Resolving Timeline Issues

Posts Tagged ‘governor general

While 69% of the Canadian population agrees with the Governor General’s choice to prorogue Parliament, I don’t fall into that statistic. Frankly, I think it sucks and in this case sets a very dangerous precedent: allowing a government that has lost the confidence of the house to avoid a confidence vote.

(More later when I don’t feel quite so deathlike – I can only hope the “it hurts to breathe and hurts more to cough” goes away by tomorrow; yes I have been to the doctor who says its viral, and since I’m knocked up, I can’t take anything to make me more comfortable).

Today, Governor General Michaelle Jean is flying back from her state visit to Europe to deal with this constitutional crisis we find ourselves in.

(Okay, I was wrong – it wasn’t the day before yesterday that the government fell; it’ll probably be this Monday. But that’s only because our ever-lovin’ Prime Minister postponed a vote on that item).

Unless you haven’t been keeping up with the news, there’s a bit of a problem in Ottawa. In the words of NDP Leader, Jack Layton, “We have a government that fails to act … the government has lost confidence. It has lost the confidence of the people of Canada, and the confidence of this parliament.”

So essentially, with the support of the Bloc Quebecois, the Liberal party and the NDP could depose the Conservative minority government. Conceivably. But let’s ask a couple of questions. First, would a party that is a separatist party ever ally with federalists? More importantly, would federalists ever ally with a separatist party?

The answer, it seems, is yes. (AND OMGWTF???)

My opinion: I don’t like the Conservatives. I kind of liked Jack Layton and the NDP. I generally don’t mind the Liberals (except for Stephane Dion, who just strikes me as Another Crazy French Guy). And I certainly don’t like the Bloc.

And now, the NDP, Liberals and the Bloc have gotten into bed together. The NDP and the Liberals want to govern in a coalition, with the Bloc providing a support role (and without that support role, this coalition will fail. Fast).

I have nothing in principle against coalition governments. In fact, I think they’re kind of interesting, and properly run, can be really effective in providing checks and balances in our system. I have a problem with THIS coalition. HOW DARE YOU ally with a party that wants to tear my country apart?

The Liberals have everything to lose; the NDP are clapping their hands with glee over a power-sharing deal; and the Bloc are going straight to the bank with this one. The Bloc’s agreed to support the coalition in confidence issues (read: budget and money bills) and vote how it damn well pleases anytime else.

Now, think about this: the Bloc’s only source of political power are the votes from Quebec as they don’t run anywhere else. Presumably, most Bloc MPs want to be re-elected. What this means is that the instant a vote (confidence or otherwise) is against Quebec interests, they will vote against it. Think about it. How much do YOU trust them?

But if these three parties take down the government, and there’s no coalition, its likely that we’ll go to election. Again. Rock: get in bed with separatists; hard place: election 8 weeks after the last one.

Remember awhile back when I talked about the Canadian Alliance? And how in the 90s it captured the west with “the west wants in”? The other problem with this coalition is that it effectively alienates the west again (which votes mostly conservative – the BC interior and Alberta especially).

So what does this mean? Right now, there is no clean way out of this and it all falls to the Governor General. When she gets back to Ottawa today, she’ll have some decisions to make. It it likely that by tomorrow, she’ll receive a request from the Prime Minister to prorogue Parliament (don’t let that word scare you, it just means suspend). This is her prerogative, however if she were to allow a prorogation, it makes Harper look like he’s running from a bad situation and effectively stops Parliament from being able to do anything for a couple of months.

So if there’s no prorogue, then there’s going to be a confidence vote on Monday and it is likely the government will fall. After that, the Governor General has a couple of choices:

1. Dissolve Parliament and call an election: there’s no appetite for that in Canada. Its too soon. Its also political suicide for the coalition parties.

2. Ask the Liberal/NDP/Bloc-supported coalition to govern: this one makes my skin crawl, and not because its the most likely scenario. I cannot condone a coalition that includes party that wants to tear this country apart.

I’d like door number 1, please.

Everyone knows the US election is in full swing (or it will be after the Republican National Convention which may or may not occur on time depending on what Hurricane Gustav does).

North of the 49th, we’re also potentially, maybe headed for an election as well. Prime Minister Stephen Harper thinks that Parliament has become dysfunctional. Over the last week or two, he’s been meeting with the leaders of the opposition parties to see what can be done. Its apparent that he hopes to call an election for the fall. Take note: the Canadian election, if its allowed, will take place before the US election. National news stations are positing October 14th.

Canwest News Services is reporting that so far:

PQ Leader Gilles Duceppe and NDP Leader Jack Layton met with Harper Friday and Saturday respectively. Both Duceppe and Layton came away from those meetings convinced that Harper wants a general election and was not interested in finding a compromise that would allow the House of Commons to resume sitting on Sept. 15. Liberal insiders say Dion goes in to his meeting Monday with Harper with low expectations that any agreement will be reached that would put MPs back in the Commons on Sept. 15.

So what has to happen? Here’s a bit of a history and political system lesson.*

Like most countries that are former British Colonies, Canada still has some constitutional hangovers. In this case, the Governor General (who represents the Queen in Canada) is the only one who can dissolve Parliament. Normally, when a bill fails in Parliament (and usually a money bill of some sort), the Prime Minister will make a symbolic walk to her residence and ask the Governor General (GG) to dissolve Parliament. Generally, the GG is considered a figurehead and does what the Prime Minister asks.

However, the GG plays an important role when it comes to minority governments. More often than not, the party with the majority of seats forms the government (Cabinet). Bills and laws extend from Cabinet and are approved by Parliament. With a majority government this isn’t a problem – laws are passed and we trundle along quite merrily for a few years. Parliament tows the party line (or is that toes? I always get that mixed up), bills are passed, and a bit later an election rolls around.

In a minority government situation (like now) more often than not, the party with the most seats forms government.

If the minority government falls, the GG has a couple of options. First, she can dissolve Parliament which results in a call for an election. Second, she can meet with leaders of the “opposition” parties to hear petitions on Why My Party Should Be the Government, and appoint another party to become that government.

With me so far? Alrighty, then. Here’s the history part.

Back in 1925-26, Prime Minister Mackenzie King asked the Governor General Lord Byng to dissolve Parliament. Like the current government, King was in a minority government position. The Conservatives had won the most seats but were in a minority situation. When Byng refused to dissolved Parliament, King resigned and the GG asked the opposition under Meighen to form a government.

Within a week, the new minority government lost a confidence vote and an election was called.

(you can read more about the King-Byng Crisis here)

Now, the King-Byng Crisis was important; it redefined the role of the GG and put that position more as a figurehead than an actual decision-making position. The order of the day since then has been non-interference from London on Canadian matters.

Hopefully this provides some background on the role of the GG in Canadian Politics.

Now, fast forward about 80 years, and we have almost the exact same situation again – a minority Conservative government (following a minority Liberal government). When they came in, they put in fixed election dates (I know! Amazing! Fixed election dates! Whod’a thunk?!). And now Prime Minister Harper wants an election, ostensibly because Parliament can’t function in the fall.

Well, there’s a legal question about this. Because of the fixed election date, unless the government falls in a confidence vote, its entirely possible that an election call will be illegal. But that’s one for  the lawyers.

It ultimately rests with the Governor General: in order for an election to happen, she must dissolve parliament. And you can damn well bet she’s going to ask legal advice before that occurs.

So will we be going to the polls in October? Likely, but not etched in stone. Harper always has the option of putting forth some really controversial bill, forcing a confidence vote that will fail if the GG refuses to dissolve Parliament.

Hopefully, this provides a bit of an explanation of WTF is going on in Ottawa. We’ll see later this week if there’s an election call (probably next Sunday, which sets the stage for an October 14 election).

*I’m planning a series of future posts on the various parties, current status, more detail on the system, and the leaders themselves. If anyone wants to guest post, let me know.

November 2020


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