Wednesday 27 March 1991

Delegation to Cuba

Registrar general's office

Committee system



Chair: Duignan, Noel (Halton North NDP)

Vice-Chair: MacKinnon, Ellen (Lambton NDP)

Cooper, Mike (Kitchener-Wilmot NDP)

Frankford, Robert (Scarborough East NDP)

Marland, Margaret (Mississauga South PC)

Mathyssen, Irene (Middlesex NDP)

McClelland, Carman (Brampton North L)

Morin, Gilles E. (Carleton East L)

Murdock, Sharon (Sudbury NDP)

O'Neil, Hugh P. (Quinte L)

Owens, Stephen (Scarborough Centre NDP)

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

Substitution: O'Connor, Larry (Durham-York NDP) for Mrs Mathyssen

Clerk: Arnott, Douglas

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

The committee met at 1541 in room 151.


The Chair: We have kind of a short agenda this afternoon. I know we all want to hear our own leaders speak on the constitutional issue, so perhaps we could get through the issues before us this afternoon and, if it is possible, the subcommittee could meet briefly after the regular meeting, just to arrange a time so we can get together and have a full discussion on some of the business that is still before the committee for the rest of the session.

The first item up is the follow-up of last week and a review of the proposal for a delegation to Cuba. Mr Henderson, come forward. Has everybody received the various reports from Jim and from the legislative research in their packages? Jim, is there anything else you want to add?

Mr Henderson: I do not think so, Mr Chairman. I could walk through this, but maybe it is not necessary because everybody has read it. If anybody wants me to, I will, or if you want to ask me any questions, I will be happy to respond.

The Chair: The floor is open to questions. Ellen, go ahead.

Mrs MacKinnon: I have been asking a few questions around in regard to the benefits of this and so on and I was asked to ask you if you have any knowledge of what is being done in Cuba in regard to the conservation of energy.

Mr Henderson: I have not put my mind to it. I can tell you there are blackouts and I suspect that is why; that is, from time to time areas will be told, usually with some kind of notification, that in order to conserve electricity, their electricity will be turned off.

Mrs MacKinnon: I am sorry, Mr Henderson, I have fluid in this ear today. I am not hearing very well. Excuse me.

Mr Henderson: I have not thought about that in a systematic way, nor have I asked them about it, so the only thing I can say anecdotally is that I know there are power blackouts from time to time. I have heard that the power blackouts are to conserve energy. Cuba is short of electricity and has no rivers, so in order to generate electricity, since they do not have much nuclear power yet, they have to burn oil or coal, and they do not like burning very much oil or coal for that purpose. That is the only comment I can make, and it is not a very full response.

Mrs MacKinnon: What was brought to my attention was that they have apparently shut down some car manufacturing plants and they are now building bicycles, selling them very very reasonably, and giving people that form of transportation. Is this so or do you know?

Mr Henderson: I have been told there are no car manufacturing or assembly plants in Cuba. There are some engine manufacturing plants and there may be some plants that are involved in making automotive components or something, but there are a lot of bicycles around. So that is certainly compatible with what I have seen.

Mrs MacKinnon: Okay, thanks.

Mr Henderson: If I can just say a little more about that, Cuba knows it is in for a period of belt tightening. They also know that the Americans and other nations think their regime is about to topple and they feel almost amused by that because they feel very loyal to the revolutionary spirit of their government. But they know changes are needed and, within certain limits that they have defined, they are very open and very receptive to finding new ways of doing things, particularly to becoming more businesslike and entering into transaction with marketplace economies.

Cuba knows it is in for a period of belt tightening. They are very free about that and they know why, or at least they have a concept of why, and they are interested in becoming economically stronger, economically more self-sufficient and they feel that one of the ways of achieving that is going to be strengthening political trade, commercial investment and other ties with various industrialized countries in the west, specifically us.

The Chair: I would like to draw the committee members' attention to the Hansard from the House of Commons dated 14 March. There was a federal delegation to Cuba from 3 February to 10 February of this year. Any further questions? Is there a motion from the floor on where we should go from here?

Mr H. O'Neil: Doctor, you were asked to come to this committee and then we were to make suggestions. What was the process, again, that you wanted?

Mr Henderson: My understanding is that the issue was sent to this committee for a fleshing-out of the objectives and purposes of the trip I have proposed to you and for a kind of approval in principle. The question of whether and how much it would be funded I think will be taken up by the Board of Internal Economy if you decide that in principle this is a good idea. That is my understanding of it.

Mr H. O'Neil: Dr Henderson has always been a strong proponent, I would say, of the people of Cuba. He has been there several times and he knows the government people very well and I think I understand what his aims are: that the closer the relationship we have with those people -- I do not know whether I am correct in saying this -- maybe the closer they will come to the type of system we have. Any talking back and forth between peoples of different countries always is of assistance and help in matters like this. It might also be that even if there was not financing approved for a trip such as this, there might be members of the Legislature who would even think about visiting Cuba at their own expense to try and create some goodwill and a good atmosphere between their two countries.

The Chair: I think you did an excellent job in outlining the objectives for a delegation to Cuba. However, what is the wish of the committee? Is it the wish of the committee to approve the delegation to Cuba in principle?

Mrs MacKinnon: Do you need a motion, Mr Chair?

The Chair: Yes, the Chair would need a motion.

Mrs MacKinnon: I so move.

The Chair: There is a motion on the floor to approve in principle the delegation to Cuba. Any discussion on the motion?

Mr Villeneuve: I notice from the documentation that Canada is a very large net exporter to Cuba. Ontario has basically a balance with Cuba vis-à-vis imports and exports, and as a developing country and one whose regime, that of a dictator, may be about to fall apart, I think we could have a positive influence and possibly be in there as a province to further improve our net exports to such a developing country; of course, a two-way street, as I notice that the major imports from Cuba range from cane and beet sugar to denatured ethyl alcohol by volume, spirits and liquor, etc. Pertaining to an earlier question, I do believe they do burn ethanol quite extensively in Cuba, an offshoot of the sugar cane industry, and that may well be one area we could be looking at. I realize there is a short supply of petroleum products, but l do believe the sugar cane industry is providing them with some fuel. It may be something worth looking into.


The Chair: If it is the wish of the committee.

Mr Owens: What would be your plan now, upon returning from a trip? I see you have some fairly extensive goals you would like to meet while you are there, but the thing that is missing is how you plan to use the knowledge base that is gathered while you are there.

The other issue is the same issue I expressed at the last meeting about the authority of private members to meet with these folks to discuss the expansion of trade and to possibly -- I am not sure what the word is, but to give the appearance to these people that this delegation actually has the authority to negotiate these kinds of agreements. I understand the principles as you have stated, but again, that concern is still in the front of my mind.

Mr Henderson: Clearly, as a delegation of legislators and members of an assembly, as opposed to an official government delegation, we are not going to be down there negotiating trade agreements and treaties and stuff. There is, however, a lot that, as individual members, we can do. The Cubans will receive us in that spirit and treat us as people who can make a difference.

For example, just a couple of days ago I was talking to a distiller that imports rum and puts out something they call a blended imported rum. They import mainly from Trinidad and Guyana, and they were very interested in the idea that they could import more from Cuba, Cuba putting out, first of all, a first-rate rum product. The Cuban rum industry is heir to the Bacardi rum factory that was in Cuba at the time of the revolution. And they were especially intrigued, obviously, with the fact that Cuban rum probably could be purchased for a very favourable price.

So having talked to them about that, I will convey their interest to people in Cuba. The Cubans in turn will give me some further information about Cuban rum, which I will pass on to the distillery. Out of that can come something that is presumably beneficial both to an Ontario industry and to Cuba, in the way that most trade initiatives are.

I could go on giving you examples like that if you want, and I would be happy to. My only point would be that I think this is one area where we as backbenchers really can do a lot. Each of us has constituencies where there are industries, maybe manufacturing or what have you -- agricultural areas certainly would fall into this -- where as a private member you can approach an industry or some other organization in your constituency and say: "I think there is an opportunity here. Would you like me to help you look into it?" In effect, you put yourself in the position of being an honest broker, with nothing really in a sense to gain or lose one way or the other, but a contribution to make both for Ontario, which is our primary mandate, and for a Third World country where we have something to contribute without it costing us anything; in other words, in a way that benefits both. If you want, I can give you some more examples, but there are lots of opportunities to do that.

The Chair: I would draw the committee's attention to the fact that the official delegation that went from the federal Parliament to Cuba presented a report to the House of Commons on its findings. It could be part of the recommendation from this committee to the Board of Internal Economy that a similar report be tabled in the House on the delegation's trip to Cuba, with its findings or recommendations or whatever else.

Mr Owens: Not wanting to be provincial or parochial or all those other things we are accused of being, I am told every day by constituents and members of the opposition that we are in serious economic difficulty within our own province. While I am certainly new to this game, relative to some of the members on the other side, one learns fairly quickly that perception is everything in this game, and I am just wondering what the perception is going to be. We have constituents in every riding of members sitting in this room today who are struggling to make ends meet, while we are certainly not a Third World country.

Again, the perception people are going to have is not going to be of a trade or a cultural delegation, but yet another pork chop trip sponsored for the politicians to go to a nice sunny country and enjoy themselves. I still have some difficulty with the trip. It is certainly not a personal problem with you yourself. It is the perception that constituents in my riding would have of a trip such as this. If we were to think about including ministerial representatives, your idea of recommending that the committee report to the full Legislature certainly has merit.

I think if we are going to do something like this it still needs to be even further constrained than what we are currently looking at in this presentation. Until we get those kind of constraints in place, I do not think I can honestly face my constituents and say I approved in principle to send this trip on to the Board of Internal Economy in good conscience. I mean, I just had a constituent come to my office who was unable to pull together another $26 a month to get an apartment. If that constituent comes back because she has been turned down by the Minister of Community and Social Services as well as the local municipal people, how can I explain to her, "Well, yes, you couldn't get your $26 but we paid $600 a member" or whatever it is at this point "to send people to Cuba"? I have a little difficulty. Maybe I am being doctrinaire and dogmatic, but this is the way I feel and I know my constituents are feeling the same way.

Mr Henderson: If I could just respond, I have three points I want to make. The fact that we are in difficult economic times is not a reason not to be exploring expanded trade with a newish and growing trade partner. It is not a reason not to be looking for alternatives to trade with the United States, which is, as you know, overwhelmingly our largest trade partner. It seems to me that it is because, not despite, our difficult economic times that we would want to look to expanded trade opportunities with Third World countries in general, Latin America in particular and Cuba in further particular, if only from a purely selfish point of view because we can buy stuff a lot more cheaply in Cuba than we can buy at lots of other places, and that presumably would be reflected in lower consumer prices for those Cuban articles that are sold here.

The second point I want to make is that if we were to go in January or February or even December or March it looks a bit like a good-time trip. But any of you who have been in the tropics or semi-tropics in September will know that, although you can have a good trip, first of all, it is very, very hot, and second, you are not necessarily welcoming the heat, given that you are not coming from a Canadian winter. I would certainly feel able to defend this trip, mentioning among other things that September is not the time you pick to go to Cuba if you just want to have a good time. You just do not do it then.


The third point I want to make, if we are looking for a way to rationalize or tighten this, in the event that this goes forward officially and the board and so on authorizes it and wants to pay a little bit, take it as one or even two -- but for the moment one -- of the 10 trips a year we are each entitled to within the province, one would be able to say: "Well, yes, we did, but (a) there were good economic reasons for doing it, (b) it is September, which is not a time when you go to Cuba to have fun, and in any case, I gave up one or two of the trip allotments I am entitled to as an MPP in order to make this trip." That would be one way, and I am sure there are other kinds of things that could be thought about to build in features that would make it more defensible in the event someone is anticipating difficulty in defending it.

The Chair: Further debate? Are we prepared to call the question? In your motion, do we want to include the fact that it is for the delegation to prepare a report for the House?

Mrs MacKinnon: Yes, I will do that.

The Chair: Included in that, I think, as a friendly amendment.

Mr Cooper: And the various ministries, as you have Trade in here, plus Culture and Sports and Recreation. They were each itemized, so a report to each ministry also.

Mr Henderson: I think we should do that. I think that is eminently reasonable.

The Chair: All those in favour of the motion? All those opposed?

Motion agreed to.

The Chair: Thank you for appearing here this afternoon.

Mr Henderson: Thank you for your consideration.

The Chair: The second item of business is a review of guidelines regarding the members' householder mailings. I am wondering, should this item actually be referred to the subcommittee to look into along with the other concerns raised by members in the review of members' services? Is that okay with the committee? Thank you.


Mr Villeneuve: Mr Chairman, there was an item brought up in the Legislature today that is of great concern I believe to every elected MPP in this Legislature.

The registrar general's office provides birth certificates to residents of Ontario. That is an area where I, as an MPP -- and I think I speak for the vast majority of the 130 elected people here -- have been able to provide constituents who needed a birth certificate in quick time. In other words, we have been able to, on occasion, get a birth certificate within 10 days. This, I understand as of today, is a thing of the past.

The registrar general's office is moving to Thunder Bay. I have no objection to that except that the Legislature stays here at Queen's Park. The members come here to Queen's Park on a very regular basis. I am requesting a change in what we are told will be the normal procedure, which will require every MPP, because of the so-called freedom of information legislation, to have a signed statement by the person requesting the birth certificate that indeed the government has authority to divulge the person's name and date of birth. I find that rather ludicrous, because people come to us in good faith that we can provide them with this service.

I can tell you, on a number of occasions, because of restrictions and limitations in boarding aircraft going to destinations out of this country, a birth certificate was a requirement. I have been able to accommodate just about everyone who came to me at the 11th hour looking for a birth certificate. I will not be able to do this henceforth, and I think it is a grave injustice to MPPs not to be able to go to the registrar general's office as we have in the past, at the MPP desk at the registrar general's office, leave the information there and then have a call several days later, "The birth certificate is now ready to be picked up." We as MPPs take them home on Thursday night or whenever it is we go back to our riding. In my case, I have a riding that is some 160 km from east to west, and people will drive to my office or I will drop the birth certificate off at a central spot on my way through, and they will pick it up. It has always worked. It will not work from now on with the registrar general's office being in Thunder Bay.

I plead, on behalf of my caucus -- and I have been mandated by my caucus to be the spokesperson -- to ensure that MPPs do have, as in the past, an office here at Queen's Park connected with the registrar general's department to obtain birth certificates, particularly when they are needed in a hurry.

Mr H. O'Neil: We discussed this for a couple of minutes before the meeting started. I guess having been here almost 16 years now, it is likely one of the best services we as provincial members provide for our constituents. I know one of the arguments that has been used by the odd staff member is that they would be providing a special service to MPPs, and some of them have said they do not feel this should be given to MPPs. The argument I would use is that it is not being provided to the MPP; it is being provided to the constituents.

I see the reasoning for locating the office in Thunder Bay, but I also would like to see if we could not put a recommendation from this committee as to that. I think if we had two people working out of the Toronto office here, that would facilitate all of the service we need. Again, as has been mentioned, where some of these birth certificates are needed -- they may not be only birth certificates; a death certificate or something like this -- if they had an additional two staff members located here in Toronto, I think they would be able to handle the volume that we give, and we as MPPs would again be able to offer that service for our constituents.

I should also mention that I talked with the minister this afternoon, and I know some of the other party members have talked with her. I think she is very well aware of the problem and would also like to find a solution that would help us out. I know Mr Elston also raised it in the Legislature this afternoon, and hopefully we could have something go from this committee asking that we have that MPP desk here in Toronto so that we can look after the rest of the province for those who are not close to Thunder Bay.

I might also say, for some of the newer members, that over the last number of years I have found that the employees with the registrar general have been excellent people. When we needed something in a hurry, they always went out of their way to try to provide this service for us. So it is in no way knocking those people. The ministry itself and the employees have been very helpful.

Ms S. Murdock: Having worked as a constituency assistant, of course I know exactly what both Mr Villeneuve and Mr O'Neil are saying and concur absolutely. In fact, in my "former life," as everybody says, the representation that was made to me was that the MPPs' desk was going to remain. If that has changed, I think it should be reconsidered, and I heartily agree that we should be making some kind of representation.

My staff do not have time right now to stand in line, as Mr O'Neil said, for two hours and wait to meet with some clerk. The way it was operating before was that the MPPs had specifically designated personnel, and you called to that person; I guess they were designated areas or something. However it was arranged, they were excellent. You got it done quickly. It is a service that MPPs provide and is much appreciated by the constituents, so I would agree and support any letter we send to the minister.

Mr H. O'Neil: If we do send a letter from yourself, Mr Chairman, I think it should be prepared right away and even faxed over to them or delivered to them by hand. I know we had a batch of requests for birth certificates today, and we called over and were told not to deliver them over to them, to send them up to Thunder Bay. You can imagine the delay that is going to create. A couple days, even by courier, to Thunder Bay, plus the expense of it, courier it back, and it is in the general pile there. We are talking two or three weeks.

Ms S. Murdock: And we cannot ask Shelley Wark-Martyn to pick them up for us.

The Chair: Seeing the urgency of this particular matter, we can get a letter drawn up this evening. Actually, meeting with the Speaker of the House in the morning, I can pass on our feelings here from this committee. I will also arrange a meeting with the appropriate minister in the morning to get our feelings across, if that is the wish of this committee. Did someone want to draw up appropriate wording? You leave that up to the clerk and myself.

Mr Morin: May I suggest that a copy of the letter be sent to the members so that they know that action was taken immediately.

Mr Villeneuve: And possibly if you have a copy of this Hansard that it is a unanimous request supported by everyone.

The Chair: Thank you. I think this is a unanimous request of this committee.

Ms S. Murdock: Let's put this to an actual vote.

Mr Owens: Absolutely, and I think we should probably also be sending a note to Frances Lankin if we have not already discussed.

The Chair: We will be doing that officially as a committee. If someone would move a motion so we can get in on the Hansard. It will be moved by Mr O'Neil.

Ms S. Murdock: May I second that?

The Chair: You may second that. All those in favour?

Motion agreed to.

The Chair: It is the unanimous decision of the committee. I will do that in the morning on behalf of the committee.


The Chair: There is another piece of business before the committee. Everybody received a copy of the letter that the Chair has received from the Speaker of the House indicating that the standing committee on the Legislative Assembly may wish to consider the role and function of our committee system in an effort to provide an efficient and relevant response to the modern-day pressures on the Legislature of Ontario. An examination of the committee system in the House of Commons, Ottawa, and that which is used at Westminster may prove to be extremely helpful. Is this something the committee may wish to refer to the subcommittee for further action?

Mr Morin: Am I on that committee?

The Chair: I believe so.

Mr Morin: I concur and agree that we should explore thoroughly.

The Chair: Okay, this particular item will be forwarded to the subcommittee. Is there any further business before the committee?

Mr Villeneuve: When will we know our request to the Minister of Consumer and Commercial Relations on the birth certificate, the registrar general with?

The Chair: I think there is some urgency. If we can get that letter drawn up this afternoon, I will try to deliver it this afternoon personally or first thing in the morning. I will make sure every member of the Legislature gets a copy of that.

Mr Villeneuve: We may have a feeling as to what will be happening before we leave the premises tomorrow evening?

The Chair: I will try to get an answer from the minister.

Mr Villeneuve: Do you think you might want the subcommittee to get together after question period for a short period of time tomorrow?

The Chair: I was going to suggest that anyway, because we have some other business that we need to discuss. Any further business before the committee? The committee stands adjourned until 3:30 next Wednesday.

The committee adjourned at 1613.