If you're reading this, I hope that you just might care enough to act in defense of democracy in Canada.
Today the PMO (Prime Minister's Office) came clean and admitted that Stephen Harper has formally requested that Governor General Michaëlle Jean prorogue the House -- that is, to shut down Parliament. This is not the first time Harper has taken this tack. Last year, he made such a request in order to halt an immediate threat of his government being toppled, and Michaëlle Jean approved that request due in part to public opposition to the idea of a coalition government formed by the Opposition parties. Unfortunately, in approving that request Jean set a dangerous precedent. She taught Stephen Harper that he could use prorogation of the legislature as a strategic political weapon.
He's trying to do it again, and the stakes are even higher.
Many may be unaware of this, but prorogation of the House of Commons now will buy Stephen Harper some very rewarding outcomes (rewarding to him and only him, I should add). First of all, if Parliament is shut down from now until March, then the Opposition cannot use that time to demand (or force, should the government drag its heels as they most certainly would) an inquiry into the torture of prisoners in Afghanistan and how much Canadian officials knew about this (including, possibly, high-ranking elected Members of Parliament in the Harper government). Secondly, with the House of Commons shut down for their duration, there will be no opportunity for the Opposition parties to raise uncomfortable questions about the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver should controversy arise. Thirdly, the Conservatives would have the opportunity to reintroduce government Bills to the House of Commons in their original forms (Bills which have been amended in the Senate in ways that are displeasing to Stephen Harper.) Finally, he would have the opportunity to make five new Senate appointments (Senators who would have increased power to help the Conservative government push through its legislation, thanks to newly-formed Senate committees -- so much for Stephen Harper's tarnished commitment to Triple-E or similar democratic Senate reforms, for those who still believed in it.)
For some of you, possibly even many of you, these facts alone may be enough to convince you that something needs to be done to stop this. For those to whom it's not, let me be perfectly clear: I am not making a partisan attack against the Conservative Party of Canada. By seeking the prorogation of Parliament, Stephen Harper is trying to do an end-run around democracy. He is trying to run a minority government as though it were a majority government, and that's not what Canadians elected him to do. If this government can do it unchallenged, then what's to stop any minority government in Canada from doing it? The strong federalists among you must ask yourself this: What if a separatist party like the Bloc Québecois managed to secure a minority government one day? What Stephen Harper is trying to do may be good for his political fortunes, but it is NOT good for his country. It is a blow to the principles behind Canada's system of government. If the ruling political party can shut down Parliament anytime it's strategically in their interest to do so, unchallenged, then Canada's democracy is truly broken.
For those of you still with me, those who might be wondering what you could possibly be expected to do about any of this, it's as simple as emailing the Office of the Governor General (at email@example.com), telling people you know about what's really going on and what they can do, or even something as passive as joining the Facebook group
that I just linked to and inviting a few friends(it may not seem like much, but these things do have a way of coming to public attention if they catch on like wildfire). The only hope now is to get Michaëlle Jean's attention in suitable numbers to let her know that this is not acceptable! Feel free to forward this post to the attention of others, or to create messages of your own to send people.
Also, I caution you not to believe that Parliament has been shut down until you read/hear an official announcement from the Governor General, or hear/read her or some authorized representative of her Office quoted as confirming this in a credible news report.
Dmitri Soudas, the Conservative spokesperson on point for this file, has deliberately refused to divulge ANY details of the phone conversation in which Harper put his request to Jean, including what she said she intends to do about it. I suspect he has been deliberately coy, in the hopes of fooling the gullible and lazy (particularly gullible and lazy journalists) into believing that this is a done deal. So that reports will go out saying that it is and people will believe them. So any outraged reaction will be muted. So that people won't flood the Governor General with messages imploring her not to allow this to happen. I have already had personal reports from people who have encountered just such misleading news items on cyberpresse.ca
, The Toronto Star
's website, and even CBC Radio
. Such information has also made it into the chatter on the wall for the Facebook group I've linked you to.
Look at the CBC News website
; the story about parliament being shut down
still talks about prorogation in potential terms and has been bumped down to number two on the CBC News mainpage. Granted, it's taking a backseat to the death of four Canadian soldiers and a Canadian journalist in Afghanistan, which is most undeniably some meaty news copy. However, I still doubt that they'd have reduced THIS story's priority if anyone were expecting an imminent announcement of a highly controversial and potentially historic shutdown of the House of Commons. Do not be fooled into believing there's nothing you can do. If you care, then act to preserve democracy in this country.EDIT:
Announcement by the Office of the Governor General or no, I've been shown a scan of the change to the order papers for the first sitting of the House of Commons in 2010, and the CBC has also confirmed in its coverage that Michaëlle Jean signed the proclamation later the day that Harper made his phone call to her. So, it would seem that I have no choice but to eat my words and retract my all-too bold and optimistic statements. Apparently, there really is nothing left to do but to stoke the fires of Canadians' fury over the strategic use of prorogation and to put the pressure on the government hard once the session does finally resume on March 3rd. There must be political repercussions for this, or it's all been for naught and the time will at last have come when I must give up the final shred of hope for it, and faith in it, that I ever felt for Canada. Today I value my Canadian citizenship less than the paper my birth certificate is printed on.
Thanks, Stephen Harper and Michaëlle Jean -- you just contributed to the alienation and disenfranchisement of the Canadian electorate. Bravo.