Dalton McGuinty’s decision to prorogue the Ontario legislature has caused some discomfort among the Liberals in the federal House where Parliament has been shuttered twice in the past four years by Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
On each of those occasions – once in 2008 to prevent a coalition from toppling his minority Conservative government and again in late 2009 for reasons that have never been totally clear – the federal Liberals decried what they said was an abrogation of democracy.
So what then are they to make of their provincial cousin’s decision to shut down the debate at Queen’s Park indefinitely with two of his ministers facing potential contempt proceedings and amid an outcry over the costly cancellation of two gas plants?
The only Liberal MP among many interviewed by The Globe and Mail on Thursday who would say publicly that Mr. McGuinty is doing the wrong thing was Mauril Bélanger, who represents Ottawa-Vanier.
“I stood out there when Mr. Harper put a padlock on the House of Commons because I didn’t think it was an appropriate thing to do,” said Mr. Bélanger. “I don’t think the Ontario Liberals should proceed in that way either. Prorogation can be used, has a use, but not indeterminately.”
Two of his caucus colleagues expressed similar frustration with the decision but did not want their names attached to the criticism. Both said there were alternatives that Mr. McGuinty should have considered.
Several others refused to discuss the matter.
“That’s a purely provincial matter,” said John McCallum, MP for Markham-Unionville, north of Toronto.
Marc Garneau, the Liberal House Leader who is considering a run at the party leadership, begged off for the same reason. “That’s a matter for Ontario and it’s not one that’s appropriate for me to talk about,” he said.
Most, however, defended Mr. McGuinty’s decision even as some squirmed to find the right words.
York West MP Judy Sgro said there is a difference between proroguing when a leader is tendering his resignation and proroguing and staying on as Mr. Harper did.
“I can’t only suggest that he [Mr. McGuinty] felt strongly that, given the minority situation, that the government would last. And, in order to keep things going for the people of Ontario, he felt it was in their best interest to prorogue at this particular time,” said Ms. Sgro. “So let’s just hope that it doesn’t last too long.”
Frank Valeriote, the MP for Guelph, west of Toronto, said he would be very concerned if prorogation was used to avoid a vote that a government did not like.
In this case, said Mr. Valeriote, “I understand [Mr. McGuinty is] using it to give his party and parliament the time to breathe following the announcement of his resignation and to determine when a new leader will be picked.”
And John McKay, who represents the Toronto riding of Scarborough-Guildwood, said he understands the feelings of “those who are bent out of shape” but in this case, prorogation makes some sense because it prevented an unwarranted trip to the polls.
“You can be darn sure,” said Mr. McKay, “that within about five seconds of the Parliament resuming there will be a motion of no confidence, the government will lose it, and they will be in an election, and it would be [the opposition] taking huge political advantage.”