Sunday, January 10, 2010

Has Harper Snuffed Out Apathy by Trying to Snuff Out Democracy?

I have commented on several occasions that Harper and his Reformers did not get a stronger mandate last election.

Only vote-splitting and apathy gave them more seats, because his party received 170,000 fewer votes in 2008 than in 2006.

I have also on many occasions tried to wake people up to Harper's dictatorial and highly secretive style of governing.

But it would seem that maybe the person who will end voter apathy in Canada is the man himself.

This latest supreme power grab appears to be backfiring, as Canadians are finally wake up. They may have been snoozing while he was ruining our reputation abroad, but this is right here at home.

He's awakened our fighting spirit. The Facebook group Canadians Against Proroguing Parliament now has 136,191 members and growing. Join it if you haven't already and be part of a movement to reclaim our country. We have to let Harper know that this is unacceptable.

Harper outsmarts himself
Shutting down Parliament lights a fire under apathetic Canadians
By: Mia Rabson
January 9, 2010

OTTAWA -- The numbers aren't on the side of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who is trying to sell his decision to shutter Parliament for the second time in 13 months to an increasingly concerned public.

No matter how Harper tries to defend his proroguing of Parliament, the math shows the Tory prime minister -- who came to power with accountability as one of his Top 5 priorities -- has been accountable to Parliament far fewer days than his predecessors. In fact, both the average length of the parliamentary sessions and the number of sitting days of the Harper Tories are far less than those of any other government going back to the days of Pierre Trudeau.

All of which might help explain the growing backlash Harper is now facing in the 10 days since he asked Gov. Gen. Michaëlle Jean to prorogue Parliament until March 3.

More than 107,000 people have joined (now more than 135,000) a Facebook group, Canadians Against Proroguing Parliament, which promotes a letter-writing campaign and has organizers planning rallies in dozens of cities across the country Jan. 23. As of Friday, the group was still growing by about 1,000 people an hour.

More than 130 political scientists from three dozen Canadian colleges and universities have signed a statement condemning the "inappropriate shutdown" and are calling on Parliament to seriously look at electoral reform in the next five years.

The influential British news magazine The Economist printed both a news story and a scathing editorial which called the prorogue "naked self-interest" on Harper's part.

Even Harper's poll numbers are taking a hit.

An EKOS poll taken Jan. 5-6 shows half of Canadians -- 52 per cent -- are "clearly aware" of Harper's proroguing of Parliament, and 15 per cent are vaguely aware. Nearly two-thirds of those said it was an undemocratic move.

While opposition to the move was strongest among voters currently supporting other parties (78 per cent of Liberal voters said they were strongly or somewhat opposed), even 31 per cent of voters who currently back the Conservatives don't like it.

That finding was backed by an Angus Reid poll that found 35 per cent of Canadians who voted Conservative in the last election disagreed with the decision to prorogue.

Some of those voters have clearly changed their minds about supporting Harper. According to EKOS, the Conservatives are still the most popular party, with 33.1 per cent support. But that is down 2.8 points from December.

The Liberals, whose poll numbers have been in the toilet for the last four months, rose just over a point to 27.8 per cent, narrowing the gap between the two leading parties to slightly more than five points.

In October, the Conservatives had nearly a 12-point lead over the Liberals (38.4 per cent to 26.8 per cent) and were verging on the magic 40 per cent some think the Conservatives need for a majority government.

University of Toronto professor emeritus Peter Russell said Harper's move to prorogue is a thumb of the nose at Parliament and democracy.

"It may be the straw that breaks the camel's back," said Russell, who edited a book on Harper's decision to prorogue in 2008 called Parliamentary Democracy in Crisis. "The public have every reason to be shocked and surprised."

Last week, Harper told CBC The National that proroguing Parliament was the prerogative of government.

"The decision to have a new session of Parliament after a year is not unusual," Harper said. He said it was time to "recalibrate" his government's economic agenda, looking towards a more positive economic picture in 2010.

The government rose Dec. 10 and was to have returned to the House of Commons Jan. 25. Instead, it will return March 3. The prorogation eliminates 22 planned sitting days. One of the weeks between Jan. 25 and March 3 was a planned break week.

Critics have charged the proroguing comes so the government can shut down a foreign affairs committee investigation of the handling of Afghan detainees, and prevent any embarrassing questions arising while the world is focused on Canada during the Vancouver Olympics.

It also allows Harper the chance for his party to take control of Senate committees. There are five vacancies in the Senate to be filled, and if Conservatives are named to the spots, it will give Harper's party a plurality of seats in the Senate for the first time in more than a decade.

But the makeup of Senate committees wouldn't change until a new session began. That meant the Liberals would still hold the majority of seats and chair most committees until the next prorogation.

Harper has long criticized Liberal senators for holding up his party's agenda, particularly on crime and Senate reform, and said he needs control in the Senate.

James Babb, a University of Winnipeg student of history and physics, signed up for the Facebook group because he was annoyed by Harper's decision and he got no response from letters he wrote to Harper and Jean.

"I felt this was a positive means of protesting," Babb said.

He said Harper has created a precedent whereby any prime minister who is facing criticism or opposition can simply shut down Parliament.

Babb said he knows there is a stronger feeling against this prorogue than most political moves because normally he is the only one of his friends to get really angry about politics. Often they don't even know what he's talking about. This time, said Babb, the people around him are aware, and they are outraged.

"This time feels very different," he said. (I'm getting the same vibe)

Russell is pleased about the burgeoning protest movement, mainly because it's a sign of life in Canadians. "It's extremely good news for those of us who value parliamentary democracy," Russell said. "It shows there are a whole lot of people who aren't prepared to just roll over."

When Parliament prorogues, it means all government bills still on the order paper die.

Harper's move killed 36 of his own government's bills in the House and Senate
, including two that had passed all stages of debate and were only awaiting royal assent. Both of them -- a crime bill and a consumer protection bill -- are ones the Harper government complained were taking the Senate too long to pass. Now they have to go back and be debated all over again.

Proroguing is a procedural move allowed in Parliament that gives governments a chance to set out a new agenda. It has been executed 105 times in Canada's history. But political experts say it's rare that a government prorogues when so much legislation it deems important gets killed.

James McAllister, a sessional political instructor at Brandon University, said it speaks loudly to Harper's indifference to governing.

"He scuttled his own agenda," McAllister said. "What does that say about his own agenda?"

When Harper killed the session of Parliament, it cut off the government's agenda after 338 days. In December 2008, when he prorogued to stop an attempted opposition coalition takeover, the government was in session for just 16 days.

McAllister said the prorogue represents "the Harper government's approach to Parliament and politics in general."

That is to be secretive and dismissive of MPs and Parliament and concentrate the work of government in the Prime Minister's Office rather than in Parliament.
"It reflects a general attitude that he doesn't have to be accountable," McAllister said.

Parliaments --
shorter and shorter

Average length of parliamentary sessions, by prime minister

Pierre Trudeau
511 days
Brian Mulroney
618 days
Jean Chrétien
484 days
Paul Martin*
421 days
Stephen Harper
303 days

Average number of sitting days per session, by prime minister

Pierre Trudeau
171 days
Brian Mulroney
215 days
Jean Chrétien
176 days
Paul Martin*
159 days
Stephen Harper
108 days

* Martin's one session ended in November 2005 when his government was defeated in a confidence vote.

Prorogation is the ending of a session of Parliament, and the decision to do so is the prerogative of the Crown. The Governor General issues the proclamation to prorogue, but only upon the advice of the prime minister. There are no rules about when a prorogation can or can't happen, or for how long the House can be prorogued. There is no requirement for the prime minister to seek input from Parliament or the public.

What does
it mean?

It ends all the work of the government on the current agenda. All government bills die where they are, committees are disbanded and cannot sit during the prorogation. Private members' bills do not die, mainly due to a standing order that recognizes there is less time devoted to debating private members' bills, so it takes longer to pass them

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