How long can Harper refuse to meet the House?

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Wilf Day
How long can Harper refuse to meet the House?

Harper has already postponed the confidence vote from Dec. 1 to Dec. 8. Can he prorogue until January as some are speculating?

Quote:
In a constitutional monarchy, except in rare cases – usually associated with election results, the dissolution of Parliament and the formation of a government – the Governor General has no independent discretion, and must follow the advice tendered.

All constitutional authorities are agreed that a government has the right to remain in office to meet the legislature when an election results in no majority position for any party.

Just as a Governor General has the legal power to appoint a government, he or she also has the power to dismiss it. However, this power is stringently limited by conventional rules.

Constitutional authorities generally agree that a Governor General may dismiss a government if it has been defeated on a clear vote of confidence and refuses to resign and call an election, or if another party has won a majority in an election and the existing government refuses to resign.

If the result of a general election is a plurality (i.e., not a majority for any party), the existing Prime Minister would probably visit the Governor General to indicate whether he or she intends to try to win a vote of confidence when Parliament returns, or to resign.

It is not clear how long the Prime Minister could wait before being required to notify the Governor General of his or her intentions. Neither is it clear at what point the Governor General could require the Prime Minister to make a decision. According to the written Constitution, a sitting of Parliament is required at least once a year.

There have been occasional suggestions in Canada that after an inconclusive election the Prime Minister would be justified in requesting a dissolution and therefore a second election without even waiting for the Parliament to meet. This view is almost certainly wrong. The House of Commons has been elected, and it should surely be allowed to meet and see if it can transact public business .

If the proper role for the Governor General were unclear, he or she would likely consult with his or her own advisers and with other constitutional experts.

The traditional view is that the monarch or the monarch’s representative can consult as widely as he or she wishes, both inside and outside parliament as to whom should be appointed as the new First Minister.

Her job is always to protect Parliamentary democracy and the Parliament that the people have elected has to have a chance to see if it can support a government.

So Parliament has the right to vote non-confidence.

Harper admitted this Friday night:

Quote:
"The opposition has every right to defeat the government but Stéphane Dion does not have the right to take power without an election. Canada's government should be decided by Canadians, not backroom deals," he said.

But that second sentence is an argument that the Governor-General should grant him a dissolution -- which she will not do -- not an argument that the House should be prevented from defeating the government.

Parliament has the right to decide. For Harper to seek to prorogue would be a coup against parliament. Can he prorogue to next December, on the grounds that Parliament need meet only once per year?

George Victor

 

Are you also sure that he cannot now involve "The Law" because of the perception of "backroom deals" etc. ?

This question is asked of a legal beagle by one who distrusts the use of law in a society where the priviledged class has always depended on the interpretation of the law in its favour.

 

Captain Obvious

Well, I'm a historian, not a constitutional expert, but I'll say this much-- I don't think this is really that far from King-Byng debate in 1926. The GG had the right then to ignore King's request for a dissolution (the more so since he privately warned King he would not grant such a request so soon after the 1925 election)-- but the Meighen Conservatives were quickly defeated as well, since all their potential Ministers had to resign to run in by-elections. Thankfully, we've eliminated this quirk of the British system. Granted, King won the election due better economic times, the collapse of the Progressives and painting the GG as the enemy of democracy. But I don't think Harper would win on a similar platform.

Re: meeting once a year, my guess is that legally he could, but politically it would be catastrophic. Even waiting until January might cause serious damage. And of course, there is a certain precedent for the constitutional convention that a new government has face a confidence vote in a reasonable amount of time.

George Victor

Re: meeting once a year, my guess is that legally he could, but politically it would be catastrophic. Even waiting until January might cause serious damage. And of course, there is a certain precedent for the constitutional convention that a new government has face a confidence vote in a reasonable amount of time.

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I'm sure that our focus should be on what "could" happen.

Wilf Day

From another thread:

ottawaobserver wrote:
If the Conservatives try to prorogue now without passing their Economic Statement, and with Parliament sitting just two weeks, Parliament will be in an uproar I predict.  MPs would send the Speaker to see the Governor General and demand she fire the PM.

Great theory. Any precedent or authority for that being the Speaker's role? Maybe several centuries old, but you'd have to go back almost to the days when parliament was struggling against the divine right of kings to find a case where the prime minister thought he could dispense with parliament.

 

Brian White

So Harper can stop the clock on the political game perhaps?  But he cannot stop the clock in the real world and the economic tanking of the Canada cannot be ignored for 3 or 4 months when he plays his mind games.

Isn't it now clear, even to many conservatives, that power drove him barmy? 

How long before the men in white coats come to take him away? 

George Victor wrote:

Re: meeting once a year, my guess is that legally he could, but politically it would be catastrophic. Even waiting until January might cause serious damage. And of course, there is a certain precedent for the constitutional convention that a new government has face a confidence vote in a reasonable amount of time.

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I'm sure that our focus should be on what "could" happen.

NorthReport

Does anyone think that Harper cares one bit whether or not Parliament is in an uproar? After all he has tried to govern like he has had a majority from Day One, and it is his adverserial approach that has caused most of the problems there in the first place. Harper has always played hardball and sure why would he not postpone resuming Parliament for almost a year if he can get away with it.  Who cares what Canadians think when power is at stake. This is far, far from over.

ottawaobserver

Wilf Day wrote:

From another thread:

ottawaobserver wrote:
If the Conservatives try to prorogue now without passing their Economic Statement, and with Parliament sitting just two weeks, Parliament will be in an uproar I predict.  MPs would send the Speaker to see the Governor General and demand she fire the PM.

Great theory. Any precedent or authority for that being the Speaker's role? Maybe several centuries old, but you'd have to go back almost to the days when parliament was struggling against the divine right of kings to find a case where the prime minister thought he could dispense with parliament.

Divine right of kings.  Stephen Harper.  I'm not getting the distinction, Wilf ;-)

But seriously, the Speaker's role is to protect the privileges of Parliamentarians, as just about every candidate for the job said in their speeches the other week.  I suspect he would be summoned to play some role in that circumstance.

One picky point to another commenter though ... technically the government did pass one vote of confidence, because the Throne Speech did pass on a voice vote on division right after the Economic and Fiscal Update.  One point in the government's favour.  But really ... a sitting of less than a month?  With no Supply Motion adopted?  I don't think that fits the bill for prorogation.

George Victor

Great theory. Any precedent or authority for that being the Speaker's role? Maybe several centuries old, but you'd have to go back almost to the days when parliament was struggling against the divine right of kings to find a case where the prime minister thought he could dispense with parliament.

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Wouln't a "rapturist" fit right in there?Laughing

 

But, seriously, you can't imagine another  extra-parliamentary legal dodge by the artful dodger?

Parkdale High Park

Captain Obvious wrote:

but the Meighen Conservatives were quickly defeated as well, since all their potential Ministers had to resign to run in by-elections.

Not quite, Meighen appointed them all acting ministers. The Progressives found the move so abhorrent they voted NO in a VONC. Meighen (and the Progressives) were crushed in the ensuing election, as King campaigned against Byng's move. Indeed, King-Byng isn't that good for precedent because it took place so long ago, and because reaction was so universally harsh. It may have set off a convention of not refusing requests for dissolution (of course you can't tell that, except perhaps from Adrienne Clarkson's memoirs).

There are two other scenarios of relevance here - 1985 Ontario is the most similar - with one exception: Miller advised the governor-general to make the coalition the government and did not request dissolution so soon after an election.

I think the best example is Australia's 1975 constitutional crisis. Gough Whitlam's Labour party controlled the house but not the senate. The senate, however, was controlled by the Lib-National coalition which DEFERRED voting on money bills, preventing them from being passed. Of course it is a matter of debate - since the turn of the century in Britain, the Lords didn't vote on supply bills. Instead of dissolving parliament, Malcolm Fraser was made PM. Fraser soon called an election and won - Labour lost because it focused on the dismissal, and not the economy.

 

 

Wilf Day

ottawaobserver wrote:
... technically the government did pass one vote of confidence, because the Throne Speech did pass on a voice vote on division right after the Economic and Fiscal Update.  One point in the government's favour.

But the Liberal amendment passed. So where was the confidence vote? On the motion as amended by the Liberals?

Which presciently said "we urge Your Excellency’s advisors to respect the results of the election in which more than 60 percent of voters supported Members of Parliament in the opposition . . . Canadians rightfully expect the House of Commons they just elected to function in a less partisan, more constructive and collaborative manner, with the first responsibility for setting a better tone being that of the government which requires the government to be more forthcoming than it has been up to now."

A vote of grudging confidence, if even that? 

Quote:
We, Her Majesty's most loyal and dutiful subjects, the House of Commons of Canada, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Excellency for the gracious Speech which Your Excellency has addressed to both Houses of Parliament and we urge Your Excellency’s advisors to respect the results of the election in which more than 60 percent of voters supported Members of Parliament in the opposition; to bear in mind that people express their wishes as much through the opposition as through the government; to recognize that Canadians rightfully expect the House of Commons they just elected to function in a less partisan, more constructive and collaborative manner, with the first responsibility for setting a better tone being that of the government which requires the government to be more forthcoming than it has been up to now; and to that end, given the crucial nature of the up-coming economic and fiscal update, to provide representatives of opposition parties with a detailed briefing by appropriate senior officials at least three hours in advance of the public presentation of the update, so all Members of Parliament can be properly equipped to deal with the serious economic difficulties confronting Canadians.

Parkdale High Park

Other precedents that don't get mentioned:

John A Macdonald resigned after a scandal in 1873. The Governor-general put the Liberals in charge as a caretaker government (I think), and an election was called later in 1874.  

Fadden (of  the United Australia Party) was removed as PM in 1941 without an election, replaced by a Labour government without an election.

 

KenS

It's not even clear that Harper can make it wait until December 8.

I think there is still a confidence vote today. It is very narrow now. And therefore I can't see the Opposition picking that opportunity to topple the government.

But I think that is an illustration of how many things are possible.

And not everyting that is possible is politically feasible. Proroguing until late January probably fits into that category. As probably does the technical possibility exists for bringing the government down today if there is still that substantively minor but technically confidence vote.

Its where the political game [and what the public is likely to accept] meets the technical possibilities that I think is the reason for announcing the basics of a coalition agreement late on a Sunday night.

The partners want to show that this is not vague possibilities before Harper can make a move. And to have formally announced as much as possible just in case they see the need or opportunity to make a sudden move of their own.

In the final analysis the more general political game determines. The technical possibilities set a lot of limits on that political game, but they do not determine it.

aka Mycroft

Budgets can't be approved by order in council so it would be incredibly irresponsible for Harper to suspend Parliament for any extended period, particularly in the middle of an economic crisis.

Agent 204 Agent 204's picture

KenS wrote:

It's not even clear that Harper can make it wait until December 8.

I think there is still a confidence vote today.

What's that vote on?

KenS

I have no means of keeping on tops of all the changes, and don't have a very good grasp on House procedure.

But my understanding is that the Ways and Means tax bill stiff comes up today. If it does, it has only the changes to RRIF plans still in it. Everything else- all the substance, including the Liberal non-confidence motion- has been put off till Dec 8.

But the one today is still a money bill. What I don't know is if there are other ways the government can simply dispose of it so that it 'doesn't count'. But even if they cannot dispose of it, would the coalition partners bring down the government over changes to RIFF?

Yes, they'd say why it was really happening. But before also there has been a chance for public debate of what is going on?

And hardly an auspicious start for taking your case to the GG.

aka Mycroft

It would behoove the Opposition to use whatever vote they can to defeat the government given rumours that Harper will prorogue, given the chance.

Scott Reid's words will be ringing in everyone's ears today:

bush is gone ha...

The day Harper prorogues is the Day I join a general strike.  Events in Bangkok are a warning of what occurs in the world. 

 

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why is it that polling booths look like cattle chutes?

Bookish Agrarian

I have mentioned it before- but one of the most dispiriting things about all this is the fundamental lack of understanding so many have about how a Parliamentary democracy works and how ours has evolved.  That is assuming you can go by online comments on news sites anyway.

 

There is absolutely nothing undemocratic about members of the House forming an alternative government after losing confidence in the current one.  It is very much in keeping with our historic traditions.  Yes we have given over that job to parties for the most part, but our system is still one based on individual riding representatives, it is they who chose our government in reality, not our elections per se.  True we do not ‘enforce’ this tradition and instead leave it up to Parliamentary groupings, but that is how it actually works. 

 

Given this lack of understanding I am not sure Harper couldn’t easily get away with proroguing the House, or a bunch of other things.  People just don’t know and the media is doing little to educate them.  As well I see nothing coming from the potential coalition to explain what they plan to do and how it would benefit the average Canadian for this change to take place.  Political junkies know, but do many others?

remind remind's picture

The pay equity portion of the spending, is still a go, and I believe it is that that comes forward today too. If the CPC are allowed to have this pass today, it is a slap in the face to women across Canada. So one would hope that if it is part of the Bill coming forward today for a vote, that the CPC would be brought down over it. If it is not, I as a woman would pull all support from the coalition, as none of the parties would be showing that women's rights are pertinent.

 

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"watching the tide roll away"

Buddy Kat

He will do what he can to hold on to power for as long as he possibly can. He doesn't give a shit about Canada in case anyone has noticed. He only seems to care when his power is on the line. Like it is now. 

 He is buying time to get his attack and framing ads out there.. we all know how the trickster works...you can expect lots of pro conservative media biasing from TV ,radio and letters...maybe they are even buying time to shred documents.

While he panics and delays parliament the country goes down the shitter. The sooner he is ousted the better off we will be...even if it's Iggy as PM. 

ottawaobserver

aka Mycroft wrote:

It would behoove the Opposition to use whatever vote they can to defeat the government given rumours that Harper will prorogue, given the chance.

Scott Reid's words will be ringing in everyone's ears today:

I really wish Scott Reid hadn't written those particular words.  He could have found a less objectionable metaphor.  I know he was trying to stiffen Liberal spines a bit at the first sign of Conservatives trying to set the cat amongst the pigeons, but I fear those particular words may come back to haunt him.

KenS

As noted I don't know if anything is coming forward today. [Or that it may only formally be coming forward to be disposed of and replaced by a new bill to come up for next week.]

But if anything is coming for a confidence vote today, it would not include the pay equity or any other legislation pertainining to the civil service. 

Bärlüer

There's a good article (in French) on the issue of prorogation in today's Devoir.

Basically, the argument goes this way: it is arguable in the current situation that the PM, not having obtained the confidence of the House, is not allowed to take controversial decisions. He would constrained to a limited range of decisions in the same way that a PM in the course of an electoral campaign is, according to British parliamentary rules.

The expert cited in the article argues that prorogation in the current context is akin to ask for dissolution and, in the same way that the GG can refuse to accede to the PM's demand that the House be dissolved, the GG could refuse to prorogue Parliament till January.

Interested Observer Interested Observer's picture

Bookish Agrarian wrote:

I have mentioned it before- but one of the most dispiriting things about all this is the fundamental lack of understanding so many have about how a Parliamentary democracy works and how ours has evolved.  That is assuming you can go by online comments on news sites anyway.

 

 People don't even know what right or left means anymore or where the political parties stand on that spectrum. It's sad really.

 

Brian Topp: Our friends on the blue team seem to mostly focus on sticks, and not so much on carrots. ;)

remind remind's picture

Bärlüer wrote:
There's a good article (in French) on the issue of prorogation in today's Devoir.

Basically, the argument goes this way: it is arguable in the current situation that the PM, not having obtained the confidence of the House, is not allowed to take controversial decisions. He would constrained to a limited range of decisions in the same way that a PM in the course of an electoral campaign is, according to British parliamentary rules.

The expert cited in the article argues that prorogation in the current context is akin to ask for dissolution and, in the same way that the GG can refuse to accede to the PM's demand that the House be dissolved, the GG could refuse to prorogue Parliament till January.

Now that is interesting, as Harper is now in a much smaller box.

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"watching the tide roll away"

The Bish

The CBC is also reporting that Harper could not prorogue Parliament without the permission of the Governor General, so it's looking increasingly likely that the government will be done next Monday.

Frustrated Mess Frustrated Mess's picture

Harper is claiming that the Throne Speech was a vote of confidence:

http://www.cbc.ca/canada/story/2008/12/01/question-period.html

What I find fascinating about all of this is just how badly Harper has played his hand. Coming out of the election with the Liberals in self-immolation mode, rather than be a leader, he chose to be a pricky little schoolboy. Okay, so major blunder. How to get out of it? To get out of it, he would need to win the support of at least one other party. The Liberals are out, pure and simple. But with eavesdropping on the NDP and releasing the tape, an act of desperation (Layton came across eonderfully), that route is blocked and now he, himself, has just blocked any potential deal with the Bloc.

HAHAHA! What an idiot. 

  

Captain Obvious

Parkdale High Park wrote:
Captain Obvious wrote:

but the Meighen Conservatives were quickly defeated as well, since all their potential Ministers had to resign to run in by-elections.

Not quite, Meighen appointed them all acting ministers. The Progressives found the move so abhorrent they voted NO in a VONC. Meighen (and the Progressives) were crushed in the ensuing election, as King campaigned against Byng's move. Indeed, King-Byng isn't that good for precedent because it took place so long ago, and because reaction was so universally harsh. It may have set off a convention of not refusing requests for dissolution (of course you can't tell that, except perhaps from Adrienne Clarkson's memoirs).

Well, fair enough, I was being brief. To be precise, he resigned to seek re-election, while his "acting Ministers" remained. So it amounts to the same thing, given that they lost the 5th confidence vote by 1 vote.

We can certainly argue about how valid a precedent it is, given different economic and political circumstances. But from what I've read, the eventual consensus wais that the GG did have the power and was perfectly entitled to use it to refuse dissolution.

Captain Obvious

Bookish Agrarian wrote:

I have mentioned it before- but one of the most dispiriting things about all this is the fundamental lack of understanding so many have about how a Parliamentary democracy works and how ours has evolved.  That is assuming you can go by online comments on news sites anyway.

 

I agree entirely. It is quite depressing to read people arguing this is a "coup." These are the same types you rail about how "kids these days" don't know any of their own history.

Michelle

Let's take this discussion to the general thread.

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