Prorogation back on national agenda

Opposition parties, grassroots seek to limit PM’s power to prorogue

Devin Johnston, a third-year law student and NDP political blogger, believes the Standing Orders of Parliament in regard to prorogation need to be amended.

The nationwide uproar may be over, but the Liberal Party of Canada, the NDP and several grassroots organizations are still lobbying the federal government to limit the prime minister’s power to prorogue Parliament.

“Our meetings continue not only because of our dedication to Canadian democracy, but also because of the friendships that have been created [through the organization],” said Greg Furmaniuk in an e-mail.

Furmaniuk is a member of the Winnipeg chapter of Canadians Against Proroguing Parliament (CAPP), a largely Internet-based movement against Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s decision to prorogue Parliament until after the Winter Olympics.

The Winnipeg chapter of CAPP organized a large rally that took place outside the Manitoba legislature on Jan. 23, the day Parliament was originally set to resume. The rallies were organized across the country through Facebook groups as well as over, a website created to facilitate a national network of local chapters to organize and protest.

“The rallies [against prorogation] accomplished a realization among people that they do have a place within the political system between elections,” said Colin Carmichael, creator of

CAPP’s Winnipeg chapter is made up of everyone from young students to concerned seniors. The group meets every weekend at Cousin’s Deli on Sherbrook Street but is still unclear whether they will hold another rally on Wednesday, March 3, the day of the Conservative government’s throne speech.

The group does, however, approve measures to reduce executive power, including proposals by the federal LPC and NDP parties, said Furmaniuk.

The NDP plans to table a bill in the next session stipulating that the prime minister could only seek the dissolution of Parliament with the consent of the majority of the House of Commons. The Liberals have made similar proposals but rather than passing legislation that could be subject to constitutional scrutiny, they intend to amend the Standing Orders of Parliament, permanent written rules that regulate parliamentary procedure.

“I think it would be better to proceed with an amendment to the Standing Orders because it is unclear whether the House has the constitutional authority [through legislation] to limit the power to prorogue,” said Devin Johnston, a third-year law student and NDP political blogger.

The power to prorogue Parliament is technically the power of the Governor General and as such would require a constitutional amendment with unanimous provincial support to change or abolish.

Any proposal by opposition parties will pass as long as the party can demonstrate that the prime minister’s right to request prorogation is a routine procedural matter that does not interfere with the power of the Governor General, said Johnston. He added that any proposal is more likely to pass as a joint effort by the Liberals and NDP.

Although many in the anti-prorogation movement agree with the proposals, there are some who feel that the goals of the movement are too narrow and that wider democratic reforms are needed.

“People are all over the map right now, but as the issues begin to be sorted out it will come down to issues like our voting system,” said Larry Gordon, executive director of Fair Vote Canada, a national organization that lobbies for electoral reform. “The electoral system is the foundation of democracy and the fact that Canada does not have a modern voting system is appalling.”

To read more of the interview with Fair Vote Canada’s Larry Gordon, and other ruminations about Canadian politics, visit Ethan Cabel’s blog at

Published in Volume 64, Number 20 of The Uniter (February 25, 2010)

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