Monday, March 01, 2010

1873 Liberals First Formed Government Because Conservatives Abused Prorogation


Where Conservatives have a tradition of proroguing to abuse democracy, Liberals have a tradition of standing up for it.

Prorogation: History Made And History Making

Michael Ignatieff should return to where the Liberal Party began, standing up for democracy and fighting the abuse of prorogation.

For it was Alexander McKenzie who became Canada's second Prime Minister and its first Liberal leader after John A. MacDonald resigned as a result of his undemocratic suspension of Parliament that sought to avoid the investigation into the Pacific scandal. In McKenzie's footsteps, Michael Ignatieff should tread, to stand up for democracy, and against Stephen Harper.

In presenting a motion on the eve of MacDonald's notorious prorogation in 1873 McKenzie's words rung true within the walls of the House of Commons just as they would today:

"This House will regard so highly reprehensible any person who may presume to advise His Excellency to prorogue Parliament, before it shall have had an opportunity to take action in the premises, inasmuch as such prorogation would render abortive all the steps taken up to the present time, would inflict an unprecedented indignity on Parliament, and produce great dissatisfaction in the country." (For the full text of this motion see below)
Alexander McKenzie presented that motion to great applause and in fighting against a tyrannical Prime Minister was rewarded our country's highest office. Michael Ignatieff should not just take heed of this pivotal moment in Liberal and Canadian history, but should also take heed of what is right, standing up for democracy.


MacDonald & Harper Abusing Democracy

The reason why Alexander McKenzie's stand against MacDonald is relevant to Michael Ignatieff today is that the prorogation of 1873 is remarkably similar to Stephen Harper's, and both stand out as the most blatant abuses of power in Canadian history.

Prorogation though it is a normal parliamentary procedure, out of all of its past uses, its only been abused by two Prime Ministers, John A. MacDonald and Stephen Harper. For where our leaders usually prorogue to start a new agenda, these two extraordinary men have used it to stop investigations into their governments.

On August 13 1873 John A. MacDonald asked the Governor General Lord Dufferin to prorogue Parliament to prevent a Parliamentary Committee from investigating the Pacific Scandal, a scandal that involved the governing Conservative Party taking bribes and colluding with the Canadian Pacific Railway.

On December 30 2009 Stephen Harper asked the Governor General Michelle Jean to prorogue Parliament to prevent a Parliamentary Committee from investigating into the Afghan detainee abuse scandal, a current scandal that involves the governing Conservative Party and allegations of possible war crimes.

Both Prime Ministers sought prorogation in order to be able to control the investigation when Parliament returned.


Alexander McKenzie Standing Up

In reviewing old articles from the Globe, a forerunner to the Globe and Mail, it is interesting to observe the similarities between MacDonald's and Harper's prorogations. Indeed if one was to replace the Pacific Scandal with the Afghan detainee abuse scandal, among making other slight alterations, these old articles could easily grace the covers of newspapers once more.

From the Globe on August 13 1873 (See red highlighted sections in image to the right):
"[Prorogation] would be quite satisfactory, if it were not possible to see that postponement to a future session might, while still giving Parliament the right then to take action [at the first available moment], deprive it of some of the most valuable means of prosecuting the enquiry besides in itself being a very high-handed proceeding.

At ten o'clock to-morrow morning a caucus will be held by the Opposition, when a plan of action will be definitely determined upon. Whether this will assume the form of a vigrous protest on the part of who may desire to see the enquiry prosecuted forthwith, or of a decision with respect to ulterior proceedings, is of course yet to be determined."

"The disgust and indignation of not a few old supporters of the Government at the shifts and expedients to which they have resorted to avoid investigation are expressed in a very pointed and significant manner.

The fact that the celebrated Starnes packet will be released from the control of the House the moment the latter is prorogued, is one very good reason for the anxiety of the Ministry to counsel prorogation, if another reason against simple adjournment were not to be found in the fact that a motion to adjourn would leave the door open for the much dreaded discussion. "
From the Globe on August 14 1873:
"A caucus attended by nearly 90 members of the House of Commons and several Senators assembled in the Railway Company's rooms to deliberate on the course to be taken to prevent, if possible, the threatened prorogation of Parliament without allowing the House of Commons an opportunity of providing for carrying on the enquiry into the charges made against the Administration.

Hon. A. Mackenzie presided.

The following memorial was unanimously adopted amid loud cheering:-
"That although the House has appointed a Commission to enquire into the said charges, the proceedings of the Committee have, on various grounds, been postponed, and the enquiry has not taken place; that the honour of the country imperatively requires that no further delay should take place in the investigation of charges so grave a character, which it is the duty and undoubted right and privilege of the Commons to prevent.

The undersigned are deeply impressed with the conviction that any attempt to postpone the enquiry, or remove it from the jurisdiction of the Commons, will create the most intense dissatisfaction, and therefore pray your Excellency not to prorogue Parliament till the House of Commons shall have had an opportunity of taking such steps as it may deem necessary and expedient with reference to this important matter."

(The motion presented by the Liberal Leader Alexander McKenzie)"That this House during the present session ordered an enquiry by a Committee of its own into certain grave charges in connection with the granting of the charter and contract for the construction of the Pacific Railway, which if true, seriously affect the official honour and integrity of His Excellency's constitutional advisers, and the privileges and independence of Parliament; that the investigation thus ordered has so far not been proceeded with owing to circumstances not anticipated when the enquiry was ordered and that it is the imperative of this House at the earliest moment to take such steps as will secure a full Parliamentary enquiry; that constitutional usage requires that charges of corruption against Ministers of the Crown should be investigated by Parliament, and the assumption of that duty by any tribunal created by the Executive would be a flagrant violation of the privileges of this House, and that this House will regard so highly reprehensible any person who may presume to advise His Excellency to prorogue Parliament, before it shall have had an opportunity to take action in the premises, inasmuch as such prorogation would render abortive all the steps taken up to the present time, would inflict an unprecedented indignity on Parliament, and produce great dissatisfaction in the country."

The Difference Between MacDonald And Harper

Though both the MacDonald and Harper prorogations are similar, their consequences are so far strikingly different. For MacDonald, after his abuse of prorogation, with pressure from the opposition, the media, and his conscience, resigned; Harper on the otherhand, after his abuse of prorogation, with little pressure from the opposition and no media or conscience to speak of, currently remains in office.

2 comments:

Eugene Forsey Liberal said...

Maybe the best Canadian political blog post I've ever read.

RuralSandi said...

Excellent, well done.

Perhaps you should send your blog to someone like Macleans or even a paper that lots of people read. Hey, send it to Kady O'Malley and/or Susan Delacourt.

At least they ask questions and hae some interest in facts.