Tuesday, October 12, 2010

A Deceptive Democracy: "First Do No Harm"

A CULTURE OF DEFIANCE: History of the Reform-Conservative Party of Canada

I'm continuing to share bits and pieces from the 2009 book: Parliamentary Democracy in Crisis, a compilation of views from experts in Canada on the 2008 coalition and Harper's first damaging prorogation.

And since he continues to threaten national unity with his "separatist" nonsense, it's important to educate the public on the way that our Parliamentary system is supposed to work.

One of the experts to present their views, is Andrew Heard, Associate Professor in the Political Science Dept. at Simon Fraser University. He discusses the constitutionality of the prorogation and suggests that the Governor General should adhere to the principle of "first do no harm".

I certainly don't envy her position at the time, but should she have been put in that position in the first place? Was Stephen Harper right to ask her prorogue, when he had clearly lost the confidence of the House? Heard doesn't think so.
The governor general exists as an integral fail-safe mechanism for our parliamentary system of government. Every major parliamentary system around the world continues to include a separate position of head of state, because an independent official is needed on rare occasions to protect the proper functioning of Parliament and cabinet. The powers of the governor general have been likened to a fire extinguisher to put out constitutional fires. (1)
But there was no question on the constitutionality of the coalition. Nor was there any question of protecting a prime minister's job when he lost the confidence of the House. This "crisis" was made in Harperland.

Responsible Government, Huh?
The next important question, therefore, is whether Stephen Harper's advice to suspend Parliament was constitutional. Even among those constitutional authorities who supported the governor general's prorogation of Parliament, many question the propriety of the prime minister's decision to prorogue Parliament rather than face the vote of confidence on 8 December. The problem is that his actions undermine the most fundamental principle of our parliamentary system of government: that the government of the day must win and maintain the confidence of a majority of the elected members of Parliament. This principle is known as responsible government, and it ensures that the executive branch of government is accountable to those directly elected by the citizens. (2)
We don't elect prime ministers in Canada, nor do we elect governments. We only elect legislators. In our first past the post system, the leader of the party with the most seats is then named prime minister, and he is invited to form a government. Conventional wisdom being that he has the support of the electorate.

But Stephen Harper lost that support, meaning that more than 60% of Canadians, through their elected officials, wanted his government removed.
On the same day that Harper met with the governor general, a petition was delivered to her that had been signed by 161 opposition MPs in which they stated their intention to vote non-confidence in the Conservative government and to support an alternative government. (2)
In a Parliamentary democracy those are the voices she should have listened to. The majority in the House who presented their own solution to the "crisis". When the GG allowed Stephen Harper to prorogue, she silenced the majority of the electorate.

But again, should she have ever been put in the position of taking away our democratic rights?
The prime minister's decision to suspend Parliament was unconstitutional on several levels. First of all, he intended to prevent Parliament from expressing its non-confidence in his government and its support for an alternative government. This is an unprecedented manoeuvre among modern established democracies. It is a tactic that is normally condemned by Western governments when employed by a struggling Third World regime threatened with a legislative revolt. (2)
And though he continued to refer to the proposed coalition as a "coup", it was no such thing. The opposition were simply following the letter of our Constitution, whereas Stephen Harper was attempting to rewrite it.

If he loses the confidence of the House again, we should be prepared for anything. This man will not give up power easily. But this time we must demand that we have a say in the matter.


Coalitions and a Knowledge Deficit

Drama on the High "C"'s. Coalition, Coups, Crisis and Conspiracy

Harper From Pugnacious to Dangerous

A Confidence Game

On His Knees and Out of His Head

Democracy in Crisis: Governing Under a Cloud

Lies Become Truths When Enough People Believe Them


1. Parliamentary Democracy in Crisis, By Peter H. Russell and Lorne Sossin, University of Toronto Press, 2009, ISBN: 978-1-4426-1014-9. 2, Pg. 48

2. Parliamentary Democracy in Crisis, 2009, Pg. 53-54

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