Monday, August 19, 2013

Prorogation, obviously

The big news on an August Monday:
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has confirmed he will ask the Governor General to prorogue Parliament until October, when his Conservative government will introduce the next speech from the throne.

"There will be a new throne speech in the fall, obviously the House will be prorogued in anticipation of that. We will come back — in October is our tentative timing," Harper told reporters in Whitehorse Monday. Harper is in the Yukon on the second day of his annual summer tour of the North.
A few thoughts to add to the online maelstrom.

I am quite meh over this one. It's mid-August and the House of Commons will be back in just over a month and a half? That's not tooo bad in terms of an extension beyond a return that was expected on September 16th.

The news coverage on the Senate scandals, for example, is likely to continue through this period. They won't be escaping damage from it.

Also, whenever Harper interferes with his own government's ability to legislate, that's not so bad. Less is definitely more for some of us when it comes to their legislative output record.

Harper, though, just can't prorogue and avoid critical comment. He has baggage, to say the least.

He is the lone Prime Minister, of any Westminster democracy, to have faced a confidence vote and deployed prorogation to avoid his minority government's fate. Totally unprecedented in Canadian history and so he just can't shake that shadow. He would have been defeated in late 2008-early 2009 by the opposition parties but for his proroguing of Parliament. The Harper majority era might totally have been avoided had he not done so. All of today's present Conservative party edifice is built on that shaky foundation. Which is partly why the power to prorogue is still in need of reform. There is less malevolent political calculation at play in today's prorogation. But nevertheless, it doesn't take away the need to fix, at some point, the unrestrained ability of a PM to prorogue without limitation.

A law that would restrain the power of the Prime Minister to prorogue could be passed and a PM would ignore it at their political peril. Whatever that judgment by voters might be. Could be nil, could be more, depending on how prorogation occurred. (Similar laws could be passed provincially as well.)

Today's prorogation is also another reminder that it is just plain old anachronistic that a Prime Minister retains such power to unilaterally dictate the government's sitting. In this modern era of a 24 hour news cycle, ever enhanced technologies and where Canadians' work is increasingly stretched beyond 9-5, it is a strange holdover that a Prime Minister can still set their own government's clock and work agenda, largely for political convenience. It just doesn't fit in this era. It's a reminder that there is a larger democratic deficit that needs to be cured in Canada. It's not all about the Senate sideshow. Harper has educated us well about a PM having too much power and our way of governing being in need of an update.

Beyond all that, politically, today's prorogation seems to continue the end of summer roll-out of the newish Harper majority looking toward 2015. New websites here and there with partisan purpose (Consumers First, the new Harper blog), election style speech and talk, etc. Now prorogation. The reboot is on and he's looking to win again in 2015. Obviously.