Thursday, December 31, 2009

Conservative Talking Point: Prorogation is Routine

Just this morning I have heard or read several Conservatives say that prorogation is routine, and happens approximately every 1.4 years. On CBC, Hugh Segal said that parliament has been prorogued 15 times in the last 20 years. On CTV and in the Globe & Mail, Tim Powers said that parliament has been prorogued 105 times in the history of Canada.

This is disingenuous. Prorogation is usually done for short periods, at times that make sense, such as elections or the expected end of work. They are seldom controversial. Harper's current prorogation - shutting down parliament for a prolonged period to halt a parliamentary committee's investigation into government malfeasance - is most definitely not routine.

We should have learned during last year's federal crisis that we can't allow Harper's spin team to turn lies into conventional wisdom. Last year, Harper managed to convince Canadians that the coalition was undemocratic. This year, he's revving up the spin to convince Canadians that this prorogation is perfectly normal, business as usual.

I haven't been able to find information about the exact context of past prorogations. If anyone has that info, please let me know.

Update: The PMO released another talking point on prorogation, claiming that Chretien did it more than Harper, and specifically citing his 2003 prorogation as a way to avoid release of the Adscam report. This has been widely pasted into comments sections of newspaper articles and blogs, including this one. They neglect to mention that the prorogation occurred when Paul Martin took over as leader of the party. Since prorogations are supposed to occur when it is time to reset a legislative session, this seems in keeping with tradition, as a new PM would surely be resetting the agenda.

Update: Only in Canada: Harper's prorogation is a Canadian thing



Anonymous said...

I've been trying to find a history of prorogues too. I can't believe the math the Conservative pundits are using.

Presumably there was one for every election, so that makes 40 right there.

And presumably there have been some for the various wars over the years.

I'm at work, so I can't dig too much... but I think that accounts for about half of the 105.

Skinny Dipper said...

The ones before an election are called dissolutions. The ones at the end of sessions that lead to another session of the existing Parliament are called prorogations.

The Conservatives are correct in that parliaments are prorogued all the time. What they are disingenuous about are the reasons why parliaments are prorogued. Usually, most parliamentary business is finished when a session ends. At the start of the next session, the Governor-General will read the Speech from the Throne which expresses the governments parliamentary goals for the new session.

Here is a link for the different sessions of Parliament: . It's the best link I can find so far. On the left column, you will need to go to "Select a Session." Click the appropriate one. After, you can either click "Order Paper & Notice Paper" or "Status of House Business." You will most likely get either the prorogation or dissolution date.

I hope this helps.

MadHacktress said...

Skinny Dipper's got it right. Prorogues are "routine" in as much as they happen all the time for legitimate reasons. They're a requirement for one session to end and another to begin, therefore any government that has spanned more than one session of parliament has prorogued parliament.

If you go to Wikipedia's list of Canadian federal parliaments and count up the total number of parliamentary sessions ever (144) and subtract the number of elections that have taken place (40) you come up with an interestingly magic number: 104.

Frankly Canadian said...

Steven Harper's best advisor,Wikipedia, what a sad state of affairs.

Yappa said...

Thanks for all the info. I will follow your links, Skinny Dipper.

I notice that Mad Hacktress has some good posts on prorogation at


Ryan Flanagan said...

Prorogation is routine. Eating breakfast is routine too. Proroguing when you've barely managed to accomplish anything in your last session, much like eating breakfast at 5 PM, is not routine.

Bert said...

From CBC, back on November 13, 2003:

Prime Minister Jean Chrétien prorogued Parliament on Thursday, making it possible for Paul Martin to take the helm on Jan. 12, when the Commons and the Senate are expected to be called back.

Why was it OK for Chrétien to do this but not Stephen Harper ?. He (Chrétien) was proroging parliment for reasons that were purely for political advantages for the Liberals. PMSH is proroging parliment in order to concentrate on the budget. That's the official word, whether you believe it or not, but even if it is true what the liberal pundit's say, that it is to avoid the Afghan detainee issue, so what ?. It's at least the same as the Liberal proroging issue, and besides, the majority of Canadian's could give a rat's *** about the detainee issue. Most Canadians aren’t concerned with the fate of Afghan prisoners. Their only worry is the well-being of Canada’s military personnel in Afghanistan, and another Nanos Research poll released on Dec. 23 indicated that, on a scale of 1 to 5, where 1 means no credibility on the issue of Afghan detainees and 5 means great credibility, the Canadian Armed Forces score 3.35, while the various political parties range from 2.37-2.66.

That last part was from here:

MadHacktress said...

Bert, if you think that some Canadians, who actually understand the issue, aren't concerned that some of our fighting men and women were ordered or allowed to commit war crimes and therefore expose themselves to potential charges at the ICC then you're crazy. Of course Canadians care that the government may have broken the Geneva Conventions. (Third Geneva Convention: Part III: Section II: Chapter VIII: Article 46)

I certainly want to know, for certain, that we did not. I want to be proud of my country and I want to dispel what may be only a bad rumour (albeit one repeated by the International Red Cross(!)).

As for the prorogation by the Chretien government: it was appropriate. Given that the country was undergoing a change in the Prime Ministership it only stands to reason that the new Prime Minister should begin under a new session of parliament with a new throne speech - which is what the prorogue is for. If Harper wants to step aside during his prorogation then I will gladly change my tone. To prorogue parliament in the middle of a legislative session with some 30-odd motions and bills still not dealt with is irresponsible. The prorogue has become Harper fun new toy. Once was one thing, twice is ridiculous.

It should be noted that this prorogue of parliament will cost this country's tax payers approximately $84 million dollars in parliamentary costs while our so-called public servants are out on "leave". Not to mention the millions of wasted dollars from the past months of legislative work that died on the order paper and will need to be reintroduced when parliament reconvenes.

Bert said...

MadHacktress, are you equating having a detainee get smacked with a shoe while in Afghan custody with war crimes ?.

Typical liberal arrogance. Let's support the Afghan terrorists and not out troops.

MadHacktress said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
MadHacktress said...

Bert, having actually read the Geneva Conventions I know that the "Detaining Power" is responsible for the treatment of prisoners until their repatriation, including after transfer to another nation or power. So, yes, Canada is still culpable for the mistreatment of the detainees after they're in Afghan custody because it's our responsibility to ensure there will be no mistreatment.

Not liberal arrogance so much as international law. A nuisance to be sure.

Also, perhaps, you should first ask people what their position is on the military before you suppose to know it.

I am a personal support worker who lives in Kingston - a military town - with more than a few veteran clients. I completely resent the notion that you think that I am against our troops in ANY capacity. Members of my family and bravely fought and died for this country over the past two hundred years and I couldn't be prouder of them, or support them any more!!

However, I firmly and completely believe that accountability is important; not to mention compliance with international law. I also know that if - as unlikely as it is - there are charges brought about at the ICC it will not be any bureaucrat who gets charged - it will be our fighting men and women. And THAT I cannot stand!!

Yes, I think it's worth a couple of million Canadian dollars to explore the issue and exonerate those who are truly innocent - or just following orders (our troops) and ensure those who are guilty (like the bureaucrats and politicians) are no longer in a position to endanger the safety of OUR PEOPLE. I don't care if the order was to kill a sacred llama or punch a pregnant Afghan in the face - if it's illegal our politicians and bureaucrats should NOT be asking our fighting men and women to jeopardize themselves like that, EVER. And if they do - they need to be fired (although shot and pissed on was my first choice).

Also, if breaking international law is necessary to be victorious in this this war do we truly win? Atrocity answered with atrocity is not the answer.

Valkyri said...


Yes, Chretien did it, but that was a bit of a different circumstance. First of all, it was in a majority government. Second of all, when the torch is passed, the house is dissolved. If Harper were having someone take over for him permanently, then great.

Regardless of any of that, I'm wondering if your condoning Chretien's actions? If you are, then Bravo to you! If you're not, then just because someone else murdered someone and got away with it, does not mean that you get to do it too.

Our point, our movement as 104K Canadians (and growing) stand strong against this is that it isn't about Stephen Harper, it is about the stoppage of the democratic process, and the fact that we don't want his government, or any government from this day forth to ever be ALLOWED to do it again, or so help us, they will lose their jobs for good - much like Chretien did.

So, what was your argument again?

Valkyri said...

To the rest of you - taking off your clothes is routine. You do it every day. You do it before you climb into the shower, you do it before you go to bed. You don't, unless that IS your job, do it at work.

Our esteemed emperor has taken his clothes off at an entirely inappropriate time, not at the end of the day when we should take off our clothes and throw them in the wash. He's done it in the middle of a work day.

We didn't want to see him naked.

That is the best analogy I can come up with, and I hope it makes sense.

James Bow said...


"Prime Minister Jean Chrétien prorogued Parliament on Thursday, making it possible for Paul Martin to take the helm on Jan. 12, when the Commons and the Senate are expected to be called back... Why was it OK for Chrétien to do this but not Stephen Harper?"

And the answer to that is no. it was not okay. And at the time, Stephen Harper blasted the Liberals for proroguing parliament while noises were coming from the Auditor General about the irregularities which would bloom into AdScam. Paul Martin was said to be privately incensed at Chretien's decision to prorogue -- even if the ready-made excuse is stronger there: there's a change of prime minister happening. Let's give him time to take over and come back with a new throne speech.

There were rumours that Paul Martin would prorogue parliament at the end of his minority government, in order to stick to his preferred schedule of an election called in February 2006. That was rightly seen as grossly undemocratic and cowardly -- and yet it is what Stephen Harper has done, twice.

Prorogation is legal. That's not in question. It has happened before and it will happen again. What is new is the abuse of the process which is starting to occur. You saw hints of that with Jean Chretien, and Stephen Harper is accelerating the process.

And, yes, people _did_ complain at the time. You just weren't listening. And I find that frustrating. I've heard it said that people demanding proportional representation weren't shouting when the Liberals were getting majority governments based on 39% of the popular vote, but people were doing just that, but you weren't listening. It's a little disingenuous to care about the issue retroactively, and only to defend yourself against criticisms that your chosen party is acting as bad or worse than the party you are campaigning against.

Valkyri said...

@James Bow...

May I quote you?

Susann said...

James Bow is largely wrong to suggest that there was widespread opposition to prior proroging. We just didn´t notice it he says.

There was a purely compliant media then. There was no pushback in the media against the Liberal actions like there are the knives out for Harper.

Auditor General Sheila Fraser was just about to table her official audit of the Liberal Party Sponsorship corruption scandal and proroguing happened. This gave Chretien his exit strategy and dumped the entire fallout on the hapless Paul Martin.

Quite spinning that it was routine.

MadHacktress said...


As I've said before: if Harper wants to resign, as Chretien did, then I'll stop my Liberal belly-aching. Otherwise they're not the same "type" of prorogue.


James Bow said...


I didn't say there was widespread opposition at the time, I said "people _did_ complain at the time." That's two different things. To argue as Bert does that Chretien got a free ride would be a mistake because, in absolute terms, he didn't. The media coverage of his arrogance is there and had been going for some time (I trust you'll remember the Tom Wappel affair).

But beyond that, it has to be asked, does one _really_ want to defend Stephen Harper's abuse of the prorogation process by pointing to Chretien and saying "well, he did it first"?

The Liberals were punished by voters in 2004 and again in 2006 for pulling arrogant stunts like this. Given that some Conservative supporters are saying that Conservative actions should be viewed against the template of our response to the Liberal precedent, should not then the Conservatives be similarly punished?

And, Valkyri, yes, feel free to quote away.

Anonymous said...

Who cares, how many times, Parliament has been shut down, look at the reason, that's what counts. Harper, used dirty tactics, very much the same as Premier Gordon Campbell uses. Harper bailed, so he wouldn't have to answer the tough questions, that he has no answer for. Harper, Iggy, Campbell and Hansen, do everything behind, citizens backs, such as Campbell and Hansen's did, when they lied about the HST, and the deficits, of, both the provincial and the Olympics, Harper and Iggy both lied, about the HST. There isn't a thimble full of honesty in, all of them put together. So, Harper, bailing out on our country, that is in crisis, is, contemptible.