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Independent MPPs speak for International Women's Day — 1 day after they say minister 'silenced' them

Independent MPPs were granted the opportunity to speak in the Ontario Legislature about International Women's Day Thursday, after two previous requests were rejected. (Patrick Morrell/CBC News - image credit)
Independent MPPs were granted the opportunity to speak in the Ontario Legislature about International Women's Day Thursday, after two previous requests were rejected. (Patrick Morrell/CBC News - image credit)

In the face of allegations the government is attempting to "silence" women, the Progressive Conservative house leader has backtracked and granted unanimous consent, allowing independent MPPs to speak in the Ontario Legislature about International Women's Day.

The dust-up began Wednesday when Liberal MPP Lucille Collard (Ottawa-Vanier) requested that herself and other independent MPPs be allotted five minutes to respond to the government's statement on the holiday, which celebrates women's rights and brings attention to issues such as violence against women.

Consent from all elected representatives was required for Green and Liberal MPPs to speak on the topic because neither party meets the threshold of having 12 MPPs needed for official party status.

But an MPP from the government benches — later identified as Housing Minister Paul Calandra, who also serves as the government house leader — shouted "no," scuttling the request.

"I can tell you that I feel very insulted," Collard told reporters on Wednesday. "It's very hard to understand why the government is silencing us, silencing women."

International Women's Day is on Friday, but Thursday is the last day the legislature sits this week.

Female MPPs accused the Ford government of 'silencing' women at a press conference at Queen's Park on Thursday.
Female MPPs accused the Ford government of 'silencing' women at a press conference at Queen's Park on Thursday.

Liberal MPP Lucille Collard and other independent MPPs accused the Ford government of 'silencing' women at a press conference at Queen's Park on Thursday. (Ontario Legislature)

Immediately after Calandra objected to Collard's request, MPP Charmaine Williams (Brampton Centre), who is also associate minister of women's social and economic opportunity, rose to remind all the women in the legislature that a group photo was planned the next day for International Women's Day, which garnered jeers from the oppositions benches.

NDP MP Peggy Sattler (London West) made two additional requests for unanimous consent, one Wednesday evening that was ruled out of order and another Thursday morning, which was rejected.

A spokesperson for Calandra told CBC Toronto on Wednesday that while independent members don't "automatically" have the same speaking time as recognized parties in Ontario's legislature, they do have "far greater participation abilities" than comparable legislatures in Canada.

"If the House allows unanimous consent independents can be granted special speaking time and in this case the House did not agree," said Owen Macri, chief of staff to Calandra.

During a press conference at Queen's Park on Thursday, seven female opposition MPPs turned up the pressure, denouncing the Ford government for shutting down the requests.

"We should all be very concerned by this behaviour," said MPP Bobbie Ann Brady (Haldimand-Norfolk), who sits as an Independent.

"This goes beyond a women's issue. This is a government that is using its ability to play with Parliamentary privilege to silence, and they're silencing women today. What is next?"

Collard said the rejection of her request to speak followed directly by the government's invitation to participate in a group photo felt like the equivalent of being told to "be pretty and shut up."

Liberal MPP Mary-Margaret McMahon (Beaches-East York) said Calandra not only rejected the request, but used gestures to mock the women from his seat in the legislature.

"What we saw ... was crying teary eyes and then he opened up his desk and handed a box of tissues," McMahon said.

Before question period on Thursday, Liberal MPP Andrea Hazell (Scarborough-Guildwood) requested unanimous consent on the same topic again. This time it was agreed to, drawing applause in the Legislature.

Long-Term Care Minister Paul Calandra speaks with media at Queen’s Park in Toronto on Wednesday, September 14, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christopher Katsarov
Long-Term Care Minister Paul Calandra speaks with media at Queen’s Park in Toronto on Wednesday, September 14, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christopher Katsarov

Government house leader Paul Calandra says he rejects all unanimous consent motions that he's unaware of. (Christopher Katsarov/The Canadian Press)

Calandra told reporters Thursday that as a matter of principle he says no to every request for unanimous consent that he's not aware of. He said no MPPs approached him before or after Collard's initial request was made on Wednesday.

"There was never any intention not to allow women to have the opportunity to speak in the house," Calandra said. "It certainly bothered me that they felt that way, and I think we addressed that."

Calandra said the gestures he made weren't directed toward his female colleagues, but had to do with "a separate issue" between himself and Liberal MPP John Fraser (Ottawa South).

On Thursday, the Liberal party shared with reporters an email sent last Friday by staff in Collard's office informing staff in Calandra's office of their plan to make the request for unanimous consent.