McGuinty to briefly prorogue Ontario legislature
BROCKVILLE, Ont. - The Ontario legislature will prorogue for a "limited break" before starting a new session with a speech from the throne after the Vancouver Olympics, Premier Dalton McGuinty said Tuesday.
He wouldn't say when he plans to pull the plug, but confirmed that elected politicians will have to head back to work next Tuesday as scheduled.
"There will be a throne speech, but we will not follow the federal example of an extended break before we have that throne speech," McGuinty said from a solar panel testing facility near Brockville.
"That throne speech will likely come after the Olympics are over, just so you know what our thinking is generally on that."
B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell is cramming a throne speech into a three-day session ahead of the Olympics, which start Friday and end Feb. 28.
Ontario's spring session will include legislation on pension reform, "protection from door-to-door energy retailers" and his government's plan to provide all-day kindergarten next fall, McGuinty said.
"There will be legislation for our full-day learning for four- and five-year-olds, so there will be a resolution that will urge the federal government to use the opportunities created in its upcoming budget to support the plan that we're putting in place here in Ontario to grow a stronger province and a stronger economy," he added.
McGuinty had been tiptoeing for weeks around prorogation, an issue that's taken a toll on Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservative government.
Recent polls suggest that Harper has been unable to quell public opposition to shutting down Parliament for two months despite a flurry of public events aimed at showing the government hard at work.
Harper's request to prorogue Parliament, granted Dec. 30, was condemned by opposition parties as a ham-fisted attempt to avoid tough questions about the torture of Afghan detainees.
McGuinty's recent call for two March 4 byelections in eastern Ontario had fuelled speculation that he would prorogue to buy time for his new ministers to get up to speed on their files after last month's cabinet shuffle.
Last week, McGuinty suggested that Harper's troubles over prorogation had prompted him to consider it more carefully.
"I think it's kind of lent it a different complexion," he said.
"Prorogation has been an important and respected parliamentary tool for centuries. But it's important that you don't abuse that."
Tradition also requires that the legislature rise before a throne speech, which lays out the government's priorities for the next legislative session, McGuinty said Tuesday.
"There will be a limited break. You can't introduce a throne speech unless you have a break," he said.
"That's just the rule. But we will preserve every single one of our bills. Nothing will be lost."
Provincial politicians need to get back to work to deal with the economy, lost jobs, the impact of the new harmonized sales tax and a funding crisis among Ontario hospitals, said NDP Leader Andrea Horwath.
Horwath, who spoke before McGuinty announced his prorogation plans, slammed the premier for dragging his heels.
"He certainly has been playing a bit of a guessing game with the public in terms of his intentions and I think that's unacceptable," she said.
Opposition Leader Tim Hudak echoed Horwath's concerns, calling prorogation an attempt to "avoid facing questions" from the Conservatives.
"We all saw what happened last session -- a government battered and adrift, a government that is increasing taxes, had been involved in a huge eHealth boondagle," he said.
But Hudak will benefit from prorogation. Conservatives Randy Hillier and Bill Murdoch, who were banned from the legislative chamber in December and staged a 44-hour protest over the HST, will be able to return to their seats.