By Aaron Wherry - Saturday, May 18, 2013 - 0 Comments
First, CTV says Pamela Wallin was forced out amid concerns about the audit of her expenses. Next, CTV says the Senate’s report on Mike Duffy was edited as part of a deal with Nigel Wright. Via Twitter, the Prime Minister’s director of communications denies CTV’s report that the Prime Minister might prorogue Parliament in early June.
The weekly meeting of the Conservative caucus, which normally occurs on Wednesday, has been rescheduled for Tuesday morning before the Prime Minister departs for Peru. The Star describes this as an emergency caucus meeting at which the Prime Minister is expected to set out a zero tolerance policy on spending transgressions.
Jason Fekete notes that Mr. Duffy, Ms. Wallin and Patrick Brazeau were all nominated for the Senate on the same day—December 22, 2008—along with 15 other Conservative appointees. But that date is particularly interesting for everything that occurred in the month preceding it.
In the 2006 election, the Conservatives promised to not appoint to the Senate anyone who hadn’t won a mandate to do so from voters. And up until December 22, 2008, Stephen Harper had only appointed two senators—Michael Fortier, shortly after the 2006 election, so that Mr. Fortier might serve in cabinet, and Bert Brown in 2007 with Mr. Brown having won a Senate election in Alberta.
Then Stephen Harper almost lost his government.
Four weeks before those 18 appointees were announced, the Conservative government tabled its fall economic update (the last such economic update to be tabled in the House, actually). The measures contained therein, including the elimination of the public subsidy for political parties, had precipitated coalition talks between the Liberals and New Democrats. On December 1, the Liberals, New Democrats and Bloc Quebecois announced their accord. Facing an imminent vote of non-confidence and the possible replacement of his government with a coalition government led by Stephane Dion, Mr. Harper asked the Governor General, Michaelle Jean at the time, to prorogue Parliament. After some consideration, she agreed to do so.
The coalition’s moment might have thus passed, but it was not yet officially dead. The Liberals quickly installed Michael Ignatieff as leader and he maintained that the coalition was an option. Not until Parliament reconvened in late January and a new budget was tabled, did Mr. Ignatieff effectively kill the coalition.
Just as Mr. Ignatieff was taking over the Liberal caucus, the Prime Minister’s Office revealed that Mr. Harper would fill 18 Senate vacancies before Christmas. A debate about the legitimacy of doing so ensued. Mr. Harper claimed to be in a difficult spot that compelled him to do something. And then, on December 22, Mr. Harper named his 18 appointees, asserting that the appointments were important both in the pursuit of Senate reform and in the interests of opposing the coalition.
“Our government will continue to push for a more democratic, accountable and effective Senate,” said the Prime Minister. “If Senate vacancies are to be filled, however, they should be filled by the government that Canadians elected rather than by a coalition that no one voted for.”
The incoming Senators have all pledged to support eight-year term limits and other Senate reform legislation. Each incoming Senator has also declared his or her unwavering commitment to support Canadian unity and oppose the coalition.
This did not go over terribly well with Mr. Harper’s opponents.
“Mr. Harper knows that he does not have the confidence of the House of Commons,” Ignatieff said in a statement. “Appointing senators when he lacks a mandate from Parliament is not acceptable.”
It’s possible that the coalition was less a cause of the appointments than an excuse to make them. And possibly Mr. Harper was going to have to appoint senators at some point anyway (he’d hinted at such a possibility in October 2008). But December 22, 2008 does now seem like the plot point of a bad political thriller.
Four and a half years later, the Harper government’s Senate reform legislation is collecting dust while the Supreme Court prepares to hear a reference on the matter and three of the December 2008 appointees have either been removed or removed themselves from the Conservative caucus.
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, February 4, 2013 at 8:00 AM - 0 Comments
Over the weekend, the Liberal leadership frontrunner released his democratic reform platform, including measures to “loosen the grip of the Prime Minister’s Office on Parliament.”
Members of a Liberal government caucus led by me would be required to vote with the Cabinet on only three categories of bills: those that implement the 2015 Liberal platform; those that enable budget or significant money measures; and those that speak to the shared values embodied in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
I further believe that prorogation and omnibus legislation have become means for governments to evade scrutiny and democratic accountability. In the case of prorogation, it should never be used to abet governments in their avoidance of difficult political circumstances. As for omnibus bills, they are a simple affront to Parliament and the people who are represented there, and we will not use them.
We will also strengthen the committee system, both in Cabinet and in Parliament. In Cabinet, we will appoint non-Cabinet MPs to committees to ensure that a wider variety of voices are heard as policy is developed. In Parliament, we will strengthen the role of committee chairs and create a more robust system of oversight and review for members from all parties in the House and Senate. Specifically, Parliamentary committees should be given more resources to acquire independent, expert analysis of proposed legislation. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, October 19, 2012 at 4:22 PM - 0 Comments
Liberal MP Mauril Belanger is the only federal Liberal willing to openly criticize Dalton McGuinty’s prorogation.
The only Liberal MP among many interviewed by The Globe and Mail on Thursday who would say publicly that Mr. McGuinty is doing the wrong thing was Mauril Bélanger, who represents Ottawa-Vanier. “I stood out there when Mr. Harper put a padlock on the House of Commons because I didn’t think it was an appropriate thing to do,” said Mr. Bélanger. “I don’t think the Ontario Liberals should proceed in that way either. Prorogation can be used, has a use, but not indeterminately.”
Two of his caucus colleagues expressed similar frustration with the decision but did not want their names attached to the criticism. Both said there were alternatives that Mr. McGuinty should have considered. Several others refused to discuss the matter.
Former Liberal MP Gerard Kennedy, who might seek to replace Mr. McGuinty, says he doesn’t understand why the Ontario legislature needed to be prorogued. Liberal MPP Yasir Naqvi says the legislature had to be prorogued so the Liberals could “make the economy our priority.”
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, October 17, 2012 at 1:40 PM - 0 Comments
Constitutional scholar Peter Russell condemns Dalton McGuinty’s prorogation.
To tell us, as Mr. McGuinty did Monday, that he asked the Lieutenant Governor to prorogue the legislature “to allow these discussions with our labour partners and the opposition parties to occur in an atmosphere that is free of the heightened rancour of politics in the legislature” is to show contempt for parliamentary democracy.
When parliamentary democracy is functioning, the great issues of the day are thrashed out in the legislature that the people have elected and to which the government is responsible. Debate in any parliamentary chamber can no doubt become raucous and full of rancour. But we didn’t fight two world wars for a democracy in which the governing party can shut down the elected legislature to escape the heat of parliamentary debate…
When parliamentary democracy is reduced to whatever is convenient for the governing party, we are coming very close to losing it.
Mr. Russell ventures that Mr. McGuinty’s prorogation is worse, in at least one respect, than Stephen Harper’s 2008 prorogation.
One of Mr. McGuinty’s cabinet ministers acknowledges “discomfort.”
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, October 17, 2012 at 9:00 AM - 0 Comments
Speaking to reporters after QP yesterday, Bob Rae identifies what he is not.
Reporter: What do you make of McGuinty proroguing Parliament or the Legislature?
Rae: Well, I mean I’m not going to get into a daily commentary on events in the Ontario Legislature. The Premier will make his decisions. Opposition parties will make their own decision.
Reporter: But a lot of Liberals actually slammed the Harper government when they prorogued Parliament so why doesn’t that apply in this case?
Rae: Because I’m not a daily commentator on the events in the Ontario Legislature.
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, October 16, 2012 at 10:44 AM - 0 Comments
Peter Loewen condemns Dalton McGuinty’s use of prorogation.
Is McGuinty’s comportment worse than Harper’s? Almost certainly. The Premier has announced he is proroguing the legislature for a substantially longer period of time. Yet he insists that he will govern. Conveniently, he will do so without the hassle of securing opposition support. In the meantime, he will avoid scrutiny over decisions on the energy file that appear worse by the day. And he will step down from the government before the legislature returns. When that will happen remains undefined.
This is not merely a resetting of the clock. It is a wholesale flight from responsibility.
Similarly, Mark Jarvis sees an unfortunate trend.
The premier’s tone and message is reminiscent of Premier Christy Clark, who earlier this fall cancelled the fall term of the British Columbian legislature, leaving an open question as to whether or not it would sit at all before the scheduled provincial election in May. On the opposite coast, the Newfoundland and Labrador legislature reopened this March after having only sat for a total of just 33 days in the previous 14 months.
These actions violate the basic premise of responsible government: that the house or legislature, as the case may be, is actually in session in order to fulfill its fundamental responsibilities: to review government legislation, to scrutinize government administration and to extend or withdraw confidence as it deems fit. These developments should be disconcerting to us all.
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, July 5, 2012 at 2:00 PM - 0 Comments
Speaking with AM770 in Calgary today—about halfway through the 10am slot here—the Prime Minister added prorogation to the list of things that likely won’t be happening before Parliament returns in the fall.
To be honest, I thought about doing that, but some time ago I made a decision that I probably wouldn’t do it. I didn’t see any reason to do it right now. We’ve still got a number of pieces of legislation we do want to pass. And I think what I’m more likely to do, Dave, is probably in mid-term, we’ll probably have a new session mid-term, when we’ll take a look at how everybody’s performing and make some major changes at that point. But I think between now and then, let’s keep everybody focused on the job we got elected to do and the tasks I gave them to do last year.
He included a cabinet shuffle in that mid-term reset. That would seemingly put the government on schedule for a prorogation and cabinet shuffle in the summer of 2013.
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, January 10, 2012 at 9:30 AM - 0 Comments
Brian Topp’s latest policy paper covers democratic and parliamentary reform, including a move to mixed-member proportional representation, limits on the prime minister’s ability to prorogue Parliament and the Senate.
I propose that our party ask for a mandate in the next election to abolish the Senate. I then propose that an Act be introduced early in the life of the next Parliament amending the constitution to do so.
The urgency with which this matter is then pursued with provinces (who will have to consent to this modernization, which was adopted in all provincial legislatures long ago) should then depend on the conduct of the Senate during the next Parliament. If the Senate provokes a constitutional crisis by blocking a budget or other important legislation, Senate abolition should be pursued as an immediate and urgent priority. If the Senate returns to its traditional role and subordinates itself to the House of Commons, then the matter can be pursued more deliberately over the course of the next Parliament.
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, December 2, 2011 at 9:30 AM - 43 Comments
As much fun as it might be to lament for the House of Commons, some of that energy might be put to use figuring out how to fix it.
Reform has been a bit of a preoccupation around here over the last few years and various proposals have been offered, noted and considered. And here is a collection of many of those proposals: real, structural reforms that could change the way our House of Commons functions.
There is much here to debate. And there are no doubt other ideas out there. But this could be the basis of an agenda for fixing the institution. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, July 5, 2011 at 9:38 AM - 15 Comments
Earlier this year, Nicholas MacDonald and James Bowden argued that the Governor General has no discretion to refuse a request to prorogue Parliament. In the latest issue of Canadian Parliamentary Review, Peter Russell counters.
On that question, it is my view, and it is a view that I believe is shared by a great many constitutional scholars, that “in this democratic age, the head of state or her representative should reject a prime minister’s advice only when doing so is necessary to protect parliamentary democracy.” Those words of mine are quoted, with what I take to be approval, by MacDonald and Bowden in their article. The justification for the convention is to ensure that parliamentary government is democratic and not controlled by an hereditary head of state or her representative. It follows that if a prime minister’s advice seems seriously adverse to the functioning of parliamentary democracy, it should not be followed. An authoritarian prime minister might be as much a threat to parliamentary democracy as an authoritarian sovereign.
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, April 26, 2011 at 2:15 PM - 33 Comments
The election should probably not pass without noting the candidacy of Christopher White, running as an independent in Edmonton-Strathcona. Mr. White is the fellow who started the Facebook group that helped rally thousands of Canadians to protest prorogation.
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, April 20, 2011 at 11:19 AM - 28 Comments
Nicholas A. MacDonald and James W.J. Bowden argue that the Governor General should not refuse a request to prorogue Parliament.
This paper does not intend to ignore or gloss over the way that the prorogations of 1873 and 2008 unfolded in reality; clearly the majority of the political actors – certainly Lord Dufferin and Michaelle Jean themselves – believed that the Office of the Governor General possessed the reserve power to accept or reject the prime minister’s request. But based on the available evidence, we can only conclude that the governor general’s reserve power ought not to apply to prorogation.
By Josh Dehaas - Saturday, April 16, 2011 at 9:30 AM - 6 Comments
The “incumbent disadvantage” is at play in the tone of election coverage
A new Liberal ad presents a series of scandalous headlines. First, a story about Stephen Harper’s former adviser, Bruce Carson, complete with a photo of his ex-fiancée in pink lingerie. Next, a headline about Harper’s prorogation. And finally, an article referencing “possible jail time for Conservative senators.” That script must sound familiar to Harper’s 2006 campaign advisers. They ran a similar ad back then in which a man sitting at a coffee shop shakes his head at a newspaper headline: Martin Liberals took illicit cash. Then, more anti-Liberal headlines and more head shakes. Both ads end with the same conclusion—the incumbent can’t be trusted.
This “incumbent disadvantage” is at play in the tone of election coverage, says Stuart Soroka, the McGill political scientist who runs the 2011 Federal Election Newspaper Analysis (Maclean’s is publishing the results of the project each week of the campaign). “You can’t really assess an opposition’s record because they don’t really have one,” he says, “so we’re naturally harder on incumbents.”
Newspapers certainly are. That’s borne out in Soroka’s results from the first two weeks of this campaign, and the first two weeks of the 2006 campaign. Net tone is determined by reviewing the words in stories found near each leader’s name to determine how positively or negatively the leader is portrayed. A leader with a higher net tone one week is likely to enjoy a boost in the polls the next, says Soroka. For the first two weeks after the government fell in 2006, Harper’s Conservatives had the advantage. Their score was 1.38, compared to Paul Martin’s 0.79. Now, Michael Ignatieff leads with a score of 1.20, compared to Harper’s 0.80. “Ignatieff can still deal primarily in the hypothetical,” says Soroka.
By Aaron Wherry - Sunday, April 3, 2011 at 11:45 AM - 87 Comments
Liberals will adopt a new approach to information, issuing government-wide direction that the default position for all departments and agencies will be to release information to the public, both proactively and responsively … all Access to Information requests and responses will be posted online … a searchable, online database for grants, contributions and contracts … restore the mandatory long form census … procedural limitations on the prime minister’s power to prorogue … all Canadians will be able to participate in People’s Question Period, where the Prime Minister and Ministers will respond directly to unscripted, user-generated questions online … a new Standing Committee on National Security … regular face-to-face meetings of all party leaders … direct Elections Canada to develop an online voting option.
The Liberals also commit to pursuing Question Period reforms similar to those proposed by Michael Chong. And elsewhere, under deficit reduction, the Liberals suggest a smaller cabinet.
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, March 31, 2011 at 10:45 AM - 25 Comments
Michael Ignatieff talks to the Star.
Upbeat and relaxed in the early days of the election contest, Ignatieff says the campaign is a watershed for Canadians. “It’s about what kind of politics we’re going to have in this country,” he said. Will it be the “politics of American-style personal destruction” or something else, he asks. Will Canadians accept “politicians who will literally stop at nothing to stay in power, including shutting down the people’s Parliament,” he asked in a reference to Harper’s decision to avoid the defeat of his government by proroguing Parliament. Will Canadians accept a government that “shuts off the tap on Access to Information?” And “what about election fraud?” he said in a reference to the senior Conservatives charged by Elections Canada for alleged overspending in the 2006 campaign.
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, March 11, 2011 at 11:22 AM - 54 Comments
Last night, by a count of 145-135, the House of Commons passed the following motion.
That this House denounce the conduct of the government, its disregard for democracy and its determination to go to any lengths to advance its partisan interests and impose its regressive ideology, as it did by justifying the Conservative Party’s circumvention of the rules on election spending in the 2005-2006 election campaign, when the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism used public funds to solicit donations to the Conservative Party, when the Party used taxpayers’ money to finance a pre-election campaign under the guise of promoting Canada’s Economic Action Plan, when it changed the wording in government communications to promote itself, when it showed that it is acceptable for a minister to alter a document and make misleading statements to the House, when it refused to provide a parliamentary committee with the costs of its proposals, and when it improperly prorogued Parliament.
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, March 1, 2011 at 9:08 AM - 61 Comments
Rather than simply lament for how little attention is paid to the institution, I thought I’d ask some smart people if they had anything to say in response to my piece about the state of the House of Commons. Over the next little while, those responses will appear here. Next up, Scott H. Payne.
Some years ago, I had the opportunity to spend about a month working at a fishing lodge in the far north of British Columbia. This part of the province is home to some of the best salmon fishing in the world and it behooves one to take advantage of that fact while you’re there.
So very early one morning, I hopped into a boat with one of the guides and set sail. About an hour passed and just as I was beginning to wonder what had possessed me to wake up so early on the precious occasion of a day off when my line started to jump. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, February 1, 2011 at 12:57 PM - 62 Comments
Does this defensive trend bear ill for the health of Canadian democracy? According to Professor Chantal Mouffe, “Democracy is a fragile construction: never definitively acquired, it is a conquest which has to be forever defended against possible attacks. The prime task of democratic politics is not to eliminate passions, nor to relegate them to the private sphere…but to mobilize these passions, and give them a democratic outlet.” This suggests that these protests may, in fact, testify to a democratic culture that is more robust than we realize.
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, January 21, 2011 at 10:31 AM - 99 Comments
On two occasions now, in respective attempts to numerically summarize his five years in power, the Prime Minister’s prorogation record has been woefully shortchanged—here by the National Post a week ago and here by the Globe and Mail today. Mr. Harper has prorogued Parliament not twice, but thrice.
In December 2009, his doing so inspired nationwide protest. In December 2008, he did so to avoid the likely defeat of his government in the House of Commons. But Parliament was first prorogued on his advice in September 2007, when he asked that the resumption of parliamentary business be pushed back a month so that his 19-month-old government might present a new Throne Speech.
Though lacking in the controversial context of the two more recent prorogations, Mr. Harper’s first did not go unnoticed and did receive some criticism, including the following editorial from the Montreal Gazette. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, January 18, 2011 at 8:53 AM - 74 Comments
At the risk of dwelling upon the Prime Minister’s words, it is probably worth noting all of the questions raised by Mr. Harper’s offhand remark last week about the December 2008 coalition—questions that might be asked of Mr. Harper and probably should be asked of the Governor General.
First, a useful reminder of events. The 2008 election occurred on October 14. On November 19, the House reconvened and the Throne Speech was presented. Eight days later, on November 27, the government presented its economic update. Shortly after, the Throne Speech passed the House.
On the evening of November 28, with that update facing mounting criticism, the Prime Minister announced that an opposition day scheduled for December 1, the following Monday, would be pushed back a week—thereby postponing a vote of non-confidence the Liberals intended to bring.
On December 1, the coalition accord was signed and Stephane Dion sent a letter to Michaelle Jean informing her of his ability to form a government. Three days later, on December 4, the Prime Minister asked the Governor General to prorogue Parliament and she granted his request.
All of which makes the Prime Minister’s contention that the opposition parties “waited too long” and were thus “too late,” all the more curious. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, January 7, 2011 at 12:58 PM - 30 Comments
A year ago, the Prime Minister asked the Governor General to prorogue Parliament so that he might “recalibrate” his government’s agenda and thus, one assumes, the very trajectory of the Canadian state. The resulting address to the nation set out the two wings of prosperity upon which our hopes would be borne: the creation of a national Seniors Day and the establishment of an award for volunteerism.
This past November, the Prime Minister made good on the former. And just now in Welland, a mere 12 months after the launch of our great recalibration, the Prime Minister has fulfilled his promise of the latter.
Let this transitional chapter in our dominion’s history now be considered closed, so that we might move forward, confident in the knowledge that our children and grandchildren and great grandchildren (and so on) will forever be in our debt.
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, December 31, 2010 at 9:24 AM - 80 Comments
You have to remember how this started, how 2009 ended and how 2010 began. How the Prime Minister rang up the Governor General and asked her to prorogue Parliament until March. How this was hailed as “devilishly clever.” How someone started a Facebook group to protest the gratuitous use of an arcane Parliamentary procedure. How 200,000 people made the tremendously small effort of registering the requisite click to join that group. And how 20,000 people stood in the cold on a Sunday afternoon in their various towns in January to demand that the House of Commons return to work—work that we otherwise mostly ignore, but work we apparently want to know is going on all the same.
Before the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill, 3,500 people stood on the front lawn, singing and chanting and shouting. It was insistent and demanding and disgruntled. It was quaintly committed to the institutions and principles of parliamentary democracy. It was an incredible noise. However fleeting that moment now seems. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, December 16, 2010 at 12:19 PM - 43 Comments
A boast from John Baird after QP yesterday.
We’ve had five years and no-one has yet to pull a motion of non-confidence against the government.
It is apparently true that Mr. Harper is now the longest serving minority government prime minister to never lose a confidence vote. In this regard Mr. Harper’s successors will understand that to avoid losing the confidence of the House it is best to be conciliatory, open, cooperative and patient. Or, in lieu of all that, to have Parliament either dissolved or prorogued before it can officially register any such feelings of dissent.
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, December 16, 2010 at 10:47 AM - 23 Comments
Our web team helpfully translates Le Devoir’s review of the legislative year.
Of the 61 pieces of legislation the Conservatives introduced in the House over the last 12 months, 33 were recycled from the previous session of Parliament; and as of right now, 18 of those 33 bills are either at the same stage or further away from being made law than they were before prorogation … Counting the three bills that are set to be granted royal assent Wednesday afternoon, the Conservatives will have passed a meagre 11 bills through Parliament over the past 12 months.