conventions be recorded in such a way that everyone who is offered that opportunity to sit on the executive council be afforded the opportunity to assess the impact that will have not just on their personal life but on their ability to carry out their function as an MPP.
It may very well be that if rules are applied that are so restrictive that nothing but a standard response back to your constituents to the effect that, "I'd love to help you, but I can't because I'm now in cabinet," if that became the sum total of the output of cabinet ministers' offices, we should be telling people that up front and anyone who's serious about dealing with the very legitimate concerns that are expressed by constituents, anyone who is serious, quite frankly, about getting re-elected by dealing with those concerns in a forthright and responsible and hopefully productive manner, would be allowed to balance, on the one hand, the ability to have a significant impact within one ministry and sitting around the cabinet table on the whole province against the loss of influence, the loss of effectiveness, the loss of productivity in their home riding. Anything short of that is absolutely unfair, and we are very much closing the gate here after the horse has bolted.
This morning we have already heard a number of members indicate that there were certain sections of the act that they didn't realize existed or didn't know applied to them. I don't think there's any doubt that for those of us who are not in cabinet reading the sections pertinent only to the executive council would be a little presumptuous. Having said that, now being confronted with a need to go through this act in great detail, there is absolutely nothing that anyone who was the recipient of the fateful phone call from the Premier would have deduced by reading this act. There is nothing, and I would challenge the members opposite to show me where in this act there is anything, an inference, a phrase, an express statement, that would have guided this minister or any other to not do the sort of constituency work that the minister, we heard this morning, suggested that he thought was appropriate.
While one of the members opposite may roll his eyes at that suggestion, again I think it comes right back to the pivotal point of everything we're discussing here today and next week, and that is: In the absence of anything stated, if the member opposite knows of some other way that we can communicate to the ministers expressly those rights and responsibilities, then I would ask him (a) to produce it, and (b) more important, why on earth it is not embodied within the act?
Surely it goes without saying that, when someone is elected to this place and you are told that you are governed by the Members' Integrity Act and the Legislative Assembly Act and the standing orders of the House, if someone took it upon themselves to read those three missives, those three tomes, you would then be in a position to informedly do your job without fear of being tripped up, without somebody coming along after and saying: "Oh, we forgot about that little loophole. We forgot about the trapdoor that's behind section 4 in the Members' Integrity Act. I know we didn't write it down. I know it's not there. I know we're not fair to you and we haven't bothered to take all of that collective wisdom that has been built up in the last 130 years of this Legislature and put it down on paper, because we have this attitude that we've got to leave some grenades out there, we've got to leave some land mines out there just in case we're not in government next time."
That is extraordinarily unfair, and I genuinely am confused at why all parties would not be sitting here today looking at means to improve this act. After seeing the histrionics this morning by the official opposition who, for the sake of those who don't have the benefit of a wide-angle shot in this room, have now decided that being at the cottage is more appropriate than sitting here and doing their duty --
Mr Kormos: But they got the media hit.
Mr Gilchrist: The member opposite says, "Yes, but they got the media hit." Doesn't that say it all? Their call to have this committee meet during what would normally be the summer break was in fact motivated by cheap theatrics. It was motivated by the desire to govern by headline in the Toronto Star. There's no substance behind it. If they had anything of any substance to say, they'd be here saying it. But no, they would rather stick their faces in front of a microphone for a few seconds, get the cheap shot in, and then, like schoolyard bullies after they get the sucker punch in, walk away. They're not prepared to engage in the kind of debate, the kind of dialogue I think is appropriate here.
As I read this act, it is absolutely fraught with problems. It is fraught with the sorts of loopholes that I would have thought the previous government would have been just as concerned when they drafted this bill to make sure were not there, because they had cabinet ministers as well.
We've already heard reference a number of times this morning that it isn't even within the purview of this committee to inquire any further into the specific contravention of the act before. I won't belabour the point, save and except to say that it couldn't be clearer. Given that all three parties then have accepted the premise that we should be meeting here today to hold these discussions and given that the act says we can't even talk about, we can't deal with, we can't amend or change the rulings of the commissioner in this specific matter, surely then the only topic before us is, where do we go from here?
Mr Chairman, my submission to you would be that as part and parcel of any motion that we adopt further along in these proceedings, as part and parcel of the motion that has already been put before us here this afternoon by Mr Clement, we give serious consideration to suggestions to the House that there is both an opportunity and a need to re-evaluate sections 4 and 5 of the Members' Integrity Act and to provide far greater specificity, to provide a very detailed framework on exactly what does and does not comprise the sort of convention that is alluded to, particularly in section 5 of the act.
I think the member opposite, who was in one of his more jocular moments suggesting that it is not appropriate for us to be defending the cabinet, purely and simply because to do otherwise might create vacancies, has seriously misjudged our team spirit, but more than that has seriously misjudged the intent of this act. It is known as the Members' Integrity Act. I take very seriously, and I'm sure my colleagues on the government side do as well, that we live up to the letter of this law. Living up to its spirit becomes a little more difficult as long as there is phraseology in there to which none of us can draw any specific reference.
At some point either today or next week I would ask you to entertain a motion. We've agreed that we will not debate motions until the end, or you will not accept substantive motions for the purposes of discussion at this time, but I certainly intend to leave with you a motion that will ask in no uncertain terms that we take this opportunity to --
The Chair: Mr Gilchrist, you can move a motion.
Mr Gilchrist: But the members opposite have expressed a desire that we deal with things at the end, so I will table one in writing so we have the opportunity to digest all those things, rather than sidetrack further debate this afternoon. It would be a terrible missed opportunity if we didn't ask the House leaders and the Premier to entertain suggestions of how we could revise this act so in the future members of the executive council are not tripped up in this way.
The only other point I would like to make to you -- I don't know how much time we have.
The Chair: It would appear to be about 10 minutes.
Mr Gilchrist: Oh, is there someone else who wants to speak to this? Forgive me. In that case, not having seen any other hands go up, I'll pass on the rest of the time to Mr Baird.
Mr Kormos: Now who has the penchant for microphones?
The Chair: Who is the next speaker for the government?
Interjection: I think Mr Silipo was next.
The Chair: So you're giving the government time to Mr Silipo?
Interjection: No, we'll let him use his own time.
Mr Gilchrist: I guess indirectly I just did.
Mrs Marland: We're trying to move it along.
Mr Gilchrist: You are kidding yourselves.
Mr Silipo: It gets more interesting as the moments roll by.
Interjection: We're not rolling.
Mr Silipo: We're not rolling? Actually, I think we are rolling. I beg to differ.
I realize we're in what some people think is sort of a nebulous period of, as a committee, deciding what next and what we do. I think it's important, and I always find as one of the few personal rules I have, that when there's some confusion, you go back to basic steps. One of the basic steps here for me is to look back at why we're here.
We all know that we're here because of a decision that the Legislative Assembly made following a report of the commissioner with respect to a breach by Mr Leach of the Members' Integrity Act. We are acting, in effect, as the Legislative Assembly, for all intents and purposes, although obviously at the end of the process we will report whatever conclusions we come to both to the commissioner and to the House. It's important to stress that second point, "to the House." I want to come back to some of the things we need to do because of that responsibility that we have to respond not just to the commissioner, but indeed to the House as well.
It was Mrs Marland who talked earlier about bias, and that she comes to this as an unbiased member. I'm assuming what she meant by that is as somebody whose mind is not necessarily made up on any particular point of view at the beginning.
I recall one particular lesson in a grade 9 history class where the teacher put up the word "bias" on the blackboard and proceeded to talk to us about the fact that all of us have biases. Those biases are made up of our background, our upbringing, all the things that go into our thinking and shape our thinking. That is not to say that in being biased we are necessarily fair or unfair. That's one of the other characteristics that we develop.
I obviously come at this with a particular bias which I am prepared to be very open about. I hope others would acknowledge that they too have a bias. Whether we are in opposition or in government, we come at this from a particular perspective, but I think hopefully we all come to it as well with a willingness to be fair: fair to Mr Leach as the principal culprit, if you will, in all of this, and fair, through him and through the report we have in front of us, to all of us, whether we are now in cabinet or whether we may aspire, as some of my colleagues opposite, to be in cabinet, or whether, quite frankly, as some of us on this side of the table, we plan to be in cabinet with the next election.
I think it's fair that we look at this in a way that deals, yes, with the question of what is at the end of the day the best way to deal with that line that's drawn between a backbencher, and that means whether you're in the opposition ranks or on the government side but don't have the responsibility of being in cabinet or indeed being a parliamentary assistant, and what does all of that mean? I think at the end of the day that is one of the things.
I want to say to Mr Gilchrist that I certainly remain very open -- to the extent that we can in the limited time we have as a committee, but beyond that, even if all we do is to go to the point of suggesting that this is an area that needs some further work -- to looking at whether we want to suggest some changes be made in this area or that this area be looked at again.
I have to say, as I said this morning directly to Mr Leach, that I have some empathy, in fact more than some empathy, for the position he has found himself in in this situation, in this instance. The inability that you have when you cross that threshold from being a "simple MPP" to being a member of cabinet is incredible.
I can tell you, I know it because I lived it. I spent the first nine or 10 months of the previous term as a backbench member of the government. One of the issues I was very involved in through my constituency office at the time was the whole area of workers' compensation. Many constituents of mine who are older injured workers were involved and still are involved, far more than they should be, in ongoing disputes with the workers' compensation system. The difference I saw in the freedom I had as a backbench MPP prior to being in cabinet and the limitations that were put upon me once I entered cabinet was like night and day. Whereas before I could advocate to the umpteenth degree that I felt comfortable with and felt the situation warranted in the individual cases on behalf of constituents, all of a sudden I could not. There were some things I could do and there were many things, or some significant things, that I couldn't do. We couldn't appear in front of WCAT. We couldn't even appear at some senior levels of the appeal process.
To Mr Gilchrist I say, those rules weren't written down. We did have the benefit when we were in government of having, in addition to the old legislation, the Premier's guidelines as they were then called, which spelled out in a little bit more detail some of the restrictions that were placed upon members of cabinet, which I understand the current Premier has decided not to carry on or not to adopt, but simply to rely on the Members' Integrity Act.
It's important to remember that the Members' Integrity Act, in its evolution, came about primarily at the urging of the present commissioner and also as a process to try to put together once and for all a set of rules that could be codified in law that would take into account not only the pre-existing legislation, the old conflict-of-interest legislation, but indeed some of the basic premises that were part of Premier Rae's conflict-of-interest guidelines. As has been noted already, the result was arrived at with unanimous agreement in the House, in that the legislation was adopted by all three parties unanimously when it went forward.
Why do I belabour that point? I do it because I think it's important we understand, first of all, how the legislation came about, and also, that while the legislation may not, as Mr Gilchrist would want it to, be clear about what certain things mean, such as Ontario parliamentary convention, I suggest to you that to try to codify Ontario parliamentary convention has far more implications than simply in this area, because it is one of the traits of our system of government that we have many "rules" by which we abide that are not written down. That's part of the tradition we have as a government. We've certainly seen some of that through some of the debates we've been involved in over the last five or six months in the House.
It's fair to say that it may very well be, certainly it seemed to be the case in this instance, that people who are in cabinet may or may not fully understand what that means, may or may not fully understand the limitations that are upon them. It seems in this case that Mr Leach did not. I think it's a finding that the breach he made, while a significant one, was also one that was made in good faith, as the commissioner found, and I accept that, as we all do.
It's also interesting to note that at least one other of his colleagues, the current Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, knew that there was a limitation to what he could do, because the commissioner's report appends to it a letter from Mr Villeneuve to Mrs Pupatello in which she's asking him to intervene with respect to another matter in front of the hospital restructuring commission and he writes back saying, "I can't do that because, among other things, given the independent nature of the commission, it would be inappropriate for me to intervene directly with the commission." The same commission; the issue there was the Montfort Hospital.
All that is to say, yes, Mr Leach didn't know he was breaching the act. He said that this morning and that's fine. But certainly at least one other minister was aware of that.
The point we need to extrapolate from this is not who knew or who didn't know. That really is irrelevant at this point. What is important is that simply not knowing doesn't make it any less of an offence. Clearly in this case there was an offence. Clearly in this case there was also a situation in which the commissioner found that this particular minister's conduct was problematic, not only in this instance but at least in one other instance that was before him.
The other thing that needs to be stressed in all this is that what we are talking about here is conduct as a minister. As the commissioner himself says about the fact that one is a minister, you can never shed that, you can never walk away from that. "A minister is always a minister," the commissioner says in this report. Those are words that the commissioner, if you read back -- Mrs Marland referred earlier to the commissioner's annual reports. I'll bet you will find two or three references in each of these annual reports on that very point, because the commissioner has been clear about the way in which he has interpreted this legislation and the previous legislation, that one of the basic premises upon which he interprets it is that a minister is always a minister and that simply writing something on MPP's letterhead doesn't remove you from that category of being a minister.
Where do you find the answers? You find the answers, ironically enough and interestingly enough, in decisions like this. You find the answers, interestingly enough, in the annual reports Mrs Marland was referring to earlier. You find it in the points the commissioner has been making about his continuing and ongoing offer to be available to speak, not only individually to people including members of cabinet, but to caucuses in terms of what he believes is the correct behaviour and the unacceptable behaviour that individual members, particularly ministers, might get themselves into.
All of that to say that there is sufficient ground and sufficient findings here for us to understand that what the commissioner is talking about in finding a breach is the conduct of Mr Leach as a minister. The reason I stress that is that when I look through the report, I also see the commissioner making that point quite clear, repeatedly. The commissioner is not somebody who is willingly or readily going to enter into the political realm, and so while he may not have come down, as I read it -- I appreciate this is my own interpretation and only my interpretation -- while he may not have reprimanded Mr Leach, I am not sure how you can read the report and not see it as a pretty clear condemnation of what Mr Leach has done.
We may agree or disagree with that. We may find that the standard to which Commissioner Evans is holding, in this case, Mr Leach, and any of us who might be in that position, is usually high. That's fine. We can talk about that. If we want to change that, we're prepared to take a look at what changes might be acceptable within that.
But the finding is clear, and the finding is also clear that it's based upon a combination of the law and parliamentary convention. It's no accident that the commissioner spends two pages in his report outlining parliamentary convention. It's no accident that the commissioner refers to the incident Mr Collenette was involved in at the federal level, quite a similar situation, where he finds that Mr Collenette, having written in that case to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration -- in that case he was simply asking; he wasn't particularly saying what should be done with respect to a particular matter. He was simply asking the chairperson -- that was the problem -- when he wrote to the Immigration and Refugee Board, asking the board to review the constituent's request for an expedited hearing. You could argue it was a process question he was writing to, a similar situation to here. It was a breach, as was the situation here. It was also a breach.
Why have we been belabouring this point? The reason is that when you look at the conduct of Mr Leach in this case, the breach occurred because of his position as a minister, and so when we belabour the point about penalty, it's not because we want to substitute our penalty for that of the commissioner -- (a) we can't do that, but (b) we accept under the circumstances that it should not be us but it should be the commissioner who makes that decision with respect to penalty.
I also take the commissioner's findings and the commissioner's going on as he does in spelling out parliamentary convention, in spelling out in effect the behaviour Mr Leach has carried on, to tell us very clearly that he is not about to get into the whole question of the political penalty, and that, ladies and gentlemen, is our responsibility.
I said earlier that we are charged by the House with reporting and responding, not just to the commissioner but also to the House, and it's on that second point that I think we have a broader responsibility. The first of that responsibility has to do with the issues Mr Gilchrist was raising, to deal with: Are the rules too stringent, essentially? Are the rules such that they need to be or should be further codified? It may very well be that some of these things can be codified. I don't think you could codify all of what parliamentary convention is all about, but maybe there are some things that can be taken out in terms of a compilation of the various findings and the various interpretations and put together in something that would be useful, not just for ministers but for all members to be able to use. As I say, I think that's part of the purpose of the annual reports of the commissioner, but it may very well be that we need to look at that in a more structured, a more useful way.
The other part of our responsibility to the House has to do with this question of Mr Leach acting as a minister and his responsibility, and the question of penalty therefore going beyond what the commissioner can determine. Again, it's clear in my mind that we cannot substitute our decision for the commissioner's decision with respect to the penalties, but that's the penalty as set out in the four parts of the subsection in the law that members have quoted from, and I won't quote from it again.
There is nothing in the act that deals with the question of membership in cabinet. In fact, I thought one of the most revealing things that came out of this morning's session was Mr Leach himself finally acknowledging that, against his earlier refusal when we asked him questions in the House and particularly against the Premier's refusal. For me, one of the useful things that came out of this morning was when I asked Minister Leach about that issue and he was very clear, and I invite people to look back at the Hansard, in saying that in fact the issue of membership in cabinet was not for the commissioner to determine but was up to the Premier to decide. He talked to us very clearly, and I think very forthrightly, about the tone of the conversation, if not the conversation itself, that he had with the Premier and made it very clear that the Premier was not interested in seeking his resignation.
That's why, if you recall, when we dealt with this issue in responding to the Premier's comments in the House, one of the first things I said in responding for our caucus was that the Premier, by the way in which he had chosen to deal with this issue, had turned this from an issue dealing with Al Leach's conduct to also an issue dealing with his own conduct as Premier and the question of the standards that he's prepared to accept and to set as Premier relative to the standards he was expecting of past premiers, whether that was the Premier under whom I served or premiers prior to that.
To me, that remains one of the things I know the government members don't want to talk about. I know it remains one of the things which they have trouble getting into, because to do so means, in effect, criticizing the Premier. But that's really one of the fundamental issues coming out of this process. It's why I believe our decision, mine and that of Mr Kormos, to stay rather than to take the route that our Liberal colleagues chose, which was to say, "We don't like the rules so we're going to leave," is significant, because it's doing this job even against the tightening of the rules that government members, Tory members, want to impose upon us that allow us to get the kind of information out sometimes that is useful.
I say again, the admission by Mr Leach this morning was one of the most significant things I have heard on this issue in a long time. It may very well be, as my friend Mr Kormos has said, that he's just sort of setting the groundwork for what may happen later this summer or, as some would think, maybe even later on in the year when there will be a shuffle and he will be moved out or moved to another post and will be able to justify that in part on the basis of the fact that it's the Premier's responsibility.
We all know that. We all know that at the end of the day it's the Premier who decides who is in cabinet, who isn't and in what positions. We also know that it's up to the Premier to determine what conduct is acceptable or not acceptable to him.
One of the fundamental problems I have with what has happened in all of this is that in effect we have not yet gotten to the real issue, which is, what is the level of conduct Mike Harris is prepared to accept and why all of a sudden is that standard different, now that he's the Premier, from the standard that he wanted to set and expected of previous premiers?
We all know that he could have dealt with this issue in a far different and more constructive way as it relates to Al Leach. As previous ministers have done, in my view Al Leach had no choice but, on the findings of the commissioner, to offer his resignation. The Premier could have then accepted that resignation or decided he was going to turn it down on the basis of having acknowledged that Mr Leach had done something wrong --
Mr Gilchrist: Here's a guy who lost his job for posing in the Sun? You're asking a question seriously?
Mr Silipo: I say to my friends opposite that what has happened through all of this is that this has become an issue not just about Al Leach's behaviour. I'm prepared to accept and not go beyond the commissioner's findings on that. Again, I continue to underscore the point that I have more than some empathy for the position Mr Leach found himself in, in wanting to deal with and represent his constituents. But the point is that he did it in a way that breached the law. He did it also in a way that showed, as the commissioner himself found, that he is "having difficulty in adopting an attitude which is less confrontational, more consistent with his present office as a member of the executive council, and more appreciative of the parliamentary conventions associated therewith."
Those are pretty serious words. Those are pretty serious conclusions for a commissioner to come up with. You can't skate around those by simply continuing to explain what it is you were doing, as in the case of Mr Leach in writing the letter. If it was a one-off situation, if it was the only time this had happened, if it was the only time Mr Leach had been in this kind of trouble, I think quite frankly those of us in opposition might have tried to make something of it for a while, but it wouldn't have gone anywhere because there wouldn't have been much to it. But this is also part of a pattern of behaviour. The commissioner himself has dealt with this now twice, two different instances dealing with Mr Leach's behaviour, Mr Leach's conduct as minister.
The commissioner himself refers in this report to one of the previous instances he was involved in, a complaint lodged by Ms Churley, the MPP for Riverdale, against Mr Leach, who approved of certain actions taken by Mr John Matheson, his executive assistant and a lawyer. That was, as people will recall, a situation in which Mr Matheson, who was Mr Leach's executive assistant, contacted somebody in a legal firm to inquire and complain about why it was they were taking up a case on behalf of a group of constituents. Essentially the conclusion the commissioner came to was that the activities of Mr Matheson were inappropriate and therefore, consequently, that Mr Leach, having approved of Mr Matheson's action, was also acting inappropriately. We also have the instance of this same minister's behaviour having been found by the Speaker of the House to constitute a prima facie case of contempt for the Legislature.
This is not a situation in which you have an individual who because of simple innocence commits a mistake and therefore we all kind of forget about it. This is certainly, if there ever was one in the history of this particular government, a situation that would have called, at the very least, for the minister to tender his resignation. Then, as I said and as my colleague Mr Kormos indicated, there were certainly a couple of different options that could have been pursued at that point, including if the Premier had accepted Mr Leach's resignation, I think us all understanding that would not have been a long-lived exile from cabinet.
I want to suggest to the members opposite that you may be protecting Mr Leach today, you may be protecting the Premier's approach to this today, but a few months down the line the real story will be told when we will find out how the Premier really chooses to deal with this issue. That's one of the sad things about this process, that we aren't able to get at some of the real problems in this case because to do so would mean that the backbench government members -- and not all backbenchers, because a lot of them, if not most of them, are parliamentary assistants -- are in an incredibly difficult position. They have to defend, whether they like it or not, what the Premier has done, even though now the minister himself who's involved in this issue and is at the very heart of this issue has as of this morning admitted the basic point we have been making all along, which is that there is a clear separation between the commissioner's responsibilities, the commissioner's findings, the commissioner's recommendations and the commissioner's conclusions with respect to penalty and, on the other hand, the Premier's responsibilities with respect to conduct that he expects of ministers and the Premier's responsibilities with respect to conduct that he quite frankly sets for himself in determining ministers' conduct and certainly with respect to the kind of penalties the Premier himself, as the final arbiter of conduct in cabinet and who is and who is not in cabinet, determines.
Mr Leach himself has admitted as of this morning that separation clearly exists. I think the government members are being put now in an untenable position of having to continue to defend the Premier against even the clear, expressed words of the minister involved in this instance. I'll really be interested to see over the next couple of days what happens on that issue.
The Vice-Chair (Mr Gary Fox): That ends the rounds of debate. Where does the committee wish to go from here?
Mr Clement: Mr Chair, if I can suggest, the subcommittee report which was adopted by this committee contemplated two full rounds of submissions by the parties that were participating in this discussion. We have now completed those two full rounds, but as members know well enough, we were unable, as I understand it, to obtain the Attorney General's participation on this day. He is not available on this day, but my understanding is he may be available a week from today, on Tuesday, July 22. If that is the case, clearly it would be premature to start discussion on the final report, either my motion or other subsequent motions until we have heard the commentary from the Attorney General. My understanding is that Mr Silipo and Mr Kormos are interested in hearing from the Attorney General.
Mr Kormos: I'm always looking forward to asking the Attorney General questions. I relish the opportunity.
Mr Clement: Mr Kormos is showing a great deal of emotion about this issue.
Mr Kormos: Enthusiasm.
Mr Clement: My suggestion is that we actually stand down until July 22, at which point we can resume our discussion with the benefit of the Attorney General's comments. I'd like to hear what the other members have to say.
The Vice-Chair: Would everyone agree to that?
Mr Silipo: I think that would actually be useful, given the decisions that have been made today. Obviously I continue to regret the government members' refusal to have the commissioner here. I think that would have been useful. Particularly in light of what the minister has said, it would have been useful to have him here to clarify the point we have been making which is around the ministerial question and the Premier's responsibilities.
But I think that for us to carry on the discussion, certainly it would be more useful to do that after we have heard from the Attorney General. The week's break I hope will also be helpful for all of us to reflect on what transpired today and perhaps we'll come next week with an ability on all sides to draw some conclusions that we've ignored.
The Vice-Chair: If everyone is in agreement with that, show hands. We'll adjourn till next Tuesday, July 22.
The committee adjourned at 1609.