Read the transcript of this Point of View
The storm over prorogation – Mr. Harper’s decision to shut down Parliament – reveals a curious dynamic.
I can’t recall a period when the importance and dignity of Parliament has had quite so many defenders and advocates, and very cheering it is to see. Which leads to the thought that the House of Commons is never quite so popular…as when it’s closed. The great balladeer pundit Joni Mitchell was before me on this point when she hymned to the flower children so many years ago ---- that (in her words) “don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you got til it’s gone?”
There’s not an adult in the country who doesn’t know why he shut the shop down --- for partisan convenience. But I’m a little less welcoming to the thought that the opposition are genuinely outraged by this “offense” to Parliament, or that Harper, in this, is acting the “despot” or throttling democracy as we know it in Canada.
All politicians would make an infinitely stronger case about their “respect for Parliament” if they showed a little of it when Parliament was actually in session; if, for example, Question Period wasn’t --- as it almost always is -- a zoo for catcalls and jeers, a heckling contest for the loudest and the rudest --- and utterly organized, on both sides of the House, to squeeze the maximum partisan advantage on any issue out of every single minute of the daily free for all.
Respect for Parliament is blistered almost every day when it is open, and the “decorum” of the House of Commons far more often “honoured in the breach than the observance.” Parliament is the ultimate partisan instrument, and both sides of the House play it like a tattered violin for whatever petty advantage they can get out of it.
Out of power they play one song: in power the opposite. There is no one watching the current fracas that doesn’t believe Stephen Harper – were he now in opposition – wouldn’t be storming the closed doors of the vacant Parliament --- just like Michael Ignatieff and the Liberals. And, likewise, there is no one with the slightest memory of the Liberals in their long ascendancy, who doesn’t know that they played an equally self-interested game when they held the reins and drove all the horses. The long ruthless tenure of Jean Chrétien is the gold-medal example of this proposition.
So, let us forgo the pieties on this issue. Harper has wounded himself by the maneuver, not so much because Parliament has been shut down: but because it feeds his well-earned reputation for strong-arming and tactical bullying when he can get away with it. The only person who consistently outsmarts Stephen Harper is Stephen Harper – he is his own best opponent.
Meantime the opposition, desperate for oxygen, are playing the issue for everything its worth: which is what they do, whether Parliament is open, or whether it’s closed.
For the National, I’m Rex Murphy.