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The Globe and Mail

Why another Globe prorogation editorial fails

On Saturday, The Globe and Mail backed Jack Layton's proposal to legislate a requirement that Stephen Harper and his successors not have the power to request that the Governor-General prorogue Parliament without a majority vote in the House of Commons.

This reversal of a newspaper's editorial position in a bit more than a year, while unusual, is perfectly legitimate. It does, however, call out for an explanation for the dramatic pivot. More important, in light of its status as Canada's national paper of record, The Globe owes Canadians an explanation as to how they and their families would be better off today had the law being proposed by the NDP been the law of the land in 2008. And had the position of Mr. Layton and Gilles Duceppe and prime minister Stéphane Dion - whom voters had just rejected resoundingly in an election - prevailed back then.

Ironically, in today's editorial, The Globe criticizes the Prime Minister for reversing a position he took more than twenty years ago in penning the platform of the Reform Party - a party he represented in Parliament for one term: "Stephen Harper's decision to prorogue Parliament is an abrogation of the principles he and his party arose to defend."

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This is not quite true.

The Reform Party evolved into the Canadian Alliance and later merged with the centrist Progressive Conservatives - a party that until its demise dismissed most of what the Reform Party stood for. The merger begat the Conservative Party, which Mr. Harper now leads. Had this evolution not occurred, and had Mr. Harper not evolved personally, Canada would have been firmly on track to the Liberal nirvana of becoming a one-party state.

One would think that this frightening prospect would be of some concern to the author of today's editorial, who writes of prorogation: "It is a sad day for Canadians who see how estranged their government has become from the country's democratic lifeblood."

Ironically, The Globe traces the formation of the Reform Party to backroom constitutional discussions of the late 1980s. Those would be the same discussions that the then-editor of The Globe and Mail aggressively supported - a part of history that has still not been fully disclosed. Nor does The Globe seem to be especially offended by the backroom discussions that produced the Constitution Act, 1982. (Full disclosure: I was involved in both sets of discussions.)

It's also not quite true for the author of today's editorial to write: "Mr. Harper has gone to new lengths, using prerogative powers to shut Parliament itself." While some have been trying mightily to distinguish the 2009 prorogation from that of Jean Chrétien in 2003, here's what Paul Martin thinks, if his spokesperson is to be believed: "Undoubtedly there are clear differences in recollection between the two men - not the least of which would appear to be Mr. Chrétien's decision to prorogue Parliament, and not accept the auditor generals report on sponsorship personally."

Mr. Chrétien was a shrewd tactician, and the 2003 prorogation was the first move in a process that ended in him avoiding any blame for the sponsorship program. It helped, not to put too fine a point on it, that Ottawa and Toronto media circles appeared to be far less offended by the 2003 prorogation than they are today.

Today, Mr. Harper is prime minister of Canada - a unique job, with unique responsibilities in our system of government. As John Maynard Keynes is reputed to have said: "When the facts change, I change my mind. How about you?" Or, to put it in a somewhat less intellectual way, as Moshe Dayan did in typical Israeli fashion for a war-time hero turned peace-forging politician, "Only donkeys do not change their minds."

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As prime minister, Mr. Harper's responsibilities are to Canada and the Canadian people as a whole - and not just to his party. Indeed, the Globe and others have quite rightly accused him of too often placing partisan interests ahead of the national interest.

In the current context, Mr. Harper would have no difficulty defending his use of prorogation - a prorogation the Globe supported for the same reason: to thwart the formation of a Liberal-NDP coalition government with the support of the Bloc Québécois - a party dedicated to secession, to use Jeffrey Simpson's wise term of choice, not Mr. Harper's. Nor would the Prime Minister have any difficulty answering the principal question that the Globe has yet answer: How exactly would Canada and Canadians have been better off if we had been governed through the worst recession in 26 years by a Liberal-NDP coalition supported by the Bloc - a party that, whatever term you use, is dedicated to breaking up one of the most peaceful and prosperous countries on the face of the earth.

The good news in all this is that today's editorial does not repeat The Globe's support for Jack Layton's bill. Perhaps the editorial board has had second thoughts - second thoughts that explain today's front page dominated by an international conference not mentioned in the dozen or so international papers I review every day.

Or maybe The Globe now recognizes that the law being proposed by the NDP would not work or would be struck down by the courts. Whatever the reason, one more editorial pivot - even if it were in record time - would be deeply welcomed and in Canada's national interest.

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