A New Premier for Ontario

Ontario has a new premier. Kathleen Wynne, winner of the Ontario Liberal party leadership contest was sworn-in on February 11th as the first woman to hold the position and the 25th premier since Confederation.

The ceremony, held at the Ontario Legislature, Queen’s Park, was presided over by Lieutenant Governor (the Queen’s representative in Ontario) David Onley.

The Lieutenant Governor officially accepted the resignation of Dalton McGuinty earlier that morning and offered Ms Wynne the opportunity to form a government which she accepted.

I have had some questions from people asking about the new cabinet. Namely, having chosen some MPPs who had been ministers under Dalton McGuinty (for instance, Harinder Takhar and Linda Jeffrey), why did these ministers need to be sworn in again?

Well, this practice goes to the very heart of the Westminster parliamentary system. The precedent (or practice, tradition), is that when the premier (or prime minister for that matter), as first minister, advises the Lt-Governor (or Governor-General as the case may be) of his or her resignation, the entire ministry or cabinet (that is, the government) resigns.

Therefore, it becomes necessary to go through the process of swearing in ministers to a post in a government lead by a new premier.

Moreover, because Mr. McGuinity (the now former premier) advised the Lt-Governor to prorogue or suspend the previous session of the legislature last year which the Honourable Onley did, a new legislative session will begin February 19th. This means that the first order of business will be a Speech from the Throne, read by Lt-Governor Onley and which will outline the program or agenda which will set out a direction for the new government.

The an “Address in Reply to the Speech” (the title often changes) is a motion (a proposal by a member or members of a legislature for a particular course of action) which will be introduced following the Speech  and the Assembly will vote on whether to accept it or not. 

Such a motion constitutes, by convention, a confidence vote. So, if the motion fails to pass, then the Legislature declares that it has no confidence in the government (because it has defeated the proposed agenda).

Due to the fact that Premier Wynne, like Mr. McGuinty before her, leads a minority government, the Speech and the Reply are all the more important because Ms. Wynne is not assured or guaranteed the passage of her program as the government will have to rely on the support (the votes) of members of the Opposition to get it passed. In fact, she only needs the support of one of the two opposition parties.

If the motion passes, the Liberals will continue as the governing party,  with Ms Wynne’s next priorities likely being handling the situation with the province’s teachers and putting together a budget (which, when introduced in the Legislature, will be the second test of confidence) .

If the Speech is rejected, then one of two scenarios will likely play out:

1.) Premier Wynne advises the Lt. Governor to dissolve the Legislature and to call an election, despite that the last election was only 16 months ago and the next general election should not be until 2015. Or,

2.) In the less likely scenario, she may advise the Lt. Governor to call on Mr. Hudak as the leader of the Official Opposition to try to form a government. Mr. Hudak would have to rely on the support of the other parties to governor, even perhaps forming a coalition with them.

Something else to note: because the “Legislative Assembly” is the same, only a different session (next week’s recall of the legislature will result in the opening of the 2nd session of the 40th Legislative Assembly), the Speaker (the officer elected by his/her colleagues in the Legislature, who presides over the sessions), remains the same.

Next week will be an interesting one.

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