Monday, March 22, 2010

This month in The Bea... sorry, in Canada's History, cont'd.

I noted Douglas Hunter's lively article below. My own column this month is "A (pro) rogue's gallery" -- and I thank editor Mark for the title. I try to write mostly history, not current events, in that column, but I couldn't resist noting that the first time Canada's parliament was prorogued, it stayed out 327 days. And the second time, only the constitutional obligation that the house must meet once every twelve months brought them back a couple of days before the deadline.

But mostly, I'm working the theme that "if premiers and prime ministers knew that legislatures would rebuke them for abusing parliament, we would not have to worry about rogue prorogations." The problem is not in the laws or rules of procedure, it's in the reluctance of legislatures to control executives.

I'll put the piece up at my website shortly. Meanwhile I'm impressed by Reg Whittaker's recent opinion in the Toronto Star on a related subject.

We all seem to love and trust judges, so there seems to have been a good deal of acceptance of Prime Minister Harper's announcement that retired Supreme Court Justice Frank Iacobucci would mediate the cabinet's dispute with Parliament over the release of documents the legislature has demanded to see and the executive continues to keep secret. Well, that seems like the kind of thing judges could settle, doesn't it?

Reg Whittaker says no, very forcefully. The accountability of the executive to the legislature is a constitutional foundation stone, he observes. It's not a negotiable thing. It's not something to be determined by an outside referee, and in this matter Iacobucci is not even a court of law, but really only a private citizen hired by the executive to advise the executive. As Whittaker puts it:
Iacobucci has accepted a task which neither he nor any other person of however high repute and qualifications, has any business doing. Not the Prime Minister, nor the justice minister, nor a Supreme Court judge, can be the appropriate arbiter of what papers Parliament can order, and enforce release, from the executive.
He continues:
Besides wasting money, the Iacobucci ploy stands the fundamental notion of responsible government on its head. There can be no responsibility to Parliament when it is the executive that decides what Parliament can know.
The whole article is worth reading (thanks, Stephen for drawing my attention to it), but I think he's on the same idea as I was in my column. Remedies for these problems lie in the legislature, and in legislators.
Follow @CmedMoore