Wednesday, January 20, 2010

On opportunities

So far, the NDP's call for legislation to put prorogation in the hands of Parliament looks to have been extremely well-received. But while the party may have out-flanked the Libs when it comes to dealing with the concerns of the anti-prorogation movement, I'll note that there should be room to go a lot further.

True, prorogation may have been the flashpoint for the building public protests - and Layton deserves credit for getting in front of the parade.

But Harper's abuse of prorogation is ultimately just one manifestation of the overall neutering of Parliament started by previous PMs and reduced to a science by Harper. And while at least preventing the likes of Harper from shutting Parliament down might be a start both symbolically and substantively, forcing the Cons to stay at work can only accomplish so much if they'll still have their full obstruction manual at their disposal.

In effect, Layton's proposal would help treat the most prominent symptom of Harper syndrome - but wouldn't do all that much to address the underlying disease. And there's every reason to think now is the perfect opportunity to actually tackle some of the root causes as well.

After all, when was the last time democratic reformers could simultaneously point to:
- a minority Parliament where the opposition parties can team up to pass legislation over the governing party's objections;
- a hypercontrolling PM who serves as a living example of the type of executive overreach which MPs should be eager to rein in; and
- a popular grassroots movement whose entire focus is the work of Parliament, such that MPs can't have any concern that public opinion isn't behind them?

With all those factors working in favour of the re-empowerment of Parliament, it would be a shame if the most that comes of the situation is a limitation on a single tactic rather than a wholesale rethinking of the relationship between Parliament and executive government. And I'll be hoping for both the NDP and the other opposition parties to use Harper's break to make sure that he and future Prime Ministers are far less able to avoid accountability once he returns.

Update: Jeff has more.

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