Considering the Governor General's Decision to Prorogue Parliament

By Harold Jansen on Dec 4, 2008

Like many Canadians, I was glued to the television to see what the governor general would decide in response to Stephen Harper's request to prorogue Parliament. I have a lot of sympathy for the governor-general: the Prime Minister put in her a very difficult position with this request. I'd also like to give credit to the opposition leaders. Rather than attacking the governor general and needlesly politicizing her decision, they pointed the finger at Stephen Harper. That's where the blame belongs, if there is any.

As a result, I'm hesitant to criticize Michaelle Jean's decision. I expected she would do this, but I worry about the precedent it sets for minority governments to avoid impending doom in the House of Commons. There are probably plenty of jubilant Conservatives right now, but think back to 2005 when Paul Martin faced a motion of non-confidence. What if he had simply prorogued the House? Every situation is different, obviously, but we've now just opened a new escape hatch for minority governments in the future.

On the positive side, the decision accomplishes a couple of things besides giving the Conservatives a bit more time to try to save themselves. First, it retains the GG's credibility. If she granted Harper this one, he can't complain if she decides after the House demonstrates its lack of confidence in the government (presumably in January) not to grant his request for an election and instead invites Mr. Dion to form a government. Second, it provides a test for the coalition. The Conservatives hope that the coalition will splinter either because of internal dissent, especially over Mr. Dion's leadership, or because of public pressure against. If the coalition can't maintain its cohesion over the next seven weeks, how will it do so when actually in government?

It was a historic day and I'm sure Michaelle Jean's decision will be debated for years to come.

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Proroguing better for the National Mood

I'm not sure I am as worried as you are about the future repercussions of this decision. And I think this is the right idea for the good of the country. I can see why its may set a bad precedent for responsible government but I fear the damage of any other choice besides an election could be worse. The thing that worries me the most has been the unprecedented emotional reaction this has set off in Canada. In my readings and conversations with people of all political stripes the response has been the most intense and venomous of any issue in my short lifetime. I fear the consequences of allowing the parliament to go forward as planned could solidify this divisiveness into Canada for a very long time. Conservatives and regional westerners are livid about the possibility of what they see as a coupe, even to the point of mentioning western separatism, an idea I thought was dead. Quebec is getting bashed by the rest of the country who are afraid of having an avowed separatist party having reigns of power. That cannot make them happy. And this whole thing has only served to deepen immensely the left/right divide in Canada. I fear if this whole thing goes forward we could see partisan spite similar to the level we see in the US where each side is demonized to the point of being the enemy. Something I mourn greatly.

I think that suspending parliament until the end of January will allow time for emotions to cool off. It will allow time for people to actually learn about what is going on, it will allow time for the education Canadian's desperately need in this situation. I don't think its fair to blame people for a lack of knowledge of how Canada's parliament works in its finer details when at most they have had high school social class which barely touches on how parliament works. How can we rightfully expect them to know what is going on in a completely unprecedented situation that even Political Scientists don't know what to make of it. I think giving people time to think, to understand exactly what point Parliament is at and what the options are will allow cooler heads to prevail and help remove this from the crisis point it is at now to something a little more stable.

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