Wednesday 9 June 1993

Subcommittee report

Role of the independent member

Will Ferguson, MPP

John Sola, MPP


*Chair / Président: Hansen, Ron (Lincoln ND)

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

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

*MacKinnon, Ellen (Lambton ND)

Mathyssen, Irene (Middlesex ND)

McClelland, Carman (Brampton North/-Nord L)

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

Owens, Stephen (Scarborough Centre ND)

Sterling, Norman W. (Carleton PC)

*Sullivan, Barbara (Halton Centre L)

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

*Wessenger, Paul (Simcoe Centre ND)

*In attendance / présents

Substitutions present/ Membres remplaçants présents:

Sutherland, Kimble (Oxford ND) for Mr Owens

Turnbull, David (York Mills PC) for Mr Villeneuve

Clerks / Greffiéres:

Freedman, Lisa

Mellor, Lynn

Staff / Personnel:

Sibenik, Peter, procedural research clerk, committees branch

Yeager, Lewis, research officer, Legislative Research Service

The committee met at 1614 in room 151.


The Chair (Mr Ron Hansen): We'll bring the standing committee on the Legislative Assembly to order. I'd like to report on the subcommittee meeting.

Mrs Barbara Sullivan (Halton Centre): On a point order, Mr Chairman: Do we have concurrence that there be no representation from the Conservative caucus?

The Chair: That's correct.

"Your subcommittee met on Wednesday, June 2, 1993, to consider the committee's schedule of business and committee budget, and has agreed to recommend:

"1. That the Chair, a member of each caucus, and the committee clerk attend the National Conference of State Legislatures annual meeting, July 24 to July 29, 1993, San Diego, California; and

"That a request seeking authority to do so be sent to the House leaders.

"2. That the attached 1993-94 committee budget be approved and that the Chair be authorized to present the budget to the Board of Internal Economy."

Can I ask a mover on the two items, number 1 and number 2?

Mr Mike Farnan (Cambridge): I will.

The Chair: Mr Farnan has so moved. Any discussion? All in favour? Any opposed? Carried.


The Chair: I'd like to now welcome Mr Will Ferguson.

Mrs Sullivan: On a point of order, Mr Chairman: As we only have two of the independent members of the House available to be with us today, I would like to place a motion before the committee with respect to the times, that we will ensure that there's equivalent treatment of all the independent members as they appear before us.

I would like to move that each of the independent members be asked to address us formally for 20 minutes and then to allow 10 minutes for questions and answers, or to divide the 30-minute time as they see fit.

The Chair: Fine. Any discussion on the motion?

Mr Farnan: I see Barbara's point, but depending on the individual member, someone may speak for five minutes and leave it open to questioning, and another individual may feel they want to put on record a statement that's 30 minutes long. Maybe we should be a little bit flexible in that way.

Mrs Sullivan: I think that was the intent of the motion. My basic recommendation is 20 minutes plus 10; however, 30 minutes as the independent member sees fit.

The Chair: As the total amount of time, just the same as delegations who come before us.

Mrs Sullivan: Precisely.

The Chair: The Chair usually says, "Can you leave some time at the end for committee members to ask questions?" but there are some delegations that take the full 30 minutes. No one's opposed to Ms Sullivan's motion?

Mr Gilles E. Morin (Carleton East): Just to make sure also that once we've listened to the two witnesses, the meeting ends there; in other words, I think we should hear the three witnesses before we start debating or discussing. If discussions were to be held, I would suggest that these discussions be held in camera.

The Chair: Agreed upon?

Mr Farnan: Absolutely.

The Chair: Anybody opposed? Fine.

There wasn't anybody opposed to Ms Sullivan's first motion, so that was carried.

I'd like to welcome you, Mr Ferguson. We have 30 minutes, from 20 after 4 until 10 to 5, and then Mr Sola will be on after that.

Mr Will Ferguson (Kitchener): Thank you very much, Mr Chair. I guess I'd better make this good, because this may be the only opportunity I get this year to speak at a committee meeting.

First of all, I'm going to try to be very brief and very succinct. I think everybody is well aware of the issue that I and a couple of colleagues face with respect to the rules of the Legislative Assembly and the standing orders.

I, much the same as each one of you, was elected back in September 1990 to do a job. I can't help but feel that, given the turn of events that have taken place, I am not doing the full job I was elected to do.

I think we all recognize that life's path and life's road can take many different twists and turns. Some things we have control over; other things we have to learn to tolerate, over which we have no control. That's how I feel at the moment. I'm in a situation over which I had absolutely no control. As a result of being in a situation over which I had no control, circumstances dictated that for a, hopefully temporary, period of time, I would sit as an independent member of the Legislature.

I think we all fully recognize that the rules established for this Legislature, in fact for most legislatures across the country, are rules that are there to effectively serve party democracy, within the party system, within the parliamentary system.

I can't help but think that it is most unfair, most unjust, that an individual who represents 85,000 people in this province finds himself or, as perhaps a future case may be, yourself, in a situation where they effectively have a vote but no voice on behalf of the individuals they may represent.

Let me tell you, it's very difficult to explain to one's constituents why you cannot speak on their behalf when it comes to either members' statements or voicing concerns on behalf of constituents at a committee meeting, a forum like this. They certainly don't understand the legislative process or the rules, and I think the general consensus out there is that if the existing rules dictate that one has no voice, even though one is duly elected, then the rules ought to be changed.


I think our raison d'être is to represent the views of the individuals we're here on behalf of. In any policy or any decision or any discussion that takes place, I really think you're removing the fundamental tool of expression by not permitting some kind of allowance for those individual members who either find themselves sitting as independents or, in other circumstances, choose to sit as an independent member.

I would suggest that a member's statement and a question, perhaps once every three to four weeks, prorated, perhaps, concurrent with the number of opposition and third-party members and government members, would (a) not be inappropriate and (b) not be a severe time constraint. I think, if we're going to be honest, we witness in this place a lot of wasted time on a lot of really mundane issues. Again, my constituents see that and they say, "Why would an elected member be permitted to debate government process or the rule process and you, in turn, are not permitted," with the exception, I guess, on second reading of a bill, "to be engaged in the process of government?"

Most of us recognize that being able to speak and being able to put forth the views that, presumably, elected members represent on behalf of the collective wisdom of their communities is a very important part of the government process.

Those are my remarks and those are my thoughts on the matter.

The Chair: Okay. Any questions from the committee?

Mrs Sullivan: I'd like to know, Mr Ferguson, whether, in your view, there ought to be different rules dependent on the way one becomes an independent: whether one is an independent at election time, when one puts oneself forward as an independent; whether one is an independent by choice, having removed oneself from a caucus environment; or whether one is an independent by request, when that has been made.

Mr Ferguson: I think I could advance a very strong argument on one -- I think what you're asking here is whether one is in control of the situation or one isn't in control of the situation. Obviously, the member from Victoria-Haliburton is very much in control of the situation, as a conscious decision to sit as an independent for reasons that he expressed at that time.

I don't think I was particularly in control of a situation. There are external forces out there over which I had no control, for just about two years of my life now, that I think forced me into this particular role I'm in today. It's not a role I decided to play, necessarily; it's a role that I really felt I was forced into more than anything else.

So I think it'd be most unfair to say -- I don't know if this committee or any committee would want to sit in judgement of whether somebody's in an independent role as a result of being elected here originally, as opposed to ending up in an independent role because of a decision that individual makes later on in the life of the government or in the life of the opposition or in the life of the third party. Let's face it, there could be defections on either side of the House at any time.

I really don't think it would be appropriate to say you're going to apply one set of rules for one individual depending on the situation, because there are just too many variables out there that I think the Legislature would have to contend with. What's important is to provide some kind of forum so that people who find themselves, either by choice or by circumstance, in my position would be able to still participate in the day-to-day process.

Mrs Sullivan: I think the thrust of my question was based on some of the remarks you made with respect to your constituents understanding your role now as a member. It seems to me that when an independent member is elected with a mandate from his constituents in the first place, there is a different comprehension and understanding of the role of the independent member and a different expectation than there would be when the independent member has become independent perhaps not by choice or perhaps on a matter of principle.

I'm also wondering, because you raised the issue, what kind of reporting or accountability you see to your constituents in other ways than through House activity now that you are an independent.

Mr Ferguson: I am still providing all of the services that I was providing, of course, as a member of the government. That has not changed in fact.

Mrs Sullivan: And you are funded to do that.

Mr Ferguson: Yes.

Mrs Sullivan: Thank you. I just wanted that on the record, Mr Chairman.

Mr Ferguson: That certainly has not changed.

Mr Paul Wessenger (Simcoe Centre): I just have a question in that it seems like the role of an independent --

Mr Ferguson: If I can interject just for one moment, I want to address Mrs Sullivan's first comment. It seems somewhat inconsistent to me that if members of the Legislative Assembly decided to leave the government party and cross the floor to the Conservative Party, they wouldn't lose any privileges; if they decide to leave the official opposition and sit as a government member, they don't lose any privileges; if they decide to leave the official opposition and sit as a Conservative, they don't lose any privileges; but immediately upon pulling out of one of the party's ranks, quite a bit is lost, and that's where I think the unfairness comes into this particular situation. Sorry, Mr Wessenger.

Mr Wessenger: My question relates to the fact that if we look at our political process, it's very much oriented towards political parties having primacy and that's the way the rules are based, in the interests of the political parties: the government party and the opposition parties. That has, undoubtedly, some limitation on the role of members in the House of all types, whether they're government members or whether they're independent members.

Would you favour the committee looking at, rather than just the role of the independent member, the role of the member per se, equality between members with respect to privileges, as distinct from the way it is now, so dependent upon the political decisions of the political parties? Do you think we ought to enhance the role of members individually to make them more equal: independent members and members of recognized parties?

Mr Ferguson: I certainly wouldn't have any difficulty with that. You can slice it or package it any way you want to -- and what we're talking about, essentially, is the packaging. So if that's the way the committee would like to decide the issue and rationalize it, that's fine, but I do think that in this one instance we could look to Ottawa and how the federal Parliament has treated independent members, which for the most part I think is pretty just and pretty fair.


Mr Wessenger: So you'd be willing to be treated equal to other members on that basis, not to have any more rights but just to have the same opportunity as other members of the Legislature would have with respect to the question of making statements and questions, and then, as you say, debate is an interesting aspect.

Just to move to one other aspect, I think there are a lot of difficulties with respect to the whole question of the role of an independent member concerning committees, but at present, of course, you have the right to sit on any committee, with a voice, as I understand it, as an independent member. Do you think that is a sufficient --

Mr Ferguson: Yes, although I think the independent member would have to be limited, obviously, in the number of committees. I don't think it would be particularly fair that independent members would be able to slide in for key votes on key issues.

Mr Wessenger: No, I'm just asking. You see, in the present system, you wouldn't have a vote; you'd only have a voice.

Mr Ferguson: Yes.

Mr Wessenger: And is that satisfactory to you?

Mr Ferguson: No.

Mr Wessenger: It isn't.

Mr Ferguson: No.

Mr Wessenger: Okay, do you have any proposals with respect to how that would be dealt with, incorporating independent members into the committee system?

Mr Ferguson: If you adopt the principle and you think the principle's fair and just, then you can work out the mechanics. So I would suggest that independent members ought to have a voice and a vote on committees and it ought to be the committee of their choice. I don't think that that is unreasonable.

The Chair: I'm going to go on to Mr Turnbull, and at the very beginning I should have explained why these hearings were going on, because of people viewing -- I just went on to Mr Ferguson -- but I'd like to go on. It's the role of the independent member we're talking about, and Mr Charlton moved in the House that the standing committee on the Legislative Assembly be directed to consider the role of members of the provincial Parliament who are not members of a recognized party, that the committee give particular attention to issues relating to non-aligned members posing oral questions, making members' statements and participating in standing committee process, and that the committee in its deliberations consider the rights of all members and the practices of other jurisdictions. So I think that pretty well covers it there. We'll go on to Mr Turnbull.

Mr David Turnbull (York Mills): I wonder if you could just outline briefly, as you see it, what exactly you would recommend that the committee should put forward.

Mr Ferguson: Well, I think I've done that in my presentation, but just to recap --

Mr Turnbull: I regret I came in after the beginning of the presentation.

Mr Ferguson: Just to recap, I've suggested that independent members ought to be able to make members' statements in the House, on a prorated basis, obviously, with numbers that are concurrent with the opposition, third party and government members. So of course they wouldn't be able to make a statement every day, but I would suggest that, the way the numbers work out, once every three or four weeks would not be inappropriate. I think independent members also ought to be permitted to ask questions as well as participate fully in the life of a committee with a voice and a vote, for a number of reasons which I'm not going to repeat but I think are pretty obvious to most of us sitting around this table.

Mr Kimble Sutherland (Oxford): Mr Ferguson, I guess I want to ask you how you would propose that being done. Would you see members' statements in those questions occurring within the allocated time, the 15 minutes or the one hour, or would you want, if you worked it out on an average, say, that the Speaker's discretion would allow an independent to say it after the 15 minutes so that wouldn't be cutting into any other member's time, and then at the end of question period allow you to ask one question that way? Do you see something along those lines, or --

Mr Ferguson: I think either of those suggestions is workable, but if you're asking for some fine-tuning of it -- first of all, for a member's statement, adding another 90 seconds to the clock on a daily basis certainly isn't going, to any extent at all, to change any of the circumstances in this place. Questions, of course, might be a little longer, but I would suggest that it should be at the discretion of the Speaker -- again, prorated.

I understand that in the federal House the independent member approaches the Speaker's office directly and advises the Speaker that he or she has a question that he or she would like to put forth. The Speaker -- I don't know if they keep a score card of this or a logbook or a date book or what they do. But on a regular basis, I think it's every three or four weeks, the independent members are then permitted to put their question and are recognized. So you could add additional time to the clock. I don't think that's going to any extent to affect the life of this place at all.

Mr Sutherland: Can I just ask, are you allowed as an independent member to place a written question in the notices and proceedings?

Mr Ferguson: I can't say for sure, but I think I am.

Mr Sutherland: Okay. So there is --


Mr Sutherland: Yes? Okay. Just to have some clarification on that --

Mr Peter Sibenik: Yes. Any member of the House can place a question.

The Chair: Do you want to identify yourself?

Mr Sibenik: Yes. I'm Peter Sibenik. I'm the procedural clerk, research, and the member is quite right, that he can place a written question, as he wishes.

Mr Sutherland: Okay. So there is some opportunity through that method available, but obviously, I guess that's not necessarily the same as having it in Hansard or being able to respond --

Mr Ferguson: I'm sure you'll understand, Mr Sutherland, it doesn't read as well.

Mr Sutherland: Yes, I certainly do. That's all I have for now.

The Chair: Any other questions from committee members here? Are there any other points you wanted to bring forward, Mr Ferguson? The three House leaders had met and had talked to the Speaker on some way of proceeding, like the number of times sitting on a committee and the number of times asking a question. Can you give the committee some of your thoughts -- that when they are deliberating -- to hear what you have to say and the other independent members, so maybe there's some idea that each are looking at a question every so often or what kind of process? Did you think of any of that before coming before the committee or are you leaving it up to the legislative committee to come back with some solutions?

Mr Ferguson: I think there have been some precedents established across the country with respect to this matter, and we're not breaking new ground here. This has been an item of discussion in other jurisdictions and I think they've come to a compromise and a resolve on the matter in most situations. So I would really rely on the past experience of other jurisdictions.

I think most people have a sense of fair play -- what is appropriate and what is inappropriate. I think they wouldn't feel it would be appropriate to let independent members ask questions on a daily basis; however, I don't think it's inappropriate that once every three or four weeks an independent member be permitted to ask a question, particularly concerning his or her constituency. I think they think it would be inappropriate to get up every day on a member's statement but I don't think it would be inappropriate to add another 90 seconds to the clock, even if the matter is prorated among the independent members. I think that might be a solution to some of the problem.

So I think we could encourage people to work together on this, particularly the independent members who face somewhat of a unique problem in this Parliament, and perhaps it would be in our best interests to advise the committee collectively of what we think might be workable. But these are not insurmountable difficulties or they are not far-reaching solutions to what I consider a relatively simple problem.

The Chair: Why I brought it out -- because sometimes, not being independents, we might view some of the issues a little bit differently, that we don't see that you've lost -- you know what I'm saying -- what we see in the House, but there could be other areas that you've lost out on. So I was just asking a general question. I'm going to go to Mr Sutherland.

Mr Sutherland: You mentioned the term "prorating." Can I just get what you mean by the term "prorating?"


Mr Ferguson: Let's deal with questions, first of all. The second and third parties of course have questions and that's decided upon, given the number of seats that they have. There is a formula that's used for that, I understand. I think independent members, if we rotated -- we now have three -- one question a week per independent member, prorated on that fashion, most of the government members and the Liberal and Conservative members -- there are 12 members' statements a week, so I think, if you prorated how often one would get to make a member's statement in the session of Parliament, that we could prorate using the same factor to --

Mr Sutherland: So you'd be saying prorating on the basis of the number of times the average member gets to make a statement or the number of times the average member gets to ask a question?

Mr Ferguson: I can't speak for the other independent members, but I would think that would be a fair way to approach it.

The Chair: Any other questions from the committee?

Mr Turnbull: I wonder if you put your mind to the thought of the question period in the sense that it certainly -- and opposition parties, say the third party, do not get a prorated amount of the questions. They could have one person fewer than the official opposition, but they will not get a greater amount, even though they're -- what I'm really saying is that the government gets its shot at questions, but you're talking about the proration. Irrespective of the way the government and the official opposition parties are divided up in terms of votes, you'd be just going on the proration for questions, as well as statements?

Mr Ferguson: I would assume that -- and, again, I think we would have to check Hansard to work out the averages here -- the government would get probably anywhere from five to eight questions on a good week. Obviously the Conservative Party -- the third party -- and the official opposition would have a lot more questions. But even on five to eight questions in a good week, over a month I think there would be an average or some type of factoring that could be worked out, based on the number of members in not only your caucus, Mr Turnbull, but in the Liberal caucus as well as the government caucus.

Mr Turnbull: And based on the number of questions that we got on average.

Mr Ferguson: Yes. So I think it's more of a time problem that requires a time solution.

The Chair: Any more questions from committee members? Are there any closing remarks you'd like to make, Mr Ferguson?

Mr Ferguson: No. I'd just like to thank the committee members for their time. It's a pleasure being here. You're doing a heck of a job on behalf of Ontario.

The Chair: Okay, thank you, Mr Ferguson.

The next independent member is Mr John Sola. Welcome to the committee. We'll have half an hour, Mr Sola, and you can divide it up, as Mrs Sullivan said, in any way you would like to.

Mr John Sola (Mississauga East): I'll try not to be too long so that we have more question-and-answer sessions. But I'd like to thank the committee for moving so quickly to hear this case. I'd also, at the same time, like to thank the Speaker for taking action so quickly, because I was pleasantly surprised, when I had a meeting with him a short while ago to discuss this, after he had had meetings with all three House leaders and the three chief whips, and he told me that all three parties were very cooperative and sympathetic and that they were acting in good faith in trying to give the growing number of independent members a say in the House without really upsetting the apple-cart as far as giving them a privileged position vis-à-vis the backbench people of the regular parties. So I understand what the problems are in the parties giving up their time to let independent members speak, but I think it's very important for independent members to get a chance to speak.

It probably hasn't affected me as much as most people, because I've concentrated more, in my almost six years in the House, on the constituency, rather than the House, aspect of being an MPP. So, as Ms Sullivan raised the question whether that aspect of our functioning has been affected: not at all, because our funding is the same; our staff is the same. The only thing I've been cut off from is the research people of the Liberal Party, but I still have the legislative research to go to and I still am able to function normally in my constituency.

I think one of the reasons that this is an unusual case in Ontario is that we have had so little experience with independent members. In Europe this is much more commonplace because a lot of them run independently and, with the proportional representation over there, they have a lot of situations where there is only one member of a certain party sitting in the Legislature at any one time. But here, because we have usually had fairly strong parties, we've probably overlooked it. It's probably an oversight, not an intentional slight for independent members.

But the situation may arise where you can wind up with one party electing only, say, 10 members, and according to our rules here and on Parliament Hill, if you don't have 12 members you're not recognized as a party. So it would affect the composition of committees. It would affect a lot more of the general voting public in Ontario if we don't come to grips with this because, from my reading of the public, they seem to want a little bit more independence from their members, whether they belong to a party or not. Eventually, I think we'll have to face this problem and come to some sort of solution.

From my meeting with the Speaker I found a couple of the points of agreement that the parties had reached very comforting: the fact that every three or four weeks, according to my understanding, the independent members would be able to raise a question in the House and that every three or four weeks they'd be able to make a statement in the House and it wouldn't be taking time away from the three parties. It would be just slotting in an extra statement or an extra question at the end of the time frame. I found that a bit comforting.

As far as questions are concerned, I think there are two types of questions. There are those that affect the province as a whole and those that are a bit more concentrated and focus more on certain constituencies. The province-wide questions are more appropriately handled by the parties, but I think if something affects your constituency, you should be able to speak out on that matter. I think somehow you have to take that aspect into consideration in your deliberations.

In my case, because in my area there are four MPPs, the problem would probably be raised in the House anyway, but in certain areas you may be far removed. For instance, if one of the far northern members happened, by some circumstance, to become an independent and the nearest MPP is 300 or 400 miles away, you'd have a vast territory that would not have their concerns raised in the House, so I'd like to bring that to your attention.

I think the big issue here is to balance giving independent members some say in the House with fairness to the backbenchers of all three parties. Having sat in the House when the party I belonged to at the time had 95 members, I know how difficult it is for members in a large majority government to get to have their say in their House, whether it's asking a question, whether it's making a statement or whether it's participating in debate.

I would prefer for myself if I could participate in certain parts of the debate, for instance, on the budget, on the throne speech, on some of the more important bills. I wouldn't expect to be able to have a share of the debate on every bill that comes up before the House because that would be taking too much time away from the people who belong to parties.

But something as important as the budget or the throne speech or some of these very touchy issues, like Bill 40 in the last session and Bill 164 in this session, I think my constituents would want to know some of my ideas, especially now that I can no longer say that, you know, my ideas have been expressed by somebody in the same party, by the official critic or somebody else.


I think that aspect has to be there, because one of the problems being an independent is you can't prove to your constituents what you are doing, unless they're in trouble and they come to your office and you have to help them out in the office. You know, the ones you have meetings with, who make appointments that you do something on, they have proof that you have either done something or attempted to do something, that you've met with them, that you have listened to their concerns, that you have tried to alleviate their concerns.

But most of the constituents have no need of coming into your office, so they're looking for some way of seeing that you are representing them and their points of view in the House, and the only way they can do that is to look up whether you've made a statement, whether you've asked a question, whether you've participated in debate.

As I say, I understand the problems that backbenchers have because I had them all through my six years here, but I was always able to say, "I belong to such-and-such a party and the official spokesman for the party" -- whether it was a party leader, whether it was a party critic, whether it was somebody who had a similar point of view in the party -- "expressed my points of view." Now as an independent, I think that would no longer wash and I would have to be able to explain that I have stood up and expressed the concerns of my citizens in the House.

That's all that I wanted to say. Oh, one other thing. In this letter from the Speaker, I see where he has mentioned private members' hour. Apparently there was some difficulty in giving independent members participation in private members' hour, that it was reserved specifically for party members. I found that ironic and contradictory, because, as I say, I've been in the House for six years and my name came up once where I was actually able to bring something before the House. By the way, it was defeated by one vote. So it's difficult enough getting on.

I find it a little disconcerting that if you, through your term, become independent, for whatever reason, that you would be taken off the ballot. If you insist on doing that, then I think you should change the name of private members' hour into party members' private hour, because otherwise you're contradicting yourself. I would have thought that the one avenue open to independent members would be private members' hour, and as of right now that has been closed. I'll close with that and I'm open to questions.

Mr Morin: I'd like to pose my question immediately because I have to replace Noble in the chair. My question's going to be very brief. Where do you feel, Mr Sola, the area that your constituents are missing the most since you are now an independent member?

Mr Sola: It's difficult to say right now because I've been an independent for such a short period of time, but the question has been raised in the media in Mississauga, and at the various functions that is raised. People have said, "Okay, now that you're an independent, how are you representing us?" I've told them that in the House it'll be more difficult. I haven't really spoken to people since my meeting with the Speaker. At that time I said, "When I meet with the Speaker, I'll find out what options are available to me, how often I'll be able to speak in the House."

But I've been able to refer to my record in my constituency work and say, "That part is unaffected," and that part I will be able to do maybe even better, because now I'm no longer tied into caucus meetings in the morning or into committee meetings like this, so I can actually schedule constituency meetings in the mornings on days when I normally would have been at Queen's Park. So in some ways the personal touch will be more effective right now as an independent member.

Mr Turnbull: Mr Sola, you heard what Mr Ferguson had to say. Would you differ from his proposals in any way?

Mr Sola: I understood his proposals to be a rephrasing of the proposal that the Speaker gave me at the meeting. I forget what terminology he used, but the Speaker mentioned something about the way they've figured out the role of the independent member, at the meeting with the three House leaders and three whips, would be that on average a question would come up every three or four weeks and a statement as well.

Probably, I think, they're more open to statements being added on than questions because question period has really been cut down by the lengthy preambles. I remember when in the last session the official opposition would get up to seven questions in a hour and I think now it's down to about three or four.

Mr Turnbull: Let me ask you something. This is just my understanding and I may not be correct on it, but my understanding was that, when the Tories were the government, it was quite unusual for members of the government back benches to ask questions because they had access to ministers at all times and so they didn't take up question period unless there was something absolutely pressing which had to be on the record.

You have been in the position of being a government backbencher and you reflected on the fact that you didn't feel that you had enough time to ask questions, but would you not say it's reasonable to accommodate independents more in this way and perhaps take this away from the government members' ability to ask questions since they have direct access to ministers?

Mr Sola: On principle, I agree with you, because I found it quite uncomfortable, to tell you the truth, when I was a government member when members of the caucus would pose self-serving questions to ministers, sort of pat themselves on the back. That's why it bothers me now that I'm in opposition, for the same reason.

Now, when there's a legitimate question, when there's a good question, when there's something hot brewing in your constituency and you can't prove to your constituents, other than by asking a question publicly in the House -- it doesn't matter which side of the House you sit on, you should be able to pose that question.

Our party was probably just as guilty. I don't know about the PCs because I wasn't in office when the Conservatives held sway over the province, but I would suspect that most government questions are just opportunities to allow a minister to elaborate on a program or a bill.

Mr Turnbull: I've always been somewhat perplexed at the fact that a minister was able to read off essentially a statement by way of an answer to a question, which obviously shows that it's a setup question, which is just stalling the activities of question period. That was the thrust of my question, so indeed you've confirmed that you believe that is the case.

Mr Sola: Yes, and as I say, when I was in government, I was one of those who was not particularly anxious to ask those sorts of questions. When I asked questions, it was because I felt sincerely that there was something in my constituency that needed a response and that needed a public response and that needed a quick response, because going through the mail, even going to your own minister sometimes, took time, whereas if you could get up in the House, you could get at least some sort of temporary statement until they checked into it and came back with a fuller statement later on.

Mr Paul R. Johnson (Prince Edward-Lennox-South Hastings): Mr Sola, you've made some very interesting comments, some very good ones, I must say. Just to follow up along the conversation as we've been speaking, or at least as you've been interchanging with Mr Turnbull, I think it would be wonderful if all the questions that were posed to the ministers were actually written out ahead of time. Then you could get an absolutely correct and proper response to your concern, whereas right now we know that if we're in opposition -- I haven't been there -- I would suspect that there's a certain glee in being able to pose a question about a certain subject matter that the minister will have little or maybe no knowledge of.

I don't know that has a whole lot of merit, except to point out that the minister has little or no knowledge of the question. If sincerely, and I think we all want to get to the bottom of all the concerns we have with regard to our constituents or others in the province of Ontario, I think a well-written question with a well-documented, well-written answer would be appropriate. But that's another issue.

I was very surprised when you said that you lose your opportunity for private members' public business, because if in fact that's so, I think that if we're all equal in the Legislature, and I know we're not, but up to a certain point, we certainly are all equal. That in essence is a lottery. You put your name in a hat, literally, and the names are drawn. I think that would be certainly one thing that individual members should have a shot at, regardless of whether they belong to a party or sit as individuals separate from a party.

Mr Sola: I agree with that, and especially I think an independent should also be allowed to speak during private members' hour, because I was surprised when I found out that not only could I not partake in the lottery, but I could not partake in the speaking rotation. Apparently, I can in the House during normal bills once several rotations go around, but during private members' hour, that has been eliminated for the time being. Maybe that's one thing you can correct.

Mr Paul Johnson: Also, I'd like to say that the perception that government members, and I don't mean cabinet ministers but those members of the government party who are not cabinet ministers, have as much opportunity to speak or more opportunity to speak or more opportunity to get answers from the cabinet ministers -- I think there's a perception there that this happens or can happen, and I don't know that it's necessarily so, especially not with regard to time in the Legislature directly.

I think that given the numbers, if there's a wide variation in the number of members, then as you divvy up the time among your caucus members, certainly the more members you have in your caucus, the less opportunity you're going to have to speak. That's something that I find unfortunate from my own perspective.

Mr Sola: I agree, and that's why I was pleasantly surprised when the Speaker told me that all three House leaders were very sympathetic and cooperative in trying to come up with a fair deal for the independent members. I think there has been a trend to create more independent members within the party, sort of to make the backbencher -- how would I express it? -- to give the backbencher more power, to take away the party whip on a lot of issues.

I think if we could somehow solve that problem, then it would be less of an intrusion in giving independent members more say as well. If the backbenchers of each party somehow were able to get away from party discipline except on very important matters that could bring down the government, I think then they would feel less aggrieved if independent members were able to get their turn to speak as well.

The Chair: Mrs Sullivan, we've got about 10 minutes left and we've got four questioners.

Mrs Sullivan: I suspect, just before I move to the question, that the Speaker's explanation about private members' hour not being available to you now is that the lottery has taken place for the entire session, but my understanding is that all members are included in the lottery, whether they're independent or not, when the lottery occurs. We certainly should have a clarification of that and what if any intent the Speaker had with respect to participation in the lottery.

The question of the rotation is in the rules, so that would have to be dealt with.

The question I wanted to ask, though, is with respect to a proposal that's been made that the Speaker would have an opportunity to make a determination as to whether an independent member could or should proceed with a question. It seems to me that a question in the House is supposed to be a matter of urgent public business.

Therefore, pro rata -- you have a question on December 13 -- is inappropriate because there may not be a matter of urgent public business in your constituency or in the province that you want to bring forward on that particular day. However, on another day, there may be a chemical spill or another issue that you feel has to be brought to the House. How do you feel about the Speaker vetting your question?

Mr Sola: As I say, there are two types of questions: one that's province-wide and one that's more concentrated on the constituency.

If it's province-wide, then as an independent, why should I have the opportunity, even if it happened, even if it's concentrated in my riding? I think it's more appropriate, probably, for the leader. As a matter of fact, if I were a party member, if it was of real provincial importance, either the critic would be raising the question or the leader. Probably the leader if she was in the House.

From that aspect, I wouldn't have any problem, but there are certain things that come to light and that are not widely known. It depends on how active you are in your community. You get certain sources of information and things that have to be raised quickly while they're still hot.

Then I would find it difficult if they said, "You asked a question last week, and because there are two other members, you won't get on until six weeks from now." Then I would have difficulty with that, but under normal circumstances, no.

Mr Turnbull: Let me just go through this list that I've made. I understand you want to be able to make statements on a pro rata basis, to ask questions on a pro rata basis, and you've reflected on what Ms Sullivan asked you about the urgency of the question, and I think that would be an important consideration.

Mr Ferguson asked to be able to sit on one committee of that member's choice, and I take it that is also what you're asking.

Mr Sola: Having sat on many committees during these six years and having subbed on many, I find it a refreshing break right now, to tell you the truth, but yes, I would appreciate it if this extended over a longer period of time, being an independent, that I would sit on a committee.

Mr Turnbull: One of your choice.

You mentioned joining in debate on what you consider to be important legislation, and also you used, for example, the budget. I wonder how the Speaker would determine what was important or not. That could be quite a subjective judgement.

Mr Sola: As I said, there are certain topics that have province-wide implication and the budget is one of them. Normally, I think, as an independent, he probably would like to overlook you because everybody wants to get in on the budget debate, but that's one thing where I would like to get my two cents' worth in.

Mr Turnbull: So would I as a matter of fact.


Mr Turnbull: It has been cut off indeed.

Mr Sola: But there are other events that may not be important from a provincial perspective, but may be from a regional or a strictly narrow constituency perspective. I think the determination would be my own as far as the narrowness of the topic is concerned, and the other ones could just be decided: budget, throne speech; the other ones would probably have to come under some sort of special consideration.

Mr Farnan: There are a couple of things I want to entertain a dialogue on. One is, is prorated participation for an individual member, an independent member, really preferential treatment?

I put it to you on this basis: As a member of a caucus, as a backbencher, I can recall that I would go to our caucus meeting and there was a discussion among caucus as to the questions that might be raised. You have critic responsibilities and you argue your case within caucus, but clearly within the caucus there are individuals who have a more predominant role. There's the leader who obviously, clearly has the vast majority of questions, and that's written in, and then the backbench questions.

There are some critic areas that lend themselves more to direct questioning, and then there are critics holding responsibility for what might be considered minor portfolios. Some of these critics get on very rarely in fact, and what you would then be saying if you had a prorated application is that you would in fact be giving an independent member a greater ability to ask a question than a minor critic within a party.

How would you respond to that?

Mr Sola: As I mentioned before, even a minor critic within a party can always say that the question has been raised by the party leader, by one of the major critics or by a backbench member of that party, and I think your constituents would buy it. As an independent member, you can no longer say it, even though you can say you're independent NDP or you're an independent Liberal or an independent PC. It doesn't wash as well.

Mr Farnan: I would entertain some further examination of that, John. As a critic, and you were a critic, you know that you become very knowledgeable in your field, and there are a multitude of questions you want to ask, but because of the dynamics of a caucus, you can't get those questions on. It's true that if it's a very important issue the leader may carry the ball, but there are plenty of other issues going on at the same time so that if any good critic says, "Gee, I want to get this out there," in fact, effective critics then simply have to ask the question and put it on the order paper.

I would say that it would be a very poor critic who didn't have a slew of questions he wanted to get on, and that critic may have less opportunity to speak than an individual member. In addition to which, you're saying that the individual independent member can concentrate on his local area, on local issues, without the encumbrance of a critic's role.

I would suggest to you that a prorated application is indeed preferential treatment for an independent. Now, I'm not saying there shouldn't be opportunity for the independent member, but if we're talking about a fair application, maybe prorated isn't exactly what we should be looking at, but that's something we should discuss later.

The second point I would like to make --

The Chair: Mr Farnan, we're running out of time. There's about one minute and I'd like to give Mr Sola a wrapup, if he wants one minute there just to wrap up.

Mr Farnan: Mr Chairman, I think this is very important.

Mr Sola: I've wrapped up so I'll give my minute to Mike to make his point.

Mr Farnan: You struck a raw nerve with me, John, and I say this in friendship because I respect you. You talked in some rather pejorative way about questions that might be asked by a government member. I've been in the House for six years, like yourself, and I've heard good questions from government members and good questions from opposition members. Likewise, I've heard poor questioning on all sides of the House. I suspect that with independent members having the opportunity to ask questions, there will be good and bad questions.

It is wrong to presume, in my mind, that because a member on the government benches or opposition benches gets up with an issue, a local issue that may not be of interest to the members, that's not a highly important issue for that local member. It is wrong to presume that because a government member gets up and asks for clarification of what might be a very important government program, that's not a very important question to the public of Ontario in terms of information etc.

Maybe you didn't intend to give that slant to your remarks, John, but I feel that in a non-partisan manner, questioning on all sides of the House has a purpose, and often for the questioner himself, it may be important to him and his constituency, but there are a variety of reasons why questions are asked, and I don't think any member gets up without having the good intent of raising a solid issue.

The Chair: Okay. I'd like to thank you, Mr Farnan. I'd like to thank you, Mr Sola, for appearing before the committee here today.

Mr Sola: Thank you.

The Chair: Our next meeting will be Wednesday, June 16, and we hope to start here at 3:30 or after orders of the day. This committee is adjourned.

The committee adjourned at 1715.