Question Period Briefing: School's out for summer

Question Period Briefing: School’s out for summer

It's the final question period of the rare summer session, but the legislature wasn't especially rowdy, in part because it's been rambunctious all summer. On that note, let's dive in.

The subway pivot

Opposition Leader Andrea Horwath uses her lead question to focus on Bill 5, which would cut the size of Toronto city council in half and cancel four regional chair elections.

Premier Doug Ford responds by saying that the government is doing what the people want, and then for the second consecutive day he pivots to discussing transit in Scarborough. "The Scarborough subway has been switched eight times," which has not been "switched" eight times, but which has been voted on numerous times, in part because the subway plan was approved at zero-per-cent design. The premier continues:  "The people of Scarborough are suffering. They’re suffering because there’s a two-tiered transit system: one for one part of the city and then one for our friends out in Scarborough. I can tell my friends in Scarborough, subways are coming to Scarborough." There is only an existing plan for one additional subway stop in Scarborough, although Ford mentioned Monday building three stops rather than one. Doing so would cost an estimated additional $1.3-billion.

The math pivot

Then Horwath moves on to the sex-ed curriculum, where she asks whether the premier will keep the 2015 curriculum for students who need it (spoiler: the premier will not).

The premier switches subject again, this time saying that Horwath should be focusing on math test scores. "I’m not too sure if she read The Globe and Mail today. The No. 1 issue in the province is our children’s math scores. Grade 6 students are failing math." After another question on sex-ed, Ford adds, "But what’s more concerning? More concerning is that [the NDP] just want to ignore—they don’t care about our kids, grade 6 math students who are failing."

And so then it's Horwath's turn to say something unexpected. "Speaker, if they have been raped or bullied, math won’t matter very much to them; will it?"

There are jeers and howls from both sides of the chamber at this remark, and as has become a familiar sight, the Speaker struggles to retain control of the chamber. "Get a grip. Get a grip," heckles Minister of Transportation John Yakabuski. Another PC MPP asks Horwath why she's so angry.

The premier eventually responds to her comment. "The NDP leader, the Leader of the Opposition — some of the comments she said were outrageous but I’m going to ignore those outrageous comments. We’re going to focus on what matters to parents, and what matters to parents is that their kids start passing math."

Opioids

Horwath also sought clarity on the government's stance on safe injection sites following comments from Health Minister Christine Elliott on Monday when she said that the sites save lives, but the government wouldn't open any new ones. Elliott was absent from the legislature Tuesday, and so Minister of Social Services Lisa MacLeod answered in her stead:

"We are going to get people who are struggling the help for their addictions that they need. We are reviewing the latest data. She was clear that the evident and current supervised injection sites and overdose prevention site models will be looked at, but in the coming weeks, we will also be speaking and consulting with experts and reviewing reports from organizations to ensure that people struggling with an addiction get the help that they need."

ETFO goes rogue

NDP MPP Marit Stiles raised the issue of Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario educators choosing to teach the sex-ed curriculum that they think works best.

Education Minister Lisa Thompson responded: "I have every confidence in their ability as they work through their classroom and get to know their students to use the curriculum that was last used in 2014." Reporters would ask Thompson multiple times following question period whether teachers who taught the 2015 curriculum would face any consequences, but she repeatedly gave a variation of this line rather than answering directly.

John A. is with us still

The PCs used a friendly question for the second consecutive day to discuss the Sir John A. Macdonald statue that has been removed from Victoria city hall in British Columbia. Minister of Tourism, Sport and Culture Sylvia Jones defended Macdonald on the grounds that historical figures need to be understood within their own context.

"There are historical figures who served in this house from across the political spectrum who, frankly, their views would not be viewed very appreciatively now. We cannot let extreme political correctness dictate what people can learn and see in our communities. Using that logic, there would not be a museum open in the Province of Ontario today."

At the words, "extreme political correctness," one NDP MPP heckled: "Say 'Indigenous'!" The New Democrats would later use one of their questions to ask whether the government consulted any Indigenous groups before offering to take the Macdonald statue from Victoria. Environment Minister Rod Phillips, answering in lieu of the absent Greg Rickford, dodged the question.

 

David Hains

QP Briefing Reporter

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