Friday, January 1, 2010

Elizabeth May Weighs in on Harper's Dictatorship

Elizabeth May, leader of the Green Party, weighed in on Harper once again abusing his power to avoid allegations of criminal activity.

This time it was war crimes, that risk being heard at an international court, if he doesn't smarten up.

Cynicism and Calculation
December 31, 2009

The Prime Minister's latest move, to pick up the phone and ask the Governor General to shut down parliament until early March, proves once again his extreme cynicism and mastery in political calculation.

As commentators, from Jeffery Simpson, to John Ibbitson, to Andrew Coyne have pointed out, there is no excuse for this affront to democracy. But as Ibbitson noted, Harper is probably right in guessing that in the week between Christmas and New Year, on New Year's Eve, not enough people will be outraged.

As Kady O'Malley pointed out, you cannot even dream up the talking points for this one.

Parliament gets in the way of Olympic games? Athletes will find Question Period an artificial performance enhancer?

There is no precedent for this. Amazingly other nations have managed to have government continue during the Olympics.

PMO flak Dimitri Soudas, last seen in Copenhagen haranguing and wrongly accusing Stephen Guilbault of a prank that embarrassed Canada, announced that prorogation was necessary as the government's economic approach required "recalibration."

"Recalibration"-- there's a word to conjure. Obviously having Parliament in session would exude vibrations interfering with the total stillness required for recalibration. As Coyne said, this is "bilge."What now? We need to expect the unexpected.

We need to kick and scream at this insult to democracy -- because that is what it is.

We need to support each other, efforts by other parties, non-political leadership. Wherever a clear and compelling call for democracy emerges, that voice must be supported.

When I wrote my last book ("Losing Confidence- Power, politics and the crisis in Canadian democracy") I thought we had seen the most outrageous abuse of our system of government.

But this is worse.

Harper's move this week is premised on the assumption that enough Canadians simply do not care about democracy or the role of Parliament. It presumes that Parliament can be shuttered for trivial political reasons; that legislation, committees, government accountability, a climate plan, progress on pensions, the investigation of the alleged cover-up in the treatment of Afghan civilians and other detainees --- that none of that matters enough to have consequences for Mr. Harper.

In the interests of democracy, let's hope this time his cynicism has miscalculated.

And an editorial in the Globe and Mail was right on the Mark

Globe Editorial
Democracy diminished, accountability avoided
The Canadian Press
Globe and Mail
December 30, 2009

For the second consecutive December, Stephen Harper is putting Parliament on ice. In the act, the Prime Minister is turning prorogation, a sometimes sensible parliamentary procedure, into an underhanded manoeuvre to avoid being accountable to Parliament. In the interests of political expediency, the government will diminish the democratic rights of Canadians.

Proroguing stops committee work and makes all legislation pending before Parliament vanish.

Historically, it has been used when a government has implemented most of its agenda. Until Mr. Harper's innovation, it was not an annual occurrence; the last minority government to use it more than once was Lester B. Pearson's Liberal administration in the 1960s.

Today, the Conservative agenda remains unfulfilled. More than half of all government bills – 37 of 64 – introduced since January, 2009, have yet to be passed into law. Eleven of these are justice bills, dealing with such weighty matters as elimination of the faint-hope clause (which still needs to be taken up by the Senate) and tougher sentencing for white-collar criminals and drug traffickers.

These can be re-introduced when the new Parliament resumes in March, but they will need to go through the legislative process anew. In any case, Mr. Harper's decision means Parliament will lose more than 20 days: time that could have been used debating, amending and passing these bills.

There is a tactical political advantage to prorogation. The government temporarily eludes an issue of national importance that is particularly inconvenient: its knowledge of torture of Afghan detainees. Government members have already acted as truants when Afghanistan committee hearings are called. The government failed to provide documents to committee members, and implied it will disregard a parliamentary order to produce those documents.

Prorogation is the logical extension of such thinking: shut down parliamentary debate entirely.

Prorogation would also allow the government a freer hand in the Senate: five vacancies need to be filled, and committees can be reconstituted after prorogation, giving Conservatives a “governing majority.”

Political calculation is clearly behind the decision to prorogue. The Conservatives are hoping to bask in the glow of Olympic glory while dodging the mess and scrutiny of lawmaking, Question Period and an outstanding, unprecedented order from Parliament to provide transparency and truth on the detainee file. Then, they hope to return in March, stronger in the Senate and ready to reclaim, they hope, the public agenda.

Canada's democracy should not be conducted solely on the basis of convenience for the governing party. If the debate over detainees cannot be carried out in Parliament, then it should continue among Canadians at large. On this and other important issues, the government cannot delay accountability forever.

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