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Great moments in Canadian innovation


 

Richard Foot reports that in no other similar democracy has a prime minister prorogued Parliament to avoid trouble.

It turns out, no other English-speaking nation with a system of government like ours — not Britain, Australia or New Zealand — has ever had its parliament prorogued in modern times, so that its ruling party could avoid an investigation, or a vote of confidence, by other elected legislators.

Only three times has this happened, all in Canada — first in 1873, when Sir John A. Macdonald asked the governor general to prorogue Parliament in order to halt a House of Commons probe into the Pacific Scandal. Lord Dufferin gave in to the demand, but when Parliament reconvened Macdonald was forced to resign. No prime minister dared use prorogation to such effect again, until Stephen Harper convinced Gov. Gen. Michaëlle Jean to suspend Parliament in 2008, so the Conservative party could evade a confidence vote. A little more than a year later, he did it again.


 

Great moments in Canadian innovation

  1. I still think that the last 4 months of polls have more to do with the transience of a great performance rather than either detainees or the p-word. However, if I am wrong and SH has finally pushed on the system hard enough that Joe Public gives a crap about the democratic system then he will have unwittingly made a great contribution to Canadian society.

    • I hope you are right. Perhaps Canadians are finally waking up to how dangerous Stephen Harper is to Canadian democracy.

      Canadians seem to be under the false assumption that democracy in Canada is sacred and will never be manipulated by power seeking politicians. This is false. Harper is an example of a politician who will game the system and remove any obstacle that stands in his way of retaining power.

      • To be fair, the attack on Canadian democracy by the PMO preceeds Harper. But also to be fair, Harper has been far more systematic and effective than Chretien and lacked any of the vision of Mulroney or Trudeau. Indeed the attack on demoncracy has been the single unifying theme underscoring Harpers term as PM.

  2. Stephen Harper convinced Gov. Gen. Michaëlle Jean to suspend Parliament in 2008, so the Conservative party could evade a confidence vote. A little more than a year later, he did it again.

    This is more than a little bit fast and loose with the facts. There was no foreseeable confidence vote on the horizon that Harper was trying to avoid…people have to remember that the very first day back from proroguation is a confidence vote (Throne Speech). Proroguing Parliament is not a particularly effective way to avoid a confidence vote. Postpone one maybe, but not avoid one.

    • Am I missing something? Are you denying that the opposition parties had not written a letter to the GG in 2008 clearly indicating that they had lost confidence in Harper? Since a minority House leader had to have the confidence of Parliament, did their letter not make it clear to the GG and the House that Harper could no longer govern?

      Perhaps you are arguing semantics? You know, kind of like the "I did not have sexual relations…" or Hillier and Gauthier claiming that there was no "torture" word in Colvin's memos?

      • John G is pretty clearly lying. He's done it before.

        • OK, clearly I need to clarify. My comment was referring to the most recent (2009) proroguation; obviously the author was correct in referring to 2008. But he said that "Harper did it again" in 2009, suggesting that Harper was trying to avoid a confidence vote. This is clearly not true.

          • I accept your clarification regarding the second prorogation, although I submit your original interpretation wasn't the most obvious reading.

          • Actually, most reasonable people familiar with our Parliamentary system would likely agree that the author was correct again in suggesting that Harper prorogued in 2009 to avoid a looming confidence vote.

            Harper had already refused to provide the unredacted documents despite an order from Parliament. In our Parliamentary system, it would mean either passing: (a) a contempt motion, or more likely (b) a no confidence motion. Both would of course require the majority vote of the House. Harper killed either possibilities with his prorogation, abetted by the GG.

            Thus, I do not think you can so easily explain away your spin by saying you only referred to the current prorogation.

          • I expect most reasonable people understand that "did it again" means, "prorogued to avoid the will of Parliament", in this case, the call for documents.

            Of course, I did say "reasonable" people, which kind of lets you off the hook.

        • The use of prorogation to postpone a vote of confidence is still an abuse of privilege.

  3. I hope they pay you to write this drivel because suspending common sense should be compensated.

  4. In 1875 in BC, the government chose to shut down the Legislative Assembly, after the opposition compelled the publication of the Papers Connected to the Indian Land Question. Joseph Trutch, Lt. Gov. and intimately concerned in said papers, allowed the Leg to close rather than have the government face debate. So there is some precedant there – a semi-corrupt almost colonial government avoiding questioning of its policies.

  5. Interesting isn't it, how Mr Foot completely disregards the time that Chretien prorogued Parliament in order to derail the AG's report into Adscam, which of course must be presented to Parliament and could not be while Parliament was prorogued.

    • Are you referring to November 12, 2003, when Jean Chretien prorogued Parliament because of the Liberal leadership convention, which elected Paul Martin leader? (I assume so, as the Auditor General's report on Sponsorship was released in February of 2004.)

      If so, you might be way off in terms of his motives: This was the height of the Chretien vs. Martin fracas and Chretien, who had announced his coming retirement, prorogued Parliament mainly to avoid a showdown in the House over who was the actual PM.

      In this light, your suggestion that he prorogued Parliament to bury the Sponsorship audit is pretty suspect. The balance of evidence seems to suggest that Chretien prorogued in Nov 2003 because of Martin's rise and Liberal leadership infighting, not to bury Fraser's Sponsorship audit.

    • For the last time, ‘the other guy did it, too’ is not a defense. It was bad both times. I don’t remember Chretien shutting down committees, though.

      • You're playing their game when you pretend that it's the same thing.

    • As you well know, Chretien's prorogation merely delayed the delivery of the near-complete report. The Gomery inquiry was not prevented from carrying about its business and the Liberal government was taken to task for the scandal.

      Also, as you well know, during prorogation Chretien retired and handed the reins to Martin. It wasn't pretty but it wasn't a novel use of prorogation and didn't take Parliament into uncharted waters.

      By contrast, Harper was facing a showdown with a Parliament that had passed a motion demanding access to Afghan detainee files. That motion died with prorogation. He was also under investigation for his government's role in the torture of detainees. Those committees have now expired and will need to be re-formed in March and begin the investigation all over again.

      There is a material difference between Chretien's prorogation and Harper's. And you know it.

      • From CTV in September 2002:

        In another deveolpment, news that Chretien has decided to prorogue Parliament and begin a new session later this month means that a parliamentary report expected to be critical of his government's handling of advertising contracts that was due out this fall may never be revealed.

        Link here: http://www.ctv.ca/servlet/ArticleNews/scfcn/CTVNe

        • Which is it then? Are you saying Chretien prorogued in 2002 to avoid sponsorship scrutiny or that he did so in November 2003? Do you have a better source than the tail end of a report from CTV? According to David Akin analyses of Chretien's record of prorogation: "September 16, 2002 – After a summer of Liberal in-fighting and Jean Chretien being forced to announce his planned retirement date in August, Chretien prorogued Parliament, killing legislation so that he could unveil his legacy agenda."

          Again, Chretien's actions at the time had everything to do with the Chretien/Martin leadership battles. As for Sponsorship, Chretien's approach was to kill the project after an audit in 2000 … 4 years BEFORE Gomery.

          It was Martin who catapulted sponsorship from a "Quebec politics is shady" story into a national "scandal" … again, a couple of years later than you are suggesting.

          • Even the Toronto Star doesn't believe that bit of spin:

            With the end of the Chretien era approaching, many are convinced the Prime Minister is arranging the Parliamentary schedule so that the Commons will not be sitting on Nov. 25. That's when Auditor General Sheila Fraser is scheduled to release the findings of a massive investigation of the biggest scandal ever to hit the current government the questionable spending on the Liberals' $40- million-a-year advertising and sponsorship program.

            http://pqasb.pqarchiver.com/thestar/access/440521

          • I've said nothing of the kind. Where, exactly, did I congratulate anyone? My point was — and remains — that Chretien's reasons for proroguing had much to do with delaying and frustrating Paul Martin's leadership ambitions and little to do with Sponsorship.

            And I'm not spinning. Chretien's machinations were what they were. I'm simply pointing out that there are massive holes in your theories about his motives at the time. In 2002 and 2003, Chretien vs. Martin was the big story. Sponsorship took flight later.

            PS: Calm down.

        • Harper, as has been pointed out by Coyne, essentially prorogued Parliament while under subpoena. Proroguing parliament in order to delay the release of a report is bad. Proroguing Parliament, arguably, to avoid acquiescing to the House of Commons demands that your government produce certain documents relevant to ongoing Parliamentary investigations (and, simultaneously, shutting one of those investigations down through the act of proroguing Parliament) is worse.

    • I expect you're right in a sense. It's rather sad that a Liberal Leadership convention is more troublesome to the Liberals than even leaving our soldiers to choose between disobeying orders or committing warcrimes is to the Harpers.

    • Chretien was in no danger of losing a CV…spin again JG. it's well known he did it to embarass Martin, not particularly ethical, but hardly running from parliament …it's not the same, although it still stank. Your charge of bias is just silly.

      • Neither is Harper today.

        • It has been pointed out above that if Harper continued to defy an order of parliament he might well lose a CV…it is a minority govt Jg.

          • Following this logic a minority government can never prorogue because a minority government might always lose a hypothetical confidence vote somewhere down the road.

  6. It's not an innovation until I see a Heritage Minute about it (wouldn't that be awesome?)

    • It was a time of turmoil in Canadian politics. Competing parties battled through successive minority governments each accusing the other of trying to undermine democracy. An issue arose over the mistreatment of Afghan detainees captured by Canadian soldiers and turned over to Afghani jailers.

      Opposition members clamoured to expose what they saw as the Conservative government's complacency and demanded unredacted documents with a vote. The government refused. Instead Conservative strategists met day and night through the holidays searching for some way to get the issue off the agenda and off the front pages.

      "I've got it!" shouted one of the weary bakroom boys. "It's been right in front of us the whole time! All we have to do is prorogue! And we announce it, get this, … on New Year's Eve!"

      "Prorogue, by Jove!" the gentleman shouted.

      And thus the word prorogue, used for centuries by parlimentarians to mean the ending of a session of parliament after the legislative agenda is complete, entered the lexicon of ordinary Canadians and came to mean something else altogether. A uniquely Canadian meaning.

  7. Why does Harper take all the hits for the December 2008 prorogation and subsequent recovery of parliamentary confidence? The opposition was being pretty innovative too – proposing a minority coalition led by a departing opposition leader. And Ignatieff decided to vote confidence in the revised budget. He could've maintained the coalition, which would have been more credible with him at the helm.

    Also, here's another reason to suspect our NATO allies won't be too hard on us over our treatment of Afghan detainees:
    http://yglesias.thinkprogress.org/archives/2010/0

    • Quite obviously, if a government wants to try to govern, it should do so by trying to pass a vote of confidence in the house, and not by the whimsy of the GG deciding whether it may at some point be able to pass a vote of confidence.

      Duh.

      • That's so straightforward – what was the GG thinking? Those constitutional experts might have said something whimsical to inspire her…

        • Class, can somebody help out Style here?

    • Brave soldiers for speaking out…but when last i checked Canadian's chose their govts, not NATO.

    • Your argument is innovative, so full marks for that!

      However, "they did it too" still doesn't work, even when we are talking about other countries. It doesn't work in this particular case because war crimes charges can be brought at any time. In the future, I mean. So, while I find it highly doubtful any Canadian parliamentarian, general or other armed service personnel would be brought up on charges before their U.S. counterpart, I would think it extremely more likely that it would happen concurrently–as evidence the charges weren't anti-American.

      • Not sure what non-American authority could bring US troops up on charges but the point was just to put the "OMG Harper is destroying Camada's reputation" complaints in perspective.

        • Well, if your point was that Harper isn't destroying Canada's reputation with Americans, you done good.

  8. Yeah, but the media – the same media with a long, long pattern of acting maliciously towards the PM – is projecting Harper's reasons for prorogation. You're not a mind reader buddy, and you can't possibly know his reasons for proroguing. A more likely explanation is that he wanted to get a plurality in the Senate so they would stop their anti-democratic blockade of Senate reform, or – imagine! – you can take the PM who is running the cleanest government in at least a generation at his word, something you seemed willing to do when the criminal organization known as the Liberals were in power.

    Even by the low to non existent standards of Canadian journalism Foot is being extraordinarily dishonest. But what do you expect from a "profession" which among other things covered up the Dhalla slave driving scandal – if these moral degenerates will collude with slave drivers we shouldn't expect them to report the basic facts correctly.

    I'll repeat the allegation: the Canadian media, which is pro slavery, colluded to cover up the Dhalla slave scandal. Disgust doesn't even begin to cover that one.

    • That’s been debunked. Prorogation was not necessary to appoint Senators, or to change the balance of power on Senate committees. Even if it was necessary, he could have prorogued just before the scheduled return of Parliament, allowing committees to continue their work until then. Proroguing gained him nothing over this scenario except avoiding Parliament for a month and a bit, and shutting down all committees for a few months. Given that the CPC was disrupting committee business by failing to show to meetings, it seems that shutting committees down is a primary motive.

  9. whoops. meant to be above.

  10. And this just in from the Inconvenient Facts Department, from Spector:

    "…, Peter Hogg, is one of Canada's leading constitutional experts…. Which is one reason he should be listened to on the question of prorogation….Mr. Hogg was one of the authorities whom the Governor-General consulted before agreeing to prorogue Parliament in December, 2008.

    In Fredericton, Mr. Hogg spoke publicly for the first time on an issue that has been very much in the news recently, as it was in December of 2008. In that case, he argues that the Governor-General had discretion, since it was known that the Conservative government faced a no-confidence vote that it would likely lose. On the other hand, he argued in Fredericton, this year the government clearly had the confidence of the House and, in such cases, the Governor-General has no choice but to accept the Prime Minister's request for prorogation."

    Get that folks, the government has the confidence of the House.

    • Jeez jarrid – you're being completely out-crazied by Bonzo above.

      You're going to have to step up your game if you want to remain the #1 Conbot. I mean, accusing the media of covering up "slavery" in the Dhalla home? That's freaking priceless. Top that.

      • OT and ad hominem reply.

        • Hey, keen.

          Can you stick to that shorthand from now on, Jarrid? It'd save me a lot of time/trouble.

        • You're right – OT and ad hominem.

          Respectful debate has to be earned, jarrid. I've tried before with you and got nowhere, so mockery it is.

    • Yeah. So there. Stevie gets to do whatever he wants. As long as he has the confidence of the house, accountability be damned. Functioning Parliamentary committees be damned. Parliament itself be damned.

      • That's precisely the arguments advanced by partisan Liberals like yourself to distinguish the prorogations done under the Chétien regime and Harper's government. Try to be consistent or lose credibility.

        • Hunh?

          I happen to agree with Stephen Harper pre-2006, the principled leader:

          When a government starts trying to cancel dissent or avoid dissent is frankly when it's rapidly losing its moral authority to govern.”
          Stephen Harper, Canadian Press, April 18, 2005

      • Just like Chretien, as kcm will explain shortly…

        • What committees did Chretien shut down? What Parliamentary order did he ignore? What legislative agenda did he cancel? How much under the average sitting days was Chretien's Parliament when he prorogued (average is about 200 per year since 1982, Harper sat 108)?

        • Style
          So now you're claiming Harper has a majority? He could lose a vote in the house at any point…could you say the same of Chretien…your arguements aren't normally that weak. Majority rule may not be pretty, but it is nonetheless majority…see the difference?

    • Hogg's a little loose with his contention that Harper held the confidence of the House during his 2009 proroguing, given that he and the governing party had just lost a vote of the entire House on a matter of Parliamentary Privilege — remember those pesky detainee documents and witnesses?

      • Taking issue with Canada's leading constitutional expert. Amateur Hour indeed.

        • This from a global warming denier who thinks he's smarter than the world's climate scientists.

          Priceless.

        • I read Hogg's entire response and it's mainly on point — if filtered through the lens of journalism. I was taking issue mainly with your cherry-picking.

      • Minority governments lose votes without losing the confidence of the House. Hogg probably has a pretty good grasp of that nuance.

    • Has anyone suggested that the government does not now have the confidence of House? I agree with Hogg concerning 2008. The GG used her discretion, and I think she made the right choice. However, I would like to remind you that Harper and his supporters at the time implied that she did not have that discretion. If she had refused and had forced Harper to face Parliament she would have also been right, don't you agree jarried, as this is what Mr. Hogg is claiming, right?

      I agree with Hogg that this time around she had no choice.

      But I wonder where did Mr. Hogg got the idea that Ignatieff would never prorogue. Ignatieff has said no such thing.

      • Iggy said he would never prorogue to avoid accountability as Harper has done again. You are correct to say that he did not promise never to prorogue.

        • nor should he. Prorogations – especially in a majority context where a 4 year term is fully expected to be played out – are seemingly useful tools for the government to reset the agenda. Not all legislation is going to be well conceived or meet the kind of approval expected or avoid a turn in opinion based on new understandings raised in the course of debate and scrutiny. 4 years is a long time to go without a reset of priorities and direction.

          How and when it is done are something a reasonable person can assess and evaluate and decide for them self given the circumstances.

  11. Gosh, whatever happened to that Gomery report? Was it "never" revealed?

    • WTF are you talking about? There was no "Gomery Report" in 2002. This was referring to the AG report. And you know it.

      • And you know it too, because it came out, so, the thing that in your news report "may never be revealed" was, in fact, revealed.

      • My mistake, pardon me.

        And was the AG report "never" delivered? Or was it simply delayed?

        • Ah, I see…we have no problem with giant political scandals being "delayed" when it is a Liberal who is doing the delaying, right?

  12. Um, no. What I mean is: was he systematically shutting down committee after committee like Harper has been? The answer would be no. Did he cancel over half his legislative agenda like Harper did? The answer would be no. Did that particular Parliament sit for almost half the average time of other Parliaments like Harper's? The answer would be no.

    Is it customary to prorogue Parliament when a new PM is coming into power between elections? Absolutely.

    Read some history friend.

  13. As I said above: "It wasn't pretty but it wasn't a novel use of prorogation and didn't take Parliament into uncharted waters."

    I do think it was an ugly decision and reflected poorly on Chretien, and I do have a problem with it. But as I said above: "There is a material difference between Chretien's prorogation and Harper's. And you know it."

    You're drawing a false equivalence.

  14. No I'm not. The author of the original post that Wherry linked to is making a false assertion that only Harper has ever prorogued Parliament as an escape clause since JAM. That is demonstrably untrue and supported by various media stories that I've linked to.

    • You're deliberately missing the point.

      Once more: Chretien's prorogation did not interfere with an ethics investigation, it merely delayed the delivery of the final report. Without defending that, it does make sense for a retiring PM to prorogue and enable the incoming PM to set a new legislative agenda.

      Stephen Harper's prorogation makes no sense – fully half of his legislative agenda has died on the books. The reason he has prorogued is to *interfere* with an ethics investigation. THAT is an escape clause and materially different from what Chretien did.

      Sheesh.

      • Harper prorogued to gain control of Senate committees, which also makes sense when you are handed a new plurality in the Senate. And much like the AG report still came down, there is nothing against Harper that can't be restarted the instant that Parliament resumes.

        So what' s the difference?

        • You're being obtuse.

          Harper has been stonewalling an ethics investigation. He ran out of options when Parliament passed a motion demanding access to the Afghan detainee files. By proroguing now, all committees are disbanded and the Parliamentary motion goes away. All these committees will have to be re-formed, the investigation re-started and the Parliamentary motion recreated from scratch.

          This is active interference in an ethics investigation. Chretien never did that.

        • According to Stephen Harper's former Chief of Staff Tom Flanagan:

          Everybody knows that the Parliament was prorogued in order to shut down the Afghan inquiry.

        • "So what' s the difference?"

          So, for the record, you see no difference between Harper and Chretien. Don't feel bad–a lot of cons seem to share this view.

  15. Not sure why anyone is arguing with Jarrid… it is clear that the GG had no choice but to agree to Harper's request this time around. Indeed there is an interesting symmetry taking place.

    Last time, there was a coallition that was clearly technically legal, but one that did not correspond to Canadian norms and which was clearly unacceptable to the public. Now we have a proroguement which is clearly legal, but does not conform to Canadian norms and remarkably the public seems to consider unacceptable.

    Not to worry though, a couple more gigs with Yo Yo should right this ship.

    • The marketplace will decide.

      • LOL

        And once again I'm demoted from "citizen" to "taxpayer" with barely much more than a nod.

  16. You got it. A minority government can never prorogue to avoid the House without violating the fundamental principle of accountability to the House.

    • Well, I do get your point even though I am under the impression prorogation is necessary to start a new legislative agenda. Perhaps it would have made more sense a long time ago to make the call for prorgation itself a confidence vote rather than an executive decision so we could have avoided all the who's abusing it worse arguments. It would have also been interesting to see how that vote would have played itself out.

      • I totally agree. I don't see why prorogation should be a matter of the PM's advice. The next GG should declare that henceforth she'll prorogue Parliament when the Government's SFT bills have all either received Royal Assent or died, and she'll prorogue for no more than a month. That way we can shuck off the "precedents" of Chretien in 2002, Harper in 2008, and Harper in 2009.

  17. No.

    • Bonzo indeed.

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