Running away from the legislature

by Aaron Wherry

Peter Loewen condemns Dalton McGuinty’s use of prorogation.

Is McGuinty’s comportment worse than Harper’s? Almost certainly. The Premier has announced he is proroguing the legislature for a substantially longer period of time. Yet he insists that he will govern. Conveniently, he will do so without the hassle of securing opposition support. In the meantime, he will avoid scrutiny over decisions on the energy file that appear worse by the day. And he will step down from the government before the legislature returns. When that will happen remains undefined.

This is not merely a resetting of the clock. It is a wholesale flight from responsibility.

Similarly, Mark Jarvis sees an unfortunate trend.

The premier’s tone and message is reminiscent of Premier Christy Clark, who earlier this fall cancelled the fall term of the British Columbian legislature, leaving an open question as to whether or not it would sit at all before the scheduled provincial election in May. On the opposite coast, the Newfoundland and Labrador legislature reopened this March after having only sat for a total of just 33 days in the previous 14 months.

These actions violate the basic premise of responsible government: that the house or legislature, as the case may be, is actually in session in order to fulfill its fundamental responsibilities: to review government legislation, to scrutinize government administration and to extend or withdraw confidence as it deems fit. These developments should be disconcerting to us all.




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Running away from the legislature

  1. LOL sour grapes always lead to whine.

    • Oh dear!
      A pun?
      And an inaccurate one at that?

      Sour grapes often lead to very good wine. Try a nice Portuguese “Vinho Verde”

  2. 100% dead wrong. You can criticize Dalton but Harper was worse.

    • Furthermore,

      The Premier has announced he is proroguing the legislature for a substantially longer period of time.

      ***

      I am not sure this is true. And beyond that, won’t they need to recall the house when a money bill is necessary? That’s the built in safe-guard, isn’t it?

    • 110% dead wrong!
      ALL people elected by the deeply stupid electorate are equally ‘worse’.

  3. Yet, people only need to look no further than that shining example of prorogation, Stephen Harper and the CPC, who have implemented it 3 times during their modest years…

    It becomes normative when the supposed head of the family is a drunk.

  4. ‘This is not merely a resetting of the clock. It is a wholesale flight from responsibility.’

    Yup. It stunk when Harper did it, and it stinks now. Disconcerting, indeed. Of course, Harper paid no price for doing it, so it’s safe to assume it’ll be forgotten by spring in Ontario, too.

    • We don’t do the polity any good when we let pols get away with unfair stuff, but at the same time when we call them equally bad it’s like giving a free pass to the worst guy. Mcguinty was probably wrong here but he didn’t sink to the level Harper did twice.

      • Honestly, I haven’t spent too much time wondering which case was worse, because it’s the trend that I find troubling — that is, the use of prorogation to sidestep parliament and to avoid dealing with issues that you’d just rather not deal with. Prorogation, in my view, is fine when a government has gotten to the end of its legislative agenda and wants to hit the reset button to begin a new agenda. Unfortunately, it seems as though it’s become a tool to effectively shut down scrutiny of the government when said scrutiny is, uh, inconvenient.

        • I can’t disagree but feel my point still stands.

          • yup.. it does

  5. It’s McGuinty’s stated rationale that’s so troubling here. Basically he’s saying that the current work before the province is too important to let the legislature screw it up.
    But that doesn’t really matter. It’s legal, and it’s in his interests, and you don’t spend 9 years leading any large government if those two things aren’t justification enough. All the fake parliamentary puritans on the federal Liberal bench will not raise a peep, confirming that their real objection was not with the supposed abuse of procedure but that it wasn’t them doing the abusing.

    • Don’t conflate “liberal benchers” with Canadians at large. Fact is one or two of Harper’s prorogations did not sit well with most of the public; at least the ones who could be bothered to express a view.

    • I would prefer a system where the legislature had to accede to be prorogued, and for a definite period.

      This prorogation is less egregious than 2008 in that there isn’t a confidence motion on the table that the majority of the legislature explicitly stated they would adopt. But given that this prorogation is intended to give a new leader time to seek confidence, I’m not comfortable saying that this is entirely above board.

      Had McGuinty resigned at the end of the spring session and prorogued until the fall, would this have been less objectionable?

  6. Oh Dalton….this is going to look SOOOOOO bad in about 3 months. Sure does looks like a rat leaving the ship eh?

  7. How could you run a minority government with a totally poisoned atmosphere, cabinet ministers running for leader, and a lame duck Premier? You could not trust opposition not to find some excuse to defeat the government and force McGuinty into an election. Can anyone think of a lame duck premier trying to govern in a minority situation with the legislative chaos we have today?

    • You’re not wrong, but generally the situation if it continued calls for an election not a pro-rogation. Now was it fair to expect the Liberals to have go into an election leaderless if Hudak kept refusing to play ball? Or should the new leader have scrapped everything and come up with a plan the NDP and teachers could get on board with?

      • The thing that bothered me recently was Horwath trying to become as hyper partisan as Hudak. Her attacks on McGuinty were starting to sound front page Toronto Sun in tone. And angry vicious and personal.
        I was planning to vote for her since I disagreed with a lot of McGuinty’s recent labour policy, and the windmills, and the Ontario Northland. So it goes.

  8. To some eager new Liberal leader, Dalton is handing over the keys to a car that fails the emissions test and, having been driven into the ditch, is essentially unroadworthy.

  9. At least Loewen and Jarvis are not hypocrites on the issue of prorogation, like most of the Liberal sympathizers here.

    McGuinty prorogued for the exact same reason Harper did…to prevent the defeat of his government, and a likely contempt motion against himself for failing to table all the documents on the gas plant cancellations, and lying in the Legislature about it.

    Harper made it clear exactly when the Commons was returning. McGuinty has not.

    The fact is that the opposition legitimized Harper’s prorogation by not defeating the subsequent budget, and the country by giving him a majority government. McGuinty would never survive a vote after the prorogation, which makes his use of the tactic more dubious than Harper’s. We will see if the Ontario legislature and Ontario voters legitimize this move via a confidence vote and the next election.

    It better be a short leadership campaign.

    If it is a short leadership campaign for a new leader, and a short prorogation, I won’t complain too much, because it will be the fastest way to move forward productively.

    But if the Liberals do not act in haste…

    • “The fact is that the opposition legitimized Harper’s prorogation by not
      defeating the subsequent budget, and the country by giving him a
      majority government”

      That’s a self serving view of events and the facts. It is not a given Harper’s prorogation [ what was it 2 or 3?] was “legitimized” because he was reelected or the oppositions arguments and leadership not thought worth the risk of changing govts. In fact large numbers of the public and the pundits of this country made it clear the country largely did not approve. Obviously that wasn’t the only ballot question – it never is.

      • I will maintain the same position with McGuinty’s prorogation. If the prorogation is of short duration, and the new leader faces the legislature quickly, and receives a confidence vote, the prorogation is legitimized post facto. Ditto if the Liberals win the election.

        Unlike Loewen and Jarvis, I actually think the ambiguities in the parliamentary system are a good thing as they make the system resilient. I ultimate have faith that reasonable people with do the right things reasonably quickly.

        I can live with actions legitimized post-facto by confidence votes and elections.

        I can live with first past the post, because it imposes big tent politics, and big tent political parties.

        The Liberals and McGuinty are now under heightened obligation to restore things quickly like Harper did after his prorogation. They have chosen to preempt the normal state of affairs to an exceptional state of affairs.

        • So if Harper lost that confidence vote, would you have called him a traitor? Running from a legislature that explicitly intends to vote non-confidence vaporizes any legitimacy a government has to wield the reins of power. Our constitution allows prorogations of up to 1 year. Whether it is 2.5 months or 12 does not make it any better that someone without democratic legitimacy continued to govern the country. I call that borderline treason.

    • Harper did not specify either time when exactly the House would resume sitting at the time he requested prorogation from the GG.

      Claiming that the prorogation was legitimized by his government’s re-election is like claiming stealing money from the government was legitimized by Paul Martin’s election as PM.

      I agree that the new leader should be selected quickly.

  10. An interesting side effect…Dalton’s successor cannot sit in the legislature without passing a confidence vote (throne speech).

    Wonder if Hudak & Horvath are willing to let McGuinty’s successor enjoy the benefits of incumbency before dragging him/her to the polls.

    • I don’t know about Horvath, but McGuinty was pretty clear that he wants to use this “time out” to work with the Tories on coming up with some deficit/debt management strategies that they can get behind together, particularly around a public sector wage freeze. He was pretty explicit about working with the TORIES (as opposed to the “opposition”) on this so, personally, if I were Hudak I’d get on board with that and actually try to come up with something that the Liberals and Tories can move through together for the betterment of the province.

      There’s a partisan argument to be made to go right to the polls I suppose, but I’m not sure that the Tories should be so confident of a win, and better a bird in the hand, as it were. I wouldn’t be counting on a Tory majority, so the Tories face the dual risks of the Liberals getting their sh*t together under a dynamic new leader and moving from one seat shy of a majority to an actual majority, or the Liberals being hurt badly by a leadership race (/dearth) and the NDP ending up with the balance of power. Better, imho to deal with a (currently) right-leaning Premier who’s a lame duck to get something done rather than risk the Liberals doing well and making you irrelevant, or the Liberals doing badly and forcing you to try to negotiate a public sector wage freeze with the NDP.

      I’d be a little nervous if I was the Tories right now. Suddenly, every single person who was even THINKING about maybe running for leader of the federal Liberal party are thinking “Hmmmm, maybe I could be Premier”, and a whole lot of people who weren’t even CONTEMPLATING a federal Liberal run are thinking the same thing. Of course, the leadership race could be a disaster too, but with the Premiership of the country’s largest province on the line, things could get interesting REALLY fast, and not necessarily in a way that Tim Hudak would like.

      • You raise an interesting point – was all this a ploy to stop Hudak from playing games? (which he had a right to, but certainly WAS doing, supporting NDP motions just to confound McGuinty).

      • Good points you make here. Rarely do I agree with you so much. :)

        Don’t think the Liberals have a “dynamic” new leader. None of their cabinet I would say is particularly strong. Maybe Bob Chiarelli? But he’s neither dynamic nor new, and had worn out his welcome as Ottawa mayor.

        I don’t know if the Tories would be confident either. Hudak is an albatross on the party…if they can’t win with him, then best to just find out now and get rid of him.

        • I agree with you on the current Liberal caucus. What intrigues me is the possibility that someone we’re not even thinking of might be tempted to run given the lure of the Premiership.

    • Huh. I hadn’t thought of that point, but now that you bring it up, I feel it goes a long way to legitimizing this particular prorogation — which, at first blush, I was not in favor of.

      No, the house wasn’t done it’s business, but if the party leading the government has a new leader, it’s entirely appropriate that the new leader be required to outline any intended changes of direction of the government and that the parliament give their vote of confidence (or not) to such changes.

      Prorogation ensures this.

      That said, I’d still feel better about the practice if it required a house motion to do, rather than just the word of a single MLA/MP.

      • I’m all for having the new premier face a confidence test at least upon taking over, but this could have been achieved by the new premier immediately proroguing and producing a throne speech the next day (i.e. a 1 day reset instead of a multi-month reset). This could have been achieved without locking the doors of the legislature for an undetermined number of months.

        • You are correct. It could have. If the new premier wanted to do so.
          Now the new premier, whoever it is, has no choice in the matter.

  11. Monkey see, monkey do, eh Dalton. It’s not only this file that Dalton has filched from Harper, he’s rolled back enviromental regs and didn’t he even have his own little omnibus bill?[don't pay enough attention to ON politics] Yes Dalton’s been a fine pupil. The age of Harperism isn’t going to wash off by simply electing his opposite – this will take a serious astringent.

    • “……The age of Harperism isn’t going to wash off by simply electing his opposite – this will take a serious astringent…….”

      Astringent?

      The word “astringent” derives from the Latin adstringere, meaning “to bind fast”. Two common examples are calamine lotion and witch hazel.
      Astringent is the antithesis of what you mean, right?
      Please leave the prating sesquipedalia to yours truly, I am well qualified.

  12. I’m surprised Lowun (he intentionally misspells my name, and I his, it’s our “thing”) said that, he’s as crypto-partisan as they come – recall the “objective” politics-o-meter he cooked up where if you entered no data whatsoever it defaulted to Liberal.

    Jarvis is more measured in his criticism. Longtime readers of Aaron’s blog (meaning more than 6 months in this ADD age) will recall me or someone very much like me ripping Jarvis’ book a new one as it contained so many factual inaccuracies on the very topic of prorogue – just goddawful scholarship that should get a frosh flunked. Maturity and forthrightness seems to be a problem with that lad.

    “McGuinty prorogued for the exact same reason Harper did” – sez buddy

    Everything is what it is and not something else. Obnoxious equivalency is obnoxious. En tous cas, at least some crypto-Liberals in the media-academic complex are finally criticizing McGuinty – notably, *after* he resigned, ie too late.

    • crypto-partisan?
      crypto-Liberals?
      ripping Jarvis’ book a new one?
      Everything is what it is and not something else?
      Obnoxious equivalency is obnoxious?
      En tous(sic) cas?
      media-academic complex?

      Would the inclusion of these colloquialisms, idioms(non-compositional figures of speech) and various ‘Buzzwords’ designed for intentional vagueness and/or to impress your readers also constitute ‘goddawful’ scholarship that would get a ‘frosh’ flunked?

      • Loosen up, Aky baby, for someone who loves to fook you’re wound incredibly tightly.

        • Mr. Edmondson,
          Thank you for your concern, and I do believe it to be ingenuous, but, you must embrace the concept of ‘Hyperbolic Sarcasm” if you wish to understand my ‘emotional’ state.

    • Prorogue is a verb, not a noun. The noun is prorogation.

  13. McGuinty’s just hopping that the electorate forgets about him before the OPP are called in.

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