Rare paper fight marks end of lengthy Ontario legislative session

TORONTO - The longest legislative session in Ontario's history ended Thursday with another rare event - a paper fight.

TORONTO - The longest legislative session in Ontario's history ended Thursday with another rare event - a paper fight.

Reporters who cover the legislature marked prorogation by throwing hundreds of papers over the edge of the gallery to the floor of the chamber.

There were no casualties, but Speaker Steve Peters - who was tipped off - took the extra precaution of donning a hard hat before a deluge of documents rained down on his head.

"I had an opportunity to speak to the pages, and there were no paper cuts administered today," he joked.

The so-called "paper slide" is a long-standing tradition in legislatures across the country, but it's become a very unusual sighting these days.

It's rare because governments tend to prorogue when elected members aren't sitting - leaving reporters without a target.

Historically in Ontario, the papers are tossed only after the lieutenant-governor delivers a prorogation speech.

A few years ago, reporters neglected to warn the lieutenant-governor, who was "taken astride" by the sudden onslaught of paper, Peters said.

"It was good fun and I appreciated the heads-up as well too because, from a health and safety perspective as a former labour minister, I wanted to make sure I had my legislative hard hat on today," he added.

Some joked that reporters had stockpiled thousands of freedom-of-information documents related to the eHealth spending scandal as ammunition.

"Being a non-partisan member of this chamber, I'm not going to comment," was Peters' tongue-in-cheek reply.

"But I can assure you that every one of those documents that rained down in the chamber today will be recycled and turned into new documents that you can issue for further FOI requests down the road."

Some say the tradition started when reporters were permitted to toss back onto the chamber floor the pages of government speeches they'd had to endure during the session.

It's generally considered a harmless way to blow off a little steam, but the practice has got out of hand in the past.

In 1980, there were minor injuries and nine broken microphones after a particularly nasty paper fight in the Manitoba legislature, when politicians and reporters alike hurled rolled-up transcripts and heavy documents with deadly aim.

In Ontario, it's only the reporters who do the tossing, and they are too far away from the politicians to do much damage. Still, staples were removed and pages were separated and stacked neatly in boxes before Thursday's main event. The sole complaint came from one reporter who grumbled that he'd strained his arm in the effort.

The latest session - which began Oct. 10, 2007 - set a new record for being the longest in Ontario's history, according to legislative researchers.

Ontario's politicians won't be gone for long. A new session starts Monday with a speech from the throne.

Premier Dalton McGuinty decided to keep it short given the blowback faced by Prime Minister Stephen Harper after he prorogued Parliament for two months.

Wisely, McGuinty escaped from the chamber before the paper slide got underway.

It's not the shortest prorogation in Ontario's history. In 1974, then-premier Bill Davis prorogued the legislature at 10 a.m. and delivered a throne speech at 3 p.m. the next day.

The shortest legislative session in 1955 lasted two hours and 23 minutes, according to a researcher at the Queen's Park library. And that included electing the Speaker.

 
 
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