Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Debunking Conservative Myths on Prorogation

As fig leaves covering the real reasons Parliament was prorogued (the Afghan detainee issue and the composition of Senate committees), Stephen Harper and his Conservatives have advanced two myths or half truths regarding prorogation: that is a common procedure and that it is necessary for the government as it seeks to recalibrate its agenda.

While prorogation is common, occurring 105 times, as the Conservatives are fond of reminding us, since Confederation, it is highly uncommon to have such long prorogations This is important because it reveals that prorogation was often a matter of course, necessary, and that it was never used to suspend Parliament for extended periods of time. This is what the Conservatives have done, with 37 days of prorogation.

A look at the length of a Parliament (this is the duration between elections) and the proportion of that Parliament being spent in session bears this out. (Consult this website for parliament lengths and session lengths) With 354 of 416 days of this current Parliament spent in session, the percent of this Parliament spent in session is 86%.

Compare that with Harper's own previous Parliament. For some reason the percentage of the Parliament spent in session was 96%. Notice any discrepancy? The trend continues with further historical data. Previous Parliaments had rates of 100%, 92%, 98% and the list goes on.

So, for Harper to say that prorogation is common is right, but this obfuscates the fact that it has never previously been used to lock out MPS for any substantial portion of the duration of that Parliament.

As for the second myth, that the government needs prorogation to set their agenda for next year, that could not be further from the truth. Consider Harper's own previous Parliament. If that is the case, then why wasn't he proroguing so much, and locking out MPs for months at a time? Either Mr. Harper has to admit that he was previously incompetent in this matter or that he is twisting the truth. And as we know the first proposition is false, it must be the latter.

Shame on the Conservatives for such twisting of the truth. They deprive us of democracy and attempt to convince us that this has been commonplace, and that moreover it is necessary.
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  1. Your words, "it is highly uncommon to have such long prorogations."

    So how about:

    “November 12, 2003 – Jean Chretien announced that Parliament was prorogued on the eve of the Liberal leadership convention (so Chretien and Martin didn’t have to sit together in the House of Commons and face a dispute over who was Prime Minister). Martin did not become Prime Minister until December 12, 2003 and Parliament did not resume until February 2, 2004.

    A bit under three months isn't it?

  2. The point is that if you look at the proportion of the days spent in session during a parliament, none is so low as 86%, as the current Parliament is, and will be even lower once this current prorogation is carried through.

    For the Parliament you just mentioned, the 37th, the proportion of days spent in session was 92%. That is still significantly higher than Harper's current Parliament.

  3. Leeky Sweek, you're twisting the truth. Traditionally, prorogation is requested when the government's legislative agenda is complete OR when there is a transition of one Prime Minister (and his Cabinet)is leaving and a new Prime Minister and new Cabinet (i.e. new Ministry) of the same party are taking over. In either case, the decks are cleared for a new legislative agenda and a new session of Parliament under a new Ministry. That was the case with the transition from Chretien to Martin. You either don't know your parliamentary history or you are being selective in using facts to suit your partisan purpose. (However, I do grant you that the LENGTH of the Chretien to Martin prorogation was long, but prorogation would have necessarily happened regardless of what you think.)

  4. Typo; apologies, in the sentence ending "a new session of Parliament" please delete the subsequent phrase "under a new Ministry".

  5. Prorogation is just fine for the majority of Canadians. If you look at the potential alternatives to the conservative government, it is pretty scary. Having no parliament sitting is better than the socialist coalition misfit brew that might otherwise surface.
    The 37 days off will be well worth it for everyone.


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