Layton to propose legal limits on PM’s power to suspend Parliament

OTTAWA — The NDP says it will propose legislation to limit the power of the prime minister to suspend Parliament.

OTTAWA — The NDP says it will propose legislation to limit the power of the prime minister to suspend Parliament.

Parliament should be prorogued only when a majority of MPs in the House of Commons vote to allow it, party leader Jack Layton said Wednesday.

Legislation to that effect would ensure “prorogation happens when it is needed, not simply when the prime minister feels like it,” he said following an NDP caucus retreat.

All three opposition parties have vociferously condemned Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s decision to suspend Parliament until March 3, joining a surprisingly robust groundswell of public outrage that appears to have fuelled a slide in Conservative party popularity.

Protest rallies are planned for Saturday on Parliament Hill and elsewhere across the country.

Opposition MPs intend to return to work Monday, as originally scheduled, in defiance of the prime minister. And they intend to revive hearings into the Afghan detainee controversy — the issue critics believe Harper was trying to silence when he shut Parliament down.

Prorogation put an end to the special committee that had been investigating allegations the government turned a blind eye to evidence that detainees turned over by Canadian soldiers to Afghan authorities were later tortured.

Layton said opposition members of the committee have agreed to resume hearings on an unofficial basis, starting Feb. 3.

“Parliament must be able to do its work. The prime minister must be held to account,” said Layton, billing himself as a disciple of “a new politics, a grassroots politics driven by Canadians.”

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff also wrapped up a caucus retreat Wednesday, excoriating Harper as a prime minister who “doesn’t understand Canadian democracy.”

“He gambled on the cynicism, disenchantment and disillusion of Canadians . . . He gambled wrong.”

While all opposition parties have railed against prorogation, Layton is the first leader to propose a remedy.

An aide to Layton said the NDP will draft legislation in hopes that Harper will adopt it as a government bill — a highly unlikely scenario. Barring that, the NDP will introduce a private member’s bill. But that could take months, or even years, to be put to a vote and, even then, might not muster enough opposition support to pass.