A blog to give a voice to our concern about the continued erosion of our democratic processes not only within the House of Commons and within our electoral system but also throughout our society. Here you will find articles about the current problems within our parliamentary democracy, about actions both good and bad by our elected representatives, about possible solutions, opinions and debate about the state of democracy in Canada, and about our roles/responsibilities as democratic citizens. We invite your thoughtful and polite comments upon our posts and ask those who wish to post longer articles or share ideas on this subject to submit them for inclusion as a guest post.
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Sunday, January 24, 2010

Now What, part 2

As I write this the rallies protesting the proroguing of parliament have yet to take place but I have no doubt that hundreds, if not thousands at some locations, will show up and that each will be a resounding successes. I can say that with confidence because the very fact that they are taking place at all is a giant step towards protecting our democracy, that they, and the discussions that are taking place both on line and in the street, show that our citizens DO care about our parliamentary processes. It shows that those who would seize power, even temporarily, from our duly constituted parliament and the broad range of individuals of several political partys we have chosen to represent us there, will not do so without a fight on their hands. To all of you who took the time to participate I say thank you but this is but the beginning not the end of what will be a long and protracted period of “change”. Do not falter, keep the pressure on our politicians, the press, those who say nothing is wrong, and even those who profess to not care, for if this all is forgotten next month nothing will change.
(Some pics of the Owen Sound rally can be seen here.)

That said let us look at the more practical aspects of both what needs to change and how to accomplish it. In this post I will concentrate on the two things that are in the forefront of peoples minds right now, limiting the use of proroguing and the Governor Generals role in our parliamentary democracy. We must not forget that these things are but one small part of some of the changes we perhaps need to protect our parliamentary democracy and so I will continue this series in the following weeks by addressing some of the other issues raised in last weeks post.

The Governor General

Despite my personal strong ties to Great Britain, the home of the monarchy that the GG represents and the country from which our parliamentary system was inherited, I have no problem with any proposal to eliminate the GGs role in our parliamentary system. Two years ago I would have not said this, believing then that the slight power that he or she held was sufficient to discourage abuse of that system. It can be clearly seen that such is no longer the case. If however we are to change the “rules” to suit the reality then there are two things that must be considered, firstly what “rules” must we put in place to replace the traditional and conventional practices that now are placed upon him or her in the Canadian constitution. Secondly what process must take place to put in place such changes.

I will return to the content of such changes in a moment and deal first with HOW to change things. As I understand it the GGs role is spelt out in our constitution and in order to change that document a consensus of all the provinces, the federal government and the general population must be reached, we have seen in the past how difficult that is and under the current circumstances it is all but impossible. So that must be a long term goal!
However I see nothing to stop parliament passing laws governing the actions of the PM, MPPs, or indeed the “House” as a whole provided that such laws do not conflict with said constitution. For instance whist it may be constitutionally necessary for the PM to ask the GG to dissolve parliament I can see no reason why parliament cannot pass laws and parliamentary rules to say that he can only do so under certain circumstances. It is important to note that as our constitution stands at present the GG theoretically has a great deal of power over parliamentary processes and appointments but in practice this does not seem to be how it now works. Let us stop pretending that it is!

Before I move on to discuss such possible rules I must say that I do not favor doing away with the position of Governor General entirely. I believe we do need in Canada a NON POLITICAL representative to represent us both domestically and overseas with largely ceremonial roles, and we desperately need SOMETHING to cling to and draw us all together as a COUNTRY. I can see no better role for the office of the Governor General than to promote Canadian unity and common purpose across the country and to represent ALL Canadian values to the rest of the world as the opportunity arises, whether that is done as a representative of Canada or as the Queens representative in Canada is to my mind immaterial.

To prorogue or not to prorogue

Firstly let us see how things stand at present, so far as I can see a PM may “request that the GG prorogue parliament” at any time with no limitations as to why, or to previous prorogation periods, and may do so whilst parliament is in recess. The only limit upon the time that a period of prorogation may last appears to be as follows.
Section 5 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (replacing a provision in the Constitution Act, 1867) specifies that Parliament must sit at least once every 12 months. “to vote to provide money for the operation of the government”. In other words parliament can theoretically be suspended for slightly less than one year and when it resumes will follow the parliamentary calendar as set out in the “standing orders” which as we know includes lengthy summer and Christmas breaks. The government can also (ask the GG to) “extend” a period of prorogation up to the above limit if they so wish.

Several observers have suggested that prorogation periods be limited to 45 days and that it should require a parliamentary vote (as was the case some years ago) in order to take place. This would seem to be what is necessary in order to stop the abuse of this parliamentary convention but given the above does it go far enough? In a majority situation a government could still conceivably use a whipped vote to prorogue parliament to avoid being questioned by the opposition on a contentious issue. It would seem improbable that the above would happen but given out recent history I cannot help but think that should such rules be put in place they had best cover all the bases for it has been seen of late that if there is a loophole there are unscrupulous politicians who will find and use it.

There is however one thing that in my opinion must be contained in any proposed legislation on this or any other matter effecting the parliamentary process and that is this:- There must be clear and substantial penalties for ignoring or breaking said rules, they could and perhaps should include substantial fines for both the individual and the party he or she represents up to suspension and or removal from office. There can be no exclusions for cabinet members, PMO officials or indeed even the PM him (or her) self. As we have seen rules, written or unwritten, are meaningless without some repercussions from breaking them.

Finally I am going to ask:- Which of our Members of Parliament or Senators (who are also able to introduce new legislation) is going to stand up and introduce a bill to stop the misuse and abuse of our democracy as evidenced by, but not limited to, the recent suspension of that institution. ANY MP who does not support such a move cares more about themselves and or their party than they do about democracy and parliamentary process. Support Democracy - Recommend this Post at Progressive Bloggers

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