05 December 2008

Mme. Jean's difficult, but correct, choice

So ... did our Governor General do the right thing?

The optics, as they say, are not good. To begin with, a democrat might cringe at the very idea of an unelected head of state shutting down our parliament. The Crown shuts the people out of their own house, you might say. We don't really have too much to complain about, however. We put her in the job, so we can hardly complain when she does it.

The real question is whether she should have prorogued Parliament to save the skin of one party, or rather, given the Conservative Party is a one-man show, to save the skin of one party leader. That is unsettling indeed. We can only hope that, as the constitutional experts seem to suggest, it isn't a precedent.

Nonetheless, there are some strong arguments in favour of the lady's decision:

First, it will allow things to cool down a little. Tempers are flaring across the county (not a bad thing in itself -- I haven't seen Canadians so passionate about things political for years) and looking at the whole affair from a bit more distance might clarify our vision. Of course, the increasing numbers of unemployed might not be so keen to have economic decisions put on hold for two months.

Second, it will test the coalition. If the coalition is solid, it will comfortably endure two months of waiting. If it isn't, better we find out before it forms a government. It has lots to do: firming itself up, gaining the support of Canadians, preparing a sound economic policy for the global recession, and (dare I suggest) finding a competent leader. It can spend this time productively ... or fall apart.

Third, Mme. Jean's decision guarantees her complete independence if the government falls to a vote of confidence in the new year. She will owe Harper nothing, having done him a very big favour this week. She will carry no baggage in offering the coalition its chance to govern.

I say all this with no sympathy for Mr. Harper. I believe he created this confrontation, I think he's bad for Canada and I would be delighted to see him replaced by a government that represented most Canadians. It would also be refreshing to see political parties working together for the good of the country. But allowing a thorough discussion of the whole issue is a good thing, too, particularly with the extensive misunderstandings about our political system that have revealed themselves to date.

This is very important stuff. It has to do with how we govern ourselves, and very little is more worthy of thorough deliberation than that.


  1. Well, this makes more sense to me:

    The government has clearly lost the confidence of the House. While that loss of confidence hasn't been crystallised yet through a formal vote, it is clear and unequivocal. In New Zealand, according to the Cabinet Manual, the incumbent government would be required to demonstrate confidence "within a short time frame (allowing a reasonable period for negotiation and reorganisation)" (and might not even be able to call an election, as this requires the confidence of the House). In Canada, they instead prorogue Parliament, delaying the vote - and allowing Harper's Ministers to collect their salaries - for almost two months. No Right Turn

    I've been discussing this with my partner. What amazes us is the way that she came to the decision WITHOUT consulting with the other partners in this controversial request. How would she know that Harper & his acolytes have been truthful on all the points of the argument for prorogation? I find this very troubling indeed.

  2. Whooee! Good points, Bill. I think Mme. Jean was also aware of her own baggage. Many people questioned Jean's appointment wrt former possible separatist leanings. True or not, she would have been accused of playing into the BQ's hands had she allowed the coalition to come to power.

    Dion is not the one to lead a coalition -- even temporarily. It was his pitiful leadership that cost the Grits so many votes in October. I'm hearing rumblings of an expedited LPC leadership selection/election/choice. That could help.

    Also problematic is the fact that the NDP campaigned as hard or harder against the LPC than against the Con's. Cynics see the coalition as a naked power grab, considering the vitriol that flowed during the recent campaign.

    Much as I don't like throwing $300 million at a new election, that may be the best way out. If we do go to the polls next spring, the coalition partners must campaign as coalition partners. That might mean more Red-Green type non-compete agreements to help ensure the fewest CPC seats. It would be another test of the coalition's willingness to work together.


  3. "it will allow things to cool down a little"

    My temper is on the increase. The PM must resign. No other PM should ever get the idea that it is acceptable to lock the doors on Parliament and not suffer a severe consequence.

    For many, that is now the issue.

    If Harper gets away with this, what do you think he'll do next? Bully Parliament to use the notwithstanding clause in all kinds of awful ways. say?

    Harper is smarter than Bush, but just as cynical, cold blooded and overy partisan.