OPINION: Prorogation: time to change the rules?
Michael St. Amant
FOR BRANT NEWS
I have been totally surprised by the number of people who have raised the issue of the prorogation of the Ontario Legislature by the Liberal government.
These are people who normally don’t discuss politics or who don’t generally have any vested interest in any political party. What they see is another example of why our political system is flawed and why politicians are a cynical breed more focused on self-interest than the common good.
Prorogation, which ends the legislative session, effectively halts all private members bills and committee sessions. As a political tool, it is not new nor is it illegal. It has been used federally by Prime Minister Stephen Harper to avoid defeat over a non-confidence motion and by former prime minister Jean Chretien during the sponsorship scandal.
Most recently, Dalton McGuinty has attempted to justify prorogation of the Ontario Legislature by initially arguing that the legislature had become too unruly due to the minority government, then by suggesting that it would give the government time to negotiate a wage-freeze with the public sector and then by suggesting that the opposition parties could not be trusted and that they might bring down the government while the Liberal Party was in the middle of a leadership race.
Prorogation of the Ontario Legislature puts an end to a probe of the Ornge air ambulance service and a contempt motion over the cost of cancelling two gas plants during the 2011 Ontario election. It also comes at a time when Ontario faces serious issues affecting our economy, healthcare and rising government debt.
It is no wonder that prorogation has been viewed with increased cynicism.
Could McGuinty not have appointed an interim leader so that the business of the legislature could continue? Surely, there must be one of his cabinet members who could have filled that role. Could he not have set a deadline clearly defining when the legislature would be recalled?
There are those who would argue that prorogation was smart politics on his part. It gets the Liberal Party out of short-term danger and allows it to set the timing for the next provincial election. But is it good government?
There is no doubt that leading a government in a minority period is much more difficult and demanding than leading a majority government, when you can have your own way and legislate policies you believe to be in the best interest of Ontario.
Leaders of both opposition parties clearly wanted to continue to work with the governing Liberals. Certainly, you could argue that there was self-interest by the opposition wanting to do so. But that is what democracy is about.
The right to debate and challenge is the nature of our political process. When you set that aside, for whatever reason, you fail the people and you send the wrong message.
No wonder people – already cynical about the political process and politicians – are so incensed by the current use of prorogation.
Perhaps the time has come to set new rules for how and when prorogation is used. Government, after all, has no problem with setting rules concerning how we live our lives. Perhaps it’s time for them to get their own house in order.
Michael St. Amant is a former provincial Progressive Conservative candidate in Brant riding.