Ontario's Liberals refused an opposition Progressive Conservative request on Thursday to fast-track the government's own bill to create safe zones around abortion clinics.
Less than 24 hours after Attorney-General Yasir Naqvi introduced a bill at Queen's Park that would create far-reaching limits on anti-abortion protests around clinics, hospitals and the homes of health-care workers who perform the procedure, Tory MPP Lisa MacLeod asked the Liberals for unanimous consent on Thursday morning to rush the legislation through the house in a single day – a process that typically takes about two months.
Ms. MacLeod said that the bill is designed to protect women's safety and should take effect immediately. The Liberals said that they'd prefer to get public input through the regular schedule of readings and committee hearings.
Abortion clinics in Ottawa have reported increasing harassment in recent months, including a series of incidents this summer that Mr. Naqvi said made him aware of the lack of rules shielding health centres from protest.
Ms. MacLeod, who represents the Ottawa-area riding of Nepean-Carleton, said that it was time to end the harassment.
"This has been an issue. Let's get on with it. My caucus colleagues supported me and my leader was emphatic that I do it, he was very happy for me to do it, so I guess I ended up calling their bluff because it doesn't seem to be that important to them. It seems that they want to play wedge politics rather than put women's safety first," she told reporters after her request to rush the bill was rejected.
Mr. Naqvi told The Globe and Mail on Thursday that the Tories were "being erratic" on this issue. On Wednesday, Progressive-Conservative Leader Patrick Brown said the proposed bill was an attempt by Premier Kathleen Wynne to reopen the divisive debate around abortion. "No one wants this. I don't want it. The only person who wants to talk about this issue is Kathleen Wynne," he said in a statement at the time.
Mr. Naqvi was in Ottawa on Thursday to speak about the new legislation at a community clinic. Reached by phone, he said that, while he wants his bill to be adopted quickly, he criticized the Tories for trying to rush the bill while he was out of town.
"This rush, when I'm the sponsoring minister and I'm not in the House, it seems like panic on their end," he said. "The ink is barely dried on this bill and it seems to me the Conservatives just want to sweep this under the carpet."
He said the bill needs time for public scrutiny before it can become law. However, groups already approached by the government said on Thursday that widespread consultation had already taken place.
According to Planned Parenthood Toronto, 25 groups have been consulted, including pro-choice groups, legal opinions, health-care workers and groups opposed to abortion. "Maybe there is someone missing from that list but I felt it was pretty comprehensive," said Sarah Hobbs-Blyth, the executive director of Planned Parenthood Toronto.
Indira Naidoo-Harris, Ontario's Status of Women Minister, also didn't support Ms. MacLeod's call for the immediate adoption of the bill. She said that it seemed Mr. Brown was trying to silence social conservatives in his party. "Maybe he doesn't want those voices in committee to be heard," she said.
The New Democrats have asked the Premier to apologize for what they are calling a delay."I can't imagine why anyone would be having a conversation about delay," said NDP MPP Jennifer French. "The debate part and the waiting is garbage."