The most discussed topic to arise this week is the announcement that the House of Commons will be prorogued reconvening in October instead of mid September as the fixed Parliamentary calendar was set for. Prorogation is one of the more interesting and also misunderstood of all of the various procedures regarding parliamentary affairs. What is a “prorogation”? In essence each “session” of Parliament is not unlike a chapter in a book. Much as each chapter will have a beginning and an end, so too will a session of Parliament. Prorogation is officially defined as the ending of a session of Parliament. In this case the 1st session of the 41st Parliament will come to a close and when the House reconvenes in October there will be a throne-speech which is the Parliamentary tradition for opening a new session of Parliament as the Government outlines the direction and agenda of the coming session, that in this instance will be the second session of the 41st Parliament.
Although some will try to suggest that the Parliamentary act of prorogation is an unusual or uncommon one, in fact the opposite is true. Looking back at all 41 of our elected Parliaments and beginning with our first Parliament in 1867, there have only been five Parliaments that did not have two or more sessions. In fact many Parliaments had 3 or more sessions with some being as many as 5, 6 and even 7 sessions within the duration of an elected Parliament. To be fair, prior to the House of Common adopting a fixed calendar, the only way the House could adjourn was either by agreement of the larger parties, (something that rarely occurs even to this day) or by Proroguing the House. As we also know from more recent history, prorogation is not only used to allow for a throne speech and a new session within a Parliament, it can also be used by Government to avoid votes of confidence (obviously more common in a minority Government) or as was done recently in the Ontario Legislature, to make way for the governing party to choose a new leader- and thus a new Premier of the Governing party. It should also be noted that prorogation is a tool that can be used at the discretion of Government without the consent of the opposition (that would normally be required to adjourn the House).
There are also some misconceptions that exist about Prorogation, the most common is that all bills, in particular Private Members Bills, are in effect “killed” when a House prorogues. This is partially true in that if a Bill is not re-introduced into the House of Commons, it would then cease to exist on the order paper. However Bills that are re-introduced can be reinstated at the same stage of debate within the House that existed prior to prorogation, the only exception would be if a Bill was in the Senate and in these circumstances it reverts back to the House of Commons at third reading. The other misunderstanding that I have come across pertains to the role of Ministers, contrary to what has been suggested, Ministers maintain responsibilities and continue to preside over the portfolio in question during a period of prorogation no differently than during a session. Likewise for Members of Parliament, we continue to meet with constituents and work within our constituencies no differently than when the House is adjourned.
In spite of Prorogation being a very commonly used Parliamentary practice established over many decades in the House of Commons by Governments of all stripes, the opposition will understandably denounce this move. The most common allegation is that prorogation “avoids accountability”. I will answer this criticism in advance because the reality is that prorogation can only defer debate – it does not prevent debate from occurring once the House resumes. I should also add that it was our Government that moved to add an additional 20 hours of weekly debate for the end of the summer session– a move that was opposed by the Opposition.
Ultimately this decision by Government allows our Prime Minister to introduce and move ahead with a new policy agenda that will keep Canada strong. Although Canada already has the best job creation record in the entire G-7 we must not overlook the importance of jobs and those who are currently unemployed. I look forward to the second session of our 41st Parliament and the upcoming Speech from the Throne.
This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.