HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY MANAGEMENT COMMISSION
The Committee met at 9:00 a.m. in the House of Assembly.
MR. SPEAKER (Fitzgerald): Good morning.
I would like to welcome Members of the House of Assembly, and staff of the House of Assembly, to the Management Commission meeting.
For the purposes of recording, and for people who are watching the Commission meeting, I would ask members at this particular time to introduce themselves.
I will go first to Trevor Taylor.
MR. TAYLOR: Trevor Taylor, Member for The Straights & White Bay North.
MS E. MARSHALL: Beth Marshall, Member for Topsail district.
MR. RIDEOUT: Tom Rideout, Member for Baie Verte-Springdale.
MS JONES: Yvonne Jones, Member for Cartwright-L’Anse au Clair.
MR. PARSONS: Kelvin Parsons, Member for Burgeo & LaPoile.
MS MICHAEL: Lorraine Michael, Member for Signal Hill-Quidi Vidi.
CLERK (Mr. MacKenzie): Bill MacKenzie, Clerk of the House of Assembly.
MS KEEFE: Marie Keefe, Clerk’s Office.
MR. SPEAKER: My name is Roger Fitzgerald, and I am Chair of the Committee by the virtue of being the Speaker of the House of Assembly.
First of all, I would like to thank members for making the concerted effort to be here. It is a Friday morning and I know members have lots to do in their districts, but this is an important function as well. We have been asked, and we have been trying to arrange, to have our meetings now on Fridays while the House of Assembly is open. I would thank the members. I think just about at maybe every meeting that we have had of the Commission, there has been 100 per cent attendance of the members. So I thank members for realizing the importance of the Commission and allowing it to do its work.
The first item on the agenda is the approval of the minutes from the January 23 meeting. Are there any errors or omissions in the minutes from that particular meeting?
MS MICHAEL: I am sorry, Mr. Chair. There is just one slight typo. It is a grammatical error on page 2 under CM 2008-004. It reads, "There is no costs...." It should really read, "There are no costs...." It would be good to have good grammar.
MR. SPEAKER: So, it is a language –
MS MICHAEL: Just a language change, yes, a grammatical error.
MR. SPEAKER: Language change. The error will be noted.
Any other corrections or errors in the minutes from the January 23 meeting?
If there are no errors or omissions, would somebody move that the minutes of the Commission meeting of January 23, 2008, be adopted as written?
It is moved by Mr. Rideout and seconded by Mr. Parsons.
All those in favour, 'aye'.
SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.
MR. SPEAKER: The minutes are adopted.
We also need approval for a meeting that was held in camera, a budgetary meeting that was held on February 6. This particular meeting, as members will know, was a budgetary meeting for the House of Assembly and its offices. Like all budgetary meetings, the meetings are held in camera. What in camera means is, it is held in a private way because of the confidentiality of the discussion relating to the Budget. As all members will know, budgetary items can only be released when the Budget is released.
After the release of the Budget, at that particular time, the House of Assembly budgetary items will be discussed in the Estimates Committees and it will be done right here in this House, in camera, during a regular session of the House of Assembly. Whatever items have been brought forward, and whatever questions need to be asked, can be asked and published at that time.
Are members ready to move the approval of the meeting of February 6, which was held in camera?
Ms Marshall, please.
MS E. MARSHALL: Mr. Speaker, I would like to make one suggestion. I would like to ask if the Clerk’s office could proceed to prepare the policies that would surround the in camera sessions. I do not think those policies have been fully fleshed out yet, and I think that we should have something documented in our policies and procedures.
MR. SPEAKER: Any comments?
CLERK: (Inaudible) of the way, Mr. Speaker.
MR. SPEAKER: That is part of what we are going to be doing, our policy manual.
CLERK: That should be ready in a few weeks.
MR. SPEAKER: And it will be ready -
CLERK: It will be started (inaudible) after the February 6 meeting.
MS E. MARSHALL: Okay, that is good.
MR. SPEAKER: Ms. Michael.
MS MICHAEL: No, that is fine, hearing Mr. Mackenzie. I have no comment. I was just going to support Ms Marshall.
MR. SPEAKER: Ms Marshall, does that satisfy your -
MS E. MARSHALL: Yes, thank you.
MR. SPEAKER: Okay.
So the decision will be, I guess, for the Management Commission to adopt the approval of the 2008-2009 Budget Estimates for the Legislature to be forwarded to the Minister of Finance for inclusion in the 2009 Estimates and to be voted on in the House of Assembly.
Would somebody move the adoption of that motion from the in-camera meeting of February 6, 20008?
MS MICHAEL: So moved.
MR. RIDEOUT: Seconded.
MR. SPEAKER: Moved by Ms Michael, seconded by Mr. Rideout.
Moving right along; business arising from the minutes.
MR. RIDEOUT: Are we going to vote on the -
MR. SPEAKER: All those in favour, 'aye'.
SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.
MR. SPEAKER: All those against, 'nay'.
The motion is carried.
Business arising from the minutes. In our last meeting of January 23, some members wanted to seek clarification on a possible disconnect, and I know it was an issue for public concern as well, regarding section 15 of the Auditor General Act and section 45 of the House of Assembly Act. At that particular time, members asked if we could ask Chief Justice Green and the Auditor General, Mr. John Noseworthy, to attend the next meeting of the Commission where members would have an opportunity to ask some questions and to find out the views of the Auditor General and the views of the Chief Justice on those two particular pieces of legislation. We are fortunate enough this morning to have both the Auditor General and Chief Justice Green with us. What we will do now is take a very brief recess and invite the Auditor General, Mr. Noseworthy, to allow him to come forward and make some statements and to receive questions from the Commission. So, we will take a brief recess and then we will resume our meeting again.
This Committee is now in recess.
MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!
The Commission is ready to resume its business. I would like to welcome the Auditor General, Mr. John Noseworthy, who has joined us here this morning at the request of the Commission. Members have raised the issue, as I stated earlier in the January 23 meeting, when they talked about section 15 of the Auditor General Act and section 45 of the House of Assembly Act.
I would ask all members, if they could, not to protect the Auditor General or anybody else, but the Auditor General is aware of why he was invited here and I would ask members if they would probably keep their questions in focus of the reason why the Auditor General was invited. That is for clarification rather than going down the roads of former reports and where we go forward. So, if members would be cognizant of that particular suggestion then we would appreciate it. The floor is open now for members to ask questions or seek guidance or opinions.
I call on Ms Marshall.
MS E. MARSHALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
I have a very broad question for the Auditor General because I am interested very much in hearing his views. I was wondering if he could speak to section 15 of the Auditor General Act because, at one point in time, that was the sole authority with regard to improper retention of public money, and that was his guide. Now, with the new House of Assembly Accountability, Integrity and Administration Act, there is also a section 45 governing the improper retention of public money.
So, my question to the Auditor General is, if he could tell us how he operated when he was operating solely under section 15 of the Auditor General Act and now how he operates with both pieces of legislation?
MR. SPEAKER: The Auditor General.
MR. NOSEWORTHY: Probably the easiest way to talk about that would be to explain some of the differences between section 15 and 45.
Section 15 applies to everybody in government, the Crown agencies and Crown controlled corporations, anybody in government. However, section 45 excluded section 15 when it deals with Members of the House of Assembly, the Clerk of the Assembly, the Clerk Assistant, the House of Assembly staff, and statutory offices. So, section 45 applies to all of that, but 15 still applies to everybody else in government. Before that, 15 applied to everybody. That is one difference.
The reporting is different. Under section 15, my report had to be tabled to the Lieutenant-Governor in Council in Cabinet. Under 45, it goes to the Speaker, the Chair of the Audit Committee, the Premier, the Leader of the Party to which the member is associated, the Attorney General, and the Minister of Finance. So, the reporting is different.
Could the report be made publicly available? Under 15, it was my view that I could under section 12 of my act include any section 15 report and make it publicly available in the House of Assembly, and I did that, and that is how a series of reports became public. Under 45, the report cannot be made public. I cannot do that. The deemed tabling legislation that would apply to all of my reports do not apply to section 45. So, that is different.
There was no specific requirement under 15 for me to validate the findings with any person who would be identified under section 15 of the report. There was no specific requirement. However, I did go through a process whereby I would talk with people to give them an opportunity to provide information, but it was not explicit. In 45, it is explicit. I have more requirements to meet.
The confidentiality changed. There is a section 21 of the Auditor General Act that says that I cannot talk about any matters in my office except in criminal matters. Under 45 it includes both criminal and civil, so that is a change. These are some of the larger changes.
What I found was that 45 provided much clearer direction for my office with regards to dealing with possible misappropriate or misuse or abuse of public funds; 45 provided a lot of clarity. I think 15 had much more ambiguity in it, and as a result of that I think 45 is a better piece of legislation, although currently it applies only to the House.
MR. SPEAKER: Ms Michael.
MS MICHAEL: A question of clarification. Thank you for coming and being here with us today, Mr. Noseworthy.
With regard to your statement that you can make reports publicly available under AG Act 15, but under 45 you cannot, isn’t it a matter of when you can do it? When you read section 45, subsection (4) you can make the contents of a report referred to in subsection (1) known in your annual report. Is it that it is timing that is the difference? Because you can, and I think should, make the contents known in your annual report.
MR. NOSEWORTHY: No, it is not quite like that. There is a general description of information available under 15 and 45 (4). They both contemplate that. Under section 15, it is my opinion that I could go to section 12 of the Auditor General Act and provide the full report and make it public. Section 45 (4) contemplates a general description which 15 also contemplates, but I cannot make the full report public under 45. That is the difference, not just the general description the full report.
MR. SPEAKER: Ms Michael.
MS MICHAEL: Again, my reading of 45 – and that is where my question is coming from – if the report is not connected with an event that could become criminally investigated aren’t you allowed to make it public then?
MR. NOSEWORTHY: But 45 deals with items that are potentially involving fraud and that sort of thing. That is what 45 applies to, it is not any other reporting requirement except areas that may constitute a breach, you know, of public trust and fraud and those sorts of things.
That is what it deals with, so if I find an item like that and I have to issue a section 45, then I can never make that report public. I can’t. I can give a general description, which I can do under 15, but the difference is that under 15 I could make it public under section 12, but I could not do that with a 45. Because 45, if you read the preamble to recommendation number 22, it provides clarity with regard to being a mute and to not speaking about these matters. You know, 45 provides a lot of clarification in the Green commission report, recommendation 22, which is what became section 45.
When you read that whole recommendation, you get a good preamble to it and you get a feel for what exactly - how this matter should be treated. It is my view, after going through recommendation 22 and section 45 of the act, that I would not be in a position to make that report public. Whereas under 15 I obviously had made the decision that it could be made public, because I did. I made it public under section 12, but under 45 I do not think I could ever do that (inaudible). That is the difference, so there is a difference.
MR. SPEAKER: Ms Marshall.
MS E. MARSHALL: What are your views on that? Because, when you first started to address the question, I got the impression that you thought section 45 was a better piece of legislation.
MR. NOSEWORTHY: Yes.
MS E. MARSHALL: I would have thought that you could provide the information publicly.
What are your feelings on that? One of the reasons why we asked you here today is because there have been reports in the media that you are being muzzled - which, of course, is a concern to all of us – so what are your views on that difference between those two pieces of legislation?
MR. NOSEWORTHY: Well, I think 45 is a better piece of legislation. I think, given the preamble to 22, and I met with the Chief Justice and talked about recommendation 45 and to get an interpretation of that - I met with him – and, after going through all of that, and talking with him and comparing 45 with 15, I think that 45 is a better piece of legislation. I think that, from a judicial point of view, it probably makes more sense to not have these reports made public. There is a process, clearly, that the Chief Justice has decided is most appropriate, so obviously I accept that. Therefore, I think 45 is more appropriate.
If I came upon a section 15 report today within another part of government, I would now apply my interpretation of 45 to 15. I would now, even today, without amending section 15, I would not make a report public under section 12, given what I know now with the interpretation of 45. I do not disagree with 45; I think it is a better piece of legislation. I would interpret 15, as far as I could, like 45; however, the reporting, I could not treat it the same because 15 is very clear. If I filed a report, I would have to give it to the Lieutenant-Governor in Council. I could not give it to all of the parties outlined in 45.
With regard to the due diligence – which I did anyway – with regard to not making it public, with regard to not talking about it, with regard to remaining mute and letting it go through the proper judicial system, I would apply all of that now in a 15 circumstance.
What I am saying is, I think 45 is better and I would interpret, to the best of my ability at this point, 15 to be the same.
MR. SPEAKER: Ms Michael.
MS MICHAEL: Just to make sure we are clearly understanding, and I am really grateful for what you are telling us here, but all of that, of course, with the understanding that in 45, subsection 4, you would, in your annual report, be reporting.
MR. NOSEWORTHY: There would always be a general description under 15 and 45, yes, so there would be some information available on an annual basis.
MS MICHAEL: Then, just like with anything else that is in your annual report, you would be expected publicly to respond to anything that is in your report if questioned publicly.
MR. NOSEWORTHY: Normally when I respond to a report that I issue, it is a report that I issue, so there is a report. This would simply be a general description. I normally do not go much beyond the words of my report when I talk publicly to the media about a report. Normally, I stick to the script. Like, my report is here; it speaks for itself, really, but I will do an interview and talk about it but only in the context of what I have publicly reported.
When you are talking about a general description under 45 now, in an annual report, I really do not think there would be enough in there to allow me to speak publicly about that. Whereas, if I did an item on the roads or something in works and services I could talk about that because there would be information in there - charts, details and recommendations and findings - but a general description, I do not think there would be enough there to talk publicly about it.
MR. SPEAKER: Ms Michael.
MS MICHAEL: Maybe I am thinking like somebody in the media now, but I think the public would want this question answered as well.
I understand what you are saying - I do not know how you would do the reporting in your annual report - but, for example, if there were an ongoing incident that you would need to speak to, surely you could at least say there is an ongoing incident without giving the name of the person or whatever. Surely, your report would have that much information in it, would it?
MR. NOSEWORTHY: Yes, it would.
MS MICHAEL: Okay.
MR. SPEAKER: Ms Marshall.
MS E. MARSHALL: I am just trying to reconcile, now, what I am learning here this morning.
The report that was issued in September - this last September - that was issued under the new legislation?
MR. NOSEWORTHY: Yes, because the new legislation came in June 14 and my report was September, so 45 would have been in effect.
MS E. MARSHALL: Okay.
If the report that was issued in September was issued under the new legislation, that provided lots of detail for the public and for the media. Are you saying that now, if we have a repeat of that, you would not provide the same level of information? Is that what I am hearing?
MR. NOSEWORTHY: No, this is the second part. To me, there were two pieces here. One talks about section 15 versus 45. That is one issue, and I just talked about that, and I think 45 is the better way to go.
The other issue is, are you muzzled?
MS E. MARSHALL: Yes.
MR. NOSEWORTHY: Are you muzzled? What is happening here?
Well, the answer to that is this: When I issued the report in September, I knew, at that point, that the police were actively investigating that report. I talked with the RNC and asked if it was okay to publicly talk about that now. They said, yes, okay, you can talk about it. I explained I had to come before the Commission and I needed to provide an explanation and they said, that is fine. So I knew - and I do not think the public were generally aware of that - it is ongoing today. So the RNC are actively investigating that report.
I knew that, so in the spirit of recommendation 22 in the Green commission report - when you read that and you look at 45, even though I did not issue a 45 - when I looked at all of that, it was my view, it was my opinion, that I had best stay out of it. So what I did was, when I issued that report, when I issued the press release - it is the first time I ever did anything like this - this is what it said: This report relates to expenditures of the Members of the House of Assembly. Therefore, consistent with the Green commission report, the Auditor General will not be discussing this report publicly.
I never opened my mouth about that report since. That was the press release on 14 September. The reason, as I just said, was that I knew that the whole report was and still is being investigated by the RNC. So, in the spirit of recommendation 22, and the fact that the police are involved and that sort of thing, I thought the prudent thing to do would be to just stay out of it and not talk about it. So I decided I would not offer any public comment, and I have not, until now. That is it. That is the long and short of it. I was not muzzled, it was self imposed, but it is in the spirit, I believe, in the Green commission report and that section 45.
MR. SPEAKER: Ms Marshall.
MS E. MARSHALL: And, you also are of the opinion that the report that you issued in September of 2007 complies with the requirements of the House of Assembly Accountability, Integrity and Administration Act?
MR. NOSEWORTHY: Section 45.
MS E. MARSHALL: Section 45.
MR. NOSEWORTHY: Yes, I went through it. In my opinion, given 45 and the requirements in there and that sort of thing that, yes, I had done my work. Yes, I was satisfied with that and I thought the prudent thing to do would be to not speak about this particular matter knowing that it was being investigated, but I felt I was in compliance with 45.
MS E. MARSHALL: Okay.
So, not to put words in your mouth, could you just repeat the - when you were speaking about the media reports that you were being muzzled, which is the reason why we are here this morning. Do you feel that the new legislation is muzzling you?
MR. NOSEWORTHY: Well, I think that any matter that potentially could result in any sort of criminal investigation is the thing. And that is the key, if it is a potential criminal investigation or any investigation by a police force or police agency, that sort of thing, if it fits within that, then I really should not be speaking publicly about it. The preamble, the Recommendation 22 of the Green commission report is abundantly clear about remaining mute and not speaking publicly about those matters. So, given that, and given that I knew the RNC were actively investigating this, I knew that, than I sat back and said you know the best thing for me to do here would be to really not talk about this. There is no up side to this for me or for anybody publicly, for me to get involved to talk about the findings of that report. So I would not speak about it, and that was it. I thought that was the prudent thing to do and that is what I did.
MR. SPEAKER: Mr. Parsons.
MR. PARSONS: Mr. Noseworthy, so the standard of reporting that you adopted in September 2007 was in line with section 45 as recommended by Chief Justice Green. That was totally different, you are saying, than the standard you applied in the other cases that became criminal charges.
MR. NOSEWORTHY: Yes.
MR. PARSONS: So, you had a change of heart after you saw what Chief Justice Green said in 45 as to how you felt you should handle these reports and making them public?
MR. NOSEWORTHY: Well, I would not call it a change of heart. I think I received explicate direction. I received information that I never had before. The direction was clear to me when I read it, because 15 never provided the direction and clarity that 45 did. So when I read 45, I said: Well, look, this is the Chief Justice’s recommendation here. I read that and I said: Well, look, I have to respect this. So, based on that, that is the way I function.
MR. PARSONS: Just for clarification, you said you discussed the issue with the Chief Justice. Did your discussions around section 45 with the Chief Justice happen after he delivered his report, and you saw it and said yeah, I agree with that, or did you have any input into section 45 before he actually finalized his recommendation?
MR. NOSEWORTHY: No, I had no influence over section 45 in any way, shape, or form, no.
MR. PARSONS: So, not withstanding that you agree with section 45, you think it is a better piece of legislation than section 15, how are Members of the House of Assembly supposed to handle the issue of the media saying you have been muzzled, when you yourself say, I agree with it, I think it is right? Not withstanding that you think 45 is better, how do we get past this piece, where the public will say that, albeit the House did not muzzle you - and I guess we did, technically, because we passed Chief Justice Green’s 45 as part of the Accountability Act - how do we remove that impression in the public that we, by passing that piece of legislation, have muzzled you?
MR. NOSEWORTHY: Well, the thing about it is that I am never going to speak about a section 15 report again either. If I issued a section 15 report today, I am not going to talk about it. So, it is no different. There is not a double standard with regards to not talking about the politicians but talking about everybody else, that is not it.
I have now received this information, I think is very clear, and I would now interpret 15, where I could, to be like 45. So, I would not speak publicly now, whereas before I determined that I could, and that was my interpretation of 15. Arguably, it could go the other way with section 15, but that was my interpretation of 15. There was a lot of ambiguity in there, but I read it and interpreted it the way that I did. However, 45 is different, and I accept that. If I issued a 15 report today, I would not speak publicly. So, there is no difference.
The key event was that once 45 came into effect, and once I read the recommendation 22 and the preamble and all of that, once I considered all of that information, on a go-forward basis, that was it for me. I am not talking publicly any more about 15, 45, potential fraud, anything to do with any of that. I am not speaking publicly about it.
MR. PARSONS: Should members of the House decide, in the interest of openness, accountability and transparency, that it would be best to delete subsection 7 from section 45 -because that is the section that says "Section 15 of the Auditor General Act does not apply to a member, the clerk, the clerk assistant or staff of the House of Assembly service." - do you feel it would be helpful if we just simply deleted that section, which seems to be the muzzling section, and then there is no impression left that this House has muzzled you, and then let you, as the Auditor General, exercise your discretion as to how you go about it?
You still have the parameters of section 45 to work within, but you do not have an explicit directive, like it is now, that you shall not. What if the House just said: Look, open and accountable - take it out of there. Section 45 is still intact in its form, but nobody is going to suggest that you have been muzzled.
If there is ever a circumstance that comes up, then, that you, the Auditor General, feel you should, let’s leave it to your discretion and not in the ambit of the House.
MR. NOSEWORTHY: Section 7 would not matter either way to me, from here on in. On a go-forward basis, I am not talking publicly about any potential fraud, whether it is 15 or 45, so the reference in 7 – and, by the way, 7 has statutory offices left off it. I think that is an amendment that is required, if it stays there. So, in the preamble in 45 you will see that it includes statutory office, but in 7, where it explicitly excludes from 15, it is left off. Statutory office is not included there. It is a little anomaly, but I would not treat it any differently at this point, so I do not think there is any need to remove a reference to 7. If you are going to go anything with legislation, I would suggest you change 15, to make it look more like 45. That would be my recommendation, if you were looking for a recommendation.
MR. SPEAKER: Further questions or comments?
MS E. MARSHALL: I would like to ask the direct question: Do you feel that you are muzzled by section 45?
MR. NOSEWORTHY: No, I do not. I think that 45 has provided clarity to me and my office with regard to dealing with potential frauds, whereby I should remain mute. I think that is probably the right thing, after talking with the Chief Justice and looking at this. I think it is not a bad thing at all. I think it is probably the way it should be, and that is why I would recommend having 15 more like 45.
MS E. MARSHALL: I do have one other question, Mr. Chair.
I would like to see a recommendation coming from your office - I think it would be entirely acceptable - if, after a review of the two pieces of legislation, if you feel that section 15 of your legislation should be changed, that you write the Speaker and ask that consideration be given for that.
I did indicate this at the last Commission meeting, that I do not think it would be appropriate for members of the Commission to proceed with an amendment to the Auditor General Act without speaking to the Auditor General, because I do view it as your legislation; but, if you would like to see amendments to your legislation, that you should proceed to request them.
MR. NOSEWORTHY: Actually, I am glad you brought that up because I wrote a letter in 2005 requesting a number of amendments to my legislation and I do not know where it is. There were a number of items in there that I wanted to address, and I provided a work paper showing the current legislation, the issue, the revised wording that I was seeking. That is in the system now. As a result of the Green commission report, there are a number of other items now with regard to the audit, and different things like that. That is on the books already.
MS E. MARSHALL: Okay.
I would suggest that you follow it up with the additional amendments that you require.
MR. NOSEWORTHY: Yes.
MR. SPEAKER: Further questions or comments?
Mr. Noseworthy, just a quick observation, to bring things around, in listening to your comments and the questions asked, do I understand correctly, when you talked about the clarity of section 45 - section 45 extends clarity to directions that you need and sought, actually - is that what weakens section 15 and makes it almost obsolete now that we have 45?
MR. NOSEWORTHY: Yes, there are number of items.
The reporting - the Chief Justice concluded that reporting just to the Lieutenant-Governor in Council was inappropriate, given that my report should be going to the Speaker. Then, in addition, they added other members in here, too, so the reporting is different.
There was no explicit guidance as to the process to follow when you identify a potential section 15. The clarity was not there with regard to speaking publicly on these matters. The deemed tabling is still effect in 15 in my act but it is not in 45, so there are some interesting pieces in 45 that I think make sense and should be incorporated over into 15, or 15 should look more like 45.
MR. SPEAKER: I thank members and I thank you, Mr. Noseworthy, for attending the Commission meeting this morning and bringing some clarity to the issue. It has been a public issue, actually. Thank you very much for bringing clarity and answering the questions in a forthright way.
The Commission now will take a brief recess while we say goodbye to Mr. Noseworthy and say hello to Chief Justice Green.
This Commission is now in recess.
MR. SPEAKER: The Commission is ready again to start proceedings. As stated earlier, and business arising from the minutes, the Commission requested that Chief Justice Green be invited to attend this particular meeting and to address some concerns that was out in the public domain regarding section 45 of the House of Assembly Act, which was written from the Green report and the Chief Justice had some input into that, and how it referred to section 15 of the Auditor General Act.
I welcome Chief Justice Green to the Commission meeting this morning. My understanding is that the Chief Justice has an opening statement, and after the opening statement the committee will be ready to hear questions and entertain comments to the Chief Justice.
Chief Justice Green.
MR. GREEN: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, members of the Commission.
I thank you for the invitation. I might say that this gives me a better appreciation of how witnesses who appear in my court sometimes feel.
I appreciate the Chairman giving me the opportunity to make just a brief comment before we start. I had a number of concerns about appearing in this forum. I felt, of course, I could not refuse to. As the person who recommended openness and transparency and publicity of these meetings, I could hardly take the position that I should not appear. Nevertheless, I did have some concerns and I just wanted to highlight them for you to let you understand the limitations under which I feel I can speak this morning.
As you know, my job as the Commissioner, who wrote the report, is now over. Once I delivered my report in June of last year, basically, I had said all I had wanted to say and whatever was there, good or bad, defensible or indefensible, was there for anybody to see and that was really supposed to be the end of it. So I decided I was not going to try to publicly defend my report in anyway, but I did say at the time I delivered it that there is at least one circumstance where I would speak about it, and that is if I felt there was some misunderstanding or misinterpretation of what was in the report and I felt that for the benefit of the public it should be clarified. So I was glad to see that in the invitation I received here, the focus was specifically in relation to one item, which was section 45 of the new legislation.
The reason why I say that is because I do believe it is appropriate to speak about that. I felt that there may have been some misunderstandings about what I recommended. In fact, after I had heard some of the comments in the media about the Auditor General being muzzled and so forth, I had actually prepared a media release which I was going to issue, but then very shortly after that I received the invitation to come to the Commission and I felt I had better hold off on that and speak about it here. But, for your information, I do have a copy of the draft of that media release which, if you are interested, Mr. Chairman, I can make available to you for further clarification if you wish.
I think talking about this issue today is certainly within the criteria I set for myself about speaking publicly about the report. Now, the second concern I had, and I will not bore you with the details of this but I did want to say that what I am concerned about is my role as a judge. When I wrote the report, of course, I was writing in the capacity of a commissioner and I was charged with making recommendations on matters of public policy. I was not writing as a judge, but now of course I am only a judge. I am no longer a commissioner, and judges are not expected or it is not appropriate for them to comment on or express public opinions about matters of public policy. That is for the legislators.
So, there is a risk, I think, that my appearance here today may be perceived by persons who maybe watching these proceedings as, if you will, the Chief Justice of the courts speak, and the Chief Justice making recommendations about things I am not supposed to make recommendations about in my capacity as a judge. So, if I appear at some point in response to your questions of trying to resist responding, it will be only in areas where I feel that my opinions are being sought, if you will, about matters of public policy on a go-forward basis where of course I can only speak now as if I were a judge. In terms of trying to explain about what I was intending about my report and what the rationale for it was, of course, I am more than happy to answer any questions that you may have.
So, those are the only comments I wanted to make at the outset. Mr. Chairman, I am in your hands as to how we proceed. If you wish me to begin to talk generally about section 15 and section 45, I am prepared to, or I can just simply respond to questions as they are opposed.
MR. SPEAKER: I will seek guidance from the Commission.
MR. PARSONS: I think probably it would be helpful to everyone on the Commission and everyone watching if the Chief Justice could give that general overview of section 15, 45, your rationale and thoughts on those two sections, if you could, sir?
MR. SPEAKER: Mr. Chief Justice.
MR. GREEN: Thank you.
Let me start by saying that the impression I have from some of the discussion I have read about this issue in the public media is that it appears there is an assumption that section 45 is really the only process that governs reporting on MHAs and affairs of the House. I do not think that is quite accurate.
I think it is important to appreciate that under the Auditor General Act, the Auditor General has very broad reporting powers on the financial affairs of government generally. If one reads the Auditor General Act you can see that there are at least three sections that contemplate different types of reports. There is the basic section 12 which talks about the annual report of the Auditor General. In fact, that section 12 says that he does not only have to report annually, he can report as often as he or she sees fit. One should not lose sight of the fact that the general power of the Auditor General comes from section 12 and the reporting can be as comprehensive and as frequent as the Auditor General feels necessary.
Then there is, of course, the famous section 15 which all the discussion is about. That is a very special limited section. It basically says that, if in the course of the Auditor General’s general work he comes across something that could potentially be criminal then he must make a report to the Lieutenant-Governor in Council in respect of those matters which he feels could potentially be of a criminal or quasi criminal nature. That is a very special limited reporting function.
Then, of course, there is section 16 of the Act which allows for the Auditor General to make other reports where he has been specifically commissioned to make reports at the request of the House of Assembly Management Commission or in other respects, as set out in section 16.
The reason I say all that is this: my report only deals with the reporting requirements relating to section 15. It does not touch at all upon the reporting requirements under section 12 or section 16. The importance of keeping that in mind is this: anything that is in my report and is reflected now in section 45 of the new legislation only deals with that very narrow circumstance of the Auditor General being made aware of something that could be potentially criminal. It does not affect, in any way, the powers of the Auditor General under section 12. If the Auditor General were today under the new regime, in the course of his audit work, to come across some spending relating to MHA’s or members of the House that he felt should be commented upon under section 12 – and section 12 is very broad. His report can talk about instances where collections of public money have not been fully accounted for, disbursements of money have not been made in accordance with the authority of a supply vote or relevant act, have not complied with regulations, directives and orders and so forth. There would be nothing improper about the Auditor General, under section 12, reporting about what he considers to be expenditures that do not comply with proper accounting procedures and principles. If in the course of so doing, he were to say, and that spending happens to involve an MHA, he could say that in his report and could even name the MHA and could list what specific transactions were at issue. That existed before my report, it exists now. There is no change to that.
One may say, but what if the information that is reported under a section 12 report could be criminal? Well, as long as the Auditor General does not say, I think it is criminal, he simply reports the facts, I have found that this expenditure took place and I do not believe that this is in accordance with Generally Accepted Accounting Principles, or whatever standards he would apply, as long as he sticks to that, that is fine. But if he goes that one step further and says, well, because I think it is criminal I am going to issue a special report under section 15 or section 45, that is when he has to keep quiet about it. It does not mean that he cannot report the facts in a section 12 report.
As far as the public is concerned, the public can still be made aware, through a section 12 report, of the things that he considers to be inappropriate public spending. The public can draw their own conclusions as to whether they think it is right, wrong, criminal or whatever.
If indeed there is a real potential for criminality then presumably the Auditor General might issue a section 15 or now, under the new regime involving MHAs, a section 45 report as well. That would not be made public. Until such time as an investigation is undertaken - the police look at it and if they decide that there are sufficient grounds to lay charges, they lay charges, and then of course it becomes public in the normal way.
It seems to me that there is a misunderstanding on the part of some members of the public that because the Auditor General is not entitled now, under the new legislation, to report publicly about situations where there may be potential for criminality he is not entitled to talk about those issues at all. I did not see it that way when I was writing the report. My report does not touch upon the other powers of the Auditor General. Whatever he had before he has now. That is whether to report publicly or whether to even speak publicly about it. He could do that. What he is limited to doing is to make comments that might suggest criminality. If people want to draw their own conclusions about the facts that he has reported on, fair enough, but he is not allowed to speak publicly about, or to report publicly and suggest or imply criminality. The reason for that is set out in my report. I felt it was of concern, that people where there has not even been a police investigation should have hanging over their heads this allegation of criminal behaviour until such time as the police have had a chance to look at it. That is why I felt it should be that way.
The other comment I would like to make is, there has been a suggestion that there is a double standard now applicable because this new regime relating to MHAs, governed by section 45, only applies to members of the House and staff of the House and not to members of the public service generally.
My terms of reference only enabled me to speak about what was in the House. It would have been inappropriate and stepping outside of my terms of reference for me to make any recommendations as to whether a regime like I have recommended for section 45 should apply to the rest of the public service. I think, reading through the lines in my report, you probably could glean what my view of that was, but it was not appropriate for me to say anything, nor is it today appropriate for me to say anything. That is the reason why I did not go on to say whether section 45 should apply to the rest of the public service, because that wasn’t my mandate.
I did say in section 12 of my report that there are a number of circumstances or issues that I discuss in the report that I say should be applicable to the House, that the government might well wish to consider might be made applicable to other areas. That was a matter, again, of government policy and it is not something that I should really comment on by way of specific recommendations, so I didn’t. That is the way I see it.
Just to recap: Aside from the Auditor General saying, I have issued a section 15 or section 45 report, and thereby implying that the people named in that report may be guilty of criminal behavior, aside from doing that, the Auditor General still can report on anything. One might have differing views as to how much the Auditor General could, under the old regime, speak publicly about his reports, in any event, but whatever that is that remains that hasn’t changed. It is only in respect of the situation where he, by saying I have issued a section 45 report, has in some manner now implied that the persons named are guilty of criminal activity or could be guilty of criminal activity.
That is the only circumstance this report deals with. It does not deal generally with the reporting requirements of the Auditor General.
I think I have spoken enough. If you have any questions?
MR. SPEAKER: Questions?
MR. PARSONS: Chief Justice, just again for clarification, I am wondering if you could elaborate a bit - because I find your explanations very helpful, and the public do, I am sure - why you see the need for a distinction in the case if there is an allegation of a criminal activity, why you feel that is a special case for the Auditor General to act in a certain way.
MR. GREEN: Well, it’s because, if there is potentially criminal activity there, criminal charges could be laid and the person could end up in front of the courts. One of the fundamental constitutional principles of our democracy is that a person is entitled to a fair trial, and if there has been discussion, allegations and so forth, about a person, suggesting criminal activity, it could affect the fairness of an ultimate trial.
Quite apart from that, and perhaps even more important in these circumstances, is, I think, the reputations of individuals, particularly members in public life who are subject to public scrutiny, need to be protected. We need to have confidence in our public officials, and if a cloud of criminality is placed over their heads, if you will, when no police investigation has been undertaken, no criminal charges have been laid, then I think that is unfair to a person generally and, in particular, people who are in public life. They do not need that.
If there is a police investigation and charges are laid, fair enough; everybody is treated exactly the same and they have to suffer the embarrassment of the public disclosure that criminal charges have been laid and so forth, but until that occurs then I think there is something wrong in placing a person under a cloud, and it is particularly important, I think, in the area of people who are involved in public life.
That was what my concern was, and I felt that until the time there is an investigation and someone makes the determination that there are reasonable and probable grounds to believe that a criminal offence has occurred, then there is no real justification for making those types of allegations public.
Think of it in this way: If you or I became aware of a criminal offence, or what we thought was a criminal offence, what would we do? I do not think we would immediately issue a press release or go to the media, make a public statement, and expect to have our allegation appear on the front page of the paper the next day. What we would do is we would quietly and discreetly go to the police and say: Look, I believe a criminal offence has occurred. Please investigate this and, if you think there is something, lay charges.
That is what we would do. That is how we would report something. Well, all I am saying is apply that standard to the circumstance that we have here. If the Auditor General becomes aware of what he thinks might be a criminal offence, then he should report it discreetly to the authorities who can take the matter in hand, do the proper investigations, and then make the decision as to whether charges should be laid. If they are, then everybody is treated the same.
MR. SPEAKER: Ms Marshall.
MS E. MARSHALL: Chief Justice Green, the Auditor General did release a report last September, quite a detailed report, in which he outlined the details of spending of each Member of the House of Assembly, and I think each past Member of the House of Assembly, a fair bit of detail. That report was released after the new legislation came into effect.
Now my understanding, in reading the report, the Auditor General did not pick up anything that appeared to be criminal, but there is a section in the legislation that I would appreciate if you could just probably speak to. That is where it says, it indicates under section 45, the first section says that the Auditor General has to report to certain people if he suspects criminal activity, but then it says the Auditor General shall attach to his or her annual report to the House of Assembly a list containing a general description of the incidents referred to.
I was thinking, when I obtained a copy of the Auditor General’s report in September, I was very interested as to whether there was a section 45 report, so, of course, I went looking for a section 45 report; but, when you reference a general description of the incidents, would you be able to tell us what you had in mind with regard to the term general description?
MR. GREEN: Yes. Before I do, though, I would like just to pick up on something that occurred to me as you were talking about the September report, and I think it is important.
I think the issuance by the Auditor General of the September 2007 report illustrates the points that I was making earlier. That report, as I understand it, was a report issued under section 12 of the Auditor General Act. It contained detailed information about MHAs, about spending, about where he felt there was improper spending and so forth. That was all listed there. That was a section 12 report. That was at the time that the new legislation was in effect. It was not a section 45 report. I think that is important to understand, so any members of the public who think that the Auditor General now cannot report about MHAs spending, that September report clearly demonstrates the contrary. He did; and, indeed, as we read in the papers, one of the local papers has been sort of methodically, over the past months, picking up various comments made in that report about certain individuals and is going into it in great detail in the papers. All of that information is there. He was reporting the facts of what he found, perfectly legitimate, and it was a section 12 report.
I was interested to hear you just say you went looking to see if there was a section 45 report. Well, you do not know, presumably, I do not know, and indeed we should not know, until such time as there is a police investigation and a decision is made to lay charges. That is the way the system should work.
Now the fail-safe, the protection, in case the system does not work properly - in case, for example, there is a section 45 report issued in respect of all of that, he can do that concurrently with issuing a section 12, except that it is not made public. If, for example, the authorities to whom he must now issue a section 45 report do not act properly - that is the say they sit on it, they bury it, they shred it, they do not act in the way they should - the protection is that section that the Auditor General should, in his annual report, give a general description of what he has done.
So within the year, if nothing has happened with respect to a section 45 report, if he has issued it, it would become public that he has issued a section 45 report, and then if the Public Accounts Committee is doing its job, if members of the House are doing their job, then they can pick up on that and they can start asking questions: Well, now, what is all of this about? How long has this been outstanding? Who does it concern? Enough so that there will be public pressure, presumably, that the authorities then would have to come forward with some sort of an explanation as to what was going on and what they were doing about it. That is where, I think, the protection is. If the system does not work properly, there will be, at some point, a general disclosure that a report has been issued.
Now, when you ask me, what should the general description be in the annual report? I have to tell you that the language that I used there in section 45 is exactly the same language as exists in section 15. That language did not change. Whatever the scope of the reporting authority was under the old legislation, still applies with respect to section 45. When I looked at section 15, and that particular subsection, I said to myself: look, as long as there is a disclosure in the annual report, that in the course of the year he has issued a special report under section 15, or now, section 45, in relation to certain types of expenditure relating to an MHA, or relating to whatever, and gives a general description as to the nature of the concerns that he had, I thought that was probably adequate. Perhaps, on a careful reading, in an interpretation of it, if a court ever had to interpret it, maybe it would even regard it as giving him greater authority to give more information, but at the very least that would be given. It seemed to me that was enough then, that if everybody is doing their job, the media is doing its job, the members of the House are, the Public Accounts Committee and so forth, that would be enough to make it a public issue and then the matter would play out in the public, as indeed it should.
Does that answer your question?
MS E. MARSHALL: I follow you completely. When I said I went looking for it, the Auditor General recently released his annual report, and of course it is quite a voluminous document, and of course I was searching through that to see if I could find reference to a section 45. Of course, I am Chair of the Audit Committee now and there is a requirement that the Chair be notified. So that is the reason why I was looking.
MR. GREEN: Yes. You did not see one?
MS E. MARSHALL: No, I did not see one.
MR. GREEN: So, at that point -
MS E. MARSHALL: So I concluded that there was no section 45 coming out of the report that was tabled in September.
MR. GREEN: Yes, I guess that must be the situation. I had the benefit of listening to the Auditor General’s testimony here this morning over the closed circuit TV, and he did indicate, I believe, that he thought that there may be some police investigation in respect of the September report in any event. Apparently, given the fact that in his annual report he has not mentioned anything about a section 45 report, that must have been triggered not by what he may have issued by way of a section 45 report, but simply because the September report is a public report and the police have looked at it and decided to do something about it, which is their right in any event.
MS E. MARSHALL: Yes.
MR. GREEN: That is, of course, another way in which these matters can make their way into the public domain as a result of a criminal investigation.
MS E. MARSHALL: Yes, that is what I found also.
MR. SPEAKER: Further questions or comments?
MS MICHAEL: Just to thank the Chief Justice for such a clear explanation. I think it gives us everything that we need. It has been really good to have this happen.
MR. SPEAKER: Mr. Chief Justice, any concluding remarks?
MR. GREEN: No, I do not think so, except to say that I am glad to see the Commission meeting and operating in this way. It is gratifying to know that the recommendations that I made are sort of being played out on the ground. I hope you find this experience a good one in this different venue.
MR. SPEAKER: Mr. Chief Justice, on behalf of the Commission I would like to thank you for abiding by your own words of accountability, clarity and coming here this morning and addressing the many concerns and providing information that has been asked, not only by the Members of the House of Assembly but by many members of the public as well.
Thank you for attending.
MR. GREEN: You are welcome.
MR. SPEAKER: This House will now take a brief recess and we will return at approximately 10:35.
MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!
The next item on the Commission agenda would be the update from the subcommittee that was struck at an earlier meeting for the review of caucus resources. As members will know, coming from our January 23 meeting it was agreed that a subcommittee would be struck from members of the Committee and we would look at putting forward an RFP to look at the contentious issue that has been on the agenda here at many meetings that we have had, and that is caucus resources. At that particular time the subcommittee was struck and the subcommittee put out an RFP, Request for Proposal, in the three, I guess, Province-wide circulations which were The Telegram, The Independent, and The Western Star, looking for submissions of proposals to respond to the proposal. We received two submissions and the subcommittee met on two occasions, on April 7 and April 10 of this past week. The subcommittee looked at two proposals and have brought back a recommendation to recommend that company A – we will not name the two companies that submitted proposals, we thought that was unfair. It will be made known and made public once the Committee accepts the proposal and the company involved is notified.
I ask members - they have all been supplied the Request for Proposal submissions and they have all been provided with the briefing note regarding why company A was selected - I ask members if there are any further comments or any further questions. If not, then a motion will be entertained to accept a proposal as put forward by company A.
Any questions? Any comments?
If not, then a motion is in order for the Commission to approve the contract for the review of Caucus resources, and for that contract to be awarded to company A.
All those in favour, 'aye'.
SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.
MR. SPEAKER: All those against, 'nay'.
On motion, contract for the review of Caucus resources awarded to company A.
The Committee will bring back, at its next meeting, the name of the company and what the value of the contract is. We thought it would be only fair and proper for the company to be notified first and to allow them the knowledge of knowing that their proposal was accepted.
The next item on the agenda is the adoption of ministerial expense reimbursement policies for the Leader of the third party.
I think this suggestion might have come from the Leader of the third party. The
Leader of the Opposition, the Speaker and ministerial allowances allowed to each minister, the reflection of what ministers get, is brought forward to the Leader of the Opposition and the Speaker under the same guidelines and for pretty well the same amount. I think in the case of the Leader of the Opposition it might reflect on where the Leader of the Opposition’s district is, as it relates to where most ministers live and where the Speaker lives, when it takes in allowances for travel.
The Leader of the third party is also awarded - and I stand to be corrected - I think it is a much lesser amount for travel, approximately $7,500, I say to the Clerk. There was very little direction, and the Leader of the third party wanted clear direction on how she would be allowed to spend that money and how the money would be accounted for; clear guidelines.
The action required, as put forward here for the Commission’s approval and consideration, is this, that the Commission hereby approve the application of the ministerial expense reimbursement policies for travel allocation of the Leader of the New Democratic Party effective October 9, 2007 with the following modification: Minister is interpreted as Speaker. We are talking about the ministerial allowances here now and this is going to be a reflection of what the Leader of the Opposition will follow. Minister is going to be interpreted as the Speaker or the Leader of the Official Opposition or the Leader of the third party.
Does anybody have questions or comments on that particular item on the agenda? If not, a motion is in order to adopt the action as put forward and the proposal by the Commission.
Moved by Mr. Parsons, seconded by Mr. Rideout.
All those in favour, 'aye'.
SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.
MR. SPEAKER: All those against, 'nay'.
The motion is carried.
MR. SPEAKER: The next item on the agenda is under section 5.3 under tab 2, Draft
Amendments to Members’ Resources and Allowance Rules pursuant to the Commission Minute 2008-010.
I think there might be a disconnect in the way my notes are put together here and what I am looking at.
CLERK: Here it is here, this one.
MR. SPEAKER: Okay, we have skipped one, this particular one here.
CLERK: No, that was the one we just did.
MR. SPEAKER: Okay, this one.
CLERK: Okay, that is the same. You have two copies (inaudible).
MR. SPEAKER: Okay, that one is the same.
Alright, the Chair has the clarification that is needed.
Back in our January meeting it was brought forward at that particular time, and a concern was raised by a member of the Commission whereby we should look at making changes to members’ resources and allowance rules. The Commission is certainly at liberty to do this. I think the way it is to be done is stated quite clearly, it has to be brought forward to a meeting and then brought back to another meeting. The process is clearly laid out. It does not have to go back to the House of Assembly for legislative change. It has caused some concern for some members, that some of the rules we have enacted are causing hardship on many members as it relates to, number one - and I think the parameters of what needs to be discussed here was - the process whereby a member travelling from his or her district to the capital city to conduct his business cannot charge and recover for meal allowance for that particular day of travel.
It also raised some concern that, while Members of the House of Assembly who represent rural districts are allowed twenty trips to and from St. John’s, the capital, to your office, I guess, or the location of your office for many members, at a time when the House is closed, you are allowed twenty trips and a maximum of thirty-five nights. Now, when you look at where members travel from, and the way that members have to get to the capital city, sometimes it takes a night to get there and a night to get back. It has certainly caused some concern. I think it works out to - somebody had it broken down here - that you would be allowed to spend approximately one and three-quarter nights in St. John’s, if you reflected on the number of trips that you are allowed to make.
Many members have raised that issue, where they have to come here to the city and sometimes they come carrying out their duties as a Member of the House of Assembly, to meet with government departments, to meet and bring councils in for audiences with government departments and ministers as well. So, it is brought forward as a recommendation.
I want to open it up for discussion and receive comments from members here. This is the second time. It was raised at one meeting, it was brought back to this meeting, and now it will be ready for a vote if that is the direction that members want to go in. I will open it up for discussion. The Chair will receive comments.
MS E. MARSHALL: I could start off, Mr. Chair.
I do sympathize and empathize with the members who are affected, but I am very, very concerned about making changes to the rules that were only accepted six months ago, especially if we are going to be changing those rules on an ad hoc basis.
I am the caucus representative on this committee and I have received quite a few comments - I do not know if I would term them complaints, but concerns from various members regarding a number of the rules. The concern that I have is that we are going to get in and start changing the rules one at a time.
There is provision under the legislation, under the House of Assembly Accountability, Integrity and Administration Act, under section 16, that there should be a member’s compensation review committee established during this Assembly.
One of the outstanding issues is the pensions for new members. For me, a more palatable solution would be to establish that committee as soon as possible, especially in light of the issue of the pension issue, and have the concerns with regard to - or the problems people are having with the existing rules - addressed by that committee. That committee, there is a time frame established as to when they would have to report. They would have to report back within 120 days.
For me, Mr. Chair, I would see that as a more palatable solution to the issues that have been raised.
MR. SPEAKER: Any further comments?
MR. PARSONS: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I would certainly like to comment on some of these issues.
With all due respect to the Member for Topsail, I disagree. Unlike you, I am a rural member. I do not live within twenty or thirty miles of the capital city, and I, personally, for the last year, have felt the consequences of some of these rules.
I have no difficulty in agreeing that we should strike the committee that is going to deal with the overall issues of this nature, and particularly the pension issue, which is a significant one for a lot of members, particularly new members who at this time, who got elected in October, do not know what is going to happen from a pension perspective. I have no problem with that, but we know about the hardship that some of these issues are causing that are here.
I do not think it is appropriate and commonsensical to take an approach that: well, we know about these four or five issues, but let’s not deal with them. Let’s put them off and have a committee deal with it.
I think if we are going to be logical and rational in how we conduct ourselves, these are not figments of anybody’s - and I will go through each of these - these are cases where people are paying out of pocket to come to do their job. Chief Justice Green, in his report, was very clear that these were guidelines that he gave us, and if they need to be changed the authority is in the Commission to change them.
I can see if there is something that we did not k now about and we needed this committee to review and give us some advice and guidance on, such as the pension thing, which I understand, for example, there are already people over in Finance drafting some assistance and guidelines for us as to the options that might be available on pensions. That is a very significant issue and it deserves to be properly – and it out to be - thought out.
Just to take one of these, for example, the $125 one that is here on the temporary accommodations, if you check around this city, there are not too many places, if anywhere, that you can stay for $125.
In fact, for the nine years that I have been a member, personally, I have stayed at the Hillview Terrace when I am in town because I am not here enough to justify owning a home here or renting an apartment here on a monthly basis. Based on these rules – and, by the way, the rules came about last June. You talk about the Chief Justice only brought them in and we only adopted them last year. That is true, but we adopted the Accountability Act because everybody in this House wanted to have the template and the guidelines in place before we adjourned, because we knew there was an election coming in the fall and before we got back here. That is the reason we took the Green report and put it into effect before we left here last year.
Even this morning, we are here with an example of the Chief Justice and the Auditor General who have come back and given us some guidance on some sections of that act that we proclaimed. We did not wait for big, long reports. We took the earliest opportunity, when that issue came about, and we resolved it. It is the same thing on some of these issues.
Back to the House one here, the accommodations one, I had to negotiate a special rate in order to be able to stay at the Hillview Terrace, because they could not give you a room for their standard rate, plus HST, for $125 a night. Now, this is not money going into my pocket. I am not gaining anything from this. This is money that is being paid directly to the place where I stay temporarily, overnight, when I come into this city to do my work.
All this recommendation here is saying is $125, inclusive of HST, is not reasonable. We are suggesting based upon, I would assume, the recommendations and the two options put forward here by the Clerk, that $140 would be more properly reflective of what the day-to-day costs are. This is not rocket science. This is nobody padding their pocket and putting money in their pocket. This is having a member being able to stay – you are not going to stay down at the Delta; you are not going to stay down at the Fairmont. This is staying in a reasonably standard accommodation in the city in order to do your work.
I do not think there is any need to say oh, listen; we have to wait because we only put Green into effect last summer and we cannot deal with this. We do not need any commission to come back here in a month, six months or whatever, from now to tell us that the facts surrounding this issue are going to change.
On the second one about the private accommodations, it says $25 a night was recommended by Chief Justice Green. Well, I have personal experience where there is no hotel in Grey River. There are a lot of rural communities that I attend to, that I do not have the benefit of saying I am going call up and get a reservation and I am going to stay at that place tonight.
For example, Grey River was first into my district in the last election in October. I did not know anybody in Grey River until then, let alone there not be a hotel there, so it is not like you can even go and ask a friend if they can put you up for the night. I did not know anybody. No doubt that has changed and will change as I get to know more people there, but what you are saying here, and what the Green report was saying, is that if you go in on someone and stay for the night you pay them $25. Now, I think that is a bit unreasonable and that is a bit unfair. In fact, it does not reflect what the fact is and we have been living by in this Province when it comes to anyone else involved in government services, whether you are a minister or anyone else who gets $53 a night and $71 if you are in Labrador. All we are saying here is, rather than take the arbitrary number that the Chief Justice picked out of the air and said $25 a night, why not go with the same standard that everybody else in government is using, which is $53 in the Island and $71 in Labrador?
Now, I do not think we need to take this and say: Oh, no, we cannot touch that because we are only eight, ten months into the new act and get some committee to come back and tell us what it is. That is not to say that the committee cannot come back and say you guys looked at this and changed it and we think it is unfair. I have no problem with that either. I am not saying carve this in stone. That is the whole purpose of the way this act is constructed, and Chief Justice Green made that clear, is so that you deal with circumstances as they arise. If this committee that you are suggesting these issues be referred to comes back and says: Yes, we noticed what you guys did in April of 2008 in regards to these incidents, we do not think that was proper. Go ahead, have them review it. They might come back and say $63 is more appropriate than $53. They might come back and say $160 is more appropriate for the accommodations than $140. Let them still deal with it, but that does not take away from the common sense decisions that we need to make as a committee as we go forward.
On the issue of the number of nights - now, the Member for Topsail, with all due respect again, can get up in the morning, have breakfast and be in here to go to work within twenty or thirty minutes. If I come from my district, which my home is in Port aux Basques in the District of Burgeo & LaPoile, it takes me, at a minimum, if I am going to comply by the speed limits and not even get out of my car for bathroom or to have anything to eat, it takes me a minimum of nine hours to drive it. If I got up yesterday and drove that nine hours to come in here for a board of management meeting, this meeting right here, I am entitled to claim $53 for the day. It is right in the Green act, right in the Accountability Act, I can claim $53.
I am going home today for the weekend. I am going to drive those hours home. I have functions in my district this weekend. I am going to get up Sunday morning in Port aux Basques and I am going to drive back here on Sunday, minimum of nine hours, that is if I do not get out of the car from the time I get in until I get out, which I have to get out because I have to gas up. I am going to get up Sunday morning and drive back in here to come to the House which is opening again on Monday and I am not allowed, under the current rules, to claim for any meals. Now, you talk about common sense and why we must look at some things as we go forward on a go-forward basis. What is the logic? How can I come in here for this meeting today, travelling that distance and be allowed to claim $53, yet I get up Sunday to come in here to go to the House on Monday and I am not allowed to claim anything? I eat regardless of what the nature of the meeting is when I come in here or what the nature of the work is. The bottom line is, I come here to work, whether I am coming to come to this board of management meeting or I am coming into the House of Assembly, common sense tells me I still have to cover the nine hours. I still have to eat.
All we are saying here is it is not the purpose of the trip that you are coming to which determines whether you eat or not or what your bodily functions are. Again, what is the logic? I am saying let the committee decide it. Now, maybe the committee might want to come back as well and agree that I only eat on certain occasions or only ought to eat on certain occasions, or only ought to get paid to eat on certain occasions. That is fine, let them look at it, but I think it is only stalling what is inevitable and what is a practical consideration that needs to be done. That is on the meal issue.
The other one that is here deals with the number of nights, and that ties into the travel. Maybe it is fine for the member who can get up in the morning, drive in here, do a day’s work and be home again that day. If I leave my district to come in here, as I say, it takes me nine hours. Now once I am finished driving in, I have to sleep somewhere. So I am being told under the rules I have to pick somewhere, number one, where the accommodations and the HST do not go over $125 a night. So I take one day to drive in. I conduct my business the next day and then I have to drive home the third day. That is assuming I got my work done in one day. That is assuming I came in and got it done in one day. It takes me a minimum of three days, and in those three days I used two nights.
Now, I am only allowed twenty trips a year like that, totalling thirty-five nights. So, that does not leave much opportunity for me to get much work done when the House is not in session in here. I think if you go back through the records as to when this House is not in session - it is okay when the House is open because I can squeeze in meetings. I come in here to do the House if it is open from Monday to Thursday, you have the mornings if you can get away, your evenings and whatever to try to conduct your business and do your constituency work while you are here and arrange meetings with ministers and department officials and so on. That makes it easier when the House is open, but the House is not open from May 24 to the November 11 weekend. That is six months, I do believe. In six months, to say you are limited to only being in here for thirty-five nights. That is not counting the break that happens from January up to March, the other two-and-half months that the House is closed. So we have a House that is not open, and the record will show, the House has not been open for any more than three months a year, in total.
So, we have nine months of the year that we are allowed to come into town to do our business, totalling thirty-five nights out of nine months, and we have to do that thirty-five nights within twenty trips. I come back again to what Chief Justice Green said, Chief Justice Green’s report says quite clearly, this is not about keeping a member from doing his or her job. We found - I found, personally, since we implemented the new act last June, you cannot do it. Again, I am one of the fortunate ones, because what I will do is piggyback stuff. If I have to come in here for a board of management meeting, what I will try to do is put anything else that I have to do in with those board of management meetings so I can get them done while I am in here. So I am one of the fortunate ones. I can do that from time to time, but it is not always the case where the meeting that I want to squeeze in or piggyback, that I can get it done when the board meetings are on or when I am in here for a board meeting.
I do not know about the member who lives in Topsail, it is pretty close to the capital city, but I can tell you, this member, in my experience, limiting it to twenty trips and thirty-five nights has not been working. You can go back and ask the committee that you want, again, to look at that issue. They have free access to the trips that I have taken since June of last year when the Green act came in, and they can look and see how many nights I have been in here for board meetings, how many nights I have come in here on non-sessional constituency business, and you will see very quickly - and that is not even a year yet, we are four months off a year - that this member used his complement of thirty-five nights.
Not only that, I have been very fortunate, and I do not mind saying - you talk about piggybacking - there is a certain allotment under the Leader of the Opposition’s office for travel and whatever. I have had occasions where I do not have any nights left. Based upon when the election took place in October, I ran out of nights two months ago. I have had to ask the Leader of the Opposition if she would allow me to fit under her budget to come in here to do some work. Now, if we are going to be open and we are going to be accountable, and we are going to be transparent, all we are saying here is, I am doing my job, but under the current rules they are not practical. Justice Green recognized that. These are four incidents where it has not been practical - and it is not only me, I am just giving you my personal recollections here of why I think these should be changed. You, yourself, I am sure, have heard from your caucus members as to some rules. To merely suggest that, well, we have a committee that might be struck to do that, let’s put it off, I do not think that is a practical approach. It is like a lot of things. We have had lots of committees that are supposed to be stuck in this House. Now, whether they are going to report back and how much money someone has to be out of pocket before they report back, it is not going to be retroactive, I am sure. I think right now there is no need of it. I have read reports here, for example, where some of these rules have put members in a position where they are spending thousands of dollars more to do the same work, because of these rules, than they would have spent under the old rules, and I will give you an example.
The Member for Port de Grave used to come in here every year and he had a method of where he stayed. He has checked this out with the office, by the way, so I am not revealing anything here that is confidential and without his permission. The Member for Port de Grave used to come in here to go to his sessions and he had accommodations that he would stay in that used to cost $900 under the old rules. Under the current rules, he cannot come in here to do the same work for the same period of time for less than $3,200. Now, that is not being dealt with here today, but there is another example where the rules do not work. So, if we are going to talk about putting stuff off to the committee, there is a case where the government is losing $2,300 a month that they ought not to be spending, because this member is complying with the rules. Even though he does not want to, he is forced to.
I think we cannot just take this approach, to gang up all of the amendments that come to light that we want to make to the Green report, save them up, put them over in this committee, and when the committee comes back then we will come back and rehash it all again here in the board and deal with them then. I think that is unnecessary. I think it is time-consuming and it is absolutely unfair to the members who are impacted by these negative consequences of these rules.
Chief Justice Green or anyone else has a right to hear what I have said, to watch it, and if he thinks we are doing wrong, or anyone else thinks we are doing wrong with this, and these are unreasonable requests, everybody is free nowadays under the cameras to make their opinion known.
MR. SPEAKER: Further comments or opinions?
MR. TAYLOR: I don’t think I can add much to that, but I am just going to put my opinion on the record anyway.
I think it is fair to say that when we passed this in the House last June, and implemented the rules of Green, we did it knowing, as the Member for Burgeo & LaPoile said, that the House was on the eve of closing and this had to be struck and we needed to get it done before an election, not knowing when the House was going to sit again. I think it is fair to say that everybody recognized there were a fair number of deficiencies in the rules that were laid out, and the ones that are in front of us today are the most glaring of them.
I, for one, am fortunate. I am in a ministerial position - for the time being, anyway - and my permanent residence is in St. John’s, so I can manage with the rules the way they are, but my colleague in St. Barbe - and I remember what it was like to be in his position - I know he cannot. I know it has to be costing him every day that is he is a Member of this House of Assembly, paying out of his pocket in order to be a member. If the people are going to demand that the money that they believe we inappropriately received is paid back, then it is only fair that people get the money that is appropriate for them to receive.
Nobody is looking for any excess here. The fact of the matter is people are paying out of pocket for hotel rooms. People are paying out of pocket in order to be able to travel here because of the limitation on the number of trips, and people are paying out of pocket because of the limitation of the number of nights.
If I were in the back bench or if I were in Opposition, the number of trips that I made back and forth to St. John’s, I mean, I would just have to stop doing my work because you cannot afford to keep doing it.
As the Member for Burgeo & LaPoile said, again, I think by and large by adopting what is suggested here, and making the four changes that are proposed, we are essentially treating members the same as the what – I don’t know; how many thousand? – 10,000 people who work for the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador in various capacities.
I do not think that is it inappropriate for a member to be treated similarly to anybody else who works for the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador. I think that is all we are suggesting here and, as such, I agree with the member and what is being proposed.
I would suggest that if there is any additional cost to the House, that we find it within the current budget and not go looking for any additional money.
MR. SPEAKER: Further comments?
MS MICHAEL: Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
I understand where the Member for Topsail is coming from. It is something that we have to be concerned about, to not be perceived as making changes willy-nilly and doing them all over the place. I appreciate that.
I am looking very carefully at what is being asked, and it seems to me that we could enter into a discussion about: Are some of these more urgent than another? We could take up a lot of time going through all four of them to see.
There could be a discussion around number two and it could be said: Well, really, is that as urgent as number one? So we would approve one and not approve another. Having done that, having looked at all four, and looking at it from that perspective, it does seem to me that some of these are absolutely urgent; there is no doubt in my mind. I do not think that any member of this House should be expected to do nine hours or, if you are going up the Northern Peninsula or going to the South Shore of Labrador, more than nine hours on the road without having a meal. I really do not think that can be expected.
I do not think people should have to be paying out of pocket. I do not think, if somebody is caught overnight unexpectedly because of weather, that trip cannot be covered - that is another issue; it is not here today but it is another example - without trying to track down the Speaker and get permission to pay the hotel room. That is another sort of implication of another rule that we have looked at.
I do appreciate what the Member for Topsail is trying to get at. I have given thought to this, so I think what I want to say is: Let’s approve these. Like I said, we could get into a discussion: Is one more urgent than another? I don’t think I am up for doing that. I would say that we should approve these. We have to go through each one of them, of course, so people will know what we are approving, but set up the committee and make sure that direction – who sets up the committee, us or the House of Assembly? I can’t remember.
MR. SPEAKER: The House.
MS MICHAEL: The House.
Our recommendation to the House is that it is not just the pension issue that is urgent. It is also urgent that the members’ compensation review do immediately look at the whole legislation from the perspective. Then, if they pick up other things or, as the Member for Burgeo & LaPoile has said, if they review a decision we have made and think we are wrong, then let them come back with it.
I hope the public would understand that some of the things that are listed here are really costing members of the House right now. As a member who can literally walk to my workplace from where I live, and can walk to my district from where I live, too, as far as that goes, I do not want to take it upon myself to tell members who are driving nine, ten and twelve hours that they cannot have their needs taken care of.
MR. SPEAKER: Further comments or suggestions?
I guess I, as Chair, would be allowed to make some comments.
I am coming probably from a little bit of a different perspective than the Member for Topsail and the Member for Signal Hill-Quidi Vidi, and certainly completely different from the Member for Burgeo & LaPoile, in that I travel two-and-a-half hours. It is not a big thing, I guess, if I eat or do not eat, but I certainly sympathize with people who are travelling eight and nine hours.
The only thing I say to members present is that the Chief Justice gave us two ways of dealing with this. One way was to strike a committee known as the Member’s Compensation and Review Committee which would be struck by the House that would look at members’ allowances, members’ benefits, members’ salary, members’ severance pay and members’ pensions. If I recall that would be the mandate given to that particular committee. The other way of dealing with it would be for the Commission itself to deal with it.
Chief Justice Green, in his report, clearly stated and laid out in subordinate legislation the different steps that would have to be taken in order to bring about changes. I have some reservations myself, personally, about changing the report six months after we adopted it. I have some reservations about doing things ourselves rather than allowing somebody independent to do it. I get $10.33 for staying in St. John’s when the House is not in session or when the House is in session, and I get that for the thirty-five nights. It is certainly costing me money as well, I say to members present.
A couple of ways of dealing with it - I guess we have taken and we have identified four topics here. There are many more. When I get letters and when the Commission gets letters from somebody representing the district of, say - and I will name two, Port de Grave and Bellevue, where members get aboard their cars and drive back and forth to their homes every night versus having to stay, or they can stay and they drive back and forth to their homes every night. Once their twenty trips are used up, that is it, they do not get any compensation for anything else. The other option is, they can stay in here when the House is open and cost the treasury $125 a night. So, where is the rationale there?
I caution members: If we should just pick four of our concerns here and bring them forward, take them back to the House, bring them back to the Commission, have them gazetted, bring them back to the House again or to the Commission again for approval, should we do that with those four recommendations? Should we collect the items that we were made aware of and do it together or should we wait until the Commission is appointed and follow the recommendation of the Commission? That is what I want members to get their mind around. That is what I think we should formulate a motion here today about, of which way we want to go. I will take direction from the Commission.
MS JONES: I want to seek some clarification here, because I guess I was under the impression that the changes that were being proposed here, in numbers 1, 2, 3, and 4, were not necessarily required to come to the House of Assembly. Is that correct? I just understood from the Speaker that they would and I just need to get some clarification.
MR. SPEAKER: It is not required, in my understanding, to come to the House of Assembly for approval, but it must be announced in the House of Assembly.
MS JONES: Okay.
MR. RIDEOUT: Legislative requirement is not required.
MR. SPEAKER: If there is no legislative change, it is subordinate legislation, it is the rules rather than the legislation.
MS JONES: Okay.
MR. SPEAKER: The Speaker would have to announce the changes in the House, then have the changes gazetted and then – brought back to the Commission first and gazetted after?
CLERK: Yes (inaudible).
MR. SPEAKER: Brought back to the Commission again for final approval and then gazetted so the public will have full knowledge of what we are proposing.
MS JONES: Thank you for that clarification.
Really it has no relevance on how I feel about this issue all the same, the process, because I want to support the arguments that have been put forward by the member for Burgeo & La Poile on this issue. I do think it is a critical issue right now that is being dealt with by many MHAs, especially those who are representing rural districts in the Province. I, like the Member for The Straights & White Bay North, have somewhat of an advantage here, holding other capacities within the House of Assembly that allows me extra travel budgets, where I can kind of be somewhat more accommodating and find different and more innovative ways, I guess, to be able to do the work I need to do, and travel under different budgets. That is not always afforded to members that do not hold ministerial portfolios or other portfolios.
Mr. Speaker, I think it has been pointed out already here today, that the rules as they currently exist are causing some difficulty with a number of MHAs. I do not think that the Commission can ignore that. It has been brought forward to our attention, and I think that we should be dealing with it in terms of making the necessary changes that are required, to allow them to be able to do their jobs and not be out of pocket with any expenses.
I also understand that under section 16 we do have the opportunity to establish a Commission to do a review of this. I certainly support that and I think that needs to happen. I don’t think the changes that we are dealing with today have to be postponed or delayed until such time as we are able to get the support of the House of Assembly to establish a commission, to set up the Terms of Reference for review, to have a review completed and then to have a report come back to be analyzed and voted upon. We all know, when you look at the timelines that we have already seen around trying to having a review done of Opposition office budgets, which has taken since the beginning of our committee process up until now - we are just getting awarded a consultant and now we have to wait for the consultant report to be done and then that has to come back and be reviewed. That in itself will give you a very good example of the kind of timelines we would be looking at in doing probably any review process that we would undertake as part of this commission.
I do not think it would be a very speedy process, I will have to be honest with you, although it does recommend that it be done within six months, but we have seen the amount of time that it has already taken to get to the stage where we are now of just hiring a consultant to look at Opposition office budgets. Based on that, I think we will probably be looking at a much longer process but I guess that we will have to see. I just do not think that we can prolong these issues. I think they are being brought forward to our attention at this time because they are of critical importance to MHAs in doing their job in carrying out their responsibilities to their constituents. To look at those individuals now and say that we are not going to deal with these requests but we are going to put them off, we are going to go through a review process, we are in essence telling them that this could take a minimal of another six months, but my guess would be probably close to a year before we end up trying to resolve some of these particular issues.
Looking at these four issues, do I think that excludes any other issues or changes that may be out there around the rules and regulations for MHAs? Not at all. I know of other examples. I will not discuss them this morning, but there are other examples and there are other issues. I think we will find, that as we go through this and we become more familiar with the new legislation under which we operate and find ourselves in different experiences within our jobs, that we will continue to identify areas where we feel it is more difficult to operate within the parameters of the legislation and may be looking for changes. I think that is a process that will definitely evolve.
Again, some of these things, obviously, will come out of a review process once we undertake that. I do not think that by looking at these this morning we are saying that we are going to now exclude any other changes that may come forward, or we are saying that these are the only changes required. I think that as a commission we have an obligation to deal with issues when members say, it is effecting the way I do my job, it is causing me to spend money out of my own pocket to serve the people that I represent. When they tell us that and they make proposed changes I do not think that we should be putting it off for another six months or a year before we deal with it.
MR. SPEAKER: Further comments?
MR. TAYLOR: In light of some of the things that I have heard since I spoke last, if there are more – just sort of referencing the Chair’s observations that there are other issues, and I know there are other issues. I think that while I agree, as I said before and I still do, with the recommendations here, the question is, how do you deal with them? I think, just upon reflection here, the four issues we are talking about, by and large are not issues when the House is open and the House is currently open. There are other issues that are probably just as pressing that need to be dealt with.
Would it be appropriate – and I am just asking a question here now – for us to take the time between now and the next meeting to do the appropriate compiling of the issues that are most problematic, or that have been identified to whomever, look at how quickly we could strike this – and I am just asking – Committee, and ask that the matters, particularly as they relate to accommodations, travel and meals, is there a way that can be dealt with other than just a few of us sitting along here dealing with them; in a more formal way than we are dealing with it right now? If that Committee can be struck to deal with it between now and the closure of the House, which I suppose will be sometime around the end of May - I do not know if that is being way too optimistic, but at the very least I think it is incumbent upon us to identify what all of the issues are. Once we identify what all of the issues are, if we can deal with it through some other format other than us dealing with it right here, then we should do that.
I do agree with what other members have said, outside of the Member for Topsail, on the timing issue. If we cannot deal with it before the House closes by some other means, then I am of the view that the Management Commission should deal with it. I would rather if we could find another way. I agree with the Chair on that point and with the Member for Topsail.
MR. SPEAKER: Just in response to that: Is the hon. member referring to the Members’ Compensation and Review Commission? Is that the committee that he is referring to?
MR. TAYLOR: Yes
MR. SPEAKER: I think the legislation states that the Members’ Compensation Review Committee can be struck any time within the Forty-Sixth General Assembly and the Commission must report within 120 days. If that Commission was struck today it would be – and the House would have to, I guess, review and adopt the committee report. I ask guidance from the Clerk here, because I do not think the committee would it. It would be struck by the House and I guess the report would have to come back to the House. That being said, the earliest time that you could see any changes implemented would be in the fall session of the House of Assembly.
MR. TAYLOR: Yes, and I recognize that. My observation was, though: You know, if that cannot be done, which I understand it probably cannot, is there a way that we can have a more formal process for identifying what should be done with these matters of travel, meals and accommodations, such that it is not just the six of us sitting down here today making the determination as to how these adjustments are made? You know, can we, between now and the closure of the House, identify a process?
While Judge Green’s report said that it could be done through the Members’ Compensation Review Committee or through the Management Commission, he does not say that we cannot find another way that brings it back to the Management Commission for a final decision. I am sort of looking to find a way in the middle so that it is not just an arbitrary decision on our part, that there is a formal process that involves members, there is some kind of consultation with members, that we identify it and we have a chance to have it fleshed out so that when we finally make a decision, if that is where it is, the due diligence has been done as opposed to just, you know, the six of us saying, look, this is an issue, this is the way we see as fit to deal with it
MR. SPEAKER: Mr. Parsons.
MR. PARSONS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
I did not think that this was that complicated a mater. I realize the Member for The Straits, this is his first meeting here on the Board of Management this morning, but these are not new matters. The law was changed with the Green Commission in the House here back in the Assembly last June. We have been operating under these rules since last June. We had an election in October and some of these issues came to light. I have been at every Management meeting since it has been constituted. These four issues have been debated upside and inside out at other meetings. This just did not pop onto this agenda today in this detail.
The Clerk has provided information here today on every one of these four - not us. This is not the Member for Burgeo & LaPoile who has put this forward. This has all been discussed and decided. The figures here, for example, of going from twenty-five to fifty-three did not pop out of my head. These existed and have been put here and revised by the Clerk. The figure of 125 to 140 did not pop out of our heads. We sought the advice and got the direction of the Clerk who has given us this information. We know about these four issues. We have all had our debates on these issues and where we thought they came from. We are following the process. There is a process in the Green Commission to do what we are doing.
Now there is also a process in Green to strike the committee that would look at a lot of issues, even including this one again if they want to. It comes under allowances in section 16. But the striking of the Commission under Green, 16, talks about big picture stuff too: What kind of pension plan are you going to have; what kind of resources are you going to have; big picture stuff. Green, in no way took away from our obligation as a Commission and as a board to deal with these issues as they come to light.
If we are going to take the approach, six months into the new rules, that every time something comes up, well, we might not have all of them, we have four but there are two or three more floating out there, there might be six more that come up in the next six months, which there no doubt will be - as we go through this exercise of making the Green rules and the new law fit, as we go through that process, it is going to take, I would suggest, years before we get to where everybody understands how it works, we have figured out the quirks in it and we tweak it so that what Justice Green ultimately wants us and where he wants us to go gets implemented. It is going to take some time.
If we are going to look at this on the first occasion and say, well people might not feel good if we change this act right away, if that is going to be the perception, well people might be upset because we are going to change what was done because it is only six months in, whether we are six days, six months or six years in, if what was suggested was not right, if what was suggested does not fit, if what was suggested has gone through proper process to be changed, why do we need to delay?
MR. SPEAKER: In the sake of time, because we are getting close to the hour and there are a couple of other items here - and I do not want to belittle or move away from this item. I think we will bring some resolve to it. Can we kind of bring it together now and see where we are going with it because we have promised members and members have other commitments? We have twenty minutes to end up and clue up some very important business that needs to be done here as well.
Ms Marshall, with that in mind, would you like to comment?
MS MARSHALL: There are two ways to change the rules. One is we can wait for the compensation committee or we, as a commission, can do it. I mean, there are four issues here now. There are other issues I am aware of that members have brought forward to me. So, we have to decide how we want to do it. If the Commission is going to change the rules, are we going to change so many today, so many next week?
MR. SPEAKER: Order please!
Very quickly, and that is what I was asking for as well. That is what I would like to go and find out. If the members only want to concentrate on the four that is suggested here today, that is fine. We need to have an explanation from the Clerk to get clear guidance on what needs to be changed and how that needs to be done. If we are going to look at others that have been brought to us, then we need to refer it and bring it back. I seek guidance.
MR. RIDEOUT: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
First of all, this Commission is not changing any rules. This Commission is following the rules to make changes to allowances affecting members as set out by Green. We are changing nothing. We are not detracting from Green. We are not adding onto Green. We are operating under the rules as set out in the Legislation by Chief Justice Green to do certain things.
There are certain things that we cannot do. We cannot increase members’ salaries. We cannot do anything about severances. We cannot do anything about pensions. There is another process for that, but there are certain things that Green said that members who constitute this Commission must do on behalf of the forty-eight. Meal allowances, district travel, nights in the district, these are matters that, whether we like it or lump it or what, are dumped in our lap to deal with.
Mr. Speaker, I am prepared to deal with them, and deal with them today, the four that are in front of us.
MR. SPEAKER: Further comments?
MS MICHAEL: Just to say, I completely support what Mr. Rideout just said. I said it earlier and I made the comment that if there are other issues, we then ask the committee that gets set up to look at the other issues. That was my recommendation.
MR. SPEAKER: The Chair hears agreement pretty well - even though it is not unanimous - for accepting the four items as put forward here today, and moving forward with those four items and dealing with other issues in a timely fashion and in what we have established ourselves on how to deal with it. In order to do that, I am going to call on the Clerk to give us some clear understanding and make sure that we are clear ourselves in the direction that we are going to go here, and the words that we are using is what the intent of the Commission is and wants to establish.
CLERK: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Yes, the last Commission meeting, when this issue arose, you will remember, we were discussing ministerial allowances. The minute that came out of that meeting was to try to address these four issues in the members’ rules to reflect what was captured in the ministerial allowances. That is why I want to go through at least a couple of them to show there is some difficulty in achieving that precise end of reflecting what the ministerial allowances say.
In number 1, on the daily maximum for temporary accommodations, if you look through that section of the note - it is on page 2 - the ministerial allowances really speak to actual costs for standard rooms. There is no definition, really, of a standard room. It is left to ministers to exercise their good judgment. Every given hotel or place with temporary accommodations would have what they would call their standard room, and that is an acceptable expense. In one community or one hotel it might be $100, in another hotel it might be $200. So, there is a complexity around that, and some of the other language in the ministerial rules which will make it somewhat difficult to administer. Even though the minutes spoke to reflecting ministerial policies, I put an alternative in there of simply increasing the daily dollar figure. I pulled $140. Essentially, it is an arbitrary number. It is not a result of any analysis of hotel costs around the Province.
So, on number 1, the Maximum Allowable Amount for Temporary Accommodations, I guess the Commission would have to decide which of the two. If we try to reflect the ministerial, which I have called Option 1A, I am simply amending. So we would remove the figure $125, we would speak to actual costs of standard rooms. If that is satisfactory to the Commission, that is reflective of what the ministerial policy says. The only caveat is, it could be a little difficult to administer if auditors or others say: Well, did you investigate what is a standard room here? Did you investigate whether they took advantage of special discounts? Did you investigate whether there was a justification for going beyond the standard room, and all these other matters that are in the ministerial? But having said that, we could go with the wording: actual costs of standard rooms.
As an alternative - and this is over at the top of page 3, which I have called Option 1B - we could simply increase the dollar figure. It is $125, inclusive of HST. As I say, there was nothing magical about $140. It was just a figure I arbitrarily selected, and we could do that as the maximum daily. That would be one of the matters, I guess - if the Commission is agreeing with this in principle, we would have to decide which approach to take or even which dollar figure. As I say, I cannot bring forward any analysis to show that $140 is the appropriate figure. So, that is one matter.
In number 2, although we are discussing private accommodations, and that has a precise meaning in each of the allowance regimes, Members’ Resources Allowance Rules versus ministerial, it means different matters.
AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).
CLERK: Well, we could, yes. Okay, go back to number one, yes.
MR. SPEAKER: Let’s do it one at a time and that way we can move ahead and have it put behind us rather than asking questions later.
MR. RIDEOUT: (Inaudible).
MR. SPEAKER: Number one: Is it the Commission’s approval to recommend Option 1 or Option 1A?
CLERK: Option 1A or 1B, Mr. Speaker.
MR. SPEAKER: 1A or 1B?
MS MICHAEL: Not to determine, but just to put out to people, I did actually go on-line with some of the known hotels in the Province. I did not do all of them but I did do a number of them and found that the $140 would cover a standard room, no matter - where I could see one would go in the Province. Just to let you know that I did that, personally. I did not even get a staff person to do it.
MR. SPEAKER: Any other comments?
Am I hearing that Option 1B would be -
MR. RIDEOUT: Just to add to what Ms Michael has said, that seems to me that the word standard room is fine. I do not know why we would need to attach a dollar figure to it. That is what the ministers have to live with, as I understand it.
AN HON. MEMBER: Yes.
MR. RIDEOUT: And a standard of $140 generally buys you a standard room anywhere in the Province. If it is $140 or if it is $110, or if it is $90, well, that is what it is. That is what you get reimbursed for. My preference would be 1A.
MR. SPEAKER: I am hearing 1A would be the acceptable way and the approach and the change for that amendment.
All those in favour, 'aye'.
SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.
MR. SPEAKER: All those against, 'nay'.
The motion is carried and given direction to the Clerk to move ahead with the recommendation in adopting recommendation 1A as put forward in the minutes.
CLERK: For item number 2, the Maximum Amount Allowable for Private Accommodations; as I said, private accommodations are defined differently in each of these two regimes. Under the Ministerial, it could be used to pay for the costs of secondary accommodations, for instance, secondary residence as it were. If you look at the definition under Members’ Rules, that cannot be used for members; so we are talking purely the private accommodations if, as Mr. Parsons says, he is in Grey River or some place else. It cannot be used under the Members’ Rules to pay for secondary residence that is ongoing monthly, or annual costs, by virtue of the definition of private accommodation contained under the Members’ Rules.
If you will notice there in the second paragraph, under number 2, private accommodations under those rules are, "Accommodations owned or maintained by a person other than the Member…" and so on and so forth.
So, if the member were maintaining an apartment or another secondary residence, this private accommodations money could not be used. You would have to turn to the secondary residence regime as outlined in the rules.
I say that only because, in the discussion on January 23, there were some thought that perhaps private accommodations as characterized in the Ministerial rules, the $53 a day on the Island, the $71 in Labrador, could be used, for instance, to cover the cost of an apartment. That is not the case for members, because the definition is different. It is important we are clear on that.
To make it as the minutes from January 23 directed, totally reflective of the Ministerial rules, it would require that we rewrite the entire provisions of secondary residence in the Members’ Resources and Allowances Rules, and I did not think that was where the Commission was going.
In this case, we have simply adopted those dollar figures; instead of $25, $53 on the Island and $71 in Labrador.
MR. SPEAKER: Members have heard the explanation of item 2 as put forward in our minutes.
Are there any comments, suggestions, opinions, questions?
If not, would the Commission move that we give direction to the Clerk to write –
MR. TAYLOR: Just so I understand what the Clerk said - I am sure this is what he said - the $53, for the sake of argument, could not be used if somebody was going to rent an apartment in here, right?
CLERK: That is right, under the Members’ Rules.
MR. TAYLOR: Fine. Okay.
MR. SPEAKER: All those in favour of recommendation number 2 as provided in the minutes, signify by saying, ‘aye’.
SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.
MR. SPEAKER: All those against, 'nay'.
Recommendation number 2 is carried.
CLERK: For number 3, as with the dollar figure I was looking at earlier, I have no particular basis for fifty nights. It is based on discussions with members and so on. It could be forty, fifty or sixty. I put forward fifty just as a basis for discussion. You will notice one way to think of the number of nights is to tie it into the number of trips. What is a reasonable number of nights you need if you are making a trip? I put fifty forward, really, just as a matter for discussion.
MR. SPEAKER: Comments or suggestions?
MR. PARSONS: Mr. Speaker, I realize, given the early stage we are at with these rules, it is difficult, but we do know to date, I would submit, that thirty-five nights was not enough. I think it would be prudent if we said - again, it is a figure out of the air but at least the figure is there. You are not breaking any laws if you need to use it. As part of the committee, again, if we find from experience that fifty is too many or fifty is not enough, then we will have some record, but we do know as of now that thirty-five is not enough so I think fifty is a reasonable figure to pick for now and if we need to change it in the future, either up or down again, that is the purpose of the process.
MR. SPEAKER: Further comments?
Is the committee ready for the question?
All those in favour of recommendation number 3, for the maximum number of allowable nights when the House is not in session be increased to fifty, and the other reasons given, and the language of item number 3, signify by saying ‘aye’.
SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.
MR. SPEAKER: All those against, ‘nay’.
Item number 3 is carried.
CLERK: Item number 4 is the one concerning meals while travelling, which Mr. Parsons referenced earlier.
The only thing I have done there is I think the discussion on January 23 talks about travelling to and from the capital region when the House is not in session; but, as we looked at the rules - and I had the Law Clerk look at them - it also applies to travelling when the House is in session, as she reads it. So, in fact, meals while you are travelling to and from the capital are not covered whether the House is in session or not in session, so I have expanded it to cover both eventualities in this proposed amendment.
The small amendment that is required is actually up at the top of page 5. It is simply, "Subsection 31(2) is amended by deleting the word, brackets and letter…" as follows, and that solves that matter.
I have one other matter.
Oh, I am sorry; you should finish 4, yes.
MR. SPEAKER: Members of the Commission have heard the explanation and the suggestion.
All those in favour, 'aye'.
SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.
MR. SPEAKER: All those against, 'nay'.
The motion is that item number 4 on the agenda be carried.
CLERK: Simply on the last bullet there, speaking of the Estimates, the Estimates we put forward, of course, were based on the existing rules. These additional decisions, if they ultimately are approved, and the Speaker talked about the process to be followed - the process, by the way, is at the very first bullet of this briefing note - could add up to, if they were used to the maximum, $150,000 in expenses. It sounds dramatic, but when you work through the math of numbers of nights, numbers of members and so on, it starts to increase dramatically. So, for instance, going from $125 a night to $140, if we base it when the House is in session, if we say members stay four nights, instead of $500 a week, four nights at $125, you have four nights at $140, so that is $560. There are twelve weeks a year –
MR. TAYLOR: (Inaudible).
MR. SPEAKER: Mr. Taylor.
MR. TAYLOR: Just to that point, you are assuming that it is going to go to $140. I don’t think it is going to go to $140. We said it is actual cost, not standard.
CLERK: That is right. That is true, yes.
MR. TAYLOR: I think there will be very little change. The amount of change on that will be insignificant, I think, in the bigger scheme of things.
CLERK: Yes, that is right. All of this is purely estimates.
MR. TAYLOR: Yes.
CLERK: Simply to make the point, I will not belabour you with the numbers, all to the maximum by all the number of members, it does expand a fair bit and we did not include it in the budget, so just to make Commission members aware that later on in the year we may find we do have some budget issues for that piece.
AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).
CLERK: We could be, too. It is really an estimate on the usage.
MR. SPEAKER: There is a fair amount of this particular agenda remaining here. I do not see a lot of it as being contentious. I realize that a lot of the members, especially the rural members, have other commitments for Fridays. What we talked about was trying to get a Commission meeting every second Friday.
Some of the items left on this particular agenda here need to be attended to, I think, before two weeks’ time, and are a carry-over of the meeting that we have been trying to get here because of weather and other situations in the past and it has been difficult.
Would the Commission agree - and we will live by the 12:00 o’clock deadline, which we are fast approaching - would the Commission agree that maybe we could meet next Friday? Even if we do not have the full Commission, if we have a quorum it would be okay, just to complete the rest of this agenda?
There are some things that need to be discussed here, like the pay schedule for replacement of constituent assistants, like the pool that Chief Justice Green suggested that we create for members who have their constituency assistant in their district for when the House is open. The House has been open now for a number of weeks. We have not attended to that because we do not have clear direction or policy.
With the Commission’s approval we can adjourn the meeting today in the time that we have allotted - and I think that we are going to be bumped off television in about four minutes’ time – and maybe we can agree to meet 9:00 o’clock next Friday morning with a quorum to continue to carry out the remaining agenda.
If there are items there that members want taken off, one or two, that they would like to be present, then we are wide open to do that; but, as I look through them, I don’t think it is anything that will cause any concern. If we can get a quorum, I think we could carry on and do the good work of the Commission.
MR. TAYLOR: I don’t know if I will hamper the good work of the Commission, Mr. Chairman, but if it is not too stormy to get out of here next Friday morning I will be travelling to my district, so I won’t be here on Friday, for sure.
MR. SPEAKER: Thank you.
Do any other members have any concerns?
If there is a day during the week – but I understand the Opposition party and the third party are taxed with their time. After serving ten years in Opposition I know what it takes when the House is open, and with three it must be challenging.
MR. RIDEOUT: All I can say concerning next Friday, Mr. Speaker, I think both yourself and colleagues on the committee know, is that I may or I may not. I am not sure.
MR. SPEAKER: Can we set the date tentative for next Friday?
MR. RIDEOUT: You can set it, but I can’t be certain.
MR. SPEAKER: Can we do that? That is as much as we can do.
MR. RIDEOUT: I am okay with that.
MR. SPEAKER: I see agreement.
This meeting will now adjourn and the committee will reconvene and meet next Friday at 9:00 o’clock in the morning.
I would like to thank the committee for a good morning of work and for their indulgence.
This committee is now adjourned.