Prorogation shows Harper is 'afraid' to face Senate questions: Mulcair
Opposition Leader Thomas Mulcair slammed Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s decision to prorogue Parliament, saying the Conservative government is only trying to avoid tough questions about the Senate spending scandal and other controversies.
“Stephen Harper for the fourth time has prorogued Parliament of Canada, depriving elected officials of their ability to do what they were put there to do, which is to ask questions of the Canadian government,” Mulcair told reporters Tuesday.
“Mr. Harper is afraid to answer the questions we have for him.”
Although prorogation is the government’s prerogative, Harper is using it to go “into hiding,” Mulcair said.
“That’s not a way to be the head of a state. And that’s certainly not a way to behave in a democracy.”
Mulcair said the New Democrats are calling on Harper to “start showing some leadership, to show up in Parliament and start giving clear answers on the Senate scandal and a lot of other issues that are plaguing his government.”
CTV's chief political correspondent Craig Oliver notes prorogation is actually a routine procedure for a majority government to use halfway through its mandate, since it gives them an opportunity to "pull the plug on Parliament" and refocus its priorities with a new throne speech.
But Oliver told Canada AM that Harper "did kind of give prorogation a bad name because he used it twice, in ‘08 and ’09, when the only purpose was to save his government from defeat and that’s not what that parliamentary procedure is designed for.”
It was back in December 2008 when Harper first enraged constitutional experts by proroguing Parliament. Many accused him of simply trying to avoid a confidence vote over a fiscal update, which his minority government appeared certain to lose.
The prime minister prorogued Parliament again the following year in what many said was a bid to end Commons’ committee hearings into the treatment of Afghan detainees.
Political analyst Scott Reid agrees that Harper has a “spotted history” when it comes to prorogation, but he says that this time, the procedure is being used in the way it was intended.
“This is why prime ministers use prorogation: to give the government an opportunity to wipe the slate clean, restart and refocus,” he said.
Still, that didn’t stop the opposition from saying Harper turned to prorogation in order to dodge accountability over the ongoing Senate expenses scandal, which has led to RCMP investigations into Senators Mike Duffy, Patrick Brazeau, Mac Harb and Pamela Wallin.
But Reid believes the prorogation decision was about more than avoiding debate.
“This government looks desperately like it’s out of gas: it isn’t just the Senate scandal that’s been swirling around this government; overall, this government has a sort of mid-term malaise,” he said.
Reid says the Senate scandal has made it hard for Harper to “own the news” and set the agenda.
The decision to delay the start of the fall session of Parliament gives his Conservative government a few more weeks to draft a throne speech, Reid says, and will give Harper a chance to remind voters what his party’s priorities are before the next election.
“He’s looking toward 2015. And the election begins in October, when the speech from the throne comes down and offers a new focus, a new set of priorities.”
Federal MPs will now reconvene sometime in October, instead of on Sept. 16, as originally planned. The precise timing has not been decided, but some Parliament Hill watchers said it will likely be after Thanksgiving.
Oliver says the end result is that the next parliamentary session will not be a long one: Due to the long summer break, which started in June, and the news of prorogation, Parliament is likely to only sit for seven weeks or so before needing to rise for Christmas holidays.
“That means Harper can avoid having to answer to the House of Commons and the opposition leaders for most of that seven-month period. I think it looks at least like this is part of what’s going on here,” Oliver said.
But Reid doesn’t believe the Senate scandal is over just yet.
“These scandals are not going to go anywhere,” he said. “There will be a new auditor general’s report. I’m sure it’s going to dig up a ton of skeletons in the parliamentary garden. All that stuff is still going to come out.”
With files from Angela Mulholland