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Opening comments:  More at the end.

Toronto Star May 13 2000,

Its hard to keep House in order

ANOTHER SIGNAL that Premier Mike Harris is growing impatient with his job? Or just a sign that Liberal Leader Dalton McGuinty is getting under his skin?

Last Wednesday, for the second straight week, Harris drew a reprimand from Speaker Gary Carr for a vituperative personal attack on McGuinty. Both attacks came in response to McGuinty's questions concerning the scandal spreading around the government's real estate deals.

Granted, McGuinty's frequent references to ``shady'' deals that ``stink of corruption'' are close to the line themselves. But Harris clearly crossed the line separating proper from improper parliamentary debate two weeks ago when, pointing a finger at McGuinty, he said: ``The only thing that stinks here is you.''

Carr ordered Harris to withdraw the remark and warned him that a repeat offence could lead to expulsion from the chamber.

But last week the Premier was at it again, saying to McGuinty: ``I think your father (Dalton Sr., formerly an MPP himself, now deceased) would be embarrassed to see you stand here day after day in the gutter ruining the reputation of your father.''

Interjected Carr: ``I must say, Premier, in order to keep this House in order, it would be helpful if we didn't refer to situations like that of a personal nature. I have warned the Premier before and I would ask him to think before he says something that could be considered controversial in the House.''

Carr again ordered Harris to withdraw the remark, which he did, grudgingly.

Later in that day's Question Period, Carr, an old hockey player, kicked out Tory backbencher Frank Mazzilli (London-Fanshawe) for heckling. That's sort of like a referee giving Tie Domi a penalty a minute after Mats Sundin tripped someone.

The Liberals, for their own part, may have developed an unhealthy obsession with the real estate scandal now that they perceive the government to be on the run on the issue.

In last Wednesday's Question Period, McGuinty ignored the issue of the day - the government's new legislative crackdown on teachers - to press ahead with scandal questions. It was not until the next day that the Liberals got around to the education issue, which is undeniably of more importance to the general public.

NDP Leader Howard Hampton, while also pursuing the real estate scandal, managed to ask about education on the first day, even though he has fewer opportunities than McGuinty to pose questions.

In bringing down her teacher testing package last week, Education Minister Janet Ecker poured scorn on the media and the teachers' unions for fearmongering in advance on what she would announce.

There had been suggestions from the unions, repeated in the media, that the government would impose a periodic standardized test on all teachers, not just new ones.

Ecker said it had never been her intention to introduce "some silly little multiple choice test'' for all teachers.

But, in fact, that is exactly what the Tory platform suggested in last spring's provincial election: ``We will require all teachers to take and pass recertification examinations every three to five years,'' it said.

And sources inside Ecker's ministry say such a proposal was before the cabinet until just a few weeks ago but was dropped after Ecker won a battle with some of her more hardline colleagues.

There may be another rollback by the Tories in education this week, this one concerning the tough new Code of Conduct for schools.

The Tories were unpleasantly surprised by the scope of the negative reaction to the code after it was first unveiled last month. Criticism was heard not just from the usual suspects - civil libertarians and the like - but also from other quarters that the Tories had hoped would be onside.

For example, the Institute for Catholic Education - a body representing bishops, parents, principals, administrators and teachers in separate schools - has written Ecker that the proposed code is ``punitive, arbitrary, and limited in its vision of the human person.''

As the Catholics see it, the code could actually increase turmoil in the schools. ``There is a potential here for conflict between students and teachers, parents and administrators, and teachers and administrators,'' the letter says.

Of particular concern is the proposal to give teachers the power to suspend unruly students on the spot.

Teachers see the power as problematic because they could be held legally liable for any consequences that ensue.

Ian Urquhart is The Star's provincial affairs columnist. His column appears Monday, Wednesday and Saturday.


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