Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been subjected to a great deal of criticism for exercising a strategic prerogative to suspend the current Parliamentary session. Parliament would normally resume in January following the Christmas holiday recess, but will now open in early March. This suspension, initiated by the Prime Minister, is a legacy of British style Parliamentary systems and is formally known as proroguing.
There are certain procedural consequences associated with proroguing, such as the suspension of Parliamentary Bills in process, or those waiting to be considered by the Senate. Such proposed legislation will need to be reintroduced and debated by the new session of Parliament before going to the Upper House.
The criticism is far-reaching. Even the venerable magazine, The Economist has been negatively critical of Canada’s Prime Minister on this matter. It is of course no surprise that the political opposition is harshly critical and that its media supporters would reveal a poll to show that after several days of negative news coverage 58 percent of Canadians disagree with Harper’s decision. Whether those polled were fully aware of the meaning of “prorogue” or were aware of the reasons given by the Prime Minister is not entirely clear.
Some of the reasons offered by the critics include the allegation that the Prime Minister simply wants to avoid an ongoing inquiry into allegations of complicity by Canadian military officials in turning over Afghan detainees to their home states where they would presumably face certain torture as minimum treatment. The Prime Minister has stated that in his view most Canadians care much less about this issue than they do for the number one priority: the economy.
Another favourite critique involves the political makeup of the appointed Senate. It has been offered that since the Prime Minister has been “stacking” the Senate with more Conservative appointees, any new legislation put forward by his minority government when Parliament is back in session is likely to get more favourable consideration. (Really? How quaint.) The Prime Minister is also accused of being hypocritical with his biased appointments since he is a supporter of the idea of a fully elected Senate.
A couple of points should be made with respect to this last. The minority government of Stephen Harper and the Conservatives has met with strong opposition to any attempts to introduce the changes that would lead to the formation of an elected Senate. More overlooked is that the Senate has been for some time dominated by Liberal appointees, who can similarly be relied upon to resist any new legislation by the minority Conservative government.
So, in a novel approach to the situation, why not ask the reticent Mr. Harper, now being lauded as a sharp political strategist as well, why he did it? Well, the reasons he gave were not completely convincing, and we know that Stephen Harper has a reputation for (wisely) not saying two words when one will do. Remember though, he did say he thinks that Canadians are most concerned about the economy and the burden of the lingering recession.
This government has fallen under fire for its deficit spending and is, perversely, also being challenged to do more to “alleviate” the economic pain being felt by so many Canadians. (That would be the challenge coming from the likes of the Liberals and their leader Michael Ignatieff, whom we can be assured would be quite prepared, were they in power, to follow the example set by the United States in trying to spend Canadians out of the recession, simultaneously mortgaging wealth not yet created and hindering its creation.)
Harper is an economist, one of only two Canadian Prime Ministers in history who was not a lawyer. That fact alone should give us a reason to consider listening to what he has to say, particularly if he introduces the subject of economics, which he did. Stephen Harper says his government needs the time afforded by the period of prorogation to seriously consider the budgetary issues it will need to present when Parliament is back in session. The economy is a priority and certain factors must be considered in the context of where this government finds the country. Politically, a minority government has a tentative hold on the reins. Thus, any contemplated legislation must be carefully vetted through the eyes of those who would certainly pounce on any opportunity to identify a government move that would weaken further the administration in the eyes of a majority of Canadian voters—blood in the water.
This government, admirably, is not disposed to further “stimulus” spending, a recognition of the fact that so-called “stimulus” by government is anything but—it has more in common with stabbing the wounded following a knife fight.
We know that the prorogue issue will be controversial for a while and the Prime Minister is probably counting on time and the distraction of the Vancouver Olympics to soothe everyone, including the media flibbertigibbets, into a new direction. And, there will be new stories that will dominate the headlines.
However, there are at least two good reasons why I for one am satisfied with this break in the Parliamentary action. One is the major media event represented by the Vancouver Olympics in February. Much of the world will be watching and making judgments about Canada. It is a time to put your “best foot forward”. Have you ever watched the honourable members doing the government’s business when Parliament is in session? Given the extra media that will concentrate on Canada for the Olympics it would not take much of a misspoken word, controversial issue, contentious disagreement or potentially scandalous new business to attract some of that media—blood in the water.
Making laws is indeed like making sausage: best left unobserved if you have any interest in the final product. It is better that the rest of the world should not have to see Canada’s Houses of Parliament open on dirty laundry day.
Finally, my other reason for supporting the decision to prorogue Parliament at this time is one that is always present when any government legislature is on a break. It is a matter of personal security. People ought to feel so much safer and secure in their person when politicians are not meeting in active session to scheme new ways of exacting more life and treasure from individual citizens.
©Copyright 2010 Edward Podritske