Ontario’s political leaders considered suspending question period Wednesday at the province’s legislature in light of the shooting at Parliament Hill in Ottawa, but Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne said they “refuse to be silenced.”
Corporal Nathan Cirillo, 24, was shot and killed while standing guard at the National War Memorial on Wednesday. After the soldier from the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders was shot, a gunman identified as Michael Zehaf-Bibeau was killed inside Parliament’s Centre Block, near the Parliamentary Library.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper had been rushed away from the building to an undisclosed location.
The Ontario provincial legislature was put under enhanced security as a precaution. The director of the legislative security service said there was no known threat and building activities would continue as normal.
In the house, Ontario’s politicians held a moment of silence for the soldier, then carried on with question period.
“Our belief is that people who are using violence to undermine democracy want us to be silenced and we refuse to be silenced,” Wynne said of her discussion with the opposition leaders.
New Democrat Leader Andrea Horwath said she looked forward to carrying on with the business of the legislature. Both opposition parties praised the premier’s response.
Happily, against a backdrop of nationwide fear and anxiety Wednesday, this represented a shining moment of sanity at Queen’s Park.
Premier Kathleen Wynne met alone with her opposition counterparts — interim Tory leader Jim Wilson and the NDP’s Andrea Horwath — after being summoned by legislative speaker Dave Levac, who provided a quick security briefing and then left, turning over his office to them.
Without any aides or entourages the three provincial party leaders quickly assessed the situation and discussed their next move: Should they cancel the daily question period, scheduled to begin at 10:35 a.m., as a security precaution or a show of respect?
Wisely, they concluded that the democratic show must go on. They called for a moment’s silence in the main chamber, but refused to be silenced themselves for the rest of the work day.
“We will carry on with the business of this House and the business of our democratic society,” Wynne told MPPs when she emerged from the private meeting with her rivals.
For once, in the legislature, all were agreed. At which point they reverted to their usual adversarial war of words on the issues of the day in Question Period— mindful of the bullets flying on Parliament Hill.
News for Ontario’s 99% rarely offers unconditional support for anything done by Ontario’s three party leaders.
However, in the circumstances, the three leaders’ restraint — and subsequent reversion to the adversarial, partisan norm in Question Period — were precisely the right democratic response.
At Queen’s Park, yesterday, democracy refused to be silenced.