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Today in the many posts that I read about Canadian Political life, I saw this piece by Professor Dr. Philippe Lagassé, who is a known expert on Canadian Parliamentarism and the Constitution, his work is always interesting to read and clear. Not one to get lost in unnecessary verbiage.

We currently have a minority government in Canada, the last election gave to the Liberals of Justin Trudeau the best chance of holding what is called the confidence of the House of Commons. No other party has enough seats or can form a coalition to govern.

It has now been 2 years + since the last election and this past session ending in two days to recess for the Summer has been marked by endless partisan games on the part of the Conservative party and personal attacks on the family of the Prime Minister. The House has not been able to do much work and many important bills are stuck in endless debates at Committee stage. Just yesterday the UNDRIP bill was passed after 3 tries and 9 years of debates. UNDRIP is the United Nation Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, an important piece of Legislation which will create a more equal footing for all indigenous nations in Canada in dealing with the Federal Government. This is obviously far too much time taken for one piece of legislation. .

This coming Thursday 24 June will be the last day Parliament sits before Summer recess and this is when the Prime Minister may decide to seek to ask for Parliament to be disolved. The problem at the moment is the vacancy of the position of Head of State, since January when the Governor General Julie Payette resigned amidst a scandal involving her harrassing staff and being violent, she decided to quit instead of facing the enquiry. So in our Constitution at the moment it is the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court who is doing the job and he is called the Administrator. His last point #12 is important because Canada is a Monarchy and not a Republic, our system is based on the Westminster Parliamentary tradition.

So here is the text of Professor Lagassé on the finer points of our Parliamentary system.

In anticipation, here are a few fundamentals and reminders to keep in mind:

First, the Prime Minister has the authority to request a dissolution of Parliament. He does not need to wait for a vote of no confidence. 

Second, the Administrator (Chief Justice Wagner) has the authority to exercise the Governor General’s power to dissolve Parliament upon the Prime Minister’s request. The absence of a Governor General does not preclude a dissolution. 

Third, the Administrator would not have the discretion to refuse the Prime Minister’s request to dissolve Parliament at this stage. Not only has this Parliament been sitting for a while, but there is no viable alternative government that can hold the confidence of the Commons.

Fourth, the caretaker convention would begin with the dissolution of Parliament and would end after the election, unless the result of the election isn’t clear. 

Fifth, the caretaker convention isn’t really a constitution convention, but a practice. This practice holds that the government should act according to a ‘principle of restraint’. The government remains the government and ministers still constitutionally and legally empowered to make decisions. This is particularly important given that we’re still in a pandemic and it may be necessary for the executive to act with despatch and discretion. 

Sixth, the Prime Minister’s appointee to the Supreme Court is in no way affected by a dissolution of Parliament, and given the he’s already been named, his appointment would not engage the ‘principle of restraint’ under the caretaker convention. 

Seventh, Trudeau remains Prime Minister until he resigns or is dismissed, even if his party wins fewer seats than another party on election day. 

Eighth, if the Liberals remain in power following the election, it will still be the same Trudeau government as before. Trudeau will not be Prime Minister elect. Trudeau will not be Prime Minister designate. He simply remains the Prime Minister. 

Ninth, if Trudeau resigns on election night or afterwards, his replacement will be the Prime Minister designate until their ministry is formally sworn in. 

Tenth, if we do not have a new Governor General by the time the election is held, the Administrator has the authority to do everything a Governor General could do with respect to government formation.

Eleventh, the Governor General’s role in government formation is actually quite constrained by the codified rules of the constitution, except if there an vote of no confidence early in the life of the new Parliament. 

Twelveth, Canadian election night coverage is unduly influenced by American concepts and language. This can be problematic when the election produces a minority parliament.