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'A very toxic environment': Shouting match erupts between Ford, Horwath at Queen's Park

Debate over the Ontario government's proposal to slash Toronto city council by 22 seats just months before a municipal election was derailed today as tensions between the Progressive Conservatives and the Opposition NDP reached a boiling point.

Premier Ford and NDP Leader Horwath yelled at each other over alleged inappropriate comments by NDP MPP

Doug Ford and Andrea Horwath descended into a shouting match after the Tories alleged NDP House Leader Gilles Bisson mocked the accent of Tory legislator Kaleed Rasheed, an accusation Bisson vehemently denies. (CBC)

Debate over the Ontario government's proposal to slash Toronto city council by 22 seats just months before a municipal election was derailed today as tensions between the Progressive Conservatives and the Opposition NDP reached a boiling point.

A shouting match broke out between Premier Doug Ford and NDP Leader Andrea Horwath over allegations that one of her caucus members had made inappropriate comments towards a Tory legislator, prompting the Speaker to recess the legislature.

The Tories allege NDP House Leader Gilles Bisson mocked the accent of Tory legislator Kaleed Rasheed, an accusation Bisson vehemently denies.

The Tories allege NDP House Leader Gilles Bisson mocked the accent of Tory legislator Kaleed Rasheed, an accusation Bisson vehemently denies. 0:26

"I'm being accused of something, and to the people know me and hear me in this house for 28 years, to my constituents that's not who I am that's not what I say. I do not use that language," the Timmins MPP said. 

The Speaker says he did not hear the alleged comments but the Tories have vowed not to answer any questions from the Opposition until Bisson apologizes.  

"I can tell you Mr. Speaker that one thing we have on this side of the house is respect for this institution," PC house leader Todd Smith said.

'The one big thing that's changed here is Mr. Ford'

The New Democrats say the move is simply an attempt to change the conversation from the controversial proposed legislation, which the City of Toronto has formally denounced.

The incident led all parties to condemn what they called the toxic tone of the legislature while blaming their opponents for the lapse in decorum.

"It's a very toxic environment in there," said Tory House Leader Todd Smith.

"I understand that some things are contentious that we're debating. However, there has to be that respect for the members of the legislature, and mocking somebody for their accent or where they came from is completely unacceptable for any member of  the legislature."

The NDP and Liberals suggested Ford —a former Toronto city councillor whose single term in office was marked by controversy — was largely responsible for the shift.

"It wasn't like this with the last premier, the premier before that, the premier before that. It wasn't like this with the last
Opposition leader, when [the Tories] were in Opposition, and it wasn't like this with the one before that and the one before that. So I mean the one big thing that's changed here is Mr. Ford and his disrespectful attitude," Horwath said.

'We know who he is'

Interim Liberal leader John Fraser said Ford had brought the contentious tone of Toronto city hall to the legislature.

"What happened in there today, you all witnessed it, you all saw. I mean, it's not a revelation. We know who he is; past
behaviour is the best predictor of future behaviour," he said.  

During his time in council, Ford served as right-hand man to his late brother, the former Toronto mayor Rob Ford, whose struggles with substance abuse led him to be stripped of most of his powers.

Doug Ford also heckled opponents during council meetings and was in a public feud with the city's then-police chief until the then councillor issued an apology.

Critics have suggested the proposed legislation is simply the premier's attempt to retaliate against his political foes. Ford said the move is meant to streamline decision-making and save $25 million in salaries.

Debate to be delayed

The bill was introduced Monday just hours before city council voted to voice its opposition and request that the issue be put to a referendum.

Municipal Affairs Minister Steve Clark said during question period that a special referendum could cost up to $8
million.  

"Here's a question I'd like to ask taxpayers. Would they rather spend $7 million to $8 million on a referendum asking if you should keep more politicians or would you rather save $25 million and save  that money on politicians? ... I think I know the answer to that question," he said.

The NDP moved an amendment to the motion for second reading of the bill on Tuesday, which they said means debate and thus passage of the legislation will be delayed for two days.