Power, Parliament and Prorogation: A Canadian Political Drama

Wayne MacKay

Abstract


Rarely have Canadians (or Americans!) been so riveted by political life in Ottawa as during the late days of November and the early days of December, 2008. The nature of this focus on Canada’s Parliament was not the kind of positive energy that surrounded American President-elect Obama’s historic election victory a few weeks before, but rather a negative and nervous energy characterized by disbelief, disgust and surprise. In a time of economic crisis rivaled only by the Great Depression of the 1930s, Canada was being plunged into a political crisis not seen since 1926, when then-Governor General Byng denied then-Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King’s request to dissolve Parliament, so the Prime Minister could avoid a non-confidence vote in the House of Commons. Governor General Byng denied the request and called upon the leader of the opposition (former Prime Minister Arthur Meighen) to attempt to govern by forging an alliance between the Conservatives and the Progressives – a coalition of sorts.

Fast forwarding to 2008, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s minority Conservative Government, elected only a few weeks before in a general election, brought forward an economic update that so enraged the opposition parties in the federal Parliament that they formed a coalition of the Liberal and New Democratic Parties, supported by the separatist party from Quebec – the Bloc Quebecois. The items in the economic update that forged this coalition included a ban on public service strikes, a roll-back of pay equity and the removal of public funding for political parties. The funding cuts would have effectively neutered the opposition parties and epitomized an economic update that was more ideological than economic in nature, and was both partisan and mean spirited. It was also contrary to Prime Minister Harper’s pledge after his recent election victory to work together with the opposition parties to combat the looming economic problems facing the nation. Indeed, there was little in the economic update to address economic concerns.

Keywords


Legislatures and Parliament

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