International travel cancelled. Requests to be absent from the legislature denied. Phones locked away.
Ontario's Progressive Conservative leadership is cracking down after at least 20 of Premier Doug Ford's caucus members rebelled to re-elect Ted Arnott as Speaker of the house instead of Ford's preferred choice, Nina Tangri, Conservative insiders say.
Ford "looked very frustrated, very upset" in a caucus meeting right after the vote on Monday, a PC MPP told QP Briefing on the condition that their name be withheld. Ford's right-hand man, government house leader Paul Calandra, handed down the discipline in that meeting.
Starting now, ministers will be taking all question period questions — no more passing the buck to their parliamentary assistants, according to the MPP and two other well-connected conservative sources.
The group punishment is twofold: ministers will have to spend far more time preparing for question period, depriving them of time spent on the more entertaining parts of the job, like travelling. And the assistants won't be able to use question period as a chance to show off their skills and potentially earn a cabinet promotion in the future.
"Calandra brought it up as soon as the caucus meeting began," the MPP said. "He told everyone that, moving forward, ministers are expected to be in question period at all times, no excuses, ready to answer questions."
Almost all PC members have been in their seats during each of the first two question periods of the new session.
Speaking of travel: Calandra also told members international trips are cancelled, said the MPP and one of the well-connected conservatives.
Requests to be absent from votes in the house — which were once easy to come by — will no longer be approved, the MPP and the other conservative, who works in a minister's office, said.
Finally, PC members are no longer allowed phones in caucus meetings, as they'll be locked away in a separate area beforehand, the MPP said.
"(Calandra) said trust is something that must be earned, not given," the member said. "So to answer your question, do I see this as punishment? Yes. It certainly feels as if we're grounded, stuck in detention after school."
Ford doesn't know which of his MPPs defied him since the Speaker vote was by secret ballot. That's likely eating him up, sources said.
"(There are) few things the premier likes less than questions around loyalty," said a fourth conservative source, who was also aware that Ford was "not impressed" by the result of Monday’s vote.
"It's not a great start to the legislative session because I think now the premier will be wondering who those MPPs are," the PC caucus member said.
The premier made only brief remarks in the meeting. He said there was a reason the PCs hadn't won in 15 years until he came along and that members had to "support one another and the team," according to the MPP.
Ford said there are about 20 to 23 ridings in Ontario that will vote PC no matter what, which the MPP said seemed like a veiled threat meaning that many members are expendable.
On Thursday, QP Briefing emailed Ford's and Calandra's spokespeople, asking them to confirm the punishments, and comments made by the premier and government house leader.
Both declined to address what happened in the caucus meeting, saying "they're confidential."
"However, none of the measures described are out of the ordinary for political parties," Owen Macri, Calandra's chief of staff, said. "MPPs are expected to be available for their legislative duties."
"The premier is looking forward to the continued great work of Mr. Arnott as speaker of the Ontario legislature," added Ivana Yelich, Ford's executive director of media relations.
The drama began earlier this summer when Calandra took the unusual step of publicly expressing support for Tangri over Arnott, for reasons that remain unclear.
As a result, the Speaker race quickly turned partisan.
The NDP says Calandra tried to bully them into supporting Tangri by threatening to not approve their picks for deputy speaker (which he denies). It's common practice for the government to appoint official Opposition members to the roles, but it's not mandatory.
In the end, the NDP says Calandra followed through on those threats by appointing one MPP each from the PCs, NDP and Liberals, instead of three NDP members.