When Ontario Liberal Party lost the provincial election on June 7, 2018 their ranks were also decimated. Their number of elected members of Provincial Parliament (MPP) went from 55 to 7. In the 41st Ontario Parliament, there were only 107 seats. On June 7, 2018 that number was increased to 124 to realign all Ontario provincial ridings and make them identical to those of the Federal Parliament.
After the election, the Liberals are no longer recognized as an official party. They fell one seat short of the minimum requirement at that time. With the lost of Official Party status, parliamentary privileges are taken away. These privileges include but are not limited to funding for party research offices and the right to ask questions during the “Question Period”.
The rules on official party status are not laws, but are internal rules governing the legislature. Therefore, the members of a legislature may, if they choose, pass a motion to dispense with the rules and grant official status to parties that would otherwise fail to qualify.
An example of this can be found in 1999 when the New Democratic Party (NDP) were reduced to nine seats in the legislature. The requirement at that time was a minimum of 12 seats. The then Progressive Conservative (PC) Premier Mike Harris citing the reduction of seats from 130 to 103, lowered the required number of seats to 9 and granted the NDP Official Party status.
Fast forward to the election in 2003, the NDP won only 7 seats. The Liberal Party Premier Dalton McGuinty refused to accord official party status to the NDP. Instead, he offered them some additional funding. The NDP was not recognized as a “party” and its members were not addressed in the Legislation by party affiliation. Eventually, Andrea Horwath was elected in a by-election in May 2004 and the NDP regained Official Party status.
After another NDP member resigned to run in the 2006 federal election, bringing the party to only seven members again, the government decided to allow the NDP to retain official status pending the results of the by-election to replace her, which the NDP won.
The current Ontario PC government is about to raise the requirement for Official Party status from 8 to 12. Their rationale is very simple – the magic number is always 10% of the total number of MPP's. With the 124 seats now (increased from 107), the number will have to be adjusted. Surprisingly, the NDP seemed to have forgotten how they were “punished” by the Liberals in 2003 and they reacted to the PC proposal without much enthusiasm.
Former Liberal Party Premier Kathleen Wynne has asked Premier Doug Ford to change the rules so the defeated Liberals can obtain official party status in the Legislature. As a party leader who was trashed in the last election, Wynne resigned on election night. She should also be resigning her own seat. Given the fact that she only won her seat by 171 votes and the Liberals were only one seat away from the Official Party status minimum, Kathleen had not choice but to stay on.
So how can the Liberal Party pick up some seats quickly with no by-elections in sight? It has to entice existing members in the legislature from the other parties to cross the floor! There are a number of obstacles to getting this done. When party affiliations are changed during the seating of legislature, the member will typically lose the seat in the next general election. Established MPP's will not risk their reputations and relationships with constituents to cross the floor as well.
While the left leaning media suggest that the PC party tries to change the minimum number to prevent their own disgruntled back benchers from defecting, they purposely ignore the potentials for NDP members to cross the floor. With similar ideologies, it is far easier for the NDP members to join the ranks of the Liberals and justify their moves. It would also be easier for them to get elected next time.
The change to the minimum required number of members for Official Party Status will come soon. When that happens, Kathleen Wynne will resign her seat shortly after as the goal to achieve Official Party status will no longer be attainable and her seating in the Ontario Parliament has no meaning any more.
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