Question period, committees could make a regular comeback

By Sabrina Nanji April 29, 2020

Queen’s Park may soon be buzzing with more MPPs. 
House leader Paul Calandra says the government is working with the opposition parties to “look at ways of carefully bringing back a more frequent question period, and potentially for virtual committees” and “more frequent sittings.” 
Calandra said question period — which will return for the first time since March on May 12 — is an important accountability tool for Premier Doug Ford, whose cabinet has been passing emergency orders at lightning speed. 
“The boss has been pretty firm on this, with speed also comes accountability, and the best way is to have question period as soon as we possibly can,” Calandra said in an interview with Queen’s Park Today last week. 
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said “there is no doubt that it’s certainly time” to resume the debate because there are “a lot of unanswered questions” about the PC’s pandemic response. 
“There’s a lot of things I think we need on behalf of Ontarians to get clarity about,” Horwath said. 
The chamber is where the debate will go down — Calandra says he’s “not a big fan” of virtual sittings. 
“I have absolutely zero interest in virtual sittings of the legislature itself,” he said. 
House leaders also want to include more MPPs from regions beyond the GTA; MPPs closer to Queen’s Park tend to be the ones on house duty for the emergency sittings because they don’t have to trek very far. 
Calandra said any decisions on resuming legislative proceedings will be informed by the chief medical officer of health to ensure MPPs, staff and potentially reporters can practice physical distancing. 
The house isn’t in regular session because of the pandemic but needs to sit every 28 days to consider extending the emergency declaration. Only a bare-bones crew of MPPs attend. 
Cross-partisan pandemic recovery committee in the works
The Tories are eyeing a cross-partisan virtual committee to inform Ontario’s roadmap to COVID-19 recovery that mirrors the Jobs and Recovery cabinet committee led by Finance Minister Rod Phillips
Phillips is holding consultations on the framework for reopening that was released this week, but none of that committee’s work is readily available to the public because of cabinet confidentiality.
Horwath said all parties must be repped on the committee, suggesting a select or special committee as opposed to one of the standing committees on which the PCs have a majority.
“The committee the government wants to put together is more a committee about how we move forward, how we bring things back online,” she said. “We would expect it to be a true all-party committee and not a committee that’s simply dominated by the government and doesn’t have that collaborative mix of members.” 
Over at the House of Commons, MPs logged into Zoom for the first virtual session of a special COVID-19 committee, a dry-run for full-on sittings. Federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu made the blooper reel by forgetting to unmute her mic before launching into her opening remarks.