From where I sit, Dalton McGuinty had some ups and downs as premier of Ontario for nine years. On the plus side of the ledger: The performance of the education system was shit-hot under his leadership; he introduced a feed-in-tariff for clean energy; passed the City of Toronto Act; committed to a big investment in Toronto transit construction; began the process of coordinating a regional transportation strategy in the GTA under Metrolinx; and delivered labour peace for a couple terms of office. On the minus side: he presided over—and passed the laws that enabled—the G20 policing fiasco; stood by scandal after scandal in his ministries; mismanaged the introduction of the FIT; backed off, repeatedly, his investment in transit building (an investment already inadequate to our needs); saw Metrolinx turn into a do-nothing-fast process shop; and brought an abrupt end to the labour peace he’d created by becoming bad cop to the same unions he’d been good-copping for so long. And I’m not sure if it was a good or a bad thing, but he sure rained money down on tech and innovation startups to compensate for a weak-ass venture-capital climate here in Canada.
He wasn’t a leader who ever inspired anyone to anything. He never, as far as I saw, articulated any idea of what Ontario is, as a province (other than a place for hardworking families who like having a healthy economy, good healthcare, and good public education), nor a vision of what the big project of government in Ontario was. Which might have been an okay thing. In the “bland works” mould of Bill Davis, he very often seemed like the least bad option available. And being least bad is generally all anyone can dare to dream a politician will be anymore.
But: nothing disgraced his term as premier like the manner in which he ended it.
I was going to write about the practice of proroguing parliaments for partisan political gain, a new favourite trick of Stephen Harper that McGuinty pulled on everyone yesterday. But Mark D. Jarvis at Maclean’s already laid it out nicely, I think, saying “these actions violate the basic premise of responsible government”:
Across the country prime ministers and premiers are making it clear that they see legislatures – our elected representatives – as an undue burden. Whether as a means of managing legislative impasses or risks of losing confidence or simply to escape scrutiny, first ministers have demonstrated a predilection for simply shutting down the respective legislative assemblies in their jurisdictions.
It is worth examining the premier’s own words in explaining the prorogation. In an email sent to Liberal supporters McGuinty said: “I’ve asked the Lieutenant Governor to prorogue the legislature to allow those discussions with our labour partners and the opposition to occur in an atmosphere that is free of the heightened rancour of politics in the legislature…”
The “rancour” that Premier McGuinty is so dismissive of is an essential dynamic of public accountability within our democratic system, which sees partisan politics – institutionalized adversarialism – as the best means of securing democracy.
McGuinty’s suspension of our elected body of government—indefinite suspension, now hostage to the whims of his party’s leadership selection process—cuts off investigations into his cabinet’s contempt of the legislature. To do so, he committed an act of contempt of the very idea of representative government, the idea that his government answers to the provincial parliament, the very idea of democracy in Ontario.
PHOTO: RICK MADONIK/TORONTO STAR