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Ontario Hansard - 27-October2016


The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): I would like to recognize the government House leader on a point of order.

Hon. Yasir Naqvi: Thank you very much, Speaker. I believe you will find that we have unanimous consent to recognize our Clerk, Ms. Deb Deller, on her last full week of service here in the Legislature, by taking up to five minutes for each caucus to speak and for the Clerk to present a response.

The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Ah! We now officially get to hear her speak.

We have a motion before us to have a tribute paid to our dear Clerk. Do we agree? Agreed.

The member from Wellington–Halton Hills.

Mr. Ted Arnott: Mr. Speaker, Deborah Deller says that getting a job at the Ontario Legislature is like entering a lobster trap: Once you get in, you can’t get out. That’s because our work here is so interesting, always challenging, and, when your efforts have made a difference, so fulfilling. That’s true for both members and staff.

Deb was caught in our particular lobster trap some 37 years ago. After graduating from the University of Western Ontario and taking a backpacking tour across Europe, she accepted an offer of a position as a tour guide here in our historic heritage Legislative Building. Her obvious intelligence, warm personality, sense of humour and dedication soon led to further opportunities, and she became an attendant in the chamber, where she helped to supervise our legislative pages, and before long a committee Clerk, advising on the standing orders and procedure in our all-party standing committees of the Legislature.

In 1990, when the member for Simcoe–Grey, the member for Timmins–James Bay and I were elected to serve here for the first time, Deb had become the senior committee Clerk, with leadership and supervisory responsibilities. Whenever chaos exploded in a committee meeting, which was so often in those days, Deb would be called in to calm it down and sort it out. In those early days of Bob Rae’s NDP government, with so many new members learning on the job—myself included—her role was very, very important. Deb performed it with polished professionalism, again distinguishing herself for the next challenge.

In 1992, she became a table Clerk, working here in the chamber and wearing the traditional black robes and those tricorne hats, advising the Speaker and members on procedure and doing all the preparation and follow-up that goes on back in the Clerk’s offices. She worked with and learned from distinguished table colleagues like Smirle Forsyth, Alex McFedries and Claude DesRosiers.

When it came time for Claude to consider retiring, about a decade ago, Deb, as Deputy Clerk, was the only perfectly qualified candidate to assume the Clerk’s position, and it was our good fortune that she applied for the role.

On March 21, 2007, the very first day of a glorious new spring—and, coincidentally or not, the start of the lobster season in Atlantic Canada, Deb became the very first female Clerk in the history of the Ontario Legislature. Over the past nine and a half years, every single day she has demonstrated that the Legislature made the right choice in appointing her.


In the House, she has always been non-partisan, neutral and fair, as our table staff always are and always must be. Her years of experience gave her a vast knowledge, not only of our standing orders and their implications and applications, but also of parliamentary precedents, conventions and customs which come to us from Westminster and across the Commonwealth.

The Clerk of the Ontario Legislature has the rank and status of a deputy minister in the provincial government. Not only does the Clerk have responsibilities in the chamber, the Clerk is effectively the chief administrative officer of a vast enterprise known as the Legislative Assembly of Ontario, with an annual budget of $233 million when you include the budgets of our nine parliamentary officers, including the Auditor General.

It’s a huge job, Deb, and you’ve done it extremely well. You’ve raised the bar when it comes to effectiveness and integrity, the key indicators upon which all of us in public life are judged.

Not only a leader here, Deb has been a leader amongst her colleagues across the country. Within the Association of Clerks-at-the-Table in Canada, she has served on many of the association’s committees including technology, education and professional development. In addition, she has held every position on the association’s executive, including president. She has only enhanced our Legislature’s reputation in our nation’s capital and in the capital cities of the provinces across Canada.

She’s been here for some of the most tumultuous events in the Legislature’s history. In April of 1997, the House sat for nine consecutive days, 24 hours a day, without interruption. For the benefit of the news media, I state categorically that the MPPs did not seek or receive overtime pay. Some members may recall that we were debating the City of Toronto Act, and one of the opposition parties thought it was a good idea to table 13,000 amendments while the bill was at the committee-of-the-whole stage. Because of the wording of the time allocation motion, once the process started—just like in the early days of World War I—it could not be stopped.

So we sat, and we sat, and we sat in session, without a break for nine days; and as Mr. Speaker Chris Stockwell called it, it was a “procedural impasse of logarithmic proportions.” As members do, we complained to each other and of course we blamed the members on the other side of the House. At times, tempers were very heated, and at one point I thought Speaker Stockwell might need a bodyguard to protect him from the PC caucus.

But the untold story of that unfortunate period is how incredibly hard the Clerks-at-the-Table had to work for those nine days. Deb, Todd Decker and Lisa Freedman were here around the clock, the whole time, reading the amendments one by one—and remember, there were only three of them. Working in shifts, grabbing a bite to eat and a nap whenever possible in their offices, they virtually lived here in the legislative precinct until it was over. To paraphrase Winston Churchill, never in the field of parliamentary conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.

In her demanding professional life, Deb has been supported by her wonderful family: Garry, who is here, who has himself had a distinguished career with the Toronto Police Service; her daughter, Sarah, who has recently married and now lives in Halifax; and her son, Brad, who is a pilot with the Canadian Armed Forces Search and Rescue.

On behalf of the official opposition, the Ontario PC caucus, Deb, we will miss you. We thank you. We salute your outstanding public service to the people of Ontario and we wish you continued good health and happiness in the years ahead.


The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Thank you. Further tributes? The leader of the third party.

Ms. Andrea Horwath: On behalf of my colleagues in the NDP caucus, I want to wish Deb Deller a very happy retirement. I’m sure that Deb has been ready for this day to come for some time. Dealing with all of us can’t be that easy, that’s for sure—of course not you, Mr. Speaker; I’m sure you’re a charm day in and day out.

The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): You get an extra question.

Ms. Andrea Horwath: I guess I’m skating on thin ice with question period coming up, right?

Anyway, as all of us know and as you’ve heard from the previous speaker, Deb began her career at Queen’s Park as a tour guide, leading inquiring young minds eager to learn, through this beautiful building and passing on her excitement about our province’s legislative process.

She now oversees the work of nearly 400 staff and advises the Speaker on all kinds of procedural issues. Deb has offered her expertise to many international advisory projects—again, as has already been mentioned—travelling everywhere from Tanzania to Australia, New Zealand to Mexico. I know she takes pride in her ability to offer guidance on parliamentary rules and processes, including the role of the Speaker, the role of the opposition, privilege and financial oversight processes.

Deb’s work with the Canadian Study of Parliament Group has taken her to many universities across the province of Ontario where she shared her knowledge and experience, and where she continued to inspire young people to learn about their government and engage with our democracy—truly important work.

I’m very grateful, Deb, and the NDP caucus is very grateful, for your many years of service, for your sense of humour in dealing with the many procedural issues that we as MPPs like to argue about, and for your dedication to this special, special place. I know that New Democrats have tested you from time to time, including the late, the great Peter Kormos. With everything from hoist motions to assertions of contempt of Parliament, we certainly did our jobs to make your job a challenging one. We know, though, that you certainly fulfilled that role with absolute professionalism.

I actually had the honour to serve for a few months prior to becoming leader of the Ontario NDP as a deputy Deputy Speaker, and so I was able to see, in a very special way—a very upfront and close way—Deb Deller in action in her role as the Clerk as she advised the Speaker and the Deputy Speakers about the changing, living evolution of parliamentary democracies worldwide. I was not aware that our Legislative Assembly should be keeping up with some of these other democracies around the world, because it’s not just about ancient, past precedent, but it’s also about decisions that need to be made in the here and now.

We talked about thorny issues; for example, about how far a member should go in using or abusing their privilege in the House to perhaps use slanderous or libellous descriptions of private individuals or businesses that otherwise might spur lawsuits. Now, I’m not saying that was Peter Kormos, but it might have been. That was something that I was educated about in that forum. I really was unaware of the way that the Clerks, and particularly Deb Deller, were monitoring events around the world and informing our Speakers and our Deputy Speakers about how to best keep our Parliament up with the times, if you will.

As the leader, I’ve also had to wrestle with Deb a little bit around, for example, office space for my team after an election campaign. We didn’t always see eye to eye in these interactions, but, as I said previously, Deb was always the ultimate professional and always had a reason for why she made the decision she made and had no qualms about walking you through the reasons why she made the decision she made. I have to say, on every occasion, those reasons held water, because she’s a very, very diligent woman. Deb, you did an amazing, amazing job.

She was always willing, of course, as we know, because we always watch the legislative channel when we get home to our apartments or to our houses—we watch to see how we did. We know that Deb is always willing to record a segment for the Ontario legislative television channel so that the public can understand the intricacies of our government. Her passion for education has followed her from her days as a tour guide through to this very day.

You know, as was mentioned by the previous speaker, when we thank the MPPs’ families when we do our tributes to those members who have served here and have passed on, we often thank their families for the fact that we take so much time here away from family, and we recognize that families sacrifice for having their loved ones serve here in this Legislature as MPPs. But as the previous speaker mentioned, we know, Deb, that you put in the same kind of hours that we put in. We know that your efforts have also impacted your time with family. So I was pleased to hear the other night in the dining room that, upon your retirement now, you’ll be seeking other interests. You’ll be sailing around the world, perhaps, and finding your inner artist, which I’m very, very excited about. I’ve noticed the beautiful artwork that you choose for your office. I’m sure you’re going to enjoy many, many happy years of retirement.


On behalf of all of us in the NDP—our MPPs, our staff—I want to say thank you so very much. We’re going to miss you greatly. You’ve done a wonderful job for the people of Ontario.

The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Thank you. Further tribute?

Hon. Kathleen O. Wynne: I’ll be sharing my time today with the member from St. Catharines.


Hon. Kathleen O. Wynne: I know everyone is happy to hear that.

It’s a great pleasure to rise today and to express our gratitude to Deborah Deller for her years of service as Clerk of the Legislative Assembly, and to wish her the very best in retirement.

For almost a decade, Deb has been a crucial support for MPPs, staff and many others who have passed through the halls of the Legislature, as you have heard from my colleagues across the floor. She knows those halls very well, because of her time as a tour guide. She rose through the ranks quickly, through the Clerk’s office, working as a Clerk Assistant and Deputy Clerk before being appointed as Clerk in 2007, and becoming an expert in parliamentary rules and procedure.

Over her career, as you’ve heard, Speaker, Deb has advised and offered training to Parliaments from across the Commonwealth, from South Africa to Ghana to Kenya.

Des gouvernements, des écoles et des organismes du monde entier ont profité de l’expertise et des conseils de Deb.

Today she oversees the work of over 400 staff, who will miss her experience and expertise.

But what MPPs will miss most about Deb isn’t her administrative prowess or her procedural know-how. We’ll miss the grounded, earnest way that she has listened to and respected each member.

I want to say that I think the single most remarkable feat is that Deb keeps a straight face through it all. It is remarkable. Because I check. I do check: “Is she going to keep a straight face through this?” And she does. It’s remarkable.

She has accommodated our needs and helped us turn our goals and vision into laws and regulations.

I was going to say that my first interaction with Deb was as part of the class of 2003, when you briefed us, Deb, on the rules and procedures and standing orders. But actually, I realize, and the member from Wellington–Halton Hills has reminded me, that my first interaction was probably when I was sitting there, when I wasn’t being dragged out of the Legislature, cheering on the opposition during that time in 1997. You kept a straight face when I came in as part of the class of 2003, so thank you, Deb. You have helped us enormously through the years. Thank you very, very much.

Earlier this year, Deb appeared before the federal government’s procedure and House affairs committee. The committee was exploring ways to make the work-life balance of MPs more reasonable, ensuring that the roles and responsibilities of political life left room for family and personal time. Deb spoke at that time to the committee, as the leader of the third party has noted, and talked about the similar roles and responsibilities that we have here. In the meeting, Deb took a moment to acknowledge and to defend the tough, often overlooked work done by people in this chamber: the very long hours, the time away from family and friends.

So today I want to do the same for you, Deb, by acknowledging the long hours that you spent keeping this place on track, time that you were not able to spend with your family. I want to acknowledge and thank your family today on all of our behalf—time you couldn’t spend with your children, Brad and Sarah, who I know are so proud of you, and with your husband, Garry, who’s here today and, I’m sure, is excited about having more time to spend with you on your sailboat.

Deb, thank you for your service. I know that all members join me in wishing you calm waters, clear sailing and a happy retirement ahead. And you never have to watch question period again. Merci. Meegwetch.


The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): The member for St. Catharines.

Mr. James J. Bradley: Mr. Speaker, I get at least a few seconds here to add to the tribute to Deb Deller that is a heartfelt tribute by all members of the Ontario Legislature, and not just those who are here today, but those who have served in the Legislature over the years. I’ve had the privilege of serving with eight different Premiers for the province of Ontario and eight Lieutenant Governors and numerous Speakers, but only three Clerks, so the job has more permanency than, perhaps, some of the other jobs that we have.

I’ve had the opportunity, because I’ve been here the length of time I have, to watch Deb progress through those various steps. You could tell early on that she was going to do exactly that. When it came to 2007, there was a logical choice to be the Clerk of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario, and that was Deb Deller. You could tell that because you had seen all the steps she had taken and the interactions that she had been involved in over the years.

The Speaker gave a nice tribute to Deb at a reception which was held yesterday, or the day before perhaps. It was, I thought, appropriate that he quoted from Inside Queen’s Park. I then went and looked at Inside Queen’s Park, because it noted the role of the Clerk. It says:

“You have to be quick on your feet in an often volatile environment while staying calm and keeping the Speaker cool, as well. Both Speaker and Clerk must deal with all three parties impartially every day, making for a distinct environment. The relationship between the Clerk and Speaker has to be based on trust. The Speaker’s job can make him or her pretty unpopular with members on both sides of the House. The Clerk has to be there to discuss the business of the House, listen to the Speaker’s perspective and provide consistent advice.... The Clerk has to provide the Speaker with the best possible advice, assistance and support, based on research and years of procedural knowledge. The Clerk must accept that the Speaker decides whether or not to take that advice.” I can assure you if the Speaker takes the advice, it is sage advice, and the Speaker would stay out of trouble by doing so.

So, Deb, we really do appreciate it. The poker face that was mentioned—the face that doesn’t change even when there are some extreme things being said in the House—is something for which she is characteristic. I can assure you that not all Clerks fit that particular category, as my recollection tells me, but I won’t go into any detail there.

The Premier and others have made reference to the fact that, yes, we here in the Legislature know the outstanding job that you have done, but when you have an international reputation which you have earned over the years, that really speaks well of you, and of the Legislative Assembly that we had the wisdom to choose you as Clerk and therefore share you with others around the world. You’ve done an excellent job in terms of educating others and assisting others in their jobs.

You’ve demonstrated clearly the attributes that we expect of a person in your position: integrity, impartiality, professionalism, detailed knowledge of the rules and everything about this House, and a sense of humour. All of us are going to miss you very much, as we do when we lose people who have been such a big part of our professional lives here as members of the Legislative Assembly. I do know that your family will look forward with anticipation to spending much more time with you. You will be gone from us in the physical sense, but your spirit and honour will live on for many, many years to come. Thank you very much.

The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): I pray your indulgence for a moment to offer some observations. I’m going to start with a joke to keep me in line. The terms of endearment that we express at one’s retirement are an indication of that: the terms of endearment. Counting today’s tribute, there will be five retirement parties for Deb Deller. It is, indeed, a testimony to a powerful, intelligent, straight-shooting woman—a mentor, a shining example of what women are capable of doing. I want to say thank you to her for teaching me. I love to learn. She’s been a great teacher, a great mentor. There isn’t anyone in this province who hasn’t been touched by her work, and I mean that sincerely.


When you take a look at individuals who have dedicated their lives in any shape or form over that number of years, those individuals must be listened to. Many cultures highlight that in their elders. She’s not that old.


The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): I cannot believe what’s going to happen when she becomes an elder because the distribution of her wisdom has been so powerful, and I personally have been made a better person because of it.

I say to Deb Deller, you’re not leaving this place. Your influence on this place, your passion for this place and your capacity to teach us will never be lost in this place. It could be considered to be inside baseball, but we have to understand that this inside baseball game influences the entire province, the entire country and the entire world because of what she’s been able to do.

I want to say to you on a personal note, Deb, I can tell you that of the people I’ve spoken to from many countries, they’ve asked about Deb Deller. That’s a testimony to her strength, her power, her knowledge, her kind heart and her humour. I am looking forward to chapter 12 in her book when she does a tell-all novel. She’s promised me chapter 12. I also want to say to you that we now know, as she leaves, she’s taking with her one of the world’s largest Pez dispenser collections one could ever find.

There’s another side to Deb that you don’t know. She actually has an extremely, extremely high knowledge of everything else that you want to talk about. I shared this the other day. It’s called “Stump the Clerk.” In Stump the Clerk, in all her years as Clerk, she’s never been beaten. She’s challenged absolutely everyone on staff. Yesterday, I challenged the members to try to ask her a question about this place and she will have an answer. That’s a testimony to somebody who lives this place, who breathes this place, who has passion to make sure that our Legislature is held in the highest esteem.

I personally want to say to you, Deb, to the entire family, and especially Garry, thank you for the gift of this wonderful woman. I appreciate that very much. Thank you, Deb Deller.


The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): I knew if I asked her to do that, she would not break the rules, so we kind of half broke the rules.

At this time, because of the motion, I am going to ask our Clerk, Deb Deller, to respond—to try.

The Clerk of the Assembly (Ms. Deborah Deller): You might regret this because I have 37-odd years of stuff stored up inside this head.

Thank you all for your kind words. I am seized, I think, all this week with a mixture of nostalgia and excitement. I have loved every—almost every—minute of my time in this place. When I walked through these doors of this building for the first time all those years ago, I fell, then, hopelessly and irrevocably in love with this place, and I love it still, although like an aging spouse, I am more able to see its flaws.

I’ll miss the place. I’ll miss its intrigue. I’ll miss its unpredictability. I’ll miss the lingering scent of history in these halls. I’ll even miss question period, but I’m not tuning in to see it.

Mostly, I have to say that I will miss the people that I’ve worked with over all these years, and among those people that I will miss are you, the politicians. I am one of those oddball people, I guess, who really enjoy politicians. I find them to be a dedicated, committed group of people who are bright, who have a great sense of humour and who are here because they want to make this place that we live in a good place to be.

So I want to say thank you, not for your words today but for what you do—what you do every day. You disrupt your lives to go into this public service. You spend long days and hours away from your families. You spend long days and hours working, very frequently on the weekends, and you don’t really get a lot of thanks. You live under a microscope. I wish people knew the reality of the job you do, because if they did, I feel fairly certain that, like me, they would determine that no amount of money could ever convince me to do the job that you do. So thank you for that work. You need to stand up for yourselves. You need to understand that you are all here for the same reasons and respect that about each other.

I will miss—I’m sorry to say this—more than you, the staff of this place. This is a group of people who are expert in what they do. They’re extraordinarily professional and their only goal in coming here is to make sure that the House and its committees can do the work that they have to do. These people are so good at their jobs, they make life as a Clerk as stress-free as it possibly can be, and this place, with or without me, will carry on serving you expertly and professionally.

I have to say a word to my family. This job, like yours, does kind of consume you. It consumes your attention and it consumes your energy. And so I think that part of what fed my decision to finally retire is that at some point you have to take stock of the balance of your work and your life and your commitment to your profession and your commitment to your family, and it is long, long, long overdue for me to make my family a priority in a way that they have not been up to now.

They are, in some ways, long suffering. I have missed events and commitments to my family because of this place, and they have understood and tolerated it and actually even been fairly interested in the work I do here. So from my heart to theirs, I thank you very much.

I’m almost done. I’ll be brief. I do want to say that I am excited about the next chapter in my life. Garry and I, many of you know, are sailors. I’m excited to go sailing. He’s excited to go sailing with me and without my BlackBerry. We have a long someday-list of travels that I think we want to get to, and maybe we’ll even tend a garden and try and make something grow for a change in that place. We haven’t had time to do that before.

I just want to say this, going back to you people: The owl in the centre of those two archways is an owl that looks down on the government. It’s an owl that is there to remind those members that sit on the government side to govern wisely. The eagle in the centre of the arches on the opposite gallery faces the opposition, and it’s there to remind those of you that sit on the opposition side to be vigilant. Those are the roles you play, but they are interactive roles. The motto of this place is, “Hear the other side.” It is important in the governing of this province that you hear both sides of every argument, and I implore you to do that going forward. Thank you for the work you do.



Hon. Yasir Naqvi: Point of order, Speaker.

The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): A final point of order from the government House leader.

Hon. Yasir Naqvi: I seek unanimous consent to present a single petition at this time.

The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): The House leader is looking for a single petition to be presented, with unanimous consent. Do we agree? Agreed.

She’s not ready for this.


The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Yes, that’s why I had to have unanimous consent. She would have told me: “Don’t accept it; it’s a prop.”

“To the Legislative Assembly of Ontario:

“Whereas after 37 years of outstanding service to the province of Ontario, the Clerk of the Legislative Assembly, Deborah Deller, has announced her retirement; and

“Whereas to the great fortune of the assembly, her career amazingly began all those years ago because she happened to match the size of the previous ordered tour guide uniform; and

“Whereas over the years, she has worked tirelessly in the service of Parliament, and on one occasion, sitting continuously for nine consecutive days; and

“Whereas throughout her career, she has trained and answered endless questions from members of provincial Parliament, Speakers of the Legislature”—except for the present person—“and staff of parliamentary protocol; and

“Whereas she has clocked in hundreds of hours of meetings with the Board of Internal Economy, Speakers’ school and others too many to mention; and

“Whereas throughout her many years of service, she has served the members of provincial Parliament with fairness, dedication and wisdom, providing countless hours of counsel, be it procedural, professional and personal; and

“Whereas her unwavering support of the members of this Legislature is matched only by her support of the Toronto Blue Jays, as she once called the House to order by yelling, “Play ball,” during a post-season series; and

“Whereas on the occasion of her retirement, we bear witness to a significant event, the retirement of the first female Clerk of this House, whose long and distinguished career has been one of great integrity and professionalism;

“We, the undersigned, petition the Legislative Assembly as follows:

“That the members of provincial Parliament do hereby extend to Deborah Deller their sincere and grateful appreciation for her dedicated service to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario, their congratulations on her well-earned retirement and their best wishes to her, her husband Garry and her family for continued success, happiness and good health in years to come.”

Signed, every member of the House.


The Clerk of the Assembly (Ms. Deborah Deller): It’s not certified.

The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): It’s not certified or stamped, so would the Clerk please put the prop down?


The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Thank you, Deb Deller. I thank all members for their kind and heartfelt thanks and to her family for being here.

Therefore, it is now time for question period.

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