Wednesday 11 May 1994

Deferral of division


*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:

Wiseman, Jim (Durham West/-Ouest ND) for Mr Dadamo

Clerk / Greffière: Freedman, Lisa

Staff / Personnel: Sibenik, Peter, procedural clerk (research), committees branch, Office of the Clerk

The committee met at 1536 in room 151.


The Chair (Mr Ron Hansen): The standing committee on the Legislative Assembly will come to order.

The first item this afternoon is a discussion of standing order 28(g). Today we have Deborah Deller, from the Clerk's office. Welcome to the committee.

Mr Morin, would you like to start? I believe you have a paper you've written, or you have more information than we had last week.

Mr Gilles E. Morin (Carleton East): Do you want to distribute the presentation I've prepared?

The Chair: Has anyone else any other papers they've prepared since the last meeting?

Mr Jim Wiseman (Durham West): Put it on a computer. Why put it on paper? There goes another tree.

The Chair: Some people can't remember everything, so we have to write it down.

Mr Morin: I'm very interested in speaking to the committee on this issue since, as members may recall, I happened to be in the chair on both occasions when difficulties arose out of a receipt of two letters of deferral at the same time.

In my view, it is not a fair position in which to put the occupant of the chair. A race to the chair with a deferral letter is unacceptable. It is undignified conduct that is not appropriate to the chamber. This lack of respect for the Chair and for the House only serves to foster lack of respect for ourselves and each other as members of the provincial Parliament.

As the Speaker indicated in his ruling of April 27, it is obvious that the practice of accepting the first deferral letter received is not one that is working and is one that must be changed.

This committee has by tradition been the legislative body that has had the responsibility of resolving matters of procedure, and I believe it is important that it take seriously its mandate in this regard and develop a resolution to this problem that is agreed to by all sides.

With this in mind, I would like to put forward a proposal for the consideration of the committee.

At the outset, it is necessary to remind ourselves that the standing orders are only one component of parliamentary procedure. It is also necessary to consider our practices and precedent. In addition, whenever possible, the standing orders should be considered in light of their original intent.

It is important, then, to review the intent of standing order 28(g). I think it is fair to say, without qualification, that this standing order was written with the express purpose of providing all parties with the opportunity to defer some votes to the next day in order to prevent, as far as possible, surprise divisions and to allow each party whip to ensure the attendance of his or her members.

It is clear that this standing order was never intended to be used as a tool for delaying the business of the House, or for causing a disruption, or harm to the Speaker.

The task before us is to determine a fair and clean method of deferring votes that preserves the intent of the standing order and prevents obstruction of House business, whether it is government or opposition.

In my opinion, after discussion with several of my colleagues, the most simple and fairest solution would be to establish a fixed time during the day when deferred votes may be taken. Since the objective is not to interfere with the business of the House, the most practical time would be during the routine proceedings. The addition of an item to routine proceedings called "Deferred votes" would mean that the Speaker would call the item as he does any other item of routine proceedings. If any vote has been deferred from the previous day, it would be taken at that time. This would prevent a race to the chair with deferral letters, since there would be an established segment of the agenda of the House devoted to such deferrals.

This would also negate the need for a discussion of the words "specified time" in that same standing order, as the time would no longer need to be indicated in the deferral letters.

I have given some further thought to when deferred votes should take place during routine proceedings, and find that the most appropriate place would be prior to question period. To clarify my reasoning, I draw your attention to standing order 45(a), which states:

"Motions to adjourn the House or the debate may not be moved until after the oral question period except upon unanimous consent of the House. Such motions do not require notice."

In several rulings, dating from April 1990 to the present, this standing order has been applied to a motion "that the House do now proceed to orders of the day." If deferred votes were to be scheduled after question period, they may be superseded by an adjournment motion or a motion to proceed to orders of the day. In such circumstances, the deferred vote may never be taken, which of course is not what the House would want. This proposal I believe deals with the difficulties we currently have with standing order 28(g) and will not cause additional procedural complications.

I want to thank the members of the committee for giving me the opportunity to present my argument. I welcome your comments.

The Chair: Ms Deller, did you have a copy of this to discuss with the table clerks prior to coming here today?

Ms Deborah Deller (Clerk Assistant and Clerk of Committees): No. I just have a couple of comments. At the outset, I would like to say that I'm going to make an assumption that it's all right with the committee if I do comment on whatever suggestions are put forward by the members here with respect to a resolution to this problem. My comments, though, I would like to limit to what my views are on the practical application of whatever solution you decide upon.

I just have one more thing to say before I comment on this actual presentation. I think this committee has an ability to resolve this problem which the Speaker does not have, that is, that you can make a recommendation that would require either waiving or amending the standing orders and the Speaker cannot do that. Any resolution the Speaker would come up with to resolve this matter is not one that can require a change or a waiver of the standing orders and therefore may not be one that is satisfactory to all the members of the House.

This particular resolution, first, would require the agreement of the House, if this is what the committee recommends, but it seems to me that unless there is an item added to routine proceedings called "Deferred Votes," there is no resolution to the problem. The only way you can get around the difficulty of having a deferred vote interfere with the business of the House under orders of the day is to have that deferred vote placed somewhere prior to orders of the day, during routine proceedings.

M. Morin makes the very good point that if you do put it in routine proceedings, it really must come before question period, because if there is a motion immediately following question period to adjourn the debate or adjourn the House or to move immediately to orders of the day, that deferred vote somehow gets left out in limbo and you can never get back to it. It is important to consider carefully where you would put that item during routine proceedings, and it seems to me that this is the best resolution to that particular issue.

Mr Kimble Sutherland (Oxford): I think what Mr Morin has put forward is very good in terms of having it at a set time; that's the easiest way to solve the problem that is presented to us.

I'm still unsure about whether putting it before question period is a good idea. I understand the rationale M. Morin has put forward, because of the rules. Describing the situation Ms Deller put forward, it would seem to me that if you're going to do that, deferred votes, you would put it after question period, as we do with most of that type of -- I don't know if I necessarily want to call them that, but the more routine housekeeping type of items that go on after question period, before orders of the day. It would seem more appropriate to continue something like a deferred vote going on at that time.

If you had one that, for whatever reason, couldn't be done there, it would automatically be assumed that it's carried over to the next day. You may have to put wording in, if you were changing the standing order, to reflect that if the vote didn't occur, it would just go to the next day and be called at "Deferred Vote." I think that's how you could resolve that problem and still have it in the same time period after question period. But the general intent to have a set time for it makes very good sense.

Mr Morin: Mr Sutherland raised a good point. He said, "I don't know why he wants to put it there." Normally, if you notice, during routine proceedings practically all the members are there, especially just before question period, so it would be a good time for the whips to go and get their people and they would know pretty well in advance what is to take place. It would take away all this trying to play tricks, which shouldn't be the case.

Mr Paul Wessenger (Simcoe Centre): I am very interested in Mr Morin's proposal, and I certainly agree with setting a time for deferred votes. I don't have any strong feelings as to the appropriate time within the schedule, either before or after question period. I assume there would be a five-minute bell on this sort of process. Would there be a five-minute bell?

Ms Deller: The five-minute bell is already stipulated in that same standing order.

Mr Wessenger: So that would be a five-minute bell, whenever it occurs. As I said, I'm quite agreeable about the concept of setting the deferred votes within the routine proceedings, and I don't have any strong opinions with respect to the timing. I'm quite agreeable to whatever is felt by the majority of the committee to be the most acceptable time.

Mrs Ellen MacKinnon (Lambton): I too am interested in this, but I have a question. Maybe it's been answered and I just didn't catch it. If you do this deferred vote as part of routine proceedings, I assume this will be done verbally as opposed to written.

Mr Morin: It's just like when the Speaker says, "Petitions," "Introduction of bills" etc just before the orders of the day. We would just add "Deferred votes." If you recall, in the House, when all the routine proceedings have taken place, the Speaker then says, "Orders of the day." Everybody is there.

Mrs MacKinnon: Yes, but it would be done orally as opposed to being written.

Ms Deller: If I may, the only change to the request for a deferral would that there would be no time indicated in the letter requesting the deferral. There would still be a written request for the deferral of the vote.

Mr Morin: The procedures are the same; exactly.

The Chair: I think the issue the other day was the hour and minute.

Mr Morin: The hour, and also who delivered the letter first. It placed the Speaker in a very precarious position. I think you saw the first incident. If you want to keep your Speaker healthy and alert, he's threatened enough by words, without being threatened physically.


Mrs MacKinnon: I just want to be clear on this. If we do it in routine proceedings, just before the orders of the day, does the whip of a recognized party make that request orally first and then be prepared to give it to the Speaker in writing? Is this what you're saying?

Mr Morin: Say there is a debate on legislation. They may request, "We want to have a deferred vote on that," so automatically it's going to be transferred to the next day. When the Speaker calls "Deferred votes," the vote is then called. There's no specified time. It's said orally by the Speaker, "Deferred votes," as he says every day. It's going to be added on. There may not be any.

The Chair: I think Ms MacKinnon is looking at the written part of it, whether the person stands up and says, "I move deferral" and then, when the Speaker recognizes the whip, the whip takes the written request up. There's no race. As soon as you recognize one of the whips, whoever you recognize first would bring the written request to the Speaker. The Speaker would read it out.

Mr Morin: That's correct. It's done automatically; you don't have to rush.

Mrs MacKinnon: So this is something that would happen on a daily basis. This particular order of business would be called every day just before the orders of the day.

Mr Morin: That's right, like "Reports by committees."

Mrs MacKinnon: All right. So nobody says anything about a deferred vote on this particular day, but further along in the day it becomes necessary to have a vote. What happens?

Mr Morin: Let's say there is a debate on a bill and the House leaders decide to have a deferred vote. It's going to be put on -- there's no specified time -- during routine proceedings the next day, automatically. In other words, let's say it happens today, there's a vote this afternoon, a deferred vote. The deferred vote would be tomorrow, and the Speaker, through routine proceedings, would say, "Deferred votes?" Automatically, it would be indicated that yes, there is a deferred vote, the bell is rung, and people come in and vote.

Mrs MacKinnon: So it's safe to assume we would never, ever need to have a vote on anything later in the day than when they call for the deferred vote.

Mr Morin: I know what you're getting at. I'll let Debbie take it.

Ms Deller: Maybe this could best be explained if we run through exactly what the practical application of this kind of process would be. It really wouldn't be any different than it is now. As it is now, the chief whip of any recognized party, when the Speaker puts the question and orders the bells to be rung for the members to be called in, can approach the chair and hand the Speaker a letter saying that he or she requests that this vote be deferred until the next day at a prescribed time; a "specified time" is what it says in the standing orders.

My reading of this proposal is that the only difference would be that the chief whip of any recognized party, at the time the bells are ringing to call the members in for any vote, can approach the chair and hand the Chair a letter requesting that the vote be deferred till the following day. The vote would then be scheduled for the following day during the period of routine proceedings known as deferred votes. That's the only change to the current procedure. That does not mean that every vote will be taken during that time; only the votes that were deferred from the previous day.

Mr Wiseman: I'm going to digress for a moment. I was reading through all the information that was given to us on deferred votes, and I think we should be embarrassed. If we were deporting ourselves in the Legislature with the kind of dignity the place should command, this kind of activity would not take place.

Mr Sutherland: Neither would all the heckling.

Mr Wiseman: That may well be. If you look at the other jurisdictions around the world, there are only a couple that even have a rule such as this, let alone sitting in a legislative committee trying to figure out how it is that we should deport ourselves at the moment in time when somebody decides there should be a vote.

That we're sitting here speaks to the fact that there is so much political gamesmanship going on on the floor of the Legislature that we find people running to the Chair practically knocking him into the next precinct. The games have become just a tad bit petty on the floor of the Legislature, to the extent that we should be worrying about what time the vote is going to be, whether a party is going to have one before the other.

At the same time as we're trying to resolve this issue, we may want to reflect a little on the deterioration of the dignity of the House. I suggested last time that it could be done on the basis of representation by the parties present. Would that be possible to do without having to pass an amendment to the standing orders, or would it be necessary that anything we decide here and impose on the Speaker so that we can behave ourselves in the Legislature would have to pass through the Legislature?

Mr Morin: The main purpose of the whole thing is to make sure we debate the matters of the House and that we don't become politically involved, that we all get along well. We have a special House; we have to establish special rules and make sure everybody abides by them. This one is very simple, very clear, and I think it's much better to allow it to become part of us instead of part of a political process. Procedures are there to make sure you have a chance to debate in a dignified way, and the Speaker is there to make sure these procedures are followed closely. By doing this we're continuing the same work as we did before, except that we'll never again -- and you're right; I read the same thing too. In the House of Commons the same situation only happened once in a century. That is the purpose of it all, to make it as little complex as possible so that nobody has any argument.

Ms Deller: I'd respond to two issues you raised, one being, can this committee suggest that the Speaker can take any means to resolve this problem without getting any kind of agreement from the House or changing the standing order? I would just say that there are some resolutions that you might consider that would not require a change to the standing order or a waiver of the standing order. There are some resolutions that would at least require the agreement of the House for the Speaker to proceed in that manner. This is one of them that would require the agreement of the House.

Mr Wessenger: If there are other options that don't require an amendment of the House rules, maybe we should hear them, even though we as the members of the committee would like to proceed in this way, so we have a secondary position and know what we can do if the House doesn't agree with the recommendation of our committee.

Ms Deller: Could I just respond to the second part of what Mr Wiseman had commented on? You made some reference to a proposal you had put forward.

Mr Wiseman: Yes. Last day, I suggested that the Speaker would have to accept the deferral motion on the basis of parties, that the government party, if it put in a deferral, would have its considered first, then the opposition, then the third party, and it wouldn't matter when they got there. If they all came at the same time, that would be the pecking order of the choice the Chair would make. Would that require an amendment of the standing orders, or would there be some way of doing this that we didn't have to debate in the Legislature about this?

Ms Deller: In my opinion, the Speaker could probably make that decision on his own, that that's how he would determine which deferral letter to accept, basing that decision on the recommendation of this committee. I do, however, see some difficulties with that particular proposal. It would seem to me that the very first problem is that the Speaker would have to let the bells ring for the full 30 minutes in order to ensure that he allowed every party whip to present him with a letter.


In other words, if, using your suggestion, the Speaker were to receive a letter from the whip of the third party within two minutes of the bell ringing and he stopped the bells and said, "I have a letter from the whip of the third party asking that this vote be deferred until 5:45 tomorrow," and the chief government whip stood up and said: "Wait a minute, Speaker. I was standing at the bottom of the dais. I have a letter for you as well" -- now do you see the problem? The bells have stopped; the Speaker has already accepted one and there's another whip whose letter would take priority normally, who had not been given the opportunity to hand his letter to the Speaker, because in effect what the Speaker has done is taken the first letter he has received.

Mr Wiseman: But the Speaker then could say: "I have one letter of deferral. Are there any others?"

Ms Deller: How does the Speaker do that when the bells are ringing to call the members in for a vote? Suppose the whip of the government party had gone out to gather up his members and, for one reason or another, has determined that this is not a good time for the vote during that time and he'd better get a deferral letter to the Speaker, and he happens not to be in the House at the time the whip of the third party hands the Speaker a letter and says, "This vote shall be deferred until the following day."

Mr Wiseman: Then I would say it wouldn't be as pressing as the two examples we have, where people were practically beating down the Speaker to get to him.

Ms Deller: It may not be as quick a race. My opinion is that it would still be a race.

Mr Wiseman: But in today's example, under the current rules, as soon as the Speaker received the motion from the third party, that would be it, so there wouldn't be an option to look at any others. What I'm saying is that if there are three people beating away to get to the Speaker and they have that kind of pressing need to be there -- why, we don't know -- then the Speaker just collects all three and takes the government one and away you go. Under other circumstances, if the Speaker is standing there and the third party comes up and gives him one and there's nobody else even motioning in that direction, that would seem to me to be the one the Speaker could take.

Mr Wessenger: Mr Morin, could I ask you a question about your proposal? I really like your proposal. I think it's very simple. What if we were to support your proposal with one proviso, that is, that we ask the House leaders to determine whether the appropriate time would be immediately before question period or immediately after question period?

I'm thinking the whips or the House leaders might prefer one time over another. If we left that in our recommendation, that it would be within routine proceedings, either immediately before question period or immediately after, and left it up to the House leaders to agree on the time, would that be agreeable?

Mr Morin: I think I pointed out what would be the problem if it was after orders of the day: One could supersede the other. That is the concern. You see, the idea of this is to make it as simple as possible so that you don't leave any opening whatsoever for anyone to play a game, so that we proceed with our business as swiftly as possible. That is the purpose of it all.

We still keep the same privileges as we had before, except that we know "specified time" will never be criticized again, because it's within routine proceedings. The vote is taken. The whip also will have the opportunity of having more people in the House than there would be, for instance, at a certain time of the afternoon. I wonder if you recall one day in private members' business when there was no quorum and your poor whip was running all over the place to try to fill the House. Do you remember that? I had to adjourn the House. This is what Ms Deller was pointing out a minute ago. The whip may be away; he may not have time to come in and deliver his letter.

We don't want to create problems; we want to make it simple. I think this is a way of doing it. Mind you, we make our recommendation to the House, but it's up to us. We decide whether we want it. If this is the recommendation we bring to the House, it's for the House to decide, but I strongly feel it will work extremely well and make it simple.

Mr Wessenger: I don't know if it would be premature to have a motion on this, but I'd be prepared to make a motion that we approve Mr Morin's proposal and recommend it to the Legislature.

Clerk of the Committee (Ms Lisa Freedman): I'd just like to clarify one thing. What this committee is going to have to do is report back to the House, so we're actually going to have to write a report. If the committee decides to recommend this, would you want the researcher to rework this in terms of a one- or two-page report that's stating the will of the committee?

Mr Wessenger: Yes.

Clerk of the Committee: Okay. And would you want that to come back to the committee next week, or for me to send it out, if I get it tomorrow, so that we can approve it, or to delegate it to someone to approve? Just logistically, do we want to come back next week?

Mr Wessenger: I think you can delegate it, yes.

Clerk of the Committee: So I'll get one member from each party to look at the report once it's written?

The Chair: Mr Wessenger, you'd be the body from the government?

Mr Wessenger: Yes. I won't be available tomorrow, but some other day.

Mr Sutherland: We probably won't have the report done by tomorrow.

Mr Wessenger: Certainly next week, I'd be happy to look it over.

The Chair: Any more discussion on the motion? All in favour of the motion? All opposed? It looks like it's unanimously passed. Thank you, Mr Morin. After the subcommittee approves it, can I report it to the House? Fine.

If there's no further business, we can adjourn.

The committee adjourned at 1607.