Thursday 9 December 1993

Committee business


*Chair / Président: Cordiano, Joseph (Lawrence L)

*Vice-Chair / Vice-Présidente: Poole, Dianne (Eglinton L)

*Bisson, Gilles (Cochrane South/-Sud ND)

*Callahan, Robert V. (Brampton South/-Sud L)

*Duignan, Noel (Halton North/-Nord ND)

*Frankford, Robert (Scarborough East/-Est ND)

*Marland, Margaret (Mississauga South/-Sud PC)

Murphy, Tim (St George-St David L)

*O'Connor, Larry (Durham-York ND)

*Owens, Stephen (Scarborough Centre ND)

*Perruzza, Anthony (Downsview ND)

Tilson, David (Dufferin-Peel PC)

*In attendance / présents

Also taking part / Autres participants et participantes:

Peters, Erik, Provincial Auditor

Clerk / Greffier: Decker, Todd

Staff / Personnel:

Anderson, Anne, research officer, Legislative Research Service

McLellan, Ray, research officer, Legislative Research Service

The committee met at 1019 in room 151.


The Chair (Mr Joseph Cordiano): Members of the standing committee on public accounts, I believe we have a quorum this morning of six members, including myself, so we'll attempt to begin our session.

This morning's meeting was scheduled so that we could organize the upcoming calendar year around the auditor's annual report. I think this morning we would want to examine a number of areas in that report to determine what the time lines might be around each of those issues. Before we move on to that, let me turn our attention to a memo from Ray and deal with subject areas or a number of projects and their status with regard to this point in time at the end of 1993, where we are with all of those projects. Ray, would you like to deal with that at this point?

Mr Ray McLellan: By way of housekeeping, there are a couple of items that I think might be valuable or worthwhile for the members to have a look at before we go into consideration of the committee's agenda in the coming months.

In 1993 we completed two reports: one on non-profit housing and a second one on the health registration system.

To move on, we issued four interim statements, and during the year the auditor has been involved in special audits, some of which have addressed those interim statements.

At the bottom of page 1 of the memo, the first item was a special audit on the Workers' Compensation Board. That special audit was completed and the committee addressed this matter in June 1993.

The second item is the special audit on the office of the registrar general. I'll just read one sentence from our interim report, which is attached to this memorandum. It says as follows:

"Also, the committee has instructed the Provincial Auditor to refer the report on the new imaging system" in the office of the registrar general "to the committee in the event that this matter is not included in the 1993 annual report, Office of the Provincial Auditor."

Just as a note, on page 57 of the 1993 annual report of the Provincial Auditor this item is addressed, so that ties in our concern of May. The committee may want to consider that particular audit.

Moving on to page 2, the audit report on elevating devices: The committee will consider the report on the inspection, design, engineering, data cross-reference system for elevating devices on its completion by the Provincial Auditor.

The fourth interim report is a special audit on the Ombudsman. My understanding is that audit has been completed and has been forwarded to the Office of the Ombudsman and in turn will be tabled with the Board of Internal Economy.

To move on, we have a list of completed special audits, some of which I've just referred to, on the top of page 2, and also three outstanding special audits requested by this committee which the committee will wait for from the Provincial Auditor.

With respect to the Task Force on University Accountability, which follows up from our earlier investigations of the universities of Toronto, Guelph and Trent, going back a number of years, the committee met with the task force and the Hansard from the meeting with the task force became our response to that final report from the task force dated May 1993.

In speaking with the ministry people yesterday, they're currently in the process of reviewing the responses, and ours is included in that package, as well as the responses from universities and other interested parties across the province. We may or may not hear back from the task force, but that appears to complete that circle from the earlier inspection audits going back to the late 1980s.

Some of the issues considered by the committee have not necessarily been reported on, which is customary for the committee, to consider items and make its decision. Two of those are from 1993: one is the Toronto General division of the Toronto Hospital -- we did consider the special follow-up audit but we did not issue a report on this item -- and secondly, the family benefits assistance. We decided not to issue a report on that.

One outstanding item that I may address in conjunction with Anne Anderson is the biennial committee report which, if the committee is in agreement, should be finalized and tabled perhaps in February of next year. That's one outstanding item that I will have to address.

The last point at the top of page 3: Last year the committee, on the Chairman's suggestion, decided to send out letters to the various auditees reported on in the Provincial Auditor's annual report and to consider those. That may be a practice that the committee could consider again this year, but I'll just remind you about that and leave it at that, with those few footnotes.

Mr Erik Peters: May I add a footnote to that?

The Chair: Yes, sure.

Mr Peters: Very quickly, just for my clarification and maybe for the committee members' help, in the instances where there is no report, it is my understanding that the committee had decided to let Hansard speak for itself, so Hansard becomes the report. Am I technically correct that it's not a specific report but Hansard is the report?

The Chair: I believe that is correct.

Mr McLellan: That's the case in the public accounts committees across the country.

Mr Peters: Okay, fair enough. I just wanted to clarify it because that was new to me. The other brief references to the two motions that you were kind enough to pass in that particular time: The first is one dealing with the accountability framework asking me to pursue a workable, legislated accountability framework which we're working on and I'm the one to bring forward in this connection. The other one is the motion that was also unanimously passed: to continue the work on reforming the accounting system of the province, which was also passed by this committee. I just wanted to put them on the record, if I may, because I would like to speak to those later on when you do your planning.

The Chair: Now there is the question, obviously, of what to do with these outstanding matters. I think by and large we've dealt with most of these in a pretty thorough manner. Unless there is any consideration for a continuation of any of these, I think we will move on to the annual report that's been tabled by the auditor this year and delve into those subject areas, because obviously there's quite a lengthy list of issues here.

Perhaps we could move on to that matter. Before I do move on to that item, just let me say that I believe this marks the last day for Ray McLellan, our researcher, officially with us on the public accounts committee. He has been on the public accounts committee for the last five years, I believe, and he's now going to be reassigned to another committee.

Let me just say how he has certainly helped me in my capacity as Chair of the public accounts committee and certainly played a large role in the efforts of the public accounts committee over the last five years, and I think has been instrumental in assisting the committee in a variety of ways. I'd like to at this point thank him for his diligent work. Keep up the good work in another committee. Thank you, Ray.

Also, at this time I would like to welcome Anne Anderson, who is our new research officer. She is with us today and I think officially taking over at this point in time. Welcome to the committee. I know that you will work every bit as diligently as Ray has. I'm sure all members will find that Anne is just as available as Ray was to assist you in any matters. I'd like to welcome you, once again, to the committee.

Ms Dianne Poole (Eglinton): I just want to add my word of thanks for Ray's work over the years. I've had the privilege of serving with Ray on this committee both in government and in opposition, I found his work to be incredibly thorough, always properly done, very thoughtful, and in many instances I think he greatly assisted members by doing some thinking for us when we were really in a quandary and could not reach that final point of consensus. I think it's a real tribute to Ray how many unanimous reports have come out of the public accounts committee in the last five years and I'd really like to thank him. We are going to miss him but we know that Anne will very ably try to fill those very big shoes that Ray is leaving here.


Mr Larry O'Connor (Durham-York): Just to continue on with our discussion we are having this morning, Ray certainly has been an asset to this committee. Anne, I think you're going to enjoy this committee. We do get a touch partisan at times but I think you'll find this committee is as non-partisan as you can get.

Ray has been very good at distilling some of the facts as we see them and present them in a manner that has been acceptable to the committee in as non-partisan a way as this House can ever get.

This committee certainly is one that allows for some opportunities for us to set aside partisanship. I think you will enjoy it, Anne, and I'm sure that Ray has enjoyed it and indeed all the committee members will miss Ray's weekly presence with us.

The Chair: Getting on with the business at hand this morning, we will just open it to discussion around what might be of interest to members and the pursuit of these issues that have been outlined by the auditor. Ms Poole, would you like to start?

Ms Poole: Although I've not had the opportunity to caucus this with some of my other Liberal colleagues on the committee, there are certainly four areas in which I'm particularly interested.

One of them is children's services in the child and family intervention program. Children's services are something that, to my way of thinking, we as legislators have not turned our attention to as sufficiently as we should have.

The second is the area of education and I would just comment that while some of these areas would be intriguing to deal with, curriculum development and teaching qualifications and things like that, we do have a commission right now that is looking at many of those issues.

I think one area of education that we have not, again, focused on to the extent that I would like is special education, and the auditor has made some fairly specific comments regarding that. Special education is an area of interest.

The third, institutional services: Again, perhaps this is what they might call one of the sexier issues, looking at jails and corrections and what is going right and what is going wrong. There were some fairly startling pieces of evidence tabled in this section of the auditor's report, dealing with our jails and correctional facilities, particularly relating to staff-to-inmate ratio and the cost of the correctional system as opposed to the number of additional inmates going in.

I think that one would actually bear far more investigation, but those three are ones that I've particularly targeted as areas of interest. The one that I am very strongly disposed to dealing with deals with chapters 1 and 2 of the auditor's report, "Towards a Workable Legislated Accountability Framework" and "The Auditing and Reporting Process."

When I was on the committee in 1988, the auditor first came to us as a committee and said he would like changes to the Audit Act to empower him to do far more value-for-money reporting. That's now almost six years ago and I would really like, in this particular Parliament, to give the auditor the tools with the legislated accountability framework, the amendments to the Audit Act. I welcome the auditor's comments whether the timing would be appropriate to make this a first priority of our committee to try to resolve this particular issue.

Mr Peters: Yes, the accountability framework is very important because the Audit Act has to fit into it. So it is, as the committee has decided in its motion, a two-step affair: first develop the legislated accountability framework and then take a look as to the amendments of the Audit Act that should result from it, if any. It may be such a good framework that we can live with the existing act.

Yes, I would very much appreciate it if the legislated accountability framework could be discussed in the springtime, by that time, to set as a minimum a target date by which the Management Board of Cabinet has to cope with the issue and make proposals as to how it'll deal with this.

Ms Poole: My understanding is that I don't believe our committee has put in a request for time during the intersession yet because obviously we wanted to see what we wanted to discuss. But if, for instance, we had time towards the end of February or into March, would that be a suitable time to start looking at this or do you think that would be premature, that you need a little more time before we start discussing it?

Mr Peters: I would appreciate that kind of time frame in terms of developing a progress report, at least for the committee to know where it stands and take further action, to find out where the central agencies stand on that issue.

If I may add one other issue in that same time frame that I would appreciate the committee taking a look at, that is the progress that is being made towards changing towards the new accounting rules which we presented. That may be worthwhile doing also before the end of March from the perspective that it is the fiscal year-end. The committee may just want to find out where the central agencies stand on that particular issue before the year-end is closed.

Ms Poole: Good.

Mr Robert Frankford (Scarborough East): I have not read the whole report but I've read a couple of parts that I found quite interesting. One was on special education. That interests me about accountability and standardization among school boards and the way that special education needs are served. That's certainly something that I find comes up from time to time in the constituency.

Then, perhaps inevitably, I read the chapter on the Ontario health insurance plan which, if one is talking about where the bucks are spent, I think must overshadow everything else. It seems to me that this perhaps flows on rather nicely from deliberations on health cards, perhaps looking more at the accountability around claims and at the provider levels. I would appreciate any chance to continue with that.

The Chair: Any other discussion or other points of view?

Mr O'Connor: I haven't had much time to deal with this report in any length. We've only had it for two days and we've been sitting till midnight, but I appreciate the auditor's report just the same.

The Ministry of Natural Resources segment and some discussion around the conservation authorities intrigued me. I wouldn't mind looking into it a little bit further.

As I was glancing through the book -- I never had an awful lot of time to go through the report in detail -- to refer to what Ms Poole has suggested around making a priority of the changes to the Audit Act, I think this committee has sent letters to the Minister of Finance on that issue and would like to see some changes there.

I guess the difficulty there is always the time limitations that we face with just the House agenda, not that we should wait for that to happen; this committee should still let the appropriate House leaders know that we are committed to some changes in there to update that element of the act that would make the job of the Provincial Auditor easier and more thorough. I think that's what this committee would still like to see as a priority as well.

The Chair: At this point, can I try to summarize what I've heard and reach some sort of a consensus, unless there are further points of view that wish to be expressed?

Mr Stephen Owens (Scarborough Centre): I'm sorry I missed the initial part of the discussion, but are we looking at issues that we would like to explore?

The Chair: Yes.

Mr Owens: Maybe Dianne has already mentioned the issues with respect to the legal aid plan and the young offenders section that I have a particular interest in.

The Chair: Let me just say that if there were the time to examine all of these matters, we probably would attempt to do that.

Mr Owens: You asked me for input.


The Chair: I think what we should deal with first is the intersession and just what time might be available to us to deal with probably the two issues in this on which I understand there would be a consensus, the issues around education and training, correctional services, and social services -- the child and family intervention program. Those three I think -- correct me if I'm wrong -- might form a consensus. The first approach that we might take would be with those three issues. If we could meet in the intersession for three weeks around those three issues, and have one week for each of those issues, we might be able at least to examine those for a first glimpse at them and glean something from those examinations.

Mrs Margaret Marland (Mississauga South): Good morning.

The Chair: But of course we just have before us --


Mrs Marland: Touché. One for you.

The Chair: Now that Mrs Marland has -- how about that for an entry? Mrs Marland, I don't know if I should continue in that vein.

Mrs Marland: In the spirit of goodwill of all men and women.

The Chair: Better strike while the iron is hot. In that spirit we've reached a consensus, but of course you weren't here, so that could change.

Mrs Marland: No, it's fine with me.

The Chair: Okay, that's it.

Mr Gilles Bisson (Cochrane South): So it's understood we'll be looking at the PC caucus budget in some detail, along with the leader's office. Very good.

Mrs Marland: As long as you give me the money for my --

The Chair: If I could just -- Ms Poole.

Ms Poole: I certainly don't have any problem dealing with those three issues. I just wonder, before we go into those three issues, whether in the intersession or the other things, if we could start with the legislative accountability framework and the auditing process, if that should be our first priority, and then we see which of those other topics we could go to subsequently.

The Chair: It was my understanding that the auditor had indicated that the spring might be an appropriate time for us to have our first look at what progress is being made and that you would have an interim report or a progress report by that time. That would be some time after March for the accountability framework.

Ms Poole: I might have misconstrued, but when I asked the question, if we dealt with this matter of the accountability framework in the latter part of February or the beginning of March, if would that be an appropriate time frame, I thought the auditor said to me that it would be good to deal with it before the end of March because that's the end of the fiscal year, but I may have misunderstood.

The Chair: No, you're probably correct.

Mr Peters: I did refer to the accounting issue as before the end of March, to get that in, to find some time for that.

Ms Poole: So if the accounting issue, if we would at least devote some time in the intersession --

The Chair: To the accounting.

Ms Poole: -- to the accounting issue, and then what about the accountability framework, auditor? When do you see that?

Mr Peters: A little bit after that, immediately after that.

Ms Poole: So maybe when we're back in session, then we could deal with the accountability framework?

Mr Peters: Right.

Mr Bisson: I was just quickly glancing through the auditor's report. As well as most other members, I didn't have an opportunity to read it in some detail, but I do note that you had taken a look at some of the services around air ambulances and would like, if possible, to take a look at that in a little bit better detail a little bit later.

In regard to utilization, you may be aware that there was a Dash-7 that was added to the service in order to transport patients in northern Ontario into Sudbury, and the utilization of that hasn't been up at 100%, although it could be. It seems that it's an internal problem within the organization about, first of all, a lot of agencies -- for example, there was permission given by the Ministry of Health to transport cancer patients from northern Ontario into places like Sudbury for their treatments, or Toronto, if need be. It seems that even though the issue was given out, there are a lot of agencies that don't know about it, and if we're paying to utilize such a service we should be utilizing that thing to its maximum. So that's something I would like to maybe get into a little bit later.

The other thing around air ambulances is that in discussions I've had with people who work within the air ambulance services up in Timmins, sometimes what ends up happening, because they don't end up booking the aircraft to the extent that it should be, is it's not utilized and we're having to pay for it. Then we end up having to go out and hire a charter, which is maybe a little bit more expensive.

I don't know if you've looked into that in any detail, but I'd certainly want to come back to that.

Mr Peters: If I may respond to that, we actually did not, because what we looked at was really the process of leasing aircraft and whether all the specifications were correctly dealt with etc. However, in my own opinion, that should not stop the committee from having the particular people before you and raise questions along the lines of the ones that you have in mind.

Mr Bisson: I think it's something I would definitely be interested in seeing come back and I'm sure most members would be interested.

Mrs Marland: I would like to support what Mr Bisson is saying because I think those of us who have the convenience of five- to 15-minute ambulance service in the greater Toronto area have no understanding of how grave the situation can be in northern Ontario, and in other parts of this province, eastern and western Ontario, as well. I think it would be very worthwhile for this committee to look at that particular aspect and the expenditure. A Dash-7 is a very expensive aircraft and it's wonderful to have that available, but if it isn't being utilized to its maximum, it is very important and I certainly support that request.

I would also like to say that if we are discussing where to go as a result of the report tabled by the auditor this week -- is that what we're doing? -- this really is further to my private member's resolution of last Thursday which was approved in the House in a vote of 51 to 4. My resolution was dealing with special-needs people in the province, in particular the developmentally disabled adults over the age of 21.

I also referred to the special challenges met every day by families with developmentally disabled children under the age of 21. I think since the auditor's report has a whole section devoted to special education and some concerns that are addressed in that report about the special-education areas in terms of services to the people in the province, I would like to see us discuss that area. I feel very strongly that in times of recession and shortage of money, we have to prioritize with the people with special needs first. I think it's something that goes far beyond partisan boundaries and I would look forward to us reviewing that particular section.

Mr Noel Duignan (Halton North): I would like to ask the auditor a question. I was wondering, is it within your powers to review the TTC, for example?

Mr Peters: I do not have the answer ready for that, only from the inspection point of view. Under section 13 we can do an inspection audit to the extent that it is the use of grants provided by the province, but we are limited in our powers.

Mr Duignan: You would be limited to the area in which the government supplied the money to the TTC and how it uses that money?

Mr Peters: That's right.

Mr Duignan: For example, could you look under a special audit on some of the management issues and how they manage that money?

Mr Peters: That specific money to the extent that the act currently restricts us to looking at the accounting records, and from that we can explore, to a certain extent, the management, but not a full-blown, value-for-money audit.

Mr Duignan: You can't do a full value.

Mr Peters: We could not do a full value-for-money audit.

Mr Duignan: But you could look at some of the management issues around the moneys.

Mr Peters: That's right. Yes.


Mr Duignan: That's an issue I would like this committee to come back to look at as well, how effectively and how well the TTC manages the money supplied by the province.

I was just wondering, there are a number of issues coming up from all three sides here this morning to review over the intersession. We may get three weeks, we may get two, we may get none. I was wondering, rather than going around in a circle all the time, if this may be something that the subcommittee could look at, all the issues, and each side bring back what it wants to have a look at and maybe we could reach a consensus on the issues to be looked at over the intersession.

The Chair: I think the subcommittee would try to do that, except that I would be a little concerned about allowing the subcommittee to do that with the time that remains in the session. I thought we should leave it to the entire committee this morning, at least to get a sense of what might be a priority, and then the subcommittee might meet later at some point, but to determine just how much time we have and what then, after we've distilled the main issues from this --

Mr Duignan: We'll have a look at those issues this morning and possibly the subcommittee, say, could meet for the first hour of next week and then come back to report to the committee for the second hour to discuss the recommendations of the subcommittee.

The Chair: The difficulty might be that we may not sit next week.

Mr Duignan: Oh, we won't be sitting next week, so we'll have to do it today.

The Chair: The House may not sit, so therefore today is the last opportunity. I think it would be useful to try and glean from this what are the main priority items to be dealt with in the intersession. Once we get a better indication of what time is allocated for us, then the subcommittee could meet, and if it had to, then further distil from that the priority, according to how much time is left, and then we could make decisions.

Mr Duignan: I like your original recommendation of those three issues, to deal with them over a period of three weeks. They're three good topics to deal with in the intersession.

Mr Peters: May I just help Mr Duignan. One further area that I would like to explore and would like to explore on your behalf, and it is based on your question, is whether passing a resolution under section 17 of the Audit Act for a special audit would give this committee broader powers to look into value-for-money issues. That may be an alternative to pursue, depending on your wishes or if you would like to go to a motion on that.

The Chair: That may be for further consideration.

Mr Duignan: Not during the intersession.

The Chair: On this same point, Ms Poole, or otherwise I have Mr Callahan on the list.

Ms Poole: Just going back to that three-week intersession period --

The Chair: I have Mr Callahan first.

Ms Poole: Oh, certainly.

Mr Robert V. Callahan (Brampton South): I'd like to support Margaret's comment about special education. It seems to me that it actually fits well, and I hope this won't be misunderstood by anybody watching this, with corrections. I'd like to find out whether or not we're putting people into correctional facilities because they've not been diagnosed as having a learning disability. If you figure it out, it costs us $140 a day to keep somebody in a correctional facility. I worked it out. You could probably send a kid to Harvard and that might be a better result than stuffing him away in a correctional facility.

I want to endorse what Margaret says. In tough times the money is cut back on special ed. Some of the statistics I've seen on special ed in terms of learning-disabled kids is staggering, it's frightening, because there are a lot of them out there and a lot of them are going undiagnosed. A lot of them are maybe being diagnosed and the report gets locked away in the safe at the school board and they never see it. Nobody ever considers it to be an essential item. In my other life and perhaps in my continuing life, I've seen kids where you could pick up in a second that they were learning-disabled, in the juvenile courts and no place to go except if they're put into close custody into one of these correctional facilities at an extraordinary expense to society.

Just watching last night's program in the United States, in Florida they've got a problem where the people go in for three years and come out in four months and they're back out on the street causing havoc. Miami is just in a state of siege. They're looking at further extraordinary amounts of moneys to create another 30,000 placements for jails.

If there's one thing we should learn from the United States -- we seem to learn all the wrong things and we seem to take all the wrong things from those. We should look at their situation down there, and I'm not suggesting a trip for one minute, but I think we should look at the problems they've got and anticipate the problems we're going to have here if we don't address them quickly.

I will end by saying that when I came to Canada in 1954, I guess --

Mrs Marland: Where from?

Mr Callahan: From the Bronx, the south Bronx.

Mrs Marland: That explains it.

Mr Callahan: I came up here because the education was so cheap and it still is. I can tell you this much: There was a movie out in 1950, Blackboard Jungle, and at that time when I came here the educational system was par excellence. You didn't have anybody holding a knife to a teacher's throat, as they did in that movie, but I can tell you at the time of the making of that movie that's exactly what was happening in the United States' schools.

We're now seeing it in our schools and we're seeing it for a number of reasons. We're seeing it because of overcrowding, because we're not stimulating the kids' minds, because there are no opportunities out there for jobs, drugs, the whole gamut. I think we'd better take a look at it and I think that's real value for money, Mr Auditor.

We should be looking at all three of those issues in terms of how we can best not just save money, because I don't think that's the nature of the exercise; the nature of the exercise is, are we spending the money that we do have, the little bit we have, in an appropriate way so that we're getting value for our dollar in human terms, in terms of whether we're protecting society and making certain that the future society for our kids will be safer, and also whether or not we're dealing fairly with the young people today who are finding themselves in conflict with the law, many times because of what Margaret just suggested, the inability to diagnose them with learning disabilities or, secondarily, the inability or the lack of motivation or resources to identify them?

Quite frankly, if we go through that exercise, as Correction Services critic I would be asking that every inmate in the young offenders section who's admitted to secure custody should be examined by a psychologist to determine whether he or she does have some form of a learning disability so he or she can be appropriately dealt with and not turned back out on the street to cause more mayhem.

The Chair: A point of order, Mr Duignan.

Mr Duignan: On the same point, I kind of agree with Margaret and Bob. We've already agreed, I think, or suggested that we would spend one of the three weeks looking at education issues, and that certainly can be one of those issues in that week. I suspect that we'll come nowhere near completion in one week. We may want to carry it over into the next session as well, but I suggest that be part of the whole issue of looking at education issues.

Ms Poole: Just for Margaret and Bob's benefit, before you arrived I had raised special education as one of the areas of particular interest that we have to look at. I believe it was Dr Frankford who also spoke in favour of looking at the special-education section. There was a consensus, I think, among all members that this was something we really felt needed to be explored.

The only other point, and I hate to keep belabouring this but it seems to keep getting lost in the shuffle, was that I think the auditor has said he would very much like us to look at the auditing and reporting process as a priority in March, when we go into the intersession, just that section, not the accountability framework, which would follow later.

If we are going to explore those three topics I would first of all, before we start on those three topics, like to give the auditor the opportunity to bring his concerns about the auditing process here too, as he has requested.

Mr Owens: I was just going to ask, on a point of clarification, are we talking about the process that Mr Peters undertakes with respect to his actions in terms of the audit process? Is that what we're talking about, allowing wider accessibility and stuff like that?

Mr Peters: No. The very specific one that I have a time concern about is really the accounting issue because the fiscal year-end of the province ends on March 31. As you know, I've put the province on notice that we would like to follow the new accounting rules, and the Minister of Finance has indicated that he would like to do so as well. I thought it would be worthwhile knowing just where they stand before the year-end actually closes. Are we going to be able to keep the accounts on that basis by March 31 or not? This committee might have an interest in that aspect.


Mr Duignan: I suggest on this particular point that maybe the first day of our meeting during the intersession we will deal with this issue along with that. Maybe the auditor would give us some sense of what time frame we would need to deal with this issue.

Mr Peters: I would think that two sessions would probably do it. If we have two days, two hours -- four hours in total.

Mr Duignan: Two hours?

The Chair: One full sitting day in the intersession.

Mr Peters: Four hours in total would give it a lot of time.

Mr Duignan: Okay, why don't we set aside the first day of the intersession to deal with this issue and then pick up the three items we kind of have consensus on for the remaining time?

The Chair: The auditor has something further to add.

Mr Peters: Before we get further, Mr Callahan made a very interesting point, and since special education seems to be on everybody's mind, I like the linkage to corrections services. But there is another linkage I'd like to point out to you that you may wish to pursue and that is chapter 3.05, which deals with the young offenders services, which go in the same -- there may be a very unique opportunity actually for the committee to have three ministries involved in this particular area maybe appear jointly to see how seamless this process may actually be. It's just a suggestion, but there may be a unique way of breaking ground in an area that is clearly on everybody's mind.

Mrs Marland: I think that last suggestion of the auditor's is excellent. I think we could learn a great deal by going through that process and being of help where we can to the government. That wasn't what I was wanting to speak about.

When you describe the intersession and looking at the accounting procedures, which I think have to be done in time for -- if they're not happening, they're not being changed and we're starting a new year April 1. We have to give the government ministries the time to make those changes and revisions with help and direction wherever that is supposed to come from. What do you see as the first or second day of the intersession?

The Chair: Do you mean with regard to our sitting time?

Mrs Marland: Yes. What is meant?

The Chair: It has not been indicated to me by the House leaders or to anyone else, for that matter, just how much time will be made available to this committee. We haven't made a formal request yet at this point, but I would think that it would be appropriate for us to determine just how much time we need and then make a formal request on that basis. I think it would not be unfair to ask for at least three weeks, which would accomplish what we first believe to be a priority in the auditor's report, with these items that have been -- I think there's a consensus around most of the items.

Can I attempt to just summarize what I thought was a consensus? It was agreed that the auditor's matter regarding accounting rules would be an item that we could deal with in one intersession sitting day and that the rest of the time could be dedicated to these three items: the special education, or the Ministry of Education and Training section that was dealt with in the auditor's report, the Ministry of Community and Social Services section of the report, as well as the Ministry of the Solicitor General and Correctional Services.

Those three items would be our intersession agenda. They would form the agenda for the intersession, and I think there seems to be some consensus that there's also symmetry in these three ministries around young people and special education and how that's dealt with through the entire system, so there could be a theme that we follow in examining these three ministries along those lines. But I guess we could allow the subcommittee to appropriately determine what and whom we would call before the committee on those items regarding the three ministries.

Mr Duignan: I concur, Mr Chair, and Margaret may have a list of people she may like appearing in front of the committee etc, or whatever the case is, people from the ministry; I'm talking about people from the ministry.

Ms Poole: Correct me if I'm wrong, but my experience over the years on public accounts is that you don't actually invite people from outside to hearings. It's usually an internal matter where we deal with ministry staff or government staff.

The Chair: Yes.

Ms Poole: We actually wouldn't have groups that appear. I just don't want any misunderstanding to be out there that people would believe there would be opportunities.

Mr Duignan: No, I agree. That's what I meant. They're the individuals I meant, the people from ministry staff etc.

Ms Poole: Good. It's just that public accounts is fairly unique in this regard.

The Chair: I think that's understood. I think it was just a miscommunication.

Mrs Marland: I understood what Noel meant.

The Chair: Can I then say that we would write to the House leaders -- I believe that's the process or procedure we would use -- officially asking for the time that is necessary, and I think it would be appropriate to ask for four weeks in the hope that we may receive three weeks.

Mr Duignan: The usual bargaining ploy?

Ms Poole: It sounds like a wise --

The Chair: I'm saying this on Hansard because it's pretty self-evident that this is what we hope to end up with, and usually we end up with less than that. I think four weeks would not be an inconsiderate amount of time, because these are pretty substantial matters. If we were granted four weeks, it would not be a waste of time, certainly, but less than three weeks I think would make it difficult for us to deal with this list in an effective matter. I think three weeks would be sufficient time. So let's ask for four and we might end up with three. If the House leaders are listening, that is our strategy, of course, and please be advised as of right now.

Ms Poole: If I might make one suggestion just to bump up our request, we could perhaps say we are going to be discussing the following four areas and so we require four weeks, then perhaps they'll be more amenable to saying that is a fairly substantial agenda.

The Chair: We'll leave that to the skilful and artful pen of our clerk. I'm sure he'll draft something accordingly that will see the light of day with the House leaders.

If there are no other matters, I think we can adjourn this morning.

The committee adjourned at 1107.