It’s a funny word, ‘prorogue’. It’s the term used to describe what Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harper requested from Governor General (the titular head of State in Canada), yesterday. GG Michaelle Jean granted Harper’s request and now the meetings of parliament are suspended (until late January) without dissolving parliament (the dictionary definition of ‘prorogue’). Normally, prorogation does not occur until parliament has met for a while, passed some legislation, and a majority of MPs agree to discontinue meetings until a later date. Harper sought prorogation to get him and his party out of a mess that threatened to topple his government (see my previous posts).
Prorogation was really the only choice the GG had. Yes, she could have refused the request and Harper would have had to go back to parliament and face a non-confidence vote he surely would have lost. If that had happened, then he would have had to return to the GG, requesting the dissolution of parliament. Then the GG would have had to decide whether to grant his request, triggering another election (which most Canadians do not want because we just had one that changed little), or allow the newly formed coalition of opposition parties to try to seek the confidence of parliament and seat a government.
Now, those options are still open, as Harper will have to face a confidence vote in January when he plans to present a budget. But things were moving so fast in the last few days to a political crisis that I think Jean made the right decision, allowing her government time to try to come to some sort of accommodation with at least some of the opposition MPs and get back to the business of governing Canada. Whether Harper will be successful in getting that accommodation is another thing.
Over the last few days, it has been interesting to me how much misinformation about how parliament works was being stated on talk shows and newspaper columns by people who should know better. An example was how some right-of-centre commentators were trying to point out that no one had voted for a coalition in parliament, and that the coalition should seek a mandate by going to an election. In part, they are right. People vote for a member of parliament and through that candidate, their party of choice. No one campaigns as a coalition. Each party seeks a majority government, even though most parties do not have a chance of seating one. Coalitions are formed after an election and no one party has a majority.
Stephen Harper could have formed a coalition with one of the other parties and had his majority. Of course, the nature of a coalition is that compromises would have had to be made, compromises I’m sure Harper would not have wanted to make. So, he decided to seat a minority government and seek support from the other parties on a issue-by-issue basis–a situation that has worked for him for the past two years.
So, the coalition of the Liberals and New Democratic parties is legitimate. However, the sticking point for me and most other people is that such a coalition could not survive without the support of the Bloc Quebecois, an avowed separatist party. Giving those people the balance of power is fundamentally wrong, and thus dooms the coalition to early failure, i.e., another election. Therefore, I believe the Liberals and New Democrats erred in trying to form a coalition. If they had a majority of MPs between them, then they would have had a lot more credibility. They do not.
The bottom line is that Stephen Harper made a strategic error in trying to cut off funds to the opposition parties. This provided an opening for the opposition parties to jump through. However, I don’t believe these parties thought their actions through. Now, they have succeeded in alienating regions, and allowed the separatists to once again take centre stage.
If all these parties cannot swallow their prides and actually try to make this parliament work, they risk much in the next election.
So, what’s wrong with that?