Scholar and patriot Denis Smith has sent me an essay he has offered the Globe and Mail, excoriating Prime Minister Harper for declaring, to Mansbridge at CBC, that we do not elect parliaments, we elect leaders, so if he does not win the most seats on October 19, he will no longer be prime minister.
"We don't, you know, elect a bunch of parties who then, as in some countries, get together and decide who will govern. We ask people to make a choice of a government," Harper said. "And so I think that the party that wins the most seats should form the government."Denis rightly declares this is nonsense.
Mr. Harper gets it wrong. He leaves out the most central and distinctive part of our constitution: the House of Commons. He claims – and seems to believe – that Canada has a presidential system of government. Despite his fervent wish and his unerring practice, he is mistaken. He cannot change the parliamentary constitution by asserting that it has changed.Denis goes on to explain that we do precisely elect parties of MPs who then decide who will govern.
But, y'know, I think Stephen Harper is not the ignoramus he pretends to be. He knows how the parliamentary system works. But he also knows how diligently we Canadians strive to make our parliamentary system work as if it were a presidential one. We really do pretend it is all about one or other of the Leaders, and pretty much nothing else. Why wouldn't he play on our superstitions?
By raising the stakes -- I'm #1 or gone -- Mr Harper may hope to rally doubting supporters by raising the stakes. But he also is setting out out a scenario that could serve him well in a bad situation.
Harper may have polls telling him he won't be in first place. Because his talk to Mansbridge suggests he would agree to remain if he has the most seats, even short of a majority.
Even with the most seats, Harper would have a hard time staying in power short of a majority. The likelihood of the other two parties working together to unseat any Harper government remaining in office is strong. But if he resigns instantly on losing his majority, he might avoid giving the other parties any encouragement to cooperate. By walking away, he could raise the likelihood that either Mulcair or Trudeau, (whichever was in first place by seat total) might accept office from the Governor General without working out an arrangement with the other.
The result would be a weak one-party minority rather a government based upon some Liberal/NDP agreement to govern. That might well be Stephen Harper's best option: let in a weak one-party government rather than a strong two-party one -- and then hope events will conspire to destroy it. Perhaps what he is really announcing is his inclination to put one --but only one -- of his rivals in office, the better to destroy him later.
Stephen Harper as teacher of political science is talking drivel, sure. But he is not interested in teaching Canadians political science, he's interested in power. He wants to maximize the chances of a right-wing government running the country. And talking drivel can serve that end.
Now Justin Trudeau says he agrees with Stephen Harper: most seats always wins He too sees talking a little drivel might be a useful tactic. How it is useful to him, however, remains a puzzle.
I wonder if October 20 will prove more interesting than October 19. Messrs Mulcair and Trudeau should be considering their options. 'Cause it seems Mr Harper is. (Of course a clear NDP majority would make all these problems moot, my dears.)
Hey, I'm at sea here too, but I;m in Canadian territorial waters. I'm allowed to have opinions.
Update, September 10: I should have acknowledged that the structure of Canadian politics is such that with an NDP majority, Mr Mulcair would surely become as presidential as Mr Harper, albeit with better policy. Who in the NDP caucus would stand up to hold the leader to account?