Wednesday, December 30, 2009

How "Prorogue" Became a Dirty Word

Stephen Harper requests proroguement of Parliament, Opposition feigns old outrage

For the second year in a row, the ever-tedious post-Christmas period in Canadian politics has been livened up by the spectre of a looming proroguement of Parliament.

Most Canadians will almost certainly recall that Parliament was prorogued last year in order to derail an attempt by Canada's opposition parties to overturn the results of the October election and install a coalition government that Canadians firmly and soundly rejected.

The crisis of the day was partially one of Prime Minister Stephen Harper's own making. While it's hard to excuse the Opposition Parties taking such drastic measures in order to preserve what they feel is an entitlement -- federal government funding of their parties -- there's little question that the move would have hamstrung the opposition parties, at least in the short term.

Proponents of the coalition would attempt to defend it by insisting that it's "entirely constitutional" (it was), and that most Canadians had actually voted against Stephen Harper and the Tories.

But then a majority of Canadians voiced their opposition to the coalition, and the proposal was sunk in time.

Stephen Harper, in acting with the democratic will of the majority of Canadians, was widely denounced as "anti-democratic", and even "despotic" by proponents of the coalition.

It's a charge that some of Harper's opponents are echoing today.

"It's almost despotic,” spat Liberal MP Ralph Goodale. “Three times in three years and twice within one year, the prime minister takes this extraordinary step to muzzle Parliament."

It makes for good bombast, and is actually rather typical of Goodale.

But unfortunately for Goodale, there's nothing particularly unusual about a proroguement of Parliament, especially for a minority government.

As it turns out, majority governments tend to prorogue Parliament every two years. Minority governments tend to do so more often.

It's actually a routine practice. In particular, Parliament is often prorogued during events of national significance. In 2007, Parliament was prorogued during the Ontario Provincial election. In 2010, the proroguement will coincide with the Olympics.

Former Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chretien prorogued Parliament on four occasions during his tenure as Prime Minister. One didn't hear Ralph Goodale complaining then.

But "prorogue" has become a dirty word for many Canadian politicians. This is mostly out of bitterness that their ill-conceived coalition -- defended under the guise of "responsible government", yet making every effort conceivable to ignore the extent to which forging a coalition agreement with a separatist party is actually extremely irreponsible -- was kept out of power.

It's the same arrogance that permeated the very notion of the coalition -- that Canada's opposition parties and an assorted collection of political ideologues and activists knew better than Canadians -- that has transformed "prorogue" into a dirty word politically.

It's in the spirit of this arrogance that these individuals believe they can transform what was actually an extremely responsbile decision by Governor General Michaelle Jean into a political outrage that, for the life of them, most Canadians simply cannot share -- and this includes many Canadians who didn't vote for the Conservative party in the October, 2008 election, underscoring their respect for democracy, even if a party they didn't vote for wins the election.

So while the word "prorogue" may indeed be a dirty word among the politically active and those entrenched within left-wing circles, most Canadians remain utterly indifferent to it.

Other bloggers writing about this topic:

David TS Fraser - "Prime Minister Prorogues Parliament, Privacy Legislation in Limbo

A CAW Worker's Voice of Reason - "Before the Liberals Complain About Parliament Being Prorogued is Undemocratic"

Conserving Memory - "Harper's Prorogue Precedent"

Peter Loewen - "Shutting Down Parliament"

David Climenhaga - "In December, Canadians Have Snow, Hockey, Christmas … and the Annual Shutdown of Democracy"


  1. PMSH has to be a student of Sun Tzu,the man is an amazing strategist.The art of war 24/7/365.Ignatieff's Trinity years were silver spoon entitlement and Mad Magazine.Jack and Gilles read the How to Dupe the Masses and get rich version of Karl Marx.Considering that The Highway of Heroes was once again in use over Christmas,I for one look forward to the phoney outrage over the treatment of detainees,bring on an election.

  2. It's a non-issue, and just another page in the shameful chapter of the Bush-lite argument.

    People of all political stripes were rightly outraged by the treatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay, but those were American soldiers doing the torturing.

    What's the best the Canadian opposition can muster? Someone else tortures.

    It's less like a political drama and more like a political comedy of errors.

  3. Five more sons and daughters killed in afstan today.PMSH is doing the libdipseps a favour by the prorouge if they wish to continue the detainee issue.The enemy sits in the opposition.

  4. Patrick,

    re: "prorogue" a dirty word?

    No, of course not.

    It has been used many times in the past by a sitting federal government to achieve long-term aims. Problem is, of course, it has never been employed before by a sitting government to avoid being held "in contempt of Parliament"! And there's the rub, rather than release the pertinent documents on the detainee issue to a duly constituted parliamentary in-camera committee - the man in charge has, again, chosen to lock the doors. Are there any merits to opposition charges that this Tory government was complicit in turning over prisoners, who they had reasonable cause to believe might be subjected to systematic torture; maybe, maybe not? Fact is, if Stephen Harper has his way, we will never know the truth of the matter... and that (in my estimation) is indefensible.

  5. Well, let's be clear about a few things.

    When the Tories did or did not know about the torture allegations is the partisan question. The pertinent question is when the government, as an institution, knew about these allegations. Following that, it's a question of how quickly it moved up the chain of information to Cabinet, if ever.

    Frankly, the Liberals are lucky Stephen Harper is the guy in charge, and not myself. If I were the guy in charge, Parliament would be investigating the entire timeline of the detainee question, beginning well before 2006.

    After all, we know Canadian forces didn't wait until 2006 to take prisoners. We also know that Afghanistan didn't wait until 2006 to start torturing their prisoners.

    It's clear that the government, as an institution, has failed to handle this issue appropriately. It's clear that has been true under the Liberal Party as well as under the Conservative Party.

    If the Liberal Party wants to hold the Conservative Party in "contempt of Parliament" for not promptly supplying the opposition with the documents they so badly want to misuse to unfairly tar the Conservatives, there's no reason why they can't wait until March to do so.


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