Bill 171 proved to be a tale of political scheming, as ‘spouse’ was redefined in provincial laws

Analysis by Steve Jalsevac
Special to The Interim

Last months’s brutally rushed passage of same-sex marriage legislation in the Ontario legislature is still causing observers of the undemocratic fiasco to shake their heads.

A usually reliable source reported the Ontario Liberals pushed through their same-sex marriage bill in response to a deal with the federal Liberals who needed the Ontario same-sex entrenchment to help their faltering Bill C-38. In exchange for the deed, the source reports, the Ontario Liberals received promises of billions from the feds.

The Toronto Sun’s Christina Blizzard, who is pro-gay marriage rights, wrote in her March 4th column, “What I find truly disgraceful is the weasely way the vote to amend provincial statutes to fit with new federal same-sex marriage legislation happened”. A Feb. 28 Ottawa Citizen editorial stated “All but three of Ontario’s MPP’s acted in a cowardly fashion on Thursday, by not requesting a recorded vote” on the bill.

And so it was that the leaderships of all three parties conspired to ram the bill through in three days (actually two plus the introduction only on day one), without a recorded vote and without either the public or MPPs being given reasonable opportunity to address the dramatic changes to marriage that would result. Party leaders brow-beat their Members to go along with the scheme. was told by a Liberal MPP that his party put a three line whip on the vote. That is, they gave it the category of a confidence vote so that any caucus members who spoke or voted against it would either risk being booted out of the party or suffer some other severe measure.

The Liberals and their NDP and PC co-conspirators repeatedly downplayed the vote to the public as just a “housekeeping matter” to bring Ontario laws in line with court decisions. However, columnists and others called that ruse. No government puts a three line whip on the voting and conscience freedom of its members over a mere “housekeeping” matter. As well, the intense resistance to a recorded vote betrayed that this was far more that a routine item. The conspirators knew the bill was serious stuff and didn’t want the public or MPP’s principles getting in the way.

No Liberals spoke against the bill although it is known many were troubled by it, especially given the growing furor against Bill C-38. The voice vote was a lot closer than everyone has let on. Liberals Sergio Marchi and Tony Ruprecht and likely quite a few others were prepared to oppose the bill if it came down to a recorded vote. Liberal whips weren’t successful and a party source reported deputy whip Lorenzo Berardinetti refused the task because of conscientious objection to the bill. Only a few Liberals spoke in favour and only 27 out of 71 Liberals were present for the vote – a dismal percentage for a three line whip vote.

After the vote, one Liberal MPP told, “party discipline is ruthless” at Queen’s Park. PC MPPs have for years complained of the same thing, especially when bills on moral issues were at stake. Fear and trembling and lack of courage is a much bigger factor at Queen’s Park than in Ottawa, as bad as it also is in the federal parliament.

Another Liberal MPP told he was astonished about the “large number of homosexuals that work in Queen’s Park” and said “they take these things (Bill 171) very seriously”. Not coincidentally, perhaps, is the fact that the centre of Canada’s largest gay community is located only a few blocks away from the Ontario Legislature and the numerous government buildings near it.

During his 50 minute speech in the Legislature on Feb 24, Progressive Conservative MPP Bill Murdoch stated, “if you put this vote through without us having a recorded vote, then as far as I’m concerned, democracy is dead in Ontario”. Both Murdoch and Fellow MPP Frank Klees made impassioned pleas for other MPPs to stand with them and call for a recorded vote. Incredibly, Klees was heckled by his own party whip, MPP John Baird (Nepean-Carleton), who spoke in favour of the bill. PC party leader John Tory, not yet elected to a seat, was firmly behind the collusion strategy to ram through Bill 171.

NDP house leader Peter Kormos tried to rally his same-sex supporting caucus to join the call for a recorded vote in the interests of democracy. In the end, they turned him down and Kormos slid away and didn’t stand with the three principled Tory MPPs.

During the end of the third reading debate Klees and Murdoch’s speeches were more than about opposition to the bill and a call for a recorded vote. was told they were filibustering in order to buy time for caucus colleague Jim Flaherty to get back to the house from a meeting outside the Legislature. Flaherty and Garfield Dunlop were supposed to stand with fellow opponents to the legislation, Klees, Ouelette and Murdoch, to make up the five required for the recorded vote. Unfortunately, the vote was called sooner than expected. Flaherty therefore missed it and Duncan decided to leave the other three to hang.

Murdoch’s speech was perhaps one of the frankest and most courageous in decades about the sad state of democracy at Queen’s Park. He stated, “Will we see that members have true democracy in this House, or do we make deals in this House and we don’t have true democracy any more?” He continued, “it’s my right to come here and debate. I know there are some people in our party and some in the other two parties who don’t want that to happen. They don’t want us to stand up here and debate this. They’ve put pressure on some of our guys and said, ‘Oh, you can’t do that.’”

Commenting about the second reading vote cowardice Murdoch said, “there were three people who stood up to want democracy – only three people. How many are there here – 103? So 100 people in this House yesterday on second reading didn’t care about democracy – didn’t care. You’d think there would be a few Liberals who want some democracy, wouldn’t you? You would think there would be at least one Liberal. You got elected to come here to vote. You didn’t get elected to come here to be told what to do. That’s what’s happening to you. It happens here all the time. Don’t feel bad. The other governments weren’t any better.”.

During his turn, PC MPP Frank Klees said, “What are we hiding? What is the problem? Why, if they consider themselves so committed to this bill, will people not stand in their place and simply identify their vote in Hansard for everyone to see? People at home and people in the galleries must be asking themselves, “What is going on in this place?” What is wrong with this bill that you’re not prepared to identify with it? What are we afraid of?”

Yes, indeed, what is it about these bills imposing more acceptance of homosexuality that they always seem to be accompanies by secret deals, silencing elected members, demagoguery and other abuses of democratic process?

Steve Jalsevac is director of