Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Ultimate Kangaroo Court

PressCore twists parliamentary law to eliminate political competition

Perhaps it was only a matter of time.

On second thought, there is no question that it was only a matter of time.

With Canada's opposition parties having done and said absolutely anything they could -- no matter how dirty -- over the past 18 years to prevent a conservative party from ever coming close to winning government, let alone a majority government, it must have simply been too much to see Prime Minister Stephen Harper lead the Conservative Party to the very cusp of a majority.

In their desperation, with nothing they do or say working to dissuade Canadians from giving him that majority, the opposition finally hatched what they must have thought was a simply perfect plan: they would arrange to have Harper's government held in contempt of Parliament.

Of course, this wasn't a genuine contempt of Parliament. First, the opposition would exploit their majority presence on a key Parliamentary committee to demand that the government provide them with more information than there was to provide. Even when the government provided them with all the information they had to give on their tough-on-crime agenda, and on the purchase of vitally-needed F-35 aircraft, the opposition declared that it wasn't enough.

Then, instead of adopting the committee's recommendation that the government be held in contempt of Parliament properly -- with votes in the House of Commons and the Senate -- opposition leader Michael Ignatieff instead referenced the committee's recommendation that the government be held in contempt during a non-confidence motion, toppling the government.

Since then, it's been off to the electoral races, even with the opposition knowing full well that they couldn't get a genuine contempt motion passed through the Senate. They've been telling Canadians the government has been held in contempt, when they know full well that isn't actually the case. Not officially.

At this point enters PressCore -- a fourth-rate "news" website -- and Paul W Kincaid. In a column on the website, Kincaid (one presumes it's his handiwork, for no author is identified) suggests that Harper and his cabinet are inelligible to run for re-election under parliamentary law.

"On Friday March 25, 2011 the Canadian House of Commons found Prime Minister Stephen Harper guilty of contempt of Parliament," Kincaid fumes. "According to parliamentary law, contempt of parliament is a federal crime. Being that Harper has been found guilty of a crime Harper is barred from seeking re-election on May 2, 2011. No federal government or cabinet minister has ever been found in contempt before."

Once again, this is simply not the case. Not only has nothing even remotely resembling a proper trial been held to "convict" Harper and the cabinet, the committee's contempt recommendation has not even formally been adopted.

"The vote by the Canadian House of Commons is very much the same as an impeachment of the president of the United States of America," Kincaid continues. "In the US if a president or US lawmaker is impeached (a formal process in which an official is accused of unlawful activity) that person is removed from office and cannot run for office again."

Once again, Kincaid is wrong. The vote by the House of Commons is actually nothing at all like an impeachment of a President of the United States. For one thing, an impeachment in the United States is an actual criminal process, albeit one that takes place before the US Senate. A judge -- usually a supreme court justice -- is present to preside over the proceedings. Prosecutors and defense council present evidence on each sides of the case. The Senate acts effectively as a jury. None of this can even begin until the House of Representatives has agreed to issue articles of impeachment.

Nothing like this happened in the House of Commons. Michael Ignatieff introduced a non-confidence measure and the opposition, full of partisan fury, voted affirmative. No vote on contempt recommendation means no contempt finding. Not that this matters much to the howling demagogues of the far-left.

But the utter temerity of individuals like Kincaid -- so brimming with ideological hatred -- renders the matter crystal-clear. For individuals such as Kincaid, this is simply a means by which they can eliminate a politician whom they know they can't defeat fair and square. It's the ultimate political kangaroo court.

This may be the best reason why reform of the rules by which an individual or government can be held in contempt of Parliament desperately need to be reformed. Partisanship will almost certainly never be entirely eliminated from these sorts of procedings, but its role can be limited.

The best way to do this is to institute a method of formal trial, and to set a higher standard to which a contempt vote must be passed by the House as a whole. A rule stipulating that two-thirds of each house of Parliament -- the House of Commons and the Senate -- would reserve findings of contempt for cases in which they are truly and unquestionably warranted.

Rules could be instituted to allow committees to hold individuals in contempt of council in cases where a full-blown Parliamentary contempt finding aren't warranted.

But as it stands right now, it's far too easy for a desperate opposition to use the concept of parliamentary privilege to mask partisan desperation, and use the House of Commons as the ultimate kangaroo court.

In Canada, we now know this all too well. It happened just last week.

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