Prorogation of parliament is a tool available to every Canadian government, and in modern times has been effectively used as part of a ruling party’s political arsenal when needed.
Brian Mulroney prorogued parliament three times, Jean Chretien four times, and most recently Stephen Harper four times.
Now in his second mandate, Prime Minister Trudeau has prorogued parliament for the first time under his leadership. That he using this parliamentary tool is not surprising. But it is rich when you consider the 2015 Liberal campaign promise on this very topic and which was outlined in the Real Change campaign book. Page 30 of the Real Change book states under Prorogation and Omnibus Bills:
We will not resort to legislative tricks to avoid scrutiny.
Stephen Harper has used prorogation to avoid difficult political circumstances. We will not.
Oops, high-minded perhaps, but the Prime Minister and the Liberal Party are using prorogation to avoid the ongoing scrutiny of the WE scandal and the resignation of Finance Minister Bill Morneau to buy time. Oh, it’s just a “reset.” And did Morneau really resign? Or was he not so gently nudged? Pundits are spinning the prorogation, but there’s a larger problem with prorogation at this time, the budget.
The 2021 federal budget and the space file
The timing of the current prorogation of Parliament could not have come at a worse time. We’re in the midst of a pandemic and the next budget cycle will hopefully result in some semblance of normalcy with respect to how it’s rolled out.
To that end, the government in June issued its customary annual call for input as part of the Finance Committee’s 2021 pre-budget consultation.
In the news release that was issued, Liberal Wayne Easter, Chair of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance said “Canadians’ contributions to this process will be of particular importance this year, given the tremendous challenges that the COVID-19 pandemic presents, and the ongoing uncertainty regarding future economic conditions. As a result, the Committee is interested in receiving written submissions and oral testimony on measures the federal government could take to restart the Canadian economy, as it recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic.” The submission deadline was August 7.
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Unfortunately the prorogation of parliament has put a temporary halt to the committees work. Assuming the Liberal’s survive a vote of confidence after the throne speech to be delivered on September 23rd, the committee will resume business possibly in mid-October. The problem with that is, it leaves little time for the committee to do its work, including the pre-budget consultation. Meanwhile government departments and agencies need to put together budget requests. Those request are in part influenced by the pre-budget consultation.
If the pre-budget consultation hadn’t been interrupted, we would likely see several hundred budget briefs on the Committee website late next week. Those briefs are not only of interest to journalists, but others in the space sector and importantly to policy people in various government departments and agencies. Now, no one is likely to see those briefs until mid-to-late October. To go along with the briefs, several organizations are invited to present their statements and answer committee questions, usually in September. Now, that too won’t happen until the fall.
For the space file, there’s also the added uncertainty of who will lead the Canadian Space Agency. Sylvain Laporte’s last day is September 8. We should learn who the new president is within the next 10 days. Whoever that person is will need to get up to speed quickly with budget decisions coming fast. And they’ll have to do it without the benefit of any new input from space sector organizations through the pre-budget consultation until at least October.