Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Why Parliament is Prorogued

In a nutshell, Harper is trying to destroy our parliamentary democracy.

From the Hill Times:

Harper assumes powers of executive privilege, U.S.-presidential style

A dispute that began with stonewalled reports of Afghan prisoner abuse is set to become the crucible that determines if the Prime Minister or Parliament is now supreme.

Published December 21, 2009

OTTAWA—Pierre Trudeau first freed the genie of expansive prime ministerial power. Now an increasingly feeble Parliament is trying to stuff the monster back into the bottle by demanding Stephen Harper release uncensored documents on Afghanistan prisoner abuse.

At stake is the ability to hold the ruling party accountable between elections. Already dangerously diminished, that capacity will shrink to irrelevance if the Prime Minister wins what is fast becoming an annual Parliament Hill showdown.

On the surface, the current clash favours opposition parties. Armed with legal opinion and the majority of seats won in the 2008 campaign, they have the theoretical right and political numbers to insist the government reveals what Conservatives are desperate to keep secret.

Worse still for the ruling party, the defence is porous.
National security concerns can be easily satisfied either by releasing the documents to MPs under the protection of secrecy laws or, by naming a judge—as Ottawa did in the Maher Arar case—to decide what is damaging to the country as opposed to injurious to politicians.

But the opposition's upper hand is deceptive. As the coalition parties learned during last year's Christmas crisis, a cornered Prime Minister is formidable prey.

Facing certain defeat, Harper escaped by persuading the Governor General to suspend Parliament and by convincing a surprising number of civics-challenged citizens that he alone could rule. On balance, Michaƫlle Jean was right. By any measure beyond a propaganda triumph, Harper was wrong.

Americans directly choose presidents; Canadians elect Members of Parliament. In the absence of U.S. checks and balances, prime ministers are controlled by the confidence of the Commons.

How loose that control has become was exposed by the Quebec sponsorship scandal. Not only were MPs in the dark about how Liberals were misspending public money, Justice John Gomery couldn't follow the dollars through the maze of "mechanics" up the command chain to a responsible minister.

Conservatives won the 2006 election in part by promising transparency. Since then, Ottawa has become only more opaque as the result of the resolute Conservative effort to mute public watchdogs, pass the buck to civil servants and continue concentrating power among appointed partisans in the Prime Minister's Office.

Those factors are coalescing again in a replay of recent history. Denied vital facts, MPs are lost along the Afghanistan prisoner paper trail. Bureaucrats, most notably diplomat Richard Colvin, are the designated scapegoats. By balking at Parliament's demand for information, Harper is assuming powers of executive privilege normally associated with U.S. presidents, not Canadian prime ministers.

Forcing compliance and re-establishing the democratic balance of power is as straightforward as it is twisted. At the first opportunity, opposition parties can defeat Conservatives in the Commons, forcing election-weary voters back to the polls.

Not an appealing political proposition. The loss of Commons confidence is still the appropriate democratic response if the threat of an unwanted campaign, the possible embarrassment of a court challenge or Parliamentary censure fail to cool overheated heads. If not, a dispute that began with stonewalled reports of Afghan prisoner abuse is set to become the crucible that determines if the Prime Minister or Parliament is now supreme.

James Travers is a national affairs columnist with The Toronto Star. This column was released on Dec. 15.

Join Canadians Against Proroguing Parliament here.


Bert said...

Let's look at some of the numbers in the EKOS poll that said, according to the liberals & the media, the majority of the Canadian people were strongly opposed to prorogation.

It's a pretty good split in terms of Party lines... with just 14% of identified CPC supporters saying they strongly oppose the move (37 people in all), and 17% (or 45 people) saying they somewhat oppose it. However, take a CLOSER look at the other parties numbers... in the STRONGLY SUPPORT category? LPC 4% of 205, NDP 7% of 83, Green 3.5% of 74, BQ 5% of 48. And the SOMEWHAT SUPPORT numbers? Average of 12% of each of the other Parties. COME AGAIN? Liberals and NDP, and even Bloc supporters, SUPPORTING the Prorouge? In fact, the STRONGLY OPPOSED segment in all three major Coalition partners only averages around 60%.

Got this from:

Yappa said...

Hi Bert,

The PMO talking points didn't mention that the majority of people who strongly oppose the prorogation are university educated.

I'm not sure why you're surprised that some non-Cons are supporting the prorogation. There's nothing inherently wrong with prorogation; to oppose this use of it, you have to understand that it is being used to avoid the accountability of parliament; and that it is the second time in a year that Harper has locked out MPs to avoid accountability.

You also have to know that previous prorogations were done for very different reasons. For example, Chretien's 2003 prorogation (that you claim on another post was to avoid getting the Adscam report), was in fact done because Chretien was stepping down and Martin was taking over as PM... a completely legitimate use of prorogation, and a good idea.

There are so many lies floating around that a lot of people are plain confused. But the truth is coming out, first in places like the Globe, CBC and the Economist, and it will spread. The Dec 17 poll showed that many Canadians didn't understand the issue, and this poll is showing a trend of growing awareness.