Ontario Speaker Gary Carr stuck to his guns and showed himself yet again to be a man of principle and integrity when he sided with an opposition motion and gave a preliminary ruling that the Government of Ontario was in contempt of the legislature.
As you will recall, this is fallout from Ernie Eves decision to duck out on the legislature and turn the government’s single most important piece of annual financial legislation into a partisan public relations campaign. Many on all sides of the spectrum were incensed, as was Gary Carr himself.
Remember that not only is Gary Carr the Speaker of the House, he’s a member of the Conservative party, elected to Queen’s Park as the Conservative candidate for his riding. The fact that he could disagree so strongly with the leader of his own party speaks volumes.
Gary Carr issued only a preliminary ruling, however. Under house rules, the Speaker himself can’t formally find any member of the legislature in contempt. The issue must now be debated before the legislature and put to a vote, which means that the discussion ends here. Although some Conservative back benchers might share Mr. Carr’s reservations over the whole Budget fiasco, I strongly suspect that a motion on whether or not the government is in contempt is very much considered a motion of confidence in the government. If the government loses such a motion, the government loses the house and has to call an election. The back benchers are unlikely to pull the trigger on their own heads, are they?
It was interesting watching the government house leader Chris Stockwell respond to the Speaker’s ruling, carefully nuancing his language so as not to offend the Speaker (he’s been thrown out of the house by this Speaker before), but at the same time expressing the cabinet’s complete and utter disbelief at this turn of events. But as I was watching, I was struck by a strange connection in these events between Chris Stockwell and Speaker Gary Carr… Government house leader Chris Stockwell was the Speaker of the House before Gary Carr was, and when he was speaker of the house, he too made a name for himself ruling against the government on some interesting procedural issues.
No, I’m not accusing Chris Stockwell of hypocrisy. I just find it an interesting twist of fate. I do suspect that, had Mr. Stockwell been in the Speaker’s chair, he would have made the same ruling as Mr. Carr did. Speaking against Mr. Carr’s decision is Mr. Stockwell’s job, however, as government house leader. The issues he raises (does this limit the government’s powers to spend outside of the legislature during an emergency) were pure hyperbole, but they were all points that were going to be raised anyway. And, besides, it wasn’t Chris Stockwell’s decision to take the budget outside of the House.
The matter will be under discussion in Queen’s Park for the next few days. I don’t expect the government to fall.