Thursday, December 31, 2009

Bring back the Long Parliament

One reaction to the summary prorogation of Parliament by Stephen Harper:

"All we lose is a chance to talk."

That would be John Ibbitson, detached, bemused, with just a whiff of admiration for Stephen Harper's "devilishly clever" assault on Parliament. And thus the very notion of Parliament--which literally means "speaking"--is further degraded.

Happy New Year, everyone.

Are the Tories counting upon popular ignorance of our own system of government? Here is court blogger Stephen Taylor, allegedly a political analyst, uttering politically illiterate nonsense:

Indeed, the Prime Minister asked the Governor General for a suspension of Parliament last year after the coalition government attempt to replace a freshly elected Prime Minister and his cabinet just six weeks after an election.... A gentle reminder to the constitutionally challenged: Prime Ministers are not elected, nor are cabinets. Members of Parliament are elected--those representatives of the people whom King Stephen I is about to send home, standing them down from committees and stopping 32 bills in their tracks. For those who need it, here's Parliamentary government 101.

I will admit that I've been loose recently with my historical references. I compared Harper to Cromwell not long ago; now, thanks to Andrew Coyne, I'm seeing him more as Charles I. (Or Louis XVI.) Coyne has some further insights today. He defended prorogation last year, but the scales appear to have fallen from his eyes.

Charles I, after ruling as an absolute monarch for eleven years, was pressured into permitting Parliament to sit because he needed it to vote him an allocation to pursue his war against Scotland. But he quickly lost his nerve when the members assembled demonstrated theirs:

A flood of petitions concerning abuses were coming up to Parliament from the country. Impatient with their resuming debate where it had left off in 1629, touching the violation of Parliamentary privileges by the arrests of Members in 1629, and unnerved about coming scheduled debate over the deteriorating situation in Scotland, Charles dissolved the body (5 May 1640) after only three weeks' sitting.

The King still needed his money, however, and was forced to recall Parliament shortly thereafter. The Long Parliament stayed in session for nine years. How did it last for such a length of time? Because the members were shrewd enough to pass an Act of Parliament preventing its dissolution without consent:

And be it declared and enacted by the King, our Sovereign Lord, with the assent of the Lords and Commons in this present Parliament assembled, and by the authority of the same, that this present Parliament now assembled shall not be dissolved unless it be by Act of Parliament to be passed for that purpose; nor shall be, at any time or times, during the continuance thereof prorogued or adjourned, unless it be by Act of Parliament to be likewise passed for that purpose; and that the House of Peers shall not at any time or times during this present Parliament be adjourned, unless it he by themselves or by their own order; and in like manner, that the House of Commons shall not, at any time or times, during this present Parliament, he adjourned, unless it be by themselves or by their own order; and that all and every thing or things whatsoever done or to be done for the adjournment, proroguing, or dissolving of this present Parliament, contrary to this Act, shall be utterly void and of none effect. [emphasis added]

Within bounds, such a fundamental reform in Canada, AD 2010, seems long overdue. Obviously we can't have Parliament sitting as long as it pleases, regardless of the electorate's mood: the current constitutional five-year limit would be a necessary check on that. But a similar resolution would right the imbalance that we now observe, in which a government, supposedly accountable to Parliament as a whole, has in essence seized power and relegated the people's representatives to a secondary, at-pleasure status.

Coyne might argue that all of what Harper has done is legal, if wrong: but if it is legal, then we need to change the law. Let the dissolution adjournment or prorogation
* of Parliament be up to Parliament, not the whim of an authoritarian Prime Minister, abetted by a feudal monarch's assistant. Let the talking continue.

*Reader "Morning" rightly notes:
I think you were meaning to say "Let the adjournment or prorogation of Parliament be up to Parliament" rather than its dissolution, which is, as you said, governed by the five year constitutional limit (as well as the toothless four year election act that this government passed in the previous Parliament).
I was. Mea culpa.

1 comment:

Dr.Dawg said...

Hey, right back atcha, e hoe! Kia ora!

I'll cjheck out your references and be back to you. Best to you and yours.