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 the Commission members to a carry-over meeting with two items that were on the agenda from the April 30, 2008 meeting, where we agreed to meet this morning, May 5, for further discussion and bring some conclusion to outstanding items so they might be dealt with in this sitting of the House of Assembly.
I ask members if they would introduce themselves, and then we will proceed. I will start with Ms Marshall to my left.
MS MARSHALL: Beth Marshall, MHA, Topsail.
MR. RIDEOUT: Tom Rideout, MHA, Baie Verte-Springdale.
MS JONES: Yvonne Jones, MHA, Cartwright-L’Anse au Clair.
MR. PARSONS: Kelvin Parsons, MHA, Burgeo & LaPoile.
MS MICHAEL: Lorraine Michael, MHA, Signal Hill-Quidi Vidi.
MS KEEFE: Marie Keefe, Clerk’s Office.
CLERK: Bill MacKenzie, Clerk of the House.
SPEAKER: Roger Fitzgerald, Chair of the Commission.
The two items that we talked about were the extenuation, I guess, of the membership of the Public Accounts Committee.
The Public Accounts Committee in the past was structured with four members from government and three members from the Official Opposition for a total of seven members. A member from the Opposition would be the Chair of Public Accounts and a member from the government side would be the Vice-Chair.
In the Green report, Chief Justice Green made reference, and in fact was fairly strong in his recommendation, that members of the Public Accounts Committee should not hold a membership in the House of Assembly Management Commission.
With the present structure of this Forty-Sixth General Assembly, it would be kind of difficult to have an active Public Accounts Committee with only one member from Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition. It has been raised, and the Public Accounts Committee has not been struck because most members felt that it would be fairly ineffective and would not carry out its mandate with six members from the sitting government side and one member from Opposition. So as a result of that we are meeting here this morning to discuss and ask the Commission’s suggestions and opinions of how the new Public Accounts Committee should be structured.
The Chair will entertain comments and proposals so that we might have an active Public Accounts Committee which is very, very important and have it to reflect and coincide with a change in legislation in order to accommodate the Public Accounts Committee.
I ask members for this views and opinions.
MR. RIDEOUT: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
There is only one way under our current situation to address the problem that we have. The government certainly believes, and I believe, that we need an active and a functional Public Accounts Committee. Our Standing Orders call for it and the Green Report recognizes it, although Chief Justice Green made some pretty prescriptive recommendations on who could be a member of the Public Accounts Committee vis-à-vis this Commission.
The reality is that there are four members in Opposition to the government in this Legislature and that is the way it will be for the foreseeable future. Three of those four members now sit on this Commission. If we are going to have a Public Accounts Committee that reflects our Standing Orders, a seven member committee with four from government and three from the Opposition, there is going to have to be duplication. There are going to have to be Opposition members who serve on this Commission and serve on the Public Accounts Committee. There is no way around it. The numbers are such that that has to happen.
For that to happen and for there to be a functional Public Accounts Committee, there has to be an amendment to the Green Act to allow for members who serve on this Commission to also serve concurrently, under present circumstances, on the Public Account Committee. I am prepared to support that amendment as one member of this Commission so that we can have a functioning and hopefully effective, but certainly a functioning Public Accounts Committee, as envisioned by the rules, and I think as envisioned by Green as well; excepting of course, the way that the numbers worked out following last fall’s general election.
MR. SPEAKER: Further comments?
Be there no further comments, the suggestion as put forward is that the amendment to the House of Assembly Accountability, Integrity and Administration Act would be as follows: Section 18 of the Act is amended by adding immediately after subsection (5) the following: "(5.1) Notwithstanding subsection (5), where the number of members sitting in the House of Assembly in opposition to the government is insufficient to allow the appointment of 3 of those members to the Public Accounts Committee and still comply with that subsection, a member of the Commission may serve concurrently as a member of the Commission and of the Public Accounts Committee of the House Assembly."
All those in favour of that recommendation and the amendment as put forward as a suggestion.
SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.
MR. SPEAKER: Members against.
The amendment is carried.
The next item on the agenda, and the second item, deals with the officers of the House.
We are into a situation right now where we have the Deputy Speaker who is unfortunately ill and has had to seek leave from his duties as the Deputy Speaker, and we have had the Assistant Chair of Committees move up to the acting Deputy Speaker and we have had to appoint a member from the government as the Assistant Chair of Committees.
Members feel that those appointments should be reflected on the salary that members should receive, because as of now you have the Assistant Chair of Committees playing the part of Deputy Speaker not getting remunerated for what that particular position would pay, and the same thing with a member from the backbenches of government, if that is the right and proper to refer to it, who is playing the part of the Assistant Chair of Committees and getting no remuneration whatsoever.
Members felt that those particular temporary appointments, if we expect those members to carry out their duties, should also reflect the pay schedule for as long as those members carry out those duties as well on a temporary basis.
I open the floor for discussion and suggestions.
MR. RIDEOUT: Again, Mr. Speaker, I suppose I can speak to this certainly as a member of the Commission but also as Government House Leader. For the House to function we have to have a Speaker, a Deputy Speaker and a Chair of Committees. We at least have to have those officers of the House in place on a regular daily basis for the House to carry out its functions in the overall scheme of things.
Unfortunately, since this Parliament convened for its first session March 10, I believe it was, the person holding the position of Deputy Speaker has been seriously ill. We have no immediate knowledge as to when that person will be able to resume their duties as Deputy Speaker, so that leaves the House, from a functional perspective, in a quandary.
What normally happens in those situations, the person who is below in the next House position moves up - in this case it was the Assistant Chair of Committees - moves up and becomes acting Deputy Speaker, and of course that leaves the Assistant Chair of Committees position open.
Now people who are familiar with the proceedings of the House know that the House cannot operate when we go into Committee of the Whole - and we have to do that on every other bill and we are doing it every other day particularly when we are doing the budgetary measures - without having an Assistant Chair of Committees. There is a person filling that position now since March 10 without any remuneration. For that House to continue to function and do the public business that we are elected to do, those positions have to be filled by people who are active and can carry out their duties.
It has always been the case under our Standing Orders that people who fill those positions would receive some additional compensation. It is not at a salary equivalent to what the Speaker makes or the Leader of the Opposition or a minister, but it is an additional remuneration to reflect the additional duties that those persons have to carry out to enable the House to carry out its public work.
Chief Justice Green, again in the Green Act, prescribed the salaries for those positions and that carried on with what has happened in the House in the past, but made no provision for how we would deal with a matter where a person was incapacitated and could not carry out their duties. Again, it is not something, I suppose, that one can plan for because one really does not know if and when you are going to be faced with that circumstance, but this particular House is now faced with the circumstance and has been faced with the circumstance since March, that the Deputy Speaker cannot carry out his duties and we have had to back fill his position and then consequently back fill the position of Assistant Chair of Committees.
For those people to be remunerated one of two things would have to happen. The person who occupies the Deputy Speaker’s position would have to be asked to resign and I think that is pretty heavy handed and repugnant in our society, that somebody who is ill would have to give up their job and bit of additional salary that goes with it. Nobody knows how long that person is going to be ill. Hopefully they will be back to work soon, but in the meantime the person is legitimately ill and we are not prepared, I am certainly not prepared, to suggest that he would have to vacate his position and thereby give up the additional salary that goes with the position.
On the other hand, the positions have to be filled and the work has to be carried out, so it is not fair that we ask people to take on those extra duties without being compensated, as Chief Justice Green and the rules of the House envisioned, that someone ought to be compensated if they are carrying out those duties.
To correct that anomaly and it is an anomaly - it is only the second time in my thirty years here that I have seen it happen when an officer of the House was ill and had to be replaced by somebody else. It is an anomaly and I guess those anomalies will happen from time to time and the Statute under which we operate needs to reflect that. In order for that to happen there needs to be an amendment to the Green Act which would allow us to, in the case of illness of a novice holder of the House, to pay somebody else to carry out those duties during the illness of that person.
That is the proposed amendment as I understand it, and on that basis I am certainly prepared to support it.
MR. SPEAKER: Further commentary?
MS MICAEL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
There are a couple of points I would like to make. Some may be a repetition of what Mr. Rideout has said and some may be new.
Certainly, with regard to the proposal that we have in front of us, the draft amendment, I absolutely agree with the necessity to take action. One of the basic principles under collective agreements, that I am aware of, is that if somebody is unable to do his or her work provision is there for that person to continue to be paid while a replacement comes in and the replacement is also paid. That is not an anomaly in the labour world. That is something that is a practice and any place where it is not a practice that would be considered to be below a standard that one would want, because one should not be penalized because of illness. There are different provisions that are allowed for in different situations to deal with that.
The situation that we have here is that there are no provisions whatsoever to deal with the circumstance that we are dealing with in terms of an appointed position and somebody unable to do his work.
I totally agree with Mr. Rideout, that nobody, I do not think, sitting here today is looking to try to penalize a member who is ill. That is not what this is about. This is about dealing with our situation, both in the short-term and the long-term. I agree that both in the short-term and in the long-term I think there is a need to review and to amend the legislation that came from the Green Report. I do not think there is any doubt about that, and I think the amendment language that we are looking at is the way in which we have to go.
However, I think there is a longer term question and it is not a longer term question so much for the Management Commission, it is for the Management Commission I think to co-ordinate it, but there is a longer term question that I think we need to look at probably in the context of our Standing Orders with regard to appointed positions in the House.
Today I think we need to make a short-term decision for now which will be a change to the Green legislation, but I think we also need to see that when we do set-up our – I always forget the name of the committee. What is it Mr. Rideout, the committee that would look at Standing Orders, priorities and elections? No, that is not it
MR. RIDEOUT: Standing Orders Committee.
MS MICHAEL: Standing Orders Committee, right. I am still new. The Standing Orders Committee does have to be set-up and that could be one of the things that is put to the Standing Orders Committee when that Committee is put in place.
For the sake of clarification of the viewing public, the media and those who have gone into the Web site and looked at the documents that we are dealing with here this morning, the main part of the amendment would be to say that with regard to the members who we are talking about: is, after the expiration of the ten consecutive sitting days, and until the return to duties of the absent member or the appointment of a new member to the absent member’s position, entitled to a salary referred to in subsection (1) for the position that he or she replaces without affecting the salary of the absent member.
My assumption is, and I am just saying it so we have clarity both for ourselves and the public, that prior to the ten days being completed, the person who is replacing would be paid under their regular salary and then after the ten days they start getting the salary of the person they are replacing. I just wanted to say that for clarification and to be sure that that is the correct interpretation that I am making.
MR. SPEAKER: Ms Michael, that is my understanding, and the Chair will ask for guidance before he reads into the record the amendment to find if the ten consecutive days is the figure that the Commission feels is fair and should be included in the amendment.
MS MICHAEL: In other words, I wanted to be clear that after the ten days, for example, when the Deputy Chair of Committees starts replacing the Deputy Speaker, that the position of the Deputy Chair of Committees starts being paid only as the Deputy Speaker and not also as the Deputy Chair of Committees, because there is another person who has moved in to perform the role of the Deputy Chair of Committees.
I just want to be sure that we are clear in saying that, so nobody who is watching or listening may think that we are talking about a double dipping here.
MR. SPEAKER: That is my understanding as well. Is that the Commission’s understanding?
MR. RIDEOUT: That is my understanding.
MR. SPEAKER: Mr. Rideout.
MR. RIDEOUT: Yes, Mr. Speaker, that would be absolutely critical and clear to my understanding as well, that nobody is going to be remunerated twice. I think I said somewhere, either in the House or in this Committee the last time we met, I have filled positions of an MHA, a minister, a Deputy Premier and sometimes Government House Leader. There was a time, I believe, when I filled seven positions, but I only get paid once, as a minister. There is no question, that whoever moves up to the Acting Deputy Speaker does not get a salary for being Deputy Chair of Committees as well. You get one.
While I am recognized, Mr. Speaker, I would like to mention the point on ten consecutive sitting days. We are talking here about a person who is seriously ill, a person who went into hospital sometime in December and is still under serious medical care. The House began it’s work, I believe, March 10. We had to appoint people immediately in those acting positions, so I am not sure that the ten consecutive sitting days is much of a help.
Where we know that a person is seriously ill and is not going to be able to perform his or her duties, I mean that is going to be known. You can ask that there be a doctor’s certificate, I suppose, or whatever, but it is certainly going to be known. We are not talking about somebody who is out with a headache today but will be back here again tomorrow. So, the ten consecutive sittings days I do not think adequately can address every situation.
The amendment begins as saying: Where a member who holds a position referred to is due to illness and cannot perform their duties. I mean ten consecutive sitting days at this point would mean that the people appointed to those positions would have had to do the duties for two parliamentary weeks because our sitting week is four sitting days, Monday to Thursday. I am not so sure that that should be a consideration, where we know or it can be ascertained that the person who is appointed to the position is ill and in all likelihood is going to continue to be ill for some unknown period of time.
That is the only point I would like to make on that.
MR. SPEAKER: Any further commentary?
Am I hearing that the Commission would rather not see any time period there, and once a member fills the position of either the Deputy Speaker or the Assistant Chair of Committees that that particular member would receive the remuneration immediately upon filling that position?
MS MICHAEL: Mr. Speaker, I think we have to have something in there with regard to time allocation, because the opening statement is, section (5), "Where a member who holds a position referred to in paragraph 1(a)(b) or (c) is, due to illness, absent and unable to carry out the duties…" If we do not put in some number of days, you could have somebody absent due to illness for two or three days, and I do not think that is our intent. We are talking about the recognition of a long-term illness.
I hear what Mr. Rideout is saying, but I think we do have to have a reference to a number of days. If not, it does not make sense, because we are dealing with long-term, and somebody could be sick – the Speaker could be sick for a couple of days and that is not what we are talking about, I do not think.
MR. SPEAKER: Mr. Parsons.
MR. PARSONS: I will just make a couple of comments.
Number one, I would agree that the suggested amendment certainly is not indicating that anyone would double-dip and be paid twice. That is pretty clear.
Secondly, I would put out that I do not think it matters having the ten days there. That ten days is just the trigger that triggers the appointment of the replacement. Once that triggering takes place, the person gets the remuneration for that salary. That is my understanding. Because none of these positions are based upon a per diem thing, that if you did it for twenty days or twenty one days – once you trigger that the replacement took place in ten you get the salary that goes with it. That is my understanding.
MS MICHAEL: That is right, exactly.
MR. RIDEOUT: Okay Kelvin, I did not understand it that way.
MR. SPEAKER: With that understanding and suggestion, are members of the Commission okay with the wording? Any further discussion needed?
If not, I will read into the record, "Section 12 of the House of Assembly Accountability, Integrity, and Administration Act is amended by adding immediately after subsection 4, the following:
Where a member who holds a position referred to in paragraph 1(a)(b) or (c) is, due to illness, absent and unable to carry out the duties of his or her position for a period of more than ten consecutive sitting days of the House of Assembly,
(a) a member referred to in paragraph 1(b) or (c) who carries out the duties of a member referred to in paragraph 1(a) or (b); and
(b) another member appointed to carry out the duties of a member referred to in paragraph 1(c),
is, after the expiration of these ten days, and until the return to duties of the absent member or the appointment of a new member to the absent member’s position, entitled to a salary referred to in subsection (1) for the position that he or she replaces without affecting the salary of the absent member."
All in favour of that particular amendment.
SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.
MR. SPEAKER: Those against?
The amendment is carried.
On motion, amendment carried.
MR. SPEAKER: The Clerk.
CLERK: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
We perhaps should have a minute as well on the effective date, because you will see in the draft amendment we did not actually include a date, subject to the discussion. So perhaps if we could just get a minute on that.
MR. SPEAKER: Would a member make a suggestion on when the effective date of that amendment should be?
MR. RIDEOUT: Mr. Chairman, I would like to suggest that the effective date for the amendment be the beginning of this Forty-Sixth Assembly, which I believe was March 10th passed.
MR. SPEAKER: The amendment would be retro-active to March 10th.
MR. RIDEOUT: Yes.
MR. SPEAKER: Which was the day of the Speech from the Throne for the Forty-Sixth General Assembly.
I thank members.
Before we adjourn, maybe we might try to set a date –
CLERK: I just wondered, should we vote on that, just for confirmation?
MR. SPEAKER: Okay, yes maybe we should have a vote.
All those in favour of the effective date being March the 10th of 2008?
SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.
The motion is carried.
Can we put forward a date for our next Management Commission meeting? I have got several dates put forward here by the Clerk. One of them is certainly not one that most members would agree with, which is the 16th which is the holiday weekend, but we are wondering maybe if Wednesday, May 21st at 5 o’clock in the afternoon might be a time that members could accommodate their schedules to attend another Commission meeting.
Would that be a suitable date that we can work towards? If it becomes problematic then just let us know and we will do something, come up with another time.
Right now, the tentative date for the next Commission meeting will be at 5 o’clock, Wednesday, May the 21st.
I thank members for their cooperation and their indulgence, and this Commission meeting is now adjourned.