Premier hurls charge of racism during question period, and legislature descends into chaos

Premier hurls charge of racism during question period, and legislature descends into chaos

Question period devolved into a spectacle as Premier Doug Ford accused NDP House Leader Gilles Bisson of mockingly imitating the accent of a Pakistani-born PC MPP.

"You're disgusting! You're disgusting! Racist!" declared the premier on the floor of the legislature. Ford was the first member who hurled the accusation, saying that Bisson was mimicking Mississauga East–Cooksville MPP Kaleed Rasheed's accent. Some front-bench PC MPPs later joined Ford in saying they heard the comment too.

Bisson acknowledged heckling, claiming he sarcastically said, "thank you for cancelling democracy," but denied mocking Rasheed's accent. The Timmins MPP theorized that the Tories were trying to distract from the issues in question period. "I think he’s trying to change the channel. That’s all this is all about. They don’t want to answer the questions in regards to what they’re doing to the city of Toronto."

Rasheed had been asking a friendly question about the purported $7 million in savings if Toronto did not hold a referendum on cutting council in half.

Question period descended into chaos following Ford's charge of racism. Speaker Ted Arnott declared he did not hear any comment – no one in the press gallery or in the Liberal caucus heard it either – and Bisson said he had "nothing" to withdraw. Government house leader Todd Smith later told QP Briefing that around eight PC MPPs said they heard the remark.

Ford and Opposition Leader Andrea Horwath loudly declared accusations across the aisle of the legislature, and the speaker, unable to keep control of question period, declared a brief recess.

When question period resumed, Smith made the rare decision to invoke standing order 37 (h), saying that the government would not respond to any questions from the opposition until Bisson apologized for his alleged remark.

The veteran NDP MPP eventually took his turn to ask the government a question. "Does the premier believe he can cancel question period just because he doesn't like the questions?"

Smith, who would later say that he didn't hear the alleged remark that was made, made the government position clear. "We will not be answering any questions from the members of the official opposition until the member opposite apologizes for those comments that were made." And thus question period was at an impasse.

Bisson responded that he had nothing to apologize for. "I’m being accused of something, and if people know me and heard me in this house for 28 years, and my constituents, that is not who I am and that’s not what I say. I don’t use that language," he told reporters. The government continued not to answer NDP questions for the rest of the morning.

Following question period, Horwath charged Ford was lying "through his teeth" over what was said in the legislature.

"You don’t apologize for something you don’t do. You don’t apologize for something that you haven’t done," she said with Bisson standing alongside her. "I would ask is that the premier apologize for something that he did, which is falsely accuse my house leader of saying something inappropriate."

Horwath maintained that she did not hear Bisson, her seatmate in the legislature, speaking in a mocking accent.

Smith said he was leaning toward the government continuing not to answer the opposition's questions, but that would be decided by caucus Tuesday afternoon. Following the afternoon caucus meeting, he told QP Briefing that they still had not reached a decision, and would choose their course of action on Wednesday morning.

The legislature had largely focused on the issue of cutting Toronto city council in half, and government members argued that the alleged dysfunction at city hall, which made for debates in which nothing got done, required it to be reduced.

Following question period, Horwath mused that the chaos isn't inherent in the governance structure, but that Ford seems to bring it with him. "Maybe he brought the dysfunction. Maybe it was him that brought the dysfunction."

Interim Liberal Leader John Fraser agreed that chaos seems to follow the premier around. "We know who he is. Past behaviour is the best predictor of future behaviour."

The PCs also pointed to some past behaviour, sending media a Queen's Park moment from October 1996 when Bisson called a PC MPP an "asshole."

Today is also not the first time that Ford has responded to an offensive accent. In January 2014, his brother Rob Ford, then the mayor of Toronto, was captured on video in a drunken stupor imitating Jamaican patois. When confronted with the video, Doug Ford shrugged it off.

David Hains

QP Briefing Reporter

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