Wednesday 12 June 1991

Semiannual review: Clerk of the House

Members' services



Chair: Duignan, Noel (Halton North NDP)

Vice-Chair: MacKinnon, Ellen (Lambton NDP)

Cooper, Mike (Kitchener-Wilmot NDP)

Frankford, Robert (Scarborough East NDP)

Jamison, Norm (Norfolk NDP)

Marland, Margaret (Mississauga South PC)

Mathyssen, Irene (Middlesex NDP)

McClelland, Carman (Brampton North L)

Morin, Gilles E. (Carleton East L)

O'Neil, Hugh P. (Quinte L)

Owens, Stephen (Scarborough Centre NDP)

Villeneuve, Noble (S-D-G & East Grenville PC)


Miclash, Frank (Kenora L) for Mr H. O'Neil

Mills, Gordon (Durham East NDP) for Mrs Mathyssen

Poole, Dianne (Eglinton L) for Mr H. O'Neil

Clerk: Arnott, Douglas

Staff: Yeager, Lewis, Research Officer, Legislative Research Service

The committee met at 1541 in room 228.


The Chair: I would like to call to order the standing committee on the Legislative Assembly. The first item of business before the committee today is the semiannual report from the Clerk of the House. Welcome again.

Clerk of the House: I apologize for being late. No one ever knows when one gets out of that place, but it is a pleasure to be here again. I am afraid I do not have anything in the way of a formal report except to say that the general administration and procedural happenings in the House are, I think, moving ahead at a normal pace. There are many things that are being addressed by the members, by the Board of Internal Economy and by the administration, hopefully meeting our main concerns that those undertakings have the earmark of answering the needs of the members of this institution.

Therefore, in that vein, I would be willing to answer any questions you might have. What I am asking you to do is to point me in the right direction, because I can inform you about a lot of subjects but I would rather hear what is basically close to your preoccupations.

The Chair: I was just wondering if, for the benefit of the committee members, you could outline some of the issues that are before the Board of Internal Economy to give us an idea of what has happened.

Clerk of the House: The Board of Internal Economy had a main go at the estimates. It took most of the winter meetings and that was finished. There is no main thrust to those estimates in new programs or anything except, probably, one program that you are probably well aware of. That is the program to start on the renovations and maintenance of this place. There is not yet money towards that program, because that is still in the hands of the special committee on the parliamentary precinct, but there is money there for general maintenance. That is the sort of base we are building on.

The other preoccupations of the board right now are mainly to do with, I guess -- I wish I had brought back agendas -- something this committee might want to lend a hand with. This might be termed as an appeal from the Clerk. The board is taken up a lot with budgets from committees. Maybe it would be time for this committee to address that and to want to look at the way budgets are prepared for the operation of standing committees in the House and how they are controlled.

They are controlled in various different ways in different Parliaments. I think there are ways to improve the system here to a great extent, and maybe this committee could be a factor in that. If you did need any help and documentation or anything, I and my officials would surely be happy to furnish you with information in that field.

Mrs Marland: I would be happy to move a motion, if it was required, that we receive information from you about how other jurisdictions handle committee budgets. I have no idea what alternatives there are and I think it would be to the advantage of the entire House if there is anything we are doing that we could do better by learning about alternatives. I think that would be an excellent subject for our committee to deal with, because obviously in the long run it would be of benefit to all members, not just those members on the board who labour eternally with those responsibilities currently in the format.

You referred to the fact that there has been money appropriated for the general maintenance of this building. I know that all of us, both as members of this committee and in our caucuses, are part of the ongoing discussion about the future of this building and how we can phase it and how much we should do this year and next year. I have been struggling with that myself. I really think it is time that we stopped spending all of the time we are on that subject and make one decision, and that decision is whether or not this building is going to continue to be the seat of government in this province; and if we decide that it is, then the other decisions are made.

That sounds very simplistic but, as far as I am concerned, it is common sense. We are all waffling about whether it is $60 million or $80 million or whatever it is and if we do this and we do not do that and maybe we will get this part that the public sees improved and we can continue to hide a mess, as we do. As those of us who have now toured this building have seen at first hand, we hide the rest of the mess. It is not only the fact that it is just hidden but some of it is relative to the functional aspects of this building. It is very critical.

Frankly, I need some guidance as to how we can stop the wrangling and the discussion that I have been part of for the six years I have been here. I do not want to be here another 10 years and still be discussing it. In the meantime, the longer we discuss when, how much and where this building -- while we do that, the cost goes up every year. Now if we decide, as the current members of the Legislature, that we might as well go up to Highways 401 and 400 and get into an industrial complex up there and build a new provincial seat of government for $30 million or $40 million, then that is the decision.

We know what the choices are. We either do what in my opinion is the obvious thing, which is that we stay here and preserve this beautiful building that is now part of our history and indeed our heritage in Ontario, or we do something else. The only comparison that I can make based on my own experience is that the city of Mississauga, with a population at the time of 350,000 people, spent $60 million on a new city hall. We are talking about a population in Ontario of 10 million people and we are waffling about whether we should spend $60 million on the -- I cannot say city hall but the house of government for the entire province.


When the city of Mississauga spent $60 million on its new civic centre five years ago, it had never had a civic centre. It was not a matter that they were renovating or building for the sake of building. They had been a city at that point since 1974 and they had never had a civic centre. They spent $60 million for that population, which was quite acceptable to those taxpayers because of the way it was done.

I think it is time that our committee made a strong recommendation about what we do about this magnificent building that is deteriorating as we sit here. Those comments are relative to the Clerk's comments, because of what he just told us about the maintenance budget that the Board of Internal Economy has approved, but I am sure that with his responsibility and the responsibility of our next guest this afternoon, the executive director -- I really am very frustrated by the futility of what is going on surrounding this obvious decision. I mean, if we cannot spend what is necessary to preserve what we have for 10 million people in this province as the seat of government, then there is something totally wrong.

The Chair: Maybe I can impart some good news to Margaret. In fact, hopefully in the last week of this session, the special committee on the parliamentary precinct will be presenting its report to the House. What we are trying to arrange with the three House leaders at this point is for a one-hour debate where we can discuss this report and have it approved by the members of the Legislature.

Mr Morin: A debate in the House?

The Chair: Yes.

Mrs Marland: And have it all over with in one session?

The Chair: Yes. We have done a final draft. It is waiting for approval by the committee on Thursday morning, and hopefully we will be in a position to present it some time in the last week of this session.

Mrs Marland: Great. I hope I live that long. Is it two weeks?

The Chair: Two weeks. It addresses those issues that you have raised, it has recommendations and hopefully the recommendations will be adopted unanimously by all members of the Legislature.

Mrs Marland: Oh, great.

Mr Mills: If you had told Margaret that before, she would have stayed in bed.

Mrs Marland: You would not have had to listen to me.

The Chair: Dianne, did you have a question?

Ms Poole: Yes. I am actually an alien on this committee, just visiting for the day, but I did have some comments and a question about what the Clerk referred to earlier, and that is committee budgets and how they are drawn up and approved. It is an issue that I feel very strongly about and have for a number of years.

Right now there appear to be no guidelines. We have very experienced clerks who help draw up committee budgets from precedent, but the process is badly flawed. My perception of how it has worked from the years I have been on committees is that a committee will decide its order of business and what it wishes to pursue. The clerk will then draw up a budget including travel arrangements and per diem rates, whatever is required, based on that decision of the committee. The Chair and the clerk then go to the Board of Internal Economy with this budget, normally waiting anywhere from an hour to two hours, sitting outside with a lot of other committee chairs and clerks. At some stage you get called in to defend your budget. You speak and then you leave. Then arbitrarily, on whatever whim happens to cross the mind at the time, the Board of Internal Economy comes down with its decision, and it can be to slash your budget. Reasons are not given. The committee Chair is just notified that this request is denied or, "Your budget has been reduced by this much." It really calls into question the autonomy of a committee to order its own business.

What is the point of having this façade of going through and saying, "We as a committee decide that this is the business we think is urgent and must be accomplished," if the Board of Internal Economy can then say: "That's well and good. You can do it if you want to, but we're not going to give you any money"?

It is not as though a committee can spend money in other ways. If there is money not utilized in the budget for the purpose for which it is given, it devolves back to the Legislative Assembly. It does not carry over; the committee cannot use it for something else.

I think the whole process needs revisiting and we need guidelines put forward by the Board of Internal Economy. I am fed up with wasting my time and other members' time deciding what our order of business is and then not being able to complete it. Right now the public accounts committee is about to go to war over that particular issue, and we feel quite strongly about it.

The Chair: Again, the member may be pleased to know that this committee will be reviewing how the committee structure works in this place, hopefully beginning in the fall when we come back. Certainly the suggestions made by the Clerk of the House here today will be taken into consideration by this committee when we review how the structure works.

Mr Mills: Have you got any more tricks up your sleeve, Margaret?

Mrs Marland: Do you have anything to do with the Legislative Assembly decisions about equipment for members' offices? That is not in your jurisdiction, I guess.

Clerk of the House: Not really. Mainly that comes down to recommendations that go to the Board of Internal Economy, and the Board of Internal Economy would decide on those things. But if you have anything, we can certainly put them into the system if you want.

Mrs Marland: Do you sit as a member of the board?

Clerk of the House: No, I am an adviser to the board.

Mrs Marland: Then I am just wondering, in your position as an adviser to the board, whether you might also wear your hat as a common citizen of the province. I wonder if constituency offices of members in the year 1991 might be as up to date and well equipped as the average business in the province by having a computer terminal in each office that was on line to their offices in Queen's Park.

As I say, it is unfortunate that we have to apologize for the fact that we do not have something as simple as that today, and the cost of them has come down so much in the last six years that I have been asking for it. I know every time I have asked for it, every member has agreed it is something they really need. I know sometimes in the past the caucuses individually have wrestled with it, but it always comes down to the fact that the approval has to come from the board. I really think if we went to people outside this building, they would be surprised to know we do not have them.

The Chair: Again, Margaret, the Board of Internal Economy has in fact approved a computer for each constituency office, with a printer and a fax machine.

Mrs Marland: They have?

The Chair: That information should have been passed on by your House leader, or whoever deals with the Board of Internal Economy.

Mrs Marland: And when do we get them?

The Chair: As of 1 April of this year. It is actually paid for by the legislative fund, not out of the constituency fund.

Mrs Marland: How many do they pay for in our Queen's Park office?

The Chair: I am not too sure. Maybe we can find out and answer that question for you. But I know the board has approved one for the constituency office, with a printer and a fax machine.

I know the Clerk has another appointment at 4 o'clock. If members have other questions, the Clerk is willing to come back after his appointment and deal with those questions at that time.

Clerk of the House: Oh, definitely. Why do I not just drop in after my appointment, then?

The Chair: Yes. I think our next group here has something they would like you to see as well, in relation to a new bell system for the House.

Mr Morin: Is the bell system in response to your point of order in the House?

The Chair: It is coincidental. It is amazing it happened like that.

Clerk of the House: This has been in the works for quite a while. Before we change anything, it is important we get the opinion of the members.



The Chair: Thank you. I would like to welcome Barbara and Paul from members' services. I believe you have something to show us here this afternoon.

Mrs Speakman: Yes. I guess this resulted from two things: one a little longer-term issue, and one a shorter term. The longer-term issue was that last year we had a lot of problems with the sound of the ringing of the bells over a long period of time. At that time, the previous Speaker, the Honourable Hugh Edighoffer, had asked us to look at the possibility of changing to chimes. We had decided, when the standing orders were changed, that perhaps we could just work that into the renovation of the building when we did the electrical system. So although the concept was there, we did not actually go ahead and do it.

The more immediate thing that came up, of course, was when Gary Malkowski was elected and he, not only for himself but on behalf of all deaf and hearing-impaired people, indicated to us that there was a requirement for a signal to those people that the bells were ringing. We then had to deal with the problem of bringing in some kind of flashing light, something that would alert both Mr Malkowski and anyone else in the building who required that service that the bells were ringing.

Paul took that and looked at the two concepts and has worked with Mr Malkowski's office and Mr Malkowski himself on a number of trials of different things. He has finally come up with this particular one he is very comfortable with. Because it changes a tradition -- it is not really the light that is the problem; we are changing a tradition from a ringing of bells to a chime -- we wanted to make sure we brought this here, that you hear it, see it, either like it, do not like it or have some suggestions for us on ways it can be improved.

I hand it over to Paul to demonstrate. I should warn you that the last version of this he had, he set his hands on fire. This is the battery pack. The battery pack was wrongly wired. He assures me that this time the battery pack is correctly wired, but I am going to move aside.

Mr Tranquada: I should explain this model is a working model. This is not the final version, but it is the working version. We have some refinements to make. I will turn the sound off first of all.

I think the first requirement was to make the signal visible without being annoying, because they are two different requirements. The fire alarm system should be annoying because you want people to do something. For this kind of sessional bell which is used daily, it is more of an alerting device, as you said, in the tradition of calling the members into the House.

This chime is roughly the sound we are looking for, but we will want to tune it to make it louder for some locations. In some locations, like a committee room, we may just choose to put a light rather than a bell so that if you are in a committee room and the lights are flashing, then it is obvious what is happening; you do not need to have sound.

This will not just benefit people who are hard of hearing or deaf. It will also benefit other users in the building. It certainly would relax a lot of our visitors who, when they hear the sessional bells every day, start running for the exits.

Mr Malkowski's staff has seen the lights, and Mr Malkowski has seen it himself and is quite certain this will meet the requirements. It means we have to put more coverage throughout the building so we will have more of these devices.

Mrs Speakman: The design we were looking for also had to be fairly sympathetic to the design of the building. We did not want something ugly or too large or whatever. And also the shape -- we wanted it to be seen along a corridor and not just seen if you were looking straight on. This was really the best design we could come up with at this point. I guess I will leave it open now to you, if you have any questions or comments.

The Chair: Also advise the other members of the committee that Paul is the manager of the renovation and restoration program of this place, and he is our heritage adviser to the precinct committee. As most members well know, his firm is the one which has come up with the plans to restore this particular place.

Mr Frankford: Is this something you designed?

Mr Tranquada: Actually, this is a stock fixture, but the components are off the shelf. They are a lot of little things sitting in this box. I should add, too, that in view of our desire to make this building fully accessible this is well in keeping with the trend to not only look at people with mobility problems but to look at people with sight problems and hearing problems. At the end of it, hopefully, we will achieve all of these objectives.

The next step is the fire alarm system which, though it is not a committee concern, is a technical concern to put lights in the building that are sensitive, that achieve the purpose and do not destroy the look of the building.

Mrs Marland: The fire alarm system, Paul, is a committee concern. I am concerned about the fact that in my six years I have never taken part in a fire alarm exercise.

Mrs Speakman: We have had them.

Mrs Marland: I know, but when the House is sitting I am seldom not here. I am here when the House is sitting, and it has to be more than a coincidence that in six years I have not been part of a fire alarm -- that is off this subject.

Has this challenge been tendered out to companies to come up with alternatives and ideas?

Mr Tranquada: That is our next step. We have a performance specification that goes with this. What we have been doing for the last few months is looking at trends and at what other people have done. We have looked at the House of Commons. It has an electronic system that works on a loudspeaker system, but they do not use lights in the same manner; they just use a sound system. We have specifications put together now and we are going to put it out to the marketplace and get a --

Mrs Marland: So you are saying the federal House does not have a system for people who cannot hear.

Mr Tranquada: No.

Mrs Speakman: Just as prototypes we looked at various options like strobe lights, for example, which are very aggravating --

Mrs Marland: And they are expensive.

Mrs Speakman: We looked at a number of different designs as prototypes and ran them by Mr Malkowski and also ran them by our heritage adviser, Julian Smith, and looked at how things would fit in with the building. This was the result of all of that, which again is still only a test box. We would then put that out, tender specifications, and get bids. There might be a much better refined product at the end of it, but this is the concept we wanted to run by this committee.

Mrs Marland: I support the need and I support the concept of doing it. I am certainly glad you got away from strobe lights because they are ghastly for everybody. I am just wondering, if we are going to this much trouble, if have been tendered out to firms that do this kind of thing, who have the design ability, because it would be nice -- that is very institutional looking.

Mrs Speakman: That is just to let you see the kind of thing, that was all.

Mrs Marland: Yes. It is going to cost something. Using that as an example, there is a cost to putting the coat of arms on the globe. I would rather spend money on the design of the fixture itself, that it looked more traditional and less like something out of a washroom.

Mrs Speakman: That is true.

Mr Tranquada: That is a good point.

Mrs Speakman: That is really what we would do. This is just to let you see the concept.

Mrs Marland: So you are going to say: "This is what we need. These are the purposes it must serve, and there's a ballpark about how much we can invest in this," and come back to us --

Mrs Speakman: And it must fit in with the heritage aspect of the building and all of those things.

Mrs Marland: You may end up with some very interesting designs, then.

Mr Mills: I like that chime that goes boing, boing, boing.

Mr Tranquada: I think we are going to ask for a system where you can tune the signal.

The Chair: I wonder if the member can face the microphone.

Mr Mills: I was just making that off-the-cuff remark. I did not think I was up.

Mrs Marland: You are on record.

Mr Mills: I know that, but I did not think I was in the rotation here. That is what I was frightened of. It just dawned on me that was a nice sound.

Mr Owens: I would just like to gently disagree with my colleague from Mississauga South. I quite like that design. It has a nice antique look to it, and in terms of matching a decor we still have around this place, I think it is kind of a nice design. Whether it reminds one of a washroom or not, I think it is appropriate to have the provincial crest on it.

Mrs Marland: An antique; that is because he is younger than I am.

Mr Tranquada: I think if the committee would like to see the final model, that would be the best way to handle that. As far as the fixture itself goes, this was the best fixture we found without designing a fixture just for a model, but we are going to be purchasing quite a large number of these things and of course there is a volume discount when you make a cast, and you can amortize that, so I am sure we can find something that not only does the functional part.

Mr Morin: I think the concept is excellent myself as far as the shape is concerned, and I leave that up to the taste of Mr Tranquada, who is already on the renovation and restoration program. I am sure it is going to be done well. The main thing is to give you the go-ahead, and I think you have the go-ahead from us.

The Chair: Unanimous consent? Carried.

Agreed to.

The Chair: The Speaker is not due until 4:30, along with the Sergeant at Arms, so I will recess the committee until 4:30.

Mr Morin: Can I just make a remark? It is so refreshing to come to a committee and see members so calm.

The committee recessed at 1613.


The Chair: I would like to reconvene. Before we ask the Speaker and the Sergeant at Arms to report to us in camera, I would like to draw the committee's attention to two reports they will find on their desks, dealing with the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. The commission will be coming forward to present its select recommendations to us next week. All the witnesses to this point have appeared before the committee and we are in the position to begin to do an interim report to the House. We hopefully will begin that process next week after the appearance of the commission, so I would urge the members to review those two documents, which will be the basis of the discussions next week.

I would also like to draw to members' attention two letters, again dealing with the television system within the House and some requests we have. They will be appearing next week as well. Any questions?

Mrs Marland: Yes. Next week, when the commission is before us, would that be an appropriate time to ask about the exemptions of government agencies, boards and commissions from the act? Are they the people I should ask about that?

The Chair: I would expect so.

Mrs Marland: What do you think, Lewis?

Mr Yeager: It would not hurt to try.

Mrs Marland: They are only appointed with the existing mandate, really.

Mr Yeager: That is right.

Mrs Marland: My difficulty is that I now realize we have some very serious exemptions to the act and I do not know who it is we as a committee can ask about why those exemptions exist and if we might agree that they should not.

The Chair: Maybe we could ask the clerk to investigate that, and if we can find the appropriate people, ask them to come along next week.

Mr Owens: I think Frank White might be the most valuable resource in that respect. He is the director of the FOI and privacy for Management Board. He has testified here before.

The Chair: Maybe we will ask the clerk to find information, and if he can locate the individual --

Mrs Marland: Or individuals.

The Chair: -- or organization, ask them to come along next week.

Mrs Marland: That would be excellent. Thank you.

The Chair: Any further questions?

Mrs Marland: Are we going to share the letters, or are we going to wait for those until next week?

The Chair: That is next week. At this point we would like to go in camera.

The committee continued in camera at 1637.