Thursday, December 31, 2009

Mr. Harper takes a winter vacation

With the exception of the odd photo op at the Olympics, we suspect we won't be seeing much of Prime Minister Harper, as the Conservative government opts for the prorogue strategy of governance once again. A course of political action that seems to represent the ages old trick of running out the political clock on troublesome topics, or as Mr. Harper the would be hockey author might put it, ragging the puck until the final whistle.

Was it only a year ago that we were playing out the drama of the would be opposition usurpers seeking to relieve Mr. Harper of his duties? A less than well thought out plan that tumbled no shortage of dominoes on the opposition side, most directly that being of the employment status of former Liberal leader Stephane Dion, who went from hopeful PM, to backbench MP in the twinkle of an Iggy eye.

At that time Mr. Harper had sought out the counsel (or was that badgered) the Governor General to bring an end to the folly of the opposition's plans of a coalition government and to prorogue Parliament until things settled down and (the Liberal feuding could break out in strength.)

It at the time proved to be a successful course for Prime Minister Harper, who last fall had come quite close to returning the Conservatives to the days of aiming for the feet with both barrels and blasting away.

While the nation turned 2008 into 2009 and the economy continued on along its treacherous path, the Governor General ruminated a bit and in the end decided that a change of government wasn't in the cards, nor it seems would be another unwanted election for 2009.

With his grasp on the government tiller still strong, Mr. Harper managed to run a fairly solid little bit of governance over the rest of 2009, while offering nothing of the earth shattering variety, his government did seem to negotiate the rigours of the recession fairly well and for the most part never seemed to tempt fate with the would be electorate. As far as minority governments go, 2009 was about as stable as things could get.

The Conservartives wandered through the last year, never shooting too high above the polling numbers of the last few years, but neither falling into a tailspin to offer comfort to the opposition that victory may be at hand.
In fact, with Jack Layton suddenly finding he was onside with the Conservatives through the fall and the Liberals continuing to struggle to find a message or a resonance with the public under their new leader Michael Ignatieff, it seemed as though the Prime Minister had found the right balance to keeping the keys to 24 Sussex for a little while longer.

So it's a tad surprising to find that the Conservatives, seemingly still on that happy track of governance, apparently don't want to have much to do with the actual workings of Parliament until after we snuff out the Olympic flame for the last time and count our hopeful bounty of medals.

The move to put aside the public debate and accountability of Parliament doesn't do much to enhance the Prime Minister's reputation. Already suspect with many, he now has decided that the floating middle of Canadian politics won't mind if the normal course of discussion, debate and legislation takes a holiday.

A choice that could prove to provide more trouble than facing up to any potential issues might. The upcoming session of January was going to deal with the Afghan detainee question, as well as the Environment file, two areas where the Conservatives aren't strong, but one where the public isn't particularly engaged with too much either.

With Canadian soldiers fighting and dying in the Afghan scrub lands, the debate over the handling of Taliban combatants more than likely wouldn't have been a high value debate for the Liberals or NDP. Though further discussion of the actual Afghan mission and Canada's involvement in it would certainly be a welcome talking point for Parliament to spend some time on.

Likewise, while Canadians are a few steps to the left of the Conservatives when it comes to environmental policy, the prospect of laying waste to Alberta's energy sector in the goal of complicated carbon credit trading schedules and other idealistic schemes probably in the end won't find wide acceptance, a project that is not only a hard sell, but a divisive one for the nation.

On both of those items that were on the board for late January, the Conservatives could probably have run out the Parliamentary clock with endless discussion in committee, taking that governance train right up to the March budget, where once again we'd probably see some voter friendly incentives to offer up some kind of suggestion that there is a plan and we all can share in it .

Instead, they have once again provided the opposition with a fair amount of ammunition to pound away with over the next three months. Each day highlighting how the Conservatives who so clamored a year ago, about democracy; deploring the unusual plan to wrest power than came from the coalition's efforts and frequently repeated the mantra of the theme of letting the people decide the fate of the government; will now turn away from the actual process of participation by the elected officials of the people and instead seem content to run the nation on an order in council basis until the winter sideshow of Vancouver is out of the way.

The Conservative plan is a puzzling bit of political theatre, which does shine a light on the fact that for the most part, this past Parliamentary session offered up little in the way of effective legislation, nor any grand ideals from the governing party that there is a bigger picture for us(though the opposition are just as much to blame when it comes to the bankruptcy of forward thinking).
And now apparently so drained of ideas or solutions it appears that they would just rather shut the whole thing down for a while.

Instead of an engaged, energetic debate and/or defence of the issues, we now will watch as a government decides that the trappings of power, are apparently more important than the actual process of exercising that power in an accountable and open way.

It was wrong when the Liberals of old used the same conventions to run their political agendas, for many it was wrong last fall when the coalition trio sought for their un-endorsed grab for the reins of power, and it's wrong again when it's the Conservatives who use the same kind of tactics.
In the end, avoiding the democratic mechanisms that Parliament provides can surely only cast suspicion on the governing party. If the Conservatives want to be the government, then they should accept the process that Parliament offers to that office.

The long cherished goal of Stephen Harper and his government has been the quest for majority status in Ottawa, however taking the elected body of Parliament out of the picture for three months probably isn't going to help in that cause too much.
As far as this sudden streak of New Year's Eve resolutions to prorogue Parliament goes, perhaps it's one resolution that the Conservatives best try to break.
Globe and Mail-- Proroguing Parliament – a travesty, yet clever
Globe and Mail-- Harper to shut down Parliament
Globe and Mail-- Democracy diminished, accountability avoided
National Post-- John Ivison: Stephen Harper, renegade in power
National Post-- Stephen Taylor: The case for prorogation
National Post-- Jeff Jedras: Harper prorogues, world goes on
Maclean's-- The Short Parliament
Toronto Star-- Prorogation's upside
Toronto Star-- PM suspends Parliament
Toronto Star-- Siddiqui: Harper acting like an elected dictator
Toronto Star-- Prime Minister vs. Parliament
CTV News-- Tories plan new session of Parliament, to begin Mar. 3
CBC-- PM seeks Parliament shutdown until March
CBC-- Parliament prorogued: Necessary move or undemocratic?

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