On 18 October 2012, Peter Mansbridge, Andrew Coyne, Chantal Hebert, and Bruce Anderson discussed McGuinty’s prorogation on CBC’s At-Issue Panel, from about 7 minutes to 10 minutes in the video. The panellists also discussed the Harper government’s second omnibus budget implementation bill and the possibility that McGuinty would run for the federal Liberal leadership. (The latter topic prompted Bruce Anderson to make a strange anti-monarchist comment that “McGuinty carries more baggage than Queen Elizabeth II.”)
Peter Mansbridge almost quoted verbatim part of “McGuinty Had Every Right to Prorogue,” which the Ottawa Citizen published earlier this same day. He said,
Let me be a little provocative here by throwing this one on the table. First of all, […] prorogation is a legitimate tool in the toolbox of governments, and we’ve seen it used many times over the years. But over these past few years, it’s been used in a way, both provincially and federally, [such that] some people are pointing back to Harper’s request to Michaelle Jean to prorogue parliament in 2008 […] as the beginning of this. This is the real legacy of Michaelle Jean; that moment brought us on a long slippery slope to this one. Who wants to tackle that one?
Nick and I wrote, “Prorogation is a political tool in the tool kit of Canadian First Ministers, not an ‘abuse of power.'”
- McGuinty Had Every Right to Prorogue
- Prorogation Should Remain a Prime Ministerial Power
- Peter Russell on the Prorogation-Coalition Controversy of 2008
- Prorogation as a Prime Ministerial Delay Tactic: A Legitimate Parliamentary Tool, Not “Abuse of Power”
- Neither the Queen Nor the Governor General May Dissolve Parliament Unilaterally
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To call prorogation a political tool in the tool kit of Canadian First Ministers, not an ‘abuse of poweris at best misleading and at worst it is simply wrong. Any procedure can be completely legal but at some point can become an abuse of power. Would closure (not time allocation) on every bill after second reading be an abuse of power?
The Ontario case is significantly different than anything we have seen before. The Opposition, following the dreadful example of Ignatieff in Ottawa, managed to get a case of contempt against a Minister referred to committee. (These are really issues of confidence and should be dealt with directly not obfuscated as dreamed up by the ill fated advisers to the former federal Liberal Leader.)
Anyway with an opposition majority in committee and in the Ontario legislature it was clear that the contempt motion would succeed and the minister would have to resign (unless he took the Harper approach and said this was just politics and ignore it which would be worse). McGuinty, to his credit, recognized that in our parliamentary system such a motion against a Minister would require any self respecting Prime Minister to ask for a dissolution and an election. As he did personally not want an election he resigned and then prorogued the House to allow for the Leader ship race and transition.
Thus your conclusion is correct. There was nothing wrong with prorogation to allow for a transition but prorogation simply to wipe the slate clean of the contempt motion without his resignation would have been a complete abuse of power. By making the ultimate sacrifice Mcguinty can defend his particular prorogation but lets recognize that in some circumstances prorogation can be an abuse of power whether it is legally justified or not.
Judging by your comments, I can only presume that you also considered Harper’s prorogation of 2008, and possibly also his prorogation of 2009, “abuses of power.” I am curious as to what you think of Bob Rae’s prorogations of 1991, 1992, and 1994. (I’ve described them below).
I argue that McGuinty’s prorogation was both legal and constitutional, though I also hope that the legislature and/or the people hold the Liberal Ministry to account for what it has done. I agree with you that the Opposition should have simply tabled a motion of non-confidence rather than pursuing the contempt of parliament, which as you point essentially amounts to a withdrawal of confidence anyway.
However, I disagree with your assessment that McGuinty’s prorogation is “significantly different” from other prorogations in the Dominion and in Ontario; the only unique permutation hinges on the minority parliament couple with a transition between Ministries.
1. This prorogation is not unique in terms of a mid-parliamentary transition of Ministries within the same party. This has happened at the federal level in 2003-2004, when Chretien prorogued in November 2003 and Martin summoned it in February 2004.
2. McGuinty’s prorogation is also not unique in terms of delaying the House’s inquiries into the Government’s activities. The federal prorogations of 1873, 2003, and 2009 did the same.
3. This is not the first contentious prorogation in a minority parliament that might have delayed the House from withdrawing confidence; the federal prorogations of 1873 and 2008 also meet that condition.
4. Finally, McGuinty’s prorogation is also not unique by not providing a recall date. Richard Berthelsen later clarified that between 1980 and 2000, most prorogations in Ontario did *NOT* include the date summoning the next session of Parliament. Indeed, Premier Rae prorogued the 35th Legislature (1990-1995) three times — all of which lasted from December to April, and none of which included a date summoning the next session.
Yes the Harper 2008 prorogation was an abuse of power. The 2009 prorogation was not.
I do not disagree with any of your examples but simply with your conclusion that seems to open the way for a Prime Minister to use prorogation whenever he likes and specifically when facing defeat. I suggested that Ontario was unique in that the Premier resigned because he knew that prorogation to block defeat was completely contrary to basic parliamentary principles. Of course he will not say this publicly yet but that is the only logical explanation for what happened.