TORONTO — Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty said he had to prorogue parliament because the Tories were "consumed" with a phoney contempt case and had paralyzed the house with their bell-ringing stall tactics.
"On 45 separate occasions, the opposition resorted to a trick, which is to stand up and ask for an adjournment of debate," McGuinty said Wednesday in explaining part of his rationale for proroguing the legislature while the Liberal Party searches for his replacement.
"That causes the bells to ring for a half-hour, so they killed 45 separate, one half-hour periods through this legislative trick."
The Tories' bell-ringing campaign, though, wrapped up with the end of the spring sitting in early June and hasn't been used at all since MPPs came back for the fall sitting two weeks early on Aug. 27.
McGuinty was asked directly why he didn't prorogue in the spring when the bell-ringing was ongoing rather than now — when the government stands accused of withholding documents on controversial and expensive gas plant relocations and faces contempt of parliament charges — but he ignored the question.
"I prorogued because the place was becoming overheated," McGuinty said.
The premier also dismissed the contempt motions brought against himself and Energy Minister Chris Bentley as "spurious, phoney" charges that were wasting time.
"Rather than do the people's business, they allowed themselves to be consumed by that phoney contempt," McGuinty said.
Progressive Conservative MPP Peter Shurman said his party is in no way responsible for the Queen's Park shutdown.
"We're not anybody's whipping boy," Shurman said, adding McGuinty's move had nothing to do with bell-ringing and everything to do with contempt. "We didn't cause prorogation — they ran."
Shurman's colleague, MPP Rob Leone, weighed in, pointing out the premier's description of "spurious, phoney" contempt charges flies in the face of Speaker Dave Levac's ruling that a case for breach of privilege exists over the withholding of the documents.
Levac's ruling forced the government to release 36,000 pages of documents on the gas plants Bentley had argued not to release, as doing so may damage the province's position in negotiations.
A later batch of 20,000 documents were belatedly released. They were missed inadvertently when the first papers were sent out, the government said.
The ruling also paved the way for the contempt motions themselves, which the Tories have vowed to resurrect whenever parliament returns.
"That was extraordinarily crass and cynical," New Democrat MPP Peter Tabuns said of McGuinty's explanation.
"The reality is this government has a lot to answer for and the premier shut down the legislature so he wouldn't have to answer."