Canada Politics

Harper’s prorogue: Good governance or an affront to democracy?

Canada Politics

Stephen Harper arrives in Whitehorse

On Monday, Stephen Harper announced that he will prorogue Parliament until October which will essentially 'kill' any pending legislation on the books.

It's a common practice: During a mandate a government will often want to reset the agenda based on current circumstances and the changing mood of the electorate. It will also — appropriately — give Harper's newly anointed cabinet ministers more time to learn their files before having to face the opposition during Question Period.

In its history, Canada's Parliament has been prorogued 105 times. Pierre Trudeau prorogued 11 times in 16 years; Chretien did it four times in 10 years.

If you follow social media, however, you'll see that the public is upset about it this time.

'Contempt for Parliament', 'an affront to democracy' and 'hiding from scandals' were common themes on Facebook, Twitter and Yahoo! comment sections.

[ Related: Prime Minister Harper says he will prorogue Parliament until October ]

Certainly, you can't blame Canadians for being suspicious about prorogation.

Harper's first prorogue, in 2008, was clearly an attempt to save himself by stopping the the Liberals, NDP, and Bloc Quebecois from aligning to form a coalition government. If Harper didn't prorogue then, Canada might have had a prime minister Stéphane Dion as Prime Minister.

His second prorogue came a year later: the Opposition contended that it was merely an attempt by the ruling party to avoid an embarrassing investigation into the Afghanistan detainee scandal.

And then there was Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty's prorogation, last year, to try and save his Liberal government from the the gas plant controversies.

[ Related: Canada falling behind Arctic rival Russia as PM begins northern visit ]

So it's no surprise that the opposition parties are piling-on.

"This is about Mr. Harper trying to change the channel because his government is surrounded by ethical scandals and criminal investigations," Liberal MP Ralph Goodale told Yahoo! Canada News in a telephone interview.

NDP MP Craig Scott says that the Tories really don't need more time to prepare a Throne speech.

"We will have a summer recess — by September 15th — two and a half months. The idea that they need extra time to prorogue makes no sense at all," he told Yahoo!.

"They could easily have been spending their summer months preparing for the so-called reset. This is transparently about having more time dragging it out hoping once again that the scandal will die down because he doesn't want to face the music in the House."

Certainly, as right-leaning political consultant Gerry Nicholls points out, there are some political advantages to the prorogue.

"While the media and the Opposition will cry foul, it will help the government to start off with a clean plate, so they redefine and polish their brand," he told Yahoo!.

But surely a five week delay would not exempt the Conservatives from public reprimand. Michael Ferguson's audit of all senators' expenses and the ongoing police investigations in Patrick Brazeau, Mike Duffy, Mac Harb and maybe Pamela Wallin will ensure that the Senate scandal will be an in issue through the winter months.

What do you think? Is all the opposition to this prorogue simply another case of 'everything the Conservatives do is wrong' or is it really an 'affront to democracy'?

Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below.

(Photo courtesy of the Canadian Press)

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