| British Columbia
| Northwest Territories
| House of Commons
The Second Session of the
Thirty-Sixth Legislature reconvened on April 2, 1996 with the presentation of
the Budget for 1996-97 and the adoption of the new Provisional Rules of the Legislative
Assembly through concurrence of a report by the Standing Committee on Rules of
The 1996-97 Budget presented by the
Minister of Finance, Eric Stefanson, was the 9th budget of the Filmon
Government. The budget debate, held over the usual eight days, essentially
revolved around two differing perspectives on budget choices. With its Balanced
Budget legislation, the Government is committed to ensuring that it not only
balances its budget each year, but that surplus monies should be used to help
retire the debt and be saved for unforeseen expenditures. The Official
Opposition (NDP), however, is critical of reductions in government programs
when it has a surplus which they believe can help the more vulnerable in
society. The Official Opposition moved an amendment to the budget motion
declaring lack of confidence of the House in the Government. Another amendment
was moved by the independent Liberal Member, Kevin Lamoureux, which also
indicated a lack of confidence in the Government. On the eighth day of debate,
both the sub-amendment and amendment were put to a vote and subsequently
defeated. The main motion was carried on a recorded division.
The First Report of the Standing
Committee on Rules of the House implemented provisional changes to the Rules of
the Assembly as outlined in a Memorandum of Understanding agreed to last
December by the three parties represented in the House. The Committee had met
twice in February to consider and finalise provisional rules that had been prepared
by the Clerk’s Office. The provisional rules will be in effect until November
30, 1996 at which time there will be an assessment of them. These provisional
changes represent the most significant amendment to the Rules of the House in
over a decade.
A sessional calendar has been
established which includes twelve weeks for a Spring sitting to conclude no
later than the second Thursday in June and up to eight weeks for a Fall sitting
to conclude no later than the last Thursday in November. The purpose of the
Spring sittings essentially is to deal with the Throne Speech, the budget,
detailed estimates and all related financial bills. As well, government
legislation is to be introduced and to be moved for second reading by the
conclusion of the Spring sittings. The purpose of the Fall sittings is to
complete consideration of legislation and pass all bills through to 3rd Reading
by the end of the Session.
The House will no longer sit on
Fridays, except during the Throne and Budget speech debates. Fridays will be
"Committee Days". During the Spring sittings, the Committee of Supply
will sit on Fridays and during the Fall, standing committee meetings may be
scheduled on Fridays.
Non-political statements have been
eliminated, however, Members’ Statements have been adopted. Each day, after
Oral Questions, up to 5 Members may make a statement, for up to 2 minutes, on
any subject matter.
Speaking times have been changed.
During general debate, the time has been reduced from 40 to 30 minutes and for
regular speeches during Supply, it has been reduced from 30 to 10 minutes.
A new feature, "Opposition
Days", has been introduced in Manitoba. A sitting day may be designated as
an Opposition Day, no more than 3 times during a Session. The Opposition will
file a motion for debate, at least 2 sitting days before the motion may be
considered. The Government House Leader, after consultation with the
Opposition, will designate the Opposition days.
The proposed changes to Private
Members’ Business (PMB) [similar to House of Commons practices] were not agreed
to by the committee. It is expected that the proposed changes will be revisited
at a future date. The hours for PMB, however, did change, largely for the
Spring sittings, with PMB being held on Thursday mornings from 10 am to 12 pm.
During Fall sittings, PMB will be considered from 4:30 to 5:30 pm, Monday to
Overall, the rule changes have been
welcomed by Members and regarded as enhancing the functioning of the
Legislature. The conclusion of the Session will bring a more complete review of
the effectiveness of the changes.
On November 1, 1995, following a
ruling by Speaker Louise Dacquay that the word "racist" was
unparliamentary, the Opposition House Leader, Steve Ashton raised a
matter of privilege regarding the status of the freedom of speech for Members
in the Legislature. On April 9, 1996, Speaker Dacquay ruled that there was no prima
facie case of privilege. She stated that the parliamentary tradition of
freedom of speech is the ability of Members to speak as they wish, free from
interference from outside bodies or agencies but "it does not guarantee
Members the right to say absolutely anything they want in the House. The House,
through the Speaker, can impose limits or rules...[I]n those rare cases where
language impinges on the dignity, decorum or the sensibilities of the House,
the Speaker does have the authority to request the withdrawal of
unparliamentary language." The ruling was challenged but sustained on a
On April 15, 1996, David Chomiak
(NDP) moved a motion of urgent public importance being that of "the threat
to the health care system posed by the Government’s plans to privatise home
care services". Speaker Dacquay ruled the motion out of order because the
Member would have other opportunities to discuss the issue, including
departmental estimates, grievances and Members’ statements prior to the date
that the contracting out of some home care services would be expected to begin.
On April 16, 1996, Mr. Chomiak
moved another motion of urgent public importance concerning the "Home Care
Workers dispute". Speaker Dacquay ruled the motion out of order as it was
not the same as the one the Member had filed, as notice, prior to the House
sitting. Following that, Mr. Lamoureux moved a motion of urgent public
importance concerning the "strike by home care service workers".
Speaker Dacquay ruled that motion out of order because there would be other
opportunities for debate during health estimates that were beginning that day,
grievances and Members’ Statements.
A new Ombudsman was selected by the
Standing Committee on Privileges and Elections. The previous Deputy Ombudsman, Barry
Tuckett, who had been acting Ombudsman for close to 2 years, was appointed
to the permanent position. Carol Bellringer resigned from the position
of Provincial Auditor as of March 1996 and is currently employed as the Auditor
for the City of Winnipeg. Warren Johnson, the previous Assistant
Auditor, is now the Acting Provincial Auditor.
Judy White, Clerk Assistant, Manitoba Legislative
On February 27, 1996, the Governor
General of Canada gave the Speech from the Throne in the Senate Chamber to open
the Second Session of the Thirty-Fifth Parliament. Just prior to prorogation of
the First Session, the Liberals had obtained a plurality of members in the
Upper House, though the Progressive Conservatives retained a majority of
members on all committees until the end of the session. The overall party
standings were Liberal-51,Progressive Conservatives-50, and Independents-3.
At the beginning of the new
Session, the Committee of Selection was appointed with five Liberal and 4
Conservative members. This majority insured that Senate committees would have a
majority of Liberal members, despite the near equality of the two parties in
the Senate itself. Indeed, when the Selection Committee reported, standing
committees with twelve members were comprised of seven Liberals and five
Progressive Conservatives, while the two committees with fifteen members had
nine Liberal and six Conservative members.
However, in keeping with recent
practice, members of the Official Opposition were elected to the Chairs of
several committees. Thus, Agriculture and Forestry; Energy, Environment and
Natural Resources; Fisheries; National Finance; and Social Affairs, Science and
Technology are each chaired by a Conservative senator. The remaining standing
committees, Aboriginal Peoples; Banking, Trade and Commerce; Foreign Affairs;
Internal Economy, Budgets and Administration; Legal and Constitutional Affairs;
and Transport and Communications, have Liberal Chairs.
The beginning of a new session is
usually a relatively quiet time in the Senate, as the upper chamber awaits the
arrival of legislation from the House of Commons. However, a motion in the
House allowing for the reinstatement of bills at the same stage at which they
stood at the time of prorogation meant that a number of bills made their way
quickly into the Senate and into committee.
Three committees have been
particularly active. The Standing Senate Committee on Legal and
Constitutional Affairs, chaired by Senator Sharon Carstairs, has focused
its attention on two bills, both of which have generated significant public and
Bill C-8, the Controlled Drugs
and Substances Act, was introduced in the First Session as Bill C-7. The
Committee had referred to it the papers and evidence that it had received in
its consideration of Bill C-7 at the end of the First Session, then continued
its study of this complex and controversial piece of legislation. Analysis of
written submissions, as well as testimony from a wide range of interests,
including federal government officials, lawyers, doctors, those interested in
natural/herbal remedies, aboriginal peoples, drug counsellors, former drug
addicts, representatives of municipal governments, and industrial hemp
advocates, led the Committee to consider several amendments.
Another important bill considered
by the Committee was Bill S-2, An Act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act
(sexual orientation), introduced by Senator Noel Kinsella. The Canadian
Human Rights Act prohibits discrimination on a number of listed grounds in
two main areas, employment and the provision of goods and services, and it applies
to federally-regulated employers and service providers. Senator Kinsella’s bill
would ensure that the Act expressly prohibit discrimination on the basis of
sexual orientation. Senator Kinsella had introduced the same bill, then known
as Bill S-15, in the Third Session of the Thirty-Fourth Parliament, and it was
passed by the Senate and sent to the House of Commons, where it died on the
Order Paper when Parliament was dissolved for the general election of 1993.
The hearings on Bill S-2 generated a
great deal of interest, and there was standing room only as the Committee heard
from witnesses with a wide range of opinions on the legislation. After some
intense debate with several witnesses, the Committee unanimously agreed to pass
the legislation without amendment. The Committee reported the Bill to the
Senate, and it was passed, on division, and sent to the House of Commons for
Another committee which has kept
busy, not only since the beginning of the Second Session, but also between the
First and Second Sessions, has been the Senate Banking, Trade and Commerce
Committee chaired by Michael Kirby. In April 1996, the Committee tabled
its report on the mandates of Crown financial institutions, that is, on seven
federal agencies which offer assistance to business, both domestic and
export-oriented. The seven agencies reviewed were the Export Development
Corporation (EDC), the Canadian Commercial Corporation (CCC), the Business
Development Bank of Canada (BDBC), the Farm Credit Corporation (FCC), the
Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, the Federal Office of Regional
Development (Quebec) and Western Economic Diversification.
The report recommended that a
single integrated corporate structure be adopted for Crown financial
institutions, resulting from the merger of the EDC and the CCC on the one hand
and the merger of the BDBC and FCC on the other. It also recommended that the
functions and the funds of the regional agencies be absorbed into the single
Members of the Banking Committee
took advantage of the recent intersessional period to constitute themselves
into a Task Force and to travel to Calgary, Winnipeg, Halifax, Montreal and
Toronto to get the views of business leaders on corporate governance. The
senators hope to publish their conclusions and recommendations by the early
The Senate Foreign Affairs
Committee, having completed its consideration of the outlook for expanding free
trade in the Americas and tabled its report in July 1995, began consideration
of the "consequences of the economic integration of the European Union for
the national governance of the member states, and on the consequences of the
European Union for economic, political and defence relations between Canada and
After hearing testimony from experts
and senior officials, eight members of the Committee went to Europe on a
fact-finding mission from March 16 to 30, 1996 in order to complete their work.
The Committee travelled to London,
Dublin, Bonn, Frankfurt and Paris, and then divided into two groups for travel
to Brussels and Warsaw. In each of these cities, members of the Committee
exchanged views with parliamentarians, members of the government, senior
officials, business persons, and other personalities such as Jacques Delors,
former President of the EU Commission, Sir Leon Brittan, EU Trade
Commissioner, Mr. Dariusz Rosati, Poland Foreign Minister and Dr. Karl-Otto
Pöhl, former President of the Bundesbank.
The visit was timely. At the end of
March, after the opening of the Intergovernmental Conference among its member
countries, the EU was beginning a review of its institutional operations in
order to introduce a single currency, to expand the EU to include other
countries, and to develop common European foreign and defence policies. An Action
Plan has been agreed to by Canada and the EU for optimum development of future
relations. The Committee’s mission made it possible to assess support among
various groups in each country for a single currency, EU expansion, mainstays
of European social policy, and common European foreign and defence policies.
In its report, to be tabled at the
end of June, the Committee will evaluate the consequences of these developments
for Canada’s foreign and trade policies, and propose to the Government ways to
adapt Canadian policies to anticipated changes.
There have been several thoughtful
debates in the Senate, including one on the state of the coal mining industry
in Cape Breton. Indeed, the commentary by Senators Lowell Murray and Allan
MacEachen resulted in the establishment of a special committee of the
Senate to examine and report upon the annual report and corporate plan of the
Cape Breton Development Corporation. The Committee is to report by no later
than June 15, 1996.
Information about Senate
committees, including proceedings and some reports are now available on the
Internet at: http://www.magi.com/~sencom.
Heather Lank, Committees Directorate
Members of the Thirteenth Assembly,
including a record number of first term MLAs, convened in Yellowknife November
20 and 21, 1995 for a Territorial Leadership Committee meeting following the
October 16 General Election.
Election of the Speaker was the
first item on the agenda. Sam Gargan, Dean of the Legislative Assembly, was
re-elected as Speaker. Don Morin, an eight-year veteran MLA, was chosen
as the Northwest Territories new Premier. Mr. Morin’s lone challenger was
rookie Jane Groenewegen.
Five veteran MLAs were elected to
Cabinet along with one relative newcomer and one first term Member Goo
Premier Morin’s first order of
business was assigning portfolios. He retained control of Economic Development
and Tourism and Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources. Goo Arlooktoo was
chosen as Deputy Premier and given responsibility for Public Works and
Services. John Todd was named Finance Minister, Kelvin Ng was
named Minister of Health and Social Services and the NWT Housing Corporation, Stephen
Kakfwi was appointed Minister of Justice, National Constitutional Affairs and
Renewable Resources. Jim Antoine was named Transportation, Safety and
Public Services and Intergovernmental and Aboriginal Affairs Minister while Charles
Dent was appointed Minister of Education, Culture and Employment and
Minister Responsibility for the N.W.T. Power Corporation. Manitok Thompson
was named Minister of Municipal and Community Affairs and Minister Responsible
for the Women’s Directorate.
Members returned to Yellowknife in
December where they heard from the Finance Minister that coupled with previous
years’ deficits and a $60 million cut in federal funding, the NWT’s accumulated
debt could climb to $150 million by the end of the 1996-97 fiscal year. He also
announced the release of the 1996-97 territorial budget would be delayed until
the spring to give the government and new MLAs time to come up with a financial
workplan to eliminate the deficit and still meet the needs of Northerners.
Mr. Morin said that during the
October 1995 election campaign Members heard from their constituents that they
have to change the way they do business and that is what the Government would
do. He said the Government and aboriginal groups in the NWT have to work
together on new forms of government while still recognising the inherent right
to aboriginal self-government. Mr. Morin said Northerners want the Government
to balance its budget so that when the NWT divides into two new territories in
1999 that two debt-ridden government will not be created. He also said the
Government has to address the social problems and substantially improve the
economic conditions in the Northwest Territories.
After a Christmas break Members
again gathered in Yellowknife for a round of committee meetings in preparation
for a short February session of the Assembly.
The most controversial issue in the
Second Session was the passage of amendments to the Public Services Act
which allowed the government to increase the number of excluded employees but
in return gave union workers the right to strike.
Several MLAs tabled petitions from
constituents protesting the passage of the amendments but the changes were
approved by a majority of Members.
Members were back in the Assembly
in March where the government announced wage rollbacks for senior managers and
excluded employees and several layoffs, all part of the government’s plan to
get its financial house in order. MLAs also approved a seven per cent reduction
in their own base salaries and reduced the benefits available through their
Supplementary Pension Plan.
A cabinet portfolio shuffle was also
announced including the movement of Kelvin Ng to Justice and Stephen
Kakfwi taking over an amalgamated department that included Renewable
Resources, Economic Development and Tourism and Energy, Mines and Petroleum
MLAs are currently preparing to
reconvene the Third Session of the Legislative Assembly where the 1996-97
Capital and Operating and Maintenance Budgets will be introduced and debated.
The government will also introduce, for the first time ever, a Budget
Measures Implementation Act. This Act will allow the government to amend
several Acts and repeal two others to help meet their financial targets.
Premier Morin also unveiled Building
a Foundation for the Future: The Northwest Territories’ Agenda for Change.
This document outlines the government and Legislative Assembly’s goals and
priorities in changing the way it does business.
Several bills have received passage
since the new Legislative Assembly took office last November. Among them:
Interim Appropriation Act: authorises the government to make interim
appropriations for the period of April 1 to June 30.
Write-Off of Debts Act 1995-96: authorises the write-off of debts under
section 24 of the Financial Administration Act.
Forgiveness of Debts Act 1995-96: authorises the forgiveness of debts under
section 25 of the Financial Administration Act.
Supplementary Appropriation Act
No. 3, 1995-96: makes
supplementary appropriations for the government for the fiscal year ending
March 31, 1996.
Legislative Assembly and
Executive Council Act:
decreases the amount of the indemnities payable to Members of the Legislative
Assembly and to eliminate cost of living increases in respect of indemnities.
Along with the new faces in the
Thirteenth Assembly of the Northwest Territories a new committee structure has
also been adopted. That structure is outlined in a story that appears elsewhere
in this issue of the Canadian Parliamentary Review.
Ronna Bremer, Public Relations Officer, NWT Legislative
The inaugural session of the 23nd
Legislature opened on February 29, 1995, with Lieutenant Governor John Wiebe
announcing a "quiet revolution" of fundamental changes to education,
health care, municipal government and welfare programs.
Highlights of the proposed
legislative calendar include: restructuring the provinces’s 846 local
governments, revising the municipal tax assessment system, devising a
province-wide 9-1-1 emergency service and introducing restrictions on private
health facilities. Also outlined were tougher child support enforcement laws
and the establishment of a trade and export corporation. University
administration costs are to be cut in addition to "wide ranging reforms to
our education and training programs". Agricultural initiatives centered
upon revising the crop insurance program and the provision of $200 million over
four years for agricultural research. The recommendations of last year’s
legislative committee on Driving Safety for stiffer drunk driving penalties and
new rules for new drivers are also to be addressed.
Opposition Leader Ron Osika
criticized the speech, stating that it failed to present any initiatives to
address the province’s economic problems. He argued that the absence of tax
relief would adversely affect job creation and economic activity. PC Leader Bill
Boyd made similar claims and feared a "noisy and boisterous
revolution" – not the government’s "quiet revolution" – if the
educational and local government reforms repeated the experience with health
reform. Both opposition parties also believed that rural Saskatchewan was being
ignored by the government.
Finance Minister Janice
Mackinnon delivered her second successive balanced budget on March 28th.
The budget contained a four-year plan to safeguard health, education and social
services by providing $110 million in new provincial funding to replace federal
cuts in 1996-97 and to replace 96% of the $252 million federal cuts to these
core services during the period of 1999 to 2000. Also provided in the Budget
was a plan for four consecutive balanced budgets, no tax increases for
individuals, families or small business and a plan to reduce the provincial
debt by $2.4 million from 1994 to 2000. The Minister did announce the
elimination of 544 government jobs, a $10 million reduction in post-secondary
funding and a $20 million reduction to municipal governments.
Mr. Osika accused the government of
tricking the public, the universities, the schools and the hospitals into
thinking that the budget would be much worse, knowing "just as we’ve [the
Official Opposition] been saying for months, the federal cutbacks just are not
going to have a significant impact on our province". Mr. Boyd noted that
the budget contained nothing in the area of job creation but acknowledged its
conservative fiscal tone.
The start of the new legislature
permitted the establishment of the standing committees after a hiatus of nine
months. Pat Lorje (NDP, Saskatoon Southeast) was elected chair of the
Crown Corporations Committee while Rod Gantefoer (Liberal,
Melfort-Tisdale) has assumed responsibility for the Public Accounts Committee.
The Standing Committee on Private Members’ Bills chaired by Lloyd Johnson
(NDP, Shellbrook-Spiritwood) considered five private bills, including one for
which the notice requirements were waived.
Election of Presiding Officers
Dale Flavel (Last Mountain - Touchwood) has assumed
Deputy Speaker and Chair of Committees of the Whole responsibilities following
his election on March 1st under the new secret ballot rules. Kim Trew
(Regina Coronation Park) is the new Deputy Chair of Committees of the Whole.
On March 25th, the inaugural
presentation of the Saskatchewan Volunteer Medal to six recepients occured
during the daily proceedings in the Assembly. Saskatchewan has one of the
highest rates of voluntarism in Canada and the honour, established in 1995, was
designed to recognise outstanding volunteer service or exceptional community
Following the lead of New Brunswick
in 1995, Saskatchewan became the second jurisdiciton to acknowledge the
contribution and role of military reservists with the declaration of April 15th
as Reserve Force Day. A special ceremony held at the Legislative Assembly was
attended by representatives of the naval, air and communications reserves, the
militia and the cadet instructors cadre from around the province along with
members of the Canadian Forces Liaison Council.
Margaret A. Woods, Clerk Assistant
On March 12, 1996 the Quebec
National Assembly resumed its proceedings, which had adjourned on December 15,
1995. This sitting was mainly devoted to welcoming the Member for Jonquère and
new Prime Minister, Lucien Bouchard, and the Member for La Prairie, Monique
Simard, who were returned in the by-elections held last February.
Members then proceeded to the
election of the Speaker and Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly. Jean-Pierre
Charbonneau was elected Speaker, replacing Roger Bertrand, who is
now Minister of Revenue. Claude Pinard was elected Deputy Speaker. He
holds the office left vacant by the appointment of Pierre Bélanger to
the Executive Council.
During his acceptance speech, the
new Speaker invited Members to conduct proceedings with dignity and magnanimity.
"We must combine our efforts in order that decorum, the quality of debates
and mutual respect may henceforth characterize one of the oldest Parliaments in
On the day following the resumption
of proceedings, the Lieutenant-Governor, Martial Asselin, prorogued the
First Session of the Thirty-fifth Legislature and summoned Members for a new
session on March 25, 1996. On this occasion, the Prime Minister reaffirmed, in
his opening speech, the objective of his Government to bring the deficit down to
zero within four years. He announced the creation of a universal drug insurance
plan, a new unified family allowance, a modified pension plan, an act
respecting pay equity, and a reform of the taxation, legal aid and welfare
structures. He also indicated the governmental intention to reduce regulation
in the private sector and to bring about various administrative reforms,
amongst others regarding dual remuneration of public officials, the code of
ethics of public administrators and the practice of lobbying.
On March 27, 1996, the Minister of
Finance, Bernard Landry, tabled the estimates for 1996-97. These
estimates total 41 billion dollars, of which 35.1 billion are set aside for
programmes, which is 3% less than last year, and 5.9 billion dollars for the
debt service. The result is a decrease of 1.1 billion dollars in Government
expenditures. Among the cutbacks, is the amount allocated for reimbursement of
foreign hospital expenses, as well as grants to private schools. Grants to
companies will be abolished, along with the housing allowance given to certain
social assistance recipients. The closing of certain prisons and of several
Quebec delegations in foreign countries is also anticipated.
Each Ministry will be asked to join
in a collective effort to redress the public finances, including the National
Assembly whose estimates will undergo a decrease of 3.5 million dollars, thus
passing from $72,148,700 to $68,629,200. Personnel will be downsized by 29
positions and overtime costs will be cut by 50%.
Following adoption of these
estimates by the Office of the Assembly, Speaker Charbonneau insisted on
meeting the members of the personnel of the Assembly as a group to explain the
current state of expenses, the objectives imposed by the situation and the proposed
plan of action.
Among the proposed measures, the
Speaker mentioned the reduction of the opening hours of the restaurants, the
rearrangement of working hours and the rationalization of expenses relate to
interparliamentary relations. Furthermore, he introduced the tabling of mission
reports in the Assembly by participating Members.
The political events distinguishing
this beginning of session include the resignation of the Liberal Member for
Outremont, Gérald Tremblay and the decision by the Member for Iberville,
Richard Le Hir, to sit as an Independent.
The seats at the National Assembly
are now: Parti Québécois-74, Quebec Liberal Party-46, Independent Members-3 and
2 vacant seats.
Nancy Ford, Translated by Sylvia Ford, Secretariat of
Quebec’s parliamentary committees
have been very active in recent months with work undertaken on orders of
reference from the National Assembly and with mandates undertaken on their own
In December 1995, before adjourning
for the winter break, the National Assembly referred 7 mandates for public
consultation to the committees, including 4 to the Committee on Institutions.
Public hearings were held on the Act Respecting Semi-Public Companies in the
Municipal Sector (5 sittings and almost 25 hours of hearings), the Act
Respecting Pay Equity (5 sittings and 27 hours of hearings), the Act
Respecting Administrative Justice (6 sittings and 32 hours of hearings),
the Act to Amend the Act Respecting the Ministère du Conseil exécutif as regards
to Standards of Ethics and Professional Conduct (2 sittings and 11 hours of
hearings), and Bill 133, An Act to Amend the Charter of Human Rights and
Freedoms and other Legislative Provisions (3 sittings and 14 hours of
hearings). Two other mandates for public consultations were also referred to
committees in December, and will be exercised shortly. One concerns the Securities
Act, and the other amendments to the Election Act.
As is normally the case in April,
the National Assembly mandated its committees to examine the budget estimates
submitted for approval by the Government. The eight parliamentary committees
sat for a total of almost 200 hours to examine and adopt the estimates relating
to their respective policy fields.
A number of activities in recent
months related to mandates undertaken on each committee’s own initiative to
monitor the Government’s administration. The Committee on Agriculture,
Fisheries and Food, under the scope of the Act Respecting the Accountability
of Deputy Ministers and Chief Executive Officers of Public Bodies, heard
the Deputy Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the chief executive
officers of five agencies working in its policy field. The same committee also
undertook a supervisory mandate, under section 294 of the National Assembly’s
Standing Orders, to examine the orientation, activities and management of
Quebec’s farm insurance board.
The Committee on Social Affairs
held a series of consultations as part of a mandate, undertaken on its own
initiative, to study the use of prescription drugs in Quebec. Pursuant to the Act
Respecting Accountability, the Committee on the Budget and Administration
heard the Deputy Minister of Revenue. The Committee on Education heard from
university officials. The Auditor General was closely involved in all mandates
carried out under the Act Respecting Accountability.
The Committee on Education also
undertook mandates to examine the operation of Quebec’s advisory board on
private education, and the board of appeal for cases involving the language of
instruction, besides holding private consultations as part of its work to
examine new technologies in the field of education.
The committees also undertook other
mandates on their own initiative or under the Standing Orders. This work included
the examination of financial commitments (all spending by a government
department or agency in excess of $25,000 is examined by the relevant
committee), the examination of Hydro-Quebec’s annual reports (by the Committee
on Labour and the Economy), and preparatory work for mandates of initiative.
The Committee on Culture, for example, sat during 9 hours to prepare a document
to be used in early fall as the basis for a public consultation on the
Eight elections were held to assign
committee chairs and vice-chairs, following changes in committee membership
made necessary by a cabinet shuffle and the resignation of two Members.
Only two public bills were examined
by Committees during this period, namely Bill 124, An Act to Amend Various
Legislative Provisions to further the implementation of the Act Respecting
Municipal Territorial Organisation, and Bill 118, An Act Amending the
Act Respecting Government Services to Departments and Public Bodies.
However, over the coming months, the examination of public bills will once
again constitute the committee’s main objective.
Robert Jolicoeur, Committee Secretariat
The Ontario Legislature has
witnessed several noteworthy events in the last three months.
Bob Rae, the leader of the third party, and former
Premier, has resigned. Bud Wildman is acting as the interim leader for
the New Democratic Party.
Thomas Stelling, the Sergeant-at-Arms for almost 20 years,
has also retired. When appointed, in 1976, he was 30 years old and the youngest
Sergeant-at-Arms in the Commonwealth. The duties associated with his job will
be split into two positions. The new Sergeant-at-Arms will plan, develop and
direct a comprehensive security program and be responsible for all
parliamentary ceremonial and House protocol activities. The new position, Chief
of Security, will report to the Sergeant-at-Arms and ultimately the Speaker.
This position carries the responsibility of establishing and directing a new
Legislative Security Service.
Finally, Bill 42, An Act to
reform MPP’s pensions, to eliminate tax-free allowances and to adjust MPP’s
compensation levels, received royal assent. As the title suggests, this
bill converted the MPP’s pension plan into one more common in the private
sector, removed tax-free allowances, and created a base salary of $78,007.
Several committees also dealt with
significant issues in the last couple of months. The Standing Committee on the
Administration of Justice, chaired by Gerry Martiniuk conducted
clause-by-clause consideration of Bill 19, Advocacy Consent and Substitute
Decisions Statute Law Amendment Act, and shortly thereafter reported the
bill, as amended, to the House.
The Committee also commenced
hearings on the closure of halfway houses and the introduction of electronic
monitoring. These hearings were atypical because, for the first time in
committees, video conferencing was used. The Committee utilised this technology
to reduce the cost associated with having a witness brought to present before
the committee. The video conference was effective, thereby earning the
committee’s approval of this method of interviewing witnesses under certain
The Standing Committee on the
Legislative Assembly, chaired by Ted Arnott presented a report on Security
in the Legislative Precincts. The committee undertook this issue in
response to the concerns raised by members about opening day demonstrations.
The recommendations contained in the report strove to maintain a balance
between the need to ensure accessibility to the public and the safety and
security of the Legislative Building. One of the key recommendations advocates
the creation of a restructured Legislative Security Service. The report was
debated in the House and adopted.
The Legislative Assembly Committee
also considered a private members bill, introduced by Dominic Agostino
entitled The Legislative Assembly Oath of Allegiance Act. This bill
provides for MPPs to take an Oath to Canada as well as an Oath to the Queen. At
this time, no other Canadian Legislature has an Oath to Canada. The Committee
reported the bill back to the House.
The Standing Committee on Social
Development, chaired by Richard Patten held simultaneous hearings on
Bill 30, Education Quality and Accountability Office Act, and Bill 31, Ontario
College of Teachers Act. Six days of public hearings were conducted in
Toronto and clause-by-clause consideration of the bills took place at the end
of April. In May, the Committee will continue its education motif with the
consideration of Bill 34, Education Amendment Act.
The Standing Committee on Public
Accounts, chaired by Dalton McGuinty held hearings on the 1995 Annual
report of the Provincial Auditor. Hearings were conducted on the sections
pertaining to the Evasion of Retail Sales Tax, section 3.07, and the Ontario
Board of Parole, section 3.18. The Committee will table a report to the House
on section 3.07 in the next couple of weeks.
The Standing Committee on
Estimates, chaired by Alvin Curling was given permission to meet during
the winter recess to review the estimates. It is unusual for the Estimates
Committee to meet during the recess but in this instance it was necessary since
the Estimates were not tabled until the fall. Typically the Estimates are
tabled in the spring. The Committee finished its review and presented its
report in the House in March.
The Standing Committee on
Government Agencies, chaired by Floyd Laughren reviewed several public
appointments and began a review of the Social Assistance Review Board and
The Standing Committee on Finance
and Economic Affairs, chaired by Ted Chudleigh held hearings in February
on the 1996 Pre-budget Consultations and the Draft Legislation on Auto Insurance.
Each set of hearings lasted for two weeks, and during the final week on the
Auto Insurance hearings the Committee travelled to Ottawa, London, Thunder Bay,
and Sault Ste. Marie. Only once before has the government had hearings on draft
legislation. The first time was in October 1993, when the Resources Development
Committee considered graduated licensing. The Finance Committee presented its
reports on both issues in April.
The Standing Committee on Resources
Development, chaired by Steve Gilchrist held hearings on Bill 20, Land
Use Planning and Protection Act. The Committee had ten days of hearings;
five of which were in Toronto and the remainder were divided among Sudbury,
Ottawa, Coburg, Hamilton, and London. After two days of clause-by-clause consideration
the Committee reported the bill as amended.
Tom Prins, Administrative Assistant
House of Commons
The Second Session of the 35th
Parliament opened with the Speech from the Throne on Tuesday, February 27,
When the Prime Minister moved the
usual motions to elect a Deputy Chairman and an Assistant Deputy Chairman of
Committees of the Whole House, several members of the Opposition rose on debate
to argue that at least one Chair Officer should be chosen from their side of
the House. The Reform Party also objected to the candidacy of Pierrette
Ringuette-Maltais as Assistant Deputy Chairman. Following recorded
divisions on both motions, Bob Kilger was elected Deputy Chairman (he
had been the Assistant Deputy Chairman in the first session) and Mrs.
Ringuette-Maltais was elected Assistant Deputy Chairman. A question of
privilege was raised the next day when a Reform Party Member alleged that a
press release dated February 26 from the Prime Minister’s office stated that
the Prime Minister appointed the two Chair Officers. The Speaker replied that
since a clarification had been issued within 24 hours, the matter was closed.
On February 27 the Speaker, Gilbert
Parent, made a statement regarding the point of order raised by Ray
Speaker on December 14, 1995, in which the Speaker had been asked to
recognise the Reform Party as the Official Opposition. The Speaker noted that
although prorogation brings an end to any point of order, the recent equality
of seats between the two parties had created a new context. The Speaker
emphasized that his role was to ensure that the business of the House was
conducted in accordance with the rules and practice. He then carefully reviewed
previous cases from other parliaments and concluded that the Bloc Québécois would
retain the status of Official Opposition until a further review of its status
was warranted. Furthermore, the Speaker noted that there were no statutory
authority, rules or guidelines that could be used if the Chair were required to
determine which party should be the Official Opposition. Following the March 25
by-election to replace Lucien Bouchard, the Bloc Québécois again had the
greater number of seats.
Also on February 27, Don Boudria
put a motion on the Notice Paper which accused Ray Speaker of attempting
to put pressure on the Speaker to recognise the Reform Party as the Official
Opposition. The motion further declared that this constituted a contempt of
parliament and ordered that Mr. Speaker be admonished by the Chair at the bar
of the House. The motion was placed on the Order Paper under Private Members’
Business and was subsequently chosen for debate in a random draw. The Standing
Committee on Procedure and House Affairs did not, however, select the motion to
come to a vote. On May 9, the day before the motion would, in accordance with
the order of precedence for Private Members’ Business, be called for debate,
Mr. Speaker raised a point of order in the House to question whether a motion
which was not votable could be used to make a charge against another Member.
The Acting Speaker informed the House that the motion would not be called the
next day because Mr. Boudria could not be present, and that in the meantime the
Chair would consider Mr. Speaker’s point of order.
A special Order Paper had been
published prior to the opening of the session to enable the Government to move
on the first day of the session a motion allowing bills introduced, but not
disposed of, in the previous session to be reinstated at the stage after first
reading that they had reached on prorogation. For the first time, private
Members’ bills as well as Government bills could be reinstated. The motion also
provided for the extension of the supply period, but it was the novel way of
dealing with the reinstatement of uncompleted legislation that led to a point
of order being raised. The Deputy Speaker, David Kilgour, ruled on
February 29 that the motion was procedurally acceptable, and it was
subsequently adopted on March 4, but only after the Government had invoked
Reinstated bills had to be
introduced within the first 30 sitting days of the Second Session, i.e. no
later than April 22. A total of 14 Government bills and 11 private Members’
bills were reinstated. Two of the reinstated Government bills, one respecting drug
control and the other respecting Pearson International Airport, both of which
were in the Senate when Parliament was prorogued, were deemed to have been
adopted at all stages and sent directly to the Upper House.
On March 12 Jim Hart rose on
a question of privilege to accuse the Official Opposition defence critic, Jean-Marc
Jacob, of contempt of Parliament for having issued a communiqué concerning
the establishment of a military force in an independent Quebec. Mr. Hart felt
that the communiqué, which had been released on the letterhead of the Leader of
the Opposition just before the October 1995 referendum in Quebec, was
"seditious". After hearing the views of several members from both
sides of the House, the Speaker decided to suspend the sitting to consider the
question immediately because of the seriousness of the accusation. When he
returned to the House, the Speaker ruled that the charge was so grave that its
timeliness was not at issue, and he invited Mr. Hart to put his motion to the
House. A Government amendment to Mr. Hart’s motion removed the charge of
sedition and referred the "matter of the communiqué" to the Standing
Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. The Committee began its consideration
of this question of privilege after the Easter adjournment by hearing the Clerk
of the House, Robert Marleau, and the General Legal Counsel, Diane
Davidson, on the nature of privilege and the powers of the House to
discipline its members. The Committee’s consideration is ongoing.
On April 24 John Williams
raised a question of privilege based on a newspaper article that quoted an
unnamed official in the office of the Government House Leader as saying that
the Government was not going to divert personnel to answer Mr. Williams’
written questions. After hearing from the Government, the Speaker said that the
matter did not seem to involve privilege or contempt, but promised to review
the documents and come back to the House if necessary. On May 6 the Speaker
stated that if there were a deliberate attempt to deny answers to a Member and
if this could be shown to interfere improperly with a Member’s parliamentary
work, then this would constitute a prima facie question of privilege.
However, in this instance, the Government had given the House its assurance
that responses were being prepared to Mr. Williams’ questions and therefore the
Chair could find no prima facie question of privilege. The Speaker
concluded by reminding both Members and officials that members of the ministry
are responsible to the House for actions taken in preparing responses to
When a question of privilege was
raised on May 1 regarding comments made by a Member outside the House, the
Speaker ruled that such remarks made outside the House did not fall within the
purview of the Chair. Louis Plamondon then raised a point of order to
remind the Chair that in the previous Parliament the Chair had found that a
Member’s remarks outside the House were unacceptable. The Speaker promised to
look at the precedent to see what bearing it had on this point of order. On May
14 the Speaker stated that he had examined the precedent referred to, and found
that the remarks made outside the House in that instance had been critical of
one of the presiding officers of the House. The remarks objected to on May 1
were not, however, critical of the Chair or the House.
On March 4, the Government moved
concurrence in the first report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and
House Affairs. This report set out the list of members and associate members of
the standing committees. Members of the Reform Party rose on debate to complain
that in the First Session the Official Opposition, the Bloc Québécois, was the
only opposition party whose Members were granted one of the two vice-chairs of
each standing committee as well as the chair of the Standing Committee on
Public Accounts. The report was concurred in on division. When the standing
committees began holding their organisation meetings, Reform Party members
proposed their own candidates for the two deputy chair positions of the
Standing Committee on Transport and for chair of the Standing Committee on
Public Accounts. In the Transport Committee the elections resulted in ties,
which were broken by the casting vote of the chair. In the Public Accounts
Committee, where the position of chair has gone to a member of the Official
Opposition since 1958, the Bloc Québécois candidate carried the election.
The first report of the Standing
Committee on Government Operations was presented to the House on May 9 and was
concurred in later that day. The report was unusual in that it proposed a
message be sent to the Senate to invite that House to give leave to the Chair
of its Standing Committee on Internal Economy, Budgets and Administration to
appear before the Government Operations Committee in relation to the Main
Estimates for the Senate. No record has been found in this century of a message
requesting the appearance of a senator. And to preserve their respective
independence, neither House asks the other to justify or explain its budget
A private Members’ bill to
establish the Canadian Association of Former Parliamentarians was, by unanimous
consent of the House, introduced and deemed adopted at all stages on April 26.
An unincorporated association already existed and the purpose of the bill was
to transform it into a non-profit corporation.
In the area of interparliamentary
relations, two visits are worthy of special note. In April the Parliament of
Canada hosted an official visit by the Chairman of the National People’s
Congress of China, Qiao Shi, and a large delegation of parliamentarians
and senior officials. The delegation also travelled to several other cities in
Canada. And over the Easter adjournment the Speaker of the House of Commons, Gilbert
Parent, led a parliamentary delegation to Chile. During the three-day
visit, he was invited to address the Chamber of Deputies, only the third time
that has been done. The purpose of the trip was to establish closer ties
between the two parliaments and to encourage the current round of trade
Thomas Hall, Procedural Clerk, House Proceedings and
Parliamentary Exchanges Directorate
British Columbia’s 35th Parliament
was dissolved on April 30th and a long-awaited election campaign began. For the
first time in many years, a number of political parties may achieve electoral
success. The governing NDP are led by Glen Clark; the Liberals, led by Gordon
Campbell; the Reform Party by Jack Weisgerber, and the Progressive
Democratic Alliance by Gordon Wilson. At the time of dissolution, party
standings in the 75-set House were NDP 50, Liberal 14, Reform 4, PDA 2, Social
Credit 1, Independent 3, plus one vacancy.
Election night proved to be very
dramatic, with the NDP winning a slim majority: 39 seats to the Liberals’ 33,
with the Reform Party picking up two seats and the Progressive Democratic
Alliance one. At the time of writing, absentee ballots had not yet been
counted, and with close vote tallies in a number of ridings, the seat
distribution may change.
Prior to the election, the fifth
session of the 35th Parliament was held, and proved to be the shortes in
British Columbia history, lasting just six days. Despite that, it proved to be
noteworthy for a number of reasons. After a Throne Speech that reiterated a
number of commitments already announced by the Premier, the government
introduced a bill on entitled the Education and Health Collective Bargaining
Assistance Act. Introduced to address a looming labour disruption in the
Surrey School District, the bill provided additional powers to cabinet to
settle labour disputes in schools, colleges and hospitals for a period of sixty
The government requested that the
legislation be considered urgent and allowed to proceed through all stages that
day. Opposition members objected to the request, arguing that the scope of the
bill went beyond the immediate situation in Surrey and that the government’s
long delay in recalling the House for the spring session undermined the claim
for urgency. After receiving submissions, the Speaker delivered a ruling in the
afternoon, in which he denied the government request because the bill would
apply to potential disruptions beyond the immediate case at hand. Given this
ruling, the House was called into session on both Saturday and Sunday to debate
the bill. It was granted Royal Assent on Sunday, April 28.
Also on Sunday, MLA Allan Warnke
announced that he was leaving the Liberal caucus to sit as an Independent.
This move reduced the Liberals caucus to fourteen members.
On the morning of April 30, Finance
Minister Elizabeth Cull introduced the fifth budget of the NDP
government. It promised a modest reduction in provincial income tax and indicated
a small surplus for the coming year. During the debate, opposition critics
argued that the government’s projected revenue figures were too optimistic, and
that pre-election spending announcements undermined the government’s claims to
fiscal responsibility. That afternoon, the Premier visited Government House and
was granted a dissolution by Lieutenant Governor Garde Gardom. With a
budget introduced but not passed by the House, the government will continue to
run on special warrants.
Conflict of Interest
Prior to the start of the
legislative session, Premier Clark announced a successor to retiring Members’
Conflict of Interest Commissioner Ted Hughes. He was David Mitchell,
who up to that point had been a sitting MLA (Ind.), and was formerly a member
of the Liberal caucus, having left after a disagreement with its former leader.
The appointment immediately ran into stiff opposition, with both Liberal and
Reform members citing concerns over Mr. Mitchell’s ability to act impartially
in the position, in which he would be making decisions about sensitive
disclosure information from former political rivals. Further, it became
apparent that Mr. Hughes, who previously had agreed to extend his tenure until
a successor could be found, was not informed of the decision to terminate his
appointment until the day before it occurred.
Given widespread opposition, the
Premier, with the assent of Mr. Mitchell, rescinded the appointment and
reinstated Mr. Hughes. He also indicated that the selection process next time
around would be done by a special committee of the Assembly, as is the practice
with other statutory officers. Mr. Mitchell, who had resigned his seat, found
himself in the position of being neither Commissioner nor an MLA. However, he
had previously indicated plans to retire from politics in any event.
Neil Reimer, Committee Clerk