Provincial politicians get back to work after post-election hangover

Maria Babbage / The Canadian Press
July 1, 2014 07:00 AM

TORONTO - The legislature will return this week with a show of pomp and circumstance, a popularity contest and triumphant Liberals still basking in the glow of their majority victory.

But there will also be some behind-the-scenes manoeuvring by the emasculated opposition parties as they try to keep the government on its toes despite their diminished role at Queen's Park.

The first order of business Wednesday is swearing in all the politicians elected in the June 12 election — including Premier Kathleen Wynne and her already anointed new cabinet — to officially make them members of provincial parliament.

Then they'll have to elect a new Speaker from the group, who will take on a prestigious, though at times thankless role of keeping MPPs in line in the legislature.

Liberals Dave Levac — who held the job before the election was called — and Shafiq Qaadri are vying for the job, along with Tory Rick Nicholls and New Democrats Paul Miller and Cheri DiNovo.

The Speaker may belong to a political party, but is expected to be impartial as the referee of the legislature. Once elected, they are "dragged" — flanked by the premier and leader of the opposition — to the ornate carved chair at the front of the chamber as a symbolic gesture of their reluctance to take the job.

The tradition dates back to the early days of British Parliament, when the Speaker in the House of Commons had to deliver any bad news to the monarch and sometimes lost their head in the process.

But it's become a much sought-after job in modern times, with such perks as an apartment in the legislature.

The Tories will also be choosing an interim leader Wednesday to take over for Tim Hudak, who is stepping down in the wake of a crushing election defeat. Veteran Progressive Conservatives Jim Wilson and John Yakabuski are expected to throw their hats in the ring.

On Thursday, Lt.-Gov. David Onley will deliver a speech from the throne, which lays out the government's agenda for the session.

The biggest priority will be implementing the left-leaning budget that triggered the election. Finance Minister Charles Sousa has promised to re-introduce it on July 14 and this time, it's all but certain to pass as the Liberals have a majority of seats in the legislature.

Wynne has pledged to re-introduce other government bills that died when the election was called, such as legislation aimed at improving the province's Ornge air ambulance service, which has been embroiled in a spending scandal for more than two years.

Those bills that can't be introduced before the summer break, which still hasn't been determined, will be revived in the fall, said cabinet minister Tracy MacCharles.

"I think we're all very interested to see legislation return," she said.

Wynne has also promised to allow an all-party committee to continue its work examining the deletion of emails related to two cancelled gas plants, which is estimated to cost up to $1.1 billion.

Provincial police are currently conducting a criminal investigation, alleging hard drives in the premier's office were wiped before Wynne formally took office.

The committee was supposed to hear from Peter Faist, a computer expert who was on contract with the Liberals, and his girlfriend Laura Miller — a high-ranking official in the premier's office — about allegations that he was given a special all-access password from Miller's boss to wipe the hard drives. The election call put the kibosh on their testimony.

Wynne said the committee could resume its work, but should move on to completing their report rather than hearing from more witnesses.

The Liberals will have the most members on the committee, which means the opposition parties — who want to hear from Miller and Faist — will have little say in the matter.

"How do you write a report without some of your key witnesses actually not having been before the committee?" said NDP house leader Gilles Bisson.

"So for the premier to say, 'oh, we heard from everybody, we're fine, just write a report,' well, it's going to be a report with a great big hole in it."

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