Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced on Aug. 19, 2013, while in the midst of an annual week-long summer tour of Canada's Northern territories and areas that he will request from Governor General David Johnson to prorogue Parliament, ending this legislative session, and begin the new fall session with his throne speech in the middle of October. The Prime Minister spoke at a press conference in Whitehorse, Yukon about seeking more time before Parliament begins working again, and discussed his policy agenda plans for the fall.
Harper stated the reason for the starting a new session was the throne speech he intends to deliver this fall; The Prime Minister explained his rational; "There will be a new throne speech in the fall. Obviously, the House will be prorogued in anticipation of that. We will come back - October is our tentative timing - and we will obviously have some unfulfilled commitments that we will continue to work on."
He went on to tout his Conservative government has to plan a new policy and legislative agenda, because they have followed through and completed their campaign promises. Harper did say the new agenda will focus primarily on the economy, emphasizing; "The No. 1 priority for this government, I do not have to tell you, will continue to be jobs and the economy."
Parliament was supposed to start back on Sept. 15, 2013. It is believed Harper will reconvene Parliament towards Oct. 15, closer to when the Conservative Party convention will meet starting on Oct. 31, 2013. Harper explained; "There will be a new throne speech in the fall, obviously the House will be prorogued in anticipation of that. We will come back - in October is our tentative timing."
Harper's critics and opposing political parties, believe he is proroguing Parliament because of the ensuing Senate expense scandal that seems to be raging out of control, further encroaching on the Prime Minister and his office.
Opposition Leader Tom Mulcair of the New Democratic Party (NDP) on Tuesday issued a statement saying the only reason for Harper's decision is the burgeoning Senate expense scandal. Mulcair wrote; "People aren't going to be fooled. This is clearly a desperate government worn out by ethical scandals and mismanagement. Stephen Harper refuses to answer legitimate questions from the public."
Deputy Liberal leader Ralph Goodale also released a statement, writing; "Stephen Harper and his PMO are under fire for several scandals - from the recent Wallin report into potentially fraudulent expenses to the $90,000 cheque in the Wright-Duffy Affair - and are obviously keen to avoid questions and scrutiny by Parliament."
Despite the convenience to just interpret that Harper's decision to prorogue the session only relates to the scandals, ignores some other political realities that make sense for the Prime Minister to end the last session and delay Parliament's reopening.
There has been much speculation since Parliament went on its summer recess at the end of June that the Prime Minister might decide to prorogue Parliament. Some of the reasoning stems from Parliament completing it long list of legislation that needed to be passed prior to the summer break.
The Prime Minister is the middle of his term, with eyes on and strategizing towards the 2015 election. Harper was intending this summer to accomplish three objectives, a speech at the Conservative Party convention at the end of June, reshuffle his cabinet, and then cap it all off with the throne speech to announce a new legislative agenda for the next two years of his term.
However, nature intervened; the flooding in Calgary, Alberta delayed the Conservative Party's policy convention. Harper was planning a major speech to rally the Conservatives behind him, in a unified position. This put his plans off course, the party wanted to keep a promise to have the convention in Calgary, and were forced to reschedule until the city recovered. The Prime Minister wanted to ensure his throne speech and his convention speech coincided. This was the best way to bring them closer together.
The only part of his regrouping plan that he was able to accomplish was reshuffling his cabinet, which he did, announcing and swearing in a new cabinet on July 15. He also broke cabinet ties with the Senate, when he removed the Senate leader from a cabinet level position in his reshuffle.
One day after his announcement on Tuesday Aug. 20, the Prime Minister felt cornered and in need to defend his decision to both prorogue Parliament and deliver a throne speech saying "a new throne speech is, as you know, completely normal." Speaking from Hay River, North West Territories Harper explained; "We have been able to adopt virtually all of our legislation to this point in Parliament. There's a need to refresh legislation. We will be very busy in the fall, as we have been very busy during the summer." The Prime Minister continued; "I look forward to bringing forward new legislation and continuing to focus on jobs and growth."
The remainder of the summer's Canadian political news has focused on new developments in the Senate expense scandal that signal a worsening situation. The Senate expense scandal erupted this past spring has caused distress for the Harper government and prompted three senators to be expelled from the Conservative caucus; Mike Duffy, Pamela Wallin, and Patrick Brazeau for inappropriately claiming funds for personal expenses that did not exist. A forth senator, a Liberal, Mac Harb is also involved in the scandal. All four senators have claimed housing and travel expenses that were inflated or may have not existed.
There is speculation that if Harper's former chief of staff Nigel Wright is charged by the RCMP for his check covering Duffy's expenses, the Prime Minister might be called to testify. Last week, Former Conservative Senator Pamela Wallin's audit was released; her travel expenses topped over $120,000 and the troubling results were forwarded to the RCMP for investigation. Now all four members that were under scrutiny are being investigated by the RCMP. Audits will now be conducted for the rest of the Senate members.
A number of bills still on the table will die and have to be reintroduced in order to continue on in the House of Commons; they include most notably the Senate reform legislation, which would have created nine-year term limits and introduced senatorial elections. While the labour union bill, Bill C-377, will go back to the third reading stage, in its unamended state, a place it was at in Dec. 2012.
This is the fourth time the Prime Minister has used prorogation, in 2007, 2008 to thwart the opposition who wanted to form a coalition government, and again in 2010 over an issue concerning conduct towards prisoners in Afghanistan. The Prime Minister gave the last Throne Speech on June 3, 2011, since then Parliament has only been in session 272 days.
Even with criticism over Prime Minister Harper's decision to prorogue Parliament, it is probably a done deal that the Governor General will approve the request. The only way the public can truly express their disapproval is in 2015 at the polls.
Definition of Prorogation:
Prorogation "ends the legislative session," dissolves all committees, and stops bills that have been introduced from proceeding, to go forward they have to be "reinstated," and is accomplished by the Prime Minister requesting that the Governor General approve an order to end the session, when he approves the process is complete, and a new session can begin.
Full list of bills that could be ended with Parliament's prorogation:
- Bill C-4: Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System
- Bill C-5: Continuing Air Service for Passengers Act
- Bill C-7: Senate Reform Act
- Bill C-12: Safeguarding Canadians' Personal Information Act
- Bill C-14: Improving Trade Within Canada Act
- Bill C-17: Air Canada and its Associates Act
- Bill C-21: Political Loans Accountability Act
- Bill C-30: Protecting Children from Internet Predators Act
- Bill C-49: Canadian Museum of History Act
- Bill C-54: Not Criminally Responsible Reform Act
- Bill C-56: Combating Counterfeit Products Act
- Bill C-57: Safeguarding Canada's Seas and Skies Act
- Bill C-61: Offshore Health and Safety Act
- Bill C-65: Respect for Communities Act
- Bill S-6: First Nations Elections Act
- Bill S-10: Prohibiting Cluster Munitions Act
- Bill S-12: Incorporation by Reference in Regulations Act
- Bill S-13: Port State Measures Agreement Implementation Act
- Bill S-16: Tackling Contraband Tobacco Act
Bonnie K. Goodman is the Editor of the Academic Buzz Network, a series of political, academic & education blogs which includes History Musings: History, News & Politics. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies, both from McGill University, and has done graduate work in Jewish history at Concordia University as part of the MA in Judaic Studies program. Her specializations are US, Canadian & Israeli politics.