By Doug Hallett
Premier Dalton McGuinty’s decision to shut down the Ontario legislature until after a new Liberal leader is chosen is being supported by one local MPP and blasted by another.
Asked why McGuinty decided to prorogue the legislature, Guelph MPP Liz Sandals said she agrees with McGuinty that it has become a non-productive place. Recently, she said in an interview Tuesday, it has become “a totally vile, non-productive place to be,” where personal attacks are a routine occurrence.
The government will continue to operate and take initiatives, and cabinet will continue to meet, Sandals said. And the treasury board, to which she belongs, will start work as scheduled on the province’s next budget in late November or December, she said. “I’m hopeful everyone will take a really deep breath” while the legislature isn’t sitting, she said, “and when we come back, whenever that is, we’ll get something productive done.”
The Liberal government has had the legislature sitting for four weeks longer than usual in the year since it was re-elected with a minority, but in that time has managed to get only seven “substantive” bills and two “technical” bills passed, Sandals said.
Two of the substantive bills were related to the province’s 2012-13 budget, she added.
“You could say that six actual policy things got done in the past year,” which is “not very many,” she said.
McGuinty said Monday he’ll leave it up to the next Liberal leader and premier to decide when to call Queen’s Park back into session. Progressive Conservative leader Tim Hudak and NDP leader Andrea Horwath are both urging McGuinty to reconsider and call the legislature back into session.
“The important challenges facing our province won’t go away while the Liberals select a new leader, and we can’t go away either,” Horwath said in a news release Tuesday.
Wellington-Halton Hills MPP Ted Arnott also said the Liberals are doing a disservice to Ontarians by shutting down the legislature while they choose a new leader, as the province faces growing debt and a “stagnating” economy.
“Obviously they don’t want question period to be taking place during a leadership campaign,” as the issues raised there lead to a lot of media commentary that can be uncomfortable for the government and its ministers, the PC member said in an interview Tuesday.
Arnott said he also thinks the legislature was prorogued because McGuinty doesn’t want his government to face more legislative committee review on a number of issues, notably the money wasted on the cancellation of natural gas-powered electrical plants in Oakville and Mississauga.
Governments prorogue legislatures regularly, but this is different, Arnott said.
“To prorogue in the middle of a sitting when there are a lot of big issues that should be discussed in the legislature and in legislative committees, I don’t recall a precedent for that.”
Normally, Queen’s Park sits from mid-September to sometime in December and then has a spring sitting lasting from sometime in February until June, he said.
This year, the fall session started in August when the government ordered an early recall of the legislature to deal with wage-freeze legislation for teachers.
This was followed by two byelections in early September that didn’t give the Liberals the extra seat they were hoping for, which would have resulted in a majority government.
Arnott said the Liberals should be able to choose a new leader in January, but he doubted it will happen that quickly.
By Doug Hallett