MPP Column: Prorogation of the Legislature

On October 15 Dalton McGuinty had a disappointing end to his 22 year career in Ontario politics when he announced that he was resigning and proroguing the Ontario Legislature. It left many Ontarians surprised and wondering what happened.

Since then one of the questions I’m asked frequently is why he prorogued the Legislature. In 2001 when Mike Harris announced that he would be stepping down as party leader the Legislature continued to sit, so why isn’t it sitting now?

Unfortunately, I believe the answer is the investigation into the decision to relocate the two power plants. As you may recall the Liberals were planning to build gas powered plants in Oakville and Mississauga. They signed contracts to construct them but as opposition grew and it appeared they might lose those ridings in the 2011 election they decided to relocate the plants even though construction had already begun in the Mississauga location.

Last spring a legislative committee which was reviewing the budgetary estimates for the Ministry of Energy passed a motion ordering that all of the documents related to that decision and the costs be provided to the committee.

Energy Minister Chris Bentley and the Liberal government refused to release the documents until September when the Speaker of the Legislature ruled that their refusal to do so was a prima facie case of breach of privilege, the first step in being held in contempt.

On September 12 the government delivered 36,000 documents and declared that was all of the information related to the plant relocations. Unfortunately that turned out not to be the case. The 36,000 pages included many deleted sections and blanked out pages. A few weeks later we found out that there were more significant problems when the government delivered an additional 20,000 pages that they discovered were missed in the initial search.

We still don’t have all of the documents but based on what we’ve seen and estimates from energy consultants, we already know of about $900 million in costs to move the two plants and there could be many more expenses still hidden.

The next step in the process of investigating these costs and the contempt motion was for the Legislative Committee on Finance to begin their hearings. The motion to strike the committee investigation was passed by the Legislature on October 2. The Liberals had 10 sessional days to call committee meetings. Instead they prorogued the Legislature.

Proroguing the Legislature does much more than just end the gas plant investigation – it kills all current bills including the Hawkins Gignac Act, the Local Food Act and a bill to address the problems at ORNGE air ambulance. It means there are no committees to look at private bills or hold pre-budget consultations. It also prevents MPPs from debating solutions to some of the significant challenges our province is facing such as government spending, our economy and the need to create jobs. I have already written to Dalton McGuinty to ask him to recall the Legislature so we can focus on these issues.

Until then my office continues to be open to help with any provincial problems and the PC caucus will continue investigating the gas plant fiasco to find the true cost to taxpayers. We will also continue to push the Liberals to call the Legislature back so we can get back to the work you expect of us.