Saturday, October 02, 2010

On conditional reprieves

It's a definite plus to see both the advice Peter Russell gave to Michaelle Jean during the Con-fabricated 2008 constitutional crisis, and the fact that Jean was able to secure at least a couple of concessions from Stephen Harper - including a commitment to reconvene Parliament quickly rather than ruling by fiat while shuttering the House of Commons indefinitely:
(Peter) Russell said Harper made at least two important commitments: that Parliament would return soon, and that his government would then produce a budget that could pass.
Russell, a professor emeritus of political science at the University of Toronto, said the prime minister's promises had a large influence on Jean, and he cautioned Canadians against seeing her decision to grant Harper's request for prorogation as a rubber stamp.

"I think they were extremely important in her weighing all the factors on both sides of the question," Russell said.

"For instance, if Mr. Harper had made no pledge to meet Parliament early, if he said well, he thought his financial position, which had been so badly received in the House, was terrific and he wasn't going to make any changes, I think she would have probably had to make the decision the other way."
Russell's revelation suggests the meeting that day was a negotiation in which the Governor General wielded considerable power.

"She made it clear these reserve powers of the Governor General may sometimes be used in ways that are contrary to the advice of an incumbent prime minister," Russell said.

"Because if the contrary was the case, any PM could, at any time, for any reason, not only dissolve Parliament, but prorogue it for any length of time for any reason. We wouldn't have parliamentary government. We would have prime ministerial government."
But I have to wonder whether Russell's revelation sheds some light on the events of the following winter as well. Might Harper's late-2009 request for prorogation by phone then have served not only to create a precedent in favour of the prime ministerial government which Harper is so eager to impose, but also as a form of personal payback for Jean's earlier message that she wouldn't give total deference to the PM's anti-democratic whims?

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