Tuesday, January 05, 2010

The Canadian Govt: Closed Until Further Notice

Prorogation: It means officially suspending Parliament. It’s a bit of a three-dollar word, but Canadians prefer to use it instead of saying, “they’re shutting down Parliament again”. Or, more specifically, “That goddamned coward Stephen Harper is shutting down Parliament again!” This time, Parliament has been prorogued until March so that they can watch the Olympics. Seriously: our Prime Minister has decided that the Parliament should just shut down for the next two months instead of doing any work, in particular an inquest into his government’s criminal handling of a prisoner torture scandal in Afghanistan.

Try to imagine the Democrats being investigated for corruption and Nancy Pelosi responding by shutting down Congress for two months, and the entire government having to come to a halt.

Obviously, people would be outraged in the United States, and a few are outraged in Canada. Prorogation is not entirely uncommon, but it’s supposed to be used in times of governmental crisis. Stephen Harper used it last year to avoid a no-confidence vote that could have ousted his party. This was remarkably egregious; aside from Charles I, who tried to prorogue the English Parliament in the 17th century, and failed, there’s no precedent in any parliamentary democracy anywhere in the world. To put it mildly, it looked as if Stephen Harper wasn’t so keen on parliamentary democracy anyway.

At the time, an American friend asked me, “Didn’t Canada just suspend democracy?” It wasn’t quite that bad. However, one would expect Canadians to call for Harper to step down. Didn’t happen, because A. Canadians don’t really want the Liberals to return to power, B. they don’t really want to go out and vote again, C. a lot of Canadians out West believe that a no-confidence vote would be “undemocratic” because “the Canadian people elected Stephen Harper”. Think about that last one. It means that a large chunk of the population literally does not understand how their own government works. No, Canada, you don’t go out and vote for the friggin’ Prime Minister.

Stephen Harper has a habit, not unlike Bush, of bristling with contempt in press conferences towards the opposition parties, the press, Quebec, Ontario, and basically anyone who disagrees with him. But Bush never shut down Congress, and it’s hard to imagine that he could, given the American system. This time, the Conservatives prorogued Parliament because there’s an ongoing investigation into prisoner abuse- the Canadian military might have knowingly turned over Afghani prisoners to be tortured by Afghan police- basically a war crime. Instead of honoring the rule of law and democratic transparency, the Conservatives have refused to participate, slandered the Canadian diplomat who made the allegations (subsequently backed up by the Red Cross and a chief of defense staff General), complained about the “inappropriateness” of raising such charges at all, and now shut down Parliament for two months, in hopes that it will blow over.

Seriously: name another ruling party that acts this way outside of a banana republic?

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