Sunday, November 30, 2008

Can Harper Really Prorogue?

I don't claim to be a constitutional expert, but given the circumstances, wouldn't a decision to prorogue Parliament equate to an admission that the government can't function? Could you not put forth the argument, that the country is in the midst of crisis, and the governing Conservatives have ceded their authority, by paralyzing the legislature, Canada effectively twisting in the breeze? Would we not see mounting public pressure, the government forced to hide, rather than face the will of our elected body? I don't see how a prorogue at this moment can realistically fly, if anything it will further the momentum to topple the government.

The Governor General does have responsibility to ensure we have a government in place, if the Conservatives voluntarily cede their responsibility, then why can't the opposition visit the GG, argue that the government is AWOL, they have a working coalition in place, that can move the country forward? A prorogue now, equates to an attempt to usurp the democratic will, more than procedurial wranglings, it creates a fundamental crisis of leadership, and one has to wonder if the limbo can be tolerated, given the circumstances? That action creates a vacuum, which seems to admit the government can't function, it has failed.

A few procedural games, the government can surely employ, but to actually prorogue a new parliament, with the only motivation to protect Conservative fortunes, state of the nation be damned, doesn't cut it and if the opposition keeps up the pressure, it could turn out to be the last act for the government. Prorogue amounts to an admission that the government has lost the confidence of the House, in essence Canada doesn't have a functioning government. Can the GG step in under these circumstances?


Robert McClelland said...

Can the GG step in under these circumstances?

No. The Prime Minister has every right to prorogue parliament and the opposition has no recourse but to accept it just as the opposition has every right to bring down the government and ask the GG to allow them to form a coalition government instead of calling another election so soon.

Oxford County Liberals said...

He has to go to the GG and advise her to prorogue or end the session. It is probably within her power that she could refuse the request. .. but I bet that's never been done before, and it would cause more of an uproar then what coalition talk is generating.

At the very least, proroguing during an economic crisis and only doing so to save the government's hide reveals a desperate Conservative Party and Prime Minister trying to hold on to power, and displaying no leadership.

Steve V said...

I understand the right, but we are in crisis and you could argue it's an admission that the government has failed.

Steve V said...

Harper needs the GG to approve his move to prorogue, can she not refuse, given the crisis, coupled with the opposition offering a working alternative?

Oxford County Liberals said...

She probably would accede to the request. I really don't see a situation where she wouldn't.

As I said however, doing that manoeuvrer opens up Harper to a whole new set of charges of abdicating responsibility.

As an aside, Paul Wells mentioned in comments over at one of the Macleans blog columns that it's just a rumour - one of many flyign around. Another rumour is that Harper's inner circle is defiant and wants to fight this to the bitter end.. so who knows what's really going on.

Steve V said...


I note "probably", which implies room to tell Harper to go back to Parliament and face the music.

Anonymous said...

Harper would be asking the Governor General to assist him in circumventing Canadian democracy.

Just last week, the GG read a Speech from the Throne outlining the government's agenda, and now the government wants to end the session two weeks later without accomplishing a single goal outlined in that speech. The Parliament has not passed a single bill. In fact, the government has not even introduced a single bill!

I believe she should simply say no, forcing Harper to face the Commons, or resign to allow the Conservative caucus to choose a new PM (Prentice?) who is able to secure the support of a majority of MPs. In any case, I wouldn't want to be in Her Excellency's shoes.

Jerry Prager said...

I don't know the answer to your question, but the parliamentary custom would be for the Tories to change leaders and see if they can gain the confidence of the House.
I suspect there are a lot of non-Alliance/Reform cons who realize their guy is on a vendetta.There must be a few Cons who still believe in civil society and will be willing to take Harper down to save the party and the country.

ALW said...

Harper "can" prorogue Parliament. It's merely what it will do to the government's credibility if he does, i.e. if it's framed as averting chaos versus hiding from the House.

If they prorogue til, say, mid to late January and roll out their budget early with fiscal stimulus, the opposition will look like grubby power grabbers if they still bring the government down.

If, on the other hand, the government does not offer any stimulus package as the opposition is demanding, then the opposition will be free to bring the government down and form a coalition government.

Of course this brinksmanship was initiated by Harper, who misjudged the opposition's willingness to strike back on the public subsidy proposal; and promulgated by the opposition, who have now put themselves in the silly position of bringing down the government because of a "lack of stimulus" that is coming in six weeks.

Why are we in this ridiculous situation? Because it's all about the public funding, on both sides. It's nonsense to suggest otherwise. Harper thought he could screw the opposition, and the opposition was scared to death that they would be crippled as a result. The economic sitution has just been a cover for both sides to play out a partisan drama.

sassy said...

Jerry Prager - "....Tories to change leaders.."

Perhaps that is what's behind Conservatives for Prentice

Gayle said...

Steve - I really doubt the GG would refuse to prorogue.

Frankly, I kind of hope he does. It means he looks weak, and he still has to wear the recession. Meanwhile the LPC have time to organize, get through their leadership convention and emerge stronger.

I think the rumour is out there to test the waters.

Steve V said...

"Of course this brinksmanship was initiated by Harper"

Which makes your later assertion that all parties share responsibility nonsensical. 100% of the blame is on Harper, he put the poison pill in there, it's his baby.

Steve V said...


Flaherty announced the budget for late January, so they will try and hold off until then.

I doubt the GG can stop them, but I don't think it's as cut and dry as we assume, this is an extraordinary situation.

Anonymous said...

With a budget in Jan, there's little doubt Harper will prorogue if it feels it needs to.

Gayle said...

By the way, did you see this?

I wonder why the LPC have not sent me a request for a donation. I suppose it could be because I reached my limit, but I have to wonder if it is because I replied to their last request. They answered my email by saying they are always willing to hear from the grassroots, but it was obvious they had not even read my email. I was complaining about the conduct of some unnamed senior liberals and I said they would not get any more of my money until these people shut up.

Considering how much I donate, I am surprised they are not trying to get me lined up to donate on January 1.

Anonymous said...

Harper shows alacrity and passion when his political neck is on the line, but never on national issues.
He will prorogue because that's what people like Harper do. They are in politics because it's the only place where their pathological egos seem almost normal, but only for a time...

Anonymous said...

This is what the Liberals/NDP do:

They come up with a stimulus plan.

They do it right now.

They present it to the Canadian public.

They make their case as a responsible alternative to the Tories.

The Tories want a plan in two months? Well, we don't have to wait two months. We've got one NOW.

They then will have an EXCUSE to bring them down now, even if the attempt fails because Harper prorogues.

Skinny Dipper said...

I'm guessing that Harper will ask the GG to prorogue Parliament until the middle of January. With the budget coming at the end of January, Harper can state that the opposition wants to delay implementation of the budget if it decides to vote non-confidence in the Conservative government. If the economy is so urgent, why is are the opposition members trying to delay the implementation of the budget just so they can put their own budget through? That's what I'm thinking that Harper is thinking.

I do think the GG will consent to Harper's possible request to prorogue Parliament.

Gabe said...

Does Harper need to offer the GG a valid reason to prorogue, especially during an economic crisis?

liberazzi said...

Remember that the GG is a Paul Martin appointment, so the CPC might use that against her if she goes the opposition's way on any of these matters.

My feeling is that this will get sorted out by the end of the week, with the CPC rolling out a stimulus package. The opposition then gains a moral victory and basically gets what it wants. The danger for the "coalition" is that if the CPC keeps caving and they still proceed then it does look like a power grab. However, there may be momentum behinds Scott Reid's comments to use this as an opportunity to rid ourselves of Harper, as it looks like the knives are starting to come out.

On a side note, besides PP, is there anyone more annoying in Ottawa than Jane Taber..."You're not answering my question" Good grief! Oh ya I forgot about Barney Rubble and Furious Baird.

liberazzi said...

Some of the comments on WK's site are downright bizzare. Do these freaks not realize that they are really only hurting their own cause?

Anonymous said...

The opposition has nothing to gain from keeping Harper in power.

Based on 3 years of experience, we can expect nothing but bullying, lying, obstruction, and secrecy from the Cons, plus a ridiculous hands-off economic policy.

Layton and Duceppe were proved right in their decision to begin coalition discussions early.

The Conservatives are unfit to govern and have no right to prorogue at a time like this.

The opposition must:

1. hit the media with a clear economic plan that contrasts with the Conservative 'tax cut' and 'asset sale' bullsh!t.

2. put forward a clear agenda for a coalition government.

Harper is on the precipice and must be pushed off.

Doing so will be a HUGE victory for the general progressive agenda.

cls said...

I thought I heard on the CBC today that Harper has to have the consent of all parties before Parliament can be prorogue. Does anyone know the precise rule and where it can be found?

A.C. said...

The GG can do a lot of things. Not to be semantic, but the question is will she? The closest precedent to this situation is in 1926.

King had a working arrangement so that his party (Lib) and the Progressives could act as a minority EVEN though the Conservatives had more seats. Scandal caused the Progressives to leave the informal arrangement, meaning that King would have lost any vote of confidence.

MacKenzie King, realizing that he was about to lose a confidence vote, asked for Parliament to be dissolved, so that an election could take place.

GG Lord Byng refused. He did so on the grounds that another party had more seats than the Liberals, and should be given a chance to govern.

While the parallels are not exact, the GG is there to prevent the manipulation of Parliament and the process when it is clearly undemocratic on a grand scale.

Prorogation of the House in order to avoid a confidence vote one is sure to lose fits that description in my opinion==ESPECIALLY when there is proof that a working coalition can be enacted by the opposition AND the last election was only 6 weeks ago.

Eugene Forsey wrote, "To allow an accused Government to appeal to the electorate before the House can pronounce judgment would be ... fatal to parliamentary government"

While there'd be hell to pay...bloody hell, I believe it could be, and SHOULD be done, and the GG has the power to do so.After all, the main reason we have a GG is to do this sort of heavy lifting :)

Möbius said...

However, there may be momentum behinds Scott Reid's comments to use this as an opportunity to rid ourselves of Harper, as it looks like the knives are starting to come out.

Not sure how this makes sense. Harper vs. Iggy in an election, or Iggy vs. Prentice or some other more charming "non-Harper" candidate? Dion lost because he was Dion, and stubbornly continued running on a carbon tax.

The LPC was already on the road to potential success, so why change enemies?