The following is a transcript of a pre-recorded interview with the Prime Minister that will air on CBC this evening. (check against delivery)
Interviewer: How's my make-up? Any glare from the lighting? Is the camera rolling? Prime Minister, thank you for agreeing to sit down with us for this interview.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper: It's always a pleasure to be with you and your viewers.
Interviewer: Your staff tell me that we've only got a few minutes so I'll get straight to the point.
What's your reaction to the " hordes of protesters" we saw in the streets today - not far from where we are right now, as it happens - demanding that MPs get back to work?
PM: It's always good to see Canadians actively engaged in politics, and I would hope that this level of engagement -particularly among young Canadians - will continue and be enhanced in the future, which - regrettably - appears not to be the case in the United States.
Interviewer: Prime Minister, I think we can all agree on that.
But what do you say to the men and women of all ages demanding that MPs get back to work? Let me read you what a ten-year veteran of Parliament Hill who now co-owns a progressive media agency had to say about a demonstration that took place not far from where you and your family live:
"I've had a front-row seat to all kinds of mass gatherings and rarely do you see one this co-ordinated, this large and this unified. It takes a lot to make Canadians take to the streets in numbers worth noting."
PM: Well, I could cite other, more objective reports - including incredibly enough that of CBC, CBC French that is - that only 300 people turned out in Montréal and 100 in Halifax, but I'm not going to get into a numbers game with you. In a democracy, it's unacceptable in my view to disparage in any way even one citizen exercising his or her fundamental freedoms and democratic rights.
As to getting back to work, I can only say to hard-working Canadians that most of our government have worked overtime along with our dedicated public servants during the Christmas holiday - one of several long breaks that MPs voted themselves years ago because of the particular nature of their jobs.
Interviewer: Prime Minister, as you can see from the top of my head, I've been around federal politics for many years like Mr. Capstick - whom I know but whose politics, I assure you, I do not share - and understand all that. In fact, though I can't be certain, I believe that we've even reported on MPs long holidays once or twice in the twenty years that I sat in the chair that I no longer sit in. But you know as well as I that the protesters are angry about your decision to prorogue Parliament, agreed to by the Governor-General, and are demanding that you get back to work tomorrow.
PM: Well, let me say off the bat that the Governor-General had no choice in our system but to accept my advice and I take full responsibility for the decision to prorogue. Moreover, Her Excellency is due the respect of all Canadians - and not only because of her office. In fact, as I travel across the country, I've found a profound affection and admiration for the Governor-General, most recently during the Haitian earthquake tragedy, and I can tell you and your viewers this evening - even though as you know I could have made this announcement on a much higher-rated newscast - that I intend to advise Her Majesty that Ms. Jean's term be extended for another five years.
As you can see from my head, I, too have been around Ottawa for many years. And I make this observation not to justify what I have twice done during my tenure as prime minister. But, I don't recall a similar hullaballoo when a previous prime minister prorogued the House in 2003 so as to avoid having to receive Auditor-General Sheila Fraser's report on the sponsorship scandal - a request that was granted by a Governor-General whom he himself had appointed. Another former colleague of yours, as it happens.
In particular, I don't recall any front page editorials in The Globe and Mail. Nor can I remember the kind of banner headlines we've seen the Toronto Star. As to veterans of the Ottawa press gallery, I seem to recall that most of them were very comfortable with the one-party state that Mr. Chrétien was in the process of creating - a dismal situation for which I and members of my party share the blame but have since corrected.
Politics is a tough arena - no one has to explain that to me. I understand why the opposition parties are unhappy with my decision to delay by a few weeks the recall of Parliament; in fact, as leader of the Canadian Alliance, I protested against prorogation in 2003. In many ways I admired Mr. Chrétien. And no one understands better than I do today that a prime minister can sometimes find himself in a crisis situation, such as Mr. Chrétien did in the 1995 referendum. But, having said that, his prorogation was the first step in a long process that in the end did not hold him accountable for the sponsorship scandal.
Interviewer: Prime Minister, I'm glad you brought that up, and I hope that you and your always co-operative staff will give us a few more minutes so that I can ask you one more question.
Mr. Layton is proposing a law that would require a majority vote in the House of Commons before the Governor-General could grant a request for prorogation. Are you and your MP's prepared to vote in favour of such a law?
PM: Well, let me first say that my legal advisers tell me that any such law would quickly be struck down by the Courts if challenged, as it violates several fundamental aspects of the way we are governed and have always been.
That said, I can understand why Mr. Layton and Mr. Duceppe for that matter might favour such a law - thankfully, neither of them will ever be prime minister of this country - though Mr. Duceppe will likely be thinking about the demand for a similar law in Québec, where his true interests lie.
But, let me be very frank with you - oops, I promised my wife and kids, whom you were kind enough to mention, to try very hard this time not to preface any of my remarks with a verbal tic I've long tried to correct that I've been told is quite common and that Laureen swears she's heard many times in interviews over your long and distinguished career.
However, something more sinister is at play here.
Had Mr. Layton's views prevailed in December, 2008, Canada would have been governed through the worst recession in 26 years by a Liberal-NDP coalition supported by the Bloc - a party dedicated to secession and that wants to break up our country.
With the possibility of another Depression at that time very real, I make no apology for using every tool in a prime minister's quiver to thwart such an outcome - excuse me, every legal tool, a limitation that, as you know, did not apply to the sponsorship program. And I challenge Mr. Layton and anyone else who supports his law to explain to Canadians across this land how they and their families would be better off today had he and Gilles Duceppe and prime minister Stéphane Dion - whom voters had just rejected resoundingly in an election - prevailed in 2008.
For my part, I intend to raise this issue in the next campaign, whenever that takes place. For let's be clear on this point: having tried what the The Economist magazine termed a "coup" once, you can be sure that the opposition parties will try it again if they ever have that chance. And anyone who is not prepared to shut the door unequivocally on banning a legal tool that can be used to fight for Canada is not fit to serve in the high office that I, for the moment, fill.
Interviewer: Thank you Prime Minister for taking the time to sit down with us.
PM: Thank you, and let me take this opportunity to thank your network and its competitors and the cable industry for getting together this once in the interest of Canadians. But most of all I want to thank the people of Canada for their solidarity with the people of Haiti and for the incredible generosity they've shown over the past fortnight.
(Photo: Pawel Dwulit/The Canadian Press)