As this is written the Prime Minister of Canada is or ought to be crossing the street from the official residence of the Prime Minister at 24 Sussex Drive to the official residence of the Governor General at Rideau Hall.
It is widely anticipated that he is going there to advise the Governor General to prorogue Parliament until early in 2009. It is widely speculated that she may refuse - or that she may impose restrictions - or that it doesn't matter much whether she agrees because as soon as Parliament reconvenes the Conservative minority government will fall.
This is all spectacularly interesting stuff (really). Governors-General almost always accept the advice of their Prime Minister. In this case, at least one past Governor-General is publicly commenting that the current Governor General should refuse the Prime Minister's request.
How did this come to pass and where is the Parliament of Canada going in the near future? See below the fold.
Approximately six weeks ago, Canada had federal general election. The Conservatives returned with a slightly larger plurality in the house than they had going into the election. In short, they have the most seats in the House of Commons but do not command a majority. The real current economic meltdown really only became apparent to most people in the waning days of the election campaign.
A overwhelming amount of commentary and punditry and, in fact, the comments of our own Prime Minister who ought to know better fundamentally misapprehend how Canadian elections work.
Canadians do not vote for their Prime Minister. The Prime Minister is a member of parliament and the only people who actually vote for him do so in the course of selecting him as their member of parliament. Stephen Harper is the member of parliament for Calgary Southwest. Stephen Harper became Prime Minister because he was the leader of the largest party in the House of Commons and was invited to form a government and act a Prime Minister.
Harper's government then had a throne speech (which in fairness passed). A vote on a throne speech is traditionally a confidence vote and his government could have fallen if the opposition parties had voted against the throne speech.
Most of us up here are pretty nervous about the economy like people are everywhere else. Harper's Minister of Finance presented an "economic statement" but not a budget.
That statement indicated that the government was of the view that Canada would weather the recession well and that the federal government would, in fact, have a small surplus. Absolutely no one believed this. The three opposition parties (the Liberals, New Democratic Parti and Bloc Quebecois) were all seeking indications of a significant economic stimulus plan from the government. They got none of that.
What they did get was a poke in the eye with respect to some of their core constituencies. The Conservatives said they would suspend the right to strike for federal public servants for two years - although there was no looming negotiation or strike problem at all. The Conservatives said they would suspend the right of appeal of pay equity tribunal decisions -apparently on the theory that the cost savings from the Federal Court of Appeal and not having to pay women fair wages would stimulate the economy. Also, the Conservatives said they would end a specific program of public financing for political parties. The Conservatives are far less dependent on that program than any other party.
The result of all of this was to put some spine into opposition parties that had been previously been extremely reluctant to put up anything more than a rhetorical fight against the governing COnservatives in the previous parliament.
The Liberals and NDP announced something that has never happened before at the federal level - they were forming a coalition for the purposes of forming a government. Remember that the rivalry between these parties and their contest for the hearts and minds of overlapping constituencies has often made relations worse between those two parties than it is between either of them and the Conservatives.
Within days, the Liberals and NDP had hammered out the broad outlines of their coalition and had a signed agreement setting out relative numbers of Cabinet positions. The Bloc Quebecois (a regional party present in parliament to advance the interests of Quebec francophones) stated that it would not join the coalition but also would support it on confidence votes for 2.5 years.
Since then - all hell has broken loose.
Harper - without any attempt to sound conciliatory - promptly dumped all the offensive initiatives from the economic update.
He also cancelled and rescheduled an opposition day which would have allowed a confidence vote to bring down his government. It is currently scheduled for December 8, 2008.
Harper and his ministers then started ranting about the will of the people and at least one Conservative member has accused the opposition parties of "treason" and "sedition."
The Liberals, NDP and Bloc made it very clear that dumping the stupid policies didn't change a damn thing, that Harper had lost the confidence of the majority of Parliament and that they didn't trust him to govern in an economic crises.
The LIberals and NDP wrote the Governor General advising her that they were prepared to form a government and that the Conservatives no longer enjoyed the confidence of Parliament (although as yet there has been no formal vote to that effect).
Last night, Prime Minister Harper took to the airwaves to appeal to the public for support for his government. Dion had a (not particularly well executed) rebuttal.
The current Conservative plan appears to be to tag the Coalition with being attached to "separatists." The Bloc is, of course, a party with separatists goals and aspirations. That said, they are quite sensible and progressive on economic and social issues. The Conservatives have, of course, conveniently forgotten that the Bloc was founded by a former Conservative cabinent member named Lucien Bouchard and are frantically trying to explain away correspondence from 2000 (edit) suggesting that they themselves had made overtures to the Bloc for their support to form a government. While the Bloc makes a great bogeyman the truth is there is pretty much bugger all a regional party can do in a federal parliament to advance separatism. It's not the right forum and isn't particularly conducive to advancing their cause. The Parti Quebecois - the provincial Quebec party - is a much more substantial threat to Canadian federalism because it can (and has in the past) amassed enough strength to form the provincial government and pass laws authorizing referendums on sovereingty.
So. . . here's what to look for over the next couple of days.
Harper will request the Governor General to prorogue Parliament. Nobody but her knows what she will do. No Governor General has ever been asked to prorogue Parliament so early in a session. There is no real precedent. She may grant his request in which case Parliament's new session will begin in January - the Conservatives will introduce their budget and unless there is major attrition in the coalition ranks - the budget will fail.
Or, the Governor General may refuse to prorogue Parliament. In that case, the government will likely fall on December 8 on a vote of non-confidence.
Or, the Governor General may prorogue Parliament - but strip the government of the ability to conduct any significant government business while Parliament is not in session. This could mean for example that the Conservatives could not appoint Senators, authorize significant spending or generally govern as if it was an executive independent from the Legislature. In my view, if she does progrogue Parliament she should certainly limit the government's powers.
If the government falls - whether now or later - the next question is whether to have another general election. We just had one. In fact, due to a succession of Conservative and LIberal minority governments we've had a few in the last little while.
Harper will push to go back to the electorate and hope that there is enough anger against the Coalition to push him into majority territory.
However, I believe the Governor General will refuse. Instead, she will invite the coalition to form a government.
In 1987 [correction in 1985 to and including 1987], the Ontario Conservative Party won the most seats in a Provincial Election. However, the Conservative Premier Frank Miller did not enjoy the confidence of the Provincial legislature. The NDP promised to support the Liberals on confidence motions - although they did not themselves join the government or take cabinent positions. The Lieutenant Governor John Black Aird invited the LIberals to form a government and they did. In fact, they governed until 1990 [correction 1987- the LIberals governed alone from 87-90] in what was an extremely popular government.
That legislative session did all sorts of useful things - it ended extra billing for medical services (some doctors were billing both the provincial medical plan OHIP and also charging patients fees). In fact, it all worked very well. I had the privilege of working as a legislative page for part of that time and can confirm that particular coalition worked extremely well. So well that many Ontarians have been wishing for it to happen again ever since and were extremely disappointed when the coalition collapsed in 1990. (We won't go into the King-Byng affair of 1926 right now - this diary is long enough already).
In short. Our Conservatives blew it. They blew it because they were petty and vindictive. They were so outrageously assholish about everything that they managed to galvanize the opposition into action. Now they will likely pay for that by losing the government. Their response will be (and is) to engage in dirty tricks. They will tell everyone that opposition parties have handed the keys to the federal government to party dedicated to the break up of Canada. They will try very hard to steal members of parliament from the Liberals. They will misrepresent the role of Parliament, its members, the Prime Minister and the Governor General to anyone who will listen. They will describe what is going on as an unconsitutional "coup."
All of this merely confirms that they have lost the moral authority to govern as well having lost the confidence of Parliament.
Many people will say that during a time of economic crisis that this sort of chaos is bad for the Canada. I say that idiots in the government instigated the crisis for no reason other than petty partisanship. They can no longer be trusted to lead and it is better that Parliament speak now than remain silent while the same gang mismanages every other aspect of the governance of Canada.
Oh. and now that Canadian politics is being something other than completely boring (now we are only slightly boring) I hope to see some coverage of this in US news media. Please? Pretty please? We're a little insecure up here and attention makes us feel good.
UPDATE 1 - thank you for the rec list. It is good to see stories up there about Canada and I hope to see more.
UPDATE 2 - the Governor General has, in fact, prorogued Parliament. We don't know on what terms yet - although it appears Harper has 7 weeks to get a budget together. Harper - interviewed on radio - asked what authority he has to govern and make expenditures in interim - doesn't really answer the question.
UPDATE 2- I'm sure there will be plenty of interesting stuff in the meantime
but mark January 27, 2009 on your calendar that's when Harper faces the music. In the meantime Dion should be careful in the portico around the honourable men (members) of his own party.