Thursday 11 December 2008

The will of the people

Steven had a post about the recent Canadian political events wherein he concludes:
So best I can tell, when the Governor General does allow the opposition to take power without an election there is noise, controversy and eventually change so it cannot happen again. And when the Governor General does not give power to the opposition then history seems to just continue along. I guess I must have missed McArthur's convention.
Perhaps this is nitpicking, but we're not talking about the Governor General giving power to the opposition; we're talking about the Governor General giving power to a new coalition, one with the support of the majority of parliament.

Now I agree that the Governor General has this option but certainly no obligation to choose it. On the other hand, I still can't fathom why we would want another election right now: Canadians elected 308 MPs to represent them and if the majority of them want a change in parliament then that is the will of the people, particularly this soon after an election. The incessant cries of Canadians who seem to think they live in an the US and therefore elected the Prime Minister are driving me nuts.

I also disagree that the Governor General has lost her authority to act against the will of the Prime Minister. By convention, she normally follows the advice of the Prime Minister, but, at least as far as I'm concerned, this is only in his role as the head of parliament. The Prime Minister in Canada is not a political office; he does not have any special privileges and should not; the Governor General is bowing to the will of the people (as represented by their elected MPs in parliament), not to the Prime Minister.

The Governor General has a tenuous position in that being seen to oppose the will of the people would likely result in a swift call to remove what has become a largely ceremonial position. However, I also think we have a history of intelligent, reasonable, and competent Governor Generals and I'm glad the position is still not technically powerless. In this case, I think calling a timeout is a reasonable decision, allowing both sides a chance to back down. If the non-confidence vote goes ahead in the new year, though, I'd hope she won't waste our time and money with another election.


steven said...

Just to nitpick a little bit more, the collection MP's in parliament who are not part of the government are called the opposition with their largest member party being the official opposition.

And there seems to be some special privilages associated with being Prime Minister over and above any other MP.

Julian Fitzell said...

Ok, fair enough. I missed the distinction between the Opposition and the Official Opposition.

I, of course, meant special "powers" for the Prime Minister, not "privileges".

Julian Fitzell said...

By the way, this was interesting reading. Apparently the parliamentary structure that assigns conventional rights to the opposition is relatively recent (not in terms of the life of the Canadian parliamentary system, I suppose, but of the British).