Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Keeping the GG out of politics

The extinction of the Liberal Party depends on both the Conservatives and the NDP sustaining their popularity and moving to occupy the centre.  But the NDP's crazy leadership distraction looks like a collective suicide mission. And every time Mr Harper's cabinet looks corrupt (McKay on helicopter rides), autocratic (Kenney on niqabs), extremist (Kent on Kyoto), or just calculatedly vicious (everyone, all the time), they keep opening up room in the middle.

Lately with the official opposition off on its endless extra-parliamentary intrasquad scrimmage,  Bob Rae has often looked like the only grown-up in the room.  He could be prime minister before too long.

But this is a history blog. Mostly we don't do the future.  And in the present: gotta say Rae's proposal that the Governor General should refuse assent to a bill passed in the House and Senate is pretty bizarre. Okay the government is nutso over the Wheat Board, but still....

Nothing against my new close personal friend David Johnston.  But he is appointed.  He stands outside the chain of democratic responsibility and accountability.  His authority is symbolic.  He must take the advice of his legitimate advisors or, as Dickens seasonably says, the country's done for.  If he can take independent steps, like saving the Wheat Board, then he can drop bombs or appropriate the treasury or have your head chopped off.  Let us not go there. We don't want unelected figureheads wielding real power.  In any circumstances.

The only reason for the Governor General to refuse the advice of a prime minister is if the prime minister lacks the confidence of the House.  That is, the GG is entitled to ask the prime minister to show that he has the support of the people's elected representatives.  Bob Rae doesn't want to face that test, however, because the prime minister would win it, and indeed just did on this issue.

I'm not sure if Bob Rae is genuinely a bit crazy on the constitutional niceties, or if he's being a bit crazy-smart here. After all, he knows Stephen Harper often comes out with bold constitutional nonsense of his own and gets away with it quite a bit.  Rae's advice to the GG may be piffle, but there's no danger of it happening. It looks like vigorous opposition. And he probably calculates most people will care more about the underlying issue than about his shoddy constitutional thinking.  Better to be prime minister than a master of constitutional pedantry, he do think.

The blog Parliamentum makes this argument at greater length, with more citations.
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