Two years ago, most Canadians would have been hard-pressed to tell you what prorogue meant, much less form an opinion on it. But after the Conservative government prorogued Parliament for the second time in just over a year, Facebook groups and online petitions have formed in protest.
Prorogation is not unusual in and of itself, explained David Docherty, a political science professor at Wilfrid Laurier University. Typically the government prorogues Parliament after it has passed most of its legislative agenda, to start a new session. In this case, the Conservatives have prorogued midway through the legislative session, with barely half of the government’s bills passed. Bills that have not become law expire, and have to be reintroduced.
Docherty called the move “appalling,” given that Stephen Harper campaigned on a platform of greater accountability the first time he was elected.
“This is one of the most disturbing things the government has done,” he said. “It’s difficult for Canadians to respect parliamentary processes when the leader of the government holds them in such contempt.”
If he were describing to a first-year political science class a situation where the leader of the country shuts down the legislative assembly at will, few of the students would guess he was talking about Canada.
“You’d think I was referring to a country that had little history with the democratic process, Docherty said.”
The opposition parties have accused the Conservatives of shutting down Parliament to avoid tough questions on the torture of Afghan detainees. The Conservatives dismissed those accusations, saying the break was to give them time to hold consultations on the economy before delivering the budget Mar. 4.
“I think it gives the government a chance to really focus on the economy as we present the upcoming budget,” said Kitchener-Conestoga MP Harold Albrecht, adding that he’s heard few concerns from his constituents about proroguing.
“I can assure you that every MP that I’m aware of will not be taking this as an extended holiday.”
Albrecht said the government’s legislation was being obstructed by Senate committees, where Liberal senators still held a majority. By starting a new session of Parliament, the new Senators appointed by Harper since the start of the last session will be able to sit on senate committees, giving the Conservatives a majority.
Albrecht also denied that proroguing Parliament had anything to do with the inquiry into the treatment of Afghan detainees.
“I can tell you that the number of calls I’ve received on the Afghan detainee issue I think is less than six,” he said. “I don’t believe this particular issue resonates with the average Canadian.”
Docherty countered that assertion, pointing out that if the government wasn’t vulnerable on the issue of Afghan detainees, Parliament would be resuming Jan. 25 as scheduled.
And the issue isn’t likely to go away quietly, he said. As long as Canadians are dying in Afghanistan and Afghanistan stays in the headlines, Canadians will be paying attention to the issue.
“They may just be postponing this.”
By making the announcement during the holidays, the Conservatives are hoping Canadians were too busy to take notice and will assume it’s just business as usual.
“The Conservatives will spend the time getting the budget together and hope their polling numbers stay the same or go up,” said Docherty, predicting an election will follow in late March or early April.