Parliamentary Deliberation as Canadian Tradition

Pierre Elliott Trudeau was notorious for saying that few yards from the House, Members of Parliament were “nobodies.”

All governments, conservative or liberal, come in time to think of hoarding information and curtailing public debate. Power corrupts.

Prime Minister Harper’s prorogation of Parliament last January in an attempt to forestall debate on the treatment of Afghan prisoners of war looked dodgy then and seems positively shabby now, evidence of the government’s disdain for Parliament.

Now House of Commons Speaker Peter Milliken has upheld Parliament’s right to examine the documents necessary to assess the policy of releasing prisoners of war to Afghan allies. There will be a debate. The two hundred or so Canadian political scientists, philosophers, and law professors who signed a petition four months ago protesting prorogation are entitled to feel vindicated.

Parliament may decide to limit publication of information threatening national safety or the Canadian troops. But the important matter has been settled. In a parliamentary democracy the government of the day may not high-handedly control an issue from start to finish.

A.V. Dicey said it; the Canadian parliamentarians of the 1860s said it: parliamentary deliberation secures a country’s liberty.


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