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Andrew Coyne says you can still say No, Excellency


 

At least she didn’t cancel her China trip for nada:

Public events for September 7, 2008
September 5, 2008
Ottawa, Ontario

Public event for Prime Minister Stephen Harper for Sunday, September 7th is:

Ottawa

8:05 a.m. – Prime Minister Stephen Harper will leave 24 Sussex en route to Rideau Hall to meet with Governor General Michaëlle Jean to ask her to dissolve the 39th Parliament for an election call October 14th, 2008.

24 Sussex
Ottawa, Ontario

* Open to Media *


 

Andrew Coyne says you can still say No, Excellency

  1. *SHE* didn’t cancel *HER* trip.

  2. Excellent point. I told myself the same thing as soon as I’d written it.

  3. Sometimes people cancel business trips and even vacations because they have work to do. I think even high ranking civil servants would expect this to be a reasonable part of their job.

    Although it was a pretty posh trip to miss out on. I’m sure she wasn’t happy about it.

  4. But why Sunday? Is this just one more way he can stick to you guys? I hope you vlog this or whatever …

  5. So, um, can I just borrow the keys to Blog Central for a half-day? There are a few comments about Vulcan chess, head-fakes, and not-gonna-call-an-election guesses that need a little field trip to the woodshed…

  6. And I might add Gov-Gen Jean can *just* say no. She doesn’t have to invite the Opp Leader to form a government. She can just say no and quietly inform the PM that if he so wants an election, he could always defeat his own government in the House and then explain that to the voters.

  7. I seem to recall 2004 started on a Sunday too…I stand to be corrected. Campaign tours mormally plan based on a Sunday-to-Saturday week, with voting on Monday.

  8. 8:05 AM on a Sunday?? She should come to the meeting in bathrobe and curlers, coffee mug in hand.

    But seriously, anybody who seriously thinks she either should or will say “no” needs to give their head a shake, and that includes Mr. Coyne. If we’re suddenly going to ask the GG to exercise political judgment, then political judgment should be part of the selection criteria. With due respect to Ms. Jean, I’m going to suggest that it was not when she was selected.

  9. Andrew E: It’s not a matter of “political judgment”, it’s about constitutional judgment and the proper role of the Crown in Canadian parliament.
    The governor-general has the constitutional power to decide whether parliament should be dissolved, and a duty to make that decision based on principles of parliamentary democracy. The Crown is the last bulwark against dictatorship by Cabinet or the PM.

  10. In Andrew’s defence, I don’t think what will happen is necessarily of particular interest when arguing what should happen. I have colleagues who never make an argument that isn’t a variation on “Come on, let’s be realistic here,” and they’re a lot less interesting than Andrew and a few others who argue, in effect, “Remind me why that’s realistic again? ‘Cause it sounds lame.”

  11. and they’re a lot less interesting than Andrew…

    Remember the curse: may you live in interesting times.

  12. “The Crown is the last bulwark against dictatorship by Cabinet or the PM.”

    Then we are surely doomed!

    There is one instance where the Crown was helpful in the cause of democracy, and that was in the constitutional crisis in the UK in 1910-11, when the new King backed the government in crushing the House of Lords. Several elections were held in quick succession and the King was ready to mass create peers.

    However, he was acting on the advice of the cursed Cabinet and PM so perhaps not that relevant.

  13. Mr. Simpson: Go read Eugene Forsey for plenty of examples of the Crown using its royal prerogative to good effect.

  14. This is just getting better and better : and now for the latest from BC = B.C. Liberal MLA Loren Mayencourt will seek the federal Conservative nomination in the Vancouver-Centre riding, taking on veteran Liberal MP Hedy Fry.

  15. Heh. Trips are cancelled all the time. Ten years back I remember listening to a tirade from a former Harris cabmin (currently a mayor) complaining that Harris cancelled his Asian junket “because he wants me to vote on an f—ing bill.”

  16. Reminds me of that scene in Johnny English when John Malkovich ties up the Queen and forces her to abdicate.

  17. DMS, there is only one such example — in Australia (the Whitlam dismissal) — since the Statute of Westminster was passed, and it ended badly for their GG, even though their Prime Minister was being an idiot and ended up losing the resulting election.

    The question of legality of an early election appeals to me as hair-splitting, and in no way rises to the level of a national crisis, threat to democracy, or etc. that would warrant the GG rejecting the PM’s advice. Further, I wouldn’t want to be setting precedents that might make it easier for the GG to freelance in the future.

  18. Andrew E: “The question of legality of an early election appeals to me as hair-splitting, and in no way rises to the level of a… threat to democracy”

    Uhmmm perhaps not this time… though certainly can’t be seen as a great precedent can it (paying attn to legal matters re elections when one sees fit)…. where is the white line on what illegal election activities qualify as not ‘hair-splitting’?

    Also not clear that if that was the basis of her decision that this would = “freelancing”

  19. Andrew E: Whitlam isn’t the only example. There are plenty of cases studied in Forsey’s The Royal Power of Dissolution of Parliament in the British Commonwealth, which was written decades before the 1970s Australia example you cite.
    The Whitlam story, by the way, is an excellent illustration of the pitfalls of an elected upper house. The “crisis” only came about because of the Senate’s refusal to pass money bills. Triple-E Senate advocates might want to look into it.

  20. At least she didn’t cancel her China trip for nada:

    She “cancelled” her China trip for Canada.

  21. seaandthemountains: Here’s the text of the bill.

    As far as my non-lawyerly eye can see, there’s nothing in there saying that the PM can’t ask for a dissolution whenever he wants one. Obviously that’s not the way the PM sold the bill when it was introduced, but we’re arguing whether a dissolution is legal or not.

    DMS: I was arguing about cases since the passing of the Statute of Westminster (1931). I’m pretty sure the Whitlam example is the only one.

  22. Harper is dysfunctional, the goverment is functional. 62 and 63 pieces of legislation the last 2 sessions are inline with past sessions. Perhaps the Financial Times saying that Canada is on the brink of a recession has something to do with Stevie Harper’s decision.

    The GG should let the opposition form a coalition if they can. We don’t need to spend another $300,000,000 for an election called by
    “the omniprescient strategic genius of The Smartest Prime Minister in the History of Ever”

  23. To be clear about my position, Harper calling an election is sneaky in light of the (public perception of) the election act. For that and a lot of other reasons, he’s not getting my vote.

    However, my point is that it is perfectly legal for the PM to advise the GG to dissolve parliament, and legal for the GG to act on that advice.

    Is the best way to address the PM’s sneakiness for the GG to reject his legal advice and start, basically, governing the country on her own? Who could possibly think that will end well?

  24. DMS: “The Whitlam story, by the way, is an excellent illustration of the pitfalls of an elected upper house. The “crisis” only came about because of the Senate’s refusal to pass money bills. Triple-E Senate advocates might want to look into it.”

    It’s rather an excellent illustration of how an effective Senate in a federal state provides regional balance and an effective check on a rep-by-pop lower house.

    Seeing as how Whitlam lost the resulting general election by a big margin, one would have to conclude that he didn’t have the confidence of the people he was representing, and so it was a good thing that the Senate could abridge his term.

  25. 8:05 AM on a Sunday?? She should come to the meeting in bathrobe and curlers, coffee mug in hand.

    I suggest some silky and sexy – just to see if he is human.

    I know it won’t happen – but I’d love her to say no. We need a little excitement in Ottawa.

  26. What a great idea. She could say “no” to the Prime Minister’s request for an election. She should also use the opportunity to declare that, as Commander in Chief of the Canadian Forces, she will be trading her ball gowns for fatigues and will be actively directing the operations of the Canadian military, at home and abroad.

  27. She should totally print off a copy of the election date bill and have it casually lying on the coffee table next to the scones.

  28. I think the GG should tell Harper that she wants to think about it overnight.

  29. He’s calling the election on Sunday because it is the last possible date in order to hold the vote on October 14th. It gives him the maximum pre-writ period to advertize, etc. without coming under the election spending rules.

  30. And, jad, that’s why I think she should sleep on the question. She’s being used.

  31. A governor-general? Being used by the government? No!

    Forget realism. Is a fixed election law that virtually n

  32. A governor-general? Being used by the government? No!

    Forget realism. Is a fixed election law that virtually nobody thought was a good idea in the first place worth provoking a major constitutional crisis between a television presenter and the sort of man who you can bet your bacon would make it his hill to die on.

  33. So, Dion spends the last two years continuously threatening an election, and in the end, Harper triggers one himself. Hilarious. It’s not EZ being threatening.

  34. Andrew E

    Respectfully, I am not sure that we are just arguing whether the call for the election is legal or not. In fact, I wold argue we are not just arguing that the legality of the PM seeking dissolution.

    More to the point, we are contemplating whether or not the GG is a position to say “no” to a PM’s request for dissolution. This neither starts nor end with the election act and the issue of legality.

    Discussion boards here, at the G&M and elsewhere have been rife with this debate over the last week. This debate has split opinions of some of the most qualified experts in the field. While I find it v. enjoyable when thoughtfully argued I have less time today then I would like.

    One point briefly to consider is that the conventions that you point to are not static and while it may not convince everyone, including the GG, it seems defensible that the passage of a law with clear public intent (notwithstanding a significant loophole), is perhaps a legitimate influence in the evolution of the conventions governing elections and GG’s prerogative powers.

  35. Well, I basically object to this whole idea that the GG is somehow the nation’s political conscience, especially since she is neither a politician nor a lawyer, nor was she selected to fill such a role. If given advice which is clearly legal, and in the absence of an obvious and existential threat to the nation, she must act on it. The GG is not responsible to the people, the PM is — he can face the consequences of his advice in the electorate while she can’t.

    Also, I can’t believe I don’t have anything better to do on a Friday evening …

  36. The GG can say no to disolve parliament based on the law that was tabled by the Conservatives and subsequently passed that there is a fixed election date. Telling PM Harper to go back and work it out until this fixed 2009 date would be legal and would certainly be within her mandate to ensure the laws of Canada are being followed. If the PM then rejects the GG and again petitions to disolve Parliament, in order to save us from the expensive $300M plus for a general election, the GG could then ask the official opposition if they can form a government. Dion would well be within his rights and be foolish not to accept that challenge how he and the Liberals can get Parliament to work together, and if not we at least have until the Oct 2009 “legal” next general election. Either way I DO NOT WANT a general election now. I would rather like to see how the current government manages themselves to fix the (in Harper’s words) “dysfunctional” parliament that currently exists. If Harper can’t manage to do that and all he can do is (my words) threaten to take his ball and go home, then how can Harper ever be trusted to effectively govern Canada and or ever lead our nation through the troubles and turmoils ahead?

  37. I cannot imagine a more effective way to guarantee a Harper majority – no, a super-majority, than arbitrarily handing the reigns of government to the Liberals for a month. Not because they’d necessarily do a bad job, but a) how long could they possibly last (Meighan lasted 3 days!), and b) the Tories would hammer them as a “fake” government governing without a popular mandate. So, if you want a Harper majority and don’t really care about the constitution, by all means advise the GG to reject Advice!

  38. “I think the GG should tell Harper that she wants to think about it overnight.

    How long does she have to make the decision? Seriously, could she say “I want to talk to the leaders of the other parties about the prospect of them forming a Govt. before I make a decision.”

  39. Ah, I think GG would have experts and advisers to consult with.

  40. I am with Jack Mitchell on this one. There has been a minority government for almost 3 years, which is way longer than average, and if the GG says no to Harper and gives Dion a chance to govern there will be hell to pay.

    I enjoy these ‘how many angels fit on the head of a pin’ type conversations but people are dreaming if they think GG is going to say ‘no’. Any consulting with experts and advisers has already been completed and the GG will be saying ‘ok’ to Harper on sunday.

  41. Doesn’t anyone remember when Paul Martin and most of the members of this “Liberal Team” blatantly ignored a vote of non-confidence in the House only three years ago while the GG stood by and did nothing?

    Time to move on guys….

  42. Brian Smith, could you remind me of the details?

  43. Oh, right, I remember! I remember thinking then that the constitution no longer existed. You could argue, of course, that things have gotten even worse since then, with the House passing bills that the government party votes against: but maybe that’s just the logical continuation of what Martin allowed to happen.

    The real problem is that the constitution requires that the PM have some shame and sense of his duty to Parliament – a duty far more important his own ambition, a duty to his country. If the PM simply denies that obligation, if the PM has contempt for the constitution, there is nothing we can do really do about it. Sure, the GG could undertake to interpret things like that Martin confidence vote on her own, but that just strikes me as potentially very dangerous (recipe for politicising the Crown etc.). Yet the electorate never notices this stuff.

    May God damn Paul Martin.

  44. Doesn’t anyone remember when Paul Martin and most of the members of this “Liberal Team” blatantly ignored a vote of non-confidence in the House only three years ago while the GG stood by and did nothing?

    Of course not. It’s bizarre (dare I say delusional?) to remember things that never happened.

  45. Doesn’t anyone remember when Paul Martin and most of the members of this “Liberal Team” blatantly ignored a vote of non-confidence in the House only three years ago while the GG stood by and did nothing?

    Can you point to that vote in Hansard? Please?

  46. Sorry, what didn’t you guys get about the link?

    “to recommend that the government resign because of its failure to address deficiencies in governance of the public service.”

    Vote carried 153-150.

    To pretend that this was not a sign of the House not having confidence in the government!

  47. Hmm.. while it was certainly a sign, like Mr. Harper not getting a blank cheque from Msrs. Duceppe, Dion, and Mr. Layton, it was not an official action, and I believe Martin had it correct in saying that it wouldn’t be official until the House accepted the amended report.

    That said, yes, Martin should have held a confidence vote immediately upon the passage of that motion.

  48. That’s just it, T., these new PM’s of ours (whatever stripe) don’t seem to *want* the confidence of the House. If they can just sneak by, through procedural ploys or bullying of the opposition, somehow that’s better than governing with their heads held high. I just don’t understand that mentality. What’s the point of being PM in that case? A nice office?

  49. Have you looked at the pension plans?

  50. LOL… We need an acronym/emoticon for “laughing out loud while quietly crying.”

  51. GG was very accomodating for Harper. What could be so urgent that an 8 am Sunday signature was required? May the PM fly west and just keep on going!

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