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Renewed tensions over Queen’s Park keffiyeh ban brewing

Click to play video: 'Ford government divided over Speaker’s ban on keffiyehs at Queen’s Park'
Ford government divided over Speaker’s ban on keffiyehs at Queen’s Park
RELATED: Progressive Conservative Leader and Premier Doug Ford is facing internal strife after a member of his own party shot down an attempt to reverse a ban on keffiyehs at Queen’s Park. Ford had said he was opposed to the ban. Global News' Queen's Park Bureau Chief Colin D'Mello reports – Apr 18, 2024

The Ontario NDP is promising “next steps” in its battle to overturn a ban on keffiyehs being worn inside the provincial legislature.

A debate around the Arab headdress erupted on Thursday after Ontario Premier Doug Ford said a ban on wearing it from Speaker Ted Arnott “needlessly divides” people and called for it to be reversed.

Despite the premier’s demand that the ban be scrapped — backed by leaders of the Liberals and NDP — at least one member of his own party defied his leadership and blocked an attempt to allow keffiyehs to be worn.

A keffiyeh is a black-and-white checkered scarf typically worn in Arab cultures that has come to symbolize solidarity with Palestinians.

Politicians inside Ontario’s legislature are governed by strict rules over both clothing and props. The Speaker enforces rules in the legislature, although they can be changed if all members agree.

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After Ford called for the ban to be overturned, NDP Leader Marit Stile asked for unanimous consent for the keffiyeh to be worn.

The motion, which requires agreement from all elected officials present, failed after Progressive Conservative MPP Robin Martin said “no.”

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Martin said Thursday that the Speaker had “researched that decision” when he suggested wearing the keffiyeh was a political statement.

“The decision was the correct decision in my view,” Martin said. “As a member, I have a vote and I voted to not change that decision because I think it was the correct decision.”

Martin’s “no” was publicly endorsed by PC colleague Lisa MacLeod, while other MPPs on the government bench were divided on the issue.

Sources previously told Global News MPPs were given “verbal communication” from the premier’s office on how to vote. Government members were instructed to “stay out of the chamber” if they did not support an upcoming motion by the NDP to reverse the ban, the sources said.

On Monday, the Ontario NDP called the ban “outrageous” and told Ford to make sure his “team gets it right this time” on the issue.

“When the premier of this province and the leader of the opposition and all the other leaders say that they are opposed to the ban, there was an opportunity there,” Stiles said.

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“We certainly got a strong signal from the government, from the premier himself, that they would agree to a motion to reverse that ban. And unfortunately, they didn’t.”

Stiles said it was “up to the premier and his team” whether Martin should be removed from the Progressive Conservative caucus for voting to deny the consent motion.

Asked about her vote again on Monday, Martin told Global News she was “not talking” about the issue. She said she had not spoken to Ontario Premier Doug Ford, whom she defied to vote against removing the ban.

Martin also said the premier had not asked to speak to her since the vote.

Ontario Liberal MPP John Fraser said the issue had rare, broad support within the house.

“This is not a partisan thing, it’s not a party thing,” he said. “Everybody agrees — except for the premier has got cold feet all of a sudden. I don’t know why.”

On Tuesday morning, the issue could reignite in the house, with the Ontario NDP planning to bring forward another consent motion.

Stiles will hold “will hold a media availability to lay out the next steps in overturning the ban on keffiyehs in the Ontario Legislature building,” according to her party.

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She is expected to table the consent motion after the event. Under the same rules as the previous attempt, it would only take one MPP saying no for the request to fail.

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