Thursday, December 04, 2008

El Presidente Harper is not a leader

While I strongly disagree with Madame Jean’s decision, I think she was in a no-win situation no matter what she did, and there was no precedent to inform a decision on prorogual under these circumstances. So I don’t blame her.

In a no-win scenario she opted to maintain the status quo. Perhaps, given the fact she holds an unelected position, that was the right thing to do. It wasn’t the right thing to do constitutionally however, and perhaps we need to look at reforming the role of the head of state in our system of government. We shouldn’t be putting an unelected figurehead in this position if they lack the moral authority to use the powers of their office to make the right decision, using the powers granted to them by the constitution. We need a head of state role in our system of government, but they also need to have the degree of legitimacy needed to play their role when called upon.

But I’ve digressed. I don’t blame Jean. I blame Harper. He put the Governor-General in this position, and now a very dangerous precedent has been set: illegitimate governments that have lost the support of the people’s representatives can govern with impunity, fleeing parliament at will to avoid accountability. Mark my words: Conservatives, and all Canadians, will come to regret the precedent set here today.

What we have today, however, is an illegitimate government that has lost the moral authority to govern. As El Presidente would say, Let Me Be Clear. Stephen Harper has lost the confidence of the House. You know it, I know it, he knows it. It is a fundamental tenet of our system of parliamentary democracy that, to be Prime Minister, you must command the confidence of the House. And he does not. That is abundantly clear.

Harper may go on to govern for many years. And he may even do some good things, anything is possible. But his scorched Earth, nuclear war campaign to maintain his tenuous grip on power has besmirched and weakened the very institutions he claims to be fighting to protect.

He has stoked the fires of Western alienation by exploiting the legitimate concerns of Western Canadians for his narrow political ends.

He has stoked the fires of Quebec nationalism with his narrow-minded attacks on the Bloc Quebecois, a party that draws broad support from Quebecers not for its pro-sovereignty policy, but for its pro-Quebec policy.

He has exploited the lack of understanding many Canadians have of our parliamentary system to portray opposition parties representing the majority of the population exercising legitimate mechanisms available to them under our system of government as undertaking acts of treason that constitute a coup, thereby weakening the confidence and respect the public has in its system of government. That’s very dangerous.

And he compounded the danger by putting the Governor-General in the untenable position of having to make a decision he should never have asked her to make, further weakening our system of governance. It was only his blinding ambition and lack of respect for democracy that but her in this bind, and his inability to do the right thing.

The faith of Canadians in their democratic institutions may never have been lower than it is now.

But hey, at least El Presidente Harper has hung onto power a few more weeks. Viva le revolution.

(I’m heading out to a holiday party for the evening, which means I’ll be away from my computer and unable to approve comments, I’ll approve when I get back. It will also be good to have some time to mull over the day's events and the way forward before writing more. Much to consider. In the mean time though, I want to make clear I stand four-square behind Stéphane Dion.)

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Skinny Dipper said...

I strongly advise the Liberals to keep supporting the coalition to get rid of Harper. Not counting one or two potential defectors, The Liberals need to know that if they support or abstain on Harper's budget in January, I will not be supporting them in the next election. I will not vote for a Harper-lite party. I would rather vote for the Harper régime itself than any party that acquieses (sp?) to the Conservatives.

If a Liberal-NDP coalition does succeed in becoming the governing party. I don't care who is the Liberal leader. It also doesn't matter if the coalition lasts only six months. I want Harper régime out. I may vote for the Liberals next time.

Mike514 said...

As always, Jeff, your blog is an interesting read. And as always (or almost always), I'll have to disagree... :)

illegitimate governments that have lost the support of the people’s representatives can govern with impunity
I must have missed that vote in the House. Didn't realise the Tories lost a confidence vote. Do you have a link to back that up?

you must command the confidence of the House. And he does not.
Seems like you are the one exploiting people's lack of understanding of our parl. system. To lose the confidence of the house, the Tories have to lose the confidence of the house. And that happens when a confidence vote is voted down. That hasn't happened. Therefore, this government is perfectly legit. Simply because the 3 coalition leaders (or is Dion the leader, and the other 2 are just in it for the ride?) held a press conference and stated they lost confidence in the gov't, does not mean that the House has lost confidence in the gov't. Please be careful when you state such things.

That can't happen without a confidence vote. Hence the name. How do we know that (if it came down to a confidence vote) there wouldn't be 15 abstainers or defecters within opposition ranks?

I've taken up enough of your time. I'll stop here, although I can keep debating some of your other points. But please do me a favour: Take a few minutes and back up your claims that this is an illegitimate gov't with some sort of constitutional or political references.

Have fun at your party, and as always, I look forward to future blog posts. All the best.

A BCer in Toronto said...

Mike, while we usually disagree you've always struck me as a reasonable fellow who doesn't drop talking points but instead enjoys well-argued debate. That's why I'm a little surprised you'd make what I'd characterize as a rather specious argument.

How does one lose the confidence of the house? Correct you are, when the members of the house vote non-confidence in the government or defeat it on a matter considered a matter of confidence, such as a budget or other money bill.

Has the House currently voted non-confidence in the government? No, it has not. And it won't have a chance to until late January.

Has for all intents and purposes, the government lost the confidence of the house, shall we say, in spirit? I think you would be hard-pressed to reasonably argue otherwise.

The three leaders didn't just hold a press conference. The Liberal caucus voted unanimously to support this course of action. I haven't heard, but I imagine the NDP and BQ were similar. I also understand that every member of the opposition parties had signed a petition to the GG, expressing the government had lost its confidence.

And we both know for a fact, and you may opt to argue otherwise, but we still both know, that had a confidence vote been held last Monday, or were one to be held this Monday, the government would have fallen.

That's why Harper pushed back the vote by a week. And that's why he took the unprecedented action he took today to prorogue, less than two weeks into this parliament. Because he knew he had lost the confidence of MPs, and that, as soon as they had a chance to vote, he would formally lose the confidence of the house, and his job. Otherwise, why would he have delayed the vote? And why prorogue?

So I feel perfectly confident saying this is an illegitimate government governing without the will or the confidence of a majority of the people's representatives. Because it is.

The Conservatives may live on, and by the letter of the law, Harper survives. But he has lost the moral authority to govern our country, and that's not something you can regain.

Party was fun, but the red wine was a little dry for my liking.

ktr said...

great post jeff! one of the best posts i have read in a long time anywhere.
Canadians will regret this decision by Harper, and Jean. though I too think Jean was in a no win situation. This is a dangerous precendent. Harper has stoked separation anger on both sides of the country for his own good.

Mark Francis said...

Let's keep this even simpler: Any government which closes Parliament in order to avoid a confidence vote is illegitimate. I don't care what people say 'convention' is. Convention is a joke because there are no clear repercussions for violating it, nor are there means of appeal.

I think Harper should be removed from power for one clear reason: He closed parliament to avoid a vote.

All future GGs need to understand that whatever the GGs concerns about stable government, closing the House to avoid a vote means the government will come to fall for doing so.

The Rat said...

"Has for all intents and purposes, the government lost the confidence of the house, shall we say, in spirit? I think you would be hard-pressed to reasonably argue otherwise."

I was wondering how long it would take for a Liberal to trot that out. Ok, so if losing the confidence of the house "in spirit" counts I guess you were totally outraged by Martin ignoring those confidence votes that he said weren't confidence votes? I assume you were horrified when your own party waited a week for a confidence vote and used that week to entice opposition members with promises of "comfy fur" until one crossed the floor and immediately became a cabinet minister?

The facts are simple. The house voted confidence when it passed the throne speech. Harper had proven confidence this session. The promise of bringing the government down was meaningless until and unless they actually did it (as was done to Martin, and he ignored it). Therefore, by all past convention Harper was entitled to prorogue and Jean had no real option, despite a lot of opposition bluster.

No Jeff, I don't think proroguing was right, and I actually would have had a good laugh at PM Dion and his Merry Men. But in a political world I find your new-found outrage over "spirit" to be a tad hypocritcal. And I am frankly shocked at the pictures comparing Harper to Hitler, Mussolini, Pinochet, Mugabe, and so on. The Red Tory even went so far as to compare the demonstrations against your coalition to the Nuremburg rallies. I never expect much from him but I thought you might find that a little too far. I guess politics is just a dirty, dirty sport and you're rolling in as deep as any.

A BCer in Toronto said...

Rat, the Martin example was the reason why I didn't go nuclear over Harper delaying the vote a week, other than to note the sheer hypicrisy, since Harper went bat-shit insane when Harper did it. But he did have a real vote within a reasonable time frame. And it was ignoring confidence voteS, it was ignoring one vote, which clearly wasn't a confidence matter. Nevertheless, he, like Harper, delayed by a few days. But Martin, unlike Harper, allowed a REAL vote in short order.

If Martin has prorogued for a month or two, how would you have reacted? Seriously.

Honestly, the fact you're trying to defend Harper's actions here is just insane.

And where in the hell did I bring in Pinochet or Hitler? If you have a problem with what other people may have said, not to them.

One can be an illegitimate government without being Pinochet, and the fact you're having to falsely me of such BS in order to defend your El Presidente speaks to just what a hopeless and morally vacant cause you've chosen to try to defend. It's like Goodwin's Law in reverse, accusing someone else of playing the Nazi card to try to discredit their argument. You can do better, I know you can.

The Rat said...

"Nevertheless, he, like Harper, delayed by a few days. But Martin, unlike Harper, allowed a REAL vote in short order."

How big of you to judge Harper by EXACTLY the standard you judged your Paul Martin. For all we know Martin would have prorogued if he hadn't, uh, "convinced" Stronach to cross the floor. Too bad Harper couldn't swing the balance with just one cabinet post. That would have been sweet, sweet justice but 12 seats would have been a tad obvious. So saying Martin had HIS vote a week later conveniently ignores the "spirit" argument in his case, and gives him the benefit of circumstances that Harper could not have. It's thin, Jeff, and rather pathetic. You don't want to see the parallel because then you'd have to look in the mirror. Your Liberals are dirty, dirtier than most, I think.

I have spoken out against fellow CPCers when they've gone too far. You are a Liberal, an official Liberal, and Liblogger. If you don't want to be tarred by the disgusting posts of your compatriots it is up to you to speak out. I've read posts theorizing Harper would call out the army, like the army would just carry out a coup for him. I've read posts assuming the "Alberta Militia", whatever that is, would rise up to defend the CPC, and post after post with Hitler next to Harper. If you want to save what's left of the LPC someone had better have the balls to speak out.

And before you throw those whackos at Freedominion at me, I would point out that I was banned from there two years ago after I got into a massive flame war with a avowed racist. And they support the Freedom party now, or some such Natural Law-type group.

Barcs said...

I am glad you now agree that Harpers call of the last election instead of waiting a month for the opposition to vote down his government as they promised was legitimate..... having lost the confidence of parliament "in spirit".

Barcs said...

And yes I would much rather have seen the motion of confidence go to a vote and force us into an election.

While there is precedent for a 2 party coalition (along with a constitutional crisis about whether the monarchy should remain part of Canada at that time too)... There is none for a 3 party coalition. (never mind allowing a 3rd party not part of the coalition a veto on any bill)

I don't doubt for a second that a loss in a confidence vote last week would have resulted in an election.

And based on polling the past week... I am not alone in that belief....

Tell me which poll you believe the most. That the tories command over 50% of voter support after the past debacle? or only 45%??? I don't think it is that high,. but I have no doubt who would enter an election in the lead if it were called today.