TORONTO - The prospect of seeing the Ontario legislature sit dark for months while Liberals pick a new leader to replace Dalton McGuinty prompted the opposition parties Tuesday to demand the premier recall the legislature now.
McGuinty surprised everyone Monday night with his decision to resign, but it was his simultaneous move to prorogue the legislature that had the Progressive Conservatives and New Democrats crying foul.
The opposition parties accused McGuinty of putting his party's interests ahead of the public's, the same thing they said the Liberals did by cancelling gas plants in Oakville and Mississauga at a cost to taxpayers of at least $230 million.
The Liberals needed the legislative break not to pick a new leader, but to avoid "facing the music" at public hearings into their decision to cancel the two power stations to save Liberal seats, said NDP Leader Andrea Horwath.
"Once again this is about the Liberals and what they think is best for them instead of what’s best for the people of Ontario," Horwath told reporters.
"They didn’t want to stay here and deal with the unfolding scandal that was happening with the gas plants. They didn’t want to take responsibility for their politically motivated decision."
Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak wrote McGuinty Tuesday saying there must be a way to allow legislative business to carry on while the Liberals hold their leadership race.
"I am asking you to immediately commence a new session of the legislature without delay," wrote Hudak.
Speaking with reporters later, Hudak said he could see McGuinty no longer had "the fire in his belly" for government, and attacked the premier for "shutting down" the business of the legislature.
"Dalton McGuinty walking off into the sunset was no surprise," said Hudak.
"What does surprise me is that he’s decided to cancel the legislature. He decided to lock the place up."
McGuinty's decision to prorogue was a huge mistake, and puts politicians on a forced vacation while the Liberals pick a new leader, added Horwath.
"Everybody realizes that minority parliament isn’t easy, and certainly the McGuinty Liberals had a hard time trying to figure out how to deal with it, but the answer isn’t to simply throw up your hands and walk away," she said.
"The big concern is this can drag on for months and months and months."
Hudak complained in his letter that McGuinty had not followed the rules that require a government to announce an approximate date for reconvening the legislature before a session is prorogued.
"Once again, your government and a senior minister are at odds with the rules of the legislature, which is most regrettable and embarrassing," wrote Hudak.
McGuinty said Monday he will stay on until the Liberals elect a new leader, adding the timing of the recall of the legislature would have to wait until then.
"I want my successor to make that decision," he said.
McGuinty said he adjourned the legislature to allow for a "cooling off period" to give the Liberals time to negotiate with unions and the opposition parties on a wage freeze for nearly 500,000 public sector workers.
"We’re going to make a sincere and determined effort to sit down with our labour partners and see if we can negotiate wage freeze agreements," he said.
However, the Canadian Union of Public Employees called McGuinty's move to prorogue the legislature an affront to democracy.
"The premier is trying to duck a scandal of his own making," said CUPE Ontario president Fred Hahn.
"He and his colleagues should have the strength of character to stand in the legislature and face the music over their costly attempt to buy votes by cancelling electricity plant contracts."
There's no obvious successor to McGuinty, but names often spoken of as potential leadership candidates include Housing Minister Kathleen Wynne, Finance Minister Dwight Duncan and Energy Minister Chris Bentley, who has been the focus of the opposition attacks and original contempt motion over the cancelled gas plants.
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