On the perils of prorogation

COYNE: Some advice for Canada’s new Governor General, David Johnston

 

How to handle the next crisis

Chris Wattie/Reuters

 

When is it legitimate for a prime minister to prorogue Parliament, and when is it not? At what point can we say a government has lost the confidence of the House of Commons? Suppose it has: what happens then?
These were just some of the questions at issue in the great prorogation crisis of December 2008. And at the heart, perhaps the most fundamental question of all: must a governor general always follow the advice of her prime minister?

The honest answer in every case is: don’t know. Or at best, it depends. For all its undoubted strengths, much of our Constitution remains unexplored territory, uncharted by law and untamed by precedent or jurisprudence.

For what it’s worth, my own answers to those questions would be as follows. It is ordinarily a perfectly legitimate exercise of his authority for a prime minister to prorogue, but the circumstances in which Stephen Harper sought to do so then—so soon after the House had returned, and in the shadow of an approaching confidence vote he seemed sure to lose—were far from ordinary.

Yet so were the circumstances of the proposed alternative: the coalition. Much breath has been wasted since then in defence of the principle of coalition government, or the legality of forming such a government, on the defeat of its predecessor, without an election. But that was never the issue.

It was not coalition government per se the public found so hard to digest. It was that coalition: to be led by a prime minister who had just resigned as leader of a Liberal party that had just been massively rejected in an election—and was desperate to avoid another—and utterly dependent for its survival on a party dedicated to the destruction of the country.

Indeed, so weak and unstable was the coalition, and so lacking in popular legitimacy, that it is doubtful whether it could have held on to power for more than a few chaotic weeks. Which means that if the Harper government had been defeated on a confidence vote, it’s not at all clear the Governor General would have called upon the coalition to govern.

But, as we know, it never did come to a vote. Which leaves us with that last, confounding question to wrestle with: whether the Governor General was right to accede to the Prime Minister’s demands for prorogation, and what alternatives she might have had. This is of more than historical interest. With the House likely to continue in its present configuration for some time, we’re almost certain to see another such unregulated contest of wills—not only between parties, but between Prime Minister and Governor General—before long.

At the time, my line was that Michaëlle Jean gave the right answer to a question that should never have been asked. The Prime Minister should not have used the power of prorogation to avoid defeat in the House; but until he actually had been defeated, she had no constitutional grounds to refuse him. As indeed she did not.

But since then we have had some unsettling revelations about how far both sides were prepared to push things: from the Governor General’s advisers, that she might not have granted the Prime Minister’s request had he not offered certain concessions, including the speedy recall of Parliament and presentation of a budget; from the Prime Minister’s, that the government might well have refused to accept an unfavourable ruling, appealing either to popular opinion or, according to Lawrence Martin’s new book Harperland, the Queen.

This is frightening stuff. I’m not at all sure the Governor General was in a position, constitutionally, to be setting such conditions, and it’s unclear what she would have done if her bluff was called. Yet, as disturbing as it is to think of the Tories defying the Governor General’s ruling—how? for how long?—their position cannot be dismissed out of hand. What do you do if the Governor General, supposedly the guardian of constitutional government, herself oversteps her constitutional authority?

If we are to avoid a crisis in future, then, we need to establish some ground rules. The Tories appear to believe the governor general’s is not the last word in such disputes. If that’s wrong—I can’t imagine the Queen overruling her viceroy, and the thought of settling this with demonstrations in the streets ought to fill everyone with dread—it makes it all the more vital to have a person of unquestioned authority in the office, sound of judgment, independent of party, and perceived as such. Recent changes in the appointment process are welcome in this light: there can be no return to the days when prime ministers appointed their former press secretaries to the job.

We needn’t over-specify things. There’s virtue in leaving the players some discretion to work things out. Not every situation is the same, and rules cannot be written to cover every eventuality. Whether to hand power to the coalition, for example, rather than call an election, would have depended on a close reading of its ability to govern, among other considerations. And of course, formal constitutional amendments are out of the question.

But the informal conventions—where a governor general should yield to a prime minister’s request, and where to stand firm, and what sorts of judgments should inform each decision—need to be spelled out, understood, and agreed upon on all sides. A conference of international experts is to be held next February, with the government’s participation and Rideau Hall’s support, to consider these very questions. That seems an excellent place to start.




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On the perils of prorogation

  1. Andrew, I understand your position on the prorogation decision, though I do not agree with it. What worries me is that the GG's decision does not seem to be based on your criteria – that the Prime Minister had, if only in the technical sense, confidence and could prorogue if he liked. It seems she made her decision based on some fuzzy "what's best" logic. As you said:

    "t was that coalition: to be led by a prime minister who had just resigned as leader of a Liberal party that had just been massively rejected in an election—and was desperate to avoid another—and utterly dependent for its survival on a party dedicated to the destruction of the country."

    The question for me is: Should the GG be taking such things into account? Should a GG prevent governance by a 'crappy' coalition government? Should she evaluate whether a coalition is 'good for the country' or should she let the government that has confidence of the house govern – and let the forces of parliament and democracy play out, letting it fall apart in a week if that's what happens?

    • I think she did the right thing, mostly because of the financial turmoil, she had to take that into consideration somewhat, there is no way the coalition was going to survive, and it would of put the country in a terrible position for a long time and we didn't know how bad it was going to get with the big financial meltdown, someone had to be at the helm and had to be someone who had a shoot to be in power for a while. The country itself had to come first!

      • So you are a big fan of irrelevant considerations, you are saying.

        • No, I think she's saying the "irrelevant" considerations weren't irrelevant.

  2. "This is frightening stuff!"….Coyne doesn't tell the half of it! David Johnston is the political ally of the Ontario Liberal government. He worked to set the current economic direction of Ontario (healthcare expansion). His Report of the Expert Panel on Fertility and Adoption can be fairly assessed as 'press' work for McGuinty. Johnston's corporate affiliations dwarf Nigel Wright's yet thanks to the overblown love-in for Johnston from Coyne and others at his appointment the public hasn't paused to consider what approach a breathtakingly connected corporate elite will take to exercise of the GG's reserve powers.

    • You besmirch a man I doubt you have met or dealt with. Your characterization of him as a 'breathtakingly connected corporate elite' reveals more about your own prejudices than that of our Governor General. The work he has done for various governments, which you seem to think was stooging, is better described like the man himself: avoiding controversy and building on positives. Just the sort of person that Canada deserves as our Governor General.

  3. Harper had just received a vote of confidence from the Commons, on the Speech of the Throne. Should the GG, the country, and the country have to endure the shenanigans of a bipolar Opposition that votes confidence one day, and almost the very next changes its mind.

    That, plus the main opposition party didn't even have confidence in its own leader.

    Prorogation just gave the Opposition time to make up its mind. Turns out they were only joking. Which meant the Prime Minister and the GG made the correct decision.

    • So you see no problem with the Prime Minister and GG ruling against the publicly expressed intentions of the majority of our representatives?

      • The GG general didn't. The Opposition had just voted confidence in the government on the Speech from the Throne.

        Actions matter more than hot air. And it was hot air, because the Opposition chickened out after the prorogation when the polls went against them.

      • Not with the prorogation of 2008, not at all!

    • That's a lot of text to say "the end justified the means"

    • no.

    • The Speech from the Throne is a formality filled with useless phrases and broad sweeping pronouncements and you know it. It is a far cry from an economic update that included zero stimulus spending. I don't think the coalition was the right strategy…but your deliberate intellectual dishonesty is stunning.

  4. "Recent changes in the appointment process are welcome…"
    Why so welcome, Coyne? Aren't you the pundit who mused that Canada should consider a dynastic lineage for the GG? MacLean's hasn't published any investigative reports to show what was on Harper's list of requirements. How is it that Harper ends up picking a liberal power broker as GG? How different are the economic agendas of the Federal Conservatives and the Ontario Liberals? And truly…how can MacLean's claim to know that Quebec is the 'most corrupt' province when they haven't fleshed out the power relationships between Ottawa and Ontario?

    • Coyne mused about setting up a Canadian branch of the House of Windsor (i.e. Prince Harry or someone else would move to Canada, become King of Canada, and set up a Canadian Royal House). I for one think it would be a good idea. It would help people feel more connected and less 'distant' from Canada's monarchy, and it would also prevent situations where the PM considers going over the viceroy's head, because a federal viceroy would not be required with a resident monarch.

  5. The GG made a very clear ruling. If you want to form a coalition after an election, do it before you vote confidence in the government on the Speech for the Throne.

    • You have a very poor understanding of how confidence works in a Westminster parliament.

    • The Governor General made no such ruling and didn't even hint at what you are suggesting.

  6. Frankly, Andrew you seem to be uncharacteristically inconsistent on this issue. Since the pending nonconfidence vote was not yet held, Harper technically still had the confidence of the House and so the GG was out of order in even considering not granting his request? What if the vote had been called but not yet taken, Harper pulls a fire alarm and while everyone is out on the lawn he runs down Sussex to the GG and asks for a prorogue. (I fully realize that such a scenario is absurd and dangerous, but Harper's actual actions were both absurd and dangerous so the two scenarios differ more by degree than any qualitative measure)

    Having concluded the GG should be constrained by technicalities in granting the prorogue, you conclude she should have been clairvoyant in ascertaining the longevity of the coalition?

    Unfortunately it seems that your view on the activism of the GG is tightly correlated to your preferred outcome, on a case by case basis. The correlation does not render your argument void, but it does raise suspicion.

    • I think there's a difference between a duly elected government which had just had its Throne Speech endorsed by the House and an untested coalition of the kind I describe. I'm not saying she wouldn't have called upon them. I'm not even saying she shouldn't, necessarily. I'm just saying there's no assurance she would have. Which puts me in the same company as, among others, Michael Ignatieff. (Also Peter Hogg.)

      • Nice article but a waste of time.

        We already have safeguards built into our system.

        Section 5 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom. .
        Parliament must sit at least once every 12 months.

        So that's the worst case scenario, a PM prorogues to avoid non-confidence and gets to stay on the job for another year. A year goes by and then the house meets, non-confidence is expressed, and we have an election.

        An entire year with an illegitimate prime minister! Oh no! (Actually in the grand scheme of things i'm sure Canada will survive. Its a pretty GOOD system as is, no ? Why break a good thing.)

        Cats away!

      • 1) Well, the SFT is a bit of a canard, no? Yes the opposition parties supported the SFT, but shortly thereafter the government introduced a budget update that introduced a series of policies that were highly partisan and divisive and that the same opposition deemed unsupportable to the point they made perfectly clear that would withdraw confidence based on.

        2) But you are also saying, as Stewart mentioned, that notwithstanding the highly ambiguous nature of the GG's reserve power that she/he ought to make judgments that are, on one hand, constrained by technical considerations (e.g., her ability to refuse prorogation prior to a vote of confidence) and on the other hand desiring that it is based on he or she making judgments (such as the ability of an alternative government to command confidence, though 'other considerations' as well). and while admittedly judgments are not the same as setting conditions the differences can be shades not kinds. rather than pushing a condition she could have made a judgment that prorogation was best if it was relatively short and followed by a confidence; rather than formally set these as conditions she could have simply mused about them or asked it was going to be a long prorogation and if a budget would follow shortly (wink, wink; nudge nudge).

        so judgments, but only sometimes, and not to forcefully stated? there is some inconsistency there Andrew, or at least a lot of ambiguity. and i like, Stewart, am quite worried about what seems to be a overarching concern with (not just yours!) preferred outcomes. this seems awfully risky to me.

        3) for my money, it is not clear that the 'new appointment process' was much better. how was the committees membership settled on? what criteria were at the heart of its search? how were candidates selected for consideration? was anyone precluded from consideration? how the work of the committee relate to the tete a tete Johnston revealed he had with Harper? the new process was woefully lacking transparency.

        all that being said, thanks for writing the piece. I am glad that at least some people are still struggling through these issues in the media. you are right we need to get this sorted. are you invited to participate in the Russell event in the new year?

  7. I'm not sure why you would find the idea that proroguation was granted on conditions of a speedy return & a budget "frightening". Under the circumstances I'd be a lot more frightened if proroguation had been granted unconditionally, with no idea when Parliament would return.

    • ta da, john g & I agree! (it had to happen some day)

      • I think you both ought to consider carefully whether this is the company you want to keep.

        • says the guy who hangs with Wells.

          • I, uh, I have no answer to that.

    • Not only is it not frightening, it's perfectly legitimate and consistent with our British/Canadian constitutional tradition. The GG is the guardian of that tradition. And central to it is the idea of Parliamentary sovereignty. Parliament are the watchmen on the Crown and the keepers of the public purse – jobs made easier by 'a speedy return' and 'a budget'. All she was doing with such concessions was to protect the role of Parliament and to reduce her office's constitutional footprint as much as possible, by not allowing the executive to run roughshod over the wishes of the legislature. These 'dignified' institutions are the closest thing we have to proper checks and balances within the system. Without the concessions, the PM and Cabinet could have idly kept going and not bothered with Parliamentary accountability for a considerable amount of time – something that, any serious student of British political history could tell you (and Andrew is one such person, making his comments a bit surprising) is a bit of a no-no, having led to civil wars, regal decapitations and glorious revolutions.

      For what it's worth, in cases of constitutional uncertainty, without the benefit of precedent, there is some jurisprudence and academic opinion in Britain stating that the decision of the monarch is right and proper by virtue of it being the decision of the monarch. Having drawn out such concessions in a way that ennobles Parliament, such a course of action is arguably now part of Canada's constitutional tapestry, sure to act as a precedent for generations to come.

    • See above.

      Prorogation can last for no more than one year. And the government in power is basically a care taker one since they can't pass legislation and need to ask the GG to issue warrants for supply.

      Its hardly an evil dictatorship. More like a typically Canadian headache.

      Mice day!

  8. There was only one question to be asked here.

    'Do you, Mr Harper, command the confidence of the House?'

    At that point, Harper did not….it was the very question he was avoiding by trying to prorogue.

    And luckily for him, she failed to ask it.

    • Emils you are either pregnant or you are not.

      The PM enjoys the confidence of the house up until he doesn't.

      And the only way he does not is if the house passes a non-confidence motion, which it had not. In fact it had just expressed confidence with the throne speech.

      Try again Cats.

  9. I'd like it if PMs and GGs worked through written correspondence. The fact that what happened between Harper and Jean is a black box isn't very reassuring.

  10. The prorogue is supposed to be used to close parliament after all the work on the current legislation has been done; the point being to reset parliament to start on a new set of legislation.

    Given that the speech from the throne had just been passed, and that NO legislation had even been put forward, how was the prorogue justified?

    Discussing the finer points while ignoring the fundamental purpose of the mechanism we're discussing just dances around the central principle involved.

    Harper should have had no right to prorogue parliament at that stage, especially since it was obviously done for one reason and one reason alone: to avoid a confidence vote in the house.

    That's a setback for democracy if i ever saw one.

  11. This obsession with single party plurality governance when the majority of Canadians have voted for someone else is startling to me.

    If voting for a representative in parliament is to mean anything at all, it should mean that the majority of those representatives have the ultimate democratic power in parliament.

    In our system the "government" has far more power than any opposition party, to the extreme in fact. So if we are to lean on the plurality argument for governance, then we are inherently accepting to be ruled by parties that do not represent the majority of voters.

    How is that democracy again?

    • Its democratic because the collective will agrees that those are the rules.

      • Actually, the collective couldn't agree on one party to rule. That in itself is a mandate for consensus and cooperation, but one that no party seems willing to accept.

        To allow a minority government to use procedural rules, technicalities and threats of an election to bully their minority agenda through the house is not in the best interests of Canadians and flies in the face of democratic values.

        So change the rules then if they're not working in our best interests.

  12. If, looking at the polls during the election, the parties involved had even hinted at the possibility of a coalition during the election you might have a point. It was not as if all of the people who voted for the Liberals, NDP, or Bloc (who formally were not actually part of the coalition, meaning that the coalition government of Liberal + NDP would have had less seats than the conservatives) supported the idea of a coalition.

    Let's not forget that public opinion was sharply against the coalition when it was announced, and the support from MPs was motivated by the threat to remove federal subsidies from the Liberals and Bloc who were in dire financial straights.

    • To me it's simply not sensible to suggest that the only acceptable government is one that is formed from a plurality when the government created from it is in the minority and subject to instability.

      I would expect that much like in the case of a majority government, if the majority of MPs can agree to a collective agenda based on their elections promises and general ideology, then they should govern, whether or not the party with the plurality is part of that government.

      Otherwise we are arbitrarily deciding to ignore the will of the majority of voters.

      The instability of the past five years has made one thing very clear to me: Minorities don't work, and you can't count on party establishments to see past their own personal interests and egos.

      So I say make it an established convention: To be government REQUIRES a majority of seats, whether that means a coalition or not.

      At least then every leader would implicitly understand that anything less than a majority mandate is a ruling by the people that they should work together with other parties.

      • Phil. You seem to conveniently forget that the current government has already been governing with the support of other parties. Each of its budgets passed with the support of Parliament..

        • I've forgotten nothing. What I've been watching is a minority playing parties against each other and using the risk of an election over and over to bully parliament into following an agenda the majority did not vote for.

          I do not appreciate procedural and tactical moves being employed in this manner to govern the country.

          So I repeat, government should REQUIRE an actual majority in seats to govern, and defacto majorities don't fulfill this requirement sufficiently.

        • At the time of the prorogation, the fiscal update with the poision pills (elimination of party funding, etc.) had not yet passed, and a budget had not yet been presented. The government can bleat about how the throne speech was passed by the house, but the throne speech is a general approval to move forward – not a blanket permission to submit any legislation they please. The parties should not be vilified for exercising their right to vote down anything following the throne speech that did not tie back to the throne speech itself. While the government is currently governing with the (tenuous) support of the majority of the house based on recent budgets being approved, the same rules apply. Past approval of a budget within the same year does not equal unwavering support of anything that follows.

          • Legislation to implement parts of the Fiscal Upate had not yet been submitted to the House. The opposition parties were planning to vote on a resolution of non-confidence. Prorogation did nothing to stop the opposition parties from bringing back another motion of non-confidence after Parliament resumed; nor from voting against the budget submitted to Parliament in January. That the opposition parties chose not to vote down the government is evidence that they had concluded the electorate was not ready to support them.

  13. Andrew, what would of happen if she didn't prorogue hypothetically speaking, of course!

    • Well, if it had gone to a vote, government would very likely have been defeated. Not inconceivable govt could not have found some other dodge to avoid it, or bought off one of the parties, but neither likely.

      But then we would have been in another crisis. I disagree with some of the commenters here. I think GG would have had to consider carefully whether to call upon such a rickety, unstable coalition to form a government, particularly given its dependence on the Bloc. I know this will upset some people, but Bloc is not a party like the others — if it were, then Gilles Duceppe would be a legitimate choice for Prime Minister. People are entitled to vote for it if they like, of course. But a party devoted to the destruction of the country cannot also expect to govern it. Any self-respecting country has to draw the line somewhere — that is, if it believes in its own right to exist.

      GG would be under immense pressure. If she refused coalition, and called new election, she'd be accused of snubbing Parliament, interfering in democratic process, etc (although, having earlier refused the PM's request for prorogation, she could hardly be accused of partisanship). On the other hand, if she called upon the coalition to form a government, she'd be accused of selling the country out to the separatists, which given her own (and her husband's) flirtations with the movement would be sensitive ground indeed.

      • Thanks, that was a very interesting point!

        I really believe she made the right call, a couple hundred years ago these guys were punished by treason and have them beheaded!

        Thanks again!

      • But a party devoted to the destruction of the country cannot also expect to govern it.

        But the TWO parties in the coalition (and especially their desperate supporters around here) went to great lengths to explain that the Bloc was most certainly NOT part of the coalition, merely a powerless dupe that agreed to offer support to the *cough* therefore-entirely-stable *cough* Lib-NDP coalition for 18 months.

        These very supporters are currently seeking realtor licenses for the lucrative bridge & swampland markets.

      • I think GG would have had to consider carefully whether to call upon such a rickety, unstable coalition to form a government, particularly given its dependence on the Bloc.

        Constitutionally, how could that possibly have been her concern? Harper loses confidence, so Jean logically, legally and constitutionally asks Dion to seek confidence. Dion then either gets it or he doesn't.

        What is so catastrophic (constitutionally, I mean) about an election immediately versus an election a week or three later after Dion goes splat?

        And here is a constitutional question for the experts: If Harper loses confidence, and Dion NEVER GAINS confidence, who is PM (and who are the cabinet ministers) until the Commons re-convenes after the next general election? My guess is Harper and the Tories, but can anyone in authority confirm?

      • Naturally I don't think the GG should've had much to consider. We'd just had an election and in the scenario we're discussing the government has lost the confidence of parliament early on. It seems to me that if the next largest party can demonstrate they have the confidence of the majority of the house, they should have the opportunity to pass a throne speech.

        But why even let it go that far? Seems to me that if no party has an outright majority after an election, a negotiation period should kick in first, similar to what went on in Britain. A possible majority government should be our first consideration, and if voters can't agree on one party to rule, then let's accept what Canadians do deliver, and that appears to be a mandate for regional representatives to negotiate consensus from those regional perspectives, solidified through a process everyone can anticipate.

      • RE BLOC: I find them an odd party. While they clearly state that they believe Quebec should be independent, they just as clearly have no mandate to deliver that, given that they have no power to do so.

        Everyone I know who votes BLOC does so as a "Quebec first" regional voting block, and not as a vote for separation.

        They know full well that only a referendum can deliver a separation agenda, and as such the BLOC is really just a regional representative in the federal parliament, something that seems to suit Quebec voters just fine.

        So to me Duceppe would be a perfectly acceptable candidate for Prime Minister, though he'd never in a million years pursue it, since it would prove that the system he claims to hate works well on behalf of Quebecers. LOL

        • I think Duceppe is like Snape of Harry Potter fame, a very sinister character and at the end he was the big hero!

          I think the bloc is there because it's politically correct, we seem so scared to offend them, but we need to get over that and let them go, or otherwise get every province in the same way!

          • I'm always torn about Duceppe. On one hand he always seems to have good ideas, is very practical and likeable.

            He's probably the best leader on the hill in terms of getting things done.

            On the other hand he says he wants to separate from Canada, and seems to mean it.

            That said, he's been involved in more coalition attempts than anyone other than the NDP.

            Weird eh?

  14. Prorogation is a legitimate end to a session of Parliament. But it can be abused and it was abused by Harper. If the government has a majority then it is a mute point because a majority government has a majority in Parliament and Parliament functions with the support of the majority of members in the house. On prorogation requests from a Minority government the GG should ask the other leaders in Parliament if they agree with the Prorogation request. More than 99% of the time they would say yes this is just the end to a session of Parliament and it is not in their opinion an abuse of Parliament. On the chance they could say NO they are not in agreement they woulkd then provide their reasons to the GG. The GG then has the input from Parliament operating with a Minority PM in place and without a lot of time spent can say yes to the PMs request or say no. If no, then I would say the GG gives the government a maximum of 10 working days (Mon-Fri) for the government to get the other parties/leaders on side for the prorogation. If this cannot be done and it is a minority government then the GG should appoint a new PM based on the leader of the parties in Parliament.

    This approach would do two things….it would not allow prorogation by a government that could be defeated by the majority of the house (in other words a government only governs if it has the support of the house); second it would stop stupid prorogation requests because the GG and the other members of Parliament become active players in the request and a case could be made on why Parliament should not prorogue at this time (in other words that the role of PM in itself does NOT have total power (particularly when a Minority Government) over Parliament but rather the house has the power regarding the actions of Parliament).

    All the GG is doing in this case is asking if Parliament supports the prorogation request through her question of the other leaders in Parliament. She still may say yes after taking that input….or she may say no and request Parliament come to an agreement over the next 2weeks.

  15. "I'm not at all sure the Governor General was in a position, constitutionally, to be setting such conditions,"

    You wouldn't know the constitution if it gave you a wet willy, Mr. Lock Up the G20 Protesters.

    I'm not at all sure you're in a position, journalistically, to be musing on such matters.

    • I never called for peaceful protesters to be "locked up." Don't be an ass.

      • You damn well did. We already settled this on Twitter with me citing about 15 of your tweets.

        This is like the other night with Mulcair when you tried to abscond from the Huntington quotes.

        Pick an editorial line and go with it, Coyne. Your sensationalism and disingenuous retractions are not fooling people.

        • Excuse me, but Mulcair was an unmitigated ass in that so called "debate". Andrew tried to keep it respectful for much longer than I could've beared, but it appears that Quebec politicians can never resist the pretense of "standing up for Qubec" on the public airways, to the point where bullying, rudeness and the obfuscation of fact becomes more than acceptable.

          Everytime Andrew even opened his mouth, Mulcair shouted over him. Nobody who acts like that gets more than three seconds of my attention, and none of my respect.

          I may not always agree with him, but Andrew had a right to be heard, and he couldn't get ten words out of his mouth.

          I hope Andrew had a little talk with Evan Solomon about his utter lack of ability to control the debate.

  16. I for one look forward to the civil war which will ensue when the coalition of losers tries to take power from the legitimately elected government of this country.

    • Then you need to go back to high school and learn about Canada's parliamentary rules of governance. Protests? Yup. Condemnations? Surely. Cries of illegitimacy? Yes, but they would be mistaken.

      Civil war? Care to try again?

      • I dont actually think there will be a civil war, canadians are too peaceful for that, but they would have cause to start one. If the coalition of losers wants to run together, they can do so, and run a campaign based on a coalition government. Then they would be legitimate. To do otherwise would be attempting to rule over a people without their consent, and for a large percentage of the population, such a government would be illegitimate. Im almost hoping the coalition pulls it off just to see how it plays out. I suspect at the very least people west of Manitoba will start withholding their taxes, Alberta separatism going through the roof, RoC wanting to kick Quebec out (as the BQ will be a member of the coalition and the other two losers, Iggy and Layton will be buying him off with the RoC's money more than ever).

        But it will all be worth it, because strictly speaking, our rules of parliamentary democracy allow it, and the Liberals will be back in power, even if Canada is in shambles.

        • It's "write your own constitution day!" here at Macleans!

          • which part of the constitution did I rewrite douchebag?

        • Without their consent?

          People vote in members of parliament, and that's who they're sending to Ottawa, let's not over look that.

          If 165 of those members agree to form government, the only people who would be truly sore about it would be the 143 members and their supporters who couldn't get in on it.

          Instead, right now we have the 143 using technicalities and threats to overrule the 165.

          Now THAT'S a reason for a democratic revolution! LOL

          • If you run as independent parties, reject a coalition outright during the campaign (like Dion and Layton did in '08), and then turn around and form a coalition, you will have taken power without the people's consent.

          • Yeah well I can't disagree in terms of the rejection aspect. It was silly of him to even go there, and closed off the possibility in a very real way.

            It was dumb politics and ignored the old political maxim: never ever make absolute unconditional statements.

            But you know my position, I want a formal process in place to make majority governments the most likely result, even if that means coalitions.

            Then it's all out there for everyone to see and consider.

          • I've replied to your other comment below, but in any event Im glad we agree on this tiny point. Also, for what it's worth, I hate your solution less than I hate the idea of the coalition of losers usurping power.

          • Less hate is always good! LOL

            Besides, I actually think we agree more than we don't, but because debates like this always focus on the differences in opinions, it can sometimes exagerate those differences.

            Ultimately voters should get what they believe they are voting for in the grand scheme of things, and that is a fair point across the board.

          • "Ultimately voters should get what they believe they are voting for in the grand scheme of things, and that is a fair point across the board."

            Precisely!

  17. I long for the days when the great Pierre was the "Boss" and could prorogue parliament at will with little or no accountability, and the media thought that was just fine. Soon we'll have Bob Rae as our Liberal leader and we all know how much he loves to prorogue, then we can get back to not caring. Prorogation if necessary, but not necessarily prorogation, or something.

  18. Those on the left hate the decision, those on the right agree with it. End of story. See you at the election…

  19. By the way, anyone else notice the similarities between David Johnston and Johnny Carson? LOL

    • Hahaha, that's why he looked so familiar…

    • Oh come on people, it was a joke. Why vote down a joke?

      Besides, hasn't anyone here ever seen Carson? The martial bow was like his trademark, and Johnston is doing an awesome impression! LOL

  20. Chretien famously achieved a majority with 38% of the vote. Is that more democratic then governing with a minority with 36%? How does the geographical location of your electors affect whether your government is democratically elected or not? It should not, but apparently in our quirky little system it does. And what about the proportion of voters in your 58% who voted for either NDP/Lib/Bloc who is entirely opposed to the idea of the 3 getting together forming a coalition? How is hoodwinking voters more democratic?

    • Firstly, if a party has the majority of seats, then they're good to go. Personally I would prefer some form of proportional representation, but that is besides the point. As it stands today, a majority is a majority regardless of popular support.

      In fact the only real point to my mentioning the support numbers, is to reinforce the fact that the other parties have a considerable mandate from the voters, and so their legitimacy as representatives is not in question.

      If there is no majority based on one party arising from an election, then I think our next step should be to see if one can be formed via coalition. It would be far more efficient than waiting for the opposition to defeat a newly formed government, and would ensure more stability and cooperation over all in my opinion.

      As far as "hoodwinking", this would not be the case if a formal process was put in place. In fact I think it is the lack of a formal process that has allowed what I see as a partisan war to get out of hand, one that has gone on for nearly five years now.

      • I agree with you that if the coalition option is clearly in front of the voters before the election, so that the voters may make an informed choice, that hoodwinking is not an issue.

        However, with respect to the majority of seats, I think its pretty clear that having a 36% min or a 38% maj, is essentially similar in terms of mandate. The fact that one case produces a majority and the other a minority is more a reflection of voter distribution and how seats are allocated throughout the country (for example, voters in Quebec or Atlantic Canada have a more important vote than Albertans because they have fewer voters per seat on average). So ultimately, the difference between Harper in 08 and Chretien in 97 is entirely arbitrary.

        Your idea of needing a majority to form a government is not entirely bad, but I just think you should know that ultimately it produces arbitrary results with no greater democratic significance then the current system.

        Also, since we're discussing your idea (obviously a purely academic exercise), you should concern yourself with the law of unintended consequences. How will voters and parties react to this new reality? Will we have a BQ, an Ontario Bloc, a Western Bloc and an Antlatic Bloc? Would this solution effectively permanently give the balance of power to the BQ…

        The current system allowing minority governments is not that terrible. It's far from ideal, but we shouldnt sacrifice the good in search of perfection.

        • First, I don't think we should equivocate on percentages. You either have the majority of seats or you don't, and because our system is based on representatives, that is the primary consideration. Of course personally I would prefer a single tranferable voting system to allow for rating by the people, but that is besides the point.

          Secondly, I do agree that a formalized process for handling minority results will likely change voting patterns, but given that there was always a chance of coalitions, and more so today than ever before, I think this would simply be the result of people being more aware of the possibilities.

          I don't know what the results of that would be, but from my perspective, anything that give voters a clearer understanding of the potential results has to be a good thing for democracy.

          Besides, what I'm suggesting enforces cooperation between parties in cases where the electorate is split, and that is another thing I think would be good for our democracy on the whole.

          • "First, I don't think we should equivocate on percentages. You either have the majority of seats or you don't, and because our system is based on representatives, that is the primary consideration."

            This is where your analysis fails. You choose to fix one 'bug' in our system but you entirely ignore another 'bug' which produces the same kind of problems because you dont think we should 'equivocate' and because 'our system is based on representatives'. That's a cop-out.

            You're willing to change the system for the 64% of voters who did not vote for Harper, but the 62% of voters who did not vote for Chretien can shove it "because you dont think we should equivocate". OUCH!!

          • Actually I never voted for Chretien, and it grates on me continually that a majority can be formed from such a small percentage.

            I'm simply saying we have to work within the first past the post system until we decide to change it, and one aspect that needs looking at within this context is the handling of minority verdicts.

            I think that a majority of seats should be the minimum expectation of a government precisely because they only require 2/5ths of the vote to get it.

            I do however advocate for change, and my preference would be the single transferable vote.

            It would allow people to rate the parties, which would be informative and allow people to vote their conscience while still ensuring that a third party with minimal support doesn't ride up the middle. Also, all MPs would have been voted in with 50% of the vote, thus increasing their legitimacy.

            It's not representation by population, but it precludes a lot of other craziness that one must contend with in those other systems, such as additional MPs with no ridings and constant minorities, unless of course we accept constant coalitions.

    • And I might add, if a party only requires 2/5ths of the electorate's support to form a MAJORITY government, and yet cannot even meet this benchmark, then clearly they are not in a position to claim legitimacy as a government without the support of another party.

      So let's formalize the coalition concept, so voters know what to expect and so the parties may actually get down to governing for a change.

  21. Oh so much verbiage over something that ought to be short,simple, direct and to the point.

    If someone asks a question of a third party, it is a given that that party is fully empowered to answer in the positive or negative. Otherwise, why bother??

    If the GG is a constitutional office with full authority to rule on parliamentary questions, then the proverbial buck stops there. And the PM has to live with the consequences and if he doesn't like the answer, then it's up to him to call an election and try to get the people's approval to (continue) to govern.

    This is pure unadulterated nonsense to think this office ought to be a rubber stamp.

    Now, unsaid, is the requirement that the office holder has the knowledge and intestinal fortitude to get on with the job and stare down the PM if need be.

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