A bill to ban Ontarians under the age of 18 from using tanning salons inched forward Wednesday as the three parties argued over parliamentary procedure.
The governing Liberals, opposition Progressive Conservatives and third-party New Democrats all support the ban – which is aimed at cutting rates of skin cancer – but cannot agree on a process for passing it into law. That such a straightforward, popular measure could become a political football over arcane procedural rules is only the most graphic illustration of the gridlock facing the province's hung Parliament.
The bill took a giant step forward by passing second reading, but the parties could agree on little else.
The Liberals want to pass a motion that would fast-track the law, to make sure it is not held up by lengthy debates. They blame the Tories for wasting the legislature's time last spring, spending so much time debating other bills that the tanning bed ban did not have a chance to come to a final vote.
"I just want to get it done. It's good legislation, Ontario is very late to the game on this, we should have had this done," Health Minister Deb Matthews said after a fractious Question Period Wednesday, where she spent the better part of an hour answering opposition attacks over the bill. "There is no question this minority parliament has not been functioning smoothly. The PCs have been delaying the passage of legislation by speaking for many, many, many hours on bills they support."
The Tories counter that the Grits control the parliamentary calendar and could have made sure the legislation was passed last spring, but left it on the back-burner. They also point out that the Liberals had a majority government for eight years, but did not bother to pass the tanning bed ban then.
"We wouldn't be in this mess if it wasn't for the arrogance of the government in the first place," PC House Leader Jim Wilson said, arguing that the government is wasting time with its fast-tracking motion instead of just calling the bill itself for a vote. "If they had just brought [the bill] forward for debate this morning … there wouldn't have been any of this political gamesmanship."
The NDP, meanwhile, argues such fast-tracking should only be used in extreme circumstances. Using it now, they argue, would set a bad precedent in the annals of parliamentary procedure. Besides which, they say, fast-tracking is unnecessary, since all three parties support the bill.
"If anyone in this House was to hold up this bill, they would be on the front page of every media with a set of red horns and long pointy tail," health critic France Gelinas said during Question Period.
Shortly after, she ran an end-run around the Liberals and called the bill for second reading. It passed unanimously, and was sent to committee.
Not to be outdone, Ms. Matthews tried to skip the committee and have the bill called for a final vote. Opposition MPPs, however, blocked this move.
Both the Tories and the NDP want to amend the bill before the final vote. Among other things, the Tories the legislation to clarify whether under-18s can receive other non-tanning services at salons.
While the bill wends its way through the legislative process, the people most affected by the issue can do little more than scratch their heads that MPPs are having such a hard time passing a law they all agree on.
"We've been at this for quite a few years," said Annette Cyr, a skin cancer survivor. "It's particularly tragic when we see young people developing melanoma."