Tuesday, January 05, 2010

The reviews just keep on coming

Murray Mandryk:
(W)hat we're witnessing from Harper takes contempt for democratic principles to a whole new level. Actually it may be worse. He is using public cynicism as a blunt hammer to pound in the detour sign that allows him to get around the last bastion of true accountability for his PMO.

And that truly separates Harper from his predecessors.

By proroguing Parliament again -- this time for no better reason than the political convenience of sidestepping an increasingly troublesome Afghanistan debate while carefully positioning his government for what he hopes will be the afterglow of the Vancouver Olympics and a possible gold medal hockey win -- Harper is abusing tradition like no other recent PM.
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What's truly loathsome is that he announced the prorogation through an unelected communication functionary between Christmas and New Year's, as if it were no more important than the local Queen's Counsel appointments.

Maddeningly, Harper is simply banking on Canadians' abysmal understanding of British parliamentary practice and counting on a cynical public to see this as nothing more than another bit of gamesmanship in a minority Parliament. And he's counting on the wealth of the Conservative party coffers and the friendlies on talk radio and elsewhere to spin this to his advantage.

Canadians should know what's at issue is far more nefarious.

At a time when the country needs to have meaningful debate about vital issues such as defence policy and our role in the longest war Canadians have ever engaged in, the prime minister is silencing the very institution -- perhaps the only institution -- capable of holding his office accountable.
Lawrence Martin:
We won’t know for sure until some polls come in, but there are indications the prorogue gambit is backfiring on (Stephen Harper). The reaction has been demonstrably negative. Media comment boards have lit up in protest. The Globe and Mail went to the unusual extent of running a front page editorial. Conservative newspapers, normally in the prime minister’s stable, have condemned the move. The Facebook group, Canadians Against Proroguing Parliament, already has 15,000 signed up.

It’s become a question of how many times the people will let a leader bend a democratic system to his will before they fight back. If the prime minister doesn’t take a hit in the polls on this, he will feel the sting in other ways. The opposition to his methods is hardening. People are angry. When they get angry, they mobilize.

This prorogation story, which comes on top of his defying the will of Parliament by refusing to turn over documents on the Afghan detainees affair, is different from some of the other abuse-of-power stories. This one has legs. Every day the Parliament’s doors remain closed will serve as a reminder of what the supreme ruler did.
The Edmonton Journal:
There is no looming emergency, no threat of a non-confidence vote, no plausible reason other than blatant political gamesmanship to support suspension of the people's business for more than two months.

Using the Olympics as a foil is preposterous, as if opposition parties would do anything to embarrass the nation while the spotlight is on Canada.

The excuse that the government needed time to readjust given the changing Senate scene is also specious, since Parliament wasn't set to return until Jan. 25 anyway, allowing a decent interval.

Once again the Conservatives under Harper, formerly outspoken on the need for greater accountability and reforming the murky, partisan nature of Canadian politics under successive Liberal regimes, have shown a predilection for more of the same -- even when they don't have to resort to trickery. Indeed, the only thing transparent about this cessation of open government is its obvious motivation.
The Hamilton Spectator:
There is no doubt the Stephen Harper government's strategic move to prorogue Parliament until after the Olympics is nothing short of self-serving. It is not about what is good for Canada, for democracy, or even for the Olympics. It is only about what Harper has decided is good for his federal Tories. Even sober second thought cannot cast a positive light on his decision to interfere with democracy.
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In the days since Harper opted to side-step the democracy of the House of Commons, it has become increasingly clear the prime minister has established a nasty habit of shutting down the system when he wants to avoid controversy and hard questions.

The Tories shut down Parliament in late 2008 when they faced almost certain defeat by a minority coalition on a key vote. They have shut down Parliament in early 2010, ostensibly so we can all watch the Vancouver Olympics without the distractions of democracy. It also allows the Tory government to duck the substantial heat churned up by the sensitive issue of Afghanistan prisoner abuse, as well as the high level of criticism resulting from Canada's less-than-stellar performance in the Copenhagen climate change talks.

It is both unseemly and disturbing that the Tories' cynical move played out quickly, without debate and, apparently, with automatic acceptance by the Governor General.

Harper knows most Canadians aren't overly concerned about it -- close to half don't care whether Parliament resumes now or after the February games. A sizeable slice of the population probably doesn't care whether Parliament resumes at all.

But that apparent indifference doesn't make the erosion of democratic accountability good or acceptable. It is a frightening abuse of the democratic process. It not what prorogation was intended for. And it further clarifies the government's intention to minimize the role Parliament plays in Canadian democracy.
And of course, Errol Mendes:
Apart from the doomed attempts of Charles I to prorogue the British parliament in the 17th century, there was no precedent in any parliamentary democracy anywhere in the world where a democratic parliament was shut down to hide from a vote of confidence. It opened the door for other abuses of the rights and privileges of the majority of Members of Parliament elected by Canadians. Harper has gone through that door once again.

This time, the insult to Canadian democracy, while less spectacular, is no less disturbing. The Governor General did not even merit a personal visit to be told to shut down Parliament until early March. Respect, even for the Queen's representative, by this Prime Minister is in short supply.

This behaviour by the Prime Minister is another piece of evidence of a major shift in Canadian constitutional democracy taking shape. First, there is the unconstitutional behaviour of the Harper government to deny the committee uncensored documents despite a motion of the House of Commons. Second, there is the boycott of the committee by the Conservative MPs at the committee. Third, we have seen the sandbagging of the Military Police Complaints Commission and the "yanking" of its chair, Peter Tinsley. This commission, a quasi-judicial tribunal has been stymied in its attempt to determine the truth over the detainee transfer issue. Finally, there is the unprecedented slamming of Richard Colvin for just doing his job of speaking truth to power and then accusing anybody who supports him of either being Taliban dupes or undermining our brave Canadian military heroes.

These are serious examples of abuse of executive power over Parliament, the Governor General, the public service and ultimately the Canadian voters who elected MPs to make Parliament work.
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Some Canadians may not pay much attention to archaic constitutional terms such as prorogation of Parliament or even to the fate of Afghan detainees transferred to torture. Other Canadians will care greatly about both these issues. But all Canadians must care about a minority government that undermines the fundamental democratic institutions of this country while also manipulating quasi-judicial tribunals and intimidating the public service from speaking truth to power. This abuse of executive power is tilting toward totalitarian government and away from the foundations of democracy and the rule of law on which this country was founded.

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