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Democracy Watch launches anti-prorogation campaign

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OTTAWA - Democracy Watch has launched a national letter-writing and petition drive on Change.org, and a Facebook group, all calling for politicians across Canada to pass effective laws to stop the unjustified shutdown (prorogation) of legislatures, and ensure legislatures are opened after elections and for a reasonable time period each year.

"The current shutdown of the Ontario legislature by Premier McGuinty, past prorogations by Prime Minister Harper and Prime Minister Chretien and some premiers, and the recent shutdowns of provincial legislatures by B.C. Premier Christy Clark and Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Kathy Dunderdale make it clear that new rules are needed across Canada to ensure fairness and democratic accountability in the opening and shutting down of legislatures," said Tyler Sommers, Coordinator of Democracy Watch.

In early 2010, more than 220,000 Canadians joined a Facebook group against the prorogation of the federal Parliament by Prime Minister Harper, and more than 20,000 protested in demonstrations across the country, but federal opposition parties failed to respond to this broad-based call to work together during the minority government situation to change the Parliament of Canada Act to set rules on the opening and closing of Parliament.

With minority governments in Ontario and Quebec, opposition parties should learn from the past mistake of federal opposition parties and work together to pass laws as soon as possible to restrict the shutting down of their provincial legislatures, and opposition parties across Canada should also be introducing private member bills to press for these changes.

In most countries in the world, including the parliamentary democracies of Britain, Australia and New Zealand, the constitution or written constitutional conventions or laws govern when the legislature opens and closes, not the whims of the ruling party leader.  A survey of 2,030 Canadians commissioned by Your Canada, Your Constitution last May showed that two-thirds want such clear, written rules established in Canada, enforced by the Supreme Court of Canada.

Democracy Watch is calling on Canadians to send a letter and to sign the petition that both call for federal and provincial politicians to pass laws calling for the following key requirements regarding the shutting down of legislatures:

1) the Prime Minister or premier must be required to open the legislature within 30 days after each election;

2) the government and opposition parties must be required to keep the legislature open other than for the usual breaks for statutory holidays, summer and mid-winter months, and during election campaigns (i.e. every legislature should be required to be open for at least 25 weeks each year);

3) the Prime Minister or premier must be prohibited from requesting that the Governor General or provincial lieutenant governor shut down (prorogue) the legislature for more than two weeks;

4) the Prime Minister or premier must also be prohibited from requesting the shutdown of the legislature unless the government can show that it has completed all of its pledged actions and decisions from its last proposed plan (ie. its last Speech from the Throne), or attempted to complete them (as the opposition parties may stop or delay completion of some actions), or unless the national situation has changed in such significant ways that a new government plan is needed immediately;

5) all government watchdog agencies must be given the power to release their reports and rulings whenever they are completed, whether or not the legislature is open, and;

6) when the legislature opens after a shutdown, all government and opposition bills under review before the shutdown should be continued at the same stage of review.

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