Death of bills with prorogation of legislature prompts disappointment

Percy Hatfield’s Poet Laureate Act which seeks to enshrine the name of late Tragically Hip frontman Gord Downie in a law creating Ontario's first poet laureate, was a casualty of Thursday’s prorogation of the legislature.

Percy Hatfield and Bruce Rivers say they will reintroduce bills at earliest opportunity

NDP member of the Ontario legislature introduced the Poet Laureate Act (in Memory of Gord Downie). (CBC News)

The Poet Laureate Act, which seeks to enshrine the name of late Tragically Hip frontman Gord Downie in a law creating Ontario's first poet laureate, was one of the casualties of Thursday's prorogation of the legislature.

NDP member Percy Hatfield introduced the bill last December, and prior to Premier Kathleen Wynne's announcement, he said he was quite confident it was a go.

Wynne announced the prorogation Thursday, less than a week after the opposition Progressive Conservatives elected Doug Ford as their new leader ahead of the June 7 election. The procedural move requires the government to briefly shut down the legislature.

​Lt.-Gov. Elizabeth Dowdeswell will outline government's plans in the throne speech scheduled to begin at noon Monday.

"I thought for sure it was finally going to happen, that we'd have a poet laureate named in Ontario just like they have in Saskatchewan and Prince Edward Island and in Ottawa for the parliament, but it was not to be," Hatfield told CBC Toronto.

"I just think it's something that Ontario should have," he added.

Downie, who died of brain cancer in 2017 at the age of 53, was a poet, a singer and advocate for Indigenous issues.

The poet laureate would have written poetry, occasionally for use in the legislature, visit schools, present or arrange poetry readings, and assist with writing workshops or other activities.

Premier Kathleen Wynne announced the prorogation of the legislature on Thursday ahead of the Throne Speech next Monday. (Paul Borkwood/CBC)

The poet laureate would also advise the legislative library regarding its collection and acquisitions.

'A critical moment in Ontario'

Hatfield said he was "disappointed" with Wynne's announcement, noting "when they do that, that gets rid of all the private members' bills. That's the collateral damage of proroguing."

But he said he intends to have the bill reintroduced at the earliest opportunity.

"I don't think I'll get a chance this term. I have a 90-second poem that I will read as my member statement trying to get the government to reintroduce the bill themselves," Hatfield said.

He remembers Downie fondly and the Tragically Hip's cross-country tour last summer, how "it really galvanized the nation."

"It was like we were all bonding, it was almost as if we were invited to Gord's wake in advance," he said.

In the statement Thursday, Wynne noted that today's changing economy means there are some hard realities that are affecting people's everyday lives, and creating an unfair burden.

"We are at a critical moment in Ontario, when we know people are dealing with a lot of uncertainty in their lives," Wynne said in a statement.

'Back to ground zero'

Bruce Rivers, Executive Director Covenant House Toronto, has been one of the champions behind the Save the Girl Next Door bill, which focuses on the right of victims to be protected and their entitlement to compensation.
Bruce Rivers says his bill focuses on the right of victims to be protected and their entitlement to compensation. (CBC)

He had a similar reaction as Hatfield to Wynne's announcement.

"We're disappointed that this bill in particular is not going to proceed. It's something that we consulted around. It's also an issue about which we care deeply."

Rivers is hopeful that the bill will factor prominently on the order paper when the legislature resumes.

"You have to go back to ground zero now and I think the consultation has been undertaken, there's been a great deal of work, a lot of research and I know that the province itself has really made considerable efforts to elevate the issue of human trafficking and sex trafficking in particular," Rivers said.

"These are two critical issues in our view that needed to be furthered in this province."

With files from Makda Ghebreslassie and The Canadian Press