Stephen Harper’s to-do list

Nick Taylor-Vaisey considers the unfinished business of Parliament

<p>Prime Minister Stephen Harper rises during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Monday,Jan 28, 2013 .THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld</p>

Adrian Wyld/CP

Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

Prime ministers prorogue parliaments when their governments run out of things to say. That’s the story of your typical prorogation, anyway. Stephen Harper has used prorogation creatively not once, but twice to worm his way out of sticky political situations. Recall the ultra-scary coalition crisis that threatened the nation in 2008, and the document-laden Afghan detainee crisis that had the opposition howling the next year. On both occasions, Harper asked then-governor general Michaëlle Jean to give him some time to straighten things out, a request she dutifully honoured. Those comprised two exceptions to a wobbly rule that prime ministers turn to prorogation when their government grows tired of its agenda and trades in for a new one. How much of the new agenda will actually be new? Oh, just you wait. The nation’s capital will send up its greatest prognosticators—there are hundreds of them—to speculate about that very question.

The opposition unloaded its usual fury on Harper’s decision to prorogue. “People aren’t going to be fooled,” roared Tom Mulcair, the Leader of the Official Opposition. “This is clearly a desperate government worn out by ethical scandals and mismanagement. Stephen Harper refuses to answer legitimate questions from the public.” Liberal deputy leader Ralph Goodale was slightly less agitated, but just as condemning of the government. “While starting a new session is an appropriate way to provide direction, Parliament has been on a summer recess since June and the Prime Minister has had plenty of time to write a throne speech,” he said. “This delay clearly shows that Stephen Harper and his government are without a plan.”

Do opposition gripes have credence? Let’s look at what the government left behind when the dust settled after the last session of Parliament. The PM and his government don’t control the fate of all these unsettled things, but they do have a stake in all of them. By our count, there were more than a dozen major things left hanging in the air when parliamentarians last warmed their benches.

What really went on behind the scenes between Senator Mike Duffy and former PMO chief Nigel Wright remains a mystery. No one has identified the person or people behind the fraudulent robocalls that misdirected voters during the last federal election. The fate of Senator Pamela Wallin, whose improperly claimed expenses have been sent to the Mounties, is unclear. The relative happiness of backbench Conservative MPs is anybody’s guess, though apparently the PM’s new chief of staff has played diplomat over the summer. The government’s next move on Senate reform is in the air, pending the Supreme Court’s consideration of six questions the government asked about how to actually reform the chamber. The next Parliamentary Budget Officer has not been hired. The future of the Canada Job Grant, touted by the feds as a solution to the country’s skills gap, is in the air. The airplane that replaces the CF-18 fighter jet has not been identified. Europeans and Canadians still haven’t figured out how to trade freely. U.S. President Barack Obama still hasn’t made a decision about the future of the Keystone XL pipeline. A Canadian regulator hasn’t made its decision about the Northern Gateway pipeline through British Columbia’s interior. The government still hasn’t set emissions regulations for oil and gas producers. The government hasn’t entirely addressed how it will meet aboriginal Canadian demands that emerged from the Idle No More movement. And the prime minister hasn’t called byelections in a number of ridings that stand vacant.

Today, we didn’t learn anything about the government’s next agenda. We did learn that Harper intends to lead his party into the next election. That was our 20th unsettled issue coming out of the spring, and though something can always change between now and 2015, Paul Wells is probably happy with his prediction on that front.