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Is prorogation diminishing Canada’s democracy? PDF Print E-mail
Justice News
Written by Joan Russow
Monday, 03 August 2015 14:29



By Rebekah Sears on January 11th, 2010 

In the past year many more Canadians have become familiar with the term prorogation. Parliament was due to resume on January 25, but for the second time in just over a year the government decided to prorogue, killing all bills currently before Parliament, and more importantly shutting down the venue for democratic debate for two months.

The announcement came on December 30, 2009 while many Canadians were preoccupied with holiday celebrations and family commitments. Parliament will reopen with a new session and Speech from the Throne in early March 2009.

Prorogation is a common constitutional option for governments who wish for a new parliamentary session. Often governments will call for a prorogation upon achieving most of their agenda, or after a change in leadership.

This is not the case for the most recent prorogation. Of the 64 bills introduced since the beginning of the past Parliamentary session in January 2009, only 27 have been passed. Many of the uncompleted bills were top priorities of the current government, including tougher crime legislation.

Bills, however, can always be reintroduced and unanimous consent from the House of Commons could restore all the bills to the status they held in the House before prorogation. The real concern generated by this prorogation is the shutting down of democratic debate, both around ongoing and unresolved Parliamentary business as well as new issues as they arise.

Open debate is essential within Canada’s system of governance and democracy. Under a multiparty system, Canadians have the right to vote for parties and individuals that represent their interests and views. As a result, Parliament is composed of a number of different parties with representatives from across the country. These representatives bring with them a variety of perspectives on the issues that matter to Canadians.

As new policy options are introduced in Parliament, representatives can debate, call for amendments and help shape these policies. Without this venue of democratic debate, as is the case in prorogation, the government can proceed without hearing alternative perspectives.

For example, in the first week of 2010 the government decided to install new and controversial scanners in several major Canadian airports. The move is at the centre of a debate between security, personal privacy and human rights violations through profiling. The opposition will eventually have a chance to debate this issue, but not before the scanners are in place.

How many other issues will pass without democratic debate during this prorogation?

At the root of these concerns is another fundamental principle of Canadian democracy – government accountability. Political accountability requires that governments have to answer for their actions and the outcomes of their policies. In Canada’s parliamentary system opposition parties play a critical role in this regard through open debate. However, if no one is there to challenge the government or offer an alternative perspective, where is the accountability to the Canadian people?

Public justice also calls for governments to be accountable, ensuring policies work to promote well-being and just societies. Through this prorogation the government is diminishing the opportunity for active citizen participation in decision making and accountability.

Spokespeople for the government claim the prorogation will give the government more opportunities to refocus on the economic recovery with a fresh start in 2010. As Canadians begin the slow recovery from the recession, questions such as how long the stimulus funding should be maintained and how the deficit should be cut back are at the forefront. However, discussion and planning on such important issues should be open to all Canadian perspectives.

In addition, managing the economy can be done just as easily while Parliament is in session. In fact, during recent months some of the reports released and legislation in progress was about economics and poverty. For example, on December 8 the Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology’s Subcommittee on Cities released a report, In From the Margins: A Call to Action on Poverty, Housing and Homelessness. This report called for extensive government action for poverty reduction and eventually elimination.

Two weeks earlier the House of Commons passed a motion that the government develop an immediate plan for poverty elimination. The Standing Committee on Human Resources and Social Development and the Status of People with Disabilities (HUMA) was approaching completion of a major study on the federal role in reducing poverty. HUMA was also working on Bill C-304 which was introduced last fall calling for the government to develop a national housing strategy, especially concerning affordable housing.

Regardless of the motivations behind proroguing Parliament, it looks like open debate, alternative perspectives and complete government accountability will be on hold for the next two months.


Electoral Reform

Rebekah Sears is CPJ’s former policy intern.




Submitted by Dave on October 26, 2013 - 10:57pm


Yes, this proroguing is diminishing Canadian democracy, but in my opinion, it's in a darker more sinister way than the examples in the opinion piece here. The government has directly refused to respect democracy. On December 10th, 2009, Parliament ordered the Government to produce certain documents right away. Some have compared Parliament's Order to a subpoena but is actually far stronger, more like a super-subpoena. In our system, the people's democratic will is expressed through our Members of Parliament and so Parliament is supreme, as we the people, in a democracy, are supreme, instead of kings or dictators. So when Parliament votes an Order, it is law, and must be obeyed. Since Confederation, in 1867, no Canadian Government has ever outright refused to obey a parliamentary order: that would be illegal, and mean the government was placing itself above democracy and above the people's elected representatives, making the government illegitimate. On December 11th, 2009, the current Government announced it would not obey the Parliamentary Order. At that moment, 10:19:15 am EST apparently, the Government became illegitimate, having placed itself above and outside the law (press conference was scheduled for 10:15 and relevant statement started after 4min 15sec). Until the Government obeys the Parliamentary Order, it remains illegitimate. Parliament could do what is needed to enforce the Order, but on December 30, 2009, the Government unexpectedly closed or "prorogued" Parliament until March 3, 2010. So the current Government is refusing to obey the super-subpoena that is a Parliamentary Order. It has closed Parliament and run away. It is breaking the law. The Government is saying it is above democracy and democracy's rules, and as a result, by democracy's standards, the Government is not legitimate: the Government is an outlaw. And every day the Government remains outside the laws of Parliament & democracy, it becomes more illegitimate. I'm trying to start an Internet campaign on this point, and have made a site that people can get HTML code for banners to this effect at: http://www.electionnightincanada.com/

Submitted by Dave on October 26, 2013 - 10:57pm


Yes, and A forgotten


Submitted by Joan Russow on October 26, 2013 - 10:57pm


Yes, and A forgotten prelude to the evading of investigation and to the avoiding of a vote of non-confidence. It should be pointed out also that Harper used the Governor General to dissolve Parliament, in 2008, to avoid the investigation, by the Parliamentary Ethics and Access to Information Committee, into the in-and-out Conservative funding scheme in the 2006 election. Background from 2008 and the dissolution of the Ethics Committee because the Governor General dissolved Parliament and granted Harper an election Harper’s rationale for calling the election was that Parliament was dysfunctional. He deemed that Parliament was dysfunctional because the three opposition parties representing over 66% of the electorate disagreed with his policies. He had presumed that he would be successful in obtaining a majority and thus his policies would then be implemented. While he increased the number of Conservative members he failed to attain a majority government, and thus the Parliament is still dysfunctional. If the dysfunctionality of a minority government was the reason for going to the polls then when he obtained another minority government equally dysfunctional - he should have stepped down and called upon the Governor General to form a Coalition Government. But he didn 't. Why? Was there another reason for calling a quick election? Was it that with an election there would be the dissolution of the Parliamentary Ethics Committee that was investigating the Conservative violation of the Elections Act in the 2006 election? Serious questions arise about the condoning of potentially fraudulent election practices, the reneging of responsibility by the Governor General; the disregarding, by the media, of this issue during the election; and the legitimacy of Harper speaking on behalf of Canada with less than 40% support of the population.. DELIBERATIONS OF THE PARLIAMENTARY ETHICS COMMITTEE IN THE HEARINGS IN AUGUST, 2008 There is not doubt that the public interest would certainly be served by exposing the fraudulent practice used by the Conservatives in the 2006 election. On August 14, 2008, at the Parliamentary Committee, it was revealed that there is sufficient evidence that this practice occurred and that the practice was condoned by the Conservative Party. One Conservative witness even referred to the scheme as being a creative fund-raising scheme benefiting in the long-

Submitted by Joan Russow on October 26, 2013 - 10:57pm


Dear Ms Russow, It may be


Submitted by Martin D.Geleynse on October 26, 2013 - 10:57pm


Dear Ms Russow, It may be true that the opportunity for parliamentary debate has been killed, but in actual fact what have we lost? I have been watching parliament's sessions for quite a while now and am simply disgusted with the way parliamentarians act. I have not heard much real debate in the sense of exchange of opinions aimed at improvement of what was proposed. The noise in the chamber, the calling and heckling is sickening. We did that as students in our fraternity, but these are representatives of the constituency. I often wonder if the constituents ever listen to what is going on in parliament and how their own representative is behaving. It seems to me that parties are simply not able to live with a minority government, where no party will get its own way and everything is done by compromise and mutual consultation. In such a situation it makes sense to have a real debate and to put all options on the table; to listen to each other and make a sincere effort to reach an solution acceptable, if not to all, certainly to the majority. But in our Canadian situation the conservatives will propose their points of view and the liberals do not listen because it comes from the conservatives so it cannot be acceptable. Just imagine that a liberal member of parliament would dare to propose that there is something good in a conservative proposal. he would be censured by his whip, I'm sure. And if the liberals were in power the conservatives would undoubtedly act the same way. Conclusion: if I was prime-minister I too would be sick of the negative attitude of the opposition and prorogue! Let me add though that real debate is going on in many of the committees and I have found it rather fascinating to listen to discussions held in committees. And as far as that goes: the committees have not been prorogued, have they? Respectfully, Martin D.Geleynse

Submitted by Martin D.Geleynse on October 26, 2013 - 10:57pm


If you were also Prime


Submitted by Joan Russow on October 26, 2013 - 10:57pm


If you were also Prime Minister would you have entered into an in and out funding scheme which was clearly in violation of the Elections Act. And when it was being investigated by a parliamentary committee, you advise the 67 impugned MPs not to appear or respect supoenas to appear?. And then would you step down and ask the GG to dissolve parliament, so you could evade an investigation? Or would you avoid a non confidence vote, by asking the GG to prorogue Parliament. Or would you also evade an investigation of Canada's violation of the Convention Against Torture, by again asking the GG to prorogue Parliament? If so, would you not be acting strategically but not ethically, and in the first case, not legally? Under the Elections Act MPs and their agents can be prosecuted for such offences, and as you know there is still and outstanding case, launched by Elections Canada, against the Conservative MPs. He has made a mockery of Canada's Constitution. It is off topic, but Canada has become an international Pariah, by receiving the Colossal Fossil award in Copenhagen, and there is no way of excavating the Alberta oil Sands with public justice!!!!

Submitted by Joan Russow on October 26, 2013 - 10:57pm


Martin, You raise a really


Submitted by Rebekah on October 26, 2013 - 10:57pm


Martin, You raise a really good point about the quality of debate in the House of Commons. Unfortunately it doesn't always look very productive, and minority governments often make the bickering more intense. It can be very frustrating. But at the same time, it still is the venue for bringing up the issues that matter to Canadians, and many of the issues raised in Question Period get picked up by the media, which allows the ideas to spread further. And more importantly it is a venue where the government has to answer questions about their actions and be held accountable by the opposition. You make a good point about the work of committees as well. I have sat in on a number of committees and the nature of debate often seems more productive. But in the case of prorogation, committees are closed. During Parliamentary breaks, such as during the summer or over Christmas, committees can still meet, but during a prorogation they cannot. They have to start all over again, often with some shifting in the membership, once the new session starts.

Submitted by Rebekah on October 26, 2013 - 10:57pm


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