Parliament shuts down

On Dec. 30, the Governor General Michaëlle Jean, acting on the advice of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, prorogued parliament until early March.

The government cited the need to consult with the public and prepare the next phase of their economic program as reasons to suspend the sitting of parliament.

At a press conference immediately following the decision, Prime Minister Stephen Harper stated that Canada’s Economic Action Plan will continue to be a priority in the new session to ensure that it is implemented to benefit Canadians.

Emphasizing the government’s focus on economic recovery, Conservative MP for Kitchener-Waterloo Peter Braid stated, “Canada’s Economic Action Plan has accomplished a great deal and has placed our country on the road to recovery,” he said.

“In the upcoming session, the government’s economic priorities will be completing the implementation of the Economic Action Plan, returning the federal budget to balance once the economy has recovered and building the economy of the future.”

Each of the three opposition parties criticized the conservatives for suspending Parliament, accusing them of trying to prevent debate on issues such as the alleged abuse of Afghan detainees transferred by the Canadian Forces to Afghan prisons.

David Docherty, associate professor of political science at Laurier, believes that the prorogation is in fact an attempt to distract the public from criticism of the government.

“They want to effectively shut down the questions that are being raised by the opposition about the Afghan detainees,” said Docherty.

“They’re hoping that Canadians will focus on the Olympics instead of other things and they’re helping them to focus on the Olympics by giving them less to focus on elsewhere.”

Rather than having MPs and senators return on Jan. 25 as was previously planned, parliament will return on March 3 and a budget will be introduced the following day.

In support of the prorogation, Braid said, “Prorogation simply means we start a new session of parliament, beginning with a Throne Speech that will set a focused agenda for the country.”

In Dec. 2008, Prime Minister Harper requested a prorogation of parliament to avoid a vote of non-confidence that would have defeated his government and caused its replacement by a coalition of the Liberals and the NDP, supported by the Bloc Québecois.

The Governor General granted his request and the Harper government was allowed to survive when the Liberals agreed to support the budget in 2009.

The current break will give the Prime Minister time to appoint five new senators.

This means in the new session, the Conservative government would have a majority on senate committees where Liberal senators have recently delayed federal government bills by making major amendments to them.

“There are some things that this government has done that I have liked, there are some policies that I have not liked, but that is irrelevant,” said Docherty.

“As someone who studies our parliamentary system, this is an abuse of parliament. It embarrassing and appalling.

“It does not help the institution of parliament in the public’s mind to have the Prime Minister treat parliament with such disrespect.”

–With files from Emma Godmere, CUP Ontario Bureau Chief