The Standing Committee on the Legislative Assembly conducted its annual review of the Ontario Legislature's television broadcast system as part of the Committee's permanent mandate. An issue raised during the review was the fact that a major satellite broadcast distributor was apparently not interested in renewing the contract for distribution of the signal which carries the Assembly's parliamentary channel (OntParl). Committee Members were concerned that, with revised channel programming affecting the OntParl signal carried by cable providers and with a decision not to renew the contract for satellite distribution of the signal, fewer members of the public would have access to the televised proceedings of the Ontario Legislative Assembly. After further discussion the Committee agreed that a letter signed by the Speaker and endorsed by the Committee should be sent to the CRTC urging that coverage of legislative proceedings in Ontario be made mandatory.
As a result of this discussion and review of the television broadcast system, Bob Delaney, who is a Member of the Legislative Assembly Committee, introduced a Private Members Notice of Motion on Thursday, October 9, 2008 which read as follows:
That, in the opinion of this House, the Legislative Assembly of Ontario should request of the Government of Canada that an amendment be made to the terms of reference governing the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) to ensure that a condition to the CRTC's granting, or renewal, of a license to carry cable, wireless, wireless cable or any other type of television content by every distributor in any market is the requirement to broadcast, as part of every basic package of television services or channels, and using a minimum of one dedicated channel, the legislative proceedings of the province or territory in which the distributor of the television content proposes to offer service, as supplied to the distributor by the legislative broadcast service in that province or territory.
After 50 minutes of debate during Private Members' Public Business, the resolution was carried unanimously on a voice vote.
Speaker's Sub judice Ruling
A significant procedural ruling was made on Monday, October 27, 2008, when Speaker Steve Peters ruled that a notice of motion for an Opposition Day be removed from the Orders and Notices Paper as it offended the sub judice convention. The notice, standing in the name of the Leader of the Official Opposition Robert Runciman, requested that the Government call a public inquiry into the circumstances surrounding an accused individual's bail release. The Speaker ruled on the applicability of the sub judice convention to a motion, and whether this specific motion offended that convention.
The Speaker ruled that although a strict interpretation of Standing Order 23(g) would limit the sub judice rule to "debate", a motion provides the context of the debate and therefore must be subject to the rules of debate. The Speaker also cited support for this interpretation in the precedents and practices of other jurisdictions.
Beyond the strict application of Ontario's sub judice Standing Order, the Speaker also examined the motion with respect to the broad parliamentary convention of sub judice.
The Speaker found that the motion:
identifies--in every one of its clauses--the names of individuals associated with a very serious incident that is "still before the criminal courts. It also draws conclusions on certain evidence and on the actions of officials involved in the administration of criminal justice in Ontario.
Consequently, he ruled that the motion offended the sub judice convention in that it offered much potential for prejudice to an ongoing criminal proceeding.
Following this ruling it was agreed with unanimous consent that a new notice of motion be placed on the Orders and Notices Paper in substitution of the one ruled out of order.
New Standing Orders
On Thursday, October 2, 2008, the Standing Committee on the Legislative Assembly presented its report to the House on its review during the past summer of the provisional Standing Orders. The key features of the new rules provide that on Mondays the House will start its meeting week at 10:30 a.m. (as opposed to the previous 9:00 a.m. start) and will begin directly with Question Period. On Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, daily sittings will continue to begin at 9:00 a.m. Similar to Mondays, however, Question Period will move to 10:30 a.m. each day.
Of late, the Member for Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound, Bill Murdoch, has been seated in the Legislative Assembly as an independent member. Mr. Murdoch's departure from the Progressive Conservative caucus leaves the seat standings in the House at 71 Liberals, 25 Progressive Conservatives, 10 New Democrats and I independent, for a total of 107.
The Standing Committee on Estimates continued its consideration of the 2008-2009 expenditure estimates of selected ministries. An Order of the House dated June 17 authorized the Committee to meet twice during the summer adjournment. During the period August-October, the Committee completed reviewing the Estimates of the following ministries: Northern Development and Mines; Research and Innovation; Labour; and Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs.
By an Order of the House dated October 9, the Committee was authorized to change the order in which it will consider the Estimates of the remaining selected ministries, and to extend by one week its period of consideration. The Committee must now present its report on all Estimates considered by the fourth Thursday in November, as opposed to the third Thursday as set out in the Standing Orders.
On September 22, Tim Hudak presented to the House the Committee's report with respect to the Volume 2 Estimates (those of the Legislative Assembly Offices).
The Standing Committee on General Government met to consider Bill 90, An Act to enact the Colleges Collective Bargaining Act, 2008, to repeal the Colleges Collective Bargaining Act and to make related amendments to other Acts. Under the Bill, collective bargaining is extended to part time and sessional employees of colleges of applied arts and technology. The Committee also considered Bill 85, An Act to permit the issuance of photo cards to residents of Ontario and to make complementary amendments to the Highway Traffic Act. The bill authorizes the Ministry of Transportation to issue basic, enhanced and combined photo cards to the residents of Ontario. Basic photo cards may be issued to anyone who is a resident of Ontario and does not hold a valid driver's licence. Enhanced photo cards may be issued to anyone who is a resident of Ontario and a Canadian citizen and does not hold a valid driver's licence. Combined photo cards may be issued to anyone who is a resident of Ontario and a Canadian citizen and who does hold valid driver's licence.
On September 24, 2008, the Standing Committee on the Legislative Assembly met for the purpose of writing its Report on the review of the Standing Orders.
Upon request from the Committee to extend the date by which the report was to be tabled, unanimous consent from the House was given on a motion presented by Michael Bryant dated September 24, 2008, that stated, "notwithstanding the order of the House dated May 1, 2008, the Standing Committee on the Legislative Assembly shall submit its Report on the Standing Orders to the Assembly by October 2, 2008."
On October 2, 2008, Bas Balkissoon, Member from Scarborough-Rouge River and Chair of the Standing Committee on the Legislative Assembly, presented to the House the Committee's report entitled Report on the Review of the Standing Orders and moved the adoption of the recommendation outlined in the report.
On October 8 and 22, the Standing Committee on Regulations and Private Bills met, pursuant to its permanent mandate, to consider its first draft Report on Regulations of the 39th Parliament. On this occasion, the Committee heard a presentation by the Registrar of Regulations, and heard statements from ministries whose regulations are included in the report. The report was adopted and tabled in the House on Thursday, October 30, 2008.
The Standing Committee on Social Policy completed its consideration of Bill 77, An Act to provide services to persons with developmental disabilities, to repeal the Developmental Services Act and to amend certain other statutes. On September 22, 2008, the bill was reported back with certain amendments to the House for Third Reading, and it received Royal Assent on October 8, 2008. The Committee also completed its draft report on the review of the Personal Health Information Protection Act, 2004, and tabled its report on November 4, 2008. In October, the Committee began holding public hearings on Bill 97, An Act to increase access to qualified health professionals for all Ontarians by amending the Regulated Health Professions Act, 1991.