Thursday, January 14, 2010

Wanna win, Ignatieff? Here's how.

Whooee! Well, friends an' foes, I'm a card carryin' Greenie but I'm gonna offer some free advice to the Grits an' Ignatieff. I'm so ancient that Harry Truman was president when I was born. Truman had a few famous quotes. His most famous was, "The buck stops here."

Truman also spoke about leadership: "Find a parade and get out in front of it."

There's a big parade marching up and down Main Street, Canada. It's the anti-prorogation parade. So far, Ignatieff hasn't capitalized on anti-prorogue sentiment effectively, if at all. Voters are rejecting prorogation by an increasingly wide margin. Time to lead, Mr. Leader.

My advice is for Iggy: make an unequivocal statement that, if elected, the Grits will put and end to prorogation, once and for all. Granted, Ignatieff has said he wouldn't abuse the mechanism as Harper has done but that does not go nearly far enough. He ought to solemnly promise to do away with the mechanism altogether.

Recent polls have shown the CPC losing ground in a big way. That loss is entirely due to Harper's misreading of public sentiment on prorogation and on the underlying reason for this prorogation: the Afghan detainee issue. The Liberals have not taken the opportunity to score points. They've merely stood by and watched the CPC throw away points. That is not leadership. It's not even getting out in front of the parade.

With a platform plank that promises no more prorogues, ever, by any future government, Ignatieff could ride the crest of this wave of discontent all the way to Sussex Drive.

JimBobby

11 comments:

Andrew Hankinson said...

While I agree with the sentiment, a prorogue is a legitimate mechanism of Parliament. When used correctly, it simply signals the end of one legislative session and the beginning of another. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Legislative_session

When used incorrectly, however, it can be a tool to quiet debate. This is just because the power of proroguing rests entirely with the PM. A more effective means would requiring the consensus of Parliament before doing so. That would ensure that it would only be used when Parliament feels it's time to begin a new legislative session, and not used when it's simply convenient for a Prime Minister to do so.

JimBobby said...

Andrew: Your consensus suggestion would be my second choice. While I'm no constitutional or parliamentary expert, I suspect there are other ways of achieving what legitimate proroguing achieves without incurring the outrage of the public.

Election victories are built on simple (simplistic?) ideas and slogans. An election promise to modify an unpopular mechanism is more complicated than simply promising to eliminate that mechanism. The old adage is, "If you're explaining, you're losing." We saw that with the Green Shift.

I suspect that even if a campaign were run on a platform of "No more prorogues, ever." the reality would end up more like what you've suggested once the HOC debates and decides.

HippyTreeMan said...

Truman was a murderer and war criminal,bad example.

JimBobby said...

No argument on Truman, HTM. I'm talking about winning election strategies, not creating role models.

I suspect, truth be known, all modern US Presidents have been guilty of war crimes... except maybe Jimmy Carter.

doconnor said...

I'm pretty sure it would require a constitutional change to end prorogation, just like it would to enforce a fixed election date.

Nevertheless I would encourage the opposition to pass a constitutional amendment and encourage their provincial counterparts to do so as well.

Achieving a relatively simple change like this might break the constitutional log jam in the future.

Mark Francis said...

Use 'parliamentary prorogation' instead. Parliament has to agree to it. That means that a law has to be passed preventing the PM from advising the GG to prorogue without Parliament voting to do so first.

Exception: An election call by the PM when Parliament is in session would necessitate a technical prorogue.

The GG's powers cannot easily (if at all) be constrained without a constitutional change*. We can constrain the PM's power to ask for a prorogue without such a change, however.

---
* Charter s1 states that we are "a free and democratic country", so maybe the GG operates under constraints from outside the Westminster parliamentary system tradition. Not tested.

doconnor said...

Having Parliament agreeing before prorogation doesn't help in a majority government situation.

"We can constrain the PM's power to ask for a prorogue without such a change, however."

The fixed election date law didn't work. It was even tested in court.

Mark Francis said...

"Having Parliament agreeing before prorogation doesn't help in a majority government situation. "

Wait a minute! First, that's a *majority* voting for a prorogue, which is the point. And, Parliament can still choose to not do so, technically. So if a PM is way off the mark, government members may vote against the PM. Obviously, matters would have to be severe for that.

"The fixed election date law didn't work. It was even tested in court."

Read the law: It only ever said that the PM was compelled to ask the GG for an election no later than 4 years into term. It didn't prevent the PM from asking earlier. Yes, the Conservatives verbally misrepresented the law, but stated intent is always overruled by the Rule of Law in Canada.

Actually, this helps my argument, because that law still compelled the PM in some way, and restricted (slightly) his discretionary powers. So it can be done.

DJN said...

Changing how prorogation is done is not a constitutional matter. It's parliamentary procedure. All the opposition has to do is pass a motion so prorogation requires the confidence of the house. This can be done quite easily.

On this basis, the opposition (Liberals, NDP, Bloc) can get the upper hand on Harper both in the House and among the public.

The opposition should publicly state that they will agree to Harper's plan for an elected senate on the condition that the Harper government support and respect the aforementioned change in procedure regarding prorogation, AND to adhere to the motion to release the Afghan detainee documents.

This places Harper on the hot seat (finally) forcing Harper to live up to his so-called democratic principles. If he blinks on these demands, the opposition can bring him down on the basis that he is anti-democratic and then run not only on changing the prorogation procedure and releasing the Afghan detainee documents, but also run on the electoral reform of the senate - in other words the opposition could steal this issue away from Harper.

doconnor said...

It is my opinion that Parliament should never prorogue except for a general election. There is not reason to cancel all the pending legislation just to have a recess and a speech. It was just as wrong for Chretien (who had a majority) to prorogue to avoid Adscam as it is for Harper to prorogue now.

"Read the law: It only ever said that the PM was compelled to ask the GG for an election no later than 4 years into term."

Ok. It says what day the election must be on, not "no later then". It did nothing to stop the PM from asking the GG for an election.

Like an election call, prorogation is done by the GG on the advice of the PM. Like a fixed election date, it will take a constitutional change to limit.

Owen Gray said...

If Parliament had to vote in favour of prorogation, a majority government could do as it wished.

The problem occurs when the leader of a minority government uses that option to avoid a confidence vote in the house.

If Parliament is truly supreme, it should vote on prorogation.