House of Commons limits power of PM to prorogue

On March 17th, a milestone was reached in Parliament which puts power back in the hands of our elected officials, and by extension, back in the hands of the Canadians who elect them. An opposition motion, tabled by NDP leader Jack Layton, and supported by all opposition parties, limits the Prime Minister’s ability to prorogue parliament to just seven days without the permission of the House of Commons.

This motion should help restore government accountability, something that Prime Minister Harper has campaigned on during elections, but has consistently failed to deliver. When the Prime Minister was in opposition, he said that any prime minister had the moral obligation to respect the will of the majority of the House of Commons. The New Democrat motion that was adopted gives the House of Commons the power to decide whether or not a long-term prorogation is warranted and limits the power of the Prime Minister to use the tactic whenever he sees fit.

Amazingly, the government may choose to ignore the will of the House. During Question Period, the following day, the Prime Minister continuously dodged questions about whether he would enact parliament’s decision to limit this power.

Canadians deserve a government that is held to a higher standard. Not one that uses prorogation to get out of tight spots. We elect a parliament, not a president or a king.

Perhaps Jack Layton said it best: “In our democracy, the people are in charge. Our Prime Minister appears to have forgotten about that. Their elected Parliament answers to Canadians and the Prime Minister answers to Parliament. It is not the other way around.”

No one disagrees that there are times when prorogation can be used appropriately. It is an important part of parliamentary democracy and is usually used when a parliamentary sitting has reached the end of its legislative agenda and needs to set a new one.

During the last two prorogations, hundreds of thousands of Canadians voiced their concerns on this issue. Members of Parliament continue to receive comments and concerns about prorogation and the need to limit the power of the Prime Minister’s office.

New Democrats were listening and brought this concern to the House at the first available opportunity. The motion that was adopted is certainly a step in the right direction for making parliament work and forces the government to be more accountable. It reinforces the principle that government must work for the people, not the other way around. We now have to wait and see if the government will choose to respect the will of the House.