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I think it is time we cut Justin Trudeau some slack. The Prime Minister has taken enormous flak – well, he has endured the occasional mild criticism – over his decision to suspend the normal business of Parliament for six months.
It has been noted that the House of Commons has sat for only 39 days in the past 12 months; the last such session ran to precisely 12 minutes, just long enough for the government to be denied leave to rush through a package of amendments to its pandemic emergency benefit program in a single day.
Moreover, thanks to a deal between the Prime Minister and the leader of the NDP, MPs need only be detained for another four hours of debate this Thursday – to approve $87-billion in supplementary estimates – before rising for the summer. Just four sitting days have been scheduled before the House’s return in late September.
All this has led some partisan naysayers and parliamentary nitpickers to suggest the Prime Minister is somehow intent on evading public accountability for his decisions. This is grossly unfair. Were it not for the pandemic, and the urgent public-health emergency it presents, he would surely be facing Parliament with the same regularity as he did before: about two days in five.
It’s not about accountability. It’s about safety. It is simply not safe for the Prime Minister to be in the same place with more than five MPs at a time. True, the same fears did not prevent him from attending a rally last week in the company of thousands of protesters, but that’s different.
Have you met the opposition? Their mouths are constantly open, spraying criticisms and spitting questions. Even at a range of 13 feet – the official distance between the government and opposition benches – the risk is simply too great.
Besides, it’s not as if he has not been visible to the public these past three months. There are those daily televised updates, where after unveiling the spending announcement du jour he takes a few barely audible questions from largely deferential reporters in an appropriately presidential setting.
And there are the meetings, some of which he attends, of the special parliamentary “committee of the whole” on COVID-19 – just like a real Parliament, only without the debates, legislation, opposition days, written questions or the right to ask about anything but the pandemic.
Opposition fusspots complain this is nothing but “a fake Parliament.” But this attributes some aspect of reality to the “real” Parliament: a body in which every vote is a foregone conclusion, after an equally predictable and strictly time-limited debate, on legislation that as often as not combines dozens of disparate bills in one.
So, there is a refreshing honesty in the Prime Minister’s evident willingness to dispense with Parliament altogether – or at least a refreshingly obvious dishonesty in the substitution of a toothless temporary committee in its place. If in fact MPs have no role but to rubber-stamp decisions made elsewhere – if they are in essence human voting machines, the useless residue of elections that are really contests between party leaders – would we not do better to acknowledge this openly, and save ourselves the trouble and expense of electing them?
The same applies to demands that the government produce a budget, 15 months after the last, rather than continue to pull 11-digit spending announcements out of the air. The Prime Minister has rejected these on the grounds that even the most rudimentary fiscal plan would be no more than “an exercise in invention and imagination.” Given that most budgets are exercises in fraud and deception, would he not be right to dispense with them as well?
I say it is time to leave governing to the government. Having failed utterly to prepare for the pandemic, and having serially bungled its responses to it, the government must have all the powers it needs to clean up the mess, from indefinite suspensions of civil liberties to limitless increases in spending, without the time-consuming formalities of pretending to consult with the people’s elected representatives.
The Prime Minister was elected, after all, with the support of nearly one in three of the two in three voters who bothered to turn out. What is more, he enjoys the sort of astronomic approval rating that only an hour of unmediated airtime every day can buy, from a public that, having long been taught Parliament is irrelevant, has lately forgotten it exists.
He has a clear mandate to avoid the House at all costs, and to scold the opposition parties for demanding either that it should be recalled or that he should attend. Why does the opposition insist on playing partisan games with the Prime Minister’s partisan games?
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