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Shurman’s removal from legislature planned to make a point

Thornhill MPP Peter Shurman was smoked out of the provincial legislature last week for using the word “misled” during a debate on tobacco retail regulations in question period.

And that’s how he planned it.

The word, considered unparliamentary, was levelled at Minister of Health Promotion Margarett Best during an April 10 exchange on upcoming changes to the way cigarettes can be displayed for sale.

At the request of the Speaker, the sergeant-at-arms escorted Shurman from the legislature after he refused three times to withdraw the word.

“I had made up my mind before I walked into the house that this would happen and that I would not withdraw,” the rookie MPP said Monday. “There’s an element of theatrics in what happens in question period on all party’s parts.”

Shurman was questioning the minister on a comment she had made a day earlier. Best had said ministry officials were working with the Ontario Convenience Stores Association to achieve a smooth transition to the new display guidelines by the May 31 deadline.

But the situation may not have been as the minister portrayed it, Shurman said, pointing to an email he received from the president of the convenience stores association expressing concerns about the new rules.

“I have irrefutable evidence in my hand that says to me she may have misled this house,” Shurman said during question period.

The deliberate use of “misled” and resulting removal were intended to draw attention to what Shurman said is the unfair targeting of law-abiding shopkeepers, while “smoke shacks” are selling untaxed cigarettes.

“I’ve had substantial reaction from media across Ontario,” he said. “I’m damned if I’m going to see my good, hard-working convenience store constituents penalized because they play by the rules and other people don’t.

“And I want to highlight to Ontarians the fact that the law is not equal for everyone … and that it has to be. That’s what this was about.”

Shurman said contraband cigarettes account for 37 percent of total sales, equalling $600-million in lost tax revenue.

“I used effectively a demonstration that sacrificed myself for an hour in the house in order to make that point,” he said. “We’re not going to let up, but don’t expect me to get thrown out of the house again.

“I intend to pursue it legitimately and with the appropriate parliamentary language. I’m not ashamed of anything that I’ve done.”

Vaughan Today
Online: April 17, 2008 [link]