Monday, January 25, 2010


I love these "reform" proposals philosophically, strategically and most of all because it denotes that, yes, in fact the Liberals are listening, it isn't just lip service. The Liberals released a series of concrete reform proposals, which are frankly hard to find fault with:
To prevent future abuses of prorogation, the Liberal Party of Canada will seek to amend the Standing Orders of the House of Commons to:

• Require at least 10 days written notice from the Prime Minister of his intention to seek to prorogue, together with his specific reasons for doing so;

• Require the Prime Minister to bring the issue of prorogation before the House of Commons for a full debate;

• Prevent a request for prorogation within the first year after a Speech from the Throne, unless the House consents;

• Prevent a prorogation longer than one calendar month without the consent of the House;

• Prevent a request for prorogation if a matter of confidence has been scheduled in the House unless the House consents; and,

• Allow Parliamentary Committees to continue to function during the period when Parliament is prorogued until the start of the new session.

The above moves power away from the whims of a Prime Minister to our elected legislature. The Prime Minister can still prorogue, but he must justify his reasoning, he must face Parliament and debate merits. The item curtails future abuse, denying any prorogue request, should a matter of confidence be forthcoming. In totality, all these measures congeal to create a new climate, wherein the PM is subjected to the will of Parliament, to a certain extent. Prime Minister's will think twice before they decide to prorogue, because their decision will be under scrutiny. I applaud these measures all around.

Last week, Ignatieff resisted calls for prorogue reform, arguing instead that it was more a question of THIS Prime Minister abusing, rather than an inherent flaw in the system. I was quite critical of this argument. I note that during last week's online townhall, there was much resistance and criticism directed towards the Liberals, failing to offer any concrete reform, only offering the mostly useless and non resonating "trust us" argument. The fact that the Liberals have reconsidered demonstrates a nimble approach, criticism was digested and revisions were made. This reaction illustrates that Ignatieff is listening, these exercises of outreach are more than just public relations fluff.

On the strategic front, the Liberals have seized the agenda, they have put themselves at the center of the reform debate. In terms of frame, it is critical important that we redefine the Liberal brand. Steps such as the above might be a small step, but it does allow for some sense of differentation between the two main parties, as well as speaking to voter "drift". Is there a political motivation here? Well hello, isn't there always to a certain extent, no matter the party. This fact doesn't detract from a sense of dialogue, responsive policy, which is never a negative.



rockfish said...

Some may quibble on your definition of 'nimble'; however, this proposal has many positives. There inability to get in front of the train on this issue at a quicker pace is just more evidence that someone at the top has no political instinct or is too cautious for their own good.
But, that said, i agree wholeheartedly.

Steve V said...

By nimble, I mean demonstrating the ability to read the mood and adapt accordingly.

DL said...

these are good ideas from Ignatieff. As long as the Liberal never get a majority government (the chances of which are virtually nil anyways) - the NDP and BQ just might make them actually implement these reforms as well.

James Bowie said...

Very nice. I like.

Tof KW said...

Steve, not to seem like a wet blanket, but a major reason to criticism Layton's prorogation initiative is that, if adopted, it would almost certainly suffer the same fate as Harper's fixed-date election law (crumbles at the first court challenge).

Don't get me wrong, the Grits just earned my respect today in bringing what seems to be a serious proposal here. But not being a lawyer, how feasible is this?

Steve V said...

I know they consulted lawyers and constitutional experts. I'm also sure that loopholes exist, because short of constitutional change, "where there is will, there is way". Here's the rub though for me. The word "prorogue" is now part of the Canadian political discourse. We have to look at this issue with the Harper precedent in mind. If you pass these levers, should a future PM ignore them, he does so with GREAT political risk. I see these proposals as "think twice", not entirely full proof but entirely effective, which is what you want in the end.

BTW, this proposal is meeting with solid approval from the no prorogue crowd.

Steve V said...

Layton just issued a press release. Apart from the partisan spin, looks like he will work with the Liberals on this proposal.

Dame said...

I like this very Much. progressive while carefully designed..

ottlib said...

It is interesting that if you look at the proposal as a whole it does not prevent the government from proroguing the House without consent except in those situations listed.

It only requires them to have a debate without a vote.

I like it.

The power to prorogue is a necessary part of the Westminster Parliamentary Model. However, Stephen Harper has demonstrated that there has to be controls on it because he has broken the code of honour that has existed amongst past Prime Ministers that the power to prorogue is not to be used to escape political traps.

Steve V said...

One point that hasn't been made when debating loopholes and whatnot, this is Ignatieff's template. It means that should he become PM, this is how he will conduct himself, these are the rules he will abide by. Canadians can see the contrast.

rockfish said...

Elsewhere on the CON prorogued-to-distraction tour, even the crapwest-con-friendlies can't help but stumble over bad image stuff for Harper and his so-called team:
'Politicians score seats for top events before public'...

And anyone notice a considerable uptick in EAP advertisement in recent weeks? Strange, considering all bumbling by Flaherty points to 'tightening-of-thee-purse-strings' stuff... More fodder for more Steve-V posts, I hope.

rockfish said...

Sorry, i really don't know how to link here... its at the Vancouver sun, jeff lee story.


Steve V said...

People are noticing the uptick in gov't advertising:

"Over the last week, I've started to notice a new round of "Economic Action Plan" television ads appearing on private television stations. Thanks to this, we know all these government ads aren't only about promoting the government's strategy by reminding Canadians how hard the government is working for the economy, prorogation or not. Turns out, the Conservatives also are focused on saving local tv, which is experiencing a downturn of its own these days. And what better place to make this argument than on the local tv this advertising helps keep afloat? What a great reminder of on what side that bread is buttered. (No editorial pressure though, A-Channel.)"