Irresponsible Government: When you absolutely, positively can't allow committee hearings into your election financing practices ... - Macleans.ca

Irresponsible Government: When you absolutely, positively can’t allow committee hearings into your election financing practices …

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I have to admit that, even as a veteran of the In and Out Committee Wars I and II (Procedure and House Affairs and Ethics, respectively), I’m finding it hard to believe that the government would seriously consider proroguing parliament just to avoid two days of hearings into allegations that the Conservative Party may have played fast and loose with the spirit, if not the letter of Canada’s election spending laws.

I mean, yes; over the past year, the Tories have certainly shown that they are less than keen on the prospect of dragging their dispute with Elections Canada into the parliamentary spotlight. But it’s one thing to hold two consecutive committees hostage for months just to stave off a vote on whether or not to launch an inquiry into the in and out scandal. Dissolving parliament midway through the summer recess, nearly two months before the House is scheduled to return, for no reason other than to escape a few hours of potentially embarrassing testimony?  That’s a whole new level of of political brinkmanship — not so much wagging the dog, but swinging the cat: even if you manage to avoid getting clawed to pieces while it’s spinning in midair around you, eventually you still have to let go.

It would be an absurdly high stakes gamble for what would be, at best, a brief reprieve from the controversy — and very likely not even that. After all, it’s not like such a move would go unnoticed by the press or the public, and the resulting coverage would likely focus heavily on why the Conservatives were so adamantly opposed to the investigation in the first place. There is also nothing to stop the opposition parties from forming an emergency ad hoc extraparliamentary committee, which would be free to go ahead with the scheduled witness list, albeit without the ability to subpoena witnesses or provide parliamentary immunity to reluctant invitees — but with even more media interest than would likely otherwise have been the case.

Beyond that, however, there is a very good reason why Prime Ministers generally wait until the last possible minute to prorogue (which is actually done via proclamation by the Governor General, on the advice of the PM) — one that has nothing to do with political timing, and everything to do with responsible government.

Normally, in the case of, say, a natural disaster – an earthquake somewhere on the West Coast – or an international incident – the September 11th terrorist attacks – a farm income crisis, a meltdown at a major bank, a nationwide transport strike – the House can be brought back on a few days’ notice. Once dissolved, the House cannot be brought back without a Speech from the Throne, which has to be read, and passed before any other business can get underway  — with no exceptions, not even if the country is faced with a crisis that demands immediate action. Given the potential for constitutional chaos should such a situation arise, it’s hard to see how the Prime Minister could possibly proceed with a prolonged prorogation for no other reason than to protect his party from parliamentary scrutiny. This is not chess vs. checkers; this is party vs. country, and if memory serves, Prime Ministers who have conflated the two in the past have eventually come to regret it.  That is, unless Stephen Harper really has lost sight of the big picture, and now sees the powers of the highest office in the land as just another means to the endgame.