Why Kathleen Wynne seems poised to prorogue Ontario Legislature
Prorogation would take spotlight away from opposition, clear decks for Liberal cabinet shuffle
This story started to emerge when I was getting my hair cut.
In the basement of Queen's Park, there's a tiny barber shop, run for decades by now-semi-retired Frank Filice, who has cut the hair of more Ontario politicians than anybody. Frank doesn't reveal what they talk about.
But last week, after Frank finished with me, PC House Leader Jim Wilson sat down in the chair, started chatting in a barber shop sort of way, and ended up telling me, "I think they're going to prorogue."
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Prorogation matters, because in essence it means shutting down the legislature. It's perfectly within the government's right, but it can be controversial: It kills any bills that are yet to be passed, stops committees from working and robs the opposition of its daily chance to hold the government to account in question period. Dalton McGuinty prorogued in October 2012, with his minority government under siege over the growing gas plants scandal.
So why would Premier Kathleen Wynne prorogue now? Wilson is a veteran of the legislature and knows how things work from both the government and opposition perspectives.
So his theory triggered me to dig further. And what I found convinced me: It sure looks like Wynne will prorogue, likely by the end of April. Here's why:
1. Short list of bills
There are very few government bills working their way through the legislature. The only major pieces of legislation that are yet to be passed are the budget, the cap and trade rules, and the new bill on emergency responders suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Those bills could become law within a few weeks, clearing the decks for the government to prorogue without hurting any of its key initiatives.
2. Early budget
Finance Minister Charles Sousa delivered the budget exceptionally early this year, on Feb. 25. None of the government's explanations made sense.
"It's important for us to come out early in order for us to achieve success in some of the investments that we're proposing," Sousa said.
"We want to make sure that it's clear to everyone as early as possible what the next steps are going to be," said Wynne.
A reason for tabling the budget early that would make sense? To get it passed quickly, to then prorogue.
3. New faces in an old government
Wynne's cabinet is overdue for a shuffle. Every single minister she named after winning the 2014 election remains in place.
But cabinet shuffles while the legislature is sitting have their disadvantages. Ministers new to their portfolios would love to have extra time to get up to speed on the issues, without the pesky daily probing of question period. Prorogation would give them that time.
4. Looking ahead to an election
It's coming up to two years since Wynne won her majority. Pretty much everything laid out in her government's 2014 throne speech has been accomplished. It would make sense to do a reset, with a new throne speech and new voter-friendly initiatives aimed toward the 2018 campaign.
A prorogation could last indefinitely but it would be unlikely to last longer than the fall. Proroguing would also, conveniently, reduce PC Leader Patrick Brown's opportunities to boost his profile among voters by hammering the Liberals during question period.
5. No denials
In the hours before the Sunshine List was released last Thursday, Wynne had a news conference. Nearly all the questions were about the list of Ontario's best-paid public servants. I decided to try to catch her by surprise.
"Are you going to prorogue?" I asked.
Wynne smiled, laughed and responded: "You know what? There is a lot more work to do in the province, so stay tuned for how we're going to continue to build this province up."
She didn't say no. My question — and Wynne's refusal to deny it — turned into a news story.
So will prorogation happen? Sure looks like it. As Wynne said, "Stay tuned."