The Ellipsis – Taking A Break

Prorogue. It’s a term we as Canadians have become all too familiar with, usually in a negative context. But I didn’t know what exactly it meant aside from the cessation (but not dissolution) of the legislature. So after Dalton McGuinty announced the 3rd prorogation of government I’ve experienced in under 4 years I figured I ought to look in to it a little further. Here’s a crash course.

Prorogation is requested by the Premier/Prime Minister of their respective Crown representative (Lieutenant-Governor and Governor-General, respectively) when either the government’s agenda, as defined in the Speech from the Throne, is complete or a recess is necessary for the government to refocus. It is this refocusing that McGuinty alleges is necessary for the current Ontario Legislature. The current environment had grown too caustic to properly conduct business. Given the mass of the scandals that have risen about the reigning minority Liberals, that could be the case. After all, government had already been held up earlier this month as the opposition motioned to censure Energy Minister Chris Bentley and faced another such motion for the government as a whole.

Censures, like prorogation, halt all ongoing legislative business. Should the second motion have been allowed to proceed, no bills would be enacted into law until the motion had been completed and any sanctions requested are levied. The difference is that upon completion of the censure motion all business resumes from where it was left off. Whereas prorogation kills it all. Every bill is dead and has to be started anew from first reading, regardless of any progress it had previously made. Every committee is disbanded and their business is cancelled.

For the reigning Liberals, that means the committees investigating Bentley and the ORNGE debacle are gone. Any censure against the government are erased. That is, at least for now. Barring the dissolution of parliament, the motions and investigations can be started over. Given the Liberal’s minority standing, those events seem likely. That’s precisely what pulled down the Chrétien government when he prorogued the federal government in the face of the sponsorship scandal in 2002. It’s what would have happened to the subsequent Conservative government in 2008 if the coalition threatening them hadn’t dissolved during the recess.

In the early days of Canadian government, prorogation was regularly used to allow representatives to travel back to their constituencies and converse with those they represent. That time for travel and conversation is clearly no longer a necessity. It is instead used as a stall-tactic defence. Without the legislature, opposition parties and members are limited in their ability to hold the government accountable, as is their duty. The question surrounding this suspension: Was the opposition going too far?

In this writer’s opinion they were, but so were the Liberals. The Liberals may have abused their powers by cancelling 2 power plants, and using taxpayer dollars to pay for the cancellations, in order to save themselves a handful of seats. It’s worth noting, however, that both opposition parties were promising to do just that if they were elected. You could make the argument that the Liberals have saved us some money by cancelling the projects earlier. Of course, if they hadn’t cancelled them and lost all 5 associated seats, they would have still won the election (assuming the cancellations didn’t have a wider-ranging effect).

The underlying problem as I see it is that our society has forgotten how to share. That’s right; sharing. That concept every kindergartener is so familiar with seems to be lost on today’s populous. To our politicians, it seems to be an entirely foreign concept. The idea of a minority government is that the reigning party has been trusted with power but only if they work with an opponent. The Liberals and the NDP managed to get along well enough to pass the budget earlier this year; but the Liberals threw a tantrum about it at every step. Nobody likes a whiner. The Grits teamed up with the Tories to pass legislation enforcing a wage freeze on and limiting job action by teachers; though the Tories promised they wouldn’t work with them again unless things were done their way. Sounds like bullying to me. So the Liberals are stuck. The PCs won’t work with the Liberals on any more labour legislation unless they agree to tear up any current contracts. The NDP won’t help enforce any legislative wage freezes, arguing they would too vulnerable to legal challenges. The labour unions refuse to accept any freeze at all, even in the face of a $14B deficit. So McGuinty called it quits, told everyone to go home and passed the buck to someone else.

Every presentation in this over-dramatised classroom hasn’t been about showing the teacher how intelligent and decent the presenting students are. Rather, the students are spending all their time snitching to teacher about what their peers are doing.

Teachers give out gold stars for exemplary behaviour and performance. If nobody behaves, nobody gets the sticker. In a democracy, the voters are the teachers and their votes are the gold stickers. Get more gold stickers than everyone else and we’ll hand you the ball (government) and you can go play. Fail that and we’ll give it to the student with the most but they have to share it with the rest of the class.

Applying that analogy to the current situation, little Dalton went outside for recess and brought his shiny red ball we gave him. Andrea wanted to play soccer. Tim wanted to play basketball but only if he got to make up the rules. Dalton didn’t want to play either so Andrea and Tim pushed him in the mud. Now Dalton’s taken the ball away. Nobody gets to play anything. That is until everyone comes back for next recess. Then the game will be dodgeball and the teams will be two against one. If only the teachers would step in and tell everyone to play nicely… Of course, for that to happen the teachers would have to be paying attention and the students would have to listen instead of fighting over who gets the ball next.

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