Premier Dalton McGuinty is vigorously defending his decision to prorogue the legislature amid a growing backlash over having all business grind to a halt, including committee hearings into two cancelled gas plants.
Not only does the Ontario legislature sit longer than any other place in Canada, it will lose only 18 days, Mr. McGuinty said Tuesday evening. Speaking publicly for the first time since his surprise announcement a week ago Monday that he was resigning as Liberal Leader and suspending the legislature, he said it was up to him to decide whether the chamber was still functioning in the public interest.
"My job is to figure out when the water's getting a little too rough, to blow the whistle and say, 'all right, everybody out of the pool,'" Mr. McGuinty told Steve Paikin of TV Ontario's The Agenda. Mr. McGuinty said he informed Lieutenant-Governor David Onley first thing last Monday morning that he would be asking him to prorogue the legislature. When the two met later that afternoon, Mr. Onley agreed immediately, he said. But Mr. McGuinty hinted that some unnamed cabinet ministers who also got the heads-up opposed the move, saying, "There are always people on both sides."
Mr. McGuinty's right-hand man was clearly on the side of prorogation. Finance Minister Dwight Duncan, one of the ministers told ahead of time, said suspending the legislature is a "very ancient tradition of parliament," and is the right thing to do given that Mr. McGuinty is stepping down.
"The House will be back," Mr. Duncan said at a news conference on Tuesday. "One of the parties will have a new leader. That will give us a fresh start." Liberal delegates will choose a successor to Mr. McGuinty on the weekend of Jan. 25-27. Mr. Duncan is one of several cabinet ministers.
Cabinet colleagues and potential leadership contenders Deb Matthews and Brad Duguid are also solidly behind the decision to prorogue. But Municipal Affairs Minister Kathleen Wynne, who sources say also plans to jump into the leadership race, said last week "there's a discomfort" in having the legislature shut. Former Ontario Liberal MPP and potential leadership contender Gerard Kennedy went further, criticizing the move as a way to avoid scrutiny. As to why Mr. McGuinty chose to leave now, one year after winning a minority government, he said, "Just as it's really hard to get in, it's really hard to get out." Opposition leaders are urging the government to immediately recall the legislature. In an open letter to Mr. McGuinty on Tuesday, Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak said the public expects the Premier to be in the legislature, where he can be held accountable for "numerous scandals." including those over the province's Ornge air ambulance system and the cancelled gas plants slated for west of Toronto.
"Your government's decision to shut down the legislature means a government out-of-control has been put on autopilot," says the letter, signed by all 36 Tory caucus members.
Peter Tabuns, the New Democratic Party's energy critic, also expressed dismay that the legislature's finance committee has been blocked for several months at getting answers about the true cost to taxpayers for cancelling the gas plants. The government has said it will cost taxpayers $230-million to cancel the two projects, but opposition members suspect that the tab is much higher.
"Instead of getting answers, Ontarians saw the doors of the legislature slammed in their faces," Mr. Tabuns said.
Mr. Duncan said the legislature is missing only about 18 sitting days by proroguing for an indefinite period, and it also sat an extra 12 days last summer.