Ford government seeking new powers to pass bills more quickly

The government of Premier Doug Ford is proposing changes to the rules at Queen’s Park that would give it the power to pass bills into law more quickly. 

CBC News has obtained a copy of the proposals, which would allow the government to push legislation through multiple stages in one day and to call night sittings of the Legislature whenever it wishes. 

The changes would alter the Legislature’s rules of procedure, known as the standing orders. While the proposals are currently being discussed with the opposition parties, the Progressive Conservative majority means the government can bring the changes into effect with a simple vote. 

Government House Leader Paul Calandra is downplaying the significance of the changes. 

“It’s just about making the house work better, work smoother,” Calandra told reporters this week. “We put a number of proposals on the table and at this point we’re seeking feedback from the opposition members.”

The feedback from the New Democrats is decidedly negative. 

Paul Calandra, the government house leader, says the changes are aimed at ‘making the house work better, work smoother.’ (Chris Young/The Canadian Press)

“This government wants to ram through legislation, frankly, that they haven’t consulted on in the first place,” NDP Deputy Leader Sara Singh said at Queen’s Park this week. 

Singh said the changes would be detrimental to debate by “eliminating the opportunity for community members or stakeholders to get involved.” 

Most major government bills at Queen’s Park go through a committee hearing before a final vote. That allows MPPs from all official parties to invite people who would be affected by the legislation to speak out. The NDP says the rule changes would give the government more power to pass bills without public input. 

Another rule change would affect the ritual of question period. Right now, when the opposition poses a question to the premier, he has the option to hand it off it to a minister to respond, but must stand up to do so. The PCs are proposing to let the premier pass off questions without standing up. 

Calandra says other proposed rule changes would give more speaking time to independent MPPs. 

“I’m disappointed to hear the NDP have decided not to find ways to make the house work better, but that’s not going to stop us,” said Calandra.

Last year the PCs changed other rules in the Legislature to weaken the opposition’s ability to slow the passage of bills.