Sunday, 17 January 2010

Prorogation - The Best Thing Stephen Harper Ever Did for Canadian Democracy

If you believe that Stephen Harper's prorogations are part of the normal Parliamentary process then read this.

If you believe nobody cares then go here (over 200,000 members and counting).


So why is prorogation the best thing Stephen Harper ever did for Canadian democracy.

Because he may have finally awakened the Canadian public to the role of Parliament and the fact that our Parliamentary democracy is based on the concept of Parliamentary supremacy and the requirement for the government to have the support and confidence of the House of Commons to govern legitimately.

Pierre Trudeau is reported (July 25, 1969) to have said that Members of Parliament are nobodies when they are off Parliament Hill. Stephen Harper seems to believe that they are nobodies when they are sitting in the House of Commons.

In December 2008 Stephen Harper suspended Canadian democracy and through a clever PR campaign managed to convince the Canadian people that a government led by the leader of the party with the most seats (but a minority of seats) in the House was more democratic than a party led by a leader who had the support and confidence of a majority of Members of the House of Commons. It was a situation that left those of us that understood how Parliamentary democracy works shaking our heads.

Since then Stephen Harper has continued to treat Parliament as if it does not matter and with his latest attack on Parliamentary democracy the people have finally seen the light.

Let us step back a bit and talk about the concept of prorogation. There is nothing wrong with prorogation in itself, the problem is how Stephen Harper (with the collusion of the Governor General) is using it. Saying the Liberals prorogued in the past is meaningless. Prorogation is a normal part of the Parliamentary process.

The normal scenario is that a government is elected. They set forward their program in a Throne Speech. the House of Commons passes most of their legislative program over a period of 12-24 months. Historically the length of time required has increased from sessions around a year in length to sessions normally about eighteen months to two years in some cases. It really depends on how well a government can manage it's legislative program. The House of Commons is then prorogued and a new session starts with a new Throne Speech within days.

Prorogation has nothing to do with the House not sitting. The House routinely recesses for over two months during the summer but they remain in session so they can easily be recalled to deal with emergencies and matters of public interest. Indeed often a government finishes its legislative program at the summer break, but they do not prorogue, they return for a day in September or October and prorogue and the new session starts within days.

That is because, up until Stephen Harper (with one exception and he was forced to resign when Parliament resumed), all governments understood that prorogation was not intended to be used to shut down Parliament. That is because, up until Stephen Harper, Canadian governments understood and respected the concept of Parliamentary supremacy. They actually understood and respected the system of Parliamentary government.

Unfortunately, under the current government, we have a Prime Minister, and may I add a Queen's Representative, who do not respect the principle that when there is a conflict between the House of Commons and the Prime Minister, the House of Commons must prevail. Stephen Harper thinks that when that happens Parliament should be shut down.

Fortunately, the people have finally seen the light and my hope is that Stephen Harper's attempt to take their democracy away from them will get them thinking more about the Canadian democratic process.

For Parliamentary democracy to be truly democratic the House of Commons should reflect how Canadians voted. While there are many factors that go into how people vote, including the individual candidates qualifications, abilities and values, the biggest factors are the policies, programs and philosophies of the parties running in the election. The representation in the House of Commons should reflect these factors. For Parliament to be truly democratic the percentage of seats each party receives should reflect the number of votes each party receives, normally referred to as the popular vote.

Our current single member constituency "first past the post" system does not do this.

However there is a system called Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) that allows voters to not only vote for the local Member of Parliament of their choice but also elect a House of Commons whose membership reflects the percentage of votes each party receives in the election.

Indeed, the main criticism of MMP is that we will not get majority governments unless the voters give one party a majority of the votes. That is right, under MMP if voters vote for a minority or coalition government they will get a minority or coalition government. That is the main criticism of MMP - that voters will get what they vote for. That seems to be a rather strange criticism of a democratic process.

It is time to shut down Stephen Harper and it is time to reform our electoral process. It is time for the people to speak.

14 comments:

Chrystal Ocean said...

Very well said. You might also want to embed or include a link to this video. It's of Don Newman schooling John Baird on Dec 4/08 regarding the last Harper prorogation. The excuses were just as over the top as now.

Brad said...

The difficulty with implementing MMP is that it weakens the notion of geographic representation. In truth, any proportional representation is going to do this.

Another way of going about this is to try alternate ballot aggregation methods (e.g. replacing FPTP with the Schulze Method, http://www.modernballots.com/vote/b94c832fe79bdb50f85a3aefaac1929b ). Schulze, STV, MMP... any way you go about it, you'll need to make the ballots more expressive. That alone is difficult for some people to accept.

dpatte said...

A simple solution is simply to prevent prorogation or appointements without the cosent of parliament.

Wilf Day said...

Brad says MMP "weakens the notion of geographic representation. In truth, any proportional representation is going to do this." And the link in the post to MMP is to a New Brunswick Fact Sheet that, for simplicity, assumed province-wide closed lists.

But the final report of the New Brunswick Commission recommended four regions: every MLA would represent either a riding or a region.

This is also the MMP system used in Scotland and Wales, and under discussion for the last six years in Quebec. And in the German province of Bavaria, it's a regional open list MMP system: not only does every MP represent either a riding or a region, but the regional MPs are those who get the most votes, not those at the top of the party list.

http://wilfday.blogspot.com/2008/12/what-would-proportional-house-of.html

tono-bungay said...

It's a fine post but I disagree with the bit about MMP. Is the main criticism of MMP is that we will not get majority governments unless the voters give one party a majority of the votes? The main criticism right now is that of the non-FPTP systems that Canadians have voted down, it was the one that got the most votes against it. That reason is somewhere on the list, but the reasoning applies more to pure PR systems. MMP allows a majority with as little as 30% of the votes, using a "vote recycling" technique invented in Italy and perfected in Albania.

But second on the list of criticisms is probably the fear that it will make parties an party leaders more powerful and individual MPs less relevant. I don't think that the current crisis, where we see what happens when a leader with autocratic tendencies prefers MPs to be silent, will make this particular system more attractive. Perhaps two-round or preferential voting for MPs would increase their democratic legitimacy and restore the power of the parliamentarian.

rww said...

The problem with two-round or preferential voting systems, which used to be my preferred choice, is that people get elected based on second choices. It does avoid the left and right from splitting their votes but still favours the dominant party on each side of the spectrum and could still see the Greens frozen out even though they have significant first choice support.

Eugene Forsey Liberal said...

I could not agree more. I came across a website, electionnightincanada.com, with some banners and useful resources targetted at educating people about the essential issue re. Harper & democracy, that goes beyond prorogation & Saturday rallies.

rww said...

My Bell Internet security software reports electionnightincanada.com as a fraudulent site.

When I clicked the link to continue anyway I received another message from Bell and could go no further.

I was unable to find your email to inform you of that.

Eugene Forsey Liberal said...

electionnightincanada.com worked when I clicked on it in your comment. Maybe, try again?

rww said...

I sent this message to fraudprotection@bell.ca:

"This link was recommended to me by a reliable source but your software would not let me view it even when I clicked the Continue to Web Site button."

We will se what response I get. Meanwhile I cannot get to it.

popthestack said...

Great article! You explain the real problems with Harper's actions. Its not as simple as being upset that they aren't sitting in parliament I wish everyone would get that.

I knew there'd be disagreement about MMP versus other proportional approaches. At this point we should all agree that the system is very broken and solutions are needed, the rest is details, and any of these solutions would be a huge improvement.

My proposal to get around this particular kink in our system is to reinvigorate the legitmacy of the Governor General's position by making it an elected position. We could use the same trick Harper is propsing for the Senate, a national election that the PM must adhere to when appointing the GG. Then we'd have a GG that can say no from time to time and feel justified in allowing an opposition coalition to try to rule without another election.

rww said...

I think an elected GG would be a mistake as the GG could see him/herself as a pseudo President with power to substitute his/her opinion for that of the elected House.

The suggestion that the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court exercise the constitutional powers of the GG sits better with me because he/she would be experienced in dealing with matters of constitutional law and have the required legal background.

Anonymous said...

I really don't have a problem with the notion of 'weakening regional representation. In fact, I think it's about time. Just because my next-door neighbor and I vote the same way, why should our votes count, while people who live in different neighborhoods, who vote together watch their votes get thrown away. Why the bloc should get 49 seats with 10% of the popular vote, while the Green Party gets 0 seats with 6.5% of the popular vote and the NDP get 27seats with 26% of the popular vote is beyond me. Let's let people vote their conscience, and be represented fairly (proporionately) in Parliment. I can't believe this even needs to be argued for. We need to stop being afraid of coalition governments in this country. A Green/NDP/Liberal coalition, for instance, might just wind up producing some legislation that actually reflects the values of the MAJORITY of Canadians.

Anonymous said...

What's more, if people actually thought their vote counted, we'd see different parties actually getting elected... How many people don't vote with their conscience because they are afraid of their vote being tossed out?