Stephen Harper’s to-do list

Nick Taylor-Vaisey considers the unfinished business of Parliament


Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

Prime ministers prorogue parliaments when their governments run out of things to say. That’s the story of your typical prorogation, anyway. Stephen Harper has used prorogation creatively not once, but twice to worm his way out of sticky political situations. Recall the ultra-scary coalition crisis that threatened the nation in 2008, and the document-laden Afghan detainee crisis that had the opposition howling the next year. On both occasions, Harper asked then-governor general Michaëlle Jean to give him some time to straighten things out, a request she dutifully honoured. Those comprised two exceptions to a wobbly rule that prime ministers turn to prorogation when their government grows tired of its agenda and trades in for a new one. How much of the new agenda will actually be new? Oh, just you wait. The nation’s capital will send up its greatest prognosticators—there are hundreds of them—to speculate about that very question.

The opposition unloaded its usual fury on Harper’s decision to prorogue. “People aren’t going to be fooled,” roared Tom Mulcair, the Leader of the Official Opposition. “This is clearly a desperate government worn out by ethical scandals and mismanagement. Stephen Harper refuses to answer legitimate questions from the public.” Liberal deputy leader Ralph Goodale was slightly less agitated, but just as condemning of the government. “While starting a new session is an appropriate way to provide direction, Parliament has been on a summer recess since June and the Prime Minister has had plenty of time to write a throne speech,” he said. “This delay clearly shows that Stephen Harper and his government are without a plan.”

Do opposition gripes have credence? Let’s look at what the government left behind when the dust settled after the last session of Parliament. The PM and his government don’t control the fate of all these unsettled things, but they do have a stake in all of them. By our count, there were more than a dozen major things left hanging in the air when parliamentarians last warmed their benches.

What really went on behind the scenes between Senator Mike Duffy and former PMO chief Nigel Wright remains a mystery. No one has identified the person or people behind the fraudulent robocalls that misdirected voters during the last federal election. The fate of Senator Pamela Wallin, whose improperly claimed expenses have been sent to the Mounties, is unclear. The relative happiness of backbench Conservative MPs is anybody’s guess, though apparently the PM’s new chief of staff has played diplomat over the summer. The government’s next move on Senate reform is in the air, pending the Supreme Court’s consideration of six questions the government asked about how to actually reform the chamber. The next Parliamentary Budget Officer has not been hired. The future of the Canada Job Grant, touted by the feds as a solution to the country’s skills gap, is in the air. The airplane that replaces the CF-18 fighter jet has not been identified. Europeans and Canadians still haven’t figured out how to trade freely. U.S. President Barack Obama still hasn’t made a decision about the future of the Keystone XL pipeline. A Canadian regulator hasn’t made its decision about the Northern Gateway pipeline through British Columbia’s interior. The government still hasn’t set emissions regulations for oil and gas producers. The government hasn’t entirely addressed how it will meet aboriginal Canadian demands that emerged from the Idle No More movement. And the prime minister hasn’t called byelections in a number of ridings that stand vacant.

Today, we didn’t learn anything about the government’s next agenda. We did learn that Harper intends to lead his party into the next election. That was our 20th unsettled issue coming out of the spring, and though something can always change between now and 2015, Paul Wells is probably happy with his prediction on that front.


Stephen Harper’s to-do list

  1. I get a get kick out the cons when they say the liberals prorogued when they were in power. HELLO, that’s one of the reasons why the libs are not there today. so keep proroguing harper. maybe you will be gone in 2015.

  2. notice how many of the above items have nothing to do with Harper doing anything and everything to do with other people and their agenda’s – so the bottom line is that Harper has most of action items done – therefore time for a new agenda and a throne speech which means time for prorogation. This is how our system works despite all ther usual gang of Harper haters and their rants. I can’t wait – i love throne speeches as they give loud and clear hints about the direction our country will head and especially now with Harper having two more years of legislation that he can pass without any games by the opposition so all they will be able to is whine about the senate and whatever other imaginary scandal they can spin. What a marvellous time to be a Tory and watch the leftw wing nuts lose all grasp of reality on web forums

    • Yes. Of course. Whatever you say Wayne. But will the Conservatives be able to find the $3.5 billion from the federal budget that the Auditor General discovered had gone missing when he submitted his last report? Will the missing money suddenly turn up just in time for the throne speech? Or will the Prime Minister just conveniently forget to address that issue, along with a whole host of other unresolved matters, when he addresses the nation to tell us why he’s the right man for the job?
      Can’t wait to hear your right wing-nut rant about that one

    • That’s odd. In the above account, I tallied at least seven major issues left unfinished by the Cons and dependent solely on their…who am I kidding here…on Harper’s initiative. Like a cockroach, he scurries for a dark place every time a harsh light shines on him.

  3. #1 on to-do list:
    By not necessarily lying but lying if necessary; fool Canadians once again into re-electing them.

  4. has anyone ever bothered to prorogue during summer recess when the house isn’t sitting? wouldn’t you just shut it down when you left parliament.

    It’s nowhere near as bad as the crazy two pro-rogues, which were essentially the Harper crew extending the middle finger to Canadian deomocracy. You might say the reason they aren’t still sitting today is because they turned their back on their promise to end omnibus bills and passed one of the largest most disparate bills in history (a record surpassed only by their budget of the previous year, IIRC), but they’ve pulled far worse. I wonder if the strategy now is to pull slightly off-kilter but not terrible prorogues to try to normalize the procedure?

  5. I thought proroguing during the summer break was a fairly regular occurrence, regardless of the government in power. Sure there is a lot of legislation that will die on the order papers, but isn’t this typical? Unlike those other two prorogues, where Harper was clearly fleeing for his political life.

    • Except that Harper didn’t prorogue for the summer, he’s proposing to do so after the summer taking us well into the fall before submitting any government program or decisions to even the abysmally low bar of accountability we now have in parliament.

      As pointed out by the Liberal House leader, Harper has already had most of June, July and August to reset his agenda and write a throne speech.

      Instead, the “new” cabinet ministers are on the campaign trail with Rona Ambrose pretending she is going to do something about healthcare for seniors in speeches in Toronto and Peter Mackay doing a prairie swing to talk about some victims rights bill, that one could reasonably assume has already been passed, given CPC rhetoric about standing up for victims.

  6. This prorogation is not nearly as abusive as the previous two, but the fact we are even talking about it in light of scandals Harper may be avoiding is a sign that the public has not forgotten his abuse of power the last two times. You reap what you sow and all that…

  7. Barely related issue, but it was announced in the north!
    What’s this refusing to repeat answers in other official language all about?

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