POLITICS

Ontario Liberals mock Tory who says he doesn't believe in evolution

02/26/2015 02:03 EST | Updated 04/28/2015 05:59 EDT
TORONTO - Ontario's Liberals brought "The War on Science" to the legislature Thursday, using the National Geographic cover story to mock a Progressive Conservative who doesn't believe in evolution — landing them in some hot water with the Speaker.

As the opposition parties demanded answers on allegations on ongoing police investigations into the governing party, Liberal members brandished copies of the magazine on their desks and some shouted heckles about the Tory backbencher's anti-evolution stance.

"I really do want to take this opportunity to congratulate the Ontario PC Party on being the cover story of the current issue of National Geographic magazine," said Deputy Premier Deb Matthews.

Props are not allowed in the house and Speaker Dave Levac reminded MPPs that it was his job "to try to reach some decorum" in the legislature.

"I'd like all members to be helpful with that," he said and later ordered the sergeant-at-arms to take away Matthews's copy of the publication.

The Liberal stunt was aimed at Progressive Conservative Rick Nicholls, who stunned the legislature on Tuesday when he suggested that evolution should not be taught in school. On Wednesday, he surprised even some of his Tory colleagues when he said, "I don't believe in evolution."

The opposition parties accused the Liberals of making fun of Nicholls's personal beliefs as a way to deflect attention from their ongoing scandals — three of which are under provincial police investigation, including allegations the Liberals offered a job or appointment to a Sudbury candidate to step aside in a recent byelection.

Matthews said her comment was lighthearted and not an attempt to distract from the Sudbury allegations.

"I think it is a serious issue that there are members of the legislature that reject science and reject the notion that science be taught in schools, but the technique was just a little bit of fun," Matthews said after question period.

Nicholls was not in the house Thursday.

"Gee, where's Rick today?" Aboriginal Affairs Minister David Zimmer heckled.

"Who are you taking to the woodshed today?" shouted Agriculture Minister Jeff Leal.

Interim Progressive Conservative Leader Jim Wilson said while the caucus does not share Nicholls's view, the Liberals should not be making fun of him for his religious beliefs.

"I think they're complete hypocrites today with their props and it's a new low even for this government," he said. "This happens to be a particular religious belief of an individual and they shouldn't be mocking it."

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath called the Liberals' behaviour "extremely disrespectful."

"To use people who are passionate about issues as a deflection from a bribery scandal is disgusting," she said, listing other issues the Liberals have raised lately.

"Whether it's issues of homophobia, whether it's issues of missing and dead aboriginal women, whether it's the evolution issue, it is disgusting. Disgusting. And it's the lowest low that I've seen."

The Sudbury byelection investigation marks the third criminal probe involving the Liberal government; police are also looking into the deletion of gas plant documents and financial irregularities at the air ambulance service Ornge.