Liberal MPP accuses Ontario government of ‘silencing’ female legislators ahead of Int’l Women’s Day

Exteriors of Queen's Park in Toronto, Ontario on May 31, 2018. Photo by . Deborah Baic / The Globe and Mail

The Ford government is facing accusations of muzzling female members of the Ontario Liberal Party who wanted to speak in the provincial legislature about International Women’s Day after the Progressive Conservative Party denied them the opportunity.

During question period on Wednesday, Liberal MPP Lucille Collard asked the legislature for time for her and other independent MPPs to speak about International Women’s Day on March 7.

While the Ontario Liberals have nine seats in the Ontario legislature, their caucus members are still considered independents because they don’t meet the threshold of 12 elected representatives needed for official party status.

The majority of Ontario Liberal MPPs are female, with women holding five of their nine seats.

Collard asked for five minutes to be set aside to talk on the topic, a move that requires unanimous consent from both the government and opposition. When Collard asked, however, a lone shout of “no” came from across the floor.

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“It’s very insulting,” Collard told Global News, saying it was the Government House Leader, Paul Calandra, who shot down her request.

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“We’re not done with that issue because this has gone too far.”

The government’s rejection of Collard’s petition was immediately followed by a request of its own, with the associate Minister of Women’s Social and Economic Opportunity asking for a group photo.

“I would just like to remind all the women in the House that tomorrow, after question period, we will be taking a photo for International Women’s Day here in the chamber,” Charmaine Williams said.

Collard said the rejection followed by a request for a favour left her feeling “disrespected” and said it was an insult to the women in ridings represented by independent MPPs.

“This is like saying, ‘OK, you’re very welcome to come here in the legislature to be part of the picture — be pretty but shut up,’” she said.

The denial also means other female independent MPPs such as the Green Party’s Aislinn Clancy and independent MPP Bobbi Ann Brady would not get the opportunity to speak on the topic.

A spokesperson for the Government House Leader’s office told Global News that the denial of speaking rights was “not a decision of government,” rather a decision of the legislature which requires unanimity.

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“Independent members here, as in other Parliaments do not automatically have the same speaking time as recognized parties,” the spokesperson told Global News. “If the House allows unanimous consent independents can be granted special speaking time and in this case the House did not agree.”

The government did not answer questions about why independent female MPPs are not being allowed to speak and did not respond when asked if the government is reconsidering.

Collard will hold a press conference on Thursday morning with her independent female colleagues “to speak out against the Conservatives silencing women on International Women’s Day.”

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