Lessons in how to weaken a debate about democracy

05Jan10

There is a good case to be made that Parliament should not have been prorogued. Lots of smart people who call themselves constitutional experts have already explained why. And they’ve done so in the clearest of terms, referring to our prime minister as a “not-so-benign dictator” and his actions as “extraordinary” and “very dangerous“.

Popular opposition to the prorogation is also growing. Today’s big debate in the blogotwittersphere is about the importance and/or meaning of a Facebook group with 20,000 25,000 30,000 members (and growing).

But not all of the opposition is grounded in absolute fact.

Hill Times reporter Harris Macleod wrote a blog post that criticized the Prime Minister for not making the case for prorogation himself. I only take issue with the final paragraph (emphasis mine):

While I won’t defend the Canadian public’s sad indifference to what happens in Ottawa, the fact is if he had to deliver the aforementioned justifications for shutting down Parliament himself instead of sending Dimitri Soudas to do it, people would be more aware of what was happening. And they might even have taken a few moments to think about whether it sounded right that their elected representatives would be getting a paid vacation until the spring.

When MPs are in their constituencies and meeting with their constituents, they are certainly not on vacation. In fact, it might well be the case that our elected representatives work more and even harder when they’re in their ridings. It’s not like they sit beside their pool and play tennis all day. These people work for a living. This is probably a case of Harris Macleod simply using hyperbole to make a point, but I think a lot of MPs and their staff would rightly argue against it.

Another more egregious overstatement that I’ve noticed in the past couple of days was stuck in a Liberal press release entitled “Just the Facts: Canada’s Parliament during the 1988 Calgary Olympic Games“. Well, it wasn’t all fact. Note my emphasis below:

In 1988, Parliament sat for four weeks from January 17-February 12, and then had a one-week scheduled break week adjournment from February 15-19 – coinciding with the first full week of the Calgary Olympics.  Parliament then resumed sitting again on February 22 – which means Canada was able to govern itself at the same time as the Olympic Games were underway.

Let’s make no mistake. Canada can still govern itself while the Olympics are underway. If that weren’t the case, Canada would have no government during the summer, over the Christmas or Easter holidays, or during election campaigns.

I don’t think either of these passages are representative of the larger debate, but it just reminds us that we must be vigilant when participating in a debate of this importance.

UPDATE: So apparently the Liberals have gone full-bore at the Tories — and Prime Minister Harper, in particular — for “going on a 3-month winter vacation”. Gloria Galloway at the Globe writes about it here, where she makes a good point:

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff has been on vacation at an undisclosed location and has not therefore been available to pick up his own phone for the past three weeks.

But even beyond that hypocrisy, why do the Liberals continue to suggest that prorogation equals vacation? That equation is simply misleading.

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4 Responses to “Lessons in how to weaken a debate about democracy”

  1. 1 Gordo

    For the same reason bosses might assume telecommuting equals slacking off. If people aren’t at their place of work, then they’re probably not working. It’s an easy connection to make.

  2. But my point is: When they’re in their constituencies, MPs are at work. They still have offices, events … all kinds of work to do.

  3. 3 Gordo

    Your last question was why the Libs continue to suggest prorogation is vacation. I read that Ignatieff announced the Libs will be “back at work” on the Hill on the 25th. In fact, he specifically pointed out their return will “not be a photo op” and that there will be hearings and other work about the Afghan detainee issue.

    If we combine that information with what you have in this entry, we can conclude:
    Presence on the Hill = Work
    Absence from the Hill = Vacation

    Never mind what the full job description of an MP is. That requires a complicated answer and we can’t listen to that and watch the Winter Olympics at the same time. All we have to know is that the Liberals want us to know that they’ve been put on a forced vacation by the PM, who, for over a year now, has been known to end legislative sessions at suspiciously unusual points in time. Still, the Libs love work so much that they’ll be at it a month before Harper wants them to be, so as to attract minimal attention from the media and constituents. As a secondary conclusion:

    Harper = Hates work. Loves to delay democratic process.
    Liberals = Love work. Hate photo ops.

    Sorry for the wordy response, but George Keeming left a huge one on one of your HST entries, and you didn’t seem outraged at him at all.


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