Ontario Human rights Reform - A call to Action
MCGUINTY MUZZLE MOTION ON PROMISED BILL 107 PUBLIC HEARINGS IS AN EVEN
November 27, 2006
How big is the McGuinty Liberals' flip-flop on the promised public hearings on the widely-criticized Bill 107? First they promised public hearings to all, scheduled them, and advertised for more to come forward. Then they used their majority in the Legislature to ram through a closure motion that shuts down the promised hearings before most could make their presentations.
We present three startling illustrations that this flip-flop is indeed huge.
The first striking illustration requires us to reach back into Ontario legislature history. The McGuinty Muzzle Motion on Bill 107 was debated and passed on November 21, 2006. Turn the clock back exactly five years to the day.
On November 21, 2001, another bill was before the Legislature that had many from the disability community up in arms. It too bore upon our human rights. It was the Harris Government's Bill 125, the proposed Ontarians with Disabilities Act 2001.
On that day precisely five years to the day before the McGuinty Muzzle Motion, the Harris Conservatives scheduled a debate and vote on a closure motion to restrict debates on their proposed Disability Act. Back then, the McGuinty Liberals were livid about that closure motion. They rose in the Legislature to speak against it. They unanimously voted against it.
Below we set out the list of all who voted against that closure motion five years ago. It included all Liberals present (and all NDP MPPs as well). Noteworthy among them were Dalton McGuinty, Michael Bryant, George Smitherman and Leona Dombrowsky. Five years later, all four of these Liberal MPPs and other Liberals spoke out in the Legislature in the past week in favour of the McGuinty Muzzle Motion. Ms. Dombrowsky (who voted against the closure motion five years ago) was the MPP who formally moved the McGuinty Muzzle Motion this year.
During the November 21, 2001 debate on the Harris closure motion, Liberal MPP Ernie Parsons stated:
"This time allocation motion says, "We don't even really want you in the process of telling us what we can do to remove the barriers for you." This time allocation causes things to happen with such expediency that it is ironic that the group that probably has the greatest challenge to come and meet with us and share their needs, their concerns and their suggestions has been given the least opportunity -- nine days for the nutrient management bill, stretched over months and months; the hearings on this stretched over six days because this bill has to be rammed through. It is ironic that a bill that purports, as we've heard the rhetoric over and over, to put the disabled community in the driver's seat to allow them to guide, to allow them to develop, to allow them to produce an Ontarians with Disabilities Act in fact gives them no control over the development of it. They can only hope to get some slot to do a presentation. When you look at the time frame, will there be the opportunity for any of these suggestions that come forward to be incorporated as amendments? There doesn't appear to be. If we look at history, a bill that's followed this path is pretty well cut and dried already."
We note that the Harris closure motion allocated some 6 full sitting days for public hearings. The McGuinty motion allowed 7 days for hearings. Yet McGuinty's 7 days shouldn't mislead you. Only three of them were full days. The other four were only half days. In terms of total time for public hearings, the McGuinty Muzzle Motion restricted the public to 5 full hearing days. This is actually less time than the Harris Government allowed for public hearings on its Disability bill.
In the case of the Harris Disability bill, presenters came principally from the disability community. In the case of the McGuinty Government's bill 107, presenters come from a far wider spectrum, including not only disability groups, but presenters from the full range of other equality-seeking communities. Thus more presenters must squeeze into less time in the case of McGuinty's Bill 107 public hearings. Moreover the Harris closure motion, unlike McGuinty's, didn't cancel any previously-scheduled hearings. In comparing these, we of course oppose closure motions in either case.
The second compelling illustration comes from slightly further back in history. In March 2000, the McGuinty Liberals criticized the Harris Government for not holding consultations on their promised Disability Act. Therefore the McGuinty Liberals staged a full month of their own province-wide shadow consultations in some 15 cities. Liberal MPP Steve Peters held open, accessible public forums in 15 cities. He let everyone present who wanted to present. This stands in sharp contrast to the McGuinty Muzzle Motion.
The third illustration comes from under two weeks ago. It is documented in the formal transcript of the Standing Committee on Justice Policy that has been studying the bill.
A mere five days before the Liberals filed the McGuinty Muzzle Motion, the McGuinty Government was on the record loud and clear in support of the need for the public hearings to continue. As the Toronto public hearings got started in Toronto on November 15, 2006, the very first order of business was the Standing Committee's unanimously approving an all-party report. That report confirmed hearings scheduled for December and called for them to continue into the winter. " They approved the advertising of the hearings far and wide at public expense to invite the public to request to present. They approved that: "(10) That the committee endeavour to hear from all those on the current list and from all those who request to appear by the deadline posted in the new advertisement. See the excerpt from the Standing Committee proceedings below.
Right after this report was approved by the Standing Committee without discussion, debate or dissent, Attorney General Michael Bryant was permitted to make a statement to the Standing Committee. After generally describing a package of amendments that he intended to bring forward, he said: "I'll say, in closing, a couple of things. Firstly, these are not the only amendments under consideration by the government. We want to hear from the committee, from the people, and from members of the provincial Parliament in this committee and outside of this committee."
By this , the Attorney General clearly contemplated that there would be more hearings at which presenters could suggest more amendments. Yet a short five days later, the McGuinty Liberals filed its motion to unilaterally shut down the hearings. The Government could hardly have expected presenters to comment on Bryant's amendments announcement on the spot. One presenter who address the Standing Committee short moments after Bryant's statement called this "public hearing by ambush", and asked for a chance to present again to the Standing Committee at a later date, so that their organization could give feedback on the amendments. The McGuinty Muzzle Motion made that impossible.
ONTARIO HANSARD NOVEMBER 15, 2006
STANDING COMMITTEE ON JUSTICE POLICY
The first order of business today is the motion for adoption of the subcommittee report. Can I get somebody to read the subcommittee report?
Mr. Ted McMeekin (Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Aldershot): I'll read it, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Peter Kormos (Niagara Centre): A fine-tuned machine.
Mr. McMeekin: Being the fine-tuned machine we are, I'll read it.
Your subcommittee considered on Thursday, October 26 and Tuesday, November 14, 2006, the method of proceeding on Bill 107, An Act to amend the Human Rights Code, and recommends the following:
(1) That the committee commence public hearings on Bill 107 in Toronto on November 15, 2006, and continue on all regularly scheduled committee meeting dates until the House rises for the winter recess.
(2) That the committee request authorization from the House to extend the committee's meeting time until 12:30 p.m. on its regularly scheduled meeting dates until the House rises for the winter recess.
(3) That the clerk of the committee commence scheduling witnesses in Toronto from the current list of those requesting to appear on a first-come, first-served basis.
(4) That the Attorney General be invited to appear before the committee for 15 minutes at 9:15 a.m. on Wednesday, November 15, 2006 -- which is why I'm reading this so fast.
(5) That witnesses on the London list be scheduled at a later date in order to accommodate additional requests made in response to the new advertisement.
(6) That an advertisement be placed for one day in all Ontario English daily newspapers --
The Chair: Mr. McMeekin, can I just ask that you slow down for the interpreters, please.
Mr. McMeekin: Okay -- Ontario French weekly newspapers, ethnic newspapers in Ontario and also be placed on the Ont.Parl channel, on the Voiceprint service, the Legislative Assembly website and in a press release.
(7) That the advertisement state that hearings will commence in Toronto on November 15 and further dates and locations for hearings will depend on the response received.
(8) That the deadline for those who wish to make an oral presentation on Bill 107 be December 15, 2006, dependent upon the ability to place ads in the ethnic papers within a reasonable period of time.
(9) That a subcommittee meeting be called to review the numbers on the list and the response received from the additional round of advertising and make decisions regarding meeting dates, locations and witnesses to be scheduled.
(10) That the committee endeavour to hear from all those on the current list and from all those who request to appear by the deadline posted in the new advertisement.
(11) That organizations appearing before the committee be given 30 minutes each and individuals be given 20 minutes each in which to make their presentation.
(12) That the ad specify that opportunities for videoconferencing and teleconferencing may be provided to accommodate witnesses unable to appear in each location.
(13) That sign language interpretation, closed-captioning and attendants for the disabled be provided for all public hearings on Bill 107.
(14) That interpretation for languages in addition to English and French be provided on the request of witnesses requiring such interpretation for their presentations.
(15) That the committee meet in room 151, if possible, for public hearings and clause-by-clause consideration of Bill 107, depending on availability of the room.
(16) That the subcommittee meet again to make decisions on dates for clause-by-clause consideration.
(17) That the deadline for written submissions be the end of public hearings on Bill 107.
(18) That the research officer provide the committee with a summary of witness presentations prior to clause-by-clause consideration of the bill.
(19) That options for videoconferencing or teleconferencing be made available to witnesses where reasonable.
(20) That requests for reimbursement of reasonable travel expenses for witnesses to attend hearings be subject to approval by the Chair.
(21) That the clerk of the committee, in consultation with the Chair, is authorized immediately to commence making any preliminary arrangements necessary to facilitate the committee's proceedings.
Mr. Chair, this is a report of your subcommittee.
The Chair: Thank you very much. Any debate? Seeing none, all those in favour? Opposed? That's carried.
LIST OF ALL MPPS WHO VOTED ON NOVEMBER 21, 2001 AGAINST THE HARRIS GOVERNMENT'S CLOSURE MOTION ON BILL 125, THE PROPOSED ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT
(All MPPs here are from the Liberal and New Democratic Party)
Brown, Michael A.
Conway, Sean G.
Crozier, Bruce Curling, Alvin