Interview with a Parliamentarian -

Interview with a Parliamentarian


Here’s a link to my Q&A with Peter Russell, one of our foremost constitutional scholars who has a new book out on the virtues of minority government. Prof. Russell’s previous book, Constitutional Odyssey, is one of the best primers on the quest to patriate the constitution; it wasn’t till I read that book that I fully grasped how the amending formula is essentially a definition of the country. 

I’ll get to a proper review of the new book eventually, but this interview should keep you thinking for a bit.  Here’s my favourite part of our conversation:


AP: On that note, you punctuate your discussion of the infamous King-Byng affair by saying the chief lesson is that the smooth functioning of parliamentary government requires all the parties involved to behave honourably.

 PR: Yes, and I know that’s motherhood, but I consider Mr. Harper’s request “dishonourable.” I made that submission to the Federal Court as part of Democracy Watch’s legal action for judicial review. Yes, it was dishonourable, it violated a pretty serious commitment that he — and not just himself and his government, but all the parties — entered into. And I consider that dishonourable.

 AP: Was Mr. Harper putting the Governor General in an untenable position?

PR: Oh, for sure. I mean, it’s always very, very tough when a prime minister does a dishonourable thing. I consider it dishonourable to promise a confidence vote and then, a few days later, make it impossible by asking for a prorogation of Parliament. People might have other adjectives; I’ll stick with dishonourable.

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Interview with a Parliamentarian

  1. What I find most unsatisfactory about Parliamentarians arguments is that they ignore convention and precedent when it comes to the Coalition. There is no precedent anywhere in Westminster government history of a Coalition trying to take over like they did but Parliamentarians claim it was perfectly legal and above board. Parliamentarians seem to focus on some rules but completely ignore others.

    If Harper acted dishonourably, so to did the leaders of the Coalition.

    • Every precedent at its origin, had no precedent.

      • Up to a point, I agree. But you could use same justification for Harper ducking a confidence vote by asking GG to prorogue Parliament.

        • And I have no problem with that, since now the other parties will have the opportunity to do the same at some future point, citing this as precedent. Perhaps it was not a good decision, but it was certainly not illegal or improper. And he didn’t duck the vote, he just postponed it. Proroguation is no more shutting down parliament permanently than the coalition was a coup d’etat.

    • jwl – If Harper acted dishonourably, so to did the leaders of the Coalition.


      Yeah the opposition parties should have just rolled over and let Harper bankrupt them. That would have been the honourable thing to do jwl. That would have been serving their constituents and the country well.

      • I will leave aside your apparent belief that Liberal Party is indispensable to Canada but the Cons did quickly withdraw the offending proposals. The Coalition should not have continued their attempt to take control once the Cons rescinded their plan to eliminate public funds for political parties. That’s how it has always worked in the past but these clowns decided they didn’t have to follow established precedents and thought it was clever to carry on with their attempt at usurping power regardless.

        • jwl, the Harper government didn’t rescind the bit about removing a woman’s legal recourse when she feels she isn’t paid equitably. It didn’t add any of the numerous suggestions the individual opposition parties gave to the government. The removal of some of the offensive parts of that fiscal update didn’t remove the fact that the entire thing was offensive. In other words, they didn’t scrap it altogether and promise to start over, so why wouldn’t the coalition–who had stated the whole thing was garbage–not continue on until they did?

        • The Cons may have claimed that they were removing the public party financing, but by that point trust in the Prime Minister was irrevocably broken.

          Having his trained seals yell “traitor” at opposition MPs did not exactly inspire confidence that he could be trusted with power.

        • Also the Liberal Party may not be indispensable to Canada but opposition parties are, and Harper’s proposal would have bankrupt ALL the parties except the Conservatives.

  2. No, the coaltion did NOT act dishonourably.

    • Well said.

  3. Frankly, acting dishonourably is something I suspect Harper would acknowledge proudly, if it were possible for him to be candid.

  4. What amazes me is the response to a respected Parliamentary Academic labelling their PM ” dishonourable” [ his actions of course] is basically, well what about them. As if that had any bearing on the PM’s conduct at all. Unless that is, you accept : ” they did it too” as grounds for precedent.

    • Stephen Harper’s just not their Prime Minister. He’s their King.

      Seriously, a prominent Blogging Tory (Roy Eappen) refers to him consistently as “Her Majesty’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper.” Therefore, any criticism is viewed as lèse majesté.

    • I think of Parliament/MPs as kindergarten and ‘he started it’ is a persuasive argument when you are in the play ground and you are getting heck from the teacher.

      I would have preferred Harper not gone to GG for prorogue, I think it is horrible precedent, but I understand motivation. Where is the upside of behaving honourably if everyone around you isn’t so high-minded.

      • Where is the upside of behaving honourably if everyone around you isn’t so high-minded.

        I don’t know. Ask the the engineers of a years-long “notaleader,” pedophile, Taliban-hugger, puffin-poop propaganda campaign.

        • ask the authors of the parliamentary obstruction document.

          • Ah, yes…the “dirty tricks” manual.

        • What’s your point? The Liberal Party is the most successful party in the Western world and they didn’t achieve that by behaving like vestal virgins. Are far as I can tell, Cons have finally got wise and started to use same tactics as Libs. I think it’s funny that Lib supporters are getting their knickers in a twist about tactics the Cons have had to deal with for years.

          • I think it’s funny that Lib supporters are getting their knickers in a twist about tactics the Cons have had to deal with for years.

            It might have something to do with style and finesse. The Liberals didn’t accuse the Cons of being nazis (not officially) when the Right’s fascism reared its ugly head from time to time.

  5. The opposition can bring the government down on the budget later this month if they dare, if – they – dare.

    The opposition can resurrect their unholy alliance after they bring down the government later this month if they dare, if – they – dare.

    The opposition can then ask the Governor General to form government later this month instead of going to the polls because we know they wouldn’t dare go to the people because they would get thrashed at the polls.

    If the electorally-wary Coalition Cowards make such a request to the Governor General she will show them the door and tell them that we live in a democracy and they need the blessing of the people to govern as a coalition, not the blessing of monarchical figurehead.

    Is there anything more dishonourable than wanting to govern in a democracy without the assent of the people? Wear this dubious mantle ye Coaltion Cowards! The Coalition was born in dishonour and if it is resurrected, will die in dishonour.

    • if they dare, if – they – dare.

      Cut the drama, Camille.

  6. “Is there anything more dishonourable than wanting to govern in a democracy without the assent of the people?”

    On second thought, actually there is: wanting to govern in a democracy without the assent of the people and where one of the Coalition’s cowardly conspirators is bent on the destruction of the country they wish to govern.

    Shame, shame and shame.

    No you can’t top what the Liberals, the NDP and the Bloc cooked up last month. A most dishonourable dish.

    • Shame, shame and shame.

      Cut the drama, Camille. By the way, the word you should be using here, in terms of democratic legitimacy, is “consent of the people,” not “assent.”

  7. Anyway, I thought this part of the interview was the most insightful:

    There’s a more immediate change that, I think, what we’ve been through in the past few weeks points to even more: We’ve got to do more to kind of regularize the governor general’s office. One suggestion: Her office should have something like the European constitutional monarchies have — an informateur, an official sort of prober of the parliamentary scene who can interview party leaders and is known to the media, is known to the public as a respected person — so it’s not all whispers and hush hush — to advise the governor general on the political situation in Parliament, in order to make good decisions.

    It should be clear now that the constitutional monarchy is under threat by alien (ie republican) influences and is poorly understood by too many Canadians.

    • “It should be clear now that the constitutional monarchy is under threat by alien (ie republican) influences and is poorly understood by too many Canadians.”

      One thing Canadians understand all too well is that the biggest threat to our contitutional monarchy is the Separatist Bloc Quebecois whose stated and public aim is to break up Canada. Something that the Liberal Party of Canada once understood but now apparently doesn’t quite get anymore.

      • yeah, Firewall Steven will save Canada from regional fracture…

      • Yeah, the way Harper once understood it when he sent a letter, on behalf of the Conservatives, NDP and BLOC, to the Governor General asking her not to be too hasty with that whole writ-drop thing.

        It is actually funny–except it’s not because too many Canadians are buying the total crap that is Harper.

        The shame rests on you, Jarrid, and others of your ilk who know perfectly well that the whole “separatist Bloc out to destroy Canada given a veto” is garbage. You were perfectly okay with the concept when you were doing it, not to mention the only way the Bloc gets a veto is if the Conservatives don’t show up for work. Yet you persist in misleading propaganda. No road is too low to keep power, eh?

      • Jarrid
        I’m on the record as stating that the coalition, while perfectly legal has questionable legitimacy [ i’m a westerner]. Everybody made big mistakes, SH, the opposition. I wish it hadn’t happened but it did. I just hope you would have been as incensed if SH had followed through on his proposed coalition?If i were a Quebecer yr rhetoric would make me conclude that i’m only a part of Canada on you and yr parties terms.

  8. For Stephen Harper to speak of Canada as something he cares about is like a weasel talking about how chickens are good. Here is an open letter to Canadians from Sinclair Stevens May 6, 2005, which should open a few eyes.

    One part stands out starkly: “To date (subject to the aforesaid court review) Mr. Harper has been able to lead what is called The Conservative Party of Canada and to act as Leader of the Opposition in the House of Commons.

    Now, working with The Bloc Québécois, he is threatening an election.

    Some say Mr. Harper has a hidden agenda.

    I disagree.

    He has a very clear agenda.

    For some reason however, most people, including mainline media, do not want to believe Mr. Harper means what he says.

    Here are the facts.

    He has two masters. The National Citizen’s Coalition of some 40,000 members
    and he has what is often referred to as The Calgary School including his confident,
    Tom Flanagan and Ted Morton.

    Speaking to a meeting of the National Citizen’s Coalition in Hamilton on May 24th, 1994, Mr. Harper said “Whether Canada ends up as one national government or two national governments or several national governments, or some other kind of arrangement is, quite frankly, secondary in my opinion”.

    That was the year before the 1995 Separatist Referendum in Quebec and he was an M.P. at the time.

    Later in the speech he said “whether Canada ends up with one national government or two governments or ten governments, the Canadian people will require less government no matter what the constitutional status or arrangements of any future country may be”.

    I write to you as you have experienced his tactics during his coup of the Progressive Conservative Party.

    In his mind that was a necessary step to achieve his ultimate objective. He will stop at nothing.”

    It always amazes me the number of (mostly Albertans) who threaten to break up Canada at the first obstacle to their dear Leader’s supposed divine right to rule. I say, pack up and go already. Here’s your hat, what’s your hurry. Just leave the rest of us behind. BC won’t be following you to the promised land in the States, and you can take that to the bank!

    • Another case of Harper Derangement Syndrome. It’s time to start working on a vaccine.

  9. I remain puzzled by comments like those of kc 7:09 p.m. and to a lesser extent Jenn’s 6:54 comment and Jean Proulx’s 7:05 echo, the latter two comments are driven by partisan blindness which might explain why they have failed to see how The Coalition was Stephane Dion’s truly biggest mistake as Liberal leader, which will by far outshadow The Green Shift before all is said and done.

    It is absolutely beyond the pale to have a political party bent on the destruction of Canada participating in the governance of the country. Under the Coalition’s own stated terms, the LIberals and the NDP are completely beholden to the Bloc by way of a “permanent consulting mechanism” inreturn for Bloc support. There has never ever been such co-operation and accomodation with the Separatists. Ever.

    The Separatist never thought that they would have a hand in governing this country. They were puzzled when the Libs and the NDP came with their offer. Jacques Parizeau and Bernard Landry could not beleive their luck and were delighted and said so publicly

    And kc, the Separatist Bloc does not speak for the majority of Quebecers. The Separatists have never spoken for a majority of Quebecers. That’s why Quebec is still part of Canada. Being anti-Separatist Bloc is not anti-Quebec, it is pro-Canada. Don’t fall into that Separatist fallacy.

    Once upon a time the Liberal Party of Canada was the great defender of Canada in Quebec. Now they pussy-foot with the Separatists offering them political power so that they can get back into power themselves. Did someone mention dishonourable conduct?

    • Are you and Kody the same person?

    • And needless to say, I’m miffed that Jarrid didn’t refer to my comment at 6:30 PM in which I called him a liar, a cretin and a blowhard.

      What am I, chopped liver?

    • Jarrid claims as proof that BQ would be part of the coalition govt the fact that they would have a “permanent consulting mechanism”. So the fact that the BQ, and lets keep in mind we are talking about 49 democratically elected MPs here, would be consulted is “beyond the pale”. I guess you would prefer the Harper approach of just ignoring or bullying people that disagree with you eh Jarrid?

      You may not like the fact that many Quebecers vote for the BQ – hell I don’t like it – but the fact is they do. And as long as Quebecers keep electing Bloc MPs then the other parties will indeed have to consult with them on a regular basis. You Cons actually have had no problem with that for many years now. You only had a problem with it when those Bloc MPs teamed up with the other opposition MPs and decided to kick Harper to the curb.

      Conservatives should spend more time thinking about why Quebecers prefer to vote for the Bloc rather than Conservatives instead of having these ridiculous little temper tantrums about the Bloc’s continued presence in federal politics (when it suits you to have the public temper tantrums that is).

      You are actually right to point out that a majority of Quebecers are not separatists (and in fact much of the BQ vote is made up of “soft nationalists” and not separatists but a significant number of Quebecers ARE separatists – or at least are willing to vote for a separatist party. These voters have always been there. They were there when Canada was created. They were members of the Mulroney govt. The only difference in recent years is that some Quebec MPs are openly sympathetic to sovereignty. They are a part of this crazy, complicated, beautiful country. Deal with it.

      • You do not deal with it by having hard-core Separatists calling the shots in governing Canada. Duceppe doesn’t want Canada to work, he wants it to fail. It’s like inviting the fox to run the henhouse. You don’t deal with the presence of a fox by inviting him to run the henhouse. You keep him out of the henhouse. Similarly you keep the Bloc away from political power. It’s not that hard to understand.

        The Bloc will use this coalition agreement in the next election. Mark my words. It’ll go like this, you don’t need to vote for a federal party when you can vote for us to represent your interests within or without the government.

        Again, thanks Stepane Dion, for giving the Separatists political legitimacy. But then again this guy backed the PQ in 1976.

    • Liz – English Canada has spoken on what they think of the Coalition. Count the number of federal ridings. Or don’t count the number of federal ridings and watch the Conservatives mop up in nine provinces next election and Iggy writing a book about his interesting but short-lived life as a Liberal MP and non-elected Liberal leader.

      • Jarrid – You claim that “English Canada has spoken on what they think of the Coalition”. Really? When did this happen? Because the last time I checked we were still a representative democracy and not a pollocracy (nevermind that the polling questions were highly shady)

      • 40% of Canadians couldn’t be bothered to vote at all last time. Of those who now will be fired up to vote just as soon as Stephen Harper engineers his defeat and crawls to the G-G once again to have his wishes granted, I’m thinking that a goodly number of that 40% is going to come out expressly to clean Harper’s clock. Well, not likely Harper in his safe Calgary riding, but any other Harper MP.

        Let’s get going! Soon as Stephen Harper is ready to get back in the House to start the ball rolling…

      • English Canada has spoken on what they think of the Coalition

        Anti-French bigot. On top of your lies, your cretinousness and your blowhardism, you are a disgrace to this fine country.

  10. One of the most pernicious things about the Coalition is that it gives political legitimacy to the Separatists: they henceforth speak for Quebec. But this is untrue. Separatists don’t speak for Quebec, Separatists speak for Separatists. Quebecers have twice rejected separatism in two referendums.

    I see that people on this thread have bought into that nonsense. Gilles Duceppe doesn’t speak for the majority of Quebec.

    Another victory for the Separatists was the wording in the Coalition agreement that the Coalition was going to govern Canada AND QUEBEC as if they are two separate and distinct political entites federally. I nearly gagged when I read that. Don’t beleive me? Go to the Liberal web site, read it and weep. Gilles Duceppe wrested some very, very important concessions from Dion. Dion added disgrace to his dismal political career by selling out to the secessionists.

    • You’d save yourself a lot time and mental energy if you just typed “I’m unreachable and unteachable!” over and over and over again.

      • OK–Somebody has to tell you—you are becoming an embarrassment to all who are unfortunate to see your name on a post here. I have tried to be subtle about it—to show that you are being a pretentious vulgar windbag. But after been away a few days, I can see you are no better. So cool it—see if you can add some substantive viewpoints and maybe a lot less frequently.

        • Jeeze, calm down, William. I’m sure I’m not as bad as jwl, Kody and Jarrid. Have you freaked out about them?

          No, you haven’t. Why is that?

      • Wow, that’s just brilliant, Ti-Guy. Do you think up these bitter retorts while sucking back cigarettes on your freezing balcony?

        • More or less.

          • Would you like a beer? Don’t mind if I join you.

    • You just don’t get it dude. The coalition wouldn’t give any more legitimacy to a Bloc MP than they already have. A Bloc MP is already just as legitimate as a Conservative one or a Liberal or an NDPer. They are all elected. As such they all have a role to play in governing Canada.

      Of course Gilles Duceppe is going to claim to speak for Quebec, just the same way that Harper routinely claims that he speaks for Canada. Both claims are about equally as legit in my opinion. Keep in mind that Duceppe’s party elected almost 5 times as many MPs in Quebec as the Conservatives did. In that sense he can claim to speak for a majority of Quebecers.

      As for the formulation Canada AND Quebec that is quickly become standard usage in Quebec (much like “sovereigntist” has replaced “separatist”). Again you may not like it, but tough. If you want to refrain from using the expression that’s fine, but be prepared to be seeen as fishy by Quebec electors (of course the way Harper will work is to refer to “Canada et le Québec” when speaking in French and only “Canada” when speaking in English).

      Hey, at least its Canada AND Quebec and not Canada OR Quebec.

  11. For cripes sake. Is there *nothing* that you guys won’t just take and shove through your increasingly tiresome partisan sausage-making machines? One of the top constitutional scholars in this country gave me 45 minutes of his time. I tried to distill some of what he had to say down to a couple thousand words of what I thought was interesting material that might generate some actual discussion.

    Instead, we get the same cookie-cutter name tossings that have been dominating the message boards here for months. It isn’t even clear that any of you — with the exception of Ti-Guy — even bothered to read what Prof Russell had to say before turning on the talking-points auto-bot.

    I’ve pretty much had it with this kind of nonsense. I’m turning comments back off.