'If he says no then we have contempt of Parliament' - Macleans.ca
 

‘If he says no then we have contempt of Parliament’


 

The Canadian Press, Globe, Star, CBC and CTV report from today’s unofficial hearings of the Afghanistan committee. The Star’s Allan Woods wraps the day’s discussion thusly.

Mendes, one of the country’s top constitutional scholars, said Parliament’s power exceeds that of the various national security laws that have been used to censor government memos and diplomatic cables describing who was warned about possible war crimes violations going back to early 2006, when Canadian soldiers moved to Kandahar province.

That leaves MPs with two paths forward: they can ask the Supreme Court of Canada to rule on their right to access the information, a process that could take years; or they can invoke a rarely used power to censure, expel and even imprison any member of the House of Commons for contempt…

Opposition MPs are taking the advice seriously and will decide in the coming weeks how to move ahead.


 

‘If he says no then we have contempt of Parliament’

  1. "That leaves MPs with two paths forward: they can ask the Supreme Court of Canada to rule on their right to access the information, a process that could take years; or they can invoke a rarely used power to censure, expel and even imprison any member of the House of Commons for contempt…

    Opposition MPs are taking the advice seriously and will decide in the coming weeks how to move ahead."

    I hope they choose path number two. Throwing PM Harper in jail would certainly liven things up a bit.

    • Throw Harper in jail? Yikes! His time is up after all!

    • Weren't you a Harper fan, or has the 3-1 thrashing by ManU left you bitter and angry?

  2. God approves the imprisoning of Stephen Harper until he produces those documents.

    God hears that there is a prison beneath centre block where the PM can be held, and the National Press Gallery can set up their cameras to broadcast his incarceration.

    God thinks that this would be the greatest thing that has ever happened. Ever.

    • I would like God to produce evidence of the prison beneath the centre block of parliament, because I think the existence of a jail, holding cell, or some other place of imprisonment beneath parliament hill would be extremely interesting.

      Why was it built? Was it ever used? Who would muscle somebody into it?

      If it all turns out to be a tall tale, I will be a sorely disappointed as a child of the 80's was about hoverboards.

      • since when does god have to produce evidence? just make a leap of faith!

    • Well CBC's ratings will go up if nothing else.

    • God's avatar appears to be busted.

  3. Errol Mendes is a Liberal partisan.

    • Any word from a Conservative partisan, top constitutional scholar on this issue?
      Provide a link and I'll gladly read it

    • That goes without saying. By definition, anyone criticizing Harper is a Liberal partisan. And an idealogue. And hates the troops…

  4. God is pitching a reality show.

    God expresses self in the third person.

    God really makes you think.

  5. Good. Make a decision. Stick to it. I'm a little tired of opposition as wet noodle.

    • I agree. The opposition needs to fish or cut bait.

      • and call an election! or was that the line Harper used last time?

        • I have no idea what the PM's position is. But, I'd be happy to see an election.

          • I think it is difficult to draw any conclusions on what the PM might be thinking based on something he might have said in July 2008 before the last election. Although I like the phrase he used….

          • Hell, it's difficult to draw any conclusions on what the PM might be thinking based on something he said 15 seconds ago.

        • Who needs an election when apparently we have incarceration as an option? Note to opposition: pass a minimum sentencing law first, before anybody gets thrown in the clink.

  6. C’mon you anti-Harper folks, to parliament with the pitchforks and torches.

    • Hey, I'm a pro-good government, accountability and taking responsibility type of folk, where can i get my pitchfork?

      • Harpers Home Hardware.
        With every purchase of a pitchfork or torch you get a certificate confirming that you are against the Troops

  7. Sam, on the other hand, is a master debater…

    • Whew! I thought Sam was going to spill the con-talking point attack #3 on God for a second there…

    • Maybe this is clearer. Mendes worked as political staff in the Paul Martin PMO.

      • and yet we are to take Flanagan and Spector arbitrators of reality!

        • No, but it does gall me every time I read in MSM how Mendes is an esteemed constitutional scholar without so much as hinting that he has a dog in the race. You'll note in contrast that Flanagan is alwways identified by the MSM as a former Harper adviser. I'd just like to see some consistency.

          • so would i. give mendes a virtual column in the globe or at least a blog. or if not mendes someone from the libs that was a former CoS to a lib PM (would allow for the other parties but….)

          • You do realize that using the acronym "MSM" flags you solidly in the Fox-news-watching, Glenn-Beck-loving, Rush-Limbaugh-listening American conservative movement, right?

            No wonder your view of our country is skewed – you don't even watch the news here!

          • Sorry Andrew I don't even know who Glen Beck is and have never heard Rush Limbaugh except in clips on CBC. My advice to you is to stop jumping to conclusions about the viewing habits of someone you have never met. It is rarely an accurate way to make judgements.

  8. Well…THIS should be interesting.

    Perhaps it's time to stock up on popcorn.

    • When's the G8/20 again?

  9. You may want to call yourself "God's typist"

  10. I like it when we can agree on an issue!

    • It worries me when that happens…

      • Harper bringing people together? This isn't allowed.

  11. I can't see any reason why Harper would be against a strong law and order stance by Parliament.

  12. And how he could vote against upping the mandatory min. sentence for contempt of parliament, its high time for it to be cranked waaaaay up.

  13. So…if the PM is found in contempt of Parliament, what happens then? The Deputy PM takes over? We have an election? Everyone and his brother runs around Ottawa with an orb and scepter and declares themselves PM?

    • We don't have a Deputy PM! Harper eliminated the position, didn't he?

      • he just didn't appointment one…. hard to blame him given the options!

        • Yikes! He'd better do so, pronto!

    • Throwing the PM in jail would pretty well guarantee a majority for the Conservatives. I doubt that opposition strategists would want to adopt that strategy.

      • "Throwing the PM in jail would pretty well guarantee a majority for the Conservatives."

        Throwing Harper in gaol is ridiculous on the face of it, however, could you please draw me a picture that illustrates your conclusion?

        Just as a by the by this whole martyrdom thing, I admit, escapes me.

      • Agreed. Throwing the PM in jail has 'Coalition Debacle II' written all over it. The best thing that Ignatieff can do is say "That is a very interesting theoretical possibility, but I'm sure that Mr Harper can be held to account for his actions in some other way."

        • Such as an election perhaps?

          • /Slaps forehead By god, YES! We are a Parliamentary democracy! An election! As a way to resolve an obvious impasse in a minority government!

            But the pitchfork crowd was getting all excited… Way to rain on their parade, Chantale.

          • I'm not sure how an election would "resolve the obvious impasse in this minority government" if it basically returns the same House of Commons as the last election (which it would).

            The majority of the House thinks X. The PM and the Cabinet thinks Y. We have an election. After the election, the majority of the House of Commons thinks X. The PM and the Cabinet thinks Y.

            Problem solved?

          • If the electorate did not uphold the opposition's rejection of the governing party over the single defining issue that led to the dissolution of Parliament, it would be an incredibly foolish opposition that would continue to press the point in the next Parliament. No?

          • I know that I'll be available to trudge off to the polls again, should the opportunity occur.

      • Why are we talking about throwing the PM in jail? The culprit is Peter MacKay.

        • Let's throw all them all in jail! Get tough on crime, and all.

        • aiding and abetting after the fact Jack!

        • I think at this point the culprits are both Peter MacKay and Stephen Harper. Due to proroguing and the committee not being able to receive the documents, had MacKay wanted to submit them, and all.

      • Throwing the PM in jail would pretty well guarantee a majority for the Conservatives. I doubt that opposition strategists would want to adopt that strategy.

        I agree with TwoYen and Jack below. Let's throw Peter MacKay in jail.

        (As an aside, I don't actually totally agree with TwoYen. I think Parliament could throw the PM in jail and Harper could STILL not get a majority. Of course, it's all moot anyway as there is a ZERO percent possibility of it happening).

    • "Everyone and his brother runs around Ottawa with an orb and scepter and declares themselves PM?"

      All I could think of was Holy Grail when I read that.

      "Listen, strange women lyin' in ponds distributin' swords is no basis for a system of government. Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony ……. you can't expect to wield supreme executive power just because some watery tart threw a sword at you."

  14. Considering the kind of governance we've seen lately, I foresee a major upcoming quality problem with mailbags and licence plates.

  15. I tried to do that out here in Alberta, but nobody took me seriously.

  16. The Governor General might want to have some input on the issue.

  17. Now that's just rubbing salt in their wounds.

    Well done.

  18. It sucks when nobody takes your sceptre seriously.

    • Bloody hell.. walked into that one slack-jawed, I did.

    • wasn't the Serious Sceptre on Feschuk's list of moves to satisfy whoever he's thinking of at the time?

    • "Everyone and his brother runs around Ottawa with an orb and scepter and declares themselves PM?"

      All I could think of was Holy Grail when I read that.

      "Listen, strange women lyin' in ponds distributin' swords is no basis for a system of government. Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony ……. you can't expect to wield supreme executive power just because some watery tart threw a sword at you."

  19. Call a meeting of the Confederation and decide what should happen?

  20. Michelangelo is a stickler on copyright.

  21. This is an interesting question: the PM is simply the MP who happens to be the leader of the party with the leading total of seats in the house (by default, baring a coalition situation). If that MP is bared from serving in the house, can he still act as the PM in name?

    There a Parliamentary Law wizard lying around out there who knows?

    • I am not a parliamentary law wizard, but the answer is likely yes given that John Turner's term as PM was served while he was not an MP.

      (And, for the trivia buffs, the other two non-MP PMs were Abbott and Bowell — though unlike Turner those two were Senators at the time of their terms.)

      • I'm not a parliamentary law wizard either, but I'm almost positive Harper would still be PM–unless the Conservatives recalled him as their leader.

        • Separate to the censure, parliament could in theory advise the GG that somebody be removed from the privy council, and thus from executive authority. The problem with this is that it would either fail on a technicality somewhere (most likely outcome), or it would trigger a constitutional crisis and instant election. It would basically be in practice a sort of awkward vote of non-confidence , but without all of the clarity of purpose and intent. Despite the raw material for amazing political theater, it would be a complete mess.

  22. I'm not sure anything "happens" per se. I think in this context the PM is just another MP. Even should Parliament have him imprisoned it would be no different (in the sense in which you're asking) than if the PM was arrested and imprisoned for some other offense. Granted, in the case of some other incarceration the Tories would likely move to remove the man as leader, but beyond that I'm not sure anything would happen, nor that it necessarily needs to. Certainly not an election (that is to say not "automatically" in any sense).

    I don't think it would ever get to that of course, as presumably the PM would know that Parliament was about to find him in contempt and order him imprisoned, and so he would ask the GG to prorogue before they had the chance. Which would be interesting. We know that the Prime Minister can prorogue to avoid a vote of non-confidence in the House. We know the Prime Minister can prorogue to avoid complying with what is essentially a subpoena from Parliament. Could the PM prorogue to avoid going to jail?

    • No, I don't think so. Once a finding of contempt of Parliament is found, and the punishment decided on, proroguing wouldn't have any effect. I mean, if they decide on jail time (not going to happen) the Sarjeant At Arms or whoever would just escort him to police custody or something like that. If they decide on his removal from the Commons until such time as the documents are produced, he could maybe prorogue until he has the documents ready and produce them on the day they resume sitting, but the political fallout from that would probably be worse than the censure. Also, once the finding has been made, GG may well feel the need to step in in that scenario and refuse the prorogation. Similar to how she'd refuse if the PM lost a confidence vote and asked for prorogation instead of dissolution.

      Presumably, the opposition is getting together right now to decide on the punishment, so this whole exercise could be wrapped up in an hour or two. An hour or two on the day the House resumes sitting.

      • The key word in my comment was "before".

        You're likely totally right that "Once a finding of contempt of Parliament is found, and the punishment decided on, proroguing wouldn't have any effect", especially if the PM were in jail (never going to happen, just going through the hypothetical). After all, we may now (sadly) live in a world where our Parliament can be shut down with a simple phone call, but I refuse to believe that the GG would prorogue Parliament based on a phone call the PM made from the jail cell Parliament sent him to.

        My point was simply that "presumably the PM would know that Parliament was about to find him in contempt and order him imprisoned, and so he would ask the GG to prorogue before they had the chance".

        • That would probably work if Parliament had been sitting for a while.

          But in the present situation, this is likely to unfold soon after Parliament returns from the current prorogation. One has to wonder whether the GG would automatically agree to another prorogation so soon. (I know, in theory she could.) And, given the general public reaction to the current prorogation, what would be the public fall out if she did?

          I can't help thinking the PM has painted himself into a corner on this one. It'll be interesting to see how it plays out.

        • As Sigh says, MY point was that he wouldn't even get a bathroom break between the point of privilege and the finding of contempt. I suppose he could text GG on his blackberry, but she'd still be in the building because she'd have just given the Speech from the Throne!

  23. I am not certain but I believe that when the PM gets a penalty it is like a goalie in hockey. My guess is that Pierre Poilievre would be locked up to serve the time. (Ok, it is more like a fervent wish than a guess)

  24. I am not certain but I believe that when the PM gets a penalty it is like a goalie in hockey. My guess is that Pierre Poilievre would be locked up to serve the time. (Ok, it is more like a fervent wish than a guess)

    In any cash, I think Steves next gig should be with Johnny

    [youtube N5Ts4M3irWM http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N5Ts4M3irWM youtube]

    • I'd accept Poilievre as a substitute. By the way, is there any chance he could be the first choice?

      • Well, if it turns into a backbench clearing brawl…

    • I was hoping you'd choose "I got stripes."

      Or, "It Ain't Me, Babe", for a little irony.

      • If it's irony you're after:

        I learned something from the experience. I never take vacations.

        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S5puAN1PGQw

        [I hope Warren Zevon's spirit will forgive me for linking him to Stephen Harper like this.]

        • LOL. Excellent choice.

  25. "Pierre Poilievre would be locked up to serve the time, … it is a fervent wish"

    especially if he is held incommunicado

  26. Is that why Harper played the prorogue gambit – he couldn't be sure the opposition parties would be dumb enough to tie things up in court for the duration of the game and the alternative would be game over?

  27. Did read today that Harper could be the first mp called to the HoC bar since Riel, and we all know how that turned out…we're pretty much in new territory folks. Most likely this is a bluff from the opposition. What if Harper calls it? Might it get ugly? We may be about to find out if we're a country bound by the law or not. My guess is harper has to fold. i just hope he recognizes it?

  28. Apart from the minor contemporary fact that he was hanged, the verdict of history on Riel has not been all that bad.

    • That's an awful big but…emotionally anyway, since i'm a westerner, i tend to favour Riel.

      • I'm also from western Canada if you accept that BC is part of the West (my mother is from Sask.)

        • Since i've lived in BC on and off for the last 12 years i better accept it's a part of the west.

    • I'm sure that is a comfort to Louis, wherever he is…

    • Louis Riel died because he stood up for Métis rights and took up arms against the government when they were marginalizing the native peoples.

      Harper is being investigated for obstructing access to documents on torture allegations.

      [sarcasm] Apart from those things, you're right. It's exactly the same case…. [/sarcasm]

      • I think you shuld ask your parents to turn up the heat it their basement. I seems like your brian may be frozen.

  29. Well now I`m crushed !

    Next you`ll probably tell me Colvin seemed to be on a mission other then his assigned one and those retired diplomats appeared to lack some of that discreet non-partisanship that they were famous for when there was a Liberal PM in Ottawa.

  30. Jeez, Listen to yourselves ! If a group of other earthlings happened to stumble across this board they would think you`re all batsh!t crazy and the bored media and politicians who initiated this discussion should be punished for mischief.

    It will be another month before the House sits again. Get a hobby. All this crazy talk about Riel and jailing our PM is a sign of too much time on your hands.

    • Follow the bouncing ball…it's not comparable to Riel, other than it would be the first time it has happened since, if he's called. Big if!

    • That whole Liberal meme of Harper being a threat to democracy just went out the window. They're now suggesting that rather than face the people in an election, they'd rather just jail the PM. If that's not completely insane, I don't know what is. Next thing you know the Liberals are going to have armed soldiers in our streets.

      • Are you making that up?

        • No, he's an idiot.

        • The 'puter's muted and no sound system is on in the house. Why am I hearing ominous music?

          • It must be real i'm hearing it too! Oh, wait. What year is it again?

  31. Dewar and Rae are acting like the real leaders of their respective parties. Like people of courage and conviction.

    • Agreed. what's happened to mulcair, and why is Trudeau such a wall flower? His father would be manning the barricades and dodging the beer bottles…hmm, bit early for that.

    • here here. Dewar esp. of late has been by far our most valuable member of parliament. courage and conviction as you say Jack, as well as clearly doing his homework on the issue he is handling.

    • If they truly believe that Harper deserves to be thrown in jail, then they have to show it by voting non-confidence.

      Failure to do so suggests to me that they see all of this as part of a kabuki play and that the rest of us should get on with our lives working to pull Canada out of the recession.

      • There should be a weapon for enforcing accountability that is less blunt than the vote of confidence. Normally that's QP, but if it appears that a Minister has been lying to the House, the accountability of QP must be vindicated.

      • No they don't. They can show it by finding him in contempt of Parliament and meting out whatever punishment they deem fit. It won't be jail time, though, so your whole statement just goes around in a circle.

        • Sorry – to follow up on my sort-of response to you above.

          I think there is a fundamental problem here, and that TwoYen is sort of right, although I agree with you in spirit. The issue isn't just about punishing Harper, because any such punishment is basically irrelevant, unless it's like a continuing "stay in a cell or pay 10 grand an hour until you make this right". He'd be perfectly happy to stop coming to QP, politics aside.

          The only real way to have accountability is to intervene, as Parliament, in the executive's authority to advise the crown. But the only way to do this is to either involve the courts or advise the crown directly. But they won't do the former out of expediency, and the latter is basically only done via non-confidence. What we all intuitively reach for is some sort of remedy that doesn't exist because it would infringe on the powers we give a government that enjoys the continuing confidence of the house.

          • An election – maybe but only on the opp's terms, if at all possible. It could be argued that going to court or an election set a bad precedent for parliamentary supremacy [ see NEF below] given the risk…not just of losing, but of setting a bad precendent. The opp need to prepare the ground caefully. i would much prefer there be a legal/const way to reign in this Pm. Who was it said: time to roll the dice on Canada – Brian,nough said!

      • 'If they truly believe that Harper deserves to be thrown in jail, then they have to show it by voting non-confidence"

        This conveniently sidesteps the issue of parliaments supremecy. More tory persiflage designed to muddy the waters and misdirect.

      • What on earth makes you think they couldn't do both?

  32. But don't you think that throwing our PM in prison for looking after our national security is a severe threat to our democracy? And what if the rest of the party agrees with the PM? Do they start throwing every Conservative partisan in jail? It seems a helluva lot bigger threat than proroguing for a few weeks. And why is it that Iggy is always so afraid to go to the voters? Does he think the only way he can beat the Conservatives is with Stephen Harper in jail?

    • 'Does he think the only way he can beat the Conservatives is with Stephen Harper in jail? '

      LOL

      • Hmm, any way we can swing this to put in effect all those "law and order" bills that keep being yanked by the Conservatives, and THEN put Harper in jail?

    • Harper wouldn't be thrown in jail for looking after our national security. If he were to be thrown in jail – and I doubt he would be – it would be because he defied an order of parliament while taking the name of national security in vain.

      More likely is a censure of sorts, especially considering the documents that they're not releasing are more likely to make Chretien and crew look worse…not the Conservatives.

      • Seriously, I highly doubt jail time will enter into it.

  33. What twaddle! By Mendes reasoning the House of Commons could bring back slavery (at least within the confines of Parliament Hill) if the members of the Board of Internal Economy voted that way.

    The Sovereign, as well as parliamentarians, are subject to the laws of the land – all the laws – not just the ones they find convenient. This isn't France. There's no immunity for parliamentarians here.

    • You have no idea how ironic your statement is, given the circumstances!

    • Are you implying that the government broke the law when it allowed access to the said documents to retired generals Hillier and Gauthier when they testified?

    • Nice straw man argument. Bring back slavery? Hell, why don't you just claim they'll all vote to wear white hoods. It would make your argument that much more speculative and completely unfounded.

      One of the 'laws of the land' is that Parliament is the most crucial place for checks and balances in our country, consisting of the government, who tries to lead the country, and the opposition, who constantly questions and keeps the government accountable to the people.

      By denying access to the documents they need to do their job, the government is undermining fundamental mechanisms of our system for what? Political advantage? Nevermind the fact that this matter concerns human torture, one of the most reprehensible actions we can exhibit, especially in a country we're trying to help rebuild and get out from under the Taliban, who are not exactly known for their gentle methods.

      It's time to pay the piper, Steve. I hope even your own party leaves you high and dry.

  34. "Connies Behind Bars." Has all spoof potential of a women's prison movie, like the SCTV sketch. John Baird can play "Schultzy."

  35. Expulsion would be rather rich.

    "Hey.. he's the one who wanted time off in the first place…"

  36. I'm loving this idea more and more. And Conservatives should love it too. Imagine the respect Canada would get, around the World. I can see the reporting now "What does Canada do with a bossy, uppity Prime Minister who was walking around acting like a despot, thumbing his nose at democracy and defying Parliament? Why, they put him in the dungeon."

    • Oh well, if you're going to call it a dungeon, I might rethink my stand against jail time. Dungeon time is completely different!

    • Wait, there's a dungeon on Parliament hill, they didn't show it during the guided tour.

  37. Granted, on one level imprisoning the PM over this would be hilarious. But in all seriousness, though the opposition isn't about to band together to throw Harper in jail (I'm pretty sure), it is nice to know that they're keeping their options open and not just giving into the government's evasions.

    Plus, finding Harper in contempt of Parliament just seems right, since he's treating Parliament with more contempt than any prime minister since Paul Martin. (Hmm, that didn't sound as impressive as I'd hoped.)

    • President Clinton did seem to be affected by his impeachment. I would guess Harper's fate would be similar.

      • Curiosity, again, compels me to enquire why and how you reach this conclusion?

    • At least under Paul Martin we had Parliamentary watchdogs, a civil service that wasn't afraid of their government, and politics that debated the issues and didn't call anyone who disagreed with them unpatriotic, traitorous or anti-semitic.

      Say what you will about the Liberals. They made tons of really bad decisions. But at least they allowed open dissent of the opposition without attacking their loyalty to the country.

  38. who said i was ascribing the PMs position. my comment was more just pointing out how stale your line was TY.

  39. Agreed follow the process. It's valid to contend that the PM is defying the will of parliament. It's absurd to conflate that with he hates democracy…at least not yet. Hiding belind security laws for poltical expediency is a reasonable charge. If the opposition inflate this and overreach they will lose…the public will punish them.__Lee's point re no court challenge, as this in itself gives weight/credence to Executive privilege is a very good one, and is clearly a direction Harper would like to see this take. The opposition need courage and conviction here and the good sense not to attempt to seek more for their political benefit than the situation calls for…in other words stick to principle.__It does seem indeed that capp has given them some dutch courage. i'm not sure spinning this out as an excuse for an early electin is the right strategy…that's why they pay me the big bucks. But as long as this issue is driven more by principle rather than by expediency there's cause for hope for a good outcome. I also like the fact that Donnolo/Ignatieff are not putting all their eggs in one basket, and are now beginning to produce some policy ideas, this can only help. Capp has made a rod for all their backs…let's hope so.

  40. You're obviously not advocating this, sorry, I'm just trying to think everything through.