Thursday 11 June 1992
STANDING COMMITTEE ON PUBLIC ACCOUNTS
*Chair / Président: Mancini, Remo (Essex South/-Sud L)
*Vice-Chair / Vice-Président: Cordiano, Joseph (Lawrence L)
*Callahan, Robert V. (Brampton South/-Sud L)
Cousens, W. Donald (Markham PC)
*Duignan, Noel (Halton North/-Nord ND)
*Frankford, Robert (Scarborough East/-Est ND)
*Haeck, Christel (St Catharines-Brock ND)
*Hayes, Pat (Essex-Kent ND)
Johnson, Paul R. (Prince Edward-Lennox-South Hastings/Prince Edward-Lennox-Hastings-Sud ND)
*O'Connor, Larry (Durham-York ND)
*Sorbara, Gregory S. (York Centre L)
*Tilson, David (Dufferin-Peel PC)
Substitutions / Membres remplaçants:
Murdock, Sharon (Sudbury ND) for Mr Johnson
Also taking part / Autres participants et participantes:
Jim F. Otterman, Assistant Provincial Auditor
John Sciarra, administrative assistant to the Provincial Auditor
*In attendance / présents
Clerk / Greffière: Manikel, Tannis
Staff / Personnel: McLellan, Ray, research officer, Legislative Research Service
The committee met at 1015 in room 151.
The Chair (Mr Remo Mancini): The Chair sees a quorum. I would like to call to order the standing committee on public accounts. The agenda before the members will indicate that we will be dealing with a report from the subcommittee. The members will recall that a week ago we received a number of notices of motion that were duly presented to the clerk and made available to all the members.
We added to those notices of motion a list of items that seems to have been carried over for at least one year, if not two, in regard to the work of this committee. We further added to that list a number of items that members on the committee seemed to be interested in. This morning the subcommittee added a further item. If members will turn to the page that says "Standing Committee on Public Accounts: List of Possible Areas of Review," does everyone have a page that looks like this? I'd like to give the members a report.
Mr Larry O'Connor (Durham-York): The page has scribbling on it.
The Chair: Yes, I had to scribble quite a bit this morning. The members will take note of the following decisions made by the subcommittee, and the subcommittee duly reports those decisions to this committee. The items are not really numbered, but as we go through I'm going to number them in the order in which they appear.
Items 1, 2 and 3 deal exclusively with the nursing home service, 1990 annual report; access to extended care beds, 1990 annual report; home care assistance, 1990 annual report. Members of the subcommittee were of the opinion that since we're close to three years away on these items we would ask for a very basic, cursory review of these issues to be conducted by the auditor. Then, based on the review itself and whether we find anything we wish to pursue in that review, the matter would either proceed or be closed.
Then follows item 4, waste management, 1991 annual report; item 5, government-owned housing, 1991 annual report, and the last item on the list, review of the Ontario Housing Corp -- "deep needs." These three matters are already under the auditor's review and we will be receiving information on these three matters some time in November. Based on what we find at that time and our feelings at that time as to whether we should be proceeding further, the subcommittee duly recommends that we hold off doing any other work on these three matters until we actually get that report.
Mr Gregory S. Sorbara (York Centre): Just for clarification, that's waste management, government-owned housing, 1991, and the final item, review of Ontario Housing Corp?
The Chair: Yes, those three matters are being put off till November. The auditor has informed us that he's already doing work on those three areas. We'll review the work at that time and the members can then decide how we wish to proceed.
At the recommendation of the subcommittee, the Polaris project has been withdrawn. At the recommendation of the subcommittee, the details of the contract with Jack Layton have been withdrawn. You can scratch those off the list.
I will proceed immediately with the matter of the office of the registrar general because it's not on our list. After extensive discussions this morning, it was agreed by the subcommittee that the auditor conduct a review of the operations of the office of the registrar general re birth certificates, marriage certificates and death certificates. It was the view of the subcommittee that it should not take six months or longer to have these certificates sent out to Ontario citizens when they request them. There was a whole host of other matters that the subcommittee raised which had the support of the subcommittee. Mr Cordiano and the clerk of the committee are going to be working on a detailed motion for the committee to approve at our next sitting. That is not on this list, but it is on the list.
The other item is the Office of the Ombudsman. It is the opinion of the subcommittee that the auditor conduct a full review of the Office of the Ombudsman. There was a great deal of discussion in regard to advertising, value for money, operations and a number of other areas.
Now, that was the easy part. It was the opinion of the majority of the subcommittee that the accounting procedures used in the 1992-93 budget be reviewed as outlined in Mr Sorbara's motion, which is included in this package, if members wish to review the motion in its entirety. It was the opinion of the majority of the subcommittee that this committee review the Ministry of Government Services' use of 1-800 numbers in the consultation process the government has undertaken, as outlined in the motion presented by -- was that your motion, Mr Sorbara?
Mr Sorbara: Yes.
The Chair: It was presented by Mr Sorbara and is contained in the package the members have. As I said earlier, the subcommittee had decided to withdraw the motion in regard to the contract for Mr Jack Layton.
It was the opinion of the majority of the subcommittee that the committee review staffing in the ministers' offices -- I'm going to lump these two together and I'm referring to political staffing -- in particular the Minister of Health and the Minister of the Environment. It was the opinion of the majority of the subcommittee that two areas be reviewed in this regard: first, to find out whether or not there is a policy in regard to staffing ministers' offices, and if there is a policy, to obtain a copy of that policy; and second, to find out whether or not these two particular ministers have followed that policy, and if not, why not, basically.
Ladies and gentlemen, that is the report of the subcommittee. I understand that it's now the duty of this committee either to accept or reject the report of the subcommittee or parts thereof.
Mr Sorbara: Just to get things under way, perhaps I might move the adoption of the subcommittee report and its recommendations.
The Chair: Mr Sorbara moves that the report of the subcommittee be adopted. Discussion?
Ms Christel Haeck (St Catharines-Brock): I was going to raise the fact that it was not a unanimous report from the subcommittee on all those matters.
The Chair: I mentioned that.
Ms Haeck: Therefore I feel that the items -- the accounting procedures as outlined, the MGS issue, the two --
The Chair: Order, please. We have a motion on the floor by Mr Sorbara that we adopt the report of the subcommittee. Now, there are a couple of ways in which we can deal with this motion in order to have full discussion: by making a list of speakers and then members can speak on each aspect of the report of the subcommittee, because Mr Sorbara's motion is wide-ranging -- accept the full report -- or members can speak in general and not refer to specifics of the subcommittee report if they wish, or we could ask Mr Sorbara to withdraw the motion, if he wishes, and take the matter part by part. I believe we have two or three options here to choose from. It's up to the committee.
I want to remind the committee that we have a lot of work before us this morning and that we have an hour and a half left to complete it. So I'm asking the committee to judge what it wants to say within the time that we have to say it and to organize our work so that we can complete our work, because we have other work to do this morning other than this list of possible areas of review. With that, we continue the discussion.
Mr O'Connor: In order to make this process flow a little more easily, perhaps it would be easier if we were to review the report of the subcommittee piece by piece. In referring to Mr Sorbara's motion, the motion could be turned down, or we could go through the subcommittee's report and find areas of agreement, in which case we could probably move a little bit more.
The Chair: Mr Sorbara's motion could stand and we could do the same thing. I just listed that as one of the three options we could consider this morning. Yes, Mr Sorbara?
Mr Sorbara: Perhaps I might speak to my motion and then you might want to take speakers. I'm going to try to be as frank as I can. Obviously I'm aware from your report that some of these matters have the full support of the subcommittee and, by implication, the full support of the committee; that is, we all agree that we can study those areas. There was some indication from the subcommittee that in respect, for example, of the first three matters, we will make a decision down the road based on a cursory review, in the case of items 1, 2 and 3, and that we will make a decision down the road based on work the Provincial Auditor is already doing; that's the fifth item, government housing and the review of the Ontario Housing Corp's so-called "deep needs." So we more or less agree on that. I guess if my motion fails, and I hope it doesn't, then we would start taking these items one by one.
I think, frankly, the subcommittee's report is a good one, and just by way of notice to you and to the other members of the committee, sir, I will be withdrawing the motions and the notices in respect thereof that I tabled last week at this meeting. I see that some of those items, but not all of those items, are on this list.
I just want to say to the government members of the committee that historically the public accounts committee has combined things that are, in effect, completely apolitical -- for example, the nursing home stuff, the office of the registrar general, which apparently has the full support of the committee -- with motions that are of a somewhat more sensitive nature. I hope the government members are not going to try to eliminate those things that might be a little bit sensitive to the government, including the consideration of budgetary approaches -- that's one of the ones that did not receive unanimous support -- and the use of 1-800 numbers and the question of ministers' staffing. These are the sensitive issues.
One of the reasons why, historically, public accounts has been chaired by an opposition member is to allow and to encourage this committee to take on the government, to be quite frank, in those sensitive areas during part of its deliberations, as well as to do more sensitive business. Just to give you an example, many of you, before you were elected, probably followed the so-called Chaviva Hosek matter and some of the issues related thereto. One of those issues was the hiring of a person named Dino Chiesa, who now, I think, acts as an assistant deputy minister. He was hired by Ms Hosek when she was Minister of Housing.
The government obviously, after due consideration, considered he was the person for the job. The opposition suggested that it smelled a rat, to use the vernacular. The way in which that issue was considered by the Legislature, after a series of questions in question periods, was for the matter to be referred to the public accounts committee. There was a specific inquiry done in this committee on that matter. It allowed the Legislature, and through the Legislature, the public, to have a full airing of the issue.
I don't think any matter here is as contentious as that hiring was at that time, but the matters that did not receive majority support are obviously those matters that are somewhat contentious and have a political tone to them. You ought not to forget the fact that the public is specifically interested in these kinds of things; for example, hiring in ministers' offices. It's the one area where merit and the whole process of hiring through a civil service procedure does not apply. Ministers appropriately get to hire who they want when they want and fire who they want when they want. The only constraint is the global budget that's applied to this.
Our inquiry here is simply to ask, what are these global budgets and how do they compare with the global budgets of previous governments? It's no secret that the previous Liberal government spent more in ministers' offices than its predecessor the government under Bill Davis and, latterly, Frank Miller. I think it's fair that the public accounts committee look at what the new standards are for hiring in ministers' offices under a new party. I don't think that's an unfair inquiry and I don't think that's something we should keep from the public.
Similarly, advertising expenses have always been of particular public interest. Because the government used a new approach with its request for public input through the use of fairly significant ads and a 1-800 number -- there's no magic to it. It's a new technology, and I think the government, on the face of it, did the right thing to use that technology, but the public accounts committee I think has a good opportunity here to make sure the government appropriately account for those sorts of unusual expenditures.
I guess I personally am a little upset that the Jack Layton contract, like the Dino Chiesa contract, couldn't come under our review, but I respect the decision of the subcommittee in that regard. Similarly with Polaris, I would have liked to have seen a Polaris investigation. I was the minister who carried that project along somewhat, not completing the project but carrying it along to a point. The current government actually awarded the contract.
There was one other item that did not receive majority support, and that is the accounting procedures used in the 1992-93 budget. Here's one I very much encourage the government members to support. I want to explain to you why that is. You might recall that there was a question raised by my colleague the member for Scarborough-Agincourt, Gerry Phillips, on the accounting procedures. Thereafter, there was an exchange of letters between Mr Phillips and the Provincial Auditor and the Treasurer. The Treasurer is on record as saying that he thinks his accounting procedures are acceptable but that he would invite and welcome the public accounts committee and the Provincial Auditor to look at that. Parenthetically, the Office of the Provincial Auditor said it was not competent to look at the accounting procedures in the absence of a direction from this committee and would look forward to that direction. But the Treasurer himself said that this committee is the appropriate place for that to take place.
What you've got in the subcommittee report, to sum up, are some things that would be done by unanimous agreement and consensus -- that's good -- and things that are done at the instance of the opposition. That is particularly the mandate of this committee and always has been. It's been the opposition's opportunity to do a little probing, and the government members in this province, historically at least, have acquiesced to that.
Finally, we have some things we will look at if anything comes up in the ongoing work of the Provincial Auditor. That gives us an opportunity to change our course a little. I think it's a fair tradeoff. Frankly, I would have wanted more as an opposition member, but when you're in opposition obviously you don't get everything you want. As a new member of this committee, I plead for the government members not to simply vote in a way that protects the government from scrutiny but allows us to do a measure of interesting investigation that would be of interest to the public as well. I really hope you can support the majority report of the subcommittee.
Mr O'Connor: It's interesting hearing some of the discussion this morning around the subcommittee report. I appreciate the subcommittee taking a look and bringing forward this list. I think the recommendation to allow the Provincial Auditor to review and get back to us around the nursing home services and the extended care beds and home care assistance is a good approach to take. I think that's terrific.
The next area on the list was the waste management that's going to be reviewed. Again, I think that's something there's a lot of interest in around this committee, as well as the government-owned housing and the Ontario Housing Corp.
Polaris: I believe we had the minister in here earlier in the year. That did sound rather exciting. I'm sorry the subcommittee decided to remove that.
The Office of the Ombudsman: I think that's a good area to be looking at. Certainly we had a lot of people concerned about the process itself and how long it takes for things to get through that office. There is a number of areas there, the advertising being one, that could be looked at. I'm looking forward to that.
That brings us, I guess, to the accounting procedures of the 1992-93 budget. It's a shame that the subcommittee, if there was correspondence between the minister and the auditor and Mr Phillips, didn't table that with its motion to give us a little background so perhaps we could have supported it. But in the way it's been brought before us, I don't think it requires any support. It's a shame that we see this committee get politicized, as it is now about to become, by new members to this committee, members who haven't sat on this committee in the past year and a half when we have had a lot of consensus.
Mr Joseph Cordiano (Lawrence): On a point of order, Mr Chair: With all due respect to the member who had the floor previously, this committee -- and I'm going to say this because I've been on this committee on several occasions throughout the last seven years -- is designed to have the opposition make inquiries about government expenditures and the public accounts of the province. It really is the intent of this committee's mandate to allow for those inquiries to be made. Whether you perceive that to be political and partisan in nature is entirely beside the point that should be discussed here.
The Chair: Your point of order, Mr Cordiano?
Mr Cordiano: I wanted to raise that as a preliminary discussion leading to this point: It's really not appropriate to talk about what other members were implying of a personal nature and trying to reduce this to a question of partisanship.
The Chair: That's a good point, but it's not a point of order.
Mr O'Connor: We were having debate and discussion around different points raised on the subcommittee report, and that was one of them.
The 1-800 number of the Ministry of Government Services: I think that's an area that certainly is new. It shows that the government is very open to hearing from its constituents right across the province, whether they be in government members' ridings or opposition members' ridings. As governments take a look at it, it'll probably be a process that will be continued in other jurisdictions. I think it's a leading edge.
I'm sure the members will welcome the opportunity to take a look at each ministry during the estimates process, just as one of our opposition colleagues has done: The details around Jack Layton's contract were raised in the estimates committee, and the information he's asked for is going to be provided through estimates, as is the staffing in the Ministry of Health. I'm sure that when we get to that point in the estimates committee on Environment, these questions will again be raised, and at that time I'm sure the minister will make sure the information is provided.
I don't think we need to go into those details right now. I think there is a forum for the opposition to talk about it and discuss it. I would surely not want to take away from the opposition the right to ask those questions because those are the questions they feel are very important and should be asked, but I think the estimates committee is a good place for them to ask that question.
This committee has been able to work in consensus on a number of areas of concern since I've been on this committee. It has had its partisan moments, but for the most part has been a lot less partisan, I think, than a number of committees of the Legislature. That doesn't take away from the fact that all members of this committee want to take a look at the accounting practices of any agency the Provincial Auditor has pointed out to this committee. As a public accounts committee, I think we should review the Provincial Auditor's report, go with his recommendations and review areas of concern.
I think that on more topical issues, issues of the day, there are forums for those, as in question period, places for those discussions to take place. I think we should be taking a look at the Provincial Auditor's report in a number of different areas; for example, the office of the registrar general has come up in the subcommittee. A lot of members are concerned about the delays that residents of Ontario have had to face since the moving of that office, so I think that's something we'll look at. I appreciate that recommendation coming forward from the subcommittee.
There are a number of areas I can support in the subcommittee report, but not the entire subcommittee report.
The Chair: We have Mr Tilson on the list, and Mr Sorbara, and we're still running the list.
Mr David Tilson (Dufferin-Peel): I hope those are Mr O'Connor's personal comments that have just been made and not the position of the government members, because I must say that the last two items that have been suggested, the staffing issues, are just routine observations.
The Chair: Order. I'm having difficulty hearing Mr Tilson. I'd like to hear what Mr Tilson has to say.
Mr Tilson: They're routine observations. I support the requests that were put forward by Mr Sorbara; I don't think they're anything out of the ordinary. In fact, the way you're phrasing it, it almost intrigues me. I think we should pursue it even more. It's almost as if the government is hiding something. I hope you're not.
I support specifically the staffing issue with respect to the Ministry of Health. We spent all of last year on the issue of substance abuse. We had trips to the United States to examine some of the institutions. We had trips in Ontario to examine some of the institutions in Ontario. We spent a great deal of time and effort for several reasons. First, we were concerned with the issue of the rising health cost and, second, we were concerned with whether we were providing adequate health services to people who had problems with alcohol or drug abuse. We spent a great deal of time on that.
One item that keeps cropping up in our government, no matter which party happens to have control of this place, is the cost of health -- one third of the budget, and it's probably increasing. I think it's a very logical observation. We should be looking at every aspect of the Ministry of Health. The Ministry of Health has been reorganized into, I believe, five divisions. I don't know whether I understand that or not, but that is a decision that's been made. I think it's a logical request; there's nothing out of the ordinary. Is there a policy with respect to staffing in a minister's office, in any minister's office? And if there is a policy, is that policy being followed? These are very routine types of questions. You shouldn't feel threatened by these requests at all.
With respect to the accounting procedures used in the 1992-93 budget, it's almost as if you are threatened, that there's a suggestion that we're politicizing that whole subject. Every concern with respect to the budget was whether adequate --
The Chair: Order, please. I'm having difficulty hearing Mr Tilson.
Mr Tilson: Every concern that was raised with respect to the budget -- there was a number of criticisms, of course, but one of them was, was the Treasurer using proper accounting procedures in that budget with respect to revenue? Mr Sorbara's notice of motion sets those out very well.
Very reasonable, well-thought-out observations and questions that remain unanswered. I don't believe any of these matters, those three matters specifically, will take a great deal of time for the auditor to spend some time on.
With respect to the use of the 1-800 number, to say that this is being studied in the estimates, well, maybe they are studying it in the estimates, maybe there are all kinds of committees studying it in the estimates, but I, as a member of the public accounts committee, think this consultation process is reasonable for us as an independent committee to study the decision by the government to apply this: Is this consultation process appropriate? What's the cost of it? What's the effect of it? I think it's a reasonable request to make, and again I don't think it will take a great deal of time for the Provincial Auditor to spend time on that subject as well.
I support the report of the subcommittee completely. I think they are reasonable requests. I would also add that I'm glad we're unanimous on the subject of the registrar general, because I think that is a concern that is giving all of us in the House great concern with our constituents. Of all the calls we all get, the length of time it takes to get any form of certificate is one of the favourite questions that is asked of us as members. So I'm glad we are united in supporting that.
So Mr Chairman, subject to other comments made by other members, I would support the motion of Mr Sorbara.
The Chair: Thank you, Mr Tilson. Mr Sorbara.
Mr Sorbara: I'm really worried that the comments of Mr O'Connor represent the comments of the six government members who are here today. I really feel like I ought to just pack up my toys and boogie on out of this committee. If that's going to be the approach there really isn't much point in me, for one, being here. Mr O'Connor's original remarks were an expression of his own displeasure at the fact that there were new members on this committee who were going to bring a political dimension to this. It's the first time I've ever been insulted on my first substantive meeting of a committee. I expect in politics that you get insults now and again.
I say to my friend Mr O'Connor and the other members that if that's actually going to be the case, that you're going to vote down anything that has any controversial aspects to it, then I simply say that I am now starting to identify an orchestrated initiative on the part of the government of Ontario to silence opposition in Ontario. That's not totalitarianism yet.
I say to my friend Ms Murdock that never in the history of the Parliament of Ontario have we seen a government House leader introduce changes to the rules in midsession. Today you're going to be voting, I take it, to silence any opposition voice on this committee. I want to step back, if I might --
Mr O'Connor: Are we talking about the subcommittee report?
The Chair: Order. Do you have a point of order, Mr O'Connor?
Mr O'Connor: Yes. Are we still talking about the subcommittee report or are we talking about question period?
The Chair: Yes, we're talking about the subcommittee report.
Mr Sorbara: You guys want to go to war, okay? I want to remind Ms Murdock of the previous Parliament and the work her employer did at that time as the opposition critic for Labour. She fought me brilliantly on Bill 162, and at the end of the day I said publicly that Ms Martel, then the opposition critic for Labour and the member for Sudbury East, was one of the best parliamentarians I had ever seen, because she used her responsibility as opposition to ensure that her point of view on that bill was put across. Interesting that when those rules pass, that will never happen again in the Parliament of Ontario.
Ms Haeck: Mr Chair, I'd like to put forward a point of order: We've really deviated and digressed from the point of this conversation, which is the subcommittee's recommendations, and the kind of discussion we have just heard really is inappropriate.
The Chair: There is nothing out of order. Mr Sorbara, you can proceed.
Mr Sorbara: I simply want an indication from the government --
Ms Haeck: On a point of order, Mr Chair: Is this committee going to function in this rather partisan fashion and are you going to allow this kind of discussion to go on? You cut me off on a regular basis, but you don't cut off your colleague from the Liberal party. I don't think that is appropriate. As a chairperson, you are supposed to be non-partisan, and so far you have shown yourself to be very partisan. I think Mr Sorbara should be on topic as opposed to his flight of fancy as per usual.
The Chair: Order, please.
Mr Tilson: I don't even support the Liberals, but that comment is completely inappropriate.
Ms Haeck: No, I think it's quite appropriate in light of --
Mr Sorbara: You said I'm bringing politics in, and now you challenge the Chair. I think I have the floor.
The Chair: No, I have the floor. Let me see if I can recollect everything that's been said this morning for the benefit of Ms Haeck.
Mr O'Connor spoke and I allowed Mr O'Connor as much latitude as he wanted without interruption. As a matter of fact, while he was speaking and after he spoke, members of the committee felt that he was out of order and being highly partisan, and I let that pass.
Mr Cordiano interrupted a member of the government on a point of order. After listening to Mr Cordiano for about 30 seconds, I ruled him out of order and I said he had no point of order. I believe I treated you exactly the same way as I treated Mr Cordiano. I would invite you to reread the Hansard of this morning and reconsider your remarks.
I believe at this time -- who was the last member who had the floor? -- Mr Sorbara. We have a list that has Mr Sorbara on the floor at this time, followed by Mr Callahan and any other members who wish to speak. I will make no further comments on the other comments that you made, Ms Haeck.
Ms Haeck: But I also had my hand up and I'm not on the list.
The Chair: Has there ever been anyone on this committee who has not been able to speak when they wanted to?
Ms Haeck: I had my hand up prior to Mr Callahan.
The Chair: Mr Callahan had his hand up immediately after he came in, which was some minutes ago.
Ms Haeck: I know. But I also had my hand up before Mr Callahan.
The Chair: Ms Haeck, you're not going to be denied your opportunity to speak. I will not engage you in attacks and counterattacks. You are allowed your opinion, but you're not going to drag me into the mud. I'm letting you know that right now.
We have Mr Sorbara, followed by Mr Callahan, followed by Ms Haeck. I would invite committee members to address the issues at hand and to address each other. If you have any more personal comments to make about the Chair, I would request that you think about them very seriously before they're made.
Mr Sorbara: Thank you, Mr Chairman. I'm just going to wrap up my comments, inasmuch as my colleague Mr Callahan has a meeting at 11 and he has a few brief remarks.
I guess all I can say at this point to the government members is that I would make one simple request, that each of you just spend two or three minutes talking to one of your own colleagues who has had some history in this Legislature -- Bud Wildman, the Treasurer certainly, the Premier, Bob Mackenzie, any of them -- just to get a flavour of what the appropriate expectations of opposition members are in using a variety of forms to challenge the government in sensitive areas. If, having done that, you return here with the view that anything that is of some controversy and might grab a headline or might embarrass the government ought not to be discussed in this committee, then I simply say to you that where the province of Ontario is going is into a one-party state.
But you know something? It won't be your party. It will be some right-wing, fascistic kind of party who sees now that you can actually get elected and the voice of opposition to government has been silenced, and it will take over. You're beginning that with your rule changes. The style of your government is not simply to respond to opposition but to silence opposition. I think that's very unfortunate.
Mr Chairman, I once again reiterate my plea that the entirety of the subcommittee report be adopted. Some of it will be more controversial than others, but politics and the public's business is always of some moment and some controversy, and those of us who are in opposition have a responsibility to ensure that those controversial parts of the agenda are brought to the public's attention. This committee in particular, the public accounts committee, has a special mandate, and the Provincial Auditor, who serves this committee, has a special mandate -- not to report on all of the good things that government is doing but all of those areas where there is some question as to the nature of government expenditures. If this committee does not want to probe into those areas which are of some question, then I fear one day that sort of attitude will eliminate even the office of the Provincial Auditor.
The Chair: We have Mr Callahan and Ms Haeck on the list.
Mr Robert V. Callahan (Brampton South): Mr Chairman, first of all, if Mrs Haeck did have her hand up before mine, I would ask her indulgence to be able to speak because I do have to leave for a brief period of time.
I guess maybe what I have done is spoil this committee, I don't know. But I do believe that despite the tradition of this committee being non-partisan, that means non-partisan for all of us. That means that you people as government members should not take the approach that if something is to be probed through the auditor, you would block it.
That, to me, is the non-partisan nature of this committee. If you do that, then the committee becomes a useless tool in a majority government because in fact you can block the auditor looking into the most horrendous things. I would urge you to look at the hearings when the member for Etobicoke-Rexdale chaired this committee. They investigated, while we were in government, a whole host of controversial things and I don't believe -- I'd have to check the record -- there was ever an effort to block the investigation, because regardless of what party we belong to, we all have a public duty and a public responsibility to ensure that the moneys that are taken from the taxpayers are spent wisely and not just doled out in an inconsistent or an inconsiderate way. If we can't achieve that on a non-partisan basis, then we've got problems.
I must say that when I looked at the subcommittee's report, at first blush I thought maybe they are too controversial, but I don't think they are. I think these are matters that could as well have been put on the order paper and the minister would have had to respond to them under the rules of the Legislature.
I haven't changed my spots. I still believe the tradition of this committee is that it's non-partisan, but its non-partisanship should be for everybody, all parties, even the government, that we investigate every possible item where moneys may be inappropriately spent. I suggest that if you look through the subcommittee agenda, the question of how we go about talking about a deficit is very important. I mean, should there be smoke and mirrors? I'm not suggesting there is, but let's have the auditor tell us that. If that's the case, then that should not be done by any Treasurer, be it Liberal, Conservative or NDP.
The next one dealing with the 1-800 number, I think that's absolutely critical. That's money that's been spent on a program, and we have to have the auditor find out whether that was an effective use of money, or was it in fact -- I'm not suggesting that I have a predisposition to one way or the other -- just a way of advertising one political idea? I think that's wrong. I don't think any of us are entitled, when we're in government, to simply use the public purse for our own edification.
If you look at the question of Mr Layton's hiring, we've been told by the Minister of Health that hiring was as a political member of her staff and out of her political budget. If that turns out to be the case, then I don't suppose any of us can argue that she's not entitled to do that, but at the moment there's a bit of a cloud out there as to whether that is the case. I think that is an appropriate area for concern.
The latter one was investigating the number of individuals on her staff. I think the auditor has a responsibility, as we do to direct him, to go and look at the payroll staff and say, "Okay, every minister's entitled to so many people on the payroll." Fair game, political people, but if they've just expanded the payroll while at the same time they've reduced the moneys available to the opposition parties, which is a truism, and in fact have put some of us in difficulty in terms of being able to have that same largess, that's not fair. I don't think the taxpayers of Ontario should have to fund that and I think that's a legitimate item to be looked at as well.
The next one is similar to that, only it's dealing with Environment.
I don't think anybody could really take issue with the last one. I expect there would be a unanimous vote on that. That's a very significant item and I think it's one that should be shared by all members.
As I say, I try to be consistent. I don't think I'm being inconsistent from the way I was when I was Chair of this committee. I think the Chairman is doing the same thing. He's chairing this committee as an impartial arbiter, but we have a responsibility that is unlike any responsibility of any other committee in this House, to be the watchdog of the public purse.
If we're going to play partisan politics, I suggest it's a very dangerous situation because you people may be in opposition next time and some other party may be the government. Surely to God you don't want to set a precedent that the public money can just be spent for the benefit of the ruling party. That flies in the face of anything I understand about democracy and anything I understand about the most important issue that people are telling us about, that they're tired of paying taxes. They want accountability. They want to know why the taxes are spent and what they're spent for.
I'll tell you one thing. I just spoke on Mr Drainville's motion in the House in terms of reform of this place. I think the people are not unhappy about the taxes per se; they're unhappy because they don't see anything coming from those extraordinary taxes they're paying. The reason they don't see that is because when we operate in the House -- and this is not an indictment of the present government but probably is an indictment of all parties that have been in this Legislature -- when the vote takes place, it's like you're joined at the hip and people out there can't possibly believe that every measure that comes before the House is one that you have a burning desire to support. Nobody ever stands up and expresses his own interest. People are mad about that and I think they'll be even madder if we vote against these measures, any or all of them.
Ms Haeck: I would like to move, Mr Chair, that we vote on these and basically try to set our agenda for the summer.
The Chair: Mr Sorbara has moved that the public accounts committee accept the majority report of the subcommittee. A recorded vote has been asked for.
The committee divided on Mr Sorbara's motion, which was negatived on the following vote:
Ayes -- 4
Callahan, Cordiano, Sorbara, Tilson.
Nays -- 6
Duignan, Frankford, Haeck, Hayes, Murdock (Sudbury), O'Connor.
The Chair: The majority report of the subcommittee has been rejected. We have at this point in time no agreed-upon agenda for the work of this committee. I look to the committee for instructions as to what you're going to do.
Mr Sorbara: Motion to adjourn.
The Chair: Mr Sorbara has made a motion to adjourn. All in favour? All opposed? The motion is defeated.
The Chair: This committee has no agreed-upon agenda. I look to the committee to put forward an agenda for the work of this committee over the next number of months.
Ms Haeck: I would move that we go down the items that are before us and vote for or against them as they are read.
The Chair: Ms Haeck has moved that we look at the sheet that is before us, entitled "Standing Committee on Public Accounts: List of Possible Areas of Review," and that we examine each and every item individually and have individual votes on each item. All in favour of Ms Haeck's motion?
Mr Tilson: The motion is to vote on each item individually, is that it?
The Chair: Yes. That's the motion as I understand it, Mr Tilson. Any discussion on the motion?
Mr Sorbara: I'm going to be away for the rest of the morning now. I simply want to say to the government members that when they've decided what they want public accounts to deal with, because they have the majority here, just let us know and we'll come and do the business. But I want to point out once again that what you're attempting to do is to take over one of the couple of committees that has historically been provided under the rules of the Legislature to give opposition members an opportunity to probe what is going on in the government. That's your right. You won the election. You have the power to do anything you want in Ontario. That's the way the British parliamentary system works.
In Ontario's parliamentary system there are a few opportunities for opposition members to probe and do the work of an opposition party. One of them is an hour a day in question period. Rarely do we get answers, but sometimes that's enough of an opportunity to raise an issue to bring to the attention of the public, which is our responsibility: something that the public would be concerned about.
On the committee structure, there are two committees: One is estimates and the other is the public accounts committee and basically that's it. That's what we have. Today is an important day in history for the Parliament of Ontario because today, by your actions, without any consultation -- I don't suspect this has been talked about in cabinet -- you've decided that from now on the government, exclusively, will control the agenda of the public accounts committee.
A week ago your government House leader introduced rules for the Legislature, in the middle of the game. It was simply an announcement that the government would take over the operation of the Legislature without notice and without consultation, unprecedented in the history of Ontario. It's like saying in the middle of the game that you don't like the rules so you're changing the rules.
This is done, by the way, sir, by a party that has championed fairness throughout its life as a political party and that of its predecessor, the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation. Every important speech by every NDP and CCF politician has begun and ended with the word "fairness" -- fairness for people, not just for the majority. My God, if you listen to Bob Rae, he's always saying, "We have to worry about those people who are underrepresented or underempowered, whether they be women or whether they be visible minorities or whether they be the disabled or whether they be native people or whether they be the poor." Gandhi said, "You judge a society on how that society treats its minorities," not on how the society treats the majority, those who are in power.
What are we getting here? An orchestrated attempt to simply ignore the minority, which the opposition is by definition. So today you have taken over the public accounts committee. No one's going to write an editorial on it. No one's going to march in the streets about it. It's just one little nick at the democratic process.
You government members, particularly the new government members, think that somehow you are here to reign under the divine right of kings and queens. We are all here for only a little while, and our primary responsibility, going beyond labour legislation and Sunday shopping legislation, is to maintain a healthy democracy so that those who inherit this province after have a system that is fairer than the one we inherited. That's the most important thing we do. We are temporary occupants of seats in the Legislature. We were elected to be the custodians of the democracy, and to lightly fling away those things which ensure that there will be a vibrant debate is simply to say that we're here to accomplish our agenda and the rest of it be damned.
As I said, no one is going to make any note of the fact that the vote you've just taken possibly signals an end to the tradition of the public accounts committee sticking a needle in government to see where government is sensitive.
We're not here to do the government's agenda. This is public accounts. We're here to look at the questionable or controversial expenditures of government. "Oh well, why don't we look at, I don't know, the salary range for a CF-4 employee in the Ministry of Government Services to see if we think that's all right?" Well, big deal.
But you know what you do? When you do this today, you invite some arbitrary and capricious government down the road to simply shut down the opposition voice, the people's voice, when something of real substance comes up. Once again, I'll just remind you of the way in which your party effectively utilized opposition. The member for Welland-Thorold, Peter Kormos, filibustered for days and days in the Legislature. You know what happened at the end? The entire Legislature, en masse, when he was finally done, stood up and gave him the loudest and longest round of applause I have ever heard.
Mr Callahan: I don't remember that.
Mr Sorbara: Well, I do.
Mr Callahan: I'm only kidding.
Mr Sorbara: Not because we agreed with him or supported his tactics but because he took a position and fought for it. He believed in it and he crusaded for it. That's what opposition parties do. The member for Sudbury East forced the Legislature, in its sitting in 1989, to sit until July 27 because she was so opposed to my legislation, Bill 162.
Mr Pat Hayes (Essex-Kent): Rightfully so.
Mr Sorbara: Well, my friend, Mr Hayes, I'll tell you something. You are going to be defeated one day, and there will be a right-wing, arbitrary government which will prohibit you as an opposition member from speaking. You will remember the day in this public accounts committee that you decided the government agenda was the only agenda. You have no idea of the significance --
Mr Hayes: Mr Chair, I guess if Mr Sorbara's going to start addressing individual members --
Mr Sorbara: I only address members who interject and heckle me.
The Chair: Order, please. Is there something wrong that we don't understand what the word "order" means? Order, please.
I believe he was responding to your interjection, Mr Hayes, and that's one of the reasons why the --
The Chair: Do you wish to interject while I'm speaking too? Is there something you wish to tell me?
Ms Haeck: Just to advise you that Mr Sorbara was giving us a long, patronizing lecture, which we really don't need. We need a vote.
The Chair: You'll have your chance to respond to Mr Sorbara's comments. You'll have a chance to respond to them in any fashion you like without restriction from the Chair. I don't think I need to be lectured from you, Miss Haeck, right now on what members can say and how they can say it. I think the members are capable of doing that themselves. I have no problems with the interjections that are made occasionally and I have no problems with the interjection that Mr Hayes made and Mr Sorbara decided to respond to. I'm not going to cut off all interaction by the members by any means.
Mr Sorbara: I simply say, in conjunction with your ruling, Mr Chair, that yes, I was responding to an interjection by Mr Hayes. I hope that if members interject, which parenthetically I note is out of order, you as Chair won't prohibit a sort of across-the-table response.
I'm not sure who it was, I guess it was Miss Haeck, who suggested that you were getting a patronizing speech from me. That may be the case. I simply say in response that, once again, I believe my primary responsibility as a parliamentarian is to protect the institutions of democracy.
Many of you, including my friend Mr Hayes, have spent a great deal of time in the trade union movement. I suggest to you, speaking about the rules that were tabled by the government House leader the other day, that there would be some rather mild reaction if in the middle of a collective agreement management, which is what government is --
Mr O'Connor: On a point of order, Mr Chair: I'm just wondering. Are we still dealing with the motion by Miss Haeck to review this list point by point?
The Chair: Yes. Miss Haeck made a motion that the committee deal with the list that is before you on an individual basis and members are placing forward their reasons as to why or why not we should proceed in that manner.
Mr O'Connor: Thank you.
Mr Callahan: On a point of order, Mr Chair: I'm asking for your advice. How can we address these issues individually when the motion to adopt them was defeated? How can you bring it back? It's been defeated. You can't raise it. According to the rules, I believe you can't raise a vote on that again, at least in today's session. You'd have to wait until the next session.
The Chair: I explained to the committee early on --
Mr Callahan: I'm sorry; I was absent.
The Chair: That's fine. I explained to the committee early on that there was a majority report referred to the full committee, not a unanimous report, and a motion was made to accept the majority report of the subcommittee. After a lengthy discussion, that motion was defeated. Then it was decided by the committee that we had to deal with the items for possible work of this committee in another fashion, because if we don't, we're not going to be in a position to plan our work over the next few months. It was then decided by Miss Haeck that the committee should deal with the list before us on an individual basis, and that's where we're at now. Members are now making their cases for why we should deal with these matters on an individual basis, or not at all, or any other way.
Mr Callahan: Is she reopening the question? Is that what she's doing?
The Chair: In my view, the question is not being reopened in the way you have described. I believe her motion is in order.
Mr Tilson: On that same point of order, Mr Chair: In effect, that is exactly what she is doing. She did have the right to make amendments to --
Mr Callahan: She could have moved to division.
Mr Tilson: She could have moved to division or she could have made amendments that specific items be deleted from the report. They chose not to. They chose to essentially defeat the report and all of the sections to it. I think Mr Callahan's observations are quite right. Essentially she is asking for a vote on exactly what we've just voted on.
Mr O'Connor: On the same point of order, Mr Chair: I would think that we would like to hear on each point, as you have been ruling, so that we have a full discussion on each point as we come to it in the form of a vote. I believe that was the spirit of Miss Haeck's motion and I believe that was the spirit in which we were supposed to be addressing that motion. I would hope that we could continue that. I would like to hear from the opposition members their ideas around some of these areas of concern. I'm sure they would like to hear from us as well around a number of these areas.
The Chair: I appreciate the help given to me by members. I have concluded that Miss Haeck's motion is in order, and I will ask the committee members to continue the debate on the motion.
Mr Sorbara, do you have any further comments to make?
Mr Sorbara: Yes, I do. I can hardly even remember where I was. I think I was --
The Chair: If you will indulge me for the benefit of the committee, we're running a list. After Mr Sorbara we have Mr Cordiano, Mr O'Connor, Mr Callahan and Mr Hayes, and we have 40 minutes left for this morning.
Mr Sorbara: I'm just going to wind up my comments in this way: When the government decides it will exclusively control the agenda of the public accounts committee and simply ignore the opposition's request to investigate areas which are of some sensitivity, it has little effect on those particular areas, but it has great significance in describing the government's view as to what extent it will tolerate opposition.
That's the reason I was speaking to the rule changes, by the way, which are not only unprecedented but shocking in the way in which they were introduced without notice and without even an opportunity to allow opposition to review them in caucus before they were called for debate. This is probably the strongest message that comes out of this government. It goes beyond flip-flopping on Sunday shopping or on any particular issue. It's a style of government, and frankly I say to my friends in the government that it's your style of government, your arbitrary determination to proceed because you believe you are the chosen, that will defeat you. It will defeat you in Essex, it will defeat you in Durham and it will defeat you in every corner of the province. Frankly, given what's happened here today and what's happened in the House lately, I can't wait.
Mr Cordiano: Let's be perfectly precise about what we're doing here and let's review it once again. This, I think, is the net effect of what I'm hearing: You have rejected the subcommittee's ordering of business for this committee. What was agreed to by subcommittee this morning you have now defeated by way of motion in this committee. Am I correct in what I'm hearing, Mr Chair? Is that the final result of what was decided earlier this morning in this committee?
The Chair: All I can tell you at this point, Mr Cordiano, is that the motion to accept the majority report of the subcommittee was defeated by a vote of this committee.
Mr Cordiano: Then I am correct to assume what I'm assuming.
Mr Cordiano: Well, it's been by tradition on this committee and as a matter of practical operations that we have always agreed to the subcommittee of this committee ordering the agenda of this committee by way of consensus or by way of a unanimous or majority agreement, for that matter.
Since I've been a member of this committee, and that goes back some time now -- I will defer to those people who have sat on this committee longer than I have. Perhaps you could ask the member for Etobicoke-Rexdale, who was the Chair of this committee in the previous administration prior to the last election. I believe it has always been the subcommittee that has ordered the business of this committee. By virtue of that, you then have an opportunity for the opposition to have its say. If you bring motions to the full committee, as you've done today, then by definition and by logic you will rule the agenda of this committee. That certainly defeats the purpose of this committee.
There's no question that you have a majority on this committee. You have a majority on every committee in this Legislature. But it's been by tradition -- and I will not repeat what was stated earlier by my colleague who spoke before me. As he so eloquently put it, you are ruling by force of majority. You do not allow this committee to operate in the best interests of the larger public, because we simply cannot oppose you. We don't have the numbers. You then have an opportunity to do what you like with this committee. That defeats the very nature and the purpose of this committee. I simply cannot operate in that fashion.
If we did come to agreement by consensus only, then that would be wonderful, but that's not going to happen. You have to allow us to have a say. The only way you can do that is through the subcommittee ordering the agenda of this committee. That's been by tradition. You are fundamentally changing the way this committee is to operate in the future. We cannot accept that as a minority. We cannot accept that. We refuse to accept that. We are going to fight for our rights on this committee. We have to do that. That's our obligation and our duty.
So I'm going to say this to you: I understand that if that's the net effect and the result of what we're determining this morning, then we have to fight you on it.
Mr O'Connor: We've certainly had a wide-ranging discussion this morning on a number of issues. If we take a look at the proposed changes, for myself as a new member who never made it in the first sitting of this government to be a cabinet minister, that opportunity to speak -- because as every opposition member has the opportunity to speak in rotation, we do have an awful lot of backbenchers. I think these rule changes are going to allow the backbenchers such as myself who never made it into cabinet a chance to speak out for our constituents. I think there are going to be a lot of changes and I think they're going to work. Hearing from people who sit in opposition in Ottawa, I've heard that they felt the rule changes have been good too.
When we listen to debates in the Legislature they go on for hours and hours at a time. They certainly lose the train of thought. They certainly lose the attention of the members sitting in the House. Some members, perhaps, are a little more eloquent in the way they present themselves when they do get into a filibuster of sorts, and perhaps we're going to be at a loss for opportunities to see some future parliamentarians in that. I suppose that at that point in time there could be changes in the rules that would allow that to take place. Maybe somewhere down the road we'll decide, our government or the next government, that the rule changes weren't quite as effective as people had thought they would be and they'll be changed and allow more liberal debates to take place. Because it is a whole evolution process of Parliament.
I think we've heard a lot of discussion about this committee trying to stifle debate by the opposition. Frankly, I don't agree with that. If you consider the amount of time this committee has sat since this session started and see exactly -- perhaps our researcher would like to do a little project for us on the time spent in this committee in discussion and who's held the floor for the longest and have we then stifled the opposition. I hope we haven't limited them to a shortened amount of time in discussion in this committee, because I don't think that would be appropriate. I think we would have a full-ranging discussion.
As members in the Legislature, some members speak for a lot longer period of time and are very eloquent about it and some members are a little bit shorter, more concise in their points and to the point. They're quicker and perhaps even more effective in getting their points across. Maybe that's what would be reflected in the way the time has been used in this committee.
About the question, then, around accountability: Surely to goodness there wouldn't be any member of this committee who would say we didn't want to have accountability. When we take a look at the long list the subcommittee has presented to us, sure there are areas that are of concern. There are areas that we received consensus on in developing this list, because members of the previous committee have sat down to come up with some of these ideas. Some of them could be around nursing home care, for example, and waste management was an area that we had developed a consensus on. So when you say then that we have stifled the opposition because we agreed on it, I don't know whether that would be the way you'd say it.
If we take a look at areas the opposition thought we should take a look at, on this list was Polaris; the Office of the Ombudsman I think was more or less consensus, and I think the opposition really wanted to look at that; the office of the registrar general was something the opposition brought forward. I don't think we're stifling the opposition; I think what we're doing here is allowing for a wide-ranging area to be taken a look at.
Should we agree every time with what the subcommittee reports? A subcommittee majority report -- let me perhaps phrase it a little bit differently. What we have is -- seeing that the majority of the subcommittee is all opposition -- a majority opposition motion. We've got a majority report by the majority opposition that didn't have agreement by the government. I think that's why we do bring the subcommittee report to this committee: so that we can have a discussion with the full committee, so that other members have a chance to take a look and review and discuss what has been before us.
Some antics that take place in this committee at times do bother me: for example, a motion to adjourn because you didn't get your way. I don't think that's an appropriate use of this committee's time. I've seen motions like that in the Legislature and I don't think that is a good use of the legislative time. That's one of the areas that's going to be addressed in the rule changes.
I had a student from my riding down here observing last year's filibuster by the Conservative Party, where a member would speak for a short period of time, there would be a motion to adjourn, the bells would ring and then that very member who had that motion to adjourn stood up and went on and on again for some time. I had a difficult time explaining to the student from my riding why that person had a chance to have that. Why wouldn't you just go into rotation then so that all members have a chance to speak? It's very curious, and that's one area that's going to be addressed in the rule changes. So to have some of those changes is very necessary, and to hear opposition members say that we don't want to hear from them is ludicrous.
Areas for this committee and other standing committees to take a look at: the finance of Ontario -- there are many areas. The public accounts area is only one area, one avenue, for opposition and government members to ask critical questions. I as a backbencher even have the opportunity to ask questions in the estimates process about things that are going to affect my riding specifically, because quite often the constituents of my riding want to know how things work. That's the opportunity I have. When we go in rotation during question period we only have a limited amount of time for questions, so we can't always place the questions we'd like to a minister.
So I applaud the estimates process, which has been in there for a long period of time. I think that's the opportunity not only for opposition members but also for government members who don't always have the opportunity to ask financial questions in the Legislature and how they affect constituents in their ridings. I think that's very important.
When we take a look at the budgetary process, is it a sham? I can't believe discussion like that, but we do have a process that deals with the budget of Ontario. The standing committee on finance and economic affairs travels the province and listens to people from many different areas who have concerns around what they would like to see, what they wouldn't like to see in the budget, what they'd like to see change, increases -- I don't imagine it's very often anyone comes to say, "Maybe you can decrease an area." I don't think that would happen too often. That's another avenue for committee members and members of the Legislature to take a look at the budgetary process of Ontario.
Going into this past budget we had an opportunity, because there were many discussion papers put out by the Treasurer, to take a look at some practices in accounting that would have generated revenue for Ontario --
Mr Tilson: We didn't even have the right to debate the budget. What are you talking about?
Mr O'Connor: We'll get to that point, because we do debate the budget bill by bill. We had an opportunity to discuss the budget in several forums. We've even had information provided to us so that we could take that discussion to the province, to our constituents and ask them what they thought would be a more appropriate way. I recall meeting with some constituents in my riding and talking about the budget process and about a 1% increase in sales tax and what effect that would have on the revenues of the province.
I recall it was $900 million, if I'm not mistaken. That was, by the figures provided by the treasury, how much more revenue we would have to work with. I thought that was very interesting. I posed questions like that to my constituents.
Mr Tilson: That's the whole reason why we are putting this forward.
Mr Sorbara: That is a fascinating fact. My goodness. A piece of information becomes available.
The Chair: The odd interjection is okay, but I don't think we should try to take the floor away from the speaker.
Mr O'Connor: I try to allow members of all sides to speak without too many interjections, although at times I do fail and do interject myself.
Taking that out to our constituents was something that wasn't always available. There is a lot of information made available about the finances of the province, though opposition members can say it isn't enough or is so general it doesn't really matter. Our constituents, the people of Ontario, have at least an opportunity to see how different areas impact on that.
The Chair: I am having difficulty hearing Mr O'Connor. Please keep all private conversations at a lower level. Mr O'Connor, you have the floor.
Mr O'Connor: I think what we need to do in this committee, because we seem to have gotten ourselves delayed somehow in the discussion of whether we are trying to hijack this committee and whether the government is going to take it over completely, is take a look at what we've got before us. We've been discussing the agenda of this committee for some time now. We've talked about a number of areas that we'd like to take a look at and we've agreed on a lot of areas for us to look at. We've got recommendations by the auditor's office in areas that it will review and get back to us on so that we can take a look at that in the future. I think that perhaps they're very wise in the way they put that together, because some of the things we had expressed interest in dealt with the 1990 annual audit report. Perhaps that review is necessary so that we can do an accurate assessment of whether we want to continue in that vein. But as to whether this committee wants to just set the tone and allow this committee to stifle the opposition, I don't think that's the case.
Mr Tilson: We want to work on these things and you're not even letting us work.
Mr O'Connor: What I wanted to say is that we've got a number of areas -- for example, details around the contract of Jack Layton. That information is going to be provided to the members of this committee, because as members of the Legislature we are entitled to all the documentation from every standing committee. That question was asked in estimates and that information is going to be made available.
Mr Sorbara: On a point of order, Mr Chairman: Under the standing orders for this committee, my friend from Durham-York is referring to the details of the contract with Jack Layton. I think it's necessary for this Chair to realize that this opposition party and, I take it, the Tories as well, have accepted the subcommittee's decision -- as they have accepted all the subcommittee's decisions -- that it would not be subject to our discussion here. I think my friend from Durham-York is really off-topic when he suggests that it somehow still forms part of the potential agenda.
The Chair: Order, please. It's a good point, but it's not a point of order.
Mr O'Connor: Thank you, Mr Chair. As we're dealing with the area that has been reviewed by the subcommittee, that was one of the areas that was raised at the subcommittee --
Mr Sorbara: And rejected.
Mr O'Connor: -- and was an area that the subcommittee had decided that we wouldn't look at. Because the opposition has raised it, I want to make sure the opposition members have an opportunity to take a look at the Hansard from estimates. That information we made available for them, and I'm sure that was an area of concern -- otherwise they wouldn't have raised it -- and the subcommittee obviously must have realized it was going to be dealt with somewhere else, so that was a good recommendation.
The staffing in the Ministry of Health is another area that was being dealt in the estimates process. So again it would be a waste of this committee's time to be reviewing what has already been reviewed. I would suggest that they take a look at the Hansard from the estimates and review that, because that's something that is being dealt with.
We've got a lot of areas of agreement and a lot of areas that have been put forward by the opposition parties in the subcommittee report, and I think we should take a look at that. I'm sure we can find agreement in a lot of areas. I think the process of government of course has always been that there's been a vote after a healthy discussion and debate around a number of areas, and I would hope that process continues.
I would just in closing like to say that there are a number of areas there that I think are very worthwhile for this committee's time to be spent on; a number of areas that are going to be looked at and don't need the attention of this committee, because they're being looked at through other standing committees of the Legislature. I would hope, in the spirit of that, that the opposition members wouldn't think we're trying to stifle them, we're trying not to allow them their opportunity to speak and discuss them. But they should take a look at other committees' Hansards, because that's an opportunity that all members of the Legislature have, and take a look at that in the spirit that has been offered.
Mr Callahan: Mr O'Connor, I hear what you're saying about your opportunities if the new rules come into place to be able to speak in the House. I understand your frustration totally in a caucus of 65 people or whatever, where you probably don't even get to talk to caucus. I haven't been the bug on the wall or the fly on the wall. I know of what I speak.
The problem is that when you get up to speak in the Legislature with this new-found freedom, you won't be allowed to speak what you want to speak, because you will be told that you can't. Do you not understand that that's exactly what we're fighting here, the fact that the public accounts committee -- and that's why it's non-partisan -- is your opportunity to do your job effectively and not have anybody tell you what you can do or you can't do? The best they can do is remove you from the committee, I guess, if they're not happy with what you agree to.
You can't do that in any other place in this joint. You can't do it in the Legislature. You might be able to do it on private members' day, but even there we're watching your member for Victoria-Haliburton, who has been muzzled. You don't have to tell me whether he was or not in caucus, because the motion he introduced was not the one that he would like to have introduced. It's not going to be supported by your party, because someone in caucus stood up and said, "Hey, you guys and gals, you can't support that motion even if you believe in it." I'll take bets that when the vote takes place on the Victoria-Haliburton member's resolution and there's a division, the government members to the letter, with the exception perhaps of the member for Welland-Thorold, will vote against it, because you've been given your marching orders.
For God's sake, wake up. I say that with all due respect, because I know what it's all about. Wake up and realize that this is your empowerment. This is your chance to do something for your constituents and to be seen as doing it. In no way, shape or form are you letting your party down, because the Provincial Auditor -- not the government's auditor; the Provincial Auditor, the people's auditor -- is here to assist us in terms of looking after the fiscal policies of the province.
It's not anybody's private little group of auditors. If the government wants to have its own auditors, let it hire them. These people are everybody's provincial auditors: yours, mine, everybody's outside this place. If you allow the question of partisanship just because you're the government -- and I'm not trying to con you, believe me -- if you allow your party, because it is in government at the moment, to change the whole focus of this committee into one of strictly, "Muzzle the opposition; if anything gets close to being political, don't let them do it," you've established a precedent that did not exist certainly when Ed Philip was the Chairman. I can tell you that. He went into things like Elinor Caplan and her husband, which were really nobody's business, and we had a great Star Chamber inquiry in here about it. There was René Fontaine, and who else? There were several others. There was one of your colleagues?
Mr Tilson: No, we don't do that sort of thing.
Mr Callahan: No, one of your colleagues who got skewered.
Mr Tilson: No.
Mr Callahan: No, he got skewered. He got brought before the bar of the inquiry. I can tell you that there was no resistance, no trying to shut it down. We had a majority government. We didn't try to shut it down. We went along with it because it was in the interests of the people of this province. I'll tell you something: If you don't start doing that -- and until the rules are changed or until the Legislature is reformed -- and I take this Hansard -- I'm not going to do it, but I might -- and I mail it out to your constituents -- now, that's not a threat. I may not do it, I'm not provocative enough to do it.
But somebody may mail it out to your constituents and they're going to read it and they're going to say: "Oh, my God. He's not even looking after the public purse. He's playing party politics with issues that are of some importance."
Let's face it: Sorbara, when he put these forward -- they have got a bit of a political hook to them, but the very essence is that you can't sit there and just occupy the seat and be joined at the hip again. You are in a committee where you have the power to do some good for this province. You have the power to direct these gentlemen to go out and look at things that may be just borderline. It's going to offend Floyd or the Premier. So what? With all due respect to those gentlemen, what right do they have to conduct themselves -- and I'm not suggesting they are -- in a fashion that is using taxpayers' moneys perhaps inappropriately? I say perhaps. Maybe they'll come out of it squeaky clean. If they do, fine.
But I don't think it behooves any member of this Legislature, regardless of what party or whether you have the majority, to establish that principle whereby these people become the auditors of the government as opposed to the auditors of all the people's tax dollars in this province. It's a fine line, believe me.
Today, as I said, some of these might be a little fine-lined, and that was my first thought when I read them. But the fact is that once you're rejected them, you've put the imprimatur on it. You've said, "Well, it's fine for the Treasurer to use imaginative accounting and fool the people of the province by putting things in there." If that's what you're countenancing, then you're countenancing hoodwinking your electorate, the people who voted for you. They are starving to death out there on the streets and perhaps losing their homes, and you're here saying: "Well, we're not going to vote for anything that might embarrass the Treasurer. That's not important." Well, I suggest to you that it's extremely important, and I see no problem with that. I can't see why that would not be voted for.
The 1-800 number: What government has the right to put in a 1-800 number if it can't support it from a practical, rational basis, to be able to say that that money was well spent? If this 1-800 number worked and if it achieved the purpose and was done with sincere efforts and was done in a way that was to help the people, it will all come out. You people will get accolades. You will get bouquets thrown at you. But what about the guy at home who looks at this in your riding and says: "Holy cow. They don't want to look at the 1-800 number. What happened with it? Maybe some of the statements by the opposition that it cost $25 a call are true"? Do you want that? Do you want to be a party to that coverup? That is really what it is by voting as a majority and stifling us.
Why don't you get out and smell the roses? I'm serious. I really am. I haven't changed my spots from when I chaired this committee. I honestly believe that this is one of the few committees in this place that gives members the right and the obligation to try to do something for their constituents. And I'll tell you, it's one of the ones where you can really get burned if you don't, because as I say, someone, somehow -- not through me, but somehow -- this Hansard will get out to your constituents, and if they read it or if they're interested in reading it either now or before the next election, you're toast. You're toast, and rightfully so, because you've allowed your taxpayers to go unrepresented.
It's bad enough in the House. Until we change this place, in the House you have to stand up joined at the hip; you don't have to hear. But, you know, you might lose a perk. So what? You weren't elected here for perks. You were elected here to do a job for your constituents. Don't worry about it.
I think Hansen -- I think it's Hansen; I've got a lot of time for that guy -- has a lot of guts. He stood up in the House and voted against his party. He lost his Chairman's job, but still, I have a lot of time for him. So please don't think that what's going on here is an effort to stick it to your party.
On the other side of the coin, please don't establish a principle that may very well fly in your face or in the face of your successors when you perhaps are in opposition. You're establishing a principle; think about it. Everything you do here has an effect down the line. As my colleague said, you in fact reduce that window of opportunity for members and that window of opportunity for democracy.
It blows my mind that you feel it is important enough that you've got to play politics here. I'll tell you that if you do, if you continue to do it, quite frankly -- I can't speak for the other members of my caucus -- I'm not going to come any more. There's no point. Let's shut it down. Let's save the money we'd have in sitting and let's just get on with doing something else. We're all busy. We don't have time to be here if it's the case that every time we come in here or the subcommittee looks at something and it's a little bit political you people are going to use your majority to put us under the heel. If that's the case, then I don't want any part of it. I've got better things to do. I don't need to come here.
I think you've made a mistake this time; I really do. I think you should have looked carefully at some of these. You'd get an opportunity to speak in favour or against to protect your party when it comes back from the auditor, but to me, to stifle it before it goes to the auditor smells of a coverup. It says to me that if you're not prepared to allow it to go forward and your political masters have told you it can't go forward, they're concerned because they're covering something up. That's what it says to me and that's what it will say to every person who reads this Hansard. They're going to say: "There's my member. I elected him and her. You know, here it is. They're afraid. They're stifling it."
Well, for God's sake, you may not only not get re-elected; you may get run out of town on a rail. People out there are angry. Their dollars are important to them. These people here are good servants of the government. They do a good job in auditing and you're blocking them and you've blocked them now. Will you block them again? Can we ever expect that there'll be a further motion passed in this committee?
Maybe you guys should retire. There won't be any more work for you, because the government of the day has now decided that you shouldn't have any, so you could go and improve your golf game if you'd like. I don't even know why we're wasting your time being here. These people don't want you.
The Chair: On our list we have Mr Hayes and Miss Haeck, just to remind you.
Mr Callahan: I'll yield to Mr Hayes.
The Chair: Thank you, Mr Callahan. Mr Hayes followed by Ms Haeck.
Mr Sorbara: On a point of order, Mr Chair: It has to do with the ordering of this committee's business. Look, the government has decided what the business is. This committee has got to start meeting and doing its business. Might I just suggest that at this point now the government just identify through a motion the things it wants this committee to handle and vote them in, and then we'll get on with it?
Ms Haeck: We have a motion before us, actually, Mr Chair.
Mr Sorbara: I know, but you had a motion that we go through them one by one. I would --
Ms Haeck: Which I think you can handle, actually.
Mr Sorbara: My point is that if Ms Haeck could withdraw --
The Chair: Order, please.
Mr Sorbara: Sir, on my point of order --
The Chair: Yes, I understand your point of order. I believe it's a legitimate point of information. At the present time the committee is discussing a motion put forward by Ms Haeck that we go through the list I referred to this morning on an individual basis. We can do that or we can accept a suggestion made by Mr Sorbara that the government members just outline for the committee the items they wish to proceed and make that in one all-encompassing motion. We can do either one of those things. It's up to the committee. If the committee decides to do nothing, we're just going to continue with the order of business that's before us. Mr Hayes.
Mr Hayes: Mr Chair, if you don't mind.
The Chair: No, I don't mind at all.
Mr Hayes: I usually sit here very patiently and listen to members go on for great lengths of time, and I would like to have the opportunity just for a couple of minutes here. I would suggest that possibly after that we'll return it to our whip and she can make the recommendations known in an appropriate motion.
Mr Sorbara: On a point of order, Mr Chair: I would point out that we only have a couple of more minutes this morning.
Mr Hayes: And that's all I'm going to take.
The Chair: Mr Hayes, you have the floor.
Mr Hayes: I will try to be more considerate than some other members who go on and on.
Mr Chair, between 1985 and 1987 I sat here on different committees and, yes, most of the time the committees have been very impartial. It's a good way of getting three parties together to do certain things and to agree. The one problem I do have, though, is that prior to Mr Sorbara coming in with all his motions, this committee had a list of items it was prepared to deal with. We have an individual who comes into this committee with his own little biased list and then he gets his nose out of joint because this committee doesn't automatically go along with this. I think I'll --
Mr Hayes: Excuse me. Let me finish, please.
Mr Callahan: On a point of order, Mr Chair.
The Chair: Order, please. Is there a point of order?
Mr Callahan: Yes, there is a point of order. The standing order is I think section 19 -- I can't remember exactly -- it says one is not to impute motives to a member of the Legislature. I don't mean to interrupt you, Pat, but that's --
The Chair: Order, please. Mr Hayes, you have the floor.
Mr Hayes: Thank you, Mr Chair. I'm not sure about Mr Callahan's comments either. I'm just saying that I find it rather perturbing that you do come to these committees and sit here and try to do the right things and try to do them jointly and when an individual doesn't get their way -- they come into this with their own list and then of course the rest of the committee doesn't agree with that particular list because we had other items we had prior to his list --
Mr Cordiano: Mr Chair, on a point of order again.
Mr Hayes: Mr Chair, I've sat here and sat here and listened to these people go on and on and on --
The Chair: Order. Mr Hayes, the Chair has no authority to disallow members to raise points of order. The Chair will rule on the points once they have been made. I understand your concern. Do we have a point of order, Mr Cordiano?
Mr Cordiano: Mr Hayes is again imputing motives of a member of this committee. I don't think he should be allowed to do that under our standing orders.
The Chair: Thank you, Mr Cordiano. I'm going to allow Mr Hayes to continue.
Mr Hayes: Thank you, Mr Chair. In the essence of saving time, what we've done here, if I'm correct with my mathematics, is that we had 13 items; two of those were agreed by the subcommittee to be withdrawn. That left 11. This committee, I believe, or our members, are willing to agree probably with about seven of those, and on top of that we agreed to another area, the office of the registrar general. So for members to sit here and say we are trying to just ramrod things is totally wrong. I think we've been more than fair and members have had lots of opportunity in this committee to express their views, and they certainly have done that. I would like, with your indulgence, to pass to the whip of our committee. Thank you.
The Chair: I'm writing a list. Mr Hayes, thank you for your comments. Ms Haeck.
Ms Haeck: I'd just like to call the question.
The Chair: The question. Well, we already have a question on the floor and the question on the floor, if I can recollect it properly for the committee, is a motion by Ms Haeck that we deal with the list of possible areas of review on an individual basis. That was the motion on the floor.
Mr Callahan: Sorry. Which ones? The ones that were in Sorbara's motion or the ones on this sheet?
The Chair: If all members will look at this sheet, it's entitled "List of Possible Areas of Review." Ms Haeck made a motion that this committee review, by way of vote, if I understood her motion correctly, each individual item on this list in order to decide the agenda of the committee.
Mr Tilson: Mr Chairman, on a point of order. I've listened very carefully to the comments, particularly of the government and its actions this morning, and I consider them quite serious. I would like an opportunity to caucus this motion with members of my caucus and the ramifications that are stemming from their actions this morning.
The Chair: I'm sorry to cut you off, Mr Tilson. The committee's time has expired. The committee is adjourned until next Thursday.
The committee adjourned at 1201.