Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Not Sure I Can Buy the Prorogation...

Just re-elected Canadian Prime Minster Stephen Harper asked for the Governor-General Michaelle Jean of Canada to temporarily shut down (prorogue) parliament once it became clear the opposition parties were about to form a majority coalition and force him and the Conservatives (who had only a plurality of seats) out of power. And she granted it on December 4th.

I'm not sure I really get this. I am friendly with a Conservative Party official, and his defence of this move has been off-putting. He keeps saying, "the Conservatives just won a mandate to govern; they won the election; they deserve to rule; this coalition is trying to usurp democracy".

Are they? Between them, they can claim nearly 60% of the Canadian popular vote. How can a coalition of parties with 60%? of the vote be "usurping democracy" by replacing a party with only 40%?

To put it another way: the Conservative Party won the largest number of seats, yes; but they did not "win the election" any more than the potential coalition "won the election". That is the way it works in a parliamentary system: parties have a perfect right to form a coalition government. It happens all the time. It is the way parliaments work. Everyone knows that. There is just no precedent in parliamentary theory for the idea that a mere plurality confers some sort of right to govern over a majority coalition. Yet Stephen Harper keeps repeating that the coalition is trying to "overturn the results of the election"! No - the "results of the election" are going to stay exactly the same, with everyone retaining the same number of seats. It is just that a majority coalition of MPs would govern instead of a minority (plurality).

From what I can tell, all this "usurping democracy" business is all nonsense, and worse, partisan nonsense. And I'm saying that as someone who would never vote for the Liberals, NDP, or Bloc.

I mean, can you imagine what Canadian Conservatives would be saying if they were the ones who had signed a coalition agreement and were about to force out a minority Liberal Party government, and then Iggy or Paul Martin met with Michaelle Jean and got a prorogation based purely on the leader's desire to avoid losing power? I cannot doubt that the Tories would be going absolutely nuts right now, talking about how the Liberals were trampling on centuries worth of parliamentary process and custom, etc. And they'd be right, wouldn't they? AND - what if Iggy, in addition to getting a prorogation of parliament just so as to avoid getting turfed in a non-confidence vote, ALSO announced that during the prorogation, he was going to appoint EIGHTEEN new senators, especially if he had long campaigned against the prime ministerial power to appoint senators? The Tories would be screaming bloody murder!

I can't stand leftism, but still, I just don't get the Tory argument on this. Maybe there's some great one, and I just haven't seen it anywhere. But from here, it just looks like action based not on any regard for principle or custom, but on desperate desire to retain power. I hope I'm wrong.


lily said...

I can’t buy the prorogation either. When a minority government loses its confidence, then it should be out. Look at how arrogant Stephen Harper was getting. Thank god they didn’t win a majority government as Stephen Harper had hoped for. Harper said he would do anything to stay in power and that is exactly what he has done. It is unfortunate and surprising that the Governor-General actually granted his request for the prorogation. I voted for the Conservatives before but had to move away from it this last time, because it sounded so much like the narrow minded old Reform Party to me.

Tal said...

Well Lily, like I said, I can't stand the Liberals, NDP, or Bloc. Although, in a funny way, I can sort of respect the Bloc - they don't pretend to not be bad guys. They're very upfront about everything. (By contrast, the NDP never admit that they would destroy the country as we know it.)

So what I'm saying is, it is not on grounds of party sympathy or antagonism that I can't quite buy the prorogation, but on grounds of regard for parliamentary procedure.

bryn said...

I think that you are right.
This prorogation business is plain bad form.
Stephen Harper is being a big whiny baby. You can't call "shotgun" on the government- or maybe you can? His party didn't win the majority of votes. Now, I'm not a genius or anything, but logically it seems to me that the majority belongs to the coalition.
Harper appears desperate to cling onto his power. He is being a sore loser, and there is something so vulgar about a sore loser.
It's not personal, it's politics.

Tal said... looks like Harper has won, doesn't it? Somehow he seems to have co-opted Ignatieff. I wonder if they have an agreement to just try to eliminate the Bloc and the NDP as federal parties.

lily said...

Yes, Harper has won, unfortunately. Ignatieff is not interested in the job now as the economy is in such a mess and he has to focus on building his own party first.

Tal, you don't really think that the NDP want to destroy the country, do you? Most people may not trust the NDP to manage their money, but Jack Layton is a decent man.