Ontario government business dies with prorogation
Published on Tuesday October 16, 2012
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Dalton McGuinty’s decision to resign and prorogue the fall legislative session brings all parliamentary business to a halt.
And that means the provincial agenda has essentially been wiped clean — all the work that went into government and private members’ bills, and committee meetings is consigned to the shelves of history.
Here are answers to five questions about the impact of prorogation on our democratic system:
- What happens to all the bills on the order paper? As University of Toronto political science professor Nelson Wiseman says, “Everything is dead.” All bills, even those that have reached third reading — the final review conducted before legislation is given royal assent — are thrown out. If the government or private members want to revisit the same legislation when the house returns, they will have to table it again for first reading.
- How many bills died when McGuinty prorogued the legislature? During the 40th legislative assembly, which began on Nov. 22, 2011, there were 132 bills tabled. Of those, 14 received royal assent, 10 lost at reading, and 109 died. Of those that died, 10 were government bills, including the Ambulance Amendment Act (Air Ambulances), introduced to prevent any future abuse of power after the Star uncovered problems at ORNGE.
What happens to business before committees that review legislation? All business before all nine permanent standing committees dies. The makeup of committees, which can have no more than nine members, generally reflects the composition of the house. Each committee is chaired by either a member of the government or the opposition. Chairs cannot vote, except in the case of a tie. For example, the standing committee on finance and economic affairs, which was tasked with determining if Energy Minister Chris Bentley was in contempt of parliament, had more opposition MPPs able to vote than government members, reflecting the Liberal government’s minority position. The makeup of committees is negotiated by the house leaders of each party.
Said one Liberal insider: “(The finance) committee was hearing the Bentley issue, so when the new government comes in, and they negotiate again, it will be an interesting time because they can play around with the committee makeup.”
- What’s the point of prorogation anyway? Prorogation is a legitimate measure federal and provincial governments can use when they have no more business to present to the house, says Wiseman. But in recent years, the practice has become controversial as an increasing number of party leaders used the move for political reasons. By proroguing the Ontario legislature, McGuinty stops the daily attacks on his party in the house related to the cancelled power plants in Oakville and Mississauga, and saves Bentley from a contempt motion. In December 2008, Prime Minister Stephen Harper prorogued Parliament, preventing a Liberal-NDP coalition from defeating the government in a non-confidence motion. Harper prorogued Parliament again in December 2009 for two months, conveniently shutting down an inquiry into the treatment of Afghan detainees.
- What happens now? MPPs can return to their constituencies and await the recall of the legislature, which will most likely occur in the spring after the Liberal party elects a new