Thursday, December 04, 2008

Bizarre system of democracy in Canada's constitutional monarchy

A farce - by the standards of most, if not all, liberal parliamentary democracies - has just taken place in Canada. A couple of weeks ago a minority government under the conservative PM Stephen Harper took office. The thing is, as it goes with minority governments in democracies, only a minority of Canadians actually support the government. The opposition parties consisting of the Liberals, the leftish NDP and the Quebec based nationalists have a comfortable majority in parliament over the Conservatives. So, most sensible minority government PMs would have navigated compromise courses to ensure that their government is not brought down by the parliamentary majority. Sensible politics and Stephen Harper is well and truly a contradiction in terms. So, very quickly he pissed off the parliamentary majority to such an extent that they clubbed together, signed a deal and declared that they'd oust his government.

In most liberal democracies (probably all West European ones) the president or governor general (if it's a former British colony of sorts), if there's a working majority in parliament, would task the majority coalition formally with forming government within a certain period of time. That failing there will be elections.

Now, you might think this German-Australian expat shouldn't be that judgmental about the banana republic equivalent machinations of Canadian politics. So for what it's worth, Ed Shreyer, a former governor general of Canada, had this to say on the same matter: "I'll put it this way and I will make this a plain-spoken sentence. Nothing should be done to aid and abet the evasion of submitting to the will of Parliament. I think one can stop there. It's about as basic as that."

Hey, not so in Canada. Here, bizarrely, the governor general can suspend parliament for weeks in a row for no good reason. And that exactly is what she did! Now the minority government can continue for another couple of weeks time, despite the fact that the majority of elected parliamentarians declared in writing that they (representing their electorate, ie the majority of Canadian voters) do not support the government. As if this complete disregared for democratic process wasn't enough, the governor general can also decide, after the suspension of parliament (if the recalcitrant majority still insists on electing a new government) to call a new election. Again, why bother taking the views of the democratically elected representatives of the people seriously? No need in Canada.


  1. Dear Udo,

    I am so glad not to disagree with you about everything.

    This whole business is even more aggravating in light of misunderstandings (lies?) about the Canadian parliamentary system that Stephen Harper is both relying on and further promoting. Canada does not have a presidential system. That is, the voters do directly elect the Prime Minister in Canada.

    We don't even elect parties by combined popular vote. We elect local constituency representatives on a first past the post winner take all vote. So it is just false for Harper to claim that he was elected as Prime Minister by the Canadian people and that the the newly formed coalition was not democratically elected. What the Canadian people elected was a minority Conservative government with the three other parties holding the balance of power. Harper, or whoever, gets to be P.M. at the pleasure of the House.

    His move to frustrate the pleasure of the House of Commons by locking its doors and taking away the key until he thinks everyone has sufficiently chilled out and he is ready to face the music, is unprecedented.

    Opinion among constitutional lawyers and analysts about how the Governor General (i.e. the Crown) should respond to this bizarre but procedurally permissable request is quite divided. Very messy either way. The GG had to choose between refusing to take the advice of the PM in power, which is typically what s/he is supposed to do ever since the crown lost its real political power; or she had to permit the suspension of parliamentary democracy in Canada (one hopes, temporarily).

    American commentators called Hugo Chavez a dictator for wanting to have the option of being elected for more than two terms (an option which Canadian politicians and British politicians, among others, already have). Why aren't they freaking out about Harper's dictatorial machinations?!? On second though, it is perhaps better if they don't notice until after we get this sorted out and have a democratic government again.


    p.s. If you want to make more local public noise about this in Kingston, there is a rally inside City Hall on Sunday December 7th at 1:30pm (In the room called Memorial Hall). We are so polite in Canada that this is actually not called a rally but a Coalition "Meet and Greet." Maybe we can pass the hat and sort out the economic crisis while we are at it.

  2. The fact that it's 2008 and we are a constitutional monarchy and all of this was decided by an unelected person who represents our head of state who gets that title by birth and doesn't even live in Canada is far more worrisome than anything any particular party does.

  3. It is Queen's you are at, is it not?


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