Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Book Notes: Alleged Canadian Coups

There is some media buzz about Ted Glenn's A Very Canadian Coup: the Rise and Demise of Mackenzie Bowell. Any time there is buzz about 19th century Canadian politics -- at least in any context other than the toppling of statues -- is surprising.) 

I have not read it  -- and may do so, and it may be terrific --but the title compels to express my despair at how Canada calls any reasonably decisive political change a "coup." The removal of Mackenzie Bowell was in no sense a coup. The process was a normal, indeed essential, part of any functioning parliamentary system.  

Parliamentary government depends on an answer always being available for the question: "Does the government have the confidence of the House of Commons?"  And the equally essential corollary is "Does the party leader have the confidence of the party caucus?" In 1896 the answer came up "No" and so Mackenzie Bowell left office.

I mention this because I have been reading an advance copy of journalist Steve Paikin's biography of John Turner. And the whole chapter covering how the Liberal Party considered replacing Turner as party leader during the 1988 election campaign is entitled "The Attempted Coup," and proceeds on the unexamined presumption that for MPs to consider removing their leader is in all circumstances treasonous, unethical, and destructive of the constitution.

People, it ain't. Pundits, journalists, political scientists, historians, MPs themselves, and Kory Teneycke will all tell you it is. And they are all blowing smoke.

Mackenzie Bowell, by the way, has a terrific Twitter feed -- @PMBowell -- for an old bearded white guy who is dead. 

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