I would like to move on to the fourth item on the agenda, which is the committee business and future agenda. At this time I would like to indicate that I have had conversations with the Treasurer with reference to comments made in the House concerning a pre-budget consultation and he has indicated to me that he would like to have the committee participate in pre-budgetary consultation. What this means is that we must move very quickly ahead with organizing, hearing witnesses and so on.
To that end, with the agreement of the committee, I would like to extend an invitation to the Treasurer to come to speak to us next Thursday afternoon at 3:30. If there is no objection to that, I would like to extend that invitation. Seeing none, then I will ask Mr Decker to do that. Thank you.
Under other business, I would like to thank Anne Anderson for putting together a little brief that I hope everybody received on the standing committee on finance and economic affairs. At this time I would like to give her just a few moments to explain her role.
Ms Anderson: Thank you. My name is Anne Anderson and I have been working with this committee for about three years. I would like to introduce to you my colleague David Rampersad, who has been here for about one year, I think.
For the new members -- this may be redundant for the older members -- I just want to explain how research has helped the committee in the past, or I hope helped. I thought the easiest way to do that was perhaps to take you through hearings and show you ways in which research has been used.
As well as having hearings or bills that are referred by the House, the committee can choose issues that it wants to hold hearings on and often research can help in defining the issues and defining some of the pros and cons to give the foundation for debate among the committee members themselves.
We can also help suggest witnesses. For example, last year in the pre-budget consultation the committee decided it would like to hear from economic forecasters, so research suggested names of experts in that field for the committee to choose from. We can also provide background notes and briefings so that you all start from a common base of knowledge during the hearings. We answer any questions and provide analysis of things that come up during the hearings. For example, during hearings on the employer health tax, there were questions about a similar tax in Manitoba, so we were asked to analyse the impact that tax had and give that to the committee.
We can also prepare a list of all the recommendations that come from witnesses and we help with the writing of the report, the drafting of the report, for the committee to work on when it has got through hearings. Procedurally, I think that generally requests for work done for the committee are either made during the hearings or done through the Chair. Everything we do is then made available to all committee members in a nonpartisan way.
Clerk of the Committee: I could just briefly describe my role as clerk of the committee. My primary responsibility is to advise the Chair and members of the committee on parliamentary procedure and traditions and practices that are used here. I also am the chief administrative officer for the committee, so together with Anne and the researchers, I will be organizing the committee's hearings, inviting the witnesses, setting the hearings, arranging for the meeting room, getting together all of the papers the committee uses. Should the committee decide to travel at any point during its mandate, I will make all of the travel and accommodation arrangements and arrange the witnesses and the meetings on the other end of our journey. That is essentially my role.
Clerk of the Committee: Once the committee gets going and once it is fixed into a set of hearings on a specific subject, ministry staff from either the Treasury or whatever ministry is involved will tend to monitor the hearings.
Clerk of the Committee: Yes, ministry staff will come any time we request, and if they know the committee wants them to be there, we can usually make arrangements for them to be here to act as a resource for the committee.
Mr Phillips: Just in terms of the next steps, Mr Chairman, a week today the Treasurer will be here from 3:30 till the committee chooses, presumably giving us background on both his economic forecast and his preliminary thinking on the budget. Is that what we should expect?
The Chair: I have not discussed where he wants us to go in terms of our pre-budgetary consultations. What I am asking, of course with the committee, is that he would give us some kind of instructions at that point as to where he would want us to go in terms of this pre-budgetary consultation.
The Chair: To give you a response to that, I would still have to determine in my own mind exactly how the next few months are going to unfold, as this is very much a learning experience for me. So when I have a better grasp of that -- through the subcommittee and through consultation with the Treasurer -- and I have an understanding of where he wants us to go, how much time it is going to take -- through consultation with the clerk -- then I can probably respond to that question a little more accurately than I can right now.
Mr Phillips: So we probably have to be a little bit careful about necessarily -- we are here as a legislative committee, as opposed to, say, the Treasurer's committee, and therefore I must caution us that he may provide suggestions on what might be helpful, but I think we probably would want to set our own agenda.
Clerk of the Committee: A specific order of reference from the House certainly defines what the committee will do and, often, when it would do it. During the interval between sessions, this committee, together with all of the other committees, can only meet in accordance with the schedule that is agreed to among the House leaders. So we would be authorized to meet during certain periods of time and to study a certain subject matter or a certain piece of legislation. But the committee does have the ability, as Anne said, to pick and choose from among a number of topics that fall within the jurisdiction of the ministries that report to this committee, the Ministry of Financial Institutions and the Treasury and Ministry of Economics being the two main ones.
Mr Kwinter: Just to clarify, what normally happens is that this committee meets and structures its business independent of the House, except that a bill, whatever bill it is, could come forward, let's say Bill 4, and a decision could be made whether it should go to the standing committee on social development or to the standing committee on finance and economic affairs. But that is determined by the House leaders as to where they want it to go. Once they direct it, then you have no choice but to receive it and to start organizing yourself to hear it. Again, the whips would meet and decide that it has precedence over something that the committee may be dealing with. The committee picks things that it thinks might be of interest and might be relevant, but this is a bill that the government and the House may have some priority to get through.
Mrs Sullivan: I wanted to really underline to a certain extent the remarks of Mr Phillips. I think we should be very clear that, as a standing committee of the Legislature, where the Treasurer wants us to go is not necessarily where we want to go. Our agenda is what is set by us unless there is a clear reference on a particular piece of legislation or other mandate.
I think it might be useful, before the subcommittee meets and before the next meeting, if each of the parties who are represented here perhaps brought some very specific ideas relating to topics that the committee may want to look at. It may be broad-ranging, as for instance job creation, or it may be the influence of the GATT negotiations or whatever on the Ontario economy or other matters relating to financial and economic affairs, in addition to the pre-budget hearings. The pre-budget hearings have been traditional since about 1985 or 1986 when the matter was first referred to this committee.
There is a lot of organizational work that has to be done. I think it is incumbent upon the subcommittee to make recommendations relating to the period of time of public hearings that the committee would like to recommend to the entire committee, and the nature of and format for those hearings. It would be useful if we could take some time to consider those after the Treasurer's meeting with us next week.
Additionally, I think it would also be useful to know, and I do not know if the clerk already has heard, if the grey book will be available with the Treasurer. We have seen an economic report from the Treasurer at this point. Without that grey book's being available, I think it is difficult to plan the entire structure of our hearing program.
Clerk of the Committee: I am not aware of the timetable for the grey book. I know that we were discussing it earlier. The Treasurer did table a document together with his statement yesterday that contained much of the information one would normally find in the grey book. Whether or not the timetable for the grey book would get here in time for consideration before winter adjournment, I am not sure. I will ask him that when I am inviting the Treasurer.
Clerk of the Committee: Sure. Each year, all of the committees prepare and approve a budget, which is then sent to the Board of Internal Economy for its consideration and approval. Once I have a clear idea from the committee as to what sort of long-term goals the committee has between now and 31 March, when the budget will expire, I could prepare a budget. If we know, for instance, that we are going to be doing three weeks of pre-budget consultations during the break, I can estimate how much money will be needed in the budget and we could probably consider that in a week or so.
Mr Sterling: I was just thinking, because of the impact of the Mexico-US free trade agreement, that in the first week of February, we might take a trip to Acapulco to experience what is happening down there with regard to that agreement.