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POL214 Summer 2012 LECTURE NOTES

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Political Science
Nelson Wiseman

Lecture 2: Parliament and Responsible Government Why is the King-Byng affair important if we need to go back to 1926 in order find an example of the politicization of the role of the GG? This has happened a few times, most recently in 2008!  Parliamentary crisis of Dec. 2008: o It is not unusual for new government’s to use major statements of economic policy in the fall, preceding the spring budget. This time around the country was waiting for Harper government’s response to the global economic crisis. o The Flaherty (Finance minister) financial policy announced modest spending initiatives. The Harper government took away the right to strike from public sector unions, and capped pay equity settlements for female civil servants. o These measures caused public uproar; they had nothing to do with combating the global recession – the Conservatives were attacked severely by media. o Partisan – being biased towards certain ideas. Liberal Leader Stephan Dion introduced a motion of non-confidence in the government; the liberals announced that it had opened negotiation with the NDP and BQ over forming a coalition to pass Dion’s non-confidence vote and replace the Harper Conservation government. o Conservatives condemned this coalition as an undemocratic power grab; the coalition parties also claimed that a coalition government was the only way to make parliament work. o Harper found a loophole to avoid this vote – this was a procedure known as prorogation (shutting down parliament), but this needed to be granted by the GG. Important: prorogation of Parliament was not intended to be used to avoid losing confidence votes in the House of Commons. o Liberal Leader Dion sent a letter to the GG urging her not to agree to grant the prorogation – he knew this was an obvious ploy to avoid the vote.  In 1926, Byng asked Conservatives leader Meighen to form a government without realizing he did not have the support in the minority Parliament to command the confidence of the HoC. Many constitutional experts argue the GG had every right to reject this request for prorogation.  Arguments against Coalition: o Harper’s supporters argued that the Coalition lacked democratic legitimacy. th o Dion had been rejected by the Canadian voters on OCT. 14 . Dion had rejected previous overtures from Layton before election-day to form a coalition. o The Coalition could only stay in office with the support of the BQ, a party dedicated to the break-up of the country.  Harper is granted prorogation; after emerging from Rideau Hall, Harper formally announced that the House would be brought back in January to discuss a new budget.  Lessons from King-Byng and Harper 2008 crisis: o The King-Byng case shows the GG still has discretion to protect Canadians from an unscrupulous government. But the GG is constrained by the conventions of responsible government, which dictate that there must always be a government in office with the confidence of the House. o The 2008 Coalition was constitutionally legitimate, but not politically acceptable to many Canadians, because it seemed as if it were a power grab. o Only on very rare occasion with the GG be required to exercise his/her reserve powers; usually they must be sure that they have reached an unprecedented danger point, and that their actions would stand up to scrutiny down the road. Lecture 3: Constitutional Change  The British North America Act (BNA), now renamed as the Constitution act, 1867, was only the beginning of constitution-making in Canada.  Constitution Act, 1867 described the powers of the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government, as well as divided powers among federal and provincial governments. Yet it was inadequate on several fronts  Weakness of the BNA o Lacked an inspirational introduction as to what defines Canada o Out of date preamble that only included original province
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