Sunday, January 11, 2009

Dishonourable

Professor Peter Russell in an interview with the Ottawa Citizen published today, commenting on the issues of prorogation and coalition governments, worth an extended excerpt:
AP: On that note, you punctuate your discussion of the infamous King-Byng affair by saying the chief lesson is that the smooth functioning of parliamentary government requires all the parties involved to behave honourably.

PR: Yes, and I know that's motherhood, but I consider Mr. Harper's request "dishonourable." I made that submission to the Federal Court as part of Democracy Watch's legal action for judicial review. Yes, it was dishonourable, it violated a pretty serious commitment that he -- and not just himself and his government, but all the parties -- entered into. And I consider that dishonourable.

AP: Was Mr. Harper putting the Governor General in an untenable position?

PR: Oh, for sure. I mean, it's always very, very tough when a prime minister does a dishonourable thing. I consider it dishonourable to promise a confidence vote and then, a few days later, make it impossible by asking for a prorogation of Parliament. People might have other adjectives; I'll stick with dishonourable.

In a democratic culture, it's so tough for the Crown to step in and stand up for a democratic principle, particularly when you have a government with huge machinery of propaganda, which it's shown every inclination to use, and would use, both on the office of the governor general and probably on her personally. These people take no prisoners!

AP: The prorogation was clearly designed to avoid the fall of the government and the setting up of the purported coalition.

There was considerable debate afterward about the constitutionality of the coalition, with Harper saying this was an unconstitutional attempt to overturn the results of the election. What's your take on that? Would the coalition have been a legal, constitutional entity had it come to pass?

PR: Oh my goodness, yes. Oh my goodness, yes. On that, there can be no doubt. People may not like coalitions, and they may punish parties that have entered into them, but that's fair enough; that's political judgment voters have every right to make.

But the parties in Parliament have every right to get together in pretty well any way they wish; to coalesce together to accomplish their purposes. There's nothing illegal about coalition; otherwise, about half of the governments in the parliamentary world would be illegal. I mean, the constitutions of parliamentary countries, they don't have clauses about what parties in parliament, how they can work together or not work together; they can work together in a whole myriad of ways.
Russell recommends an interesting institutional change for the Governor General's office, to improve its ability to participate in a heightened political environment in which the Governor General looks to be increasingly involved:
AP: If we are looking at minorities for the foreseeable future, do you think we should be looking at changing the electoral system, to some form of proportional representation?

PR: There's a more immediate change that, I think, what we've been through in the past few weeks points to even more: We've got to do more to kind of regularize the governor general's office. One suggestion: Her office should have something like the European constitutional monarchies have -- an informateur, an official sort of prober of the parliamentary scene who can interview party leaders and is known to the media, is known to the public as a respected person -- so it's not all whispers and hush hush -- to advise the governor general on the political situation in Parliament, in order to make good decisions.

It's sometimes a former Speaker; in Sweden, it actually is the Speaker, but the Speaker there has a bigger role. All the countries have to make their own design according to their own history and institutions, but we need something like that because the governor general's office is going to be very much a target now of political speculation and pressure. I think it needs to be strengthened to deal with those situations. (emphasis added)
"One of Canada's foremost experts on the Constitution," noting the propaganda machine of the governing party and describing the PM as dishonourable. Just another day in the life of the Harper government...

(h/t CanPolitico)