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Ontario Hansard - 03-December2019

Hon. Todd Smith: I said the House leader, right? The House leader of the official opposition—and make sure that the House was going to run.

There was a lot of discussion, and the Clerks’ table, of course, was involved in those discussions at the time as to who was going to be asking questions when, because for the first time ever, there was not a third party to be in that slot asking those questions.

There was a lot of math that was going on in determining the ratios, and who would be represented, and who would get to speak to what and when, and who would participate in the various committees. It was a bit confusing, I think, for everyone involved, including the folks at the Clerks’ table, who had never had to deal with this before. There was a lot of time and effort that was spent in getting those ratios just right, and determining when an independent member would have the opportunity to ask questions.

It was a bit clunky—we’ll be honest, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Fraser, the leader of the Liberals, mentioned that in his speech, where he would have to ask for unanimous consent to ask a question on behalf of someone else in the independent caucus, if you want to call it that, during question period, and to participate at various times. It wasn’t as smooth and traditional as things were in previous Legislatures, so there needed to be some things that were done.

But at the same time, we did have some very constructive meetings with the House leader from the official opposition, from the NDP.

I can tell you, Mr. Speaker, that when I was elected here in 2011 with my good friend from Bruce–Grey–Owen Sound and 16 other PC MPPs, and a number of members from the other side, we had the three parties that were represented here in the Legislature. Of course, the Liberals were in a minority government at that time, which made things rather interesting, from a House leader’s perspective as well. There was a good team of PCs over there, and then the NDP—around 20 members at that time, I believe. At that time, it was very interesting because it was a minority government, but it was the only standing orders that I had known because that’s what we lived with.

I think it’s good to take a look at the standing orders of the Legislature, and that’s what our current House leader did over the summer. He consulted with not just members of other parties in the Legislature or the independents, but other people who had been House leaders in other Parliaments. He comes from Parliament Hill and had a different perspective on how things operated there—of course, that’s a Westminster Parliament itself. We were doing some things here at the Ontario Legislature that other Legislatures and other Parliaments weren’t doing. We had some unique things that maybe boxed out different members of the Legislature from participating as actively as they should.

I know that the House leader put a lot of thought into this. A lot of consultation took place. He brought me in; he brought in Minister Clark, who was a House leader previously in opposition, as well; Minister Yakabuski, the Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry, who was a House leader and whip in opposition, as well; and probably all kinds of people I don’t even know about; and of course, the Clerks’ table, just to talk about how we could make things operate better and more efficiently and more fairly for the members of the Legislature. I think he has done a very good job at putting together a number of ideas that are going to make it more fair.

When I met with him in the House leader’s office back in the summer and he was proposing a number of these things, my initial reaction was, “Why would we, as the government, actually be proposing these things?” Quite honestly, in my opinion, what a number of these things do is give more voice to the opposition parties. They actually give the opposition parties more of a pedestal to stand on.

I don’t want to tell the official opposition or the opposition independents how to operate, but certainly one of the examples that I would point to is moving members’ statements from 1 o’clock or 3 o’clock in the afternoon from routine proceedings to that 10:15 to 10:30 block in the morning, before question period, so we don’t have that gap anymore. The galleries are generally full during that time. The media gallery is certainly filling up with those journalists who have gotten out of bed and shown up here for question period. Here’s an opportunity for the members of the opposition parties to highlight some of their issues during that time, when people are actually here and paying attention, between 10:15 and 10:30. As a member of the official opposition for seven years, which was way too long, if I had had that forum to deliver some of the important things for my riding or for our party, that would have been far more meaningful. So I think members of the official opposition can hang their hats on that being a better profile, a better time for them to be talking about their issues.

We had a very busy first year as the new government here in Ontario, as you know, Mr. Speaker, passing a record number of pieces of legislation. Twenty bills were passed during the first year, so it was very, very busy in the House leader’s office. I would often get a knock on the door from the independent members, asking, “Can you meet with us and talk about how we can make life a little more fair around here,” because it felt like they were elected—and as the member from the Liberals just said, a lot of people in Ontario did vote for them. If we had taken the same math that the current leader of the Liberals here in Ontario would have used, Andrew Scheer would be Prime Minister of Canada right now. That’s not the way it works in our country or in our province, because we have ridings. That’s the way things work in Ontario and in Canada. But a lot of people did vote for the Liberal Party in the last election, and he’s not wrong when he says that they should have more opportunity to speak.

I would believe that Mr. Schreiner, too, of the Green Party, does have an opportunity to participate. We were very willing and open to listening to the Green Party at the time because they were a new party represented here in the Ontario Legislature and we felt that he should have an opportunity to participate in debate perhaps more than he did. I always had lots of time for the Green Party leader, although we didn’t make a lot of changes during that time. It was simply because, quite honestly, the House was going gangbusters. We were driving through a lot of important pieces of legislation to fulfill the promises we had made during the election campaign of 2018. When you look at the legislation that was passed, Mr. Speaker, a lot of that legislation was fulfilling campaign promises, so it was really important for us to do that.

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I’m just going to take a look at some of the other changes that are being proposed here in this motion from the House leader. The NDP is claiming that this gives us in some way the ability to pass bills in a single day or pass bills faster. I know that the House leader from the official opposition knows that is not true. The Liberal Party already mentioned that is not true, Mr. Speaker. This does nothing, actually, to speed up our ability as a government to get bills through the Legislature any quicker.

One of the things that’s a real common-sense piece of the motion that the House leader has put forward is the ability for the Speaker to make decisions when it comes to members with disabilities. We had a member here for the last couple of years that he served in this House, from York Centre, a very distinguished member, Monte Kwinter. You’ll remember Monte, who was a cabinet minister here for years, a very distinguished member. He had to have assistance at the end of his last term to get up here into the House. A ramp was put in; he wasn’t able, of course, to stand when he voted. There were special calls that had to be made. By putting this formally into this motion, it would allow the Speaker to make the Legislature more accessible for members who have circumstances where maybe they can’t stand to vote or are having difficulty getting into the Legislature.

I know the member opposite from the official opposition, who was speaking prior to the Liberals, the member for Hamilton Mountain, was talking about the fact that she was somewhat offended that our members were insinuating that the NDP don’t care about people with disabilities. We all know that all members of this House care about people with disabilities. That includes the NDP or the Liberals or the PCs. We all want to do better for people with disabilities. I just find it so funny how, when the shoe is on the other foot over there and someone is criticizing the NDP—that’s what they do every day to us. They say, “The PCs don’t care about this or the PCs don’t care about this group of people or they don’t do that.” Horse feathers, Mr. Speaker. We are here doing what we can to try and make sure that the province is accessible—we really are—and providing a better life for the people of Ontario. Certainly we have different ways of going about it, but the intent of this portion of the motion is to ensure that the House is more accessible for members, should they need it to be more accessible.

I talked about members’ statements moving to the morning, which I think is a great idea.

I’m a pretty traditional guy around here. I have never stood on the floor of the Legislature when the House was sitting without a tie on. It’s just something I believe: When you come in the House, you should have a tie—as a male member of the House, you should have a tie. Of course, members have their own rights. I always tease the member from Ottawa Centre, the new member from the NDP. As a matter of fact, when I was the government House leader, I actually sent him over a tie in a big manila envelope, telling him that he should wear a tie when he’s in here. But that’s his choice. He chooses not to do that, and there have been many members who have chosen not to wear a tie. I’m a pretty traditional guy.

I don’t think we should have a whole lot of electronic devices hanging around in the Legislature, but I understand that things are evolving. We’re changing the standing orders. We can change to allow for a bit of an adaptation to use modern technology in here, within reason, Mr. Speaker. I don’t ever want to see those earbuds in people’s ears when they’re here. I think it’s fine to have the one little earpiece that you have on there, Mr. Speaker; I think that’s fine. But I don’t want come in here in the Legislature ever and see people wearing headphones. There’s something about that that doesn’t seem right to me, and I am a bit of a stickler for tradition.

Our former House leader one time—you’ll remember this story. I don’t know if I’ll say it right or not. The member from Waterloo was talking about her private member’s bill one time, and it was about proroguing the Legislature. She didn’t want the government to be able to prorogue the Legislature. This was after Premier McGuinty prorogued in 2012 or so. She had just won a by-election around that time and brought in this legislation.

I remember we were talking about how we were going to vote on her private member’s bill. Our House leader at the time came in and said, “[Expletive], there are 200 years of parliamentary tradition. We’re Tories. We believe in parliamentary tradition. This is the way we’re going to vote on this piece of legislation, because of tradition.” Then news came from the leader’s office that we weren’t going to vote that way, and he said, “Ah, screw the tradition.” It was kind of a funny story.

But I am a believer in tradition, and I believe we should, where we can, preserve the traditions that we have here. I know we do a pretty good job at making sure that we’re doing that.

A lot of clumsy little things—and I’m not going to get to everything, because I’m going to run out of time. This is the first time, actually, that I’ve delivered a speech like this in this session. I haven’t had a chance to freelance it like I used to, back in opposition, so it’s kind of nice to be able to do this.

There are a couple of clumsy things and housekeeping items—I think they were referred to by the members opposite—that needed to be cleaned up as well.

It is kind of clumsy that a member opposite—and they always direct their questions to the Premier, which is their right to do that. But I think the House leader does have the right to maybe point to the member who he believes is best suited to answer that question. Sometimes, the members opposite ask the Premier a question when the Premier is at the Council of the Federation and not even in the Legislature. So I think it does clean that part of it up, and will allow it to be a little more of a seamless approach.

The other thing I really like, that the House leader is proposing, is the change in the way we debate. We’re debating a motion right now, so there are no questions and comments, or hits, as we currently call them, in debate. If it was a piece of legislation that we were debating right now, there would be an opportunity to have questions and comments. But, really, what it is is a two-minute hit. A member opposite can write that two-minute hit a week earlier, and just come in here and deliver the two-minute hit, whether it has anything to do with what the legislation is or not. He or she is supposed to keep it on the general topic.

I really think that this is going to be an opportunity to elevate the debate. I love question period. I don’t know about anybody else, but I love question period. I think it’s the best time of day. You have a lot of interesting ways of proposing questions. You don’t always get an answer, but you do have the opportunity to pose questions. I think there’s going to be an elevated debate here in the afternoon, where everybody has to be on their game, because the questions that the members opposite will be asking of those who have just delivered a 20-minute speech on an important piece of government legislation—they will have to pose questions to the messenger of that speech.

It will also sharpen the skills of the individual who has just delivered that speech. They have to be able to respond to the questions from the members opposite. I think that will be really interesting, to see how that evolves. I know that stems from the government House leader’s time on Parliament Hill, because that’s the way they debate up there. But I think it will create a new and more interesting level of debate here in the mornings and in the afternoons, where sometimes it’s great, if you are suffering from insomnia, to turn on the channel, but it’s not so great if you’re actually looking for riveting conversation or riveting debate.

So I think this will be a really good thing for the Legislature, and I am curious to see how that happens to evolve over time.

There’s a lot of great stuff in here. I know that when I first saw a lot of it—and thank you, to the government House leader, for bringing me in and consulting me on the proposals he was making. The one thing that drives me crazy—and I’ve actually heard the Speaker do this a couple of times too—is during morning introductions of visitors, before question period, it can go on for 20 minutes, when the House is full.

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I still have another proposal for the House leader that I want him to bring forward when this does get to committee where we introduce our guests after question period is over. So those of us who have to get to a reception or those of us who have to get to a meeting will have the opportunity to do that, but there’s still an opportunity to welcome our guests, which is really important, but we do it after question period. I think it’s a neat idea, so I’ll continue to push that with our House leader, who, I think, has done a magnificent job in bringing some much-needed changes to the way we debate here in the Legislature.

Thank you for the time this afternoon, Mr. Speaker.


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