THUNDER BAY – Politics – This past week Stephen Harper once demonstrated that he simply lacks the courage required to be accountable to the Canadian public. Rather than face tough questions on the Senate spending scandal, Mr. Harper has instead indicated that he will be asking the Governor General to prorogue and suspend parliament for an additional 4-6 weeks on top of the usual three month summer break.
Stephen Harper and Unelected Senate
The reason for this lengthy prorogation is obvious. The spring session was a mess for him personally as he faced questions why, after saying he would never appoint a Senator who wasn’t elected (then appointing 57 of them), several of his handpicked unelected appointees were caught red-handed ripping off taxpayers for hundreds of thousands of dollars. And all while having never brought forward a Senate reform bill for debate after 8 years in government.
As if three months wasn’t a long enough break to “recalibrate” his government’s mandate, Mr. Harper also ducked out of class early. In the 22 sitting days of parliament leading up to the summer break Mr. Harper attended Question Period just 5 times – a 22% attendance rate that just happened to coincide with a major political scandal. Coincidence? I think not. In 2012, during the last sitting Mr. Harper attended 7 out of 18 days, or 39% attendance rate. In 2011, Mr. Harper attended 11 out of the last 14 days of the final sitting before summer, for a 78% attendance rate. I guess it depends what kind of questions he’s facing that day.
You may recall that this isn’t the first time Stephen Harper has abdicated his responsibilities as Prime Minister by proroguing parliament. Recall the Afghanistan prisoner abuse scandal in late 2009. Facing questions about whether his government had been complicit in war crimes against prisoners of war in Afghanistan, and his government’s attempt to suppress testimony of key witness and its refusal to relinquish documents to parliament on the matter, Mr. Harper decided that the heat was too much to stand, so he ran out of the kitchen as fast as possible by proroguing parliament. To use his own words, Mr. Harper decided to “cut and run” from accountability then as he did again this week on the Senate scandal.
You can tell this clear abdication of responsibility frustrates me, but does this mean that I don’t support prorogation? Not all. Prorogation is a perfectly acceptable parliamentary tool for any responsible government. The abuse of that tool however, is not.
It’s normal for any parliamentary government to prorogue from time to time. The effects of prorogation are quite clear; all government legislation that has not passed Third Reading is declared void, Private Members’ bills and motions survive in the same form and at the stage in the legislative process as before, parliamentary committees cease to exist and their work not yet completed (ie: studies, examination of bills) is voided, but most importantly in this case – there is no daily Question Period during through the entire prorogation period. When parliament reconvenes after prorogation, the period of which is unique to each case, a new Throne Speech is presented by the government, committees must restart all of their work, and the government must introduce or re-introduce legislation as the slate will be clear of their bills from last session. As you can see, the practice of prorogation is well established and in most cases used legitimately by responsible governments.
So would a New Democrat government ever prorogue parliament? The answer is a clear ‘yes.’ Would we do it to avoid scrutiny from the Opposition or to run away from scandal? The answer is a clear ‘no.’ It’s more likely that we would use prorogation as Darrell Dexter does in Nova Scotia; once a year to reset his agenda, but for a period of only a few hours instead of weeks or months. That is how a responsible government should behave; no ducking accountability and no escaping scandal by abusing routine legislative tools.
So was it shocking to see Harper dip into his bag of tricks to avoid accountability once again? Not really, but it is always disappointing to see the leader of our country running away from tough questions. New Democrats think you deserve better, we are ready to deliver truly responsible government to you in 2015.