TORONTO — Premier Doug Ford’s government is promising to strike a new tone when the Ontario legislature resumes session Monday, vowing to dial down behaviour that has often sparked nasty political fights.
Progressive Conservative House Leader Paul Calandra said the government wants to move away from partisan squabbles and regular standing ovations – a fixture in the legislature during the Tories first year in power.
“I know a lot of people look at (the debate) and think these are … a bunch of kids,” Calandra said last week. “I don’t think removing the passion from the place is the right way to go. I think we can strike a better balance by working closely with the opposition members.”
Earlier this year, Speaker Ted Arnott wrote a memo to all parties, asking them to stop the self-congratulatory standing ovations and ease up on the rancorous tone of debate when the house returns after a five-month break.
Calandra said the government needs to get down to business and pass important bills dealing with animal welfare, the province’s finances, and mental health supports.
“They don’t pay us to sit here and be bumps on a log. They pay us to express our opinions and fight about things that we believe in,” he said. “I think in the first year we did that. I appreciate that sometimes it wasn’t always expressed in a fashion everybody appreciates. I think we could do better … and we will.”
The five-month recess is the longest break the Ontario legislature has taken in almost 25 years, with politicians normally returning for the fall session in early September.
When the house rose in June, the government and Ford were accused by opposition politicians of going into hiding to help the fortunes of the federal Conservatives in the Oct. 21 election, a suggestion they have denied.
The Ford government returns to not only the new session, but a different political landscape than when Queen’s Park was shuttered in June.
Ford shuffled his cabinet last spring signalling a major reset for his government which had been plagued by months of public backlash and negative headlines mostly due to funding cuts and a $30-million court battle against the federally mandated carbon tax.
“We’re going to continue the court challenge and we’ll see it through to its end,” he said. “We were elected last year on a mandate to end the province’s cap-and-trade program, which we’ve done.”
The premier’s own personal popularity has taken a beating and Ford himself has limited exposure to the media during the recess and sat out the federal election, not campaigning for federal Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer.
Storm clouds are also gathering in the education sector as the Tories continue talks with Ontario’s major teachers’ unions who are currently holding strike votes across the province.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath has frequently criticized Ford for adjourning the legislature and ignoring important government business. The Opposition leader said her party will use the new session to push back against government cuts to education and health care, and to press for action on climate change.
“The premier’s break time is over,” she said in a news conference earlier this week. “It’s time for him to come out of hiding and face the consequences of his cuts,” she said.
Green party Leader Mike Schreiner said all legislators must find common ground to build the province up instead of tearing each other down.
“The tone at Queen’s Park has been just as toxic over the past year,” he said. “Many days here have descended into cheer-leading and excessive heckling. It only serves to divide us. We must all do better.”
Shawn Jeffords, The Canadian Press