Monday, February 02, 2009

Constitutional Drivel Watch

Tom Flanagan asserts today that now the budget has passed, Stephen Harper has a free pass: the governor general must grant his request for an election whenever he wants one.

The bloc of constitutional scholars who recently offered to lay down constitutional rules for ignorant Canadians said something similar: if a government survives "six to nine months," the prime minister's right to call an election is unfettered.

These are all distinguished scholars. All the more reason to declare they are talking nonsense. Parliamentary practice is not a set of arbitrary rules to be negotiated between politicians and their academic supporters and then announced to the rest of us. There are rules, and the rules derive from principles, not from a time-clock.

The governor general is part of parliament. She serves, not to make arbitrary decisions, but to facilitate the working of parliament. She does this by determining the will of the people's elected representatives. If the House of Commons has lost confidence in her government and its leader and wishes to remove them, they must go. If the Commons has united around an alternate government and leader that can command majority support in the Commons, the governor general's role is to call upon that leader to form the new government. These are parliamentary principles. They are clear and reasonable and, in their way, profound. They do not depend on the age of the session or the number of bills it has previously passed.

There is no six to nine month rule; that is a sheer invention and a dangerous one. The passing of a budget means only that the budget passes; to say otherwise is to deny the authority of parliament.
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