Saturday, January 16, 2010

Conservative Apologia

I have no clue who Paul Benoit is. He works for Hill and Knowlton, so I assume he is a lobbyist and/or a PR flack. Today in the Citizen, Mr. Benoit writes a long defense of prorogation. It is written in Ottawaese, so I will help by including by translating into English.

He begins by casting doubt about the intelligence of those who would argue that prorogation is an insult to democracy and then moves to eight specific points of disagreement.

1) “Our parliamentary and constitutional institutions are grounded not just in explicit rules but also in the spirit of those rules.”: Although the advent of the Charter has obscured the fact, our institutions still run primarily on conventions which have not been made explicit, but that are allowed to evolve gradually while retaining an unchanging core of normative meaning. The philosophers among our professors should recognize that there is a huge ethical difference between complying with written rules and the spirit of those rules, and conforming to unwritten conventions which are much more flexible than that.
Translation: The prime minister can do whatever the hell he feels like doing, you propeller-headed poindexters!

2) “We expect that the prime minister will do his part to ensure that this system works, and that MPs can fulfill the role we elect them to do.”: In fact, MPs are not being prevented from carrying out their duties during prorogation: they can spend more time with their constituents and learn more precisely how their riding is faring, as we pull out of a severe recession; they can also meet with caucus colleagues to exchange notes, to plot strategy for the next session, and to offer alternative policy directions — just as the Liberals are planning to do next week.
Translation: I can't talk about the Afghan committee, so let me ignore it completely. If there is an unpleasant truth on the table, ignore it and move to a new table.

3) “Part of what that means is to exercise self-restraint, and not use the powers that he possesses to shut down the mechanisms of accountability to Parliament and the Canadian people.”: Yes, Canadians will be deprived of the “vigorous questioning” of Question Period for a few weeks; but ministers continue to remain accountable in other fora. I have not heard that ministers’ offices will not be taking calls from the media. Is our minister of national defence not giving Canadians timely accounts of what the government is doing to rescue Haitians?
Translation: I want to mention Question Period and pretend that is the only thing that goes on in Parliament. You will note, I didn't say that Peter MacKay would be available in his office to talk about torture.

4) “The normal way in which a government secures a break in a parliamentary session is through adjournment. ...”: While government’s work never ends, Parliament’s is at best half-time and when Parliament is not working it is either adjourned, prorogued, or dissolved. There is an inner connection among the three: If Canada is going to continue having minority governments, then there will be more dissolutions, which in turn will likely trigger more prorogations, as governments naturally seek to take advantage of whatever little additional flexibility they may have.
Translation: If you want us to stop running away from Parliament at the first sign of trouble, vote Conservative. Majority governments are much easier to control than minorities. In minority governments, MP's actually think they might have some power and so act up. If you give us a majority, that hope will be gone and everything will be great.

5) “... That permits the institutions of government to continue. Committees can do their work.”: In fact, it is very rare for committees to continue holding meetings and hearing witnesses during adjournment. The only ones normally continuing their work are the researchers assigned to committees from the Library of Parliament, who usually take advantage of these breaks to pull material together and to prepare draft texts for the committee members when they return. It should also be noted the testimony heard in the last session is not lost; it gets published. There is nothing to prevent the newly constituted committees of the next session to pick up where they left off.
Translation: I will ignore the fact that it might take four months for the committees to get going again and just pretend that if something is written down that is good enough.

6) “Any laws that are in process, with the exception of private members’ bills, have to be introduced again, at the very first step of the process.”: In fact, for some time now, governments, following the Speech from the Throne, have re-instated legislation that they really wanted at the stage at which it was at when the session was prorogued. Where were all our concerned professors when this precedent was set?
Translation: I have no idea if any of these professors have written anything about this issue over the years. But, asking a rhetorical question about their character is just too tempting for me to pass up.

7) “The government’s post-election legislative agenda is nowhere near having been fulfilled.”: The Speech from the Throne is not a contract between government and the people that has to be carried out in all of its provisions; it is a legislative agenda setting out the course and priorities that the government intends pursuing in the light of current circumstances. Given the dramatic changes to our economy and to our state finances that we have undergone in the last year, it is perfectly reasonable “to take the next few weeks to review everything,” as Stephen Harper has said. Canadians can judge in March whether everything announced in the Speech from the Throne could have been accommodated in a budget at the end of February.
Translation: A Speech from the Throne is not a contract of any kind. It is no more important than a fixed election date law.

8) “The prime minister has violated the trust of Parliament.”: If that is the case, why has the Speaker of the House of Commons or any of the parliamentary clerks not spoken out against this alleged violation? Given the seriousness of the accusation, why has the speaker, who is a Liberal, not resigned? Are these officers of Parliament not meant to be the referees who should be calling fouls?
Translation: If the cops look the other way, then it's not a crime, right? Oh and it's the Liberals' fault.

The Parliament of Canada has been in gradual decline for decades. The professors’ state of high dudgeon over prorogation would have more credibility if over the years we had seen some serious public engagement on their part on the systemic issues that transcend parties and prime ministers.
Translation: Again, I don't have a clue whether or not these professors have spent their lives studying and publishing on this topic. That won't stop me from hinting that this is just a partisan put up job, aimed solely at Conservatives. This is sure to go over big with the base, who just love to wallow in imaginary victimization.
Recommend this Post

1 comment:

  1. Heh, I was going to comment on the same thing over at my place. Well smote.