Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Open questions

Now that the NDP is reaching levels of popular support that make a change in government look highly plausible, it's about time to double back to some of the more serious questions about what Stephen Harper might seek to do to stay in power after an election that doesn't go his way.

If he's determined to cling to power and continues to believe that he can get away with absolutely any level of damage to Canada's democratic system that suits his purposes, Harper holds plenty of cards regardless of how Monday's vote actually turns out. He'll technically remain Prime Minister either until he resigns to create a vacancy in the office, or until a non-confidence vote is held. He can put off the latter possibility by refusing to allow Parliament to sit for up to twelve months from the date of the previous dissolution. (Indeed, I'm not entirely sure what the remedy would be if Harper were to breach even that minimal requirement.) And even if he allows a new government to be sworn in, he can prevent it from passing any legislation by continuing to whip his majority in the Senate.

So while I wouldn't expect an answer from Harper anytime soon, now would seem to be the time to start asking some pointed questions about what will happen if the election results aren't to the Cons' liking.

First, will Harper resign as Prime Minister if his party fails to secure the largest number of seats in the House of Commons? (Actually, this would seem to be something less than a clear requirement to the extent there's some prospect of his finding support among other parties - but if the answer is "no", then based on Harper's rhetoric about the most seats being the measure of victory then it makes for the first clear indication that all bets are off as to what he'll do to stay in power.)

Second, will Harper summon Parliament to meet at some point before the last possible moment - and allow it to vote on his Throne Speech - even if the likely result is a non-confidence vote against his government?

Third, does Harper plan to comply with the instructions of the Governor General rather than threatening to take a case "to the people" if his attempts to shut down democratic voting mechanisms are overruled?

And finally, if another government takes power, will Harper order his Senators to allow it to pass legislation which receives the approval of the House of Commons?

Needless to say, in any remotely functional democracy the answer should be a clear "yes" to the latter three questions. But there's plenty of reason for concern that Harper will see matters differently.

Update: Turns out I'm not the only one asking these types of questions, and Tom Flanagan offers some theories in response to John Duffy:
If a single party wins more seats than the Conservatives, I think Mr. Harper, based on his statements, will announce his resignation as prime minister. If the Conservatives win a plurality but not a majority, he will carry on as prime minister and try to bring in a budget fairly quickly. If he is defeated in the House, he could (1) offer his resignation as Prime Minister to the Governor General, thereby allowing the latter to ask the leader of the Opposition to form a government; (2) resign as PM and also as party leader, opening up the possibility that the Governor General might ask an interim Conservative leader chosen by caucus to form a government; (3) ask for another election, as Mackenzie King did in 1926. If the GG refused that request, I imagine Mr. Harper would then resign as King did, and the GG would try to find someone else to form a government. I don't foresee anyone challenging the GG's authority with an appeal to the Queen, or ruling by decree. I don't think we will reenact “State of Siege.”
Needless to say I'd hope he's right. But until Harper himself starts answering, there's still reason to wonder whether Flanagan is being optimistic based on the Harper he knew rather than the one who's already shut down Parliament once to avoid losing power.

[Edit: fixed wording.]

No comments:

Post a Comment