Everyone, there are days when it feels like I can’t keep up. That feeling seems to happen to me more and more these days. Maybe it’s a function of getting older, or maybe it’s more of a sign of these crazy times, but it’s a feeling that I can’t help but notice on days like these. It was barely a couple of hours ago that I published a piece on this very site talking about the appointment of Chrystia Freeland as Finance Minister, a decent choice by any standard.
That’s the kind of announcement that a government would want to lead the news for a couple of days, because it can turn a story about losing your long-standing Finance Minister in a global public health and economic crises into something better. You’d think that you would want to leave it there and leave well enough alone. Yet somehow this Liberal government has an amazing knack of running all over their own potential decent news with other stories that we just can’t ignore. And today, at maybe the worst possible time, they’ve done it again. This time, it’s a move that brings a huge set of potential problems at the worst possible time:
Now folks it would be easy to point to all the times that Mr. Trudeau and his party chided the Harper Conservatives for their abuse of prorogation, partially because it’s arguably hypocritical and partially because they said it so often. Hell Trudeau even promised when running in 2015 that he’d never use this tool because of how Harper did, so you could even argue this is another broken promise that you could add to the large pile of those that he has accumulated over the past five years.
At first, I wasn’t willing to go there without the details of the proroguing, mostly because there actually are legitimate ways and times to prorogue the House of Commons. The tool itself is not illegitimate just because someone else abused its use. And given the circumstances we’re in, with how much things have changed in the past five months since COVID-19 locked down the country, let alone in the near year since the first Throne Speech of this Parliament, you could have made an argument for a place for proroguing Parliament and having a new Throne Speech.
In order for that to have been the case, there really needed to be a short, specific use of this tool because of the effects of what the tool itself does. Proroguing the House shuts the entire place down, period. All House of Commons committees are dissolved, all legislation on the order paper dies and the House cannot be brought back without a Throne Speech and having it pass. In most summers, that wouldn’t be an issue as the House wouldn’t be sitting anyway and House committees would mostly be off. So in normal times, to prorogue from mid-August to the day that the House was original scheduled to return on September 23rd wouldn’t be a big problem or a misuse of this tool.
In this current situation, it would have been possible to properly prorogue the House to introduce a new agenda and all of that stuff, but it would have to have been extremely short, say for a week or so, maybe less. The reason for that is pretty straightforward: we’re in a bloody global public health and economic crisis. We are seeing the disease resurge in various places, the economy is struggling, and people are at risk of losing their jobs, homes or both. And that’s just what we know for sure right now, forget about what emergencies might spring up in the next five weeks while the House isn’t sitting. We’ve already seen the House called back numerous times in emergency ways to deal with emergencies that have cropped up on a moments notice, so it’s very reasonable to expect there might be a need to again. So is there a big, practical problem with proroguing for 5 weeks now? Absolutely.
Add to that real big problem the fact that unlike most summers, many House of Commons are sitting regularly. They have been meeting virtually to address issues arising from COVID-19, the response to it and other serious matters of importance. Including in all of that is three different committees investigating the WE scandal, the very one that brought down the Finance Minister that kicked this whole past 24 hours off. If I were to be charitable, it looks awful to see a Prime Minister using proroguing the House and effectively shut down investigations into his own ethical conduct for over a month. But I can’t be charitable about it because it’s that bad. Justin Trudeau literally took to the streets to protest Stephen Harper abusing prorogation to similar ends, so to see him do this now manages to bring a whole new hypocrisy to this moment.
Finally, aside from stopping committees from investigating the WE scandal, it’s stopping many groups that are suffering and struggling in this moment who need help from testifying and telling Parliamentarians their needs. Just yesterday the Human Resources committee about how COVID has affected Indigenous peoples and mortgage brokers. On Friday, the Agriculture committee was expecting to hear from egg, turkey and chicken farmers and producers who have been waiting ages for compensation for new trade deals this government signed, compensation they were promised over a year ago and haven’t received. And there were going to be more meetings just like those where Canadians were going to address their concerns to this government, looking for help. And now thanks to this, those meetings will be cancelled, and they will have to wait even longer. How in the heck is that helpful at all in this moment?
If the PM had stayed true to his word and used prorogation in a way closer to how it was intended, this prorogation would have been fine in my eyes. Having the House be shut down for a week or less in mid-September would have not only reduced the risks that this prorogation will bring, it also would have respected the important work that is currently ongoing in House committees over the summer. In normal times, this prorogation would have been fine but in these abnormal pandemic times, it’s simply not. You might expect that the Prime Minister would understand that based on how often he mentioned the seriousness of this moment when he announced the prorogation, but this prorogation flies in the face of those words.
If this PM were being serious about the dangers of this moment, he wouldn’t have just prorogued and shut down the House of Commons for five weeks in the middle of a pandemic. And when you add to that the fact that there are factors that make this prorogation odious, it not only looks terrible, it completely steps all over the decent news he announced earlier. Again this Prime Minister managed to turn a decent story and turn it into crap. Just like how Bill Morneau’s explanations last night didn’t wash with the public, the explanation for this prorogation doesn’t either. Here we go again, another mess solely of the making of this PM, something he seems to do regularly. What’s done is done here, no matter how unsavory it is. At this point, I just pray that nothing terrible happens between now and September 23rd because if the next emergency hits us before then, this Prime Minister will quickly come to learn the hard lessons about the consequences of decisions like these. And when he does, I also pray that it’s not everyday Canadians who pay the price for this unforced error of convenience.