Sunday, December 14, 2008

A Little Refresher ...

[Update 19:30]
It's even worse than I feared according a Dominion Institute commissioned survey:

The institute drew up four basic questions:

* Who is the head of state?
* How can Canada's system of government best be described?
* Do Canadians elect the prime minister directly?
* Can the Governor General nix a prime minister's request for a new election?

The really sad part is how few people actually got the answers right:

About 75 per cent of Canadians believe incorrectly the prime minister or the Governor General is head of state, ...
Given a choice how best to describe the system of government, 25 per cent of those surveyed decided on a "co-operative assembly" while 17 per cent opted for a "representative republic."

Canada is neither. Only 59 per cent picked correctly — constitutional monarchy.

In a similar vein, 51 per cent wrongly agreed that Canadians elect the prime minister directly.

A full 90 per cent responded correctly that the Governor General does have the power, which Jean may yet be called on to wield if the opposition coalition does defeat the government with a vote in the Commons.

If a majority had responded anything other than in the affirmative about the Governor General's powers given what's been in the news in the last few weeks, it would have made the results that much more disappointing.

What's even more vile than those results is the way that the HarperCon$ are preying on the ignorance of so many.

Since Canada's government seems intent on lying to the public about the concept of a government formed by a coalition, I thought it worth a few minutes to dismantle the outright lies that are being foisted upon us from the PMO.

One of the talking points that has been thrown out there is that an opposition coalition is somehow analogous to a coup d'état.

This is blatantly false. I'll refer briefly to the Wikipedia article on the subject for a practical working definition:

a coup, is the sudden unconstitutional overthrow of a government by a part — usually small — of the state establishment — usually the military — to replace the branch of the stricken government, either with another civil government or with a military government.

The first point here is that a coup d'état is unconstitutional. So, let us consider the constitutional realities that are at play right now in Canada for a moment.

Wikipedia provides a reasonable (but incomplete) summary of the Governor General's legal powers. If one reviews Section III of the Constitution Act of 1867, it clearly vests the executive power of government in the crown, represented in Canada by the Governor General:

9. The Executive Government and Authority of and over Canada is hereby declared to continue and be vested in the Queen.

10. The Provisions of this Act referring to the Governor General extend and apply to the Governor General for the Time being of Canada, or other the Chief Executive Officer or Administrator for the Time being carrying on the Government of Canada on behalf and in the Name of the Queen, by whatever Title he is designated.

This is the first part of the discussion that is important. The appointment and swearing in of the government in the House of Commons is performed by the Governor General on behalf of the crown. In a situation such as a minority parliament, the Governor General is presented with the potential for several different options - the party with the plurality of seats will likely be asked to form the government first, but as the King-Byng Affair of 1926 demonstrated, the Governor General may ask the leaders of other parties to form the government.

As far as I know, the coalition has taken no steps which undermine or violate the authority of the Governor General in this matter.

Now, let us move along to how the coalition has proceeded. Prior to Prime Minister Harper requesting, and being granted, a prorogation of parliament, there was to be a confidence vote in the House of Commons on Dec 12, 2008 on the motions related to the Fiscal Update that the Harper-led government had tabled in the House of Commons in late November.

In a Westminster parliament, a government that loses the confidence of the House of Commons collapses. The concept of a confidence motion is a recognized and accepted construct through which the sitting government will be tested. Although a government's collapse usually triggers a general election, it is not necessarily the case that happen. If the Governor General can be persuaded that one or more of the opposition parties can form a stable government for some period of time, the Governor General has the right to ask the opposition to form a government without triggering an election.

So, since the coalition was proceeding through a legitimate path to deprive the Harper government of the confidence of the House of Commons, it is hard to claim that a coalition is in any respect a 'coup d'état' in any meaningful way.

The second point that needs to be considered here is that in a Westminster Parliament, we elect our representatives, and we do not directly elect the Prime Minister, instead the Queen requests the person most likely to command the support of a majority in the House, normally the leader of the largest party in the House of Commons, to form a government. In short, Stephen Harper sits in the PMO at "Her Majesty's Pleasure", and by a series of quirks of convention belonging to a system that has evolved over nearly 1,000 years.

Since the Harper Conservatives were so willing to form a coalition to replace Paul Martin's government in 2004, it is mind boggling that today we find the same group of people complaining that a coalition would somehow be an illegitimate government.

In October of 2008, Stephen Harper asked Canadians to decide on a parliament. We duly elected our representatives with the full expectation that they would find a way to make the resulting House of Commons work. If that takes the form of creating a coalition government, that is an eminently valid expression of democracy in Canada and in fact would represent a government that is doing what most Canadians would want - a degree of cooperation among the leaders in the House of Commons.

I suspect that Harper is in fact fomenting a crisis for one of two reasons - he either wants "another kick at the can" in the electoral forum to secure a majority, or he is trying to create a crisis big enough to justify re-opening the constitution. In the latter case, I fear greatly what he would do, for he has shown himself repeatedly to be autocratic rather than democratic.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Ah, for heaven's sake, everyone knows that Canada's head of state is our Fuhrer, Stephen Harper, duly elected by the overwhelming vote of 22.3% of elegible voters in the last election.

And every red-necked Albertan demands that his vote count. To hell with the voters from Ontario, Quebec and anywhere else.

And, if the law books and the constitution don't reflect the above views, mein Fuhrer will burn them, and re-write them the way we want them..

As for Parliament, we might as well burn down that Reichstag too.
No use paying the heat bill if it's padlocked.

Heil mein Fuhrer
Heil mein Alberta

Jeeez, it isn't funny when you realize that most Albertans feel this way... WAY TO SCARY.