Ford government faces calls to introduce ‘very important’ anti-harassment law

Click to play video: 'Ontario legislature returns as Ford government looks to change channel'
Ontario legislature returns as Ford government looks to change channel
RELATED: MPPs are back at Queen's Park after a lengthy winter break. The first day back was marked with the new Get It Done Act and renewed battles between the government and opposition. Global News Queen's Park bureau chief Colin D'Mello has the latest – Feb 20, 2024

The Ontario government is facing fresh calls to propose a solution to harassment by elected officials, as opposition parties band together to demand a change.

A private member’s bill push by Liberal MPP Stephen Blais ended in 2023 after the Ford government voted it down, promising to replace it with accountability legislation of its own.

The Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Paul Calandra promised Wednesday that a new law is coming but said his office wanted to avoid it facing legal challenges.

“It is a very important piece of legislation that has to be constitutional (and) that has to actually achieve the results that I think that everybody’s asking for,” Calandra told reporters.

Blais, however, said he believes the government has had a law drafted for as long as two years and accused Ontario Premier Doug Ford and his office of slowing the law down.

Story continues below advertisement

The Ottawa-area Liberal MPP said he was involved in two years of discussions with former housing minister Steve Clark he said were then held up by the government’s top office.

“They have a piece of legislation drafted, they’ve had drafted for almost two years, it’s being stopped in the premier’s office,” Blais said, referencing scandals and complaints the premier’s late brother Rob Ford faced during his period as Toronto mayor.

Breaking news from Canada and around the world sent to your email, as it happens.

The premier’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Blais has pushed to introduce new rules multiple times, including before the previous election and again in an ultimately unsuccessful push in the current parliament.

Internal government documents obtained by Global News suggest that, during the summer of 2023, the province was tracking Blais’s bill.

“Stakeholders and the media may raise questions about this Bill as it passes through the legislative process,” one document states.

Speaking notes included with the document suggest “these issues are best handled at the local level” and say the Ford government “believes in the democratic process” and trusts “voters to hold local politicians accountable at the ballot box.”

Blais and other advocates, though, argue local elected officials, especially at the municipal level, are hard to hold to account.

Story continues below advertisement

A series of incidents around Ontario have raised concerns about the process. Allegations levelled at councillors in the province have included sexual assault, mischief and body-shaming comments.

“Similar issues of harassment have popped up in Barrie, in Mississauga, in Brampton, in cities and towns across the province,” Blais said.

“If you were to do that at work, if a guy working in a Walmart was to do that, if a teacher were to do that in a school, they would lose their job instantaneously.”

The Ontario Liberals, NDP and Greens all came together to call on the government to bring forward new rules in a rare show of united opposition.

At an event on Wednesday morning, the three parties and advocates called for urgent action from the government.

“The government talks a good game on this issue,” Ontario NDP Leader Marit Stiles told reporters, suggesting it has failed to deliver.

“We need tools so that women and others, both elected and non-elected people at all levels of government and politics, have the same protection that we all should have…. I would like to see stronger legislation and rules, to protect people, at all levels of government.”

Calandra has said he wants to avoid implementing a rule that could be challenged in court.

Story continues below advertisement

“I’ll reiterate it again: I am going to do something about it,” he said Wednesday. “I want to make sure that what we do bring forward is constitutional.”

Blais said the government — which recently accepted an appeal court ruling that confirmed its wage restraint legislation Bill 124 was unconstitutional — should be willing to fight to protect an anti-harassment law.

“This government has proven time and time and time again, they are not concerned about going to court to defend legislation,” he said.

“If there is any legislation that is worth going to court to defend, it’s standing up against harassment (and) abuse.”

Sponsored content