Politics - Federal

Can Harper Prorogue Parliament?

By Ryan McGreal
Published December 03, 2008

Given the paucity of Prime Minister Stephen Harpers options as Monday's confidence vote draws closer, pundits and analysts are coalescing around the conclusion that he will ask Governor General Michaëlle Jean to prorogue Parliament until his government tables their budget on January 27, 2009.

Here's where it gets interesting. Generally, the Prime Minister will ask the GG to prorogue Parliament - i.e. to discontinue a Parliamentary session - after completing a busy legislative agenda so that the MPs can go back to their constituency offices and get caught up on local matters before the next session starts.

The Governor General, officially the Head of State's representative in Canada, has long served as a figurehead who formally approves the decisions of the government, i.e. the Prime Minister and his or her Cabinet, on behalf of the Queen. However, that rubberstamping function is predicated on the Prime Minister having the confidence of of the House of Commons.

Since re-forming the government after the October election, Harper has not yet demonstrated the confidence of the House, and the three opposition parties representing a majority of MPs have publicly stated that he has lost their confidence.

As a result, it is possible that the GG will refuse to grant Harper's prorogue request until he first survives a confidence motion. If so, that gives the coalition an opportunity to vote no confidence in Harper and ask the GG for a chance to form the government before dissolving Parliament and calling an election.

Harper's desperate hope is that the GG will grant his prorogue, giving the deep-pocketed Conservative Party almost two months to run a negative PR campaign aimed at discrediting the coalition and breaking it up so that he can survive a confidence motion when Parliament resumes.

He may argue that under such extraordinary circumstances, the House of Commons and the Canadian public need a chance to cool down and think through the options before rushing into the Constitutionally sound but politically tenebrous alternative of allowing the three also-rans of last October's election to form a government.

Uncharted Waters

No matter what happens next Monday, the outcome will be a trip into uncharted waters. No GG has ever refused to accept a Prime Minister's prorogue request; but no Prime Minister has ever asked for a prorogue before facing any confidence votes - even the Speech from the Throne that opens a Parliamentary session.

At the same time, no party coalition has ever formed a government without running as such in an election.

On the other hand, if the GG forces a confidence vote and then dissolves Parliament without allowing the coalition a chance to govern, Harper will be the first Prime Minister to win an election but lose his very first confidence matter.

The nearest cases may be Charles Tupper (69 days in office), John Turner (79 days in office) and Kim Campbell (140 days in office). The difference is that they all became Prime Minister at the end of a Parliament and almost immediately called an election (in fact, Tupper became Prime Minister in 1896 after Parliament had already dissolved).

Even poor Joe Clark managed to last for nine months in office before losing a confidence vote on his first budget.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan writes a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. He also maintains a personal website and has been known to post passing thoughts on Twitter @RyanMcGreal. Recently, he took the plunge and finally joined Facebook.

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By jason (registered) | Posted December 03, 2008 at 12:07:09

I recall a similar coalition being developed with Harper, Duccepe and Layton in 2005. How far did they get with that? Did Martin dissolve the government or did he win a no-confidence vote??
I seem to recall Harper being ticked off because Martin kept avoiding no-confidence votes. It's been a few years, but I don't seem to recall that 'coalition' getting as far as this one, or is my memory not serving me well??

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By Frank (registered) | Posted December 03, 2008 at 12:20:51

Jason, it resulted in a non confidence vote which the Martin Liberals lost and brought about the 2006 election.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted December 03, 2008 at 12:34:29

jason wrote:

I recall a similar coalition being developed with Harper, Duccepe and Layton in 2005. How far did they get with that?

It wasn't a coalition to form the government, but a discussion of what options the opposition parties might have should they lose confidence in Paul Martin.

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By jason (registered) | Posted December 03, 2008 at 13:03:12

so, if he lost a non-confidence vote, why did it trigger an election instead of a new coalition government?? I've since read that the 2005 'coalition' had sent a letter to the GG stating their desire to govern should Martin lose a non-confidence vote. He lost it, yet the coalition went no further. Why is that?

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted December 03, 2008 at 13:15:01

jason wrote:

so, if he lost a non-confidence vote, why did it trigger an election instead of a new coalition government??

The Parliament had already run for a couple of years under Prime Minister Martin and achieved as much of Martin's legislative agenda as it could. When he lost a vote of confidence, the other parties had not agreed to form a governing coalition (since there's very little in common between the Conservatives, NDP and Bloc), so no one else could claim to have the confidence of the House of Commons to form a government.

This time around, Harper made his Throne Speech but has since lost the confidence of the House as demonstrated by the coalition's public statement. If he faces a confidence motion right now, he will lose. At the same time, the opposition parties, now more ideologically in step than before, have agreed to an 18 month coalition with a shared legislative agenda.

Remember: we don't hold elections to pick governments, we hold elections to pick the House of Commons. The Commons, in turn, forms the government at the GGs appointment based on which Member has the support of a majority of MPs.

In other words, it's entirely constitutional, democratic and proper for the GG to offer Dion a chance to form a government from this House of Commons, given that he has the support of a majority of MPs and particularly given that this House of Commons was just elected recently.

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By jason (registered) | Posted December 03, 2008 at 13:40:09

I'd like to see the election act changed to add in an extra vote on each persons ballot. 1 vote for MP and 1 vote for PM. That will prevent this from happening again, because the people will have clearly spoken and voted for a PM.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted December 03, 2008 at 14:13:26

What you are talking about is a radical departure from Parliamentary style government, toward a US style separate executive. It would/should take a hell of alot more than just a little tweaking of the election act to bring about such a change. Also, you seem to be under the impression that what is happening is a bad thing that should be avoided at all costs. It's not. It's entirely democratic, constitutional, and healthy IMO.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted December 03, 2008 at 14:17:01

Also, as I believe has already been pointed out, we didn't vote for a PM. We voted for MP's who then form a government, which is exactly what is happening now.

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By need civics classes (anonymous) | Posted December 03, 2008 at 14:28:33

I think it's funny people who understand how parliament works mostly like what's going on and want to see the coalition have a chance to form the goverment, people who don't understand how parliament works (think it's like the American system) are all outraged and saying it's undemocratic. Also amazing just how fast the Harperbots have picked up his talking points "undemocratic", "socia1ists and separatists" it's like they got downloaded right into their brain stems. it nothing else this whole kerfuffle tells us our schools need to do a better job of teaching Canadian civics.

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By jason (registered) | Posted December 03, 2008 at 15:09:27

Need civic classes, I think your interpretation of what is going on is a little inaccurate. You're seeing support for this from folks who support Liberal or NDP, or simply those who don't like the Cons. If the Liberals were in power and this coalition was proceeding with Harper, Duccepe and Layton you'd see outrage from all the same people who are calling it a 'great idea'.

It's called political ideology and it's one of the worst things someone can get attached to. People literally turn off their brains when it comes to defending their political party. You see it all the time. A favourite party of someone does something and they think it's the greatest thing since sliced bread. Another party does the exact same thing a year later and they go crazy and lambaste them for their actions.
I'm happy to not support any party or allow myself to get attached ideologically. I can vote for someone and still criticize the heck out of them for the things they do wrong and conversely speak positively about platforms and actions of other parties. Heck, I could go through all the parties right now and say what I like and don't like about all of them. Many people can't. They are blinded by ideology which constantly trumps common sense. As Barack Obama said "principles are faithfully applied to facts, ideology ignores (overrides) the facts."

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By need civics classes (anonymous) | Posted December 03, 2008 at 15:19:19

I voted green last election. No vested interest in libs, dippers or blocs.

Anyone that says it's "undemocratic" for the coalition to form a government doesn't know parliamentary procedure. Or doesn't care. You can say they'll do a good or a bad job, you can't say they're not allowed to try.

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By Rob (anonymous) | Posted December 03, 2008 at 23:57:03

The problem as I see it isthat if in fact the GG gives Harper his porouge she would have effectivelly denied the coalition request by the majority of the house but worse still shewiill give harper one to two monthds to transform what was an issue of no confidence into an east-west/quebec unity issue.
Further she would leave canada without the benefit of parliamentary government for another month or two!
She needs to assist in forming a workable coalition.

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By Connie (registered) | Posted December 04, 2008 at 02:15:08

A very unusual situation in Canadian politics. More and more, it seems Canadian politics is just about politicians instead of about Canadians.

That said ... on this historical day, the Governor-General resumes the intended position in Canada, as a Head of State who guides the wheels of Canadian democracy run amok. Stephen Harper, in typical hissy-fit style, will demand that the GG prorogue parliament, and expect her to concede. However, she cannot.

Let me explain ...

Harper is asking the GG to prorogue parliament so that his government can avoid a non-confidence vote that his government will surely lose.

There is no precedent for that, and such a decision would be an extremely dangerous precedent to set. There is a reason why there are democratic checks and balances built into our parliamentary democracy/constitutional monarchy. All democracies have such protections to avoid an ill-intentioned group or individual from seizing absolute power - to prevent dictatorship. Perhaps dictatorship seems a distant concept to most Canadians, but consider this:

Harper was about to lose a vote of confidence in the house. Harper wants to suspend parliament. Harper, thus, manages to hold onto absolute power without the confidence of Canadians. What he does with that power, no one will know, because there will be no public forum for governance. A government that has lost the confidence of the majority of Canadians will continue to 'govern' ... from behind closed doors.

The Governor-General cannot agree to prorogue parliament because to do so would set a precedent such that every future government that faces a vote of confidence will simply suspend parliament. This would totally undermine our democracy.

Lazy as we are about protecting it, I don't think Canadians can afford to lose that much and still call ourselves a democracy.

Hopefully, Harper is receiving advice on these issues of constitutional law and precedent before his meeting with the GG, because she has to say no or Canadians will lose confidence in our entire system of governance including her.

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By bill (anonymous) | Posted December 04, 2008 at 06:50:26

If the Governor General seeks to act in the best interests of the voters, she should refuse to prorogue parliament and refuse any request from the coalition to form a government. That would force an election -- a costly but democratic way of dealing with the impasse. And the only way to take the matter to the doorsteps of all Canadians.

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By Frank (registered) | Posted December 04, 2008 at 08:25:39

As of yet, the House hasn't had a non-confidence vote this time. That's supposed to happen on Monday. Dion has submitted his letter to the GG. At that point she has one of two choices, either to dissolve parliament and call an election or give Dion the chance he craves.

I agree with Bill... Call an election. I think you'll find there are a lot of Canadians sick of the political pandering going on in Ottawa.

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By bill (anonymous) | Posted December 04, 2008 at 08:45:03

If the Governor General seeks to act in the best interests of the voters, she should refuse to prorogue parliament and refuse any request from the coalition to form a government. That would force an election -- a costly but democratic way of dealing with the impasse. And the only way to take the matter to the doorsteps of all Canadians.

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By jason (registered) | Posted December 04, 2008 at 09:09:24

based on what I've learned in recent days about this, it seems Bill is right and that the GG really only has those two options legally. There is no legal precedence for proroguing Parliament WITHOUT doing one of the other two things as well.
Obviously Harper knows this, so I'm guessing he'll be looking at an election in the new year. And I'm sure that doesn't bother him at all. The Liberals seem to have forgotten one small piece of info in this whole mess - they just got crushed in an election and still have the same leader. The only thing that can possibly happen in another election is for Dion to lose even worse and drag down the Liberal party to historically low numbers. All in all, another waste of time and money - but isn't that politics....

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By Rebel Alliance (anonymous) | Posted December 04, 2008 at 09:15:56

Maybe a pop culture reference will help for people who still don't get why Harper can't be allowed to prorogue parliament:

"The Imperial Senate will no longer be of any concern to us. I've just received word that the Emperor has dissolved the council permanently."
- Grand Moff Tarkin

Okay, so we have a parliament not an "Imperial Senate" and Harper is only trying to dissolve parliament temporarily and not "permanently", but he does want to suspend it.

Why? Because he doesn't want to be accountable to the democratically elected house of commons.

There's been a lot of talk about "democracy" and things be "undemocratic" this week, it's important to understand how democracy works in Canada. The way it works is that the people vote for a house of commons. The house of commons represents the people, and speaks for the people.

The government has to be accountable to the people. The way it's accountable is it has to answer to the house of commons - the people's representatives.

The government has to face the house of commons regularly to make sure what they're doing is supported by the people's representatives.

Harper knows the people's representatives have lost confidence in him, and he doesn't want to face them.

That's why he wants to suspend parliament for the next two months. That's two months when the government is not accountable to anyone - not to the house of commons, not to the people.

That's the only truly undemocratic option on the table right now. Harper is trying to run away and hide because he knows he will lose his job if he actually has to face the People's representatives.

If the GG has a shred of respect for democracy - for the government's accountability to the people represented by the house of commons - she will force Harper to appear before the house of commons and ask for their confidence before he's allowed to suspend parliament.

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By Rebel Alliance (anonymous) | Posted December 04, 2008 at 09:18:59

Bill and jason,

Sorry but you're wrong. The government is only 7 weeks old, the GG has a democratic duty to give it a chance and see if anyone else has the confidence of the house to form a government.

Refusing to let the coalition form government is telling the citizens who voted that they screwed it up and need to do it again - that's undemocratic.

The MPs we voted into the house of commons are able to form a government, the GG MUST give them that chance.

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By Rusty (registered) - website | Posted December 04, 2008 at 09:22:07

I think some folks are missing the point here...we already DID have an election. According to the current parliamentary rules, we elected MPs, not parties or leaders. Once the house is in place it's up to those same MPs we voted for to select a Prime Minister. This is what our MPs are doing. We may not like it but those are the rules as of today and nobody is breaking them. An election today wouldn't solve much, it would just break our country further apart. Be careful what you wish for.

As for prorororoguing (hate that word...), most of the 'expert' opinion seems to be that GG will give Harper his wish. So we'll have 2 months of bickering and no government. And we're paying these people to carry on like this...(I wish I could ask my boss to prorogue my job for 2 months and then spend the whole time complaining!)

I watched the At Issue folks on CBC yesterday. Interesting the hear that the Coalition is already showing cracks. It looks like whichever way this swings we're going to have another election soon enough.

What a mess.

Ben

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By jason (registered) | Posted December 04, 2008 at 09:32:17

Lol...someone just posted that MP's are elected by the people to represent the people.
Now I've heard everything.

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted December 04, 2008 at 09:44:13

I'm glad to see such unbiased and factual discussion taking place on this board. Many people seem to know a great deal about our Parliamentary system and the legal precedents. Kudos to us all for knowing things and not just blinding taking whatever the media spoon feeds us (whatever that happens to be.). All too often the media is inaccurate, overly simplistic, biased, or all three.

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By Frank (registered) | Posted December 04, 2008 at 09:51:18

Rebel Alliance wrote "Refusing to let the coalition form government is telling the citizens who voted that they screwed it up and need to do it again - that's undemocratic." As undemocratic as insinuating that a liberal vote equals an NDP vote equals a Bloc vote.

And also "The MPs we voted into the house of commons are able to form a government, the GG MUST give them that chance".

They were given that chance. Apparently they couldn't put partisanship aside and decided to act like children. So now we take that chance away from them.

The coalition couldn't survive any longer than a tiger and a deer can last in the same pen. Liberals are a centre left party and NDP are a far left party. They may have somewhat the same ideals in areas but in many they don't.

Prorogueing Parliament isn't running away. It hopefully gives people's heads a chance to cool. Not to mention it comes at about the same time as Christmas break does anyway....so no loss there.

All this crap is about a mini budget that can very easily be voted down. It's about something that can be modified at any point before it's tabled in legislature. It's pure jump-on-the-bandwagon rhetoric about something that has no teeth. If the opposition has such a problem with it, instead of whining and trying to take over (which hasn't generated any economic benefits I can see in the Canadian markets) they could just as easily vote it out and force the Cons to come back with something new. It's a guarantee that the budget package in Jan will come with hefty stimulus packages but...why let that happen when you can seize power whenever you want? If I were the GG, I'd porogue parliament and when parliament comes back in session, immediately dissolve it and call an election.

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By Rebel Alliance (anonymous) | Posted December 04, 2008 at 10:03:04

@jason--

Your bitterness aside, if MPs aren't elected by the people to represent the people, then who are they elected by and who do they represent?

@frank--

"As undemocratic as insinuating that a liberal vote equals an NDP vote equals a Bloc vote."

You have no point. We have a democratically elected house of commons that can form a government with the confidence of those elected representatives.

As ryan mcgreal writes above, you don't vote for a party, you vote for a person. The persons we voted for are willing to form a government, the GG needs to let them do that, or else she's saying the doesn't trust the citizens to elect a house of commons.

"They were given that chance."

No, the conservative members of the house of commons were given a chance to form a government and they lost the confidence of the house in just two weeks.

Our constitution, laws and traditions say that now the opposition gets a chance to form a government with the confidence of the house before the GG pulls the plug on the whole house of commons.

If she doesn't give them a chance, the's pulling the plug on the democratic choice that Canadians made just seven weeks ago.

"The coalition couldn't survive any longer than a tiger and a deer can last in the same pen."

Your opinion only. By law they deserve a chance to try.

"Prorogueing Parliament isn't running away."

By law the prime minister must be accountable to the elected house of commons. That's the heart of our democracy - as Harper himself understood when he was still in the opposition.

"All this crap is about a mini budget that can very easily be voted down."

No, Harper already made the mini budget a confidence matter. HE is the one who made his own bed, now he doesn't want to lie in it.

"they could just as easily vote it out and force the Cons to come back with something new"

No they can't, it's a CONFIDENCE MOTION since Harper made it one. He created this crisis now he wants to weasel out of it.

You're wrong. Wrong on the facts. Wrong on the process. Wrong on how accountability works in a parliament.

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By Frank (registered) | Posted December 04, 2008 at 11:06:46

Rebel Alliance...equating what you feel is right to democratic or the only option doesn't make you right.

THe GG and the PM have just as much right to porogue parliament and or force an election as the coalition does to try to run the government.

I love how you think I'm wrong. Since you're so right of course. I'm not wrong on the process, you're misconstruing it to your benefit. In actual fact, I had to study the process. You're also blinded by what you call accountability. Can politicians be held accountable to what they say during an election campaign? Can they be held accountable for deals they make with their friends to get them into appointed positions in the Senate? (something that coalition party and a long legacy of Liberal government has changed into a joke) Perhaps you can explain to me how that's more accountable? Can they be held accountable for deals they make with other parties including separatist parties? Nope. Those are done behind closed doors. So much for accountability.

The coalition solution to the economic crisis is to reiterate the entire economic platform with the word stimulus added in at strategic locations. Do you forget that there's also a western part of Canada? A part that will get supremely ticked off at this sort of thing even if it didn't include a deal with the Bloc. What's good for you and your buddies doesn't mean that's what's good for Canada.

You equate a vote for anything other than a conservative MP as a vote for a coalition opposition party. I think you'll find yourself sadly mistaken. You need to get out more. Do more reading. Do more talking to people outside of the range of your voice and those who enjoin the same opinions as you. I've talked to NDP and Liberal supporters alike and I can't find one who thinks that this process is acceptable.

So NO, you're wrong.

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By Rebel Alliance (anonymous) | Posted December 04, 2008 at 12:03:05

@Frank--

"equating what you feel is right to democratic or the only option doesn't make you right."

following the constitution and parliament tradition DO make me right.

"THe GG and the PM have just as much right to porogue parliament and or force an election as the coalition does to try to run the government."

The GG has to obey the prime ministers request to suspend parliament IF the prime minister has the confidence of the house of commons. You and I both know he DOESN"T have it. Why do you keep trying to change the subject?

There's one reason and one reason only why wants to suspend parliament and it's because he knows he'll be voted down in a vote of no confidence if he has to face elected house of commons.

That sets a very dangerous precedent for prime ministers who can just shut down the government if they're afraid they're going to lose a confidence vote. Why aren't you afraid of that but you're terrified of the democratically elected Bloc??

Why are you trying to dance around the facts? Everything else you wrote about what they say or deals they make is IRRELEVANT. It's just you grumbling that politicians don't always do what they say, well join the club.

Accountability in a parliament MEANS SOMETHING, it means the prime minister needs to stand in front of the house of commons and prove that he still has their support.

Stop muddying the waters and changing the subject.

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By BC (anonymous) | Posted December 04, 2008 at 13:37:08

Four comments.

First, the concept of precedence. There is a misunderstanding of what it means and how it applies. "Let the decision stand" (a paraphrase) is evolved through the commonlaw system, and really means even that that when judges rule on the law, athough judges are independent they should rule in a predictable and non-chaotic manner. A judge could, in theory, ignore a precedent, but generally do not in order to maintain some stability or predictability in law. If there is no precedent, does a judge not rule? No, the judge "creates" the precedent. Well, for those that say there is no precedence for a prorogue of parliament, that is correct. How could there be a precedence when it hasn't happened? Also, just because the GG does something, does not mean the GG is bound to do the same thing the next time (hopefully no next time) it happens, or the next GG, or the GG after that; the GG is not bound by precedent.

Second, the election. Yes, about 38% voted Conservative, and 62% voted something else. However, that doesn't mean that 63% of Canadians voted for a coalition. Conservatives (37.6% - Elections Canada), less (26.2%)for the Liberals, and even less (18.2%) for the NDP. Although the Lib/NDP together make 44.4%, the best I can tell is that NO ONE for the Lib/NDP combined. If the Lib/NDP want to talk like they have 44% of the vote, then let them go to the electorate together and find out what people actually want; hey, who knows, maybe more, maybe less, maybe the same, but at least it would be clear as a combined vote.

Third, the coaltion. Yes, there have been coalition governments, but normally when the parties in the coalition have MORE combined seats, not LESS. The Conservatives have 143, the coalition would have 113 (Elections Canada results). If I understand a coaltion correctly, the Lib/NDP should have MORE than the opposition. I say this having read the accord (from the Liberal website) that only has signatures from Dion and Layton. One might argue that the BQ supports them (and in writing), but the BQ is not forming part of government, just keeping their noses out of it, so to speak. So, how is democracy better served by having a smaller number of people talk about being the government, with a bystander saying "go ahead, I won't stop you?" Goes back to my previous paragraph: if the Lib/NDP want to get together and form a government, then do it openly in an election.

Fourth, Harper (who admitted or accepted responsibility, which doesn't matter) did an incredibly stupid thing. Notwithstanding that stupid move, does it mean we then hand over the reins to people who did not have a combined support during the election. I think that the government should have come down, but not to bring people who have no legitimate claim. Politicians talk about the cost of an election, but I believe even if elections cost nothing that the coalition wouldn't go to an election, because they know it wouldn't fly; maybe the vote would change, but most likely not for the coalition.

To close, this has been a pretty exciting thing to watch, and seeing how much it has raised peoples' interest in how our system works, good and bad, is a good thing.

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By BC (anonymous) | Posted December 04, 2008 at 13:39:23

Four comments.

First, the concept of precedence. There is a misunderstanding of what it means and how it applies. "Let the decision stand" (a paraphrase) is evolved through the commonlaw system, and really means even that that when judges rule on the law, athough judges are independent they should rule in a predictable and non-chaotic manner. A judge could, in theory, ignore a precedent, but generally do not in order to maintain some stability or predictability in law. If there is no precedent, does a judge not rule? No, the judge "creates" the precedent. Well, for those that say there is no precedence for a prorogue of parliament, that is correct. How could there be a precedence when it hasn't happened? Also, just because the GG does something, does not mean the GG is bound to do the same thing the next time (hopefully no next time) it happens, or the next GG, or the GG after that; the GG is not bound by precedent.

Second, the election. Yes, about 38% voted Conservative, and 62% voted something else. However, that doesn't mean that 63% of Canadians voted for a coalition. Conservatives (37.6% - Elections Canada), less (26.2%)for the Liberals, and even less (18.2%) for the NDP. Although the Lib/NDP together make 44.4%, the best I can tell is that NO ONE for the Lib/NDP combined. If the Lib/NDP want to talk like they have 44% of the vote, then let them go to the electorate together and find out what people actually want; hey, who knows, maybe more, maybe less, maybe the same, but at least it would be clear as a combined vote.

Third, the coaltion. Yes, there have been coalition governments, but normally when the parties in the coalition have MORE combined seats, not LESS. The Conservatives have 143, the coalition would have 113 (Elections Canada results). If I understand a coaltion correctly, the Lib/NDP should have MORE than the opposition. I say this having read the accord (from the Liberal website) that only has signatures from Dion and Layton. One might argue that the BQ supports them (and in writing), but the BQ is not forming part of government, just keeping their noses out of it, so to speak. So, how is democracy better served by having a smaller number of people talk about being the government, with a bystander saying "go ahead, I won't stop you?" Goes back to my previous paragraph: if the Lib/NDP want to get together and form a government, then do it openly in an election.

Fourth, Harper (who admitted or accepted responsibility, which doesn't matter) did an incredibly stupid thing. Notwithstanding that stupid move, does it mean we then hand over the reins to people who did not have a combined support during the election. I think that the government should have come down, but not to bring people who have no legitimate claim. Politicians talk about the cost of an election, but I believe even if elections cost nothing that the coalition wouldn't go to an election, because they know it wouldn't fly; maybe the vote would change, but most likely not for the coalition.

To close, this has been a pretty exciting thing to watch, and seeing how much it has raised peoples' interest in how our system works, good and bad, is a good thing.

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By BC (anonymous) | Posted December 04, 2008 at 13:41:11

Four comments.

First, the concept of precedence. There is a misunderstanding of what it means and how it applies. "Let the decision stand" (a paraphrase) is evolved through the commonlaw system, and really means even that that when judges rule on the law, athough judges are independent they should rule in a predictable and non-chaotic manner. A judge could, in theory, ignore a precedent, but generally do not in order to maintain some stability or predictability in law. If there is no precedent, does a judge not rule? No, the judge "creates" the precedent. Well, for those that say there is no precedence for a prorogue of parliament, that is correct. How could there be a precedence when it hasn't happened? Also, just because the GG does something, does not mean the GG is bound to do the same thing the next time (hopefully no next time) it happens, or the next GG, or the GG after that; the GG is not bound by precedent.

Second, the election. Yes, about 38% voted Conservative, and 62% voted something else. However, that doesn't mean that 63% of Canadians voted for a coalition. Conservatives (37.6% - Elections Canada), less (26.2%)for the Liberals, and even less (18.2%) for the NDP. Although the Lib/NDP together make 44.4%, the best I can tell is that NO ONE for the Lib/NDP combined. If the Lib/NDP want to talk like they have 44% of the vote, then let them go to the electorate together and find out what people actually want; hey, who knows, maybe more, maybe less, maybe the same, but at least it would be clear as a combined vote.

Third, the coaltion. Yes, there have been coalition governments, but normally when the parties in the coalition have MORE combined seats, not LESS. The Conservatives have 143, the coalition would have 113 (Elections Canada results). If I understand a coaltion correctly, the Lib/NDP should have MORE than the opposition. I say this having read the accord (from the Liberal website) that only has signatures from Dion and Layton. One might argue that the BQ supports them (and in writing), but the BQ is not forming part of government, just keeping their noses out of it, so to speak. So, how is democracy better served by having a smaller number of people talk about being the government, with a bystander saying "go ahead, I won't stop you?" Goes back to my previous paragraph: if the Lib/NDP want to get together and form a government, then do it openly in an election.

Fourth, Harper (who admitted or accepted responsibility, which doesn't matter) did an incredibly stupid thing. Notwithstanding that stupid move, does it mean we then hand over the reins to people who did not have a combined support during the election. I think that the government should have come down, but not to bring people who have no legitimate claim. Politicians talk about the cost of an election, but I believe even if elections cost nothing that the coalition wouldn't go to an election, because they know it wouldn't fly; maybe the vote would change, but most likely not for the coalition.

To close, this has been a pretty exciting thing to watch, and seeing how much it has raised peoples' interest in how our system works, good and bad, is a good thing.

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By BC (anonymous) | Posted December 04, 2008 at 13:47:25

(apologies that for some reason my post went up several times)

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By jason (registered) | Posted December 04, 2008 at 17:02:01

rebel alliance,

There's no bitterness on my part. Politics is what it is. You and I go and vote and that's where it ends. MP's are beholden to their corporations called political parties. And their political parties are beholden to the the big money that got them into power. It's about power, money, greed and more power. It's not in any way, shape or form about you and I.

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By Rusty (registered) - website | Posted December 05, 2008 at 11:09:44

Well it is Jase, but only in so far as politicians pay attention to polls, letters to the editor and the like. This is one of the reasons some Libs are backing away from the coalition now. Political parties hire Media Analysts to scour the papers for relevant articles and letters. They try to get a sense as to the mood of the electorate through these antiquated approaches. At the end of the day they know that it it's us voters who keep them employed.

Personally I think this is a lousy way for voters to make an impact. It's too disconnected. For one thing we voters are too strongly beholden to the media to provide insightful analysis. We don't know enough about politics and the issues ourselves (just look at the depth of ignorance around the recent coaliton nonsense). I believe that Civics lessons should be mandatory in schools. Voting should be mandatory. We need to ingrain our democracy into peoples lives to improve the connection between politicians and their constituents.

I believe the whole breakdown of the coalition comes down to one thing - Dion. The voters don't like him and his own party doesn't like him. Whether the coalition 'coup' was legitimate or not is beside the point. People didn't go for it because Dion was at the helm. The sooner he's gone and the Libs re-build a decent alternative to the Conservatives the better.

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By dgskfhudsagflasg (anonymous) | Posted December 06, 2008 at 01:06:40

I don't have a whole lot to say, I just thought I'd peep in and counter a very widely presented argument. When presented with the fact that the combined coalition vote outweighs the conservative vote, it is often stated that "nobody voted for a coalition!" so this fact is misleading at worst and irrelevant at best. I'd just like to point out that this is an assumption that carries with it the assumption that the voters had no idea what they were doing. I consciously voted for the NDP candidate in my riding specifically because my understanding of history is that the last time we saw a Liberal/NDP coalition back in the 60s under Pearson, the country changed for the better. A lot. I was actually quite excited about the possibility of the ABC mindset propelling us into a real coalition government. Martin was the caboose of the Pearson train and it seemed as though we were moving into a new governing phase. The green shift struck me as every bit as revolutionary as universal health care but destined to force the liberals into obscurity west of Winnipeg, meaning that if they were to form government they would need NDP support. My riding is a conservative vs. ndp riding. I am a liberal. So i voted NDP to vote for a liberal-ndp coalition. So, for now on you cannot say that nobody voted for this coalition. I did. If I did, it is not absurd to conclude that others did as well. Most people that voted strategically or that voted ABC did in fact vote for the coalition.

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By Al (anonymous) | Posted December 09, 2008 at 15:08:11

If people want to use the most recent election's results as a mandate for a coalition government shouldn't the party that received the most votes be a member of that coalition?

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted December 09, 2008 at 15:31:40

Al wrote:

If people want to use the most recent election's results as a mandate for a coalition government shouldn't the party that received the most votes be a member of that coalition?

Not necessarily. The Prime Minister only needs the confidence of a majority of MPs - any majority of MPs - to form a government.

Normally, the leader of the party that has the most seats is in the best position to retain the confidence of a majority of MPs, but if that party has less than half the seats, the Prime Minister must also retain the confidence of enough additional MPs from other parties to achieve majority support.

In this case, the Prime Minister had an opportunity to form a coalition (formal or otherwise) with one or more opposition parties to achieve the majority support he needs, just as he did during his previous minority parliament when he regularly depended on the Bloc to pass his government's bills.

This time, he chose instead to introduce a confidence motion on legislation that offended all the opposition parties. He blew his chance to achieve a majority of support that included his own party and enough additional MPs to achieve majority support in the House of Commons.

As a result, it would have been entirely proper and democratic for the Governor General to demand that Harper face a confidence vote before granting his wish for a prorogation.

As it happens, the GG established a dangerous precedent by allowing the Prime Minister to avoid accountability to the democratically elected House of Commons.

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By Lisa O (anonymous) | Posted December 10, 2008 at 23:37:11

Don't think that only Americans are the only ones in a tailspin over the recession and heading for payday loans. Our neighbors to the north have been affected from it as well. Obviously, the Asian and European financial systems have taken a tumble also, but we oft forget how closely America and the great nation of Canada are tied. In the wake of the severe dip and near crash of the credit system, banking institutions worldwide are feeling the ill effects. The Canadian government has been in a state of turmoil over how to handle the problems it is facing with the economic climate. The situation was getting ugly; the members of Parliament were determined not to cooperate with the Conservative Prime Minister, and may have been heading for a vote of No Confidence, effectively a removal of the Prime Minister. In response to the way things were unfolding, the Prime Minister asked the Governor General, head of Parliament, to dissolve or suspend the Parliament in order to give him more time to get a working plan in order to deal with the crisis without fear of partisan squabbles – which was then implemented. (This action is called "prorogation" and it does not happen very often at all.) Just remember, even though here in America we have tough times and need to get payday loans, we are not alone. Click here to read more on payday loans.

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By alittlelate (anonymous) | Posted November 30, 2009 at 13:36:38

"No GG has ever refused to accept a Prime Minister's prorogue request;"

Please get your facts right. In 1926 the governor general Lord Byng refused Mackenzie Kings request to prorogue parliament because he thought there was a chance of forming a conservative government (who at the time had more seats then the liberals, who were in power with the support of the progressives). Before we can even start discussing right and wrong the author should consider taking a political science class.

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By bald eagle (anonymous) | Posted January 13, 2010 at 09:21:10

why is everybody upset about Harper porogueing Paliament? The Liberals did it several times.

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By idiot (anonymous) | Posted January 13, 2010 at 09:21:59

why is everybody upset about Harper porogueing Paliament? The Liberals did it several times.

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