Thursday, January 14, 2010

Latest prorogation is an insult to our democracy

(Written for the Root Issues in the Barrie Examiner)

A smart man once said: “When a government starts trying to cancel dissent or avoid dissent is frankly when it’s rapidly losing its moral authority to govern.”

By proroguing Parliament, the Harper government continues to show contempt for our democratic process. It continues a pattern of avoiding the valid criticisms of question period or awkward demands of investigative committees.

A number of serious issues face Canadians, including our role in preventing or enabling torture in Afghanistan, an economy entering a long, tough, jobless “recovery”, and travel security which clearly isn’t up to the threat of terrorism. Issues such as these must be handled by our elected officials. Yet those officials have all been sent home, essentially on paid vacation, in one of the longer prorogations in Canadian history.

Conservative mouthpieces like Monte Solberg or Patrick Brown would have you believe that this is normal, and an MP’s role in Ottawa is only a minor, almost inconsequential aspect of his job. Far more important, they tell us, is the work done in the riding. I would beg to differ. There is little value in MPs showing up to hand out oversized cheques for photo-ops. New facilities and businesses will open regardless of who cuts their ribbons. Such ceremonial actions are mainly of value to the incumbent, as a way to indicate that he’s engaged with the community, so you’ll re-elect him.

A century ago, prorogation gave MPs a chance to catch up on local issues. But today, MPs have plenty of opportunity to keep up to date with the needs of their voters. As a “perk”, they receive 64 free round-trip flights from Ottawa per year, and unlimited VIA travel. Our own MP has no trouble spending the week in Ottawa and getting back to Barrie for beers at the Queen’s *on a Friday night. And that’s just when Parliament is sitting. There are already many months of the year, Christmas/New Year’s and all summer, when MPs are on recess. More than enough time for them to keep up with what’s happening at home.

But the core of representative democracy isn’t electing someone to represent government to us, big scissors and giant cheques in hand. It’s about representing us to government. We choose our representatives to oversee the legislative process and manage the government on our behalf. Without them, government becomes unmanaged bureaucracy or dictatorship. Our MPs can’t oversee government if they are locked out for months at a time.

The pretext for this shutdown is to allow for “recalibration” on the economy and a break during the Olympics. Again, I don’t recall electing our MPs to watch Olympics from VIP seats, and I am stunned that our government can’t handle the economy while Parliament sits. They can’t walk and chew gum at the same time either? A government generally prorogues having passed most of its agenda. This government hasn’t gotten through even half of it, with most of their much-vaunted crime bills still outstanding. (Just last week our MP’s crowed about the government’s great dedication to fighting crime – as Harper trash-canned over a dozen crime bills.) Clearly this prorogation is a cowardly run for cover, not a “recalibration”.

If this upsets you as much as it should, visit or email and join hundreds of thousands of Canadians expressing their frustration. Attend the democracy rally in Fred Grant Square on January 23. Show that real Canadians care about democracy more than Mr. Harper or his servants.

By the way, the man who made the statement above about losing governing authority through avoiding dissent… was Stephen Harper (April 18, 2005).

*this comment was censored out of the print edition

Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a teacher, father, volunteer, and politician.

Update: Deborah Anne Butt liked my article enough to quote me twice in her own letter to the editor.

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