On­tario leg­is­la­ture plans mid­night sit­ting

Times Colonist - - Front Page - SHAWN JEFFORDS

TORONTO — On­tario’s leg­is­la­ture plans to hold a rare mid­night sit­ting as the gov­ern­ment works to push through a bill cut­ting the size of Toronto’s city coun­cil nearly in half.

The Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment called for the mid­night ses­sion Satur­day af­ter the op­po­si­tion par­ties re­fused to pass the bill with unan­i­mous con­sent.

Gov­ern­ment House Leader Todd Smith said the Tories will ask the lieu­tenant-gover­nor to re­con­vene the house at 12:01 a.m. Mon­day to con­tinue to ex­pe­dite pas­sage of the bill.

That fol­lows an un­com­mon week­end sit­ting at Queen’s Park on Satur­day to de­bate Bill 31, dubbed the Ef­fi­cient Lo­cal Gov­ern­ment Act, which slashes the num­ber of Toronto coun­cil­lors to 25 from 47.

The ses­sion lasted about 45 min­utes as op­po­si­tion leg­is­la­tors en­tered pe­ti­tions into the record to de­lay the bill’s pas­sage.

“It’s go­ing to be lights on, cam­eras on, and ev­ery­thing is go­ing to be out there in the open for peo­ple to see,” Smith said af­ter be­ing asked if the gov­ern­ment was hur­ry­ing the leg­is­la­tion through un­der the cover of night.

“We have a lot of great rea­sons as to why this bill should be passed as quickly as pos­si­ble,” he added.

The new bill rein­tro­duces leg­is­la­tion that was struck down by an On­tario Su­pe­rior Court judge, who said it vi­o­lated the char­ter rights of can­di­dates and vot­ers in Toronto’s up­com­ing elec­tion. The leg­is­la­tion will in­voke the Con­sti­tu­tion’s not­with­stand­ing clause to over­rule the court de­ci­sion.

Last week, City of Toronto clerk Ulli Watkiss said that with each pass­ing day it be­came “vir­tu­ally im­pos­si­ble” to en­sure the city pro­vides its res­i­dents and can­di­dates with a fair elec­tion.

Smith said that the city needs cer­tainty around its elec­tion, which is set for Oct. 22, so the bill must be passed quickly. “Our party, the PC cau­cus is here to work and get things done for the peo­ple of On­tario, so we’re go­ing to de­bate that bill from 12:01 a.m. un­til the early morn­ing hours of Mon­day morn­ing,” he said.

The gov­ern­ment has made the rare move be­cause it finds it­self crunched for time this week at the leg­is­la­ture. The In­ter­na­tional Plow­ing Match in Chatham-Kent is set for Tues­day and each year Queen’s Park closes for a day so all politi­cians can at­tend.

The mid­night sit­ting will al­low the Tory gov­ern­ment to reach the needed 6 1⁄2 hours on this stage of de­bate to push the bill for­ward in the leg­isla­tive process.

The gov­ern­ment hopes to have the leg­is­la­tion passed by the end of this week.

NDP Leader An­drea Hor­wath said the gov­ern­ment’s move to push the leg­is­la­tion through shows it has mis­placed pri­or­i­ties.

“It’s pretty clear the gov­ern­ment is be­ing very dis­re­spect­ful about the leg­is­la­ture and what this house is all about,” she said. “They’re play­ing silly games at time when we have lit­er­ally kids in our schools that can’t drink the wa­ter be­cause there’s lead in it.”

Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner said he has asked the gov­ern­ment how much it cost pro­vin­cial tax­pay­ers to call all of the leg­is­la­tors, their staff and work­ers at Queen’s Park back to work for the spe­cial ses­sions and has re­ceived no re­ply.

“This premier said he was elected to save tax­pay­ers money,” he said. “He is wast­ing tax­pay­ers’ money with a friv­o­lous po­lit­i­cal fight against the city of Toronto. … How much money is this premier will­ing to waste for his own per­sonal po­lit­i­cal agenda?”

Protesters ar­rived at Queen’s Park again Satur­day to demon­strate against the Toronto coun­cil cut and use of the not­with­stand­ing clause. Two peo­ple were ar­rested af­ter they shouted when the ses­sion was ad­journed, yelling at gov­ern­ment leg­is­la­tors as they ex­ited the cham­ber.

Ron Hanks, a Toronto res­i­dent who par­tic­i­pated in a protest be­fore the ses­sion started Satur­day, said the ac­tions of the Ford gov­ern­ment are “out­ra­geous” and will hurt the civic elec­tion.

“Will the elec­tion be com­pro­mised be­cause of ad­min­is­tra­tive is­sue? Will it be post­poned?” he said. “Is that democ­racy?”

Toronto Mayor John Tory, who has op­posed the move to cut coun­cil since it was in­tro­duced by the PC gov­ern­ment, re­leased a state­ment to mark the In­ter­na­tional Day of Democ­racy, which fell on Satur­day.

“In re­cent weeks, we have all come to a height­ened aware­ness of the im­por­tance of our democ­racy,” he said, adding.

“We must cher­ish and pro­tect the demo­cratic val­ues that give us all a voice in shap­ing our city, our so­ci­ety, and the great­est coun­try in the world.”

Fed­eral Con­ser­va­tive Leader Andrew Scheer, who was in Toronto for the city’s Ukrainian fes­ti­val, said Satur­day that Premier Doug Ford is en­tirely within his rights to in­voke the not­with­stand­ing clause.

“There’s no doubt that mu­nic­i­pal elec­tions fall un­der the con­trol of pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ments and the ad­min­is­tra­tion of it,” he said. “The char­ter ul­ti­mately gives power to Cana­dian vot­ers, and in this case the vot­ers of On­tario, to pass the ul­ti­mate judg­ment on th­ese types of mat­ters.

COLE BURSTON, CP

On­tario Premier Doug Ford smiles dur­ing a sit­ting of the leg­is­la­ture at Queen’s Park in Toronto on Satur­day.

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