Harper delays Parliament’s return to redirect attention to economy
Published on August 21, 2013
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has thrived by following the abridged axiom: “if it gets too hot in the House, prorogue Parliament.” It has worked well in previous cases of threatened coalitions and heated questioning in the House of Commons. No one should be surprised the PM has chosen the same course this week.
Why not delay facing his critics by another four to five weeks while he fine tunes a new economic plan to distract Canadians from the Senate scandals and get their attention back on jobs and the economy, a trump card he has played so well the past two elections. Whether it work this time remains to be determined.
While making his annual trek through Canada’s north this week, Mr. Harper confirmed he intends to prorogue what has been a disastrous session of Parliament for his Conservative government, a session largely derailed by the scandal over Senate expenses.
It’s a guarantee that Mr. Harper will still face a barrage of questions about those expenses. But the new session will also give him an opportunity to lay out a fresh legislative agenda, concentrating on economic issues which he hopes will steer the Conservatives to victory in the fall of 2015.
The optics are obvious and they are all wrong for the PM. His decision fools no one. Proroguing also kills a number of pieces of legislation. Is it simply irony or part of the overall strategy that Senate reform legislation is just one of the bills that will die on the order paper? The bill would set nine-year term limits for senators and create a mechanism for elections to the upper chamber.
But this stalling tactic to delay a return to fiery Commons question periods is the smart, political move. Who knows what other contentious issue, either nationally or internationally, might arise by late October that could push the Senate scandal off the front pages. It makes little sense to meet NDP, Liberal and Green MPs any earlier than necessary. The PM is a master at the game of playing politics.
The prime minister has used prorogation very effectively in his career. In December 2008, it saved his government from a looming defeat at the hands of a dubious Liberal, NDP and Parti Quebecois coalition, an alliance desperate for power. He prorogued again the following year, halting heated House of Commons committee hearings into the treatment of Afghan detainees.
So Canadians will see a new throne speech in October that will finish off some old business of course, but more importantly set out a new direction for the country towards the end of this decade.
Mr. Harper has already tested the central theme of the next election, attacking other party leaders who have “vacuous minds” and featuring out of control, hire and spend agendas. But he can also expect repeated question about his own good judgment concerning an ill-advised decision to appoint 18 senators, many with dubious credentials, in December 2008 with his government facing defeat and his own future in doubt. That class of 2008 included Pamela Wallin, Patrick Brazeau and Michael Duffy.
So, while NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair thunders a barrage of criticism this week about a desperate government worn out by ethical scandals and mismanagement, and Deputy Liberal leader Ralph Goodale suggests that Mr. Harper is trying to avoid answering questions about his former chief of staff’s $90,000 cheque to Sen. Duffy, the prime minister is nonchalantly posing for photo ops with polar bears, far from the madding crowd.