Lieutenant-General David Onley is hoping a helping of turkey breast and a few bottles of Ontario’s finest wines will help soothe the partisan rancour that has taken over Ontario’s legislature.
It is a sign of the level of antipathy between the province’s politicians that even the Queen’s representative, who normally plays a purely ceremonial role, has become concerned. On Monday, he is hosting a dinner for all MPPs at his Queen’s Park suite in hopes of restoring some goodwill between the opposite sides of the House.
“I hear it from people as I travel around the province: they don’t like the name-calling and the personalization of so much of the political process,” he told The Globe and Mail. “That view that people are expressing to a very real extent parallels the declining voter turnout. After the last provincial election, the turnout was actually less than 50 per cent. I think that should be disturbing to all of us.”
The primary purpose of the meal, he said, is to mark Elections Canada’s Democracy Week, and will feature a speech by former House of Commons speaker Peter Milliken.
Mr. Onley plans to make the dinner an annual event.
“I hope one of the side benefits is that it does create something of a greater sense of collegiality and perhaps changing the tone, if you will, within the legislature itself,” he said. “But that’s truly up to the officials.”
The menu is all Ontario food, including turkey, fingerling potatoes and fruit pies.
Premier Kathleen Wynne is the only one of the three party leaders scheduled to attend the soirée. Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak was unveiling policy proposals in Thunder Bay, Ont. and NDP Leader Andrea Horwath has an unspecified previous commitment.
Nonetheless, more than 40 MPPs from all three parties were expected to be there.
Ms. Wynne said it was “too bad” the opposition leaders could not attend, but said she was looking forward to the event.
“I think the Lieutenant-Governor is trying to create a different kind of discussion that doesn’t follow along party lines. I have the utmost respect for the Lieutenant-Governor and I think that he genuinely wants to bring people together and have a slightly more academic discussion of the working of the legislature, of the working of the provincial parliament,” she said. “And I don’t mean to say that I’m chastising the leaders of the opposition. I’m sure they have other things that they have to do.”
The partisan bickering has been so bad, the assembly passed only one bill in the entire spring session.
Ms. Wynne, meanwhile, appears to have made little headway in her attempts to win opposition help in pushing her agenda through this fall.
A meeting with Mr. Hudak last week ended in a stalemate after Mr. Hudak asked Ms. Wynne to support one of his own policy ideas before he would promise to back hers.
On Monday, Ms. Horwath and Ms. Wynne met in the Premier’s Queen’s Park office. The NDP Leader said she promised not to hold up any of the government’s legislation – which includes a bill to promote Ontario food and another to protect consumers from aggressive door-to-door salespeople – and that she demanded the Premier follow through on NDP priorities, including youth employment.
“I was hoping to get something more firm in terms of an understanding of what their plans are,” Ms. Horwath said after. “But I made it clear that New Democrats will be very focused this fall on making sure real action takes place.”