Premier Kathleen Wynne is proroguing the Ontario Legislature and bringing down a Speech from the Throne in a bid to push the reset button after a controversy-plagued past few months.
The assembly will begin its fall sitting Monday as planned, but will now open with a speech from Lieutenant-Governor Elizabeth Dowdeswell laying out Ms. Wynne's plan for the second half of her four-year mandate.
The move is an acknowledgment that, as Ms. Wynne has pursued a big-picture agenda over the past two years that included fighting climate change, expanding the province's pension system and investing billions in building transit, the government has let day-to-day concerns get away from them.
The Liberals are also eager to change the channel after a rocky few months. The government's privatization of Hydro One has proven broadly unpopular – polls indicate between 60 and 80 per cent of Ontarians believe electricity companies should be government-owned – and the Liberals are embroiled in an ethics controversy after The Globe and Mail revealed a system of cash-for-access fundraising. Under the system, corporate leaders seeking business with the government paid thousands of dollars for face time with Ms. Wynne and members of her cabinet.
The Liberals are hinting that Monday's address will promise relief from high electricity prices and place a greater focus on jobs and the economy. Reframing the government's agenda around such bread-and-butter concerns signals the start of a shift into re-election mode.
"We can continue to deliver on our top priority: jobs and growth. This will include working to make everyday life easier for all Ontarians," Government House Leader Yasir Naqvi said at Queen's Park Thursday, shortly after Ms. Wynne visited Ms. Dowdeswell to secure the prorogation. "The Speech from the Throne … will allow us to refocus our priorities and reset the legislative agenda."
The Liberals have trailed the PCs in popularity for more than a year. An average of recent polls calculated by the ThreeHundredEight.com website showed the Tories at 41 per cent, the Liberals at 30 per cent and the NDP at 21 per cent. Ms. Wynne's party last week lost Scarborough-Rouge River, a long-held Toronto seat, to the PCs in a by-election. Scarborough voters frequently complained of high hydro rates at the doors.
Proroguing clears the legislature's order paper, killing all bills currently before the House. Mr. Naqvi said Thursday the government will reintroduce all of its legislation in the new session. He said that most outstanding government bills were still relatively early in the legislative process, so the prorogation will cause them to lose only a few hours' debate.
In the case of the Liberals' campaign finance reform, which had just been revised by a legislative committee last week, Mr. Naqvi said he will table the revised version of the bill so the committee's amendments will not be lost.
He said he will negotiate with the opposition parties on reintroducing private members' bills. Some such bills – including a Tory measure to bring in provincial regulations for Uber – were far along in the legislative process; without unanimous consent from all parties, they would have to start again from the beginning.
But a deal seemed unlikely Thursday, after Tory House Leader Jim Wilson said negotiations are contingent on the Liberals agreeing to stop the privatization of Hydro One.
"We're willing to negotiate in exchange for the Liberals stopping future sales of Hydro One shares. Skyrocketing hydro is a crisis," Mr. Wilson tweeted.
Ms. Wynne has been looking to refresh her government all summer: Last June, she shuffled her cabinet, expanding it from 27 members to 30, putting younger ministers in more prominent roles and shuffling older stalwarts into lower-profile positions.
PC Leader Patrick Brown called prorogation and the Throne Speech "a distraction tactic" designed to divert attention from the Liberals' record.
"The Wynne Liberals are an old, tired and self-interested government that are desperately trying to frame a new narrative after an embarrassing defeat in the Scarborough-Rouge River by-election," he said in a statement. "No amount of window dressing is going to help Ontarians with their skyrocketing energy bills."
NDP House Leader Gilles Bisson said that, if the Liberals are actually serious about making a break from the past, they must make drastic changes to their policies.
"If the Premier is really determined to turn the page, then she can prove it in Monday's Throne Speech by halting the sale of Hydro One, reversing her deep cuts to health care, and committing to good jobs for the future," he said in a statement. "Ontarians will not be fooled by another Liberal public-relations exercise."
Earlier this week, Ms. Wynne hinted that she will tackle pocket-book concerns in the coming session.
"[Hydro rates] are a concern across the province. I recognize that … We need to take that into account and come up with increasing or further mitigations," she said Wednesday, adding later: "I need to make sure that we continue to draw business to this province, to this city and to municipalities all around the province."