I find myself speaking this afternoon to a time allocation motion. I believe there was a time when these time allocation motions were rare, but this government has made them quite routine in the Legislature. Today, it’s for Bill 113, the Police Record Checks Reform Act.
I’ll be speaking for about 10 minutes, and I know the members from Renfrew–Nipissing–Pembroke and Bruce–Grey–Owen Sound will also be adding their comments to this debate.
Mr. Speaker, before I get into my remarks on the time allocation, the minister said there are other good bills that we should be discussing in the House. It’s interesting: He didn’t mention once legislation that talks about an economic plan for Ontario—nothing about creating private sector jobs; nothing about reducing taxes, making life more affordable in the province of Ontario. It’s very unfortunate that today in the Legislature and for the last number of days, we continue to hear about certain pet projects that this government has undertaken in secrecy. One example of that—and I think our leader, Patrick Brown, did a great job in question period today talking about the millions of dollars given to teachers’ unions secretly. We need to be dealing with legislation that creates jobs in Ontario and really sends a signal that we want Ontario to be competitive again.
Regarding Bill 113, there has been thoughtful and productive debate on this bill, and it’s a shame that the government feels the need to choke off that debate. This bill was brought forward because the system we have in place has failed a lot of people. There is a real need for this legislation and a real interest from everyone in this House in passing into law measures which will address the issues I’m sure we’ve all heard from our constituents in communities right across the province.
Bill 113 has the potential to expedite the process of enabling volunteers to serve their communities, and prospective employees to get to work. I understand a lot of time has been dedicated to finding solutions to ensure that we address the problems with the current system, but now the government wants to rush it through the legislative process. I think this is an important piece of legislation that we need to get right and that deserves the benefit of the full democratic legislative process.
Mr. Speaker, it seems that this government loves to say how great it is to consult and have conversations with everyone about everything, right up until its public debate in this House. The democratic process is not just about the conversations you have in stakeholder meetings; it’s about having unfettered debate in this House, in this assembly, with every elected representative having the opportunity to speak on behalf of their constituents.
For Bill 113 in particular, I think it is completely inappropriate to limit debate. There are a number of ways in which this bill inserts politicians into the administration of justice, and that raises some red flags. We’re talking about balancing public safety and civil liberties, and when that is the question of the day, robust debate should be the order of the day.
My colleague from Lanark–Frontenac–Lennox and Addington did an excellent job last week of highlighting issues of concern. Frankly, I heard no satisfactory answers from the government side to the questions he raised, so clearly there is more discussion needed here: either an acknowledgement from the government side that there are some questionable elements to this bill that will need to be revised or an explanation as to why it is necessary for the government to insert itself into the administration of justice.
I’d like to revisit some of these issues, to underscore why debate needs to continue for Bill 113.
To begin with, section 22(1) allows cabinet to exempt anyone from any provision of this bill, so cabinet essentially has full discretion on who this bill actually applies to. They can pick and choose who is subject to the rule of law. Those are some very broad powers which this government is bestowing on cabinet. What is the oversight here? Will there be a nonpartisan party who will be made aware of who is exempted and why, and then be empowered to take some sort of action if this is ever abused?
Along the same line, section 19(3) says, “A prosecution shall not be commenced under this section without the minister’s consent,” so every charge will need the seal of approval of the minister. Why is this included? It’s a highly unusual clause and it warrants a thorough explanation, which we have yet to hear in this House. I want to see this debate continue so we can hear from the minister himself why he needs to sign off on every prosecution under this particular section.
Then there is section 22(2)(c), which allows the minister to create new offences under this act. Of course we support this legislation, which is long overdue, to bring consistency to police record checks, and I understand that the offences which this bill establishes are based on recommendations by Ontario’s police chiefs, the Ontario Human Rights Commission, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association and other groups, but going forward, it will be at the minister’s discretion to determine what might be considered an offence under this particular act, without the involvement of this House. Before legislative oversight is removed entirely from the process of evaluating this act and the issue it seeks to address, I think we should ensure that all concerns, opinions and explanations are thoroughly aired. When the government is putting forward provisions like this, there is a need for a full and serious debate. The minister himself has said that this bill is about ensuring there is fairness, clarity and consistent practice right across the province, but the discretionary powers of cabinet and the minister that this bill allows for seem inconsistent with that particular goal.
The fact of the matter is that we have a majority government here in Ontario that will vote through whatever legislation they please. At committee, they will ignore 99% of the amendments put forward by the opposition, and they will remake the laws to suit their purposes.
The very least they can do is keep up appearances by allowing unfettered debate to run its course before they bequeath themselves a new set of powers. To limit debate in these circumstances, it’s really this government coming clean on how little they value the process of this House and the voices of the people of this province who elected opposition members. There are questions that should be asked and answered before this bill moves forward.
Mr. Speaker, the people of this province are taking notice of this government’s disrespect of the democratic process. In fact, I’d like to quote an article from the Toronto Star from earlier this year: “It’s a government that uses omnibus bills to ram through controversial new measures—and then limits debate on them.
“Its leader says one thing during an election campaign and then, once in office, surprises voters with something entirely different.
“It is routinely scolded by watchdog officials for its lacklustre approach to public accountability.
“And no, it is not the federal Conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, the man critics like to call mean and reactionary.
“Rather it is the Ontario Liberal government of Premier Kathleen Wynne, the personable grandmother who won office last year as a political progressive.”
Or, Mr. Speaker, there is this quote from CBC News for the government to consider: “It turns out there are actually two Kathleen Wynnes.
“There’s the minority Premier promising to be ‘new and different’ and ‘open and transparent.’
“And there’s the majority Premier who appears to have all but wiped those four words from her political vocabulary.”
This article goes on and says: “Wynne’s approach—often echoed by her cabinet ministers—is now more of: we won, you didn’t.
“And as a result, she wants legislation passed quickly, limiting debate....”
Speaker, I hope the government is aware that these manoeuvres are not going unnoticed. This is a pattern of behaviour of disrespect for the process of this place. It’s arrogance, and the media and the public are picking up on it.
This is legislation that is needed, but to skip due process risks creating problematic and substandard legislation. The minister himself has said Bill 113 is all about protecting individual civil liberties and public safety. I believe that the legislative process is in place to do exactly that. It is in the public interest that we debate this bill and all bills thoroughly and that, as opposition, we continue to seek answers to our concerns about this legislation.
Mr. Speaker, as I said in the beginning, there will be other of my colleagues who will be speaking to the time allocation motion later.