Friday, August 21, 2020

Another abusive prorogation in Canada

Something from a few days ago: Canada is showing us exactly how not to do Westminster democracy, with another abuse of prorogation powers to suspend Parliament and kill a corruption investigation:

Canada’s prime minister, Justin Trudeau, is facing accusations that his decision to prorogue parliament is little more than an attempt to cover up an ethics scandal – and walk away from his duties during a pivotal moment in the pandemic.

On Tuesday afternoon, Trudeau asked Julie Payette, governor general, to prematurely end the current parliamentary session. He vowed to resume on 23 September with a speech from the throne, followed by a confidence vote.

The move to “reset” the government because of Covid comes amid committee investigations into the WE charity affair, in which Trudeau and former finance minister Bill Morneau face accusations of an improper financial relationship with the international development organization. Both men have apologized for not recusing themselves amid apparent conflicts of interest.

Prorogation will suspend all government business, including the investigation.

This isn't the first time this sort of abuse has happened. Back in 2008 then-Prime Minister Stephen Harper prorogued parliament to prevent the opposition from voting out his minority government, then did it again a year later to impede an investigation into Canada's collaboration with foreign torturers. Trudeau of course promised to end such abuses. But as usual, he lied.

So how do you stop it? We simply don't do this sort of thing in New Zealand. And partly that's because we've just got out of the habit, and moved away from this monarchical business of the monarch summoning Parliament every year in favour of the House controlling its own calendar, and away from monarchist ceremony (in the form of an archaic "speech from the throne") every time the government wants to make a major policy announcement in favour of the Prime Minister simply making a Ministerial statement or calling a press conference and telling us (or maybe, a mini-budget). Similarly, we don't need it - as Trudeau claims is the case in Canada - in order to hold a confidence vote: there are several scheduled throughout the year as part of the regular budget process, and the government can hold one whenever it wants. We don't even need it now to bring back Parliament during an adjournment in an emergency: the Speaker can do that themselves. The only time the Governor-General ever summons Parliament now is after elections, or in the never-happened-yet case of an emergency after it has been dissolved, and both of those are governed by statute - that is, by Parliament. Canada could learn from this, and adopt similar arrangements. And their constitution would probably be a lot healthier for it.