There is a briefing by the counsel and he is going to propose to us what we are going to do between now and the end of the session, at least until the end of May, more or less. Then it's up to us to approve it or not approve it. Then, considering also that we've never dealt with the Ombudsman's report and our own report, I would like to spend a few minutes this morning to see what you want to do about those things. Go ahead.
Mr Paul Murray: Basically, what I have been working on are the recommendation-denied cases, the two special reports that the Ombudsman released last year, one in July and one in November. I gave a briefing on that to the committee before the recess.
Since that time I've been dealing with the agencies involved and the ministries involved in terms of getting material together and trying to set some dates for the committee's examination of them, and it's been a bit complicated in terms of trying to get everyone together. We've finally been able to settle on some dates for looking at these cases. Maybe I could just run through the dates and the committee can decide whether or not this is fine.
The schedule as it stands now would be that on April 27 the committee would meet and I would give the committee a briefing on the problem of delay in the Ontario Human Rights Commission. The July 1993 report dealt with that, among other things.
Then on May 4 and May 11 we would set aside those two Wednesday mornings to actually examine the report on delay in the Human Rights Commission and we would meet first with the Ombudsman and then with the chief commissioner from the Human Rights Commission. Hopefully, we will be able to get it done in two sessions; for now we have set aside two sessions to do that.
On May 18 we would come back to a specific complaint concerning the family support plan, which also appears in the July 1993 report. Because of the schedule, it might be best if on May 18 we could meet at 9 o'clock and I could give you a briefing on that particular complaint, and then I think we should be able to deal with that in one session on May 18.
On June 1, I can give the committee a briefing on the case of Ms R, which is a specific complaint against the Human Rights Commission that the Ombudsman investigated. Then on June 8 the committee would examine the complaint of Ms R and the Ombudsman again would appear and representatives from the Human Rights Commission would appear to speak to that.
That is the schedule I've been able to arrange with the different officials involved. It wasn't possible to get it going before April 27 just because of everyone's time schedule, so it leaves between now and April 27 open.
The other two things, as the Chair mentioned, are the Ombudsman's annual report and the status of the committee's own report from last April on the review of the Office of the Ombudsman. It's up to the committee in terms of how it wants to work those two matters in.
The Chair has asked me to talk to the Ombudsman again about how she wants to deal with her annual report, whether she'd like to deal with that before the specific complaints or in mid-June. I'll check with her on that. There's some possibility we could get to that sooner, but I'll check to see what she has in mind with that. She may not be available before then anyway.
Mr Bill Murdoch (Grey-Owen Sound): As far as I'm concerned, I don't think we should be doing anything until we debate our report in the House. This committee, as far as I'm concerned, is non-existent until we debate our report, the one we came up with, in the House. We had a lot of recommendations in there. I think we are just spinning our wheels, like we have for the last four years, debating and talking around here. We've written a report and I think we were quite forceful that we wanted to have this debated in the House.
I thought, when we left before Christmas, that that's what we were going to do, that we were going to come back actually in March, I understood at that time, and try to get it set up so that we would have this all looked after. At that time, the Chair said he had some ideas and would be talking to the Ombudsman and we would get some information. Now we're here, it's the end of March and nothing's happened. I haven't heard a thing. So I'm really disappointed. As I said at that time, I'd give the Chair a chance to try to straighten things out and I haven't heard a word at all. I think we've got to debate our recommendations and things out in the House or we're just spinning our wheels, as far as I'm concerned. I'll just throw that open to some other people to discuss.
The Chair: I want to point out that it was the intention of the committee to go ahead and discuss not only our report but the annual report, plus all these issues here. If you remember, there was a motion in which we asked the House leaders to allow us to meet during the winter months so we could go ahead and do what we planned to do. We never got the authorization to do that and this is the first chance we've had to meet. This is a proposal by the counsel to try to deal with these issues first, but it's up to the committee to decide what it wants to do.
Mrs Karen Haslam (Perth): Must we do it in the House? House time is very limited. We end up with pieces of legislation that are held up because we don't have time and House time is wasted on a lot of other minor things and delay tactics. We have opposition days and we have this and we have that, and I'm concerned about taking it into the House and using House time. Can't we handle it in this committee?
Mr Murray: Maybe just to clarify, the report that's been talked about is the committee's report following its review of the Office of the Ombudsman. The committee prepared that report after a series of hearings and then presented that to the assembly. The debate was adjourned on it, so it hasn't been debated. The position of the Ombudsman has been that it would be premature to proceed with implementing the recommendations until the House has had an opportunity to debate the recommendations of the committee. That's the context of David's comments in terms of requesting that the debate be brought back on. In terms of the committee's role at this stage, we really can't do much more until it's been debated.
Mr Ramsay: I would just remind everybody that this is an all-party committee and an all-party report. It was agreed to by all parties. I guess, as representatives of our various parties, our request was that we had some very serious concerns about the institution itself and felt that our colleagues should have the opportunity to hear our views and debate those views in the Legislature.
Mrs Haslam: I understand that. I followed it. I was here for the briefings when the committee met before the break. I'm well aware of the concerns we've had. I'm well aware of where we are with the Ombudsman. I know we have concerns about where she's coming from, what her mandate is and who she reports to. I'm well aware of those issues. I'm just saying that it concerns me about House time because I see us always haggling over what can be brought forward into the House because of the time lines involved, and that's my concern.
I have no problem if you want to go forward with this request. I am just asking if we could find another avenue than House time, because I'd hate to see this become a political football and I'd hate to see it use up House time that we could be using on other legislation.
Mr Murdoch: I hear what you're saying, but this is important and if this committee's going to survive, then that's where it has to survive, in the Legislature. If the House isn't going to support us on our recommendations, then we can come back and sit here and spin our wheels and carry on and talk about different cases and then send it to the Ombudsman and get no answer back or whatever.
I'm telling you that I'm wasting my time here if we don't do something like that. I think we have to get to the bottom of it. I've been on this committee since we first got elected back in 1990 and we've gone through different clerks now and everything, different Chairs, and I think something has to be done. The only way it's going to be done, maybe, is by showing the House leaders that we have some work that should be done, but until we debate this in the House -- because we have different recommendations and a lot of concerns -- I don't think we should touch anything until that's done, and maybe the House leaders will get serious about it and give us our due in the House.
Mr Cooper: I'd like to make a motion that the Chair, along with the clerk, send a letter to each of the House leaders requesting at least a response to what they intend doing with this, because I came in part way through the process in the fall and we were discussing exactly the same thing. It appears that this committee will be bogged down discussing what everybody's intentions are. I suspect that a letter to each of the House leaders asking what their intentions are on this issue would probably serve the committee well because we'll be debating this for ever, I believe, and I think we should get on with some other business, once we know exactly what their intentions are.
Mr Ramsay: That's a very positive motion and certainly I would support that. I just wonder, maybe we should discuss that, so we get very specific. It might be an assistance to the House leaders if we would discuss how much time we think we would require. I think we should keep it as a minimal time. We might have a better opportunity of getting on, and also talking to our own House leaders and saying, "Listen, we're only looking for two hours," or whatever it is; I just put that number out right now. "This is really important to a lot of us in each of our parties, and if we could find that, maybe something like interim supply or something, we'd like you to maybe shave that down, if you could fit in two hours, even if it was an hour at one time, an hour another time, whatever it is."
Again, I just throw those figures out, but I think we could decide what we feel we need for the time. It might be a great help to the House leaders to give them a specific time and then go from there. We'd all have to do our lobbying, say that this is important to us and that it is a minimal amount of time, whatever it is, but to get it on the record, and also, we'd like to bring it to a vote. It's brought to a vote and that's the point of bringing this to the Legislature. It means the recommendations then would come through.
Mr Murdoch: I agree with what David's saying. The main thrust, we've got to realize, is that this was, as David said, an all-party report. We all agreed on it. As Karen may tell us, sometimes we do some grandstanding in the House -- I don't think any of us here would be accused of that -- but at least it was all three parties. So it's not something that a party person or a party wants to make a hit on or anything like that. We just want to get some answers so that this committee can go on and function properly. I think that would be a great idea, and if we set up some time.
If you just set a date for it, I'd be quite happy, and we split the time between the three parties. We'd get something on and then we could have a vote and if the House supports us, then we can go on or whatever. We may have to set a day for it and possibly the next day because of some conflicts or something like that, but yes, whatever time you think would be fair, I'd be willing to go along with that.
Mrs Haslam: Four years ago I wouldn't have had that concern, to tell you the truth. I thought we were here to do a job and we could all work together, but four years in the House have certainly made me much more jaundiced in my opinion, and serving on committees with non-partisan people and watching them become very partisan five minutes later in question period has certainly coloured my position in many of these committees, and I'll be very blunt about that.
I think the time lines are a very good idea and I think that would address my concern about using unwarranted House time over this position when we ostensibly are supposed to be all in agreement with this. So I would agree; I think Mr Cooper's motion is effective and, as you say, very friendly and certainly worth our looking at, and I like what Mr Ramsay has said about giving the House leaders an option of time, because the House leaders are always dealing with that issue about how much time and when it comes forward and whether there are going to be some actions around it that will hold us up in the Legislature unnecessarily. So by the committee asking for specific time lines or recommending that, I think that would alleviate my concerns about taking up House time on this issue.
Mr Murdoch: I just want to answer that too. This committee has been the best committee I've sat on as far as non-partisan, and being that you haven't sat here, I want to tell you though that we've gone for four years and we've not had a lot of problems with partisans in this committee. That's why I say I think that this can work, but we have to do that before anything else.
Mrs Haslam: That's fine, Bill. I'm not saying it's this committee. I'm saying that in committees I've been in, I've sat across from somebody who said, "Let's make this decision in a very non-partisan way," and 10 minutes later asked the most ridiculous, disgusting question in the House around what we just decided. So excuse me, but don't lecture me on the non-partisan. I'm sorry; I've lost my naïveté three and half years ago. I'm not blaming this committee. I'm only saying that would address the concern I have.
Mrs Haslam: If we agreed to go less than a day, it means that the House leaders could do a fast passage of something else. That's the only way some of these things are going to get through, on fast passage, so why don't we do ourselves a favour and maybe even say two hours and then the House leaders can say, "Great, because we've got something else that will fit in here and we might get it done"?
Mrs Haslam: It does in a way, although you've left us a good spot there in the beginning of April, should we have to do something after debate. That's assuming that this gets into the House the week before April 27, but in a way it does affect the schedule we set. You've got us in every Wednesday from now till May, and I think what Mr Murdoch is saying is, "I'm not going to come if I'm just going to spin my wheels."
Mr Murdoch: I appreciate what Karen's saying. I think we should put a little bit of pressure on our House leaders that we want something and we feel we can't deal with these other things until that's looked after. I'm certainly willing to come back on the 27th and say, "Where have we gone on this?" May is a rough month for me. I'm not going to be around too often, but Chris can come in or someone else if I'm not here.
The Chair: Let me interrupt you for a second if I can. I think we should go back to a few months ago when we discussed this issue. What we decided then, because of the sense of goodwill that was coming from the Ombudsman's office, there was an agreement that we were going to deal with the annual report, with some of these issues first, at the same time without forgetting that we wanted to deal with her report. We don't want to go back now and say we changed our minds. Our minds were with her. We discussed it, we agreed already with her that we were going to deal with the annual report and with this other report before, and at the same time, we were going to ask the House leaders to deal with our report. We want to deal with the whole thing. Going back now to her and saying, "We changed our minds; we want to deal with our report first and then with the others," I think we are going to change our minds, not hers or anybody else's.
Mr Ramsay: I'd like to say that I agree with the Chair. I think if we are feeling a sense of lack of importance in this committee it's probably because we haven't proceeded with our work. If we have an opportunity to proceed with our work and to work on action-denied cases -- that is one thing we were concerned about in the past. Now there appear to be some of these cases before us so that we can do the job we're mandated to do here. I think we should be doing our job.
I think it can be a simultaneous process as we seek approval from the House leaders to move our report forward in the House. At the same time, I think we should do our work here. If we feel that this committee is of some use and we should exercise our power as legislators, then I think we should do our work. If we don't, then we should just pack up.
Mrs Haslam: Actually, I was going to agree with Mr Murdoch. While we in the committee would take a look at this type of schedule, why couldn't we say in a very clear way to the House leaders, "There isn't any sense in us going forward if we're not going to have the opportunity to have this dealt with"?
I understand what you're saying about dealing with it on a horizontal basis. What I'm not sure of is what you are going back to the Ombudsman with -- this type of schedule for her? She would be in when, May 4?
Mr Murray: That's right. I've spoken with the Ombudsman and the Human Rights Commission and the others, but in terms of being able to coordinate things, to come back, in terms of the Chair having directed what I was to do on this, I did that and these are the dates we were able to coordinate. The reason we couldn't do it sooner was because of the fact that there were other commitments in terms of getting everyone together. If the committee does set this aside, then it will put things off probably.
Mrs Haslam: I'll go with it. I'll change then, Mr Chair, and say fine, but I do agree that we have to be very straightforward to the House leaders in stating that, although we have set these dates aside, there is some question as to the validity of going forward if the original problem is not settled in a very straightforward manner.
Mr Murdoch: I must remind the Chair -- I think it was you who said you felt there was some sense of cooperation coming from the Ombudsman. I haven't seen this yet. I'm disappointed now because you've said that. At that time, I said I would give you a chance to try to sort things out, and I thought we would have been here sooner. You explained what happened, but I haven't seen the cooperation there. So I have to say I'm glad you see that; I don't at this point.
I still stick with what I said at first. I don't think we should go on. I disagree with what David said, that we should go on and do these things. I think we've got to make it quite clear that this committee means business. Again, I stress that I've been sitting here for four years. We've done this over and over again. I will say right now that if we carry on, I don't think we'll hear anything from the House leaders. We'll carry on and two months from now we'll be here complaining again that our report has not been debated. We'll be upset because the Ombudsman is not dealing with us fairly. I'm just putting this out. I'm trying to look into the future, but I think I have some experience in this, by being here so long, that that's what will happen. So I have a problem with going on.
Mr Murdoch: I can see us coming to that meeting, because I would hope we'd have some information from the House leaders by that time. I think we have to set up a meeting to come. I'm willing to listen to anything at any meeting. I mean, we're here; we might as well discuss something. I think we can do that. With regard to the other dates, as I said, unfortunately, I won't be here on the 4th, for sure, but that's not to say someone else can't be in my place.
Mr Cooper: Hold on. Obviously, I don't have quite the frustration level that Mr Murdoch has because I've dealt with committees, but timewise, we're in a bind. We can't control what the House leaders are going to decide and we can't determine when they might possibly get this in the House. What I might suggest is that I'd go along with Mr Ramsay, that this committee still does have a mandate and a job to do.
I would suggest that we accept this schedule, but to go along with Mr Murdoch, I would suggest that before the House rises for the summer, this committee get together and determine whether or not it will go on, depending on what happens with our report from the House leaders and whether it gets debated and actually fight, maybe even go to the Speaker at that time and say that it is a recommendation of this committee that the committee no longer function, but to allow to the end of this session, because we do have stuff that's already on the schedule. Otherwise, it could go on for ever. To kill it before because of time lines, which is what Mr Murdoch is suggesting -- I would say, put up with the frustration just a little longer but have a mandate from this committee before the House rises on whether or not we will continue.
Mrs Haslam: My recommendation was only that if that's the case about April 27, we should be very clear in the letter to the House leaders of our schedule and the fact that on April 27 we'd like to know. Give them that date; it's a month away.
Mr Murdoch: All I can do, to answer Mike back, is that we've heard this for four years, because you're new. I understand that; you haven't been here. Give you a year here and you'll either leave the committee or you'll be saying the same thing as I. I've tried to hang in because I thought somewhere along the line we may get our committee on side and it may become a good committee.
The only thing I've found about this committee is that it's non-partisan, and that's been the best thing about the committee, other than whether we've done any work or anything. For four years we've just sat around here and said: "Why aren't we doing something different? What is our mandate?" We could never figure that out. The only good thing about it was that all three parties agreed that we had a problem.
Unfortunately -- and this is the way the setup of the House is -- members change. That's fine; you can't do anything about that. But I guess I'm the only one who has been here since the start. David's been here quite a while, but he wasn't right at the start. Again, if you want to do that, all I can then do is be able to say, "I told you so." I'm not going to argue with you, because I said that we try to get along here, because we're here for a common cause.
If you really want to do that and carry on and go ahead, I'm not going to be the stick-in-the-mud and say, "No, you're not going to be able to do that," or argue about it. I'll let you do that, but just be prepared to say at the end of this session: "Are we going to meet through the summer? Because we've got to sit down and discuss this and we've got to get it in to the House leaders."
It will supposedly be a summer meeting and then we'll come back next fall and I'll be talking to the Chair, "I thought we were going to meet in the summertime and get this all discussed," and we didn't because there wasn't any time or the Ombudsman wouldn't meet with us or we couldn't do this, and next fall there will be some new members in and they'll say, "Maybe we should wait until the end of this session," and before long there will be an election and this committee will sit and we will have had five years or whatever of non-productivity. But fine, I'm not going to be hard to get along with.