The best and worst in democracy -

The best and worst in democracy


The anti-prorogation rallies of January 23rd win Samara’s search for the best moment in Canadian democracy last year.

Does this defensive trend bear ill for the health of Canadian democracy?  According to Professor Chantal Mouffe, “Democracy is a fragile construction: never definitively acquired, it is a conquest which has to be forever defended against possible attacks. The prime task of democratic politics is not to eliminate passions, nor to relegate them to the private sphere…but to mobilize these passions, and give them a democratic outlet.”  This suggests that these protests may, in fact, testify to a democratic culture that is more robust than we realize.


The best and worst in democracy

  1. Geez, I hate to break it to all those folks who made it out to all those rallies but, apparently, according to the Conservative government, it was a routine parliamentary exercise, certainly not worth all this fuss. So, I'm not sure if you can take that prorogation deal thing off your chart or something, but it really shouldn't qualify. It was all cool. Big misunderstanding. Leftwing media and stuff. You know how it is.

  2. This wasn’t a moment for Canadians standing up for democracy…….it was an opportunity for the Liberals, NDP, and Greenies to once again skip work and complain about Conservatives.

    You can be 100% CERTAIN, that if the Liberals prorogued, these people at the rallies would not have shown up.

    Wait a minute….the Liberals DID prorogue…..numerous times. And Apparently what I wrote above is true.


  3. Hey gottabesaid,

    IF you recall these "democracy protests" you must remember all of the signs demanding a return to democracy. Signs such as:

    -No blood for oil
    -Kyoto NOW
    -No one is Illegal
    -Abortion is MY right!!!
    -stay out of my vagina!! (held by the way, by a crew-cut, manly looking feminist….who really, had NOTHING to worry about)
    -Queers against Israeli Apartheid!!!
    -Israel, OUT OF PALESTINE NOW!!!
    -No rendition!!!


    Yep….those defenders of democracy sure had the right message.

  4. To be fair, it's easy for the opposition parties to "skip work" when the government shuts down the office over the holidays.

  5. And what do you know. I disagree with you again. I knew it couldn't last.

    There is prorogation and then there is Prorogation. Proproguing Parliament at the end of a long and drawn out session so as to reset the Legislative clock is one thing. Proroguing Parliament so as to avoid either a Confidence Motion or questions on a particularly difficult issue is something else all together,

  6. Nice.

    So to whom was that crew-cut manly looking feminist addressing her message? Yeast?

  7. Chretien prorogued Parliament 4 times actually. Where were the robust defenders of democracy then? Or maybe it's only news when the Conservatives do it.

  8. Yeah, that's cute.

    Anyway, I love this editorial from the Montreal Gazette from Harper's first prorogation, about how he was putting his party's interest ahead of those of the country… and then he did it two more times.

    I don't think you understand the whole exercise of prorogation and what it's there for. For what it's worth, the Liberals did it for partisan gain too, in one instance in particular, and Harper rightfully screamed bloody murder. There probably should have been a protest. There wasn't. Oh well. Anyway, I know, left-wing media, that damned Wherry, yadda yadda… GO TROOPS!

  9. It's also pretty easy for the thousands of people who took part who DON'T work on weekends.

  10. "You can be 100% CERTAIN, that if the Liberals prorogued, these people at the rallies would not have shown up.

    Wait a minute….the Liberals DID prorogue…..numerous times. And Apparently what I wrote above is true.


    Anyone care to explain to James what the word Context means?

  11. You should have come to Portage and Main for the march/rally. That specific point was addressed by at least two speakers.

  12. Ah, context. When the Liberals do it = nothing to see here. When the Tories do it = end of democracy.

  13. Correction: it's only WRONG when the Conservatives do it.

  14. Anyone care to explain to James what the word Context means?

    Why bother?

  15. Brilliant !

  16. I agree that the anti-prorogation rallies were good for democracy. I have a lot of respect for people (regardless of their political leanings) who give a damn about how the country is run, and who are willing to attend an outdoors rally in January to stand up for their beliefs.

    On the other hand, <20,000 Canadians attended the rallies, out of a population of 34 million. 0.06% of the population attended a rally, and the other 99.94% didn't. So I'm not sure if the protests "testify to a democratic culture that is more robust than we realize."

  17. I think a protest might have been going too far for the Liberal one. Worthy of some crticism, very possibly.

  18. Correction: Only in specific instances of the Conservatives or the Liberals doing it explicitly to avoid upcoming instances of negative Parliamentary scrutiny is it wrong. Proroguing because you've passed all of the legislation you said you'd pass in the Throne Speech is different from proroguing because you're about to lose a confidence vote on the floor of the House of Commons (Hello Martin and Harper!).

  19. True, and point taken. That said, at the time of the rallies someone said "It's not like it makes a huge difference whether the final tally is 17,000 or 20,000 or 25,000. The important point is that large numbers of Canadians attended the rallies". I think that point stands as well.

    I'm also not sure it makes sense to compare the rally numbers with the population as a whole, as opposed to comparing it to the size of other rallies. I mean, the Liberals and the NDP apparently launched their own attack on democracy by brazenly attempting to overthrow the democratically elected Harper government. How many people took to the streets to protest against that?

  20. All of which are opinions freely expressed in a democracy. So, what, exactly, is your point?

  21. Well said, and non-partisan to boot. No government, of any political persuasion, should use prorogation to avoid scrutiny by the House.

  22. "How many people took to the streets to protest against that? "

    Quite a few did… maybe not to the same extent, but quite a few. That said, there were also quite a few who rallied to show support for the coalition, too.

  23. Familiar with the phrase "apples and oranges"?

    Apples: routine prorogation when almost all of your own legislative agenda has been accomplished and Parliament is ready for a fresh start, and even the opposition parties don't object; usually done for anywhere from 1 day to a month. Like Harper did once and every Prime Minister has done.

    Oranges: unusual prorogation when you throw out most of your own unfulfilled legislative agenda in order to avoid accountability and subvert Parliament. Like only Sir John A (once to avoid accountability on the Pacific Scandal) and Harper has done twice.

  24. At the Prorogation protests? Not at the 10,000 strong protest in Toronto or the 3000 strong protest in Ottawa.

  25. I am fairly certain Martin did not pro-rogue to avoid a confidence vote. Martin rearranged an opposition day while keeping the House active.

  26. All good points. The rallies were truly national in scope, and they involved more people than any other political rally in recent Canadian history. I agree with whoever wrote that wise point you quoted: the anti-prorogation rallies were significant because large numbers of Canadians attended, even though the number was tiny relative to the total population. Finally, the rallies were successful in the sense that they were covered extensively by the media, so their message was effectively delivered.

    Still, compared to other countries, it goes to show how fortunate Canadians really are. When a so-called "protest in defence of democracy" turns out fewer than one in a thousand citizens, we really are living the good life.

  27. True. I was trying to throw a bone there to the Tories by implying that someone other than Sir John A. and Harper has ever used prorogation to avoid a confidence vote (based on the idea that Martin also managed to avoid a confidence vote). It's true though that Martin didn't go so far as to prorogue Parliament to avoid the vote that would have gone against his government.

  28. I agree with whoever wrote that wise point you quoted.

    I thought you might! ;-)

  29. You're absolutely right. He didn't go "so far" as to prorogue. Rather, he did it old school. He ignored the motions asking his government to resign for long enough to bribe a Conservative MP to cross the floor in exchange for a cabinet post and the deciding vote on the confidence motion.

    I'd argue that's going much further than proroguing.

  30. The are usually 20,000 people walking the streets outside of the area after a hockey game on any given night in any Canadian city with an NHL team. Not a very impressive number.

  31. You are absolutely right. Why doesn't Ignatieff campaign that in the next election he would eliminate the ability of a government to prorogue. That would sure end the hypocrisy.

  32. I wasn't asking Mikey.

  33. Where does it say that? Pls. show where it says there are good and bad prorogations. Pls. show me where the discussion about prorogatiions says where and when a government can prorogue. Did Chretien follow the rules when he prorogued to avoid the adscam scandal?

  34. And you'dbe wrong and lying.

    No vote was ignored because no vote happened. Speaker said so – end of discussion.

    Learn it. Love it.

  35. Prorogation Rallies:

    A Question

    1-If you were to discount all the Anti-Semites decrying the state of Israel/Jews
    2-Discount all the anti-Conservative Feminists (the left wing versions, ala Judy Rebick)
    3-Discount all the Marxists/Communists/Anarchists
    4-Discount the Socialists/Labour Union members
    5-Discount all the anti-Poverty groups
    6-Discount all the native special Interest groups
    7-Discount all of the gay-rights groups

    Who would be attending these rallies?

    Ralph Goodale, David McGinty, and three homeless people who showed up to collect signs for firewood.

  36. Greg Weston, ex of the Toronto Sun, suggested the same thing.

    It it's used for what it's supposed to be used for — resetting parliament after everything in the throne speech has been checked off and dealt with and it's time for a new legislative agenda — I don't see a problem. If it continues to be used for things that it shouldn't be used for — like avoiding issues you'd rather not deal with — then get rid of it. See, the problem is, it doesn't just apply to your Harper government. The next government will abuse it too, and the government after that. And one of those governments just might be (spit) Liberal.

  37. You are being told.

  38. That's an excellent textbook example of specious reasoning.

  39. It should be said I don't have much faith in anything that Weston has to say these days.
    Prorogation is a parliamentary tool used by all governments. I don't think there are any rules that say when or how prorogation should be used. I would suggest that the 08 prorogation saved the country from the three amigos. It is tough enough to have one party acting as a government with the competing interests of three parties. Can you imagine a coalition government led by the inept Dion with the yapping dogs of Layton and Duceppe pulling his strings? Harper saved the country from itself and history will show he made the right decision.

  40. You forgot to add child molesters and muslims.

  41. I would argue more that a vote happened, but it wasn't a confidence motion, but your point is still taken. Martin never ignored a vote asking his government to step down, he ignored a vote asking a committee to ask his government to step down. "We vote that a committee should vote non-confidence in the government" is not the same thing as "We vote non-confidence in the government". It's a subtle distinction, but an important one.

  42. I accept your distinction.

  43. Wow, all those new categories of non-Canadians. I'll make a note.

  44. Martin never ignored a motion asking his government to resign because no such motion was ever voted on.

    That said, one can certainly argue that Martin did things that were "as bad as" proroguing Parliament to avoid a confidence vote, as long as one first acknowledges that proroguing Parliament to avoid a confidence vote counts as "bad" and not just "yet another prorogation".

  45. Speaking of yapping dogs…

  46. The huge difference for me is that in response to the likelihood of a non-confidence vote, Martin re-arranged a vote for a few days (two weeks tops, I think?) while the house still sat and government business was conducted as per ususal. Harper shut the entire government straight down while still maintaining control of the executive for several weeks. And nobody really thinks the speaker was wrong, while Mme. Jean's determination is subject to all sorts of legitimate criticism. (although she clearly acted within her authority).

    In fact, I think the contrast is so stark that any muppet seeing an equivalance is engaging in malicious selectivity he claims to be so sensitive to.

  47. Well, Weston wrote it when he was with the Sun, which I presume would make him more agreeable to you.

    I'd say the 'coalition prorogation' deserves its own debate. Unique circumstances. Not to disagree with you, but I think it deserves its own conversation.

    That said, prorogation shouldn't be used to change the channel, shut down debate, or for some other frivolous or fictitious reason. I invite you reacquaint yourself with this link and story:

    The Montreal Gazette took issue with Harper's first prorogation (the one everyone has forgotten about). They outline very well the prorogation tool and how it should be used. Remember, this was written BEFORE the prorogation 'hysteria', and the writer(s) make some very compelling (prophetic?) arguments.

  48. …and criminals benefiting from the revolving door justice system created by the Liberals and boat-riding 'refugee' Tamils.

    Oh wait… the Tamils weren't there yet… but if they were here you can bet they'd be in with those no-good malcontents as well.

  49. So why was there not thousands out in the street protesting Martin`s playing with the rules. That could have been the best moment in Canadian democracy of 2005—damn !

    This is just about the silliest topic talked about in weeks. If Wherry had spent 1 minute in Poland of 1982 or Egypt of 2011, then he might know something about a moment in democracy.

  50. To be clear, I wouldn't necessarily AGREE with an argument that Martin did anything "as bad" as Harper did in proroguing to avoid a confidence motion, I just acknowledge that such an argument could be logically made. It being an at all COMPELLING argument is another kettle of fish all together.

  51. And if Wherry had selected this moment as a great moment in Canadian democracy it might make sense to criticize his reasoning, but he didn't. He's just pointing out that Samara did.

    As to why people didn't protest Martin's somewhat dubious moves in the streets, I don't know (Coyne might have joined them… he was pretty mad at the time). However, people not protesting X has little impact on the legitimacy (or lack thereof) of people protesting Y. Why didn't people flood the streets of Egypt before now? Who knows, but the fact that they didn't doesn't mitigate the impact of them doing so today.

  52. Just to be mischievous, suppose you chose a Canadian at random on Dec. 30, 2009 (the date Parliament was prorogued).

    The odds that the random Canadian would die during the prorogation period were more than twice as high as the odds that he or she would attend one of the rallies.

  53. All PMs have used prorogation, not all have abused it. In fact, the abuse of prorogation is a fairly new phenomenon ( I guess the time Chretien did it in 2003 was, at best, debateable). You do raise a good point about bringing provincial prorogations into question, though… the first time I ever heard the term 'prorogue' was a decade or so ago from a Ontario provincial Liberal who was complaining about the then provincial PC government proroguing to shut down debate (their view, not necessarily mine). There was barely any mention of it in the media.

    "The reason the media and the opposition were so incensed was because they thought they had the government on the ropes over Afghanistan."

    Yeah, but why did the government pull the plug? Was it because they thought they were on the ropes, too? And I thought Iggy toured in the summer, when the House wasn't sitting. I stand to be corrected, I'm not sure. Regardless, how the media covered it and how Iggy handled his business afterward is another debate… it still doesn't make the decision to prorogue the right one.

    But, as much as the kerfuffle about the latest prorogation might tick you off, I believe it may have been for the best, at least for a few years at least. This government is going to think twice before it tries to do it again (unless it's truly warranted). The same will apply to the next government or two, whatever stripe it happens to be… because people have their radar up. I know if a Liberal government tries it, you're going to be among the first to, quite rightly, howl.

  54. I don't take issue with anything that you said. However, I still believe it was a lot about nothing. Your comment about a Liberal government trying it is not in the cards for some time to come I predict. Unless the Libs can find a leader who is acceptable to the Canadian people and the party comes out with real policies that appeal to the population they are going to stay on the opposition benches for a long time to come.

  55. I don't entirely disagree with you but the fact remains all PM's have used and abused prorogation over the years. Ask Bob Rae who prorogued plenty of times when he was Premier of Ontario.There are no rules which state how prorogation should be used. I might remind you that if the second prorogation was such an affront the opposition had many opportunities to rectify this "anti democratic" action by voting non confidence in the government. Arguments are one thing and is really opinion. It is not how the rule is written and media are entitled to their opinion. The reason the media and the opposition were so incensed was because they thought they had the government on the ropes over Afghanistan. What happened when Parliament resumed Ignatieff went on a town hall tour. So much for his worry about democracy and doing the peoples' business. The Afghan detainee issue is off the radar for the time being

  56. News Flash! Harper's proroguement kills two for every protestor!

  57. LOL!

  58. I'll wait for someone in authority to tell me.

    And even then, I'll ignore it.

  59. tobyornottoby wrote:
    "You should have come to Portage and Main for the march/rally. That specific point was addressed by at least two speakers"

    Hmm…If you are not Ralph Goodale, David McGinty, or a homeless dude, which of the groups listed would you fall under? Because I am absolutely certain you belong to at least one of them. Tell me I'm wrong. (and I still won't belive you)

  60. Sorry Mike T….

    The child molesters are under house arrest and can't leave their homes, and the Muslim's usually occupy some sort of position in the first category.

  61. And who's to say those groups have any less right to shape Canadian society than you do?

  62. Matt asked:
    "And who's to say those groups have any less right to shape Canadian society than you do?"

    Of course they have the right to protest, my point is they weren't protesting the pro-roguation or parliament, the protestors were mainly left wing groups who would use any excuse to march in the streets.

    If you had a march for animal rights or global warming, the EXACT same people would show up….and they would be carrying the exact same signs.

    For lefties…..the issue is not what they protest…'s the idea of protesting that drives them. The cause is always secondary.