What started last year as an unusual (and successful) tactic by the Conservatives to forestall the collapse of their month-old government in the wake of their feeble attempt to legislate away the opposition parties has now become routine.
This is quite remarkable. Stephen Harper has decided that any controversy — such as the currently raging Afghan torture scandal — is reason enough to shut down the legislative branch of government. Under King Stephen the First, there is no democratic accountability.
Stephen Harper is hewing pretty close to abrogating his responsibilities as prime minister. And he may have no choice about it.
With his minority caucus, Harper can’t get anything substantial done in Parliament. He can’t use the confidence vote tactic — which forces the opposition to vote with the government or face an election — with anything that even smacks of ideology, because a majority of Canadians oppose him on most issues. (This, of course, is the irony of a minority government.) That’s why his only legislative successes so far have been crime bills — the only wedge issue on which the majority of Canadians falls on the Conservatives’ side of the wedge.
Any issue important enough to warrant a parliamentary battle will also be seen as important enough by at least some of the opposition to fight an election over. So Stephen Harper is stuck, and he has to find a way to hide the fact that he can’t govern. And shutting down the legislative branch of government on the pretext that we can’t have political rancor during the Vancouver Olympics buys him time until the next budget.
It also means that all the bills in the House and Senate will die, and will have to be reintroduced in the spring. That’ll allow Harper to reannounce all those crime-fighting initiatives that are the only things he can get through Parliament.
The question now is: How long can Harper keep it up? How long can he maintain the illusion that he is the prime minister of Canada?