Should the House of Commons be debating Syria right now? -

Should the House of Commons be debating Syria right now?

On parliamentary accountability and military action


The Globe’s editorial board thinks so.

As the world ponders how to respond to the growing evidence that the Syrian regime used chemical weapons on its citizens, one body remains conspicuously silent – the Canadian Parliament. Prime Minister Stephen Harper should recall Parliament immediately, as Britain has done, in order to debate this urgent question and the role Canada should play…

Parliament, under a Harper government, held debates about extending the Canadian Forces mission in Afghanistan in 2006 and 2008, and Parliament voted to support the deployment of fighter jets in Libya in 2011. There is time to debate the Syria crisis and the situation is grave. Parliament should not sit idle at such a moment.

We covered the precedents on Tuesday. Of course, if, as CP reported yesterday, Canada is unable or unlikely to participate in a military strike on Syria, there might not be much of a debate to be had.

The question of whether the House should vote on military deployments is one Philippe Lagasse tackled extensively in this piece two years ago for the Institute for Research on Public Policy. He made his basic argument before a parliamentary committee last year.

I am very strongly of the view that we should preserve the crown’s prerogative to deploy the military without necessarily having the approval of the House of Commons.

That being said, there is the question of what role the House of Commons does have in debating these missions and obliging the government to, at the very least, outline what it intends to do, what it intends to spend. And if it needs incremental funding from the House it should be able to secure that.

Again, the reason I’m so adamant about this is that to my mind, accountability in our system is preserved when the executive is fully responsible for the decisions it makes and doesn’t have the capacity to launder its decisions through the House, as I believe this government has done on a number of occasions. I find that really muddies accountability for national defence.

That being said, there should still be a debate in the House, motions in the House, where members of Parliament have the opportunity to debate these missions. That should be required. The government should also be required to divulge the full information in terms of costs, in terms of what it’s deploying and what it foresees as the end game.

It is possible then to have a debate in the House without a binding vote that would determine whether this country engages in a military action. On whether the House should be voting on military action, Lagasse makes important points and raises valid concerns, though I’m not sure I entirely share those concerns—I think I would tend to see military action like any other decision of public policy.

Of course, to what degree the executive can act without the approval of the legislature is a point of debate in the United States as well. The British House is debating the matter of Syria at this moment and David Cameron’s situation is perhaps turning into an interesting test of the idea that the legislature should approve military action—in this case, Mr. Cameron is facing doubts and having to work to get the House to go along with a mission. I dare say that seems to be how it should be.

Regardless of whether Canada can or will participate in Syria, there is something in the Globe’s idea that Parliament “should not sit idle at this moment.” It should be, though perhaps increasingly is not, the centre stage that it is supposed to be.


Should the House of Commons be debating Syria right now?

  1. Should the house of commons support New World Order? No.

    • Right on!

    • didnt daddy harper lambast Jean Chretien about not going to war in Iraq. has daddy harper become a dove. not only is daddy harper a crook, he is also a coward.

    • Agreed as some dance with the devil is going on here between Masonic , Illuminati, Muslim Brotherhood and Saudi Arabia. As it is clear in at least this part, someone wants Shia Islam dead, but seems to forget 9/11 was from Sunni Saudi/UAE.

      Our politicians are lying to us all one the real reasons they want this.

  2. one body remains conspicuously silent – the Canadian Parliament.

    What a joke of an article.

    What has the American Congress said? Isn’t that more important?

    Oh yeah. They are also silent. Even more “conspicuously”. Why? Because nobody’s asked them. Most notably Obama. Because he thinks it might be “counter-productive.

    Remember when Bush was President, and people thought that it was impeachable not to ask them for authorization before going to war?

    “The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack.” – Candidate Obama, 2007

    “the President has no constitutional authority…to take this nation to war…unless we’re attacked…And if he does, if he does, I would move to impeach him.” – Senator Joe Biden, 2007

    Remember all the people calling Bush a warmonger? Where are they, now that Obama is threatening to “go it alone”, without Congressional, UN, or even public support? Did his Nobel Peace Prize get in their eyes?

    Where are all the anti-war protesters? Did Global Warming wipe them out?

    Why don’t we worry about that before wondering what the Canadian Parliament will say.

    • “Why don’t we worry about that before wondering what the Canadian Parliament will say.”

      Do you really not know the answer to that question, or are you unclear about what nation the city of Toronto is located in?

    • “Where are all the anti-war protesters?” We’re everywhere commenting. Perhaps you just choose not to see us because it blows huge holes in your diatribe against us.

    • Well, for Libya, no “good” men stood up.

  3. This time the US public isn’t keen on going to war….a miracle has occurred…..and most world leaders now know better…..let’s hope we’re part of that crowd.

    • Or more accurately, brainwashed for war. Media plays a big part in mustering up the war mongers in people.

      • Yeah, and Americans are convinced they’re God’s gift to the world anyway…..

  4. I’m all for parliament debating the Syria situation, but at this point, what is there to debate? Unless we’re contemplating unilateral military action, why don’t we wait until we’ve been asked to participate before we start debating whether we should or shouldn’t participate, and what form that participation should take? Recalling parliament to discuss this nebulous state of affairs is a waste of time.

    • But it would give Junior a chance to shine! That’s what this is all about.

      • Actually, it’s so Harper can get us mired in a middle eastern war without even taking the trouble of consulting with parliament. Because he’s an authoritarian dictator.

        (One dumb partisan comment deserves another.)

  5. Might I suggest a symbolic debate on a symbolic effort.
    Then we might watch Syria be symbolically afraid.

    Then we could do something more socially useful … don
    blue pajamas, rush out into the streets and hold collective Maoist
    self-criticism sessions (loudly) on our youthful indiscretions regarding
    drug use. Is that cool or what ?

  6. Shouldn’t we at least wait until the UN and/or NATO rubber stamp American and British lies about WMD before we debate going to war?

    Shouldn’t we at least wait until John Kerry shows up at the UN and puts on a show-and-tell?

    • It appears that the UK Parliament is functioning as it should. The opposition has forced to hawks to seek a second vote before beginning any war like actions.

      Oh for such an opposition here.

      • We don’t need it. Harper isn’t about to commit our troops.Unless of course you do want to go to war.

        • My time in khaki is behind me now.
          Too old and too busted up now.
          As for Harper, he’ll do what ever the US tells him to do.

          • After Keystone – I don’t think so.

          • That was Obama telling Harper what to do;

            As it was shall it ever be.

  7. This is not North Americas fight. The US government just wants to send troops in to write cheques for arms manufacturers on the backs of taxpayers. Let Syria handle their own problems.

  8. We didn’t bother with emergency sittings when the US used chemical weapons in Vietnam or when they supported chemical weapon use by Iraq against Iran. Nor when Israel used White Phosphorus against Palestinian civilians.Remember the U.S. previously called white phosphorous a chemical weapon when Saddam used it against the Kurds Also both the USA and Britain have been dropping depleted uranium around the globe like popcorn on a theatre floor. It would be rather two faced of us to complain now just because we don’t like the government that’s using it. Lets just decide whether we’re for or against it’s use and leave the selective prosecution to our justice system.

    • *Massive Applause*

  9. Why would they meet and debate? It’s not like we could actually do anything to prevent more chemical weapon attacks… unless those stealth snowmobiles could be retro-fitted to operate in sand.

  10. The UK Parliament has done a thumbs down on a military engagement. According to the Star, Harper has no intention of committing Canadian troops either. Ergo there is no need to call in Parliament. This is just another attempt at “me too’ism.” Why, in heaven’s name would anyone want to kick the hornet’s nest?

  11. Actually no, Ottawa shouldn’t even consider getting involved in this cooked up war. We should not be supporting terrorism of any kind.

    No explanation provided so far is proof, is justification and warrants supporting 9/11 like terrorists. In fact, someone should have the guts to ask Obama, why he supports Sunni terrorists in Syria, the same demographics as 9/11 fame?

  12. They should debate immigration, pensions, housing, food prices, improving the standard of living. But they don’t – for they do not care. Screw those Arabs anyway.