TORONTO — Ontario Premier Doug Ford defended his decision against testifying at the public inquiry into the federal government's use of the Emergencies Act in the provincial legislature Tuesday, saying the inquiry is not a provincial issue.
Opposition members grilled Ford repeatedly in question period about his refusal to testify -- their first chance to do so, after he did not show up on Monday.
"This is a federal inquiry into the federal government's decision to use the federal Emergencies Act," Ford said in response to a question from New Democrat leadership hopeful Marit Stiles.
"For Ontario, this was a policing matter, it was not a political matter."
Ford's comments came as he fights a summons to testify at the inquiry, which is examining the federal government's use of the Emergencies Act to end the so-called Freedom Convoy protests in Ottawa and Windsor, Ont., last winter.
The Public Order Emergency Commission summoned Ford and then-solicitor general Sylvia Jones on Monday to testify.
Lawyers for Ford and Jones filed an application for judicial review in Federal Court Tuesday that seeks to quash the summons, citing parliamentary privilege.
In the application, Ford's lawyers argue the summons breaches that privilege by attempting to compel Ford and Jones to testify.
Ford said the province has provided two top bureaucrats to participate in the inquiry and has provided 800 pages of cabinet documents about the issue.
The premier answered only one question in the legislature before deferring numerous followups to one of his top ministers, Government House Leader Paul Calandra.
Calandra answered Stiles' second question about Ford's refusal to testify, repeating much of what Ford said -- which echoed what he said himself the day before when the premier did not attend question period.
"Parliamentary privilege? That's baloney and everybody in this room knows it," Stiles said. "He failed Ontarians."
Jones has not attended question period since the legislature resumed this week from a break, as her office says she has COVID-19.
The commission wants Ford and Jones to testify on Nov. 10, court documents show. Provincial lawyers have sought to have its application heard on Nov. 1.
Last week, Ford told reporters he was not asked to testify at the inquiry.
The commission has sought to interview Ford dating back to mid-September. The requests were repeatedly declined by provincial lawyers, emails filed as part of the province's case show.
Outside the legislature Tuesday, opposition members kept up the pressure on Ford.
"Not showing up and not giving your reasons or explanations or being accountable for your decisions, or the decisions that you didn't make, is not what we expect from leaders or any member of this legislature," interim Liberal Leader John Fraser told reporters.
"So he's lost in the court of public opinion. He can redeem himself by actually appearing and testifying."
Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner said Ford needs to "step up and do his job."
"People of Ontario need to know why the Premier made the decisions he made when Ottawa and Windsor were under siege," he said.
Outgoing Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson has testified at the inquiry, saying he asked the province to sit down at a meeting with the city and the federal government in an effort to figure out how to end the occupation in the city's downtown core.
He has said the province's absence at the meeting delayed the end of the occupation.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has already been interviewed by commission lawyers and is set to testify at the inquiry.
The inquiry has heard Trudeau said Ford's absence was due to political reasons, in a call between the prime minister and Watson in early February.
The commission wants to ask Ford and Jones why they did not come to that meeting and want to find out what role both played trying to solve the occupation in Ottawa and the protests that halted incoming traffic at the country's busiest border crossing in Windsor for nearly a week.
Documents filed with the inquiry into the federal government's use of the Emergencies Act also show that when City of Ottawa officials asked the province for resources to help end the protest, the province directed them to deal with the Ontario Provincial Police and that Jones saw it as a law enforcement issue.
Meanwhile, a group representing Ottawa residents has asked Ontario’s Attorney General for standing at the judicial review.
The Canadian Civil Liberties Association is also considering whether or not it will attempt to seek standing.
- With a file from David Fraser
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 26, 2022.
Liam Casey, The Canadian Press