Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Prime Minister and the Queen

The Canadian parliamentary system is rich tradition. Technically the Queen's representative, the Governor General holds a lot of power. In most cases convention dictates how the Governor General is to exercise his/her power.

Last Thursday, presented a rare opportunity for the Michelle Jean to set the course of history. Her Prime Minister was on the brink of losing a confidence motion. Canadians had elected their new representatives less then seven weeks earlier. The current session of parliament had lasted less then two weeks. She would have to decide between three options. Each one was guaranteed to be the wrong decision.

Her first option was to porogue parliament. This would end the current session of parliament and a new one would be started in January. This move would allow the government to hide from a vote of confidence, a move that has been frowned on by Governer Generals in the past. It would also render the current session of parliament useless, as there was not enough time to get anything done.

The second and third option was to deny the request. In such a situation the Prime Minister would be expected to resign. She would have to choose between calling an election or allowing the opposition form a government.

Stephane Dion had clearly demonstrated that he was able to cobble together a coalition to take over the government. The move would make Stephane Dion Prime Minister. Two months earlier, the Liberals received the lowest popular vote since confederation. The Liberals lost 22 seats and the Conservatives went from a small to large minority government. The Conservatives won more seats with 50% of the vote then the Liberals won in total. Canadians had rejected the idea of Prime Minister Dion. Even Dion intended to step down as soon as a new leader was choosen.

Calling an election would be a fair way to decide the outcome. The Liberals had just spent a year refusing to bring down the government because Canadians didn't want an election. Would having two election in three months really help? What if the election results turned out exactly the same? The potential was there for time and money wasted, at a time when Canadians want politicians working to help with the financial crisis. From a democratic view this would be a great way to let the people decide. From an administrative view it could bring the government to a complete standstill. Places like Italy and Israel are more accustomed to such embarrasing scenarios.

Jean choose the poroguement option. She has further established that her role is to listen to the Prime Minister and carry out her ceremonial duties. Hindsight has shown that she has made the right decision. The coalition has fallen apart, proving that despite the documents signed it was held together on a weak foundation. The house will reconvene at the end of January with a thrown speech and budget. By then cooler heads will prevail so that the government can get some work done.

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