Don Newman is not impressed


The CBC’s senior parliamentary editor decides to single-handedly reform Parliament. 

He also points out the lingering concern of last month’s events at Rideau Hall.

The seminal event leading to the suspension of Parliament was a two-hour, closed-door conversation between Governor General Michaëlle Jean, the grantor of the request, and Prime Minister Stephen Harper, the requester.

Only these two individuals and perhaps a couple of close advisers know exactly what was said or what deals might have been brokered in the course of this conversation. In a democratic country in the 21st century, you have to ask: is this good enough?


Don Newman is not impressed

  1. I agree with Don that the system we have now isn’t good enough. But short of abolishing the monarchy, becoming a republic and rewriting the constitution, what can we do? At the very least any changes would have to involve the constitution, which is almost impossible in this country.

  2. It has always been like this in Canada, why is Newman only now getting round to complaining about elites doing deals/conversations in private while the hoi polloi can go hang. I think GG, and many others, should be much more open but many of our elites prefer to operate in the darkness.

    And I also wonder how long have people been saying its 2009 or 1937 or 1845, why can’t we …. ? Did they say centuries ago, ‘it’s 1656 for god’s sake, can’t we stop burning witches and just put them in jail instead?’

    • “why is Newman only now getting round to complaining…”

      Could it not be that it’s because this was the first time a government prorogued Parliament having passed not a single piece of legislation, for the sole purpose of avoiding a vote in the Commons that would have brought their government down?

      ‘Cause if I’m not mistaken that was pretty much unprecedented.

  3. You know, I think I could live with Newman’s proposal wholesale. I would add one additional rule: Parliament should determine when it sits, and when it does not. Any request to prorogue must only follow a vote in the affirmative to do so for a defined period of time. What happened in December is a blow to our democracy and the independence of Parliament.

    • Well, on ethings for sure, requiring a vote in the House of Commons before Parliament is prorogued would certainly stop a government from proroguing Parliament solely to avoid a vote in the House of Commons.

      Unfortunately, I’m pretty sure it would also be grossly unconstitutional.

      • No worse than the fixed election date law. Include the caveat that it does not constraint the power of the GG to prorogue Parliament, as is his/her prerogative, and you’re set. It will be enforced simply because the optics of a PM flouting such a law to ask for prorogation would be positively terrible.

        • The way that flouting the fixed election date law was so terrible for the PM?

          • That can be brushed off with some faux-populism, ‘Letting the people decide’.

            And a substantial number of people were unimpressed with his flouting of the election law.

      • I’d also say that this is just reinforcing Parliament as a check on the power of the executive. That the PM was wish away Parliament for a year without the assent of Parliament–whether he is facing a vote of confidence or not–is dysfunction.

  4. I would have no problem requiring the governor general to prepare something like written reasons for major consequential decisions, much in the way judges do. it wouldn’t hinder his or her power, and would build up a body of precedent that later holders of the office could draw from.

    • This is what is done in Australia, I believe.

    • “it wouldn’t hinder his or her power”

      Now, I’m not saying this is a reason not to pursue your reasonable (and I think quite good) suggestion, but I have a feeling many constitutional scholars would argue that requiring the GG to write out reasons for one of his/her decisions most certainly DOES hinder his or her power. Surely requiring someone to publicly explain the reasons for a decision (in writing no less) is going to have an impact on the decision they make. Ask someone if they’d like to go on a date with Meryl Streep or Scarlett Johansen and they might make an ENTIRELY different decision if they’re allowed to keep their reasoning to themselves than they would if they’re required to state their reasons in writing for the public to see.

      Asking someone to JUSTIFY a decision, in addition to making a decision necessarily has an impact on their making of the decision (even if they’d end up making the same decision) and such an impact, it seem to me, is clearly an interference with their powers. I believe the GG’s power to prorogue Parliament is at the discretion of the GG, not “at the discretion of the GG so long as she can justify it”.

      • Well said, LKO! The bottom line: any reform that limits the GG’s power in any way will probably require changing the constitution. This is more trouble than it’s worth, since the GG’s power only becomes a political issue every few decades or so.

  5. I quit reading. While Don has reasonable complaints, his understanding of the nuances of our system appears to be grossly simplistic.

    Nothing about how parties are structured or organized and how that effects their behaviour and relationshipt to the people or to the state.

    His understanding of the role of GG and PM as her chief advisor is primitive. The lack of reference tio the conventions guiding him and how they were observed/broken wasn’t contemplated let alone discussed.

    You can’t fix a system by tinkering with a part in isolation. The intricacy of the interconnected parts is supposed to either work because the players are reacting to the political forces around them, or the conventions meant to guide them or they evolve because the circumstances are extraordinary or the structure of our society has evolved.

    Many of Don’s fixes appear to be of problems that are politically motivated in nature and, hence, subject to political adjudication.

    • I call BS on your comment. I watch Don Newman because he so clearly understands the Parliamentary system and he is fair and balanced — he calls crap on whoever is spewing it, whatever party, as I’ve often seen and cheered.

      I guess time will tell if he’s appointed as a Liberal senator even while he’s still running a national broadcast on Canadian politics.

      Your own trying-to-seem balanced yet actually partisan comment makes me wonder if that is you, Mr Wall?

      And really: read the whole thing before you comment. That would be balance; that would be fairness.

    • I understand but i’m not sure i like the premise of yr arguement. Sorta like those who say we can never change the constitution, it’s too difficult. Something seems to be awry. Personally i believe all these secrets may only add to the problem. Although i can see the other side of this. If the GG’s reasons had been released, would we now be reassured or would have had the effect of setting Rideau Hall a?

      • BRAD

    • “I quit reading. While Don has reasonable complaints, his understanding of the nuances of our system appears to be grossly simplistic.”

      Remind me again. Which time is Brad’s Politics on and which channel?

      Yeah just as I thought.

  6. The total privacy of the meeting means we will never know whether Harper used intimidation to get his way. We know what the party is willing to do with advertising against individuals and we know rallies were being organized across the country by the Conservative Party . All he would have to say is isn’t it a shame what happened to poor Mr Dion, and I guess people across the country are getting pretty upset about coalition situation.

  7. Hopefully, Colleague Wherry won’t mind if I hijack his comment thread to shamelessly plug my Q&A with a few of the constitutional scholars (“There are dozens of us! Dozens!”) behind an open letter calling on the GG to consider the coalition should the government fall next week.