All legislative business at Queen’s Park may stop as PCs, opposition fight over going virtual

TORONTO — All legislative business at Queen’s Park may shut down as soon as this Wednesday as the Ford government and opposition parties spar over whether to switch to virtual parliamentary sessions in the wake of record-high rates of coronavirus.

NDP leader Andrea Horwath said the Ford government wants to shut down debate on its latest response to surging COVID-19 rates, including its new emergency powers and scramble to buttress the struggling hospital system, saying Ford was “looking to cut and run from the legislature.”

“We’re going to go to Queen’s Park and we’re going to demand the things that experts demand and that we have been calling for, for sometime; paid sick days, paid time off for vaccinations, a real closure of non-essential businesses with financial supports for workers and the companies that will be affected,” Horwath told CP24.

“These are all things that Doug Ford should have been announcing on Friday and now he just wants to run away when Ontario is facing the worst crisis in memorable history.”

A spokesperson for Premier Doug Ford’s office did not comment when asked about the planned shutdown, referring all questions to Government House Leader Paul Calandra.

Speaking to CP24 Sunday afternoon, Calandra said his government will not shut down the legislature this week.

He said opposition parties approached him last week to ask for options to ensure that legislative business could continue in a safe manner, including taking sessions completely online, something that was never fully done during the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic last year.

“They sought information with respect to the ability to do a virtual parliament. And we did inquire about that. And what we discovered after working with legislature officials that it would really result in very few people not having to be there in order to support a virtual parliament. Less than a dozen people would be alleviated from being there in support of a virtual parliament. So, it really did not make a great difference,” Calandra said.

“We will continue to be in session. The opposition knows this. And this is really nothing more than just really cheap opposition tactics at a time when Ontarians need us to be focused on getting beyond the COVID-19 crisis itself.”

He accused the opposition NDP of not adhering to COVID-19 safety protocols while at Queen’s Park.

“We’ve instituted cohorting for members. We’ve instituted a new voting mechanism by which members can vote in a socially distant and safe manner in each of the two lobbies. Both measures that the NDP did not support,” Calandra said.

Horwath says her party has been asking for an all-virtual solution to conduct legislative business “for months on end.”

“Because they refused to put something together to replace the live legislature, we don’t have a virtual option even though we’ve been asking for this the whole time. It’s really obvious that the government has all along expected that it would be politically advantageous for themselves – not politically advantageous for Ontarians – but concerned about Doug Ford’s political skin, and that’s always the wrong priority.”

The legislative session as published online on Sunday appeared to extend well into May.

The NDP says the legislature could shut down entirely as soon as Wednesday, something the PCs denied.

“Last week Minister Calandra was very clear in the House that the Legislature would be in session this coming week, which it will be.”

Ontario’s overall daily case rate hit a record on Friday, at more than 4,800 cases. Hospital admissions due to COVID-19 are at all-time record levels.

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