A Sad Day for Canadian Democracy

I, like many other people, was unsurprised but depressed to hear about the prorogation of Parliament yesterday. Lots has been written on it, much of it very intelligent, some of it not.

Andrew Coyne has a fantastic piece about how, as Radiohead would sing, you do it to yourself and that Parliament has consistently allowed itself to become irrelevant through a thousand small cuts. He is also correct in asserting that only its members can make it relevant again.

Kady O’Malley probably has the best insight in this interview. Why prorogue yesterday? Why not wait until when the House comes back in January in case some emergency arose that required Parliament’s attention. The unusual timing suggests the government wants to avoid letting committees or Parliamentarians do their work (mostly likely on the Afghan detainee problem).

On the less inspired side is conservative blogger Stephen Taylor. Stephen has good post and does as good a job as anyone can expect defending the indefensible. But ultimately, nothing he says counters O’Malley’s point. Moreover, his attempt to suggest that proroguing is constitutionally required (not even the PMO is making this claim) and that it is only those in Opposition who are acting politically is demolished by Ibbitson’s deadly and even handed column on the subject (very much worth reading).

Let there be no mistake, this is a political move.

Just as it was back in 2003 when (as Ibbitson rightly points out) Chretien prorogued Parliament in 2003 to avoid critics of the sponsorship program. Note this was also the time when Chretien’s popularity began to slide… So do people care about the Afghan detainee problem? No (just like they didn’t initially care about the sponsorship scandal). They DO care when their government ceases to be accountable, when it runs and hides from its mistakes. Doing so irrevocably hurt Chretien. It may end up doing the same to this government.

Either way, as pretty much every columnist seems to be saying, today our democracy is a little weaker, and Parliament a little less relevant.

30 thoughts on “A Sad Day for Canadian Democracy

  1. SMCE

    Now what? A sampling from The Current this morning has many Canadians totally disinterested in this event. The rest of the MPs should be getting together (Lib, NDP, bloc in QC) to actually DO SOMETHING for Canada. Invite the local media and visit hospitals and talk to doctors and nurses about how the H1N1 crisis went down; go to employment agencies and union offices and talk about EI legislation; go to womens clinics and shelters and talk about the effects of the gun registry; go to seniors centres and talk about pension reform with the seniors; go to the universities and talk about an educated populace; go visit the prisons and talk about lack of programming, how tough on crime is useless without social programs for the at-risk. DONT go to Tim Hortons. Each MP (individually or with a neighbouring non-Con MP) go somewhere in their area and then report on what they learned to the parties, which have a press release every day of what the opposition parties have done, how it relates to policy ideas and compare that with what happened that day in parliament. If an MP is in the Vancouver area and couldn't get tickets, be sure to stand outside venues talking with people. We have to get back a sense of urgency on the sidewalk…S

  2. Stephen Taylor

    Thanks for the link, but I don't believe I said that prorogation was constitutionally required. Simply that the argument for prorogation is in the spirit of fair representation in both houses of parliament as defined by the constitution.

  3. johanneswheeldon

    Well…I am getting annoyed with the Chretien comparisons. Chretien had a majority in 93. Does that matter? Well it used to… minority governments rarely prorogue, they govern knowing they can defeated at any time. Harper's assault on responsible government, Parliamentary democracy, and the role of the Crown is constitutional reform by stealth. We are in uncharted territory here. Blaming Parliament after last year as Coyne does makes no sense. It is based on the notion that there is enough blame to go around. The last nail in the coffin for the old system was the decision to prorogue last year. This is a significant set back for those arguing for open accountable government and suggests that absent a guardian of responsible government, a constitutionally illiterate population is no match for a motivated political movement. Even when that movement is attempting to destroy the foundations of peace order and good government. Gee how clever!

  4. johanneswheeldon

    Would you mind providing an academic basis for your argument that it is constitutional? You know, something peer reviewed, sourced, published somewhere?

  5. johanneswheeldon

    Thanks but maybe you could actually specific which section you are referring to…Do you know when the last time was that a minority Government prorogued parliament?

  6. Brenton

    Let me get this straight: You're arguing that the soon-to-be new plurality in the Senate, a body the Conservative party wants to either abolish or overhaul and constantly complain about, and one that the majority of Canadians don't know or care about, is a good enough reason to stop governing an entire nation? If that's Conservative responsibility and accountability, I fear for when they decide to start really hiding things.

  7. Stephen Taylor

    Our parliamentary system is bicameral. Ignorance by some about this fact does not diminish its significance.Prorogation is a natural function of this democracy. If you don't like how it was used, call your MP and get them to vote down the government on the budget, and if they don't, vote for candidates in the next election that do.Just because you don't like what happened, doesn't make it illegal. This is constitutional and normal. I've cited the framework that makes this all kosher.You should be happy. If you don't like Harper, this delays his agenda.

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  10. Brenton

    I never said it is illegal, or that it is unconstitutional. Normal? Maybe. I'm just questioning the reasoning for it. Constitutional, sure; from my reading you are excusing the prorogation on technical grounds while claiming it is in the spirit of fair representation because the Senate needs attention too. If that is your main point, fair enough, but that's a pretty weak position to hang your hat on.

  11. Penny McKinlay

    I appreciate SMCE's comments. It's a positive response to an unacceptable situation in Ottawa. I have voted faithfully for 35 years, but I'm not sure if I'll bother in the future unless some of the parties start acting differently, quit playing power games in Ottawa and actually get out and work with citizens and community groups to bring about change. Politics and politicians are becoming increasingly irrelevant – witness their response or should I say lack of response to climate change. And my vote appears irrelevant as well – we need some form of proportional representation – otherwise my vote continues to be ignored and conservative idiots get reelected (sorry, but I have absolutely no respect for the MP in my riding).

  12. Stephen Taylor

    And you know what, you might be right about it being weak. But that is subjective and a matter for debate.I'm not thrilled about yesterday but I'm not going to join the chorus of condemnation because I think we need to consider other points.I provided the case for prorogation, others the case against.

  13. johanneswheeldon

    Mr. Taylor – Your reply here makes no sense. A bicameral system has nothing to do at all with the requirements under responsible government. Proroguing parliament IS indeed normal, when the government has a majority. In this case you are correct to state it is a function of the parliamentary system. However, minorities are in a different situation. Since you seem unwilling or unable to provide an academic basis for your views, let me share mine. Bradley Miller (2009) provides useful analysis in this regard. He notes that as Eugene Forsey (1943) stated: Allowing minorities to prorogue parliament, using the Governor General as a rubber stamp, makes effective opposition in the House of Commons impossible. Minority governments cannot now be compelled to cooperate by threat of a loss of confidence in the House. Scared of a vote? Don't like a question? Want to stack the Senate? Prorogue baby prorogue. Sources: Forsey, E (1943) The Royal Power of Dissolution in the British Commonwealth (London, UK: Oxford University Press) see specifically pages: 146-62;Miller, B (2009) “Proroguing Parliament: A Matter of Convention” 20 Public Law Review 100

  14. Stephen Taylor

    I will simply cite the constitutional experts (those that are employed to be) that advised the GG to grant the PM prorogation in this case.I will not pretend to be more wise than them.

  15. johanneswheeldon

    I like this…Maybe we should get ask Canadian Universities, foundations, NGOs, and citizen bloggers to engage in their own review of the Afghan detainee issue. Lets talk to those tortured, review what documents are available and interview as many folks as we can in Canada on this issue. Dont forget to get going on the FOI applications. If the government wont account for itself, maybe is time for a directed citizen-based effort.

  16. johanneswheeldon

    Nice to see a bit of modesty. Sending me links to the constitution seemed pretty weak. So who are these advisers? Hogg I presume? What has he written on this? When? What are the strengths of the argument? The weaknesses?No offense, but you need to be able back up statements you make to be taken seriously. Opinions are like xxsholes – everyone has one. In order to be credible sycophant, you ought to at least understand what you defend.

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  24. JDrolet

    I have been missing this level of citizenship since I am back from Europe. We have been repeating to each other for so long how good we are as Canadians that we have slipped into deep apathy. It will take time to recover. Let's get to work.

  25. David Eaves

    Hi Stephen – sorry to misrepresent. Saddened to hear that this might be the best argument in favor. I think what caught me was this bit at the end “The case for prorogation is constitutional. The case against it is political.”The case for and against are both both political. I also agree with you, prorogation is constitutional (in that it is allowed) but that doesn't make it a good move for democracy in this country.

  26. David Eaves

    Hi Stephen – sorry to misrepresent. Saddened to hear that this might be the best argument in favor. I think what caught me was this bit at the end “The case for prorogation is constitutional. The case against it is political.”The case for and against are both both political. I also agree with you, prorogation is constitutional (in that it is allowed) but that doesn't make it a good move for democracy in this country.


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