The decimated Liberals will be further away from official party status — and the taxpayer-funded caucus budget that comes with it — as Premier Doug Ford’s government raises the threshold.
Thursday’s fall economic statement from Finance Minister Vic Fedeli will require political parties to have a minimum of 12 MPPs for official party status, up from eight, as first reported by CTV.
The move comes as Interim Liberal Leader John Fraser, whose party under Kathleen Wynne was reduced to seven seats in the June election, has been pressing the Progressive Conservatives for official status based on the 19 per cent support Grit candidates received from 1.1 million voters.
But Government House Leader Todd Smith said the change to 12 seats is fair because the legislature increased to 124 seats for the June vote, an increase from 107 after new ridings were added.
“It just seems to make sense at this time because there have been so many questions about it,” Smith said.
Critics charged the Progressive Conservatives are changing the rules in mid-game, given the June election was fought with eight seats as the bar, to prevent an opponent from gaining any advantages that could lead to a rebound in support.
“Fiddling with the rules at this point is a slap in the face of democracy and shows, once again, that they are sore winners,” Green Leader and Guelph MPP Mike Schreiner said of Ford’s PCs, who have mocked the Liberals as the “minivan caucus.”
Fraser said Ford is being “a bully” by changing the rules now instead of having them take effect for the next provincial election in 2022.
“The government is saying ‘we’re going to move the goalposts.’”
Just one seat shy of the eight-seat benchmark that has been in place for years, the Liberals have been a byelection win away from official party status, which would give the party a budget for staff, research and a daily turn at holding the government accountable in the legislature’s question period.
Smith dismissed concerns that raising the bar for party status looks vindictive and said setting the number at 12 will “take the politics out of it.”
“The people spoke loud and clear on election day that they decided to reduce the size of the Liberal caucus to below official party status and the voters are never wrong,” he said.
Deputy NDP Leader Sara Singh, whose party was granted some elements of official party status by Liberal premier Dalton McGuinty after the New Democrats were drubbed in his 2003 landslide, said the New Democrats are not objecting to the Ford administration’s move.
“We respect the decisions of Ontario voters in the last election and the distribution of seats that followed,” said Singh, noting the change should not be used to “punish” any party.
With files from Robert Benzie
Rob Ferguson is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robferguson1