Defending the Indefensible

Mr. Radia’s staunch defence of Mr. Harper’s prorogation of parliament  (“Nothing new in prorogation,” Tri-City News February 26, 2010)  was an interesting read.  Mr. Radia throws up the usual smoke screens, and deals only superficially, in my view, with the real reasons for which Mr Harper is being criticized.

If someone takes a hammer and smashes your windows, would it be a defence that hammers are just harmless hand-tools in common use for centuries?…  So why the outrage now?

The problem here is that Mr. Harper has taken a hammer to the windows of our democracy.  It is no defence that he used an ordinary administrative tool to do this.  It is no defence that prorogation has been used many times before, even if for any or even all of those times it was similarly abused, for, as we teach our children:  two wrongs don’t make a right.

Mr Harper has now done this twice.

The first time was clearly to dodge a confidence vote triggered by his own arrogance, that he would surely have lost, and would thus have lost the power to which he feels entitled.  Though Mr. Radia apparently supports this plaintive clinging to power by a minority, against the clear purpose of a majority of members of parliament representing a majority of Canadians, it was still an affront to legitimate parliamentary process.

The second time, this time, was an equally obvious effort to evade democratic oversight, if only for a while.  It defers the awkward and inconvenient scrutiny of the Harper government’s failure in establishing and monitoring appropriate protocols for handling Afghanistan detainees, and to avoid honestly and accountably owning up and actually addressing the problem.

It is an attempt to avoid further exposure of their obstruction of the military complaints commission and the commons committee both properly charged with looking into this issue.  It was to direct the focus away from their obstinate and foolish withholding of information from parliament, their defiance of a parliamentary subpoena to produce that information, and their suppression and smearing of witnesses.

It was to change the channel from their shirking of responsibility by shrugging off legitimate criticism of themselves as instead criticism of the military, and thus themselves hanging out to dry our men and women in the field.

That this tactic is not guaranteed to lay such matters entirely to rest is also not relevant in discounting such motivation, for, as we saw before, time heals all wounds, and to defer and delay is often good enough.  It is up to the opposition parties and to each of us as ordinary citizens to ensure that it isn’t, this time.

If Mr. Harper has so little regard for his own pending legislation that he would so casually erase it in this manner, I have no concern over its loss, apart from the waste of parliamentary time and money.  It’s rather rich, though, when he invariably blames the opposition for blocking and delaying his noble efforts.

If a simple administrative reset was indeed all that was involved, as claimed, there was no need whatever to cripple parliament for such an extended period, as Mr Harper did both times.  An example on point here is Premier McGuinty’s announced plan to start a new session of the Ontario legislature by proroguing for a mere four days, over a weekend.

Nor is it of any relevance that any portion of Mr. Harper’s protracted parliamentary shut-down was a recess anyway.  Prorogation is significantly different from a recess.

When parliament is merely recessed, committees still exist and are still able to carry on their business, should they need to do so.  (Though their ability to do so does depend on good faith participation of the government — prior to the actual prorogation, during the recess, the special committee investigating the detainee issue was unable to work as scheduled, since all of the Conservative members refused to show up!)

Under prorogation, however, parliamentary committees cease to exist, and therefore cannot meet nor operate in any way.  The government is thus spared the embarrassment of further garish displays of their own anti-democratic belligerence.  They can now add prorogation to their handbook of tried and true techniques for disrupting and interfering with the business of parliament.

No, the problem here is not prorogation.  The problem here is Mr. Harper.

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