By Amy Badry
On Dec. 30, 2009 Stephen Harper decided to prorogue parliament, which has become a contentious issue for many Canadians. Rallies and protests across the country are being planned. The Facebook page “Canadians against the proroguing of Parliament” has grown to over 200,000 members, while “Canadians for the proroguing of Parliament” has less than 500.
“Overall I think the whole prorogation issue is way overblown, in the big scheme of things this is really a very minor episode,” said University of Calgary political science professor Tom Flanagan.
Parliament has been “postponed” by 22 working days and will resume March 3. This is the 105th time Parliament has been prorogued since confederation and Flanagan said there is “Nothing unusual about it.”
The Prime Minister has the power to control parliament’s time table.
“Opposition parties have been quite clever about what they did with this issue,” said Flanagan, a former campaign manager for Harper. “Seizing the opportunity to criticize the government and making the proroguement of parliament seem undemocratic.”
Proroguing parliament has advantages for Harper. It is an opportunity to reorganize committees and the senate and to shelve the investigation of the Afghanistan committee.
“It doesn’t mean the inquiry will go away,” said Flanagan, “it will give the government a chance to come up with a different strategy to deal with it.”
Under Canadian law it is illegal to transfer a prisoner of war into the care of a government known or suspected to torture prisoners. Reports have circulated that Afghan authorities were abusing prisoners.
“Opposition parties are saying that they are all war criminals but realistically this was a new mission and the Canadians were understaffed and under equipped . . . there were lots of things to do in addition to worrying about what happened to prisoners,” said Flanagan who called the Afghan committee’s behaviour “shameful” and was glad to see it be shut down.
Michael Ignatieff, leader of the Liberal party of Canada, disagrees.
“Prorogation is a power of the Prime Minister that can be used in only certain circumstances and not in others,” he said during a talk at the U of C on Jan. 14. “When legislation is completed and you want to reset and come back with a new legislative agenda for example . . . that is prorogation as I understand it and that is not prorogation as Harper understands it.”
Ignatieff said there have been proposals to limit prorogation by statute, but that it needs to be studied further and the implications considered.
In regards to the accusations that parliament is taking a vacation Flanagan said the issue is irrelevant. MPs have other work that they do in their own constituencies while parliament is not in session.
Flanagan did not see the prorogation as having any long-term effects.
“It’s enlivened an otherwise dull time politically,” said Flanagan.
A rally is being planed for Jan. 23 at Harper’s constituency office in Calgary. Scott Payne, committee member for the Calgary rally, feels that Harper has “undermined our democratic institutions.”
The non-partisan group wants to generate discussion and ensure that Calgarians have a place to voice concerns. Payne indicated that there are a number of different rallies across the country which the group hopes will have an effect and hold Harper accountable for his “unjustified proroguement of parliament.”