Monday 22 September 1997
STANDING COMMITTEE ON RESOURCES DEVELOPMENT
Chair / Présidente
Mrs Brenda Elliott (Guelph PC)
Vice-Chair / Vice-Président
Mr Jerry J. Ouellette (Oshawa PC)
Mr David Christopherson (Hamilton Centre / -Centre ND)
Mr Ted Chudleigh (Halton North / -Nord PC)
Mr Sean G. Conway (Renfrew North / -Nord L)
Mrs Brenda Elliott (Guelph PC)
Mr Doug Galt (Northumberland PC)
Mr John Hastings (Etobicoke-Rexdale PC)
Mr Pat Hoy (Essex-Kent L)
Mr Bart Maves (Niagara Falls PC)
Mr Jerry J. Ouellette (Oshawa PC)
Substitutions / Membres remplaçants
Mr Tom Froese (St Catharines-Brock PC)
Ms Shelley Martel (Sudbury East / -Est ND)
Mr Richard Patten (Ottawa Centre / -Centre L)
Also taking part /Autres participants et participantes
Mr Dwight Duncan (Windsor-Walkerville L)
Mr Tim Hudak (Niagara South / -Sud PC)
Clerk Pro Tem / Greffier par intérim
Mr Douglas Arnott
Staff / Personnel
Mr Ray McLellan and Mr Avrum Fenson,
research officers, Legislative Research Service
The Chair (Mrs Brenda Elliott): Good afternoon. We'll call to order the standing committee on resources development, meeting for the purposes of organization on Bill 136.
You have before you a report from the subcommittee. Do I have someone who will make a motion to adopt the subcommittee report, please?
Ms Shelley Martel (Sudbury East): I move that the motion by the subcommittee be adopted.
The Chair: Is there any discussion on this?
Ms Martel: Let me kick it off and say that I support the report from the subcommittee, a meeting that was held late last Thursday afternoon after the rather astonishing announcement that was made in the House by the Minister of Labour, which I'm sure caught not only us by surprise, but caught the back bench completely by surprise as well. However, with respect to the motion, let me say a couple of things.
It is my belief that unless the government backbenchers support this subcommittee report, it will be clear to everyone in this province that this whole process, the public hearings and the clause-by-clause, is a complete farce, and you will wear that.
This government already has a reputation of shooting first and asking about casualties later. I'm going to tell you, if you proceed in the manner that is outlined in the time allocation motion that was rammed through the House last week, that idea of your government will only be reinforced. It will be very clear, if you don't support the subcommittee motion, that you are in a huge hurry to get this done; in fact, in such a big hurry that you do not want to hear from the public about this bill.
I can also assure you that you'll be in such a hurry that you will make all kinds of mistakes because you will not have time to pay attention to the important details. This government will find itself right back in the same situation that it did with Bill 26, where the opposition members had to use very extraordinary means in order to get any public hearings. The public hearings were then rushed. The motions and the amendments were worked on over a weekend and the government found to its huge embarrassment that it had to amend some of its own amendments during that clause-by-clause.
You will find the same thing will happen here because the way the time allocation motion is written can only lead to that very problem. By the mere fact that on Friday night the public hearings will end and on Monday morning at 10 everyone's amendments will have to be in will lead to a problem where your government will miss the important details and we will all be stuck with a bill that will be badly written and a process that will make it clear to everyone that the government had no intention of listening in the first place.
Let me remind the government members of a couple of things. Number one, most importantly, it was your Minister of Labour who made a promise that there would be full province-wide public hearings on Bill 136. She made that promise in this assembly only a few short months ago. In fact, on June 4 she told the Legislature, and I quote: "Yes, I commit to you that there will be full public hearings. We will travel the province, we will be in Toronto and we will listen."
She clearly broke that promise last week when your government laid on the rest of us a time allocation motion which rams this process right through committee, which does not involve any public input outside of the city of Toronto and allows for extremely limited input in the city of Toronto.
I don't buy into the argument that somehow teleconferencing is actually going into people's communities and hearing from them directly. I don't believe that teleconferencing is going to work very well, if it works at all, to allow people from outside of Toronto who have a right to be heard to have that right to be heard.
I say to the government backbenchers, do you really want to suffer the embarrassment of having to save face for your minister who made a very specific commitment to the House only a few short months ago? Her promise was not six or nine months ago; it was a promise made three short months ago with respect to how the government was going to deal with public hearings, and that commitment was very specific: full public hearings. "We will travel the province, we will be in Toronto and we will listen."
If you don't agree to the subcommittee motion, which calls upon this committee to have extensive public hearings, which calls upon this committee to reinforce the promise the minister made, then it will be clear that as government members you're just in here to toe the line from your minister, that you're not interested in hearing from the public, you're afraid to hear from the public, you don't want to go into communities and face the music by people in those communities who have serious concerns about this bill. It will be very clear that all you want to do and all you're here to do today in this committee is to toe the line from your minister or your Premier and to get this thing over with as fast as you possibly can. I don't think some of you really want to wear that.
The second point I want to raise is that last week, your minister, in what appears on face value to be a dramatic about-face, accepted any number of changes to Bill 136 that had been put forward by the Ontario Federation of Labour. Any of you who were in the House on Thursday will recall that she went through the bill and, point after point, pointed out where the government was going to change its mind and where the government was going to accept the recommendation put forward by the Ontario Federation of Labour.
As far as I'm concerned, that means that last week, at P and P on Monday night and then at cabinet on Wednesday, your cabinet probably saw some very specific details about the changes which are going to be made. Otherwise, neither the Premier nor the Minister of Labour would have got up and made the statement they did. As a former minister, I know you can't get up and make those kinds of changes without having had the agreement first of P and P and then of cabinet. So there's no doubt in my mind that some very detailed work has already been done with respect to the sections the minister intends to change and that, if they haven't been done already, legal staff are now preparing the amendments which back up those changes.
There's no doubt in my mind that this committee and the public who are expected to talk about this bill starting tomorrow should be given those detailed amendments, those detailed changes. It is unacceptable, completely ridiculous, to ask the public to come to this place tomorrow, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday and not have a bloody clue what they're supposed to talk about, what they're supposed to make recommendations about.
You have a bill which on face value, if you trust what the minister is saying -- and I'm not going to go so far as to say that I do, given her backing down already on public hearings. But on face value, if anyone out there does trust the minister, they're not going to have a clue what they're supposed to talk about. Do they talk about the bill in its current form? Do they talk about the changes she announced in her statement that she made in the Legislature on Thursday?
I think this government owes it to the people who are going to make an effort in a very short time to come here this week to try to talk about their concerns to give this committee and those people the amendments. I have no doubt that they are already drafted and ready. It's unacceptable to me that a minister who has already broken her word with respect to public hearings would not now at least show some modicum of respect for people and give the people who are expected to come and participate the amendments, never mind what I think about the respect she should show committee members and this assembly with respect to those same amendments.
So again we talk about how there should be a change to the time allocation motion so that we can see those amendments, so that the public can have them before them before they come to make public comments and we can make what, at this point, appears to be a farce of a process have some kind of meaning. I say to the government members, if you can't agree even with respect to the importance of having the amendments before us before we start this process, you will support and you will reinforce the notion that you don't want to hear from the public and you just want to ram this thing down everyone's throat as fast as you can.
Let me deal with a third point around notification. I understand that this subcommittee met late last Thursday afternoon to deal with the astonishing announcement that was made in the House and to deal with the fallout and the consequences from that and from the time allocation motion. It is clear that there is no opportunity and there was no opportunity even starting late Thursday afternoon to try to notify people to come and participate in public hearings, which begin in this place tomorrow afternoon. As government members, you must be a little embarrassed about the situation that you now find yourselves in and that you have been placed in.
It is becoming painfully obvious to everyone, given how draconian the time allocation motion was, that the government didn't really want to have enough time to notify people, because the government isn't interested in having people come out and have their say. That's clear from the minister breaking her promise; that's clear from how draconian the time allocation motion is; that's clear because the fallout is that there isn't enough time to realistically notify people and get them to come and participate in a meaningful way, as they should be allowed to participate in this place.
What we are saying is that the whole process that we now find ourselves in with respect to the time allocation motion leaves us in a position that everyone who tries to make it here and come before this committee will have suffered from not having been adequately notified and certainly will suffer because they won't know if they should talk about the current bill or talk about the changes that the minister had in her statement, if you can believe it, on Thursday.
The whole notification process has been a joke. It's no wonder that we voted not to even bother to insult people in such a way. Here we are with this group no doubt tomorrow wanting to kick off a process that is just ridiculous and that will be an insult to people who are going to take time out of their busy schedules to come and talk about this bill because they have serious concerns and they want to see some changes.
The fourth point: What should people talk about? We are showing disrespect to the public by forcing them to come in here tomorrow and not know what they should talk about because they haven't seen the amendments. All they've got before them is a statement that the minister made in the House which, if you take it on face value, looks like a capitulation of this government with respect to Bill 136. I don't think we should insult the public in that way. The public deserves better. If this assembly is an assembly that's going to invite people to come and have their say, then for goodness' sake they should have in front of them the materials they need to be properly informed and to properly inform this committee about their concerns and about possible recommendations.
It's a slap in the face to expect people to come in here tomorrow and try to choose between talking about their concerns about Bill 136 or the changes that the minister announced, because there is such a difference in the two. If this government wanted to be credible at all with respect to this bill and credible at all with respect to some of their pious words about how they have listened, then this government would do the right thing, the decent thing, and withdraw the bill, because as it stands, based on what the minister has said, if you want to believe her, her announcement represents a gutting of the act that is before us.
The only right thing to do, if you're at all interested in doing this properly and paying attention to the details, would be to redraft the bill, have extensive, province-wide public hearings as promised by your minister, and have a decent time for clause-by-clause that lets people think about what they heard at the public hearings and lets the parties then have some time to draft the amendments. Then have a thorough debate again on third reading so that you can actually know that the bill you've got has had some input from the public, has had some viewing by the public, and that the recommendations you are dealing with have really come from the public and have not been foisted on you from above, from either your minister or your Premier.
I don't believe teleconferencing is going to work. I think it's a sick, lame excuse to having province-wide public hearings. If you folks had any courage at all as a government back bench and if you really believed in this bill, then you would do what your minister said she was going to do, which is to support province-wide public hearings. That's the commitment she made in this place three short months ago. That's a commitment she made publicly. That's a commitment she made to the people of the province.
By not doing that, by hiding behind the time allocation motion, all I can say is that the group of you look like cowards, because it looks like you don't want to go face the public, you don't want to hear what they have to say, you don't want to go into our communities, and you're trying to pretend that somehow the method of teleconferencing is going to work to satisfy those people who live outside of Toronto and want to have their say.
I'd be surprised if the parliamentary assistant can tell me here today how the teleconferencing is even supposed to work, and if I have people from the Sudbury and District Labour Council who want to participate in Sudbury, how they're supposed to click in and be part of this process some time this week. As far as I'm concerned, it's a lame excuse by the minister -- and she looked lame when she used it -- to try and wash away the commitment she made, which was very public, about those hearings across the province.
Do not be so silly as to support such a lame and sick excuse for public hearings, because that's all the teleconferencing method is. You don't have enough time, starting tomorrow afternoon, to even make that work. So don't insult the public even more by first suggesting we won't have public hearings across the province and then by suggesting that somehow teleconferencing is going to accommodate them. The public won't buy it, and you don't have enough time to pay attention to the important details to make teleconferencing a reality.
In conclusion, I want to say to this committee, to the backbenchers of the government caucus on this committee, as strongly as I can: The subcommittee has placed before you an important resolution, an important report which I am urging you to adopt. It calls upon you as government backbenchers to support the promise, the commitment that your own Minister of Labour made, which I will repeat: "Yes, I commit to you that there will be full public hearings. We will travel the province, we will be in Toronto and we will listen." This subcommittee report calls upon you to make that happen, just like she promised the public in this province.
Secondly, the subcommittee report calls upon the government House leader to move an amendment to the time allocation motion that would allow for those very same province-wide public hearings promised by your minister, and it changes the process so that there will be time from the end of the province-wide public hearings and the start of the clause-by-clause to let all parties think about the information that has come before them and put together some decent and proper amendments. There is no time under the current time allocation motion to make that happen. No one in this place is going to convince me that ending public hearings at 5 on Friday night and having to put in our final set of amendments at 10 o'clock Monday morning is a process that's either democratic, suitable, or one that the public buys into.
You are going to make mistakes just like you did with Bill 26 because you don't have the time to pay attention to the important details. We will have a bill that is already flawed, in my opinion, if we're dealing with the current Bill 136. Even if I buy some of the minister's statements, which I don't, given her past record, you will have a bill that will be badly flawed and will not work for anyone.
Finally, the subcommittee report calls on the Minister of Labour to make the amendments public, the amendments that she announced in the House last Thursday she was going to make, so that we show some respect for the members of this assembly and we show some respect for the public and we allow the public to see the changes in fine print. I don't believe this bill is as good as the minister says, because she already broke her word with respect to public hearings. I want to see the amendments in black and white, and I think the public who we are asking to come and comment on this bill need to see it in black and white as well.
I say in conclusion to the committee, if you don't agree to the subcommittee report, it will be very clear that you have no interest in listening to the public, you don't want to hear, you don't have enough courage to go into those communities to hear, and at the end of the day you have been told to come in here today and shut this process down as fast as you can and get this bill over and done with as fast as you can. I assure you, you will wear that.
Mr Richard Patten (Ottawa Centre): I hope the committee has listened carefully to Ms Martel's comments. I have, and I agree with almost everything she has said. I think it's a sad day, frankly, to see the way in which the government is proceeding and the way in which they are able to proceed based on the rule changes they have instituted. When we look around -- and all members, I'm sure, feel this -- we see the cynicism of people towards government, towards politicians. When I ask, "Why are you so cynical?" they say, "Because we can't trust the politicians; you say one thing and do another."
Mr Patten: Mr Froese laughs. Your minister, when I asked her in the House on June 4 if she would have hearings, said yes, she would, and she would travel the province, as has been pointed out numerous times. Of course, in compensation for that or in an attempt to weasel out of it, she put some kind of idea before us to say, "Well, we are travelling the province through the wonders of the electronic medium, teleconferencing."
There was a briefing, by the way -- and some of you were at that briefing so you'll know -- by legislative technicians handling the capacity of this House. We also had a teleconference with people from Manitoba who operated it, a member and one of the clerks of the House. I asked them that particular question, "Does teleconferencing replace in any way," because this would be the worry of other people, "face-to-face public hearings?" They said, "By all means, no." It does not replace that. Indeed, where it can be useful is where you have places that are not as central to populated areas and you have less than five requests from an area, where this may be a good opportunity to involve people. So it's not a replacement.
The other reality is that we were advised by the legislative technicians who operate this that they need two weeks' notice in order to set up teleconferencing arrangements. You have to notify people, you have to find an appropriate place, you have to decide on what places you're talking about etc. If you stick to the schedule as proposed, it becomes farcical, because there's no way that can even be attempted. So teleconferencing is not really an option.
It means the minister went back on her word. I'm sure she didn't want to do that. I know the minister a little bit and I'm sure she wouldn't want to do that. I'm sure she's taking a lot of heat because of it. But of course the strategists in the Premier's office have the master plan and it goes a certain way regardless of what the minister thinks and regardless of what you people think at this particular committee, unfortunately. I think you would want to make some suggestions for some changes based on the feedback you get from your own constituents and from your own areas.
The other thing I would note is that we have become the most undemocratic Legislature in all of Canada. You can shake your head. The fact is, that is absolutely true. This time allocation motion and the issues that are included in it demonstrate absolutely conclusively that we are now the most undemocratic Legislature in all of Canada. I feel ashamed, frankly, to be part of it and to see this happening. The slim, tiny veneer of democracy that is left is almost a joke.
The minister's statement, by the way, after the time allocation motion was introduced changed the ball game significantly, as surely you would agree. She dealt with major issues that were identified by members of the opposition in question period, in their speeches, identified by the OFL in their particular document, and she said she addressed most of those.
On the surface, it would appear she did address most of those. To what degree in every instance, we don't know. So we wonder why the minister was not prepared to table the amendments when we asked in the first instance. "Well, we're working on it. We need more time." For God's sake, if the government and the ministry and the caucus resources that you have need more time -- days, I would suppose -- to deal with amendments where you already know what you want to do and you already know what the minister has said, how can you in any good and ethical conscience truly acknowledge that this can be done from one sessional day to the next, for one hour? It makes a mockery of this whole process, and you know it.
We've checked with the clerk's office and we are assured there will be some people available during the weekend, but we're not assured that we'll have the extent of support to help place things in legal form that is required, as you well know. I'm not a lawyer; most members aren't. Some of you may be. We need help. We may want to address based on what we've heard, based on the representations. So cynicism will raise its head again.
We keep turning off people all the time. When I say to people, "If you're concerned about this, why don't you put your name forward and we'll see if we can get you on the witness list so that you can speak directly to the committee?" half the time people say: "What's the point? The government's going to do what it wants anyway." It looks that way when you see, from all the representations we will have, which probably will be in the neighbourhood of 60, 70 or 80, depending on the time that is given to each witness, that the government doesn't need any time. What it's saying to the people who are to appear here is, "What you have to say won't really matter," because you won't have time to make the amendments that need to go forward.
Then I ask, why would that happen in the first place? If the announcement was so good -- and it appeared to be good. I know it caught a lot of people off guard; it looked like a 180-degree turn. But if the announcement was so good, then why not place the amendments so that people who come to make representations will know what they're dealing with?
I suspect the reason they won't happen until the Monday morning is because some of them are not so good. I believe one of the areas that will be touched upon and will not come through very well will be the transfer of the responsibilities and functions from the transition committee to the labour relations board. It might go something like this: The labour relations board will now have the responsibility to handle what the commission did, but they will have to abide by the terms of reference that were given for the transition committee. And because the labour relations board is of course very busy, as the government says -- it should be; it lost 40% of its resources -- there may be a subunit that will be attached to the labour relations board that will be responsible for managing this particular process.
It won't really be a real transfer to the labour board with them functioning on the basis on which they function in resolving disputes now. It will be with the same criteria, ability to pay and whatever, all those kinds of things that any independent arbitrator I know of would not want to be part of. It will just be transferring a small group of people who I suppose are earmarked to serve on the transition board who will move over and perform the same function, but under the so-called guise of the labour relations board. I think that's one of the areas that the government will fool around with because it sounds good.
The minister said today -- I feel sorry for her in many ways because I know she doesn't want to do this on a personal basis. She said, "We will be sharing the details." She didn't say, "We will be sharing the amendments"; she said, "We will be sharing the details." My understanding, from what we've gleaned, is that someone will be giving a verbal briefing. It will not be the amendments.
I ask the members, what are you afraid of? You're obviously afraid of something. The bill is drafted in legalese form with sections and parts to it, and that's what people come before this particular committee to respond to. I imagine, if we do get to hearings, that this will happen. People will say this time and time again and we will have contributed to the cynicism that is out there.
Even with the restriction on time in Bill 99, we at least had five days of clause-by-clause and we had four days, which we thought at the time was unfair -- we thought four days was unfair. We had 57 amendments. It took a hell of a lot of time to work those out and it took some weekend work as well to do that. We thought that was unfair. But this is a real insult not only to the opposition members but to the witnesses who are coming before us because there is very little opportunity of responding in any kind of committed way.
Remember, everybody is elected. Even a minister has to be elected, as you well know. If you think this is a democratic process that you're proud of -- I'm sure you're not, but you have to follow through and do what you're told.
What kind of advertising are you going to be able to do? Surely you can't put advertising in today for tomorrow; it's too late. Then you put it in tomorrow and we start hearings, so it makes a mockery of notification.
Where will the advertising be? Is it just Toronto? Will it be throughout the province? This is the province of Ontario, not the province of Toronto. It affects all the people of Ontario, and surely they should have a chance to know what's going on and either send in briefs or find some way of being able to come here. Will we have resources for people to be able to travel because it's only in one particular place?
The time allocation: When we look at the recommendations, which I believe are fair, the government will say, "No, it won't be." We're talking about a little bit more time, another week or so, maybe two. What does that take away and how do you weigh that amount of time with the loss of a sense of respect for this place, let alone for the government? We are injuring the Legislature, which is different from the government, and I think it's important for all elected members to know that we've hurt the Legislature in its capacity to operate in any kind of democratic fashion.
So the first one deals with the aspect of travel and the second one deals with the House leader moving an amendment to time allocation that would allow for the extensive hearings we're talking about, and then the time between the final witness and the ability to prepare adequately for making and drafting amendments. Then we call upon the minister to make public immediately the actual amendments, which are crucial.
The minister will, as she said today -- a little more specific than she was Thursday -- share details. But that won't be adequate unless we've got the actual amendments before us. If we don't have the amendments before us, the only thing we can conclude is that they don't really meet with the spirit of the actual announcement, that they in fact are ways in which they can somehow weasel out of the statements that are made but obliquely or indirectly may relate to the statements that the minister made.
I support this amendment, and my caucus does as well, to the time allocation motion. And by the way, I would like to hear the arguments from the members on the other side as to how they can face somebody, look him in the eye and say, "We believe in a truly democratic Legislature, and our behaviour suits that and fits that." I'd like to hear the members on the other side talk to the issue.
I suspect they don't want to talk to the time allocation motion, and the reason they don't is because they don't have an adequate answer. It's embarrassing for them that they have to sit there and go through this when other people are making the decisions. I'm sure it doesn't make them feel very good. But I would like to hear their arguments. I would like to hear if they are proud of what has been proposed and if they feel in their hearts they can move ahead with this kind of thing when it flies in the face of democracy and it flies in the face of the witnesses and people we represent who want to make representations and aren't sure what the heck they're responding to because of the minister's intervention after this time allocation motion was put forward.
The Chair: Further discussion on the subcommittee report? Seeing none, I will put the question.
Mr Patten: Madam Chair, I believe that under section 127(a), every member can request a 20-minute wait before the vote.
The Chair: I believe that's correct. All right. We'll stand recessed for 20 minutes, and we will reconvene at just a few minutes before 5 o'clock.
The committee recessed from 1636 to 1653.
The Chair: Colleagues, I was just about to put the question and a recess was called, so I will now put the question:
Ms Martel: Recorded vote, Madam Chair.
Chudleigh, Froese, Hastings, Maves, Ouellette.
The Chair: The report is lost.
Mr Bart Maves (Niagara Falls): I have a motion I'd like to move.
The Chair: Would you like to read that out, please.
Mr Maves: I would and I have copies you may want to distribute.
I move that:
1(a) The resources development committee shall meet in Room 151, Legislative Building, on the first four days allocated for the committee's consideration of Bill 136 in the order of the House dated September 17, 1997; and
(b) The committee shall meet in an available committee room in the Legislative Building for clause-by-clause consideration of the bill on September 29, 1997, and September 30, 1997.
2(a) The committee shall hear witnesses in person and by teleconferencing; and
(b) The committee shall connect by teleconferencing to the following locations if teleconferencing facilities exist and are operational, and if there is sufficient demand from witnesses: Chatham; Kirkland Lake; Ottawa; Owen Sound; and other locations to be determined by the Chair of the committee.
3(a) Invitations shall be issued to the following organizations: Association of Municipalities of Ontario; Ontario Hospital Association; Ontario Municipal Human Resources Association; Ontario Separate School Trustees' Association; Ontario Public School Boards' Association; Association française des conseils scolaires de l'Ontario; Association franco-ontarienne des conseils d'écoles catholiques; Human Resources Professionals Association of Ontario; Canadian Federation of Independent Business; Ontario Chamber of Commerce; Board of Trade of Metropolitan Toronto; Toronto Transition Team; Ontario Taxpayers Federation; Ontario Federation of Labour; Amalgamated Transit Union; Canadian Union of Public Employees; Ontario Public Service Employees Union; Ontario Council of Hospital Unions; Ontario Nurses Association; Ontario Professional Fire Fighters Association; Provincial Federation of Ontario Fire Fighters; Police Association of Ontario; Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation; Service Employees International Union; Equal Pay Coalition;
(b) Other witnesses shall be selected by the Chair of the committee from lists provided by the three caucuses and from the committee clerk's list of individuals and groups who have asked to make presentations.
4. The deadline to file written submissions with the clerk of the committee shall be 5 pm on Friday, September 26, 1997.
5(a) The agenda of the committee shall include the following: 30-minute opening remarks by the Minister of Labour, or the parliamentary assistant to the Minister of Labour, on September 23, 1997, followed by 15-minute remarks by each of the opposition parties on September 23, 1997, and a 60-minute technical briefing by officials of the Ministry of Labour on September 23, 1997;
(b) Presentations by witnesses shall be limited to 30 minutes per group or 20 minutes per individual;
(c) Teleconferencing with witnesses at the locations listed in clause 2(b) of this motion shall, if possible, be scheduled on Thursday, September 25, 1997;
(d) Within these parameters, final scheduling authority shall be delegated to the Chair of the committee;
6. A research officer shall be assigned to the committee:
(a) to provide background information requested by members of the committee during the committee's consideration of the bill; and
(b) to write a report summarizing the oral presentations and written submissions with deadlines as follows: The summary of presentations/submissions received on or before Thursday, September 25, 1997, shall be filed with the clerk of the committee by 5 pm on Friday, September 26, 1997, and the summary of presentations/submissions received on Friday, September 26, 1997, shall be filed with the clerk of the committee by 9 am on Monday, September 29, 1997.
This is one motion, Chair.
The Chair: Thank you very much. Did you wish to comment?
Mr Maves: In order that we can get on with the public hearings, I would hope that time is not frivolously exhausted by repetitive debate. I just wanted to point out that teleconferencing has been done and has proven to be cost-effective. The standing committee on the Legislative Assembly used teleconferencing investigating the referenda, I believe, and then another issue from across Canada and I believe from someplace in the United States too. I just want to put that on the record, Chair.
Mr Patten: I'd like to ask a question. Have you checked out that this can be done within this time frame for teleconferencing, Bart? In here it says "if possible." Can the technicians do it? They informed us at the briefing --
Mr Maves: My understanding is it can, yes.
Mr Patten: Can we get clarification of that from legislative electronics or communications or whatever it is? Is there any way in which we can get that? My impression is it's too short a notice.
The Chair: Perhaps the clerk would like to respond.
Clerk Pro Tem (Mr Douglas Arnott): My understanding is it could be possible.
Mr Patten: It could be.
Ms Martel: How many sites?
Mr Patten: The sites that are mentioned here, "Chatham; Kirkland Lake; Ottawa; Owen Sound; other locations to be determined...." Could I have a clarification on "other locations?" How many other locations do we have the capacity for? When we had the briefing the other day -- I'm sorry you all weren't here -- it was my understanding that they talked about a couple of places because they didn't have the people power to set this up. But they also needed to have someone, a staff person at the other end, even though it may or may not be in a government facility; it might indeed be in a private business or any location that might have the best electronic communication capacity.
That would require a staff person from this Legislature to go to that particular site to set up the arrangements to prompt the witnesses, to introduce them to the technology and how it's used and all those kinds of things. My understanding is they said they did not have that much of a capacity, as even the short list here demonstrates and illustrates, let alone other locations to be determined by the Chair of the committee.
The Chair: It's my understanding in consultation with the clerk that if there are facilities in place and the clerk's office is so directed to do this, this can be done.
Mr Patten: If this cannot be done, because this is your concession, are you then prepared to amend this motion or qualify it saying that in a case where this is not able to be done satisfactorily through electronic communications, we would move to have on-site hearings to replace teleconferencing, because if we don't have the teleconferencing all you've got is a site here in Toronto, and it nullifies everything else?
Mr Maves: I would only say that the motion allows for other locations to be determined by the Chair of the committee. If there's some problem with these cities, then the Chair can make sure we're doing the teleconferencing from cities it can be done from.
Mr Patten: You're talking about doing this by Thursday. How do we get names based on the other allocations to be determined by the Chair? Does the Chair at the moment have any ideas of any other areas?
The Chair: I know the staff of the Legislative Assembly have been working to find out all the places where teleconferencing could be possible, and I understand there is a list of a number of places where this could be undertaken.
Mr Patten: Okay. I just had a note from my mathematician staff person who just worked out the number of hours. If we had a representative from each one of these associations primarily, the long list under 3(a), this would leave less than 13 hours for any individuals who may choose to make representation before the committee. Are we to have on the agenda, by the way, the discussion of notification and advertising? Is that on the agenda today?
The Chair: The only item on the agenda I'm aware of was the report of the subcommittee.
Mr Patten: Because if it is, I'll stand down my questions related to that, but if it isn't, I'll try and address them as we discuss this. So if you want to keep it as a separate item, I don't mind doing that in terms of notifying people.
The Chair: This is something you spoke to under report of the subcommittee, so in some essence it has been discussed already. It is not in this motion, so you could speak to it but of course we would prefer that you always speak to the motion as such.
Mr Patten: It's obviously related because it's the notification for people: when the hearings are, when they're available. If they are limited to, let's say, telecommunications, those sites have yet to be determined other than a city. We're talking about four days, three days from now. How can we notify people and have them prepare their particular views and thoughts? It's not very realistic. It just won't fly. That's why I say that unless there's a special plan for advertising and notifying people, especially in some of these other regions and areas where people can come from other small villages or towns, from around Chatham or likewise from the north, or from Ottawa -- people might want to come from Cornwall, Smith Falls, Pembroke or Chalk River or whatever.
I just think it's vital. To endorse using this technology without understanding how people would be notified and understand how it's going to all work, I fail to see how it would all work. That's why I asked the question. It obviously relates to this because if nobody hears about it and knows about it, then you'll set up a technology and there'll be nobody there other than maybe some of the government side supporters. I don't know, is there a plan in place already?
The Chair: I think it would be appropriate to indicate to you that following the subcommittee report on Thursday, as Chair of your committee, I took the initiative to ask the clerk of the committee to indicate to any of the Ontario associations that had already contacted the clerk's office that there was a possibility they might be called on very short notice to speak to a 20- to 40-minute time period. To my knowledge, that's as much as has occurred.
Mr Patten: As many of you will know, there are many communities where they have a weekly newspaper and the deadline has probably passed for this week. Usually it comes out in the middle of the week. So I don't know how you do that. Are you planning to use radio?
The Chair: That would be at the will of the committee. The clerk has indicated that a number of people have indicated an interest in speaking before the committee, as naturally we would expect.
Mr Patten: So the clerk has a plan? Do you have a plan, Doug?, I don't want to put you on the spot, but do you have a plan that you think will address this issue?
Ms Martel: It's not up to Doug to have a plan, it's up to the committee.
Mr Patten: I know.
The Chair: You're speaking in terms of individual presenters at this point, then?
Mr Patten: Just so the public knows that there are hearings and individuals who would like to make representation will know they have the option. My fear is they will not have the option. If you use newspapers, you've already cut out probably most of the newspapers in the province because the deadline for their weekly is past. You'd be forced to use television or radio or something of that nature to let people know. Otherwise it's just not a feasible plan. That's why I asked if there was a plan and how, given the short notice, that would be able to be communicated. Obviously in Toronto you can do it in perhaps, I don't know, can you do it tomorrow? Can you have things ready for tomorrow when the hearings start in 48 hours?
The Chair: From the Chair's perspective we have not undertaken anything of that sort because it would be assumed that would be done at the will of the committee.
Mr Patten: The only thing that worries me is when I see "if possible"; then my confidence wavers somewhat, because otherwise it wouldn't be in there. It would be, "We shall move on installing" such and such. So when I see "if possible" it seems to me the government can come back and say, "Well, it wasn't possible," and that's the end of all of that and we would cut out most of the population other than those who live in Toronto or the surrounding areas.
If I may, in section 6 it says, "A research officer shall be assigned to the committee," which is standard practice, "to provide background information requested by members," which goes along with this, "...and to write a report summarizing the oral presentations and written submissions," which is going to be a lot of work. Whoever is the researcher, I think he can look forward to a busy, busy weekend with this schedule. When would we expect to have that summation?
The Chair: If I can respond, the summary is indicated according to the motion here before us, for Thursday, September 25 and September 26.
Mr Patten: But we will not have completed the hearings. The normal practice, it seems to me, and I think all members know this, is that with some fair amount of time, normally and on a regular basis, we wait until the hearings are completed and the researcher takes a look at frequency of comments that are similar -- the patterns, trends, exceptions, who said what, who made the same point -- which of course adds to the weighting of amendments that members of the committee can then take to draft their own amendments. One problem I see with this is that it pre-empts part of the hearings. It would not allow the members of the committee to receive information that would acknowledge and respect all the presenters during the hearing time. Would that not be the case?
The Chair: Mr Maves, do you wish to respond to that concern?
Mr Maves: No.
The Chair: From the research staff, Mr McLellan.
Mr Ray McLellan: We had undertaken and made preparations, prior to receiving this document, to have an interim summary for Friday. In other words, those sections that would be included would be up to Thursday at noon, which would allow us Thursday afternoon and Friday morning to get the document to the clerk's office for distribution. But we can certainly live with the timetable and will live with the timetable as set out in this document.
Mr Patten: I know you will do everything you can to do your job, and I respect your professionalism on that, but how can you provide a complete review? It's like saying that those people who make representations on Friday somehow don't matter as much as people who made their presentations on Wednesday.
Mr McLellan: The Friday submissions would be summarized over the weekend and then delivered to the clerk's office first thing on Monday morning. We will have two people on this committee, myself and Avrum Fenson, as well as another person at the office to review the documents as they go through. We certainly will get the documents out on time, the two documents.
Mr Patten: I ask Mr Maves, the parliamentary assistant, whether you believe it's important to at least honour the process and respect that some members should be included in the summation report by our researcher; that theoretically, anyway, all witnesses come forward with the same weight and the same respect and the same courtesy? Do you agree with that?
Mr Maves: Yes.
Mr Patten: Then how come we wouldn't be in a position to receive a full report on all the presenters until -- who knows when -- maybe on the weekend at some point, or Monday morning?
Mr Maves: You'll receive that on Monday, September 29, 1997, by 9 am, as the motion reads.
Mr Patten: Where does it say that?
Mr Maves: The last sentence of the last paragraph.
Mr Patten: If they're filed on Monday and if I want to take a look at the complete record of hearings, regardless of what else I do, I have one hour to try and get that at 9 o'clock, run back to my office, read it and redraft things, if there are things in there of value and of import that perhaps I had missed or that weren't in the first set of summations. Do you not agree that that is a bit much? I don't care how smart you are or how quick you are; that does not provide you with the time to draft anything, let alone check with legal counsel on a particular amendment that may result from a presentation that had been made on Friday afternoon. Would you not agree with that, Mr Maves?
Mr Maves: I have faith in your abilities, after you've heard everything on Friday, to cull it yourself and come up with your amendments.
Mr Patten: I have respect for the researcher too. I think most of the committee would want to do that.
The Chair: Ms Martel was up next for further comment.
Ms Martel: I want to deal first with the teleconferencing. Surely, I say to the parliamentary assistant, you've got to be a little bit embarrassed by putting forward a motion that says what it does about teleconferencing. For goodness' sake, take a look at what has been written here for you to read in this committee today and think about it.
It says in clause 2(b), "The committee shall connect by teleconferencing to the following locations if teleconferencing facilities exist and are operational, and if there is sufficient demand from witnesses," and then you put out a couple of locations. Then I refer you to page 2 of the motion you have been told to come here and read. Clause 5(c) says, "Teleconferencing with witnesses at the locations listed in clause 2(b) of this motion shall, if possible, be scheduled on Thursday, September 25."
You are insulting people with this kind of motion. How can you possibly not be embarrassed about coming in here today and being told to read this garbage to this committee? You want this committee to buy a pig in a poke, and that's not on. You came in here today and gave some half-baked example about how one committee has used teleconferencing to deal with, you thought, the referendum issue. You provide zero details with respect to how well that process worked, how much lead time there was for that committee to put that in place, how many communities that committee might have heard from, what kind of technical staff and how many were required to make it happen, or how much it cost. Then you talked about some example in the US and it was the same thing: You gave no details, no information whatsoever on how well it worked, and if it worked.
We've got two totally opposing views in the committee right now, from technical people, with respect to whether this can even work, never mind by this Thursday. The critic for the Liberal Party says the subcommittee was already advised that the technical staff around this place would need some two weeks' preparation to put this together in a way that would facilitate the public to participate, and second, that you need staff on site to facilitate the process. How do you think we're possibly going to have legislative staff around this province by Thursday trying to facilitate some public input through teleconferencing?
You've got a view that was given to us by the clerk of this committee, who says it can be done, but again we've got no information whatsoever presented to anyone about how the first experience with teleconferencing under this government already worked. You expect us to buy this? You expect the public to believe you're at all serious about allowing people outside of Toronto to have input? This is ridiculous. You should be embarrassed that you have to be in here today trying to support a minister who has broken her word with respect to public hearing, by offering up some vague, half-baked teleconference idea that you can't even give a commitment to the committee is going to work, and certainly not by Thursday. How stupid do you think people are? How much do you want to insult the public?
This is ridiculous. The committee is sitting here today. We are told by the clerk that somewhere in this building a group of staff is putting together a list of committees that have teleconferencing capabilities and sites available, and that's not even tabled with this committee today. You can't even tell us if the four places you put on here are even operational. Your own words, the words you were told to get in here and read, say, "If teleconferencing facilities exist and are operational," we'll have them in Chatham, Kirkland Lake, Ottawa, Owen Sound and some other places that the clerk will decide.
This is stupid. I can't believe that you can seriously want to come here today and try to support a notion of teleconferencing as some kind of good substitute for province-wide public hearings. Don't you feel dumb about having to be in here today and vote for something as stupid as this? For goodness' sake, your own PA in the notes he reads says, "If it'll work; if it's operational." You don't even know that, and you want to try and get something off the ground by Thursday. This is an insult to the people who were promised by your minister on June 4 that there would be province-wide public hearings. That's what she told this assembly. That's what she told the media. That's what she told the public.
It's a bloody disgrace that we're in here today and you're trying to ram down our throats some kind of half-baked idea on teleconferencing which is supposed to act as a substitute for public hearings. You can't even give one assurance, one guarantee, one iota of certainty to this committee that this stupid scheme will work by Thursday. I'm not prepared to support something as ridiculous as that. It's a slap in the face to people right around this province, who were promised by your minister that they could participate and who are now being told maybe they can participate if there's a teleconferencing facility that works.
Let me add to that the notification process: You're trying to have us, the rest of this committee, buy into this idea, but there's not even going to be any notification to any of these people about these hearings. The government motion moved today talks only about inviting select groups, provincial representatives of provincial bodies from Toronto, to come to these hearings which are supposed to start tomorrow. You have said nothing about how you're going to deal with people in those communities who might want to appear as witnesses, who might be able to participate if there's a teleconferencing facility and if it can be arranged by Thursday.
Aren't you a little bit embarrassed about being in this position? Don't you feel a little silly about having to come in here today and defend your minister and your cabinet with such a stupid proposal? For goodness' sake, in your own motion you're not even talking about how you might notify people in communities about the possibility of teleconferencing. How are they supposed to know they might even ask for this or apply? As if by magic?
This is supposed to be a public process. But the way it's going, by your first turning down the motion of the subcommittee and coming up with something as ridiculous as this, clearly demonstrates to all of us that you have no desire whatsoever to hear from the public about this bill -- none. That is very clear today by two things you have done: (a) by the fact that you voted down the motion that came from the subcommittee, and (b) by the very fact that you would put something together as ridiculous as this and come in here to try and ram this down our throats.
You are not interested in hearing from the public. First your minister wasn't when she broke her commitment this week and the government moved in with a time allocation motion to ram this process through this week and the beginning of next week. Now you come in with a scheme that says: "The best we're going to do, in terms of notifying people, is to notify some of the provincial heads of organizations here in Toronto, and too bad for everyone else out there who wants to participate. And by the way, we'll offer them some crazy notion of teleconferencing, but as a government we can't even commit that it will work, because we don't even know."
That's nuts. That's a lousy process that just reinforces the notion that the opposition has and that the public is starting to have -- and that notion is growing -- that you are afraid to be in their communities, that you don't want to hear from the public in people's communities. You don't really want to hear from them around teleconferencing, because you can't even guarantee to the members of this committee here today that it's going to work. You don't want to listen to the important concerns people want to raise around this bill.
Then you've got the minister coming in to give us some of her remarks: 30-minute opening remarks by the Minister of Labour or the PA on September 23. Let me make this point again. If you really want to believe that the minister is changing the bill in the way she has -- and I don't, because she's already broken her word on the public hearings, but if you want to believe that -- the best we're going to get from the minister under this motion is some sharing of the details, I assume, of the presentation she made in the House, some sharing of information and then some more time being taken up by a technical briefing from her staff.
I know that those amendments, if they are not already written, are close to being written. She could not have gone to P and P and then got agreement in cabinet on Wednesday for significant changes to this bill without having some drafting of those sections she wanted to change in place. If they're not written by now, they're well on their way to being written right now. It is not good enough for this committee to say that the minister can come in here and give us a repeat performance of what we got on Thursday, because frankly, a whole lot of people out there don't believe, on face value, just hearing her words, that what she said may actually be in the legislation.
We already got tricked by the minister on Bill 99 when one of the amendments that we didn't see until after the public hearings were over talked about retroactivity and will wipe out any number of claims and appeals by thousands and thousands of workers. People don't want to be in that position again, where they're being asked to trust a minister who already broke her word and then they're being asked to trust her again that what she says in a discourse to this committee is what is actually going to be in black and white in the amendments. Why should people trust her? Why should people trust that what she has said in the House on Thursday will be reflected in black and white in the amendments that will come to this committee after the public hearings are over?
This committee should be demanding, as we did in the subcommittee report, that the minister come and table the amendments before this committee if she wants to show any respect to us and if she wants to demonstrate any respect to the people who are coming here to make presentations. That's what should be done. It's just not good enough for the government members to come in here with this motion now and say, "She will come and make a presentation," but will not have the privilege of seeing in black and white the actual changes she wants to make until the public hearings process is over. That's not on.
Fourth, with respect to the information that the research officer is going to prepare, I have great faith in their abilities and capacity, but what I as an opposition member resent is the scenario you have set up for the rest of us on this side. It is grossly unfair that we would be expected to go through public hearings and listen to people -- we intend to do that, even if you don't -- and between Friday night at 5 o'clock and 10 o'clock on Monday morning, we're supposed to be able to get all the amendments ready and hope that those amendments somehow might reflect or coincide with the changes the minister will be making, which we won't see till 10 o'clock.
But worse than that is your insult to us with respect to the work you've asked the research officer to do. That work will be tabled at 9 o'clock Monday morning, and by 10 o'clock on Monday morning all the final amendments for this bill have to be placed before this committee: a single hour to look at the summary for what happened on the final day of hearings and anything else with respect to written submissions that come in in that time. Don't you feel a little embarrassed about having to do this today, folks? Don't you feel a bit embarrassed about having to come in here and ram this down our throats?
Even the group of you over there who want this done as quickly as possible must understand how undemocratic and how ridiculous it is for the opposition to be expected to meet the time lines you have set out. I don't care if none of you wants to read about what people have come to say. We do. We are interested, and we would prefer to have the time to base some of our amendments on what we hear. Unlike the minister, who probably already has her amendments drafted, we don't. We can't assume that what she said was right or truthful, so it's pretty difficult to make amendments around that.
It's a slap in the face to us and it's appalling as a process that you would put in the motion we are dealing with today that by 9 o'clock we're going to get the rest of the work from the research committee and at 10 o'clock all the final amendments will have to be tabled, an hour later. It reinforces the notion again that you don't want to hear what's going on, that you're so interested in ramming this through that you will forget about the important details, and we will end up with a bill just like Bill 26 that will be totally flawed and will be bad for everyone at the end of the day.
I say to this committee that what we have here, both in terms of you voting down the subcommittee resolution that was before us and the garbage you've put before us today, just reinforces the notion you've all been told to get in here today, get this thing over with, not answer any questions, not give any explanation of why you're operating in such an undemocratic way, and just to get through this bloody hearings process as fast as you can, as quickly as you can, without listening to a single word anyone has to say. That's what your motion is all about, and surely one or two of you over there must be embarrassed about doing what you're doing here today.
Mr John Hastings (Etobicoke-Rexdale): On a point of order, Madam Chair: I would like to know whether it's appropriate and parliamentary that you can use the following terms: "garbage," "not true" and "bloody" -- those three. I'd like to know whether those words are now acceptable in parliamentary language. If they can be, then I suppose we can move to the next level and use other gutter language or near-gutter language.
The Chair: Ms Martel, did you wish to respond? If you feel you have said anything unparliamentary, you can withdraw.
Ms Martel: No, Madam Chair, I don't think I've said anything unparliamentary at all, but this process sure as hell is unparliamentary.
The Chair: Ms Martel, the last comment was indeed profane. I would like you to withdraw the last comment, please. It was indeed unparliamentary.
The Chair: The one she just said at the very end of that sentence. I would like you to withdraw that.
Mr Bud Wildman (Algoma): The member said "sure as hell," and that's been used more than once in this House.
The Chair: It is profane and it is inappropriate, in my opinion. I have commented on that before in this particular committee.
Ms Martel: Madam Chair, if it offends you, then I will withdraw it, but it certainly has been used --
The Chair: Thank you. I would just comment to all members of the committee that the public doesn't expect any of us to speak in a profane or semi-profane manner at any time, whether it be in a committee or in the House.
Ms Martel: The public doesn't expect to be trampled on like the way they are today either, Madam Chair.
The Chair: Mr Duncan is up next.
Mr Dwight Duncan (Windsor-Walkerville): I'm glad to have the opportunity to address this particular motion. I think it's an important motion that is very fundamental to what the government's about. I was required to be at home last week because of a medical situation in my family and I was positively astounded when I heard the government backtracking on Bill 136 and backtracking on some of the things it's said about teachers and their right to strike.
I want to address this specific motion because I know that's the motion before us and that the rules of our House and indeed the rules of committee require us to speak specifically to the motion that's on the table, be it a procedural motion such as this or a motion related to a bill or any other type of thing. I'll start and just try to go by them one by one.
I want to preface my remarks. I share some of the anger, the frustration that the member from Sudbury has expressed very well and that my colleague from Ottawa Centre has expressed very well. What we are talking about is fundamental to parliamentary process, a process that's been developed over 400 or 500 years, whereby we allow people an opportunity --
On a point of order, Madam Chair: There have been staff people back and forth having conferences over there. I find it very distracting.
The Chair: It's not a point of order. Please continue.
Mr Duncan: I think it speaks well that the members of the government have to take their orders from unelected staff members. You sit there, you do what you're told. That's what this is all about. If we look at this particular motion, a motion that effectively restricts public access and debate to legislators and the Legislature, a motion that effectively gives more power back to the unelected staff members who the government members take their marching orders from, I think when we consider it in that context, my point of order has real significance.
We see the spectacle of members from areas of this province as diverse as Niagara Falls, St Catharines and Oshawa, saying, "We don't want to hear from the people in our community," saying, "We would rather listen to the Premier's henchmen or henchpersons," the people who are unelected. "We don't want the people of Oshawa to have access. We don't want the people from Niagara Falls to have access. We don't want the people from St Catharines-Brock to have access. We don't want the people from Durham or Guelph to have access. It's important to us that we shoot down hundreds of years of parliamentary tradition in favour of a new technology that's relatively untested."
Let's talk about teleconferencing and what it's about and how it impacts on our parliamentary traditions and our parliamentary history. Many educational institutions have started into the teleconferencing of classes in education. Some have been successful, some have been less successful. They've been successful when they try to reach out to communities that are far-flung to give access to people who wouldn't otherwise have it. When that type of technology is looked at in that light, it can, I would submit, be very beneficial.
Technology that can liberate can also oppress. What the government is doing here is they're trying to oppress, using the technology.
There's a great tradition in our law and in our parliamentary system that people face one another in person when there are public hearings. Every municipality in this province tonight at approximately 7 o'clock will convene their municipal meetings, their council meetings, and people will be able to come to the table, just as they can here, to make presentations.
Naturally we have evolved a system of regulations and laws and procedure to govern that, because there is limited time on the public calendar, there are many priorities that touch on every aspect of our lives, so naturally we have to evolve those kinds of regulations, rules, procedures to ensure fairness and to ensure that as many people as possible can be heard.
I would submit that clauses 1(a) and 1(b) of this resolution are designed to keep people from being heard. They're designed for allowing the government not to be held accountable by the people who elect it.
I thought I'd seen it all in some committee hearings. I've heard the assurances that documents will be ready in a timely fashion. We just did the Tenant Protection Act, the act that gets rid of rent control in Ontario. I sat on that committee. We didn't get our summaries for half the hearings until well into clause-by-clause. Why? There are physical limitations to what people can do. I will tell you that what you see in a teleconferencing scenario doesn't give you the feel for everything you need to see. It doesn't allow a community to come out and be heard. It doesn't allow you to see the anger. It doesn't allow you to see, frankly, the support that some of your supporters may have.
When we start messing around -- I don't even like to use that term "messing around" because this isn't messing around; this is fundamental to how we conduct our affairs. I don't believe for a minute that government members opposite feel comfortable with that. I can't believe that in your heart of hearts you would acquiesce to this if you weren't having the kind of pressure put on that we see going on now: staff over telling the parliamentary assistant what to do, briefings, all kinds of things. I don't think that in your heart of hearts you believe this is the right approach. If you do, shame on you, because what this resolution does is restrict access.
We need to talk about and debate how new technologies can be brought into use in the Legislature and the various halls of Parliament throughout the Commonwealth. I believe the federal government in Canada was the first legislative chamber to introduce television to the chamber. I believe that happened in 1977 or 1978. That was a remarkable experiment and it was achieved after much negotiation and much discussion among all members.
As I said earlier, new technology can liberate us and it can also oppress us. We have to be careful as we introduce new procedures and processes into our parliamentary system, into our parliamentary language, into our parliamentary traditions, that we do so in a way that is fair and that enhances public debate and public accountability. I think there is a place, under the right circumstances, with proper discussion and full debate with respect to the potential consequences, for teleconferencing. I think it has to be carefully thought out.
For instance, do we know if satellite time is available? Satellite time is both very expensive and limited, very limited and regulated, regulated by a number of different jurisdictions. We have to determine: Is it cost effective if we're buying random amounts of satellite time? Which satellites do we use? Do we use Canadian satellites? Do we use foreign satellites? There are issues of this nature. That technology can be liberating or it can be oppressing.
When I look at clause 1(a), "The resources development committee shall meet in Room 151, Legislative Building, on the first four days allocated for the committee's consideration of Bill 136 in the order of the House dated September 17, 1997," I don't think anybody in the opposition contemplated we would be faced with this kind of scenario where we have a duly elected government with a majority that not only restricts the amount of time available, but restricts the availability or access of the committee to its citizenry.
I admit, acknowledge, that clearly everyone who wants to be heard on any given issue can. We have rules and procedures to allocate time in a fair fashion. As we contemplate the broad context of this, it has to be done in the context of how we change our parliamentary traditions. The Ontario Legislature, I believe, followed after the federal government in terms of introducing television. Members opposite and members of the government know full well that it was after much debate, much discussion. It was so topical and so controversial that in fact our standing orders stipulate the angle of television cameras, what shall be covered on television, how it shall be covered on television.
We become concerned when a government that frankly has a history of bullying, of pushing, of jamming things through, starts talking about teleconferencing in the absence of any previous, agreed-to rules. We watch in utter amazement as the whiz kids come in and out of the committee to brief and to make sure the right message is going out. I know the government members, the back benchers, were as confused as we were about the events that happened last week. I know, because I think some of them are thoughtful, decent human beings, they would be concerned that their communities, communities like St Catherines-Brock and Oshawa, will be excluded from any kind of effective participation in these hearings.
When we talk about section 2 of the motion, that's the operative section, that's the section that comes to the heart of the issue. It's not unlike the guillotine motions you bring forward in the House to stifle public debate. It's not unlike your attempts in other legislation to restrict the court's ability to make comment or pass judgement on decisions that have been taken by this government over time.
We had a very telling court ruling with respect to pay equity not long ago which spoke to the nature of process and how we do things. It spoke again about a bill I remember very well, Bill 26, perhaps one of the most sweeping pieces of legislation this province has ever seen. Again, jammed down people's throats and we would not have had any public hearings had it not been for the actions of Alvin Curling and all the members of the opposition who just drew the line in the sand and said, "No more."
My colleague in the NDP Mr Christopherson and I remember full well Bill 7. Remember that binder of amendments that were brought into the House one day? Removing the substance of the issue, removing the problems your own minister will acknowledge have been created by the hastiness with which those amendments had been brought forward, removing the substantive concern, any civilized human being who believes in a parliamentary tradition and believes in the right of people to have a say on how their lives are governed, would say that what you did was simply unacceptable, unacceptable to our democratic tradition, our parliamentary traditions, unacceptable from the perspective of defining solid public policy.
It's really a shame, then, and I thought I'd seen it all. I thought: "You can't be any more anti-democratic than this. You can't be any more oppressive than this. You can't limit debate in the Legislature any more than this. You can't deny the opposition, and most importantly, you can't deny the public the right to participate any more than you've already done in a whole slew of things."
I must confess, like many in this province, I was left breathless last week thinking: "Wow, maybe they're starting to listen. Maybe they're getting the message." My political antennae just haven't been too sharp. I got it all wrong. When I see this, it tells me that what we heard last week was nothing more than another attempt, another scenario designed by the whiz kids and just kowtowed too by the elected members who haven't said anything, who sit there patiently while the paid staff come in and tell you what to say, another attempt to silence public debate.
That's truly regrettable. "The committee shall hear witnesses in person and by teleconferencing." I understand we're starting hearings tomorrow, without any amendments. Maybe you can debate a bill when the very substance of the bill has been changed based on what we've been told, although given the history and the track record of the government, perhaps what will emerge won't be as different as we thought or the government would want us to think.
We start tomorrow without amendments to the bill that go to the heart of the legislation and what it was about. And the government members: "Yes, you go right ahead, because you know what? When we get those amendments we'll see." But how do you debate them? How do you have public hearings without the key amendments to the bill? One could argue from a parliamentary perspective that the substance of the bill has been changed such that the entire bill itself ought to be withdrawn. Heck, even your friends are mad at you. Your friends in the National Citizens' Coalition are mad at you. Boy, amazing, amazing.
Then we see this: "The committee shall hear witnesses in person and by teleconferencing," and, "The committee shall connect by teleconferencing to the following locations if teleconferencing facilities exist and are operational, and if there is sufficient demand from witnesses: Chatham; Kirkland Lake; Ottawa; Owen Sound; and other locations to be determined by the Chair of the committee."
The Premier had a much expanded list of places where we could do that. We ought to convene a committee in the Legislature to study teleconferencing and how we can access remote northern communities. But Windsor's not remote, Hamilton's not remote, Guelph's not remote, Oshawa's not remote, Sudbury's not remote. What are you afraid of?
You want a screen so you don't have to see the audience, and so they don't have to see you. Big Brother, nameless, faceless government coming at us from a television screen somewhere. So much for a public hearing room.
This tradition all developed over time. There was a time when we didn't have these kinds of hearings. We evolved a system that allowed public input because in our tradition we've tried to get rid of the despotic tendencies that were there historically and open the process and make it accessible to people. What this government has done, I say with due respect -- and we shouldn't be surprised -- is that you're going back to a time when the people couldn't access.
Chatham's a great city. Chatham's a wonderful city. We should be going there in person. We should take Mr Carroll and take all of you and go to Chatham to let the people see you and let you look into their eyes as you hear them and let you get the feel for the community. Government members know full well that when you travel on committee, you meet with your own supporters. When you're in Windsor you meet with all five of our local Conservatives, every one of you. You get feedback, you get input. They tell you how your popularity is going down. They tell you when you meet with them that you've got to be strong, you've got to keep going. You don't even want to meet your own supporters in those communities.
Kirkland Lake: I think a northern isolated community ultimately, with a proper system of teleconferencing, can benefit. I've been to Kirkland Lake several times myself. Yes, there will be a place, and I would like to have the opportunity for our House leaders or our whips or the appropriate mechanisms to discuss how we can implement the new technology so that it is unbiased, is fair and serves to open the process, not close the process.
The nation's capital, Ottawa: Any time I've been to a committee hearing there, the room has been full. I always like to get a feel for the room, for the people in that room. I like to see who your friends and supporters are. They always come out and get a chance to speak. Now you want to limit your friends' ability to speak.
The government members make light of this. They can pull you along and you can do what they tell you. Government members are always subjected to pressures from the cabinet and from the ruling class.
Mr Maves: On a point of order, Chair: I believe the standing orders state that each member should speak to a motion for 20 minutes. Mr Duncan has exhausted that 20 minutes. I know Mr Chudleigh has been on the list to speak. In the normal rotation that would occur. Since we've been passed over once, I think it would be an opportunity for Mr Chudleigh to make his statements.
The Chair: By my watch, Mr Duncan has one more minute to speak, and then you're quite right, I do have -- actually, Mr Hoy is on the list to speak next.
Mr Maves: But on the point of order, Chair, wouldn't there normally be a rotation where each caucus has an opportunity --
Mr Duncan: No, she recognized him.
Mr Patten: What do the standing orders say?
The Chair: The standing orders don't indicate that we rotate by way of caucus. My understanding -- the clerk will correct me, I'm sure, if I'm wrong -- is that each individual person may speak no longer than 20 minutes, but it doesn't indicate per caucus or anything of that sort.
Mr Maves: Thank you, Chair.
The Chair: Mr Duncan, just briefly, to wrap up.
Mr Duncan: I want to use the remainder of my time to say that even the groups you've got here -- AMO for instance. In AMO, there are big towns and little towns, big cities; there's north, there's south; there are different collective agreements in different places; many AMO reps don't have collective agreements in place.
You're not going to get input. Admit it. You're just restricting access to the Legislature and its procedures for the general public. The members from Oshawa and other places, you ought to stand up and say: "We support the government. We're proud of the government. But we're not going to let you trample on people. We're not going to let you trample on our citizens and our constituents."
I think it's a shame, Madam Chair, and I thank you for the opportunity to address this very important issue.
The Chair: Thank you. Mr Hoy, did you wish to add discussion to this motion that's on the floor?
Mr Maves: Madam Chair, can I seek unanimous consent for something, an opportunity to ask unanimous consent?
The Chair: You can ask for unanimous consent for something, yes.
Mr Maves: I would ask for unanimous consent for the committee to allow Mr Chudleigh, who in our view rightfully should be next in line to speak, to now speak.
The Chair: Do we have unanimous consent for that? No, I do not hear unanimous consent. Mr Hoy, please.
Mr Pat Hoy (Essex-Kent): I appreciate the opportunity to speak. There was unanimous consent asked in the House for the government to place a supplementary today, and the opposition parties did agree to let the member put his supplementary from the government side. When the rotation went next to our party, we asked for unanimous consent to allow our member to put the supplementary, because the clock had wound down to about 57 seconds, and the government denied us, after our giving them unanimous consent to ask a supplementary. These are the kind of tactics the government will try from time to time.
With this motion, in reality we're talking about the failed subcommittee report that this government beat down. I recall that under Bill 99 there was a subcommittee agreement to enact certain things, to go about discussion of Bill 99. But then the government called in the resources development committee and wanted to squash the subcommittee recommendations on Bill 99. Notwithstanding that, our critic, Mr Patten, was deemed by a legislative committee to be elsewhere on one of those days that this committee was sitting, and not only that, the clerk of the committee -- not today's clerk, but another -- was also required to be away.
These are the types of things this government will do. Legislatively, Mr Patten and others were to be at another place. There was a subcommittee agreement to do certain things in respect to Bill 99. The government didn't like it and they called a meeting of this committee and just squashed all the good faith that was talked about prior on Bill 99, and they've done it again here today in respect to Bill 136 and the subcommittee report that the government put down this afternoon.
Here we're talking about a motion put forth by the government. Many of us have sat on committees or organizations prior to being elected, and many of those organizations will use Robert's rules and parliamentary procedure to go on with their day in order to achieve what they want to do: They debate whether they would spend money in certain allocated ways or whether they would commit to certain undertakings. They use these rules and the parliamentary procedure and they look towards the governments as a guide for that in their home communities.
This motion looks like it was put together by a complete novice. This is unbelievable. It is worse than a scavenger hunt. At least in a scavenger hunt we've got some direction, some notice, some plan, some idea of what on earth is happening. This is a complete sham, and it completes the total bullying tactics that this government has taken on since the election in 1995.
I can't believe this. I would be ashamed to put this up in my local community and say, "This is how we're going to progress, ladies and gentlemen." It's so full of holes. As I say, it's worse than a scavenger hunt. It's like saying: "We're going to go and pick apples tomorrow afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Everybody get down here. We don't know where the field is, we don't know what kind of apples they are, we don't know whether we're going to put them in bags or boxes. Maybe we'll just look at them on television." I mean, this is just absolute nonsense. I don't know where the parliamentary assistant is coming from with this kind of motion.
Some of the issues within it: We talk about teleconferencing in certain areas. We're told it would take two weeks to set this up, and now miraculously the government is saying it can do it by September 25, in three days. Who is kidding whom here? I think even a layperson would decide this couldn't be done in the time frame the government is suggesting, that this would happen by Thursday of this week, September 25, 1997.
Also, for the opposition, when we heard earlier that it would take two weeks to set this up, it makes us wonder whether the government commitment is to actually go into teleconferencing or not.
I have a question: What if Windsor wanted to be in on this? Are we going to say no? Will the government provide a full report on your attempts to comply with 2(a) and 2(b)?
The Chair: I'm sorry to interrupt you, Mr Hoy, but we're approaching the end of our committee time. We were meeting today for the purposes of organization --
Mr Hoy: Well, I'm speaking to organization.
The Chair: I understand that, and I apologize for interrupting you. However, we are at the end of our day and I'm cognizant of the fact that we haven't come to a decision on how we're going to proceed. I think it's appropriate that I ask if the committee is ready to call for a vote or to make a decision on how we proceed tomorrow.
Mr Hoy: No. I'm debating this motion at this time. I've got lots to say. I've got no --
Mr Patten: Time has run out, Madam Chair.
The Chair: So we do not have a decision to go to a vote by the committee?
Mr Maves: Do we need unanimous consent for that, Chair?
The Chair: I think we might, but I don't think it's about to occur. All right, colleagues, with that -- I'm sorry to interrupt you, Mr Hoy, but we will stop at this point. We'll adjourn, and we'll reconvene tomorrow, following the standing orders, at 3:30. The standing committee stands adjourned.
The committee adjourned at 1801.