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The Centre Block of Parliament sits empty in Ottawa on Jan. 6, 2010.
The Centre Block of Parliament sits empty in Ottawa on Jan. 6, 2010.

Globe editorial

Consensus that should be Add to ...

The Liberals are right to propose that future prorogations should take place with the consent of the House of Commons. They have also advanced the debate on this matter by saying that Commons committees should have the option to continue their work, while the House is out of session.

Ralph Goodale, the Liberal House leader, sensibly commented that, in general, prime ministers should be free to exercise their own judgment about the timing of the end of a parliamentary session. Reform was needed only because of Stephen Harper's manipulation of the legitimate, normal power to prorogue.

Strictly speaking, what Michael Ignatieff's six-point position requires is an opportunity for full debate on prorogation, after 10 days' notice. That comes close to a requirement to consent. But the specifics use the words "unless the House otherwise consents" three times, thus setting the criteria on which MPs could veto a prorogation: if it would occur in the first 12 months of a session; if it would last more than a month; or if a vote of confidence is pending. Any one of these three cases would be grounds for saying no.

This is a fair and reasonable articulation of sound principles, some of which were set out in this space on Saturday. Parliamentary sessions should not be too short; the intervals between sessions should not be too long; and prorogation should not be used as a device to prevent the majority of the House of Commons from exercising its right - under the unwritten constitution - to oblige a government to resign or face a new election.

To allow committees to continue their work during a prorogation is also a good idea, especially if the government is trying avoid committee hearings. Given that government bills die with the end of the session, however, much of that committee work would be moot, though private members' bills do survive into the next session.

As a party that has often been in power, and expects to govern sooner or later, the Liberals doubtless do not want to unduly fetter their own leaders in the future. That practical motive in no way discredits the proposal; on the contrary, it is all the more respectful of future prime ministers of any and all political parties. At the very least, Mr. Ignatieff has provided a good first draft of a reform of the power to prorogue. The NDP has also declared its support for such a change. Indeed, MPs of all four parties should recognize that parliamentary limits on the power to prorogue is a way to strengthen Canada's democracy.

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