Tuesday Writing Conversation: historic blog entry

A previous blog entry written by Neil about Parliament.

The morning Governor-General Michaelle Jean gave Stephen Harper permission to suspend Parliament until January 26. Was this a good decision? Or was it a bad decision?

In the short term, many will argue it is a good decision. It provides a “time-out” for the hot heads on every side to cool down. It will give the Harper government an opportunity to prepare a budget which will certainly contain a major stimulus package. As the Montreal Gazette says in its leader this morning, “this poisoned session of Parliament should be scrapped, and the parties can all begin anew in January.”

But in the longer term, this decision gives much concern. What this decision means is that Stephen Harper can now avoid the confidence vote (that he was sure to lose) and which he himself scheduled for this Monday. Surely no Governor-general should not be seen to be in the business of closing down Parliament for the crassly political reason of saving a government from certain defeat on a confidence motion.

By avoiding the confidence vote through this constitutional stratagem, Harper has got around the bed rock principle of parliamentary democracy – that a government must command the confidence of the legislature. As a result of this morning’s decision, we now have a government in office that does not have the confidence of Parliament. Harper’s government is now starting to resemble a regime.

As former Governor-general Ed Schreyer put the above point: “Nothing should be done to aid and abet the evasion of submitting to the will of Parliament.” Which, in this instance, is precisely what has been done. Harper has escaped the noose for now.

There is a further point that causes me and many others extreme unease. Has this decision to prorogue now created an unacceptable precedent? Granting prorogation when a government is in dire circumstances is tantamount to saying that it should be granted at any time – that the Governor-general should be a rubber stamp in the process.

That would mean that any time a minority government is in trouble, facing a confidence vote, the Prime Minister of the day could simply go to the Governor-general and prorogue. This would destroy the central element of parliamentary democracy – the confidence of the House.

Does Herr Harper’s regime deserve more time in office by hook or by crook? (Remember this is the man who single-handedly in the period of a week turned an economic crisis into a national unity crisis and plans to continue fanning the flames on that dangerous issue?)

Are you comfortable with the results and ramifications of today’s constitutional decision?

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