“I am constant as the northern star,
Of whose true-fix’d and resting quality
There is no fellow in the firmament.”
– Julius Caesar III.i.60-63
These are Julius Caesar’s last words in Shakespeare’s play. Shakespeare’s Rome is a place where constancy is considered to be one of the highest virtues a person can posses. Considering the alternative to the stability of Rome, the steadiness of Elizabethan England or even the routine of life in modern Canada it is understandable than anyone would abhor uncertain times.
In an interview with BNN Television, Prime Minister Stephen Harper defended his decision to suspend parliament by saying:
“As soon as parliament comes back, we’re in a minority Parliament situation and the first thing that happens is a vote of confidence and there will be votes of confidence and election speculation for every single week after that for the rest of the year. That’s the kind of instability I think that markets are actually worried about.”
The Prime Minister believes that it is Canada’s system of democracy that causes uncertainty, which leads to negative effects on Canada’s economy. Unfortunately, PM Harper is not as constant as the northern star. His interview with BNN came a full thirteen days after his decision to prorogue parliament by phone and the PMO, as well as the Conservative Party of Canada, have provided many different justifications for locking parliament’s doors for a full three months instead of having all 308 MPs return on January 25th.
When the Prime Minister suspended parliament on December 30th, he did so believing that Canadians would not care. After a Facebook group was formed to protest this decision (Canadians Against Proroguing Parliament now has more than 180 000 members), the Prime Ministers’ office was forced to justify itself.
The first reason given to Canadian citizens was that the proroguing parliament was “routine” and his Conservative Government needed to “recalibrate.” Then the PM insisted that he prorogued (an action which killed the majority of legislation worked on in the House of Commons last year) so Members of Parliament could consult with their constituencies in preparation for the next budget. This was then contradicted by Stephen Harper’s Finance Minister Jim Flaherty who stated that, prorogation or not, he would have proceeded the same way in pre-budgetary negotiations. The Prime Minister then did interviews stating that he wanted to reset the Senate, where the Liberal Party has a majority, so his legislation would be passed more quickly. This seems counterintuitive as prorogation effective kills any legislation not given Royal Assent. Minister Tony Clement dismissed the Facebook group and 175 Professor who signed a letter of protest as “chattering elites,” insisting that Canadians don’t care about parliament, while another Conservative MP claimed that Canadians want to enjoy the Olympics and Members of Parliament should be allowed to take a break and watch the games.
Prime Minister Harper was once against the ability of a Prime Minister to appoint Senators. Now he holds the record of appointing more Senators than any other PM in a single year. In the 2008 election, Stephen Harper denied that Canada was in a recession and repeatedly asserted that Canada would not have a deficit. Now Prime Minister Harper has presided over the largest deficit in the history of Canada. In 2006, Stephen Harper campaigned on accountability and transparency. Now he has fired nuclear watchdog Linda Keen, his government has consistently underfunded budget watchdog Kevin Page and the Conservative MPs attacked the integrity of whistleblower Richard Colvin in question period.
By the time parliament resumes on March 3rd, Stephen Harper and his government will have equivocated on the reason(s) why the Prime Minister shut down a pillar of Canadian democracy. In thirteen days the Prime Minister has created a great deal of uncertainty by vacillating in his explanations. During his four years as Prime Minister he has fomented discord by reversing many of his policy positions.
In the end, Prime Minister Harper’s tragic flaw is also constancy; he is consistent in his inconstancy to his own standards of governance.
“When a government starts trying to cancel dissent or avoid dissent is frankly when it’s rapidly losing its moral authority to govern.”
– Stephen Harper, April 18, 2005.