Suspending Parliament side-steps democracy

Just as parliamentary committees are starting to get some traction, Prime Minister Harper throws some grease into the works.

By George Brown, editor

You’ve got to give Prime Minister Stephen Harper points for creativity.

Faced with embarrassing questions from opposition MPs and the media over the Afghan detainee controversy, a Liberal majority in the Senate, and a $50 billion deficit, he simply hits the reset button.

It’s like he got in his Christmas stocking one of those memory-erasing pens from the movie Men in Black.

Last week Harper asked the Governor General to suspend Parliament until March to allow the government to “recalibrate.”

For the second time in 12 months, Canada could be headed to a constitutional crisis. Should this minority government have the ability to duck the tough questions and hide beneath the Governor General’s skirts?

Toady that she is, Governor General Michaelle Jean has kowtowed to the prime minister’s telephone request to prorogue Parliament. That he would phone instead of attend Rideau Hall should have insulted the Queen’s representative but at least he didn’t Twitter her. It was just a year ago that he told Jean the Parliament Canadians had elected just a few months earlier was dysfunctional. A coalition of the Liberals and NDP was formed, ready to govern since Harper clearly did not have the confidence of the House. Harper called their bluff, cooler heads prevailed after Jean granted the time out and the Conservatives pledged to play nice.

There has been no posturing from the Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff nor NDP leader Jack Layton that they would threaten an election, although if the government were to ignore Parliament’s order to turn over uncensored documents on the Afghan detainee issue they might wag a finger.

Last time, Harper manoeuvred to avoid a non-confidence vote in Parliament, this time he is avoiding a direct order from Parliament to turn over documents pertinent to the allegations our Canadian military knowingly handed over suspected Taliban insurgents to torture by Afghan intelligence. That Canadians elected to represent Canadians would have to sue their government to see this information is unimaginable. Would Parliament force the arrest of the prime minister and his cabinet ministers? Does the opposition have the guts to push this issue or will it wither again, shrinking from their responsibility to defend democracy?

Clearly, the government has something to hide. And what better way to avoid having the eyes of the world on our dirty linen than to cancel Parliament during the Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver?

But aside from opposition MPs, political pundits and community newspaper editors hard-pressed to write a column between Christmas and the new year, do Canadians care that this prime minister is once again hijacking democracy?

Canadians couldn’t seem to care less right now whether MPs take an extra long Christmas break, work for a month and then break for Easter, work for a couple of months and then break for summer. We’re tired of it all, what with provincial government blunders and municipal elections this fall.

But this move is a slap in the face of democracy, as a Liberal MP put it. And all Canadians should feel the sting. A majority of Canadians did not elect Conservative members of Parliament; we expected a more responsible government, held to account by the opposition majority.

Instead of the Brady Bunch we got the Munsters.

It’s also a bold, patronizing move to use the suspension of Parliament to fill up the vacancies at the Senate trough with Conservative sympathizers. But it gives Harper the majority he needs in the unelected, unaccountable Senate. There are three vacancies and two Liberal senators turn 75 early in the new year, making way for five former Conservative party bagmen or washed up athletes to be appointed and rubber stamp Conservative legislation without much sober second thought.

And proroguing Parliament means there will be a new throne speech and then a budget once parliamentarians are done high-fiving each other across the aisles over Canada’s many Olympic gold medals. Since the throne speech and budget would be confidence issues, the government has a little more control over the timing of a federal election.

And just as parliamentary committees are starting to get some traction, Harper throws some grease into the works.

Somewhere master Machiavellian machinator Pierre Trudeau is smiling.

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