Opinion-Policy Nexus

As you can tell, I’ve been reading Peter Aucoin et al’s book, Democratizing the Constitution, over the summer and have really enjoyed it.  Like any good book, it provokes important discussion and debate.

One of the strengths of the book is its analysis of prorogation, a most welcome and timely analysis given the events in Canada over the last four years.

On page 224, they write:

“several prime ministers, in both minority and majority situations, have taken advantage of the prerogative power to prorogue the House of Commons in order to escape its scrutiny. To address this problem, we propose that prorogations of the House of Commons happen only with the consent of the House of Commons and, specifically, with the support of a supermajority of two-thirds of members. The supermajority is necessary to project the ability of the House to effectively scrutinize majority government even when it might be embarrassing or damaging to the government, because a simple majority threshold that would be effective during a minority government could be met with support from the governing party caucus alone.”

I think it’s worth considering giving Parliament an enhanced role in determining when a government can prorogue Parliament.  However, I’m not convinced that a prorogation vote should require a two-thirds majority vote in the House. If a non-confidence vote (and every other vote in the House) requires 50%+1 to be successful, then it seems logical that the same rule should apply to prorogation votes.

Still, the ideas in the book about prorogation are valuable contributions to public debate and should be read widely and discussed.


But isn't the idea that prorogation is being used as a tool to avoid political damage? The super-majority idea at least provides a superficial safeguard against that. Parliamentary rules shouldn't be able to be able to capitalized upon by one party just for the sake of optics.

Yes, but I think requiring a supermajority offends the idea and spirit of Parliament when all other votes in the House of Commons are 50+1.

If you accept that you need such a supermajority, then shouldn't you start requiring different thresholds for other types of "important" business as well?

Most other votes in the House of Commons have something to do with running the country... is there a point to proroguing parliament other than avoiding taking questions on a policy that you'd rather not talk about?

Given that it's a highly political move maybe it does require a special case. There are situations around the world that require a supermajority and it's not without precedent in Canada, given that it is implied in the Clarity Act, inre: referenda.

Is the preservation of the spirit of Parliament so necessary to defend that you allow people who *are* willing to break that spirit for their own political gains to do so? Isn't the integrity of the governmental process more important?


Tuesday, August 14, 2012 - 07:57