Harper lacking courage, accountability

Last week, Prime Minister Stephen Harper once demonstrated he simply lacks the courage required to be accountable to the Canadian public.
Rather than face tough questions on the Senate spending scandal, Mr. Harper instead has indicated he’ll be asking the Governor General to prorogue (suspend) Parliament for an additional four-six weeks on top of the usual three-month summer break.
The reason for this lengthy prorogation is obvious. The spring session was a mess for him personally as he faced questions why, after saying he would never appoint a senator who wasn’t elected (then appointing 57 of them), several of his hand-picked unelected appointees were caught red-handed ripping off taxpayers for hundreds of thousands of dollars.
And all while having never brought forward a Senate reform bill for debate after eight years in government.
As if three months wasn’t a long enough break to “recalibrate” his government’s mandate, Mr. Harper also ducked out of class early.
In the 22 sitting days of Parliament leading up to the summer break, Mr. Harper attended Question Period just five times–a 22 percent attendance rate that just happened to coincide with a major political scandal.
Coincidence? I think not.
In 2012, during the last sitting, Mr. Harper attended seven out of 18 days, or a 39 percent attendance rate. In 2011, Mr. Harper attended 11 out of the last 14 days of the final sitting before summer—a 78 percent attendance rate.
I guess it depends what kind of questions he’s facing that day.
You may recall that this isn’t the first time Mr. Harper has abdicated his responsibilities as prime minister by proroguing Parliament. Recall the Afghanistan prisoner abuse scandal in late 2009.
Facing questions about whether his government had been complicit in war crimes against prisoners of war in Afghanistan, and his government’s attempt to suppress testimony of key witness and its refusal to relinquish documents to Parliament on the matter, Mr. Harper decided the heat was too much to stand, so he ran out of the kitchen as fast as possible by proroguing Parliament.
To use his own words, Mr. Harper decided to “cut and run” from accountability then, as he did again this week on the Senate scandal.
You can tell this clear abdication of responsibility frustrates me, but does this mean that I don’t support prorogation? Not all. Prorogation is a perfectly-acceptable parliamentary tool for any responsible government.
The abuse of that tool, however, is not.
It’s normal for any parliamentary government to prorogue from time to time. The effects of prorogation are quite clear—all government legislation that has not passed third reading is declared void, private members’ bills and motions survive in the same form and at the stage in the legislative process as before, and parliamentary committees cease to exist and their work not yet completed (i.e., studies, examination of bills etc.) is voided.
But most importantly in this case, there is no daily Question Period during the entire prorogation period.
When Parliament reconvenes after prorogation, the period of which is unique to each case, a new throne speech is presented by the government, committees must restart all of their work, and the government must introduce or re-introduce legislation as the slate will be clear of its bills from last session.
As you can see, the practice of prorogation is well-established and, in most cases, used legitimately by responsible governments.
So would a NDP government ever prorogue parliament? The answer is a clear “yes.” Would we do it to avoid scrutiny from the Opposition or to run away from scandal? That answer is a clear “no.”
It’s more likely that we would use prorogation, as Darrell Dexter does in Nova Scotia once a year to reset his agenda, but for a period of only a few hours instead of weeks or months.
That is how a responsible government should behave; no ducking accountability and no escaping scandal by abusing routine legislative tools.
So was it shocking to see Harper dip into his bag of tricks to avoid accountability once again? Not really, but it is always disappointing to see the leader of our country running away from tough questions.
New Democrats think you deserve better. We are ready to deliver truly responsible government to you in 2015.

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