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
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.
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