Proroguing Parliament: What is It?
Shortly after the Canadian Parliaments Christmas Break, Prime Minister Harper announced that he would ask the Governor General to "prorogue parliament". Although most Canadians are now familiar with the term, many are not aware what it means.
Proroguing Parliament essentially shuts down parliament and permits it to start a new session with a new and clean slate. Unfinished legislation dies on the order paper. This allows the governing party to reintroduce it in its original form and resubmit it to the Canadian Upper House, an unelected body.
Section 5 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms mandates that parliament is only required to sit once every twelve months. In theory, the Parliament could be prorogued for a whole year, but would require the Governor General's consent.
The Harper Government History of Proroguing Parliament
October 14th, 2008 the Harper government was re-elected with a minority government. When parliament resumed, the opposition parties threatened to bring down the government and threatened to ask the Governor General to form a coalition government.
Prime Minister Harper, determined that this would not happen, asked the Governor General to Prorogue the Parliament. The Governor General approved his request.
When parliament resumed its business in early 2009, either the New Democratic Party supported the government's legislation until the Liberal Party decided they would no longer attempt to bring down the government. The NDP no longer supported the government, but the Liberals did.
This fall the Harper government was plagued by opposition queries on Afghan detainee handling and a parliamentary committee and the opposition parties kept the issue front and centre in the Canadian media. Mr. Harper, after parliament adjourned for the Christmas break, once again asked the Governor General to prorogue parliament. An adjournment would have continued with the present parliamentary business and permitted committees to continue with their work. Proroguing prevented this.
Proroguing - a Public Outcry
To prorogue parliament, again, for no obvious reason, other than trying to take the detainee issue off the headlines has created a public outcry. A facebook group has been created, which more than 200,000 members have joined. Today there will be protest rallies across Canada. See NP Story by Sara Star. An EKOS poll published last week and reported on NP by this author, had the Liberals and Conservatives in a virtual tie. The Conservatives had a six point lead on the Liberals last August.
Protests continue across Canada, CBC reported that it is held in 22 locations across Canada, one in London, England, and as far South as Houston, Texas. Organizers of the Toronto Ralley claimed 15,000 protesters turned out. The Police estimated the number closer to 2000. Nevertheless a great turnout. Parliament Hill has a great turnout as well. Ignatieff, Layton and Elizabeth May spoke at the Ottawa Rally.
About 600 protesters showed up at Stephen Harper's Calgary constituency office.
Good Tactical Move or Harper's Downfall
In all likelihood Mr. Harper did not expect the public outrage he would create with proroguing parliament. Since the anti-proroguing movement is not likely to back off, this may have severe consequences for Mr. Harper in March when Parliament returns. By then he will have appointed an additional five Senators, tipping the balance to Conservatives.
Harper is expected to table a new budget after the throne speech. Will the opposition defeat his budget, which is a confidence vote and defeat his government?
For many Canadians, it's a term they're not familiar with but have come to know all too well in the last week: proroguing Parliament.
But just what does it mean?
Proroguing Parliament is a lot like rebooting your computer after you've finished working. You're essentially starting with a clean slate uncomplicated by all the programs you may have been into before you hit that restart command.
It's the period between two sessions of a legislative body, although it rarely happens just weeks after an election has been held.
It means all the MPs who were elected last October 14th will remain in place, but any unpassed bills or motions - like the controversial economic statement that started this mess - will be non-existent.
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Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada