Premier Dalton McGuinty’s characterization of the Ontario legislature as a swimming pool implicitly filled with recalcitrant children, with himself in the role of lifeguard, blowing the whistle over the manner in which the opposition exercises its democratic responsibilities, is terribly condescending. It also betrays a twisted view of his powers.
After lying low for a few days, Mr. McGuinty finally emerged on Tuesday to publicly defend his decision to ask the Lieutenant-Governor to prorogue the legislature, explaining, “Things were becoming overheated ... And the legislative process was in danger of seizing up entirely.”
It’s true that the opposition parties were hammering away effectively over the cost of an apparently politically motivated cancellation of two gas plants. But nothing will cause the legislative process to “seize up” more effectively than a prorogation request from a Premier who can’t stand some heat.
Mr. McGuinty said, “So I blew the whistle. I said, ‘All right, everybody out of the pool. Let’s allow the waters to calm. And let’s use our time productively’”
All governments would prefer “calm waters,” but it is not Mr. McGuinty alone who should decide what is the most productive use of time by MPPs.
The Premier calculated that by advising the Lieutenant-Governor to end the legislative sitting until after the Liberals select their new leader, he could buy himself some relief. He likely did not anticipate the fury his arbitrary action has provoked, nor did he think through the consequences for the next Liberal leader.
In particular, the leader of a minority government, cannot be the judge of whether the opposition is doing too much opposing. The two other parties were entitled to act together on the matter of the cancelled gas plants. A motion of contempt of Parliament against Mr. McGuinty and two of his cabinet ministers was in the works; sending the legislature away derailed the motion, but won’t silence the outrage.
Mr. McGuinty’s procuring of a prorogation had the effect of obstructing the majority of the members of the legislature – a violation of the unwritten constitution.