Friday, 5 December 2008

"The world's coldest banana republic"

Latest news from Canada: The Governor General (The Queen's representative in Canada) has suspended their Parliament, on the advice of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, until late January when a budget will be presented to the chamber. The opposition parties had tabled a vote of no-confidence in the Prime Minister for Monday, which was likely to pass.

Here's what each of the parties said about it:
Harper (PM - Conservative): "Today's decision will give us an opportunity - I'm talking about the parties - to focus on the economy and work together."

Dion (Liberal): "For the first time in history the Prime Minister is running away from the parliament of Canada."

Layton (New Democrat): "He's trying to lock the door of parliament so the elected people cannot speak."

Duceppe (Bloc): "We don't believe him and we don't have confidence in him."
Uncharted territory, and as I alluded to in an earlier post, questionable action for a democratic state. Here's some things to think about:

The Conservatives won the election, albeit without a majority, and attempted to govern (again) as a minority - something that is fairly common in Europe. Yet, questionable in a democratic sense - if only a minority of those electing (say 35-40%) want you to govern, is that democratic? I guess it depends on the electoral system - if it is a plurality system (such as Canada's First-Past-The-Post constituency system) then that can be reflected in the national vote, and as such, probably does provide a mandate to govern as a minority.

The Liberals, New Democrats and the Bloc Québécois all returned (considerably) less members than the Conservatives but collectively their number is more - and indeed, constitutes a majority in the parliament. As representatives of the people in Canada, do they have a mandate to oust Harper as PM and take over the government? Well, short answer - yes. If the PM is not acting in what opposition parties see as the best interests of the country, then they are doing thier duty to challenge him. Usually this wouldn't involve a constitutional crisis, but Harper is running a minority government - he has to find some support from opposition parties or his government will fall. He has failed to do so, and therefore, they legitimately have a shot at replacing him.

Is it democratic to circumvent parliament, ask the Queen's representative - who, by the way, is not elected - to suspend parliament so you can avoid losing power in a vote of confidence and cling on to your job? I'm not so sure about that one.

In the short term, the Governor General has saved Harper's job and preserved parliament - at least until it returns in January. In the long term, I'm not sure that this action hasn't done more damge to the fragile political situation in Canada.

Democracy in action - you gotta love it!


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