The purpose of prorogation is to allow a government to prepare a fresh agenda, to be articulated in a new Speech from the Throne, not to avoid political inconveniences or embarrassments.
Dalton McGuinty, the Premier of Ontario, says he asked the Lieutenant-Governor of the province to prorogue the Legislative Assembly so that he can concentrate on the government’s negotiations with schoolteachers and the implementation of a wage freeze.
It is very safe to say that Mr. McGuinty at the least feels no regret that the prorogation has aborted a potential contempt proceeding against two of his cabinet ministers. Or he may have set out to dampen a growing and justified controversy over the costly political cancellation of two gas plants.
The legislature has been adjourned indefinitely. No date has been set for the culmination of the provincial Liberal leadership campaign. At this rate, there will not be a new premier, or a new session of the legislature, until some weeks or months into 2013. In the meantime, there will be no question periods, holding the government to account, including over the gas plant decision. There will be no public scrutiny of proposed legislation. The passing (or rejection) of new statutes, moreover, is an integral part of the governing process; it is not just a matter of major reforms. Without a legislature, a government can work only through administrative actions.
The two prorogations under the federal Conservative government, in 2008 and 2009 – the first of the two was in the face of a no-confidence motion – are conspicuous examples of this pattern of tactical dispensing with legislatures. So is Premier Christy Clark’s long adjournment in British Columbia, which began in May and is likely to last until February, 2013 – shortly before a dissolution and a general election fixed by law for May.
Mr. McGuinty needs to reverse this arbitrary action and request a new session of Ontario’s Legislative Assembly. What sort of legacy would it be, were his last significant act as Premier to involve the subversion of the democratic rights of Ontarians?