I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m sick to death of hearing the word “prorogue”. The lies, disinformation and manufactured hype surrounding Harper’s recent prorogation of parliament are starting to wear a bit thin.
Contrary to what the Liberals and their opposition cohorts would have you believe, prorogation is a legitimate, and common, parliamentary tool used in the Commonwealth Parliaments of Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United Kingdom. Granted, it has a history of being used in a more questionable manner in Canada than anywhere else in the world, but that doesn’t change the fact that it is a legitimate parliamentary process [check out this page for more information on prorogation].
In the 142 years since Sir John A MacDonald became the first Prime Minister of Canada, our parliament has been prorogued 105 times. That works out to roughly once every 16 months – hardly a rare event.
During his tenure, Liberal PM Pierre Trudeau prorogued parliament 11 times in 1963, 1965, 1967, 1969, 1970, 1972, 1974, 1976, 1977, 1978, and 1983. More recently, Liberal PM Jean Chretien prorogued parliament 4 times in 1996, 1999, 2002, and 2003. On the provincial level, Ontario Premier Bob Rae (and federal Liberal Party leader candidate) prorogued the legislative assembly 3 times in 1991, 1992, and 1994.
I can hear the Liberal shills screaming right now, “But it’s not the same thing! Harper is trying to dodge responsibility!” Really? Kind of like when Jean Chretien prorogued in 2003 to avoid the auditor general’s release of the report on AdScam, the sponsorship scandal in Quebec?
I don’t know enough about the “Afghan Detainee” controversy to say that it was a factor in Harper’s decision to prorogue parliament this winter. I do understand basic math though. According to the information given to the public thus far, the first reports of prisoner abuse were submitted to the government in “early” 2006. Stephen Harper was sworn into office on Feb 2, 2006. That means the alleged torture was already taking place before he came into office, under Paul Martin’s Liberal government. Could Harper have done more to address the issue? I don’t know enough to say either way, but I do know enough to say that shutting down the special committee saves the Liberal Party from public scrutiny just as much, if not more so, than the Conservatives.
If it wasn’t Afghanistan, why did Harper prorogue? I’m not a mind reader, but I have an idea or two. If Prime Minister Harper has shown us one thing over the last three and a half years, it’s that he is a very shrewd and adept political strategist. From my untrained perspective I can see two issues that are of much more importance than Afghanistan to the PM right now: the Senate and the budget.
The current breakdown of the Senate is as follows:
|Progressive Conservative Caucus||2|
|Total as of January 2, 2010||105|
If Harper uses this time to fill those 5 vacant seats, the balance of power in the Senate will tip to the Conservatives. The Liberals, of course, are protesting this, saying that the PM will now be able to “ram through” his legislation. Kind of like the Liberals have been doing for the last 30 years then, no?
That brings us to the budget. With the entire world teetering on the brink of economic collapse (you didn’t think the recession was over did you?) I can’t think of a single more important issue for the PM to be addressing right now. By proroguing, the PM has timed things so that the budget will be delivered as soon as parliament reconvenes and left the opposition parties little time to mount a protest against it. This is both good and bad: bad because some questionable items may be pushed through without proper consideration; good because it effectively limits the ability of the opposition to topple the minority government.
I can hear the protests already, “But..but..that’s undemocratic!” No. That’s simply the reality of our style of government – especially minority government. People seem to have forgotten that minority governments are not so much about running the country as they are about political survival. This is by no means new to Stephen Harper, but the general public tends to have a short memory.
Speaking of democracy, the Liberal Party is in no position to preach on that topic. After all, it was their attempt to stage a coup against the democratically elected government of Canada that prompted the 2008 prorogation of parliament. In Canada’s 142 years since confederation there has only ever been one coalition government. That government was formed in 1917 when Robert Borden’s Unionist party – who had won a clear majority – requested a coalition with the Liberal Party during World War 1. No matter which way you try to spin it, the Liberal Party’s attempt, with the help of the NDP and the Bloc, to usurp power from the Conservative Party can be called nothing other than a coup d’etat. So no, they are in absolutely no position to speak on the topic of democracy.
On the topic of the people voicing their opinions, there were organized protests against prorogation held in 32 communities across the country yesterday. Only 25,000 people turned up nationwide, including a mere 3,500 in Ottawa. In 1994, by comparison, 10,000 protesters marched on Ottawa alone in an attempt to stop the passage of C-68, now known as the Firearms Act. The people have spoken on the issue of prorogation, and they don’t care.
Cutting through all the media hype, sensationalism and fear-mongering, I think Harper’s decision had much more to do with political strategy than dodging responsibility. Even if he did elect to prorogue because of the Afghan issue, he hasn’t prevented an inquiry, he has merely delayed it. Regardless of his motives, his decision to prorogue was a gamble, and only time will tell if it was a mistake.