A protester protesting prorogation last time parliament was prorogued. via Flickr.
Stephen Harper wants to hit the snooze button on the Canadian government’s summer vacation. While basically any student in the western world can identify with this need to keep the good times rolling, it’s not exactly the most confidence-inducing behaviour for a responsible, reliable government to be condoning. And yet, yesterday it was announced that parliament will be prorogued, a.k.a. delayed, until October—instead of starting on September 16th. The exact date for a return hasn’t been set yet, but it’s probably going to be after Canada’s collective Thanksgiving food coma.
According to Steve, the extra month will give him time to write a big speech to Canadians called a throne speech and groom his new cabinet ministers by teaching them things like “who to engage or avoid: friend and enemy.”
Some political pundits on CBC and CTV have told their audiences to not freak out. According to them, Canadian parliaments prorogue all the time (which, especially under Stephen Harper, is true), but I see all of this differently: freak out, people!
Historically, between the birth of lil’ baby Canada up until the 1950s, governments were prorogued—sometimes for half of the year—so parliamentarians could spend time in their local constituencies to address local issues. Then, they realized they could just use the phone for that most of the time, or later, email, so finding an excuse to avoid debate in the House of Commons and Senate became more difficult to explain.
In Australia, another Commonwealth parliamentary democracy, prorogation is explicitly meant to be a break for when discussion in the House is going nowhere. Because of that, they conventionally call an election right after a prorogation, like they are in the middle of doing right now.
Meanwhile in Canada, Harper has prorogued parliament four times in the last six years for some pretty sketchy reasons. The sketchiest of all was in 2008, when the PM asked the Governor General to prorogue parliament to avoid losing his job, due to a vote of non-confidence quickly following his minority victory that same year. The Governor General had the opportunity to refuse the Prime Minister—pretty much the only time that this could happen—and chose to do just what Stevie asked of her.
Now Harper again finds himself in deep shit and is apparently choosing to cut and run from debate in the House of Commons just when his Senate seems to be mired in scandal. This summer, there was the former Cabinet Minister Bev Oda who resigned for wasting money on a $16 glass of orange juice among other things—and the perpetual Senate shitstorm that has all sorts of people (including me) asking why the hell we have it in the first place.
The Liberals and NDP have been saying this prorogation is just another example of the PM dipping out when the going gets tough. The NDP’s grizzly leader Thomas Mulcair tweeted this snappy joke: “Stephen Harper can run but he can't hide forever. Maybe by Halloween he'll try dressing up as an accountable Prime Minister. #prorogation.” SNAP!
While Stephen Harper learns how to use his grandmother’s sewing machine to make his accountability costume, the reality is, if parliament is delayed, Harper is still going to be attacked for these scandals. It’s also not a stretch to say that Harper hides from parliament. Over the past year, Harper has “coincidentally” been away from the House of Commons when he probably should have been dealing with important issueslike when Mike Duffy was slipped $90,000 from Harper’s advisor Nigel Wright to pony up for some overspending, and when Harper was busy meeting with pandas instead of spokespeople for Idle No More.
In fairness to Harper, even if he sits through a barrage of hate for appointing three of the four senators who have been caught wasting public funds, including the latest culprit Pamela Wallin, he still needs to wait for the Supreme Court to decide if it’s even constitutionally possible for the government to get rid of this fucking Senate thing without asking all the provinces. That decision isn’t expected until fall at the earliest.
But more things happen in parliament than Question Period where the opposition rips on the government. Parliament Hill is actually meant to debate things called bills and legislation, remember those? A delayed start to parliament means that train regulation isn’t being debated to stop disasters like the tragedy of Lac Mégantic from happening again or Bill C-54, which sets limitations on high-risk offenders who were found not criminally responsible due to mental illness. Democracy is slow enough as it is, maybe it’s time we tell them that summer playtime is over.
Massively important political issues aside, Stephen Harper is clearly an eternal summer kinda guy. So until parliament resumes, let’s keep the good times going, right? Hit the lake for some fishing, shoot some fireworks at your friends, and spend all your time day-drinking at picnics. You’ll probably catch somebody who is supposed to be running our country out there with you.
Follow Joel on Twitter: @JoelBalsam