POLITICS

NDP wants to change rules on prorogation to prevent partisan political abuse

03/06/2013 10:49 EST | Updated 05/06/2013 05:12 EDT
TORONTO - Ontario's New Democrats said Wednesday they want new rules on prorogation so no other premier can do what Dalton McGuinty did and shut down the legislature to avoid scandals plaguing the government.

Rookie New Democrat Catherine Fife put forth a private member's bill proposing new rules to restrict premiers from using prorogation for political gain by requiring a majority of the legislature to pass a motion agreeing to the move.

It would also require a firm date for the house to return, something McGuinty did not set when he suddenly prorogued the legislature Oct. 15, just hours before committee hearings were to begin into the Liberals' decisions to cancel gas plants in Oakville and Mississauga.

"This bill will prevent governments from abusing prorogation and shutting down the legislature for partisan political purposes," said Fife.

"It doesn't take away the powers of the premier. It actually just transfers the power to the other MPPs."

People were rightfully angry when McGuinty suddenly prorogued the legislature to avoid dealing with hearings into the gas plants scandal and a police investigation into the Ornge air ambulance service, she added.

"I think prorogation is the issue because it's so connected to the gas plants scandal, to Ornge, to eHealth," said Fife.

"It was clearly seen as a measure to avoid being held accountable on those portfolios, so prorogation is connected to the McGuinty legacy. The house shouldn't be shut down for the political benefit of one party."

Private members' bills rarely become law in Ontario, but Fife was hoping the Progressive Conservatives, who also were angry when McGuinty prorogued the legislature last fall, would support her initiative.

The Tories wanted to examine Fife's bill before saying if they'd support it, and said McGuinty may have had the Constitutional right to prorogue, but it was still the wrong thing to do.

"He's within his right to prorogue whenever he wants, but I think on a political level and even a moral level, he was saving his own party and himself, and I think it was selfish," said PC house leader Jim Wilson.

"He shut the people's business down for four months, and I don't think that's right."

Premier Kathleen Wynne wouldn't admit McGuinty had done anything wrong by proroguing, but didn't rule out supporting Fife's bill to change the rules.

"My predecessor made the decision that he believed that he needed to make ... and I was committed to bringing the legislature back as quickly as possible on the legislative calendar," Wynne told the legislature.

"I don’t think that there is any rule, or any process or any tradition that can’t be questioned and can’t be discussed, so I think it is a very worthy subject."

Ontario would be the first jurisdiction using the British parliamentary system to change the rules on prorogation, but Fife said the NDP consulted experts and are confident the bill would be Constitutional.