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University of Toronto St. George
Political Science
Carey Doberstein

POL 214 Lec 3 Tues. May 22, 2012 SS2118 Parliament and Responsible Government  Why is the King-Byng affair important if we need to go back to 1926 in order to find an example of the politicization of the role of the GG? o This has happened a few times, most recently in 2008!  King-Byng affair is one of the most controversial events in Canadian history o King asked Byng to dissolve parliament and Byng refused because… (missed it) o Outcome: government dissolved anyway due to lack of confidence, new election o The constitutionality is debatable  In Oct. 2008 we had an election o Harper Conservatives returned to power with more seats, although still a minority o Not unusual for govt to issue major statements of ecoic policy in the fall, before spring budget o At this point Canada awaited Harper govt’s response to financial crisis (erupted during fall election) o Flaherty’s (finance minister) financial policy was disappointing (didn’t address unemployment or failing business)  AND it included more –loss of right to strike of unions, etc.  Elimination of the $1.95 subsidy of political parties  Parliamentary Crisis of 2008 o Nov 28-30 weekend this caused public uproar  Unlike other govs in West who were trying to overcome partisanship and work together for economic recovery packages, Harper appeared to be trying to destroy the opposition (at a time they were in no position to respond, i.e. brand new gov) o Liberal leader Stephen Dion introduced a motion of non-confidence and Liberals announced they were in negotiations with the NDP and BQ ober forming a coalition to pass the motion and replace Conservatives with a new gov  This was unprecedented, Canada had not had a coalition gov since WWI  Note: Stephen Dion was on his way out; NDP: Jack Layton; Bloc Quebecois: Gilles Dusseppe o Harper calls it an “undemocratic coup”  Technically this is not true: Under the conventions of responsible govt, it’s not the voters who choose the gov, it is the house  The point being –they wouldn’t need an election in order to form a new govt  Result: The Conservative made concessions, taking back some policies and offering ecoic recovery policies o It was not enough; the coalition decided to move forward o Harper then used unusual parliamentary procedure called Prorogation (meaning to pause) essentially used as a reset on parliament (it shuts down parliament, not allowing MPs to go and vote)  There is a lot of disagreement in the texts about these issues but the consensus is that prorogation is not intended to be used to avoid losing confidence votes in the House of Commons! (Some might call it’s use in this way unconstitutional) o For prorogation Harper needed support of Gov. Gen. so Dion sent a letter to the GG urging her not to agree to grant it as an obvious abuse of power o Parallel to King-Byng (King wanted dissolution to avoid corruption charges against him and Byng said no)  Byng asked Meighen to form a gov without realizing how unstable it would be (he did not have the support in the minority Parliament to command the confidence of the House of Commons for any substantial period of time)  In 2008, Dion on the other hand, did have confidence of the House with a stable coalition  Expert Responses o Pro-Dion: GG had every right to use her refuse power to stop Harper’s request as this was not an appropriate circumstance for prorogation o Pro-Harper: Coalition lacked democratic legitimacy because Dion’s party fell clearly out of favour, during election all 3 parties refused the formation of a coalition govt therefore the premise of voters was that they were voting for separate parties, and the coalition could only stay in office with the support of the separatists (BQ)  The ads moved Canadians because English Canada was clearly not comfortable with a coalition including the BQ o Despite full constitutional legitimacy of BQ as a party in coalition  In the end, Harper won. GG granted prorogation. And Harper had already announced the House would be back in January to debate a new budget. th  The Jan 27 budget introduced a massive stimulus package o The new Lib. Leader Ignatieff supported it and it passed in the House of Commons  Lessons from King-Byng and Harper 2008 Crises on Responsible Govt o GG still has discretion to protect Canadians from unscrupulous govt but is constrained be conventions of responsible govt which dictate there must always be a govt in office with the confidence in the House o The 2008 Coalition was constitutionally legitimate but not politically acceptable to many Canadians because it seemed like a power grab o Only on very rare occasions will the GG be required to exercise his/her reserve powers at his/her own discretion. These occasions will always be controversial because the pol’l actors cannot agree on how the conventions of respgov should apply o Before GG uses emergency powers they must have reached an unprecedented danger point o In normal circumstances the GG must accept advice of govt o In a democratic age, some suggest the GG should leave even outrageous govt behaviour to the will of the electorate Constitutional Change  The British North America Act (BNA) now renamed as the Constitution Act, 1867 = only the start of constitution-making in Canada  Constitution Act, 1867 described powers of exec, legis, judic branges of govt and divided powers among fed and prov govs  Weakness of orginval ConstAct, 1867 o Lacked inspirational intro as to what defines Canada o Out of date preamble that only incl orig 4 provinces o Only vague descriptions of exec and judic branches o Few limits on powers of gov in relation to the people o Lacked a means to amend the Act (except via Britain) o Social, pol’l, eco’c context is diff from 1867  Cons
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