Go searching for the last time a Westminster-style parliament was shut down to free its leaders from unwanted censure or scrutiny — and you'll end right back in Canada, where you started.
It turns out, no other English-speaking nation with a system of government like ours — not Britain, Australia or New Zealand — has ever had its parliament prorogued in modern times, so that its ruling party could avoid an investigation, or a vote of confidence, by other elected legislators.
Only three times has this happened, all in Canada — first in 1873, when Sir John A. Macdonald asked the governor general to prorogue Parliament, in order to halt a House of Commons probe into the Pacific Scandal. Lord Dufferin gave in to the demand, but when Parliament reconvened Macdonald was forced to resign.
No prime minister dared use prorogation to such effect again, until Stephen Harper convinced Gov. Gen. Michaelle Jean to suspend Parliament in 2008, so the Conservatives could evade a confidence vote.
About 12 months later, he did it again.
But as Ned Franks points out, the strength of the federal government — and the prime minister's own authority — must flow through Parliament. If Parliament is weak, and if the prime minister ignores its members and tries to rule without their consent, then his legal right to govern evaporates.
In a Westminster system, this is Parliament's core democratic function — to legitimize executive power.
King Charles I learned this lesson the hard way more than 300 years ago, by trying to govern without the English Parliament's consent. When he finally dismissed it, political opponents responded by cutting off his head.
"By shutting down Parliament all by himself, Harper is acting in muchthe same fashion," says Franks. "We should call him King Stephen the First of Canada, for that, in effect, is the way he is behaving."
The Conservative Lie Machine has been so effective that many Canadians actually believe that prorogations by Chretien and Trudeau were equivalent to Harper's prorogations. Eventually knowledgeable people will prevail in getting out the truth, but it will be too late and we may very well be saddled with a dangerous extremist majority government.