Tuesday 23 September 1997
Public Sector Transition Stability Act, 1997, Bill 136, Mrs Witmer / Loi de 1997 visant à assurer la stabilité au cours de la transition dans le secteur public, projet de loi 136, Mme Witmer
Statement by the minister and responses
Hon Mrs Witmer, Minister of Labour
Mr Richard Patten
Mr Pat Hoy
Mr David Christopherson
Mr Bart Maves
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 Steve Gilchrist (Scarborough East / -Est PC)
Mr Tim Hudak (Niagara South / -Sud PC)
Mr Richard Patten (Ottawa Centre / -Centre L)
Also taking part /Autres participants et participantes
Mr Peter Kormos (Welland-Thorold ND)
Ms Frances Lankin (Beaches-Woodbine ND)
Mr Ron Saunders, director, employment and labour policy branch, MOL
Clerk Pro Tem / Greffier par intérim
Mr Doug Arnott
Staff / Personnel
MR RAY MCLELLAN AND MR AVRUM FENSON, RESEARCH OFFICERS, LEGISLATIVE RESEARCH SERVICE
The Chair (Mrs Brenda Elliott): Good afternoon, everyone. I call to order the standing committee on resources development for organization purposes pertaining to Bill 136.
We had a motion on the floor yesterday put by Mr Maves and we were in the midst of discussion on this. Mr Hoy, you were part-way through your comments. Do you wish to continue?
Mr Pat Hoy (Essex-Kent): I do. Yesterday, we were presented with an impossible motion from the government. It's one that I mentioned appeared to have been written by a novice. What we're talking about in part here -- I was speaking to teleconferencing. It's the government's intention to set up teleconferencing in various localities within the province. Here we are, just moments away from beginning debate on Bill 136, a bill that the minister has stated will be changed dramatically, and the committee has no amendments and the public has no amendments, only comments made through the press by the minister.
Teleconferencing is not the same as presentations brought here before us. We're not assured by the government that they can even set up teleconferencing in time for Thursday. Has the government advertised yet to the public that Bill 136 will be open for hearings? Have we done that yet?
The Chair: No, we have not, but judging by the number of applicants that have inquired with the clerk's office, several have indicated an interest.
Mr Hoy: So we have not. We haven't yet informed the public that they are allowed to come and speak on Bill 136. We're trying to put in place a teleconferencing mode in various locales, only a few throughout the province, not knowing whether they have the capability to get into teleconferencing.
If we do not have the capability to bring in teleconferencing by Thursday, after being told it would take two weeks to set up the capabilities, what will the government do on Thursday? Are you going to report to us that we cannot set up teleconferencing, and then quickly change and say to the public, "Come to Toronto"? How do we give proper notice to people in terms of what mode the government will be in on Thursday? You haven't even advertised to the public that Bill 136 is open for public debate.
Further, many rural Ontarians do not receive cable television and some small urban areas do not receive cable television. In some situations, the House is only shown at midnight and only question period is shown. So how is the public to know that the government is open to discuss Bill 136 unamended, as the minister leaves us? How are we to let the public know that they must rush here to Toronto or prepare for a teleconference that may take place if facilities and operational material are available? I simply don't know how the public is going to respond to this situation.
The ministry has all the capabilities to themselves. They have lawyers. They will be able to prepare the amendments; it should have been done by now. But we in the opposition will have to prepare our amendments on very short notice, over the weekend. Will legislative counsel be available on the weekend so that the opposition can be assured that our amendments are in order?
The Chair: Mr Hoy, there is no legislative counsel present today, but my understanding is that yes, they would be available.
Mr Hoy: It's good to hear that we have some concessions from the government, that legislative counsel will be here throughout the weekend and at all hours, because obviously we're going to be working very diligently at this.
This is one of the government's major pieces of legislation. I suspect it's why we were brought back early in this session. Here we are, at a point in time when no public persons are aware, in a broad sense, of what we are about to do. We had a subcommittee agreement on what this committee should do -- allocate further time to the public -- and it was defeated by the government. We have this impossible and bizarre motion before us for the public to try to address.
The deadlines are severe. As I stated, we're going to be starting teleconferencing by Thursday. Within those parameters, final scheduling authority will be delegated to the Chair of the committee -- total control over the teleconferencing. Will the government provide us on Wednesday a full report on your attempts to achieve teleconferencing and make it available to us, as to whether we are going to be into a teleconferencing mode or whether we will have presentations made here live and in this room? Will the government commit to stating by Wednesday whether they can achieve teleconferencing?
We get no response. This is an affront to the people of Ontario. They don't know what is in the minister's mind. We haven't been given the amendments. It's an affront to the women and men who work. This business attitude that the government takes is not serving us well.
The Parliament is about the people, and they are not getting proper, prior and sufficient notice about the debate to take place on Bill 136. The government wants to hide from the people. You're in a rush: "Let's ram this through. Let's have it done." But I suggest to government members, probably in the next year or so you'll be out meeting people day after day at barbecues and all public manners, saying, "Vote for us." It'll be the only time that government members really want to consult with the people. It will be after they have done such things as they want to do in Bill 136. As a matter of fact, I have people driving hundreds of miles to my office because they cannot get to a government member. They travel great distances to come to me because you're all in hiding.
If you're inviting people to come and speak on Bill 136, what is it that they should speak to? The minister has given overtures that the bill is going to be significantly changed, but she will not present us with the amendments, will not give them to us in writing. I find this an affront, to invite people to come and speak to a bill they do not know the contents of. This is ludicrous, absolutely bizarre. It is a continuation of your bully tactics, your abuse of power. Our privileges in the opposition are being trampled. I find this to be not acceptable.
In Manitoba they have experience with teleconferencing. Before they get into that mode, they know how many witnesses in total will be present. They have some plan. They have some idea of what's going to happen that day. Videoconferencing would be more problematic to organize because legislation is often referred to committee with very little notice. That's what we have here. Their experience is that it doesn't work very well. Further to that, they do not use it very often. They only use it in remote areas and in extreme circumstances. I suggest that your attitude, through this motion, flies in the face of good advice from other jurisdictions.
Local opinion has been questioned by members of this committee in the past. They say that the parents' organizations will be here. But those persons in the local area, those with affiliates, those who have personal interest in any government legislation, deserve to be heard. We should be talking to the broader public on all major pieces of legislation.
For instance, in my riding there's a gentleman who's afraid he's going to lose his job as a custodian. Further, his wife, a nurse, has had her hours cut dramatically and she's fearful that under other pieces of legislation and Bill 136 she may lose her job completely. These people want to bring their stories to the committee. They're approaching the age of approximately 50. They have young children -- they started their family later in life -- who are still in public school. They are worried about their future under the legislative program of this government and I'm sure they would be interested in what is happening to Bill 136.
But with the time frame you've laid upon us for presenting to the public the concerns within the bill, unamended as it is, with promises that it will be changed, it would be most difficult for any reasonable person to address. We have not been told about the cost-effectiveness of telecommunicating. This government is big on cost. We have no idea about the cost, the effectiveness, the capability of doing such a thing. We have no commitment from the government about what they will do on Thursday should it fail.
I can't for the life of me imagine how you're going to tell the public, "We'll be doing teleconferencing in three or four locations," but if that fails, then saying to those other people who are going to make personal presentations that they scurry on down to Toronto and have it done. This amendment was put together with a bullying tactic in mind. It was written by someone who must be a novice. It is shameful and bizarre and I think continues to show the disdain the government has for the broader public.
Mr Richard Patten (Ottawa Centre): I support the comments made by my colleague. The motion as it's put forward is not, in my opinion, workable. It needs to be rethought. He mentioned the teleconferencing, which for sure would -- unless the committee's decision has been pre-empted and arrangements have already been made. If they haven't, I don't believe it's possible to do this in two days, notifying people that they have the opportunity to speak, let alone people being able to put their thoughts together to respond to what is actually the government position.
We know what the intent of the government position is, but people come before us to react to a piece of legislation, and the major components of the piece of legislation are up for grabs, with some changes. Why are the amendments or motions to change the legislation not before us? If one of the reasons is that they're being worked on at the moment and it takes time, then how in God's name can you give the opposition only one hour of the next sessional day to see what you've got in mind, digest it, react to it and listen to what anyone else has said throughout the hearings? It makes a mockery of the hearings, because what you're saying essentially is, "Regardless of what people say, our amendments will happen at a certain point in time," and it will not be based upon what has been said, because you won't have the time to make those amendments either.
I don't know who drafted this particular motion. You've got a lot of associations in here that are based in Toronto. As I mentioned yesterday, people from outside the Toronto area should feel indignant. The attempt by the minister to substitute actual hearings with teleconferencing -- anyone who was at the meeting when we spoke to a government member from Manitoba knows he said that it is not a substitute for actual face to face hearings. It may be used in certain areas and in special cases where there may be an interest in less than five members of the public.
We have populations throughout Ontario, in northern Ontario, where you're talking about "if possible." The motion even uses that word. Normally that wouldn't be used. It's not: "We shall proceed with teleconferencing. We will hear what people have to say." It says "if possible." Looking at the general pattern of trying to ram this stuff through in such a short period of time, one wonders whether you're serious about even using this mechanism to get the minister off the hook. As you well know, when I asked her in the House, she said she definitely would travel -- unless of course she astral travels and that's another way of communicating with people.
My final point is that I believe you've placed the legislative staff in an embarrassing position because they will have to scramble like crazy to listen carefully. We have from Friday afternoon at 5 o'clock -- which isn't normally a sessional day anyway, but we're meeting all that day; fair enough. But what I resent and find totally unpalatable is that at Friday when we finish and have heard from everyone, the normal procedure is that legislative research puts together the frequency of what has taken place, who has commented on the bill and what sections, how many people have addressed a similar area, what kind of weighting, things of that nature, which is an assist. That's why they're there, to help the committee members to respond to the legislation. But of course that really won't be possible unless it's a very tertiary kind of summation, and we can't wait; we will have to begin our own assessment of what is there, without having the wisdom and the skill of the legislative research.
But that's the way you like to operate. This isn't the only committee that is experiencing that. Bill 99 was force-fed as well, and likewise on the Tenant Protection Act. The committee didn't receive the researcher's comments until halfway through clause-by-clause.
People don't pay much attention to it. Their eyes glaze over when we talk about procedures, because they're interested in the issues. But one issue is called democracy. I said it yesterday and I'll say it again: We are now the most undemocratic Legislature of any jurisdiction throughout this country. This kind of stuff does exactly that kind of thing. You're trying to ram stuff through. What the hell is the rush? Why couldn't you take an extra week or two and be satisfied, at least ethically and morally, that you gave the people of Ontario, as your minister promised, a chance to respond to this legislation. It makes a mockery of this whole process.
Mr Ted Chudleigh (Halton North): Clearly the opposition parties are filibustering on this issue. They're using procedural tactics to delay the start of public hearings on Bill 136. I don't understand how the opposition can claim to want to consult with the public on this bill when they are preventing the committee from doing just that. Since about 3:30 yesterday afternoon, the committee has been debating nothing more than how to organize the time allocated for the committee's consideration of Bill 136. We have already spent over three and a half hours on this discussion, and the longer this debate lasts, the longer we prevent the Chair and the clerk of the committee from scheduling witnesses' presentations and the fewer witnesses we can accommodate. This filibuster is not in the best interests of the public we serve, Madam Chair, and for that reason, I move that the question now be put.
The Chair: Mr Chudleigh has moved that the question now be put. All those in favour?
Mr David Christopherson (Hamilton Centre): Point of order.
The Chair: Sorry, we have to continue. All those in favour?
Mr Christopherson: You've got a point of order, Chair.
The Chair: Thank you. Those opposed? That motion is carried.
The Chair: I'm sorry. The rules of procedure don't allow that at this point.
The committee recessed from 1551 to 1606 and resumed in room 151.
PUBLIC SECTOR TRANSITION STABILITY ACT, 1997 / LOI DE 1997 VISANT À ASSURER LA STABILITÉ AU COURS DE LA TRANSITION DANS LE SECTEUR PUBLIC
Consideration of Bill 136, An Act to provide for the expeditious resolution of disputes during collective bargaining in certain sectors and to facilitate collective bargaining following restructuring in the public sector and to make certain amendments to the Employment Standards Act and the Pay Equity Act / Projet de loi 136, Loi prévoyant le règlement rapide des différends lors des négociations collectives dans certains secteurs, facilitant les négociations collectives à la suite de la restructuration dans le secteur public et apportant certaines modifications à la Loi sur les normes d'emploi et à la Loi sur l'équité salariale.
The Chair: Good afternoon again. The standing committee on resources development is once again called to order, this time in room 151, to undertake hearings on Bill 136.
Mr Bart Maves (Niagara Falls): On a point of order, Madam Chair: In light of a request from the third party and the opposition party, I'd like to ask for unanimous consent that, without further debate, the committee instruct the Chair to add the following organizations to paragraph 3(a) of the motion which we have just passed. Those organizations are the Ontario Public School Teachers' Federation, the Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Federation and the Employment Standards Working Group.
The Chair: Do we have unanimous consent? There is unanimous consent.
STATEMENT BY THE MINISTER AND RESPONSES
The Chair: All right then, without further ado, we are honoured to have Minister Witmer join us as our first presenter this afternoon. Minister Witmer, thank you for coming on such short notice. I'm sure the members of the committee appreciate that. You have 30 minutes for a presentation, 15 minutes for each of the opposition parties. Welcome.
Hon Elizabeth Witmer (Minister of Labour): Thank you very much, Madam Chair. It's certainly a pleasure for me to be here today and to have the opportunity to comment on Bill 136 as we begin the public hearing process. I want to thank all members of this committee for the work they're prepared to do. I also want to thank those who will be making presentations over the course of the next four days.
In thanking those who are going to be appearing before the committee, I know that their input is going to be as valuable as the input that we have received thus far as we have conducted some very productive consultations with many of our stakeholders. We've been in discussion with the Ontario Hospital Association, the Association of Municipalities of Ontario, the Toronto transition team, the OFL and the police. These are the major stakeholders and I would simply indicate to you that those consultations and that input has been very, very productive.
I look forward to the input that we will receive this week, in order that we can make the final changes to the legislation and ensure that the changes we make will ensure a smooth transition as the government embarks on a restructuring process designed to provide the best services and programs to the people of this province at the best cost.
As you know, as a result of the amalgamations of the municipalities, the hospitals and school boards, about 450,000 employees are going to be impacted and about 3,300 collective agreements will also be impacted. In an effort to manage the labour aspects of this change fairly and to ensure that during this transition period there continues to be services provided for the people, Bill 136 was introduced.
Our government has always stated that it is unconditionally committed to reaching its objectives. But we have also stated at the same time that we have been very open to discussion as to how to reach those objectives. Certainly in the months since the introduction of Bill 136, as I stated, we have continued to meet with all of the major stakeholders to discuss the best ways of ensuring a smooth public sector restructuring. We have received during the course of those discussions suggestions for alternative ways of meeting our goals, so the changes I announced last week are the product of the meetings and the product of the consultation.
Maybe at this point I would just share with you some of the key changes to Bill 136. Basically, last week I indicated that we were removing the restriction on the right to strike, and I believe that in the meeting today with the OFL there was certainly concurrence on both sides that that had indeed happened.
We are providing that the first-contract provisions of the Labour Relations Act apply to bargaining for a first collective agreement after a merger or amalgamation in the broader public sector. As you know, we are replacing the proposed Labour Relations Transition Commission with the OLRB. We are also ensuring that, following a restructuring, employees have a choice of union representation, and this will be determined by a democratic secret ballot vote.
We will be eliminating the proposed Dispute Resolution Commission and we will be returning to the current legislative provisions governing the appointment of arbitrators and applying procedural reforms proposed for the DRC to the arbitration processes outlined in the fire, police and health legislation. This will include expedited arbitration, the use of other forms of arbitration and an emphasis on mediation. Also, our changes will ensure that the police retain a separate and distinct arbitration regime.
I'd like to speak briefly to four of the key principles involved with Bill 136. The principles that we were determined to keep uppermost in our mind as we move forward to ensure this smooth restructuring in the municipal, school board and hospital sectors were the following. We wanted to make sure that collective bargaining continued to be encouraged. We wanted to ensure that employers and employees have the tools to deal with the labour relations issues in a fair and expeditious manner. We wanted to ensure that there was a smooth transition, with minimal disruption of public service. We also needed to make sure that all employees, whether they are unionized or not, be treated fairly as the restructuring occurs. Of course, one of the key issues of concern here, particularly to the non-unionized employees, was the issue of seniority and also the issue of union representation.
I'd now like to turn specifically to some of the new powers that are going to be given to the Ontario Labour Relations Board, since we are giving them the provisions that were formerly contained with the Labour Relations Transition Commission. After consultation with our stakeholders, we have determined that we will use the OLRB and we will be giving them the specialized and expeditious processes that were originally provided through the LRTC in order that they can deal with the transitional labour relations issues arising out of the broader public sector restructuring in an expeditious and timely manner.
The OFL stated in their alternative document that "the Ontario Labour Relations Board has a long and trusted history of independent and impartial adjudication." We certainly do agree. As the restructuring takes place across this province, in order to deal with the complex labour relations issues that are going to result from restructuring and amalgamation, the provisions that were given to the LRTC will be provided to the OLRB.
Obviously some of these provisions include the following. They will, in the case that the workplace parties cannot resolve these issues, be able to determine effective and rationalized bargaining unit structures that are appropriate for the new employers' operations. In other words, when an amalgamation takes place, although the workplace parties themselves will be able to determine who is in the new bargaining unit or who is the new bargaining agent, in the event that the workplace parties cannot make that decision themselves they will be able to ask the OLRB for assistance. Also, if the issue of seniority cannot be resolved by the workplace parties, this issue can be decided by the Ontario Labour Relations Board.
In the case of the first contract and in the case of retaining the composite or stapled agreements to bring stability during the negotiation of first post-amalgamation agreement, again, if the workplace parties cannot agree, that will be the responsibility that will be given to the OLRB.
In each and every case, the OLRB will have the provisions that had been given to the LRTC.
There are a few other changes to the way that Bill 136 will help determine which union will represent employees. As I indicated, Bill 136 had originally established some very specific numeric thresholds which the LRTC would have used to decide bargaining agent issues resulting from restructuring where the trade unions were unable to resolve the issues themselves. Under our proposed changes to the legislation, if the trade unions are not able to agree on who the new bargaining agent should be themselves, the thresholds that had been originally established in Bill 136 will be replaced with a requirement that the Ontario Labour Relations Board conduct secret ballot votes when decisions are required in all of these particular cases.
An additional change to the way in which Bill 136 will help determine which union will represent employees is the requirement now that where a restructuring includes unionized Ontario public service employees who are represented by the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, or OPSEU, or another union or association, that name, whether it be OPSEU or the other union or association name, will now appear on the ballot when a vote is conducted on representation issues.
The other change as a result of the consultations that we have had is that Bill 136 will now, where appropriate, allow the employers and the unions to retain specialized bargaining units for professional staff such as nurses.
Turning to the right to strike: In response to requests from both AMO and the OFL to reconsider the restriction on the right to strike, and based on assurances from labour leaders that public services would continue without disruption or instability during restructuring, we are removing the Bill 136 provisions which restricted the right to strike and lockout. We will now instead extend the existing provisions of the Labour Relations Act covering contract negotiations to the new situations.
With the elimination of the Dispute Resolution Commission, the employers and unions would now have access to section 43 of the first-contract provisions of the Labour Relations Act. As you know, section 43 of the Labour Relations Act was enacted in 1986 at the request of the unions and it was part of the Peterson-Rae accord. Under this section of the Labour Relations Act, if after negotiations the employer and union have been unable to reach a new first collective agreement, either party may apply to the Ontario Labour Relations Board to seek an order that an agreement be settled using arbitration.
Under this section, the OLRB has the authority to order arbitration to take place if it determines -- and there are four criteria here -- (1) that the employer has refused to recognize the union's bargaining authority; (2) either party has taken an uncompromising position without reasonable justification; (3) either party has failed to make reasonable or expeditious efforts to conclude an agreement; and (4) for "any other reason the board considers relevant."
Under this section, if the OLRB rules in favour of arbitration, the union and employer are free to select an arbitrator agreed upon between them or they can request that the Ontario government select an arbitrator on their behalf.
I would now like to turn briefly to the criterion "ability to pay." The government will be extending the ability to pay and the other criteria Bill 136 proposes, that arbitrators consider for the hospital, police and fire sectors, to new, post-amalgamation, first contract arbitration proceedings which take place under section 43 of the Labour Relations Act.
As you can see, the changes we are making will certainly provide employers, employees and their representatives with the tools and processes they need to ensure that the transition to improved public services takes place smoothly, fairly and expeditiously.
I'd now like to turn to almost half of the employees in the broader public sector who do not have the right to strike. This includes some 25,000 police officers in local forces as well as those employed by the Ontario Provincial Police. It includes nearly 10,000 full-time firefighters and 192,000 workers in hospitals and nursing homes.
After a very productive and lengthy consultation, the government has decided it will not proceed with establishing a dispute resolution commission to conduct interest arbitration in the police, fire and hospital sectors. Instead, the government is proposing a return to the sector-based system of appointing arbitrators to resolve disputes in these three particular areas and reforming the existing arbitration systems as they are set out in the Fire Protection and Prevention Act, the Police Services Act and the Hospital Labour Disputes Arbitration Act.
We are still trying to address some of the problems that have been raised with the current interest arbitration system. We want to overcome the problem of widespread reliance on arbitration to resolve collective bargaining disputes. We want to ensure that we don't have the slow, legalistic and costly nature of the current interest arbitration system. Unfortunately, today sometimes settlements are not arbitrated until months after the previous collective agreement has expired, and unfortunately it creates problems for both unions and employers. There certainly was a desire on the part of many that change was needed to address the issue of long delays, costly delays in the current arbitration process.
There was also the issue of the fact that interest arbitration awards do not always reflect the economic and fiscal reality of public sector employers. Based on the concerns that have been raised about the current interest arbitration system, our changes will address those concerns that have been expressed to some degree by all of our stakeholders.
The government's proposed changes to Bill 136 will change the Fire Protection and Prevention Act, the Police Services Act and the Hospital Labour Disputes Arbitration Act to create expedited time lines to ensure the quick and timely resolution of disputes in the police, fire and hospital sectors. It will continue with the Bill 136 changes which provide arbitrators with more choice to deal with collective bargaining disputes in the police, fire and hospital sectors. More choice is going to include using mediation, mediation arbitration and final offer selection during the arbitration process.
As well, we will continue to require arbitrators to consider various criteria such as a public sector employer's ability to pay and the extent to which services would have to be reduced if funding and/or taxation levels were to remain unchanged.
We trust that the system we are proposing will continue to encourage negotiated settlements instead of arbitrated contracts. As well, I just want to remind you that the police will retain their separate and distinct arbitration regime.
Taking a look briefly at the issue of pay equity in the present act, members are no doubt aware that there has been a significant court ruling on the issue of pay equity. At this time the government is obviously considering that ruling and will be awaiting further discussions during the course of the next four days on the issue of pay equity. We would certainly welcome further input.
Those are some of the primary changes that we are proposing to Bill 136. We have had meetings in the course of the last four or five days with all the major stakeholders. We have provided them with additional information, considering more of the details, and they have continued to provide us with additional input in order that we can ensure that the legislation is balanced, that it is fair and that it will allow us to achieve our long-term goal of a smooth restructuring to better service at less cost to the taxpayers in this province.
I would just like to conclude by saying we have demonstrated our willingness to listen and consult and make change and we are certainly prepared to make further change to Bill 136 as a result of the information that is received this week. I certainly look forward to the input and I wish you well in the four days of public hearings that await you. Thank you.
The Chair: Thank you very much, Minister. We now have time for 15 minutes of response and we'll begin with Mr Patten from the official opposition.
Mr Patten: I'd like to use my time with some questions to the minister if she will entertain them. The first question I would like to ask is -- we've heard this before. As you say, you've explained a few more details today, but why would you not table the amendments or motions that you have in mind so that those who are coming to provide their points of view will know what they're dealing with in specific terms, in legislation terms, and remove the doubt as to the sincerity and meaningfulness of what you are saying verbally? There's nothing in writing. It's like having a contract with someone and they say, "I'll do such-and-such," but your experience hasn't been the best and you say: "How about something in writing? How about a contract?"
That's what people respond to when they respond to legislation. They look at it and say: "There are some provisions in here I don't understand," or "I have some recommendations for changes," or "The implications of this weren't understood before, but now I see that this might have something and it's a basis for further amendments to the legislation." Why would you not table your amendments when you have a bill that essentially has been, I would say, pretty well gutted, and provide the witnesses with a chance to respond to the change of heart on some of the provisions in the bill?
Hon Mrs Witmer: I would just remind the minister that oral contracts are every bit as binding as written contracts. I am now on record, not only in this committee but also in the House, as to the proposed changes we are making. Obviously, we need to now move forward and provide the taxpayers in this province with the opportunity to provide further input. At the end of the four days of discussion and consultation we will then refine the amendments to the legislation and we will table them at that time. Certainly we have very clearly enunciated now the changes we're prepared to make. We've had meetings with all of our stakeholders. They understand the changes. I understand the meeting with the OFL today dealt with the details they were requesting. I am quite confident now that we can move forward and give the rest of the people in this province the opportunity to respond to the changes.
Mr Patten: Thank you for calling me "minister." I used to be one. I am no longer one.
Hon Mrs Witmer: Well, maybe you will be again.
Mr Patten: Perhaps. The time frame for responding to the amendments is ridiculously short, and I know you have this sense of urgency of getting through this piece of legislation as rapidly as possible. I have some appreciation for that. But surely to leave the opposition parties in a position of having to react to the amendments that are put forward by the government, essentially one hour, do you think that's fair? Do you think that honours the tradition of the Legislature in terms of providing the elected members with an opportunity to respond to what the government is proposing?
Hon Mrs Witmer: I think if you carefully take a look at what has transpired during the introduction of Bill 136 in June this year, we have undertaken consultation with all the major stakeholders who are going to be impacted by this legislation, both the employers and the employee groups. When I talk about the employee groups I'm talking primarily about the unions. It's as a result of that consultation, the hours and hours of consultation not only between myself and the stakeholders but the hours spent by my staff, that we were able to move forward last week and even prior to the committee hearings this week were able to give the direction for the change and announce the specifics of the change. I think the type of change that was introduced last week was a compromise of the viewpoints that had been put forward. So I feel very confident that there has been a good deal of very fruitful, honest and productive input thus far. I look forward to the continued input this week.
Mr Patten: The committee, the government's side, moved a motion to utilize teleconferencing if possible. I doubt if any of that will take place, because I don't think it's possible to set it up in two days, especially in remote areas -- we just agreed to the places today -- unless someone anticipated and started work and pre-empted the committee. But on June 4, when I asked you the question in the House, you said you would travel and face to face listen to people. The advice we had from Manitoba was that this should not be a replacement for hearings, that it can be used in remote areas where there may be requests for representation by fewer than five people. Yet we have the people throughout eastern Ontario, northern Ontario, all over, who will only have a chance if possible through teleconferencing to react, or send in some kind of brief, which we would have to absorb and read and all this kind of thing. Why did you change your mind on not travelling the province as you said you would do?
Hon Mrs Witmer: I would just refer you back to the consultations which have been ongoing since June this year. We have been meeting on a regular basis with the major stakeholders, and whether we talk about the hospitals that obviously represent all hospitals in this province, whether we talk about AMO, which represents all the municipalities, or whether we talk about the OFL, which collectively represents unions in this province, we have ascertained from them the concerns that have been of primary importance.
We have also learned from them what changes they believed were necessary in order to ensure that the legislation was fair and balanced, and we're now looking at having the videoconferencing because the government is looking at new technology, at new ways to reach out to as many people as possible. We believe that in this time, when we have had such extensive consultation, this would provide another opportunity for us to use the new technology.
Mr Patten: Can this be done by Thursday?
Hon Mrs Witmer: I would trust and hope that it can be done, Mr Patten.
Mr Patten: Okay. I'm going to group these two together because it's a part of the bill that hasn't been addressed. I take it by your comments that you're probably positioned to withdraw that section.
Hon Mrs Witmer: Which one?
Mr Patten: The one on pay equity.
Hon Mrs Witmer: I indicate to you that we have made absolutely no decisions. We are considering that section in light of the decision that was handed down by the courts. As I indicated in my remarks, I would certainly welcome further input this week from making presentations.
Mr Patten: Because we don't know and you didn't comment on it, is there anything you're considering that is related to the wage protection program, which as you know unfairly, in the case of bankruptcies, takes people who have earned a salary and are due wages, and places them at the bottom of the list after the banks or after distributors or other clients? Has that been reconsidered in the light of fairness to employees in Ontario?
Hon Mrs Witmer: We have carefully re-examined all parts of the bill, and as you probably know, we were the only province to have such a program available. Since becoming Minister of Labour, I have actually been lobbying your federal colleagues and asking for these employees to have higher status within the act. Unfortunately, we have not received a positive response from the federal government, even though I got the support of the labour ministers at a conference last year. Maybe with your help, if we work together --
Mr Patten: Absolutely.
Hon Mrs Witmer: -- we can obtain a higher status for these employees.
Mr Patten: I'll have to read the transcript, but it seems to me you're transferring the frames of reference, or functions and responsibilities of what was the transition commission, to now the Ontario Labour Relations Board. Is that as the Ontario Labour Relations Board is now structured?
Hon Mrs Witmer: The Ontario Labour Relations Board will need to be given some additional resources and some additional powers, so there will be some slight changes there. As you know, the LRTC was actually a temporary commission and was not going to be continuing into the future.
Mr Patten: The dispute one was not --
Hon Mrs Witmer: Permanent.
Mr Patten: That's right. I gather you're asking for feedback or you're asking for comment. The ability to pay in public interest, as part of the criteria of consideration: You have probably in your discussions with the labour movement realized that workers anywhere in the province today are not stupid. They know the conditions of the times. They know what municipalities or hospitals are facing, cutbacks in the province and all this kind of thing, and that there's a spirit of reasonableness. I haven't heard anybody start talking about wild and crazy wage increases or anything of that nature. The ability to pay: I don't know of any company, even if they've had a massive, billion-dollar surplus, I don't know of any instance where someone said before they entered into labour negotiations, "We're flush and we're just eager to get to the table in order to pass along some of the major profits that we've had in the couple of years."
According to the professional arbitrators, they're saying this is kind of a violation of the spirit of professional arbitration. In terms of the public interest section, I gather one of the quotes we have here from you, I think it was today, was that the public interest clause wasn't something you would be interested in pursuing but that you would welcome comments from people. Are you prepared to --
Hon Mrs Witmer: We're looking at any information or any input related to Bill 136. It's not something I'm going to pursue personally, but if there are issues that have not been adequately addressed, if there are some additional changes or provisions to the legislation that people would ask us to take a look at, we're prepared to consider all of those, Mr Patten.
Mr Hoy: I have a brief question. Minister, you're saying you want to refine your amendments and you want help from anywhere: the public at large, opposition parties, members of your own government.
Hon Mrs Witmer: Yes.
Mr Hoy: How are we to help you refine amendments that we have not yet seen?
Hon Mrs Witmer: I would like your response to the changes that we are proposing.
Mr Hoy: I have some difficulty with your answer, but be that as it may, that is where you are going to stay.
You were talking about the OLRB and rolling in what you had in mind under the LRTC. Are you going to make the provisions for the Ontario Labour Relations Board equal to what existed in your previous plan to set up the LRTC? Will they have the same powers even though you're going to --
Hon Mrs Witmer: The majority of provisions will be transferred to the Ontario Labour Relations Board.
Mr Hoy: Including the criteria?
Hon Mrs Witmer: Including the criteria. The criteria will be there.
Mr Hoy: So maybe it's not quite the change you proposed a day or so ago.
Hon Mrs Witmer: It's the very same. I've always indicated that the provisions of the Labour Relations Transition Commission would be transferred to the Ontario Labour Relations Board. As you know, these powers in some instances, for example, will be temporary because they will only be used in the event that the workplace parties cannot resolve some of these issues themselves.
The issues I would again refer you to are issues such as who is going to be the new bargaining agent, who is going to be part of the new bargaining unit, how do we determine a seniority, how do we determine what the first collective agreement looks like? These are some of the issues that, when the workplace parties cannot resolve the issues themselves, could be handled by the OLRB.
What we want to ensure is that these issues are dealt with in a very expeditious manner. I think it's important that the employees who are impacted by this legislation and by the change have as much certainty as possible and that the certainty be provided within the shortest time frame as possible as well.
The Chair: We'll now move to members of the third party.
Mr Christopherson: Minister, you keep saying that you want to listen and you want input and that you're sincere and everybody should understand how good-hearted you're being about this. The reality is, if you just shifted this time frame by, arguably, one or two weeks, you would remove a large part of the immediate criticism you're facing here today. The fact is that you are someone who stood in this Legislature and you made a promise. You promised: "Yes, I commit to you that there will be full public hearings. We will travel the province...." As a minister of the crown on behalf of the government you made that promise. Last week you stood up and broke that promise to all those who have an interest in Bill 136 when you rammed through your time allocation motion and kept everything jammed up here in Queen's Park for a few days.
There is a lot of question, with respect, Minister, about what your word is worth. You could eliminate much of that here today if you said: "Yes, I am listening to the opposition members; yes, I'm listening to the labour movement; yes, I'm listening to all those who are affected by this, and I will submit to this committee the amendments that I'm prepared to make in writing prior to your holding any kind of public hearings. As truncated and as sham as they are, I will at least do that much." You would eliminate a lot of the immediate criticism you're facing.
But you don't seem to want to do that. You seem to think you can bulldoze this through and that people somehow are still going to believe that you really want to listen. It's insulting that you think people are that stupid, that they wouldn't see there's nothing fair about gutting a bill that's tabled on the floor of the Legislature and then asking people to comment on a gutted bill without knowing what the new version is.
You've left us three and half days now. God only knows what the people are supposed to say and comment on this evening, how they're even supposed to have heard what you said today, let alone what the amended bill might look like. I don't know what those people this evening, if you can find anyone, are going to say. They'd better be prepared to have emergency meetings of their organizations this evening to compile and cobble together some kind of submission to be made tomorrow, if they're one of the unfortunate ones coming up that early, albeit fortunate enough to get on any kind of a list at all, given how little time you have left here.
By Friday at 5 o'clock you shut down all input. Then by Monday morning at 10 you want in legal form our amendments. I want to ask you, Minister: How do you expect anyone to fairly consider what has been said? We don't even get the researcher's report on the Friday submissions until 9 am Monday. At 9 Monday morning we get the researcher's report on the Friday submissions, and one hour later we're supposed to have in legal form the amendments we want to see to some phantom new Bill 136B.
This is an absolute joke. I say to you, Minister, if you want to try to salvage something of your credibility, then announce at the end of these comments that you're going to change the time frame and provide us with those amendments and that you'll give people time to consider them. There's nothing outrageous about that. It's about the only fair and balanced thing in this whole process you could possibly do.
I also want to mention, because a lot of the media are saying, "Now that Bill 136 is being gutted, and if the minister follows through on her word" -- which we hope, but aren't sure -- "then everybody must be happy because everything has been alleviated, all the things that got everybody upset": No, they aren't, for two reasons. One is that all it takes, and those of us who are lawmakers know this, is one clause in a section of a bill to negate an entire set of privileges and rights that you might have somewhere else. One clause, one sentence, sometimes one word can make that much difference.
The other thing is, your government's continuing attack, and as a female minister of that cabinet you should be doubly ashamed, on pay equity is still in there. I have not heard you say you're standing down. I heard some wishy-washy language about the courts and, "We'll see what we're going to do," but you're the same minister who backed Bill 26 that took the first attack -- illegal as it has turned out -- on pay equity rights and you still refuse to sit there today and say you're going to eliminate it from the current Bill 136.
Then there's still that whole issue of the employee wage protection plan, a plan that yes, we brought in, so I feel somewhat defensive about it, but the NDP brought in a plan that said, "If you're a worker who is owed wages and vacation and termination and severance pay because of a closure or a bankruptcy, through no fault of your own, we'll make sure that your wages are covered and we'll use the force of government to go after that money and get the pay back." That was a fair plan for workers who are facing arguably the most fiscally damaging crisis of their lives. You're taking that out, and it's only so that you can steal $25 million out of the pockets of the workers who face that kind of disaster. That's still what Bill 136 is all about.
I want to spend a couple of minutes reflecting. Let's remember that the original Bill 136, in my opinion, showed your true colours. You're not backing down now because you've been listening; you're backing down now because you can't win. You were quite comfortable and you are not stupid enough to believe that you weren't clearly taking away the right of workers to have legal, democratic strikes and that you weren't watering down and eliminating independent arbitration in this province. You knew that and you still supported it, and so did your backbenchers support it. You were prepared to do it. The only thing that stopped you was the reaction, and not from labour, because you expected that reaction. What you didn't expect was that all of labour, private and public, would get on side. Some 2,400 delegates came to the first-ever emergency convention of the Ontario Federation of Labour in the dead of summer and they had the largest convention in their entire 40-year history. Why? Because they were not going to stand by and let you attack their rights under Bill 136, whether they were a private sector or a public sector.
What else happened? AMO went offside. Man, that blew you out of the water. The Association of Municipalities of Ontario voted against your Bill 136 and now your own friends were offside.
But you had another interesting problem. This hasn't been talked about enough. You had a real problem with police and firefighters. They've been into my offices and I know they've been into the government backbench office. You folks are terrified of being offside with them in any way, shape or form. You only had a few options. If you had hived off police and firefighters and left everybody else, you would have had one hell of a problem, because clearly you've been taking care of those who you thought were politically on your side, and to hell with everybody else. That was a problem. If you left them in there, you might have had even a backbench revolt.
What to do? When you took a look at your polling and you took a look at where AMO was and the fact that the labour movement was unified, guess what? Communities were coming on side too because they began to realize they were going to pay the price for your hard, right-wing agenda and they weren't willing to pay that price. You had only one option: to stand down, retreat.
Then we get into the bizarre part. We go from the mean part to the reality part to the bizarre part. The bizarre part was that as the momentum was just day-by-day building, the way you'd expect, over Bill 136 and meetings were being held in the public sector and votes were being taken -- but it was still marching along -- you came along, obviously already having made the decision to stand down, and lit the fuse and dropped the time allocation motion on the floor, which put the whole province on a crisis footing within a few hours. Suddenly we had the province ready to be shut down within a few days. Then you got up the next day and said: "I give. I didn't mean it. We're not really going to have a fight." I hope the historians are able to dig that out because I would pay big time to know the truth of how that unfolded and how we ended up at that point.
Let me end my comments, because I know my time is running out, by saying to you that the only time you started to offer any real meetings was when we returned on the first day of the House after the OFL had a special convention. They flooded the public galleries and your Premier stood up and said, "I said I would meet with you, Gord Wilson; I'm ready to do that." Gord Wilson popped up in the public gallery -- he got thrown out for it but he did it none the less -- and said, "I'm here, Mike; I'll meet you any time, anywhere."
That's what started any kind of discussion. Who knows what decision you had taken by then or whether or not you had finalized your decisions? History will have to tell us about that. But up until then there had been nothing but games and you had not offered any kind of listening. If you were serious about listening -- and I ask people to think about it -- if this is a position the government came to with the gutting of Bill 136 because they were listening and that's the kind of government they are, why didn't they listen in the beginning? Why did they not meet with one single labour leader before they tabled Bill 136? Why didn't you talk to them beforehand? You waited, you pulled it all together in secret and then you dropped it on the province like a bomb.
I can only hope that when people reflect on what has happened, how it has happened, what is happening here, this sham of a process and this stuff about teleconferencing -- this is unreal -- the cyberspace consultation we're going to have with maybe three or four communities -- it's ridiculous and it's insulting, Minister.
I say to you very sincerely, right now I'm prepared to give you some due credit for listening if you say: "You know, you're right. The only way I can offer up any kind of fair process is to postpone these hearings long enough to table formal amendments. I will honour my commitment." I say to you that I'll be prepared to sit down in the subcommittee and have reasonable discussions about where we will go if you really are standing down on most of this stuff. We'll put together a process that honestly shows people in this province that you are listening. If you don't, then all your talk about listening and caring and being fair and balanced is that: words. We know what your word is worth at this point.
The Chair: There's a little bit of time left, Minister, about four minutes if you wish to respond.
Hon Mrs Witmer: I don't wish to make a response.
The Chair: On behalf of the members of the committee I thank you for coming on short notice. It's very much appreciated.
I believe we have representatives now from the Ministry of Labour who are prepared to present a technical briefing. Good afternoon and welcome. We're very pleased that you're able to come before us this afternoon. If you would be so kind as to introduce yourself for the Hansard record. We look forward to your presentation.
Mr Ron Saunders: I'm Ron Saunders. I'm the director of the employment and labour policy branch at the Ministry of Labour. I propose to take the committee through two sets of documents. One set you should have had distributed in binders that would have been provided by the clerk; you should have a set of three information sheets that speak to some of the key elements of change the minister has talked about both last week and just now.
What I'd like to do is just make sure people take a careful look at those sheets, take people through them. I won't cover everything in them in detail; the minister covered some of the contents of them just now. I'd like to do that first.
I also have with me a document I propose to hand out that provides an overview of the bill as it was introduced, but with reference to places where the government has announced its proposal to make changes. I propose to take people through that document as well. I could distribute that now if you'd like.
Mr Christopherson: Just on a point of process: Normally when we're given information from the ministry we get at least two sets, sometimes three. To the best of my knowledge, there was only one given out. For obvious reasons I'd like my researcher to be able to follow along with this and I was only given the one. Does anybody know, was there a second one sent and I've missed it? Can the second one be provided? Could you get one -- I say it as politely as I can -- as quickly as possible? It would be appreciated.
The Chair: We'll try to find you some more right away.
Mr Saunders: If I may proceed then, I call your attention to the first of the information sheets. There's one entitled "New Powers for the Ontario Labour Relations Board to Deal with Transitional Labour Relations Issues Resulting from Restructuring in the Broader Public Sector." You'll see there a description of what is intended by the minister's announcement of last week and remarks she has just made that the government is proposing that the Ontario Labour Relations Board be given the specialized and expeditious processes originally provided to the Labour Relations Transition Commission in the bill as it was introduced so that the OLRB can deal with the transitional labour relations issues arising out of broader public sector restructuring.
The proposal is that most of the provisions that are now in what is schedule B of the bill as it was introduced would be transferred over, as it were, to the OLRB but with modifications, as they would be modified by other elements of the minister's remarks last week. I'll be talking about those as I come to them. So there are some modifications that are implicit in what the minister had announced before, and today, that I'll be talking about. There's also the possibility of modifications as a result of the deliberations of this committee.
If you look further down that note then, the key provisions that are there now are briefly summarized again: the determination of effective and rationalized bargaining unit structures appropriate for the new employer's operations; mandatory seniority rules that ensure non-union employees are protected in the amalgamation process; retaining composite or stapled agreements to bring stability during the negotiation of first post-amalgamation agreement -- I'll be talking in a little while in a bit more detail about each of these -- providing employers undergoing amalgamations or restructuring with the opportunity to reopen the composite collective agreement which results from this process and bargain new first post-amalgamation agreements.
The note goes on to describe changes to the way that Bill 136 helps determine representation, which union will represent employees. As you'll know, the bill, as it was introduced, established some numerical thresholds. For example, it provided that if there were two bargaining units contending for representation rights and one of them had 75% of the employees involved, if 75% of the employees who would be in the new bargaining unit had been represented by a particular agent, there would have been an automatic awarding of representation rights to that agent. So those specific numeric thresholds would have been used to decide bargaining agent issues resulting from restructuring in cases where the unions were unable to come to an agreement themselves.
Under the proposed changes that the minister announced, if the bargaining agents are unable to agree upon who the agent should be for the new bargaining unit, then the thresholds originally set out in the bill would be replaced with a requirement that the board conduct secret ballot votes in every case when decisions are required in all of these situations.
Another change that's being proposed to the way in which Bill 136 will help determine which union will represent employees is a proposed requirement that where a restructuring includes former Ontario public service employees who are represented by the Ontario Public Service Employees Union or another union or association that represents people currently in the Ontario public service, that union, OPSEU or that other union or association's name appear on the ballot when a vote is conducted on representation issues in restructuring situations. That's another proposed change that was not in the bill as it was introduced but is explicit in the minister's remarks of last week.
Consultation with employee representatives has also resulted in a proposed change that would give the board the power to allow for specialized bargaining units for professional staff in appropriate circumstances. So there's a general direction to look towards the rationalization of bargaining unit structures where the parties are not able to agree on a bargaining unit structure but there is a proviso that is being proposed with respect to specialized bargaining units for professional staff in appropriate circumstances.
That's the first general area then, the way the transition provisions are affected by the announcement, but as I say, I'm going to be going over in a minute in more detail how the transition provisions work in the bill as it was introduced, with some reference as I go along to the implications of the proposals for change.
The second broad area of change that's been proposed is in the second note that you should have in front of you, entitled "First Contract Collective Bargaining in Amalgamated Municipalities and School Boards Where the Right to Strike and Lockout Currently Exists." The government is proposing, as you know, to eliminate from the bill what is there now, which would establish a Dispute Resolution Commission. So there is a proposal to eliminate that.
The government is also proposing that for new first-contract collective agreement negotiations in amalgamated municipalities, school boards and other broader public sector employers that bargain under the Labour Relations Act, employers and unions have access to section 43 of the Labour Relations Act that relates to first-contract negotiations.
Under this section, as the minister noted earlier, if after negotiations the employer and union have been unable to reach a new first collective agreement, there are circumstances under which they may seek a ruling from the Labour Relations Board that the first agreement be settled using arbitration. The minister talked before about the four circumstances that are enumerated in the current section 43. I won't read them again now. You'll see them listed there for you in the information sheet. Under that section of the Labour Relations Act, if the board rules in favour of arbitration, then there are various possibilities for who actually does the arbitration. The union and the employer may ask the board to arbitrate the collective agreement or may agree between them on an arbitrator. If they do not agree, then the Minister of Labour would appoint an arbitrator. That is under the current provisions of section 43 of the Labour Relations Act.
There's a note there about the ability-to-pay criteria and other criteria that are in Bill 136. The government, as you know, is proposing to extend the ability to pay and other criteria which Bill 136 proposes that arbitrators consider for the hospital, police and fire sectors to new post-amalgamation first-contract arbitration proceedings, if they occur under section 43 of the Labour Relations Act.
The third and final of the three information sheets that you have --
Ms Frances Lankin (Beaches-Woodbine): Yes, excuse me. Are we going to ask questions as we go along?
The Chair: I seek the advice of the committee on this. I think perhaps it might be easier to go through a certain period and then perhaps stop for questions at the end of it.
Ms Lankin: It's just that my question is about the section being talked about right now. I just thought it might make more sense to --
The Chair: My only concern would be that if we get wound up in too many questions, we might not get through the material.
Ms Lankin: If we go through all the material, we might not answer members' questions.
The Chair: I think that we should continue and allow the presenter to finish first and then use the time remaining for questions and of course note the questions that you want specifically answered. So I think you should continue.
Mr Christopherson: How long is the formal presentation then, Chair? That might help us.
The Chair: It's an hour.
Mr Christopherson: No, but I mean, is it going to take Ron an hour?
The Chair: Do you know how long your presentation will take?
Mr Saunders: I would estimate that it would take most of the hour, but if the committee would like to ensure that there's time at the end for questions, that's the committee's prerogative, as I would understand it. I can gauge that appropriately.
Mr Maves: Chair, we've got some time this evening. Do you want to come back and ask questions then?
The Chair: Mr Maves has asked if there's possibly time this evening. I know the clerk's office is working to get people booked for tonight, but there is a possibility, I guess, that we could --
Ms Lankin: I could have asked my question in the length of time that you've been debating whether I could ask my question or not.
The Chair: You're quite right. Why don't you continue, and if there is time at the end, we'll have questions.
Mr Saunders: The third information sheet that you have in front of you is entitled "Interest Arbitration Reform in the Police, Fire and Hospital Sectors Where the Right to Strike and Lockout Currently Does Not Exist." The government, as you know, is proposing a return to the sector-based system of appointing arbitrators to resolve disputes in these three particular areas. However in doing so, the government is proposing to proceed with changes to the interest arbitration system to address certain problems identified with the system.
The minister spoke earlier to the kinds of problems that she would like to address in changes to the current system. They are listed for you at the bottom of the first page of that information sheet. There is reference to concerns about too much reliance on arbitration as opposed to negotiation -- the idea, as I'll explain a little more later, is to try to provide more incentive for parties in the no-right-to-strike sectors to get negotiated, as opposed to arbitrated, outcomes -- the slow nature of the current system and the fact that interest arbitration awards often do not reflect the economic and fiscal reality of public sector employers.
The government's proposed changes the minister talked briefly about earlier, making amendments to the various acts in these sectors to create expedited time lines to address one of the issues to ensure quick and timely resolution of disputes in those sectors; to continue with changes that are in the bill as it was introduced to provide arbitrators with a wider range of tools to resolve disputes essentially; to deal with collective bargaining disputes in the police, fire and hospital sectors to give them a range of possible tools, including mediation, mediation-arbitration and final offer selection; and continuing to require arbitrators to consider various criteria such as a public sector employer's ability to pay and the extent to which services would have to be reduced if funding and/or taxation levels were to remain unchanged.
The rest of the information sheet there refers to first-contract situations that are described in more detail in the earlier notes, so I won't go into that again now.
What I would propose to do now is turn to the document that I take it has been distributed to everybody that's entitled, Technical Briefing on Bill 136, The Public Sector Transition Stability Act, 1997. What I'd like to do is take you through that document, which gives you a sense, I hope, of how the bill, as it was introduced, is laid out, how it's organized, what it was trying to do, but also I'll comment as we go along and as referenced to that in the document, to key places where the government has announced an intention to make changes.
The first page then simply itemizes the key elements of the bill as it was introduced, one element being processes for resolving labour relations in issues in amalgamations and mergers. As you know, the government has indicated that it will propose amendments to the bill so that these processes would be administered by the Labour Relations Board rather than by what had been proposed as the Labour Relations Transition Commission.
The second element: processes for resolving collective bargaining disputes in the hospital, fire and police sectors, the sectors that do not have the right to strike. As I've just discussed, the government has indicated it will introduce some significant amendments in this area.
Provisions establishing new commissions to administer these processes: The government has announced its intention not to create either the Labour Relations Transition Commission or the Dispute Resolution Commission.
And then, amendments to the Pay Equity Act and the Employment Standards Act.
If you turn to the next page, which talks a bit about how the bill is structured, actually the first part of the bill, as you will have seen, is the third item on this page. It's the amendments to the Employments Standards Act and the Pay Equity Act. I'll come back to those items in just a moment.
The other part of the bill are the two schedules. So you have schedule A, that would enact a Public Sector Disputes Resolution Act, and that schedule is the one that deals with interest arbitration in the no-right-to-strike sectors. That's the schedule that, as it's currently written, proposes the establishment of the Dispute Resolution Commission. We know that the government is intending not to do that, but I will talk in a moment about some of the processes that are within schedule A because they are still relevant to the government's direction, as currently intended.
Then there's schedule B, and that's the one that deals with the so-called transition issues, how you deal with issues such as bargaining units, structure, representation rights and so on following amalgamations in the broader public sector over the next few years. I'll be taking people through how Schedule B works in just a moment.
I'll just mention briefly the Employment Standards Act and Pay Equity Act amendments as they are in the bill as it was introduced. The Employment Standards Act amendments, there are really three pieces. The first of them would clarify that in circumstances where there is in a sense, a transfer or sale of a business and an employee ends up working, let's say, hypothetically, on Monday for a new employer but doing the same thing as they were doing on Friday, they have accepted employment in a transfer of sale situation, that if the previous employer has chosen to pay severance pay to the employee in that situation, the bill would clarify that the employee, if they happen to be laid off subsequently by the new employer, would not be entitled to recover severance pay for the same period that has already been paid out.
Okay, so that's the first part of what is proposed in the Employment Standards Act amendments.
The second part would be to remove the crown's current exemption from the sale-of-business provisions. Right now there are provisions that say where there is a sale and an employee accepts employment with the new employer, that severance and termination pay need not necessarily be paid out. The employee can simply move over to the new employer, taking with them their accrued service. What this proposed amendment would do would be to allow those provisions to apply to the crown as well. So in a situation, let's say, where a crown employee was accepting employment in a non-crown situation, it could be a municipality for example, there would be the possibility then of the crown not paying severance pay or termination pay to that employee, but rather the employee simply moving over and continuing as if they had been employed all along by the new employer.
I should say "possibility" because there's nothing that would prevent, even if that amendment were to pass, the crown from choosing to pay severance pay nonetheless in such a transfer situation. It could still do so, and as I mentioned just a moment ago, if it did so, though, we'd clarify that you couldn't collect for the same period twice.
The third element on Employment Standards Act amendments that is in the bill is the proposed discontinuation of the employee wage protection program.
Then there are the Pay Equity Act amendments currently in the bill. There are essentially three of those. The first one would provide that home child care providers are not considered employees under the Pay Equity Act.
The second, that would essentially provide for greater flexibility on pay equity adjustments after a sale of business, would say that in a new organization after a sale a comparator could be used in the new organization, and that if it allowed for a lower adjustment than what had been the case in the predecessor organization, that would be allowable. That's currently not allowable under the Pay Equity Act as it's now constructed. So that's what this second element would propose.
Then the third element relates to limiting retroactive pay equity obligations for broader public sector employers in certain circumstances where a plan has not yet been posted. I will just reiterate what the minister said earlier, that, as you know, the government is considering these proposed amendments in light of the O'Leary decision, but I can't tell you any more about that than the minister did a few moments ago.
So then we turn to the heart of the bill as it's constructed, the two schedules. I've got one page on schedule A and then a little bit more detail on schedule B. Schedule A, again, is the schedule that is the Public Sector Dispute Resolution Act. It is the one that deals with the interest arbitration system in the sectors that do not have the right to strike. Also, as introduced, it would have had some relevance to situations on a one-time basis in right-to-strike sectors if a party opted to have the dispute resolved by the proposed Dispute Resolution Commission.
The concerns about the existing arbitration system are listed again there. I won't repeat them. To deal with these concerns the bill, as it was introduced, would have created the Dispute Resolution Commission. We know that the government has proposed not to do that.
The bill as it's introduced has provisions that would create expedited processes and the ability to use a variety of dispute resolution methods in addition to traditional arbitration. I mentioned that briefly earlier, and again the intended direction is to keep with those sorts of changes where you would have expedited processes in the interest arbitration system as well as an opportunity for some selection of the method of dispute resolution allowing for the possibility of other than just conventional arbitration, but possibly mediation, mediation/arbitration or mediation/final-offer selection.
The idea here is to create deliberately some uncertainty for the parties as they enter into this process to encourage them to negotiate an outcome rather than to rely on arbitration. The idea here is that both parties should face some risk if they enter into this process, if they give up on negotiation, in a sense, and turn to the interest arbitration system for resolution of their collective agreement, that they should face some uncertainty as to how exactly it would be resolved, that they should face even the possibility that final-offer selection might be used.
The thinking here was that there may be a circumstance where the parties are not really making much of an effort to negotiate and the lists of unresolved items are very long, that nobody is moving. The idea here would allow for the possibility of saying to the parties in that situation, "If you don't make some movement, if you don't show there's been some effort to whittle down the list at least, then you may face final-offer selection, and that's something that is pretty risky for both of you."
The idea is to create an incentive for the parties to whittle down the list or to negotiate the full list successfully. So the objective there, and this is something certainly the committee may want to talk about, is to try and create incentives for more negotiated outcomes, less that ends up having to be arbitrated. Then, as I said, there's also the objective of more timely arbitration processes.
Right now some arbitration processes go on for years even to the point where by the time the arbitration award comes down the collective agreement that will be settled by arbitration will have already expired.
The government has indicated it will not propose to establish the Dispute Resolution Commission but it will be looking to change the current arbitration system to address these concerns about timeliness or lack thereof and too much reliance on arbitrated outcomes, and that the criteria that are in the bill now would still apply.
I'll turn then to schedule B. If you'll turn to what is page 5 of the document I handed out, that schedule is titled the Public Sector Labour Relations Transition Act, 1997. The key elements there: The schedule sets out processes for resolving collective bargaining issues arising out of amalgamations and mergers in the public sector; it covers municipalities, hospitals and non-teachers in school boards, or occasional teachers but not the full-time teachers in school boards; and, if it had been passed as written, would establish a time limited Labour Relations Transition Commission. The government has indicated it is proposing there not be an LRTC but rather the Ontario Labour Relations Board administer these provisions with certain modifications, as I'll come to as I go along.
The purposes of the act are enumerated there: to encourage best practices that ensure the delivery of quality and effective public services that are affordable for taxpayers; to facilitate the establishment of effective and rationalized bargaining unit structures in restructured broader public sector organizations; to facilitate collective bargaining between employers and trade unions that are the freely designated representatives of the employees following restructuring in the broader public sector and in other specified circumstances; and to foster the prompt resolution of workplace disputes arising from restructuring.
The next page of the handout talks first about part 2 of the schedule, the application of the schedule. That sets out the fact that, as drafted, the schedule, the act, would apply to the municipal sector, including the new city of Toronto, to the education sector but specifically non-teacher employees, and to the hospital sector, and there is a provision, section 10 of schedule B of the bill, that would allow other circumstances to be prescribed by regulation.
The intent there was that if there are other circumstances that are like the ones that have already been specified, where there is substantial restructuring or amalgamation of broader public sector organizations, if there are circumstances like those we've specifically described in the bill, but aren't already covered by the provisions of the bill, there is provision to cover them by regulation.
This part of the bill also specifies a changeover date for each sector, after which parties may begin the process really of adjusting to a new bargaining unit structure potentially. The changeover date in most cases is simply the date an amalgamation has occurred. There are some exceptions, but generally the changeover date that is referred to in the bill is the date an organization has amalgamated. For many organizations, although not all, it will be January 1, 1998.
The next part of the bill talks about the status of the situation as of the changeover date. If it is a January 1 date, let's say, January 1 arrives and you have a new employer now where there used to be several employers, then what happens on that day? The bill says what happens is that essentially what was there carries over for the time being. So the bargaining unit structure that was there on December 31 is the bargaining unit structure that carries over on January 1. The collective agreements that were there on December 31 are the collective agreements that are in place on January 1. That just carries things over as of the moment the new organization is created. It carries things over so the process can now begin of adjusting to the new organization.
If you turn then to page 7 of the handout, part 4 of schedule B of the bill deals with what happens after the changeover date. It sets out avenues that are available to the parties for determining bargaining unit structure and bargaining agent in the new organization. So you have a new, let's say, amalgamated organization. The first thing that needs to be sorted out then in terms of the labour relations issues is what is the bargaining unit structure going to be in this new organization.
For example, if it was an organization that, let's say, had, I don't know, six inside worker units in the various predecessors, then a question will be, will there be six inside worker units in the new amalgamated organization, will there be a smaller number, will there be just one inside worker unit? That sort of question needs to be resolved.
The parties themselves can agree on how to resolve this. In general, the approach in the bill is that if the parties can agree on things, fine. There's one exception to that I'll come to later, and that is there are mandatory provisions around the recognition of non-union service where non-union workers end up in a bargaining unit.
Generally the approach is that if the parties can agree on how to resolve these issues, then they can go ahead and do that. On this first one, if the various agents that are affected and the employer in the new organization can agree that, let's say, in this organization there should be just one inside worker unit, just hypothetically, and all the agents that would be affected by that and the employer agree on that, then fine, that's the way it will be.
If the parties cannot agree, then the way the bill is constructed now they would apply to the Labour Relations Transition Commission to sort that out. In light of the minister's statement, what is being proposed is that the parties would apply to the Labour Relations Board for resolution of that issue.
Once that issue is resolved and you know what the bargaining unit structure is going to be, then of course the next key labour relations issue is who is the agent for this new bargaining unit. Again, you may have had a circumstance where there were different agents for the different predecessor bargaining units to the new organization.
The way the bill is now constructed, representation votes would be required in most cases to determine the agent, but as I mentioned earlier, there was the possibility of thresholds that would say that where a particular agent met a certain threshold of membership, 75% of the people who would be in the new bargaining unit covered by that agent, then as the bill is now constructed they would have automatically got representation rights.
The government is proposing to change the bill so that this would no longer be the case. There would be no automatic thresholds. If the parties could not agree -- let me go back a step. There will still be the possibility of the various agents that are affected agreeing that one particular agent should have the representation rights. As I understand it, the intention is that will still be possible.
You might have a circumstance, for example, where all the predecessors are different CUPE locals -- that could be the situation -- and the bill allows, as constructed, for the possibility that the five CUPE locals that are affected could get together and agree that one of them carries the flag. That still would be possible, as I understand the government's intention with respect to the schedule. But where the agents cannot agree on who should have representation rights, then what is being proposed now is that there would have to be a vote. There would be no thresholds that might intervene, there would have to be a vote.
Furthermore, if there were people who had been in the public sector, had been OPS employees who were affected, who had been transferred into this amalgamated organization, then OPSEU, or if it's another public sector union that's involved, would have an opportunity to be on that ballot.
After the agent is then determined, in most cases through a vote, at that moment the issue arises as to, what's the collective agreement? At that instant in time where we now know what the bargaining unit is and who the bargaining agent is, but what has existed up till now is a set of collective agreements that arose from the different predecessor organizations, and at the instant that the agent has determined what the bill would propose, there remains an amalgam, essentially, that until the parties can agree on replacing that composite agreement, what happens essentially is even though there's one agent now to administer that composite agreement, all the individual agreements are essentially stapled together to be administered by the one agent. You have this concept of the composite agreement.
If the parties do not subsequently agree on replacing it, then that composite agreement, as the bill is now constructed, would last for at most a year. If the parties can't agree or don't want to agree on replacing this notion of the stapled together agreement, that would stay in place for up to a year, but would expire automatically after a year if there had been no prior agreement to replace it.
The next page, page 8, goes through the various mechanisms that are available for replacing the composite agreement. There are a number of options in the bill that are available to the parties. They could agree to adopt one of the pre-existing collective agreements for one of the predecessor organizations.
If, for example, there were five units that became one in a sense, there were five inside worker units and now there's one, and there's one bargaining agent now that's been determined, likely through a vote, if that agent and the employer get together and say, "The simplest thing to do here would be to take one of the pre-existing agreements and just modify it as necessary and use that as the agreement that will apply to the organization as a whole now," they can do that. The bill would allow them to do that as it's now constructed, and my understanding of what's being proposed is that wouldn't change. They would be allowed to do that. Our expectation is that in some instances this may happen.
They could also, if they like, decide to ask the board jointly -- what's being proposed is that they would ask the labour relations board, not the Labour Relations Transition Commission -- to choose one of the pre-existing agreements and modify it as necessary, or either party could decide it is better to simply renegotiate a new collective agreement for the organization as a whole. They could give notice to bargain a new collective agreement.
If notice to bargain is given, as you know, the bill originally provided, as it was introduced, that either party could then decide at the outset that if they can't negotiate that new agreement successfully, it would be referred to the Dispute Resolution Commission.
The government has announced its plan not to do that, not to have a Dispute Resolution Commission, but rather to allow either party to apply to the OLRB for an order that the first contract following amalgamation or merger of a municipal or school board employer should be arbitrated. But as you've seen, there are specific tests there for access to arbitration in those circumstances. What's being talked about is simply access, as a possibility, to a first contract arbitration through the existing tests that are in the Labour Relations Act.
I'll then turn to page 9 of the handout -- seniority. There's a part 6 of schedule B of the bill. It sets out various rules for determination of seniority. The key principles: the length of service of non-union employees of the previous employer will be respected. The bill as it's now constructed, and again my understanding is the intention is to continue with this, would provide that if a non-union employee ends up in a bargaining unit as a result of an amalgamation, their service, as long as it would have been bargaining-unit service in the previous employed situation, would be recognized for seniority purposes in the new collective agreement.
Seniority would be determined on a bargaining-unit-wide basis unless the board, as proposed, considers that inappropriate, and that where different bargaining units are intermingled -- if you have employees who were in different bargaining units before now coming together, the bill provides that -- there's a presumption in favour of dovetailing; that is, everybody in a sense gets equal treatment of their seniority. You don't get some people going to the top of the list and then people who came from another bargaining unit going to the bottom of the list. There is so-called dovetailing or intertwining of seniority so there's fair recognition for everyone's service. That's in the bill as it was introduced and that would be proposed to continue under the auspices of the board.
Part 7 of the bill deals with the transition commission. I won't talk about that any more because we know the government's announcement that there would not be a transition commission.
If we turn then to the last page of the handout, there are some miscellaneous provisions in schedule B, that this schedule prevails if it's in conflict with any other act. Something I would call people's attention to is the provision that human resources plans negotiated in the hospital sector prevail over the act unless otherwise prescribed. If the parties have successfully negotiated a human resource plan related to a hospital restructuring, then the bill provides for respecting that plan unless there are compelling reasons to, by reg, provide for some variation.
As the bill is constructed, the Lieutenant Governor in Council would be empowered to make regulations in a number of areas, including the determination of seniority where there is a transfer of employees from the crown to non-amalgamating employers covered by the act. In other words, if crown employees are, in a sense, transferred to, let's say, a municipality, even if that municipality is not amalgamating, is not restructuring, would not be otherwise subject to the bulk of the provisions of schedule B, there is a provision by reg to possibly, by reg, prescribe the determination of seniority in those circumstances, to allow for the possibility of specifying that the service of those crown employees would have to be recognized in the new organization.
Those are the key provisions. I've tried to highlight how they would appear to be affected by the announcements of last week and the minister's remarks earlier today. I'm at your service at this point.
The Chair: Thank you, Mr Saunders. We have ample time for questions. We'll begin with Mr Christopherson.
Mr Christopherson: Mine is just a straight point of order and it's a request of you, the Chair and the committee. Given that the government is prepared to allow overtime for the research staff as well as legal counsel to turn amendments into legalese over the weekend, which I've got to believe is going to cost a small fortune, in my opinion it would be very helpful if we could ensure that there was an expedited translation of the voice Hansard into printed Hansard and attempt to get it in the hands of people who are trying to make submissions over the next few days. It's fine to have the bullet points, but the closest thing to a real explanation, short of the actual amendments, is to take Ron's presentation and allow people to digest that and make comments.
I suspect, Ron, you'll be one of the staff people available to answer questions, assisting the parliamentary assistant.
Mr Saunders: Yes. I won't be here personally at all hours, but I will be on close call and there will be people from my branch here at all times.
Mr Christopherson: And other people from your shop, yes.
Again, Chair, I'm not trying to offer up anything other than trying to help those presenters as much as possible. Given you're already planning and prepared to spend money to make this sham of a process work, could I ask for unanimous agreement that we make that happen? Pat, you wouldn't want to be the only one who doesn't have to work around the clock.
The Chair: If the committee is in agreement with your request, I certainly would be more than happy to request this of Hansard.
Mr Christopherson: There is a financial cost. I suspect they're going to say, "Yes, we might be able to do it but we're going to need some money to either bring somebody in or do overtime." I would hope that it's understood that if that's what it takes, that's what it takes.
If that is done, Chair, then I would ask Doug if he'd be good enough to contact those who are coming in and try to fax that material to them as well as provide it to us ASAP.
The Chair: I think we can commit to you that we will do our very best to make sure this material is available to presenters and to those who are interested.
Mr Christopherson: Thank you.
Mr Maves: Chair, could members also get a tape of the presentation from Hansard?
The Chair: Again, I think that's possible and we would endeavour to do that as quickly as possible.
Mr Christopherson: Is that in addition to or instead of?
Mr Maves: I think you can do it in addition to. Just get a VHS tape of the presentation.
Mr Christopherson: Because others would want the printed one and they would have to translate it themselves. We wouldn't want to do that to them.
The Chair: Did you have a question, Mr Saunders?
Mr Saunders: No.
The Chair: Mr Patten.
Mr Patten: I have a suggestion that these documents be made available for witnesses when they come, or if possible even before. They won't be dealing with the amendments but at least they'll have some of the written rationale that should guide their responses so they're not swinging in the wind and are responding to things that have been put on the record. I take it this is a public document once it's tabled here at the committee.
Mr Saunders: My understanding is that there would be no objection to having this document made available to anybody at this point.
The Chair: Duly noted. We will endeavour to do that.
Mr Patten: I have one question on schedule B, on the Public Sector and Labour Relations Transition Act. Under your part 4 you say, "Parties may agree on bargaining unit structure or may apply...." Is that a joint decision or can one party unilaterally --
Mr Saunders: One party can apply.
Mr Patten: So that remains the same as --
Mr Saunders: It's sort of implicit that if they can't agree, then it only takes one party not to agree, in a sense. So either party could apply for the determination of bargaining unit structure. My understanding is that that would still be proposed.
Mr Patten: We will know which ones it will most likely be, though.
Mr Saunders: I'll make no comment on that.
Mr Patten: You can't answer that, but of course I could.
Mr Christopherson: We're going to go through a lot of, "I can't answer that; ask the minister." It's not your fault, Ron, but that is what's going to happen in a lot of these circular discussions.
Mr Saunders: It's not obvious to me but I don't want to make any further comment than that.
Mr Patten: Other than some of the comments the minister made in terms of the structure from the transition commission, that is being passed over to the labour board with the existing criteria that were in there before.
Mr Saunders: My understanding is that the proposal is that most of what is in schedule B would be there to be administered by the Ontario Labour Relations Board. There would be modifications, and some I've spoken about. For example, in the voting procedure the thresholds would disappear. OPSEU would have an opportunity to be on the ballot if that was relevant in the circumstances and so on. So there are some modifications that I've talked about. There may be others that people would want to make and the committee would want to propose.
I think one of the areas we've heard another idea about is this composite agreement idea that I talked about. You have this interim step where agreements are in a sense stapled together until you get to the new agreement that is negotiated to deal with the organization as a whole. We've heard some additional thoughts that maybe you don't need to make everything stapled together. For example, maybe you could have seniority even in the interim period determined on the basis of the winning agent's agreement, but have other things stapled together. That kind of thing is certainly there for discussion. Everything is there for discussion, but that's one area where modifications might well be contemplated. But by and large, my understanding is that the proposal would be that most of schedule B would be there but administered by the Ontario Labour Relations Board.
Mr Hoy: My concern is basically for those people who are going to appear before the committee. I think my question has been answered through reading through other questions, but except for the few people in this room, no one has seen this yet, correct, and the other three pages that you began with in the binder? So I'm right that no one has seen this except --
Mr Saunders: This hasn't been distributed prior to today. That's correct.
Mr Hoy: At 7 o'clock, we're going to ask people to come in and comment on these points. I say to the Chair, then, within an hour and 10 minutes we're going to ask people to comment on this document and three other sheets of paper that no one has seen yet.
I suspect that the people in Chatham, Kirkland Lake, Ottawa and Owen Sound would want to have this available at some government office by morning so they could look it over and decide by tomorrow whether they want to be on a teleconference that is going to take place on Thursday. They may choose not to comment; they may choose to have many, many questions. My suggestion, and I look at the parliamentary assistant and the Chair, is that we have this at some government office, well publicized, I would suggest, over radio for those persons in the immediate area of Chatham, Kirkland Lake, Ottawa and Owen Sound so they can comment.
Thus far we haven't even advertised that there would be hearings. This is why we had a discussion yesterday and earlier today on the process here. People are going to come in, and we want to hear, so we can help the minister refine her unknown amendments to certain documents that we've had presented here, now going into evening, that no one has seen.
I request that by radio advertising the persons in the immediate area of Chatham, Kirkland Lake, Ottawa and Owen Sound be advised that these are available at a provincial government office.
I would like to have some commitment that people are going to come here and know what they are speaking to. I suggest to you that those who are coming in the next hour, unless they were sitting in this room, are going to be pretty vague about things. Do we have a commitment that these people will know what's happening?
Mr Maves: I think Mr Patten has already discussed this a little bit, and you said you would endeavour to distribute it as best you could. Another option: I believe the ministry has an Internet site. Perhaps it could posted on the Internet site and made available. With regard to advertising its availability, maybe the subcommittee should discuss that. Isn't that a matter the subcommittee would discuss, the form of advertising?
The Chair: Generally that is something that would be discussed in the subcommittee. I just have one comment in that we have a guest here who is available for technical briefing. I know Mr Christopherson is on the speaking list and I would not want us to use our time talking about advertising when we have someone here who can answer technical questions. I think we'd be very foolish not to use his time wisely at this point. But we could maybe come back to that at the very end, once we're sure there are no longer any questions of a technical nature for Mr Saunders.
Mr Christopherson, did you have a question for Mr Saunders?
Mr Christopherson: You want to wait and use the time foolishly; to me this whole thing is foolish.
The Chair: No, please don't misunderstand. I meant that we use our time now for the technical briefing --
Mr Christopherson: I was responding to that.
The Chair: -- and then we could talk about this at another time when Mr Saunders isn't available.
Mr Christopherson: I understood what you said, and my response still stands. The only thing that's foolish is this whole process. It's just a joke, it truly is; it's just an outrageous joke. I don't live with all this legislation every day so I want to hear what people have to say when they come in so I can determine what questions they're raising that I think I want to continue to pursue. I appreciate the briefing and it's helpful, but this is almost just an expanded version of a down and dirty briefing that we get just before you introduce a bill so that opposition critics can stand up and do a halfway intelligent five-minute response.
Please don't sit there and treat it like this is serious, as if all of this has any real meaning or any real credibility, because it doesn't, Chair. I'll tell you right now, unless somebody can give me a good reason, I don't really have a lot of interest in sitting on the subcommittee. You, to the parliamentary assistant, rammed through a motion that took all the rights and privileges of the subcommittee out of our hands. Everything we might sit down and negotiate you took control of.
As far as I'm concerned, you wear all of this. You wear this whole joke and this whole sham and you tell me, when you've had your little huddle with whoever it is you huddle, how you're going to advertise when this whole thing wraps up Friday at 5 o'clock. I'm open to be persuaded otherwise, but I'll tell you right now that my first inclination is that you want all the power of the subcommittee and you bloody well took it. You own it; you take responsibility. Let's see you twist in the wind trying to somehow make this process look anything other than the bizarre joke that it is.
Mr Maves: Chair, if Mr Christopherson wants to pursue that radio advertisement, that's fine with me.
Mr Patten: That's not what he said.
The Chair: Let's deal with our guest first. Are there any further questions for Mr Saunders? No. All right. Mr Saunders, on behalf of all members of the committee I would like to thank you for taking the time to come before us for this briefing this afternoon. It is appreciated.
Mr Patten: Let's talk about advertising.
The Chair: Do we want to reconvene a subcommittee meeting?
Mr Patten: No, Mr Christopherson said he's not interested and I feel the same way. There's no point. Every decision we've made, we've been overruled by the committee, so let's talk about it now. We've got a bit of time before 6.
Mr Maves: The government caucus believes that we should put this on the Internet and perhaps advertise it. It would be on the government channel somehow that it would be available. That's probably all that is reasonable to do at this point in time.
The Chair: There is a comment of placing this on the Ministry of Labour Internet site, advertising this on the legislative channel; those are two methods of getting the word out. Any other suggestions?
Mr Christopherson: It makes about as much sense as offering to repaint the Challenger that blew up, for God's sake.
The Chair: Keep in mind that there has been a fair amount of print advertising and media coverage of this bill, and previous to our sitting today there have been inquiries from the public to the clerk's office.
Mr Patten: I think it's too late as well. Radio is probably the quickest. In some of the other regions outside of the Toronto area there certainly should be some degree of radio announcements for people or organizations that would want to respond to this. But I still would like to know what's going on re the teleconferencing. Obviously somebody is working on it or trying to make it work. Who's got the latest word on what's happening?
The Chair: As Chair I can say to you that it was obviously difficult for us to move forward without formal authorization from the committee as a whole. But in the event that this was to proceed, the clerk's office has been pursuing possibilities of what would be available. There's nothing firm determined at this point in time, although we have possibilities of available locations in Ottawa, in Owen Sound and in Thunder Bay. We're at the end of the working day, so tomorrow morning this will be undertaken in earnest.
Mr Patten: The advertising will have to be explicit outside of Toronto to let people know that they have the option. Obviously they'll need to know pretty soon whether the option of teleconferencing is possible. We only have two days if we're talking about Thursday.
Mr Hoy: Thursday morning.
Mr Patten: Yes, that's right, we're talking about Thursday morning. We don't even have two days to go. We've got one day to notify people. It's obviously too short a time line. I don't think that's going to materialize.
Mr Maves: I think the Chair, as they line up people to speak from each of those communities, can endeavour to get them those materials.
The Chair: I think it is a bit premature to say that it can't be done. I and the clerk's staff will do our very best to make sure this is in place and that it will work for Thursday. It is short notice but we will do our very best to make sure it happens and that it happens well.
If you want to talk about advertising, there probably should be a motion put on the floor to that effect. From a personal perspective, I think some of the criteria we might be looking for in choosing sites would be for instance an area where there is a lot of restructuring occurring and also from the point of view of where do we hear from people who want to make presentations in the lists of names that have already been presented, keeping in mind that if you haven't -- and I speak to all three caucuses -- already submitted the names of presenters you wish to have appear before the committee, you make sure you present them to us as soon as possible so we can use those names and contact those people.
Mr Patten: Can we expect people to be here at 7 o'clock tonight?
The Chair: At this point in time we do not have anyone booked for 7 o'clock. We have been trying to get people, but not at this point in time. It's unlikely, I would say.
Mr Hoy: I'm not going to belabour the point too much further about advertising, but I have a concern about the public's right to know what this government is thinking about and what they plan for the future of our communities. I've mentioned it before, but rural Ontario does not get the legislative channel. I think we know this from other committee work, and I make it a point in every committee that I'm in, that if they don't have cable TV, they don't receive the parliamentary channel, except perhaps at midnight they get question period only.
The other point is that northern Ontario does not have total capabilities on their phone lines for what you're suggesting here. We still have party lines in much of northern Ontario. They don't have some of the computer capabilities and access modes that we have here in large and small urban areas. But I'm not going to belabour it much more except to point out that in the future it would be nice if the government understood how the province was made up and what people face outside of the legislative precinct.
I'm attempting to let the people know what is going on in Ontario, but I think the government is more intent on rushing this through. It's obvious. We were supposed to have people here at 7 o'clock and there probably won't be any. If they do show up, they won't know what to talk about. I think the whole thing is just despicable.
The Chair: Keep in mind that from an organizational point of view the last thing anybody in this committee would want me, as Chair, to do is violate the rules of the House by taking it upon myself to book people to come in here and make presentations without the proper authorization of the committee. That didn't occur until -- what? -- 4:30 this afternoon. From that point on, I know the clerk's office has been working frantically to try and book people and get the committee process under way. I simply say to you that we're doing the very best we can and that we will use all the resources that are available to us and all the lists that are submitted to us in the most productive way we can.
Mr Christopherson: I wouldn't for a second suggest that you've done anything wrong as the Chair. You're going to have to carry your share of the blame for being a Tory, but in terms of what you could do and couldn't do, certainly I have no qualms about the fact that nobody being here at 7 o'clock is not your fault. But I would ask you, Chair, as you adjourn this committee at 6 o'clock, what exactly are you instructing the committee to do, given that all of us have a lot of things to do? I'm sure you wouldn't want to waste our time or that of the staff. What exactly is the game plan here? Do we just hover around hoping that somebody might drop by, maybe throw a couple of staff people out on the street to see if we can round up some folks who want to come in? They'll know as much about this bill as anybody else at this stage. What's the game plan here?
The Chair: Because we don't have anyone ready to come at 7 o'clock, my feeling is that it would be wise for us to adjourn -- we all have a lot of work to do, I'm sure, and constituents to call and legislation to review -- and that we reconvene tomorrow morning at 9 o'clock. In the meantime we'll attempt to book as many of the organizations -- barring their unavailability -- and citizens on the lists who have requested to speak on this bill. We'll attempt to book them as fully as we can tomorrow morning at 9 o'clock.
With no further comment, this committee stands adjourned and we'll reconvene tomorrow morning here at 9 o'clock.
The committee adjourned at 1802.