Prorogued legislature leaves unfinished business in limbo

Marsha Walker sat restlessly on her couch as she watched the news of premier Dalton McGuinty’s resignation and prorogation of the Ontario legislature.

McGuinty announced he was quitting as Liberal leader and proroguing the legislature — essentially suspending the province’s parliament for a while — on Oct. 15.

The move worried Walker, she said, because of a bill she’s been following at Queen’s Park that would give youth in her Black Creek Drive-area community in North York access to a community centre attached to her apartment building that’s been inaccessible for years.

“The residents and I have been trying to open the rec centre for a long while now,” she said. “With McGuinty deciding to prorogue in such a sudden manner, I’m assuming that the bill will now be scrapped, which means we’ll have to pick up the pieces and start over unfortunately.”

The situation is similar to when schools cancel classes for a period of time, said Nelson Wiseman, professor of Canadian government and politics at the University of Toronto.

Politicians usually resign because they think they’ve done enough for their province.

—Robert Logan

“Just imagine what would happen if your school was suddenly cancelled tomorrow,” he said. “You wouldn’t be getting credit for anything you’ve done up until now and since McGuinty is resigning, everything including bills are essentially reset.”

But, Wiseman said, the government continues to operate even though the legislature is prorogued, and McGuinty remains premier until an election is held or the Liberal party chooses a new leader from among its sitting MPPs.

“I expect that a new Liberal leader will be either selected by the party or the party will ask the lieutenant-governor, David Onley, for an election for the premier’s seat, which I think is more likely to happen,” Wiseman said.

McGuinty’s decision to resign in the middle of a term is not unusual, said UofT Canadian politics professor Robert Logan, who pointed to former prime minister Pierre Trudeau’s similar move in 1984 as an example.

“Politicians usually resign because they think they’ve done enough for their province. They can’t be in power forever,” he said. “People will realize the public has had enough of them and that it’s time to renew their party.”

Under constitutional law, the prorogation period can last for up to a year, Wiseman said, but added that’s unlikely.

“It won’t last for a year because the government has to pass a budget for 2013 to fund programs such as schools,” he said.