Saturday, January 23, 2010

Globe And Mail Endorses "Legislative Restraint On Prorogation"

This editorial doesn't seem to be getting much attention, but it should, particularly from my party of choice. Effectively endorsing the NDP's proposal, the Globe and Mail argues you can limit prorogue power, without constitutional amendments:
The solution: Legislative restraint

It is time the rules governing prorogation changed. Canada's Parliament has shown itself vulnerable to an excessive concentration of power, and hence is hampered in fulfilling its role as the “ultimate sovereign body.” The prorogation of 2008 has now been followed by another, this time simply for partisan tactical convenience. The Prime Minister is misusing the power to shut down Parliament, and in the process destabilizing Canada's democracy. For that reason, prorogation should be made subject to legislative controls.

There is a precedent. Mr. Harper himself once backed a similar reform. His government enacted Bill C-16, the fixed-date election law, which it was claimed removed the power to call elections at times of their own choosing from prime ministers, while acknowledging the law did not affect the powers of the governor-general. While not airtight, the law seemed binding at the very least on the prime minister who instigated it. Instead, Mr. Harper, sensing political advantage, disregarded his own law, sought and received dissolution of Parliament on Sept. 7, 2008, a year ahead of the fixed date.

Prorogation is or could be a more dangerous political tool than dissolution, and a more effective reform can be envisaged. A limit could be set, for example, on the length Parliament could be prorogued. Similarly, if advice to prorogue Parliament came not from the prime minister, but on an address of Parliament, Mr. Harper would have been unable to slip his request for prorogation through just before New Year's with a curt telephone call to the Governor-General. He would have had to bring the matter before the House of Commons for a debate and vote. Only when armed with House support could the request have been made. It does not violate the principles of the constitution for the House of Commons to control its own schedule. According to the Queen's University political scientist Ned Franks, the British Parliament has twice legislated on prorogation, in 1867 and 1918. The NDP has already indicated it will pursue legislative means to rein in the prime minister's misuse of prorogation, but MPs of all parties have a responsibility to resist submission, as Junius said, “to arbitrary measures.”

The Liberal response to date, "trust us", when asked about any prorogue reforms. The issue isn't prorogation, but the abuse, initiated by THIS Prime Minister. While I entirely agree, Harper bears responsibility for abusing the levers at his disposal, simply pointing this out doesn't go far enough, it doesn't address the genuine concerns of Canadians. For the Liberal criticism to truly be effective, it must be armed with real world application, otherwise it's simply endorsing the status quo. I see no reason why the Liberals can't champion certain legislative reforms, because to resist, implies a position based on FUTURE self interest. Judging by the reaction to the hollow platitudes offered to date, I would argue a missed opportunity, should the Liberals continue to defend current conventions.

Harper is the problem, but beyond that, this issue speaks to a system out of balance. The Liberals should champion any initiative which speaks to a more representative and egalitarian parliament, one that puts more control into the hands of people we elected, rather than the whims of a Prime Minister.


Kirbycairo said...

The Liberals had their time of enjoying their abuse of power and hope to do so again. They have no interest in real reform that will limit their future defacto dictatorship.

Gene Rayburn said...

Please... spare me the bitter NDP rant

Steve V said...

Ignatieff says Liberals will support limiting prorogue power. Good stuff.