10.17.2012 09:25 AM

Blissful on proroguing, free of charge

Last night, I did something I don’t do often, which was watch TV.  The presidential debate was coming on, so there I was, trying to remember how to use the clicker thing.  It’d been a while.

Anyway, Professor Michael Bliss flashed up on the screen, alongside my brother Jim Watson.  Bliss was fulminating about Dalton McGuinty’s request to the Lieutenant-Governor to prorogue the Legislature.  Jim looked bored by Bliss, and who can blame him.

I didn’t throw anything at the screen, but – listening to Bliss – I sure wanted to.  In the distant reaches of my rather small cranium, I remembered Bliss saying something entirely different when Stephen Harper did it.  So I researched, and found, his quote.  Then I found lots of other peoples’ quotes (some of whom haven’t said anything about the current debate in Ontario, per se, but are people who are widely read and therefore influential).  Here they are, free of charge, and for your entertainment.

  • “It’s a tempest in a teapot, and the opposition parties are trying to keep it boiling.” – Michael Bliss, Globe and Mail, January 29, 2010
  • “It makes sense to prorogue.” – John Ivison, National Post, December 10, 2010
  • “It is ordinarily a perfectly legitimate exercise of his authority for a prime minister to prorogue.” – Andrew Coyne, Maclean’s, October 18, 2010
  • “Proroguing can be a legitimate tool. When a government has achieved the bulk of its agenda and wishes to begin again, it makes sense to wipe the slate clean and start over.” – Editorial board, Globe and Mail, February 5, 2010
  • “History has shown that there’s often good reason to prorogue after only a year or for longer than a month.” – Constitutional expert Ned Franks, January 26, 2010
  •  “Despite the universal outrage of the media, I get the sense that most Canadians wouldn’t mind if Parliament scarcely met at all. Do you blame them?” – Margaret Wente, Globe and Mail, January 12, 2010
  • “It is somewhat difficult to fathom the sudden, albeit localized, hyperventilation over Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s decision to prorogue Parliament.” – Jeff Simpson, Globe and Mail, January 9, 2010
  • “Public interest in the [prorogue] issue is thin and fleeting.” – National Post editorial board, January 9, 2010


  1. Tiger says:

    Strategic prorogations are either okay or they aren’t.

    So if Harper’s were fine, so is McGuinty’s.

    Alternatively, if Harper’s were an affront to democracy, so is McGuinty’s.

    [Me, I think both are fine.]

  2. Ronald O'Dowd says:


    When Harper did his multiple proroguing, we tried to scream to bloody blazes hoping it would stick to his government. We went all a frenzy and it did not take.

    Sooo…expect the same thing regarding McGuinty’s prorogation — a lot of smoke and either false or righteous indignation but nothing of substance actually coming out of the commotion.

    • Eric Weiss says:

      Exactly. The only people who care about these manouvers are the partisans bleeting about it in the media and on message boards. It doesn’t interest the public in the least. Doesn’t matter who does it.

  3. Eric Weiss says:

    Yeah!!!! Everyone knows proroguing is only wrong when Harper does it!!!!!

  4. David I. says:

    Michael Bliss is a CPC hypocrite, always finding reasons to justify anything the Conservatives will do. Nothing has changed in the past 30 years. Why are these old, tire, johnny-one-note academics pulled out by the networks?

  5. Steven Lloyd says:

    If you want to pick on the hypocracy of Bliss and Wente (and even the National Post) then feel free. But you are making a number of selective quotations here and the full quotes are not so great for the Liberals.

    The full quotes:

    ” Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s political calculation to prorogue Parliament was contemptuous of democracy and profoundly disrespectful to Canadians…Proroguing can be a legitimate tool. When a government has achieved the bulk of its agenda and wishes to begin again, it makes sense to wipe the slate clean and start over. And yet Mr. Harper’s two uses of this manoeuvre fell far short of that mark. Rather, prorogation was becoming a way for Mr. Harper’s minority government to short-circuit the legitimate powers of Parliament to its own advantage.”

    “It is ordinarily a perfectly legitimate exercise of his authority for a prime minister to prorogue, but the circumstances in which Stephen Harper sought to do so then—so soon after the House had returned, and in the shadow of an approaching confidence vote he seemed sure to lose—were far from ordinary”

    Franks was not keen on the Liberal proposals, which he found unnecessarily complicated. He said history has shown that there’s often good reason to prorogue after only a year or for longer than a month. He preferred the NDP’s more straightforward proposal.[to require the prime minister to seek majority approval of the Commons before proroguing at any time]

    Liberal House leader Ralph Goodale suggests the Conservatives’ move “borders on despotic behaviour,” and the Liberals will be on hand to make that case to anyone willing to listen…Voters may say that they oppose Mr. Harper’s decision to prorogue Parliament — if a pollster calls them at home and puts the question to them. And some youths may even put up Facebook pages denouncing the Tory tactic. But public interest in the issue is thin and fleeting.

    • Warren says:

      Sorry, but what quote isn’t selective? We don’t publish transcripts of entire conversations, and neither do you.

      The point is simply that it’s all a classic case of confirmation bias. People favour what favours their side.

      • tfalcone86 says:


      • Steven Lloyd says:

        For the record, I am one of the few (only?) New Democrats that defended the right of Harper to prorogue parliament. I likewise defend McGuinty’s right to do so. It is a political question (i.e. a question for voters) about whether or not it is an acceptable use of power, but it is a legal and constitutionaly valid use of power.

        I will say the same thing about McGunity’s decision as I did about Harper’s. I think it is a poor decision and I think the voters of the respective electorates SHOULD disagree with the decisions.

      • Michael says:

        Er, all quotes are selective, but you can always choose a quote that doesn’t misrepresent the whole. Andrew Coyne got so pissed at prorogation that he called for Parliament to meet independent of the Crown in a nearby tennis court and assert its supremacy.

        When you have -Andrew Coyne- speaking warmly of things out of the -French Revolution- you know someone’s pissed. So it’s a little odd to imply that he thinks that prorogration to avoid scrutiny is no big deal.

    • Kev says:

      Totally agree, particularly with Franks since his analysis was more than just the quip provided here.

      As well, Coyne’s phrase needs more to it. Here is the rest of the sentence WK left off: “It is ordinarily a perfectly legitimate exercise of his authority for a prime minister to prorogue, but the circumstances in which Stephen Harper sought to do so then—so soon after the House had returned, and in the shadow of an approaching confidence vote he seemed sure to lose—were far from ordinary.”

  6. Billy boy says:

    ““Canadians suspect that Stephen Harper has far less of an attachment to democracy than they do. Thus, when he messes with democracy participation — as with the census, or prorogation, and now the 2011 election itself — they become very angry with him. Is Harper doomed? Not by a long shot. But, as a longtime Conservative staffer said to me last week: “This thing is going to get very ugly. And it’s going to hurt Harper, whether he believes it or not.” YOU

    You know that prorogation can be an affront democracy, but you do it anyway because you saw Harper get away with it. McGuinty scored well borrowing from Harper’s playbook. There may well be times when proroguing is justified but “rancour”, “prerogative”, unwillingness to face ugly questions are not among good reasons to shut down legislature for 6 months

    “The “rancour” that Premier McGuinty is so dismissive of is an essential dynamic of public accountability within our democratic system, which sees partisan politics – institutionalized adversarialism – as the best means of securing democracy.” Mark Jarvis, Macleans, Oct. 16, 2012

    • Campbell says:

      Correct me if I am wrong please Warren, but I believe that acknowledging the effectiveness of the right wing’s tactics and using them against the rightwing is one of thth main themes of Fight the Right

  7. tfalcone86 says:

    The legislature was at a deadlock on a very important budgetary issue. Moreover the Opposition has given no indication they support the government in the effort to reign in public sector wages. It makes sense that on such an important budgetary issue the government would prorogue and pursue its own solutions.

    All the other crap aside, eliminating this deficit is the most important thing no the agenda. The government is the only Party walking the walk on it.

    • GFMD says:

      For the record I think Dalton’s pro-rogue can be criticized but Harper’s was worse.

      but on the specific issue you describe, the proper recourse is an election not a pro-rogue.

  8. billg says:

    Dan F, there’s the problem. When my guy does its in the best interests of the people, when your guy does it its not. And, where did you read Dalton was giving up power? He’s still the Premier and will be for another 6 to 8 months and thats what has people upset….he will remain the Premier of Ontario and will basically not have to answer a question from either Oppositon partys until a new leader is elected. If your good with that fine, but, you also have to be good with it when it happens to you.

    • blueblood says:

      billg- you do have a point. Although, there still is a difference. Harper’s still looked more desperate.

      The biggest problem with McGuinty is that it looks like he skirting the legislature to save Bentley, and his own skin. The party might no choose a new leader until spring and the legislature will be shu down all winter long. That’s a long time to be out for a gov’t that just got elected year ago.

      I’m sure if McGuinty told people that he was going to step down in a year during the election- things would have turned out different.

      What irks me is mhy did Onley and Jean allow both prorogation’s to occur.

      Both of them could have and should have asked the oppo to form and they did not.

      I’m suspect of the system at this point. Are the gov. gen and the lt. Gov. in cahoots?

    • GFMD says:

      I have to admit, had harper given up power in 2008 I might have viewed the pro-rogue thing differently.

  9. Jonathan Giggs says:

    I didn’t like it then, don’t like it now.

  10. Glen says:

    Typical partisan response.

    You leave out the most important part: Why is he leaving, giving up power voluntarily right at this moment? You know, and so do the rest of us non-partisan smart political observers.

    Harper was desperate. McGuinty is desperate.

  11. J.W. (WB) says:

    As I’ve said McGuinty prorogued because it would be absurd for him to trust Hudak not to try and engineer, with Horwath’s help and the absence of campaigning Liberals from the house, an early defeat which would force him on the campaign trail again. I just can’t believe that commentors are so naive to think Hudak would not try to defeat the Government before the new leader was chosen.

  12. James Hanna says:

    There is a significant difference with the Ontario prorogation which is that McGuinty resigned, and therefore ended his legislative agenda. It would be absurd to continue legislating, when a new leader will be chosen and will then bring down his or her own throne speech. This is what prorogations are for. And given the minority situation, leaving the OLP leaderless and courting a non-confidence vote and election – that’s irresponsible.

    That he timed it to shut down or stall an inquiry – key word is stall. It doesn’t end it. And he is leaving. As someone else said, if Harper did that after his second progrogation, there would have been much less outroar.

    In the two Harper progrogatoins, what stands out is that the legislative agenda as laid out in his throne speechs were still well underway; it was purely a political manouever. But still, so what. I will say I would have liked the coalition to succeed, but the fact is that by the time the prorogation came down, the Liberals and NDP were losing and Harper succeeded in delegitimizing it. Harper avoided a non-confidence vote in December but nothing stopped the opposition from bringing down the goverment in the subsequent throne speech; all it did was buy time. The second prorogation, again, seems to me even less legitimate, but it didn’t shut down the F35 inquiry, only delayed it. And less legitimate, because there was no legislative reason for doing so.

    Personally if a PM wanted to limit a parliamentary session to dealing with number of key priorities, and outline them in a throne speech, who cares if he wants to hit that reset 2-3 times in the course of a Parliament?

    The current prorogation in Ontario makes perfect sense given McGuinty’s resignation. That it is timed with the legislative inquiry into the power plant decisions, amongst other things, is convenient, I’ll give you that. But there will be a new leader with a new throne speech, and I don’t think it will be in 6-8 months – hopefully the OLP will restore some sanity to these things (1968 Liberal leadership, from Pearson resignation to result, – barely over 100 days. And they didn’t have the technology we have now. Why does it take more time now just to come up with the rules for a leadership…). So once the new leader is back in, the inquiry will continue. If you like, claim a victory in driving him out; go ahead. Dog him with it if her runs for the federal leadership. But don’t give him grief over a prorogation.

    • J.W. (WB) says:

      What an excellent post. You sure said it a lot better than I did about 10 times in different variations on various posts..

      In short, what is it about “Yes I resign, you win” that you don’t understand? That includes so called university experts, big name media pundits,right wing newspapers, and scores of commentors.

  13. dave says:

    A part of the controversy on Conservative prorogue was the offer by opposition ot govern, and the subsequent fear campaign about the coalition of the separatists and the commies.

  14. Jon Evan says:

    And what did Kinsella say previously?
    “they want to avoid the scrutiny of government and it is undemocratic fundamentally and they will pay the price for it,”
    So you are still agin?

  15. Jason Hickman says:

    It was pointed out by someone in the press – if I could remember who, I’d attribute properly, but there’s been a fair bit written about this – that when Harper prorogued, there were at least fixed dates for when Parliament would come back. What’s more, Harper put himself out there in the subsequent election so that he as well as his government could be judged on prorogation (and everything else). Those appear to be a couple of differences in this case.

    Do those things matter? Depends on where you’re coming from, I guess.

  16. Kelly says:

    Most of the opinion writers in corporate media are paid to attack the Liberals and shill for the Cons. No surprises here. Phony outrage from the usual suspects. Problem is, their voices are so dominant that the casual mom and pop voter might hear this narrative enough to make a difference. Before so many people heard that it was OK for Harper to prorogue that “nobody” cared. Echo chambers have those effects on people. I mean Harper had a majority of Canadians believing that coalition governments are almost illegal when they are a fundamental part of a Westminster Parliamentary Democracy. The most popular government programs in this country came about because of cooperative coalition governments. If I recall correctly Harper even claimed that Canadians voted for him as PM when in fact 20-some thousand people in his riding voted for him to be their MP. We’re becoming a presidential system without the checks and balances — that can only end in tears.

  17. Bob Glynn says:

    I didnt care for Harper’s, and I dont care for this one either, but the BIG difference I see is that Harper didnt quit his job and do it to give the “party” time to re-tool and select a new leader. Either way, shameful, and goes a long way in telling the story about why most Canadians are turned off by partisan politics, spin doctors (sorry WK), etc. We wonder why voter turnout keeps reaching new lows.

  18. Mulletaur says:

    Ontario finds itself in exceptional circumstances. The leader of the governing party, the Premier, has resigned. Important issues regarding public service pay are unresolved in the face of a large operating deficit caused by a financial crisis over which Ontario had no control, and a consequent recession. Contract negotiations with major public sector unions are at an impasse. It’s in the interests of the province as a whole to have a short political breathing space that allows some of these outstanding issues to be resolved. If they are not resolved by the end of this time, the other parties will have their say, and eventually so will the electorate. Le gouvernement propose, l’électorat dispose.

  19. Dan says:

    And then we can find tons of Ontario Liberals who are suddenly singing a different tune about proroguing.

    Is it any surprise people are sick of the red vs blue?

  20. Robert K. says:

    Tell me your secret do do away with t.v.? I fear my family would mutiny.

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