Wednesday 23 June 1993

Role of the independent member

Peter Sibenik, procedural research clerk, committees branch, Office of the Clerk


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

*Acting Chair / Président suppléant: Mills, Gordon (Durham East/-Est 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:

Hope, Randy R. (Chatham-Kent ND) for Mr Paul Johnson

Marland, Margaret (Mississauga South/-Sud PC) for Mr Sterling

Mills, Gordon (Durham East/-Est ND) for Mr Farnan

Murphy, Tim (St George-St David L) for Mrs Sullivan

Tilson, David (Dufferin-Peel PC) for Mr Villeneuve

Also taking part / Autres participants et participantes:

Drainville, Dennis (Victoria-Haliburton ND)

Rizzo, Tony (Oakwood ND)

Clerk / Greffière: Mellor, Lynn

Staff / Personnel: Yeager, Lewis, research officer, Legislative Research Service

The committee met at 1750 in room 151.


The Acting Chair (Mr Gordon Mills): I believe we have some information on the role of the independent member. Peter Sibenik wants to make a few comments; one minute while we distribute the memorandum.

The Chair (Mr Ron Hansen): Everybody has the information in front of you. I'd like to introduce you to Peter Sibenik, procedural clerk on research. We've had him for three weeks, waiting to get him on the agenda. Welcome to the committee.

Mr Peter Sibenik: Thank you very much, Mr Chair. I'm happy to be here. When this particular issue first came before this committee, your committee clerk asked me to prepare a background paper. This is the paper you currently have before you. It's two documents. The first one basically deals with our standing orders as they are currently drafted and the provisions with respect to independent members, more specifically what restrictions are placed on independent members. I've divided the restrictions into those that deal with the role of independent members in the House and also with respect to committees.

If you take a look at that first memorandum, you'll see that there are certain things in the House that members cannot do with respect to members' statements and oral question period. I think those are the two most important restrictions on what independent members can do. I say that subject to the modus vivendi that was reached last month with respect to the Speaker, the whips and the House leaders getting together and coming to some kind of understanding as to what may occur in the future. Those provisions in section B of the memo have to be read in the light of that.

There are also a number of other restrictions that independent members who do not sit on a committee have to deal with, but they are in the same position, I would say, as any other non-member of the committee.

If we are interested in finding out exactly where Ontario stands in terms of the other legislative jurisdictions in the country, as well as at Westminster, what I've done is prepare another document. That is the second submission that is attached to what is currently before you. It is a document entitled Status of Non-Aligned Members in Parliamentary Jurisdictions. I'm not going to go through this entire document, but what I will do is try to summarize where Ontario stands and where some of these other jurisdictions stand in terms of the provisions there are for independent members.

First of all, I would say that Ontario and New Brunswick are at one end of the spectrum. I would say that there are a certain number of standing orders -- I will not say that there are a large number of standing orders -- that have certain restrictions on what independent members can do. These two jurisdictions, New Brunswick and our own, have some restrictions with respect to members' statements and ministerial statements, and in the case of Ontario, oral questions. You won't find that with respect to New Brunswick.

Basically, you find that in Ontario and New Brunswick, certain of the standing orders have been drafted from the perspective of a member of a recognized party. As opposed to the standing orders saying "a member" or "the member," it's "a party member." That's how these standing orders have been drafted.

In the case of Ontario, I can tell you that it didn't always use to be that way. Before 1970, our standing orders were drafted from the perspective of an individual member, but as of the 1970 standing orders, and this became increasingly so in the 1978, 1986 and 1989 versions or revisions of the standing orders, a lot of the standing orders were redrafted so that this expression "a member of a recognized party" came to have the kind of prominence that it currently has in our standing orders.

Continuing along the spectrum, there are about four provinces, together with Westminster and the House of Commons in Ottawa, whose standing orders are drafted from the perspective of "a member." They don't have this expression "a member of a recognized party." There are certain provisions that you'll find with respect to those six jurisdictions. In a lot of them, independent members can serve on committees. For example, that's the case in Ottawa and in Westminster.

Moving further along the spectrum -- I would say this is at the opposite end of the spectrum from Ontario and New Brunswick -- are those two jurisdictions, Quebec and Alberta in particular, that provide quite a bit for independent members. In Quebec's case, there must be about 10 standing orders that say the President of the National Assembly has to take into account the rights of independent members in certain parts of the procedure.

In the case of Alberta, its provisions have not been incorporated into the standing orders, but there is a written administrative policy that has recently been adopted with respect to independent members, and so in Alberta's case these provisions provide for members participating in question period, serving on committees, and in addition there's an allowance in lieu of a research allowance that caucuses currently get. So they go quite far along. What I'm saying is that there is a spectrum here, and members may find this information useful in the course of their deliberations as to how they're going to come to grips with the issue that is currently before this particular committee.

I will say in closing that a lot of the issues that have been discussed in the past two meetings of this particular committee have been played out in other jurisdictions as well. There are these tensions between the rights of members who belong to parties as opposed to independent members, and in fairness, in a lot of those jurisdictions, the tensions really haven't been resolved. Those tensions are still there because there is this interplay, and in some cases, there has been a modus vivendi as to how to proceed.

I leave those comments with you and I'm happy to take any questions you have. I'm also happy to undertake any further research that is necessary. The research that I did here was from the perspective of the standing orders of other jurisdictions, as I say, and that's what it was limited to.

Mr Gordon Mills (Durham East): Peter, I really appreciate this document in sort of coming to grips with some of the concerns and questions I had. I suppose that I should know the answer, but no independent member has ever been elected as an independent member to the Ontario Legislature, is that correct?

Mr Sibenik: To my knowledge, that is correct. Certainly, it is the case with respect to post-Second World War. There were more independent members, I would say, in pre-Confederation times.

Mr Mills: I see.

Mr Sibenik: But afterwards, and certainly after the Second World War, it's all been the emergence or the rise of the political parties, and that's why we stand where we do today.

Mr Mills: My perspective on this whole issue, and the member for Victoria-Haliburton will not buy into it, is that it's an absolutely different game plan if I'm elected as an independent to be here than if I become an independent subsequent to that. I know my colleague will not buy into that.

Another thing I think of is that in Ottawa I can remember a fellow -- I think it was Tony Roman -- who was elected as an independent member just outside of this jurisdiction, I think it was just outside of Metropolitan Toronto.

Mr Dennis Drainville (Victoria-Haliburton): North York.

Mr Mills: Pardon?

Mr Drainville: The federal riding of North York.

Mr Mills: Yes, and that gentleman ran as an independent, was elected as an independent and I suppose laboured through all the frustrations that are here, but again I think the folks who elected that gentleman must have known that they were up against the eight ball. I think he lasted one term before he was not re-elected. I feel that tradition and the way things are done -- if someone is elected as an independent, then we should really look at and study this, but if someone is not elected as an independent, I have some difficulty with that because, I say, what do the folks who elected a member for whatever party think of this? Are they getting the representation they sought? This is rather draconian. I would think that if someone chose to be an independent, he should automatically go back to the people to see if they want that sort of representation. Those are my comments.

Mr Sibenik: I would say in response that it is a very rare situation in our parliamentary history in Canada that members do get elected on the independent ticket. It is normally the case that if there are independents, it is because somebody has left a recognized political party.

Mr Mills: Yes.

Mr Sibenik: That's been the history in Ontario and in most jurisdictions.

Mr Mills: That is why we have this situation that we have, in effect, isn't it, that you can't do this, you can't do that? My way of feeling is that it upsets the complete balance, because one person then would have more rights as an independent than I would have as a member of a recognized party. That's my feeling. Anyway, you're not here to argue that. Thank you very much, Peter.


Mrs Margaret Marland (Mississauga South): I wonder, Peter, could you tell us, on page 3 where you have the summary of what applies in Ottawa, does that apply if you become an independent member during the term of your office? It probably must. To follow on Gord's point, if you run as an independent and you're elected as an independent, these rules apply. But my question is, if you elect to vacate your seat as part of a caucus and sit as an independent, these rules must also apply in Ottawa.

Mr Sibenik: I will say that with respect to Ottawa and all of the jurisdictions that corresponded with me, there was no distinction placed on a member who is elected on the independent ticket, as opposed to a member who becomes elected with respect to a political party and then, in the course of his term, becomes an independent member. So I would say that these rules do apply to independent members generally and that the situation, in Ottawa, of course, is not unlike our situation here and in other provinces, that the reason they're independents there is that they choose to become independents after their term of election.

Mrs Marland: Since this material has just been handed out and since you did not intend to go through all of it, and it's very difficult to read eight pages while you're talking, can you just tell me whether the majority of provinces in Canada are more or less close to the Ottawa situation, since that's the one I have had time to read, in terms of the opportunities an independent member has in those provincial legislatures?

Mr Sibenik: I would say the other jurisdictions are quite liberal in the provisions they have for independent members.

Mrs Marland: All of the other provinces, or the majority of them?

Mr Sibenik: I would say the majority of other provinces. There is one jurisdiction that I mentioned at the outset of my submission that probably has more restrictions, but I think it's fair to say that most of those other standing orders of those other jurisdictions are written or drafted from the perspective of a member, as opposed to "a member of a recognized party." By virtue of that, it's so much easier for an independent member to have a say, whereas in our case, I've taken a look at the Legislative Assembly Act and our standing orders and there must be at least 15 provisions that mention the expression "a member of a recognized party." When that happens, of course, there are certain --

Mrs Marland: That's the exclusion.

Mr Sibenik: Yes.

Mrs Marland: As soon as it says "a member of a recognized party," that becomes the exclusion for that individual.

Mr Sibenik: Yes.

Mrs Marland: You know, obviously, it's a brand-new subject for us in our Legislature and therefore it's not an easy subject for us. I find it difficult, from the standpoint that I hear very clearly what Mr Mills said when he said, "When you're elected as a representative of a party, then the majority of the people in your riding have elected you because you said, `I'm' -- whatever party you are when you run. But I also extend what happens after we're elected; after we're elected, we represent everybody in our riding.

I enjoy that in my riding I represent 100,000 people, regardless of what political affiliation they may or may not have, and I'm very cognizant of the fact that I'm elected by about 47% of the electorate, which is a good year in a provincial general election. Once we are elected to office, we are elected to speak and serve on behalf of everyone, regardless of party.

Mr Mills: Point of order, Mr Chair: I believe that the committee is only authorized to sit till 6 of the clock, and that it being past that hour, an adjournment is in order.

The Chair: It's in order, so this committee will be adjourned until next Wednesday. Mr Drainville, I've got you down for a question. We'll be in camera next Wednesday, or if you want to speak to Peter before he leaves --

Mr Drainville: No, I would like to correct some of the inaccuracies.

The Chair: Okay. Thank you. This committee is dismissed.

The committee adjourned at 1806.