TORONTO — Premier Kathleen Wynne has prorogued the Ontario legislature so her government can deliver a throne speech Monday, pressing the reset button to outline a new list of priorities less than two years before the next election.
Wynne’s announcement Thursday came just days after her Liberal party lost a long-held seat in a suburban Toronto byelection to the Progressive Conservatives.
The premier’s personal approval ratings have also hit an all-time low, in part because of widespread anger over soaring electricity bills.
A new throne speech allows the government to lay out a road map for the plan that will take them into the 2018 provincial election, said Genevieve Tellier, a professor at the University of Ottawa’s school of public policy.
“Especially considering the result of the byelection last week, where it seemed that the government took stock (that), ‘There’s something going on out there … so we need to make a stronger stance and maybe present also a more coherent platform,”‘ said Tellier.
Government house leader Yasir Naqvi said all Liberal bills that died on the order paper when the legislature was prorogued Thursday would be re-introduced, including legislation to ban provincial politicians from engaging in most fundraising activities.
“The speech from the throne is a normal tradition for a government, and will allow us to refocus our priorities and reset the legislative agenda with a new set of government priorities,” he said. “My office has asked the PC and NDP if they have any priority private member’s bills that they would like carried to the next session.”
Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown, who was not available to take questions, issued a statement calling prorogation a distraction tactic that won’t help the Liberals.
“The Wynne Liberals are an old, tired, and self-interested government that are desperately trying to frame a new narrative after an embarrassing defeat in the Scarborough-Rouge River byelection,” Brown said. “No amount of window dressing is going to help Ontarians with their skyrocketing energy bills.”
The Sept. 1 byelection loss in Scarborough-Rouge River, which had been Liberal since its creation in 1988, gave her “cause for reflection,” Wynne admitted following the defeat.
“We heard at the door that hydro rates are increasingly challenging for people,” she said. “I understand, as do my ministers, that the government needs to focus on helping people with their everyday expenses.”
Naqvi and Wynne said the Liberals’ legislative priorities are economic growth and job creation, but admitted the government needs to find a way to address electricity rates.
Major pieces of legislation for the government’s previous priorities have already been passed, including ones to introduce a cap-and-trade system to put a price on carbon, and another allowing the sale of a majority of Hydro One.
The legislature had already been set to return on Monday, so no sitting days are being lost.
Prorogation can be a standard tool for governments, but former prime minister Stephen Harper sparked vigorous debate after he prorogued in late 2008, when his minority government faced the spectre of being unseated by an opposition coalition.
And in 2012, Dalton McGuinty abruptly announced a plan to resign as Ontario premier and prorogued the legislature just before committee hearings were to begin into the government’s costly decision to cancel two gas plants before the 2011 election.
Though prorogation at a government’s mid-point is not unusual, it appears to have come as a surprise even to some cabinet ministers. Northern Development and Mines Minister Michael Gravelle told Thunder Bay media outlet tbnewswatch.com that the prorogation was news to him.