A Progressive Conservative push to elect Mississauga Tory MPP Nina Tangri Ontario’s first female Speaker of the Legislature is being met with suspicion and accusations of “backroom deal-making” by the opposition New Democrats.
In a letter to Government House Leader Paul Calandra, the NDP charges Calandra “threatened to strip” the party of three deputy speaker roles in a meeting earlier this week if the 31-member New Democrat caucus does not join the PCs in a statement of support for Tangri.
MPPs vote for a Speaker, a key position that referees debate and keeps order when politicians get rambunctious or out of order, when the legislature returns for a scheduled five-week session Aug. 8.
“I am formally requesting that you immediately withdraw your threat and allow the democratic process for the election of speaker to unfold without the taint of a rigged election,” New Democrat House Leader Peggy Sattler (London West) wrote Thursday.
“Our system of democracy relies on the independence and impartiality of the speaker, which is why the election of speaker is the only secret ballot afforded to members.”
Calandra’s office said “the NDP claims are entirely untrue.”
“Mr. Calandra in his role as MPP for Markham-Stouffville spoke of his profound support for Ms. Tangri, who is running to be the first woman speaker in the history of the Ontario legislature, and appealed to Ms. Sattler for the NDP’s support,” spokesman Owen Macri said in a statement.
Conservative MPP Ted Arnott (Wellington-Halton Hills) has been speaker since MPPs elected him following Premier Doug Ford’s 2018 victory.
The job comes with a salary of $152,914 — this is just more than $36,000 more than the base pay for an MPP — and a spacious third-floor apartment in the legislature.
Tangri (Mississauga-Streetsville) signalled last month that she did not want to be reappointed to Ford’s cabinet, so she could run for the position against Arnott. She had been associate minister for small business and red-tape reduction before the June 2 election.
Ford’s new 30-member cabinet has seven women ministers, down from nine in his previous 28-member executive council.
In her one-page letter, Sattler said the government also threatened to strip the official opposition NDP caucus of six vice-chair roles on standing committees of the legislature, where proposed legislation and other matters are reviewed, “if we do not agree to unanimously vote for Nina Tangri.”
“Not only is this unprecedented, it is dangerous,” Sattler added, saying the push for Tangri puts both her and Arnott in an “untenable position and sent a signal to other potential candidates that their candidacy is not welcome.”
Typically, candidates for speaker make their pitches to the various party caucuses behind closed doors at Queen’s Park, and answer questions from MPPs on how they would approach the job.
Calandra’s office said the meeting in question was held Tuesday as a “preliminary organizational meeting” with Sattler in preparation for the return of the legislature next month, which will also involve a throne speech outlining the Ford government’s agenda and reintroduction of the April 28 budget.
“Other topics were discussed, including the process for electing a speaker, appointing other presiding officers of the House, appointing the membership of committees, and the seating plan in the House, but these were simple procedural discussions which are typical between parties before the start of a new Parliament,” Macri said in his statement.
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