Wednesday 13 October 1993

Subcommittee report

Subcommittee appointment

Election Statute Law Amendment Act, 1993, Bill 57, Mr Sorbara / Loi de 1993 modifiant des lois

en ce qui concerne les élections, projet de loi 57


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

*Vice-Chair / Vice-Président: Wessenger, Paul (Simcoe Centre ND)

*Dadamo, George (Windsor-Sandwich ND)

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

*Sterling, Norman W. (Carleton PC)

*Sullivan, Barbara (Halton Centre L)

*Sutherland, Kimble (Oxford ND)

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

*In attendance / présents

Substitutions present/ Membres remplaçants présents:

Cooper, Mike (Kitchener-Wilmot ND) for Mrs MacKinnon

Also taking part / Autres participants et participantes:

O'Neil, Hugh P. (Quinte L)

Sorbara, Gregory S. (York Centre L)

Clerk / Greffière: Freedman, Lisa

Staff / Personnel:

Kaye, Philip, research officer, Legislative Research Service

Wernham, Chris, legislative counsel

The committee met at 1537 in room 151.


The Chair (Mr Ron Hansen): We'll call the committee to order. I'd like to start by reading the report of the subcommittee, which met the other day:

"Your subcommittee met on Thursday, October 7, and recommends the following:

"1. That the committee's ordering of business be as follows:

"(a) Bill 57, An Act to amend the Election Act and the Legislative Assembly Act;

"(b) Role of the independent member;

"(c) Parliamentary reform.

"2. That the committee schedule its biannual meeting with the Speaker and Clerk at a convenient time.

"3. That the committee request a meeting with Bill Somerville (broadcast and recording) for the purpose of its annual review pursuant to the standing orders.

"4. That, with respect to the committee's review of the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, the committee anticipates that it will conduct hearings (if necessary) during the winter recess."

That's the report of the subcommittee. Can I get it moved?

Mr Norman W. Sterling (Carleton): I have a question; sorry, Mr Chairman. I'm the representative for my party and I couldn't be there, but I agreed to what is in here. With respect to 4, on the municipal freedom of information act, as I understand, the act requires us to start the process this year; in other words, this fall.

The Chair: That's correct.

Mr Sterling: This doesn't exclude us from doing that?

The Chair: I'll let the clerk answer that. I think it's just that we have to have a meeting on it when we're setting up the hearings.

Clerk of the Committee (Ms Lisa Freedman): We have to commence the review prior to January 1, 1994, and we have to finish the review before December 31, 1994. We have to commence it prior to January. It would be commenced by way of either the advertisements or the mailing or the opening statements by the minister in December.

Mr Sterling: I just didn't want us to forget that we had to do something in November or December on this.

The Chair: Mr Sterling, there's another thing. The report on the role of the independent member was due today, and the subcommittee agreed -- you weren't there -- to change it around and bring Mr Sorbara in today. We're supposed to be receiving the report today, and it would be hard to discuss it if it just came to us. This is why we've changed our agenda a little bit.

Mr Sterling: That's fine. I think we should just add on item 4 -- I don't know if anybody would object -- that we will start hearings on this in November or December, or before January 1.

The Chair: That's why it was "if necessary."

Mr Sterling: But it is necessary. That's my point. The "if necessary" were the words I didn't like.

The Chair: Could the clerk clarify this?

Clerk of the Committee: The "if necessary" referred to if there was any demand. With respect to what Mr Sterling's saying, the subcommittee, once we got closer to November, was going to meet again specifically to figure out the advertisements and everything.

Mr Sterling: Fine and dandy, as long as everybody's aware of it.

The Chair: Do I hear Mr Wessenger moving the report?

Mr Paul Wessenger (Simcoe Centre): Yes.

The Chair: All in favour? It looks like it's passed. On to the next item on the agenda.


Mr Kimble Sutherland (Oxford): I'd like to nominate Mr Wessenger as vice-chair of the subcommittee.

The Chair: Any other nominations on the floor? Seeing none, I guess it's by acclamation, Mr Wessenger.

Mr Wessenger: I thought I was already. It hadn't been formally done yet?

Mrs Irene Mathyssen (Middlesex): It's all legal now.

The Chair: Before we go on to Mr Sorbara, the report on the role of the independent member will be handed out as a confidential report to all members of the committee.


Consideration of Bill 57, An Act to amend the Election Act and the Legislative Assembly Act / Projet de loi 57, Loi modifiant la Loi électorale et la Loi sur l'Assemblée législative.

The Chair: I'd like to welcome you here, Mr Sorbara. You can lead off with your Bill 57, which you presented in the House for second reading just before the break. Welcome to the committee.

Mr Gregory S. Sorbara (York Centre): Thank you, sir. Mr Chairman, members of the committee, I propose to make a very brief opening statement, present for your consideration, through my friend M. Morin, an amendment you might consider to this bill, and then answer whatever questions you might have of me on it.

Bill 57 is really a very simple piece of legislation. Its genesis really arises from a much wider debate that has gone on in Canada for quite some time by those of us who are full-time participants in the democratic process, elected officials in legislatures and parliaments right across Canada; that is, the reform of this institution we call Parliament or the Legislature.

I recall that even as a candidate for the leadership of my party, I and all of the other candidates talked over and over again about reforming Parliament. It's kind of a housekeeping thing. It's not something that is going to put one person to work or change the realities for the people we represent, but it's something that has to be seen to as well as our responsibilities for "more important" issues.

Rather than put before the Parliament a bill that could never succeed, of major reform of the Parliament -- and all of us have ideas, I think, about where those reforms ought to go -- I thought I could take an initiative that would have a reasonable prospect of actually becoming law in the province of Ontario, and that is reforming the way in which we get to a by-election when a member either dies in office, the seat therefore becoming vacant, or a member resigns his seat, as was the case recently in Essex South.

The mischief this bill tries to remedy is something the Premier, when he was Leader of the Opposition, referred to as the "divine right" of premiers to call a general election or fix the time for a by-election, within the parameters of the Election Act but more or less when it appeared to the Premier of the day as being a politically opportune time to call a by-election.

All of us would admit that it's a rather archaic way of replacing a member who has resigned his seat or filling a seat that has become vacant through the death of a member. The remedy I thought would be very simple: just to fix a date within parameters that would give rise to the by-election and the replacement of the member as soon as possible. The objective is to make sure that the time constituents in a particular riding are without a member is as short as possible.

Bill 57 does that by providing that the by-election shall be held on the Thursday after the 70th day after the vacancy occurs; Thursday because, in Ontario, our tradition is to have elections and by-elections on a Thursday, just as federal campaigns take place on a Monday. I calculated 70 days based on the following: Elections and by-elections generally are a 37-day period in Ontario; they can be more or less, but our tradition is 37 days, so 70 days would provide for a 37-day election campaign period, a so-called writ period, and a period of some 33 days in which each of the political parties, and anyone else, could have a nomination meeting and choose the candidate. You'd have about 33 days to choose a candidate, and with the 37-day period, that's 70 days in my arithmetic, and presto, the seat which had become vacant is filled. I think that is a fairer and far better way to deal with the vacancy of a seat.

Just by the way, this bill does one other thing that I think is very important in the modern operation of the seat and the office of a member of Parliament. It allows the Speaker to take whatever steps are necessary in order to maintain a constituency office presence during the vacancy period. This, to me, would be very important, particularly if we didn't pass the first part of the bill and the vacancy continued to exist for six or seven or eight or nine months. To deny constituents the opportunity to call a constituency office I think is impractical and unfair in today's democracy. This bill would allow the Speaker, through the Board of Internal Economy, to allocate funds to maintain that office under his or her jurisdiction during the period of the vacancy. That same thing is done in the House of Commons, by the way, and it actually works quite well.

During the debate on second reading there was, first, a broad degree of support, and I appreciated that support, from all parties, but there was some concern expressed that the time frame I had set out in the bill was too rigid; that is, that the Thursday following the 70th day following a vacancy might fall two or three days before Christmas, or it might fall in the middle of a March break period. It was, in short, in the view of some members, a little bit too rigid, and there was some suggestion that an amendment might be considered to enhance the flexibility somewhat. I have asked my colleague M. Morin to propose to you an amendment that would deal with that problem. I think the amendment is before you.

Just to paraphrase the amendment, it would provide as follows: First, the 70-day provision is still in place, except that if within 14 days of the vacancy another polling day is chosen by resolution of the House -- that means, practically speaking, that the Premier would bring forth a resolution before us as parliamentarians to set another date for the polling date -- then that date would take precedence over the Thursday which is 70 days etc.

You have to deal with the problem that the vacancy might arise when Parliament is not sitting. In that case, the other date could be set by order in council; that is, cabinet would fix the date.

But in all circumstances, whether it's a parliamentary resolution or a resolution of cabinet, that is, an order in council, the by-election would have to take place within 100 days of the date when the vacancy occurred.

In summary, the main provision is to fix the 70th day, but cabinet or the Parliament has an option within 14 days to choose another date, so long as it doesn't go beyond 100 days from the vacancy. That means that any day within that zero to 100 days could be chosen.


I hope this bill can become law. It's not that it will change the world or, as I say, benefit anyone in any particular way in terms of the substantive matters that we deal with as politicians; it really is housekeeping. But it is a minor improvement and it has some very important meaning, I think, for those constituents who find themselves without MPPs for long periods because the current law allows the date for a by-election to be quite some months away from the time a vacancy occurs.

I commend it to you. I hope we can get it through this committee quickly and bring it back to the House, perhaps for consideration by committee of the whole but ultimately for third reading, so that it will become law and affect a vacancy the next time one arises between two general elections. Thank you for considering the bill.

Mr Sterling: Mr Chair, before we proceed, I have no objection to talking about this bill and the amendment at the same time, to be fairly flexible about it, but maybe Mr Morin would like to move the amendment so it's on the record.

The Chair: I think that would be better than discussing the bill and have to discuss the amendment after.

Mr Gilles E. Morin (Carleton East): I move that subsection 9(2) of the Election Act, as set out in section 1 of the bill, be struck out and the following substituted:


"(2) Despite subsection (1), when an election is to be held to fill a vacancy that has occurred in the membership of the assembly,

"(a) the polling day is the first Thursday that is seventy days after the date on which the vacancy occurred, but if within fourteen days after that date another polling day is set or determined by resolution of the assembly if it is in session or, if not, by order in council, then that day is the polling day as long as it is no later than 100 days after the date on which the vacancy occurred; and

"(b) The day for the close of nominations is the day that is fourteen days before the polling day."

That is the motion.

Mr Sterling: I support the general thrust of this bill. I think it was during my remarks on second reading that I suggested that there not be the rigidity that's contained in Bill 57. You've moved away from that and I think that's good.

Just a short comment on Mr Morin's motion to alter it: I think we should not put a government though the hoops of determining this by resolution in the Legislature, because it could mean an afternoon's debate where everybody jumps into a partisan debate about the election of whoever it is and that kind of thing.

I would leave it entirely up to the cabinet, whoever that cabinet is. You can't gerrymander around 14 days one way or the other that much. Quite frankly, we're talking about by-elections, and these happen sporadically and don't really upset, normally, the majority of the House, so I would prefer just to leave it up to an order in council. It makes it simpler and would probably make, I think, a government more responsive in picking a reasonable date for the election, which is what I wanted in terms of what I was doing.

The only other suggestion I had on this bill, and it was actually mentioned to me by my leader when I discussed it briefly with him, was that perhaps we should consider, if we're serious about the bill, putting this kind of limitation in time to a certain period during the Parliament; in other words, maybe it should be 70 days for the first three years of the Parliament and, thereafter, a six-month period. I'm not married to the three years; it could be three and a half years or it could be four years. But as we get closer and closer to a general election, I think there's some legitimate concern about having the expense of a by-election and then a general election shortly thereafter.

I don't know how you determine what is a normal term of Parliament or a session; only the Premier really knows how long he or she is going to have a Parliament sit. But I do think that there should be some break point, that there should be two sets of rules and more flexibility given to the Premier as you get closer to the end of the potential five-year term. That is strictly from a point of view of saving the taxpayer some amount of money and, quite frankly, the aggravation for the candidates of having to go through two elections, a by-election and then a general election.

I can remember, in the Nepean riding, going through a by-election for Bob Mitchell in November 1980, and then he was back into a general election in I think March 1981.

Mr Morin: Jean Poirier also, in December 1984 and the election in May 1985.

Mr Sterling: Yes. I just make those comments. I'm very supportive of having it at an earlier date. I think six months is too long, in the normal framework. Therefore, I'm supportive of the thrust of Bill 57 but would really like to entertain an amendment, put forward by your colleague or anyone else, to distinguish between the front end of the session, or two thirds or three quarters of the session, and the last quarter of a potential session.

Mr Sorbara: Mr Sterling raised two points. I think both of them are important points. I'll comment on the first one, which was about having cabinet determine the date under this secondary procedure rather than a resolution of Parliament. The theory behind having the first option be a resolution of Parliament if Parliament is sitting is that, in theory, I believe parliamentarians, the Parliament, the members of the assembly, should seize wherever possible the authority governing their existence and that government should look after the government. What happens in Parliament is not the government's business; it's our business as parliamentarians. Our system of government sort of mixes the government and the Parliament together in the Legislature, but there really are two separate entities.

I believe we should control and set the rules governing how we're elected and the length of time we sit. In fact, in reality under a parliamentary system, that is the case: a non-confidence vote in Parliament ends the life of the Parliament and therefore the government falls. That's the theory of it; in practice, the government likes to control everything.

But to me, that's a theoretical point, and in practical terms it would be the cabinet that decides to bring a resolution to fix another date other than the 70-day period. I'm neither here nor there on it. I just think there should be a little bit of public exposure when the government wants to vary the rules, and the way that exposure is presented to the people is by way of a resolution in Parliament. But I leave it to the committee. If the committee prefers to strike that part of the amendment and just have it fixed by order in council, again that would be fine by me. The major thrust is maintained; that is, a very short period and getting a new member elected.

The second point is an interesting one as well. There is in the act a provision which says in effect that you don't have to have a by-election in the last year of a Parliament, the last year of a Parliament being the fifth year, so this section and the section it would replace do not apply, and a government that has gone four years into its term need not call a by-election. I think that's okay. I wouldn't want to amend that, although there are some who would argue that even if there is another month left of a Parliament, constituents should have a representative.

The question would be, should we look at another amendment that would constrain or redefine the period after the third year or after the second year? I would argue that I don't think we should because we've already got enough in there. Also, I think, more and more, given the experience of 1990, parliaments are going to last closer to their full term rather than be nipped in the bud. As you say, only the Premier knows how long a term can be, but the real life of a Parliament is five years, and the act does say that there need not be a by-election if the vacancy occurs in the fifth year.


Mr Sterling: Can I just respond to that, Mr Chair? I raised it. Once you establish the 70-day rule, I think a Premier would be very foolish, if he were planning to carry on for another year in power and if he were in a sort of secondary period that we created by saying that during the last two years of the Parliament we will give the Premier more flexibility in when this thing should be called -- I think the expectation would be that the by-election was going to be in 70 days. I think a Premier would be under a lot of heat after 70 days had gone by if he didn't call within that period of time. I think once you'd established the 70-day rule but allowed more flexibility in the latter part, I don't think you'd have an abuse of it by a Premier, because the expectation would be that it was in 70 days. Once he goes beyond 70 days, he's almost signalling that he's going to call a general election in the not-too-distant future.

Mr Sorbara: I'm trying to get the power out of the hands of the Premier.

Mr Sterling: I know you are, but what I'm interested in is the practicality of the rule and what is in fact going to happen in most situations. Could Philip read the actual section he's referring to on the final year? Have you found that section?

Mr Philip Kaye: That's subsection 27(2) of the Legislative Assembly Act, which says, "This section does not apply where the vacancy occurs in the last year of the legal life of the assembly."

Mr Sterling: That's for the six-month section, is it? Okay. They don't have to call a by-election, period, in the last year.

Mr Sutherland: I just had one other question. In the debate in the House, I thought someone had also suggested about northern members and having by-elections by this; that it may work out that you were having a by-election in the middle of January and maybe the difficulty in canvassing in some parts of the province, northern Ontario etc. Did you have any thoughts on that issue, or do you feel there is some flexibility to allow that? I know they had a general election in March 1981, and that was a challenge for everybody in all parts of the province. Do you feel there needs to be any accommodation for that type of situation?

Mr Sorbara: I'll give you my personal opinion. I did give it some thought, because it was raised in the debate, Kimble, as you said. Frankly, I think it's not necessary. This additional flexibility of another 30 days allows you, say, to get out of February and into March.

When you talk to our northern members, they're travelling around their ridings every weekend. If you talk to Mike Brown, he's flying here and there. All of them; Howard Hampton, the same thing. I just couldn't justify saying to the constituents in the northern constituencies, "You can do without an MPP because it's cold and travel is difficult." Yes, it's going to be more difficult to campaign during that time, but I think the balance is in favour of getting through the by-election and getting a new member elected.

Mrs Barbara Sullivan (Halton Centre): I like this bill very much. There is perhaps some usefulness to the contribution of Mr Sterling with respect to the role of the assembly. Much as I regret it, I think the practical and traditional role of the Premier has to be recognized in terms of shaping our legislation: It's clear that traditionally it is the Premier who has announced the date of the elections, and the writs have followed that announcement. So I think that kind of amendment to save the proposed bill and to ensure that it moves forward is a valid one.

I'm less concerned about the arguments that are placed by Mr Sutherland with respect to convenience of the campaign team. I think we have to weigh the question of the convenience of the campaign team against the rights of constituents to be represented in the House of Assembly. That seems to me a greater right than ensuring that people are comfortable during a campaign period.

We are in a modern era of communication. I know, having participated in many campaigns, that being at the door at certain times of the year and at certain times of the week is a less attractive method of campaigning than is mail, telephone or other vehicles.

I think the amendment Mr Sorbara has put with respect to the 70-day/100-day approach is really a useful one, because it does allow for the intervention of such problematic times as the Christmas holidays, Easter or other religious holidays, and March break, when it seems that the province pretty much closes down. The 70-day/100-day options, however, do give time for the election office to gear up, for the papers to be appropriately filed, for the political parties and independent candidates to determine if they are going to seek election and to begin to prepare for that election, including going through their own nomination processes.

I like this bill. I think it's a shame when people in a geographic district are not represented in the House.

I would also like to see, in addition to this approach with respect to vacant seats, that the government would ensure that after a period of time in which there hasn't been a change in electoral boundaries, that there be a statutory requirement for change. I think many of our people are not being well represented now because of the demographic changes that have occurred over a period of time. However, that is another issue.

I like this bill and I will be supporting it. I would be interested in seeing whether the other members of the committee would support a secondary amendment which would remove the words relating to the resolution of the assembly, and then move the bill on from there.

The Chair: Any more comments?

Mr Sterling: I wasn't aware of subsection 27(2), which our legislative researcher, Mr Kaye, has pointed out, as Mr Sorbara did: "This section does not apply where the vacancy occurs in the last year of the legal life of the assembly." My feeling is that if we're going to scope the time here in terms of bringing it down, I'm somewhat attracted to widening the scope of that one from one year to perhaps 18 months or something like that. Does that have any kind of attraction to other members, or leave it as it is?

The Chair: Any other comments?

Mr Sutherland: I'd say just leave it.

Mr Sterling: Okay, that's fine.

The Chair: Other comments?

Mrs Sullivan: If it's appropriate, I would move that the words "or determined by resolution of the assembly if it is in session or, if not" be deleted from the amendment as proposed by Mr Morin.


The Chair: Any discussion? All in favour? That's passed.

All in favour of Mr Morin's amendment as amended? Agreed.

All in favour of section 1 as amended? Agreed.

Section 2: Any discussion? All in favour of section 2? Agreed.

Section 3: Any comments? All in favour of section 3? Agreed.

Section 4: All in favour of section 4?

Mr Sterling: Just a minute. Could I ask the proponent, Mr Sorbara, the reason for putting the Speaker in charge of the constituency office rather than perhaps the leader of the party the member was involved with, or their House leader or whatever?

The problem with the Speaker is that, having had what I consider a successful constituency office for some 15 or 16 years, a fair bit of direction is required on my part in terms of telling staff what to do, whether I meet with them or whatever. I wonder about the practicality of the Speaker having any time to give direction to constituency office staff.

While a constituency office is not a political function, and I think that's probably why you'd pick the Speaker, there is a bias in that constituency to elect a New Democrat or a Liberal or a Conservative; therefore, I feel it would be better taken care of if it were put in the hands of a recognized party that member came from.

Mrs Sullivan: What would you do about Dennis Drainville?

Mr Sterling: Unless they were an independent, and then I would take the Speaker.

It's a toss-up. I don't feel hugely strongly about it. I just wonder whether the Speaker would be phoning my constituency office and saying, "Are there any problems today?" I think there would be a better chance that somebody in a party would cover off than not.

Mr Sorbara: I understand your concerns. There are really two reasons I've chosen the Speaker.

The first is that it's based on the model that's currently used in Ottawa, and it seems to have worked there. As a practical matter, the Speaker exercises the authority but generally works through the party that held the seat at the time of the vacancy and generally continues to employ the people who have been running the constituency office at the time of the vacancy, but the Speaker has the ability to ensure that the constituency office doesn't instantly become a campaign office for the party. He can exercise some degree of control to ensure that there is a modicum of impartiality while continuing to serve the constituents rather than the electoral process.

The second reason is simply a matter of budget. The budget comes from the Board of Internal Economy. The Speaker is the Chair of the Board of Internal Economy, and I thought the responsible person would more appropriately be the Speaker because of those budgetary realities.

Mr Morin: I'd like to relate to Mr Sorbara's example he just gave, and why also I like his amendment 27(1). When Dalton McGuinty Sr died, in March 1990 I believe it was, I took over his office. His assistant came to my office at my cost. I did it because it was a service I was rendering to Dalton's constituents; not because he was a Liberal, but to his constituents.

Personally, when I was first elected in 1985, when I took over the office the incumbent had, Mr MacQuarrie, all the files were gone; there was nothing left. I'm there as an MPP to help all the constituents; I think it was quite clear that my role is to help all constituents. When I say "file," I'm talking about workers' compensation cases, cases dealing with Community and Social Services. Everything was gone. These people came back, came back because they needed my help, so I had to start all over again.

Maybe some day that should be a topic we should discuss. When you take over a company, for instance, you take the books. It should be the same thing when you take over a constituency office. There are some files that have been created, that have been built, in order to help the constituents. I don't care which party you represent; you are there to serve the constituents. I think we should look at that one day.

I like your amendment. I like what you've introduced. I think it should be the responsibility of the Board of Internal Economy to provide the funds. I won't mention how much it cost me, but it cost me a lot of money out of my budget that I could have used for something else. I'm glad I did it, but just the same, I think the amendment you bring in would be excellent, because it could happen to any one of you.

Mrs Sullivan: I think the experience Mr Morin went through is a poignant one, because clearly there was service recognized as being necessary for the constituents. If we leave constituents without a place to go -- and we know that many of them cannot work their way through the bureaucracy. We know that many of them are placed in extraordinarily difficult positions by not understanding overlaps or different lines to follow in terms of accessing service.

If we say that even for a period of time the constituency office isn't useful, then is it useful at all? In my view, it is useful. The members who preceded me, before my riding was even formed, were far more willing in terms of my constituents than the previous members were with Mr Morin. But my constituents would be badly served without an office to help them through their workings with government.

I have not always been of that view. I was one of those who believed that a member ought to be able to do the work of the member at Queen's Park. Having seen the case load I have in my riding and that other members have in their ridings, which is a substantially different case load than I believe it was, say, when Mr Sterling began in this House about 15 years ago, I think the nature of the work members do has changed and the urgency of the work has changed. I think this is a very valuable amendment and that Mr Morin's experience speaks eloquently to that.


Mr Sterling: I want to make it clear that I wasn't speaking against the concept. I was talking about the control issue. I, like Mr Morin, stepped in when Noble Villeneuve's predecessor, Osie Villeneuve, passed away in 1982 or 1983. But I have expressed my opinion that I think that it's better taken care of in terms of real service to the constituents when it's left within the party structure rather than the Speaker. When it's the Speaker, I think it becomes more bureaucratic that way, that fewer problems are resolved, perhaps, than if it was done the other way. I'm willing to live with it the way it is; I just wanted to hear what others thought.

The Chair: Mr O'Neil, we're on section 4 of the bill. You have some comments?

Mr Hugh O'Neil (Quinte): Just general; I've been upstairs in my office with some other things going on, but I had the TV on and I've talked with Mr Sorbara on this. What I'm going to say may be a little repetitive, but I have also experienced, over the 18 years I've been a member here at the Legislature, different occasions when somebody has either died or a member has resigned because of health reasons or other reasons, and constituency offices have been closed. An office must be closed within so many days and staff let go within so many days.

I just wanted to add my words of support to the bill Mr Sorbara has placed before the committee and some of the comments made by the other members. If my constituency office is an example of what goes on, on some days we have people actually lined up at the door, some sitting on chairs within the constituency office and others lined up outside waiting to get in for assistance, the assistance many of you have already mentioned that they're looking for. I would support what the committee is looking at and maybe some of the changes they're talking about.

But I think we have to make sure that if a member leaves the Legislature by resigning or through death or sickness, there should be some other system put into effect whereby those constituency offices could remain open. Whether they would be under the direction or the authority of the Speaker -- I don't know who would actually be in charge of that office, but we certainly should make sure they are not closed for any reason at all. Especially with some of the things hat the country is experiencing now, people really come to us for assistance and for help.

Again, I support what Mr Sorbara is trying to do and some of the amendments that have been brought forth. I feel strongly enough about it that, even though I'm tied up in my office with other meetings going on, I wanted to come down and say a few words.

Mr Sterling: I understand the lineup at Mr O'Neil's constituency office is because he gives out free coffee and doughnuts. Is that true, Hugh?

Mr O'Neil: Well, we could think about that. It always helps.

Mr Sutherland: The assembly should not pay for that.

Interjection: I'll pay for that for you.

The Chair: I know your concerns, Mr O'Neil. Being a new member coming in, when I walked into the office -- I understand that compensation claims were mailed back to a lot of the constituents with the problems, but it took a couple of months before you got up and running again, being a new member. It'd be the same situation with a by-election, where a new member would come in. I think it is a big concern. It isn't anything partisan. It's an issue with a constituent in your riding, so it's well taken. I'm glad you were able to come down.

Mr O'Neil: I think that's a point that's well made too. Sure, we're political in a lot of things, but when we have people come into our constituency offices, the last thing we would ever ask them is, "What are your politics?" or things like that. We are there to serve people who have every political affiliation underneath the sun, and most of them have no political affiliation; they're just coming to us to look for help. I think it's very important that we look at this bill and have the government support it.

Mr Sterling: I'd like to add something. Mr Morin made some suggestion about a former colleague of mine who had taken the files with him when he --

Mr Morin: No, the files were not there any more. I don't say he did it purposely. That was the custom, the way it was done.

Mr Sterling: There is another side of that argument which I would subscribe to; that is, if people give me confidential information, I don't have the right to pass that on to my successor.

Mr Morin: Good point.

Mr Sterling: Mr MacQuarrie, having practised law and understanding the solicitor-client relationship within the law, would be very concerned about that aspect. I think there are two sides to that argument that have to be considered.

Mr Morin: Mr Sterling is showing his legal background, and I congratulate him for it. I think it is a very, very delicate point, when you are given private and confidential information. But I think it's only a formality. You receive the file; then, it could be in cooperation with the person who has been defeated or some other means. We call that individual: "We already have your file on hand, and Mr X or Mrs X will continue dealing with your case. Are you agreeable to that?" If not, then the file just disappears.

What I am talking about is continuity to make sure that the constituent who came to see you -- you mentioned a few minutes ago that you don't care what party he represents; you are there to help him out. When it comes to files, of course, if you have confidential information, I as a member wouldn't have to leave it there unless I had the authorization from the individual.

Mr O'Neil: There's just one other point I wanted to make. The people I have working for me in my offices -- we have a Toronto office, but because I have the two cities of Trenton and Belleville, I'm almost required, because of that population base, to have two offices, which sometimes presents us with some problems in managing our budget, to run two offices. But the people I have, and likely most of you people, are very dedicated, very sincere people, and I would hate to see those people with all the experience they have laid off within so many days, 30 or 60 days, something like that, and the office closed. We have a very important base of experience that people can draw on. There may be some things you would have to look into or examine in that case, but they're people who are used to dealing with people's problems, helping them out, and that's another reason for keeping those offices open.

The Chair: I know it's a very short period. When Margery Ward passed away, I think it was two weeks to wind up the office.

Any other comments?

Section 4 of the bill: All in favour of section 4 of the bill? Carried.

Section 5? Carried.

Section 6? Carried.

Shall the title carry? Carried.

Shall the bill, as amended, carry? Carried.

Shall I report the bill, as amended, to the House? Agreed.

Thank you, Mr Sorbara. You know, this is one of the quickest bills I've gone through.

Mr Sorbara: Just like that.

The Chair: Any other business of the committee today? The next meeting will be October 20, and we'll be going over the report on the role of the independent members. This committee's adjourned.

The committee adjourned at 1628.