Prime Minister Stephen Harper will meet with the Governor-General at 9:30 this morning, and will undoubtedly ask her to suspend the 40th Parliament until January 26, at which point a new Throne Speech will be delivered. This will be followed immediately by a budget, delivered by the Minister of Finance on January 27. The prorogation will give Members of Parliament time to cool off and return in 2009 with a new focus on Canadians and on good government.
It will also, of course, give Stephen Harper’s government time to develop new strategies to remain in power; to attempt to sway public opinion, for what it’s worth, to their side; to avoid a vote on a Liberal motion of non-confidence, currently scheduled for Monday December 8.
So what is the appropriate next step for our Governor-General?
Let there be no doubt; the appropriate next step is prorogation of Canada’s 40th Parliament. This Parliament needs time to cool off; to put people before politics; to come up with a budget that serves the needs of Canadians.
Yes, I propose that the Governor-General prorogue Parliament, effective Tuesday December 9.
In all seriousness, this Parliament isn’t working; Prime Minister Harper has lost the confidence of the House, and he knows it. We can debate about the relative merits of having a coalition government that depends upon the support of the Bloc for its survival, but that really is entirely beside the point. The rules of Parliamentary procedure and the tenets of responsible government clearly dictate that the government must, at all times, hold the confidence of the House of Commons. If it wishes to continue governing, this government must demonstrate that it does indeed have the confidence of the House.
There is no national emergency; no war, no domestic or international terrorist attack, no collapse of the Bank of Canada; nothing has happened that would jeopardize our national security such that the government should be allowed to act without the consent of Parliament. To suspend Parliament today would serve only to allow the government to escape a non-confidence vote. Since responsible government, as we have established, depends upon the confidence of a majority of the Members of the House (indeed, this is the definition of responsible government), attempting to suspend Parliament is, in this case, a de facto attempt to subvert the will of Parliament.
Let’s examine what Mr. Harper is likely to say to the GG. He is likely to tell her that a separatist-supported coalition is not in the best interest of Canada, and that she must, at all times, act in Canada’s best interest; he will tell her that his government offers the best stability for Canada, and that given a six week suspension of Parliament, can develop a budget that helps all Canadians deal with the current economic crisis.
But did you notice something? Did you notice that this entire argument depends upon a single tenet: that a separatist-led coalition is bad for Canada. Implicit in all of this is that Mr. Harper knows he does not have the confidence of the House, and that if he faces a vote on Monday, he will lose, and the GG is likely to ask the Liberal-NDP coalition to govern, placing the Bloc in a very strong position. That is to say that in order to make the case that a Conservative-led government is better for Canada than a Bloc-supported coalition (again, we can argue about whether or not that is true), Mr. Harper must argue that the system of responsible government, that governments must be accountable to Parliament, must be temporarily suspended.
Consider that for a moment.
Because Mr. Harper feels that a separatist-supported coalition is bad for Canada, the GG should allow him to avoid a confidence vote, which is the very definition of responsible government?
Mr. Harper, our system of government exists because it works; it is bigger than you, your government, or any Member of Parliament. Its tenets must be respected at all times, and governments must remain accountable to Parliament. It makes no difference whether you believe the “separatists” are bad for Canada; frankly, from what I’ve seen, you believe that the Liberals are bad for Canada.
No, what matters is that our system of government, responsible government, is respected at all times. This means maintaining the confidence of Parliament.
So it is clear what must be done. The GG must prorogue Parliament; she must give time for these men and women to cool off, and begin to govern in the interest of Canadians. And she must do so after allowing the system of responsible government, which is bigger than all of us, to run its natural course. The scheduled confidence vote must go forward on Monday, and Parliament should be prorogued on Tuesday, no matter who is the Prime Minister at that time.
EDIT: The GG got it half right. Prorogation is the order of the day. Responsible government in Canada is dead.