It is one thing for Dalton McGuinty to announce that he is stepping down as Premier of Ontario igniting a leadership race in the Liberal party with the winner becoming the provinces new Premier. But why does he need to prorogue (shut down) the legislature until the new leader is elected?
When the legislature is prorogued all parliamentary business comes to a halt, everything is dead. All bills, government or private members, are thrown out regardless of where they are in the process of approval. All business before the nine standing committees of the legislature dies. There are no more question periods to hold the government accountable.
Prorogation has a legitimate function within our parliamentary system allowing for governments to end a legislative session when its legislative program has been concluded and allowing government to organize for a new session and program. But lately we have seen prorogation misused. Stephen Harper prorogued parliament in December 2008 in order to stop the defeat of his government on a non-confidence motion. He did it again in 2009 to shut down an inquiry into the treatment of Afghan detainees.
So what are McGuinty’s real motives for prorogation? Could it be to shut down charges of contempt against his energy minister for failing to provide documents regarding the Liberals’ politically motivated cancellation of power plants during the last election – a move that leaves taxpayers on the hook for hundreds of million dollars, or maybe it’s the ongoing investigation into the air ambulance (Ornge) fiasco? Could it be because he is unable to compromise and make minority government work? Or is it because if he proceeded with his Protecting Public Services Bill without modification, it would most certainly go down to defeat forcing an election?
Prorogation was never meant to be used for governments to avoid confidence votes, delay reporting by officers of Parliament, escape questioning and scrutiny or to side-step accountability for matters of public policy and administration.
So for now parliamentary democracy in Ontario is on hold and will not be restored until the Liberal Party has a new leader.
As Peter Russell, one of Canada’s leading constitutional experts, advisor to Governors-General and Professor-Emeritus in Political Science at University of Toronto, said “when parliamentary democracy is reduced to whatever is convenient for the governing party, we are coming close to losing it.”