PCs pitch summertime sittings, NDP try to squeeze in private member’s business

By Sabrina Nanji June 1, 2020

Queen’s Park will be in session this summer. 

Last week deputy house leader Andrea Khanjin kicked off debate on the PC’s motion laying out summer sittings and committees. Starting June 15 the house will sit Tuesdays and Wednesdays, then add Mondays in July until the 22nd. 

The motion also plucks a page from U.K. parliament by temporarily allowing votes in the members’ lobbies so that MPPs who aren’t able to participate in a physically distanced debate can vote without crowding the chamber. If passed as expected, one lobby will be designated for the “Ayes” and another for the “Nays,” with the clerks in tow to record votes and party whips standing by to scrutineer. 

The NDP is pushing for an amendment to also sit on Thursdays, typically when private members’ business is debated.

The house reconvenes on Tuesday to consider renewing the state of emergency for another 28 days. Government house leader Paul Calandra has a motion on the order paper that could extend this week’s back-to-back sittings until midnight.   

While all parties have been working behind the scenes on consensus for pandemic-era proceedings, the camaraderie seems to be chipping away. 

Last Wednesday, drama abounded after question period as masked PC MPPs flooded the chamber to vote for two government bills. The Tories and New Democrats each pointed the finger at the other for breaking backroom agreements. 

The government says it brought in more MPPs than expected to secure votes because it couldn’t risk being outnumbered by the minority opposition parties. The official Opposition said that flies in the face of an all-party pact to practice physical distancing; since the emergency was declared, a bare-bones crew of MPPs have agreed to participate from any seat in the chamber. 

Earlier that morning, Calandra tried to move a motion to allow MPPs to vote from the public galleries, but the NDP blocked it saying they were caught off guard.  

So for the first time in the legislature, MPPs voted wearing face masks. NDP MPP Catherine Fife called it a “parliamentary circus.” 

The Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs kicked off its summer study of the economic impact of COVID-19 today, beginning with a look at Finance Minister Rod Phillips‘ March mini-budget. Phillips and his deputy minister Greg Orencsak testified this morning, followed by Financial Accountability Officer Peter Weltman

The committee then turns an eye to specific sectors, beginning with tourism on Thursday. 

The legislature is also getting back to pre-pandemic business. Six bills will be scrutinized at virtual committees starting this month: 

  • Bill 156, Security from Trespass and Protecting Food Safety Act; 

  • Bill 159, Rebuilding Consumer Confidence Act; 

  • Bill 161, Smarter and Stronger Justice Act; 

  • Bill 171, Building Transit Faster Act; 

  • Bill 175, Connecting People to Home and Community Care Act; and, 

  • Bill 184, Protecting Tenants and Strengthening Community Housing Act.