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Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff talks to reporters in the foyer of the House of Commons as he stands with his caucus on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ont., Monday Jan. 25, 2010. (Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick)
Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff talks to reporters in the foyer of the House of Commons as he stands with his caucus on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ont., Monday Jan. 25, 2010. (Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick)

Opposition pushes for new rules on prorogation Add to ...

The opposition vowed Tuesday to cap the government's power to shut down Parliament, but experts warned that any limit on the Prime Minister's prerogative would be purely symbolic.

The Liberals have joined the NDP in proposing to set conditions on future prorogations, hoping to capitalize on the wave of anger flowing from Prime Minister Stephen Harper's decision to shut down Parliament until early March.

However, constitutional expert Benoit Pelletier said that amending the rules of the House or passing legislation would not be enough to force the Governor-General to ignore the wishes of a prime minister calling for a prorogation.

"It's legitimate to try [to limit a prime minister's power] but the possibility of blocking a prorogation is not obvious," said the law professor at the University of Ottawa.

Mr. Pelletier said that prorogation is an element of the country's political system and has a tacit constitutional recognition.

"I think the Governor-General would obey the prime minister," he said.

The NDP was the first to call for a new law that would prevent the prime minister from shutting down Parliament and parliamentary committees. According to the NDP proposal, any prorogation would have to be put to a vote in the House of Commons.

The Liberals followed suit Tuesday, offering a more complex system that would require the approval of the House for a prorogation in the first year of a session or when a confidence matter is before the House.

Last week, The Globe set up an audio comment feature to find out what you think about prorogation. Here's a sample:

Protesters march against Prime Minister Stephen Harper's prorogation of Parliament in Toronto on Saturday Jan. 23, 2010.



In other circumstances, the prime minister would need to provide 10 days notice to prorogue, with a non-binding debate in the House.

"We think it is appropriate now to set down clearly limits on the power of prorogation," said Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff, surrounded by a group of MPs and senators on what had been scheduled as the first day of the winter sitting.

"We are dealing with a Prime Minister who has shown that he doesn't have the political character to respect our institutions, so in our view, a change of the rules is needed," he said.

The NDP responded by encouraging talks between opposition parties, which have a majority in the House when all three band together.

"We're here today to work on behalf of Canadians, and tell the Prime Minister that we're going to make sure he can never abuse his power to dismiss Parliament again," NDP Leader Jack Layton said in a statement after Mr. Ignatieff's comments.

Leave your voice comment on our new online audio recorder.



The Bloc Québécois said it will look at the Liberal and NDP proposals.

"We are willing to study this quickly," said Bloc House Leader Pierre Paquette.

Constitutional expert Ned Franks said prorogation used to be a non-controversial matter, but limits are needed after the Harper government's last two shutdowns.

"The difference with Harper, which is fundamental, is that he used prorogation twice now to avoid unpleasantness in the House of Commons in less than two years," he said.

Mr. Franks, a professor emeritus at Queen's University, said he finds the Liberal proposal "too elaborate," given that it takes a number of situations into account, but might miss future circumstances.

"I would like to see every prorogation require the consent of the House of Commons," he said.

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