A former Progressive Conservative legislator ousted from the party caucus for voting against a sweeping new law that extends pandemic emergency orders said she opposed the measure because it gives Premier Doug Ford’s government too much power.
Karahalios said Bill 195 removes key checks and balances imbedded in the legislative process. The legislator said her internal attempts to change the bill failed, prompting her to break ranks with her party on Tuesday and vote against the new law.
Premier Doug Ford defended the bill and his decision to oust Karahalios from the caucus on Wednesday, saying he could not tolerate her voting against the law.
Watch: Ford defends removing MPP from caucus
Ford said the emergency measures need to remain available to his government in case of a surge of COVID-19 cases.
“This is one of the single most important pieces of legislation to protect the people of Ontario, bottom line, full stop,” Ford said. “It’s about making sure that we protect people in long term care, making sure our hospital system keeps moving.”
Ford says he spent two days with Karahalios last week and she never voiced any disapproval.
Karahalios told 680 NEWS there was no time to speak about it while he was in Cambridge, but had asked him to call her at the end of the trip, and when he did not, she reached out to the Premier’s office and let them know she wanted to discuss the bill.
“I wasn’t given that time to speak with him, but I did, however, make my discomfort with the bill known to many of my colleagues,” she said. “I asked for two briefings on the bill … and it was still very vague for me. I was given talking points rather than a really good explanation.”
Karahalios said her job was to make sure the voices of my constituents are heard at the legislature.
“It was a resounding no from my constituents. I voted the way they wanted me to vote,” said Karahalios “I was removed from caucus for doing my job.”
“People before party … At the end of the day, politicians of all stripes need to step back and remember who put you in your role, who can take you out of that role and the amount of trust you are given in a role like this.”
Karahalios called the bill an “unnecessary overreach” on parliamentary democracy shortly after the vote.
She said she was most concerned that there was no voting on the decisions being made by the Premier.
Karahalios said the new law permits the government to lock down regions again with very little debate or oversight from the legislature.
“I understand the need to be able to be flexible … but if you’re going to, for example, lock us down again, I need to be able to have a say at that table on behalf of the people of Cambridge,” she said. “Every (legislator) should have a say in that because our communities are going to feel very differently about a second lockdown.”
Karahalios said some of her colleagues were concerned that the bill went too far and were warned that they would be kicked out of caucus if they voted against it.
“I know a lot of my colleagues are very uncomfortable, but voted yes because they feared retribution and we saw what happened to me for voting no,” she said.
Karahalios added she was glad she voted the way she did.
Ford denied that the bill has caused any internal rifts within his party.
“Within a caucus we have some good comments, good heated discussions,” Ford said at his daily news conference. “But at the end of the day, you come out united. This is about working for the people and making sure you represent the people. But when you get into politics you’re part of a team.”
Bill 195 allows the government to extend emergency orders originally enacted to allow the province to better respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. The bill empowers the government to keep measures in place for one month at a time for as long as two years.
Ford said the bill will allow the government to react swiftly in the event that the number of provincial COVID-19 cases begins to surge again.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath praised Karahalios for standing up for her principles and voting against her own government’s bill.
“Mr. Ford simply cannot tolerate a difference of opinion, and he punishes people severely when they dare to stand up to him,” she said.
Green party Leader Mike Schreiner said he admired Karahalios for sticking to her values and voting against the government law.
“Doug Ford previously stated that his MPPs would be allowed to vote freely on non-spending bills,” Schreiner said in a statement. “Now he has ejected … Karahalios for doing exactly that. You don’t get a healthy democracy by dictating votes and punishing free expression.”