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Extending political vacation with prorogue

Posted on August 21, 2013 by Taber Times

There is an adage in politics that despite whatever tragedy or crisis may have befallen the nation, the “business of government must go on.” Or not, as the case may be, especially in Canada.

There hasn’t been any terrorist attacks on Parliament Hill, nobody has assassinated the prime minister, and Russian tanks aren’t rolling down Bay Street in Toronto. A mutated SARS strain hasn’t escaped from some secret government research facility to ravage the citizens of the country or turn them into super-animated zombies a la “World War Z.” Vancouver hasn’t fallen into the sea after “the big one” strikes the West Coast. Neil Young hasn’t enthusiastically endorsed the moral integrity of corporate North America.

In short, the mountains are pretty far from tumbling into the sea — at least for the moment.

In fact, things are relatively ho-hum here in the Great White North. And as the world turns, Canada is turning along with it, much as it has for the past century and a half. Sure, we have our share of moral outrages — murders, car crashes, senators with their sticky fingers caught in the public piggy bank. We have our foreign policy worries — how to defend the Arctic, crisis in Syria and Egypt, free trade with the European Union. And our financial conundrums — national debt, deficit spending, household debt levels.

All of which, to be honest, shouldn’t have Canadians — or our federal government — excessively worried or surprised. For many, in all reality, it’s simply downright boring.

Not that there aren’t looming problems to be addressed and remedied — fiscal, social, or otherwise. The so-called “business of government,” despite being somewhat downstream of any kind of immediate crisis, is still a huge and growing responsibility for government and our Parliamentary representatives.

So what is our federal government’s apparent response to this growing responsibility? Let’s take another month off before taking on the arduous duties of the fall session of Parliament. Because, you know, the months we’ve already taken off this summer have taken a lot out of us.

Not that I would argue many politicians aren’t involved in constituency work and other riding-related duties throughout the summer months. It’s not as though they’re all putting their feet up around the lake for months on end. But on the other hand, it’s not as though they’re punching a clock at the local Dairy Queen or twisting a wrench at the local garage, either.

The announcement earlier this week from the prime minister that he will be asking the Governor General to prorogue Parliament, meaning the business of government would likely not resume in September, but in October, has hardly raised ripples of surprise in Ottawa.

Since the Conservatives have fulfilled most of their promises in the last election, asserts Harper, the time has come to come up with a new bag of tricks for the next session.

“Obviously, the House will be prorogued in anticipation of that,” said Harper, in a news conference on Monday in Whitehorse.

Obviously? It seems hardly obvious to most of us lowly observers out here in the provinces, but of course, we’re without the benefit of a piercing insight into national affairs and the towering intellect of our prime minister. We can’t apparently see the weighty burdens which stand heavily upon the shoulders of government. We need to take their word for it.

Forgive us for pointing out the obvious, but if a need to “forge a new Parliamentary agenda” for the upcoming fall session was such a pressing consideration — now that the Conservatives can simply rest on their laurels, according to Harper — perhaps someone might explain why they didn’t manage to accomplish this over the taskless months of the summer, and why now they feel a need to postpone the fall session another month?

Well, forgive us for being blunt yet again, but it seems to this observer to be another prime example of our taxpayer dollars hard at work. There aren’t many jobs where you can expect to be paid a six figure income for working six months of the year. Or perhaps there are — just go to work for another branch of government, the Canadian Senate. If Canadians need a further example of their taxpayer dollars hard at work, they need look no further than the fraudulent and exorbitant expense bills being laid at the feet of John Q. Public by appointed senators purporting to be acting in their name.

The process of proroguing Parliament is a case in point. Once a relatively inoffensive procedure, it has acquired sinister connotations since Harper took power.

Back in December 2008, in the dastardly days of minority, Harper used the tool to postpone Parliament when faced with a vote of non-confidence which would have surely toppled his shaky government. In effect, he removed the ability of many Parliamentary representatives — representatives of the people — to vote their conscience against a government which had lost their confidence, and provoked a constitutional crisis largely of their own making.

A year later in 2009, Harper was up to his old tricks yet again, proroguing to sidestep the Afghan detainee controversy.

Democratically suspect though it might be, it has been a brilliant piece of cutthroat political maneuvering by a prime minister most had probably dismissed as being incapable of such tactical prowess. Or perhaps it is that Harper understands modern Canadians only too well — for better or for worse — and our ability to forget the most recent scandal, no matter how reprehensible, once it has faded from the headlines for a few months.

Other tactical advantages to proroguing Parliament include the effective killing of legislation under current consideration, which can come in handy when governments might also wish to make an end run around public discussion of issues like sex-selective abortion, or testy environmental legislation.

Some call all of this a growing culture of entitlement in Ottawa. Others call it a culture of lawlessness, or a culture of laziness, or even a culture of apathy. Whatever the culture, most would attest to something being wrong with the way our federal government goes about its business.

Taking another month to think about that while soaking up the last rays of an Indian summer won’t bring us any closer to a solution.

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