Doug Ford changing Queen's Park rules to pass bills more quickly

As the Ontario Legislature ended a rare Saturday sitting without passing controversial legislation on the size of Toronto city council, Premier Doug Ford's government is also making changes that will weaken the opposition's ability to slow down bills.

PCs eliminating slowdown tactics that they used regularly in opposition

Premier Doug Ford's PCs are changing the rules of procedure in the Ontario Legislature. The changes will allow the government to speed up passage of its bills and weaken the powers of the opposition parties to slow things down. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press)

As the Ontario Legislature ended a Saturday sitting without passing controversial legislation on the size of Toronto city council, Premier Doug Ford's government is also making changes that will weaken the opposition's ability to slow down bills.

Coming shortly after the Ford government invoked the notwithstanding clause of the Charter of Rights to override a court ruling, Ontario's opposition parties see this as another effort by the Progressive Conservatives to muscle through their agenda. 

The PCs are moving to change the legislature's rules of procedure, formally called the standing orders. These rules control such things as when bills can be introduced, when opposition parties get to put forward motions, and how much debate must take place before a bill goes to a final vote.

The PCs are "consolidating power to themselves, so that they can just do what they want," said NDP House Leader Gilles Bisson in an interview with CBC News.

"I think it's highly undemocratic, and if people think that Doug Ford is going to stop with these small changes to standing orders, you haven't seen nothing yet. There's more coming, I am sure."  

New Democrat House Leader Gilles Bisson says the PCs are 'consolidating power to themselves, so that they can just do what they want.' (Erik White/CBC)

The PCs proposed the changes this week. A simple majority vote of the legislature is needed to approve them, which means they are certain to take effect. 

"This just adds the opportunity for more debate," government House Leader Todd Smith told reporters at Queen's Park. "Obviously we want to get our government legislation passed quickly and this does give us the opportunity without costing taxpayers anything."

    Smith said the opposition has used "all kinds of stall tactics" in the Legislature in recent weeks.

    In an effort to slow passage of the government's bill to slash the size of Toronto city council, the Official Opposition New Democrats proposed amendments, made motions for adjournment whenever possible, and introduced bills with titles so long that simply announcing them ate up huge amounts of time in the chamber.

    Smith admitted that his party used some of these same tactics to slow down the then-Liberal government when the PCs were the Official Opposition. 

    Government House Leader Todd Smith admits the PCs used the same delaying tactics the NDP is using now when they were in opposition. (Ontario Legislature)

    "The very little power that we have as an opposition to hold this government to account is to slow things down a little bit, to give them pause," said Bisson. 

    While the Ford government says the changes will make the legislature more efficient, Bisson says the public's ability to have a say is being eroded.

    The rules already allow the government to cut short debate on bills and push them through to a final vote without giving the public the chance to speak at committee hearings. The PCs have used this power with most of the legislation they have proposed so far. 

    The proposed changes make it easier for the government to do this more quickly.  

    "We're here to serve the public and if the public can't come before us at a committee and pronounce itself for or against a bill. there's something really wrong," said Bisson. 

    About the Author

    Mike Crawley

    Provincial Affairs Reporter

    Mike Crawley is provincial affairs reporter in Ontario for CBC News. He has won awards for his reporting on the eHealth spending scandal and flaws in Ontario's welfare-payment computer system. Before joining the CBC in 2005, Mike filed stories from 19 countries in Africa as a freelance journalist and worked as a newspaper reporter in B.C. Follow him on Twitter @CBCQueensPark