Power, Parliamentary Democracy, and Coalition

Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s desire to cling onto power in the last few days, at all cost, has astonished me. Mr. Harper’s willingness to bend any rules, use any means to get his way, even including the idea of suspending parliament in order to avoid a no confidence vote is just plain wrong.

A coalition government is not easy. But it is how a parliamentary democracy works. A minority government always has the possibility in losing the right to govern as Mr. Harper knew very well in 2004 when he signed the agreement with Mr. Layton and Mr. Duceppe to try to defeat the Martin Liberal government.

In a parliamentary system, we don’t elect our Prime Minister directly. Only people in the riding of Calgary South West have the right and duty to vote for their representative in parliament, which happens to be Mr. Harper in this parliament.

Now, why are Canadians so forgetful that 62.37% of Canadians did not vote for the Conservative. With the wish and desire for separation by Canadians in Quebec being so low, I don’t understand why did Mr. Harper choose to alienate our brothers and sisters in Quebec with inflammatory languages he used in the House of Commons today? Is clinging to power more important than the unity of Canada as a country? And by using different and contradictory attacks in English and French, did he simply think that French Canadians don’t understand English?

A coalition government is not easy, especially when the “former Parti Quebecois leader Jacques Parizeau is reportedly going to publish an op-ed piece in French papers in Quebec in support of the coalition“. As I have ZERO respect for Mr. Parizeau (ah, thats another long story), his op-ed will likely hurt the coalition, but it is his rights to write any op-ed piece he likes.

I just hope Gov. Gen. Michaëlle Jean will make the right call for Canada. And lets hope we can get back to dealing with the economic crisis soon as Canadians are hurting.

P.S. Ah, seeing how Mr. Harper has behaved reminded me of the following scene about “power” in a speech from the film “The Contender“.

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The following is an excerpt from the Dec 3rd Globe and Mail editorial, worth reading and considering,

There are also plans, apparently instigated by the Conservatives, to try to cow Ms. Jean with a demonstration at her official residence, Rideau Hall, and by the generation of artificial “public opinion” to influence her decision. The Conservative response, then, to the self-inflicted political crisis in Ottawa may degenerate into a storm-the-Bastille attack on the Governor-General personally, or on the office of the Queen’s representative. Mr. Harper, whose own blundering created this mess, must resist the temptation to use a scorched-earth policy in order to get his way. He knows full well the Governor-General’s role, and his duty, like that of his opponents, is to ensure the institution is not subsumed into the ugly partisanship that has enveloped Ottawa.

In resisting a change of government, Mr. Harper has understandably appealed to a genuine feeling among many Canadians that it is up to the voters to choose the party in power, not to partisan political manoeuvres. Strictly speaking, however, the voters elect members of Parliament, who include the MPs of the opposition parties. There is also a widespread and genuine feeling among Canadians that politicians should get on with the governing of the country, rather than turning again and again to the electorate.

The way out for Mr. Harper, at least in the short term, is a request – also made to the Governor-General – to prorogue Parliament, in effect to shut the institution down temporarily. This would buy the government time to build political opinion against the idea of a coalition, and would put the durability of the coalition plan to the test. The idea of a Liberal-NDP government supported by the Bloc may have seemed good yesterday. It might not be so appealing for the participants in six or seven weeks’ time, when Parliament would presumably resume with a Speech from the Throne. (And to be clear, Parliament is normally prorogued to a date on which it will return. This is an important principle. Otherwise we have a dictatorship.) Normally, such “Instruments of Advice” from the prime minister are simply rubber-stamped by the governor-general. They are generally simple matters of legislative scheduling by the government, and the governor-general does not have discretion to deny them.

This case is very different. To prorogue now would obviously be a shabby act by Mr. Harper. It would be the Conservatives who could be accused of being anti-democratic, of preventing Parliament from expressing its will on a matter of confidence over its handling of the economy. Mr. Harper would be shown to be a leader in retreat, fearful of facing the elected representatives of the people of Canada. Still, if Mr. Harper does request a prorogation, it would be very difficult for Ms. Jean to turn him down. The Governor-General would then need to ask herself whether it is worth a constitutional crisis over a measure that would delay Parliament for a matter of weeks.

The unwieldy three-way alliance of the opposition parties, led by the lame duck Mr. Dion, is clearly not promising as a prospective government. But Mr. Harper and the Conservatives must make their arguments on the merits, debating the good of Canada, without resorting to knowingly erroneous arguments about the Constitution. And if their decision is to attempt to save their political hides through proroguing Parliament, then it is a decision that they will have to wear.

In her expected actions this week and next, Ms. Jean will simply, and, one assumes, correctly, be exercising long-standing powers of the Crown in support of Canada’s parliamentary democracy.

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2 Responses to Power, Parliamentary Democracy, and Coalition

  1. Maupassant says:

    Well, at least we now know for certain that Mr. Harper lacks nothing in the pettiness department. I consider at least some of his behaviour goes beyond being merely petty.

    Prorogation may not be used to avoid facing a vote of non-confidence, and I hope Ms. Jean stands up to the pressure and denies the request. Mr. Harper has no devine right to govern– his right ends with the loss of confidence of the house. He’s way too obsessed with obliterating all opposition, at the cost of good governance.

  2. kempton says:

    @Maupassant

    Thanks for sharing your comment and observations.

    The sad thing is Mr. Harper is very willing to see Canadians fighting and marginalizing each others (East vs West, Quebec Canadians vs Canadians outside of Quebec, Conservatives vs Liberals vs NDPs vs Blocs).

    We are all Canadians.

    P.S. When I heard President-elect Obama spoke of “we are not red states or blue states we are the united states of America”, I have tears in my eyes. He is a man that unites a country that needs healing.

    Now, when I hear Mr. Harper and his Conservative colleagues speak in the House of Commons, those hateful words, I hear voices that are willing to pit Canadians against each others.

    Mr. Harper, you do NOT have a monopoly of being a patriot. Quebec is part of Canada. Voters in Quebec are Canadians, regardless of whether they voted for the Bloc or not.

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