Once upon a time there was a beautiful country in North America called Canada. In this country, the people prided themselves with the fact that they had a voice in the running of their country. Then along came a government that prevented that by closing the sitting of Parliament. The people could no longer speak their concerns.
Has democracy gone the way of the dodo bird? Is Democracy, like the dodo bird, becoming extinct?
In December 2008, Prime Minister Stephen Harper prorogued Parliament to avoid a planned vote against his new minority government. It wasn’t a clear vote of non-confidence as some have claimed, but it was definitely a united challenge of the government by the three opposition parties. The opposition parties did not stay united, however, and the Conservatives’ minority government lasted another two-and-a-half years.
In December 2009, Prime Minister Harper prorogued Parliament again, claiming that he didn’t want to have the government in session during the Vancouver Winter Games in February, 2010. However, the prorogation also meant that a House of Commons committee’s hearings into the Afghan detainee scandal were delayed for a few months.
Three provinces offer even worse recent abuses of shutting down the legislature. After the October 2011 election, Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Kathy Dunderdale simply didn’t open the legislature until March 2012. In the summer of 2012, British Columbia Premier Christy Clark prorogued the legislature and didn’t open it again until the spring of 2013.
And in October 2012, Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty prorogued the legislature and announced his resignation. The legislature closed for four months to prevent a vote of non-confidence, and an election, until his Liberal Party could hold a leadership race to replace Premier McGuinty.
And now we have Prime Minister Harper’s current prorogation. His reported plan to delay the opening of Parliament by one month will cut 20 of the 55 days out of the fall session.
And so we need to ask ourselves:
- Why is this done? ...to back off from key issues?
- To whom is the Prime Minister accountable?
- So what can be done to ensure that prorogations can be used but not abused?
Read Duff Conacher’s article in the Globe and Mail, “Proroguing Parliament without cause? Canadians want it banned.”
Kathleen Lichti, CSJ