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Sunday, September 26, 2021

Truth Tracker: Could Parliament be recalled during the election to address the situation in Afghanistan?

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TORONTO — Green Leader Annamie Paul has called for an “emergency recall” of Parliament to address the growing crisis in Afghanistan, but constitutional experts say this is not possible.

During her policy announcement on Monday, Paul called on the prime minister to ask Gov. Gen. Mary Simon to reconvene Parliament so that there can be an “emergency debate on the emerging situation in Afghanistan and what Canada’s response to it will be.”

“We cannot abandon those who helped us — the personnel who helped us and aided our efforts when we were in Afghanistan,” Paul said. “There are many of those people who have been left behind. Many of those people where there is absolutely no plan for them.”

Paul said she believes it is “legally possible” to recall Parliament, despite it being dissolved on Sunday when Justin Trudeau called a federal election.

The Green Party told CTVNews.ca in an email on Wednesday that Paul consulted with independent constitutional lawyer Sujit Choudhry on the matter. CTVNews.ca has reached out to Choudhry for comment, but did not hear back at the time of publishing.

Speaking to reporters on Monday, Paul said it is possible to reconvene Parliament under Section 46.3 of the federal Emergencies Act. However, the act does not contain a Section 46.3, and Paul later clarified that she misspoke and meant Section 58.3.

If a declaration of emergency is issued when the House of Commons is dissolved, Section 58.3 of the Emergencies Act states that “Parliament shall be summoned to sit at the earliest opportunity after the declaration is issued.”

Emmett Macfarlane, professor of political science at the University of Waterloo, told CTVNews.ca that the “earliest opportunity” would be after a new Parliament is formed as the Emergencies Act “recognizes that Parliament cannot be recalled during an election.”

Macfarlane explained in a telephone interview on Wednesday that Members of Parliament lose their status as MPs once Parliament is dissolved, meaning there is no one to recall. He added that there is “no mechanism that allows for Parliament to be recalled.”

“The government still exists; cabinet ministers are still cabinet ministers, the prime minister is the prime minister, but none of them are MPs anymore,” Macfarlane said. “None of them are Members of Parliament because Parliament doesn’t exist.”

Macfarlane said Parliament ceases to exist until it is “reconstituted by the election.” In this case, he said the soonest Parliament could sit would be Sept. 20, once the new government is voted in.

To have the debate Paul is calling for, Macfarlane said that new government would then have to evoke the Emergencies Act, which is a move Trudeau didn’t make even in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Despite Parliament being dissolved, Macfarlane noted that the Canadian government still exists and can take action in Afghanistan without holding a debate in Parliament on the matter.

“If there’s anything to be done, it’s got to be done by the government anyway,” he said.

Daniel Beland, director of McGill University’s Institute for the Study of Canada, told CTVNews.ca that once Parliament is dissolved, the government no longer has the confidence of an elected House and therefore works under what is known as the “caretaker convention.”

Without the confidence of the House, the caretaker convention states that government must “act with restraint during an election period” out of “respect for the democratic will of the people.”

Beland said this means that the government is restricted to necessary public business, such as routine operations and urgent actions. Under the “caretaker convention,” he said the prime minister and cabinet ministers can “step in and take action” in regards to Afghanistan, but this does not involve a recalling of Parliament.

“The prime minister cannot reconvene Parliament because Parliament has been dissolved,” he said.

“What Annamie Paul is asking is impossible,” Beland said in a telephone interview on Wednesday. “The Parliament she wants Trudeau to recall no longer exists.”

Even after a new Parliament is voted in, Beland said those MPs would not “reconvene” as it would be a new session.

“It’s not about what the opposition parties want or say, it’s about what our constitutional order is, and what Annamie Paul is asking for is just not doable,” he said.

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