Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s announcement that he will prorogue the current session of Parliament and delay the return of the Legislature until mid-October is frustrating and unwelcome. Yes, this will be a more routine use by Mr. Harper of the royal prerogative to prorogue than in the past but it is not justified by the circumstances, and it has the odour of political convenience. We repeat what we said before: Parliament should not sit silent at the whim of the prime minister.
This will be the third time Mr. Harper has gone to the Governor-General and asked for royal consent to end a session of Parliament, making him something of a serial proroguer. No other modern prime minister has resorted to prorogation as often the current one.
Mr. Harper used it first in 2008 when he feared the opposition would defeat his minority government on a confidence motion. He did it again in 2009 when, still leading a minority, he wanted to shield his government from questions about the detention of Afghan detainees.
Mr. Harper’s argument for proroguing a third time is more sound. His majority government is halfway through its mandate, and he wants to reset its priorities with a speech from the throne. Under normal circumstances, this would not be of much concern; it could even have been expected. But the prime minister’s reputation precedes him, and a potentially damaging issue is once more dogging his government: the Senate expenses scandal and the mysterious payment of $90,000 by the former chief of staff of the Prime Minister’s Office to disgraced senator Mike Duffy.
Mr. Harper could have let the current session continue to December and then prorogued, allowing him to return with a fresh start in January. But he has chosen not to wait. The result will be the delay of the return of Parliament after the summer recess by as many as six weeks – six weeks during which Parliament could have been addressing questions about the Senate scandals, as well dealing with ongoing issues of vital concern to Canada and Canadians: the Keystone XL pipeline; the possible entry of Verizon into the Canadian cellphone market; the economic recovery; free trade with Europe; and the crisis in Egypt.
Mr. Harper’s announcement continues the weakening of Parliament and MPs at the expense of the executive. As we have said, Canadians don’t elect a prime minister – they elect MPs to form a government and then hold the prime minister and Cabinet to account. The increasing exploitation of prorogation for political expediency (Ontarians saw former premier Dalton McGuinty blatantly resort to it last fall) is a reversal of the flow of power.