Friday, December 05, 2008

That prorogue tete-a-tete

What happened during that two and a half hour stretch when the PM met with the Governor General anyway? Any limitations placed on our great democrat of a PM? There might well be. Globe today:

Mr. Harper and Ms. Jean apparently met with only someone from the Governor-General's staff present as note-taker. He told her why he wanted prorogation. She then met privately with her legal and constitutional advisers. She then met with Mr. Harper again and told him her decision.

Presumably only by scrutinizing Mr. Harper closely over the next few weeks and watching for changes to his governing behaviour will there be any hint on whether his prorogation came with strings attached, said constitutional scholar David Smith of the University of Saskatchewan.

One option open to her was granting Mr. Harper a qualified prorogation - placing his administration in the straitjacket that limits what governments can do during an election campaign.

If the same limitations restrict what Mr. Harper's government can do until it meets Parliament on Jan. 26, the Prime Minister might not, for example, be allowed to make appointments such as filling the 18 vacancies in the Senate.

Sounds like it may have been a healthy debate among her legal and constitutional advisers that caused the over two hour meeting. While that's really not a lot of time for such a decision, it probably was enough to publicly demonstrate that it wasn't an easy call. All the better to make Mr. Harper wear it.

Here's Andrew Coyne, speculating on whether there were any conditions or warnings that came with Jean's agreement to prorogue:
"Still, while there appear to be few if any formal conditions attached to the prorogation, she may well have attached some informal conditions — after tall [sic], what else did they talk about in the course of their two-and-a-half hour tete a tete? The sovereign has the right, as per Bagehot, “to be consulted, to encourage, and to warn.” She may well have warned him what would happen if he didn’t bring in a budget — and face a confidence test — at the first opportunity."
Don Martin:
...here’s hoping a different political animal returns in late January. There are tentative, subject-to-change signals that Harper got the message. He stepped into a sudden hailstorm at Rideau Hall as a changed man from the confrontational stance he adopted in a national television address the night before.

The Governor General must’ve given Mr. Harper a strong hint that his demand for an election would be ignored in favor of even this unwieldy Liberal-New Democrat plus Bloc Quebecois coalition if he lost a confidence vote early next year.
If we see a truly contrite Harper who engages with the opposition like never before, it's possible that he has had a strong indication that he won't get an election call in January if he's defeated on a vote. So we'll wait and see whether the plan, articulated with all the subtlety of a Mack truck by John Baird yesterday, to "...go over the heads of the members of Parliament, go over the heads, frankly, of the Governor General, go right to the Canadian people," will come to fruition and if it does, what its tone and message is. Such a blitz would not be conducive to good faith bridge building, if that really is Harper's intent, prompted by the GG. In any event, no matter what he does at this point, he's pressed for credibility.

Additionally, given that Harper is the captain of a newly leaky boat, it'll be interesting to see if any of the discussion with the GG gets out, in a bid from Conservatives to keep Harpie in line. There must be some who were gravely concerned about what was going on during that over two hour meeting with the GG. After all, the appearance is that he barely passed the test. It wasn't a half hour meeting. In such a leader they must rest their fortunes?

(Jurist has been wondering about the meeting too.)