Monday 15 February 1993

Religious holidays


*Chair / Président: Duignan, Noel (Halton North/-Nord ND)

Vice-Chair / Vice-Président: Farnan, Mike (Cambridge ND)

Cooper, Mike (Kitchener-Wilmot ND)

Johnson, Paul R. (Prince Edward-Lennox-South Hastings/Prince Edward-Lennox-Hastings-Sud ND)

Marland, Margaret (Mississauga South/-Sud PC)

*Mathyssen, Irene (Middlesex ND)

McClelland, Carman (Brampton North/-Nord L)

*Mills, Gordon (Durham East/-Est ND)

*Morin, Gilles E. (Carleton East/-Est L)

Owens, Stephen (Scarborough Centre ND)

Sullivan, Barbara (Halton Centre L)

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

*In attendance / présents

Substitutions present / Membres remplaçants présents:

Brown, Michael A. (Algoma-Manitoulin L) for Mrs Sullivan

Carr, Gary (Oakville South/-Sud PC) for Mrs Marland

Drainville, Dennis (Victoria-Haliburton ND) for Mr Johnson

Ferguson, Will, (Kitchener ND) for Mrs Mathyssen

Mammoliti, George (Yorkview ND) for Mr Farnan

Marchese, Rosario (Fort York ND) for Mr Owens

Rizzo, Tony (Oakwood ND) for Mr Cooper

Also taking part / Autres participants et participantes:

Offer, Steven (Mississauga North/-Nord L)

Clerk / Greffière: Mellor, Lynn

Staff / Personnel:

Sibenik, Peter, procedural clerk (research), Procedural Research Section, Committees Branch

Yeager, Lewis, research officer, Legislative Research Service

The committee met at 1406 in room 228.


The Chair (Mr Noel Duignan): I call the standing committee on the Legislative Assembly to order. The agenda for the rest of the week for the consideration of this committee is to consider the development of a policy with respect to the recognition of religious holidays in the legislative calendar. To begin today, we have some background briefing by Peter. Peter, have you any idea how long the briefing will last, a half-hour?

Mr Peter Sibenik: Twenty minutes.

The Chair: Twenty minutes, and at that point it's at the discretion of the committee whether we wish further briefings or we begin our discussion.

Mr Sibenik: Thank you very much, Mr Chair, and good afternoon. I'll begin my background briefing by pointing out to you the existing provisions that we have with respect to religious days. If you turn to the standing orders, standing order 8(d) is the particular provision that we have currently. We've had that provision since the 1986 provisional standing orders came into effect. This particular provision has to be set in the context of the parliamentary calendar, of which we have a spring and a fall meeting period. I've appended a copy of the parliamentary calendar. I think all members are fairly familiar with that.

The House sits normally from Monday through Thursday, according to the standing order, but we've also got these particular provisions that we find in standing order 8(d) that specify eight days, together with the March break, on which the House will not meet. Three of those particular days deal with Christian holidays: Good Friday, Easter Sunday and Christmas Day. Those are the only three religious holidays that are mentioned in the standing orders.

On occasion, as I've indicated in my background memo to the committee clerk, a copy of which I hope is before you, there are modifications made to these standing orders, in fact to the parliamentary calendar. Usually, they are by order of the House. It can be done with unanimous consent as well, and this occurred on a number of occasions in 1992, last year. I've indicated what those occurrences were. Some of them dealt with Jewish holy days; others dealt with Christian holy days.

The very first one, for example, the Thursday before Good Friday, was an early adjournment of the House by order of the House. The other incidents there dealt with Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, and I think members are fairly familiar with those particular incidents and I don't have to go into them. The very last one dealt with a situation where the House gave unanimous consent for a member of the House to deliver a response to a ministerial statement that was made the previous day. So I would say that the first three items at the top of page 2 of my memo deal with an order of the House changing an existing standing order, and the last one with a situation where there was unanimous consent that was given for a change.

I've undertaken a number of background studies for the benefit of this particular committee and I undertook these studies in the absence of specific detailed direction as to the kinds of studies you wanted done, but in any event I undertook these. The very first one I did was that I thought you might be interested in finding out what other jurisdictions across the country have done with respect to this particular issue.

The short answer to that -- you can see the summary of the responses I got from other jurisdictions -- is that it is not an issue or else there are very few rules and practices from other jurisdictions that are going to be of much assistance to the committee in its deliberations on the matter. That might pose a problem for the committee; it might not, depending upon your interpretation of that.

You will see from appendix B, however, that there's a two-page summary of all the responses I did get from those other jurisdictions, amid communications with the clerks' offices in those jurisdictions.

The second study I did was that I thought the committee might be interested in knowing a bit about the religious affiliations of the members themselves, and unfortunately there is not much published data on this. That was the context in which I undertook that particular study.

The fact of the matter is that my source, the publication I relied on, the Canadian Parliamentary Guide, does not indicate the religious affiliations of almost 50% of the members of the House, and therefore the data I generated from that particular publication is somewhat skewed. It's inaccurate, I would say, but I provide those data in any event.

I've also indicated in the background memo that there is no personal leave policy for members. The only reason I indicate that is that unlike the members, employees of the assembly do have a personal leave policy which I can use for religious and other reasons, so I, along with other assembly employees, do have access to that kind of a policy.

The Guide to Members' Allowances and Services indicates that there is no such personal leave policy, and that puts members in a particular difficulty, I would say, when it comes to a situation where a member wants to observe a particular holiday, holy day or festival, and the member also might be required to attend to the service of the House or a committee at the same time.

Finally, I also thought members might be interested in knowing what the religious background of the general population in Ontario might be. If you see the appendices I've attached here, they will indicate that approximately 90% of Ontarians belong to Christian faiths and the other 10% are, I would say, scattered among the other religious faiths that exist in Ontario.

There is a multifaith information package, the white binder that I hope many of you have received, and there is also a calendar as well. They give background on each of these particular faiths. There must be about 15 or so and they range in population from 2% or so of the population to 0.05%, something like that.

The problem, of course, is the extent to which you want to recognize all of these particular faiths that exist here and the fact that it will be a very strange-looking parliamentary calendar if you decide to recognize all of these various religious holy days that exist in the province. I leave that issue with you. I think it's a very thorny and difficult issue that is before you.

That basically is my submission. If you have any questions, I'll be here. I'll be available today as well as for the rest of the week in the course of your deliberations.

The Chair: Any questions from the committee members?

Mr Rosario Marchese (Fort York): We looked at the jurisdictions within Canada, but are you knowledgeable about anything else that might have been done by some other country with respect to this issue?

Mr Sibenik: I took a look at the rules with respect to Westminster and they do not have any specific provision dealing with the observance of holy days. There's just a government motion that the House considers, and that generally covers things like the Easter break, the Christmas break or the spring or summer holidays. The government motion is fashioned in that kind of manner.

Our particular provision, which first made its appearance in the 1986 provisional standing orders, is fashioned, generally speaking, on the basis of the Ottawa standing orders at the House of Commons in Ottawa. That's where we get ours. Before 1986, there was no such provision, really, with respect to the observance of any kind of holiday, whether it was a holy day or otherwise.

Mr Michael A. Brown (Algoma-Manitoulin): I'm just wondering what we know about statutory holidays. Can you tell us what, by statute, are holidays across Canada, and then what are statutory holidays in the province of Ontario? It's a broader issue, but I think this falls into it.

Mr Sibenik: The statutory holidays are different from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, which is to say from province to province, because they each have their own employment standards act that specifies their own specific holidays. But there are ones that are generic across the various jurisdictions and these ones -- Easter Sunday, Christmas Day, Good Friday -- are ones that are common right across the country. Those are the provisions that are in our particular legislation as well.

Mr Brown: Are there any federal statutory holidays?

Mr Sibenik: There are for federal employees, and I believe those are in the federal legislation as well. They are fairly common right across the country, I would say, and across the jurisdictions, these particular provisions with respect to these holy days as well as the other regular ones; for example, Victoria Day, New Year's Day, Labour Day, Thanksgiving Day. Those are the usual ones that are observed.

The Chair: Further questions? I have one. I noticed Management Board has been dealing with this particular issue. Do we have any results or any indication or has Management Board indicated any policy in this direction? I know they've been meeting with the Ontario multifaith council.

Mr Sibenik: I don't have any knowledge of that particular matter. It's not something I actively canvassed.

Mr Lewis Yeager: I have some information on that. The Management Board has put together a table for guidance of the managers within the provincial civil service. They've canvassed all the religious leaders of all the groups that are allowed to perform weddings in Ontario, and from that developed a summary table, chart 1 of Christianity and chart 2 of other religions, in which they've gone through the religious holidays that each of these faiths regard as important enough to be considered in this matter. So there has been some consensus achieved by the government on which holidays are of prime importance to the major religions in the province.

The Chair: Could you make that report available to the committee?

Mr Yeager: Yes, I'll have copies made of that.

Mr Marchese: I was just going to recommend that we distribute the OPS guidelines to the members. It would be useful.

The Chair: Any further questions? There appear to be no further questions at this time. How would the committee like to deal with this particular issue or how would the committee like to proceed from this point on?

Mr Gordon Mills (Durham East): Can I ask a question? Are we here to devise a policy no matter what the composition of the House is at that time? To me, it would seem to make profound common sense that if the faith of the members is divided between, say, Christians, Jews and some other religion, really on that day and time we should be looking at that. Why would you be setting rules for the House when this situation might never arrive? You might never have someone of the Islamic religion there, for instance. When you had that, wouldn't you address that when that happened, or is that too common sense?

The Chair: Mr Mills, this issue has been referred by the Speaker to this committee.

Mr Mills: Oh, I see.

The Chair: It arose out of an issue late last year in relation to, I believe, the Jewish faith holidays.

Mr Mills: Yes, I can see that. So we're asked to look at a policy and we're not asked to consider what the composition of the members may be.

The Chair: We're asked to consider our policy around religious holidays etc for this Legislative Assembly.

Mr Mills: So if the situation arrives, we've got it in the rules. Is that what you're saying to me?

The Chair: Sorry, Mr Mills?

Mr Mills: So that we're ready if something happens. Is that it?

The Chair: We're supposed to set a policy on which, if any, religious faith holidays we should observe, I think. That's my understanding.

Mr George Mammoliti (Yorkview): Has the Speaker given an indication as to where he would like us to go with this, except: "Look at it. Here, deal with it"? Has he given you an indication of where we should go as a committee?

The Chair: There was no particular direction. The Speaker asked us to take a look at this issue and come up with a policy. If the committee doesn't come up with a policy, we can simply refer it back to the Speaker again.

Mr Gilles E. Morin (Carleton East): I believe the whole issue was raised when Steven Offer -- you remember, on Bill 40. Perhaps you should ask Steve, what was the purpose? What did he mean?

The Chair: I'd be more than delighted to.

Mr Steven Offer (Mississauga North): I don't know too much about how this matter got here, except that I can tell you that in the last session I rose on a point of order, and maybe the committee should be looking at this particular aspect of the matter.

As you know, I am the Labour critic for our party and as such had been involved with Bill 40. We were under a motion of time allocation, which stipulated the number of days on which the committee could not only have public hearings but also deal in a clause-by-clause nature with the legislation, just to set the stage.

You will also know that at one point the bill was being discussed clause by clause in the Legislature on a day which was a religious observance for myself. I brought this matter to our committee, the standing committee on resources development, which unanimously requested the House leader to amend that motion as an order of the House saying that we would not have to sit on the day on which I could not be present. It turned out that it was two days of legislative time. The committee, as a result of my request, unanimously agreed to request the House leader for that stay, basically. That was not agreed to, and as a result it necessitated my standing up in the Legislature on a point of personal privilege.

The point was that as a critic involved in a particular piece of legislation, I felt I was standing up for all members of the Legislature, in that there will be times when you are involved in a piece of legislation and have been involved and your attendance is absolutely necessary, not only for yourself as a member of the Legislature but also as a responsibility given to you by your respective caucuses, and potentially, because of a day of religious observance, you cannot be there.

I was asking not for the Legislature not to sit or anything of that nature. I was asking that the order of the House mandating the hearing of Bill 40 be stayed as a result of my having to be away from the Legislature for what turned out to be two days, and I think what happened was that it sort of got banged down into this committee.

I personally would think that it might not be a bad idea -- but I know that it's within the purview of the members of this committee to determine how they wish to deal with the issue -- when that type of situation arises where a member of the Legislature who is really seized of a particular piece of legislation which is before the Legislature cannot be there because of a day of religious observance, there be a policy or whatever of the Legislature that says that in that situation the matter will not be called either before the committee or before the Legislature, and not have to rise on a point of privilege, which I'd hoped would be unnecessary.

I felt it was a matter for which I stood on that day but really could -- as we can all easily envisage, each of us might be rising on another day for a matter which they are seized of and cannot be there for a matter of religious observance.

That was the essence of the concern I brought before the committee. It turned out that in the end the House leader did agree to stay the hearing, but not until we had to go through what was, for me, a fairly uncomfortable matter. I did not believe it ever should have had to be raised as a point of privilege in the Legislature, because it had been initiated as a result of unanimous agreement in the resources committee.

I thank my colleague Mr Morin for giving me the opportunity of saying these few words but I might suggest, as the committee was sort of saying, "What is it we're supposed to be doing?" that one of the things you might want to think about is whether a policy can be decided in that type of instance. It is not for me to question whether the Legislature should sit or not. That was never a request I would ever have made. It was a question about a member, seized of a particular piece of legislation as critic or as a minister -- I would think there would be a different situation arising in that instance -- whether if that happens, there would be a policy where you wouldn't have to rise on a point of privilege to ask for what I believe is a common courtesy afforded to everybody in this province, on other matters in their own walks of life.

That was basically the essence of my concern, and potentially a committee will come up with some sort of policy first to decide whether that is an issue; second, if it is, whether it is one which should be addressed; and third, how it should be addressed.

Thank you, Mr Morin, for giving me the opportunity of saying that.

Mr Marchese: I think Steven spoke very well to the issue. I was going to raise two issues, because I didn't know whether or not other members wanted to talk about observing other religious holidays. If that were the case, we'd obviously have different debates to discuss. If that is not an issue, then what Steven is talking about is certainly what I want to be able to look at in terms of how we accommodate other members in terms of observing their religious holidays, and having to respect that in a way he suggests so that he doesn't have to stand on a point of privilege to raise the issue, but rather establishing policy on that. I was looking at a number of instances where this has been accommodated, to which Lewis has already spoken. I think that gives us a good springboard from which to begin.

The point is that yes, there will be occasions when -- I think we only have two Jewish members, or possibly three on the other side of the House, or even our side for that matter -- this will become an issue. It could be that in the future we might have other members who will also have to observe religious holidays and we will have to deal with that at some point in the future. I think it's important for us, in respecting that, to be able to anticipate those occasions and say that where a matter affects that individual and that person has to be away, we will not deal with that particular matter. I think that is the spirit in which we should be addressing this issue.


Mr Will Ferguson (Kitchener): I think my good friend sitting beside me is precisely correct. First of all, I don't know how we can legislate common courtesy. We all work here, and that's something that should be extended to each other in any event. I'm not concerned about how the Legislative Assembly would be affected, nor in my view would the general public be concerned, by any stretch of the imagination, about how the Legislative Assembly would be affected. I'm sure there's a sizeable population out there that doesn't notice when we meet as opposed to adjourn.

What I want to touch on is that we've got a broader public sector out there that is going to be watching this very closely. If we are going to look at any sort of formal changes, I'm looking at how that's going to affect the broader public sector down the road. I did a quick count here of about 77 religious holidays. Quite frankly, I just don't know how you would manage a system like that.

Mr Offer made his point -- a point well taken -- that it's a common courtesy that should have been extended right away. Obviously, it wasn't, and that's why he brought the matter to everybody's attention. I understand from his comment that it was a courtesy that eventually was extended. I think we all have to be extremely sensitive to that, and to other people's requests, because I think everybody would agree it's a reasonable request. It's not an unreasonable request. But I don't think we can set government policy here by all of a sudden adopting a whole set of religious holidays that currently are not in place.

My concern is where you stop at that point. I don't think we really have the big picture here on what a cause and effect relationship would be if we decided to take the first step. There are a lot of unanswered questions here.

It's not just how it's going to affect us; it's obviously how it's going to affect every employee in this government and eventually every employee in every other level of government. I know Management Board has considered it. I know it has been brought to the attention of Management Board, where some employees of various religious faiths have said, "Look, I want this day off for a religious holiday and I expect to be paid for that day off," even though it isn't what we would normally call a statutory holiday.

My view is simply that we communicate to the Speaker that he advise the House leaders that in negotiation for legislation -- let's face it, there's no magic. If it's done on a Monday, a Tuesday, a Wednesday or a Thursday, this has to be and should be consideration among all three House leaders.

The Chair: Thank you, Mr Ferguson. Just on a point of clarification, we're not considering religious holidays for the government; we're just considering them for the Legislative Assembly. There's a difference.

Mr Dennis Drainville (Victoria-Haliburton): It seems to me there are two or three principles we might look at, the first one being that I think we're agreed that we're not talking about changing the standing orders. That's not what we're about. Rather, we're trying to establish some sort of guideline which we can hope is taken seriously by the House leaders.

There's no question that one of the principles that needs to be stated is that whoever is elected to sit in this House by the people of the province, must be given all the rights due to them for whatever religious observances they have, following whatever path they follow. That means if they cannot be in the House or in committee because of their religious beliefs, that has to be respected. I agree with Mr Offer's view that this should not mean, therefore, that the House should not sit. That would be difficult. We have to continue to do the business of the province.

However, it needs to be stated, and perhaps it needs to be stated strongly, that with our willingness to respect the religious rights of all people, we need always to ensure that that respect is seen by offering that person the courtesy of acknowledging the fact that they cannot be present at particular times.

Where this gets perhaps a little bit difficult is in terms of establishing a guideline. What is a guideline that can be established? We have the standing orders and we have that kind of codification process whereby we change the standing orders that say X, Y and Z. In this case what we're trying to do is to put together a guideline which, by its very nature, is going to be somewhat tentative and nebulous because, first, we don't know the kinds of religious traditions that are going to be represented here in the Legislature of Ontario. That could change from election to election.

The second thing is that the workings of this place are, I wouldn't say mystical, but somewhat strange at times in that the House leaders meet together in a holy huddle and decide the kinds of directions in which we're going to be going in terms of the work that is going to be set before us in the House. In that particular meeting it seems to me this kind of guideline is going to have to be considered by these people, more so than the Speaker in a sense, because it's these people who set the daily proceedings for us.

The question is, and I put it to you if I might, Mr Yeager, that if indeed we're considering some sort of guideline that can be used, could you please give us an indication of how we go about doing that, what force does that have and how would that be administered?

The Chair: I think the comments should be directed at --

Mr Drainville: Oh, I'm sorry. I'm looking at -- that's not yours.

Mr Sibenik: No, Peter Sibenik.

Mr Drainville: My apologies.

Mr Sibenik: If we're talking about something that is short of a standing order, it has somewhat less authority of course than a standing order itself. I think one of the options the committee might want to take a look at is some kind of a recommendation directed perhaps to House leaders, whips or perhaps by the Speaker, to the effect that the various officials and functionaries of the parties should be receptive to the idea of trying to accommodate members of different religious faiths.

That is one of the options and it would be a kind of accommodation, it would not be a regulation. It would not be a standing order, so something like that could be done. That kind of a recommendation would fall within the purview, it seems to me, of this particular committee if the committee wished to proceed with that kind of a recommendation. It would probably be the easiest kind of thing to draft, although it would take some time to reflect on all the various angles of it.

Mr Drainville: May I follow up with a couple of questions? The first thing I'm thinking of is, if there was such a guideline, would this be considered binding on another Parliament? Would this be used in another Parliament, or what kind of support would that give to continue this particular tradition if we were to go in this direction?

Mr Sibenik: I think perhaps moral authority would be about the best of it. As I say, in the absence of a standing order, it would not necessarily be binding on future administrations or future governments, but once of course the policy was in place it would be difficult, I would think, to dislodge that kind of thing from session to session and from Parliament to Parliament.

Mr Drainville: If I could just clarify, the reason I said at the beginning that I don't think we're looking at a standing order is because I think everyone here would be in agreement that we cannot establish 77 holidays or 50 or 25. In fact, going that particular route, as Lear said, "That way madness lies." But it seems to me that it's difficult to put it down in a standing order because we're dealing with a situation that's going to shift all the time. Do you disagree with that or is it something that can be codified in some way?

Mr Sibenik: It does pose a particular problem. It depends on one's perspective on this. Is the reason for the inclusion of certain days as days on which the House will not sit the fact that it is there for the benefit of the members, or is it there for the benefit of the larger public, the wider public?


I sensed on one occasion last year, on the occasion when the House adjourned for Rosh Hashana -- I believe it was on September 28; the reasons for the adjournment were indicated in Hansard -- there was also an indication on the part of several members that they wished their Jewish constituents well by virtue of the fact that Rosh Hashana was going to occur September 28 and 29.

There is some indication there that the reason for the House not meeting on a particular day is not just for the benefit of members of that particular religious faith but also for the wider public. So it really does depend on one's perspective. I'm not saying what the right perspective is, but it is an issue.

Mr Drainville: My pursuing that particular line is just to reinforce what Mr Offer indicated, that if we take the wider perspective, I don't know how we're going to do this. If we take the narrow perspective of the, I would say, absolute right of the individual member to have his religious observance acknowledged, then I think there are some clear delineations we can take, and we can move in that direction reasonably easily.

Mr Marchese: Just to pursue this a little bit in terms of what Dennis has been saying, there will probably be a number of difficulties that we will face in the future, no doubt. If it's true that in about 10 years' time, 40% of Metro's population will be of visible minorities, at some point many of those communities will elect MPs, MPPs and other councillors on other levels where they will want changes to be made. So I anticipate changes will happen inevitably, whether we like it or not.

Whether we can anticipate this somehow through the guidelines is a different matter, and we might, because I think what we're looking at are enabling guidelines that make sure that people like Steven and others are accommodated on particular days. If we know those religious holidays as they affect the Jewish members, for example, we can as a government anticipate that in advance and so avoid certain problems.

Some things you may not be able to control. If you can't control it, that is where we respect the fact that some members on that particular day will not be available, and that may stop the business of a committee or the House. That could happen. But I think we can anticipate these things, and that's why I'm looking at enabling guidelines that will respect the fact that some members will not be available but that they want to comment, and therefore on particular days those issues will not be dealt with. That's how I see us dealing with it, and I believe we can do that very well.

I would add, in terms of what Peter was saying, how do you separate a benefit to the public and a benefit to the member? I think the two are very much interconnected, particularly as we elect members of those communities that they will be reflecting. So you won't be able to separate concerns of the members and concerns of the public; they've become very much complementary.

At some point, it will be difficult in the future in terms of how we deal with it. But this issue is an evolving issue. I think we should recognize the evolution of this issue and that at some point we will have to return to this and change all of the rules around it. But I think we have all members agreeing to this in terms of guidelines, that in itself it will have a lot of force, whether it's in standing orders or not. So if all three parties agree, in itself it's quite forceful. I have no problems in terms of that.

Mr Morin: I have difficulty understanding why we are all together here discussing this, because the issue was raised on account of the point of privilege raised by Mr Offer. After hearing him, it's quite obvious that it was not his intention to ask for the regulation to be changed. He didn't ask that, because he could have been sick. He was the man leading Bill 40 for us, and it happened to be his holiday. It happened to be a Jewish holiday. Had he been sick, it would have been the same thing. They would have said, "Okay, look yes, do take some time and we hope you come back next week in better health."

I believe we're tackling an issue that -- have we received any comments from any other people who said, "We don't agree with this legislation"? I don't think we have. Shall we deal with this issue of changing the holidays or shall we deal with Mr Offer's issue?

Mr Marchese: We are agreeing.

Mr Morin: Sure, we agree with this. But at the same time, I don't think you can establish a rule to tell House leaders how to behave. It's pretty much common sense. You must be sensitive to the members participating on a committee. You say, "Okay, can everybody be there?" I think people got angry for nothing. There was no reason to bring that issue up. If we're about to spend four days on this, I think it's a waste of taxpayers' money.

Mr Brown: I think I agree with my colleague. This is really an issue and maybe you could help me, Mr Chair -- this issue arrived from the Speaker, did it?

The Chair: Yes.

Mr Brown: In terms of reference from the Speaker?

The Chair: It was referred from the Speaker to this committee to consider the development of a policy with respect to the recognition of religious holidays in the legislative calendar.

Mr Brown: I guess I understand, as we all do, that it was precipitated by Mr Offer's request to the Speaker.

The Chair: That's correct.

Mr Brown: What's confusing here is that I don't think Mr Offer's objection had anything directly to do with religious holidays. It was a personal commitment or a personal emergency that precipitated Mr Offer's request of the Speaker. It just happens --

Mr Marchese: What was the emergency, not a religious holiday?

Mr Brown: It could have been, as Mr Morin suggested, a death in the family. It could have been personal illness. It could have been anything like that. House leaders for 125 years in this province have been accommodating those kinds of concerns on behalf of the members, so I think we look at this too narrowly, to suggest that this is about religious holidays. What this is about is the rights of an opposition to have its critic in place to deal with government legislation. That's the way I see it, and I think that's the way my colleagues see it.

But we're dealing with a different subject, at least as far as the instructions from the Speaker are concerned. That's a problem I've got. I don't think this is really about religion because what I'm hearing over on the other side is exactly what I think we all believe, that members certainly have the right, indeed the obligation, to observe their own personal religious observances. That's not being questioned by any one.

From the government side, you don't have this problem. If the minister has to deal with a particular personal emergency and/or religious observance, that minister will not have the legislation called on that day. It's just that simple. But in opposition, you don't have that luxury. That's how I see the issue and I guess we'll run around from there.

The Chair: Thank you, Mr Brown. Mr Rizzo, Mr Mills and then Mr Drainville.

Mr Tony Rizzo (Oakwood): I agree with Mr Morin. I don't think we have a problem and I don't think we should waste taxpayers' money in sitting for four days dealing with something that's not important at this time. Parliament was able to accommodate the concerns of some of our members in 1992 and I think we should stop at that. This problem can be accommodated, like we did in the past, in the future without changing any of the rules at all, and I think we should stop.

Mr Mills: I agree, of course, with my friend across there, Gilles, because when I read all this material I also couldn't tell what are we getting into here. It baffled me. I think what we're here to do is to devise or come up with some mechanism to alleviate the problem Steven Offer went through before. Isn't that what we're here for, to come up with a mechanism we can all buy into whereby if that situation arises again, no matter what religion you are, it's taken care of automatically without any hassle? That, to me, is what we're here to decide. I believe you suggested we could do something like that, that we could devise a mechanism to take care of this, if I heard you right.


The Chair: Could I just get a little clarification from Mr Offer and Mr Brown. I think they wanted to take that a little step further, to indicate that if someone was sick etc that accommodation could be made as well.

Mr Mills: No, I don't think so.

The Chair: Am I hearing that?

Mr Mills: That wasn't your intention.

The Chair: It wasn't necessary just for religious holidays, but for other reasons such as if someone was sick, for example.

Mr Ferguson: That was used as an example.

The Chair: Oh, it was just an example.

Mr Mills: I don't think that was to be considered, in my opinion.

Mr Offer: The situation was simply that as critic in my caucus on a particular matter, an issue arose where we had the government House leader saying, "You are going to sit during a particular few days," and I couldn't be there. When you cut through it all, the fact of the matter is that I and everybody else in this Legislature are going to be critics and responsible for a particular piece of legislation.

The example here is Bill 40. I was involved. I was providing the amendments. I was stating our party's position on the bill. We were at a particular point in time when I could not be there and the House leader said, "We're going to be sitting." I felt there was the need to bring the matter up, because to me it was really a matter that every member of the Legislature could experience. We have to ask ourselves, is there going to be some sort of policy or whatever that deals with this matter?

I had no intention of saying the Legislature should not sit, not at all. The fact of the matter is that I was responsible for a piece of legislation, couldn't be in the Legislature, gave notice of that and was denied. We gave ample warning. Do we deal with that issue?

Mr Drainville: I think we don't need to go much further on this. The point is that quite apart from all the information we have here about holidays for various faith groups, I think we have acknowledged that we can't effectively change the standing orders to increase that because of the difficulties that would mean in terms of our ongoing work in the Legislature.

What we have here is a particular case raised by a member of the Legislature basically dealing with religious observance. There are other possibilities of things that may come up, but we're not looking at those other things. We're looking at a member who had a particular difficulty and had to raise it in terms of a question of privilege.

I agree with Mr Offer that for him to have been put in the situation of having to raise that in the House was not appropriate. The House leaders -- I say leaders -- needed to have dealt with that outside the House. The fact that they did not is prima facie evidence that we need at least to give some indication to them of some guideline which they need to take seriously in their deliberations as they come up with the proceedings we're going to deal with as members in the House.

That being the case, very focused on what Mr Offer has presented here, I would say we should suggest a guideline that acknowledges the religious beliefs of any member of this Legislature who is elected here. When that member is engaged in a particular endeavour or legislative work, the House leaders should take into consideration that person's religious needs as regards holidays, or other religious needs, to ensure they are going to be there and involved in the process when that issue comes up before the House or before committee.

I think that's the sole focus we need to look at, because of the case that's been raised by Mr Offer. To go into any other area is to go into areas that would take a lot of discussion and really aren't germane to the particular case we're supposed to be looking at. I realize that the Speaker gave us rather a larger, more general approach, but there's no reason why we can't focus, in this particular committee, on that particular issue.

The Chair: There are two members of the committee who haven't spoken yet, so I'm going to ask them for their comments first and then get back to the other members. Mr Villeneuve and then Mr Mammoliti.

Mr Noble Villeneuve (S-D-G & East Grenville): I think Mr Offer summed it up pretty well when he said simply that he was looking to be accommodated and was not in any way, shape or form trying to reflect on the scheduling of the Legislature. The request seemed to be a little bit more focused than that, but I think we all agree. I suppose we could cite the example of a calendar that is now in effect, supposedly, for legislative sittings and what have you. Of course, it's not in the standing orders and it's not adhered to.

I think this committee is simply here to appreciate some of the concerns. I know I was personally impressed with the number of religions we have and the number of holidays that were listed there. I for one must admit that I did not know a great deal about some of the religions that are followed very closely by some people within this province, not necessarily by some of the members of this Legislature but by the people who reside here.

It's certainly helpful for we as members to know that these religious holidays are occurring. It would be simply to caution the House leaders of all parties who make the decisions on what business comes before the Legislature as to whether we are encroaching upon someone's religious beliefs during times of sitting. I think to rearrange the schedule is basically all we're asking for.

When I saw the words "religious holidays," as to the connotation of the Lord's Prayer in the Legislature, which came up some time ago and prompted a lot of us to write to the Speaker -- I know this is not to look at that particular situation -- I thought this committee might have touched on it at some point, but it's quite obviously not on the schedule or on the agenda. I know the Speaker was looking, at that time, for direction from all members, and I think all members from all parties provided him with as much direction as he dared to even look at. However, be that as it may, we're not addressing that particular case and situation today.

I think we're looking at people who, through common courtesy -- I have the occasion of being in the Speaker's chair from time to time and yes, there are days when it's rougher than others, but by and large, people are courteous. I think this recommendation from this committee would simply be to recognize that there are many different faiths in the province that are adhered to among members of the Legislature and to respect those desires as much as possible. I don't think we can go any further.

Mr Mammoliti: Two questions, I guess, before I make a comment: First of all, has this sort of thing happened in the past, or perhaps a similar occasion in the history of the Legislature? Has something happened similar to Mr Offer's occasion?

Mr Morin: I've been here since 1985.

Mr Mammoliti: In terms of something similar in nature.

Mr Morin: Not that I can recall since 1985.

Mr Mammoliti: The second is, of course, what is the definition of "religion"? If a member of the House decided to stand up at any given time and tell us that he or she is now worshipping worms or chickens or whatever have you, would that be considered a religion and would we have to recognize that? That's where I have a problem.

Mr Yeager: Perhaps I could answer that second question. The Ontario public service defined "religious denominations" as those whose religious leaders comply with section 20 of the Marriage Act. So there's a procedure in place that would pick out most of the worm worshippers and that stuff.

Mr Mammoliti: So we don't have to worry about somebody worshipping a worm or something.

Mr Yeager: As long as you followed the Ontario public service guidelines, that's already in place.


Mr Ferguson: Mr Chair, I have a motion to make. I would like to move that this committee advise the Speaker that we have decided not to take any action on this matter.

The Chair: There's been a motion by Mr Ferguson. Is there debate on the motion? Mr Marchese?

Mr Marchese: Yes.

Mr Ferguson: Can I speak to the motion first?

Mr Marchese: He wants to speak to his motion.

The Chair: Sorry, Mr Ferguson.

Mr Ferguson: Mr Chair, first of all, there wasn't a problem. At the end of the day, there wasn't a problem. The government House leader's office was sensitive to Mr Offer's predicament. Second of all, Mr Morin is quite correct: This is a commonsense issue. Whether it be religion or a death in a family or a significant family event or illness, generally speaking, there hasn't been a problem in the past. So I can't think why we should try to go out and solve a potential problem that may never exist.

Finally, Management Board obviously is charged with the responsibility of managing the government. They are dealing with the issue, none too easily, I might add. I think we should really see what they come up in terms of policy for the broader public service, because that might in some large sense dictate what the Legislature should do. But I really don't know how we can legislate common sense here. That's what we're asking.

Mr Marchese: I disagree with the motion. I want to refer to some of the comments Mr Morin and Mr Offer made earlier on, because I believe there are some good things that I think could come out of this. I, like Mr Morin, don't want to spend four days on this issue, but I think there is some usefulness in debating and finding some agreement on this issue. But there are some different points that have been raised.

First of all, however, to comment on my colleague's remarks here, common sense is no guarantee of doing the right thing. Though my colleague talked about the fact that you can't legislate common sense, at the same time, we know there are a lot of commonsense things that we either do poorly or we do well sometimes. But there is no guarantee that in the future, if something arises, the different leaders will use good, respectful common sense so that we will come to some solution. I think we need to talk about guidelines and I thought that's what we were getting at before.

There are two things that arose out of this discussion. One was whether or not we shouldn't find some guidelines or agree on some policies to accommodate people with different religions, which I think we should respect, and I thought that was wonderful in terms of what we were given. I really believe we're anticipating some future problems here. I think it's important to deal with it, and in that respect I think we can come to some wording that we were alluding to earlier that would accommodate that.

But I also believe, if the issue is what Mike Brown was talking about, and what I understood later on Steven Offer was also talking about, we really aren't talking about religious holidays necessarily, but some other kind of thing that refers to, "I can't be here for some other emergency." That is more complicated to deal with, in my opinion, than dealing with the whole issue of respecting somebody's right to his or her religious day and being unable to come on that particular day for that reason. That is much easier, in my view, to deal with, than someone saying: "Look, I'm calling in sick. I can't be there. Please don't meet today. I've got something important to say."

How do you define that? How do you interpret that, someone calling in and saying, "I'm sick," someone calling in because somebody has died. Is it your cousin? Is it a distant cousin? How you define that, in my view, is a lot more difficult than the other issue, about which people said: "Oh, that's not an issue. Common sense will deal with it." I suggest to you if you want four days of debate, what the two of you were getting at will give us four days of debate, whereas the whole issue of respecting religious observance is much easier to deal with.

I think this motion is not appropriate in terms of how we get to deal with the issue I thought we were here to deal with, so I'll be voting against it so that we can come back to the debate again.

The Chair: Any further debate on the motion?

Mr Mills: Just a comment about the motion, Mr Chair: I'm not going to support the motion for the basic reason that I want to see some mechanism from this committee put forward on how we're going to deal with situations like Mr Offer's, and really that's the whole crux of it, as far as I'm concerned -- mechanism, policy -- so that it doesn't arrive again so that you have to stand up on a point of privilege and ask for all these things. Surely to goodness we can put it into some sort of order, document, and I believe the gentleman there has got some ideas about that. Peter, you've got some ideas.

Mr Morin: Perhaps what we could do, Mr Chairman, is to prepare a letter explaining exactly what happened within this meeting to the Speaker, that we felt the issue that was brought to our attention did not quite answer the issue that was raised in the House by Mr Offer, because the whole thing stems from that, and then for the Speaker perhaps to write a letter to the House leaders that in the future he will take into consideration the religions, the feelings of certain people, before coming to a decision.

In this case, Mr Offer's case is totally unusual. He just happened to be the critic. Had it been, for instance, me who had been the critic and I had to respect a religious holiday -- sorry, had he been a member of the committee and had to take his holidays, nobody would have said a word; we could have replaced him. It just happened that he was the critic. That was the issue. Of course, we cannot dictate common sense; common sense comes with life experience. You cannot tell the House leader, "Look, this is what you have to do," but I think a gentle letter from the Speaker saying, "We looked at the issue but you're giving us a tool that we don't even have to correct, because nobody raised it" -- otherwise, we're going to create problems and, let me tell you, if you want to have problems, talk about religion. This is not our job; there's no way.

I think we have solved Mr Offer's issue. He said it so clearly. So let's write a letter, let's give a compte rendu to the Speaker of what we've done and make a recommendation to the Speaker: "Please write to the House leader to please take into consideration the religions of each individual or certain other aspects," and everything would be fine, instead of a motion.

Mr Ferguson: Mr Chair, I'll withdraw my motion and support that motion, providing, of course, the question be put now.

Mr Morin: And be well phrased; phrase it well.

The Chair: Thank you, Mr Ferguson. I had recognized one other speaker, Mr Villeneuve, and then I will put the question.

Mr Villeneuve: With all due respect to my colleague, Mr Morin, who also sits in the Chair, I think this puts the Speaker in somewhat of a precarious position because he takes on the responsibility that I believe should be this committee's and the House leaders'. I think it's difficult for the Speaker to try and tell House leaders what to do. I think this committee, made up of all parties, and a letter from the Chair stating what we've discussed here -- I'm not sure the Speaker has anything to do with this. I realize he has taken it on to be addressed, but I have difficulty in involving the Speaker.

Mr Morin: I'm not asking for the Speaker to dictate to the House leaders what to do. It's to make a report, to give a report of what happened and, "Would you please consider in the future taking into consideration the religions of the individual or whatever." I'm not telling the Speaker to dictate. It's not his job, of course not, but at the same time it's just a letter to bring attention to a complaint that was brought to his own attention. It's as simple as that. It's just a letter. I don't think you're creating a precedent. It's just a question again of bringing a matter to the attention of the House leaders: "Be a little more respectful. Be a little more considerate." I wouldn't object to that if somebody would tell me this. I'd say, "Of course I'll be more careful next time."

Mr Ferguson: Question.


Mr Ferguson: No, I withdrew. I'm supporting Gilles.

The Chair: Mr Ferguson has withdrawn his motion and what we're operating on now is the suggestion by Mr Morin.

Mr Mammoliti: House leader or House leaders?

The Chair: House leaders.

Mr Marchese: Does that cover your concerns, Steve, that motion?

Mr Offer: Sure.

The Chair: Mr Brown, be quick.

Mr Brown: There actually is no motion, Mr Chair.

The Chair: A suggestion.

Mr Brown: It's nice that Mr Ferguson is supporting Mr Morin's suggestion, but voting on suggestions is difficult.

I just want to point out that under our standing orders the person who calls the business of the day is the government House leader. Certainly, he talks to the other House leaders, but it is the sole responsibility of the government House leader to determine the business of the day, and while I'm pleased to see that it goes to all House leaders involved, the issue is the government House leader.

The Chair: There's another point of clarification. Mr Ferguson, there's no motion on the floor right now, just a suggestion. There's no need to call a vote.

Mr Morin: It's a suggestion.

Mr Ferguson: Make it a motion; move it.

Mr Morin: Let's call it a motion, if you like it as a motion.


The Chair: Are you moving it as a motion?

Mr Morin: I'll move it as a motion. Its rather lenghty.

Mr Marchese: Mr Brown was talking about whose responsibility this is, and he talked about the government House leader. We could send it to the government House leader with copies to the other House leaders if that's the way to do it. I'm fine with that; if that suits the other members, that's fine.

The Chair: As the Speaker referred this to the committee, the letter should go to the Speaker, with copies to the House leaders. I'll also make a suggestion that a copy of the proceedings and the members' comments accompany that letter as well, from the debate here this afternoon.

Mr Mills: That's a good idea.

Mr Marchese: All right.

The Chair: Any further debate on the motion? Seeing none, all in favour of the motion? Carried.

This committee stands adjourned.

The committee adjourned at 1512.