Tomorrow, Governor-General Michaëlle Jean will likely meet privately with Stephen Harper, where it’s expected he will ask her to terminate, or prorogue, the current session of Parliament. The gambit would allow Harper to dodge a non-confidence vote scheduled for Monday, and thus avoid the humiliation of watching his seven-week-old government go down in defeat in the House of Commons.
Prorogation is Harper’s best bet for survival. However, requesting that the Governor-General suspend Parliament in order to allow the federal government to dodge a motion is unprecedented and Jean might not go for it. In fact, she’s already got another proposal on the table should she lean toward sending Harper back to the wolves: The Liberals and NDP want to take over from the Conservatives and govern with a coalition. But that’s just as unusual a solution as granting Harper’s request for a prorogation—and no less likely to silence critics of the Governor General’s role in the mess. So, what’s a Governor General to do?
Canadians, for what it’s worth, appear tempted by the thought of prolonging the misery. A national opinion poll by Angus Reid Strategies found 52 per cent of Canadians oppose proroguing Parliament; the same proportion opposes a Liberal-NDP coalition; and 68 per cent want nothing to do with another federal election campaign. So much for the wisdom of crowds.
Meanwhile, constitutional experts have been speculating all week over what Jean can (or will, or even should) do. Here’s a rundown of her options:
1) Grant Harper’s request to prorogue Parliament. This would allow the Conservatives to regroup and present a budget at the end of January, effectively a re-do for Jim Flaherty’s after his unusually combative fiscal update launched the current crisis. There are two major problems with this approach: it’s unclear whether the government would be any more stable in January than it is now; and it would leave Canada without an effective government for nearly two months while a financial crisis ravages the country’s economy.
2) Deny Harper’s request to prorogue Parliament and let his government face a non-confidence motion next Monday. This, in other words, is Jean’s “walk the plank” option. Harper’s government is facing a bulletproof non-confidence motion, scheduled for next Monday and supported by every opposition party in the House. The Conservatives are almost assured of defeat. Should the seemingly inevitable happen, Jean would still face a tough decision: Either she sends Canadians back to the polls, or she allows Stéphane Dion and Jack Layton to seize the reins of government. No one wants an election, but denying a request for prorogation and then installing a coalition seems destined to spark a messy Constitutional debate.
3) Allow a conditional prorogation. The Governor-General can make use of her reserve powers (her power to make decisions without the approval of another branch of government) to place conditions that severely restrict Harper’s authority until Parliament returns. For example, she could implement rules similar to those in place during election campaigns, during which a government can only operate on a basic level and can’t institute new policies or make appointments.