25 councillors good, 47 councillors bad
Andrea Horwath uses her lead question to ask why Premier Doug Ford didn't inform voters on the campaign trail that he intended to cancel four regional chair elections. Instead, the chairs of Peel, Niagara, Muskoka and York will be appointed as they were before, and earn the same salary.
Ford deflects from the question, saying that the NDP doesn't care about the issues his government is focused on, such as lowering hydro rates and taxes.
"Clearly, the Leader of the Opposition doesn’t care about these important issues that matter to the people of Ontario. She only cares about protecting a bunch of politicians’ jobs," he says, earning loud applause from the PC benches.
But Horwath continues to dig in. "The people of Ontario can see right through the premier’s bluster, Speaker. And they don’t see a leader; they see a bully. They see a man who is taking petty, vindictive and mean-spirited retaliation against millions of voters, against a city that rejected him, and against his own political opponents," she says of the move to slash council in half.
"Democracy rejected you!" a PC member heckles to the duly elected leader of the opposition.
Ford returns to his talking points. "We’re going to focus on running an efficient government. We’re going to focus on respecting the taxpayers. We’re going to focus on putting money back into the taxpayers’ pocket."
The Los Angeles case study
Ford once again cites how the city of Los Angeles has four million people, but fewer city councillors than Toronto with a population of 2.8 million. "As I said the other day, the city of Los Angeles with four million people has 15 councillors. Imagine that. Imagine less politicians. Imagine respecting the taxpayers. Imagine reducing taxes."
This misrepresents the governance structure in Los Angeles. While there are only 15 councillors, there are also 97 neighbourhood councils designed to respond to community needs in a more direct way, and each receives a $42,000 budget.
The nice list
Ford also takes a moment to give a shout-out to the 17 Toronto councillors who voted in favour of reducing the number of wards in the city.
Horwath has a quick quip for the premier on the subject, saying, "A little lesson in democracy: That’s less than 50 per cent, Speaker." Indeed, council voted 24–17 to express its opposition to cutting its number of representatives in half.
If a gun is placed on the table in the first act, then it must go off by the third act, goes the old screenwriting rule. And we see a version of it in question period today. Horwath uses charged language to describe the premier, saying: "That anybody thinks that he gets to decide how to define a democracy really speaks to the issue of his belief in being a dictator as opposed to –"
The Speaker intervenes, and asks her to withdraw her unparliamentary comment, which she promptly does. But he adds a prescient warning: "I’m going to, again, caution the members on intemperate language because it inflames passions, makes it impossible to have decorum in this house."
Ford says he would go on Horwath's home turf of Hamilton to tell Ontarians there what she really believes in. "I look forward to visiting my friends in Hamilton to tell them what the Leader of the Opposition believes in. The Leader of the Opposition believes in bigger government, higher taxes, higher hydro rates."
And in a rare moment of agreement, Horwath welcomes the comment. "I invite the Premier to my riding. He’ll get run out of town. He will get run out of town. There’s one thing that the people of Hamilton respect, and that is democracy. They respect democracy, unlike this Premier."
The big moment
Mississauga East–Cooksville MPP Kaleed Rasheed rises to ask a friendly question on how much a referendum to cut Toronto's council in half would cost. Heckling ensues. One of the hecklers is veteran NDP MPP Gilles Bisson. But Ford believes his remarks went beyond heckling, and that the Timmins MPP is mimicking the Pakistani-born Rasheed's accent. "You're disgusting! You're disgusting! Racist!" the premier charges. Later, some other PC MPPs say they heard the remark too.
But Bisson steadfastly denied saying it in mocking accent, and refuses to apologize.
Speaker Ted Arnott struggled to maintain decorum in the house, and calls for a recess as Ford and Horwath yell at one another. The PCs then refuse to answer any questions from the opposition until they receive a formal apology from Bisson, which they do not. For more, read our article on the subject.
Special guest: Former MPP Peter Shurman – who once looked like a future finance minister, in another universe – was in attendance. "Shurmanator!" one PC fan yells.