Premier Ford passed the buck on 85 per cent of question period queries from opposition members during fall session
Premier Doug Ford answered just 15 per cent of the questions posed to him by opposition members during the six-week fall session last year.
An analysis of question period records by Queen’s Park Today reveals the premier rose to respond to 127 questions from MPPs in opposing parties during the six-week session, but answered only 19. The other 108 questions were sent to one of the ministers in his 21-member cabinet.
(In some cases Ford answered the first question from an opposing member and punted the supplementary question to a minister. In those cases, both the answer and the followup deflection are accounted for in these numbers.)
In December, Ford took questions in five of the eight question periods, but answered just three of the 39 questions posed to him by members of the opposition. The rest — 92 per cent — he referred to his ministers.
However, he did answer 100 per cent of the friendly questions asked of him by members of the PC caucus. That month, the premier responded to five softball questions, which gave him the opportunity to tout the PC’s successes and celebrate the MPPs who asked the queries, who he often refers to as “champions” and “all-stars.”
The premier’s preference for answering PC questions over questions from the opposition was a trend throughout the fall session.
In total, he answered 14 friendly questions, standing to laud government policy during all but one of the 15 question periods where he made his presence known.
In November, Ford took six PC backbencher questions and only nine questions from Liberal or NDP members. (He did not answer questions from the Green Party or Independents.)
Often the opposition questions the premier opted to answer were more closely linked to scandals brewing in the news cycle, rather than government policy. For example, on November 18 Ford rose to defend his presence at the Chief’s Gala fundraising event where attendees bid up to $20,000 for private lunches with the premier, but he declined questions on education cuts, the cost of cancelling green energy projects and social services spending.
Ford also answered a friendly question from PC MPP Amarjot Sandhu about a speech he gave at the C2P3 conference earlier that week. In his answer, the premier gave some details about the PC’s $144-billion infrastructure plan and boasted about the two standing ovations he received at the event.
Moving forward, analyzing the number of questions the premier turns down in question period will no longer be possible through the use of Hansard records. A fleet of changes the PCs made to the standing orders come into effect when the house resumes next month, including one that removes the requirement for referral when ministers punt questions to their colleagues.
That means, when asked a question, Ford will no longer have to stand and dictate the minister he would prefer to answer it.
In a statement to Queen’s Park Today, the premier’s office said Ontario is the only Canadian legislature that specifically requires a verbal referral of a question and that the rule change is modelled after the procedures of the House of Commons.
“The requirement for a verbal referral takes valuable time out of the 60-minute Question Period. Eliminating the need for a referral means the Opposition could have the opportunity to ask additional questions,” said Ford’s spokesperson Ivana Yelich.
When the standing order tweak was announced in November, NDP co-deputy leader Sara Singh told Queen’s Park Today it would allow Ford to “pass the buck even further” and dodge accountability.