Two Tories stage sit-in to protest Ontario's move to tax harmonization

TORONTO - Two maverick Progressive Conservatives refused to leave the Ontario legislature Monday - and were prepared to stay the night - over the government's refusal to hold provincewide public consultations on tax harmonization.
Published : December 01, 2009

TORONTO - Two maverick Progressive Conservatives refused to leave the Ontario legislature Monday - and were prepared to stay the night - over the government's refusal to hold provincewide public consultations on tax harmonization.

The NDP said all three parties hammered out a compromise late Monday, but it was not immediately clear whether it would be enough for the Tories to abandon their sit-in.

The deal involves two more days of public hearings on the HST - a key demand by the Tories - and the Liberals will bring forward a motion Tuesday to "solidify" that, said an NDP spokesman.

The protest began after Bill Murdoch was ordered to leave the chamber after he called Premier Dalton McGuinty a liar for "shutting down" public hearings and refused to retract his remark.

"Where I come from, we call that a cop-out," he told the legislature. "Where I come from, Dalton McGuinty is a liar."

But Murdoch wouldn't budge. Other Tories flocked to their colleague's side to block any attempt to remove him, then repeatedly drowned out debate by pounding their desks and shouting, "Call public hearings!"

After repeated warnings, Speaker Steve Peters suspended both Murdoch and Randy Hillier, who helped form the human shield around Murdoch, until the end of the legislative session.

If the two set foot outside the legislature - even for a quick bathroom break or a bite to eat - they won't be able to return until a new session starts with a speech from the throne, which would deprive the 25-member Tory caucus of two votes.

Both Hillier and Murdoch are prepared to stay all night in the legislature if that's what it takes to twist the government's arm, said Opposition House Leader Bob Runciman.

"They're camping out, if you will, for the whole evening," he said. "So until we get this resolved in a way that's acceptable to our caucus, then we intend to remain in the legislature."

The governing Liberals have only granted the public about five hours during a legislative committee hearing on Thursday to talk about the HST, which isn't nearly enough time, he added.

The Liberals offered another three or four hours of public hearings during a closed-door meeting Monday, but that's not enough, Runciman said. The Conservatives want "several more days" of hearings.

"We're looking for expanded public hearings, preferably in communities outside Toronto," he said.

"But I think it's clear they're closing off debate here, they're limiting the public hearings to about five hours in Toronto, and we know that there are hundreds, if not thousands of people who want to appear before the committee."

The Liberals, who hold a 72-seat majority in the legislature, insist that the Opposition stunt won't hold up the HST legislation.

"I think their childish behaviour is a negative reflection on their party," said Liberal House Leader Monique Smith.

"But I think that we continue with business as usual. We're trying to get our work done."

NDP House Leader Gilles Bisson said his party is also pressuring the government for more public hearings, but getting kicked out of the legislature isn't the answer.

"It's good theatrics, but at the end of the day it does nothing to slow down this bill," he said.

"What slows down this bill is public participation in trying to put some pressure on the government."

Monday also marked the first of what may be many late-night sittings in the legislature over the HST bill, which the Liberals are determined to pass before the Christmas break.

The stunt marked an escalation in Tory protest tactics over the HST, which they have labelled as one of the biggest tax grabs in the province's history. Only this time, they took a page from the Liberal playbook.

The protest is similar to the one mounted by Liberals in 1995, when Alvin Curling refused to give up his seat and staged a legislative sit-in to protest the Conservative government's omnibus bill, Runciman said.

Both the Liberals and NDP formed a human shield around Curling, who stayed overnight in the chamber and was forced to relieve himself, according to some political veterans, in a bottle hidden under a blanket on his lap.

That prospect doesn't seem to have deterred Murdoch and Hillier, who are well known for their outspoken ways and propensity to thumb their noses at authority.

Murdoch was once booted out of caucus for suggesting that former Conservative leader John Tory find another job, while Hillier has been ejected from the legislature before for calling the Liberals liars and refusing to retract the remark.

 
 
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