December 2, 2008


Harper's Options (Andrew Steele, 12/02/08, Globe and Mail)

"We will use all legal means to resist this undemocratic seizure of power," Prime Minister Stephen Harper said yesterday.

Here are the ten options the Prime Minister is likely reviewing:

1. Preemptively Remove Michaëlle Jean

This is the true nuclear option for Harper: a preemptive strike against Jean to remove her from office, and replace her with a governor-general sympathetic to the argument that the people should decide in an election.

The roots of this option are found in the last major constitutional crisis in a British Parliamentary democracy, the 1975 Australian constitutional crisis.

I'll let you review all the background in this excellent Wikipedia article, but the key passage for our purposes is this:

“(Governor-General) Kerr was unwilling to warn (Prime Minister) Whitlam that he was contemplating dismissing him, fearing that Whitlam's reaction would be to advise Elizabeth II, the Queen of Australia, to remove him as Governor-General instead - advice the Queen would be compelled by convention to follow. Though this might appear to be an unlikely proposition, it was constitutionally possible, and in the peculiar circumstances of the crisis could not have been ruled out.”

Canadian constitutional scholar and former Liberal MP Ted McWhinney writes on its application to Canada in his excellent book, The Governor-General and the Prime Ministers: The Making and Unmaking of Governments. He concluded that if the PM requested the governor-general's dismissal:

“With the Queen's role reduced to a formal ratifying of the choice of governor general made by the prime minister, the Queen would surely have had to take the prime ministers ‘advice' without demur. That [this] hypothesis could be seriously advanced by a reputable scholar suggests the need for further work and refinement on the constitutional checks and balances to govern the office of governor general, including the selection, continuance in office and replacement of the governor general.”

So, the Governor-General has the authority to dismiss the Prime Minister BUT the Prime Minister may have the authority to dismiss the Governor-General first by requesting the Queen dismiss her.

Mr. Harper could advise the Queen that Ms. Jean should be removed from office, perhaps noting her past dalliance with Quebec separatism as grounds. He would then be free to appoint someone who would agree to call an election or prorogue rather than call upon Mr. Dion to form a Ministry.

Though Canada's problem is that it's a parliamentary democracy.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at December 2, 2008 6:08 PM
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