Thursday 13 December 1990




Chair: Callahan, Robert V. (Brampton South L)

Vice-Chair: Poole, Dianne (Eglinton L)

Bradley, James J. (St. Catharines L)

Callahan, Robert V. (Brampton South L)

Charlton, Brian A. (Hamilton Mountain NDP)

Conway, Sean G. (Renfrew North L)

Cooper, Mike (Kitchener-Wilmot NDP)

Cousens, W. Donald (Markham PC)

Hayes, Pat (Essex-Kent NDP)

Johnson, Paul R. (Prince Edward-Lennox-South Hastings NDP)

MacKinnon, Ellen (Lambton NDP)

O'Connor, Larry (Durham-York NDP)

Poole, Dianne (Eglinton L)

Tilson, David (Dufferin-Peel PC)


Mills, Gordon (Durham East NDP) for Mrs MacKinnon

Morrow, Mark (Wentworth East NDP) for Mr Hayes

Clerk: Manikel, Tannis

Staff: McLellan, Ray, Research Officer, Legislative Research Service

The committee met at 1031 in room 228.


The Chair: We appear to have certainly a quorum. Your subcommittee met on Thursday 6 December and Thursday 13 December 1990 to discuss the committee's agenda. It was agreed that the committee would request permission for the Chair and one member of each party, the clerk and the research officer to attend the Conference of Australian Public Accounts Committees in Darwin, Australia, in May 1991.

The subcommittee agreed to request from the House leaders two weeks of meeting time during the winter adjournment, namely, the weeks of 4 February and 25 February 1991.

The subcommittee agreed further to review the following sections of the Provincial Auditor's annual report: the three inspection audits and other matters on universities and sections 2.11 and 2.12 of the 1990 Provincial Auditor's annual report on inspection audits of boards of education.

That is the subcommittee's report. Does anyone have anything to say on it?

Mr Bradley: Just briefly, one of the things I observed over the years, and the government recognizes this now, is that we transfer a lot of money to transfer agencies, and transfer agencies, until recently, have not been the subject of much scrutiny, as much scrutiny as perhaps they should be. When you think that the government spends a lot of money -- and it should be scrutinized, the government that is there -- you also have to look at these transfer agencies. I notice the auditor is out into a number of the transfer agencies. If you are looking at particularly the value you are getting for the money that you are spending -- you can see it in government; either you are not or you are. The auditor quickly brings it to your attention, and you are in the forum of the Legislature, so the opposition and the news media and others can bring it to your attention.

But with some of the transfer agencies to which the provincial government sends money, you would like to know how they would spend that money on some occasions, because there is going to be a considerable amount of money that is transferred to those agencies. So I think when I listen to some of the lists that the committee has agreed to, it certainly makes a good deal of sense to have those looked at with a good deal of care.

I can recall that a community college was looked at with some interest a couple of years ago. It helps out all of them, I think, when even one is looked at. It helps all to evaluate their own performances and see how they can be efficient, because they will be at the doorstep of the government to demand more money each year, and the government is under great pressure to give that money.

Then of course when you see sometimes how the money is spent as compared to how you might spend it if you had it directly under your own control, you could tear your hair out as a member of a government. I certainly think that is wise to look at those as well as the government agencies themselves.

Mr Cousens: I think Jim has got a good point. That is something we could touch on as we do the sections during the year. I would be glad to see us come back and look at government agencies and develop a strategy to go at them. I think the plan that we have now, if we were to take the recommendation that we discussed, will give us two weeks of valuable review of the auditor's report, of things that came out just currently, and then as we develop our long-term plans, I would be more than pleased to follow Mr Bradley's suggestion.

Ms Poole: I thought, since Don and I were members of the old standing committee on public accounts, it might be good to give the newer members a reason why we are so strong on this. In the last couple of years the auditor has started doing audits of transfer agencies, hospitals, school boards and universities, but the scope of his audit is quite limited because he is limited by the legislation. In our old committee we spent a great deal of time talking about value-for-money audits, about these billions of dollars that go out and about how we have no accountability mechanism for how the money is spent.

We thought, as an old committee as opposed to being a new committee now, it was really an area where there had to be developments soon. It may well be that looking at the universities and the school boards may be the first step in giving the auditor some broader powers in the Legislature and in the legislation so that he can expand the scope of his audit and really do solid value-for-money audits. I think most members who were discussing it felt that this was a very good first step.

The Chair: Shall the report of the subcommittee be adopted?

Agreed to.

The Chair: The next item before you is the proposed budget to go before the Board of Internal Economy. You should each have a copy of it. The clerk has brought to my attention the fact that there is travel included in it, which we had anticipated but, in light of this morning's discussion and the subcommittee's decision, that is unlikely during the winter break. And in light of the fact that our fiscal year ends 31 March, we present a new budget after that. Does anybody have any comments about leaving it in or taking it out? I am sure I will get asked by the Board of Internal Economy why it is there if we are not travelling.

Mr Cousens: I would take out the transportation, since the likelihood of our using it is now very slim. The universities and the subjects we are bringing in are all Metro-based, so there is no need for us to have to trek anywhere.

Ms Poole: The only thing I am wondering about travel is, if the Board of Internal Economy and the House leaders agree that we are to send a small committee to make a presentation to the public accounts conference in Australia, the clerk had suggested we might be able to get advance fare rates at a much cheaper rate and it might come into this fiscal year. I do not know whether we should put at least a preliminary amount in or whether it is best to go back to the Board of Internal Economy for a supplementary budget at the time, if necessary.

The Chair: I had not thought of that, actually. Maybe I will ask the clerk. Does that make sense, to leave it in there?

Clerk of the Committee: Yes. It might come in handy for that. I also did not put in transportation for members travelling in to committee meetings, which I should have. Between the two of them, I can rework this transportation so that it is just a straight number.


Mr Conway: Is this committee thinking of going to Australia?

The Chair: I think you should be made aware, as you were not able to attend the last time, that actually we have been invited by the public accounts in Australia to take part in the process and in fact to deliver a presentation.

Mr O'Connor: Are you going on a brief leave here, on a sabbatical?

Mr Conway: We have a job to do, as all members do. Australia? Surely you jest. If you want to go back to Oshawa and defend it, I will pay your way.

Ms Poole: I just might point out to the member for Renfrew North, not to question party solidarity, that the clerk had said that advance booking prices for the members would be something in the area of $750. Now, the last time I looked, it cost about $300 for a member to fly to Timmins, and we are not talking massive expenditure of moneys. We are talking six members, one from each party, the Chair, the clerk and the research person. So I do not think we are going to bankrupt any treasury, and I do not think any member of this committee should condone that. I also think that if we are going to go to the Board of Internal Economy, we should make it the most cost-efficient method possible. We should also maybe have shared accommodation, that type of thing, and make it a very reasonable proposal.

The Chair: That may be difficult.

Mr Conway: Listen, I mean, the committee will do whatever it chooses. I am just making the personal point of view that it is not the main priority.

Mr Bradley: Did I hear a fare of $700?

Ms Poole: Seven hundred and fifty dollars advance.

The Chair: That is one way. You do not get back.

Mr Bradley: Is that the whole price, the whole airfare?

The Chair: The clerk indicates that she is not exactly sure of what it is, but it certainly is decreased significantly if we book in advance.

Mr Conway: The cheapest airfare to Hong Kong -- and I booked a long way in advance -- was $1,800, I think. That was eight years ago. If you can get a $750 airfare --

Mr O'Connor: That's a bargain.

Mr Conway: That is a bargain, but that is not my point. I do not think we need to go; we do not need to spend money. I am just sort of registering an initial consistent point of view which the member for Hamilton Mountain will probably recognize.

The Chair: As your Chair, I have been invited. It is a tough world, but someone has to go.

Mr Charlton: Just in respect to the comments that the member for Renfrew North made, and I must concur that it has been an ongoing concern for a number of years now, on the other hand, the member, having been a cabinet minister for the last five years, has not sat on a committee and should understand that committees have not stopped looking at those things that are happening around the world and making requests to the Board of Internal Economy for travel to investigate those matters or to participate in those events. I think it is quite likely that the Board of Internal Economy will do as it does very well, judge the efficacy of this particular request.

Mr Conway: I think the member makes a good point. I can only tell you that having been in cabinet for some considerable time, being responsible for three different departments, I spent half of my day saying no to a variety of very interesting international trips. I mean, it is a wonderful little game that the world has constructed for itself and, if you want to play the game, you can be over the Atlantic or Pacific eight days a week. I am not denying that there are pressures out there to go and participate in the international conference on Ptolemaic science or something, but --

Mr Bradley: It could be safely said, for instance, in comparison, that like the Strategic Air Command, one third of the House of Commons is in the air at all times. I guess when you look at your federal member's brochure, it shows where he or she has been and where he or she is going. There are always lots of photographs from the NATO conference. We always have the Remembrance Day group. They have several things they investigate, Canadian activities on the French Riviera, I think, or something like that. It is always interesting to note that. I do not know what it has to do with this conversation.

Mr Charlton: Perhaps some day in the near future this committee, since we are looking in this committee on a regular basis at government expenditures and value for money -- since the Conflict of Interest Commissioner has ruled that members of this assembly cannot use, for example, enticement points from the airlines for personal use, I suggested on a number of occasions that members of this assembly could pool those points for the use of the assembly and committees of the assembly.

The Chair: I am going to jump in here, because my understanding of the public accounts committee is that it is to be a bit more family-oriented and that it is not to be partisan. I do not think there is any partisanship creeping in here, but I think we should set the stage now to avoid this committee's becoming a disunity in the family. If there is anything further to be said that has not already been said, I am going to ask for you to consider adopting the budget. Is there anything further to be said that has not already been said? Is the budget adopted?

Agreed to.

The Chair: It appears to be unanimous.

This would appear to be our last meeting. We agreed last week that we would not meet on 20 December, so the clerk will advise us when we will be meeting during the break. I will see you then I guess, and in the interim, everybody have a merry Christmas and a happy new year.

Mr Bradley: Has your committee already looked into that, the dates? Any tentative dates?

The Chair: We have requested specific dates.

Mr Charlton: Would it be useful if we bounced those dates off the whole committee now to see if there are problems before we proceed?

The Chair: Okay. They were in the subcommittee report. We asked for the weeks of 4 February and 25 February.

The Chair: We had some discussion among those members who were here. Now, I recognize that not all of you were here.

Mr Cooper: Those are the same dates as the standing committee on the Legislative Assembly is asking for.

The Chair: Is that right? Are you on the Legislative Assembly committee?

Mr Cooper: Yes.

The Chair: Well, we may not get those weeks, so what we do here in terms of trying to get specific weeks may be all to naught anyway.

Ms Poole: I know that the House leaders will make the final adjustments so we do not have to be terribly firm about the dates, but I think both Mr Tilson and myself, as opposition Housing critics for our respective parties, may well have a conflict with the date of 4 February. I believe the Minister of Housing wants his public hearings as expeditiously as possible and I assume that would mean from mid-January on. We might be better off to ask for the last couple of weeks in February. It would probably be better to give a blanket message to the House leaders: "Just do what you want, because we know you will anyway, and fit us all in somehow."

The Chair: The clerk informs me, and we had a message to this effect from on high, that we had to have the request in before last Tuesday, I guess it was, so we have put those in as dates we had discussed at an earlier meeting. We probably will not get them. I have never seen yet that you got what you requested.

The clerk tells me that she could inform the House leaders today of a change, if that is the wish of the committee. It seems to me, though, that the member is sitting on both the Legislative Assembly and public accounts committees.

Mr Charlton: I think I agree with Dianne on this issue, that we do not need to get any more specific than what the clerk has already done with the House leaders. Two things happen when the House leaders go through the process of setting up the committee schedule, and some of the government members can attest to this, based on changes that always have to happen. One is that committees vie for time, and the House leaders ultimately will make decisions based on whoever makes the best case for priority. Dianne, you have mentioned the Housing one; it likely is going to get some priority, as opposed to this committee. Not that this committee will not get its time; it may not get it when it wants it.

The other thing that the House leaders will have to deal with, though, immediately upon striking that initial list of sitting times, is the conflicts and their ability to substitute where members have conflicts, because it is the House leaders and the whips who ultimately have to deal with those questions of substitution.

Mr Bradley: I have not been on a committee in a long time. Is that allowed now outside the House sitting, to substitute?

Mr Charlton: Yes.

Mr Bradley: It is now; so it is the prerogative of the other --

Mr Charlton: It is the prerogative of the party and the whip and the individual.

Ms Poole: I suggest, since the letter has gone out, that we not do anything officially, but each one of us who has a potential conflict can just notify our House leader of the fact so that they will be fully cognizant of it. That should eliminate the problems. I think they will try to work around any conflicts we have.

The Chair: We are adjourned to the call of the Chair. Everybody have a merry Christmas and a happy new year and all that stuff.

The committee adjourned at 1050.