Tag Archives: prorogue

Has Facebook given Canadians a place to get political?

The proroguing of Canadian Parliament has taken worldwide news agencies by storm. From Great Britain-based The Economist, to online news sources such as Reuters, to home grown national news sites such as MacLean’s, The Globe and Mail, Rabble, The National Post, and the CBC what this break in parliament means to Canadians has been covered extensively.

Prorogation is not as uncommon as most think, and has been done by nearly every elected government in Canadian history. However, this time Canadians have reacted with an unprecedented level of distaste. Proroguing parliament at a time when the current government is under scrutiny for alleged torture in Afghanistan, when Canada is still trying to stay afloat in the worldwide recession, and after a period of international embarrassment because of Canada’s lack of action on climate change seems to have made Canadians rather unhappy.

This discontent has manifested itself in public displays of frustration with the Conservative Party of Canada (CPC), although such public displays have so far accomplished very little in the way of changing the current political situation. The great public equalizer, Facebook, has become a topic of heated debate amongst pundits who now have very little to do without Question Period to keep them hot and bothered. Speculation on the effect of blogging, Twitter, and the exponentially growing Facebook group, “Canadians Against Proroguing Parliament,” will have on the political process has been flying left and right. Defenders of the beloved social media sites denounce naysayers, citing the exponential growth, the increased volume of communication between members, and the spread of knowledge amongst Canadian citizens about what proroguing means.

There is some truth to what these social media advocates preach about. The Canadians Against Proroguing Parliament Facebook group has 158,164 members at the time of writing, a number that, when compared to other leading Canadian political groups on the same site, doesn’t even compare. The BC Anti HST group has 129,790, while the Canadians Against Coalition Government – a site that was used last year to hold rallies across Canada against the Liberal-NDP coalition – had 126, 930 at the height of its popularity. For the further sake of comparison, members of ten separate groups celebrating the television program Mad Men only total to 8,116 individual Facebook members. But what, if anything, does all this mean?

Critics scoff at the impact that these groups have. It is all too easy to join a group on a social networking site logged into an average of 100,000,000 times daily; it does little to motivate a person to attend a rally or write a letter to their MP, and it is a very passive form of resistance. However, the ripple effect of online tools is impossible to know comprehensively, for better or worse.

The fact of the matter is that Facebook has 350,000,000 active users, and there are 3.5 million pieces of content created daily, viewed by half of Facebook’s active members. On average, users are invited to three groups a month and when there are over a hundred thousand members joining said group in a small window of time, you can guarantee almost everyone’s news feed will contain at least one mention of the group, and that mention will include a Facebook friend of yours.

The group itself has “gone real world,” as described by CBC political blogger, Kady O’Malley. The use of social media by Canadians to discuss prorogation has spawned an entire debate unto itself, sliding itself over top the actual prorogation debate. Articles in independent media sources such as this paper, blogs, and the mainstream media have all picked up on the mass conversion to political interest. While this group may not change which MP’s will be on Parliament Hill come January 25th, it certainly has changed how Canada is debating the decision to prorogue. The question is no longer whether or not Harper has the legitimacy to do so – and constitutionally he does – it is now whether or not Canadians will retaliate against him and the Conservative Party when session is re-convened.

An EKOS poll taken on January 7th, a little over two weeks after Harper made that fateful call to Michaelle Jean shows the Conservative Party drop by 2.8%, giving them a 5.8 point lead over the Liberal Party, their closest opposition. This drop indicates that the gap between the two parties has narrowed considerably since mid December.

Despite these polling statistics, this could very well mean nothing. Facebook, while socially relevant and broad in its scope, is still self-selecting and the 158 154 members of the Canadians Against Proroguing Parliament group may well be the same users who would not vote for the CPC in the first place. When session reconvenes in March, it will be most interesting to see how many of those members watch the Throne Speech, and involve themselves in continued political action. The creator of the group himself, Christopher White, is a University of Alberta Masters student with only a peripheral interest in politics. The site is entirely made of content that members posted and created, not of content he himself created.

Regardless of how much genuine direct action comes out of the Facebook group, or from any of the blogging chatter or Twittery tweets, the fact remains that it is getting us talking. Worldwide, Canada’s parliamentary break in proceedings is getting as much air and print time as South Korea’s fist fighting parliamentary proceedings. With the government proroguing parliament for the second time in a year, Canadians are getting used to hearing it, and are likely starting to understand what it means. Is it very possible that Facebook is actually useful for something other than tragically erroneous grammatical errors and pretending to be a farmer.

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Bills, bills, bills

Inspired by a CBC journalist who wrote about the many bills that were killed as Harper prorogued parliament for the second time in as many years, I couldn’t help but go to the LEGISinfo website and look for myself.

Parliament convened on the 18th of November in 2008, and was quickly prorogued on December fourth, leaving an extra long Christmas break for all members of Parliament. As it was such a short little session for our elected members, only four government bills and 52 private member bills were tabled. The four government bills passed through a first reading, but were killed, only to come back during the second session in January. The 52 private member bills were kept as they were, frozen in time until parliament could reconvene.

This is due to nifty (and somewhat convenient) law that was passed over a decade ago that allowed private member bills to carry forward from one session to the next within the same parliament – even despite proroguing. If – and now I think it is safe to say – when a parliament is prorogued due to the wisdom of the Governor General, all government bills that are killed on the spot rise again, reborn. Private member bills, however, stay kicking around in the state they were left in, to be reintroduced to the House or Senate for eventual defeat or royal assent. After the 2009 prorogation, all 52 private member bills came back, all having undergone first reading in the first session.

On to session number two. It was a busy year for the Senators and MP’s, beginning on that shiny morning of January 26th, 2009. 354 private member bills were tabled, all made it through the first reading and many were ready to come back after they were scoured by committees and layered with amendments. Only 64 government bills were tabled, though. Out of those 64, 30 received royal assent, which means more than half died on the table.

Truly, though, what does this matter to Canadians? It is not the number of bills passed or defeated; it is their content that matters. Many of them were procedural, but a few notable ones include Bill C-6: The Consumer Safety Bill, Bill C-15: The Drug Sentencing Bill; and Bill C-26: The Auto Theft Bill. All three made it to Senate and will now have to be brought back into the House then to the Senate, which will likely look remarkably different after Harper’s expected appointments.

Parliament amended the Arctic Waters Pollution Prevention Act that extended the geographic definition of Canadian arctic waters to 200 nautical miles offshore (from 100), a response to the perceived threat on Canada’s arctic sovereignty.

An “act respecting not-for-profit corporations and certain other corporations,” as stated on the LEGISinfo site, was introduced and received royal assent. This act combined three previous bills that died during the 2008 prorogation. This act was introduced to give non-profit organization greater flexibility and recognizes them separately outside the Canada Corporations Act.

There is also Bill C-8, Family Homes in Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights Act. Reserve land is governed under federal law, and all acquisition or transfer of property is as well. However, the provincial government decides when a married couple divorces what the division of property will be, both real and personal. See the catch? The province cannot make decisions about reserve land, but there is no federal legislation or provisions in the Indian Act that governs the division of martial property. Essentially, those who obtain a divorce who also reside on reserves in Canada, are stuck in limbo as to the ownership of their home, their land, and any other property attained in their marriage. Even the United Nations has told Canada to get their act together. However, since this bill died on the order paper it looks like, once again, Ottawa will have to re-examine its treatment of FNMI persons in Canada.

These are only three examples of government bills that came through during the second session of parliament. It may have been short, but it sure was not sweet. Despite the potential to achieve quite a bit, many bills will have to come forward again, going through parliamentary procedure. Hopefully we will see more decisions made before the next election, or dare I say, prorogation.

Before it all went Prorogue in the House of Commons

First Session: November 18th 2008 – December 4th 2008,

Second Session: January 26th 2009 – December 30th, 2009

(Information from LEGISinfo, updated January 4th, 2010)

Private member bills:

354 tabled

354 went through first reading

23 were voted through to second reading

83 members who tabled private members bills

21 bills relating to Employment Insurance

25 bills relating to the Criminal Code

Government bills:

64 tabled

30 received royal assent

34 dead on the table, waiting to be revived

3 tabled by The Minister of International Trade and Minister for the Asia-Pacific Gateway

3 tabled by The Minister of State

5 tabled by The Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and Federal Interlocutor for Métis and Non-Status Indians

3 tabled by The Minister of Health

4 tabled by The Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities

3 tabled by The Minister of Finance

6 tabled by The President of the Treasury Board

2 tabled by The Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food

12 tabled by The Minister of Justice

3 tabled by The Minister of Environment

7 tabled by The Minister of Public Safety

1 tabled by The Minister of Natural Resources

2 tabled by The Minister of Industry

1 tabled by The Minister of Veterans Affairs

1 tabled by The Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism

2 tabled by The Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development

1 tabled by The Minster of Labour

1 tabled by The Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

The MP who wins for most bills tabled is MP Peter Stoffer with a grand total of 22 bills tabled.

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