Stephen Harper has prorogued Parliament for the fourth time in his tenure as Prime Minister of Canada, and it’s hard to see his actions as little more than a way to stall for time against his Liberal and NDP opposition. After eight years of a Conservative minority government, this latest prorogation is another a midterm parlour trick.
By proroguing Parliament, Harper removes the ability of the Liberals and the NDP to hammer him in Parliament over outstanding issues, such as the recent Senate scandal, where numerous Conservative caucus members wrongly claimed large amounts of money for expenses. The reopening of Parliament also coincides with the Conservative Party convention, where the Tories will attempt to redeem themselves under the watchful eye of voters disenchanted by the slew of recent controversies.
Prorogation of Parliament will suffocate the numerous contentious bills currently sitting in the House of Commons that will have to be reintroduced when Parliament reconvenes. At first glance, this latest prorogation seems little more than the standard political manoeuvring of a Prime Minister half way through his term.
While Stphen Harper’s motives for this stunt appear cut and dried this time, they seemed ambiguous in the past. NDP Deputy Leader Megan Leslie accused the Prime Minister of “running away from accountability,” in the National Post, insisting that when times get tough, Harper simply “hits the prorogue button.” And even the nation that supported Harper enough to give him a majority government disapproves. Two-thirds of Canadians disapprove of Harper’s plans to prorogue Parliament, according to a late–August Forum Research poll. Yes, proroguing Parliament is common, even midway through a session, but many members of the public and the opposition are irritated by Harper’s heavy-handed employment of prorogation. Canadians are tired of the Harper government misapplying this tactic in spite of its legality.
In 2008 Harper came under fire for proroguing Parliament when faced with a coalition voting bloc that would have likely toppled the Conservative minority government. Within a month Parliament was closed again, supposedly to keep the House in recess during the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Winter Games. In all likelihood this was orchestrated to avoid the scandal of the ongoing investigations into the Afghan detainees affair. The Conservative government had just violated the opposition’s parliamentary privilege to access the investigative documents, so they prorogued Parliament in the hopes that the nation would move its attention forward.
According to public opinion research, 83 per cent of Canadians believed that the government had known about the torture of Afghan detainees. Public response was overwhelmingly negative, but Canadians did nothing. The current situation on Parliament Hill shows uncomfortable similarities to both prorogations during 2008. Harper wants to avoid being taken to task for the Pamela Wallin expense scandal by eager Liberal and NDP parties.
There is nothing unconstitutional or legally contemptuous in proroguing Parliament. And it is usual for a Prime Minister to shut down Parliament halfway through his term to deliver a speech from the throne. Hell, a pessimist could argue that the seated status of Parliament is of little concern. The omnibus bill — a large grouping of various standard and contentious issues on the Conservative agenda will still pass, and whether this occurs in October or November makes little difference to the majority of Canadians. Harper is abusing the political process and deserves to feel some heat from a public embittered by the Senate expense scandal.