STANDING COMMITTEE ON PUBLIC ACCOUNTS
Mr. Russell MacKinnon
[The public portion of the committee commenced at 9:39 a.m.]
MR. JOHN HOLM: Are we now out of camera?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Yes.
MR. HOLM: We are no longer in camera.
MS. MORA STEVENS (Legislative Committee Coordinator): It is now public.
MR. CHAIRMAN: We are not in camera. Bill.
MR. WILLIAM LANGILLE: We are not in camera now?
MR. CHAIRMAN: We are public.
MR. LANGILLE: So this will be a public discussion now?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Yes. Okay, does anyone wish to pursue it? David.
MR. DAVID MORSE: So is the purpose of this to decide whether that was an in camera session or not an in camera session?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Well, it has been decided it wasn't because we didn't give notice. That was the problem.
MR. MORSE: Okay. I guess, in view of the material that has been supplied to me, and certainly it was my understanding at the time that it was an in camera session, there was no media present. That has always been the case. It was put out in the operating practices which I was given when I joined the committee. So this, to me, is a deviation from what had been agreed upon.
With all due respect, Mr. Chairman, I guess I have to ask you to put your decision to a vote. On this occasion, I cannot be supportive of the decision, respectfully.
MR. CHAIRMAN: We will allow everybody an opportunity. Okay.
MR. JAMES DEWOLFE: Mr. Chairman, with respect to the decision that you made, I realize that you have made somewhat of a learned decision on this, but it was my understanding that these meetings are in camera. I have been around for almost three years and, certainly, in Opposition, when our numbers were low, I served on a lot of committees and it was always the policy that these types of meetings were in camera. In fact, they were.
I have a great deal of problem, trouble understanding how, all of a sudden, this has changed. I may be wrong in what I have just said with regard to that, but I certainly know that the committees that I have chaired and the committees that I sat on when we were having this type of a meeting, it was in camera, and I would hate to put Mora on the spot but I was just wondering if you could clarify if what I have said is reasonably accurate. From an organizational view, she has been working with the committees.
MR. DARRELL DEXTER: It is not her decision . . .
MR. DEWOLFE: No, but I just want clarification verifying whether . . .
MR. CHAIRMAN: We will allow Mora an opportunity, everybody will have an even flow on this. I want to be fair-minded on this.
MR. DEWOLFE: Well, I want to be fair-minded too. But that meeting, for all intents and purposes, was in camera and that meeting was there for us. If we don't have that sort of thing, we can't be speaking freely, we can't be acting responsibly. Certainly, we are going to have disagreement across the table but that is what this is all about. I would like to come back to it again but let's continue on.
MR. HOLM: Two points, first of all, maybe some time we should sit down and review our practices and procedures, okay, on future occasions. However, I guess I just make the following observation. A decision, a ruling has been made by the chairman. That has been
made. Brooke will know from sitting in the Chair in the House that the Speaker makes rulings, and we don't always, I can assure you, like the ruling that has been made. Sometimes we agree with it, sometimes we don't, but regardless of whether we like it or we don't like it, we are bound to follow the ruling that had been made by the Speaker or the Chair. A ruling has been made in this matter and whether we like it or we don't like it, agree with it or don't agree with it, it has been made and I suggest that we then, therefore, set the matter aside and move forward.
MR. BARRY BARNET: I understand exactly what John has said. If that be the case then at any given in camera meeting the chairman could simply say, during the meeting or afterwards or any time, that I rule that the minutes be public and then they are always public. I have a problem with that. But one thing is, it was certainly my understanding and my impression when we were discussing developing this report that there was discussion on both sides of the room that the rationale for in camera was so that we could have a frank and open discussion so that we could come up with a report that is not just a benign report. I know that when we were at the meeting across the way with the national Public Accounts Committees, it was a topic on the agenda that was discussed there as well and other provinces have had similar concerns and similar issues. Quite frankly, they are able to develop reports because they are able to deal with matters in a frank and open manner that otherwise wouldn't be done in a public forum. That's why we are here and not across the street. That's my understanding.
If this is simply a matter of trying to, after the fact, maybe provide some level of embarrassment to a member or to a Party or government, or whatever, to me that is not productive at all. It does nothing more than embarrass somebody possibly, potentially. In essence what will happen is that it will then turn the openness and the frankness of this debate backwards, because quite frankly you won't get that, not in this meeting or at any future meeting. Quite frankly, it was my understanding that these were open and frank discussions so that we could get things together so that we could come up with a report that was meaningful and not something that was just a bland report that has a whole bunch of platitudes and says nothing. If that is what you want, that none of the meetings be done in camera, we put out a bland report that says nothing.
It is up to this committee. It is my understanding in starting out that the rules were that these were in camera so we could get a good solid report. It is also my understanding that that is the way it has been done in the past.
MR. DEXTER: Well, I find it astounding that the member for Sackville-Beaver Bank feels that he can't speak frankly, because speaking frankly might somehow . . .
MR. BARNET: I will speak frankly anywhere, anytime . . .
MR. DEXTER: Well, then why would you be afraid of having a session in public? (Interruption) Your whole argument is based on the idea that we can't have a frank discussion unless it is in camera. I disagree with that profoundly.
MR. BARNET: That's not what I said.
MR. DEXTER: Check the Hansard transcript, but I think that is exactly what you said.
There are a number of points to be made. First of all, I raised this point because there was certainly never in my mind any question that this was not an in camera session, that December 6th was not an in camera session. There was no notice to that effect, there was no draft report before the committee. There was nothing to indicate that it should be an in camera session. I communicated that to the chairman of the committee. What happened then was that under the clerk's hand there was issued a memorandum that I understand was not approved by the chairman . . .
MR. TAYLOR: From whom?
MR. DEXTER: This came from the clerk.
MS. STEVENS: It came from me.
MR. DEXTER: It was not approved by the chairman. I requested that the minutes be posted in the usual manner in a public fashion. That was denied, without either a ruling from the chairman or direction from this committee, if that were to be the case. Subsequent to that, the chairman of the committee made a ruling. The job of the clerk at that time is not to question the ruling of the chairman and I think we need to have a discussion around the role of the clerk of this committee, but I think that's a separate discussion and I want to set that aside for now because I want to deal with this.
The chairman of the committee made a ruling. You cannot now go back and decide and say, despite what the chairman of the committee has said, we the committee say that the operating principles actually mean that this meeting was included under the rubric of these operating principles. You can't do that. Any public body understands that you cannot retroactively make rules to govern a meeting that has already happened. The revisionist communists of China in their best days would never go back to do that kind of thing. It is essentially saying that a meeting that happened didn't happen. That's unfair. I have said this before, every time you go in camera it is an abuse of public confidence. The public, when they elect you, assume that you are going to carry out all your duties to the best of your ability in a transparent fashion so that they know and understand what it is that you are doing and the reason you are doing it. That is what they expect.
In fact, if in camera meetings were held - and it only came to my attention that this doesn't happen now - the press should be notified that an in camera meeting is being held. They have the right to know when you meet even if they don't have the right to know internally what it is that you are discussing because you have decided to go in camera for legitimate reasons. They have the right to be outside the door and ask questions of you when you return from your meeting as to why it was that you met in camera. That's a public responsibility.
You must understand, I understand from my years not only in this House but in municipal government, that there are legitimate reasons for going in camera. We have discussed
them before. They involve the discussion of personnel, they involve the receipt of a legal opinion, they involve the negotiations either for, on some occasions, especially with a municipality, the sale of land or negotiations on union contracts and those kinds of matters.
MR. HOLM: Briefing sessions with the Auditor General.
MR. DEXTER: We independently have decided that the briefings with the Auditor General although, quite frankly, I have never understood that either but that was the rule that we have set out. This previous discussion fell under none of those categories. There was no draft report and, indeed, I will tell the committee this freely, that I am, and have acted since I have received the ruling of the chairman, based on his ruling. So to suggest now that you can go back and undo stuff that I have already done is ridiculous. In fact, I have already distributed the minutes based on the ruling of the Chair. In fact, that makes it a moot point. Nonetheless, it would be wrong to do it if you tried to do it. If you have an appeal of this question, then you have an appeal to some other body, perhaps the Speaker's Office. I don't know if the rules provide for that. I don't think so.
MR. TAYLOR: On a point of order. Just based on tradition and past practice, firstly, I would like to know, if I might - and this is on the point of order - when, Mr. Chairman, you made your ruling that the previous December 6th meeting was not in camera?
MR. DEXTER: Yesterday.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I received a letter from Darrell Dexter. First of all, I received a copy of the memo that Mora had issued. To my knowledge, I don't believe there was any consultation with any member of the committee prior to that memo being issued. When I received the memo from Mora, she indicated that she had received a call from Mr. Dexter, expressing concern about it. She passed that information along to me. I read that . . .
MR. TAYLOR: I know about that.
MR. CHAIRMAN: No, no.
MR. TAYLOR: When did you make your decision?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Oh.
MR. TAYLOR: Before this morning?
MR. CHAIRMAN: No, yesterday.
MR. TAYLOR: You made the decision yesterday?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Well, there is a sequence. I received correspondence from Mr. Dexter over the Christmas holiday, a letter - and I believe everyone has that letter - requesting that I examine Mora's . . .
MR. TAYLOR: Memorandum, whatever.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Memorandum, her position on that. I checked with counsel. Counsel indicated that if we don't give notice that a meeting, prior to the commencement of a meeting, is in camera, then it is generally considered to be public. That was, essentially, the basis upon which I did that. Rightfully or wrongfully, or perception, real or otherwise, contrary to what has been suggested, this was not an attempt to embarrass anybody. It wasn't.
MR. TAYLOR: Well, Mr. Chairman, as you know, I raised a point with you and I appreciate your editorial comment. I wanted to know, specifically, when you made your ruling. I am not questioning . . .
MR. CHAIRMAN: Yesterday.
MR. TAYLOR: I am not questioning you . . .
MR. CHAIRMAN: When I came back to the city, after I had received the correspondence over the Christmas holiday - I believe the date on the fax is there, the 3rd or 4th.
MS. STEVENS: The letter was sent to you from Darrell on December 21st.
MR. CHAIRMAN: That's the date of the letter. I received it some time after that.
MS. STEVENS: Okay, I don't know.
MR. TAYLOR: I guess what I would ask then, Mr. Chairman, you made the ruling previous to this in camera session today which was (Interruption) Yes, we are out of camera now but previous to our in camera meeting. I had misthought that our discussion, presently, was regarding the decision. The decision has been rendered.
I, personally, am opposed, for the most part, to in camera meetings. In fact, I would question why the meeting we held this morning was in camera. But a colleague of ours, over and above all of that, indicated to members in this committee that he was concerned about, essentially, what I would call a personal matter relative to his family. I would think that, (Interruption) Yes, it is personal. I would think, out of respect for a colleague that we sit with on this committee, that we would respect his wishes. But I think it is moot because you already made your decision previous to this meeting. The minutes have already been circulated. What we are talking about now is moot, what we are saying now. You made the decision, the minutes have been circulated, so why are we wasting our time even bothering discussing it today?
But from now on, I would ask that - like, I was, I guess, a little bit, I guess it was Jim that indicated earlier on that he believed that the meetings we held here, regarding the Public Accounts Committee, were automatically in camera. I was under that misperception too, Mr. Chairman. I have to tell you that. I thought when we come here, they were in camera meetings. I know we hold other committee meetings here that are public, so I was misinformed. I will admit that. But . . .
MR. DEWOLFE: So is security, because security downstairs was informed that it is in camera and only essential staff.
MR. TAYLOR: But I think that perhaps other members - although I can't speak for other members - probably understand that a member around this table, a friend of ours, is concerned about some of the things that he may or may not have said under the misperception that was in camera, under the misperception that many of us were under, and as a consequence, he wanted those minutes to be withheld. I think we would have respected that if we had of dealt with it today. You made the decision. I don't know how we can go back. I don't think we can.
MR. CHAIRMAN: David Morse, no, Mr. Langille, because he hasn't spoken on it.
MR. LANGILLE: I would like to say that I also thought the meeting was in camera and I thought the purpose of the Public Accounts Committee was to see value for money. It is obvious now that we are straying from that and that we now have people that want to set their own agenda and purpose of the Public Accounts Committee.
I find it very difficult to accept what we as members of the Public Accounts Committee are now doing to ourselves. We thought it was an in camera session. There was a ruling made, which I don't even know that there was a request for a ruling and it was obviously made yesterday with no other members' knowledge that there was even a request for a ruling. I really think that we should have all been brought into it. Having said that, I am a little disappointed that the member - Mr. Dexter said that he has already distributed the minutes. What I would like to know is, what is the underlying reason for it?
MR. CHAIRMAN: As I have indicated to Mr. Taylor, I checked with legal counsel. They indicated, quite clearly, that if we didn't give clear notice the meeting was in camera, then it was considered, as a committee of the House, to be a public hearing.
Now, rightfully or wrongfully - and I recognize all the terms of reference of the committee and dealing with reports, and this and that - if that is a mistake that I made, then that is something I will have to live with. But I made that decision in good faith. It wasn't any attempt to embarrass my colleague from Pictou County, Halifax or anyone else. That is it.
MR. TAYLOR: I was just curious as to why on December 6th we met over here.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Well, we could have met in the Red Chamber if that was the wish of the committee.
MR. DEXTER: That was my understanding of the criteria, why we are here, no witnesses today, not that it was going in camera.
MR. CHAIRMAN: See, any briefings with the Auditor General are in camera. That is because when we set up the process with the Auditor General, it was indicated, all briefings with the Auditor General would be in camera. That is why.
MR. MORSE: I think that there is agreement that there has to be some sort of meeting structure, some sort of rules to guide us.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Yes.
MR. MORSE: I would suggest that this was the case. We have, I think, the 1993 Public Accounts Committee policies and practices which were distributed to me.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Yes.
MR. MORSE: Clearly, in that, it says that when we are talking about annual reports - that is formulating them - that is an in camera session. (Interruptions) Excuse me, Mr. Chairman, could I please have the floor?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Yes. Order, order. Mr. Morse.
MR. MORSE: Thank you. The argument has been put forward by Mr. Dexter that there was no draft report. I think that is sort of a superfluous argument because, where does the draft report come from? It is created by staff from the discussions in those in camera sessions. In that regard, I reject his argument. Now, that is my right. It is your right to take a different point of view. I would argue that there is a clear case that that was an in camera session. It is covered under the 1993 agreed policy and practices of the Public Accounts Committee.
I would further argue that anybody that pre-empts this meeting and wilfully goes out and distributes, based on a decision which is known to be contentious - and you have done that knowingly - in advance of what I understood was going to be discussed at the meetings so that we could take a proper vote on whether we overturn the agreed 1993 policies and practices. There was clear notice in those policies and practices and right now I want that to be on the record that, Mr. Dexter, as you are nodding over there, you wilfully decided to ignore those 1993 policies and practices based on what you knew was a contentious decision.
MR. DEXTER: Mr. Chairman, I object to this characterization, of the member for Kings South, of my actions. What happened was there was a ruling by yourself, Mr. Chairman, and in compliance with your ruling, I did what it was that I did. It had nothing to do with outstanding policies or procedures and, in fact, the member opposite decides to twist those policies, procedures and principles to suit his own benefit and now wants to put on the record something that is patently untrue. I just want to object.
MR. TAYLOR: Mr. Chairman, on a point of order. Mr. Dexter should, in fact, read under No.14, in camera meetings, because it clearly does say, as my colleague, the member for Kings South indicated, that draft reports to the Legislature will be in camera. Whether I agree or disagree, that is a principle and practice, but the honourable member is correct, he received a ruling from you, Mr. Chairman. I think the issue regarding the whole conversation relative to the December 6th meeting lies with you, Mr. Chairman, and I will leave it at that. I think you indicated that.
MR. MORSE: Mr. Chairman, I think with those interventions I still have the floor?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Yes, you do.
MR. MORSE: What I would ask is that there now be a vote here to endorse those 1993 policies and practices that were adopted by the Public Accounts Committee, including recognizing that any discussion leading up to the drafting of the annual report . . .
MR. CHAIRMAN: What you are asking is for a clarification of the discussion leading to any report or draft report be included as part of the in camera process?
MR. MORSE: Yes.
MR. CHAIRMAN: If you want that clarification, I have no problem with that.
MR. HOLM: To that, if I may, Mr. Chairman, we can keep going around here for some considerable period of time with disagreements, interpretations and so on. I am not prepared to vote to support, for example, those policies and priorities, just again, re-endorsing them. There is some confusion and if we want to have a meeting to specifically talk about what the policies and practices should be or what they mean, I totally support that. If and when that meeting is done, I would be proposing an amendment to those policies and practices, one of which says you cannot have a minority report, for example, that is in those policies and practices that again, nobody knew at our last meeting in December because I, nor anybody else when we talked about reports, nobody mentioned that fact. I think what we should do maybe is let's just let this rest for the moment, come back, set a future meeting and review those policies and practices; not just an automatic rubber stamp but let's clarify what they mean and write in clear English so there will be no confusion in the future.
MR. LANGILLE: I would like to also add that the last section of the meeting and discussion not be made public until we clarify this at our next meeting.
MR. CHAIRMAN: We didn't indicate prior to the meeting that it was in camera and what David Morse is leading up to now is clarification that any discussion - because there is a different issue there - where the practices and procedures refer to draft reports and reports, Darrell is arguing that any discussion leading up to that wouldn't necessarily be in camera and David is asking for a motion to have some clarification that any of those discussions be included as in camera. That is what we will deal with at our next meeting. I tend to agree with that. Jim.
MR. DEWOLFE: I have asked for some clarification from Mora - you said we would be able to get that on my prior statement - and I also would like to know how I would go about challenging the chairman's decision?
MR. CHAIRMAN: I will secure that information for you as soon as I finish here and get legal counsel for it.
MR. TAYLOR: Just a question for clarification, did we agree with the suggestion made by John, that we would discuss in camera meetings at a future date?
MR. HOLM: Policies and practices, I didn't say in camera.
MR. TAYLOR: I am only speaking for myself, Mr. Chairman, but I personally think we should be dealing with in camera sessions on an issue-by-issue basis. This carte blanche, No. 14 and No. 15, I disagree with it entirely, completely. Maybe we can bring that up at a future meeting. I think in camera meetings have to be discussed but the fact of the matter is, the decision regarding December 6th, as we indicated earlier, was made by you, Mr. Chairman.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Yes. Meeting adjourned.
MR. DEWOLFE: I asked for clarification and the chairman agreed to it. I asked for clarification at the start of this meeting, I reinforced it a few minutes ago and here we are, we are adjourning.
MR. CHAIRMAN: What is the clarification?
MR. DEWOLFE: I want to know if it was considered to be an in camera session. In the meetings I have held with my committees . . .
MR. CHAIRMAN: That was what the whole discussion was, Jim, and we answered it.
MR. HOLM: The chairman makes the decision not the . . .
MR. DEWOLFE: It's the chairman but I wanted to know if that was an unwritten policy of these meetings?
MR. CHAIRMAN: No, we have indicated quite clearly what the rule was, that we did not indicate, prior to the commencement of the meeting, that it was in camera. We know what the practices and procedures are with regard to draft reports and committee reports in terms of in camera. There is still a debate as to whether the discussion, which I tend to agree with David Morse, that any of the discussion leading into that, we should clarify that with the practices, procedures and principles that that should be clearly stated, that any discussion leading into them should be included as in camera. This was not an attempt by me to embarrass you, Jim, or any other member of this committee. I made a decision and I live with that, whether I am right or wrong, that is the consequence I have to live with. I thought I did due diligence by asking legal counsel what the process was and I did that.
[The public portion of the committee adjourned at 10:08 a.m.]