TORONTO – Ontario’s Liberals won enough seats June 12 to form a majority government, but the change in status is not leading to any more co-operation with the opposition parties.
The Progressive Conservatives and New Democrats voted against the government’s throne speech Thursday, but the Liberals easily outvoted them 57-40 to approve their legislative plan.
The vote clears the way for Monday’s re-introduction of the provincial budget, which Premier Kathleen Wynne said again Thursday would be identical to the May 1 fiscal blueprint that the opposition parties rejected, triggering the election.
There has been no other business since the legislature resumed July 2 because the government is fighting with the Tories and NDP over the makeup of committees.
The Liberals are demanding six of nine seats on each committee, while the opposition parties say the government should get only five seats.
The chairs of the committees only vote in case of a tie, and only to maintain the status quo, so shouldn’t be considered regular members, said government house leader Yasir Naqvi.
“What we are talking about is having a voting majority, excluding the chairs, within the committee,” Naqvi told reporters.
“That’s exactly the position that the opposition parties took in 2011 (when) they argued that since it was a minority Parliament, there should be a minority of (Liberal) voting members in the committee, which we agreed upon.”
The Progressive Conservatives noted the throne speech committed the government to put “partnership over partisanship, to increase transparency and accountability,” but said the Liberals want to change long-standing protocols on committees.
“It’s sheer arrogance for your party to change the rules of this legislature,” Conservative Steve Clark said during question period. “Premier, why are you trying to prevent the opposition from holding your government to account?”
Premier Kathleen Wynne made it clear the Liberals intend to stand their ground and insist on what the Opposition calls a “super-majority” of six members on each committee.
“It would be arrogance, I would suggest, to propose otherwise than that we follow that tradition where when there is a majority of seats in the house, that majority is reflected in committees,” Wynne told the legislature.
The New Democrats point out that the clerk’s office that guides legislative proceedings has recommended giving the Liberals five of nine seats on each committee, which ensures the government has a majority of members.
“There’s a principle that we have around the proportionality of the committees that’s based on a formula that the clerks bring forward every time there’s a new legislature,” said NDP Leader Andrea Horwath.
“Whatever the clerks calculate based on that time worn principle should be good enough.”
Virtually every piece of legislation introduced by the government goes through a committee stage where changes are often made before the bill is called for a vote.
Deputy Tory leader Christine Elliott failed Thursday to get unanimous consent necessary to allow a committee on developmental disabilities to meet long enough to release the report it had completed, which was shelved by the election call.
“We have thousands of young people in Ontario who, when they turn 21, have nothing — no job, no life, no hope,” said Elliott. “I cannot understand why … you don’t even want to hear what the select committee has to say.”
The combined opposition parties controlled committees during the past three years when the Liberal were in minority, holding public hearings into the $1.1 billion cancellation of two gas plants and into the Ornge air ambulance service that were both highly embarrassing to the government.
The Tories had wanted to call at least two more witnesses at the justice committee hearings into the attempted cover-up of the cost of the gas plants scandal, but the throne speech said the committee would be reconstituted to write its report, which means the Liberals won’t allow additional witness testimony.
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