Ontario’s Progressive Conservatives have prorogued the legislature until after the federal election, a move the Opposition called an “abdication of responsibility” as the province fights a fourth wave of COVID-19.
The government said Friday that the legislature will return on Oct. 4, two weeks after Canadians head to the polls.
“With a federal election underway, during which each party has put forward dramatically different policies and funding commitments that will have a direct impact on our government’s legislative agenda, we have made the decision to prorogue the legislature,” government house leader Paul Calandra said in a statement.
Calandra said the results of the election will offer more certainty so the province can plan its fall legislation.
Politicians had been on summer break since early June, and were due back Sept. 13.
The prorogation – the first for the Tories since they took power in 2018 – will give Premier Doug Ford’s government a chance to reset their priorities ahead of next year’s provincial vote.
The opposition parties decried the move.
“In the face of alarming Science Table data that shows the fourth wave of COVID-19 rising, Doug Ford’s decision to prorogue the legislature for three weeks is an unprecedented abdication of responsibility during a crisis,” NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said in a statement.
“It’s bad enough that Doug Ford has gone into hiding for over a month, now he is choosing to hide his entire government.”
Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca also suggested the prorogation was part of a recent trend for Ford, who on Wednesday held his first news conference in over a month to announce a long-demanded vaccine certificate system.
“Everyone knows that Doug Ford has been hiding for the past two months,” Del Duca said. “He needs to go back to work now in order to deliver a real vaccine certificate, a better plan to reopen our schools and to help families get through this lingering public health crisis.”
Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner, meanwhile, characterized the decision as “irresponsible.”
“Right now Ontarians need leadership. Instead they are stuck with a premier that is running from accountability and responsibility,” he said.
While it’s not unusual for premiers to prorogue the legislature and start a new session, political science professor Cristine de Clercy said the timing of Ford’s decision leaves him open to such criticism.
“His critics could rightfully charge that he is not at the forefront of Ontario’s leadership right now, while the house is recessed,” said de Clercy, who teaches at Western University.
She also questioned the government line that the federal election is the reasoning behind the prorogation.
“I have been scratching my head trying to think about the last time I heard a provincial legislature proroguing because of a federal election, and I can’t really recall such an incident,” de Clercy said. “So I think it is a little bit of an unusual circumstance.”
The move to prorogue the legislature comes as COVID-19 infections have been rising in Ontario.
The province’s science advisers predicted this week that the highly transmissible Delta variant will see more unvaccinated people hospitalized this fall, with intensive care occupancy possibly exceeding the third wave.
The COVID-19 Science Advisory Table said more than 85 per cent of the eligible population needs to be vaccinated against the virus and contacts need to be reduced to 70 per cent of pre-pandemic levels to avoid a lockdown in the fall.
The latest data shows 83.3 per cent of Ontarians aged 12 and up have had at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine, while 76.8 per cent are fully vaccinated.
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