The duty of the Official Opposition

The Legislative Assembly of Ontario will resume sitting again on February 21st. Personally, I am very excited to return to the Legislature with Marit Stiles as the newly elected Leader of the Official Opposition. I’ve known Marit since she was first elected in 2018. Her strength and commitment to improving the lives of all Ontarians have always impressed me.

She is a down-to-earth, born-and-bred Newfoundlander who learned the meaning of hard work growing up on a farm. As an “Islander,” she has a strong understanding and great respect for our precious natural resources, environment, and working people. Marit says, “You can’t live in Newfoundland without knowing both the power and fragility of nature. Fishermen, farmers, hunters — anyone who lives and relies so closely on land and sea knows we can never take it for granted.”

Our new leader and the NDP caucus have our job cut out for us as the countdown to the June 2026 election has started. But, while we have to be conscious of the ticking clock, as an experienced party, we know to keep our eye on the game, not the calendar.

Some Ontarians have a misconception of what it means to be the Official Opposition. You’d be surprised how many people think that the Official Opposition’s job is to automatically criticize, point fingers, embarrass, and accuse the government of doing a poor job governing the province.

In actuality, the duty of the Official Opposition is to closely monitor and scrutinize the decisions of the governing party and cabinet. We do this by creating a shadow cabinet led by the Leader of the Official Opposition. Members of the shadow cabinet, called critics, are assigned a portfolio best suited to their experience, knowledge, and skills.

The title of ‘critic’ is in some ways unfortunate because the word has come to mean always taking an unfavourable view. ‘Critic’ is generally understood as a person who harshly judges others, makes derisive comments, and finds fault – often without good reason.

But that is not the case for a shadow cabinet critic. Instead, their duty is to scrutinize government proposals, policies, and decisions for three essential purposes.

The first is to ensure that the voters know what the government is planning or has done during their time in office. Sometimes a government might choose not to let people know background information that can profoundly alter the public’s outlook on the direction they are taking the province. The Opposition’s job is to ensure the voters have all the information they need to fully understand the effects of the government’s actions. The Opposition does this by hearing from voters who believe the government needs to change current or proposed legislation. In addition, the rules of the Legislature allocate us time to ask questions of the government on the people’s behalf and voice alternative ideas.

This brings us to the Opposition’s second job: to review government plans and legislation to point out any weaknesses or flaws. To accomplish this, the Opposition has members on committees to examine proposed bills and to work alongside the government to propose amendments or changes that would improve legislation. The committee can present improvements before a bill is debated and passed at the third and final reading.

Finally, the Opposition can present their own ideas to improve life for Ontarians by introducing a Private Members Bill (PMB). Any MPP who is not a cabinet minister can introduce a PMB. It could be to address a local issue within a member’s own riding or all across the province.

To become Ontario law, a bill must pass through all the stages prescribed by the Legislature, supported by the majority of the House. Naturally, the government would prefer they get the credit for any positive change. Therefore, it is common for government members to withhold their support for a PMB at the direction of the premier and cabinet simply because an opposition member rather than a government member initiated it. However, it is a valuable tool for the Opposition to start a conversation about an issue or to push the political needle.

There are several ways the Official Opposition can work in Queen’s Park to make life better for all Ontarians. Working with governments like the current Ford Conservatives can be frustrating at times. Nevertheless, at the end of the day, I am always rewarded by our team’s hard work and effectiveness.

I have always maintained that for a politician to be effective, they must possess the ability to speak and communicate. However, their ability to listen to constituents’ words with understanding and compassion is even more critical. Politicians must master the skill of opening their ears and minds rather than their mouths. Between now and June 2026, Ontarians will have the opportunity to see Marit Stiles in action as the new leader of the NDP. Voters will have a chance to see what a difference it makes to have leadership that listens and responds to what matters to people rather than leadership that uses their position to bypass meaningful consultation and push through their own agenda.

I look forward to continuing our work as the Official Opposition with Marit Stiles at the helm.

As always, please feel free to contact my office about these issues or any other provincial matters. You can reach my constituency office by email at [email protected] or by phone at 705-461-9710 or Toll-free at 1-800-831-1899.

Mike Mantha