Popular sentiment and constitutional convention

While Michael Ignatieff sends an open letter to Canadian Against Proroguing Parliament, David Eaves reviews a loose survey of the group’s demographics, attitudes and intent. In an essay for The Mark, Michael Marin speculates on the group’s potential to impose unwritten order on Parliamentary democracy.

Canadians have helped spawn constitutional conventions before. The outcome of the 1926 federal election, which produced a Liberal majority in the wake of the King-Byng Affair, contributed to the modern principle of political non-interference by the Governor General. If the opponents of prorogation sustain their pressure, they may play a similar role in 2010.

The Facebook group was the catalyst of public opposition to prorogation, emerging in the days following the prime minister’s call to the Governor General and driving public interest in the story despite its holiday timing. The group fuelled criticism in the mainstream media by serving as a clearinghouse for stories on the issue and funnelling traffic to the websites of large newspapers and television networks. This allowed the story to spill into the offline world and significantly alter the voting intentions of Canadians.

While the Facebook group wasn’t a conscious exercise in constitution making, the nature of constitutional conventions may allow it to serve that very purpose. But the work of Canadians Against Proroguing Parliament isn’t over. In order to ensure that a new convention is born, they are going to have to come out in huge numbers on January 23. Otherwise, the opposition we’ve witnessed over the last two weeks will be interpreted by future underhanded governments as temporary and will fail to restrain their abuse of power.