TORONTO — The Ontario government is raising the number of seats in the legislature required to achieve official party status, just months after the provincial election that saw the Liberals slip below the current threshold.
Progressive Conservative House Leader Todd Smith said Tuesday the new minimum — to be laid out in the fall economic statement later this week — will be 10 per cent of the house, or 12 seats, up from eight.
“When we saw the legislature shrink in size in 1999, the number of seats needed for official party status shrunk as well. We saw the size of the legislature increase from 107 seats to 124 seats for the last election and the number didn’t change, so what we’re doing is making it clear to all involved that 10 per cent is the number from here on out,” he said.
“It’ll take the politics out of this.”
Smith denied it’s an attempt to stymie the Liberals, who fell from being the governing party to one seat short of official party status in the spring election.
Slipping below the threshold meant the Liberals lost funds for research, staff salaries and other purposes and can only operate in the legislature in a limited fashion.
The Liberals have asked the Progressive Conservatives to grant them some accommodations, including funding, similar to what New Democrats received when they failed to achieve party status in 2003.
Interim Liberal leader John Fraser said the government’s decision to instead raise the threshold is needlessly divisive and disrespectful to the roughly 1.1 million people who voted for Liberals.
“It’s thwarting democracy and it’s also what bullies do,” Fraser said.
Other opposition parties also questioned the Tories’ motives in making the change now rather than waiting until the next provincial election.
“We respect the decisions of Ontario voters in the last election and the distribution of seats that followed. With that in mind, we will thoroughly review any changes to the official party status threshold that government brings forward,” NDP legislator Sara Singh said.
“But any changes must be done thoughtfully and free of motives like Ford’s political revenge plots — it must not be a mechanism a government of the day uses to punish or reward past governments.”
The Green party, which also falls below the line for official party status, said the government was moving the goalposts in a way that undermines democracy.
“They’re acting out of their own party’s self-interest and not what’s good for democracy or the people,” Leader Mike Schreiner said. “Eight seats to qualify for official party status is a reasonable rule that existed before the election, and the premier should accept that.”
Paola Loriggio, The Canadian Press