Is Justin Trudeau about to prorogue Parliament again?
The hottest rumour on Parliament Hill is that the besieged Prime Minister is considering it.
Rumours are always rampant on Parliament Hill, but one particular piece of speculation is gaining steam. That is that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who once again finds himself in the middle of a giant scandal, is trying to find a way to take the heat off and is considering proroguing Parliament shortly after tabling this year's federal budget.
Now, rumours and speculation are just that - rumours and speculation. And to date, the whispers of a potential prorogation fall into that category. But this speculation seems more likely when the dire straits of Trudeau's current political position are considered.
Trudeau is in political crisis mode. His refusal to grant a public inquiry into serious allegations of foreign interference in Canadian elections has made international headlines and drawn cross-partisan condemnation. At the same time, he has drawn fire for failing to address Canada's inflation crisis or for multiple ethics breaches made by his caucus and cabinet Ministers.
Making things worse for Trudeau is that all of this is happening at the start of a near-continuous four-month stretch of Parliamentary sitting days. Trudeau and his beleaguered cabinet are scheduled to face opposition interrogations in the House of Commons and Parliamentary committees for the next four months.
This confluence of political crises means that Trudeau needs an immediate way to stop the bleeding, so rumours of prorogation are swirling.
For those unfamiliar with the term, to prorogue means to end a session of Parliament. In practical terms, this means that Parliament is suspended and stops sitting. Current Parliamentary business falls off the order paper.
There are many reasons why Trudeau would consider this a viable political option. Trudeau has used this tactic before, at the height of the WE Charity scandal, so if he's considering prorogation now, he probably thinks he can get away with it again. Prorogation means that the daily question period would stop, committees couldn't sit and move motions detrimental to Trudeau's political prospects, and Ministers would return to their ridings and away from the reach of the Parliamentary Press Gallery.
Also, prorogation would wash away contentious bills that have divided Trudeau's caucus and key stakeholder groups. These include changes to the Official Languages Act that caused a schism in his Quebec caucus, bills that have sparked concern about government censorship, and a bill regarding firearms that divided Trudeau's caucus among rural and urban lines and raised the ire of First Nations leaders.
Also, Trudeau is going to be hard pressed to be able to put out a big spending budget this year. The country is near broke after years of Liberal largess, and their deficit spending has contributed to Canada’s inflationary crisis. Either way, Trudeau will have to placate stakeholder groups who are used to receiving big fat cheques from the government or groups who are screaming for fiscal prudence. Prorogation means he could do so without facing opposition scrutiny in the House of Commons.
And, if rumors that Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland is looking at exiting the government are true, prorogation would allow Trudeau to do a big cabinet shuffle to address the gap Freeland's rumoured departure would create, and shuffle out some of the Liberal's weakest links.
Finally, the heaviest hitters in the Parliamentary Press Gallery are currently focused on the foreign interference story. But there's nothing Ottawa-based political reporters like more than a process story. Trudeau might believe prorogation could shift their focus away from the foreign interference beat and onto prorogation. A flurry of stories about prorogation would be the lesser of two evils from Trudeau’s point of view.
But if Trudeau runs with this line of thinking, he'd be taking a massive risk. Here's why.
The last time Trudeau prorogued, the country was still in the middle of deep pandemic restrictions, Parliament was being conducted virtually, and Trudeau's main political rival, the Conservative Party, was in the middle of a leadership election. Today, with the country reeling from the economic impact of pandemic restrictions and spending, the electorate has little tolerance for political bullshit. The days of Parliament being conducted solely over Zoom have passed. And, the Conservatives elected Pierre Poilievre as their leader with a massive mandate, who is both an effective opponent against Trudeau, and whom Trudeau is having difficulty scoring a punch on. Today, compared to the last prorogation in 2020, there would be little public tolerance, and vigorous pushback from the opposition if Trudeau prorogued.
Second, Trudeau doesn't have a feasible justification for proroguing Parliament. In 2020, in attempting to argue that prorogation wasn't related to the WE Charity scandal, Trudeau said he needed to prorogue to reset his legislative agenda to consider the COVID-19 pandemic. He'd be hard-pressed to come up with an excuse like that today. Since 2020, Trudeau has both prorogued Parliament and called a snap general election. He’s had plenty of opportunity to set a new vision and has arguably failed to do so. Proroguing now would be an obvious ploy to divert heat away from the foreign election interference scandal, and could make more people want a change in government.
Third, Trudeau is seen in a different light than he was three years ago. His polling numbers are in freefall, his caucus is grumbling about his performance, columns are being written about his potential successors, members of his caucus are looking at other political options, and he's facing an invigorated Conservative Party that is gaining ground in the polls. Sending his deeply unimpressed and concerned caucus back to their ridings for an undetermined time to stew in their angry juices seems a like particularly dumb move for someone in Trudeau’s position.
Fourth, unlike other scandals, the Parliamentary Press Gallery isn't as likely to let Trudeau get off the hook for the foreign interference issue. Venerable journalist Robert Fife of the Globe and Mail has taken up the beat with vigor, and Global News has been running with a major scoop on the matter. If leaks on the story keep coming, it doesn't feel like prorogation will save Trudeau this time around.
And perhaps most importantly, the Liberal's supply and confidence deal with the New Democratic Party might fall apart if the NDP are forced to justify an interruption of Parliament without justification outside of covering for Trudeau's failures. It would be the ultimate sign that the NDP had become a useless puppet arm of the Liberals; something that leader Jagmeet Singh would have extreme difficulty explaining to his party loyalists.
But things are pretty bad for Trudeau right now, and I wouldn't put it past him to shamelessly push the eject button with a prorogation.
That said, only sure thing is that the next few weeks in Ottawa will be interesting.
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