Thursday 24 October 1991

Closure of land registry offices


Chair: Mancini, Remo (Essex South L)

Vice-Chair: Brown, Michael A. (Algoma-Manitoulin L)

Abel, Donald (Wentworth North NDP)

Bisson, Gilles (Cochrane South NDP)

Drainville, Dennis (Victoria-Haliburton NDP)

Harrington, Margaret H. (Niagara Falls NDP)

Mammoliti, George (Yorkview NDP)

Marchese, Rosario (Fort York NDP)

Murdoch, Bill (Grey PC)

O'Neill, Yvonne (Ottawa-Rideau L)

Scott, Ian G. (St George-St. David L)

Turnbull, David (York Mills PC)


Arnott, Ted (Wellington PC) for Mr B. Murdoch

Carter, Jenny (Peterborough NDP) for Mr Bisson

Cleary, John C. (Cornwall L) for Mr Brown

Conway, Sean G. (Renfrew North L) Mr Scott

Tilson, David (Dufferin-Peel) for Mr Turnbull

Clerk: Deller, Deborah

Staff: McNaught, Andrew, Research Officer, Legislative Research Service

The committee met at 1006 in room 151.


Resuming consideration of the designated matter pursuant to standing order 123, relating to the closure of 14 land registry offices.

The Chair: As we are all aware, the House leaders for the respective parties in the Legislature convened and authorized this committee to sit for a further two hours on the matter of the government's closure of certain registry offices across Ontario.

The House leaders did not discuss this matter with myself, nor did any member of the committee. In that regard there is nothing new. In that regard I really have no formal agenda before me, so in order to try to bring some semblance of organization to what we are going to be doing for the next two hours, I want to spend five minutes, and I mean five minutes, hearing from each of the parties as to what we are going to do in these next two hours, how we are going to divide up the time, whether or not witnesses are going to be called or whatever is on the minds of the members.

The clerk advises me that the motion or the approval moved forward by the House leaders is just to write a report, but it gets more complicated than that. In order to write a report, members are going to want to speak, members may want to call back witnesses, members may want to do any number of things. I do not want to engage in a lengthy debate halfway through our time allotment if we are going to need to call someone back and unnecessarily use up all the time. I maintain that we set aside five minutes now to discuss how we are going to use the next two hours. I recognize Mr Drainville or Mr Abel to speak for the government and then we will go to the official opposition and then to Mr Tilson. We just want your best advice.

Mr Drainville: Let me just say that like you, Mr Chair, I was not consulted about these proceedings, so it is not as if I have a strong sense of the direction we should go. I certainly was of the opinion myself before this time that we had dealt with this matter. I am not particularly pleased about having the opportunity to reopen this matter at this point, but that was not a decision, obviously, that I made. So I think that rather than make any conjecture at this time, it should probably be open to those people who did want this matter to be brought up before the committee again, and then we might respond at that point.

The Chair: I will tell the committee what I have before me. I am assuming every member of the committee has received the same information. I have a draft report from Mr Don Abel representing the government's opinion on what we have heard over the last number of weeks; I have a minority report from the Progressive Conservative Party representing its feelings on what has happened over the past couple of weeks, and I have a further minority report from the Liberal caucus representing its views and setting out its recommendations.

We have two hours to discuss these matters and any circumstance surrounding these matters. What I am asking the committee members is for some guidance as to how we are going to use the two hours. Are we going to review each draft report? Are we going to have other considerations brought forward? Is there any help I can receive from the Liberal caucus in this regard?

Mr Conway: If I might, I have had an opportunity to look at the three reports and, more important, I have had an opportunity to look at what the government has done. I do not particularly like what the government has done, but that is my opinion. We have seen a situation in Lanark county that is truly remarkable. I feel that to some extent those of us who came to this committee to fight, particularly about the Almonte situation, which I thought was the most extraordinary of the 14, were vindicated to quite a peculiar extent.

You may know that there was an executive order some days ago that the Almonte decision was reversed and a new decision around the Perth office was taken. So this is a policy that is just adrift on the high seas, but the government has won the right to do this. I would certainly not be unfavourably disposed to having some of those people back. The member for Dufferin-Peel, I think, has extraordinary testimony about some government lawyer who went off to some court case and --

The Chair: Mr Conway, is there any suggestion you have for me as to how we should deal with these reports this morning?

Mr Conway: I guess the first question is that someone has indicated, I gather, a desire to have some people come back to testify before the committee.

The Chair: Can I now hear from Mr Tilson?

Mr Tilson: Yes, Mr Chair. My understanding is that the House leaders have agreed to allow us the time this morning to prepare a report to the House. That is my understanding.

I am terribly disappointed, of course, in the decision of this committee, as a result of last week, with respect to the conduct of the solicitor acting on behalf of the ministry at the hearing. I am still waiting for the Speaker's ruling on my second point of privilege in the House. We will see. I was not in the House yesterday, so presumably he will do that today.

The Chair: Order. I need advice from the committee on how we are going to proceed this morning, since this is unusual. Under normal circumstances I would know how to proceed. What I would like to do now is get support from the committee as to how we are going to proceed in the next two hours so that we can use our time valuably.

Mr Tilson: Mr Chair, that is what I was proceeding to make recommendations on from our party, as to what I would like to do this morning. First, I think we should review the three reports. Second, I think we should have some discussion on the Perth and Almonte issues. That matter has not been discussed. It was going on while we were meeting last week. Ministry officials were actually in Perth as this committee was meeting, talking about the move, even before members of this committee had been informed of it.

I would like to discuss the effects of the moving of the Arthur registry office to Guelph, which also took place during that same period of time. It may well be that we should adjourn and allow the minister to come to this committee. I believe there has been a motion put forward by the government side, which of course carried with its votes, that the minister provide a report on the conduct of the solicitor at the court hearings and the things that solicitor allegedly said.

I have one more item, Mr Chair: that the minister should come to this committee and address us so that this matter can be finally cleared up.

Finally, our party has an individual who we would like to have an opportunity to address the committee this morning, Bill Kennaley. He was a consultant retained by a group in Wellington and Grey counties with respect to the closing of the Arthur registry office and the future closing of the Durham registry office. I would like that consultant to have an opportunity to make a presentation to the committee.

The Chair: What you are telling me, Mr Tilson, if I understand you correctly, is that in order to review the three reports that have been put forward to the committee, while we are doing that, you see a need to talk about the Perth-Almonte issue, the effects of the closure of Arthur and its move to Guelph, the calling of the minister and the calling forward of Mr Kennaley, who has acted as a consultant. Is that correct?

Mr Tilson: Yes.

The Chair: Fine, thank you.

Mr Abel: My understanding is that the three House leaders agreed to extend this section 123 matter for an additional two hours for the sole purpose of drafting a report, and I think we should do just that. That would of course exclude calling witnesses. I think we need these two hours to get a report through and to report back, and I think we should do so.

Mr Conway: I think we know what the government is about to do. I would make this easy. Clearly, the government does not want to debate this any further.

Mr Abel: Sean, there is an agreement by the three House leaders.

Mr Conway: Fine. I just think you get a stapler, you staple those three together, you put on a cover sheet and we are done. There is another place to carry on this debate. I think it would be perfectly wasteful of the time of intelligent people and good staff to prolong this.

Mr Tilson: With respect to the comments of Mr Abel, to properly prepare for the report, there is this whole issue of the conduct of the Ministry of Consumer and Commercial Relations at court hearings and its attitude towards this committee.

Mr Drainville: We dealt with that.

Mr Tilson: That is right. There was a motion made, and I assume the minister is ready to make that presentation to this committee. I think before we make our report, perhaps a time should be allotted -- two hours is allotted. We do not necessarily need the two hours today. A portion of that time could be saved so the minister could come to the committee and address us.

The Chair: I was afraid this was going to happen.

Mr Abel: So was I.

The Chair: This is what happens when time is allocated to a committee without thorough thought and discussion. None of us really has a clear idea of what the House has ordered us to do. The motion by Mr Cooke in the House reads, "that the standing committee on general government be authorized to meet for not more than two hours on the morning of Thursday, October 24, 1991, to consider its draft report to the House relating to the closure of the land registry offices." That means we cannot meet next Thursday or the Thursday after. We have to meet this morning for two hours.

Mr Abel: And also to draft our report.

The Chair: To draft our report. I agree with Mr Tilson in that we may have to explore other issues in order to finalize the report. We cannot call the minister. The minister is not going to be available on 15 minutes' notice. We may want to talk about the Perth-Almonte issue if it relates to the drafting of the Conservative Party's report. We may want to talk about the effects of the Arthur closure and the move to Guelph if it pertains to the Conservative Party report, as requested by Mr Tilson. The committee may wish to hear from Mr Kennaley, who happens to be here, if it relates to the Conservative Party draft report. Other than that, I cannot see us discussing any other matters unless so suggested by committee members.

Mr Drainville: I want to say very briefly that we have been over much of this territory over and over again. I agree with Mr Conway that it does not make any sense at all to continue to go over the same territory that we have gone over before. I would say to Mr Tilson as regards the recommendation that we reopen, once again, the discussion that we went over last week at some length --

Mr Tilson: It was not closed yet.

Mr Drainville: Well, the motion was put. We have a certain time that is supposed to be allotted to do this job. We have done that job. We are supposed to be looking at winding down, not winding up again.


Mr Tilson: Has she made a report?

Mr Drainville: The reality is that we are to finish our job and write our report and have done with it as a committee. All your attempts to reopen this issue on every score -- which is precisely what you want to do, Mr Tilson -- do not make any sense, and in my view are a misuse of the time we have available.

Mr Conway: I do not want to be misunderstood. I think there are some really interesting aspects of this policy that ought to be debated further, and I would not want my revered friend from Gooderham to miscast my view in this connection, but what the government is going to do in this committee is quite clear and I do not think we should waste the time of the committee. I suggest to my friend from Dufferin-Peel I think it is a very good case.

One of the joys about parliamentary democracy is that it presents a range of opportunity. At 3 o'clock this afternoon we will begin an open-ended debate on interim supply that can go on for days. I encourage my friends, because I think there is a lot here, rather than participate in this charade, I would get up in the House where there are not the constraints and just fire away -- today, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. It is quite clear what the direction of the chief government whip is here, and there is no point in trying to waste a lot of time and energy when the votes just are not there. It would be pointless. But that is not to say that this policy does not require further examination. As I say, what has happened in Lanark county is absolutely fascinating and I intend to talk about that at some length, but I can count and I can hear. The instructions have been sent in and I understand that.

The Chair: Mr Marchese, thank you for waiting.

Mr Marchese: I just want to agree with Mr Conway. Mr Drainville has said much of what I wanted to say. This is my third meeting, and in the first meeting I gathered as much as one could gather on the issue. In the second meeting there was a lot of repetition about what we spoke of in the first, and I expect as much that in the third meeting we will be discussing what we discussed in the second and first meetings. Some people love repetition, and maybe you need to repeat it for us to hear each other in the third meeting and perhaps the fourth and the fifth and so on, but I personally like the idea that once we have understood each other in the first meeting, we make decisions and not waste the time. Mr Conway says that perhaps this is not the best place to do it, that he might want to do it in the House, and he should, because in my view it really is pointless to have to rehash things all over again.

We made a motion that says to the minister to assess what the lawyer may have said, and if whatever allegations were made were true, she should deal with them. I have urged the minister and the staff to get on with that report so that the members on the other side can get a response as soon as possible. I am hoping this will be made available to them soon, in the next day or so, so that they can be satisfied about whatever allegations were made and that will deal with that.

Mr Chair, as a process, I would prefer that we deal with the motions we have put forward. I recommend that we deal with the motions we have put forward in our proposal and have the other members respond again and repeat the same arguments, if we wish. That is the way to do it.

The Chair: Thank you, Mr Marchese.

Can I make a recommendation to the committee? We have three reports, as I outlined earlier, and I have listened very carefully to all sides of the committee. One is the government report, the second is the report by the Liberal caucus, the official opposition, and the third is the report by the third party, the Conservative caucus.

I am assuming all government members are going to vote for their report and this will become the report of the committee. Because of what has already been said, I am assuming the Liberals and other opposition members will not vote for your report and therefore the Liberals will then recommend their report, which will become a minority report, and the same will then happen with the Progressive Conservative report. From what I have heard, I assume that is what is going to happen in this committee. If that is the case, then I think we should proceed and accept Mr Conway's advice.

Mr Tilson: For the record, our report will be very slightly amended. In our report we talk about Almonte closing and Perth remaining open. That paragraph will be amended. It appears that decision is irrevocable unless there is something going on this morning that we do not know about, and that is why we have waited until now, because it is possible that Perth could be open and Almonte could be closed. We have waited until now to make sure that decision appears to be irrevocable, so we will be amending our report.

Mr Conway: I was not here, but I find the first item in the majority report, if nothing else, splendidly clairvoyant. I sat through all the hearings and do not remember anybody ever suggesting the closure of Perth and the reopening of Almonte. I just want to say to my clairvoyant friends that they win the Mackenzie King prize for stargazing -- nothing like a good, independent Legislature.

The Chair: Moving right along, did someone on the government side want to move its report as the report of the standing committee on general government?

Mr Abel moves that the government report be adopted as the report of the standing committee on general government on the closure of certain registry offices in Ontario.

The Chair: Any discussion on this report?

Mr Conway: On the majority report.

Mr Tilson: Does it matter?

The Chair: Mr Tilson, I think it matters.

Mr Conway: You are being very charitable, Mr Chairman.

Mr Arnott: Mr Chairman, I would like to make a few brief comments with respect to this whole morning.

The Chair: No, you are out of order, Mr Arnott. There is a motion on the floor. Mr Abel has moved the adoption of the government report and I am looking for discussion on the government report. I see Mrs O'Neill, followed by Mr Tilson.

Mr Arnott: Mr Chairman, I will confine my remarks to that particular issue. I find it quite startling that we are going through this. I interpreted these two hours as giving an additional ray of light on this issue. It is my understanding that our House leader put forward the initiative to extend the hours from 12 to 14 so that we could in fact rediscuss some of the issues that have been brought forward and so that perhaps the recommendations of the government in the report of Mr Abel might be reopened. I just want to register my complete frustration, disappointment and disgust that we are not proceeding in any meaningful way towards reopening this issue at this time.

The Chair: Your comments were out of order, but they are recorded none the less. Mrs O'Neill, any comments on the majority report?

Mrs Y. O'Neill: Mr Chairman, I am having quite a bit of difficulty with point 2. We in this committee have dealt with property through Bill 4 and Bill 121 and, although we were not dealing with commercial property, I certainly find this is a rather extraordinary kind of discrimination, that the government is going to find new tenants for any government building that is being vacated. I do not think that is the role of government. I find that then there would be certain groups of landlords in these communities that would be getting extraordinary preference or assistance or initiatives, or whatever you want to say.

In my community, I know that vacant commercial space is a problem. In any driving I have done across the province, I do not find that to be unusual. I have no idea why this would be stated. It just does not make any sense to me that these particular landlords would be given preference over other landlords in the province.


Mr Conway: I want to make some quick comments around a couple of the points, and perhaps I will do it here and not repeat the same comments later on. The first part of the majority report talks about the need to exercise fiscal responsibility and the support for cost-cutting integration. I think that is a perfectly responsible position for any member of the Legislature to take, and particularly for a government member in this connection.

Throughout the piece my argument in this has been that the stated intention of this government, and quite frankly of other governments in this policy, is essentially not to be credited; it will not happen. I know exactly how this scheme works, and I quite frankly believe the Ministry of Consumer and Commercial Relations. They will achieve some of their savings, I think, perhaps not as much and not as quickly, but there is no doubt in my mind that they will receive some intermediate-term benefit by way of moneys not spent. In my view those will be completely lost when one factors in the cost the Ministry of Government Services will spend in making all the allied adjustments.

I was in Perth the other day having lunch with some people, and something very interesting was told to me: that the lease in the Perth office is a four-year lease. There is no way the government is going to break a four-year lease, I think; not in my experience with government. To do what they want to do in Lanark county, they have a four-year lease to deal with. A very substantial space will be opened up now to move the registry office for the entire county up to Almonte. Just one question comes to my mind about the Perth move and it will not be the Ministry of Consumer and Commercial Relations, which is driving this policy, that will have to answer that question. It will be the Ministry of Government Services saying, "Oh, God, now we've got four years of lease in the old Perkins building in Perth."

Maybe we can talk Leo Jordan into expanding the space, because the local member of the Legislature occupies space in that building. Maybe we can get the Ministry of Agriculture and Food to expand its space in the building. Both may be highly desirable. All I am saying is that there is going to be a not inconsiderable cost to the Ontario government as a result of the decision just announced in Lanark county.

Those people who came from Arthur and the Grey county area and the united counties of Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry I thought made very strong cases about the kinds of upgrades that would be required. The two that I remember most especially were Guelph and Cornwall. In my experience, with government being what it is, I suspect that those upgrades will run into millions of dollars.

So I accept the argument, and I would say there will be savings at a certain level accruing to one ministry. I am absolutely confident that three or five years from now we could revisit this. Of course we will never revisit this in any kind of cost-accounting way, so this is speculation. I guess it is one of the sadnesses of our process that it is invariably hit and miss. What is saved by the one ministry of government will be more than spent by the Ministry of Government Services, at least for the intermediate term in this case. Of that I am absolutely confident. As I say, having a nice, quiet lunch on the main street of Perth the other day and hearing these wonderful tales about the four years left in the lease made me think I probably could take the $1 million that is being alleged to be saved province-wide and find that it is being spent largely over the next two, three, four years in Lanark county alone. I guess that is the main point I would make around point 1 in the report.

I think point 2 then relates to that, the decision that government find new tenants. That is not unreasonable. Again, if one looks at and thinks about the testimony we heard, and the case that I know best is Lanark, I can just hear the theoreticians saying, "You know, it is a cleaner policy to have in the one county one registry office."

By the way, the great irony in Lanark county too is that the Department of Justice is closing down the old magistrates courts across the county, I gather. I gather they plan to consolidate most of that in Perth, so you have the Department of Justice consolidating around Perth and you have another arm of the administration of justice, in this case to a lesser extent admittedly, the Ministry of Consumer and Commercial Relations, consolidating up in Almonte.

If you just know anything about the lay of those rural counties -- and some of you over there do -- again it would be very interesting now to put a meter on the additional consumer costs in central and south Lanark with this move to Almonte. It is going to be quite significant. To be perfectly honest, most of the people who will pay that bill and gripe about it will be the lawyers, in the first instance, although there will be substantial charges right across the waterfront to all consumers. My guess is that the decision taken in Lanark will not hold, that the circumstances of daily life in that wonderful eastern Ontario county will drive this or a subsequent minister to some kind of an amending formula, at least for that county.

When I heard about what had happened in the reversal of the Almonte decision, I have to tell you that it really made me wonder about the genesis of this policy, about the way the policy developed. I know how it developed. The word came down from Treasury Board, "You have to reduce your budget." The Ministry of Consumer and Commercial Relations looked at what it could do and it went back to the old Grossman file and said, "This is it." I mean, we have tried this before. Then to hear what the member for Dufferin-Peel alleges went on in that injunction hearing, it really makes me pretty excited about the undertaking.

My point, again, is that the testimony we heard in the hearings -- I was there for the entire 48 hours of hearings, as was, I think, the member for Niagara Falls, and I do not know who else is here from that. I do not think the majority of this group was there; I know the member for Yorkview was there for a good bit of it. I have said that what bothers me about this is that the bulk of this policy is going to come to bear on the residents of rural Ontario, really rural Ontario, and I do not think that is very fair. I do not think it has been thought through, because, as I say, they are two major arms of the same organization involved in this. One of them has been driving the car and the other one has been sort of dangling languidly on the other side.

I simply say that when one reviews the testimony advanced by those people, particularly in the cases of Guelph and Cornwall, and thinks about what they told us about the cost of upgrades and all the related things -- I happen to know something about where that registry office is in the city of Cornwall. I do not know anything about where it is in Guelph. When you move the offices in from Glengarry and from Dundas, I think the spending, considering that it is government doing the spending, is going to be quite remarkable. I suspect that it is going to dwarf, in the intermediate term, any of the savings. I even question what will happen around the staff that represents the core of the CCR savings.

Mr Tilson: The one glaring area that I believe is missing from this report is that a lot of unanswered questions have been raised throughout the proceedings, not only the public hearings but the submissions that have been made in this committee. Because of these unanswered questions, I believe this committee should be asking the minister to review her decision with respect to the closing of the various registry offices around the province.

For example, we have yet to see a complete summary of the cost of the moves. We have yet to see a complete summary of the cost saving. We have yet to see a complete summary of the cost of changing the various registry offices. Statements had been made as to the cost of the renovation of the Almonte office, for example, some time ago, and I cannot recall what they were, but what will it cost to move Perth to Almonte? What will it cost to move Arthur to Guelph?

Mr Arnott: Including police protection.


Mr Tilson: Yes, as my friend from Wellington has just indicated, including police protection, which was obviously part of the move. When Guelph moved to Arthur there was police protection, and that shows you what the people of the community feel. They were very upset about the move from Arthur to Guelph.

As I understand it, the instruments, the deeds, mortgages etc are still in Arthur. The abstract books and the microfilm equipment are in Guelph. So I suppose if you want a complete search, you currently have to go to Guelph and Arthur to complete your search.

I would like to hear comments, for example, with respect to the efficiency in Guelph. When the instruments are moved to Guelph, they will be kept in the basement, and when you order the instruments, the deeds and mortgages, etc, in Guelph, you will have to wait while a dumb waiter brings them up from the basement, from the bowels of the earth, to the main floor where the searches are done. I would like to hear comments on the time cost that is going to put to conveyancers and lawyers to complete their searches in the Guelph registry office, searches that have been done very efficiently over the years in Arthur.

There is the cost that it is going to take to renovate some of these registry offices, and I give Guelph as an example. Information has been given to me that a beautiful oak countertop has been installed in the Guelph registry office. What has that cost? It is already there. All of these unanswered questions, I believe, this committee should be investigating. We have asked for it; I think the minister should come and tell us.

There is the whole effect of Polaris, which is probably a touchy subject for both the Liberal Party and the NDP, and I appreciate that, the very fact that it is being kept so secretive. Is Polaris part of this reducing of the number of registry offices or is it not? If so, what is the effect of it all? Contrary to what the minister has said in the House, it is becoming more and more evident that Polaris is connected to the closing of registry offices. That subject needs to be clarified.

With due respect to Mr Abel -- I believe it was Mr Abel who signed the report as the committee whip, with the blessing of the Minister of Consumer and Commercial Relations, it would appear -- I believe there are a number of glaring omissions from the report, if this indeed is going to be the report.

There was a comment made in the report on the removal of documents from Durham during the course of the hearing. We do not really know what documentation is being referred to in this paragraph in the report. As I understand it, the documents removed had been in Durham since that time and had been registered there, and their removal at the end of July can only be seen as a preliminary step to removing the Durham office. This was while the proceedings were going on.

I think it is unfair to suggest that civil servants deliberately misled the government into making uninformed decisions. I do not believe the civil servants were malicious in doing that. I believe it is an example of a lack of consultation by this government on this particular subject. There was no consultation.

Perth-Almonte is the most glaring example. There was no discussion. The minister simply showed up last Thursday while this committee was convening to discuss with the staff that Perth is going to be closed down. My office got a telephone call, as I understand it, while I was sitting here in this committee, wanting to know my address so the ministry could send me the announcement that Perth was going to be closed. That is how I found out about it. Mr Abel made some comments, I believe, but if that is the consultation that is being referred to, I am afraid the government should re-examine what it has been doing.

Mr Conway: Gosh, I got a call directly from the minister.

Mr Tilson: I was in here. I am sure the ministry officials may have done that, but they wanted to know where I was, first of all.

Mr Conway: I got my call at home.

Interjection: That is privileged. I think it is unfair.

Mr Tilson: Be careful, you may be investigated.

There are comments criticizing the lawyers in the system and their part in complaining. This is being self-serving; I think that is unfair. Surely lawyers, as any other group, whether it be surveyors or any other group, can come to a committee such as this and put their views, because they are a major part of the land registration system. Surely they have the right to come and make submissions as to the effect that this is going to have on the general public and the cost to the general public, and the efficiency. Surely they have the right to submit that. Already it appears that the move from Arthur to Guelph probably will be more inefficient, searching in Guelph for Arthur titles. Obviously that already appears to be surfacing as a terrible error. It is not only going to be more costly, it is going to be more inefficient.

Mr Chair, I will only conclude for the moment, subject to comments the government members may have. There has been very little consultation with respect to these proceedings. In fact, obviously there has been a move to shut us down. Closure, as far as I was concerned, took place at the last meeting. We did not have a chance to debate it. There was closure. In this committee, closure is being used continually.

My friend Mr Mammoliti talks about a display that took place in Windsor. Well, that was a result of closure. In example after example, this committee uses closure more than any other committee in this House. This whole proceeding of the closing of registry offices is an example. In other words, Mr Chair, there is very little, if any, consultation on this whole subject.

The Chair: Do you have a point of order, Mrs O'Neill?

Mrs Y. O'Neill: Mr Chair, the clerk has just distributed a letter from the minister. I wonder if you would be kind enough to read back the directions of this committee as of last week.

The Chair: I would have to consider your suggestion --

Mr Tilson: Is that a point of order?

The Chair: Yes, it is a point of order.

Mrs Y. O'Neill: I would like to hear the exact directions of this committee to the minister, please.

The Chair: Reading from the minutes taken by our clerk on October 17, 1991, in room 151 at a meeting of the standing committee on general government:

"The committee considered the matter of remarks alleged to have been made at a court hearing relating to the closure of land registry offices.

"Mr Drainville moved that, whereas certain remarks have been alleged to have been made by a lawyer representing the Ministry of Consumer and Commercial Relations which, if such comments were in fact made, would be considered totally unacceptable to all members of this committee;

"That the committee recommend to the Minister of Consumer and Commercial Relations that she investigate the truth of these allegations and, if they are proven to be true, that appropriate disciplinary action be taken to correct this unacceptable public utterance.

"Mr Mammoliti moved that the question be now put."

It was carried.

Mrs Y. O'Neill: Mr Chair, then I certainly find the letter from the minister less than helpful. It states, "I am satisfied." Certainly the minister must realize how difficult this matter has been for this committee and indeed for all of the communities that have been involved, not just for the members of this committee. There is no absolutely no indication of any kind that there has been an investigation -- none. We know there were no transcripts from that court hearing. Again, I have not been able to get any answers as to why there were no transcripts. I also find that confusing.

The Chair: It is not usually done for those types of hearings.

Mrs Y. O'Neill: It is not done for those types of hearings? That is really confusing.

I really feel the minister could have helped this committee a lot more than she has done with this letter. This is exactly what we expected -- the minister was investigating herself. She naturally finds no fault with that.

Mr Conway: In my church this is called an ex cathedra ruling.


Mr Tilson: This is obviously, as has been indicated, exactly what we predicted. The fact that these statements were made has been unrefuted by the minister. She says she finds them not offensive. I find them very offensive; this committee should find them very offensive. If this is her report, the system has just been proven to be a sham. She has investigated herself and has said that the remarks made by the solicitor -- and it appears she is acknowledging they were made -- are not offensive. We all have copies of the letters, and if individual members, in our own hearts, do not find them offensive, then there is something wrong with the system.

Mr Mammoliti: On the point of order -- and do not forget, I want to speak to the issue as well -- I have to stick up for the minister in this case. I think the letter is just; I think it is right. As much as both the opposition and the third party members would love to be the minister and would love to be in her particular shoes at this point, I do not think it is right for them to criticize her in how she does her job. She has a mandate and she is doing what she feels she has to do. She has investigated, obviously. She is satisfied that the solicitor --

Mrs Y. O'Neill: She has not used those words.


Mr Mammoliti: I am sorry, Mr Chairman; I am being interrupted here.

The Chair: As I have told all members on numerous occasions, I allow the odd interjection and I do not prevent any member from doing that, no matter from what side. We usually get right back to order.

Mr Mammoliti: We asked the minister to look into it and she has. She is reporting back to us. I am confident that she has exhausted every particular avenue, every possible angle and that she has reported back to us. Leave it at that.

Mr Marchese: I just want to express a different view. From a personal point of view, reading this letter, I am not satisfied myself about the content. Perhaps there are some legalities that I need to understand about what can and cannot be said, but I would prefer to be a little more satisfied with a little more substance about some of the concerns that both opposition members have raised on this matter. For my part I will communicate to the minister that I believe what is needed here is a little more substance and something that addresses a little more in detail some of the concerns they have raised, and hopefully within the power to state whatever can be stated, it should. It may not satisfy us completely, but I would like to see a little more detail, so I will communicate that to the minister.

Mr Arnott: With respect to the point of order, I think it is quite clear from reading the minister's letter that she does not particularly care what happened at the court, if indeed it did happen. She does not refute that it did, as my colleague the member for Dufferin-Peel stated.

I would like to remind the committee that about three weeks ago I asked the minister a question in the House with respect to this court proceeding. As the committee will recall, there were a number of lawyers bringing forward an application for a declaration that the closure in Arthur, as well as the other closures, was invalid. I asked the minister specifically if she would at least await the outcome of the court hearing before she proceeded to close the Arthur office. She did not say that she would. By her silence she indicated to me that she did not give a hoot as to what happened in the court. It has just been underlined again with this letter to the committee, which once again I think shows an utter lack of respect for the court as well as an utter lack of respect for her colleagues on this committee.

Mr Conway: On that same point, I do not want to be too harsh. I was not here for the discussion around the matter that was first raised by our colleague the member for Dufferin-Peel. There is no question, on the basis of what I heard alleged, that it is very serious. I am quite prepared to believe that the minister did not know. Something probably did happen, because I do not think people just imagined what was reported. In fact, I think there is some relatively hard evidence of people who were in the courtroom who made pretty strong statements about what was advanced.

I can only tell you from my experience -- it is an experience in government of almost six years -- that these kinds of things did happen. Embarrassingly, on more than one occasion, some of the most unbelievable things happened to me that I never knew about. To be perfectly honest, a lot of them had to do with lawyers. I do not mean that as a criticism of lawyers, but some things were said in tribunals and courtrooms that were absolutely breathtaking.

I am not prepared to be too critical. I think the minister's letter is incomplete and I just assume she did not know what was said or done in her name. That would not be unusual, notwithstanding the theory of our system of responsible parliamentary government. I would ally myself with the member for Fort York in some kind of reasonable suggestion to the minister that on the basis of what we know, what has been advanced by people who were there, perhaps something more than two paragraphs is required to deal with it.

The Chair: We have allowed some discussion on Mrs O'Neill's alleged point of order, which I must inform the committee is not really a point of order. I have allowed limited discussion to take place because I know of the feelings on this matter from all sides of the committee room. Serious allegations were made about how this committee is being conducted and whether or not our work in this regard was appropriate, and because of those allegations that were made in writing to me as the Chair, I thought we should allow very limited discussion on Mrs O'Neill's point of order.

I am going to rule her point of order out of order because under strict adherence to the standing orders, it is not a point of order.

There appears to be some general agreement that there is dissatisfaction with the minister's letter. It would be appropriate, in my view, if the committee so advised, that I could ask the clerk to draft a letter to the minister informing her that the committee members would like more information in regard to how she reached these conclusions and any other information she could give to us which might help all of us defend the proceedings that we have undertaken over the last 14 hours spread over a number of weeks.

If that is the general consensus of the committee, I would like to proceed with that. If not, we have to get back to the committee reports.

Ms Harrington: On that point, Mr Chair, when I understood that we were meeting again today for the two hours, it was my understanding that we would have an agenda probably drawn up by the subcommittee whereby we dealt with this very topic. From speaking with the minister, as I do sometimes casually, it was my understanding that she and/or her staff was willing to come to this committee to address the concerns we were dealing with before. I was very surprised when I came here that there had been no preparation and that the subcommittee had not met to deal with the two hours.

The Chair: I was very clear in expressing my disappointment at the commencement of this committee meeting that I was consulted by no one in regard to what we would be doing this morning. I received no communication from any member of this committee or anyone who negotiated the extra two hours. That is why I suggested we spend the first five minutes of this committee meeting this morning to outline a perimeter for discussion. Mr Tilson moved four different points for discussion. It was apparent to me and apparent to other members of the committee that none of Mr Tilson's points for discussion was going to be approved.

Based on that and based on the advice from the committee members, I then proceeded to ask the committee members to discuss in detail each individual report, starting with what I perceive is going to be the majority report. Then the clerk handed me a letter from the minister regarding the closing of the registry offices. This being the last morning for this discussion, I asked to have the letter distributed. Then Mrs O'Neill raised a point of order on a matter which I consider to be very sensitive.

We all have to remember that we received letters from certain individuals who participated in these hearings that said that the way I conducted these hearings was improper, that all of our participation in these hearings was nothing more than a sham and a charade. These were allegations made against us, so I wanted to have the committee members have an opportunity to reply to some of the things that are being said. Maybe that was wrong on my part, but I thought it was appropriate.

Mr Marchese: For the purposes of clarity, I have no problems with our sending to the minister the direction that you were leading to and some of us talked about. In the original motion we made last week, we did not say within it that the minister should report back to this committee necessarily. What it says is that she should deal with it.

This letter was an attempt to satisfy the members and it was sent here. But I am quite supportive of the idea that we send something to the minister that says we need a little more substance or detail on this issue -- because serious allegations were made -- to the extent that it is legally possible to do so. I would support that direction. However she communicates it to us is completely left to her discretion. I wanted to make that point.

The Chair: Before we have further discussion, do we have a consensus to instruct the clerk to draft a letter reflecting what has been said by committee members this morning? Then when we have a draft of the letter prepared, I will call a meeting of the subcommittee, which will review the draft letter, make whatever changes are deemed appropriate and then forward the draft letter. Do I have a consensus for that?

Mr Mammoliti: Could I please call for a five-minute recess to talk with my colleagues at this particular time? Would that be possible?

The Chair: Mr Mammoliti has requested a five-minute recess. We will reconvene at 11:10 am.

The committee recessed at 1103.


The Acting Chair (Mrs O'Neill): I will begin with a request of Ms Harrington, because during the break some of the members of the committee were trying to recollect what she said. Unfortunately, Hansard was not able to get it exactly. Did you make the statement, Ms Harrington, that the minister had indicated to you that she was willing to come to this committee?

Ms Harrington: She did. When I heard we were going to have two hours, I assumed that the subcommittee would be planning for these two hours to try to clarify the situation.

The Acting Chair: It is most unfortunate that your knowledge did not get to the correct people, because it was certainly something we asked for last week and had been told it would not be possible.

Mr Abel: I think we have to put a few things in perspective here. First of all, it was agreed by the three House leaders that this 123 was going to be extended by two hours.

The Acting Chair: That is correct, and it was announced by your House leader yesterday.

Mr Abel: So here we are. I checked with the House leader to find out what was on the agenda for these two hours. It was quite clear. I was told that we were to draft a report, plain and simple, nothing else. We were not to entertain more presentations or anything of that nature.

The minister did indicate a willingness to come and speak to the committee. However, in compliance with the agreement made by the three House leaders, that was just not possible, so we felt it would just stir up the nest by bringing people in when that was not the intent of this two-hour extension.

The Acting Chair: It is very difficult, since it has been a difficult issue from day one, to have had that as a very focused request and the message never got to the correct people. I have said that before.

Mr Marchese: Before we left, the Chair suggested a proposed direction and I think there was a sense of agreement, although there might be some who want to make other comments. Then we might want to get back to the motions. I think most members have already spoken to that.

The Acting Chair: Are you speaking to that request then, Mr Marchese?

Mr Marchese: I have spoken already on that.

The Acting Chair: Okay, and you do not want to add anything further?

Mr Marchese: I was suggesting that direction.

The Acting Chair: Does the clerk want to renew the memory of the committee then regarding what the request will be so we can get back? We have all had a break for 10 minutes, talking about other things.

Clerk of the Committee: The Chair had asked if there was agreement that a letter be sent to the Minister of Consumer and Commercial Relations on behalf of the committee asking for further details on the investigation of the remarks alleged to have been made at a judicial review relating to the closure of land registry offices.

Mr Tilson: I wish to discuss that subject, but if the committee has general consensus that a letter is to be written to the minister --

The Acting Chair: We are not going to vote. There is general consensus. Are there any objections to that?

Mr Mammoliti: I just want to say that I still feel strongly about the letter. I still feel that in my opinion it is satisfactory. I have heard the arguments. I have heard what everybody has to say on it.

The Acting Chair: Are you saying you do not agree with the consensus?

Mr Mammoliti: In terms of a consensus, I know that people want to see more information in the letter, again, even though this one is fine with me. I do not have a problem with it.

Mr Abel: I want to make it clear that the motion in no way obligated the minister to report to this committee. She did go the extra mile by way of this letter. I must concur that I would like to have seen a little more substance to the letter. There were some very serious allegations made. I think we would all be interested in seeing just a little bit more information by way of a letter.

The Acting Chair: So you all agree and there will be no necessity for a vote. That matter is then closed and we will be making a further request to the minister. On another matter, Mr Tilson?

Mr Tilson: If there is consensus as to the subject of a letter being written to the minister, that is over, although I would ask --

The Acting Chair: I understand that letter will be presented to the subcommittee before it is finally sent.

Mr Tilson: As I see it, there are two issues before this committee. One is the motion that is still on the floor moved by, I believe, Mr Abel that the government committee report be the report of this committee to the House.

The second issue is this committee's concern on the alleged statements that have been made by the solicitor acting on behalf of the government in a court of law. A motion was made last week for the minister to investigate that. This report we now have is, I assume, the minister's investigation of herself.

I want to clarify one of Mr Conway's comments.

The Acting Chair: You will have to make this very concise, because I really am being quite generous with you.

Mr Tilson: I will, Madam Chair. Mr Conway made some comment that he did not believe the minister knew what the solicitor was saying. Quite the contrary. The allegation was made quite clear by the correspondence that has been filed with this committee that she did know. The solicitor acknowledged in a court of law, before the justice, that she had instructions from the minister to make those statements.

The Acting Chair: Mr Tilson, I think I am going to have to rule you out of order, because I think we have the motion to write the report. You are now going back over last week's work. You also realize that knowledge is timely. When the knowledge was received could be a debatable point and I do not think this is the place or time to do that.

Mr Tilson: I am sorry. Surely I have the right to make suggestions as to what should be in that letter.

The Acting Chair: I think we have to deal with the report. I am sorry. Are you on the subcommittee?

Mr Tilson: I doubt it.

The Acting Chair: I think you have access through one of your members, and I do not know which one, to be on the subcommittee. At that time I hope there will be a democratic drafting of a letter, which is always very difficult but I do not think impossible. Maybe at that point you can have your input into the actual letter that is going to the minister at the direction of this committee.

Mr Tilson: Finally, before we leave this subject and get on to the motion before us, it seems to me, dealing with this issue, which is quite separate from the report, that somehow we have got into it mainly because the letter appeared before us as I was speaking, in fact.

The Acting Chair: Correct.

Mr Tilson: I was talking about the report, and the letter was placed in front of me. That is fine. They close off the debate and then a letter appears. I am simply saying that there should be no problem with respect to the minister coming and clearing this cloud that has been created over this committee and over the minister herself.


Mr Marchese: This is a separate matter.

The Acting Chair: Yes. I was just going to state that. All I am saying is we have knowledge -- it was brought to us today by one of the members of this committee -- that the minister is willing. The only way I think that whole matter can happen again is if the House leaders talk again. I do not think this committee can, at this point, call forth the minister. This is a time allocation matter. We have been given two hours. It is the first time it has happened in the Legislature that the 12 hours have been extended. Mr Arnott, is it on this matter?

Mr Arnott: Yes it is. I just want to make a constructive suggestion. I notice that the member for Guelph, the Minister of Consumer and Commercial Relations' parliamentary assistant, has made his initial foray into the room and I am pleased to see him today. Perhaps he might be prepared to make some comments on behalf of the minister or some further clarification of the letter.

The Acting Chair: I think it is out of order. I really find it very difficult that people on this committee, and indeed some members of the government in the House, continually tell the Speaker how to rule. I will not accept that members of this committee continue to tell me how to rule. At least let me make my ruling and then you may disagree with it, but you are not going to tell me how to rule before I even open my mouth. Sorry.

Now, we are talking to the report. We have a motion before us that the report signed by Mr Abel is to be the report of this committee. Mr Tilson.

Mr Tilson: With respect to the motion, I have indicated in my initial comments several items that I felt should be in the report. Accordingly, I would make an amendment to the motion that we ask the House that the minister provide details with respect to the cost of the various moves, the cost of the impact on these communities, and the cost of renovations, of moving, to the various registry offices, as well as confirmation of the whole effect of Polaris on these moves.

The Acting Chair: You have a four-part amendment to the report. Do you want to add that to any one point in the report, Mr Tilson?

Mr Tilson: Just to the general motion.

The Acting Chair: All right. You are asking for an extension then of the government report, I presume, for further information.

Mr Tilson: No, I am asking that this committee request that the House direct the minister to provide this information to the House.

The Acting Chair: This is very confusing, Mr Tilson, because we are talking about a document before us. If you want to make an amendment, it will have to refer directly to that document.

Mr Tilson: I have done that. I would like that as part of the report to this House.

The Acting Chair: That is very difficult, because it does not fit in unless you want a sixth point added. You will have to fit your amendment into this report in some fashion, either as an appendix, a sixth point, or in some way. The comments you are making are totally outside the report.

Mr Tilson: Thank you, Madam Chair, for your suggestions. A sixth point should be added to the report: that the Minister of Consumer and Commercial Relations be requested -- and I will use the word "requested" -- to provide specific financial details of the cost of the moves from the various registry offices in consolidation; the specific financial details on the impact on the communities that those moves affect; the cost of the renovations to the various registry offices to which the moves are taking place; the specific connection of these moves to the proposed introduction of the Polaris system throughout the province.

The Acting Chair: And that those be presented back to this committee?

Mr Tilson: Yes, you are quite right.

The Acting Chair: I think that is a friendly amendment in that it is an extension of knowledge on this issue. It does not seem to conflict in any way with any of the other five. It is a request for further information. Does anyone want to speak to the amendment?

Ms Harrington: May I speak to this amendment and a little broader as well?

The Acting Chair: Let us see how broad you want to go.

Ms Harrington: I was originally going to discuss a little bit of what Mr Conway was talking about, and that is the alteration and the cost of moving. That is how it fits in with this.

In Niagara Falls, I have asked the Ministry of Government Services to give me a list of the number of offices that are rented, the actual square footage of each of these spaces and the number of employees of these different offices to see what in fact the Ontario government does in the way of outreach or service to the people.

The Acting Chair: Of all ministries

Ms Harrington: Yes, and what I am saying, which connects with what Mr Conway was saying, is that it is not just one ministry here that we are talking about. For instance, in Perth there may be other ministries that are interested in those facilities. It goes beyond this one ministry.

The Acting Chair: You did bring that point forward, and you said you are more or less reinforcing some of the things he was suggesting.

Ms Harrington: First of all, I would say that it would be a little difficult in a short space of time, and rather complex. You would have to go to the Ministry of Government Services to get all the implications of these moves.

Mr Conway brought up the fact that maybe if this ministry moved out, another ministry would take up space. I am looking at that same situation in Niagara Falls. As to what we have and what is the best and most efficient use of that space, trying to consolidate different government offices into one office, I am saying that the request that Mr Tilson just put forward may not be able to be appropriately answered, because it goes into other areas.

I wanted to go a little further into some of the other points that were in our report. I think it came to grips with some very important issues. First of all, we were totally unsatisfied with the kind of response this ministry gave when people came to it with regard to correspondence; from what we heard in those hearings in July, it was not satisfactory. This is a very important request of that ministry from this committee, that things be changed.

Second, the consultation, which is number 5: We recommend, as a whole committee here, that they look into this past year and how they did the consultation, and as was noted here -- it goes way back to 1978 or something -- the types of investigations. I would also like to insert at this point that at least half -- and I would say 90% -- of the problem we are facing here is the timeliness of this committee's work with regard to when these decisions were made. That is why we are having all this difficulty. If the decision had not yet been made, we as a committee then could make a recommendation to the ministry. The fact that it is the opposite way round is why we are running into all these problems.

The points that have been made by the government in this report are very important: first of all, the consultation; second, the acknowledgement of correspondence. I want to address what Mr Tilson started out by saying, and that is that the move from Perth to Almonte was not satisfying him. He was now criticizing this move, which the government recommended in this report and which in fact happened a week ago. If I recall correctly, it was something Mr Tilson and the opposition members of this committee asked for, requested very strongly, kept asking for, insisted on, and tried to explain; that Almonte has a $1-million building that opened a year ago and would be very suitable to be used as a registry office. It is very difficult to hear that at one point in time, and then very shortly to hear that it is not satisfactory to him.


Mr Conway: On a point of privilege, Mr Chair: I have great respect for the member for Niagara Falls and I was not here for all the activity outside the two days of hearings, but I sat through those two days. I probably had as much or more to say about Lanark county as anyone, save and except for the member for Lanark-Renfrew who appeared for part of those two days. I do not ever remember saying what has just been alleged or, quite frankly, anyone else saying it. I know there was a great debate around the Almonte case and that the issue at Almonte was that the brand-new building had been constructed, but I just want to be very clear that I never said and I did not hear anyone else say that the issue in Lanark county was closing Perth to maintain Almonte in operation. I simply want to make that very clear.

Ms Harrington: Mr Chair, to reply to that, I certainly do not want to mislead anyone. I simply want to reflect as accurately as I possibly can my understanding. I thought there was a lot of discussion about that particular move to close Almonte. It was a focus of that committee for a good portion of the 12 hours, at least a couple of hours. That is my recollection -- I cannot name the exact member who made these assertions -- but the Almonte office should definitely remain open. That was my understanding.

Mr Conway: It was argued by many people that the Almonte office should be kept open. I never remember anyone saying it should be kept open at the expense of the Perth office.

Ms Harrington: One per county.

Mr Conway: That was the government policy and that was certainly clear from the government position. But I just want to make it very plain, I certainly never said, I certainly do not remember Mr Jordan ever saying, I do not remember any member of the opposition saying, and I do not remember any member of the testifying group from Lanark county ever suggesting that Almonte should be open and Perth closed.

The Chair: The point has been made. We have allowed some considerable freedom on these points. Looking at the list that Mrs O'Neill compiled while I was in the Legislature, Ms Harrington was the last speaker.

Mr Conway: Is the motorcycle bill going anywhere?

The Chair: It is very interesting.

I would like to re-read the amendment that is on the floor so we can bring our attention to the amendment, because we have two other reports to try to discuss in approximately 25 or 30 minutes max. I will ask the clerk to read into the record Mr Tilson's amendment to the government report.

Clerk of the Committee: Mr Tilson moves that the report be amended by adding the following recommendation:

"6. That the Minister of Consumer and Commercial Relations be requested to provide information to the House on: (a) the cost of the move of the land registry offices; (b) the impact of the moves on the communities affected; (c) the costs of the renovations to accommodate the consolidation of the land registry offices; and (d) the specifics on the influence of Polaris on the decision to consolidate the land registry offices."

Mr Drainville: On a point of order, Mr Chair: Could we have a ruling as to our report? At least at this point, as we hear the amendment that is being put forward by Mr Tilson, we do not feel that is a particularly friendly motion. To us it sounds like another motion totally. It bears no relationship to what is being said.

The Chair: I am going to allow the motion to stand and I am going to ask the committee members to make their own judgement on whether or not they want it to be part of any report. Mr Tilson has moved a new recommendation 6 to the government report. All in favour of Mr Tilson's new recommendation 6 being added to the government report? All opposed?

Motion negatived.

The Chair: All in favour of the government's report dated October 3, 1991, signed by Mr Abel, the chief committee whip, on behalf of all the government members? All opposed?

Motion agreed to.

The Chair: I am advised by the clerk that this will stand as the committee's report. There will be some minor word changes so it reflects the committee report. Further, the two other reports we have before us that have been tabled will be attached to this committee report and will stand on their own as dissenting opinions.

Mr Tilson: Again, so I am clear, for some reason my staff have not produced it, but there was a small amendment dealing with the paragraph in our report dealing with Almonte and Perth.

The Chair: We will make sure it is --

Mr Tilson: As long as there is no problem.

The Chair: The dissenting opinion is up to each individual caucus. Mr Conway.

Mr Conway: May I speak again briefly to our report?

The Chair: Certainly. We are going to spend some time on each report, and appropriately so, Mr Conway. We are going to deal with the dissenting report from the official opposition.

Mr Conway: I want to say a couple of things about what I heard. I have sat around here a long time and heard a lot of submissions, and the place is increasingly being taken over by what in the 19th century would have been called wirepullers but what in the 20th century we call paid manipulators. There are days you completely despair about whether the system is worth paying for any more.

I thought those two days of hearings on this subject were some of the best hearings I have attended. I do not think it is just because people are coming in and slaying the government; they do that all the time. I once had carriage of a very popular bill having to do with an education matter here and I sat in this room, I think, for more months of my life than I care to remember. I just thought the testimony was very good. I really was struck by how many people had organized themselves to come in here.

Again, I am going to be local, but I thought the delegation from Almonte was really good. I thought they made as compelling a case as I have heard in a long time; not just those people, but I thought they were particularly effective. The member for Wellington, I know, had something to do with encouraging people from his part of the world to come down from the Arthur area and express their views. I was really quite impressed by the kind of effort they expended, the good judgement, good sense really, that I thought they brought to the hearings. It restored my sometimes weakened faith in the efficacy of the process.

Having said that, and against the backdrop of that, I also want to say that what annoys me as the member for Renfrew North about this policy is that, without any question, the people being asked to pay for this are the people in rural Dundas, Grey, north Wellington, Northumberland, Lanark, Prescott and Russell and rural West Carleton. Those people do not have very many advocates here any more. There are fewer and fewer members of the Legislature who now speak by virtue of their electoral mandate to the truly rural part of the community. My friend the squire of Moose Creek, the deputy to the deputy speaker of the House, the member for S-D-G & East Grenville, I think, is one of the people I know who has had an interest in this and he represents a more purely rural constituency than I do.


As a member from rural eastern Ontario -- mind you, a county that has only one registry office but a lot of very rural environments -- people are getting pretty ticked off. They feel they are getting screwed, and in many ways they are getting screwed. We did it to them with the divisional school boards. We advanced a great argument about the kinds of efficiencies that would be gained. There were efficiencies, I am not going to deny that, but boy, we have paid a price: the loss of involvement, the loss of any sense of control.

When I think about people who might be living in the southeastern corner of Lanark county now and who are going to be asked to drive, whatever it is, 60 miles up to Almonte as part of a genealogical process to search through the records, or to go from Mountain township, the Mountain area of north Dundas, all the way into Cornwall to do the same kind of work, to say nothing of what the lawyers, real estate agents and surveyors will have to do; when I think of the cost to these little towns of closing the office in a place like Colborne -- there is not a great deal of government in a place like Colborne. I do not know Arthur all that well. It is a very pretty place.

Interjection: They have a riding office.

Mr Conway: They have a riding office, that is encouraging. I guess it is a lament that will not really be heard by too many people, because increasingly it is an urban and a suburban community. I live in a town called Pembroke, with 20,000 people, and we have one registry. That is all we have ever had. We have never had two, although by dint of our geography we probably could have. I do not know why we did not have two a long time ago, but we never did.

Some of you have heard me on this rant about hydro, and the rant is a long way from being completed -- a mini-rant, I suppose -- on this subject, simply because of what we are doing to some of the most purely rural environments in the province. We are asking those people to do some things we would not really be asking in some of the larger urban centres.

One of the things I often think about because I live in a car is what it must be like to have no car, to have no TTC and to have no OC Transpo in the national capital area. As local, provincial and national governments, we have done virtually -- I should not say nothing, but next to nothing in providing any kind of public transit. My friend from Haliburton knows that only too well. What do you do if you are in Tory Hill and you are trying to get down to Lindsay? I guess you just do what we have always done in those rural communities; in my area you buy a car, or you rent a car for the day.

Just to make the point, finally, the effect of this policy is to make people in purely rural Ontario pay a disproportionate price for the efficiencies that have been required by government constraint. I think most of those people would say they want to be part of any kind of government restraint. I know my constituents feel that way, but they do not expect to be disproportionately singled out for the carriage of that burden. When I look at nine or 10 of these 12 places, they are some of the most purely rural environments I know. As a member from a largely rural part of the province, I want to observe that, I want to complain about that, and I want to say that the small minority of us who represent that part of the province -- and it will become an even greater minority in the next generation -- have, I think, an obligation to fight about it.

Mr Abel: Mr Chairman, I hope we will have time. We only have 20 minutes left to discuss the minority report.

The Chair: I remind committee members of the time allocation. Mrs O'Neill and then Mr Drainville.

Mrs Y. O'Neill: Mr Chairman, I am sorry I had to step out, but I want to speak to the actual report of the government presented by Mr Abel. I wonder if there is any government member who can tell me exactly what point 3 means: "That all ministry employees receive the support necessary to make the transition."

The Chair: Mrs O'Neill, because we have already carried the government report, we would need unanimous consent from the committee to allow you to ask that question.

Mrs Y. O'Neill: I am sorry. I missed that vote.

The Chair: We need unanimous consent. Do we have unanimous consent to allow Mrs O'Neill to ask a question on the government report?

Mr Abel: I would say no, for the simple reason --

The Chair: We do not have unanimous consent. Mrs O'Neill, please carry on.

Mrs Y. O'Neill: Then my other comments will be of a general nature. I agree with what Mr Conway has just said, and certainly as a member who represents an urban area, I did have quite full knowledge of this matter simply because the people in rural Ontario realized they had to get to some of us, and they did it. It was directly connected with the budget tours we took, because they saw this as a matter of cost, both to themselves and to the government.

Even in the government report there are at least four of those recommendations or comments in which there has been some breakdown in the way this matter has been dealt with, whether untimely acknowledgement or user group meetings. I think rural Ontario, indeed Ontario in general, needs better. I hope all ministries will see and learn from the lesson that surely the Minister of Consumer and Commercial Relations will take from this.

I am sorry my comments were not as well placed to the motion I wanted to speak to, but unfortunately I had to leave for a few moments.

Mr Drainville: I am concerned about the other members of the committee having their opportunity to present their reports. I will pass on my remarks, Mr Chair.

The Chair: Are we finished with the Liberal report? We have approximately 10 to 12 minutes, the way I see it, to discuss the report of the Conservative caucus if you so wish. I believe that is what we wish.

Mr Abel: I would just like to respond to the comments by Mr Conway and Mrs O'Neill in regard to rural Ontario and the Liberal report. I refer them to the now committee report, in the second page where it says, "If you study the list of the remaining 51 locations, a full 18% of these land registry offices are located in communities with populations under 5,000 and an additional 12% are in communities with populations of less than 10,000. So in total, 30% of the remaining land registry offices are located in rural Ontario, even though they account for only 8% of the total registration workload." I suggest to Mr Conway and Mrs O'Neill that this clearly demonstrates the government's commitment to accessibility, especially in rural Ontario.

The Chair: We will use the remaining time to discuss the report of the third party.

Mr Arnott: I would like to start by indicating my unqualified support for our report, but I want also to advise the committee that we are presently working on a revised report that we will make available to the committee later this afternoon. With respect to the member for Wentworth North, whose riding is immediately to the south of my riding -- I believe we share a boundary -- do not tell me that Wellington county is going to be getting better service as a result of this decision, because you are wrong. It is not going to happen.

Mr Abel: We are talking about accessibility.

Mr Arnott: I would like to start off by talking about the way this decision was made and the lack of consultation that took place: the letters that came in the mail the day of the decision saying they were going to close and there was nothing we could do; then later on the minister's refusal to meet with us, to listen to what we had to say, to acknowledge a lot of things we are saying; the promises made by the civil servants to provide information which were then cut off at the knees. We did not get the information we required to make a rational judgement as to whether this decision was going to save money, which we frankly disputed.

The government's recommendation 2, talking about new government tenants for the buildings that have been vacated, completely destroys the argument that there are going to be cost savings, because you are just going to bring in tenants from other ministries to try to fill the buildings.


I totally endorse what was said by my friend the member for Renfrew North about the decline of service to rural residents. It is absolutely clear that this is what is happening here. My people in Wellington county are now being forced to drive to Guelph or Owen Sound, at least 45 minutes in either case, to get less service. There is very little locally available provincial government service in our counties. We pay a good deal of the tax burden and demand a certain level. We are not getting it and, as far as I am concerned, we are going to continue to fight for it.

As I said, I believe this decision is fallacious in that it is ultimately going to cost the government more. Look at the situation in my area, which I know the best, the Arthur office having been closed and the responsibilities that were formerly looked after there being consolidated in Guelph. The registry office in Guelph is in a downtown location. It is land-locked and there is absolutely no room for expansion. There is no parking available in any reasonable amount. The office is overcrowded. The staff, I am told, are very good but they are quite overburdened as it is without handling additional responsibilities.

I am absolutely certain that within a couple of years an initiative will be brought forward that says, "We need a new registry office in the county of Wellington because the one we've got is too small and overburdened." More and more costs are going to be incurred as a result of this decision, not fewer.

On a personal level, I would also like to observe the sense of loss I feel, because I, in good faith, invited very good people from my county to come forward, to take time out of their lives to come down here to Toronto to spend a whole day making representation to this committee. I sincerely believed that due to the merits of this case we could get this government to overturn its decision. I just cannot believe the reaction we received from the government members on this committee. There were exceptions, naturally, but most of them appeared to come forward and read the script the minister's office had prepared for them. As a new member of this Legislature, I am very disappointed with the way this issue has been handled.

The Chair: I am assuming that all discussion relating to the reports has been concluded.

There is one final matter for the committee to advise me on. There are several ways to handle the report. I would like to cite the standing orders on how we can handle the report. Standing orders 36(b) and (c) make provision for the presentation to the House of substantive committee reports. There are four means of presenting a substantive report to the House: (1) presentation only, (2) presentation with a request that the report be considered by the House and (3) presentation with a motion that the recommendations contained in the report be adopted or that the report be adopted. The reporting formula should reflect the means of presenting the report which the committee has selected. Last, a request can be made for a response from the minister within 120 days of the presentation of the report. Those are our choices, and we need to make a decision on how we wish to proceed.

Mrs Y. O'Neill: This is of such general interest -- certainly members much beyond this committee have become very aware of this matter -- that I suggest we have an opportunity to speak to the report in the House and ask for a response from the minister within 120 days. That has been the normal procedure with the 123s that have gone forward since they were initiated almost three years ago, or two years ago -- I forget which. I feel this matter needs to have a response.

The Chair: Mrs O'Neill has moved that the report be presented to the House with a request that the report be considered by the House and, further, that we request a response from the minister within 120 days of the presentation of the report. We will now have discussion on Mrs O'Neill's motion.

Mr Tilson: The two representatives from our party support the motion. I think she is quite right: This whole issue has gone beyond the confines of this committee. It has even ended up in a court of law. The whole subject has gone into a court of law, aside from other matters that have been reported in the press. There is a great deal of interest in this whole subject. Accordingly our party, for that very reason alone, supports Mrs O'Neill's proposal.

The Chair: Are there any further comments on Mrs O'Neill's motion?

Motion negatived.

The Chair: I still need advice from the committee as to how we are going to report this matter to the Legislature. Are there any further suggestions from members of the committee?

Mr Abel: I move that the committee make its report and its report only.

The Chair: Mr Abel has moved that the committee respond to standing orders 36(b) and (c), when making a presentation to the House of a substantive report, that a presentation only of this report be made.

Is there any discussion of Mr Abel's motion?

Mrs Y. O'Neill: This is very discouraging. This is exactly consistent with everything that has happened around this whole issue. It is certainly not the tradition in which we have dealt with 123 matters since that standing order was introduced. As anyone who worked on the changes to the House rules knows, it was in some ways to take the place of opposition days.

We did not have closure with opposition days. We certainly are experiencing all kinds of attempts at closure in this committee process on this matter. It is going to leave a very bad taste in the mouths of the people who came before us. It certainly shows there is no intent to listen and no intent to get response from the minister, other than perhaps what was passed today, but again, that is a very small response on a very limited part of this discussion.

The whole thing has been consistent and I am afraid some of the comments that have been made about this exercise are going to turn out to be very true. To me, as a member of the Legislature, it is most discouraging that this is the kind of message that goes out about the work I do on a day-to-day basis in good faith.

Mr Tilson: I agree with Mrs O'Neill's comments. Mr Marchese has commented that he has found this committee interesting and that in the number of appearances he has made we have had pretty well everything. We have had closure, we have had court proceedings and we have had the suggestion that comments were made by solicitors in a court of law as to whether it is really worthwhile to appear before this committee.

We have requested that the minister involved appear and clear up some of these matters and, for whatever reason, she will not. She will not send her staff. She will not send her parliamentary assistant, although he briefly stuck his head in the door this morning. There has been no attempt by the minister to clear this up, other than a five-line letter. She has not even refuted allegations against her. The minister is a member of this House. You say there is no agenda. Well, she knew this matter was being discussed for two hours this morning and she did not take it upon herself as, I hope, a progressive minister to appear and make comments.

The whole attitude about this whole process, from start to finish, as I have indicated in this committee before, is a sham.

Mr Abel: With regard to Mrs O'Neill's comments, I have to totally disagree with her. There was a lot of discussion on this issue. We have had presentations. Her comments that we did not listen were unfounded. If you look at our report, there was a lot of concern centred on the land registry office in Almonte. Based on the presentations given, in our recommendations we made the suggestion that Almonte remain open. That was based on the deputations given here.

With regard to Mr Tilson's reference to the solicitor's comments, the minister did speak to that particular solicitor and the solicitor refuted what was said.

Mr Tilson: On a point of order, Mr Chair: The letter did not say that at all. The member has stated a fact that just is not correct, that these statements were not made. In fact, in the final paragraph, the minister said there were "no statements that could be considered improper or offensive." There is no denial that the statements were made.

The Chair: That is not a point of order. It is a dispute on the interpretation of the letter. Mr Abel, please continue.

Mr Abel: With regard to Mr Tilson's second concern, about the minister not showing, I thought it was expressed earlier on in the committee that the minister was prepared to address this committee to deal with the comments of the solicitor. However, due to the nature of the agreement between the three House leaders, we were buttonholed into using our two hours to draft a report, and to draft a report only. Therefore we were trying to avoid stirring up the nest, feeding the bears, whatever term you want to use, because we thought for sure that was what the agreement was and that was what the three parties were to deal with here, not bringing in additional speakers.

The Chair: The discussion should be focused on whether we are going to support Mr Abel's motion, which is that we basically just present the report to the House. Do you have any further comments on that, Mr Abel?

Mr Abel: That was just in response to the two members' comments.

The Chair: I have Mr Drainville and Mr Conway and then I am sure we will have run out of time, unfortunately.

Mr Drainville: I move that the question be now put. We have discussed the situation and the bells are about to ring. Why do we not just get on with it?

Hon Mr Conway: Just as a final word, as I have said before, I think there is a desire to debate this. The rules of the House provide --

The Chair: Order, please. Mr Drainville has moved that the question be now put. That motion is not debatable. Therefore no further comments can be made. Our rules are rigid and we must follow them.

The committee divided on Mr Abel's motion, which was agreed to on the following vote:

Ayes -- 6

Abel, Carter, Drainville, Harrington, Mammoliti, Marchese.

Nays -- 4

Arnott, Conway, O'Neill, Y., Tilson.

Ms Harrington: On a point of privilege, Mr Chair: A few moments ago, when Mr Tilson was making his winding-up statements, he said he personally believed the work of this committee was a sham. We heard that from other people and we were very upset about that. To hear it now from a member of this committee I think is very serious. I would like him to reconsider that.

The Chair: Mr Tilson has heard the comments made. I have no authority to instruct Mr Tilson on what to do. My only authority at this moment is to mention to Mr Tilson that comments have been made if he wishes to respond.

The only other authority I have is to adjourn this committee and declare all our time completed.

The committee adjourned at 1205.