Prorogation of the Legislative Assembly
What is prorogation?
Prorogation ends a session of the Legislative Assembly. All parliamentary business and proceedings are terminated. Committees are dissolved unless the Assembly has passed a resolution enabling their continuance between parliamentary sessions. The Legislative Assembly can make arrangements for bills or other business to continue as it stood at the time of prorogation by passing a motion to that effect prior to prorogation or once the Assembly reconvenes.
While the Assembly is prorogued, MPPs retain their seats and carry on their representational work. Prorogation should not be confused with recesses, adjournments, or holiday breaks, after which legislative work resumes exactly where it left off.
The timing and length of a prorogation is a matter for the government to determine based on its priorities and legislative program. However, per the Legislative Assembly Act, not more than 12 months can pass before the Premier must recommend to the Lieutenant Governor that a proclamation be issued convening the next session of the current Parliament. Therefore a prorogation period can be as short as one day and as long as one year.
How does prorogation work in Ontario?
The decision to advise the Crown to prorogue is the Premier’s. Prorogation is a Royal Prerogative power exercised by the Lieutenant Governor and may be carried out in one of two ways:
- Prorogation speech: Following a Speech from the Throne by the Lieutenant Governor at the conclusion of a Royal Assent ceremony, prorogation is announced by the Government House Leader. This approach has not been used in Ontario since 1998.
- Proclamation: Prorogation by proclamation is undertaken by the Lieutenant Governor on the advice of the Premier and the Executive Council, through an Order-in-Council. Prorogation by proclamation takes place only when the Assembly is not actually sitting. This approach has been used in Ontario since 1998.
In Canada, by convention, the Crown must accept the advice of the First Minister concerning prorogation.
While other jurisdictions traditionally issue a proclamation summoning Parliament to meet on a specific date following prorogation, this is not the case in Ontario. The Legislative Assembly Act states:
It is not necessary for the Lieutenant Governor in proroguing the Legislature to name a day to which it is prorogued, nor to issue a formal proclamation for a meeting of the Legislature when it is not intended that the Legislature shall meet for despatch of business.
Dissolution of the Legislative Assembly
What is dissolution?
Dissolution marks the end of a Parliament. Once a Parliament is dissolved, the Legislative Assembly ends its sittings and the work of the Assembly and its Committees ceases. MPPs do not have the same privileges as when the Assembly is sitting, but continue to maintain constituency offices to ensure continued service to their constituents.
After dissolution, the Legislative Assembly cannot sit or conduct business until:
- Elections are held;
- A new Assembly is summoned;
- A Speaker is elected; and
- The Lieutenant Governor reads a Speech from the Throne, thereby opening the next Parliament.
How does dissolution happen?
The Lieutenant Governor, acting on the advice of the Premier, issues a proclamation dissolving the Legislative Assembly.
When is dissolution advised?
The dissolution of the Legislative Assembly is the first step to the calling of a general election. Dissolution is a Royal Prerogative power exercised personally by the Lieutenant Governor on the advice of the Premier.
Since 2005, the Election Act provides that a general election in Ontario be held on the first Thursday in October in the fourth year following the most recent general election (with some flexibility to accommodate for days of cultural or religious significance).
Prior to the passage of this act, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms limited the duration of a Legislative Assembly to five years, except in the event of “war, invasion or insurrection”.
Section 9(1) of the Election Act states:
Nothing in this section affects the powers of the Lieutenant Governor, including the power to dissolve the Legislature, by proclamation in Her Majesty’s name, when the Lieutenant Governor sees fit.
Thus a general election can theoretically be called at any time if the Lieutenant Governor is so advised and is in agreement.
Dissolution may be advised in several circumstances outside of the fixed election period, such as:
- Where the Premier is of the opinion that circumstances warrant the calling of a general election in advance of a fixed election date; or
- As a result of a vote of the Assembly on a matter of confidence, such as the Address in Reply to the Speech from the Throne, the Budgetary policy of the Government or the Government’s Budget Bill, an explicitly worded motion expressing a loss of confidence in the Government, or a loss on an important Bill or item that the Government agrees or designates as a matter of confidence.
Under Canada’s parliamentary democracy, a government is entitled to continue to govern only so long as it maintains the “confidence” of the Legislative Assembly. This is known as the confidence convention. The confidence convention does not mean that the Legislative Assembly must agree with or approve every action of the government. However, it does require that a majority of the members of the Assembly vote with the government on certain critical items, such as those outlined above.
How is dissolution granted?
It is customary for the Premier to visit the Lieutenant Governor in person to seek dissolution of the Assembly and a general election. This is true even when the request is in the context of the Election Act (ie, the fixed four-year term), when the dates of calling the election and holding the election are already known.
What happens when dissolution is granted?
Once the request for dissolution is granted verbally by the Lieutenant Governor, the Executive Council advises, through an Order-in-Council, the issuance of a proclamation covering four elements:
- Ordering the dissolution of the current Legislative Assembly, effective immediately, and that a new Assembly be summoned following a provincial election;
- Ordering that writs for a general election be issued in each constituency (riding) of the Assembly;
- Naming the dates for the close of nominations in each constituency; and
- Naming the date of the election (poll date).
After approving the Order-in-Council, the Lieutenant Governor signs writs of election addressed to the returning officer in each electoral district. Each of the writs is then sealed with the Great Seal of Ontario.
Finally, the Lieutenant Governor may be asked to sign a Special Warrant, if necessary, facilitating the provision of public funds to the Chief Electoral Officer and Elections Ontario to conduct the election.
The public and media are formally advised by the Premier once the Lieutenant Governor has accepted the recommendation to issue the proclamation to dissolve the current Assembly.
What happens during an election campaign?
After an election has been called, the Premier and ministers continue to serve in their ministerial offices. However, it is settled practice in Ontario that the government enters a “caretaker” role during the election campaign. This means that only routine or necessary decisions are made until the swearing-in of a new Executive Council. The Lieutenant Governor continues to fulfil all necessary constitutional functions as well as representational duties.
What happens after an election?
Shortly after Election Day, the Premier notifies the Lieutenant Governor of the results of the election and the intentions of the government. The Premier may choose to form a government and meet the new Assembly or may advise the Lieutenant Governor of his or her intention to resign and make way for a new government. The Lieutenant Governor then invites the leader of the party most likely to command the confidence of the Legislative Assembly to form a government. The outgoing Premier and ministers remain in office in a caretaker role until the next Executive Council is formally sworn in.