The Canadian Imagination

What it means to be Canadian; examining and reworking Canada as a nation.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Above partisan interests

Repeat after me:
  • What is good for the prime minister is not necessarily good for the country.
  • What is good for the prime minister is not necessarily good for the country.
  • What is good for the prime minister is not necessarily good for the country.
How many times do we have to learn this lesson?

At the same time, let's cut through the fog:
  • Asking the governor-general to change which parties are in power without an election is both legal and democratic.
  • Asking the governor-general to prorogue Parliament is both legal and democratic.
  • Any government which can be formed from the previous election results is a democratic government.
  • The governor-general can legally approve or disapprove the prime minister's request to prorogue Parliament.
  • The governor-general can legally approve or disapprove the prime minister's request to dissolve Parliament and call an election.
Oh, and while we are at it:
  • The Bloc Québecois is a registered political party in Canada, with sitting members in the House of Commons.
  • As such, it has all the rights and privileges of every registered political party in Canada. (At one point, immediately after the Mulroney/Campbell session, it was even the official opposition.)
  • To be supported in Parliament by the Bloc Québecois is both legal and democratic.
  • According to the signed accord, the Bloc Québecois will not be part of the proposed coalition government. They will not be sharing power. They have merely agreed to support it on economic matters for 18 months, nothing more.
No governor-general has ever before denied a request to prorogue Parliament. Then again, no previous request to prorogue Parliament has been made solely to avoid a vote of non-confidence, nor has any such request come so close to the beginning of a parliamentary session. The purpose of proroguing is to allow the usual "housekeeping" activities of a government to continue while freezing all Parliamentary business, including any emergency initiatives. Its use traditionally has been to allow background government work to continue during an election campaign, or even after a substantial body of work has been completed, to allow members to return to their constituencies without missing Parliamentary business. Even so, it has never been invoked during a time of national emergency. Lack of precedent should not be interpreted to mean either lack of power or that such an action might never be appropriate.

Once before a governor-general has approved an opposition's request to replace the governing party to create a new government without an election. That precedent won't ever be brought up in this context, for the same reason as (hopefully) it does not apply in this context. Neither the Conservatives nor the Liberals appeared at their best, that time. Whether or not it was appropriate then should not be interpreted to mean that such an action might never be appropriate.

Once before a governor-general has overruled a prime minister's request, a long list of appointments made after that prime minister had already gone down in electoral defeat but before the government had technically transitioned. That precedent won't be brought up in this context either. The parallels between Tupper and Harper are quite strong enough as it is.

It all comes down to the governor-general, who will try to act in the best interests of Canada. Why would she not? The entire value of an appointed position such as this one is that it should be above partisan politics. (Please do not confuse the ideals of representational democracy with partisan politics.) Because the governor-general represents the crown, her choices are constitutional, and partisan politics do not come into it.

For this reason, Michaëlle Jean's choice will be whichever path best supports a functioning government. Regardless of what that government ends up being, many won't be happy -- but just this once, let's take the higher road and try to work within it, and not spin it into partisan verbal warfare.

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