The debaters: Which MPPs have spoken the most — and the least — in the House this session

The debaters: Which MPPs have spoken the most — and the least — in the House this session

In June 2016, Mario Sergio — then the minister of seniors affairs — rose in the House to speak about Seniors' Month.

Two days later, he resigned his cabinet post and he hasn't spoken in the House, or at a committee, since. He told QP Briefing he hasn't returned to provincial parliament at all.

At the beginning of that year, Sergio said, he had planned to quit, but was urged not to.

"I approached my people at Queen's Park and I said I think I'm going to fold it, I think I'm going to quit," he told QP Briefing in an interview this week. "They already knew that I was not going to be running in the next election, and they said, 'Why, why, why,' and I said, 'Look, my wife has not been well."

The second session of the 41st parliament is now 14-months old. Looking back on the official record, it's clear that some members of Parliament have been far more active in the House debates than others.

Those who've had little to say have diverse reasons: A few have been ill, while one Liberal backbencher says he'll only raise an issue in the House if he doesn't get what he wants working behind the scenes with his party first. One rogue opposition MPP says he was muzzled by the Progressive Conservative brass.

Sergio hasn't spoken at all, instead spending time caring for his wife.

At the other end of the spectrum, there's  NDP MPP France Gélinas, who has risen to speak more than 500 times so far, according to the House Hansard, making her the member  — who isn't a minister, a party leader or speaker of the house — who has spoken the most.

The following is a breakdown of the MPPs who spoke the most and the least this session.

The count comes from Hansard, and is as reliable as Ontario's official record. It reflects every record in the House Hansard where the member in question is recorded as the speaker, whether a short interjection or a lengthy speech. It includes each individual time they spoke during debates in Question Period and on various pieces of legislation, as well as in motions and member's statements, and the introductions of visitors, bills and petitions, etc.

The ones who don't speak much

Mario Sergio, Liberal: 0

Sergio hasn't been recorded speaking in the House or committee Hansard at all this session because he hasn't been here all session, but he was a fairly regular speaker when he was in cabinet.

He resigned as minister of senior's affairs on June 10, 2016, just prior to a cabinet shuffle in which Premier Kathleen Wynne sought to bring her executive council closer to gender parity, and brought in several younger members.

Sergio said his wife, Rose, had come down with the Epstein-Barr virus at the beginning of that year and he became overwhelmed, trying to take care of her and their home.

He offered to quit, but he said his party asked him to stay on: "They said, 'Why don't you give it a try and see how it goes, don't worry about downtown, if we need you here we're going to give you a call.' I said, 'I don't really feel comfortable with that arrangement, because I am who I am, I just don't feel comfortable with it.'"

Sergio said he was told the party has enough members to pass votes without him, and the whip would call him if he was needed, but that hasn't happened.

His wife's condition relapsed and she has experience further health problems, as he struggled with some health problems of his own, he said.

Sergio has been an MPP in the York West area since 1995, and prior to that, he was a city councillor. He said he remains torn about whether or not he should have quit when he first offered to, nearly two years ago — on one hand, he believes that, perhaps, he should have, on the other, he did not want to trigger an expensive byelection.

Sergio said he continues to visit his constituency office and remains particularly close with the seniors' community.

A spokesperson for the premier said Sergio has the support of his party.

"Caring for an ill loved one is never easy and the Liberal caucus is proud to support Mario through this difficult time. It is admirable that Mario has been able to balance the care for his wife with work at his constituency office. As has been announced previously he will not be running for re-election in 2018," said press secretary Jenn Beaudry in a written statement. 

Monte Kwinter, Liberal: 0

Kwinter is Ontario's oldest-ever MPP and he has experienced illness in recent years. He hasn't been recorded speaking in the House or at Committee this session. Kwinter last participated in a recorded vote in April of this year, according to Hansard.

His illness and absence from the legislature has been covered in the media. He told TVO's Steve Paikin that he's suffered from shingles and the Premier's office confirmed he had moved into a nursing home when the Sun reported on his absence in October 2016.

Kwinter's Twitter feed shows him attending public events and sharing government messages.

He has served as an MPP since 1985, but has announced he won't be running in the next election.

Harinder Takhar, Liberal: 24

Not only is Takhar one of the House's most infrequent speakers, the former cabinet minister also holds the distinction, unique among his peers, of not being a parliamentary assistant or a member of any committee, nor does he hold any other official parliamentary role.

He resigned from cabinet in 2013, after experiencing chest pains and initially declared he would not run in the 2014 election, before changing his mind. Takhar had also run for the Liberal leadership in 2013 and, at the convention, threw his support behind Sandra Pupatello, who ultimately lost to Wynne.

This session, none of the 24 times he's spoken have been part of the debates during question period or on the order of the day, and rarely pertain to any legislation. Most of his comments have been confined to member's statements and introductions of guests. However, he is regularly present for recorded votes.

Takhar told QP Briefing he speaks in the House when he isn't able to address his constituents' issues in caucus, or one-on-one with the minister in charge of the file. For instance, there was an issue last session about the closure of a Service Ontario office in his riding, which he raised with the caucus, premier's office and the minister's office, without result, he said.

"Then, I still needed to raise it in the legislature, and I did," he said.

While he finds the House debate useful, he said he feels he can make the same points behind the scenes.

"This is my 29th session, right? I've been around for 14 years, maybe longer than you've been at Queen's Park," he added.

Takhar said he isn't a parliamentary assistant because he doesn't want to be one and, having been a minister in the past, he believes others should get the chance. He said he's not on any committee because he wasn't asked to be.

He would not say if he's planning to run again in 2018.

Michael Gravelle, Liberal: 25

The Minister of Northern Development and Mines has spoken less than usual this session, as he took a leave of absence last winter to treat depression, and announced in July he was transitioning back to his role. At the time, his staff confirmed that he intends to run in the 2018 election.

Vic Dhillon, Liberal: 27

Dhillon's Hansard records are more typical of a government MPP on the back bench; he's just spoken somewhat less frequently in the House than some of his colleagues this session. Dhillon serves as the Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Government and Consumer Services and spoke to two consumer protection bills in that capacity.

He also serves on two busy committees — currently, on public accounts and on social policy — and committee transcripts show him speaking frequently and actively participating in that stage of the legislative process.

In response to QP Briefing's questions for this story, the House Leader's office said in a statement that MPPs, including Dhillon, make numerous contributions as legislators outside of the House debates, including working on legislation as a parliamentary assistant and on committee.

Spokesman Kyle Richardson also pointed out that Dhillon's ballot number — which determines the order in which MPPs can propose private member's bills — hasn't come up yet this session, and he'll have further opportunities to speak to any bill he tables.

Ross Romano, Progressive Conservative: 34

Romano makes this list only because he's a new MPP, having been elected last June in a byelection. In the 34 times he's spoken in the House, it's often been about standing up for the north and his riding of Sault Ste. Marie.

Amrit Mangat, Liberal: 43

Much like Dhillon, Mangat doesn't speak as often as some of her colleagues, but when she does it's the typical mix of member's statements, friendly questions to ministers during Question Period, introductions of guests and contributions to the debate on the orders of the day. She was one of three MPPs — one from each party — who co-sponsored a bill this session declaring Feb. 14 of each year Hazel McCallion day, after the former mayor of Mississauga, and spoke to that in the House.

Mangat also serves on two committees — justice policy and the Legislative Assembly — and contributes at committee meetings.

Jack Maclaren, Trillium Party: 45

Maclaren is the odd man out as the only representative of the Trillium Party. When the session began, he was still a Progressive Conservative MPP. It wasn't until May that he left the party — or was made to leave it, depending on who you believe.

Maclaren told QP Briefing his relatively low number of Hansard records is because he was muzzled by the PC Party for most of the session.

"The way the PC Party or any other party works is when you're not in the good books with them, you're not given the opportunity to ask questions or make statements, or speak to many bills," he said.

The party also decided to allow an open nomination race in Maclaren's riding — which is unusual for sitting MPPs — which led to him taking time away from the legislature to campaign, before he jumped ship (or was pushed) from the party.

Maclaren is no wallflower, having made headlines for saying things he shouldn't have — like telling a sexist joke about a Liberal MP at a community fundraiser.

Now that he's with the Trillium Party, Maclaren said he can vote how he wants and he takes the opportunities to speak that he's afforded. As the sole independent MPP, he is allotted a share of time for debates on legislation equal to his standing as one of about 80 non-cabinet MPPs, he said.

The talkative ones

The Speakers

The person who speaks the most in the House is, of course, Speaker Dave Levac. Hansard has recorded him speaking 7,503 times this session, warning and naming MPPs, telling cabinet ministers to answer questions, calling for further debate, telling everyone to be seated and so on. The next most-oft speaking MPPs are those who fill in as speaker: Deputy Speaker Sue Wong (recorded speaking 2,180 times), followed by NDP MPP Paul Miller (1,569), PC MPP Ted Arnott (1,543) and PC MPP Rick Nicholls (1,407), who regularly serve as acting speakers.

The leaders

Premier Kathleen Wynne is, unsurprisingly, one of the House's most frequent speakers, with 1,257 Hansard records this session. She'll often engage in the back-and-forth on the issues of the day in Question Period. Often, she'll throw the follow-up questions to one of her ministers — but that creates a record too, as she'll rise to say, for example, "Minister of Energy."

Both opposition leaders are Question Period combatants, and you'll find both parties circulate video of the leaders' questions in the House on social media, particularly when it looks like they've got the government on the ropes. PC Leader Patrick Brown spoke 709 times this session and NDP Leader Andrea Horwath spoke 589 times.

The ministers

The two ministers who spoke the most this session are Health Minister Eric Hoskins — 756 times — and Energy Minister Glenn Thibeault — 722 — times, which should come as no surprise, considering how controversial their files have been and the major health and energy legislation up for debate this session.

They're followed by deputy premier and Minister of Advanced Education and Skills Development Deb Matthews, who will often quarterback Question Period on behalf of the Premier when she's away, and who spoken 556 times this session.

France Gélinas, NDP: 550

The next most frequent speaker is the NDP MPP for Nickel Belt. Gélinas tells QP Briefing she didn't realize she's spoken 550 times this session, but her constituents are getting their money's worth.

“This is what they pay me for,” she said. “I try to bring the perspective of Nickel Belt of every bill that goes through the House.”

Her speeches include everything from long explanations of her views on legislation, to quick introductions of guests in the House. Gélinas said every member brings a different perspective on the debates of the day. "What I live in Nickle Belt is very different from the other 106 in the House,” she said.

She believes the time spent debating does make a difference to the bills that are ultimately passed and she knows that legislation has been shaped by her contributions.

“It is not easy," she said. "And I would say that, your arguments, when you want to change a government bill, they have to be well-supported, you have to do your homework.”

John Yakabuski, PC: 503

The oft-speaking Tory was voted best orator by his MPP peers last June, and he told QP Briefing he genuinely enjoys debate. Yakabuski said his most important contributions have been on the major labour and health-care bills debated this session.

His contributions include speaking at length about legislation, asking combative questions in Question Period and engaging in heckling, which is recorded by Hansard when it can be heard — and Yakabuski can often be heard.

"I think the debate is set aside for a very good reason, and that's to give members an opportunity to speak either on behalf of their constituents or toward an issue that is near and dear to them or their constituents, or it could be completely on a partisan basis," he said. "I enjoy the opportunity to rise in the House and speak to the issues, whatever the issue is."

However, he said he feels like he's been speaking less lately, and noted that the government controls the length of the debate with time allocation.

"I think my heckling's been way down, too," Yakabuski said. "I think the Speaker has been rather harsh with me in this last session, I'm getting the evil eye, so to speak, early during Question Period."

Honourable mention

This goes to Arthur Potts, who is the Liberal backbencher who has spoken the most this session so far, with a count of 383 Hansard records. He's spoken on numerous bills and motions and, like Yakabuski, is a noted heckler. He actively serves on two committees as well as the board of internal economy, and as parliamentary assistant to the Minister of the Environment and Climate Change.

(In the photo at the top of this page, Premier Kathleen Wynne shakes the hand of Mario Sergio after winning a majority government in the 2014 provincial election. Lucas Oleniuk/Toronto Star)

Jessica Smith Cross

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