No Reason for an Election Yet

Despite the insistence of our prime minister that parliament can no longer function, the Governor General should refuse to dissolve parliament until such time that this is proven.

Parliament has managed to function for 2 1/2 years. Budgets and legislation have been passed, and leaving the inability to get Conservatives in front of a committee aside, things have gone pretty smoothly. That the Prime Minister no longer wants to work with this parliament, and prefers instead an election, is not reason enough to send Canadians to the polls.

Here is what should happen:

Let’s say that Prime Minister Harper visits the Governor General tomorrow (Tuesday, September 2) and asks her to dissolve parliament, which she would have the authority to do according to the Canada Elections Act, notwithstanding the generally fixed dates of our elections according to law.

The Governor General should ask for evidence that parliament will not function. Should none be produced, she should ask the leaders of the opposition parties if they are willing to make parliament work in some form or other until October 2009.

If their response is anything but an absolutely firm “no way, no how, no parliament”, she should present our prime minister with two options:

1. Continuing to govern until October 2009 or the government loses the confidence of the house on a vote, whichever comes first.
2. If he is absolutely convinced he can no longer govern in this parliament, he should resign.

In situation 1, I assume Harper will try to engineer his own defeat, without looking like he’s doing so, as soon as possible.

In situation 2, the Governor General should ask the leader of the official opposition, Stephane Dion, if he wishes to attempt to govern. It would also be reasonable to me, given that Dion’s party holds less than 1/3 of the seats in the house, to give him a deadline, say next Monday or Tuesday, by which he must demonstrate evidence that there is at least a good chance he can govern until next fall.

This would likely involve some sort of agreement with the NDP and/or the Bloc. No two of those three parties can combine for a majority of parliament. Nonetheless, even a Liberal-NDP coalition (formal or not) would be roughly equal to the size of the Conservative caucus. It should be given the chance to pass legislation and a budget, either with the Bloc supporting it or agreeing to abstain in some form to allow its passage.

Fixed election dates, an initiative I support, were meant to help level the playing field between the different parties. No longer could sitting governments call for an election when the polls and the timing suited them best. I can understand the need to go to the polls before the four year mandate is up if the parliament, as currently configured, just couldn’t pass legislation. That hasn’t been proven to be the case so far, and I see no reason why it would be the case going forward.

Until we have evidence that this parliament cannot function, I see no reason for an election. I hope our Governor General feels the same way.


3 Responses

  1. I’m a little rusty on my Canadian political history: is there any recent precedent for the Governor-General exercising judgment on the dissolution of Parliament instead of rubber-stamping it?

    On top of that, I have to agree that the election not only feels unnecessary, but comes off as a strategic miscalculation on Harper’s part. I simply don’t see what he has to gain. Even in the event of the greatest mid-campaign dysfunction, I don’t think a Conservative majority is conceivable any time soon. We’re talking about a few seats shifting either way at most.

    Best case for the Tories? A stronger minority leading to Dion being rotated out for someone more assertive. Not to their advantage.

    Worst case for the Tories? Minority opposition. Not to their advantage.

    As so many have rightly pointed out, just calling an election at all (in the face of the whole fixed election date shebang) doesn’t do Harper any good.

    That aside: we don’t need an election, but I’m itching to vote. Democracy entertains me, and we shouldn’t let the US have all the fun.

  2. The only one I am aware of is the King-Byng Affair of 1926.

  3. 1. I think what Harper may gain is a longer minority. But I wouldn’t rule out a majority. Harper always does better than predicted.

    2. There’s plenty of precedent for a GG to reject an election in the U.K. and in pre-confederation. All that precedent applies.

    – Mustafa Hirji

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