The Olympic Prorogation

27 Feb

My family and I spent much time this month sitting on the couch together, watching hours of televised sports we’d normally never care about for even a minute.

More to the point: We spent hours becoming emotionally invested in the successes and failures of Canadian athletes we’d never heard of before, whose sports we’d normally never care about for even a minute.

Ice dancers.

Freestyle moguls skiers.

Skeleton… ers.

To name a few.

Maybe your family did the same thing as mine. The Winter Olympics were a terrific diversion, weren’t they?

Whether Canadians were owning the podium or bemoaning the odium, the fact that the Games were here on home ice made them even more captivating.

Never mind that this particular home ice was in Vancouver – 4,500 kilometres away from Ottawa – a lot farther away than, say, Lake Placid or Salt Lake City. The ice was very… homey.

Now if your family really is anything like mine, no doubt you turned to each other between the medal events and the fast food commercials, and one of you thoughtfully said:

“Thank goodness the Prime Minister prorogued Parliament! If not, we wouldn’t have been able to sit here together for hours becoming emotionally invested in the successes and failures of these athletes. Instead, all our emotions would have been invested in Question Period and in the successes and failures of our members of parliament. There simply wouldn’t have been any emotions left for curling, bobsleigh, and ski jumping.”

“Sure glad THAT didn’t happen!”

Okay, I’m paraphrasing. But your family surely turned to each other and said something like that.

Didn’t you?

Surely you cheered on our short-track speed skaters with gusto as they zipped around the track. Could you possibly have done so with the same amount of gusto if you also had to cheer on your favorite private member’s bill as it worked its way through the parliamentary process?

There’s only so much gusto to go around, right?

Well… look. What can I tell you? We all remember that Prime Minister Harper prorogued Parliament at the end of December. Before he did so, MPs were scheduled to come back to work on January 25th. Instead, they’ve only come back in recent days.

Critics said the government was subverting democracy in an attempt to avoid facing uncomfortable issues such as Afghanistan detainee abuse allegations and its record on climate change.

The Prime Minister said his government simply needed time to “recalibrate” its agenda. He and his supporters also responded to early criticism by playing that Olympic card. Canadians, they said, did not want to be distracted from the festivities in Vancouver.

The government seemed quite certain that the absence of Parliament wouldn’t bother us too much, as long as we had snowboarders and hockey players to cheer on.

But it didn’t take long for evidence of a backlash to emerge. Last autumn, public opinion polls showed the Conservatives flirting with majority territory. Within a few weeks of Parliament’s shutdown, the governing party was back in a neck-and-neck race with the opposition Liberals.

When an earthquake leveled Haiti, our government responded quickly and usefully. But it had no effect on the prorogation-impacted polls.

Anti-prorogation protests that attracted hundreds of thousands of Canadians online translated into substantial live protests in communities across the country.

In response, the Prime Minister seemed to lose some of his bravado. In the face of widespread protests and plunging polls, he announced that after Parliament returned in March, it would sit without a single break until summer. This was a tacit admission of prorogation’s political damage.

Then came the Winter Olympics.

As we sat around our TV sets for those two weeks of non-stop winter sports, cabinet ministers released non-stop announcements touting their consultations with Canadians about the economic way forward. The Prime Minister’s spokespeople previewed the federal budget, stressing that the government was entirely focused on jobs, jobs, and jobs.

The rest of us, of course, were focused on ice dancing. (Is that even a sport? Who cares? Canada won gold!!!).

But now… The flame is extinguished. The snow is melting. The international athletes have returned home.

And the minority government is back in Parliament, sitting without a break for weeks on end, managing a still-shaky and politically volatile economic situation.

If the Prime Minister could turn back time, would he prorogue again? It’s a moot point. In politics, as in Olympic Skeleton, there are no do-overs.

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