The sooner MPs get out of Ottawa the better

No party in the House has covered itself with glory during the session

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by L. IAN MacDONALD
The Gazette, Friday, June 15, 2007

"We gotta get out of this place, if it's the last thing we ever do..."-The Animals

Whether by adjourning the House for the summer, or proroguing the session for a new throne speech in the fall, everyone in Ottawa agrees: We gotta get out of this place.

It is had been a difficult sitting of this minority House for all parties. The Conservatives have looked shaky on both competence and conviction, two core attributes of government. The Liberals have looked weak on leadership, with a leader who doesn't look like one, and has difficulty making himself understood in English. The Bloc Quebecois has been consistently outflanked or boxed in by the Conservatives on Quebec issues, and have taken a big collateral hit from the head-office crisis at the Parti Quebecois. And the NDP have been squeezed by the Green Party on the left and the Liberals moving in that direction from the centre.

And then there's the temper of Parliament, which has turned nasty in question period, and its productivity as measured by committees, which have turned dysfunctional in both the House and the Senate.

Everyone agrees, we have definitely got to get out of this place. But when, and how?

Well, it's a bit inside baseball, but Parliament is more likely to adjourn than prorogue. At least for the summer. The government would then retain the option of proroguing before the sitting resumes in late September, and bring in a new throne speech after Thanksgiving.

The difference is that in an adjournment, the House can be recalled at a moment's notice to settle things like railway strikes. Once the House prorogues, it takes a throne speech to bring it back, even to settle a railway strike. And when the House prorogues, all pending government legislation dies on the order paper. But private members' bill don't.

So while the government would lose bills such as its parliamentary reform package, and have to reintroduce them in a new session, it wouldn't kill off a private members' bill such as

C-288, now in third reading before the Senate, that would force it to comply with Kyoto emissions reductions targets.

This bill is the baby of Pablo Rodriguez, the Liberal backbencher with the most interesting hair since Pierre Pettigrew, and its main intent is to embarrass the government.

So in proroguing, the government wouldn't get to kill off

C-288, but as its own priorities would be delayed.

Thus, proroguing the session is apparently not an option, at least not for now.

"I have sat in any number of meetings discussing strategy and I have heard the word 'prorogue' come up once," says one member of the Cabinet Priorities and Planing Committee, the powerful 11-person inner cabinet. If it hasn't been discussed around that table, it isn't on.

But a summer cabinet shuffle, followed by a throne speech in October, remains a distinct possibility. A shuffle would enable Stephen Harper to move embattled ministers, such as Gordon O'Connor at Defence, off the firing line. A throne speech would give Harper a new message, something he very much needs.

For as Maclean's magazine's Paul Wells has written, Harper gets into trouble when he runs out of script. And this government has run out of script. The five priorities Harper got elected on? Not only have they been essentially enacted, they're a memory. If there was a quiz on them in the press gallery, where institutional memory is notoriously short, it's not clear how many journalists could pass it.

And if this Parliament is going to stay in business until the fall of 2009, Harper needs a message, and an agenda, to take it there.

Meantime, there is no reason to prolong the unpleasantness of this sitting, which will end by next Friday. But if all parties agree, MPs could be out of here by Wednesday. With the budget- implementation bill finally adopted this week, the only real must-do has been done.

And even on that, on the final vote the other night, there were about 30 Liberals who didn't bother to show up.

Like the other parties, they've gotta get out of this place, if it's the last thing they do before summer.

 
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