Up to 50 extra MPPs to enter Queen's Park amid Toronto lockdown as Ont. government faces confidence vote
Ontario Premier Doug Ford introduces legislation at Queen's Park in Toronto on Thursday March 19, 2020. Only minimum representation from all parties were present to prevent unnecessary crowding. (The Canadian Press)
QUEEN'S PARK -- The halls of Queen's Park could become more crowded this week — despite the lockdown in Toronto — as politicians from both the government and the opposition try to outmaneuver one another ahead of crucial votes in the Ontario Legislature.
Members of provincial parliament have been following new pandemic protocols since September, with a limited number of opposition and government MPPs seated inside the legislative chamber at all times.
Currently, 14 NDP and all 12 independent MPPs are allowed to attend at any given time, while the government has 35 members inside the legislature to maintain their majority.
Over the weekend, however, the NDP signaled that the party would be bringing in "up to 37" of their 40 MPPs to Queens Park for two key votes this week, one of which -- second reading on the 2020 budget, a confidence vote -- could threaten to bring down the Progressive Conservative government if it loses.
The Ford government will, in turn, bring an additional 20 to 25 MPPs to the building to protect its majority vote and prevent a snap winter election — which the government says jeopardizes the health and safety of staff within the building.
“Despite our sincere appeals, as Toronto enters a lockdown in an attempt to bring case numbers under control, the NDP are forcing up to 50 additional MPPs to come to Toronto from lower risk areas of the province,” Government House Leader Paul Calandra told CTV News Toronto in a statement.
“Forcing more people to come to Queen’s Park, risking their health and safety and the health and safety of the people around them is simply wrong.”
The NDP, however, claim the government is deliberately trying to reduce the number of elected officials inside the building because it wants to avoid voting on a motion dealing with a controversial issue for the Progressive Conservative Party — Charles McVety.
The opposition will file a motion today calling on the Ford government to “condemn the extreme and hateful invective of Charles McVety and oppose any efforts to make Canada Christian College into an accredited university.”
"We are well aware that many of Doug Ford’s MPPs do not want to vote on an NDP motion Monday that opposes giving Ford ally Charles McVety the right to grant university degrees," said NDP Deputy House Leader Petty Sattler in a statement.
"As a result, the Ford government suggested to us that perhaps we should reduce the number of MPPs entitled to vote, therefore lowering the number they would need in order to win the vote. They did not suggest reducing the number of MPPs allowed in the chamber."
"We are definitely and wholeheartedly willing to discuss further safety measures. But we’re not interested in stripping MPPs of their right to vote," Sattler said.
The NDP says the additional members would not enter the legislature for Question Period or debates, but would only show up to cast their votes -- something Minister Calandra stressed was important for members to do during the early days of the pandemic.
"What we’ve done is created a system that will allow all of the members of this Legislature to come in and vote on bills, by creating a “yea” lobby and a “nay” lobby for voting, in much the same way that the mother Parliament does in the United Kingdom, and staggering votes over a half-hour time period," Calandra said in May.
"We’re collecting our pay cheques, we should be here doing this work. That’s what the people of the province of Ontario expect."
The government says, however, with the surge in COVID-19 cases and the lockdown in Toronto it would be "irresponsible" and an "unnecessary risk" to bring more elected officials into the building.