OTTAWA – Surrounded by members of the Liberal caucus in front of the House of Commons on the day when Parliament should have resumed, Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff announced that the Liberal Party of Canada will seek changes to the House of Commons’ rules that would prevent the Prime Minister from using prorogation illegitimately.
“Twice in one year, Mr. Harper has abused his powers by shutting down Parliament to save his political skin,” said Mr. Ignatieff. “In appropriate circumstances, prorogation is a legitimate procedure, but we need new rules to prevent Mr. Harper – or any other Prime Minister – from using it to escape democratic scrutiny.”
"Today, we're putting forward a concrete, practical proposal that will set out clear terms for how and when a Prime Minister can ask to prorogue," said Mr. Ignatieff. "I pledge that a Liberal government will respect these rules and the role of Parliament in ensuring accountability to the people of Canada."
To prevent future abuses of prorogation, the Liberal Party of Canada will seek to amend the Standing Orders of the House of Commons to:
• Require at least 10 days written notice from the Prime Minister of his intention to seek to prorogue, together with his specific reasons for doing so;
• Require the Prime Minister to bring the issue of prorogation before the House of Commons for a full debate;
• Prevent a request for prorogation within the first year after a Speech from the Throne, unless the House consents;
• Prevent a prorogation longer than one calendar month without the consent of the House;
• Prevent a request for prorogation if a matter of confidence has been scheduled in the House unless the House consents; and,
• Allow Parliamentary Committees to continue to function during the period when Parliament is prorogued until the start of the new session.
“Parliament should not prevent a Prime Minister from using prorogation in proper circumstances,” said Liberal House Leader Ralph Goodale. “But the Prime Minister must be held to account for why he is using it, and the rules must be clear on when shutting down Parliament would be wrong.”
Liberals intend to submit their proposal to the House Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs for consideration by all parties, and will then bring forward amendments to the Standing Orders of the House of Commons, in the form of legislation if necessary.
“Parliament doesn’t serve the Prime Minister – it serves Canadians,” said Mr. Ignatieff. “That’s why Canadians need clear, binding conventions on the proper use of prorogation.”
Office of MP Ralph Goodale
Office of the Leader of the Opposition
The Prorogation Power
Prorogation is a procedure which allows a Prime Minister to shut-down all the official work of both the House of Commons and the Senate, without dissolving Parliament altogether for an election.
The constitutional power to prorogue is vested in the Governor General. The request to exercise it is made by the Prime Minister.
When conventionally used in traditional circumstances, a request for prorogation is a legitimate tool for bringing one session of Parliament to an end, after the bulk of the work laid out for that session has been completed. This clears up Parliament’s agenda for a new Speech from the Throne to launch a new session.
Until recently, Canadians have been able to take for granted the proper use of the prorogation power. Past Prime Ministers have used prorogation in a manner that supports the proper functioning of our basic democratic institutions.
Stephen Harper, however, has corrupted the traditional use of prorogation by using it twice in the past year to arbitrarily shut down Parliament for the illegitimate purpose of evading transparency and democratic accountability.
Mr. Harper sought prorogation in December of 2008, to avoid scheduled confidence votes on his Fall Economic Statement, and again in December of 2009, to stop all Parliamentary examination of what his government knew and when they knew it about allegations of torture in Afghanistan.
To find a precedent for such abuses of power, you have to reach all the way back to 1873, when Sir John A. Macdonald tried to stop Parliament from probing his railway scandal.
Mr. Harper’s most recent Parliamentary shutdown will last 63 days after a session of 128 days in length. Since 1964, prorogations have lasted 12 days on average, while Parliamentary sessions have averaged 187 days.
The Liberal Proposal
Since the conventional principles of Parliamentary democracy are not secure in the hands of the Harper government, the Liberal Party proposes remedial action to restore traditional standards of democratic behavior in future requests for prorogation.
The Liberal Party of Canada will present Motions in the House of Commons to amend the Standing Orders of the House and, if necessary, propose legislation to achieve the following:
1. Require the Prime Minister, before making a request for prorogation, to provide written notice of his intention to do so at least 10 days in advance, together with his specific reasons for seeking prorogation;
2. Require the Prime Minister to bring the issue of prorogation, and his reasons for seeking it, before the House of Commons immediately for a full debate;
3. Unless the House otherwise consents, prohibit a request for a prorogation within the first 12 months of any session;
4. Unless the House otherwise consents, prohibit a request for a prorogation that would last longer than one calendar month;
5. Unless the House otherwise consents, prohibit a request for a prorogation when a vote of confidence has been scheduled in the House; and
6. Allow the Committees of the House of Commons to continue to function during the period of time that Parliament is prorogued.
If possible, Liberals intend to submit their proposal to the House Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs for consideration by all parties before bringing forward amendments to the Standing Orders of the House of Commons.
The Standing Orders have been amended in the past to improve accountability. For example, changes to the Standing Orders now prevent Parliamentary orders for the production of documents from being extinguished by prorogation, as well as prevent Private Member’s Bills from being killed when the House of Commons is prorogued.
ONTARIO! Ours to Recover