Thoughts on politics

So, parliament has been prorogued, and the proposed coalition government will have to wait another two months before having another try. What do I think of this?

First of all, I’m disappointed – I thought the coalition would be a fine way to salvage a functional government out of a deeply divided parliament. We have a horribly broken electoral system that results in a parliament that does not reflect voters’ preferences. We have a Conservative government now that received about a third of the votes – and it must be said that half of the eligible voters didn’t bother going to the polls at all, through apathy, or else because they knew their votes wouldn’t count for much of anything.

Proroguing parliament in this case is clearly just running from the vote that would bring down the government, giving the coalition a chance to try to govern in its place. That vote was already postponed (it was originally supposed to be Monday, the 3rd, I believe). I think it was Bob Rae who I heard saying that it was “Like a kid pulling a fire alarm so he doesn’t have to write a test.” This parliament hasn’t really had a chance to do anything at all yet – no bills had been voted on at all. It’s rather similar to the way Harper called the election for October 14th, actually – he dissolved parliament the day before three by-elections. This meant that the government managed to avoid the bad press that losing those elections would have given them (all three ridings favoured other parties strongly). It also meant that the other parties, at least in those ridings, would have to be campaigning for 3 months straight – certainly in my riding of Westmount-Ville-Marie, several parties were very low on money at the beginning of the real campaign, having budgeted for the length of the by-election campaign.

So the government has been granted a reprieve – but what for, really? I think it’s obvious that the very first act of the new session of parliament in January will be to vote against the government. There’s just no way that Harper can restore confidence in himself or in his party (practically the same thing, the way he runs things). So why delay the inevitable? What can be accomplished in two months without a sitting parliament? Rather little, I think. The only thing I can think of is that, in January, the Governor-General would be more likely to just call a new election rather than let the coalition have a try.

That said, I don’t really lay the fault with the Governor General. While I wish she had decided otherwise, it’s a difficult decision to make. Normally, the Prime Minister decides that prorogation is desired, advises the GG of this, who then makes it official. The only way she could really refuse this request would be to say that Harper is no longer the prime minister, since he does not enjoy the confidence of the house. That’s a tough call to make though – on the one hand, all non-conservative MP’s (with the exception of the two independents) had written to her to say they did not support the government, clearly indicating a failure of confidence. On the other hand, it had not yet been formally recognized by a non-confidence vote in the house – this would have happened on the 8th, had the prorogation request not been granted. Technically, he is still the Prime Minister, and while not constitutionally obligated to grant his request, there’s a lot tradition behind the practice.

I’d say, though, that this is one of those very rare occasions where the GG should have been more than a rubber stamp. The office has become more and more of a symbolic one, just doing whatever the PM requests, and this is more in that direction. If she just follows tradition and precedent on all decisions, what’s the point of the position at all? Do we really need a purely symbolic head of state? I’d say that her role is really precisely to step in and work outside the well-established rules of the house, and do what’s right for the country, and for the system as a whole. Letting the government run from a confidence vote, preventing parliament from doing its job is not what I want to see.

So we’re left with an ineffective government for another two months, one that’s bound to collapse within days of parliament resuming in January. Stephane Dion will have even less time to serve as Prime Minister, since he has committed to stepping down as soon as a replacement is chosen. I can’t see this decision as being good for Canada in any way. It looks to me like Harper’s just hoping that something happens in the next little while that somehow makes him look good, so that they election that’s bound to happen soon won’t hit his party too hard.

edit: One unlikely, but interesting possibility is that the opposition coalition could call an emergency session of parliament to vote down the conservatives… I really don’t know the specific legalities involved, but it’s something I’d love to see happen!