More than a week has now passed since Premier Dalton McGuinty sought and received from the Lieutenant-Governor a prorogation of Ontario’s legislature. The pretext for this measure was always thin: that his government needed time away from the superheated rhetoric of a democratic chamber in order to negotiate a settlement with public-sector unions. It’s as if Mr. McGuinty and his colleagues had forgotten how to tie their shoes, but might remember if they really really concentrated.
Not helping Mr. McGuinty were statements by Ontario Public Service Employees Union president Warren (Smokey) Thomas, who said he didn’t like the idea that Mr. McGuinty needed to “shut down democracy to get a deal with labour.” He said he found the notion “offensive in the extreme.” It is offensive, the more so if the teachers’ negotiations were, as many suspect, really a ruse, and the true motive was avoiding a contempt vote for withholding documents from the legislature over the costly and politically motivated cancellation of two gas plants.
It must be increasingly obvious to the Liberals that the Premier’s arbitrary action has failed to achieve any short-term relief, since the public response has been negative and because the motion still stands and will be taken up when Ontario’s legislature is allowed to resume sitting. Instead of being dealt with, it lingers on as a zombie issue. It’s not quite alive but it’s not quite dead, and nobody knows just when it’s going to bite. That situation exacerbates the potential long-term damage to the Liberals.
The NDP is launching a “MPPs Back to Work” campaign using social media and other tools to put pressure on Mr. McGuinty. It is a good idea, but it should be the Liberal caucus who are delivering the message. The issue now threatens to burden the party through its leadership process, and to serve as an explosive parting gift from Mr. McGuinty to his successor. The Ontario Liberals have a good record in government, but that record has been tarnished by the strategy to shut down the legislature, and is at risk of being overtaken entirely in the next campaign.
If they don’t care about their democratic responsibilities, their legislative agenda, the committee hearings into the gas plant cancellations, or the Ornge air ambulance service controversy, at very least the Liberal MPPs should care about their political futures.