Monday, August 19, 2013

Prorogation, obviously

The big news on an August Monday:
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has confirmed he will ask the Governor General to prorogue Parliament until October, when his Conservative government will introduce the next speech from the throne.

"There will be a new throne speech in the fall, obviously the House will be prorogued in anticipation of that. We will come back — in October is our tentative timing," Harper told reporters in Whitehorse Monday. Harper is in the Yukon on the second day of his annual summer tour of the North.
A few thoughts to add to the online maelstrom.

I am quite meh over this one. It's mid-August and the House of Commons will be back in just over a month and a half? That's not tooo bad in terms of an extension beyond a return that was expected on September 16th.

The news coverage on the Senate scandals, for example, is likely to continue through this period. They won't be escaping damage from it.

Also, whenever Harper interferes with his own government's ability to legislate, that's not so bad. Less is definitely more for some of us when it comes to their legislative output record.

Harper, though, just can't prorogue and avoid critical comment. He has baggage, to say the least.

He is the lone Prime Minister, of any Westminster democracy, to have faced a confidence vote and deployed prorogation to avoid his minority government's fate. Totally unprecedented in Canadian history and so he just can't shake that shadow. He would have been defeated in late 2008-early 2009 by the opposition parties but for his proroguing of Parliament. The Harper majority era might totally have been avoided had he not done so. All of today's present Conservative party edifice is built on that shaky foundation. Which is partly why the power to prorogue is still in need of reform. There is less malevolent political calculation at play in today's prorogation. But nevertheless, it doesn't take away the need to fix, at some point, the unrestrained ability of a PM to prorogue without limitation.

A law that would restrain the power of the Prime Minister to prorogue could be passed and a PM would ignore it at their political peril. Whatever that judgment by voters might be. Could be nil, could be more, depending on how prorogation occurred. (Similar laws could be passed provincially as well.)

Today's prorogation is also another reminder that it is just plain old anachronistic that a Prime Minister retains such power to unilaterally dictate the government's sitting. In this modern era of a 24 hour news cycle, ever enhanced technologies and where Canadians' work is increasingly stretched beyond 9-5, it is a strange holdover that a Prime Minister can still set their own government's clock and work agenda, largely for political convenience. It just doesn't fit in this era. It's a reminder that there is a larger democratic deficit that needs to be cured in Canada. It's not all about the Senate sideshow. Harper has educated us well about a PM having too much power and our way of governing being in need of an update.

Beyond all that, politically, today's prorogation seems to continue the end of summer roll-out of the newish Harper majority looking toward 2015. New websites here and there with partisan purpose (Consumers First, the new Harper blog), election style speech and talk, etc. Now prorogation. The reboot is on and he's looking to win again in 2015. Obviously.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Chickens roosting day, etc.

Harper's chickens, that is: "Senator Wallin audit details set for public release." One upside for Wallin, she has one of the best litigators in Toronto representing her (pictured in the CBC link).

One thing of interest in this Postmedia report that could hint at more possible trouble for, I'm assuming, Conservatives:
In their report, the auditors write that part of Wallin’s inappropriate costs were for “partisan related activity, such as fundraising.” Her lawyers cite as an example a May 27, 2011, event for former cabinet minister Bev Oda, who resigned in July 2012 over her own spending scandal, which was made famous by a $16 glass of orange juice charged to taxpayers.
At the Oda event, Wallin talked about Oda’s ministerial role overseeing intenrational [sic] development, as well as the Afghanistan file, which Wallin knew from her work chairing the Senate’s defence committee. Her lawyer’s letter notes that fundraising events took place outside of election campaigns, involved talking about Senate-related matters, and that “this was generally accepted practice,” suggesting that others in the Senate have done the same.
Generally accepted practice, says Wallin's lawyer.

Also of note, a possible strategy suggested by Ivison that could come out of the Senate Supreme Court reference:
The Conservatives argue that the Senate can be abolished under the constitution’s amending formula — section 38 — which states that any changes to the Senate would merely required resolutions in the House of Commons, Senate and seven provinces, representing 50% of the population (rather than unanimous approval).
If the Supreme Court agrees, it seems to me that we will see the Conservatives launch a full-on campaign for Senate abolition, in an effort to insulate Mr. Harper from accusations of being the Red Chamber’s patron. There appear few lengths to which this prime minister will not now go to distance himself from Mike Duffy, Patrick Brazeau and Pamela Wallin — three of his 59 Red Chamber appointments.
A full-on campaign for abolition by Harper et al. as a matter of political expediency would have absolutely zero integrity or credibility, as Ivison himself hints. It's not clear the Court will rule that abolition could happen under the 7/50 formula in any event. Peter Russell is of the view that unanimity would be required:
Prof. Russell said there’s “no way” the government can unilaterally abolish the Senate and without seeking unanimous consent. “You’re taking 100 per cent of the power away. The Senate has full power to approve every law, and it was put there mainly so the provinces, the sections of the country, would feel some protection against the central government,” said Prof. Russell.
I would tend to agree with Mr. Russell. But, that's all Senate reference stuff, down the road a bit. Today it's all about Wallin's audit and it is at the doorstep of the one who appointed her.