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Queen’s Park Power Shift

By Melanie Paradis, Karl Baldauf, D’arci McFadden and Richard Mahoney

On October 15, Dalton McGuinty announced his intention to resign as Premier and prorogue the business of the Ontario Legislature until the Ontario Liberal Party selects a new Leader. Portrayed by media as a “shocking exit”, these announcements will have a significant impact on both politics and public policy in the province in the months and years ahead. While much of the Premier’s legacy will remain in place, Ontario is entering a period of political transition. The new Liberal Leader will become Premier and form a new government, still in minority status. Two aggressive Opposition parties will look for the best political opportunity to defeat the Liberal Government in the House and force an election on the new Premier. Public affairs strategies will need to look more broadly, be more flexible and develop new efforts, focusing on the race to replace McGuinty within the Liberal party, examine the potential that the NDP and PC present as potential governments, and contend with the realities that come as a result of proroguing the Legislature.

Prorogation means that this session of the legislature ends immediately. All bills that have not received Royal Assent die on the order paper. They can be, and often are, reintroduced from first reading when the new session of the Legislature begins. The provincial cabinet will continue to meet regularly, chaired by Premier McGuinty until a new Premier is sworn in, and will be able to pass Orders in Council. All committees that have not yet reported will also cease work immediately. This includes the committee that was investigating the use of taxpayers’ money at ORNGE, the committee that was reviewing the Aggregate Resources Act, and the committee that would have been struck in the coming weeks to investigate the contempt motion against the Energy Minister.

Technically, all powers of the Premier and Ministers remain the same during a prorogation. In practice, however, government bureaucracy may start to look and feel more like you would experience during an election once the writ has dropped – with political actors more consumed by jockeying and campaigning for their particular candidate and the public service slowing down new initiatives so that the new Premier or Minister can review them. We do expect, however, that the government will plough ahead on efforts to reach agreements with more public sector unions on wage freezes and restraint measures. A key difference here will be that while elections usually last for only 5-6 weeks, this prorogation could last until the spring of 2013.

While Ontario’s public service will continue to manage the day-to-day aspects of government despite prorogation, no new legislative decisions can be taken or new spending plans made. For those organizations relying on funding from the provincial government, October is the time of year when budgets begin to be reassessed and requests for new funding or reallocations are made. Based on previous practice in prorogued governments, delays can be anticipated in addressing funding issues with the province. Further, any decision requiring a Ministerial approval, including provincial environmental assessments, may also be delayed. Again, while all powers remain effectively the same, there is an inherent slowing down of government business during periods of prorogation.

NATIONAL anticipates that the Liberal leadership race will be rather quick, and there will likely be a new leader selected in February 2013. That will allow the new government time for transition, and to appoint a cabinet and table a new budget in time for April 2013. We also believe that this presents an opportunity to engage the various candidates who will be vying to replace Dalton McGuinty as Premier, and take over the political and legislative agenda on behalf of the Liberal government until such a time that there is a provincial election. Some of those candidates will include:

  • Dwight Duncan – The Deputy Premier and Minister of Finance has had the highest profile role of any Minister in McGuinty’s cabinet since 2007 but has also taken on difficult cabinet roles such as Energy.
  • Chris Bentley – The Minister of Energy has had an impressive record during his time in such high-profile ministries as Attorney General and Energy and is held in high-regard as a successor to McGuinty by many in the Liberal Party.
  • Kathleen Wynne – The Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing and Aboriginal Affairs is highly regarded particularly by, and specifically with trade and teacher unions given the strides that they made while she was Minister of Education.
  • Deb Matthews – Her high profile as Health Minister and time as OLP Party President give her deep roots in the Ontario Liberal Party.
  • Yasir Naqvi – The Ottawa Centre MPP and Ontario Liberal Party President is an up and comer.
  • Eric Hoskins – Minister of Children and Youth Services, from St. Paul.
  • Glen Murray – Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities, from Toronto Centre.

On October 16th, Premier McGuinty advised Ministers that they would have to resign their positions in cabinet to run for leadership of the Party. This may delay announcements of leadership bids as potential candidates take pause to consider the potential ramifications to their political careers. Additionally, this would require a redistribution of cabinet portfolios. Given the significant portfolios of the potential candidates outlined above, redistribution would inevitably result in further challenges to the decision-making processes of government.

Bills Impacted by Prorogation:

  • Bill 4 – Retail Sales Tax Amendment Act (HST Rebate for Home Heating)
  • Bill 5 – Wireless Phone, Smart Phone and Data Service Transparency Act
  • Bill 30 – Family Caregiver Leave Act (Employment Standards Amendment)
  • Bill 34 – Security for Courts, Electricity Generating Facilities and Nuclear Facilities Act
  • Bill 41 – Reducing Automobile Insurance Premiums by Eliminating Fraud Act
  • Bill 50 – Ambulance Amendment Act (Air Ambulances)
  • Bill 61 – Ontario’s Wood First Act
  • Bill 62 – Legislative Oversight of Regulations Act
  • Bill 71 – New Drivers’ Insurance Rate Reduction Act
  • Bill 72 – Property Owners’ Protection Act
  • Bill 73 – Endangered Species Amendment Act
  • Bill 83 – Metrolinx Amendment Act
  • Bill 96 – Electronic Commerce Amendment Act
  • Bill 100 – Great Lakes Protection Act
  • Bill 118 – Performance Pay and Bonuses in the Public Sector Act (Management and Excluded Employees)