Saturday, January 16, 2010

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

From Only in Canada: Harper's prorogation is a Canadian thing in today's Montreal Gazette:
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.



djn said...

Not entirely the same, but the dismissal of the Whitlam Australian Labour government in 1974 by the Governor-General was certainly an example of a Westminster parliamentary system being trampled on.

Anonymous said...

Not even close, djn. The topic here is prorogation. We can find plenty examples of 'a Westminster parliamentary system being trampled on'. In this case it isn't being trampled on unless the prorogation is questionable or worse. And of course it is...worse.

Anonymous said...

I hate to burst your ballon but Chretien proroged parliment too.

"The officials, working around the clock on the legislation, hope it can become law in the next month or so before Mr. Chrétien prorogues the House of Commons in preparation for his retirement."

"But even if the bill gets passage in the Commons before the house prorogues, perhaps within a month or so, it must
still receive passage in the Senate." 9 Oct. 2003

"one of chretien's prorogues stretched from november 13 to january 13 (61 days, not 25) and ... Prime Minister Jean Chrétien prorogued Parliament on Thursday, making it possible for ..."

Yappa said...

Anonymous 10:17 -

No, that was not the same. The November to January prorogue was done the day before Paul Martin took over as leader of the party, replacing Chretien. The purpose of prorogation is to finish one session of parliament so that the agenda can reset. A new prime minister taking over is exactly the sort of situation for which prorogation exists.

Read this news story from the time:

The truth is that what Harper has done is UNPRECEDENTED in modern times. It is UNPRECEDENTED in other parliamentary systems. The Conservative spin machine is out there trying to convince you otherwise, but they're just lying.

Anonymous said...
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Bert said...

Chretien prorogued parliment so he wouldn't need to face questions concerning the Auditor Generals report on Adscam in parliment. Chretien and Martin didn't get along, especially towards the end of Chretien's reign. He prorogued parliment so that HE wouldn't have Adscam on his watch. When parliment started up again, Martin was PM, and was faced with Adscam. It eventually lead to his undoing.

Yappa said...

Hi Bert -

I agree. I'm sure that Chretien was thrilled to be able to dump a big huge mess on Martin's desk. Likewise, one of the reasons that Martin called for the most wide-ranging inquiry in history was to get back at Chretien. At least that's what I've always heard.

But that doesn't change the fact that prorogation was appropriate at that point. If Chretien hadn't prorogued, then starting the next business day PM Chretien would have been in parliament with PM-elect Martin. There was no way that Chretien could continue his parliamentary agenda at that point. His time was over when his successor was anointed. It was right to prorogue. No question.

Bert said...

I also recall something about Jean Chretien cutting short the investigation into the Somali Affair, where 2 Canadian Forces soldiers were guilty of beating a Solami youth to death. Sure, this doesn't actually help my (Conservitive) view that prorogation isn't a big deal, but it does prove that the Liberals are being hypocrites when they say they disapprove of the Conservatives prorogation.

Mike said...

Yes Bert, you hit the nail...Chretien DID prorogue to quiet the issue over the Somalia inquiry, which was by far worse than what supposedly happened in Afghanistan.

In Somalia, OUR troops detained and tortured and KILLED a Somali kid.

And the government prorogued to avoid answering to that.

Ferd said...

Anonymous, Mike and Bert are saying that because what the Liberals did in Somalia [and elsewhere] is wrong the allegedly similar thing Harper did in proroging Parliament is somehow converted from wrong to right [two wrongs make a right].If two wrongs DID make a right, then we could equally run it the other way: because Harper's proroging parliament is obviously wrong, what the Liberals did in Somalia, though apparently wrong is somehow made ok. But of course two wrongs are just that, two wrongs. This harping on Somalia and other past events is a sick distraction. What Anonymous, Bert and Mike need to do is find some way to justify proroging Parliament. Engage with the issue or keep quiet.

Yappa said...
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Yappa said...

I agree with Ferd completely: two wrongs don't make a right. But the 1997 prorogation is not what the PMO's talking points would have you believe.

1. Chretien became PM in November, 1993, and the events in the Somalia affair occurred prior to that time, under Mulroney's watch.

2. The Somalia affair was not political; it had to do with bad behavior by some of our troops.

3. Chretien called a very open inquiry. According to wikipedia, "The new government of Jean Chrétien's Liberal Party initiated a highly visible Somalia Inquiry in 1994 under Federal Court Judge Gilles Létourneau. Officially known as the Somalia Commission of Inquiry, its hearings were broadcast daily in both languages, nationally."

4. Chretien shut down the inquiry after three years. Again according to wikipedia: "The government was critical of the direction of the inquiry, noting that it was far exceeding its mandate.[22] Eggleton suggested that the events had happened four years earlier, and it was time to "move on". ...The inquiry had run long over its allotted timeframe and budget."

You Conservatives really have to start doing your own research, rather than just vomiting up the PMO talking points. Harper lies about everything, and you're just undermining your own credibility by parroting his line.