The Chair: Ms Gigantes moves that the Chair put every question necessary to dispense with the new draft report by 18 June at 5:30 pm and that the committee ask the researcher to have the new draft report ready by Wednesday 19 June for distribution to members of the standing committee on administration of justice on Thursday 20 June and that the finalized report be brought back on Monday 24 June and that any dissenting report should be tabled at that time.
Mr Sorbara: No, I am just going to speak to the motion. Let me begin by saying that I came into this committee this afternoon trying to convince my colleagues on the committee that we could adopt a conciliatory approach to the work that we have to do, and I was going to reiterate my position in that regard. I am astonished that Ms Gigantes has moved this motion, which is very much like throwing down the gauntlet.
Let me just step back a few days. The last time I was in this committee, which was I guess last Tuesday, I suggested to my colleagues, and I would reiterate the suggestion today, that we not spend much more time in discussion of the guidelines because it was clear that the government was firm in its position and the opposition was firm in its position and that really what needed to be done was the government needed to sit down and go about its work of articulating its views on the report and the opposition would have to write a dissenting report.
I obviously spoke for it myself and in some respects for my party. I did not, obviously, speak to the interest of the Progressive Conservative Party on this matter. Then early today I heard about the motion that I raised in the Legislature today on a point of order and a point of privilege. My remarks today in the House -- I am not going to go over them in detail here, but I meant what I said there. I thought both motions were out of order, and I will get into why I thought that motion was out of order and why I think this motion is out of order in due course.
I also felt that my privileges had been violated, because in effect what has happened is, in the absence of any provision under the standing order, there is an attempt to constrain our ability to submit a dissenting report on the matters that are before us. What I expected to happen here this afternoon at this committee was some discussion about what happened yesterday and some attempt to try and reach a reasonable compromise in completing our work in this regard.
The very first order of business here, after a vote that was carried on yesterday, was yet another motion -- I would appreciate a copy of the motion from the clerk as soon as one is available -- which I think both violates the standing orders of this committee and violates our privileges as members.
This is all the worse because of the charade that is going on in the Legislature right now on the very subject of conflict of interest. The mover of this motion used to be a member of the executive council of the province of Ontario. She slipped once in question period and the fall was a very severe one. Our party believes she did the appropriate thing in submitting her resignation to the Premier and our party believes the Premier did the appropriate thing in accepting that resignation. We also fully expect, given the way in which these matters are dealt with in Ontario, that in due course the Premier will invite her back into the executive council and she will assume either the same or a new role in the executive council of the province of Ontario.
I am appalled therefore that it would be Ms Gigantes, along with her colleagues on this committee, who would, for no apparent reason, to further nothing really, once again poison the atmosphere of this committee by moving this motion.
I just want to tell you once again, sir, my view of how things tend to work when Parliament works well. I will use the example of the House leaders in the Legislature. When Parliament works well, there is a good working relationship between the government House leader, the opposition House leader and the House leader for the third party. The phone lines between those three individuals are always very busy and their staffs work together. The same situation could accrue to a committee such as this one. We could have a good working relationship if, for example, the government members saw an urgent and pressing necessity to complete this project within a particular time frame.
I believe that good parliamentary practice and etiquette and good bloody manners would have at least one of the members phone one of us, and presumably it would be me because I am the whip, just to say: "Look, we have a problem. We need to get this report in because we feel like we want to get off this report and on to some other business." No one has called me to say that it is urgent, even after I said in this committee that we were no longer interested in a lengthy debate because we feel like the positions have crystallized and it is no use talking further. The only thing that we requested, really, was enough time to submit a thorough dissent to the report that would be written.
I want to tell you, sir, that this did not need to happen, that a phone call from the whip of the justice committee to me would have initiated a discussion about the timing of the presentation of the full report, including the dissent. I think we have made our point on conflict of interest. We have made it clear that we do not agree with the major thrust of the guidelines, and that is the requirement to divest.
We believe, by the way, that the Premier has degraded the standards in this area in a very significant way, not only as a result of his inconsistency in applying guidelines. For the life of me, I cannot understand the consistency between accepting the resignation of the member for Ottawa Centre for a slip of the tongue and not accepting the resignation of the Minister without Portfolio responsible for women's issues when she sits down and drafts a letter, which surely she knows is to a body which is about to make a quasi-judicial decision. In fact, the Premier himself, early in the day in question period last Thursday, acknowledged as much. He said at that time, "It is not a question of my guidelines; it is a question of the standard that we have in this province," and he was right then.
Mr Sorbara: I think if you check with the clerk, this is a very broad motion and debate on a topic like this, a closure motion, is a very broad debate. Your party has set the precedent. Sometimes these debates go on for weeks.
Mr Sorbara: In any event, I am now reading from the document dated 8 November 1978. It is a memorandum to the executive council, or the cabinet. It is from the Office of the Premier, and the heading at the top of the page reads: "Re Communication Between Members of the Executive Council and the Judiciary and Key Officials in the Judicial System."
The second part of the second paragraph reads as follows: "However good the motivation that would lead to an intervention in such a matter before the courts by a member of the cabinet, such an intervention could well be interpreted as a threat to the independence of the judiciary."
I would simply argue by extension that the very same principle applies to all quasi-judicial bodies, including things like the Ontario Municipal Board, the Workers' Compensation Appeals Tribunal and any body, like the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario, when it meets as a quasi-judicial body.
The fourth paragraph which reads, "Regardless of the human merits or motivations behind an intervention, every effort must be made to protect our courts from any suggestion of interference in due process."
I think guidelines of that sort were really the motivating factor on Thursday when the Premier met with the minister responsible for women's issues and had a discussion about her breach of the rules of this province. He said in question period, "I have reluctantly accepted the resignation of the minister responsible for women's issues," and then went on to say that a similar letter, written by the Minister of Northern Development, had just come to him. He had been surprised, really, by the matter, he had not had an opportunity to reflect on it and he had not had an opportunity to discuss the matter with the Minister of Northern Development. Therefore, he asked Parliament to bear with him for some time while he had an opportunity to reflect on the matter, to reflect on the content of the letter and to discuss the matter with the minister. Between that time and some four and a half hours later, something happened.
Mr Sorbara: My friend Mr Morrow interjects with the words "Bob Nixon." I want to tell him that if it were that easy for an opposition member, even the Leader of the Opposition, to influence government policy and government decision-making, this province and this Parliament would be far better places right now.
The Chair: We are diverging slightly. Mr Morrow, I hasten to add that you will have your opportunity to speak and to make those points at some later point in time if you wish to, but please do not interrupt Mr Sorbara.
Mr Sorbara: Some other member mutters "Bob Nixon" as well. I think it is Mrs Mathyssen. I repeat once again, sir, it surprises me that a member would actually believe that. I know that for the consumption of the press it is quaint and convenient to suggest that the Premier reconsidered his views on the basis of a suggestion from Bob Nixon.
My concern is that during that period the Premier did not make any of the kind of inquiries that he ought to have made. He did not, for example, make inquiries as to whether or not the minister responsible for women's issues took counsel from her ministry, the people who work in the directorate.
One thing I know for sure is that the letter the minister responsible for women's issues signed was not typed by her. Although she has not told me that, I would bet just about everything I have that she did not type the letter, she did not get the piece of stationery out and prepare it. It means that at least one other person in the Ontario women's directorate was aware of the fact that the minister responsible for women's issues was planning to write to the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario in its capacity as a quasi-judicial body.
Mr Sorbara: Mr Chairman, I want to indicate to you why this forms part of the argument that is the subject of this motion. This motion provides that we complete our discussions on conflict of interest as of a particular date. The guidelines that we have before us are the subject of the discussion, so anything I say related to the guidelines and how they are applied in Ontario is relevant to the debate. If, sir, you want to have five minutes to consult with the clerk or take your own advice or consult with the Speaker on this matter, I am perfectly willing to agree to an adjournment of five or 10 or 15 minutes while you make those consultations, but I assure you that my own experience of --
Mr Sorbara: The issue of the timetable is the issue of the entire matter that we have discussed, so it is, in short, the broadest of discussions. Any closure motion, any motion to restrict or allocate time in respect of a matter before a committee or the House is, under our parliamentary rules and precedents, the broadest of discussions. If you want time to consider that matter, you just have to indicate to me and then you can discuss that with the clerk.
Mr Sorbara: As I was saying, at least one other person in the Ontario women's directorate was aware that the minister responsible for women's issues was at least proposing to write to a quasi-judicial body in its capacity as a quasi-judicial body to try and influence that decision. We already have it from the minister that what she did was wrong and we all appreciate that what she did was wrong. The question that arises, I submit to you, sir, and to the members of this committee, is, who else in the Ontario women's directorate was aware that the minister responsible for women's issues was proposing to interfere with the decision of a quasi-judicial body?
Mr Sorbara: I will always accept an interjection which poses a question like that because it helps me focus my remarks. So, sir, I say to her, through you, because all remarks have to be addressed through the Chair, that it is entirely relevant. Who else in the Ontario women's directorate knew that the minister was proposing to try and influence the decision of a quasi-judicial body? If, for example, the minister simply heard about the issue and determined on her own to write a letter to try and influence and if she took pen in hand and crafted a letter and provided it to a stenographer in the ministry and that stenographer reproduced the letter on letterhead, that is one set of circumstances.
I would say that as far as this aspect of the issue is concerned, the matter is closed, but if a different scenario existed -- let me propose one. If, for example, the minister was lobbied by a group to write a letter, to speak up, to express an opinion, which is probably the case, I suspect, although I do not have any evidence that someone came to see the minister or some group wrote to the minister and suggested to the minister that she do something about this outrageous case -- and it is an outrageous case; I think we all agree on that -- if that happened and then the minister, confronted with the request, began to seek advice within the Ontario women's directorate, then we have a problem. We have a very serious problem. As I said in my remarks apropos of the Premier and what he did during the four hours when he changed his mind, we have to know what inquiries he made and we have to know what inquiries the minister made before she determined to write the letter.
If she made inquiries within her ministry, to whom did she speak? From whom did she get advice? Who did she tell that she was proposing to write a letter which she now acknowledges was wrong to write? For example, did she speak to one of her political assistants? Political assistants are not civil servants; they are not part of the bureaucracy, narrowly defined. They are there in the Ontario women's directorate, as in all ministries, to be the political support for the minister. I ask whether the minister approached one of her political advisers, one of her political staff, to reflect on whether or not she should write this letter. I do not know, but I think it is important. If she did that, why did the political adviser, who after all is there to assist the minister in abiding by the guidelines, not advise the minister that it was inappropriate to write that letter?
Mr Sorbara: I simply say to Mrs Mathyssen that if you ask the Secretary of State for External Affairs in the government of Canada or the incumbent Minister of Employment and Immigration or the incumbent Minister responsible for Constitutional Affairs whether they think the matter is light --
I was at the point of questioning out loud whether or not the minister consulted with political staff. Political staff, by the way, have a very specific role in the way in which our cabinets and our parliamentary system work. The political staff are there to give appropriate political advice to ministers so that their judgements in terms of substance and their judgements in terms of politics are good, solid, appropriate judgements. We need to know whether political staff spoke to the minister about this matter and we need to know if political staff said to the minister: "You can't do that; it is against the guidelines. It is not only against our Premier's guidelines; it is against guidelines that have governed cabinet ministers in Ontario for two decades at least."
I think those inquiries are going on now and I think we need to know the answer to those inquiries. But I am not sure that with the kind of closure motion we have here, this committee will ever get a chance to ask those questions.
Assuming for a moment that the political adviser said to the minister, "You can't do it," then why did the minister not take that political advice? Why was she so repentant when the matter was reported in the Ottawa Citizen but did not heed the advice when she was advised not to write such a letter by a political staffer? Again, I am assuming that the political staffer understood the guidelines and gave the right advice.
Let's take a different scenario for a moment. Let's take the scenario which has the political staffer saying: "Yes, I think you should go ahead. You are an advocate. You have been an advocate for years. This is an important issue. You ought to speak out on it." That political advice to a minister is normally deadly poison. I repeat, that political advice to a minister would be deadly poison because under normal circumstances -- I know it did not accrue under these circumstances -- that sort of advice, if followed by a minister, would be the end of the minister. I think we all agree about that.
Bob Rae seemed to suggest that here the cause was just. There was no harm done to the public good and there was no furthering of private interest -- and I will get to those three criteria in a minute -- but here we have a situation where because of those three criteria the Premier says, "It is okay this time; she is staying in cabinet," even though at about 1:30 or 1:45 she was gone; the resignation had been accepted.
By the way, just a little anecdote for you and the other members of the committee, if you saw a copy of Ms Swarbrick's statement to the House on that matter, her statement of about a page and a half long ended with the words "and so I have submitted my resignation to the Premier (and the Premier has accepted it)."
She did not yet know whether she was going to use those words. In fact, if I recall correctly, she did not use those words. The Premier later stood up and explained why the traditions of the Parliament demanded that the resignation be accepted.
What happened in the intervening four hours? I think we should know. We should find out. If we were a sort of non-partisan parliamentary committee responsible for the administration of justice, if none of us had any particular political allegiance, we would be voting unanimously for an inquiry on just that subject.
I remember, by the way, in a minority Parliament, a parliamentary committee made just such an inquiry into the activities of Elinor Caplan, the member for Oriole, and René Fontaine, the former member for Cochrane North. But I do not think, given the way in which we play our politics these days, we are going to get an opportunity to make those inquiries.
But I am interested to know because we have got down to the level of the political staffer, the political adviser. Was a political adviser consulted by the minister and what was the nature of that advice? Surely to God, if the advice from that political adviser was to go ahead and write the letter, somebody has got to do something about that staffer. He or she has to be re-educated about what the guidelines entail or, I would suggest, dismissed from office because the job of the political adviser is to protect the minister from those sorts of pitfalls.
Let's go just one step down the road, to the bureaucracy, to the Ontario women's directorate. I want to tell you that I had the privilege for two full years to be minister responsible for women's issues in this province, one of the most challenging responsibilities I have ever had in my life because the issues are so volatile and the dramatic changes that are going on in the area of women's issues are so very powerful. They are changing our society dramatically.
The reason I mention that I was minister for two years is as authority for the proposition that I know how that place works, just like my friend the parliamentary assistant for the Solicitor General is getting to understand how the Ministry of the Solicitor General works. When you are minister, you get to know it even more intimately.
If I had to rely on my own experience as minister responsible for women's issues, I would have to testify that a minister responsible for women's issues, before she writes a letter of the kind that was the subject of the letter of resignation, should consult at least with the director of the Ontario women's directorate, the deputy minister, the senior civil servant in the Ontario women's directorate, and often with at least two other senior officials, the senior person responsible for communications and the senior person responsible for policy.
Let me put it to you this way, sir: under no circumstances would any minister responsible for women's issues that I have encountered during the Tory era, during our own time -- and I cannot say subsequently, because there has only been one and I do not know her that well -- but generally, no minister would write that sort of letter on ministry letterhead without consultation with her senior bureaucracy. Do you want me to tell you why? Because you cannot hide the letter; because copies are made; because the fact that the letter is written gets around.
I remember once as minister responsible for women's issues I was proposing to write a letter and I had not checked with the senior bureaucracy. A director at the Ontario women's directorate, at that time a woman named Naomi Alboim, came to see me and said, "I hear you are proposing to write so-and-so and such-and-such." It was not a letter to a quasi-judicial body, it was just in the normal course of business, but she thought it was important enough to come to me and say, "I do not think you should write that sort of letter at this time." This was before there was even a draft made.
It is almost inconceivable that the minister could consider writing the kind of letter that she wrote without word of it getting around to the senior bureaucrats in the women's directorate, and it is inconceivable indeed, if my experience is any teacher, that the director and at least a couple of the senior civil servants would not come and advise the minister that what she was doing was a breach of the legal guidelines about interfering with a quasi-judicial body.
I want to tell my friends on this committee, I have to assume, given my experience as minister, that at least two or three senior bureaucrats in the Ontario women's directorate knew a long time ago that the minister was proposing to write this letter, and that the minister did write the letter.
I want to tell you, sir, that this raises very serious problems. I hope you understand why this is so serious: because there is a responsibility on the part of senior civil servants to advise the central administration of the government when a breach of this type is about to occur or has occurred.
It is not so much whistle blowing, although the New Democratic Party has proposed to bring forward whistle-blowing legislation to allow civil servants to blow the whistle with impunity. We want that to happen. But my argument has taken us down the road this far, that in all likelihood, some time back in early March, even before the minister wrote the letter, senior members of the Ontario women's directorate were aware that a letter either was written or was about to be written.
Now you have to start to ask yourself the following questions: Who knew what when, and what did that person or those people do about it? I want to tell you what the story going around is. The story going around is that the director of the Ontario women's directorate was, indeed, aware of the letter, and had given very strong advice that the letter not be written, because you do not interfere with a quasi-judicial tribunal. The advice was clear. The advice was rejected. A political posture, a violation of the guidelines was preferred over sound advice, and then an objection was made by someone in the Ontario women's directorate to someone in the Premier's office.
Now the question is, who in the Premier's office was aware that there was a proposal to write this letter or that the letter had been written? Did anyone in the Premier's office speak to anyone in the Ontario women's directorate about this intervention before a quasi-judicial body? If that is the case -- and in normal circumstances that would happen -- what did that official in the Premier's office do with the information? Let us suppose the official did what he or she should have done. Let us suppose the official brought this matter to the attention of the Premier. If that is the case, then the Premier's suggestion in the House last Thursday that the first he knew of this was Thursday morning, was in error, to be gentle about it.
Do you know what, sir? I do not think the Premier was in error. I think the Premier was genuine when he said to us in the House that he first heard of this matter a few hours before, that is Thursday morning. But the question then arises about what the officials in the Premier's office did with the information they had from the Ontario women's directorate, because they, of all people, would be even more familiar with the guidelines than a new political staffer in the office of the minister responsible for women's issues.
These are serious matters, because the minister responsible for women's issues wrote the letter -- when, 4 March, is it? If we had a copy of Hansard here, I could confirm the date, but let us assume 4 March. That is over three months ago. We were still in the winter season. There was still snow on the ground. It was still cold. Now it is hot. Now the heat is on the minister, it is 13 June, and suddenly a story breaks on the pages of the Ottawa Citizen, and only then did the minister stand up and say, "What I did was wrong."
What I want to know, sir, is how many people in what positions in our great government in this great province were aware that the Minister without Portfolio responsible for women's issues wrote the letter that she wrote to the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario on 4 March.
My friend the member for Ottawa Centre suggested in her interjection by way of question that this is not important. My God, I think it is crucially important. It is certainly as important as what officials knew about the fast-tracking of Mohammed Al-Mashat into Canada as a landed immigrant. After all, with Mohammed Al-Mashat there was no breaking of the law. I want to tell you, I wish every application for permanent residence to this great country was handled as quickly as that application was. Not that every one is accepted. I would have said, "No, I am sorry; you do not qualify for security reasons." But I practised immigration law for quite some time and I used to be appalled at the delays in considering applications. Sometimes families would be separated for months and years because the system was so bogged down.
So my response to the Al-Mashat case is that everyone should have his or her application handled that quickly. Not everyone should be accepted and Al-Mashat probably should not have been accepted, but needless to say, there was no breach of the law. The law was upheld. In fact, it was a model of processing of an application, a gem. The difficulty in that situation is that under normal circumstances, the application should have taken two years.
Mr Morrow: On a point of order, Mr Chairman: I understand that the member for York Centre has a right to speak to the motion and we have let him ramble on for roughly 45 minutes, but can you please ask the member to go back to the motion?
Ms Gigantes: On a point of order, Mr Chair: The problem is this. The motion before us is one that calls upon us to complete our work by 5:30. The effect of what the member opposite is doing is to prevent us from being able to pass this motion. I would ask you to ask the member how long he intends to speak. Can we ask for a fair allocation of time which would nevertheless allow us, if we wish to pass this motion, to vote on it and complete it and effect the motion? Otherwise, he is destroying the motion by hogging the time, to put it simply.
The Chair: The issue about the time was brought up and debated for a great deal of time at the sitting yesterday. I think it is not inappropriate to suggest that you find some time, in terms of allocation, so that it can be available. How much time do you think you could take, sir?
Mr Sorbara: I have not yet determined that. After all, I have been interrupted on a number of occasions here. I just want to point out to you, sir, that if you look at the way in which time allocation motions -- which this really is -- are presented in the Legislature, they are always open-ended. They begin to take effect after the motion is passed by the House.
Mr Sorbara: So it refers to the sitting day after the motion is passed. But this is highly irregular, to require a member to constrain his remarks so that a motion can be relevant. That is part of the problem with the motion and that is why it is entirely out of order.
If, for example, the motion had read that the Chair put every question necessary to dispense with a new draft report by 5:30 on the sitting day following the passage of this motion, it would have logically made sense. But no Parliament in the history of the parliamentary democracy has ever cut off a speaker because "if he speaks too long, the very motion that he is speaking about becomes irrelevant."
The Chair: In terms of the schedule of the submission of reports, that was decided yesterday and I think debated at some length, and on two occasions yesterday I set aside a request for closure. I do not think it is overly rigid to suggest that we wind up today. Your colleagues yesterday spoke at some length, as did members of all sides, on essentially the same issue. I would suggest that we wrap up, sir.
Mr Sorbara: The Chair does not suggest that members wrap up, particularly on time allocation motions, but if you want to refer to the motion of yesterday, that motion is now functus, because it provided that the report be completed by yesterday.
Mr Morrow: On a point of order, Mr Chair, please: In your capacity as Chair, can I please ask you to rule on Ms Gigantes's point of order, which I really do not feel you have, because she has asked --
The Chair: The motion that was passed yesterday is in order with the exception of the time frame, of "complete by" whatever, yesterday. So the issue of the timetable is already established. I would suggest we --
Mr Sorbara: Sir, I simply want to tell you that the Chair does not have the authority in a committee of this sort to require a member to indicate how much longer he will be speaking unless there is unanimous consent of the committee that each member will be allocated a specific amount of time. I would just ask the clerk to confirm that or give us other advice.
Mr Sorbara: Thank you, sir. Notwithstanding what Ms Gigantes has said, I was on the Al-Mashat matter and I was pointing out that in my own view there was no law broken there. What did occur was that the normal procedures that govern the consideration of an application for permanent residence were overridden in the sense that an individual's application was put at the front of the line. There is nothing illegal about that and in certain cases it is required. Under the Immigration Act, as I understand it and understood it when I was practising immigration law, a minister has the ability to expedite an application. In certain instances, for example when there is some threat to an individual or there is some other perhaps humanitarian or compassionate reason, the Minister of Employment and Immigration does expedite an application.
The interesting thing in Al-Mashat was that the application was expedited as quickly as any application has ever been expedited in the history of that ministry and yet nobody knew who was responsible. A parliamentary committee not unlike this one was unable, even with high-ranking officials and ministers before it, to get to the bottom of the case.
Mr Sorbara: I am going to help you out a little bit by just telling you that I am making this argument to build an analogy between the cases of conflict of interest, which are why we are here, the subject of our guidelines, and other matters of a similar sort. Just to recap and review with you, sir, I am trying to establish here before this committee, for Hansard and for others, how important it is that we find out who Ms Swarbrick consulted before she wrote the letter and what those people did as a result of that consultation. I am using the Al-Mashat matter as a comparison to build my case.
Mr Sorbara: Sir, if you do have a problem I would suggest that you cede the chair to your Vice-Chairman and consult with the Clerk of the Legislature, M. DesRosiers, or the Speaker himself. I think you will probably find that what is inappropriate here are your interjections in my remarks. Your responsibility, sir, is to keep order in this committee. I have the floor.
I was talking about the Al-Mashat matter, was I not? In Al-Mashat we had, I think, three ministers testify before the committee. Those ministers were able to stonewall that committee sufficiently so that it has become very difficult for that committee to establish the truth of the matter. The allegation from each of the ministers is that they did not know anything about it until it was raised by the press. You will recall that Joe Clark blamed his chief of staff. That was a cruel one, a real, real cruel one. But notice, I say to my good friend from Durham East --
In any event, the notion that Clark and the others would look for scapegoats is interesting here. As I suggested in my argument in respect of the Minister without Portfolio responsible for women's issues, the Al-Mashat case is instructive, because the political advisers did know before the ministers. That is what political advisers know. This is the stuff that they work with, this information that comes to them. So it is almost inconceivable that the chief of staff or the executive assistant to the Minister without Portfolio responsible for women's issues did not know that she was planning on writing a letter. That is almost inconceivable. The only situation where no one in the directorate could know about it is a situation where the minister herself took out the stationery, sat down at the typewriter and tapped out the letter, did not make any copies, did not log it, just sent it on to the college of physicians and surgeons.
Now, that would have been really cute, because sometimes they do that so that they can have what is called in these circles deniability. Do you know what deniability is? It is: "Well, no, we didn't write that letter. That is not my signature. Come and look at our files. You can't find a copy of that letter in our files." But I think in this case the minister was not looking for deniability. She acknowledged her mistake. The Premier acknowledged the mistake, and indeed the Premier at one point accepted the resignation.
I reiterate, I think we have to know what happened in those four hours between the acceptance of the resignation and the rejection of the resignation. I say that because I think what is really on trial here is not the conduct so much of the minister responsible for women's issues but the competence of the Premier himself. The reason I say that is that I would judge the competence of the Premier, not based on what decision he made but on what advice he sought, what inquiries he made apropos the submission of a letter of resignation from our good friend and colleague the member for Scarborough West, the then and now minister responsible for women's issues.
I do not believe the Premier made any such inquiries, but I think those sorts of inquiries ought to be made. If, as a politician, you think the federal committee was doing its job making an inquiry into the Al-Mashat affair, how could you at one and the same time propose that no such inquiry ought to be made here? Who else knew? What advice was given? I am scandalized at the notion that perhaps several months ago the director of the Ontario women's directorate knew that the letter was written. I say parenthetically, sir, to you and to the members of this committee I would like to know what advice the director of the Ontario women's directorate gave to her minister in this regard.
Mr Sorbara: I simply say parenthetically to Mrs Mathyssen, the member for Middlesex, through you, sir, that if she could prevail upon her friend Ms Gigantes to withdraw this motion, and then if she would do me the courtesy of sending a note saying that she, as whip, would like to discuss with me the timing of the completion of this business, I could make this speech a very short speech. I have not once received a note from Mrs Mathyssen.
Mr Sorbara: No. All I need is a note saying, "We're going to withdraw the motion and we'd like to sit down with you between now and 6 o'clock to talk about the timing of the completion of the report." I think, for example, it is going to take us about another week and a half to two weeks to complete our dissent. We would like you to finish your work first so we can refer to the recommendations that you're making. By the way, our dissent will not carry much weight. It will not prevail when the report returns to the Legislature, so I do not think you run a very big risk of doing that. But I leave that entirely up to the government members. We can debate this motion for several days or several weeks, or the motion can be withdrawn and the whip could send me a little note saying, "I'd like to talk to you over a cup of coffee about the timing of the completion of our work."
Mr Sorbara: In any event, I am trying to use the Al-Mashat matter, which has been covered so extensively in our national press, to build the case that argues, I think effectively -- I know I have the attention of my colleagues in the Progressive Conservative Party, at least for a little while -- that the Premier ought to make inquiries within the Ontario women's directorate and within his own office to determine who knew what, why and when. That is what is relevant.
Mr Morrow: With Mr Sorbara's indulgence, I would like to ask him if we can have a couple of minutes so he and I can confer about some things. I assure you, Mr Sorbara, that I will give you the floor when we are done. Is that fair?
Ms Gigantes: On a point of order: I would just like to report to other members of the committee that the attempt to have the opposition agree to a date which, following the tabling of a report on this reference, would be a reasonable date for it to do a dissenting report -- it was impossible to reach any accommodation on that matter.
Mr Sorbara: So long as that matter was raised, even though it is not a point of order, I should just say a word about it parenthetically. In trying to deal with the motion we have before us, which is really a time allocation motion, I want to make it clear once again that our party would have been entirely willing to agree to a specific date by when a dissenting report would be submitted. That is to say, we in fact suggested that three weeks after we received the report written by the majority on this committee we would have a dissenting report ready for the clerk to have transcribed and incorporated into the report. We were willing to agree.
Mr Sorbara: I want to say to my friend the member for Ottawa Centre that we are completely willing to agree to that. There is some concern from the Progressive Conservatives about the specific date when the entire report, including its dissent, is submitted. What I and my party are not willing to agree to is to incorporate that in a motion of the sort before us now. The reason is because I find, in my own judgement, based on the rules of this House and the procedure before committees, this a motion that is out of order and inappropriate and ought not to be considered. I will get to that topic in my remarks, but if we all want the clerk to write up a document saying this is the way we are going to proceed and we all put our John Henrys on it, I am perfectly willing to do that. I said that during the recess.
The problem the member for Ottawa Centre has is that she wants her time allocation motion to succeed. I want to tell her that it is inappropriate, it is offensive, it is without precedent before a committee like this and it is simply not acceptable to us.
Ms Gigantes: On a point of order, Mr Chair: If it were possible to understand what the member for York Centre is suggesting, perhaps we could have an agreement about how to proceed. Is he referring to the first part of the motion -- namely, that which calls upon us to deal with the outstanding matters in the draft report by 5:30 tonight -- as a time allocation motion or is he referring to the question in the second part of the motion, which deals with the time framework for the tabling of a report and a dissenting report, as a time allocation motion?
Mr Harnick: On a point of order, Mr Chair: If there is some genuine idea that we can break this impasse, why do we bother debating about it across the table? Why do we not see if we can get this thing settled? Let's adjourn and do this properly, because it is not a point of order.
Mr Sorbara: I will be about 15 more minutes on the entire topic, at least on the subject I am on. Listen, I could continue discussing this. Perhaps Mr Harnick and Ms Gigantes want to go off on their own, stroll in the park and simply discuss it, see if they can come to an agreement.
Clerk of the Committee: The understanding that I believe we have between the three parties is that the motion would be withdrawn, that we would continue where we were on the report, which was the section on parliamentary assistants, we would get all of the motions for the report to the researchers by 5:30 today, the final report would come back to the committee on Monday 24 June, dissents would be due three weeks following 24 June and the report would then be tabled after the dissents are printed, translated and bound in proper form for tabling.
Mr Harnick: Just so that we are not confused about this, I gather that we will be tabling the report and the dissents immediately upon completion rather than waiting until the Legislature resumes. Is that what everybody wants?
Mr Harnick: I am not so sure about that. I understand you can do that. Do you want to do it when the Legislature is back on 23 September or do you want to do it whenever the translations are done and the paper is bound?
Mr Harnick: I did not hear anything from the clerk about when we would be tabling the report. Accordingly, we have no agreement. Your understanding was that we could not table the report until the Legislature resumes.
Mr Harnick: We did not create this logjam. Now you want an agreement so that we do not run into problems later on. If I came back later on and this was not part of the agreement and I said, "No, no" --
Mr Sorbara: I suggest that we are ad idem on almost all points except the question of when the report is tabled. My suggestion would be that we give the clerk a reasonable amount of time to prepare the report in appropriate form for tabling and that the report be tabled thereafter upon the instructions of the subcommittee but in any event no later than the first day when the session resumes; that is, September the whatever. How is that?
Mr Sorbara: Just again to review the terms of the agreement, the motion before us is to be withdrawn, so we do not have that motion. Therefore, the committee has its regular business before it; that is, the guidelines themselves. This motion then need not be dealt with. It is withdrawn by the mover.
The second point is that you folks do whatever you want and complete the report. I just assure you that, for our part, my members, we have no more to say on the matters that you will raise in completing the deliberations this committee has to do. Okay? We may vote against your motions, but we do not have any more speeches to make. There is no time allocation. We finish it when it is finished, but you can rely on our assurance that we have no more comments to make and that we reserve the right to vote either for or against, depending on what you propose. That is the second thing.
Then the report gets prepared. We ask simply, in terms of this agreement, that we have three weeks from the date we get the final document to prepare our dissent. We agree to that. If we are one day late, please do not punish us. Then the whole document goes to the clerk to be prepared for submission and tabling in the House. It is translated and put in a form suitable for tabling.
After that point -- the clerk is also going to be having us travel around Ontario discussing Sunday shopping -- thereafter, the subcommittee will decide as to the timing of the tabling but in any event it cannot choose a date later than the first day that the Legislature is sitting in the fall session. I think I have just summed up the terms of a reasonable agreement. If there is discussion on it, I think the Chair would be interested in listening to those discussions.
Mr Harnick: The only thing that was not mentioned in that summary, and I do not know whether it is at all significant, is the date of 24 June. The way it was worded, the dissents, the minority opinions, would be available three weeks following whatever date the final report was delivered. Is there some necessity that the final report has to be delivered on 24 June, or are we waiving that? I think 24 June was part of the agreement and I think it should be mentioned.
Mr Harnick: If the report is available on 24 June, we have three weeks from that day. If the report is not available 24 June, but is available at a subsequent date, then we have three weeks from whatever subsequent date it is delivered. But at a minimum, the opposition parties will have three weeks from the 24th to deliver their dissents, if you decide to rush the report and get it to us faster than the 24th. We want three weeks from the 24th and that has always been my understanding. Do you want to put the 24th in that summary?
Mr Sorbara: Just on the very narrow matter of the 24th, I think Mr Harnick is wrong to incorporate that date. I fully expect that it will be done by the 24th, but that is your affair. I gave my summary in very careful terms. We undertake, as a party, not to raise any more matters in terms of debate. In other words, as you bring forward motions, we are not going to be making speeches. I just want to tell you that every member of the Legislature and all 73 members of your party have the right to come in and sit on this committee and give speeches on motions that are presented.
For our part, we undertake that we will control our members, and as whip, I will control my members so that will not happen. If the Progressive Conservative Party wants to give that undertaking to the committee, so be it. If your whip wants to give that undertaking to the Chair, so be it. It is my assumption if there are those sorts of undertakings from each of the three parties, the report will be finished and full instructions will have gone out to the researcher.
But anything could happen. Peter Kormos could come down here. There is one member who is not a member of any political party, who got thrown out. He could come down here and speak to the topic if he wanted to. That is why I did not put in the 24th. But whenever you are finished --
The Chair: Ms Gigantes moves, on page 9 under "Members of the Legislature," that members of the Legislature should be required to provide the commission with detailed statements of assets, liabilities and interests, which statements will be made available to the public by the commission.
The Chair: Ms Gigantes moves, on page 9 under the heading "Senior Public Service and Government Appointees," that the committee recommends the incorporation of requirements concerning these two groups into the Public Service Act.
Mr Sorbara: We will be voting against this because this committee heard no evidence as to the pros and cons of doing what the motion incorporates, and we think it is foolish to proceed on the basis of --
The Chair: Ms Gigantes moves, on page 10 under the heading "Spouses, Family and Others," that spouses and minor children should be required to provide reports to the commission similar to those for members and similarly subject to public disclosure by the commission.
The Chair: Ms Gigantes moves, on page 11 under the title "Constituency Work -- Communication in the Administration of Justice, with Tribunals and Ministries," that the committee recommend incorporating the Premier's guidelines 19 to 24 into the conflict of interest act.
Ms Swift: If I could just have a little clarification on this, my understanding was that under the part I, "Guidelines or Legislation," the recommendation of the committee was that the guidelines be incorporated into the existing act. I took it from that that all of the sections of the guidelines were to be incorporated. This seems a little redundant in light of the previous recommendation.
Mr Sorbara: Not that I am going to take any credit for the report in the end but, believe me, the inconsistencies that will arise are rather shocking. You have an act that has a figure of $200, guidelines that have a figure of $100, and an earlier recommendation that the guidelines become the law, which means that you have to make a choice between one or the other. Then you have this section where the committee is saying the committee did not make any recommendation. I think you are going to leave the researcher rather confused, and certainly the general public will be wondering what exactly it is you are recommending.
Mr Sorbara: No, that is not what she is saying. She is moving that there be no recommendation. The impact of moving that means that either the guidelines at, say, $100 become law, or the law that says $200 remains the law, but not both, and I think we will be back here trying to --
Ms Gigantes: Mr Chair, on the "Meaning of `Conflict of Interest,'" I had indicated that I would move a motion of definition. I am going to withdraw that motion. That is on page 14. I had indicated, on page 2 of the motions before you, that I would propose a definition. On advice, I am not going to propose a definition.
Ms Gigantes: Under the title "Miscellaneous" on the same page, section 13, "disclosure of material changes" -- which should be in my motion -- "in assets," I recommend that we incorporate recommendations made by the conflict commissioner concerning sections 12 and 13 of the act.
The Chair: Ms Gigantes moves that subsequent acquisition of assets will be governed by the same requirements as for previous land holdings. However, no exception shall be allowed for subsequently acquired land.
Ms Gigantes: Mr Chair, if I might, I feel it would be helpful to the researcher, and perhaps to other members of this committee, to explain that, where motions which we have just passed appear redundant, because we have said that we were moving the conflict-of-interest guidelines into the Members' Conflict of Interest Act, the question we were dealing with there, primarily, was whether we should in fact use the guidelines as a basis for amendment to the act, or whether they should simply remain outside legislation and be used as guidelines apart from legislation -- if that is helpful to our researcher.
The Chair: Mr Sorbara moves that the committee invite the minister responsible for women's issues and the Minister of Northern Development to come before this committee and testify as to the circumstances leading up to their breach of the guidelines as they presently exist.
Mr Harnick: Can I make an amendment to that motion? May I add that we request that the Premier come and elaborate generally on the issue of the conflict guidelines and specifically on the incident relating to those two ministers.
Mr Sorbara: In conjunction with my motion, I certainly would accept the friendly amendment from my friend the member for Willowdale so that my motion will read: "I move that in conjunction with the preparation of this report and the dissent contemplated thereunder, the committee invite the Premier, the minister responsible for women's issues and the Minister of Northern Development and government House leader to appear before this committee."
I have some comments to make on the motion I am moving. I would begin by simply saying to you that today is a rather unusual day, where we have completed all the government motions on the report and we now have authorization to proceed to the writing of the report. Nevertheless, this issue has so gripped us and the province that at one and the same time we are debating in this committee the conduct of ministers -- we have a former minister on the committee -- just as I speak right now, the member for Scarborough North is speaking on a want of confidence motion in the House; soon we will all be going up to vote on it. It just indicates how dreadful things have become.
I do not think I want to go through the list again of the ministers who have gotten into trouble in this government, but if you go right back to the time when we were just about to adjourn for the end of the fall sitting, there were two ministers --
Mr Sorbara: No, I am not. I am remarking that without even thinking about it, the member for Guelph says, "Oh, no, we wouldn't want to do that." The standards of this government are even lower than the standards of the Mulroney government in Ottawa. Mulroney conceded that the matter of Al-Mashat had to go before a committee.
Mr Sorbara: I am not surprised that the member for Guelph was interjecting that he would not be supportive of the motion. But I just make the comparison that in Ottawa, when there were some serious allegations, at least the government conceded that it should go before a committee for a while. Here, we cannot get any real opportunity to do the kind of investigative analysis we used to be able to do.
Mr Sorbara: In deference to my good friend the member for Guelph, I will move that we adjourn this discussion in consideration of the motion until Monday, so Monday we can take up the discussion of this matter. I will call for a 20-minute bell.