Tuesday, April 27, 2010

A great day for Canadian democracy

Three cheers for the Speaker, who got it right. Some key excerpts:
It is the view of the Chair that accepting an unconditional authority of the executive to censor the information provided to Parliament would in fact jeopardize the very separation of powers that is purported to lie at the heart of our parliamentary system and the independence of its constituent parts. Furthermore, it risks diminishing the inherent privileges of the House and its Members, which have been earned and must be safeguarded.

As has been noted earlier, the procedural authorities are categorical in repeatedly asserting the powers of the House in ordering the production of documents. No exceptions are made for any category of Government documents, even those related to national security. Therefore, the Chair must conclude that it is perfectly within the existing privileges of the House to order production of the documents in question. Bearing in mind that the fundamental role of Parliament is to hold the Government to account, as the servant of the House, and the protector of its privileges, I cannot agree with the Government’s interpretation that ordering these documents transgresses the separation of powers, and interferes with the spheres of activity of the executive branch.
The Chair must conclude that it is within the powers of the House of Commons to ask for the documents sought in the December 10 order it adopted. Now, it seems to me, that the issue before us is this: is it possible to put into place a mechanism by which these documents could be made available to the House without compromising the security and confidentiality of the information they contain? In other words, is it possible for the two sides, working together in the best interest of the Canadians they serve, to devise a means where both their concerns are met? Surely that is not too much to hope for.
Finding common ground will be difficult. There have been assertions that colleagues in the House are not sufficiently trustworthy to be given confidential information, even with appropriate security safeguards in place. I find such comments troubling. The insinuation that Members of Parliament cannot be trusted with the very information that they may well require to act on behalf of Canadians runs contrary to the inherent trust that Canadians have placed in their elected officials and which Members require to act in their various parliamentary capacities.

The issue of trust goes in the other direction as well. Some suggestions have been made that the Government has self-serving and ulterior motives for the redactions in the documents tabled. Here too, such remarks are singularly unhelpful to the aim of finding a workable accommodation and ultimately identifying mechanisms that will satisfy all actors in this matter.

But the fact remains that the House and the Government have, essentially, an unbroken record of some 140 years of collaboration and accommodation in cases of this kind. It seems to me that it would be a signal failure for us to see that record shattered in the Third Session of the Fortieth Parliament because we lacked the will or the wit to find a solution to this impasse.
Accordingly, on analysing the evidence before it and the precedents, the Chair cannot but conclude that the Government`s failure to comply with the Order of December 10, 2009 constitutes prima facie a question of privilege.

I will allow House Leaders, Ministers and party critics time to suggest some way of resolving the impasse for it seems to me we would fail the institution if no resolution can be found. However, if, in two weeks’ time, the matter is still not resolved, the Chair will return to make a statement on the motion that will be allowed in the circumstances.
Not going to add a lot to this. The ruling should speak for itself and should be the preeminent focus of the day and going forward. Political spin should be weighed for what it is. It is the ruling that should underpin any discussions that take place in the next two weeks. Parliament has the right to demand the documents and see the documents. Now it is just a question of working out how that takes place.

The Conservative bluster that is flowing out there today is predictable. They cry election whenever they are in a tight spot, attempting to cow the opposition. Perhaps it is just face saving today but it's what they always do, almost like crying wolf at this point. It shouldn't be given so much serious indulgence in the weeks to come. They're not exactly in a position of strength in the polls from which to taunt opponents about an election.

It feels like the dynamic in our politics has changed for the better today. The view of our democracy that the PM and his party have attempted to peddle, this assertion of executive supremacy that Harper has attempted to seed has been firmly swatted back.

Time for a mature Parliament of leaders to step up and calmly resolve a significant issue. It's not too much to ask for, it's what a minority parliament is supposed to do. A Prime Minister plays a key role in that process and we really don't need any more of his unnecessary throttling of our democracy. If this Prime Minister were a real leader, we wouldn't have even been brought to today.