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News Canadian government dispute

  1. Dec 5, 2008 #1
    First of all, I would like to say hi, I've been lurking here for a while (and finally bothered to register), and I know there are some Canadians here and I'm somewhat surprised hadn't seen anything on what's going on up here. Admittedly, I was out of the loop in the end of term crunch...until I read what was going on...

    Anyway, the situation is we just had an election less than a month ago. The conservative party gained seats but did not win a majority. Now, the three opposing parties (Liberals, the further left New Democrats, and the separatist Bloc Quebecois) have agreed to form a coalition government and bring down the current government in the next confidence motion. The proposed government would include Liberal and New Democrat ministers, with the Bloc agreeing to vote with those two on confidence motions. Parliament is suspended until the 26th of January right now.

    So I ask what do you think about this; and it doesn't even need to be Canada specific: is it fair (right?) for the winning government to be defeated by the opposition, with a separatist party having essentially a veto vote?

    What I think is that it isn't. The people gave a (somewhat) increased mandate for the Conservatives to govern, and now the opposition is simply...dunno, seems like they're ganging up on the Conservatives almost because they can - the opposition got less share of the votes in the election three weeks ago - so it seems horribly like an abuse of the rules. There was every opportunity to do this before the election: why now? And the seperatists: if they had fulfilled their goal and seceded from Canada, the conservatives would have a majority and we wouldn't be in this mess.

    I *do* prefer the conservatives, and I suppose I lean centre right (by Canadian standards), but I don't have a problem with the Liberal party; it's just that their leader (who would become prime minister in this agreement) is simply not prime minister material (can barely speak English, has a very naive outlook on the world based on his promised policies). He is new, probably chosen by idealistic young "forward thinkers," and was essentially humiliated by losing seats for the Liberals, and announced he would step down not to long ago - but now he could be prime minister? :confused:

    Sorry for that wall of text but I wanted to make a good go of my first post, and I would like to say that this forum is great: has a good mix of people from many different backgrounds and opinions - but the discussion is (almost) always respectful. If anyone wants to know, I'm a second year honours math and physics student at UBC who took a course last year on Canadian government (because we need 18 Arts credits, and it's somewhat of an interest of mine).
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  3. Dec 5, 2008 #2
    I would love to comment on this but as an American I'm essentially mentally disabled by being unable to imagine how a political system with more than two viable parties works. At least that's one up from people coming from China or the Soviet Union who can only comprehend a single party state, I guess. I hope that everything goes well for you Canadians with this and that the good guys win, whoever they may be.
  4. Dec 5, 2008 #3
    I'm surprised this thread hasn't turned "hot"... I'd love to hear what y'all up north are thinking about this...
  5. Dec 5, 2008 #4


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  6. Dec 5, 2008 #5

    George Jones

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    Yikes, more of this. This is what I talk about with my colleagues at work, particularly in the lunchroom, and with my wife when I get home from work! If I feel the need to vent even more, I might write some stuff.

    Off topic question: physics girl phd, after reading Sakurai, did your cat find itself in an existential quandary?
  7. Dec 5, 2008 #6


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    When I read yesterday that the Canadian Prime Minister was allowed to suspend Parliament in order to avoid being removed, I realized how little I understand of how things work in Canada.
  8. Dec 5, 2008 #7


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    It seems like Michaelle Jean has established a precedent that could allow the designed-in check-and-balance of the no-confidence vote to be subverted. I have no dog in this fight, but if the queen's representative can interpret the constitution of Canada (and is the final authority - no appeal) in such a way as to allow a minority Prime Minister to shut down Parliament, then Canada's form of government has been altered, presumably against the will of the people who voted the ministers of the coalition's minority parties into power.
  9. Dec 5, 2008 #8


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    I'm a liberal, but I too have difficulty with this move. Harper got his vote of confidence from the people twice (though with much grumbling the second time). to take it away just because they don't like it seems wrong.

    However, I see the logic of the counter-argument.

    1] By forming an official pact (not merely one of convenience), the Libs, PC and NDP are better representing the people than the Conservatives. This is key, because...

    2] In our system, it is not 'one party wins the others lose'. They are all charged with running the country - Libs, PCs and NDPs have a part to play in ensuring our country stays on the rails. This means they are not "overthrowing the governing body" or anything like that. They are doing what they are charged with doing.

    and finally,

    3] We vote for the party, not the man. Who is leading the party is not as important as which party. So Dion is just a player like everyone else.
  10. Dec 5, 2008 #9
    Let's try to inject a little knowledge of Canadian government into this conversation, shall we?
    In Canada (as with any parliamentary democracy), the government is formed by ALL elected members of parliament (MPs), not just the party with the most seats. So what actually happened is the minority conservative party is being defeated by the winning government (which includes the conservative party).
    The people gave these Liberal, NDP, and Bloc MPs the authority to do this by electing them.
    Stephan Dion has already announced his resignation from the position of Liberal leader on October 20. He only continues to serve in that capacity until the Liberal leadership convention (April 30 - May 3, new leader to be chosen on May 2)
    You should ask for your money back.
    Basically they completed all the objectives which were officially presented, scheduled the budget release for Jan 27, and then could legitimately say they had nothing to discuss until then. This has given him a little under two months to come up with a budget that the opposition will agree to. As long as he's not unreasonable, the opposition parties will have no choice but to go along with it, if they want to have any hope of reelection.
    Michaëlle Jean, the Governor General (the Queen's representative in Canada), is basically a rubber stamp position. Technically she has the authority to make decisions, but in reality, if she were to refuse a legitimate request from the House of Commons (such as Mr. Harper's request to prorogue, or the opposition's request to for a coalition, should they decide to request it after they resume), the position would most likely simply be eliminated. Her role in modern day is mostly ceremonial, being a yes-woman for the house.
  11. Dec 5, 2008 #10
    Exactly correct.
    Not quite so correct. We vote for out local representative who may or may not be affiliated with one of the parties (and can even decide to change parties while serving). You don't vote for a party, and you don't vote for the PM (unless you happen to be in the riding he is running in).
  12. Dec 5, 2008 #11
    For more information about the dispute, try http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2008_Canadian_parliamentary_dispute" [Broken].

    A further note from the above link on the powers of the Governor General:
    Therefore she is only there to serve the current government.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 3, 2017
  13. Dec 5, 2008 #12


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    The same here. I thought the Canadian government was very closely modelled on the British parliamentary system.

    The idea that the Canadian PM can suspend parliament to avoid being kicked out of office through a no confidence motion doesn't sound exactly democratic. The last person to suspend parliament in Britain in order to cling to power was Charles 1 who ended up having his head lopped off :biggrin:

    Several gov'ts in Britain and other European countries have fallen by virtue of no confidence motions and it is not unusual in the least for opposition parties to form coalitions to gather the necessary votes to take power. The fact one of the would be coalition parties in Canada is secessionist is neither here nor there. The fact is they were elected and so are as entitled as any other elected representative to vote and to be heard.

    I'm curious as to what advantage the Conservatives expect to gain through this manoeuvre. Most legislation will require parliamentary approval and so it is hard to see how they can govern effectively now.
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  14. Dec 5, 2008 #13


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    Jean's position pretty much mandates that she has to agree with the current PM on issues such as this. Even though she is technically the head of our government, she is just a figurehead in practical terms.
    In addition to pointing that out, NeoDevin covered most of the stuff that I have to say. This election had one of the lowest voter turnouts in history, but the large majority of those voted against the Conservatives. Problem was, those votes were split among Liberal, NDP, Bloc, Green, Martian... you name it. If the proposed coalition members do manage to work together, then they will in fact represent the majority of the population.
    While I would be overjoyed to see Harper given the boot, the Bloc veto capability does worry me a tad. Still, separatist or not, they are duly elected representatives who deserve their say.
    By the way, the situation isn't exactly unprecedented. Specifics vary, of course, but essentially the same thing happened before. (I'm not going to bother looking it up, but I believe that it was in 1913; I'm not good at history.)
    Gokul, we are not a British Territory in the sense that the term is normally used. We're a fully independent nation, but still a member of the British Empire. As such, we are pledged to support the sitting monarch of England. We are not obliged to follow anything put forth by the civil government of England.
    It's all very complicated, and I still have trouble following it myself. NeoDevin's doing a great job of explaining it.
  15. Dec 5, 2008 #14
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  16. Dec 5, 2008 #15


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    Canada hasn't been a member of the now defunct British empire since the Statute of Westminster Act (1930). I think you meant Canada is a member of the British Commonwealth which is essentially a trading bloc of former empire territories still nominally headed by the queen of England.
  17. Dec 5, 2008 #16
    Except for the fact that it was 1931, you are correct.
  18. Dec 5, 2008 #17


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    That is correct. We still refer to it, in common usage (at least where I live), as the Empire. Sorry for the imprecision.
  19. Dec 5, 2008 #18


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    My mistake. It was penned in 1930 but didn't receive royal assent until 1931.

    As a piece of trivia it is ironic that one of the major drivers for Canadian independence following WWI was actually named King. (W. L. Mackenzie King, leader of the Liberal Party)
  20. Dec 5, 2008 #19
    Effectively, there are only two. The New Democrats consistently come in fourth place behind the separatist bloc. We up here call it the "two and a half party system."

    Then why not do this before the election? Again, it seems to me that they went: "oh no, they're gaining seats, better go stop them!" Really, I would have much less of a problem (hardly any) if they had done it with more seats and not right after an election.

    You are right, but they are elected by the people of Quebec for the only reason to wield power in parliament to get Quebec to secede. The irony of this whole thing is that if Quebec did not exist in this whole affair, we wouldn't be having this conversation as the Conservatives would have had a majority. The other reason I very much dislike the existence of the Bloc Quebecois is that Quebec ends up being a pit where both the Liberals and Conservatives throw their money, since it's such a huge province (= more seats), so Quebec gets tons of money in order to be more loyal to one of the two mainstream parties (but vote Bloc anyway).

    Indeed! Hell I didn't know the Prime Minister could suspend government like that (maybe I should ask for my money back for POLI 101, but it gave me 3 Arts credits I needed), and for certain I have reservations about that. He is a minority prime minister after all, and THAT seems "cheap." Still, it doesn't make him a dictator or anything (local paper letters are fun!) since he can't actually do anything while it's suspended, just day-to-day stuff, so no Anarchy either. The real question is whether he can still do anything once the 26th rolls around and if the other three parties have backed off.
  21. Dec 5, 2008 #20
    I don't know where "up here" is, but I've never heard it referred to as such.
    Because they did not have the authority to do this until after the election. In addition, they had no reason for non-confidence in the conservatives until after it was clear that the conservatives were not going to do what (the coalition believes) is best for Canada.
    If Quebec did not exist in this whole affair, the entire political situation would be different, and it's impossible to say how things would have gone.
    A good argument for some form of proportional representation.
    He can't just do it at will, whenever he feels like it. The entire agenda must be completed, and there can't be anything scheduled for the period of prorogation. You are correct that it is neither a dictatorship, nor anarchy for the time being. If the Conservatives come up with a good budget and plays nice, the other parties will most likely back off. If they continue to refuse to cooperate with the other parties, I expect to see a non-confidence vote.

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