Sunday, December 07, 2008

British Parliamentary System

I'd be really interested to hear what constitutional experts in other countries think about the circumstances under which our government just prorogued parliament.

Also, I'd like to know if they think this action creates a precedent that would affect other parliamentary democracies. ...After all, pundits have been quoting precedent in Australia and Britain as if it adds something to the discussion here.

I'd also like to know what the precedent is in other countries for the Governor General (or Queen) to deny a request from a prime minister, and the consequences in those cases. We keep hearing that if Jean had turned down Harper's request for prorogation, he would have to resign: Where does that come from?

My guess on these issues is:
* Constitutional experts in other countries say that no other prime minister in a western democracy has ever tried to use prorogation to escape a no-confidence vote.
* They're horrified at the precedent set for other parliamentary systems.
* They think the GG should have resigned herself rather than accede to Harper's antidemocratic demand to escape a no-confidence vote.



Anonymous said...

Michael Bliss has some interesting comments in the National Post. Basically, the ultimate decider of what our Parliamentary rules should be is the people. I agree with him. Where I disagree with him is that Harper has been selling his idea on what has happened with lies. There can be no legitimate expression of the people's will on this matter if it is sold with lies. Furthermore, I don't believe the people have rejected coalition governments. Given different circumstances I think the people would be insisting that there be a coalition instead of an election. The problem is that the Liberal machine is woefully inadequate at selling its message.

Yappa said...

To Anonymous at 6:20 -

To say it is the will of the people to prorogue, you must be saying the will of the people is determined by a single unscientific poll of less than 1,000 Canadians.

Polls can never be considered the will of the people. Just look at polls before elections. They get fairly close to how people vote in the days before the election, but the farther back you go the more erroneous they are. A month before an election they are wildly different from the final results of the election.

Furthermore, people don't take polls as seriously as they do votes. Imagine you're sitting at supper and the phone rings (that's the usual scenario when someone answers a Canadian political poll). You quickly spout off whatever is top of mind, without much consideration. Your opinion might change by bedtime.

We last "went to the people" on October 14, and at that time they gave the opposition parties the majority of the seats. The majority of parliament has the right to form a government, so if the government falls on a non-confidence vote, they have the legal right AND the moral authority (given them by the people) to form a coalition government.

Nobody voted anyone the ability to shut down parliament when their political future was threatened. Most Canadians didn't even know the word "prorogue" existed last week. There is no expressed will of the people in regards to the prorogation.

Furthermore, we cannot justify subverting democracy by saying it's the will of the people. What if the PM passed his five years in office and decided not to hold an election? Imagine polls supported him: do you think it's okay to say the polls are the "ultimate decider of parliamentary rules"? What if he wanted to change other rules, like shut down question period, lock other parties out of the room during votes, unilaterally sack the senate, stop getting authorization for budget decisions? We have ways to modify our rules, and the rules try to ensure that populist dictators don't sway "the will of the people" to subvert democracy.

It is madness to suggest that our democratic rules and procedures can be tossed out the window at whim - especially in a case like this, when a minority PM subverted the rules to stay in power.

I agree with you that public opinion at the moment has been greatly swayed by Conservative lies and Liberal weakness. That's another reason that we have rules that must be followed.

Anonymous said...

Yappa, there is some material here.

Anonymous said...

Any actions setting precedent that have occurred was when the Liberals and NDP conspirped with the Bloc Quebecois to overthrow the elected government of Canada.
That to my knowledge is the only precedent that has been set as far I can see.

Idiot/Savant said...

Constitutional experts in other countries say that no other prime minister in a western democracy has ever tried to use prorogation to escape a no-confidence vote.

Its almost happened in NZ. At the 1911 election, the Liberal Party was relected with fewer seats than the opposition Reform party, and depending on a small group of independents to govern. They were reapointed government, won confidence on the Speaker's casting vote, and immediately prorogued Parliament for six months (though that seems to have been pretyt normal back then - the NZ Parliament only sat from June or July to November). In the subsequent shakeup, several Liberal MPs who had been (in their opinion) unjustly overlooked for Cabinet switched sides, and when parliament reconvened in July, they immediately lost confidence and were replaced. And that's as close as we've ever got. These days, the G-G would no doubt say that the decision to prorogue the House likewise required the confidence of the House, and tell the government to go and get it. but then, we have proper coalition politics and a fair electoral system now...