Prime Time Crime


(Published in the Chilliwack Times week of Jan. 25, 2010)


Reckless media coverage


  By John Martin


For the most part, Canadians are well served by the country's media. But one has to wonder about the endless attention journalists are devoting to the prorogation of Parliament. A month ago, the word "prorogue" was not even part of the vocabulary of 90 per cent of Canadians. In the last few weeks, however, it has become the one and only issue for pundits, columnists and editorial writers.

Prime Ministers have always taken advantage of the opportunity to suspend the sitting of Parliament when it suits the party in power. Jean Chretien did it four times during his reign; including shutting down the House of Commons on the eve of the release of the Gomery Report which documented a legacy of corruption and kickbacks orchestrated by senior officials in the Liberal party. Naturally, this was barely mentioned in the media. For some reason it's only newsworthy when a Conservative Prime Minister exercises this option.

No politician has been more vicious and vile on the prorogue issue than Bob Rae; surely the next leader of the Liberals. But you'd have to look long and hard to find a single mention of the fact that Rae himself prorogued the legislature a total of four times during his disastrous and ruinous reign as Ontario premier. Historically, the Prime Minister of the day tends to prorogue Parliament once a year; slightly above the rate at which Stephen Harper has chosen to do so. 

Most Canadians never have a clue if Parliament happens to be in session or not and could hardly care less about such scheduling. Arguably, the sitting of Parliament is the least productive task for MPs. It's largely theatrics and childish name calling, with little more at stake than getting a sound bite on the evening news. Attendance is generally dismal. Members are constantly running from one section of seats to the other so it looks like there is a crowd gathered around whoever happens to be talking on camera at any point. Rather than listening to whoever is asking or answering a question, MPs are more likely to be text messaging, checking their Blackberries, or involved in a personal conversation with a colleague.

So why the fuss? Why are the country's editorial writers virtually unanimous in their condemnation of Stephen Harper's use of prorogation when such a move has never been considered the least bit newsworthy when other Prime Ministers have used and abused it? Part of the answer must lie in the well established fact that the overwhelming majority of journalists would identify themselves as left, or very left of centre and have never seen the need to hold liberals to the same level of account they do conservatives. We could also attribute some of the insatiable attention of prorogue to an otherwise slow news cycle.

Regardless, despite the cynicism out there, Members of Parliament work their butts off around the clock for a lot less compensation than they would receive in the private sector. With the exception of the separatists, who have no business whatsoever being in Parliament, MPs of all political stripes are to be commended for their community and constituency efforts. The notion that the country's business is not being attended to unless Parliament is in session is absurd.

The nation's media have been shamefully reckless and irresponsible on this matter.

John Martin is a Criminologist at the University of the Fraser Valley and can be contacted at


Prime Time Crime

Contributing 2010