Friday, January 29, 2010

Charles Moore Gets the Smackdown - From the Calgary Herald?

During our kind of mini debate on the CBC Monday, Charles Moore brought out the tired old Reform-Conservative lines ... coalition ... too few numbers ... economy ... blah, blah, blah.

He's certainly entitled to his opinion, even if it is wrong (hee, hee), but much was off topic.

However, I did want to rebut a couple of things. First off about the handling of the economy. As I mentioned before, what we saw of the Canada Action Plan was nothing more than a huge PR stunt.

From signs to big cardboard cheques, self-promotion ads and targeting of stimulus to their own ridings - Harper was not piloting us through the recession, but charting his own course.

Had the Coalition been handling the stimulus, it would not have been partisan, and remember Harper himself never planned to do anything.

But back to CAPP. Though trying to make comparisons of our numbers by using the entire Canadian population, he is wrong in assuming we are trivial. Besides, by that reasoning, Harper is in power based on about 6% of the population.

But babies can't vote and babies don't go on Facebook.

Why prorogation of Parliament is a big deal
By Paula Arab,
Calgary Herald
January 28, 2010

What's the big deal about proroguing Parliament, New Brunswick columnist Charles Moore asked earlier this week.

Well Charles, I'll tell you what the big deal is. Prime Minister Stephen Harper didn't prorogue for the traditional reasons, because the work is done, or to stick to a schedule. Nope. For the second time in 13 months, he asked the Governor General to shut down government to protect his own political hide.

Thanks to Harper, proroguing has become a common, household term, meaning to avoid unpleasantness in the House of Commons.

He has turned the procedure of closing down the government because the session has ended, into a political tool that serves his own interests. The big deal is never before in the history of Canada has a prime minister been so disrespectful of our democratic institutions, that are there to represent the voice of the people. The functioning of Parliament may not be perfect, but it's all we've got.

This is an abuse of power, plain and simple. Worse, it's part of a larger pattern of disturbingly authoritarian behaviour in which our prime minister seems to believe he is above accountability, to the media, the public or now the opposition's criticism in the House of Commons.

If Harper is trying to convince Canadians he can be trusted with a majority government, this is no way to go about inspiring the electorate's onfidence.

The big deal is 36 bills have now died on the table because of the abrupt prorogation in the middle of a session. All the work that went into crafting this legislation has been for naught, and adds up to at least 368 hours of wasted Parliamentary time.

The cost to taxpayers of proroguing is $50 million. Still, people like Moore, who writes a column for the Saint John's Telegraph Journal, express surprise by the public outrage. "I don't deny there's a lot of buzz but what is the issue of substance here?" he said on CBC Radio's The Current. "What still puzzles me is what exactly is the outrage about?"

Where do I begin? Harper requested the governor general prorogue parliament on Dec. 30, a day when five Canadians died in Afghanistan, including the first journalist, Herald reporter Michelle Lang.

It's a cynical, opportunistic play at a time when most people are otherwise busy with family and the Christmas Holidays. They're not paying attention to the news. It's amazing anyone caught the news of prorogation, considering how the deaths of Lang and the others in Afghanistan overshadowed all other news.

That people are still talking about the issue four weeks later, joining Facebook groups and going out to protests, shows just how badly Harper miscalculated public perception. Harper's excuse is laughable, as I found out when I asked Parliamentary expert Ned Franks whether there could be any truth in wanting to "recalibrate" until after the Olympics. The Queen's University professor emeritus burst out in belly laughs.

"There are a lot of fairy tales in politics including the government's explanation of why it prorogued." The Conservatives further antagonized the public with their spin and misrepresentation of facts. The next day, Conservative strategist Tim Powers was doing national interviews, saying Parliament has been prorogued 105 times in Canada's history, including four times by Jean Chretien.

"If you do the math that works out to about every one in 1.3 years. People understand this is parliamentary procedure." What Powers failed to explain is that every parliamentary session ends with a prorogation. It's a normal event except when the prime minister uses it to avoid accountability to Parliament, as Harper has done twice in his four years in power.

Prorogation was an annual event up until the 1960s because Parliament operated on a yearly schedule. New sessions automatically began every fall. Chretien was prime minister for seven sessions in three Parliaments. Four sessions ended by prorogation, and three in dissolution for an election.

He is guilty of proroguing to avoid embarrassment only once, in 2002, when he prorogued early to delay the tabling of the auditor general's report documenting the sponsorship scandal.

Prior to that, the only example occurred in 1873, when Sir John A. Macdonald shut down Parliament to avoid a probe into the Pacific Scandal. As for every other Westminster parliament? Only in Canada.

Australia, New Zealand and Britain all learned the lesson of King Charles I, who prorogued in his own self-interest in 1629. He got into a power struggle over his Royal prerogative, back in the pre-modern era, before the notion of good, democratic government replaced the monarchical system. King Charles eventually got beheaded. Mac-Donald was forced to resign. Chretien left and the Liberal Party is still in tatters.

And Harper? The Afghan detainees affair might very well be old news by the time Parliament resumes in March, and we may never know what, if anything, the government was trying to avoid. Canadians have a right to know. And, it seems, Canadians care very much about Parliament, even if they don't always like how it behaves. That, Charles Moore, is what the big deal is all about.

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