Mired in ongoing crisis, Premier Doug Ford’s government is moving to shut down the legislature at Queen’s Park this week as critics and experts call for strengthened protections from COVID-19.
On Saturday, the NDP sent a release saying it had been notified the government plans to close up shop as of Wednesday, ending the ability to pass new laws, including support for workers.
In the statement, official opposition leader Andrea Horwath said her MPPs will “refuse to co-operate” until the Ford government fully rescinds controversial new policing powers and provides paid sick days for essential workers while shutting down all non-essential workplaces.
“I think it’s shocking that Doug Ford decided to bring a police state to Ontario and then shut down the legislature,” Horwath said in an interview Sunday.
“It’s frightening, it’s chilling actually that they would think that’s the right way to address COVID-19.”
Meanwhile, in a video posted to social media on Sunday, directed at Ontarians and that doesn’t make any mention of Ford, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his government will mobilize federal health care workers to deploy in Ontario, specifically the GTA, saying other provinces and territories are also willing to help.
“To the health care workers who are relentlessly fighting this virus, thank you. I know you’re exhausted and that hasn’t stopped you from working harder than ever before,” Trudeau said. “We all need to get you more support in critical areas. Know that we’re doing whatever we can to help.”
Trudeau said they will also boost rapid testing for hot spots in Ontario, especially for essential workers.
And he repeated his offer to deploy the Canadian Red Cross to help with vaccinations, which was rejected by Ford earlier this week.
An email from the Ontario government house leader’s office on Sunday blamed the NDP and other opposition parties for the proposed Queen’s Park shutdown and accused them of grandstanding, saying they had called for a way to hold a virtual parliament — something Horwath’s office said was not a new request and didn’t imply stopping government business.
“After looking into the opposition proposal, it was found that a virtual Parliament would not result in any significant reduction in the number of Legislative Assembly staff required when the House is in session,” the statement says.
“In the spirit of the opposition requests, the Government presented options to adjourn the Legislature to keep those who support elected officials safe. As is typical, the NDP have used this as an opportunity to score the cheapest of political points in the midst of a pandemic.”
Horwath’s office said government officials suggested nothing was amiss at a regular meeting with opposition leaders on Thursday. But on Friday, the opposition was called to an emergency meeting to discuss a potential shutdown.
An email sent Friday night by the office of Minister Paul Calandra, government house leader, to the opposition parties and seen by the Star suggested a fast-tracked timetable to speed through business to wrap up Wednesday.
Horwath said that Calandra is “not being honest” and that the opposition has made several requests to work on finding virtual options but not to shut down government business.
“It’s pretty damning that this is what the government wants to do, this is the game they want to play,” she said, accusing the Ford government of having this plan all along.
She said they have already worked to reduce the number of MPPs, operate in cohorts and implement double masking, and are eager to find a way to keep provincial democracy going.
After the province’s top scientific and medical advisers laid out deadly projections for ICU capacity and overall case counts on Friday, Ford announced new restrictions that included shutting all outdoor amenities like playgrounds and allowing police officers to randomly stop anyone outside their home.
But by Saturday, protests from parents, municipal leaders and police chiefs forced the government to reverse course on two major changes: playgrounds are now permitted to open, but other activities like golf are not. And police powers were rolled back to require officers to have reason to believe someone is participating in an event or gathering with non-household members.
Still, epidemiology and labour experts say the Ford government has not done enough to protect those most at risk in factories, warehouses and other essential workplaces without paid sick days that allow workers to immediately stay home to be tested, or isolate without missing out on that day’s pay, and instead are criminalizing outdoor activities that public health officials have said are relatively low risk.