Chemically, last month’s federal election was an inert gas. Injected into the chamber that is the heart of Canada’s democracy – the House of Commons – it did not respond. The new house is so close to the pre-election house that you’d need an electron microscope to spot the difference.
But while the election results only confirm the Liberals’ minority government position, it also marks an important milestone: Parliament can finally return to work as it was meant to.
Not that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is looking forward to it. On Friday, his office announced that parliament would return on November 22 – a full two months after the September 20 election.
This is despite the fact that, since the House of Commons rose for summer recess on June 21, 2019, it has been a total of 169 days. That’s 169 days in two years and four months – a period in which the House is typically viewed as 260 days, based on an annual average of 120 days in a year in non-election years.
Yes, there were some unavoidable reasons for this. In 2019, an election scheduled for 21 October meant that parliament was dissolved just before its normal fall meeting schedule. There are always fewer meetings in election years.
And of course there was the COVID-19 pandemic, which began in March of 2020 and disrupted every aspect of Canadian life. The House cannot stick to its normal schedule without putting MPs and their staff at risk, at least not at first. It took time to adjust.
But over the past two years, politics has played the biggest role in preventing Canadians from being meaningfully represented in parliament and preventing a minority government executive from being responsible for a majority in the elected house. Politics was played by Mr Trudeau.
After the October 21, 2019 election, in which his government was reduced to a minority, he waited until December 5 to recall parliament – which rose eight days later for the Christmas break.
In April, 2020, thanks to a government resolution supported by the NDP and Bloc Québécois, parliament was turned into a single, all-party special committee on the pandemic. It meets by videoconferencing two days a week, and eventually a third, in-person day is added to the House of Commons. These are not counted as sitting days.
During most of 2020, Mr Trudeau was able to rule as a majority. Instead of answering in Parliament, he answered the questions of journalists in front of his house.
In total, between July 1, 2019 and June 30, 2020, the House lasted 40 days – a period during which Ottawa took extensive COVID-19 relief measures costing hundreds of billions of dollars.
Mr Trudeau sidelined parliament in August 2020, when he used prorogation to end the hearing of the committee investigating the WE charity scandal. This did not reduce the number of meeting days in 2020, but it did demonstrate a blatant contempt for the role of MPs and Parliament.
And then, in a failed bid to better build up the form of a majority government, he called for a snap election that effectively canceled most of this year’s scheduled meetings.
And now, right in shape, he is missing Parliament at the end of November, when he could have easily done it at the beginning of the month.
enough is enough. Canadians may not always enjoy the partisanship and fake outrage that characterize politics, but having a functioning parliament is vital to the health of our democracy.
The theater of the Daily Question Hour and the work of committees are at the heart of responsible government – and they are never more necessary than minority government.
Mr Trudeau took advantage of the pandemic to shield his minority from parliamentary oversight, but he won’t have it in 2022 to hide, barring an unforeseen calamity.
We look forward to the full quota of the House of Commons and meeting with the extreme heat aimed at Mr Trudeau and his cabinet.
But it should come soon. By speeding up the process of naming a cabinet and producing a throne speech, the prime minister could show some sympathy for the fact that the Canadian people have been truncated when it comes to responsible government for the past two years.
The fact that he didn’t speak volumes.
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