Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Harper prorogues ... and still the world keeps turning

So the political twitter/blog world is all a buzz today with the word Stephen Harper -- surprise surprise -- will prorogue parliament until March.

Officially this allows him to reconstitute Senate committees with a Conservative majority following the Senate appointments he will make in a few days that will give his party its first majority in the upper chamber since Brian Mulroney stacked it full of Conservatives to ram through the GST. Of course, as a happy not so side benefit, he also takes some of the heat off his government on issues such as the torture of Afghan detainees, why his government seems to have mislead parliament and Canadians on what they knew and when, and how someone as staggeringly incompetent as Peter MacKay can be allowed to serve in a position of authority.

I agree with all the arguments being made about how Harper is tucking tail and running, thumbing his nose at parliament, ignoring the democratic will of the people. Andrew Coyne is particularly irate, and as a former history major I certainly appreciate appreciate any columnist who draws amusing historical parallels. Most columnists can't go back further than four years.

Really, though, as much as it saddens me, it doesn't really matter much. It's no coincidence that this announcement came during the post-Christmas, pre-New Year week when people are paying even less attention to politics than usual. And it's no coincidence it comes on the same day the Canadian Men's Olympic Hockey roster is being unveiled. Wonder which will lead the news tonight? Clearly, they're embarrassed and are trying to low-key this thing.

Really, though, I don't know why they'd even bother. If Canadians didn't care when Harper prorogued last December to avoid imminent defeat in the House of Commons, they certainly won't care he's doing it now for much less odious, although still suspect, reasons. It just won't resonate. Frankly, I'm having a hard time mustering anything more than pro-forma partisan indignation. Perhaps the Harper reign has numbed my sensitivities?

So sure, make the case about how Harper is thumbing his nose at democracy, turning tail and hiding from parliament, and all that. But focusing all our righteous indignation around making that argument and trying to rally Canadians in some kind of futile anti-prorogation, respect for democracy crusade would be a waste of time, and ultimately pointless.

Want to stop Harper from thumbing his nose at parliament and at democracy? Get into a position where you have a reasonable prospect of defeating him. Gain the confidence of Canadians as a credible and competent alternative to a government they're not enamored with, but like slightly better than the current alternatives.

The Liberals and Michael Ignatieff need to use these next two months as an opportunity to get outside of the parliamentary chatterbox and connect with Canadians. Get out from the scandal-of-the-day track that question period drives and talk about real issues that matter to real people. Discuss our vision for the country. Talk about the economy and the budget and our alternatives.

That's what will ensure Harper has to respect parliament and take it seriously: a credible, strong opposition he won't be able to ignore. Right now, that's just not the case.

So let's stop whining, get to work and play the long game here.

Recommend this Post on Progressive Bloggers


The Mound of Sound said...

Okay Jeff, what is "our vision" of the country? We've been waiting for just that from Iffy since he was annointed. That's why he's racing to convene a "Thinkers' Conference" in March. Iggy can't connect with Canadians until someone tells him what to think, what to say. Harper has got the measure of Ignatieff and he's showing that once again.

Jason Cherniak said...

We should never use the word "prorogue" again. Instead, we should be talking about the unnecessary 3-month holiday that the Conservatives are taking. Let's send out releases about how much salary the Con Caucus will receive over the next three months whlie they twiddle their thumbs and watch the olympics.

Jeff said...


1. When I hear what our vision is I'll let you know.
2. Your arguments would be slightly more compelling without the asinine name-calling.


Call it puppy-killing if you want, I don't think Canadians particularly care. And I don't think press releases on thumb-twiddling will be particularly productive. People just don't care. As I said, if you want to be in a position to capitalize on Harper's undemocratic tendencies, or even prevent them, you need to provide a compelling alternative. And it isn't prorogation indignation that will get us there.

Mala Fides said...

The "long game"???

No kidding!!!

Where the hell has the "long game" been for the past 3 years, or for the past year for that matter?

This is ridiculous!

I think we (Liberals) have to acknowledge that the current "leadership" (and I'm not just pointing one finger here) is done.

Forget band aid solutions.

Forget "Thinkers" conferences.

Forget a tour of universities.

What we need is a mass resignation of our party's leadership . . . All of them.

They have failed and they do not know how to bring it back together.

This is obvious and no amount of blogging or the release of "talking points" is going to fill the deep hole that now occupies the space where the Liberal Party of Canada used to exist.

The grassroots are disaffected.

Fundraising has stalled.

The Liberals have had no narrative for themselves or against the Conservatives for 5 years.

There is a major disconnect between the Party brass, the electorate and the party faithful.

After watching first the Martinites, and now the Ignatieff supporters weasel and worm themselves into power, I am disgusted by the absolute absence of leadership.

Sickened by the vacuum of principles, ideas, energy, or real concern for what is actually at stake.

We are not a serious nation.

We are not a serious party.

I agree with you Jeff, it is hard to care anymore.

It is hard to care for the Liberal Party when it is quite clear that they don't give a $#!± about us and they don't care about making real decisions, based on real long term planning.

This is what we get for putting our faith in a guy who in a dozen different books simply makes observations and doesn't draw any conclusions.

This is what we get for allowing someone completely disconnected with Canada and the lives real Canadians to ride into town and assume his entitlement position, without having had to first share in our collective plights and passions.

In fact Jeff, I am going to make it my New Year's resolution to not care anymore.

P.S. And for God's sake, get that blustering, blathering, useless sack of hot air, Ralph Goodale, off of my TV!!! His indignation and rhetoric do not resonate with Canadians or even with most Liberals for that matter. Maybe when he has helped elect another MP from Saskatchewan, he can justify his right to irritate me again.

Ti-Guy said...

So let's stop whining, get to work and play the long game here.

Look, you do what you think is necessary and let the rest of us be passionate about the things we care about and that are truly important. Which, in my case, is certainly not some stupid and expensive sport extravaganza.

Mala Fides said...

Your passion must be for losing if you are defending what is and has been happening to the Liberal Party.

Nice non sequitur though.

Jeff said...


I think the "toss out the leadership at the first sign of trouble" mentality that has come to pervade the LPC over the lest decade or so is part of the problem. It's time to put a good plan in place, stick to it, and give it time to work.

I just wish I knew what the plan was.


By all means be as passionate as you want about whatever you want to. My point is just that, if our goal is to replace Harper and/or see a behaviour change toward a government more respectful of the will of parliament and the people, we need to be smart about it. And as wrong as I think proroguing is, I don't think focusing on that issue is going to get us where we need to be. We can revel in our certainly righteous anger, or we can do something about it.

CanadianSense said...

Great post.

Stop blaming the CPC for having learned invaluable lessons from Jean Chretien.

MI on Jan 31, 2009 Budget Vote

"Trudeau said MPs are nobodies 50 yards off Parliament Hill. This guy [Ignatieff ] wants to make us nobodies on Parliament Hill. It's outrageous, and he's heading toward a mutiny in six to eight months unless he's high in the polls," he said.

Read more:

The house was to re-open at the end of January.

It looks like the CPC has given the coalition parties two extra months to get their act together.

Jeff is bang on again in asking the opposition parties to get their act together to defeat this government.

Thanks Jeff great post in recognition most voters are NOT paying attention or care about the Ottawa Bubble's latest machinations.

Will you be helping Rossi on his campaign?

MississaugaPeter said...

Last spring, in the Parliamentary Cafeteria, to 2 sitting MPs I predicted:

1. Harper would prorogue Parliament until after the Olympics.
2. Canada would win it's first Olympic gold medal on home soil, and the most medals overall.
3. An election would be called immediately after the Olympics.

NOTE: YOU CAN WIN ELECTIONS AFTER PROROGUE - Just ask BC premier Gordon Campbell who prorogued the provincial legislation last year (no fall sitting) and got a majority in the spring.

NOTE: MORE CONSERVATIVE PHOTO OP HEAVEN - Expect Harper and every Conservative candidate to congratulate not only every medal winner from every region of Canada, but every athlete (even if they did not reach the podium) from every region of Canada. Harper's clan with the Gretzky clan.

NOTE: POISON PILL BUDGET - Harper will put in the budget elimination of public funding of the political process, a vote-getter if I ever saw one, and let the other three parties try to justify during an election how in a period of austerity that public funding of polticians is a good idea.

No March Ideas Conference for a Few. It should be moved to February for the Many. USE THE FRIGGIN INTERNET! So any good ideas can be implemented into the Liberal platform

Frankly Canadian said...

Good post Jeff, I agree that Canadians don’t really care about the details of how the country is ran, as long as the governing party remotely resembles doing an adequate job. This government has gone from one fiasco to the next without any lasting damage to their image (that being, sound conservative managers). Nothing seems to stick to these guys, partially because our media is too focused on the next top story, and the fact that our media is more fixated on stories like M.J’s death and Tiger’s infidelity. I think what frustrates me most is the fact that the media will not be holding Steven Harper accountable for this and for the cover up regarding the Afghanistan detainee’s , the same way they were left un accountable for the Isotopes crisis and the whole Linda Keen affair, or the “Action Plan” pork barrelling, a guy could list these things all day long. Bottom line Jeff, your right, Canadians could care less about this and Harper knows it. The predictions that each of his M.P.’s will be going back to their constituencies to ready themselves for an election, I believe is spot on. Harper will continue to use every and any means possible to gain his majority. Michael Ignatieff would be smart to continue his university and college tours to build his momentum and to polish his public speaking, while finding out exactly which issues resonate the loudest with Canadians. I also think Mr. Ignatieff should avoid falling into Harpers trap, Canadians do not want another election, Ignatieff just found that out and it cost him dearly in the polls.
P.S. I haven’t commented on your blog for a while, but man you attract a lot of trolls.

Frankly Canadian said...

Another thing I wanted to add to the comment section has to do with the whole what is our vission thing, I think our vission is that we want our Canada back, the true world leader in democracy that it was before Harper and his band of hypocrites took hold.

Igby Mac said...

LIBERAL Iggy can never convince enough Canadians that he is not a latent foreigner. Buttress that shaky backdrop with his academia drivel supporting torture and you have a losing concoction no matter how you shake it.

Of course, NDP Layton comes across as a man ready to glom onto power any possible way he can, his principles be damned. This does not bode well for Mr Layton.

GREEN May, I consider a little too academic for our society's challenged attention span. As long as the electorate is satisfied with a 'sexy' sound bite from an attractive talking head, May is going to, rather unfortunately, struggle.

So, we are now down to BLOC Gilles Duceppe, probably the best leader of the lot, but a Quebec nationalist which has, until today, frightened a lot of Canadians.

I suggest 'as of today' because Harper has made himself henceforth virtually unelectable, and a petty politician who does not give a damn about the people. Canadians, coast to coast to coast, are beginning to rethink whether they want to be tied to a political system where geographically over half the nation is irrelevant.

This irrelevance was driven home today, perhaps like never before, with this self-serving proroguement of Parliament by the CONSERVATIVES.

Maybe Quebec has had it correct all along? Maybe it is time to become more geographically centralized and to get federal leader/s that truly desire to be accountable to the voters. At this juncture accountability 'only in appearance' would be an improvement. It is hard to imagine how Stephen Harper has become oblivious to the basic political tenet where one operates a democratic government that at least pretends to care, but it is going to be his undoing.

Perhaps Canadians are taking stock. Duceppe may bring Canada to its division, but maybe that isn't as bad as we all once wanted to believe. We will know soon enough.

The wild-card in this game, however, is if Bob Rae took the reigns of the LIBERAL leadership. To swing back to the left enough to counter Harper's democratic-irreverence style of rule, and without going full swing to where the nation divides, Rae may offer the Canadian public a viable alternative.

Whatever happens, and for the good of Canada, the under-parties must get their game on.

On an aside, this latest turn of events may act to stem the tide of voter disenfranchisement and a turnout exceeding 60% if quite possible.


The Mound of Sound said...

Jeff, no one is talking about throwing out the leadership "at the first sign of trouble." That happened over the last Christmas prorogue when Ignatieff chose to write a book about the Grant family rather than preparing to meet Harper's 'stimulus' proposal when Parliament returned. This past, miserable year has been a succession of "signs of trouble" in Mr. Ignatieff's leadership. The opposition dances now whenever Harper pulls their strings.

Michael Ignatieff is a highly-educated, highly accomplished man but that's no substitute for acute political instincts when you're leading a party. Harper keeps willing on sheer political instinct and he'll keep winning unless we match him - or unless he eventually cuts his own throat.

Jeff said...


Not to disagree with you when you're largely agreeing with me, but I think the Chretien parallel you draw is false. Prorogation (or whatever the correct form of the word is) is not in itself inherently bad. But doing it to avoid imminent defeat (last year) or scrutiny by committees and the expressed will of the house to turn over documents (this year) is wrong.

Now, I don't think that's a distinction Canadians would particularly sit down and listen to, so I don't think it's a field worth dying on. But poli-nerds like you and I can surely acknowledge the distinction.


Things would have to change dramatically for the Cons forcing a spring election to make sense. First, even when the Liberals cratered (they've been coming slowly back) he was shy of majority territory. He has a strong minority now, so he isn't going to go if he can't get the majority. And his current numbers have benefited from the "dont' want an election bump." If he's tagged with forcing it, his numbers could well take a hit. It would be recoverable certainly in the campaign, but it would be starting behind the 8-ball. So I don't think I see it. Time will tell.

Mos, I don't think I've been silent expressing my displeasure with many of the decisions of Ignatieff et al. I've also agreed with many. And I've also regularly said many of our problems go deeper, beyond leadership.

Let's look at where we're at though. Yes, this proroguing is bad. But what are we to do about it? We have very little leverage here except to vote non-confidence in March on the budget or throne speech. That would force an election which Canadians dont' want and which we would most likely lose, ensuring either a Conservative majority or another Conservative minority. Not a positive outcome.

I'm saying we need to stop the narrow focus on the tactical that has prevailed under both Ignatieff and Dion, and think long-term. Don't let Harper draw us into a battle we can't win.

Instead, take the time to finally get our shit together and get to a place where we're ready to take the bully on and maybe even win.

We could go down in glorious defeat. I'd rather beat this guy.

CanadianSense said...


We are talking about 28 sitting days. The media and poli-nerds may want to refer to our PM as a dictator, despot, war criminal for using his office and the tools to move his Agenda.

The next general election will certify his decision(s).

"Poli-nerds" are not in tune with the majority who think all politics is a cesspool.

Outside the poli-nerd universe, this stuff does not resonate.

JC and SH were both effective in leading and being rewarded at the Polls.

The CPC did not defeat JC, the Liberals defeated JC.

Bill Clinton, GWB both served two terms. Strong leaders bring out the best in the angry opponents.

Each leader is responsible for their decisions and the results.

MississaugaPeter said...


The euphoria/nationalism of the Olympics will be to the Conservative Photo Opportunity advantage.

I hope I am wrong, but I expect the Conservatives will get a bump, may be up to 41%-42%, real majority territory.

I also would be very surprised if during the Gold Medal hockey game, that the Conservatives do not run new Partisan ads.

Harper will try to focus/sidetrack the electorate the same way that McGuinty's team did by averting attention on their record of promises and successfully drawing complete attention to Tory's private school promises.

Harper needs to get a majority before he starts to dismantle the federal government. He will force an election (via poison pill budget) in the first week of March.

Yappa said...

Very interesting post (I was glad to see it got in the NP) and very interesting discussion.

We all agree that the prorogation was wrong. The issue of whether we should keep hammering on it is one of politics: will it resonate with Canadians? According to the latest polls (as analysed by that 308 site), there is a slightly encouraging sign: Cons are going down and Liberals are going up. That might signal a good time to go on the attack, and this might be an effective issue.

Rather than whining, we might find a more effective way to use this. Turn the tables on their own slogans: they are shunning transparency, wasting money, etc. Do we have enough money to launch an ad campaign? Everyone who is concerned about this should be donating money now.

There's also a humorous element. I like National Newswatch's tweet: "Olympic Games shut down Canada's Parliament."