Democracy delayed

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Staff ~ The Cape Breton Post      Published on August 22, 2013

Prime Minister Stephen Harper makes a sound argument for proroguing Parliament. He says it’s a chance for his government to set out its agenda for the last half of its current mandate via a new throne speech.

Fair enough. But extending the parliamentary break by about a month in concert with prorogation is both unnecessary and undemocratic.

So far in 2013, the House of Commons sat for 75 days, between Jan. 28 and June 18, after which MPs started their three-month summer break.

They were due back in the House on Sept. 16, but now the prime minister says that parliamentarians won’t get their bums back in the House of Commons seats until October, reportedly after Thanksgiving, which lands in the middle of the month.

As NDP Leader Tom Mulcair noted, Harper could prorogue and restart Parliament with a throne speech on Sept. 16. There’s no need for an extended break.

In June, Mervyn Poole of North Sydney penned a letter to the editor criticizing the length of the House of Commons summer break. He wrote: "Three months is preposterous. A month seems ample to me."

In response, Sydney-Victoria MP Mark Eyking wrote that he would spend the break "attending meetings, festivals and community events, travelling hundreds of kilometres around Cape Breton and enjoying it. This gives me the opportunity to hear first-hand the constituents’ personal issues and community concerns to take back to Ottawa in September."

Eyking added: "I enjoy travelling and connecting with everyone throughout the summer. I guess you could say I am on a working vacation."

That wasn’t a surprising response coming from Eyking, who, like many politicians, isn’t known for his dynamic parliamentary speaking skills or for his mastery of policy matters. His advantage lies in being a strong constituency politician — attending as many community events, shaking as many hands, listening to as many complaints and appearing in as many photos as possible.

Constituency work is important. But Parliament exists for a reason.

After Harper prorogued Parliament in December 2009, Cape Breton Post political columnist David Johnson wrote a followup piece.

Johnston stated: "Canadians love to make fun of politicians and to lament the silly games and partisanship often found in Parliament, especially in question period. But such criticisms should never be seen as Canadians showing disrespect for the institution of Parliament, or laughing at the symbolism of Parliament.

"To most Canadians, Parliament is where the government works. Parliament is where our democratically elected representatives are supposed to serve us. Parliament is where Canadian democracy is enshrined."

By extending the current parliamentary break by another month, Harper can delay answering uncomfortable and potentially damaging questions about, for example, Sen. Pamela Wallin’s inappropriately claimed travel expenses, which, we learned Wednesday, total almost $139,000.

At the same time, the prime minister will delay democracy.

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