Sunday, November 30, 2008

Spector: Is Canada headed toward a constitutional crisis.

Maybe I am a bit dull but I fail to see where Spector has pointed out any constitutional crisis. All he has shown is that the Canadian people may feel a bit miffed if the elected government is replaced by an opposition coalition. However together with the Bloc the coalition govt. will represent considerable more voters than Harper's Conservatives. It is not clear that the majority will be miffed at all. Perhaps they will feel relieved that a government that fails to consult the opposition when it is in a minority but instead tries to ram through an ideologically loaded economic update finally will get its comeuppance.
The governor general has the power to grant the request of the opposition to form a coalition govt. if the existing government loses the confidence of the house. Spector himself says he is not claiming that the governor general does not have the right to deny dissolution. So if that is so how can he claim there is a constitutional problem? Duh!

Is Canada headed toward a constitutional crisis?
Norman Spector, today at 8:47 AM EST
With Mr. Harper in full retreat, it's still not certain that the opposition parties will defeat his government on December 8. If they do, however, Governor-General Michaëlle Jean would have to decide whether to accept the Prime Minister's request to dissolve the House for another election.In an interview in last Saturday's La Presse, Ms. Jean was asked whether her relations with Prime Minister Stephen Harper were "generally good." She replied:"They are what they must be between a Governor-General and a Prime Minister.That's to say: mutual respect. Because this is part of respect for democracy. The people choose their government."I'm still skeptical that the Liberals will be able to work out their internal rivalries. Or, that they, the NDP and Bloc could put together a common program to present to the Governor-General that would last two years—as was the case in Ontario in 1985. If I'm wrong, however, Ms. Jean would be wise not to forget that in Canada, "the people choose their government." An election, while costly, would present Canadians with a clear choice between Mr. Harper's Conservatives and the coalition being proposed by the three opposition parties. The alternative is the very real possibility of a constitutional crisis. If Ms. Jean were to decide to hand power over to a Liberal-led coalition, Conservative voters would be furious. Western Canadians, in particular, would feel that the government had been stolen from them. Outside Québec, there would be strong resentment against a party dedicated to breaking up Canada having a role in governing the country.Ms. Jean was appointed by former Prime Minister Paul Martin. At the time of her appointment, she also held French citizenship, which she wisely renounced in the ensuing controversy. There was also considerable controversy over whether she and her spouse, Jean-Daniel Lafond, harboured separatist sympathies; in his case, few of those who know him believed the denials.In the circumstances, if the government is defeated next week, an election would be the less costly option for Canada.
UPDATE: Nothing in the above is meant to question the constitutionality of the Governor-General using the reserve power to deny dissolution. I'm simply arguing that it would be better for Canada if she used her constitutional discretion otherwise. And, as one whose written three very supportive columns in the Globe, in the thick of the controversy surrounding Ms. Jean's appointment, I also believe it would be in her personal interest to accept the Prime Minister's request for an election if his government is defeated.
That's what's happened in every case in our history with one exception. And, several factors distinguish that unique case-the so-called Byng-King affair-from the current set of circumstances.
This explains why the precedent most often being cited these days is the 1985 accord that brought David Peterson to power supported by the NDP.
However, in that case, Premier Frank Miller did not request dissolution; indeed, in his letter of resignation, he suggested that Mr. Peterson would be able to gain the confidence of the House and that he should be asked to form a government. The Lieutenant-Governor accepted that advice.
As to the other precedent being cited, Adrienne Clarkson's musings about what she would have done had Paul Martin lost the confidence of the House, those were just musings.

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