The Chair (Mr Mark Morrow): Can I call this to order, please? I'd like to welcome everybody here. I'm Mark Morrow, chairperson of the standing committee on the Ombudsman. I understand we have a point of order before we start.
Mr Dennis Drainville (Victoria-Haliburton): Thank you, Mr Chair. Just on a point of order -- really a clarification for the committee -- by an unfortunate situation on the part of the government, I sit on this committee presently. I'm an independent member. The government put me on this committee as a member of the government. At that time I was a member of the government. It is, I think, difficult for the government in the sense that by having me on the committee at this point it doesn't have a full majority, but I do want to say that I am an independent member and this is really a non-partial committee. We tend to look at these issues on the basis of the needs of the people of Ontario and their responsibilities to and their relationship to the Ombudsman.
So I just want to clarify and make sure that it is clear to the members of the committee and to those who are watching that as an independent member I will be attempting to continue in the spirit of this committee, which is a non-partisan spirit, and I will endeavour to do my best to serve the interests of the whole of the committee. I will be attempting to work on this committee as a member of the committee in an independent capacity.
If I may make a point, the translation for the report which we completed, that is, that particular cost, should be accrued to last year's, but because the year was over, we put it in this budget. In actuality, what you have here would be $60,000 minus $15,000.
Ms Akande: My memory isn't all that great, but it seems to be on the basis -- this year's budget is similar to last year's in terms of the items that are within it. Why are we continuing to budget far beyond what seemed to have been necessary last year? I mean, that's considerably more. It's more than twice as much as was actually used.
Clerk of the Committee: As I explained, the $15,000 for this year should have been paid last year. Also included as part of the printing cost is the annual report for last year, so the annual report last year cost us $2,800.
Clerk of the Committee: No, just for last year. We usually complete our annual report in December, and for a number of reasons the annual report carried over into the spring and we had to include it in this particular budget.
Clerk of the Committee: For when guests come and visit the committee. My understanding is that there would probably be an Australian committee visiting us in October. If the committee wishes to provide them with some sort of gift representing Ontario, we usually give them a loon or something like that.
Mr Drainville: I thought I would just sort of add to the response. In terms of the budget, we also budget for two periods of time when we meet in between sittings, and I believe our last sitting we didn't sit very long. In fact, I think it was maybe one day, was it not, the last sitting? We just sat for one day instead of the whole period of time. But we still have to budget for the whole period of time, you see, and that's why you end up with sometimes more money than it appears.
Mr Stockwell: Maybe a couple of comments before we go ahead. Frankly, I think from the review of this committee and what I've seen that it does, it appears to be a colossal waste of money. I think Mr Mahoney's motion is probably a reasonable motion, and I'd support it if it came to a vote in the Legislature, so you can tell where I'm coming from with respect to maintaining this committee.
Mr Stockwell: Well, no. I know that comments were made by the member for Sudbury, but I honestly thought that once you were a parliamentary assistant, that was your amount of money you received, and sitting on committees was not --
Mr Stockwell: I'm getting advice across the room. But what I understood was that the parliamentary assistant's salary was X and that was it. You sat on committees of your own free will. So I will say, and I'm learning very quickly, that they do nothing of their own free will. So I would move that we strike the per diems, Mr Speaker, off this committee.
The Chair: Mr Stockwell, thank you. Just before I ask the clerk to clarify, let it be known that I am opposed to per diems also, but as you know, the per diems have been in place since 1990, and if you have sat on any committees you would know that.
Clerk of the Committee: The reason we place the allowances, per diems, in the budget is that the members are entitled to those in accordance to the section of the legislative act. The members, however, have the choice of claiming them or not to claim them, so that is the reason why I, as clerk, place these expenditures in accordance to the legislative act.
Mr Stockwell: I understand what you're saying and I'm not directing this just at the parliamentary assistants or Deputy Speaker or so on and so forth. Maybe you're right, maybe you have to look at those people who don't receive stipends over and above their standard member of Parliament salary. I guess what I'm driving at is, I have sat on committees, I have not collected my per diem, I don't think it's a reasonable thing to do.
If it means we've got to catch everybody in the same net, I will do that, but I think it's more unreasonable that per diems are paid to people whether they're caucus chairs of other parties or whips or deputy whips or parliamentary assistants or deputy chairs of committees, that they would then receive a per diem over and above that other stipend they receive.
It seems to me as I look about the room, the only two in this room who I think would be affected would be the two Conservative members, because I don't think either Bill or myself receive any extra. I'm not sure but I think you're --
Mr Stockwell: -- the deputy whip. I don't think we receive any extra moneys to do this job and I myself am prepared to forgo that as long as everyone would agree to forgo it. I think it's reasonable considering the times and the taxes that are going to come down today, tax hikes, considering everyone's making $5,000, $10,000 extra. The stipend is a give, and I think that it's reasonable to give up.
Mr Stockwell: No. I guess I want to clarify what my motion is. I'm not making a motion that is contrary to standing orders. I'm making a motion that we strike the per diem from the budget. That is not contrary to standing orders.
Mr Stockwell: With all due respect, Mr Chair, I just want to clarify this motion and I'll pass to Mr Murdoch in a moment. This budget is before us to be approved, as I understand it. I understand the standing orders and I understand the approval process. All I'm suggesting is that I am moving an amendment to this budget.
To move amendments to this budget is not contrary to any standing order. All I'm asking is that we move an amendment to the budget. If any member wants to put in a per diem, they still are allowed to put in the per diem, but this committee will have to go to the Board of Internal Economy and get supplementary approval. That's what I'm saying, and I don't think that's contrary, with all due respect.
Mr Murdoch: Okay. I was going to suggest, Chris, that you may want to bring in a private member's bill on all committee members. I don't know why you would pick on this one. There are the other committees. The same rules apply. The other committees are probably passing their budgets with their per diem days in it. Maybe it would be better to bring in a private member's bill. I have one coming up on June 16, if you want it.
Mr Murdoch: I was just trying to solve the problem, but Chris wants to keep his motion on. I'm not going to object to it if that's what he wants to do, but I'm saying that he could bring in a private member's bill. I have one on June 16 that I'm offering him if he would like to bring that in, but that would include all committees.
Mr Murdoch: Then we're not just the ones being picked on. But he wants his motion to stand and we can vote on that. But I think the thing would be to bring in his private member's bill if he feels strongly about that and I'm offering mine to him.
Mr Fletcher: Speaking to and following up on what Mr Murdoch was saying, this has been discussed in some caucuses. I think that each caucus should have the right to discuss this, because following along the same lines of what Bill was saying about other committees setting a budget, there are some members who would like to have some input on this before we go ahead and arbitrarily make a decision for everyone else that would affect every other committee.
I think if we had a chance to discuss it in each of our caucuses -- because there are some of us who disagree with the stipend that is paid out and some of us think that the standing orders should be changed, that the rules should be changed. There are those in our caucus who disagree because of why this was put in in the first place, when you're being taken away from your constituency in the middle of the summer when you could be in your constituency and things like that, some of the things that have to be put into it when you make a decision like this.
I think it's a far-reaching decision that should have some discussion in our separate caucuses also, just to find out what the feeling of every member would be, because every member would be affected by this. I don't disagree with the direction you're going. I think it's a good direction. I just think that it deserves more discussion than what's going on just here today.
But one point hasn't been brought up. These per diems are paid only when the House isn't in session. We don't get paid a per diem every time we're here. That hasn't been mentioned; I think that's important too.
But there are historical reasons for having allowed per diems in the first place. I worked for Elie Martel, who was a member here for 20 years, long before per diems were even allowed. They didn't even have staff for many years, let alone office space etc. As only Elie can do, he gives you the history of how this place has worked and how rules have come to be.
I understand Mr Stockwell's concerns and I know that I've questioned it in the committees that I do sit on. But for those members from Kenora, as you would be, and from Red -- what I'm trying to think of is Gilles Pouliot's riding. Rainy River, no --
Ms Murdock: In Howie Hampton's riding and mine they had problems over the years -- I'm talking a number of years ago -- in getting their members to come to committee when the House was not in session, and it was basically used as an incentive to have members come.
The Metro Toronto members don't have the problems in coming to the Legislature, which sits at the top of University hill, but for those of us who don't live in Metro Toronto, it is very enticing to sit at home in your riding where you get elected, rather than to come down here when there's no true reason to do so, or at least in your own mind there isn't. So there were reasons for putting per diems in. I think that they've changed over the years and they've come to mean something else.
As far as the PA salary goes, I want to say that it's a salary for work that I do as a parliamentary assistant in my ministry. In some instances the committee work and the PA work overlap, but rarely. I'm sitting on committees that have nothing to do with the parliamentary assistant to the Ministry of Labour, so I take exception to the comments that were made with regard to the PA salaries.
Mr Miclash: I understand what Mr Stockwell is saying as well in terms of the per diems, but I have to agree that I believe all the caucuses are going to be involved in discussions around our general salaries and whatever stipends we are paid around here.
I would suggest as well that we leave it up to the general caucuses to carry on their discussions. I understand as well that the leaders will be discussing this from all three parties and to let it go in a general nature from that area.
Mr Drainville: I have always advocated, and I did when I was chair of the government caucus, that we should not be paid a tax-free allowance and that we should not be getting per diems in terms of committee work and that we should get one base salary. I advocated that when we had discussions within the caucus and, as I say, I gave leadership on that way back in those halcyon days after the New Democratic Party was first elected.
But we are not at that point, and there are a whole lot of reasons why we are not at that point, not the least of which is a lack of political will, I might say, by all parties, not one in particular, to be able to grapple with this whole issue of remuneration for members of Parliament.
Let me say it again: I am absolutely in favour of getting rid of the per diems, but it cannot be done unilaterally, it cannot be done in a microcosm on the one committee. It has to be done through discussions and the political will of all political parties so that we can get on with this. But the basic principle of getting rid of the per diems is absolutely right on.
Mr Stockwell: I understand why she wants it deferred, but you know, there's an old saying, "Lead, follow or get the hell out of the way," and I suppose this is what I'm saying. I think this committee can lead by example, and there is no better way to lead than by example. If people truly believe what they're saying, then I think we should lead by example. You know something? It's like the snowball down the hill. If we pull them, it would be astounding how quickly they'd review the issue.
Mr Rizzo: I think the motion refers to the budget and I think it's a proper motion. I think what you are saying, in other words, is that instead of approving a budget of $60,000, you would have $60,000 minus the per diems of $4,800 and $4,800, so you would approve all this, a budget of $50,000. But this doesn't stop any one of us to apply for the per diem remuneration at any time, so I don't know where we are going to get by even getting the majority of us passing this motion. This is the problem I have, even if in principle I'm in favour of it.
The Chair: Going to item 3 on our agenda, other business, you all have before you a letter from Brian Charlton, government House leader from the Cabinet Office. The Ombudsman has told the House leaders of all three parties that she would like to appear before this committee before we debate it in the House. Can I now open this letter up for comments or questions?
Clerk of the Committee: I personally have not received any comments from the Ombudsman's office. The only information I have is this letter before you, which if I may read it into the record -- am I permitted to do that?
Clerk of the Committee: "Thank you for your letter dated April 28, 1993, that requests the three House Leaders to `...schedule [our] special report on the review of the Ombudsman's office for debate in the Legislative Assembly as soon as possible.'
"The three House leaders have agreed that it would be appropriate for the standing committee on the Ombudsman to invite Roberta Jamieson, the Ombudsman, to appear at the standing committee to discuss the report."
Ms Murdock: That's in the second paragraph, but in the first paragraph, the way I'm interpreting that paragraph is that she reported to the three House leaders and asked for debate time in the House. That's what I'm interpreting that statement to mean.
I was not sitting on this committee at the time, but my understanding was that when the Ombudsman appeared in this committee there was some dispute or concern as to the reporting mechanism and as to whom she did report, and I'm wondering what the point would be. I was hoping I could have some direction from either the clerk, the Chair or legal counsel in terms of that.
Mr Murdoch: The reason this motion has probably been presented is that if you remember in our last meeting that we had as subcommittee, we talked about we wanted to get this debated on the floor, so how would we go about it? And we already had spoken to our House leaders. We agreed --
Mr Murdoch: Yes, and I said I can give you the direction you need. Anyway, we did this; I did this anyway, and I'm sure David did and Mark maybe talked to Mr Charlton. I went to Ernie Eves, our House leader, and said: "Ernie, we'd really like to have this in the House. What's holding it up, or how come we're not getting there?"
He informed me that they had talked about it in a House leaders' meeting, and that the Ombudsman had got hold of all the House leaders and had, first of all, asked that if it was going to be debated that she would be given a couple of weeks' notice. Also, and I'm not sure whether this was her idea or not, but the House leaders felt that maybe we should talk to her first. Maybe they had been lobbied, I don't know. I'm not privy to what goes on in House leaders' meetings. But that's the impression I got, that maybe we should have her here at this committee to go over our report first before it was taken to the House.
I said, "Okay, that sounds fine," and I talked to Mark and I did talk to David, that this is what the House leaders were thinking but that we hadn't been informed of that. That's why this letter has come through now, because Ernie brought it back up at House leaders' meeting. He brought it back up and he said, "Now you'll get a letter so you'll know exactly what we're thinking."
So that's what they're thinking. They think we should have her come here, which I have no problem with either. We made a report; let's discuss it. And we still want to probably debate it in the House, because if it's ever going to become law that has to be done, as far as I'm concerned.
Mr Stockwell: I am. I'm moving an amendment to the motion. By adopting Bill 10 we would save Roberta Jamieson a lot of time and money and effort to come down to the committee. Being fully in favour of Bill 10, I think it makes eminent sense that we should, as a committee, realizing how hopeless and useless this committee is, endorse it.
The Chair: -- there are three letters on your desk just for your perusal, to look at. They really do not need to be discussed at this time. They concern our report that we tabled in the House in early April.
My motion, Mr Chair, is very simple. Bill 10, Mr Mahoney's bill, which is An Act to repeal the Ombudsman Act, was read in the House the first time on May 6, 1993. It's a shame that our independent member isn't here, because I think this is something he could support. I'm really looking to this committee to provide direction for the Legislature, considering that this vote would probably be a free vote in all the caucuses; I don't see why anyone would want to whip this vote. I think as a committee we could provide a certain degree of thrust for Mr Mahoney in his action if we would in fact endorse this short, four-section bill.
I am one who is fully in favour of repealing the Ombudsman Act. I just find it reprehensible that anybody in this province could get a 10-year appointment and be a few years into the appointment -- and I'm of the opinion that this job is really just a super-MPP's job. I think this is what we do day in and out, and if we do our job correctly --
I want to move for this committee that we adopt Bill 10, report it back to the Legislature, and then we'll probably save the taxpayers a considerable amount of time, effort and, most of all, money that I think is very unwisely spent in the Ombudsman's office.
Clerk of the Committee: Even though the bill is before the Legislature, if you wish to move a motion in your own words containing the contents of this bill, the motion could be placed before this committee.
I, with my colleagues of all three parties, have worked very hard in this last year to try to make this act a better act for the people of Ontario. Nobody in this room believes that the present act is as timely as it can be, and we have endeavoured to talk to people who have had past experience with the office, we have talked with the present Ombudsman, to collect ideas from all over the world, actually, as we've looked at other Ombudsman offices from across the world, as to how we could make the Ombudsman office in Ontario the very best in the world.
I support the Office of the Ombudsman, as I think the majority of the members of this committee do, and I believe the majority of the legislators in the Ontario Legislature do. I think it would be a shame, even though this bill originates with one of my Liberal colleagues, to support it. It's a private member's bill and Mr Mahoney certainly has the right to bring that forward, and maybe it would be good for him to bring this forward and have a debate on this.
But our mandate right now is to make sure that the office serves the people of Ontario to the very best of its ability, and we have endeavoured through our report to recommend some improvements. I certainly am a proponent that that see the light of day, that it have a debate and discussion in the Legislature, and I certainly hope that our colleagues in the Legislature will support us in the work we've done and the recommendations we have made. I think there are some important changes there that need to be brought forward.
Mr Murdoch: I know Mr Stockwell hasn't been here. We have done a lot of work and I agree with Mr Ramsay, but we have had a lot of problems too. We seem to have spent two and a half years just sort of going around in circles. I don't know whether we're getting anywhere.
We've tried, we've done our work and we'll see whether it gets debated in the House, but certainly if we support this bill, we would get rid of all the problems. We'd get rid of our per diem problems because we wouldn't have a committee and we wouldn't have to worry about that. We could save a lot of money, let me tell you, and it does cost a lot of money. This committee's really been concerned about all the money the Ombudsman spends on advertisements. Remember we had all that problem?
Mr Rizzo: I just want to add my thoughts. I'm new on this committee and I'm not in a position to vote for or against approval or endorsement of this particular bill. What I know for sure is that we are going to go through the report that was prepared last year, and I think it wouldn't make any sense to vote an endorsement of this bill without first going through the report and knowing what we are going to be talking about. So I am proposing that we are going to vote down the motion presented by Mr Stockwell.
Mr Fletcher: Going back to the question of per diems, and since you did make a political statement from the Chair, which I disagree with, I think perhaps you should file a report on how many times you've refused the per diem, sitting in this committee.